Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rage Roundup, 11 April '8

So, you thought I was gone? That I'd stopped trying to find the time to post? That the experiment was over? Or perhaps you would have thought this, were you an actual being rather than just a rhetorical construct. Never mind. Here I am, back on some kind of a track. Potentially. Future days & weeks will tell. A variety of future textual stuffs will hopefully abound. Maybe I'll even start trying to lure in some readers. Lurking is a hard habit to shake.

In the meantime... more Rage!
I'll be posting on topics other than this in the near future, I promise. I do have opinions and interests which are not related to music videos.

Nice Westerny feel, this one. (It's disturbingly easy to forget that "Country & Western" has a genuine "&" in it, huh?). The vocals here aren't great – they reminded me of Gomez (raspy, and not quite as tuneful as they probably should be). But the Western feel is achieved without any too-0bvious sound cues, and it's a genuinely fine song. The video's animation is also compelling and very original in style. It's a neat narrative, and it mirrors the Western theme without being too painfully obvious or derivative about it, I think.
Also: much kudos to a video which includes a caption featuring the words DAG NABBIT.
(I always thought it was a single word, but cowhands don't quibble over syllables)

Okay, so the music is derivative as hell and he sounds like a total Stevie Wonder wannabe. Or like Lewis Taylor, but less ambitious (where "less ambitious" is my attempt to say "less pretentious" without seeming a snipe, because y'know that Party song off Lewis Taylor's second album was freaking awesome). Okay. But this is still a sweet track.
The video showcases Jamie Lidell the whiteboy barelybeard geek, here putting the moves on a girl wearing a pantomime horse's head. It seems an unusual (and unusually self-deprecating) approach for a single that's so blatantly funky. But probably a clever approach, given that he is a geeky white guy living in 2008. As with Har Mar Superstar, it makes him hard to honestly dislike (even if there's still something faintly absurd and potentially insulting about the whole thing). Of course, even when it's allegedly serious, funky dance music in 2008 can't help being a cultural parody of disco; it's always a misplaced reference, a hookline into our imaginary 1970s.
But, okay. Forget about all that. It's a great fun song, and there's still more funk and more soul in here than in 90% of modern pop. Even if it is pre-defensively cloaked in a joke.

They seemed to lose it a little, after their aggressively excellent first album. But maybe they've figured out a way forward now – this has a much stronger melody and arrangement than the last couple of singles I can remember them putting out. (In fact, the tune has _really been growing on me). The odd little storyboard-reality video works reasonably well, also. Though it does seem like it's wanting to be more profound & meta &c than it actually is.
So: it's not brilliant overall... but it's definitely something good, I think.

a.k.a. The Saboteurs in Australia, due to obscure copyright bullshit. It's a supergroup that didn't quite live up to potential with its first album, but they've come back with another so there must be something there. Brendan Benson and Jack White are both underrated, in their own ways (Benson's ways being more literal & thereby markedly more detrimental to his career, obvs); I totally love Benson's "Alternative To Love" album, and the White Stripes roll from Jimmy The Exploder all the way thru to Catch Hell Blues. So Benson & White backed by the Greenhornes' rhythm section are bound to promise greatness, yeah?
This single is a promise, then. Energetic as hell, an organ solo and a guitar solo (yes!) – what more could you want? Well, maybe a melody that's slightly more profound. Still, on the strength of this I can see myself buying the album already, so bring it on.

So, would they be getting as much press & profile without a name like that? It's certainly a good way to get noticed when what you're doing is basically obscure & droney synth-noise. It's not bad music, but there's nothing too spectacular about it either. Ah, 'salright, good luck to 'em; listen & enjoy.

It's got some lovely moments, but jeez! The intense drumbeat makes it all tension, no release. And the tension isn't quite compelling enough to be worth it. (Now don't get me wrong, I'm no slave to brief attentions – I love me a good long stretch of droney, monotonous tension. Bring on the twenty-minute bass solo, I can take it. Just as long as it feels like there's something in it, for me?)
If the rhythm would change somewhere, if at some point there was a shift in the feeling, if there was even just a bridge, or something... It's good, but the song as a whole is just too samey and relentless for me. Weaker than it could be, I think.

Great name for a band with an angsty-youth vibe, huh? I didn't expect to like this song even as I was listening to it, but there's a superb momentum to the whole thing. Unlike the White Rabbits above, they manage to build tension but include a payoff too. The video is also deceptively good, with some nice subtle effects – the way the camera shakes as people dance up & down, the images of dancers projected over the singer's face. It's also nice to see some young dancing folk who look like actual people, instead of the usual bland models (or worse, like wannabe pornstars).
note: That last part of the sentence is possibly some subliminal code for "girls who aren't so skinny that they have no boobs (or worse, fake boobs)". What do you think?

Calling All Cars – Made Austria

Rage's "it's 4am, we can program whatever the hell we want" policy occasionally throws up some really bizarre gems. Rage will broadcast, at least once, practically anything that people send them (as John Safran once demonstrated); and hey, kudos to them for it.
Here we have a home video of a singer backed not by a band, but by two air guitarists who sing guitar noises in the chorus. That's an ENTIRE SONG of two guys strumming air and occasionally yelling "ba ba doo da" while the lead singer roars her heart out. But that's the thing, you see – the three of them are all clearly performing as if their lives depend on it. They're really giving it all they've got.
Could it be a mistake? Like they meant to overlay the instrumental backing track afterwards but sent out the wrong tape by mistake? Do they play like this for real, or was it an honest joke? Either way it's astoundingly compelling. You got me, I'm intrigued.
PS: a brief interweb gander indicates that they're an actual acapella rock act – they perform like that for real. FUCKEN ROCK. I am genuinely impressed.

