Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rage Roundup - @ November 2008, Part II

and here we continue, with

PART TWO: or, Okay Then, Go On & Convince Me That "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" Is A Masterpiece Of Pop Avant-gardism, Go On I Bloody Dare You

(& apologies for the several non-embedded youtubes here, by the way - you'll have to follow the links. Why, oh why do they decide to disable embedding? Why? What, exactly, are they hoping to gain? Those lousy dirty bums, why I oughta...)

It took me weeks to actually grab this. Three times I watched, listened, and left it: "ah, it's sort of interesting, but nah... it's just another dull dance song". It grew on me, though. Every time I listened, another interesting little complexity of the arrangement revealed itself. This is not your typical piece of bland, doofy dance; the melody seems slight at first, but it's bizarrely addictive. The video is smartly done, too. It's visually arresting (great colour, striking compositions) without actually meaning anything. But that's cool; there's a subtle sense of humour about the whole thing. I can't escape the sense that one way or another, this is good stuff.

The Datsuns at their best are a superb live band: the first time I saw them, I practically swooned at their awesomeness. But they're in a weird place right now, like all the surviving groups of the early-00s New Rock wave. Have they lost their way, a bit? If a band does quite well, but after several years they still don't make it to huge success despite big expectations, do they have a crisis of consciousness? Or, maybe not...
Anyhow, this is a good & interesting new Datsuns track. It's a heavier sound again, after their last album went down some unexpectedly folky/acoustic/experimental avenues (they were going for a bit of a Zeppelin III angle, I assume). Hard rock'n'roll is a very difficult genre to be in (especially in today's zeitgeist). Even if you're as excellent & inventive as the Datsuns, there's a certain inevitable stylistic monotony that it demands. Balancing that-what-makes-it-rock with good songwriting and musical interest is a tricky task. I think they do a reasonable job here, though; it veers dangerously close to The Hives, but they keep the melody up. The Datsuns may never again do anything as brilliant as MF From Hell, but who could? Either way, this is a fine piece of rock (& hopefully too, a good sign of things to come).

I heard this a few months ago - being the musical trend-butterfly that I am, I looked up their myspace after a genuine musical pulsereader talked them up in a street press article - and now here's a proper release out. This is good. It's basically 1967 Cream, but that's not a bad thing; it plays like a more laidback, ego-lite version of Wolfmother. Less bombast, more cool. (However: now that fame and ambition have destroyed Wolfmother, will these guys be next? Or will their casual self-assurance and apparent modesty see them through? Stay tuned...)
The video is quite nice as well. Stop motion watercolours could be too-obvious psychedelia, but somehow it's not. Very nicely done. If they can put together an entire album that's this good, they really might be a next Wolfmother.

Is this a lone single, or the lead for an imminent album? The publicity is certainly slick and important; youtube only has a teaser, while the full video is hosted in quicktime at its very own website...
AIH are an easy band to hate, but I've always had affection for them. I saw them play at Melbourne Uni a couple of times when they were still fairly unknown, and their inventiveness and sheer fun impressed the hell out of me at the time. They've changed an awful lot since then (in mood, in tone, in lineup); but their musical sense for a pop hook is even stronger. With this track, they're continuing to move away from their indie chamber-pop origins and further into modern electropop. It's easily the slickest production they've ever used. And that's not a bad thing, necessarily... because it is still a good, irrepressibly catchy tune. I like the lead vocal; the singer does something that too many pop singers forget, which is to put some emotive expression and play into the words. The "beep beep" backup vocals are a bit daft; luckily, for the most part they're so processed that you don't even notice them as voices. But by the time the breakdown "you got that beat" line kicks in... are people going to snigger, or is the rest of the song strong enough that they'll just go with it? The more I listen the less it bothers me, so maybe it'll do fine. A lot of people are going to absolutely hate this song, but I'm not one of them. Yet.

