Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's Not The Plants


So, I saw The Happening the other day – it had gotten such weird and conflicting reviews that I figured I had to see it for myself. Hey, The Village got terrible reviews, and I liked it anyway; unlike (apparently) most other people who saw the film and were pissed off because the "twist" was crap, I didn't mind because I thought the twist was obvious on purpose, it wasn't supposed to be a shocking twist. The twist wasn't the point of the film, it was just... never mind, I'm getting distracted and I don't really care anymore. Anyhow, The Happening was flawed in a lot of ways, but I thought that some aspects of it were really quite neat. I was thinking of writing something about it, but then I found the general thrust of my thoughts were already expressed wonderfully in here*:

"you've got to admire Shyamalan's amazing ability to whip out a perfectly-constructed horror/scifi plot without actually ever having any kind of monster or coherent threat. We get all the classic "scary monster" moments in this movie — people staring at stuff with horrified looks on their faces, distant screams, long tension-mounting shots in creepy houses — and yet at the moment when we expect to look into the face of The Big Bad there's literally nothing. No Cloverfield with its throbbing, toothy face, no disfigured bad guy with a bag of poison. Just beautiful fields of trees and grasses moving gently in the breeze.

There's a kind of true brilliance to The Happening at these moments. It's as if Shyamalan, a smart guy if nothing else, is trying to show us that at the heart of every monster movie there really lurks nothing at all. Just an empty field that you can fill with whatever terrifies you most."

That's the part of the film that I enjoyed the most; if you've got the time & money to spend on two hours of Shyamalan, the film is possibly worth it just for this aspect. It's wonderful, if you're willing to look for your cinematic satisfaction in some intriguing metafiction. Rather than in the fiction itself.

(Yes, I'm using the word "metafiction". Sometimes it just can't be helped).

--the Cinematic Thoapsl

*ps: the rest of the post containing the above quote is basically all about the film's (alleged) covert promotion of "Intelligent Design". I wasn't reminded about ID in particular when I was watching the film, but I was struck by the rather unscientific rhetoric of the science-teacher protagonist (Marky Mark) in his introductory scene, quote: "acts of nature we'll never understand". Interesting perspective, hmm, coming from a science teacher? Insert joke here about the failures of the US public education system.
On the other hand, of course all kinds of bullshit masquerades as "science" in movies. I usually hope it's either creative license for the sake of an easier story, or else that it's only the usual ignorance (ie: unfortunate, but not essentially malignant). It's certainly bad stuff. However, wilful misrepresentation by anti-scientific ideologues is a lot worse. Scary and sad.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Great Concepts In Literature, Part I

Now this is some excellent cover design, right here. I haven't yet acquired a copy of this to actually read, but the cover is hypnotic. I really like the way the colours are balanced by the typography; it's a fantastic image. From the great cover to the intriguing title, does this not appear to be one of the coolest non-fiction books of all time? Cheers for this blog by Caleb Mozzocco for drawing attention to it for me. If nothing else, the cover is enough to sell me the motivation to go looking for the actual book, so score 1 for canny cover-design marketing towards the Literary Thoapsl...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Is Out Of Context

Brilliant. No further explanations are necessary.

(It's from here. As written by Jeff Parker, and published by Marvel Comics).

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A star is not a target.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Rage Roundup – 6 June '8

In fact, the following selection is not only from Rage of June 6 — there's some stuff from the few weeks beforehand, too. Overall it's been a not-so-stunning month for new singles, I think. The most exciting music I've heard recently is the new Fleet Foxes album, and they haven't been on Rage at all, yet! (I could rave on about Fleet Foxes right now in more detail, but the eloquent ravings of more respectable folks are already all over Pitchfork, so...)

These new-music-on-Rage posts should probably be monthly instead of weekly, if I'm going to have any hope of regularity. Call this post a "Rage Roundup of the period from mid-May to early June", if you like?

This new single sounds like an off-kilter experimental pop thing, but Catcall's other songs make it clear that she's actually coming at this outta hip-hop. (While the vocals here could pass for indie drawl, on other tracks she's much closer to a straightforward rap technique). What (mis)places her sound into a less obvious context are the judiciously juicy organ loops. They're closer to choral pipe organ than the usual Hammondish jazz-funk, so they give the whole sound a surprisingly unique feel and texture. Interesting stuff, I think. The video clip is nice, too; clever and intriguing despite the obviously zero budget. And the word "Catcall" makes a neat pun out of her real name, so I like her already.

I've found all of Kate Nash's singles so far vaguely annoying. Maybe it's her accent... maybe it's her music? I figure that in theory she should be fairly appealing to me, but in real life the appeals are unsuccessful. Except for this one. From the sharp & syncopated piano riff, to the real depth of feeling she puts into the chorus, this one really works for me. The pop songcraft builds a nice momentum: there's a great musical use of tension to repeatedly draw us into, not actually "release", but into a different mode of tension. The lyrics successfully skirt the pop line between too-shallow and too-pretentious. Best of all, she restrains her usual hip-hop-influenced tendency to speak-in-tune rather than actually sing (which, don't get me wrong, is a perfectly fine & valid technique; but it does restrict the available dynamics, and I think it might be the reason I've found her earlier singles a little grating and repetitious). Particularly in the chorus, her voice here is great. Perhaps she's becoming more confident with her singing voice, now that she's found some success? Either way, I hope she keeps it up.

