By Tom Reardon, November 2020 issue.
The name of the game this month is survival, I think, for all of us. Each of the songs below touch on some type of quest for self-preservation, even if it just surrendering yourself to love. Explore and enjoy. May humanity win one this time around. See you on the other side.
Trixie Mattel – “Video Games”
Sometimes, as a reviewer, you’re at a disadvantage when a song comes along that is a cover, but you are not familiar with the original at all. So, apologies to Lana Del Rey, but I’m going to judge “Video Games” by Trixie Mattel on its own merit and not reference the original again. This song touched me. As a dude who played a fair amount of video games as a youth, but never let them stand in the way of interacting with a significant other, at first, I thought the song was about being ignored because of video games. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I listen closer and, admittedly, read the lyrics, I know it is actually about falling in love. Mattel exudes a sincerity of voice that is both captivating and refreshing in this era of false bravado and flat out dishonesty. I’m very thankful that this landed in my inbox. I think you will be, too.
Idles – “Model Village”
There are very few bands doing the post-punk sound better than Idles right now, but it is starting to feel as if these guys are just going through the motions. Kind of like how some people feel about the Strokes, you know? As if a group of talented musicians got together and said, “Let’s be this genre because not many people are getting famous right now in this genre.” “Model Village” is not particularly exceptional, but the urgency of the tempo and the vocal patterns present in the song elevate it to something fans of post-punk music will find fairly listenable. There is noticeable angst here, in bunches, like the last mile to your house when you really have to relieve your bowels.
Eli Smart – “Cruella Deville”
There are zero reasons that Eli Smart won’t be huge. This quickly infectious jam hooks you in and doesn’t let go. It also helps that Smart is a pretty darn good guitar player and the jazz six string breakdown around the 3-minute mark drops hints that the best is yet to come from the young Hawaiian who traveled to Liverpool for college. Handsome as the day is long, Smart will have boys and girls swooning for years to come, too, so check out “Cruella Deville” (another great song name) for a reminder of how fun summer can be.
Basic Elements – “Hide”
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the term, “Retro.” Maybe it is my age that gives it away as I fear that there is someone younger, cooler, and prettier that is looking at me and thinking, “Retro dude.” Either way, “Hide” by Basic Elements, is a revelation more than it will ever be “retro.” The band made Phoenix their home during their substantial run from the mid-’80s to early ‘90s and “Hide” is a staple from their early shows. Equal parts Simple Minds, Fixx, and U2, “Hide” feels just a vibrant today as it did in 1985 and the production from Ed Buller (Psychedelic Furs/Suede) is top fucking notch. As you listen, you will be transported back to a seemingly simpler time, yet when we truly think about it, the ‘80s were almost as crazy as today. We didn’t have social media constantly bombarding us with the inanity of our leaders in those days, but we sure do now, and this is what Basic Elements does a wonderful job of in reminding us that it is necessary sometimes to “hide from your leaders.” Political songs are often not this good, nor do they remind you of dancing in the backroom of 80s Phoenix teen club, Tommy’s but everything about this release is cool, down to the nod to Gang of Four’s Entertainment record cover. Kudos to the boys from Basic Elements. We are glad you are back!