This is the eeeepitome of what's going on right now: dancey electropop that melds faux-80s synthstalgia with millenial French house. The guitar tones here are especially "oh yeah, it sounds just like that old Daft Punk record..." - not that that's a bad thing. It's a pretty decent track, even if it camouflages its lack of songwriting with some pretty transparent production tricks (multiple breakdowns, rising back up from silence with the sound muffled, repeating things over and over with only slightly different vocoder lines). But they manage to chuck in a synth-guitar solo; that's kind of cool.
The "old VHS tape" video is amusing, even if the modern sound fx production on the track soon kills the illusion. This clip is great, actually: it's one of those things that perfectly captures what people think they remember about the 80s, even if the (anachronistic) mashup is totally 2008. I'm just old enough to think about the 80s with a mixture of both nostalgic fascination and horrified remembrance, so the zeitgeist's current 80s kick is pretty weird for me.
Yeah. Definitely a bit weird.
ps: "Don't be on with her" - what does that actually mean? Any suggestions?

Just was always an excellent song, but Ronson's rearrangement really brings out its funky, hooky elements (as Ronson is wont to do). It's a fun cover tune - good enough that it's not even pointless - but it's really worth it for the clip. The original Radiohead video was a total classic, and this "cover" video is a wonderfully affectionate parody. It wouldn't mean much if you don't know the original, but it's hilarious if you do.

This is astounding. Seriously, if you played this to someone fifteen or twenty years ago - or even just ten years ago - would they believe that it was simple, mainstream pop? Sure, it holds to a relatively conventional verse-chorus structure, but I'm sure that everything aside from the vocals would have seemed completely insane (or at least, hopelessly avant-garde) for pop, only a decade ago. The lack of explicit harmony in the verse, the unconventional and relentless percussion, the sinister chromatic movements underpinning the chorus... listen up, people, this stuff is nuts! Producers like Timbaland have spent the past several years fostering an unprecedented acceptance of experimental rhythms and harmonies in pop, and we should all be freaking amazed at their success.
Why does this song strike me in particular, though? Mostly, I think it's because the music here is so especially strong, and the melodies in particular. The harmonic tension in the chorus is brilliant; the bridge is quite good, too. And the video is very striking: Beyoncé and two dancers, dancing on a bare set, filmed only in black & white. It's an oddly-choreographed dance (ie, odd for mainstream pop; ie, dance moves that a stripper probably wouldn't do) and it's filmed with very few edits (except for a few intense jump cuts near the end). The camera zooms dynamically while the lighting pulses black-and-white in the background. This is not a typical video. (It's also a hell of a lot better than the video for Beyoncé's other single of the moment).
Do you believe me? It's all true, I swear.

til next time...
-the Musical Thoapsl

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rage Roundup - @ November 2008, Part I

Okay, waiting a month between Roundups is possibly a bad idea. Too many interesting clips back up; and who can be bothered to read a post that's longer than half a dozen clips?
So, okay then. This post is hereby broken in two, and I'll put the second half up later in the week.
If you're wondering, Part Two is better...

PART ONE: or, Melbourne Defeats Sydney

She has a very awkward name, and her debut single was genuinely interesting (if a bit naff). But her subsequent singles were dull & unremarkable ballads; she was aggressively marketed into the "female-singer-songwriter-mainstream-but-quirky-but-not" niche to within an inch of my good will. So I lost interest. Which was a good thing, because it left my expectations for this new single so low that I heard it and thought "oh yeah, this is kind of all right".
Miller-Heidke really should be terrible - she still hasn't lost the aura of being manufactured, and her "ooh how quirky" affectations still seem insincere - but somehow this is actually a pretty neat song. Maybe it's the self-effacing lyrics; maybe it's the catchy, dancey production. (Earlier Miller-Heidke singles were all pianos and natural drums, but this is processed & synthy dance-pop; it's an interesting change of direction). That said, there's also a lot to find annoying here. The verse melody sounds like it was clumsily rewritten to include more notes; the chorus is a little weak, and the whole thing doesn't stand up so well to repeated listens. It sounds a lot like somebody got their hands on an industry track destined for some throwaway starlet, but then re-arranged it with a few "quirky" flourishes to suit Miller-Heidke's sensibility (and to hide the fact that it was originally written for someone who couldn't actually sing). Recipe for a crossover hit, or worst of both worlds? The video has a fat guy pretending to mow a lawn, so I'll leave it up to you.

