Monday, August 11, 2008

Rage Roundup - @ 8 August '8

Possibly the last Roundup for a little while (for some hints as to why, read this). But let's live in the moment, okay? Check this:

End Of Fashion put out several nice tunes three or four years ago, so it's nice to see them back. Their old stuff was fairly standard-sound MOR pop-rock (like Powderfinger with more Perth, I guess), but the songwriting had some interesting turns to it. A sound that was conservative enough for commercial airplay, hooky enough for some pop interest, and (barely) edgy enough to flirt with indie cred. Not much has changed. Odd lyrics, though – "I get so fussy when I'm on my own..." – a very unusual perspective for a pop song to illustrate, huh? The lyrics mesh a little uncomfortably with the video, which is a second-person view of the lead singer apparently torturing a captive, Hostel/Wolf Creek-style. It's unclear whether it's trying to be genuinely creepy or a light-hearted lampoon; by turns, it's both. The song itself is pretty decent, but the arrangement is sort of relentless. With more variation to the dynamics it could have been much more effective, I think.

I've been plugging these guys to everyone I know for a while now, because the two records they've released this year are both utterly, awesomely great and wonderful. This is the first video of theirs I've seen. Actually, I think it's a really bad choice for an opening single – for me, this is one of the (relatively) worst songs on the album*, and it also gives a misleading impression of their sound. While they technically do sound a lot like this, acoustically speaking, the "feel" here is not typical. This song has a very choral feel to the arrangement – or it's almost like a round, or a medieval children's song – while most of their other tracks are stylistically closer to early-70s folk-pop. That might sound pejorative, but it isn't; what makes Fleet Foxes so great is the way they transcend all their various sort-of-sounds-likes to create something so unique. They remind me a lot of the Beach Boys at their weirdest and most baroque (Feel Flows, Surf's Up, Cabinessence, etc). But that's a terrible example to use, because most people are only aware of the surfy-boy-pop versions of the Beach Boys, and if you talk about the weird-baroque-artsy Beach Boys then they're justifiably confused. Anyhow, Fleet Foxes' instrumentation is more stripped-back than anything from the Wilson brothers. The mood is folkier, too; there's a stronger purity of intent.
The video is a cheap claymation – reasonably compelling, but nothing too spectacular. Listen to the music, and then listen to some of their other songs, and then listen to it again.

*PS: there's a bit of confusion going around about the title of their debut album. I think it was originally supposed to be entitled "Ragged Wood", and that's what a lot of journalists called it in early reviews. However, it was released as "Fleet Foxes", self-titled, and "Ragged Wood" is just the name of one of the tracks. Their EP released a month or two earlier is called "Sun Giant". So now you know.

Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward, they're the original odd couple. Or not. But they are unexpected. It turns out that Deschanel can sing with a very appealing croon; her intonation is almost country-style, oddly enough. Her voice is probably a little weak overall, technically speaking, but it's well-served (and the weakness well-disguised) by the arrangement. (And don't mistake me here, it's a voice as good or better than the majority of indie vocalists). The music is quite different from M. Ward's usual stuff, but that's to be expected because Deschanel wrote it. Actors who do music are generally disrespected, so it's Ward who's lending Deschanel the marketable indie cred; but Deschanel probably deserves the lion's share of the respect, given that she's shouldering all the songwriting and the bulk of the performance. It's genuinely nice music, too. The arrangements & production help it along a lot, but it's essentially a very fine tune (and not too generic, either, which is a nice surprise).
It's also a nice video. Deschanel looks great, of course; but if you find her annoying, you can still enjoy watching a goofy series of Deschanels being violently killed (and turning into ghosts). It's light stuff, but it's very pleasant.

I wrote about these guys' earlier single a few weeks ago – Numan-esque new-rave synthy-dance-pop, it was. But this is really something else: a much more avant-garde sound, dense with percussion and full of squelchy, almost P-Funk-ish synth choices. The songwriting is distinctive and clever, and the music even contains a section which morphs from 4/4 to 6/8. There's no more obvious way to proclaim your musical ambition than to change time signatures, right? So they're not techno kids trying to make dance music, they're actually artsy-indie kids trying to make electrish party music. Good to know. They're doing a pretty good job here, in fact; the melody is very strong, the rhythm is addictive but not obvious. Overall, it's catchy and it's a lot of fun. They even called it "The Bears Are Coming" – how great a title is that? More songs like this and fewer like their last single, I'll be a fan for sure.

