Gotye: “Somebody That I Used to Know”
You’d barely know from reading Reselect that I listen to anything newer than, say, 2008. And while it’s true that I haven’t been finding myself with as much time to keep up with everything coming out lately, finding new music has always been an obsession of mine, to the point that I used to feel like I’d get a new album, listen to it for a while, and move on, forgetting to go back to it later. Which is sort of one of the reasons I started doing Reselect, to make sure that in the rush to find new current music, the older stuff wasn’t completely left behind.
But it has brought up the opposite of problem of sifting so much through the older music that newer music doesn’t get featured here much. And I guess that’s okay, because I also feel that newer music sometimes needs more time to prove itself as worthy of standing the test of time. It’s a bit like if I had bought that PT Cruiser that I so lusted after when they first came out, back when we were car shopping in 2000, I would have felt pretty silly to be driving it around now — they just haven’t aged well. So it is with music — something that sounds great and hip and of-the-moment now might not really sound so good a couple years or more down the road. And to be featured alongside the likes of the bands and solo artists I usually feature here, you’ve got to really bring the goods.
So the point of me saying all that is that there are, nonetheless, times when I can tell pretty quickly that a new song has some staying power. And a recent song (a few months old already, but still pretty new, anyway) that I think meets that requirement is “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Australian singer Gotye (pronounced “go-tee-yay,” it’s the nom de musique, so to speak, of one Wally de Backer — and typically, if you want to make it in music, you don’t have the name “Wally,” so good move), from his 2011 album, Making Mirrors. The song has quiet, understated instrumental backing that focuses your attention on Gotye’s vocals, which veer from hushed to sharp and louder in the transition from verse to chorus — maybe a little too close to the lead singer of Men at Work when shouting it out, but not enough to turn me off, thankfully. The strong guest vocals from New Zealand singer Kimbra are perfect for the counterpoint, and help to save the song from being too much of a good thing. The whole thing has a bit of an ’80s vibe overall, but if it had actually been recorded in the ’80s it would have been ruined by bad synths. Here, instead, we get electronics that sound more organic, the kind of thing that Bjork does so well. Come to think of it, I think she would have been a cool choice to sing the Kimbra part.
Here’s the odd but oddly engrossing video for the song, with (an apparently naked) Gotye looking for all the world like the son of Sting. If Sting had done this same video I might have called it pretentious, but that just goes to show how much one’s past can influence current perceptions. Gotye doesn’t have Sting’s history of pretentiousness (not for me, at least, since I don’t know his previous music), so it works.