Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rage Roundup - @ 18 July '8

Likely to be a little light on posting for the next week or so; things are somewhat hectic for the Social, Working & Other Thoapsls at the moment. Nothing may be out of context for a while. I could write a post about The Dark Knight, but everybody has already seen it and/or posted a review on their own blog already, so there's not much point. If you haven't seen it yet and you still need convincing that you should... well, your ability to withstand pop buzz is epic. However, in this particular case it is misplaced. The Cinematic Thoapsl assures you that, while the movie is not utterly flawless, it is still genuinely excellent. It's an intense thriller with masterfully-constructed story and at least one great performance. And it's probably got, like, subtexts and stuff, if you like.

Wait a minute, this post was supposed to be about new music on Rage! Okay then. There has been some interesting stuff on Rage. So:

(this is not precisely the actual clip above, btw – "embedding disabled by request", but hey people now why request that, people why?)

I thought MGMT were going to be one-hit wonders (that one hit being Time To Pretend), but this is really great. The music has a really interesting, exceptionally now feel to it. You can hear some of the familiar 80s influences (or at least, 80s childhood nostalgia half-memories?) that are floating quite prominently already through the zeigeist of '08, but MGMT are creating something very else out of it all. The tune is pop-melodic and the structure is catchy, and yet the rhythm is in 6/4; it's an unusual and risky choice. But MGMT mash a 4/4 disco stomp against the rhythmic lilt of a superimposed waltz melody, and it works brilliantly. There's an eccentricity to the whole MGMT project that's a bit like Ween, or maybe Beck at his most anti-commercial. The more I listen, the more I like it.
The video reflects the audio quite well, in that it takes a lot of 80s-ish effects and costumes, but then it mashes them together in a very late-00s way; you couldn't possibly mistake the final product for genuine 1988. That's a good thing. Not to mention: the climax has two motorbikes flying through space, and then crashing out of an exploding moon. Now that's how you make a video truly spectacular.

I keep on expecting these guys to do something really excellent, and they keep on releasing almost-not-really-somethings like this. It's just all so familiar, so safe, so much English-manboy-pop. They open with John Lennon mellotron chords, for goodness' sake. It is possible for this sort of thing to break out of the mold – look at the ever-interesting Mystery Jets – but this isn't that. Could it be better?

Expectations – Cut Off Your Hands
Didn't they do this already, like last year? Maybe even twice? But on Rage this week there seemed to be a slightly new version, musically as well as visually. Hmm. Well, it was pretty good the last two times. It's still pretty good. But it makes me wary, when a band re-releases a year-old minor hit rather than take a chance on something new...

This is the first single from their forthcoming second album, and it sounds notably different to their earlier stuff. They've taken a really interesting direction here (trying to avoid this?) – rather than follow their first album's synthy danceparty-rock, they've instead gone further over into guitarland. In fact, in the right ears this sounds an awful lot like 90s alt-grunge. I almost want to say Veruca Salt, but I'd better not. (There's definitely something in the air along these lines, either way... eyes out for the grunge/90s-alternative revival of 2010, & you read it here first). It's still got the familiar CSS wanna-dance-wanna-fight-woo! feel going on in the verse, but the chorus feels a little anaemic to me. I'm not sure it all works quite so well in a more guitar-heavy context. So, what will the rest of CSS album #2 sound like? (Perhaps they truly are tired of being sexy?)

Hmm. Were Pnau fooling me into thinking they're really good, what with great recent stuff like Wild Strawberries, only to switcheroo around into some dull commercial dance, here? I sure hope not. Hmm... but on second & third listen, this actually isn't that bad; in fact, it's not too dull at all. Pnau have real songwriting chops, and although this is much less "immediate" than their other recent singles it's still quite decent. Although it remains perilously close to dull commercial dance. So, don't say I didn't warn you.

Asia Argento sings now? Well, better Argento than Jennifer Lynch, I guess. It's an odd song, this one; all the ingredients are good, but I think the central hook is just a little too repetitious and weak to hold the entire song together. There's a lot about this which I like, but when listened to as a whole it becomes strangely frustrating. Half-baked, perhaps? It's a pity; if there was a nice bridge somewhere, or more & deeper variations on the basic riff, this could have been really excellent.

