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 :)

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