An indie track with genuinely "bad" singing, but I mean that in a good way (think of a voice like Thurston Moore, but with less confidence). The vocals are a defiant challenge: if the audience won't stand vocals like this, you aren't interesting enough. But the music itself is quite good. It's dominated by plangent, artsy, circular guitar work that actually is a little like Sonic Youth (though without the distortion or intensity). The sound has more of a '90s-ish, heroin-bubblegum feel. I got excited because I think I recognised where the video was filmed (a rooftop in Carlton, woo Melbourne), but I've never even heard of these guys before; I'll have to check them out.

Apparently this is a side-project of someone from Field Music, but I haven't listened to Field Music much so I can't really comment on the connection. It doesn't matter, though: this is excellent. It's a fantastically snappy, dark, punchy piece of music. Piano chords have very rarely sounded so... metal? It's the drums that sell it, I think. The production is more Berlin Bowie than 80s MTV, but the snare sound is intense. It's a fairly unique arrangement of sounds all over; there's very little around at the moment which sounds anything much like this. The songwriting matches it really well, too. There's a wonderful construction of tension & release: the verse melody builds a powerful, sinister crescendo, but then the chorus vocals are suddenly soft and almost monotone. Excellent stuff.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I completely dig the video. It's certainly compelling, but the narrative isn't as clear as it might be; what happens at the end? (I liked the musical typing, though.) Check it out anyhow, this single is great.

These guys get more interesting with every release. I thought I had them pigeonholed at their first single, but each successive release has been more inventive and unexpected. It reminds me a little of Pomomofo's recent single Island: as with that tune, although I was unsure & equivocal when I first heard it (read my last roundup), the music grew on me like something shocking. Now, I absolutely love it. There's a lot of stuff that sounds sort of like this floating around at the moment - it's all falling under the vague new label "new rave", more or less - but Late Of The Pier are particularly intriguing. I think it's all part of an interesting late-00s evolution of something that probably began near The Rapture's House Of Jealous Lovers-mode dance-rock: a synthesis of angular, jerky electric guitars (think Franz Ferdinand, or you could even think of The Strokes) with electrosynth 80s-revival squeal (which is everywhere, but you can probably trace the popularisation to Daft Punk's Discovery album). History and influences are beside the point, though. What's important is that this tune is dynamic, catchy, and never boring. There's some intensely rhythmic (and really clever) musical non-sequiturs arranged here, to a level that, in parts, is vaguely like a punk version of Yes. (Listen to the guitar riff after the second verse vocal comes in, at about 1:30 - it's totally prog, and I mean that in a good way. Not to mention, the guitar solo at the end..!)
If there's a obvious weakness here, it's the "it's just a line" chorus; the doofy drumbeat might not have been the best choice. The video is quite neat, though. It gets a lot of momentum from the dynamic visual as it rotates around on an axis, twisting gravity and crashing the singer through surfaces at every corner. It's rare to see a video which matches rhythm and visual as well as this.

Where did these guys come from? Apparently this is one part of an entire concept album, which could be worthwhile. But what I think is interesting here, apart from the good tune, is the similarity of their sound to Fleet Foxes'. It's not a profound similarity (these people are nowhere near as good, for a start), but there's a similar shared template of country-hall vocal harmonies over rhythmic, folkish instrumentation. Just a coincidence, or is it an indication of some broader, new-alt-folk-thing coming along?
(answer: probably not?)

As with their last single, there's something kind of... strange... about the new, poppy angle that CSS are taking here. But while the last single was guitar-heavy (almost grunge, or at least mid-90s alternapop), this is closer to the old CSS sound. There's a greater focus again on the dancey synths, but the feel is much brighter now; the 80s nostalgia is deep and colourful. There are still some weird, squelchy touches to the sound, but it's like their last album ate a whole lot of sugar and decided it would be more fun as a kid than as a grown-up. Maybe success has cheered them all up? Either way it's a great, catchy pop tune, even if the lyrics don't make a whole lot of sense. Lovefoxxx's Brazilian accent still sounds fantastic. I guess if I'm listening to the sounds and enjoying it, they must be doing something right.

