It’s happened. For the past few years we’ve been living in a world of manufactured nostalgia. And why shouldn’t we? We all like snuggling in the big, fuzzy blanket of cloudy memories that is our old VHS tapes and sing-along CDs. Maybe that’s the real impetus behind the hipsterist trend of thrift store scouring, the eternal quest for semi-baffling artefacts from a not-so-distant past (for hipsters my age that past is apparently the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s). That way we can pop in our very own VHS copy of Space Mutiny and laugh ourselves into nostalgia, even though only a handful of us actually saw that particular movie back in the day. It’s not about actually reliving memories; it’s about the feeling of dumb relics, those fetishistic objects that allow us to shake our heads and say, “Man, things sure were goofy and loveable back then.” It’s this same mentality that has brought mid-fi electronic music to the fore, whether via actual synthesizers, 8-bit compositional programs, or revving an Irish folk tune on an old Hot Keyz.
Obviously these things become tedious after a while, as irony keeps about as well as bananas. However, some electronic artists have made sweet ecstasy in Casioville, and I have yet to find one more creative than James Ferraro. Based out of the Bronx, Ferraro’s palette is very wide, and he’s covered a lot of ground in his more-than dozen albums and his work in the avant-garde duo The Skaters. I first got introduced to his music through the favorites list of an experimental video artist on YouTube. And boy, if nostalgia is like watching your favorite show through TV snow, then this song is like the best NY-post-punk-band-recreation-of-a-50’s-soda-fountain-dance track I’ve heard through a bad Walkman:
It’s all here: the gorgeously crappy fidelity, the adventurous feeling of flipping TV channels at 3 in the morning, and utterly gooftacular synth jamz. Other track titles from this album and others include “Buffy Honkerburg’s Answering Machine”, “Find Out What’s On Carrie Bradshaw’s iPod”, and “Jet Skis and Sushi”. I think the closest analog to his sense of humor in a band people may have actually heard of would be Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the people behind the Kids in the Hall theme and creators of instrumental tracks with such titles as
“Cheese in the Fridge” and “Plastics for 500, Bob”. And in case you’re wondering if his humor makes it to his Skaters work, here’s a track that comes with a free picture of hanging meat:
Obviously not all his tracks are jokes, and I wouldn’t even call “Moonshocked Dudettes” a joke, either. Even though he employs expert comedic presentation, his sound sculpting is top notch and his song have a great sense of construction and arc, not to mention a huge range of sonic components which make the whole albums worth it. When paddling through the algea-ed rivers that is modern electronica, variety is a huge and somewhat uncommon plus. For example, another mid-fi artist called Com Truise has a few albums out, and I liked them. Then I realized that every single song had the same tempo. Every. Song. You might not notice it at first, but when you do your heart sinks with each passing beat. Ferraro has a lovely awareness of his work that keeps things like that from happening, and his more recent work seems to have moved on from the crappy fidelity altogether, perhaps sensing that his music would attract the wrong kind of fans (those who decoupage Markey Mark onto their Biker Mice from Mars lunchboxes, which carry iPhones instead of lunch). And even though he has managed to actually grow as an artist (which is always a bummer for shallow fans), don’t worry: his new stuff keeps the wonderful and endearing sense that you’re filming a promo video for an 80’s office building:
For the attuned listener it’s the invention and craftsmanship that really shine. For the casual fan it’s the warm and fuzzy feelings that keep them coming back (and the snobs, too). Because that’s what we really need for those personal oases at 3 in the morning, and if we feel guilty manufacturing it ourselves, then Ferraro can lead the way. Dudettes to the max!