Album Review: Gotye, “Making Mirrors” (2011)

Every once in awhile, I come across an album that I love so much that I just can’t stop listening to it. I’ll put it on repeat on iTunes for hours, days, weeks, sometimes even months, until the songs are permanently ingrained in my mind, until I can sing the lyrics in my sleep. In 2012, the album that I found myself listening to almost non-stop was Gotye’s Making Mirrors.

The Australian artist (“Gotye” is a stage name- his real name is Wouter De Backer) has been releasing music since 2001, but it wasn’t until the end of 2011 that he reached mainstream success with his inescapable hit single, Somebody That I Used to Know.  It was due to this song that I was introduced to Gotye’s music, and decided to buy the album after just a few listens to the single.  I fell completely in love with the music on Making Mirrors; the introspective lyrics, Gotye’s voice, and the unforgettable songs kept me coming back for more.

The disc opens with the title track, which is less of an actual song, and more of a short intro to the album.  “Dreamt of a doorway that opened to everything, and I’m reaching towards it. Drifting backwards, drawing the curtains, windows inside my head- maybe I’m only making mirrors”, echoes Gotye’s voice.  The lyrics, combined with the airy melody give off an almost dream-like theme for the album.

Easy Way Out begins with cheerful music and plays out to be an upbeat number, almost counteracting the song before it.  The track is also our first real introduction to Gotye’s voice, as the title track is a bit too sparse to really get a grasp on his vocals.  Vocally, Gotye’s got an interesting voice; he has a pleasant tone and a nice range- we hear him sing in both his higher and lower register, often effortlessly sliding between the two on the same song.  On this particular track, he doesn’t do anything spectacular vocally, but that doesn’t detract from the overall fun of this song.

The aforementioned lead single, Somebody That I Used to Know is next, and it’s easy to see why this song was such a huge hit.  The track opens with a playful xylophone and a head-bopping beat, which is a stark contrast to the lyrical content, about the reflection of a bad relationship.  The brilliant thing about this song is that it’s so relatable- almost everyone has had a relationship like the one described in the lyrics (“Told myself that you were right for me/But felt so lonely in your company/But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember”) and Gotye writes about it so honestly that you can’t sing along without picturing that “someone that (you) used to know” in your own life.  The chorus is especially stirring, as he belts out the lines, “But you didn’t have to cut me off!  Make out like we 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.”  New Zealander Kimbra joins in during the second verse, and her strong voice compliments his perfectly, though she still manages to hold her own, especially as she cries out that last “somebody that I used to know!” line during her verse.  Even though this track was played on every radio station last summer (even the R&B/hip-hop stations had a “urban” version), I never really grew tired of it, which is just a testament to how good of a song it is.

Eyes Wide Open was actually the first single from the album, and is another lively, fast-paced track.  Though the song is nice enough (and I particularly like listening to Gotye’s vocals during this track), I can see why it didn’t garner the mainstream success that Somebody I Used to Know did;  the catchy chorus is memorable  (“We walk the plank with our eyes wide open”) but the song doesn’t do much else to really stand out.

“You’re a fraud, and you know it,” are the opening lyrics to the aptly title song, Smoke and Mirrors.  This melody is slowed down a bit more than some of the other songs so far, and the track gives off a somewhat somber mood, especially paired with the lyrics of a deceptive, unreliable lover (“Such highs and lows/You put on quite a show/…Every night and day you take the stage, and it entertains”).  There’s quite a bit of instrumentation going on in the background here, and the song has a late 80’s, new-wave sort of sound to it, which I dig.

The sound of the album really changes up with I Feel Better.  If I compared Smoke and Mirrors to the 80’s, I Feel Better has a surprisingly 1960’s Motown sound to it.  Gotye even sounds a bit like a Smokey Robinson-era soul singer in this song, and it’s just such a shocker.  Up to now, the album has been comprised of a pop/rock/indie song, and this comes out of left field.  It took me some time to appreciate this track: I thought Gotye’s loud delivery and the even louder saxophone and horns during the choruses were overwhelming at first.  Then, I went through a really depressing time during the spring of the year I listened to this album, and suddenly it just clicked with me.  I felt, well… better, when I heard this song; the optimistic chorus (“I feel better, better, better than before/I feel better, better, better, now I’m not down any more”) and the cheery music actually did cheer me up and this song can still make me smile when I’m having a bad day.

