The false nostalgia of music played in an empty mall, or in a rainy car
March 20, 2018 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Jia Tolentino writes for The New Yorker of The Overwhelming Emotion of Hearing Toto’s “Africa” Remixed to Sound Like It’s Playing in an Empty Mall, which is something you can experience on YouTube thanks to Cecil Robert, but he's not the first. Before him, and more prolific, there's allyson m. who also makes songs sound like you're listening from a bathroom (at a party*) or driving in a car in the rain. There's the false nostalgia for hearing songs in familiar, lonely settings.

Cecil Roberts has a certain set of styles: in addition to the empty mall sound, there's songs played from another room and bad stereo versions and listening to live music, played far away.

As noted in the New Yorker article,
Making a song sound as if it were coming from another room isn’t hard: you lower the high frequencies, raise the low frequencies, and add some reverb. (Programs such as Pro Tools, Ableton, and GarageBand make it simple to play around with a track in this way.) To make a song sound as if it were playing in an empty mall, you cut the low frequencies, raise the mid-range frequencies, and add a delay, which imitates the way sound bounces through a big, empty space.
You can also do edits like this with Audacity, free audio editing software. And as noted in that 2015 YouTube tutorial, these edits are old (though songs playing from another room started in 2016).

* And there are a ton of goofy ones, riffing on the whole "sounding like it's being played [in somewhere]" - Childish Gambino - Redbone but you're in a bathroom at a party | What Redbone would ACTUALLY sound like while you're making out in the bathroom of a house party | and then YouTube will suggest a million variations, and you're lost for hours on a totally different tangent.

But to bring the circle back to Childish Gambino, here's the video for "Sober" - which features the camera pulling out of the restaurant and the audio following with it, muting the song and overlaying the sound of traffic on a wet street, before fading back into the diner.
posted by filthy light thief (113 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
The notion of "false nostalgia" coupled with digital manipulation feels like it pretty much describes Instagram and VSCO over in the visual world. Close cousins to the false profundity of monochrome photography apps. Or at least, the way those apps can lend themselves to false profundity. Not filterist.
posted by mph at 4:26 PM on March 20 [9 favorites]


...................Is this a millennial thing or what?
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:27 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


holy crap, everything2.com
posted by thelonius at 4:27 PM on March 20 [35 favorites]


speaking of false nostalgia, what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway?
posted by thelonius at 4:29 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Toto's "Africa" has recently become absurdly popular again. I'm not sure what the cause was, but it's everywhere online now. Memes all over the place. This premise though, "Africa" played in an empty mall immediately made me think of a bit from Patton Oswalt's "Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time" in which he discusses feeling depressed in a grocery store and hearing "Africa" and wanting to pull out a gun and shoot himself. There's a version of it on Youtube that's got animation added that's pretty neat.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:31 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


speaking of false nostalgia, what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway?

Drums echoing? Blessed rains?
posted by wabbittwax at 4:32 PM on March 20 [13 favorites]


holy crap, everything2.com

I could have sworn I read something about nostalgia for somewhere you've never been, but I couldn't find that link.

How appropriate, right?
posted by filthy light thief at 4:33 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway?

It meant making a smooth song!
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:35 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


ack! That was not the right link to the Oswalt video. This is.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:37 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Legislated nostalgia - to force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess - Douglas Coupland
posted by Jellybean_Slybun at 4:40 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


hashtag vaporwave
posted by Nelson at 4:40 PM on March 20 [10 favorites]


I misread the title as Playing in an Empty Pail, and I still want to hear that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:44 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I have a new DJ gig where I remix 90s tracks to sound like they're played on scratched skipping CDs. (I'm available for weddings)
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:46 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway

No need to wonder; I'm pretty sure they fully catalogued every single thought and mental image they ever had about Africa in the one song.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:47 PM on March 20 [24 favorites]


My gimmick for producing music has been sampling instruments and vocals for use as melodies while I use a free Trap 808 WAV kit for beats. With Logic Pro X, I tend to have a very manual way of inputting a track and slicing it up for use - but I usually put EQ and reverb filters on those tracks to have an idea of what I'm working with. For some reason, it was just as enthralling to listen to reverbed out tracks of known songs as making my own.

