One would hope we’re sufficiently post-everything that admitting a fondness for disco would be uncontroversial at this point, even among straight people. That’s what the Brisbane-based Mitzi is banking on anyway, and the melancholy, lazily psychedelic music video for the first track “Who Will Love You Now” was enough to get me excited.
Albums like Truly Alive tend to invite the use of adjectives usually reserved for jungles or coffee. The sound is “lush” or “humid,” and melodies percolate and drip down through synth washes. But that would belie how clean Mitzi’s sound really is. For a bunch of shaggy-headed “hipsters,” they do a pretty great impression of classic disco piano work on tracks like “Can’t Change Her.” “Dance floor jams for the broken hearted” almost gets it, but the sense of rejection is more societal than romantic — “We cannonball/ Across the night/ You can’t afford/ This modern life” (“Modern Life”). And a certain antipodean cheeriness does shine through, perhaps as the low-rent triumph of survivorhood?
To an extent, Mitzi’s reception is inevitably tied up with the reputation of fellow Australian 80s revivalists Cut Copy (they only actually sound like them during “On My Mind”). But you’ll have to forgive my feeling a bit of déjà vu, back to those few years in the mid-2000s when it seemed like every rock magazine on the newsstand had some new Australian sensation on the cover (remember The Vines?). They share a label with Flume; opened for Neon Indian, Foals, and Foster the People when they all toured in Australia; released a new single via Pitchfork; and were designated an NME “Buzz Artist!” What I’m trying to say is, if there’s a conspiracy of skinny tastemaking dudes out there somewhere, Mitzi has to be somewhere close to its gravitational center. But Mitzi has paid their dues: they’ve become a fixture on the Australian dance music scene and there are probably some people out there for whom the release of Truly Alive was a highly-anticipated event.
At the end of the album the first time through, I felt like my pulse had somehow synchronized with the mid-tempo 4/4 beat that the album never strays from. I also wished I was someplace other than my bedroom, where such a feeling would be enjoyable. But the question in my mind was this: Why are there so few dance bands? And why does it seem like the ones that exist rarely come from America? There are probably lots of reasons, but consider what Mitzi’s drummer said in a recent interview: “It is pretty tough playing live dance music though, DJs are getting paid more than some of the bands and their costs are significantly lower.”
Inevitable as it might be, that’s kind of sad, isn’t it? And I’ve played in far too many orchestras to accept the argument that instruments don’t matter. That Mitzi seems to be on the cusp of making something good — or if the press they’ve been getting isn’t enough to indicate that these days, at least making something — puts a more positive spin on the vast forces of pop-cultural gravitation that Justin Moyer criticized late last year in one of 2012’s best essays. The New York-L.A. axis mundi drains the hinterland, sure, but it can also sustain its more consumption-ready, if unique, products — even if it created the conditions that made them a rarity in the first place.