Review Summary: Making Mirrors proves to be Wally De Backer’s crowning glory; a creation with a perfect balance of pop accessibility, electronic obscurity, sonic experimentation, depth, passion and introspection; delivered in a cohesive and precise product.
For those who aren’t already aware, Making Mirrors
is musical mad scientist Wally De Backer’s third full length record under the Gotye
moniker, preceded by 2006’s independent electronic milestone Like Drawing Blood
, featuring the captivating hit singles ‘Hearts A Mess
’ and ‘Learnalilgivinanlovin
’; and 2003’s little known cult gem Boardface
, a compilation of E.Ps Wally created and distributed himself. While Mr. De Backer's rise over these releases has been gradual but rewarding, his massive success with the chart topping single ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ has led Making Mirrors
to cement Gotye
’s status at the top of Australian pop hierarchy.
As soon as the CD begins spinning and the opening track, ‘Making Mirrors
’ begins; it is clear that we’ve entered some new and interesting place. Some string and flute samples greet us at the gate of this world. and draw us in. The bass swells and the soothing voice of Wally De Backer whispers across this lush landscape. This opening track is a small but heartfelt signpost before the intense fragility, passion and reflection that is the world of Making Mirrors
The last blissful notes of the title track echo and fade, and ‘Easy Way Out
’ leaps out at us with an immediately catchy distorted bass riff, with some pounding drums and a tasty guitar line sprinkled on top. No sooner are these elements presented to us, then they are almost silenced except a few trickles of guitar, percussion and synth. Wally’s subdued vocals emerge amongst the mix:
Seventeen seconds and I’m over it, ready for the disconnect
Putting on a brave face, trying not to listen
to the voices in the back of my head
But it’s alright now
This last line is accented by some nice layered vocal harmonies that pull you far away from any lingering thoughts beyond the music, that guitar hook echoes in the distance and we’re guided to the infectious chorus. A short repeat of this sequence and the song is over. At just 2 minutes, ‘Easy Way Out’
is an excellent opener that lets you know Wally De Backer is truly coming into his own as a creator of clever, downright catchy songs.
An immediate example of this potential for pop success comes in the form of the following track, the obscure hit single, ‘Somebody I Used to Know
’. If you weren’t already familiar with Gotye
, then this song is probably how you found him. Out of the sudden silence that closed ‘Easy Way Out
’, some minimal guitar and string samples enter, and a delicate xylophone melody reminiscent of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ is played over the top. This leads into the first verse, where Wally whispers to us details of a past relationship with a tone of frailty in his voice. Some synth samples dance subtly throughout, becoming denser as the chorus enters. The distinctive feature here is a soaring vocal performance from Wally, with a melody that becomes the driving force behind this track. The third verse begins and the sweet, honey voice of Kimbra
flows in seamlessly, beginning in the same vulnerable vocal style that Wally began his in. However, the volume begins to swell and she adds some intensity her voice and the final chorus explodes, with Kimbra
singing a gorgeous layered harmony beneath Wally’s lead. The vocal dynamics of this song are much like the nature of the relationship they depict, a wounded lover struggling to have their voice heard, but their partner sings a different tune to attempt to shut out the words, culminating in a startlingly beautiful vocal friction that brings this unique hit to an end.
The opening notes of 'Eyes Wide Open
' hit us with a distinctive and powerful tone due to the presence of a rather strange instrument; the Winton Musical Fence. Constructed by Graeme Leak in Winton, Queensland, the bass line for this track was created by Wally striking upon the strings of the fence with his drumsticks, recording the results and a host of other percussive noises onto a portable recorder on a windy evening. Blended in with these bizarre sounds is some piano, cellos, pedal steel guitar and a galloping drum beat played by Wally himself. Wally combines this vast array of textures to create a dense aural landscape, reflecting the environment that he loves; the Australian outback. The lyrics paint a dystopic vision of the future; expressing fears that the beautiful environment that helped to create this music could be lost to future generations.
The hypnotic tribal waltz of ‘Smoke and Mirrors
’ slithers into life with a haunting synth line, with some finger clicks flicking about like flies drawn to the melody. Wally sings with an air of dark cynicism, as if he is singing to his reflection.
You’re a fraud and you know it, but it’s too good to throw it all away
Anyone would do the same
You’ve got ‘em going and you’re careful not to show it
Sometimes you even fool yourself a bit
It’s like magic, but it’s always been a smoke and mirrors game
The track evolves from melancholy introspection into a raw tribal cacophony, with Wally bashing away upon a variety of drums in a ritualistic catharsis. The song comes to an abrupt end, the prior tracks are made distant memories as Making Mirrors
begins to take its full shape.
