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

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