This song is mindblowingly cheesy and daft, but it's also hooky as hell; I had the damn thing stuck in my head for days. Which got kind of annoying, to be honest. But it's still a neat song. It sounds a lot like Gary Numan (even down to the vocal phrasing), but Numan's chilly alienation is replaced by a mood of weird, cheery irreverence. We're reaching an interesting little cultural tipping point, here: use of '80s synths is going so far past irony that it's becoming genuinely mainstream again (see also this post of mine from a couple of months ago, re: the Galvatrons & Ladyhawke; or listen to Van She). But at least here my ears aren't bleeding like it's the worst of 1988 again. As long as it's all as sweet and amusing as this, I'll be alright. How can you not grin at a stupid lyrical pun like "We! Equal m c squared"? Let's face it, absurd science-fiction synths deserve ridiculous science-pun lyrics. It's a one-joke song, but Grafton Primary make it count.

I've more or less ignored Death Cab For Cutie for years, on the grounds that their band name is the crappiest band name since, I don't know... since the coming of emo? Anyhow, this was clearly a wrong and short-sighted position on my part, because this song is excellent. Perhaps I should have been listening to them earlier, huh? The video has a pointlessly long stretch of silence at the start, which always strikes me as pretentious, and in fact the rest of the video is... also sort of pretentious... but it's basically inoffensive. And snowy, which is nice. But the music is the important thing, and the music is great. The singer has an interesting vocal style, the lyrics are compelling (and pleasantly sinister), and the arrangement is deceptively clever: listen to the way the guitars and drums drop out of the mix for only a couple of lines, just as the first verse starts. It's a well-written song, with enough depth to it that it improves over multiple listens. Who would've thought? And band names are usually such a good indicator of musical quality...

Another band channeling a weirdly 1990s vibe; even their video is just like one of those many 90s "alternative" videos that pretended to be aping a psychedelic 60s video. Heck, even their haircuts are grunge-90s-doing-60s. If retro style eats itself, does it matter? I'm not a gosh-everything's-so-unoriginal-today-it's-the-end-of-history-postmodern-aarrgh-run-for-the-hills sort of guy; I'm fairly convinced that this sort of cultural recycling & re-imagining is not an essentially "new" phenomenon. It's just that it becomes less obvious to identify, the further you look back, because as you look back you possess less and less of the cultural context with which to notice it. I can see now that there are lots of 40s and 50s notes sprinkled through typical 70s style, but (having grown up in the 80s and 90s) I didn't know enough to spot this until relatively recently. I'm pretty sure that you could say something similar about 1930s style, and 1840s and 1620s and whatever (with periodic kinks as new technology & other genuine novelties kick in). The prime caveat being, that the proliferation of modern communications and media of the last century has sped everything up by several orders of magnitude.
Or maybe not. Either way, it's a nice tune.

His grasp of punctuation may be questionable — shouldn't that be "around" or at least "'round" the sun? — but you can't argue with Paul Weller's musical conviction. This sounds contemporary in a way that his contemporaries (Hi Sting, hi) haven't been since, gee, the mid-80s or so? (Exceptioning the late Joe Strummer of course, I guess). Paul Weller is never going to be The Jam again, but 2008 is never going to be 1979 again, either. And that's okay. Please continue, Mr Weller, this is good stuff.

Good song title, although I'm not sure how well it matches the music — because at least for me, it's really not a panicky tune — but it's still a good title, and it's still good music. I think it's a really cool song, actually: charmingly loose lead vocals balance against the well-polished backing vocals, the arrangement is dynamic and the chorus is killer. They even wrote a bridge! Who still has the fortitude to do that, these days? Good work, chaps. It's such an enjoyable song that I won't even mention the OC, okay?

I'm still undecided about Laura Marling's solo work, but she sings fine on this single so I'll say no more. Mystery Jets, though, seem to become more impressive the more I hear of them. This is a really great, inventive song; it's not especially complex, but the subtle tweaks and polishes are extremely effective (eg, the crescendoing shimmer-chords at the end of the chorus lines). It's a rare talent to make pop that doesn't sound just like a retread of something else; I guess you could classify the Jets as brit-pop, but they're much better (and more unique) than that label would indicate. There's definitely something worthwhile going on here, I think. Very interesting, at the very least...

And to round out this post's selection of music, a sweet number from the talented Jamie Lidell. Sure, it's a total pastiche, but if you like this sort of thing then you'll probably like it anyway. It's not nearly as exciting as his last single — while that was Stevie Wonder verging on P-Funk, this is pure acoustic Motown — but it's still an overwhelming *smile*. I really need to check out an entire album of his some time.

And that's that, okay. Until next time, for goodness' sake: FLEET FOXES, people! In particular, I would suggest the tracks "Mykonos" and "Blue Ridge Mountains". (The recent albums from Crystal Castles and Eddy Current Suppression Ring are excellent, too; heck, there's enough stylistic breadth across these three groups to satisfy anyone's fancy, surely!)

--the Musical Thoapsl

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Kawaii Strikes Back Lulz!!1!

ADMIRAL: Any attack made by the rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.

DARTH: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

ADMIRAL: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortress—

[Vader makes a pinching motion and Admiral starts choking]

DARTH: I find your lack of faith... disturbing.


You should see Darth's TIE fighter. Also, the prequels mostly suck but there's an awesome lightsaber battle and it's all like Doraemon totally kills Pucca.