There’s a scene in “High Fidelity” where Jack Black’s character, Barry, chastises his fellow clerks for their “old, sad bastard music” (in this particular case, Belle & Sebastian) after attempting to bump “Walking on Sunshine” in its stead (for what he viewed as a potentially cheery Monday). It’s hilarious but also telling: so much of what once were classified as record store geeks — and now are something of download, blogosphere geeks — listen to is depressing, slowly tempo-ed and just an overall drag. As John Cusack’s Rob relates in “High Fidelity,” “I just want something I can ignore.”
It’s not a worldwide emergency on par with the conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, but wouldn’t it be nice to have more quality, upbeat music to listen to? To be fair, I listen to tons of “sad bastard music” — from the Smiths to Bonnie “Prince” Billy — but it seems like there’s a dearth of decent tunes to which you can tap your toes. Luckily, Denver sees some exceptions.
Smart dance music took a hit when LCD Soundsystem called it quits earlier this year. James Murphy was right in saying that he wanted to quit before it got “embarrassing,” but it still left a chasm for the kind of challenging stuff on the level of “Losing My Edge.” That song’s slow build and wise, reflective lyrics are nothing short of revolutionary. Murphy looks back and decides he’s too old to be hip, all while being as hip as is humanly possible. Depending on how you look at it, it’s ironic or fitting that a band who is proving to be something of a successor to Mr. Murphy’s project begins its new album with a refrain of “Don’t ever look back.”
It’s the Rapture on “Sail Away” from “In the Grace of Your Love” which was the New York band’s return to Murphy’s very own DFA Records. (The crew was here Saturday night at the Marquis Theater.) The album isn’t exactly on par with, say, LCD’s “Sound of Silver,” but it has the right combination of catchiness fused with longing. The song “Roller Coaster,” for instance, animates its stated subject with blasting guitar strokes that evoke a fun day at the amusement park. But, really, it’s about a heartbreaking relationship. (As is much of the rest of the album.) As Brian Eno, David Byrne, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and hosts of others knew, just because the subject of a song might be intense, it doesn’t mean you can’t hit the dancefloor to it.
(A summer hit — Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” — has the right combination, too. Ostensibly about a school shooting, its lyrical weight does a passable job against its cheesy yet catchy-as-hell chorus. The Rapture takes on an age-old subject (love lost), but brings ample freshness to it; Foster the People’s dealing with tread-upon, very-specific territory feels hollow. Good luck beating “Jeremy,” fellas.)
Cut Copy, which plays the Ogden on Tuesday, operates in a similar sphere. Its jams are even more disco-friendly, as propelled by Dan Whitford’s diaphanous vocals which tip a hat to Australian countrymen the brothers Gibb. On “Pharaohs & Pyramids,” from the recent album “Zonoscope,” Whitford sings, “Loudspeakers sound, white disco light / It’s one for us who fall apart,” above a climactic, synth-driven punch that is paradoxically more evocative of the ‘80s than ‘70s. There’s a darkness beneath, the kind that comes with knowing what all those leisure suits and mirror balls hath wrought.
Interestingly enough, Cut Copy shares a bill on Tuesday with Washed Out, Ernest Greene’s wonderfully mellow electronic project. You might have an easier time dancing to the audio from “The McLaughlin Group,” but smooth head-bobbing will be rampant. Sometimes, it seems, the sad bastards need to unite with the disco dancers.