This trend is similar to the vaporwave trend in the early 2010s, when artists were simply slowing down tracks for creepy results - perhaps this is the "mainstream"-ifying of vaporwave sensibilities as it taps into "false nostalgia" than the "dirty underbelly" that vaporwave was so able to unlock in classic pop songs.

One last interesting part: the YouTube images tend to place you within the settings that the filters are trying to emulate. I saw one of the "alysson m." ones based on driving-in-the-rain, where it simply used dash cam footage of a rainy night, a looping rain sound, and the music EQ'd to a somewhat accurate depiction of car speakers. But what I attach to is that a camera for such a video would never be able to capture the sound of car speaker qualities - they tend to thin out all sounds.

That would mean these types of videos are in themselves a "hyper-reality" of imperfection: far distorted from the studio mix, they are nevertheless protected from the real world, EQ'd in a digital space and outputted to a listener without a trace of the origins it simulates. But the fascination of "in-a-mall" or "in-a-bathroom" music is derived almost entirely out of being able to hear such effects outside of their natural environments; we tend to be too distracted to care about that one muffled out song as we're washing our hands.

There are many odd things we do to music as they have become more centrally digitized and thus malleable with audio processors, and I wouldn't be surprised if artistic taste may add another aspect than what you consume: it could soon be how you consume it.
posted by aleksalhambra at 4:48 PM on March 20 [17 favorites]


There were other from-another-room edits (“Age of Consent,” “Linger”) and empty-mall edits (recent ones include “Under Pressure” and “God Only Knows”). I listened to them all, and got progressively more emotional. Hearing a song you love when it’s playing from elsewhere is a reassuring, isolating experience: you feel solitary and cared for at the same time.

Weird, I love God Only Knows, but hearing the empty-mall edit didn't bring anything positive out of me emotionally. It sounded totally creepy, like the way a not-trying-to-be-creepy clown is still sometimes creepy.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:52 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


There's no mention of getting cooked in a pot by cannibals.

Too busy getting baked by some pot (by cannabis).
posted by leotrotsky at 4:55 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


I'm with 23skidoo, the Toto song in the mall did nothing for me emotionally, just sounded like a bad recording. Maybe because I'm an amateur musician, and have some familiarity with recording? Maybe I'm too old? Although this song should be right in the sweet spot for someone my age, and I'm familiar with it, and not just from internet memes.
posted by smcameron at 4:59 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Weird.

This actually did do something for me, in that it brought back the memory of hanging out in the mall when I was a kid. Or hanging out in a crappy CD store, stuff like that.

I'm not sure that's nostalgia exactly, but it is a memory that hadn't surfaced for a while.
posted by selfnoise at 5:02 PM on March 20


This beauty is the only edit of Africa that I will ever need.

Speaking of dogs, '"Sweater Weather" but you are in a bathroom at a party' upset my chiweenie. He perked up, stared, then ran over and tried to lick me a lot right between the eyes. Singularly unpleasant experience. Thumbs down.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:05 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


This is of course my relaxing Toto nostalgia video.
posted by Artw at 5:08 PM on March 20


Too busy getting baked by some pot (by cannabis)

Touche´
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:08 PM on March 20


I went looking for some more videos with these effects on YouTube. Among the suggested videos was this one, which makes it sound like several minuscule Davids Byrne are standing on my desk on the far side of my laptop screen.

Just a warning: TIL as late as 1984, Scottish-Canadian-American arthouse rockers still thought ironic blackface was a good idea.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:14 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]




From the imaginary life where I lived above a speakeasy nightclub.

From the imaginary life where I lived one floor down from a classical pianist with beautiful hands and a tragic past.
posted by merriment at 5:19 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


In 2011, when Selena Gomez's Love You Like a Love Song was released - and our daughter was 11 - the song was played on active rotation on Radio Disney in the Bay Area. We would hear it, time and time again, when we were driving... along with Car Wash, of all things.

Here's the the thing: Radio Disney in the Bay Area was, at the time, on the AM dial.

Music on AM sounds weird to modern ears.

Compressed and filtered through AM, Gomez's vocals floated above a stark, strange bassline, slack drums and a hazy string section like an apparition. It was beguiling, like a 1970s version of Goldfrapp, like The Night the Lights Went Down in Georgia to a disco beat. It sounded like '70s anomie filtered through, well, aughts Radio Disney.

