Gotye’s Making Mirrors is already considered a modern classic in his adopted homeland of Australia, where it was released in 2011. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t walk down the street without hearing it being hummed by a passer-by. In part this is due to Somebody I Used To Know – an infinitely relistenable ode featuring vocals from Kiwi pocket-rocket Kimbra. Not only has the song racked up over 55 million hits on YouTube, it also recently topped Triple J’s Hottest 100, a countdown list as relevant to the Australian culture as sunburn and fly repellent.
Unlike other overhyped albums that have achieved similar fame, Making Mirrors is the real deal. Stamped over the LP is an abundance of lucid creativity, the kind that fuels an endless source of inspiration for artists to come. With any kind of luck, it will overhaul the image of Australian music.
Thematically, Making Mirrors centres on overcoming self-doubt and worthlessness, a process Gotye – real name Wally De Backer – endured whilst writing the album. His approach to songwriting is a notoriously painstaking one. It started when, during a sabbatical between bands, he began to piece together various samples ranging from Sting to old jazz standards. Not much has changed since.
Despite the tortuous process, Making Mirrors never feels forced or overly complicated. It straddles a level of critical and commercial appeal that most artists aspire to but never quite achieve. Take, for example, Somebody I Used To Know, a song De Backer nearly left in the ‘too hard’ basket after struggling to come up with a suitable second stanza. On the surface it seems minimal and unrewarding. It’s only when De Backer explodes into the chorus and Kimbra bleeds her contrasting perspective that all is revealed. From there it takes carefully repeated listens for the gorgeous subtleties of Gotye’s samples to fully blossom.
Elsewhere the album confidently steers from pop to avant-garde and everything in between. Experimental, noir drenched tracks like State Of The Art and Smoke And Mirrors slip comfortably alongside Easy Way Out and the unapologetically poppy In Your Light.
De Backer also finds space to fit in what is undoubtedly his favourite genre, Motown. I Feel Better roars with anthemic horns and a driving chorus that refuses to dip into self-pity. It harks back to Learnalilgivinandlovin, a similarly positive track from previous album Like Drawing Blood.
The concluding tracks reaffirm De Backer’s virtuosity. Whereas most artists stuff the first half of their releases with their top shelf gear, he saves his best for last. Giving Me A Chance, Save Me and Bronte exude a haunting calmness that perfectly complement the album’s heavier moments.
Making Mirrors ought to fare well in Europe, especially considering the progressive nature of the musical landscape. Whether it can penetrate the rampant house, R&B and rock monotony of the US is an entirely different question. Regardless, Gotye is the most exciting export to come from Australia since Nick Cave.