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

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