So, I behaved like any reasonable person: I fired up Audacity. I limited the spectral bandwidth to that of the AM dial, compressed the dynamic range. I made a few boosts and tweaks here and there to match the dynamics of our Honda Fit. And there it was - a far superior, strange, melancholy version of Love You Like a Love Song.

I'm vaguely embarrassed every time it shows up in random play.
posted by eschatfische at 5:23 PM on March 20 [21 favorites]


Oh, wait. Here's peak aesthetic.
posted by merriment at 5:25 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


That empty mall version of God Only Knows really needs to be the basis for a "1970s Intentional Communities" version of Bioshock.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:34 PM on March 20 [10 favorites]


Ooh I love this stuff!
posted by aka burlap at 5:44 PM on March 20


So there's a weird horror film from 1989 called "Parents". The movie is set in the 1950's and is told from the perspective of a young boy who comes to the realization his parents are cannibals. Being it's set in the 1950's, there's period specific music throughout, and they use Perez Prado's "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" for the end credits. I have no idea if the version I have linked to is the specific one used in the film, but I remember hearing it and thinking it sounded like a full orchestra playing to a completely empty auditorium. The echoes of the solo horn bits gave me goosebumps at the time, and given all that came before it, that sort of ghost story Shining-esque feel was utterly perfect.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:50 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


I like liking things and I like this! I really enjoy "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" as heard in an empty shopping mall. On the other hand, I'm listening to The Cranberries' "Linger" (in the style of "playing from another room") right now, and I really want to burst out of my bedroom and excitedly shout "ooh, turn this up, I love this song!" so I can hear properly, but the muffled noise is coming from my laptop right in front of me and it is messing with my damn mind.
posted by duffell at 5:52 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


everything2 still exists? Best news I've heard all day.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:57 PM on March 20 [9 favorites]


Each of those '80s songs set in a dead, decaying mall gave me the requisite nostalgia, but it also made me feel flat-out incredibly sad in a way I just can't describe, a way for which even the most expansive use of the term 'nostalgia' is wholly incapable of encompassing.
It felt like somebody poked at the scar tissue of a part of my childhood.
posted by mystyk at 5:57 PM on March 20 [18 favorites]


It's the bit where they cut off the sense of endless potential and grafted on Adulthood.

In fact, that amputation is the sensation I get listening to distant songs in malls - my first real jobs were all in shopping centres - do or die jobs where if I missed a shift I'd have to miss meals to compensate for the loss of income. It's the sound of the novelty of independence wearing off and the reality of adulthood, especially young, fraught adulthood, sinking in.
posted by Jilder at 6:09 PM on March 20 [19 favorites]


* ctl-f Burial *

Tsk!

This is kind of his metier. Great post, I love this stuff.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 6:16 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Regarding the nostalgia felt by some, Jia wrote this in the New Yorker article:
Our lives increasingly play out in virtual spaces: instead of going to malls, we surf on Amazon; many of us would happily forgo the mess of a party to stay home and flirt through an app. Listening to music, too, is now mostly frictionless, and this quality is why the little shadow world of music that Robert, allyson m., and others inhabit is so appealing to me.
This resonates with me, at least a bit.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:16 PM on March 20 [13 favorites]


I hear the song echoing in the mall ... hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 6:17 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


I know that I must do what’s right, sure as Old Navy rises above the Serengeti
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:26 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I can't feel nostalgia, for 80s music...it never went away...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 6:28 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]




Is on-line shopping fueling nascent mallstalgia?
posted by umbú at 6:32 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway

There’s an oral history that gives some background, because of course there is.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:34 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


> Toto's "Africa" has recently become absurdly popular again. I'm not sure what the cause was, but it's everywhere online now.

I think Dax and Kristen are to blame.
posted by komara at 6:35 PM on March 20 [9 favorites]


I liked this. If this isn't your thing, you could just... not comment and let us enjoy it?
posted by schmod at 6:35 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]




Are weird re-imaginings of Toto's "Africa" the new pointless minimalist movie poster redesigns?
posted by Crane Shot at 6:50 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]




I like to imagine there’s a secret cabal of Millennial Influencers who decide what stupid pop culture ephemera is going to be dragged out of the cultural subconscious to be run through the meme factory each week. Next week: the theme song from Double Dare for some reason.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:58 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


Too busy getting baked by some pot (by cannabis).

