Synth-pop duo Lookbook opens up to the '80s

Lookbook performs "The Only Ones" live in studio on 89.3 The Current. (MPR Video)
Synth-pop duo Lookbook opens up to the '80s
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The shadow of the 1980s still looms over a lot of pop music these days and for some of us, it's a decade we'd like to forget, but for the Minneapolis synth-pop duo Lookbook, the '80s represent a musical goldmine.

The songs of Lookbook have a lot of '80s earmarks. Synthesizer-generated sounds and rhythms; beats with tint echoes and singing often soaked in reverb. But there isn't anything necessarily '80s about the way they come together.

Lookbook's songwriting process is organic, even slightly mysterious. Grant Cutler writes all the music on his synthesizers and hands it over to lead vocalist Maggie Morrison to make melodic and lyrical sense of it.

"Until she sings on it, they're kind of silly synth-pop songs and I wouldn't know what to do with them," he said. "And then Maggie fixes it, by singing on it."

For Maggie Morrison, the words literally don't arrive fully formed. As she listens to Cutler's chord progressions, she starts singing phonetically. The resulting lyrics sometimes end up being pretty revealing.

"I do take these phonetic sounds and turn them into words then look at them and be like, 'oh yes, that is right. I am feeling that way,' "she said.

To Cutler and Morrison, who were both born in 1983, '80s music is like a great discovery. Cutler only started listening to Prince a few years ago. Both he and Morrison love -- and this might make Gen X hipsters raised on Gang of Four and Joy Division drive off the road -- love '80s mega-star Phil Collins. Having not been old enough to absorb its musical impact, they both look at the decade through a different lens.

Maggie Morrison
Vocalist Maggie Morrison. (Photo Courtesy of Grant Cutler)

"We didn't experience it," Morrison said. "We weren't corrupted by the '80s, you know?"

Bands embracing the '80s are a trend that's been playing out for quite a few years now; Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are prime examples. Given how modern music is built on what came before it, Morrison said that's inescapable.

"Everything now is nostalgic," she said. "Everything is from some decade in the 1900s. You know, I always question, are we ever going to have a completely fresh decade where we're not reaching in the past? I don't think that's possible."

Someone who appreciates Lookbook's synthesized style is City Pages Music Editor Andrea Swenson. Swenson likes how the band infuses its '80s-colored songs with more 'in the moment' dance pop rhythms on its new CD, "Wild at Heart." Their hooks may be infectious, but to Swenson, the material isn't mindlessly happy.

Music Editor Andrea Swenson
City Pages Music Editor Andrea Swenson likes how the band infuses its '80s colored songs with more 'in the moment' dance pop rhythms (MPR Photo/Chris Roberts)

"They have kind of a dark and brooding undertone to their music, so it's catchy but it's also very serious at the same time which is an interesting contrast," she said.

Swenson said, over the last year, Lookbook has definitely established a hometown audience, and could be set to have an impact outside the Twin Cities.

Lookbook will embark on an east coast tour after it releases its new CD at the Kitty Kat Club in Minneapolis Saturday night. As far as its retro sound is concerned, Grant Cutler can imagine a time when today's music will be a revelation to the next generation.

"It's going to be like in ten years when we're going to talk to some kid and they're going to be like, 'oh man, Brittany Spears is awesome, the production on that stuff is great," he said. And I'm just going to flip out."

This, coming from a guy who loves Phil Collins.