An acoustic side-project by the singer* from a hardcore screamo band named after a porn site probably doesn't bode so well, you might think. That was what Thoapsl thought (typically judgmental and thoughtless, of course), but this is actually a real neat song. If it had slick modern production, it would probably sound like some kind of epic rock power ballad – the melody is strong enough to carry a feel like that, if it wanted to – but the natural acoustic/live feel is much better. It may be just a sonic trick, but it gives the sound a much more "honest" feel; and in particular, the drums sound great. There's a reasonably interesting visual construction to the clip, too.

*his real name is Dallas Green – get it?

Once again, not an actual orchestra. Also, the song is a fairly meh ballad-wannabe, which is disappointing. What's up, guys? I liked your last single! Oh well, I live in hope. Better luck next time.

Now this is an interesting number. For a song titled "Violator", it sure sounds friendly and welcoming; there's a real peppy bounce to the arrangement. It's another song that's sort of Ween-like, in its melding of uncomplicated pop songcraft with off-kilter production and dissonant musical flourishes. It includes enough unexpected weirdness to be both pleasant and interesting, so I figure it's worth a thumbs up. But the video lets it down – it's mostly a dull mish of alt-90s visual effects. And the whole thing is overshadowed by the singer's utterly hideous & appalling haircut.

If there's any theme to the songs of this post, it's got to be 90s revivalism. It's coming, people. Don't say you weren't warned.

This tune has a pleasantly sweet, country-ish chorus that's a lot like most of Bowditch's past releases, but the verse! The verse is a splendidly offbeat parcel of intensity. Every time I hear a new Clare Bowditch track I'm surprised at the clever songwriting and neat arrangements, so I should really stop being surprised. This is great stuff; the use of horns and subtle background vocals near the song's end is particularly fun & inventive. The video is cheaper than it deserves, but it has a nice sense of humour and it's well put together. Splendid.

I'm finishing up with this one purely because Clem Bastow wrote in Inpress that it sounded "like Gary Numan playing Dance Dance Revolution", which I thought was flippin hilarious and also fairly accurate. Just imagining the expression on Numan's face, the cool intensity as he builds towards a high score... Anyhow, the song is alright, I guess. It's not always fair to criticise a song just because it's very derivative. (And as long as we're talking derivatives, these guys also sound an awful heck of a lot like Grafton Primary, too... so?). I was unborn for the first Gary Numan, but I'm too cynical for these particular ones; and hey, whatever, it's all cool.

And that's enough for today. And who says you can't begin sentences with grammatical conjunctions? Losers, that's who.

-the Musical Thoapsl

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yes, There Is Kate Beaton

My new favourite webcomic.
Her stuff is an interesting mix of strips based on her life or on historical events, with some pure absurdity thrown in as well. At first the art seems amateurish, but I think her line work is actually really good; her grasp of facial expressions is superb, and she's great with all the visual "acting" which makes this sort of stuff work. She's clever and she's funny, etc... *swoon*. So what are you doing over here, reading this crappy, amateurish blog of mine? Go to Kate Beaton, go now!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Is Out Of Context

The context is: this review is not actually out of context at its original home, which is the page of Amazon customer reviews for the Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable. For some reason, this product has been singled out for ridicule: practically all the customer reviews (and there are more than 200 of them) are completely absurd. Some are weak, but some are totally hilarious. Here's another one I really liked:

(& thanks muchly to here for pointing it out to me.)

How did this happen in the first place? Was it just because the product is absurdly overpriced? I think it's amazing the way internets spontaneously produce stuff like this. There's something deeply fascinating about group behaviour that manifests for no particular reason. Especially when it's genuinely spontaneous, like this, and not just somebody's marketing strategy.

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A revue is not a comment.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rage Roundup – @ 4 July '8

There's been a fair number of nice new clips come out over the past few weeks. Maybe I need to be more regular with my rage posts, in future – there's 16 songs here! This post is huge! But it's all well worth reading, I promise.
Anyhow, here's the jig.

(NB, however: I'm not going to comment on Little Red's new single "Witchdoctor", I think I'm probably kind of  biased when it comes to those guys. But they had a cover story in The Age's EG section the other day, so they don't need anything from me. Suffice it to say that their new album Listen To Little Red is awesome, so go and buy it already. In brief: Little Red are superb. (As are The Hondas, but don't tell anyone about that little side-project – it's almost like a secret, that one...)