god dammit Trotsky that's just stupid enough to work
posted by Sebmojo at 7:02 PM on March 20




Blast it, the "empty mall" ones are haunting, but sound just off enough to me (as an old with fond memories of times in malls both full and fading) that they hit the uncanny valley. And now I really want to learn how to record impulse responses for freeverb and go sneak into the a local ghost mall. Probably not quite enough, though. To get it right you'd also have to simulate the expensive-but-crummy in-ceiling sound system
posted by CHoldredge at 7:11 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Honestly- at this point, my hearing is so damaged that most of these just sound normal.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:20 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Someone needs to do "hits of your youth playing in the parking lot of a casino." Trust me, exactly on your 51st birthday, if you visit a casino, you will hear it begin. Helps if you lost a few bucks in the casino.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:25 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


One of the most beautiful things I've ever heard was when I walked into a casino. There was the constant barrage of slot machines in their idle mode, and over the loudspeakers "Rhiannon" was playing. Somehow they were in tune with each other, and it was the best shoegaze gig I've ever attended. Seriously, melody and noise blended perfectly. I've tried recreating it in my own music, but haven't found a good match yet.

Listening to these songs listed brings up nostalgia. But the simulations make me remember other simulations. The false reverb, the false muffling, makes me think of New Vegas. Or driving around Los Santos. These sounds are so common in video games & their cutscenes, that it's hard thinking of the actual reality they're trying to evoke.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 7:38 PM on March 20 [7 favorites]


“Africa” is really about the Yamaha GS1 synth, which let us hear FM synthesis tech for the first time (the marimba part)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:41 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


There's also "Smash Mouth plays from the depths of hell as you traverse a deep, rat-infested cave"

Well now I have a soundtrack for the next time I play Brogue.
posted by curious nu at 7:42 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I love this so hard and I’m really, really non-millennial.
posted by Salamander at 8:35 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Okay, I’m old.
posted by Salamander at 8:36 PM on March 20


Bad noder! You have been eaten by EDB! *buuuuurp*
posted by loquacious at 9:38 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


I live next to a bunch of old concrete bunkers that have all the acoustics of cathedral halls and giant caves, and I have definitely gone up there just to listen to music in them.

People make/record music in them all the time and use them as echo/reverb chambers and performances spaces.

I once accidentally scared the crap out of some Evergreen college students on a field trip to do field recording and sound design (game/film, I presume.)

Well, I was working on re-tracking/recording and processing a short track, and this involved taking a pocket speaker into the firewall gap around one of the powder rooms, so it's this very narrow and tall hallway and sort of box-shaped gap around the powder magazine room in the very heart of the bunker. Imagine if you put a concrete room inside another concrete room, except it was like 2 feet smaller on all sides. (Difficult to describe because it's a very uncommon architectural shape.)

And at one end of this shoulder-width space I have my recorder set up on a tripod, and I'm down in the back playing this track I'm re-tracking and recording in the bunkers, and I'm manipulating this sound by holding the speaker to my mouth and sort of playing the sound of the speaker like a jew's harp, changing the size and embouchure of my mouth to adjust the pitch of the speaker noises.

Well I didn't realize that some of the Evergreen kids were up in the higher levels of the bunker. I also didn't know they could hear me, and the sounds I was making, which was a mix of droning and weird popping noises mixed with the more obviously organic noises of the mouth shapes I was doing.

And they apparently thought they discovered some weird, cool natural sound or wind making reverb,

And so they finally figure out it's not the wind and come creeping down to where I am and come into view with their mics on boom poles and headphones on, and I'm standing there with my headlamp in red light night vision mode with the speaker in my hand with some kind of red light on the bottom held up to my face, and there's groaning, twanging and sort of droning noises coming from my general face area and basically around the red lights. Glowing in the dark. Down the end of this creepy, narrow hallway.

And they go shrieking and clattering out of there like they just walked into the Blair Witch Project.

I did manage to apologize and explain what the hell I was doing down there, and I totally wanted to nerd out and talk shop, but they weren't having it at all after that and I'm vaguely worried I might have scared them away from field recording and sound design forever.
posted by loquacious at 9:55 PM on March 20 [35 favorites]


If you want more vaporwave music to give you dreams of haunted malls, the New Yorker article also cites Dead Air Collective's Dead Mall Adventures, on Bandcamp. It's new creations, but with that vacant, echoing sound of the final reverberations of the 1980s echoing through dimly (neon) lit storefronts.

