As a collective force, the music that has been emerging over the last decade has been turning its focus towards the past more and more frequently. I occasionally get the impression that some artists following that retrograde path are doing so not for the mere purpose of copying and cashing in on the formulas that have been tried and tested before, but rather they are seeking out the essence—the pulsing, rhythmic heart—of the music that bears so much importance to them. Their search is one for contemporary perspective in another era’s shell—for undisclosed and yet undiscovered aspects of that music, which perhaps haven’t been properly processed and understood by the generations it helped shape.
Allene Norton and her project Cellars (which has now been operating for about three years) travel down the timeline, descending into the neon-lit haze of 80s discotheques, running along the magnetic tape and into Walkman headphones, then along the pixellated lines of early computer monitors. Presumably her debut album, Lovesick joyfully mashes together all of these subtle (and not-so-subtle) retro influences into a curious blob of dripping, pulsating plasma, packed into glossy bubble-gum pink wrapping paper and served to her audience with a huge stamp that simply reads POP.
Cellars’ influences are apparent from Lovesick‘s very first note: virtually every style of commercially successful electronic music created during the last thirty years. Sounds of all things sweet and heartbroken, themes filled with an ethereal escapism, rhythms leading the perpetual dance of mankind and machine—all of it can be found here on Lovesick. Yet, Cellars’ music doesn’t intend to mechanically emulate its influences, but rather to present historical field-trip material that has been compiled together organically. A great deal of attention has been dedicated to the details, with everything—from the music itself to the vintage equipment employed, and from the cover art to even the phrasing of the lyrics—having its explicit purpose in its time-travelling mission. Even Norton’s voice fits in remarkably well, with its strange (and, perhaps, intentional) resemblance to the darker purity of Kate Bush’s vocal delivery during her prime.
Playful is perhaps the best word to sum up the general mood of Lovesick. There’s just so much enthusiasm to be found here. What likely started as a bunch of songs written in Norton’s bedroom has retained its juvenile glee even when it has grown into a fully realised record. As a pop record, it really manages to capture the time-apt carelessness and tension of the music that it’s paying tribute to. Not taking itself too seriously, Lovesick gives its listener enough space to appreciate its tastefully overdone moments in contrast with a subtle melancholy and sincerity. This aspect also unfortunately causes some songs to feel a bit incomplete even too minimal, which may be understandable to some since some portions of the material on Lovesick were originally conceived as musical experiments.
Ultimately, what we have here is a collection of well-made pop songs with a specifically synthpop aesthetic that probably won’t leave your head for days. These songs work so well because they contain the right amount of intuitive affection, combined with a solid dose of intense detail. This balance allows one’s listening experience to be transformed from a light-hearted (guilty) pleasure into a curious study in tribute.
Clearly, nostalgia in music is here to stay. More and more are turning towards the past, seeking to recapture either the futuristic fascination of the 70s, the joyful innocence of the 80s, or the overindulgent edginess of the 90s. Projects like Cellars are here to remind us that along with all the obvious recognizable stylistic qualities, properly conveying the initial enthusiasm for a particular era’s musical zeitgeist means tangibly reconnecting with the much-yearned-for magic of the past.
02) Computer Simulation
03) A Little Bit Less
04) Tujunga Blues
05) I Won’t Be Falling in Love
07) Still Have Now
08) 33 Words
09) Extortion of a Girl