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Hatchie - Keepsake Music Album Reviews

Hatchie's platonic ideal of dream pop goes down a bit too easy, like another rewatch of a John Hughes film.
Shoegaze offers the perfect place to bury bad feelings; there is a storied legacy of groups like Slowdive and Mazzy Star sinking Tory conservatism and post-breakup remorse into hazy swirls of distortion. Harriette Pilbeam uses Hatchie as an outlet for more quotidian concerns — friendships, romances, nostalgia. On her EP Sugar & Spice, Pilbeam offered glassy guitars, long sighs, and some bright choruses, but there was nothing darker beneath the surface to reward your close, ongoing attention. She promised a broader palette for her debut, but Keepsake feels hemmed in by the same lack of depth. Pillbeam's platonic ideal of dream pop goes down a bit too easy, like another rewatch of a John Hughes film.

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Klaus Nomi - Klaus Nomi Music Album Reviews

A reissue of the Downtown fixture’s 1981 debut album is a reminder that despite his striking look, campy repertoire, and operatic range, the onetime Bowie collaborator was no novelty act.

Klaus Nomi is an easy artist to eulogize. The German-born East Village fixture’s striking, self-made look and soaring operatic countertenor—in layman’s terms, he sang really, really high—brought him to the attention of culture vulture supreme David Bowie. Nomi famously performed with the Thin White Duke on “Saturday Night Live,” hoping for a full collaboration that never materialized. A deal with Bowie’s label RCA, however, enabled Nomi to release two albums abroad before his death, from complications due to AIDS, in 1983. From ANOHNI’s angelic warble to Janelle Monáe’s sci-fi tuxedos, it isn’t hard to find Nomi’s legacy in pop’s outer reaches.


Klaus Nomi, his 1981 debut album, affords us an entirely different opportunity: celebrating Nomi’s music rather than his myth. When an album’s repertoire goes from Man Parrish to Chubby Checker to Camille Saint-Saëns, it’s hard to look anywhere but the music. As beautiful as Nomi was, it’s worth peeling your eyes away from the ghost-white makeup, mountain-range hairstyle, and Tristan Tzara tux to see the truly gifted musician beneath.

A trio of pop covers displays Nomi’s interpretive range even within narrow bounds. Take his handling of Lou Christie’s cloying AM radio hit “Lightnin’ Strikes” as a starting point. (Here it’s titled “Lightning Strikes”; the informal contraction feels beneath Nomi’s dignity.) Working off an arrangement by Kristian Hoffman that plays the song relatively straight, Nomi uses his piercing voice to subvert the lyrics’ smarmy, swinging-bachelor heteronormativity—hearing Klaus Nomi sing “Every boy wants a girl” is never not funny—and the very idea that America’s postwar culture comprised the full range of human experience.

But in covering Lesley Gore’s teen-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me,” Nomi lets the power of the original do most of the talking for him. From his pointed delivery of “Don’t say I can’t go with other boys!” to singing “I’m free and I love to be free” even higher than Gore did, he’s simply making the same points in a shifted context. There’s more that unites his struggle and Gore’s than divides them.

“The Twist,” which via Chubby Checker became one of the biggest dance crazes of all time, gets a much more thorough reimagining. Nomi slows it down into a bass-driven space-out, using his upper range and Germanic diction to make one of the most overplayed songs of all time sound disorientingly unfamiliar: “Come on humans,” he science-fictionalizes, “let’s doooooooo the Twist!” By the time you realize he’s transforming the original song’s subtext into text, turning Checker’s hip-shaking anthem into an alien’s plea to understand what we humans call “sex,” it’s already too late!

Nomi’s originals also show an impressive thematic and tonal scope. Suffused in ominous synth washes by electro godhead and frequent Nomi collaborator Man Parrish, “Keys of Life” is the most Bowiesque thing on the record. A message from an otherworldly visitor that’s both messianic and apocalyptic in intent, it’s his “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Ziggy Stardust,” and “Station to Station” all rolled into one. “Nomi Song,” by contrast, is a much warmer affair, a tender self-portrait of a man desperately and doubtfully seeking acceptance (“If they saw my face, could I still take a bow?”), while “Wasting My Time” feels like a rejoinder from the woman to whom the cad in “Lightning Strikes” was singing infidelity’s praises.

Finally, the nuclear panic of “Total Eclipse” wouldn’t feel out of place on a Devo record, except of course for the singing. Terror about the seemingly inevitable atomic apocalypse was thick on the ground in those early Reagan years, but Nomi was one of the few artists who could sound like an air-raid siren when he sang about it. Which is not to say the song’s sentiment is at all dated. Exhibit A, the opening line: “Big shots argue about what they’ve got, making the planet so hot, hot as a Holocaust.”

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But the songs from Nomi’s operatic oeuvre, which open and close the album’s second side, are the showstoppers. “Cold Song” is based on an aria from baroque composer Henry Purcell’s King Arthur; the melody is evident in Giorgio Moroder, Michael Nyman, and Hans Zimmer’s themes for Scarface, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and The Crown respectively, but it’s forever Nomi’s. His daring transformation of the original bass vocals into his most urgent and terrifying countertenor work (“I can scarcely move or draw my breath/Let me, let me freeze again to death”) is a career pinnacle, as footage from a performance a few short months before his death demonstrates.

Nomi’s rhapsodic, album-ending interpretation of Saint-Saëns’s “Mon cœur s’ouvre à la voix” aria, “Samson and Delilah,” is heartbreaking in a wholly different way. It’s a song about doomed love, sung from the perspective of the still-loving person who dooms it; Nomi embodied the role powerfully enough to poleaxe an audience full of cynical scenesters when it was part of his New Wave Vaudeville act.

It’s this kind of multifaceted musical intelligence that belies any attempt to write Nomi off as a novelty act or one-trick pony. Depending on the context, Nomi’s singular voice could cut right to the bone of operatic compositions, drawing forth their desire and despair like some kind of glowing quicksilver ichor. Or it could make like an inverted-triangle tuxedo and turn the conventions of pop upside down, pointing out their inadequacies while celebrating their strengths. Yes, his voice, and yes, his look, and yes, his tragic story—you get it, I get it, we all get it. But he’s so much more than merely interesting. He was, and on this album he remains, a spectacle in the best sense. The album’s overwhelming impression is of outsized emotion, and that’s precisely the spectacular thing that Nomi’s spectacle was designed to convey.


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