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

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