Gotye in Montreal on March 30, 2012 (07)In Your Light continues on in the same musical vein; there’s more of a happy melody, and bouncy music that’s guaranteed to make you smile. The saxophone makes a reappearance, as well as a trumpet, and both add to the exuberant sound.  The lyrics verge on being corny at times (“Get up in the morning/I can’t keep it in/I’m falling all over myself/And I could jump out of my skin/Wanna break the door down/Just to greet the day/’Cause there ain’t nothing that’s more certain/To keep my blues away”), but you just can’t fault Gotye, especially as he sounds so damn happy while singing this song.  This track reminds me of the scene in the movie “(500) Days of Summer”, when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character marches down the street with dancers behind him, overwhelmed with the joy of being in love for the first time.  Actually, this entire song sort of sums up that sentiment- the jubilant, incomparable joy of a first (or really deep) love. You can’t help but feel giddy and joyful when listening to this track.

The genre switches up yet again with State of the Art, a highly computerized track which even features Gotye singing through vocoder for the majority of it.  The rest of the song is made up of a series of digitized beeps, blips, keyboards, and other electronic sounds.  Gotye’s voice sounds so deep through the vocoder that he nearly sounds like a different person.  The change in theme is a bit jarring at first, but on its own, the song is pretty likeable.  At the very least, you’ve got to give Gotye credit for trying new things.

The title of Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You is pretty ominous and the music does nothing to reassure you.  Most of the song is whispered over a minimalistic beat, and the result is a seriously creepy little song.  It’s definitely got a Big Brother sort of theme to it, which I enjoy, but the song is odd when you place it amongst the other tracks on the album.  I don’t dislike it, but it certainly isn’t one of my favorites, either.

Giving Me A Chance is a song that took some time to get my attention.  During the first few listens of the album, it’s an easy-enough track to overlook; the soft melody and Gotye’s similarly hushed vocals don’t make much of an impression at first glance.  However, after sitting with the album a few times, the lyrics floated out to me (“You know I love you more than anyone/But I get a little wrapped up in myself/But you know I never want to do you wrong/Bring into question what we have/…I know I let you down/But you’re giving me a chance”) and I found myself enjoying the song more.  It’s one of the only actual love songs on the album and though it’s not anything revolutionary, it’s a pretty song and one that I like listening to.

The tone picks up with Save Me, another bright pop song.  The track is also a love song, sort of in the same category as Giving Me A Chance, though this song, Gotye attributes his lover as his “savior” of sorts.  The lyrics are favorites of mine, and always make me feel sort of sentimental (“And you gave me love/When I could not love myself/And you made me turn/From the way I saw myself/And you’re patient, love/And you help me help myself/And you save me”) and admittedly remind me of my relationship with my boyfriend.  It really is a sweet song, and gets the point about across in a romantic way, without being too saccharine.

The album ends with what has become one of my favorite songs, Bronte.  I mentioned getting sentimental while listening to the track before this, but this song actually makes me cry.  The quiet ballad was written about the passing of Gotye’s family dog (named Bronte, naturally), and the lyrics are stirring and emotional (“Now your bowl is empty/And your feet are cold/And your body cannot stop rocking/I know/It hurts to let go”).  To me, the song has a deep personal significance. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, passed away at the end of 2011 from lung cancer.  I spent most of 2012 grappling with her death, trying (and failing) to deal with the loss I felt from her passing.  This song came to me during a particularly hard struggle with that and I found a profound comfort in the lyrics (“We will be with you, when you’re leaving/We will be with you, when you go/And hold you till you’re quiet/It hurts to let you go/…We will be with you/You will stay with us”).  The song gave to me something I hadn’t felt prior to that point: warmth and closure. Of course, it’s still painful to think of my Nana’s death, but whenever I’m feeling low, I just listen to this song (or even just hum the melody to myself) and I feel a little bit better.

Gotye’s album is definitely one of my favorite albums, not just of 2011, but ever.  Making Mirrors is such great CD, because it covers so many genres of music and does so almost flawlessly.  Gotye’s songwriting is honest and straight-forward, and his songs touch me in such a personal, emotional way.  I will never forget this album, or these songs, nor the way they continue to make me feel everytime I listen to them.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Making Mirrors
2. Easy Way Out
3. Somebody That I Used to Know
4.  Eyes Wide Open
5. Smoke and Mirrors
6. I Feel Better
7. In Your Light
8. State of the Art
9. Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You
10. Giving Me A Chance
11.  Save Me
12. Bronte

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UVNT4wvIGY]
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