I’ve always imagined that there must be thousands of super-hip, funk/folk duos scattered across the country making quirky music accompanied by quirkier music videos. They look at the same popular music I look at — the same Gaga, the same Beyonce, the same Steven Tyler — piping it through what I imagine must be high-tech headphones in their hip caves, but they approach it in a totally different way. Whereas I listen to a pop Top 40 track and ask, “Huh, so what made the American public latch onto this song? The production? The message?”, they ask, “How can I add more glockenspiel to this? Can I play it completely on a glockenspiel?”
In my fantasy, the female member has a hip haircut (maybe its super short), occasionally wears thick, rectangle-lens glasses, and never blinks or emotes in a sort of completely unhumored detachment that functions in a weird way as a hipper-than-thou, come-hither stare. The male has a beard, says goofy things like “Hellowdy everybody!” (“it’s a combination of hello and howdy!”), and plays just about every instrument imaginable in the most dramatic, intense way possible. Together, they create groovy music that is both completely sincere and tongue-in-cheek ironic, a mix that contributes to its overriding “authenticity.”
That may sound insincere, but you have to understand that I thought, in imagining that these people must exist somewhere making music for people much cooler then me, that I must be partaking in some negative stereotype, over-simplifying and distorting the music world to suit my squareness and imagining a group of people to justify my position amidst all this pop culture. We do this all the time. We imagine the music world compartmentalizing easily into these cultural categories — egotistical cock-rockers in leather pants, thuggish gangsta-rappers, frat guy jam banders, sensative coffeehouse folkies — because we imagine famous people who play music that other people actually hear on a regular basis to be very different from “us.” (I imagine that these musicians are guilty of the same thing, framing themselves as very different from those on the other end of the musical spectrum, going “Man, those cock-rockers have such big egos!” and, “Jiminy Cricket, those jam-banders are just so fratty!”) And so, in my fantasy music world, every coffee-house and retro hipster bar that I’ve never been to (that would be every coffee-house and retro hipster bar on the planet, natch) has an in-house hipster folk duo that ironically covers cheesy top 40 hits on acoustic guitars and glockenspiels. (Also, in my fantasy music world, Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga get together every week at, like, an Appleebee’s and compare deigns for new wigs while laughing at us for thinking their completely off-the-wall insane.) It’s not that I actually thought these people existed. It was just comforting to know that they might inhabit that other world, like it’s comforting to think Narnia and Hogwarts might be just a wardrobe or owl-letter away. Narnia and Hogwarts aren’t real (sorry…) and, in all likelihood, neither is hipster-coffee land. At least not in the way I imagine it. But then… I saw this….
They’re real! They own every type of keyboard instrument imaginable, they’ve unironically dedicated an entire video to Angry Birds, they have a really fat, angry cat, and they adore glockenspiels and kicky drum beats! They are Pomplamoose! (What… the HELL… is a Pomplamoose, exactly?!? UPDATE: Not that this makes it any better, but it is a pun on the French word for grapefruit, pamplemousse.) And I don’t resent them for it one bit. I love them! Because they’re music is so joyful. And irresistible. And just plain fun. This Aerosmith cover blew me back, shocked me, and then maid me giggle. Not just because it is different or because they make Aerosmith sound like pompous, insincere, treacly baladeers with their off-kilter, beautiful take on the mega-hit. No, I love it because it is everything I love about music. It is a perfectly paced reinterpretation of a great, if overly-sincere, song. It cuts that sincerity by giving the song a bounce the original doesn’t have, replacing the slow “Ima-hit-the-drum-real-hard-on-2-and-4!” rock caveman beat in the original with a kicky groove that actually makes you want to move. I adore it. It is both haunting, because of singer Nataly Dawn’s haughtily angelic purr, and joyous, because of producer Jack Conte’s incredibly funky musical sensibility.
I’m still making my way through the Pomplamoose YouTube back catalogue and foraging about the internet for tidbits about who these cool cats are and what they represent. An NPR interview the band did this year has been really helpful in this regard. It’s an entertaining listen and highlights some of what makes me inherently take to this band so much. Conte lays out the Pomplamoose credo. “There’s no hidden sounds, there’s no lip-synching, there’s no overdubbing. What you see is what you hear.” Elsewhere he hints, with some prompting from host Linda Wertheimer, at the band’s underlying philosophy. “I guess I kinda don’t like how there’s such a pedestal for music culture and especially for band culture,” he says. “It just feels fake; it feels like smoke and mirrors. I feel like music doesn’t have to be like that. It can be something that’s very normal and very accessible.” Is positioning oneself as the proud outsider, indie alternative to big-label mega stars also a bit of “smoke and mirrors” image forming? Ummm, chya. But, ultimately, this band represents all the populist impulses that make me love YouTube and the way it represents its artists and creators, despite all the times I resent YouTube for being, well… dumb a lot of the time. I buy what these two are selling. Both their music, and the message the context of their music (homemade, DIY, indie rock via social media) gives off. As Dawn says, “people think that all of these things [like production and licensing] have to be done by geniuses behind huge desks or at the top of skyscrapers, but you can just go online and do it yourself.”
I love that Pomplamoose does music production themselves in an abandoned bedroom, and I love the way they do it. And so I don’t resent them for what I perceive to be this cool hipster detachment which they embody. Far from it. I think it adds so much. It adds that layer of ironic distance that dives so far into its own navel that it becomes utter sincerity. My favorite Pomplamoose moment as of yet: Listening to their cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” for the second time and realizing that Nataly Dawn had replaced the lyrics on the bridge (“Don’t treat me to the things of this world/I’m not that kind of girl/Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve/Is a man that makes me, then takes me/And delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond/Pull me into your arms/Say I’m the one you want/If you don’t, you’ll be alone/And like a ghost I’ll be gone”) with the cheeky refrain “Don’t make me sing this part of the song! The lyrics are so bad, so we’re going to skip ahead to the Single Ladies part instead… (Smile).” I didn’t catch this the first time, but when I did the second time it added a totally new layer for me. Because Pomplamoose has unabashedly highlighted, within the context of Beyonce’s own melody, something they strongly dislike about Beyonce’s song, but it does not stop them from doing justice to the parts they do like. Their affinity for the catchy hook and funky beat are evident throughout the video. It is a great video because it has a fantastic meta-moment (which NPR wrote about back in 2009 before I started following it). It is also a great video because it authentically reinterprets what it loves for this band’s audience.
As far as some of the other stuff goes… “La Vie En Rose” is just so beautifully done, its chilling. Other favorites include covers of Gaga’s “Telephone,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” and a collab with Ben Folds and Nick Hornby. I appreciate what they try to do on their cover of “Nature Boy,” but I don’t like it as much as a lot of other videos. The only real miss for me is an overly discordant cover of “My Favorite Things.” That being said, I encourage listening to everything they’ve posted (even if it is somewhat unnerving that every video seems to have some wide-eyed glamour close-up of Dawn as its stock image… Go ahead, click, it’s okay, the videos arent all “Nothing Compaers to You” head-shot-fests, though Dawn is ethereally beautiful and charismatic enough to support it). Yesterday I made a fortunate discovery, one that some 7 million people (on the Beyonce vid) have made before me. If you’re not one of those 7 million people, (statistically you probably are not) then jump on board today and discover some of this stuff with me. After all its just right there on YouTube, the worlds most highly trafficked authentic, magic hipster-coffehouse.