Pretty in Synth . . . party like it’s 1986 with O.M.D., Young Galaxy, and Rainbow Arabia

Growing up in South Florida in the 1980s, you were about as far removed from U.S. pop culture as those who grew up on the other side of the Atlantic. Yet, if you had access to a television set or frequented the cinema with some regularity, you probably had the unique joy of catching one of the many fabulous coming-of-age films by John Hughes. And, perhaps you saw them more than once thanks to the local access “movie of the week” or if you were lucky you had a VHS or Beta cued up when Ferris was about to go on the greatest day off from school ever. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that I learned more about being a teenager from John Hughes films than any of the foolish escapades I took as an adolescent. It isn’t because I lived a sheltered existence.

pretty-in-pinkRather, the “kids” in Hughes’ films gave voice to the feelings of alienation, ennui, anger, joie de vivre, and whimsy all teenagers of that time and age felt — granted I wasn’t quite their age at the time. In a country ostensibly devoid of political crisis or cultural strife, how could you really not be anything but appreciative and feel fortunate? (Clearly the question is rhetorical and recognizes that for many things weren’t so perfect, to say the least.) Perhaps, one could argue that these stories were too pristine and romanticized, devoid of real challenges, and based on an idealization of youth. Let’s be honest all the films revolved around the lives of mostly well-to-do, middle class white adolescents growing up in the suburbs (sure Molly Ringwald‘s character in Pretty in Pink or Emilio Estevez in Breakfast Club represent a different perspective to the foregoing statement but they are the exceptions in the Hughesian adolescent oeuvre). Certainly they didn’t deal with the same challenges as those faced by the characters in Boyz n the Hood or even Boys Don’t Cry. But, does that devalue their stories and experiences? I think not. And, certainly, if you were a child growing up in the 80s, you probably wanted to be, date, or envied Ferris; identified with Cameron or Michael Anthony Hall‘s nerdy characters; had a teacher like Mr. Vernon you seriously disliked; or had a crush on Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Lea Thompson, the Sheen brothers, or Andrew McCarthy.  (I’ll admit I always preferred Ally Sheedy.)

…but what does this have to do with music? Along with making some phenomenal films, John Hughes also ushered in the return and rise of popular music in films (sure The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy had some pretty important songs…). It’s nearly impossible to hear The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty In Pink” and not think of Molly Ringwald, Annie Potts, and Duckie (aka Jon Cryer). Or, Wayne Newton’s “Danka Schoen” and the Beatles cover of “Twist and Shout” and not envision Matthew Broderick dancing on a parade float with the St. Paulie Girl look-a-likes on the streets of Chicago (a film sequence that might be one of the most joyful, grin inducing ever).

But, the song that forever left an indelible mark on my psyche and musical taste was “If You Leave” by O.M.D. (or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), the English synthpop band that was part of growing (new) wave of dance-pop along with Yaz, Depeche Mode, Erasure, and the Pet Shop Boys. “If You Leave” embraces the passion and intensity of young love with such sincerity and gusto that it is impossible not to feel for singer’s resigned hopelessness and plea to not look back on the love that has been so foolishly discarded. Come on if “If You Leave” doesn’t move you, I’m a little worried.

OMD_-_English_ElectricWell, O.M.D. after a couple of years on hiatus have returned with a new record and to listen to them you’d almost think the last 30 years of music hadn’t happened. In all fairness to these elder statesmen of synthpop, their influence (along with the other forefathers of new wave synth) is pretty prevalent throughout the pop/indie/r&b landscape these days. Lots of artist/bands like Robyn, Niki & the Dove, Twin Shadow, Grimes, and M83 have been digging into these sounds for some time now. So why shouldn’t O.M.D. get back in the game?

English Electric is such a delightful and refreshing time capsule for those of us raised on 80s pop that you almost wonder why folks stopped making this sort of music. Whether it’s the odd obsession with robots and computer sounds on “Kissing the Machine” or the unabashed hopeless romantic on “Stay with Me”, O.M.D. deliver a pleasing and quirky morsel of synthpop goodness that gets you shaking and eager to dig up all those old adolescent mixtapes when videos not napster killed the radio star. O.M.D.’s music isn’t going to change the world or alter your musical perspective but it is a reminder that music can be carefree and joyous while still being earnest and heartfelt. Heck, Robyn’s Body Talk was basically the 21st Century revival of 80s dance music and LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening borrows heavily from New Wave and pretty much everyone I know loves those records. So, if you want to take a little venture back to the 80s then join O.M.D. and listen to English Electric.

And speaking of contemporary bands working in a similar sphere, here are two that I can’t stop listening to:

  • Vancouver, Canada’s Young Galaxy have an early 80s New Order with an infectious dance-ability and a tongue-n-check lyricism that enhances their charm. Check out Ultramarine
  • Los Angeles’ husband and wife duo Rainbow Arabia definitely channel the 80s on  FM Sushi with great aplomb

Lots of people would like to forget the 80s ever happened, especially when it comes to music, I for one think there were a lot of great sounds that it helped popularize.  This just one example.

See you in detention…


p.s. …for those who really want to go on trip down memory lane: The Pretty In Pink Soundtrack

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