But if you like that fucked up stereo in the next room sound, At War for Youth by Vår is one of my perennial favorites - synthy, punky, throbbing anger.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Also dancey. If you're not in love with the first two tracks, try Brodermordet - it's glorious, lo-fi dance rebellion (according to my ears).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:02 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I love this shit, and my absolute favorite version of it is with songs from the 60s or earlier, an aesthetic which I like to call Ghost Jukebox. One of my favorite ghost jukebox jams: La Vie en Rose from another room. This is, somehow, the ideal way to listen to this song, in my opinion. For me, it's something about the nostalgia for a place and time I've never actually experienced, plus how the melancholy of listening to it from a distance is somehow intrinsic to the experience.
posted by yasaman at 10:03 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I loved this too. Thanks for sharing.
posted by potrzebie at 10:56 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


The ones in empty rooms or muffled from another room or far away drive me nuts. I want to hear it clearly or not at all.

That said, I do love rain and given the Mr Brightside thread yesterday couldn't resist allyson m's version of it driving in the rain. That is oddly satisfying.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:16 PM on March 20


Toto's "Africa" has recently become absurdly popular again. I'm not sure what the cause was, but it's everywhere online now.

Because everything always can come back to Achewood, I think it's Ray's fault.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:19 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Okay now I'm getting not-false nostalgia from listening to Wonderwall in the rain (with thunder even) and remembering actually driving around Hobart with friends in the pouring rain listening to Ryan Adams's cover of Wonderwall for the first time. Awesome.

Also I figured out part of why I like the rain ones: they remind me of my lost youf listening to things on cassette tape on a Walkman with headphones, which had a certain auditory background hiss that you got used to until it abruptly stopped at the end of the tape and then you had to eject it and turn it over because it was such an old Walkman it didn't even auto-reverse.

Who needs madeleines?
posted by Athanassiel at 11:27 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


There’s an oral history that gives some background, because of course there is.

Full vindication! Witness me:

Lukather: I’m the guy who said I’d run naked down Hollywood Boulevard if this thing is a hit. Not because of the groove or the track. But because of the fucking lyrics! I’m going, “We’re from North Hollywood! What the fuck do we have to sing about Africa?”

Porcaro: I was always rolling my eyes at Dave's lyrics. Do any stand out as cringeworthy? Oh god, are you kidding? They all do.

posted by thelonius at 1:07 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Lukather: If you had told me I had a 20-inch cock, I’d believe that before I believed this. I mean, of all songs?
posted by thelonius at 1:16 AM on March 21


Fun fact: if released all at once, the amount of force required to fit "As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti" into the lyrics would immediately disintegrate the entire population of Milton Keynes.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:09 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway?

Rick Beato is from New York - and he is talking about "Rosanna" rather than "Africa" - but this is his take. I think the point it that is possibly for musos to get so lost in musicianship itself - instruments, arrangements, harmonies and so on - when all of that is stuff is done in an interesting way - so that the issue "what the fuck is this song actually about?" does not get considered. Smoothness is music can be like a hard shell preventing further consideration.
posted by rongorongo at 4:28 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


John Carpenter likes Toto's "Africa" and so that's good enough for me.

The lyrics are basically nonsensical but I do think the vocals and the synths are beautiful. But I liked this song before it was "cool" (again?) to like this song, so ...
posted by darksong at 4:33 AM on March 21


"Africa" came out when I was a very lonely freshman in college and I spent a lot of time listening to it and singing harmony to it in my dorm room, and every time I hear it now I am right back there. Since I also loved shopping malls back then, I think if I listen to the mall version I will just melt into a puddle of painful emotion, so I won't. But thank you for the post.
posted by JanetLand at 5:38 AM on March 21


Next week: the theme song from Double Dare for some reason.

On your mark...

Get set......
posted by Servo5678 at 5:58 AM on March 21


Stop!

Also, I'm really feeling some much needed closure about "Africa". That song confused the hell out of me. I liked the synths. But the lyrics were irritatingly bewildering and confounding. Then at some point as a youth I saw the smarmy and totally weird MTV music video and I was piqued and irritated in a rather alarming number of new ways, and I think I was most irritated why the song seemed to actually make me irrationally angry.

