If you’ve never heard Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” remixed as a 1920s ragtime jig, complete with a flapper dress and head gear, then you’re missing out on a whole new pop culture-done-vintage phenomenon from Postmodern Jukebox.
Jazz pianist Scott Bradlee, lead face of the band, takes Top-40 pop songs and reworks them in retro composition styles. The result is a surprisingly fresh cover, even though many of the cadences in the tunes date back to 1940s jazz, 1940s swing, 1950s doo wop and Motown, just to name a few. Many of the songs evoke the spirit of icons from vintage eras, such as the laments of French singer Edith Piaf. A bluegrass rendition of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” takes its raunchy lyrics and turns them into a tasteful background for a good old-fashioned back-country hoedown: “You’re the hottest girl in this barn.”
Many of the singers, who are all impressive vocalists that could easily be on “Glee,” dress up in costumes reminiscent of the era, such as the “Mad Men”-esque version of “Pompeii” from Bastille. In the commentary, the band explains how the cover was a tribute to Don Draper and part of the show’s main theme song. True to character, lead singer, Tony DeSare, wears his hair slicked back and completes the old-school look with a slim brown suit.
Now you might be thinking: another cover group looking for their fifteen minutes in the spotlight – what’s so fresh about this? Where’s the originality? And it’s true: releasing a cover on social media sites likes YouTube is the go-to route for attempting to get noticed by others. But all covers are not created equal. You can sometimes sense that all the artist is looking for is a “like” or a shout-out and couldn’t care less about incorporating his or her unique style into the piece, about making it a genuinely new musical experience. It gives covers a bad rap.
But that’s not the case here, at all – you can tell that time and effort and, more importantly, passion have been invested into each and every song Postmodern Jukebox attempts. And it’s a refreshing change – the live renditions and carefully choreographed covers played by actual musicians add sophistication to today’s manufactured mainstream music, much of which seems to cheaply rely on a bass drop or house-influenced synth beats to become a chart-topping hit. “Don’t You Worry Child” was great the first couple hundred times we heard it, but after a while you yearn for something with a bit more substance and a bit less of the same old synth. If you haven’t already seen Andy Samberg’s “SNL” parody of the lazy EDM DJ who plays music from an iPod, “When Will the Bass Drop?”, it’ll explain exactly what most of us have been feeling. You’ve also been living under a rock, so get on that stat.
Postmodern Jukebox provides a new channel of appreciation for the artistry of music, to transform an old song or one that’s been relegated to the halls of into something with new meaning. If you get a chance to see them on tour, maybe they’ll play their cover of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” which does the 2Chainz rap in Yiddish. Oh ʻyʼá.