Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rage Roundup, 21 March '8

Holy cow it's been a while. What can I say? Lately, my job sucks. And it sucks TIME. It may not suck the will to live, but it does tend to suck the will to do anything other than lie around and watch The Wire (which I only discovered about a month ago, btw, and which I'm now working my way through like a hungry mouse at a full round of cheddar... & still twenty episodes of delicious brilliance to go, I hope).

Nevertheless: I do have a couple of weeks' worth of Rage to work through here, of the televisually musical variety. Swell.

So, that guy from the Arctic Monkeys has a side project already. (As does some other guy* from another band, a fact which enables The Last Shadow Puppets to be marketed as a "side" rather than as a "solo" project & thereby forestalls nasty gossip.) Creative energies to spare, these young folk.
It's a decent song; as with a lot of side projects, it sounds kind of like the non-side project but with strings. Though to be honest that's a bit unfair; the arrangement has a nice Morricone Fistful-of-Dollars vibe (relentless horse-gallop drums, reverb you can feel everywhere) and it's a more than decent song. But it seems a little flat for a lead single, to me... the melody is a bit weak and the arrangement a bit too predictable. It doesn't have the rawness or the dynamism of the Arctic Monkeys. On the other hand, maybe that's the point...
One thing that did annoy me, though. In the chorus, the title refrain ("the age of the understatement") unphrases the words to fit the melody, rather than the other way around. Instead of pronouncing the word with stress on the syllables UNderSTATEment (the way the word is spoken), all the syllables of "understatement" are stressed equally. This means that the "MENT" syllable carries too much relative emphasis, which throws off the entire phrase. It ends up sounding unnatural, I think. Now there are many, many songs which do this, including a lot of very good and very popular songs; so does it really matter? To most people, apparently not. But it always feels off, to me. I like it when a song takes the opposite route: to momentarily dislodges the rhythm of the melody in order to fit the phrasing of the word, rather than the other way around. Shifting the melodic rhythm forces you to engage with the word itself. It dunks you back down into the lyrical-meaningful level of the music instead of just maintaining you at the tune level. It's a bad move if the lyrics are no good, of course... but in the right place, in the right song, it's sublime.

*known as "Miles Kane", but a name like that is far too impressive to not be a pseudonym, right?

Nothing to do with the David Axelrod tune, then? Perhaps the Silents haven't even experienced it**.
"The Silents" is a neat name for a rock band (it's almost too obvious – why hasn't it been used before?) and I think it suits their off-kilter punkiness. It feels like a 60s garage thing from its rhythm and vocal sneer, but there's an unexpectedly psychedelic edge to the whole thing; the entire last minute of the (only) 2:45 is a guitar solo! You can't say a song is taking itself too seriously when it's willing to structure itself like that, surely. At least not in 2008.
The more I listen to the song as a whole, the better it seems, although it's difficult to say precisely why. A whole album that sounded like this would probably grate, if the singer was as monotonal on every single song (imagine, say, a really terrible Vines album?) – but as a lone single I'm willing to substitute "grating" with "mean punk attitude, or the closest reasonable approximation". The video is also a fine example of how to make a compelling & rhythmic sequence of images without spending much money, but also without the cheapness being too obvious.
So... it's a hard song to like from thinking about, but my ears enjoyed it okay before my mind got in the way. A win, I reckon.

**my willingness to pun obscurely (& weakly) knows few bounds, motherfuckers.

The most immediately clever and engaging track from Gotye's last album finally gets a video clip. The song remains as excellent as ever, but the video doesn't quite do it for me... the imagery is fun if a little predictable (and, uh, two-dimensional...), but the real problems are with the rhythm. There's a great driving rhythm to the sound (of course there is, it's Gotye), but I think the images just don't match up as well as they should. Transitions lack punch – too often images change in the middle of a phrase, or they move just after the beat instead of just before it. I'm nitpicking like hell, I know... isn't that what blogs are for?
Maybe I'm being a little daft here. It is beautifully animated. Aw, make up your own opinion already.