Now I reckon that was just good old fashioned rational anger, but I didn't know how to filter it out from the teen angst.
posted by loquacious at 6:04 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I can attest from personal experience that no song can be better heard in an empty mall than Don't Fear the Reaper.
posted by Golem XIV at 6:45 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I think one can only say "false nostalgia" with a straight face if one isn't being completely honest and clear-headed about nostalgia in the first place. All nostalgia is false in its selectivity, in the way its laser focus on tiny scraps of positive memory and emotion are extrapolated, re-constituted into a fuller, sunnier whole than ever really existed in the first place. "False nostalgia" doesn't start with a real memory, but the accuracy of the memory isn't what's important to the process. (Obviously.)

That's my understanding of what nostalgia is, that's what separates it from mere happy memories. It is a mental stunt, a pleasant daydream, a trick that can be turned against you if you're not aware. I bristle a bit at the notion of ennobling "[real] nostalgia" by contrasting it with "false nostalgia," as if one were better or more honest.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:42 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


The thing that gets me about the empty-mall versions of songs is that, unless you were part of the mall-walking thing when that was still a thing (and since most mall walkers were senior citizens, it's unlikely to have serious nostalgia for it), you were in an empty mall probably because you were cleaning it or on the night shift for security. And that's very much its own thing; all that space that's usually (or was, back in the day) teeming with people, all emptied out. Think of Dawn of the Dead before the bikers bust in. I never cleaned the mall proper, but I did spend some months on the graveyard shift cleaning a Target that was attached to a local mall, and we'd fire up one of the display stereos and just play whatever was on the radio; for some reason, "Soldier of Love"--Jesus please us, Donny Osmond's stab at new jack swing--sticks out.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:46 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that Africa is currently gaining popularity so much as it never lost popularity. It's been listed before as the best song according to science and is still in heavy rotation on your generic 'mom-pop/we can listen to this at work and not offend anyone' stations around the US.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:51 AM on March 21


Hurry boy, the mall is closing in fifteen minutes. Please bring all final purchases to the register.
posted by dr_dank at 7:52 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


John Carpenter likes Toto's "Africa" and so that's good enough for me.

So does cortex.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:06 AM on March 21


Western Infidels: I think one can only say "false nostalgia" with a straight face if one isn't being completely honest and clear-headed about nostalgia in the first place. All nostalgia is false in its selectivity, in the way its laser focus on tiny scraps of positive memory and emotion are extrapolated, re-constituted into a fuller, sunnier whole than ever really existed in the first place. "False nostalgia" doesn't start with a real memory, but the accuracy of the memory isn't what's important to the process. (Obviously.)

Interesting idea. At its most basic form, nostalgia is defined as
a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time
I think the idea of nostalgia may have changed with "media" or "pop" framing of nostalgia, such as nostalgia mining - feeding off of (and on) ideal/ idyllic versions of [things] to sell reboots and reissues -- less about a place, more about a time. "Remember when 8-bit was high-def?"

Well, many people don't now, so that's where I get the idea of "false nostalgia," feeling wistful for a place or time that you never experienced. Some of that can be missing out on what came before you (hello, early 1990s rave culture), and some may just be appreciating of this general hazy, vaporwave aesthetic as a general vibe.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:07 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


IF you've ever been to Sleep No More, the experience relies a lot on this effect. The soundtrack features a number of 1930s crooner songs, played as if they are being spun on a phonograph in the next room, or broadcast over an imperfectly receiving radio, hissing and all. I wasn't even alive at the referenced time, but I've been conditioned by a lifetime of other media to get a certain feeling from it. And it's very effective.
posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Nerk: "The Windies bless the rains down in Africa."

Comment on ESPN Cricinfo after the current game.
posted by emf at 8:20 AM on March 21


Part of what I'm about to say is because of a clear, nationwide marketing push towards building nostalgia for the good old days, but I have the weirdest nostalgia for Showa era (post war) Japan. I geek out at maps and photos from post war Japan, up through to the eighties. I've lived here for a long time now, but I can here well after the Showa era was finished, yet I find myself really enjoying stumbling on to bits of old Japan, like when I a random coworker told me she grew up in the public housing near where we bought our house, and that the NTT (phone company) dormitory complex for families (roughly fourteen apartment buildings complete with parks and such) had been a single family estate granted to a Japanese general after the war, complete with a (still very rare in Japan) in ground pool that my coworker and her friends would gaze at longingly over the wall from their apartments.