Out of the silence, a trumpet line calls and sampled band begins to warm up and come to life. Some pounding tambourine fades in and ‘I Feel Better
’ kicks off. Wally sings this Motown flavored number with a loose and energetic vigor; the melody is free flowing and acrobatic; here his voice truly shines. Filled with some warm brass samples, lively percussion and very impressive lead vocals, ‘I Feel Better
’ is a fantastic way to meet the halfway point of the album, an also a great throwback to the earlier Gotye hit, ‘Learnalilgivinanlovin
Some jangling acoustic guitar greets us, and so begins the psychedelic-pop wig out ‘In Your Light
’. This song is just complete and utter happiness in ridiculous proportions. Though it is not as percussion heavy as other Gotye compositions, this track features some great bass, vocals, synth samples, and a just plain tasty trumpet and saxophone line. A great following track after the upbeat ‘I Feel Better
’, it is good to see that Wally can take something good and keep it rolling with ‘In Your Light
Now hold the phone, it is time for the pure aural ecstasy that is ‘State of the Art
’, Wally’s sci-fi homage to the magnificent Lowrey Cotillion; an op-shop gift that his parents acquired for just $200, and quickly became his new favorite instrument. This dub flavored piece is constructed from a sampled horn break, some Turkish drum samples, a simple off-beat guitar line, a particularly warped and pitch-shifted vocal performance, and of course, a host of diverse synthesized textures produced by the Cotillion d575, including flutes, piano, ‘genie bass’, and an entire orchestra, which Wally sings to us about in the lyrics of the song. ‘State of the Art
’ is a standout of Making Mirrors
, with its own unique identity among the tracks on the album, and it also provides an amusing insight into the mad scientist mind of Wally De Backer.
As we arrive at the last third of Making Mirrors
, Wally takes us down another unexpected path, in the form of the trip-hop infused ‘Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You
’. This track features some great textures, with pulsing percussion, a simple but penetrating bass groove, a ghostly music box sample hidden in the mix and some nice synth additions that harkens back to Violator
. The vocal performance is very laidback, but the delivery is menacing, giving a character to Wally’s voice that hasn’t been thoroughly explored on previous Gotye
Following this foray into the dark, ‘Giving Me a Chance
’ fades in with some light synth layers and a minimalist drum beat. Wally’s subdued vocal is the main focus of this song, with some nice falsetto harmonies adding extra honey to the sound. The layers are sparse, but there is delicacy in the detail, with some bells and a wineglass hidden within the mix. This song is a short and sweet glimmer of hope, providing an excellent atmospheric counterpoint to the shadowy path of the previous track.
A massive vocal harmony grabs hold, immersing us in the grand textures of ‘Save Me
’. This piece has an anthemic quality to it, created by the almost choral chant that acts as the hook of the song, although this piece is unique in that it lacks a truly definable chorus; its dynamics move in gentle wave-like flourishes rather than a loud-quiet dynamic. Another interesting feature to this track is an autoharp melody created by Wally painstakingly sampling the original instrument note by note and then using the sounds on a MIDI keyboard; taking the instrument's sounds beyond the limits of its physical design. This track is a perfect example of Wally De Backer’s inventiveness; being able to collect a host of diverse sounds and instruments, and combine them in ways that redefine their assumed role in music. Writhe with a variety of sounds and layers; 'Save Me
’ is an aurally tantalizing and breathtaking high point of the album.
From the grand heights that ‘Save Me
’ takes us to, ‘Bronte
’ is like a pillow that gently carries us above the heights to a serene dream world where we drift softly towards the end of Making Mirrors
. This song is another sparse but delicate composition, with some sampled steel drums, a light string arrangement, quiet fretless bass and some other gentle percussion, allowing Wally’s voice to take over in a tender vocal performance that gives the song a lullaby-like quality.
On a rather somber note, we arrive at the end of the tumultuous journey through Making Mirrors
. This album proves to be Wally De Backer’s crowning glory; a creation with a perfect balance of pop accessibility, electronic obscurity, sonic experimentation, depth, passion and introspection; delivered in a cohesive and precise product. Every track is a standout, but they each have their own role within the album, without a single song seeming out of place. Making Mirrors is one of those very rare pieces of art that has the potential to reach a phenomenally vast and diverse audience. Gotye
is an innovator who has cemented his place in pop music history in a very short time, leaving us all to dumbfounded-ly ask; “what next"”