My memory is super fuzzy about how I came across this one but I remember watching the video quite a bit on AUX TV during my morning routine in 2011. So it might have been there that my interest was piqued and I was coaxed to check out the rest of the album, “Making mirrors”.
Gotye (pronounced phonetically, as you would say the French name “Gauthier”) is the stage name for Wouter De Backer, a Belgian-born Australian with a Dutch name. (I know, right? The man screams globalization.) He is the drummer of an indie pop group from Australia called The Basics, an outfit I did check out after getting into Gotye’s music, a number of years ago, but their material never grabbed me and I have never gone back for a second go. I also have never gone back to check out Gotye’s previous two solo efforts and since he announced in 2014 that there would be no more Gotye music and made good on that promise, “Making mirrors” is the only album I know. However, it really is a great one and worth a look for those out there that only know the single. It is super eclectic, traversing many sounds and referencing multiple genres and musical eras, and yet, surprisingly cohesive, drawn altogether by Gotye’s compelling vocals.
Its sales were of course bolstered by this one monster hit. “Somebody that I used to know” was a smash the world over, making Gotye and New Zealand songwriter Kimbra, whose vocals feature prominently in the song, household names. Very quickly, the song became a favourite to cover by many artists. In fact in Canada, a version by Walk off the Earth rivals the original in popularity. The video they made for their cover shows all five members playing the song on one guitar and it went viral, breaking the Burlington band into the mainstream. It’s so big here that I once got into heated discussion with some people that swore theirs was the original.
But back to that original.
Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know” starts off quiet and sexy, a little like Edwyn Collin’s “A girl like you”, a little like whispering in your lover’s ear to wake her in the middle of the night. Interesting then, that it’s a break up song. Or rather a song that is weeks or months removed from a break up, wondering at how two people can be so close only to be total strangers.
“But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough”
It is right about this point in the song that Gotye lets loose some Sting worthy power vocals and the quiet becomes all power and passion. And just when you thought you knew what the song was about, the point of view and vocals are shifted to Kimbra and she too is quiet and composed at first. Then, they both become all fiery and alive. The instrumentation, meanwhile, mirrors the emotions of the vocals, utilizing samples of jazz guitars and dressing them up in electronic beats and xylophone melodies. To sum up: quite lovely.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.