Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rage Roundup @ 28 March '09

Bit of a quiet Rage this past week, and I've been busy and away from home (and hence late with this post), but here we are anyhow. Music videos of some description, described somewhat:

I anticipated this one in my last post, so I didn't want to leave it out, but now I find I've nothing much to say. I'm not sure if there's anything too substantial here? But I think I'm still looking forward to the new album? Hmm. Judgment: deferred.

With the cats & flannel, it's almost like they're ripping off Ladyhawke's aesthetic. Or is that just a bit of cultural synergy? Very '00s, either way.

There are a lot of interesting elements here. The video and the music both employ a kind of '80s-referentialism that seems to evade nostalgia, in some strange way. It reminds me of Freaks and Geeks, maybe: there are notes toward a sort of 1980s underground antipop, cues to things that weren't actually emblematic or memorable or even distinctively 1980s at all in the first place. But there's something there. And for all the '80s-like synths & drums, I guess the music also evades any obvious emotional cues: it's not nostalgic, but it's also not explicitly sad or sexy or romantic or funny. It's alluding to another kind of mental state, something more subtle: "so what, so what? so fine, so fine / so what, so what? be mine, be mine." (I love the way the chorus does that – the vocal delivery is superbly appropriate, on the edge of laconic but not. It's a great fit for the lyrics.)

So what, so what? I'm paying attention and I'm thinking about it. I like it. It's good.

Good stuff. There's nothing really new or awesome about this, but there's something wonderfully bloody-minded & punk about the vocal delivery that I really like. The singer has a great baritone drawl: he sounds like he could croon in perfect key if he really wanted, but instead he's being expressive and twisted for the sake of the lyrics. Especially with the distortion over the chorus, it works really well.

The music is solid, raw but not too raw; some of the guitar parts are actually almost funky or dance-like, but the whole arrangement feels resolutely underground and dark blue. If their songs are varied and compelling enough over a whole album, these guys could be really interesting.

I really didn't like this group's breakout hit, Young Folks – it felt horrible to me, like the musical equivalent of something I'd forgotten to do but can't do, as if something's wrong but I can't get away from it, a feeling subtle but utterly nightmarish in the most terribly actual way. But if not the mournful whistling, maybe that was just the Concretes guest vocal? I found her vocal melody quite off-putting, for some reason...

Anyhow. PB&J have clearly become something very different since 2006. (Apparently no guest vocalists, for one thing.) Here, from their new album, a tuneful hook that's not annoying at all: it's great. The interlocking rhythms of melody-vs-bass-vs-percussion are excellent. And the way the song choruses around what sounds like an unusually tuneful schoolkid chant? There's something incredibly fun & punchy about the whole thing. I like this a lot, and if it isn't a big hit I'll be surprised.

The video is pretty neat, too – a bunch of Tokyo rockabillys with awesome hair and awesome dance moves hanging around Yoyogi-koen (looks like, I think). So yeah, this is yet another video set in / fetishising / exoticising / possibly-making-fun-of-in-a-mildly-patronising-racism-lite-kind-of-way Tokyo, but it's still entertaining enough that I want to assume its heart is in the right place. I hope. See what you think.

Is anyone else just annoyed when a sample-based song doesn't exactly sample, it actually rips off an entire other song wholesale (and yet, it's not a cover version)? And it's not like this is sampling from something obscure here, this is that Cure song that everybody knows because it's been consistently all over the place, for years. So that at every moment, I'm so distracted by annoyed recognition that I don't even want to evaluate the song on its own merits. Come on, Lady! Compared to what you've done here, Ice Ice Baby owes nothing to Under Pressure.

Actually, okay, let's say I can be bothered evaluating: it's not that interesting, and it's not that good.
(Sorry, Lady. I reckon you can do better than this.)

The Woman Next Door — The Midnight Dailies
Where "The Midnight Dailies" are Gareth Hudson & Matt Aubrey, a duo so new they're apparently without a unique myspace (although songs are up on Hudson's site, at least) and they're also too slack to post the video on youtube. Poor effort, fellows! And that's a real shame, because this is decent stuff.

The standout here is the aggressive acoustic guitar. It's a playing style that's used very rarely, for some reason (maybe "aggressive" players usually just go electric, instead?), but I really like it here. The music delivers some nicely interesting & uncommon textures, overall; there's some lovely cello with a great rhythmic bite. Also, this is one of those incredibly rare songs that incorporates a didgeridoo without being astoundingly awful. It takes some real craft to make acoustic guitar, vocals, cello & didgeridoo – and, what else? was that an occasional castanet, or something? – sound as punchy and as interesting and as together as this. Clearly, more musical talent is at play than usual. Here's hoping they can get organised enough to do something substantial. (And, um, actually post their videos somewhere on the web, for a start.)