It's on par with that jolt of nostalgia from catching that snippet of the Toy'r'Us theme that CNN played last week when reporting the chain was shutting down, except I've never lived through any of this. It's like I'm a nostalgia tourist.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:24 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


unless you were part of the mall-walking thing when that was still a thing (and since most mall walkers were senior citizens, it's unlikely to have serious nostalgia for it)

Oh man, not even kidding, now I'm nostalgic for when I used to do mall-walking thing (we called them "Walk-a-mall-ies", it's supposed to sound like how you're supposed to pronounce "guacamole" where the g is pronounced like a w). I used to live close to a mall and especially when it was cold in the mornings, it was much more pleasant to do my morning walks inside a mall.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:25 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


The big mall near me still has a mall-walking program. I have done wildcat, I suppose, mall-walking myself - right after I quit drinking, walking every day was a Serious Thing for me, and I'd go there if the weather was bad enough.
posted by thelonius at 8:40 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I used to mall walk with my grandparents at a fancy, luxury mall in suburban Cleveland during school vacations. Empty-ish fancy malls, especially the ones with atriums and fountains and greenery and such, occupy the same liminal space for me as under-utilized museums and theater sets when the audience is gone. Very weird vibes, which these soundscapes do evoke with great success.
posted by merriment at 9:02 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I see you an empty mall and raise you Toto's Africa Playing As Your Volvo's Door Ajar Chime.
posted by TwoStride at 9:19 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


what exactly did Africa mean to a bunch of studio-tanned, LA-bred , white-octave singing musos, anyway?

Because she was waiting there for them.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:44 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Now that "Never Gonna Give You Up" has run its course (and run itself into the ground), the Internet Cabal (made up of the top officers of the most capitalized tech corporations and all Twitter users with over 3 million followers... no, cortex did not qualify) have been running a tournament to find its successor as "Most Ubiquitous Pop Song from the '80s/'90s" to be the Internet's audio wallpaper for the next 8-10 years. It's like "March Badness" brackets that started with 1024 charted songs of the era and is now down to two: "Africa" and Smash Mouth's "All Star". This Final Matchup (don't call it "The Final Countdown"; that song lost to "All Star" in the semi-finals) is being fiercely and loudly battled, and is still too close to call. May the worst earworm win and may the Deity of Your Choice have mercy on us all.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:03 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


From the article:

Last May, one Twitter user wrote, “fantasizing abt listening to africa by toto in an abandoned mall.”

Apparently if you're named pisslorde the New Yorker won't put your name in print. Poor pisslorde.
posted by grahamparks at 10:09 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


How 'bout a little Mitch Murder?
posted by lagomorphius at 10:21 AM on March 21


You can experience this sort of thing in real life if you're anywhere near the Southridge Mall in Des Moines.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:33 AM on March 21


In the summer of 1983 I was sitting in the empty dining hall at [large state university] all by myself because I'd managed to just hit the end of lunch and it was two hours until it re-opened for dinner. One of the cafeteria workers slowly mopped the floor towards my table while "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" echoed around. As she got to my table she leaned down and whispered in my ear, "I hate this song."
posted by lagomorphius at 10:37 AM on March 21 [10 favorites]


Apparently if you're named pisslorde the New Yorker won't put your name in print

probably because they left out the diaresis
posted by thelonius at 11:38 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


Now that "Never Gonna Give You Up" has run its course (and run itself into the ground)

Well, it was used more for annoying people than for enjoyment, or for nostalgia (false or otherwise), right? My personal brand of rick-rolling, for some reason, involves sending people (caution - go no further) this ; I also can recommend a chaser to restore aural sanity.
posted by thelonius at 11:43 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


This stuff reminds me of the intros to the dead mall series
posted by Mick at 12:00 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Hated this song when it was new, didn't understand its cultural resurgence (other than Dax and Kristen's lovable goofiness) when it returned. But the video referenced here really hit me in the gut. And the New Yorker piece sort of hits on the same why. I suppose nostalgia for one's lost youth is hardly novel or interesting anymore, but that doesn't make it less real when you're the Old in question.

