At Sunday’s ARIA awards Gotye took out Best Male Artist, Best Pop Release for Making Mirrors, and Best Single for “Somebody That I Used To Know”, his massive hit featuring Kimbra. And tonight he won the J Award. Consequently, it is very likely that many of you who are predisposed to liking Wally De Backer, or even mildly interested, already have this album, making this review at worst slightly redundant, and at best, a little late.
Making Mirrors is the kind of sophisticated pop record that many hoped he would make following 2006’s breakthrough Like Drawing Blood. As with the previous record, this one takes De Backer’s interest in sonics, production and sampling, and mixes them with his love of classic pop music.
During interviews carried out during the promotion surrounding this album’s release, the 31-year old Melbourne musician spoke of how his intentions this time around were to build upon the sample based approach that has defined the previous two releases, and add more traditional and acoustic instruments. Whilst the production and instrumentation on this album is certainly very polished it is never overdone, De Backer’s understanding of dynamics and balance helping to keep the record bopping along from start to finish.
Although his intentions may have been to feature more acoustic instruments, such as the acoustic guitars, live drums, auto harp, mbira (African thumb piano), and piano, many of these sounds have either been manipulated or recorded and multi-tracked via MIDI keyboard and sampler, thus disguising their original timbres and creating a fairly synthesiser heavy and original sounding record.
As is often the danger when a single artist works alone, some of the songs on this record border on indulgence, such as “State of the Art”, a tribute to the Lowrey Cotillion organ that it was written on, whilst at other times his ear for bringing out simple and beautiful melodies from these various sources borders on brilliant. Thankfully examples of the latter are much more common, most obviously being on the slow and subtle “Giving Me a Chance” and the song of the year, “Somebody That I Used To Know”, which is the strongest song on the record.
From the opening guitar chords and bright melody played on what is presumably the mbira, matched with odd synthesiser noises, this is a blueprint for how to make the perfect pop single. Short and concise, the way that the subtle arrangement starts off quite bare, whilst De Backer sings in his quietest voice, until the chorus finally arrives and he is suddenly pleading and accusing, the dynamics are used to take the listener along with the emotion of the story.
Through all of the technical tomfoolery this is an out and out pop record, and at certain points he doesn’t get it quite as right as on the single. “I Feel Better” is a basic attempt at a Motown styled song, but, while the song itself is inoffensive, De Backer ends up coming off a bit white, giving credence instead to all those Sting comparisons.
Likewise, “In Your Lights” is almost an exact replica of George Michael’s “Faith”, but without the sassiness, the sleazy wink, that Michael’s version had, and so comes off as slightly cheesy.
On the other side of the spectrum, some of the best moments are the most subtle ones, such as “Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You” and “Giving Me a Chance”, although the distorted guitar and big snare thump of the upbeat “Easy Way Out” are just as enjoyable.
It is encouraging to see an artist as interested in pushing the boundaries of his craft being as successful as Gotye has been with Making Mirrors. It is not a flawless album but it manages to both innovate and follow some of the basic rules of classic pop music, repeating what has worked for others in the past in his own unique style.
Originally published on The AU Review on 30/11/2011. View original article.