This time was this time, so next time is now next time. Thanks!
Until next time –

--the Musical Thoapsl

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Is Out Of Context

Actually, even in context this makes no sense. "But forget about him, and put on these anti-gravity shoes" really deserves to be a catchphrase, I think.

(The writer's identity is lost to the mists of time, but this is from "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane" #51, August 1964. I got it out of this, which was an impulse buy that turned out to be a heck of a read, let me tell you...

Also: isn't it just great that there was once a comic called "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane"? That is an awesome title for any sort of publication. Those were Lois's glory days, all right. Why she left the big S to be with that doofus Kent, I'll never know.)

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A distraction is not without gravity.

In other developments: I'm away over the weekend, so I'm not sure when the next Rage Roundup post will be up. But the new Bat For Lashes single will be on Rage tonight! Woo! Her new album should be out in a week or two, as well. As should be the potentially awesome (altho: potentially crap) Crystal Antlers album. But freaking Nite Jewel is nowhere to be purchased, damn it all. The world is a pit of bile and injustice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rage Roundup @ March 20, 2009

The ides of march? No, that was last week.
So, music videos shown on Rage last Friday night! Words.

Despite the song name, not actually a waltz. Despite the band name, not really a bricolage. It's a nice song, tho: it's not remarkably awesome, but it's very good. The tunesmithing is imaginative, and there's some interesting sounds here. (In particular, soundwise: there's a lot more organ being played around in indie stuff these days, huh? Lovely to hear, it is.)

There's a bit of a pre-buzz around these guys at the moment, and it's easy to figure why. But I can't say I'm actually excited about this, even so; like I said, it's not awesome. (Or, whatever.) Still, I'm interested – don't mistake me, this is some fine music, I think. And I'm looking forward to being more impressed with whatever they do next.

Now, this – this is awesome. Kickarse, I would say. It does that intoxicating rhythm thing where there's a regular 4/4 underpinning, but the pulse is melodically disjointed so that it's difficult to always feel where bars begin & end – it's a technique out of free jazz, but it also makes for great musical tension in an artsy, post-rockish stomper like this. (And see also, somewhat: Slip On Through.)

The video is really good, too. Tasteful frame-jittering stops cheap visuals from looking obviously cheap, and it also cleverly mirrors the tension of the theme. The stark monochrome figures are appropriate and work well, too (and check out the apt & elegant clothing design!). To suit the lyrics, there's even some really good choreography here. You hardly ever see bona fide choreography outside of pop, so it's an interesting deal...

Nice electric guitar sounds, too (and used not for harmony, but as percussive elements!). I'd never heard of Circlesquare before this, but I'm definitely looking out for them now.

Spoiler warning: in a really beautiful way, this video riffs on Space Invaders. And it doesn't make it obvious from the start that that's what it's doing, either – we're in a naturalistic city-lights context at first, and the video takes its time with the setup. The illuminated city-lights-&-signs of the setup have enough visual interest to carry a video all on their own, in fact (& a lesser videomaker would have done just that, I bet). But by making the lights and signs simply a premise for the central Space Invaders riff, this video becomes truly excellent. (It also makes a neat subtextual pun on advertising-billboards-as-Invaders-of-public-Space, which is worth a grin.) And there are some nice visual effects, synchronising brightness-pulses and focus-warps with the rhythm – this video is a fine work all over.

Video aside, it's also a decent song. It's built around a curious & squinchy, circular riff – there's not a lot to it, but it's compelling and pleasant. The music is constructed in a sort of samples+electro style that makes me think of 1999-2000, but is that really an appropriate comparison? I'm not sure. Either way, I think it's worth a look.

Also: Umlaut.

Why is the video for this not on youtube? The band is an internationally-touring outfit from the US, noteworthy enough that their Wikipedia entry is not deleted (and that's no mean feat). I mean – I usually have something against any song title with "c'mon" in it, but I've overcome that feeling to appraise this here as a very nice and interesting thing, song & video both. And then the clip isn't even available for me to link to! The heck with you guys. I brood, bitterly. In the dark.