Thanks for sharing.
posted by Mchelly at 1:12 PM on March 21


I didn't think I liked that music-from-another-room sound, but I'm really enjoying Vår, thank you!
posted by daisyk at 1:15 PM on March 21


Thanks for the fascinating post! I actually like the song Africa. It's so polished and pretty, with nice vocals, even if the lyrics are dumb. But the Africa-playing-in-an-empty-mall did nothing for me. I had no emotions listening to it-- it just sounded to me like a song ran through an app, and I kept thinking that a song being played in an actual empty mall would sound... a little different? More interesting? I guess it's something I've never experienced, so I didn't care.

But. BUT. With that out of the way, I did love the more recentish late '90s songs with rain effects, because that skews much closer to experiences I've had. Wonderwall-- mentioned upthread here-- overlaid with rain sound effects in a park-- was intensely enjoyable, in a melancholy way. I lay in bed and let the soundscape wash over me. And driving in the rain, listening to the Goo Goo Dolls' Iris, is something I actually experienced, about 15 years ago, when driving from Issaquah to Renton, Washington on a rainy, overcast day. I was visiting from LA, and I thought how much I missed the rain. I remember like it was yesterday.

Who needs madeleines indeed!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:19 PM on March 21


False nostalgia or whatever is happening listening to some of those took me right back to pre and early teen me and time at the mall. It's wild. Snippets of memory coming back of those times. The mall was the first place that the parents allowed us to go on our own and hang out. Going shopping or just being allowed to walk around by ourselves while Mom did her thing and hey 'meet back at the fountain in an hour' was a big deal.

Music in another room felt like bouncing forward a decade or so when for many years I shared houses with many roomates and music from other rooms was part of the soundtrack of life.

Thanks for posting.
posted by Jalliah at 3:26 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


probably because they left out the diaresis

more like diuresis heh heh heh
posted by vogon_poet at 3:40 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


more like diuresis heh heh heh
posted by vogon_poet


ಠ_ಠ
posted by loquacious at 4:10 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Bit surprised that The Caretaker hasn't come up yet. Imagine being in a vast, empty ballroom in a vast, empty hotel, and inter-war dance music is playing on a distorted, broken PA.
posted by Devonian at 4:35 PM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I seem to have bookmarked more than a few things that fit this category, for some reason. How 'bout some :zoviet*tilbury:?
posted by lagomorphius at 4:58 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link, Devonian! Listening to it now. Can you imagine being at the Casino in Catalina, alone one night, with the music filtering in over the ancient loudspeakers? *shivers*
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 5:02 PM on March 21


Bit surprised that The Caretaker hasn't come up yet. Imagine being in a vast, empty ballroom in a vast, empty hotel, and inter-war dance music is playing on a distorted, broken PA.

Beat me to it! (Also surprised that no one's mentioned "hauntology").
That said, based on the video I don't think The Caretaker (or the Ghost Box label for that matter) has to worry about the competition.
posted by gtrwolf at 8:00 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


So ... am I the only one who hasn't been able to stop listening to Redbone, and all its meme variations, since seeing "Get Out"?
posted by lunasol at 8:32 PM on March 21




"It's more than a million men on mars could ever doooooo"
posted by boilermonster at 11:26 PM on March 21


hasn't been able to stop listening to Redbone

Maaan, I really like the empty-mall edit of Redbone, and I think one of the reasons it "works" for me while other empty-mall edits creep me out is that some of the empty-mall edits sound like they're playing through a McDonalds drive-thru speaker or something, while Redbone sounds like it's just playing really loudly at the other end of the mall.

Also, the drums on the empty-mall edit of Redbone remind me of gated-reverb drums from the 80s, (#nostalgia) while the drums on lots of other empty-mall edits just seem to disappear almost entirely.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:04 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


As a direct result of listening to a Gary Numan interview on BBC 5 Live (the man's 'do is heading into Mari Wilson's airspace), I can now bring you yet another interesting treatment of Toto's Africa - the ShittyFlutes mix. It has absolutely no redeeming musical aspects, and I do not recommend you listen.

Those behind this travesty didn't stop there, and the Aha 'Take On Me' desecration is particularly inadvisable, but you can find that - and others - for yourself. I have led you far enough down perdition's path.

(Also - not flutes. Recorders. Yes, it's that bad.)
posted by Devonian at 7:55 PM on March 25


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