On the other hand, look! More Gotye! That makes two new Gotye clips in only two weeks! The previous one (actually on Rage a week earlier – my blog sneers in the face of strictly chronological discussions) may have been a fan project rather than something official, I gather. This new single is clearly more expensive. It's a real nice video – the storyline matches the song without being overly literal, which is a tricky line to walk. And although it's vaguely kind of amusing throughout, the conclusion turns genuinely creepy.
Okay, the video is fine. The music is what makes it all work. Gotye melds a genuine old-school pop songwriting technique (like, 1960s svengali producer hornrims & a tie, old-school – his songs are natural hooks without cliche, and he wears a necklace of hen's teeth) with a set of samples that should probably come out sounding as hackneyed as heck (like the Avalanches without any density, or sped-up trip-hop with flowers in its hair, or something even more crass and pathetic – try hearing the samples in Thanks For Your Time out of context & maybe you'll see what I mean). But it's not. Instead, there's an original brilliance which makes you forget all about the components and see only the whole.
What's his alchemy? I think it's the words, and the voice. You can tell that his lyrics have been written with effort; they're trying to be good rather than trying to be good enough. That would be enough to distinguish them from most pop lyrics... (I think it's incredibly difficult, even in indie/alt circles, to find lyrics that aren't basically just the writer's idea of what they think song lyrics are supposed to be – why else is the word 'baby' sung by so many people who would never, ever use it as a term of endearment in real life?)
And Wally's voice – that's the keystone. Listen to the way it's on the verge of cracking, all the way through the bridge: with every word he sings, the tone of his voice carries weight. There's a delicious hint of bitterness and anger that's very rare in mainstream music, but I think it's exactly that which gives Gotye the emotional edge which secures his success. Not many people can come out of nowhere like he has, to make it with commercial radio & indie hipsters alike. (Although nowadays, admittedly, he's a little too popular for hipsters to admit to liking without a little self-deprecation).
So yeah I liked the song, it was okay I guess.

Okay, so they owe their present visibility to somebody else's remix of a song which was otherwise going nowhere. That's not an auspicious beginning. But this new song is a hell of a lot better than I was expecting after that. It's treading through indie-rock/electro-dance waters which have been mined to death over the past several years*** but it manages to find a new middle-point in the feel which (somehow) doesn't sound like you've already heard it before. The chorus is catchy, the arrangement is sharp, the bridge is clever; unlike The Others, it's not an easy tune to dislike. The lyrics aren't brilliant, but they could have been a hell of a lot worse. (That sounds like faint praise, but now I think about it, it probably is.)
Even so: as a move forward from their last hit, it's a bloody promising one.

***so hey guys, why do mixed metaphors get such a bad rap, anyway? Do they honestly deserve it? Isn't it all part of the wondrous tapestry of language, or something? Ah, whatever

This didn't really do much for me the first time I heard it, but it might be growing on me. It feels like a pretty straightforward middle-of-the-alt 00s rock song; nicely done, if not outstanding in any particular way. But hey, look: he's smashing a pint glass down on the table, as a percussion instrument!
Seriously, you have to admire that. It's damn punchy, if nothing else.

Genuinely different, this one. For one thing, they sport a look so unfashionable that they may or may not come out the other side as "ironically fashionable" again: the frontman is a fey pre-punk teddy boy, and the rest of the group look like 80s stoners who wish they were hippies. The music itself is even less tied to any obvious contemporary trends. It gently transitions out of a traditional pattern (kind of a polka-like feel, actually) into fuzzed-out punklike extremity, and then later moves into a guitar solo which is (to begin with, at least) almost clean trad-jazz! What are they up to? If they're willing to make music this idiosyncratic, they're worth listening to. Definitely worth investigating, I think.

This is what I like about Aussie hiphop – sometimes, it's made by acoustic jazz groups who secretly wish they were 60s Motown. Okay, so occasionally that means you end up with the Cat Empire. But then there's also stuff like this, a song which absolutely deserves to be some kind of crossover pop hit. Come on, the piano work is awesome – that opening riff is killer – and the instrumental sounds are sweet throughout. The rapping and the singing are both really solid; the song itself is a beautiful slice of propulsive toetappery. The video clip is a pleasantly daft little storyline, with some neat & original visuals. What's not to like?

Okay, I've got quite a few more to do, but this is already one or two weeks late – let's leave it here and continue later. I'll catch up to the present eventually, I promise.

-the Musical Thoapsl

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Live! Live! Live!

So I've been doing this for a couple of weeks now. That makes it well past time for me to stop pissing about and actually put this blog properly online, I figure. Why not? Expect the anonymous, or etc.
So, then: once more unto the breach.

No, not like that.

No, that's not what I meant, either! For goodness' sake...

Okay, that's definitely off target.

Stop it! Stop it now!

Oh come on, nobody's ever going to get that one. Now you're just being ridiculous.
I was thinking more along the lines of...

But – nah, that's not really appropriate either. Appalling, folks: I am utterly appalled. Whatevs.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rage Roundup, 29 Feb '8

Some nice stuff, this week... let's see...

I guess these guys must have a new album out; this is the second new clip of theirs I've seen in the past month or so. It sounds like a nice move forward from their earlier stuff: the production seems to be relying less on heavy guitar sounds, and more on clever arrangements and inventive percussion. The songwriting is a lot catchier than it used to be, too. It's got a bit of that late-00s-postpunk-revival feel to it, but less icy. It feels instead almost like a late-90s dance-rock thing, to me – and it's assembled almost as if it wants to be hiphop.
Also, an interesting video: an 80s-like video quality to some of the visual effects, mashed together with some very current stuff. Nice mix of zombie-robot choreography, Warhol colours and faux-regimental drumming; it fits the music really well, weirdly enough.