This is a very interesting one, especially the intro and into the verse – it certainly got my attention. A nice choir of vocal harmonies is always affecting, and it's especially interesting here as it slides into the 80s-type pop-epic drums at 0:19. The lead vocal doesn't have the greatest tone to it, tho; it's a bit twee & nasal (i.e., indie) for my taste, and never as expressive as it could be. (A female countervocal pops up during the final chorus, and it's a much more compelling voice.) However, the musical arrangement is nicely inventive all around; there's a lot of good songwriting here. The chorus is definitely weak in comparison to the other parts, but it's not bad, exactly. I do think the song loses itself towards the end, a bit; it finishes with a bombastic and dull sort of flourish (snare hits now on all 4 beats! woo!), instead of the cleverness shown earlier. Still, this is very promising stuff. Pity about the unoriginal and problematic band name, tho.

Am I the only one who instinctively read the title of this single as "Death Smarch"? Anything that reminds me of lousy Smarch weather is worth a smile, I guess.

Song is poor, though. I am truly impressed with "Cancer Bats" as a band name, but this is just Dull Metal all over. And the chorus seems like a (very, very mild) ripoff of Beautiful People. Boo, Cancer Bats. Boo.

You know what? This is actually a real decent song. In the tradition of Hit Me Baby One More Time and Toxic, Spears continues to display a suprising knack for good tunes. By which I mean, songs with enough depth of songwriting that they'll hold up even if you play them simply on an acoustic guitar, or something. The chorus to this one is catchy as heck. And check out the rhythm, especially in the lyric that climaxes the chorus – how often do you hear a 12/8 rhythm tripping around like that in a mainstream pop song? I find this song honestly pleasurable to listen to, and for a piece of commercial dancepop I say that is some exceptional fucking praise, okay.

The video isn't too bad, either. It's got the usual pop trappings, but it also seems genuinely & prettily sardonic. (In fact, from what I've seen, Spears' whole Circus project seems to imply a sort of satiric, self-parodying angle that's surprisingly cool.) The lyrics have some of that same edge, too; but are the repeated Baby Babys and La Las self-consciously ironic, or just conventional packaging? The whole thing is either subtle-via-the-obvious, or it's trying to have it both ways, or it's just not at all quite what I'd like it to be. Or it's something else entirely, a collaboration of blank coincidences. Hecks, but any interpretation is located within the audience (that's me), so any authorial intent is irrelevant anyway, right? Sure, why not. One way or another: Spears is either a lot more self-aware than usually credited, or else her product is presently produced by those who are willing to let it seem so. We live in interesting pop.

Twice in two weeks! How about that!
Until the next –

--the Musical Thoapsl

Friday, March 20, 2009


You'd say that cynicism is negative, wouldn't you? If you had to pick a side.

That cynicism is inevitable, and maybe it's often useful, but also that it's essentially sad, somehow. It's the side of the coin that you pay but don't receive. When someone expresses their cynicism, hearts are not uplifted. We don't feel that cynical people are better or more fortunate than others, for their cynicism. If we usually discover our cynicism in adolescence, then we usually react against it later on. And even if we stay cynical (more or less), we soon lose respect for cynicism as a general outlook, I think. After all, so it goes: what does cynicism do to improve our lives? What good is it? Isn't it somehow tawdry and grim and wrong? Dishonourable, even? Wouldn't the world be a better place, if nobody was cynical? 

And okay this is all true or whatever, but: there is one particular upside to cynicism that I've never heard anyone pay much attention to, and I reckon it's a great one. (And maybe it's not even cynicism exactly, maybe it's something else, anyhow, but I'm still going to write it.)

See, the one crucial aspect of culture that most adults are especially cynical towards, across the whole spectrum of the educated modernity? Advertising. Our thresholds for paying attention, for believing, for caring at all what an advertisement says – these thresholds are higher now than they were before. (This is one reason why advertisements from earlier decades have such kitsch value – so many old ads seem so absurd, so transparent and unconvincing. Plastics! New! Duck & Cover! Extra White! – we're cynical towards it, now.) Our higher thresholds, they're higher now because people are generally more cynical about advertising than they used to be, right? And so the advertisers are now so desperate, to grab our ever-more-cynical attention (& affection), that they've had to respond with relentless innovation. Viral marketing, immersive reality games, ads filmed like artsy short films, all of this craft and technique and effect and interest – it's all just a massive effort to trick past our endlessly-renewed cynicism.

