Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rage Roundup @ Feb '09

Back back back to the front, to the top! Lap it all up, folks. It's been a little while since last we sat down to watch some Rage, but that's cool. I'll make this post a little too long, just to compensate. Right now is now right now! And 2009 is rushing in bold and fresh, burning our lips like millionaires' toothpaste.
Brusha brusha brusha!

When I Grow Up – Fever Ray
I'm still not sure if I like the music, but it's a neat video. The whole "suburban shaman" costume design is excellent. It's zeitgeisty too, I think; you could mistake her for a background dancer from an MGMT clip. The more I listen, the closer I am to liking it. Worth paying attention to, for sure...

A slow burner, this one. The quiet vocals (almost whispered, in parts) build excellent tension. The music goes in some interesting directions, too... the synth tones and percussion choices remind me a little of Pivot.
Visuals are neat – it's a clever and amusing idea to do a shoutout to retro vector graphics like this. It's specifically referencing this old game, I think (I was too young for the original, but I distinctly remember playing 90s shareware knockoffs that were near-identical).
Good stuff! Not spectacular, but I think it's on the right side of boring.

Really neat video: deminiaturised stop-motion-animation, 1960s-ish off-brand toys, visuals that remind me of that old Gumby tv show. The video fits & synchs really well with the sound, too. But for some reason, I couldn't find the music as interesting as the images; it's a fizzysour indierock guitarbuzz, fun but nothing special. The melodic hook is catchy enough, and the lead guitar break is pretty nice? That's about it, I guess.

Cool video – constructed from authentic old fairytale animations, maybe? If not, they've totally nailed that old look. The narrative metaphors are a bit obvious & hackneyed (a common Bloc Party tic – they're very earnest musicians, politics-wise), but they're still well done. The songwriting is a little obvious, too... come on guys, a dramatic key change near the end? You can do better than that.
The guitar solo bit is mighty fine, even if it only goes for a few bars. The sound overall is a nice, interesting mix of guitars and dancey stuff – there's nothing else around at the moment that's quite like it. Punchy, energetic sound: I think it's good.

Damn it Pyke, every time now you're doing it to me. Do I have to buy your whole album? Is that what you're trying to make me do? With the subtle production touches, the songwriting that's never as dull or predictable as it should be, the sugarfree nostalgia stabs? Damn you, Pyke! So good, always so good. Always better than it seems. Prick.

Groovy band name, but the song didn't grab me until the chorus energy kicked in. Hnn! A decent bit of vocal kick – that's how you stop an indie song from being another dull sopfest. The video is annoying, but maybe I just don't like clowns & sparkles enough. The singer has a pretty look, tho...

So the zeitgeist is totally all echo-vocals, echo-percussion and 90s synths, now. (Half the songs in this post feature at least two out of three.) New Rave, or not. How did this happen? Who knows?
Synthesizers are drugs. You think you can control them... use them only on special occasions, for specialised effective uses... and when that goes well, you start using them more often. Even when they're not a good idea. And then, before you know it, the synths are everywhere all the time and everybody is doing it, all the time, and now you just can't stop it! Can't stop!

Still, the music grows on me. This is a rave(ish) epic, exceptionally well-constructed: overlapping vocals, overlapping rhythms. Shift your consciousness into some kind of trance state, nod your head repeatedly.

Surprisingly well-played punk-metal; the vocals give it a kind of a late-80s underground proto-grunge feel*. Metal guitar (& even a little percussion & acoustica near the end!), and vocals that are neither deathmetal scream nor emo whine. It's not especially original, but it's got a sweet, honest charm that suits my mood...
When it comes to metal, it's usually the vocals that tip me one way or the other. This here, I think I like it.

*There's an entire subgenre hidden in that description, spiralling around pre-fame Nirvana among others... I only discovered it a few years ago myself, but there's some great stuff in & around that scene.

I think I've figured out what's up with music. See, when I first wrote songs (being in a rock band in high school), there was something amazing about figuring it out, about being able to write a song and play it and Wow! It sounds just like a real song! And I think that's what most music groups and songwriters go through, at least at first. The problem is, I think, they're so excited that what they've written is just like a real song – it's good enough! – that they don't think beyond that. And that's why the vast majority of songs can sound so dull, so predictable. (Or that's how they can sound to someone who's been listening broadly and deeply enough, for a long enough time, I guess...)

The vast majority of songs are just using variations on the same old melodies, the same obvious chord progressions. That's not a bad thing in itself. It's not even that they're entirely unoriginal, because they're not. But if it sounds just like a real song, that's probably because it sounds like something you've heard before. There's a certain obviousness. Expectations are fulfilled. 

So, there's nothing bad about it. It's good enough in the context of "hey! it sounds like a real song!"; that's why the musicians did it in the first place. But I think it might be that the musicians aren't thinking themselves beyond "good enough". They're not expecting or believing that they need to be better than adequate, that they need to be brilliant, that they need to be spectacular and genius and new. I think they're thinking: Hey, this sounds as good as something else – that's great!

If music wants to be remembered or to be truly huge, then it needs to be genuinely new & different, and to sound NOT just like any other song. It needs to be exciting. It needs to make you feel something profound. It needs to sound new.

(I know, I know, "new" is not new; 99.99% of everything sounds a bit like something else, of course. And there's nothing wrong with that, that's not the point I'm trying to make. It's not a question of uniqueness, it's a question of obviousness. It's a question of predictability. Good enough isn't good enough.)

So yeah, the Sunpilots have a song called Drones. It sounds like a real song.

(Good band name, though – The Sunpilots! Cool name...)

Anyhow, that's it for this roundup. Bit of a downer to end on, huh? And it's a bit of a clumsy rant there attempting a slightly complicated idea, but I'm tired and I don't feel like cutting it out just now. Let's watch Lily Allen's latest single again, instead. It's still good.
Here's hoping I can keep up with the future
--the Musical Thoapsl

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