Hey look, naked people. Isn't it interesting that nakedness stops being sexy when it's everywhere? And that complete nudity is less erotic than partial nudity? As for the song itself, it seems to be a bit of a departure for Sigur Ros: a lot brighter & more uptempo than the ethereal glacierscapes they're best known for. It's a good song, with a fun rhythm and some interesting vocal work. The feel of the song is perhaps a little samey overall, but it's only three minutes long, so do we care? (Answer: probably not).

I found this really intriguing. It's an instrumental – an interesting mix of unnatural synth sounds and squelchy electric guitar, with aggressive (non-synth) percussion underneath. It's not a sonic blend that you hear a lot of (although it's kind of like Battles, I guess), but it's a great sound. Pivot here have a compelling & original feel that avoids the "feels-like-80s-fusion" pit of doom, unlike so many other instrumental groups. The structure and the dynamics of this song are excellent: it maintains great intensity without ever being monotonous. The clip is a nice & creepy stop-motion animation, too. It's a cheaper video than it deserves, but it's still good. Overall: well worth some attention, I think.

From the opening riff, I thought it was going to be yet another plodding 80s retread, but this song surprised me. Although the production is all crappy-80s-power-ballad, Faker prove their chops here by unexpectedly transforming the song into an actually-very-good-80s-power-ballad. There's a genuine grandeur and depth to the whole thing. Somehow, Faker's conviction (and songcraft) overwhelmed my inherent prejudices against faux-80s production, which is no mean feat. They still sound a lot like an indie band angling for commercial radio play, but at least they're doing it well. Good stuff.

I read somewhere that these guys had been disparaged as "like Animal Collective playing Queen covers", which Yeasayer themselves thought sounded like a compliment. You know what? It does sound like a compliment. It's probably sort of accurate, too. Their sound is dense and eclectic, but never at the expense of clarity or musicality. The tune is catchy; the vocal interplay is interesting & quite neat, too. I don't think the clip is as clever or "meaningful" as it thinks it is, but the music is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Even better than their last (ie, first) single. That's because it's a better song: this time, the arrangement is dynamic enough to keep the music from ever seeming too monotonous or derivative. It is derivative, of course, but it's derivative of a style that's never really been explored in depth (or indeed much at all, since the 60s), so that's cool. Ultimately, it's just a really well-written song. The harmonic progression of the chorus is powerfully melancholic, but the rhythm never drags – the interplay of sadness and triumph is wonderfully ambiguous. It's a great melody, and the music as a whole feels genuinely beautiful. The first single didn't sell me their album, but this song just might.

Another driving, punchy, punkish slice of rock – a real locomotive of a track, and it's great. The only other single of theirs that I've seen around, "We Are Amphibious", played almost like a novelty song; this is definitely something else. More sincere, but also better. There's still a nice line of vicious humour underpinning the lyrics, too. Unfortunately, the clip is pretty uninspired; but it does have an explosion and some stuff being set on fire, so it's not a total loss.

Lots of clips have done the "long continuous tracking shot while crazy stuff happens" thing, but this is still an excellent example of the genre. It's a great song, too. The video clip version suffers from "f-ck" censorship of the audio – it's like the song has a stutter – but the damage isn't as bad as it might be. This is probably the song that tipped me over the edge towards actually buying Vampire Weekend's album, and I'm glad I did. It's not a work of genius, but it's very unique, which is almost as good. Catchy songs played well, fun lyrics that aren't what you expect – what more do you want? They may be a bunch of spoilt NY preppies, but so were The Strokes; nobody's perfect.

I've talked about Ladyhawke in the past, but on the other hand practically no-one knows that this blog exists. No harm in a little repetition, then. I don't think this particular track is quite as good as a couple of her others floating around, but it's still very good. If she can produce an album to match her best work, I'll tell you now: it will be awesome

Look, "British India" is a great band name and all, but I just don't see where these guys are getting all their local success from. To me, it just sounds like the same old pseudo-emo-rock crap; the singer's voice is gratingly monotonous, the songs are uninspired, their haircuts & outfits are only average. What's up, fellows? I just don't get it.
On the other hand, I guess they're not really all that successful, yet... so prove me wrong, guys.