And as a result, we have an industry of marketing and advertising that's now hugely more entertaining than it ever used to be. Funnier, more inventive – you might even want to say more intellectual, sometimes. There are ads you might even want to call art, if you were interested in calling things art, I guess. People watch the Super Bowl just for the ads: that's not just a cliche, it's true. And all of this, it's because we've been too cynical to keep paying attention to Sale and New and Value and celebrity endorsement, that same spin forever. If we've seen it before, we're cynical about it already. Give me something else.

Have you watched the youtube of the sheep yet? It's kind of neat, yeah?

It makes you think about things to do with sheep that you hadn't thought of before. New possibilities, new perspectives on an old context. Your mind has changed as a result, has literally expanded the complexity of its structure, now! That's what this advertisement has done for you, in its own small way. It really has made you a better, smarter, wiser person.
(Do you believe me?)

And so anyhow my point, I guess:

If the only cost of a new thought is a quiet reminder to maybe buy Sony afterwards, then I really don't mind the sponsorship. Cynicism can be a force to impel creativity! Isn't that remarkable? Hooray, I think.

(Wait, did I say Sony? I just watched it again, this sheep video is actually for Samsung.
Ah! & there you go, huh :)

So, yeah, sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.
--Sleepy Afternoon Thoapsl

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rage Roundup @ March 13, 2009

Woo! Friday the 13th Rage! Except that Rage didn't start 'til after midnight, so perhaps you would prefer it "Saturday the 14th Rage." Hooray for accuracy.

(btw, that new Friday the 13th movie? By far, it is the best Friday the 13th movie yet created. Yes, even better than Part 2. I should probably devote an entire post to the subject, that's how much I have to say about it...)

Nevertheless: music videos, lately shown on Rage. Words in relation to, etc.

I have always thought of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with much affection. This new single is quite a change for them, tho: in the past they've worked hard to establish their own guitar-drums-punk-trio-stick-it-to-the-man image & sound... and now, they've come out with a piece of arena synth-rock, techno-fied drum sound and all. (Altho: "fucking with expectations, that's the 
real punk," etc...)

So anyhow it'd be real easy to bash them here for selling out, to see them jumping onto another 80s zeitbandwagongeist like so many others have. As soon as I heard the synths, that's what I was expecting I'd want to do. However, by the end of the song, I guess my affection remains undimmed. The synth riff that anchors the chorus is genuinely great, and the ingredient that always raised YYYs above the rest – Karen O's voice – remains as passionate and compelling as ever. This is a mighty fine song, I think. If you must play with 80s sounds, kudos for making something fairly new & interesting & cool out of it. (As opposed to, say, this.)

The video is nice enough, too: a very pretty wander thru a rainy, neon San Francisco night. (You could probably draw a mild philosophical statement out of the video, if you wanted, something about being a flâneuse and the dérive and life-as-performance, but we really don't have to.)

Nice stuff. And now I'm curious as hell about the rest of their new album, so I guess the Mission of this single is Accomplished.

Another little indie band with a neat band name. (& speaking of reminders of which, did you ever hear of Tenniscoats? An even better band name, but no relation so far as I can tell...)

These guys have a really great sound: unlike a lot of other indie groups, they incorporate a tasteful taste of synth without detracting from a crisp guitar-&-drums sound. The lovely clear production helps a lot, here. In fact the song is well-arranged all over (dig the intro!), balancing tension at every point without resort to obvious soft/loud dynamics. The icing is the vocal performance: the singer has an intriguing edge of croon to his voice, and he lends some real depth to the melody. Tennis are something to watch out for, I think.

Like their last single, Paris – a breakout hit for them, that one was – there's something really good here but I'm not quite feeling it yet. (I like this one a lot more than I liked Paris, tho...) The verse is excellent, and the sequence leading from the bridge into the climactic final chorus is great too, but the chorus itself never quite fits, for me... as with the very end of the track, it's something that just trails off into an emotional "wuh." I feel like it wants to be more, like it needs a better punch to it – just a little more uplifting, or defiant? The final chorus is the closest to what I'm thinking of, when they slam it thru some dramatic arrangement cutouts. But even then, it fails to end well... so, hurm. What do you think?

The video itself is decent – even if it's pretty obvious, given a title like "Skeleton Boy," to decide to play around with a white-markings-over-black-bodysuits visual. The blizzard of white snowlike particles is a nice new spin on the technique, tho. It's a visual idea that somebody could really go somewhere with, I think...

