Generally I hate to use words like “throwback,” “retro,” or other such descriptors when approaching the sound of a band. After all, an artist only has to record and distribute a style and a sound once for it to become accessed and re-appropriated again and again. It’s the very process by which we innovate. So I won’t use those words.
Having said all that, we must accept that we still live in a world where we’ll hear this new album by Brooklyn-based TalkFine and instantly identify it with a very specific time period, that being the early to mid 1980s.
The dance-funk-disco aesthetic that TalkFine principals Clark Baxtresser and Pierce Siebers (via San Francisco Bay Area producer Jack Stratton) have appropriated on Lesser Known Hits certainly has been used over again in the 1990s (remember The Cardigans?) and the 2000s (Gorillaz, anyone?), but it really started as an outgrowth of 1970s disco and came to a suave, classy, semi-ironic but mostly earnest head with 1980s New Romantic bands like ABC, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. This is the DNA of TalkFine.
What keeps TalkFine rooted in the present day, however, is the band’s tendency to write songs that aren’t so much rooted in drama (romantic, social or otherwise) as they are based around having fun with life’s absurdities, whether ironic or straightforward.
Take the electro funk of “She Didn’t Have A Name,” for example. Its thick groove sets the stage for a bump n’ grind session ripe for a successful stroke of the male ego. But rather, the male protagonist is deftly denied by a booty shakin’ babe who “didn’t have a name” (“she didn’t need one!”). Or a phone, for that matter. Rejection, at the very least, sounds fucking awesome in this case. If you ever had a hard time coming to terms with the idea of a certain pick-up artist‘s suggestion that it can be fun just to go out and see how many times you can be rejected in one night, just listen to this song and think again.
Turning the tables with a tune anchored by a classic disco bass line is “Can’t Wait To Say No,” a casual face-saving verbal revenge fantasy of the “don’t bother changing your mind” variety – now it’s the guy’s turn to be the rejector, at least in his wildest dreams.
Pushing the absurdity bit even further is the album’s closing song, sung from the perspective of a guy who wooed a girl away from her old boyfriend not because her ex was a jerk, but, well, the title says it all: “It’s About The Bike.” Bikers everywhere, whether they be the tough guy leather n’ chains type or urban bicycle hipsters, now have their own super hooky pop anthem extolling the virtues of their own self-evident supremacy, not just in environmental friendliness but in virility as well.
But the clincher on this album is a creepy synth pop duet with another San Francisco Bay Area artist, singer Erica Fink. “Anonymous Lover” tells the tale of an urban voyeur who has fallen for a girl in the building across the street. He’s so into watching her that, even though there are lots of windows out there, hers is the only one his eyes ever see. It all sounds creepy until the girl, vibed all too perfectly by Erica, responds: “I come alive with your eyes on me.” Whoa! You wish that happened to you, don’t you? I bet you do. If you’re not ballsy enough to play this fantasy out in real life, it might be a bit safer to simply watch the video for The Rolling Stones’ “Neighbours” with the volume muted while listening to “Anonymous Lover.” Conveniently, they are exactly the same length. The Dark Side of Oz ain’t got nothin’ on Anonymous Neighbours.
At only seven songs, Lesser Known Hits immediately acknowledges our collective tendency towards shorter attention spans. It might have been called an EP at one time, or a “mini-album” back when Thomas Dolby was riding high in the early ’80s. But today, it’s just a right-sized album that never overstays its welcome as it revels in the comic absurdity of urban awkwardness. And yeah, it’s fucking good.