These guys emerged out a few years ago, releasing a few singles that were nice but not outstanding; their biggest problem (I thought) was that they looked as if they were cynically attempting to cash in on the New Rock revival, but doing it half-arsedly and several years too late. Then they vanished for a little bit and returned with a reworked sound that made it look as if they had given up on that, and were now cynically attempting to cash in on the early-80s revival instead. I think it's probably a bit unfair to assume the worst of them, though. Their recent singles have shown them developing a more unique sound – like this one, which manages to be clearly influenced by the 80s-revival feel floating around at the moment without being a slave to it. In fact, it honestly doesn't sound quite like anything else that's out there right now; it almost sounds like late-80s indie, or something.
Apart from that, it's also a quite sharp and well-arranged pop production. It seems like every time I hear a Cops song I find myself thinking "gee, this song is put together really well". So... am I damning them with faint praise, then? I can admire the construction, sure, but why don't I feel anything deeper? I think there's still something about the Cops which doesn't quite click for me, something I'm not getting from the song itself. I guess the lyrics don't help (eg: "respectagon"? wt?). Maybe I'll feel it next time.

Not as blatantly awesome as their previous single, Wild Strawberries, but good enough that I'm now extremely interested in what the new album's like as a whole. And I usually hate, like, 90% of anything that sounds anything like electronic dance music, so that's a heck of an endorsement, right? Or possibly the opposite. Anyway, I liked it. If you're looking for an objective viewpoint, stop reading reviews, okay.

I actually saw this last week already, but man it's a great tune. The guitar sound is unmistakably aping the whole late-00s-postpunk-revival thing (gosh that needs a decent shorthand label... no wonder reviewers just say "angular" all the time), but the small interlocking parts are more interesting than the usual riffs; it's closer to the sort of thing which Battles does, except without the expansive jazzy craziness. Nice stuff.

Where And When – Hayden
Great, great video: a single, unmoving video camera (that's us) watching two pretty but non-plastic girls sitting on a bed in cheap strapless dresses and dancing about like total nerds. It's totally sweet. Only right near the end do we get another camera angle: from the side, we see the girls are being serenaded by two bandmembers standing just in front of the bed. It's simple, but it's a great vehicle for a subtle song which might otherwise seem dull. Lovely.

Aw, come on guys. Stop making fun of the lunatic fringe of Japanese pop culture, already. For goodness' sake, they cancelled Iron Chef in Japan years ago. It's really unfair – how would you like it if everyone always associated America with Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Fox News?

Man, that's a great band name. But the music just sounds like more of that same old empty emo metal, to me. Dang it.

This is interesting stuff – a lot more dynamic than the usual anonymous indie. Sonic Youthy vocals are raw and a little off-key without being annoying, and there's an interesting arrangement that's lush without being a dirge (as lush indie/alt songs are unfortunately wont to be, I think). The video is a mockup 60s-70s exploitation slasher film trailer, so the occasional screams over the soundtrack may not be part of the actual song... but either way, these guys are now something I'll be looking out for.

Aw, I'm tired and in pain; that's enough for today. Shorter than the last Rage Roundup? Either way I think I need to figure out how to do that "cut" thing and hide most of a post behind a link...

–the Musical Thoapsl


It's been a busy couple of weeks in the house of Thoapsl. Portents and general rumblings indicate further busyness for the next couple of weeks, too. Nonetheless, here I remain: up on yr internets, typing typing typing. Typing with less haste and more pain than usual, in fact. Last night saw Thoapsl involved in a drunken shopping trolley incident, as a result of which I am bleeding in five (5) different places, three (3) of which are on my right hand. (Okay, not bleeding so much as "severely grazed", but there's fresh blood where there should be skin, so it still hurts). Anyhow, despite this I aim to be posting another Rage Roundup later on today, so good for me.

Also: see how I left it syntactically unclear whether it was I or the shopping trolley, or both, who were the "drunken" figures in the aforementioned "incident"? That's the sort of ambiguity which cultivates my air of charismatic mystery.

On a less seguerific note, there's an interesting article by Chris Middendorp in today's Age. It begins as a report on homeless people and their gambling habits, but then it flows on into an intriguing discussion of the concept of "luck" and its place in people's understanding of the universe. I thought it was rather nifty (& rare) to see a newspaper article that broadens its focus like that, an article that's not explicitly a "comment" piece but which is still willing to play with some more profound and abstract ideas than usual. It's not especially deep, but it's still kind of neat.