Oh man. Oh, man. This is just... oh, man. I must be the exact opposite of whatever the target market for this is, presuming it exists. To me, this sounds like one of the most horrific, cynical grabs for a quick hit that I can imagine. It's an Australian guy (apparently he makes country music) singing in an American accent (so, yeah, apparently he makes that sort of "Australian" "country" music), singing about cricket and forty degree weather (which is fair enough) in an utterly insipid and insincere voice. The lyrics list a few stereotypes without actually saying anything. The music is creatively bankrupt: it's canola. The video is cheap and obvious. Everything about this is obvious. If you can read the title, you already know exactly what it sounds like. This is a music single for people who only listen to talk radio. This is seasonal wallpaper music for people who like the idea of wallpaper. Apparently, he's from Sydney. So there you go.

What do you think? A bit mean, that last one? Is Thoapsl in a bit of a grump? Wait a few days and we'll see whether Part Two fares any better :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

A long and tiring week

"You have ten questions," she said.
"Don't you mean twenty?" I asked.
"No. Ten."
"Why ten?"
"It's the shortest number," she replied, "all the other ones take forever."
That's true, I thought. But I didn't say so aloud. Rules! Always with the rules, she is. Damn her and damn her tongue.
"Damn you and damn your tongue! Is everything a game to you?" I asked.
(I might have been a bit loud. I was trying to let a little frustration slip through in my voice - but subtly, yeah?)
"No. Everything is not a game."
"Yeah? Badminton?"
"Yes. It's a sport."
So she didn't know what she was talking about. Honestly, I wasn't too impressed with any of her answers. But it was a sunny day - can you believe that? And I was soaking wet from arm to ankle. This was a worry.
"Do you realise what this looks like?" I asked.
"Yes. Really."
I wasn't sure if she really was really sure, though. She looked a bit shifty that second time. You know how sometimes you have to say things more than once? It was a bit like that. Yeah.
Anyhow, it was time to close things down. To think. Like a brick through the windows of her argument, you know. And there were all these vegetables I was trying to carry with me, too; it was kind of difficult. Not that I'm complaining. I mean, I'm not complaining or anything. Heck no.
"So," I said – there might have been some pointing involved, too – "if you're right, then why do I keep running out of ice cubes?"
"Right about what?"
"Aha! You just asked me a question! Does that mean I win?"
"No," she told me. "And that's why I still have all your old Metallica albums. Now hand over the vegetables and get out of here."

So it's like, every week it's something like this. Forget about it.
Next time I'll bring something sharp.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Is Out Of Context

MENA, AR—After an extensive three-month-long search, the Polk County Sheriff's Department located missing 9-year-old Joshua Meyers in an abandoned home, rescued the child from his captors, and returned him to his loving parents, the still bound and gagged boy imagined Tuesday.

So, check this: surely, the most disturbing article ever published by The Onion. Onion jokes have explored similar territory before, but this particular example is freaking hardcore. The final paragraph, especially...

I mean – wow. Really. This shit is crazy.

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A dream is not a traum.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Here's a question. Is it hypocritical to simultaneously hold the following two opinions?

Seriously. They're big – bigger than a human! – and they have big heavy hooves with which to kick. You can't trust an animal that you couldn't take one-on-one in a fight. (See also: bears). People try to use horses for transportation and they get kicked at or thrown off, all the time. If you're kicked or thrown off, you're likely to break your head. Horses are unpredictable, nasty, wild, flighty beasts which will hurt you as soon as look at you.

Also, they bite. They smell bad. They aren't very smart. And they leave crap everywhere.

Now, you take an animal and dress it up in bondage gear. You "break" it psychologically, because that's the only way it will accept another animal sitting on its back. You make it run around in circles, hitting it repeatedly. If it falls over and breaks its leg while you're doing this, you kill the animal, because it's cheaper to kill it than to let it heal and be lame. The justification for all of this? You can make money, by gambling on which horse will run fastest. (Not fastest in general, but fastest over a particular distance and under various unnatural conditions).

The usual reasons we do things to other animals – food for sustenance, clothing for warmth – are relatively justifiable, at least if you accept an essential superiority of human need. But horse racing? How is this not sickeningly cruel, unusual and unnecessary?

- Sunday Night Thoapsl

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Snowblind (Not Snowblind)

in lieu of actual content (but don't bug me, buddy, I been busy): a real simple, nifty idea.

Eerie, no? I hope something actually comes out of this. I'd play it.
Discovered for me by someone who doesn't have a website.