Now this is interesting. Initially I thought the chorus refrain was annoying, but weirdly compelling... and now I've watched the clip a few times, I'm finding that the compel increasingly overwhelms the annoy. Similarly: the video might at first seem like a really lame attempted satire, but it also becomes more intriguing over time. The surreal visuals and the disconcertingly obvious costumes, the humourous tropes alongside some genuinely sinister content & soundtrack – it's ultimately really effective. The highly produced sound here is very different to their earlier, guitar-heavy stuff, but it might be a worthwhile new direction yet. On the other hand, their last couple of singles were pretty terrible, I thought. So I guess I'm not sure. But I do really want to keep watching this...

I don't think I actually like this, but there's something a little addictive about the chorus. Also, I read an interview with the band where they admitted to all being too young to have actually played Street Fighter 2, which is some kind of horrific; maybe that's why I feel weirdly curious about them (down, down-forward, forward, punch). And the other thing I found rather interesting was the way their lyrics actually reference what they want the audience to do:  "Rip the tune off the compact disc and drag-drop into your favourites playlist / Convert to MP3 and give it 5 stars in your iTunes library" – those are the actual lyrics, no kidding, and it goes on with lines like "set this track as your default ringtone" for a couple more verses, too. Wow. I mean, really, as far as lyrical strategies go this is relatively unprecedented, right? Seriously, wow. So are people younger than 22 really not freaked out by lyrics like that, even just a little?

Aw, they've been around for a little while and now they're starting to go a bit mellow? Slightly emo? Is it serious? Quite possibly, I guess. I still like their sound a lot and this is a pretty decent tune anyhow, to be fair; but it certainly doesn't have the same edge that their earlier singles did. Here's hoping they regain their composure. (Or hecks, if not a composure with the exact "same edge" as before, then at least a more forthright composure/edge than this... either way, I reckon they can do better.)

Ah, so now it's the band of the other guy from The Last Shadow Puppets, eh? An interesting piece of skittery '67±'08 psych it is, too. Finely crafted and musically deft, though it's perhaps a little too long-winded & repetitive (trying too hard to be "epic", maybe?) for it to make for a good pop single. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Overall, the song is oddly intriguing; the lyrics probably aren't as good as they should be, but that's okay. You know what? I think I like it.

Is it ironic to call a song "Repetition Kills You", and then make it annoyingly repetitious? I very much liked the Black Ghosts' earlier clip, "Any Way You Choose To Give It", but this is far less interesting (musically or visually). Ah well, there you go... bloody ironists.

Lyrics in a language other than English, that's always interesting. Though I'm still a little freaked out by the fact that she's now married to the President of France, to be honest. Or is it the President of the French? I shouldn't even mention her husband, I assume he has nothing to do with the music. Which is quite nice, by the way: the tune is extremely catchy, and the music itself is charmingly, tastefully arranged. Bruni has a beautifully expressive tone of voice, too. If this song marks the general tone & standard of modern French chanson pop, then it's a real shame we hear so little of it outside France. And the video is clever & pretty, too. Sweet stuff.

I think that's about all I have the time and/or inclination to write about for the moment. The director's cut of this post reveals that I also liked "Days Of Joy" by Mirror House Antics, and "Hungry And Down" by the Kill Devil Hills. Both of whom work within fairly well-established genres (2006ish pop-post-punk and rockish-bluesy-country-death, respectively), but who both still manage to put unique and worthwhile new spins on those sounds. Pretty much, anyway. Okay, so they're both a little derivative and they're not really all that unique, but they're also both still sharp & newish enough to be well worth a listen. Truly.

I'm about to be late for something, so I'd better stop now. The next post may be posted from another continent, or from October (possibly both). You'll see.

-the Musical Thoapsl

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