Ahh yes, I’m driving down Scottsdale Rd in the fall of 1998 in my ’93 Saturn (soon to be totaled while parked in Santa Monica less than 2 years later.) I’m wearing a yellow button down shirt from The Gap and sporting frosted tips. Or maybe I’m wearing a blue Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker semi-ironically. What song is playing on the radio? Well, it could be one of many songs actually. Perhaps it’s Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta. Maybe it’s Barenaked Ladies’ One Week or if I’m lucky, Aqua’s Barbie Girl.
Yes I admit it, I loved this song. I was first alerted to it by friends that said it reminded them of my recordings, not that I ever made anything remotely as good as this, but I used to increase the pitch on my cassettes on 4 track to make my voice sound more indie and alternative, which my friends jokingly said made it sound like “that Barbie Girl song.” It brings back so many memories from a great time in the 90s. I used to think pop music was so shitty at the time, but we didn’t know how good we had it! Aqua’s Barbie Girl is actually a masterpiece, artistically, cinematically, aesthetically, musically, you name it.
One of my favorite parts of the video is when Lene is getting her hair done and reading a cool looking (but fake) book titled My Little Sea Horse. Whenever I watch the video, I always think about how I wish that book actually existed and I could read it.
As someone who strives to live in as much of a bubble as humanly possible within the modern world (and without adopting the Ted Kaczynski or Amish lifestyle,) I struggle to block out most contemporary pop music in the moments where I find myself in environments where avoiding it is inescapable (such as the fitting rooms at department stores.) It was some such moment in some such place a year or two ago that I first heard Echosmith’s Cool Kids. I was instantly mesmerized by the synths, which had an unusually authentic 80′s sound at a time when such homage is paid typically in lip-service-surface-level, superficial ways (in pop music anyway, with indie subcultural genres like vaporwave it’s another story.) The synths in Cool Kids though are not even so much retro, but retro-futurist, living up to the dreamlike visions of what futuristic pop music would be like. If this sanguine inter dimensional ambient journey to sanctuary is disrupted by anything, it’s the lyrics, which are a little too cliche’ to be deserving of an otherwise cerebral song like this. I mean do we really need these tired bromides like “I wish that I could be like the cool kids cause all the cool kids they seem to fit in”? They seem like the lyrics that would play during the contrived emotional scenes on one of those lame, self-important, virtue signaling teen shows like 13 Reasons Why. This is not really a knock on the band’s singer, Sydney Sierota, who’s probably the best thing to happen to pop music since even before Taylor Swift. Sydney’s pretty and unassumingly charismatic without coming off like a tryhard or giving off a lot of phony attitude, and her charming, hypnotic vocals elevate the overall atmosphere of the song in a way that seems irreplaceable. I can’t really tell if she’s a bonafide avant garde “hipster” or one of those basic girls that just looks the part of an American Apparel employee (circa mid-2000s,) but I’m leaning toward the former. As one gets older, it become more difficult to differentiate between teenage social groups, as the previous referential signals become obsolete, and one is no longer privy to the new tells.
Anyway, whenever I was in this particular department store, I would look forward to this jam coming on, and I still do. As I’m perusing the sale racks looking to score some Tommy Hilfiger V-neck sweaters to be worn semi-ironically, the addition of this song provides the missing piece of the puzzle in completion of the ultimate mall ambient experience. Cool Kidsis one of the best pop songs in recent memory, which I realize may not seem like a very high bar to meet, so let me just emphasize that I think it’s really something else.
Lizzy Small, a young up and coming pop star that you may recognize from her supporting role in the recent film “Spare Parts,” had a popular song out called “Gravity.” The first thing I noticed about it is that Elizabeth really does have a great voice. Lots of times these pop jams are comically overloaded with auto tune and pitch correction, but in Lizzy’s case the producer wisely left her voice (mostly) alone other than a few subtle effects here and there, and one can tell she’s a good natural singer. “Gravity” is a catchy song, and the part when the chorus kicks in you can visualize it being a club hit.
As a pop song, Gravity manages to achieve its appeal while taking the high road. The highly professional and well edited video comes across as a refreshingly innocent romance tale. It doesn’t utilize anything sleazy or cheap to get a reaction. It doesn’t rely on any of the shock value or preachiness we’ve come to expect in this genre of music. In fact, there is nothing cheap or shoddy about this production.
The same goes for her recently released track, “Always Be There,” which has a slightly more hypnotic feel to it as opposed to a club track. It reminds me of the sort of song a girl would listen to on a late night long drive home or afternoon road trip out of the city. It’s fitting that a captivatingly romantic song like this was released for Valentine’s Day. The echoey chorus can get stuck in your head pretty quickly after a couple of listens, and it’s no surprise the song currently has nearly 3 million plays on Soundcloud already.
Lizzy manages to achieve a respectable sound without appearing as though she’s “trying too hard.” From watching her videos and interviews, I get the impression that if anything, she is a tireless worker who takes care to consider every detail and genuinely takes her craft seriously. Either that or she just surrounds herself with good people and has terrific innate marketing skills.
Be on the lookout for more exciting stuff from Lizzy. I have a feeling these tracks will be just the beginning. Don’t be surprised if she makes it to the next level, and she does…remember you heard it here first.
For those who were around 18(!) years ago when I released 4-track cassettes like”Birthday Boy,” “Outer Space” and “Rebel Without A Life”(which Oliver Hibert did a drawing of the PV Mall food court for the cover) that I used to unironically send to places like Seventeen Magazine and Sassy for review…. or even 10 years ago when I released that creatively pathetic excuse for an album, “Springtime In Paris,”(which for some reason got me a large feature in the print edition of the Phoenix New Times) I would urge you to consider this and my other new songs as some form of artistic redemption(samples, loops and all.) If not well that’s cool, too. I still have another 6 more songs coming out. Where did all the time go? What can we do with the time we’ve got left, those of us who can foresee inevitably bleak life outcomes in our not too distant future while simultaneously maintaining any youthful energy at all? Think about it. Livejournal styled narcissistic rant temporarily over -B.A.