Ways to get attention: 1) Unusually-styled "serious" cover of a kitschy original that everyone knows; 2) Gorgeous, mostly-naked girl.
So this video is bound to get itself some notice, right? Seriously, though, I'm not trying to snark it. It is a nice arrangement & well done, and it is always nice to hear an old song in a different context. Hey, it got my attention.

I didn't really dig the first single off Goldfrapp's new album, but this followup is quite different. It's much hookier, and instrumentally closer to the electrodancey-ish stylings of her previous two albums; it makes for a much more intense & immediate grab. Also, the video with the happy guy constantly jumping around in time with the beat - it's physically impressive and rhythmically hypnotic. Plus, it's suitable for the song and visually ridiculous! The whole thing is all just absurd enough that it comes off as reasonably ironic & self-aware, rather than too twee.
Having heard the whole album now, it's really interesting to think how it melds the lush-indie of the first album with the cyborg-disco of the second and third. The sonic midpoint turns out to be very much like a psych-prog 70s thing, oddly enough; but it's still unmistakably 2008. A really interesting direction for her to be taking, yeah? I think I like it.

Another great band name. I'm a sucker, I know. And it's an excellent clip (but I can't find it on youtube – what's up?). It seems to use handheld 2D paper cutouts (they look like grainy photographs cut out from old magazines) in a 3D multilayered setting – it creates a really wonderful moodset & storytelling effect. It's a nice (post-)punky tune, too. Good stuff.

They're back? Really? Hasn't it been, like, a decade?
Anyhow, they're sounding much edgier than they used to. No lush strings or John Barry orchestras this time. They always had elements of harsher techno experimentalism in their earlier stuff, but now it's really in full flight. There's a neat trick here where they process the synth-drumbeats to change their tuning, which creates a genuine melody out of the percussion while maintaining the "tuneless" feel – very clever and effective.
It's an interesting mood to go with, as a comeback. What made them feel this way, to come back sounding like this? And to do it at this time but not earlier, after so long? They sound almost like Suicide (apart from the sweet & melancholy vocals, of course). If we're currently in a postpunk sort of cultural frame (following the "punk" jolt of the Strokes-&-Stripes-&-cetera early-00s rock revival, and/or the mainstreaming of emo), then maybe this does represent the Suicide strand of the postpunk...
(is this train of thought worthwhile, pointless, or stupid? ask again later.)

It's very, very rare that a heavy metal clip on Rage gives me something to make me pay attention, but there was something about this that really grabbed me. There's no deathscream Sepultura vocals, just actual heavy metal – to me, it sounds more like Soundgarden at their heaviest than anything else. It has melody, it has some dynamics, it has vocals which are actually good. Good riffs, too. You don't hear enough of this sort of thing at the moment, I think.

Okay I know you're all like Woo They're Like The Darkness But Like A Few Years Later but, NO. Because: 1) The Darkness could write genuinely excellent hooks & mildly amusing lyrics VS The Galvatrons are hackneyed and infuriating; 2) The Darkness were sweet guitar solos and all the great aspects of 70s bighair prog heroism, which people had forgotten how great they were the first time VS The Galvatrons are all the worst aspects of 80s hair metal which was TERRIBLE THE FIRST TIME and no better now. 2008 does NOT need a fucking Poison cover band, not even as a joke. The vocals are annoying and bad, the lyrics facile, the guitars boring and most of all, please stop the drums, the drums are so horrible oh god the drums stop the drums stop please stop.
I love you Clem Bastow and I'd march with your generally superb opinions into the jaws of hell, but if you try to tell me these guys are truly awesome then I will be sad.

And on the other hand... here's some 80s revivalism which doesn't suck. Why not? Because it's a bloody good song, well sung. Apparently it's the girl from Teenager, but I wasn't much of a fan of those guys; they felt too cold and blank. However: Ladyhawke here (hell of an 80s cultural reference, btw – I'm pretty sure I've never actually seen the film but I remember being very young & staring at it in the video store for years, endlessly fascinated by the title) is really something else. It manages to be evocative of a bunch of classic 80s songs without being utterly derivative; the palette's old, but it's not overfamiliar. Most of all it's a gripping tune, arranged like a pop masterwork and sung with skill and interest. Another song on her myspace, Manipulating Woman, is probably even better. I don't think a debut single has left me more excited & curious for more since, heck, since months & months ago. At least.
So okay, if a mid-80s revival brings us brilliant sparks like Ladyhawke along with the Galvatrons, then it still sounds like a win to me: bring it on.

I'm getting much better at proclaiming my opinions as if they're really worth something, aren't I? If I'm not careful I'll end up replicating all those tropes of "reviews" which I actually hate: "this is my truth, this is the truth, blah blah blah". It's difficult to say what you think without labouring each statement with an "I think". So, how do you show that you're aware it's all more or less subjective, that you're not just being a prick? Reviews (or "commentaries", or whatever) are supposed to give you an alternative perspective, yes? If it's about something you're unfamiliar with, a response shouldn't say "this is good" or "this is bad", it should try to indicate what and where and why it is. That's what I feel. I think. A "review" should try to give you the context to decide whether or not you would think it was good or bad, not just what the reviewer thinks. Do you think so?

I don't believe everything's subjective (at least not to the extent that it makes the concept of "objective" totally meaningless), but the boundary between the subjective and the objective is a fuzzy and chaotic one. If you're thinking along that transition edge, you need to be careful as to how you frame things.

I guess I'll just have to think about it, huh?

–the Musical (and today, somewhat Philosophical) Thoapsl