So the record company let them keep "Black Kids" as their name? Seriously? Like, maybe they thought it would give them an "edge", or something? If they're trying to distract me from their music, it isn't working as well as I'd like it to. It's a nice enough indiepop tune, but it just feels too much like a crappy ripoff of Operator Please, and OP aren't exactly perfect to begin with. Black Kids' myspace claims that they're from Florida, but that might be a lie – here they sound as English as a damp crumpet. A crumpet that gets the kids dancing with abandon on Top Of The Pops, mind you. The band all seem to be extremely young, too; so they're probably bound to do well for a little while, before a) evolving into something less twee and not so embarrassingly earnest, or b) breaking up and going off to university.

That's The Horror The Horror, not to be confused with The Horrors. This is a great video – extremely no-budget, and the image-and-sound editing isn't flawless, but it's full of great ideas.
The robot dance! Handclaps! Bright colours! Seriously, it's well done. Good music, too; an interesting sonic mash, almost Britpop but more contemporary, yet with a feel that's a bit 70s punk-lite – almost like The Knack, maybe? There's no immediately obvious influence to reduce it to, which is a worthy quality in itself. It's a good song; I thought the bass riffs and the insistent guitars were irresistible. The breakdown at the end is especially fun – there's even something of a guitar solo! Very neat.

Fantastic clip concept – a continuous pastiche of all those 1980s animated production company promos that played at the beginning of a film or at the end of a tv show. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the clip for a minute). It's a classic & underused style of animation – great fun to watch, and a clever visual hook for nostalgic 80s kids. It also distracts from the fact that while the music is a pretty decent piece of electrish dance, there's not that much to it as a pop song. But it's fun, well-produced and better than most slices of the genre, so thumbs up.

This took a while to grow on me – it's so damn mellow – but gosh, she has a lovely voice. I've grown to think that the song is ultimately a real nice one, too. It's cleverly arranged, and it progresses in unexpected directions despite the classic feel of the changes. It feels like lounge indie, or something; it's in an unusual place, somewhere between Feist, Cat Power and Antony. She's wearing a silly helmet in the video, but who wouldn't?

This is a pretty decent pop tune, but the up-&-down chromatic verse riff sure sounds like a total ripoff of "Like A Feather", that Nikka Costa single (you know, from... holy cow... from way back in 2001, actually; Vanessa Hudgens was only 12 years old at the time). It's a pretty basic riff, so it's not a huge creative deal, but... ah, who cares, this song is distinct enough aside from that. I also like the fact that the repetitive singalong line of the chorus here is "basically what we're gonna do is dance". In a pop song, that's a pretty funny line. And the lyrics promote responsible footwear, which is nice. And the singer apparently has the moxie to attempt a pop career without losing a surname as clunky as "Hudgens", so good on her. Oh wait, she's from that High School Musical thing, so she's already famous. Youth of today, what's up with yr pop? etc.

Summertime – New Kids On The Block
Just in case you wanted to see a boy band made up of guys in their 30s. It would be easy to be instantly judgmental – "oh ha ha this is so shit", without even listening to it – but that doesn't matter. Because the truth is, this IS pretty terrible. Or, in other words: this is TERRIBLE. And you should feel comfortable taking my word for that.

That's a bit of a downer to end on. Let's cheer ourselves back up with some Little Red, okay?

-the Musical Thoapsl

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday Is Out Of Context

I should have been posting a lot more over the past week or so ("a lot more"? more than what? more than NOTHING), but my internet connection was messed up. Honest! For once, a lack of new content is not simply due to laziness. But it is still regrettable.

*regrets temporary lack of broadband*

(The image is from here, which is not my favourite webcomic – I think I'll do a post about my favourite webcomic another time – but it's still great. It's so deadpan that when you first start reading it, it seems to verge on the nihilistic; it took me a while to get into the rhythm of the tone. No, "rhythm of the tone" is not a mixed metaphor, shut up.
Now that I've read a fair bit of the strip, I'm starting to think that it's actually quite upbeat.)

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A slip is not a mistake.