Why do I find this one so compelling? Is it just the recognition value of the clip, which apes the basement sequences from That '70s Show (& does so more-or-less perfectly, too)? Is it the charisma of Cassar herself, who shows more personality & basic acting chops in this video than most singers ever do? I'm still not entirely sure if I really like the music or not, but man... I guess it must be the song. Sure: it is a nice song. The jaunty arrangement balances the melancholy of the melody, there's a nice wash of occasional oldtimey piano; it's pleasant, that's for sure. It's vaguely off-putting that she sings in a dopey faux-American accent when she's Australian, but her voice is quite nice otherwise. If she stays on this side of the country-pop-crossover divide, Cassar might have some really worthwhile music up her sleeve. Clearly, I'm going to have to start paying more attention.

Great 70s-animate visuals (it remembers the Sesame 12!, a little). Odd little piece – the music is some kind of quasi-folk jam-band indie reggae, but the slackertone bad-mic vocal makes it sound like The Strokes have lost their angst & escaped to a 1960s harmonic Jamaica. Lovely organ sound & a lovely little tune all over.

Hey, they're back! Or here for the first time, or something. I heard a track by these guys a couple of years ago on a Mess+Noise cd, and I've never forgotten their name: "Death Mattel" is an absolutely excellent pun. I hope we can all agree on this point.

So I remembered their name, but one old track wasn't much for me to go on, as far as recalling their sound... but never mind, because here's a whole new song. And memorable, this one – this is very interesting. It might benefit from a little more dynamic variation, but the unique mix of vocal & musical styles provokes interest all by itself. There's some guitar-drum interplay that's genuinely heavy (almost industrial in parts), dual vocals that roll from metallic acidthroat into indie singsong... it reminds me a little of early-mid Pixies, but it's not really like that. For one thing, there's a synthy, 80s edge to the cheap production sound (especially on the drums) that locates this more deeply in 00s underground. Also, check out the transition around the one minute mark – very few bands are willing to subvert your generic expectations like that. And what makes Death Mattel really interesting is the musical skill they're displaying with that transition: they pull an audacious move like that, and I think they actually make it work.

Take a listen! Every little band like this, willing to make sound that's as different as this is, deserves a wholehearted Right On. Right?

Or maybe I'm just bored, and I'm being a wanker and starting to privilege novelty over quality. Your opinions on this point are welcome.
Thanks! Until next time –

--the Musical Thoapsl

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Is Out Of Context

You remember when we first met, giant robot? You were so attentive! You'd call every day, you'd send me flowers and gifts. I felt like you really cared for me. But you never give me anything, anymore.


For this image you can thank Bob Budiansky, Frank Springer, and all those responsible for The Transformers cross-media marketing strategies during the mid-1980s. Ah.

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A headmaster is not a role model.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Headmaster, Targetmaster

There's a whole bunch of these Obamastyle riffs out there, but I swear – there's something really sublime about this one.
"Change into a truck." Think about it.

(Also: if you get the joke in the title of this post, then I can't wait to show you my next Friday out-of-context post. *whistle*;)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rage Roundup @ 6 March '09

Music videos, lately shown on Rage. Let's March!

We Walk — The Ting Tings

The Ting Tings' earlier singles danced on a strange edge, for me: each one would have a really good hook at some point, but the rest of the music would be so annoying that I couldn't stand the song as a whole. (Their band name is bloody annoying, too.) But I think this new track finds a better balance. There's a greater strength and melancholy to this music; it avoids the annoying tics of their earlier singles. It's an interesting wedge of dancey pop, built around staccato piano and a compelling rhythm. There's a defiant, assertive edge to the vocal melody. Also, it's a great video: it cleverly assembles a set of dynamic visual "pieces", slices of action frozen and replayed, and then uses artificial defocus to create a faux-3D layering effect. The visual edits are a smart match to the rhythm, too. Good stuff.

Check out the percussion, man. That is mean. Stripping it back so far that even the drum kit is gone – you've got to admit, that sort of stone-cold awesomeness is pretty funny.
Even when modern electric blues is listenably good, it's usually so derivative that it's basically unremarkable; it's difficult to not be dull. But this here is a pretty neat sound, I think. For what it is, this is mighty fine stuff. (If you want an immediate comparison, you might think about Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in the mid-90s? But don't think about it too hard.) These guys look like they'd be good fun as a live act, too.

So is it true? Is guitar-based indie moving towards a sort of grunge revival, now or soon? There's certainly a 90s vibe floating around the place these days, but I'm sure it's not that simple... For instance: the loose chorus vocals at the end of this song are a very 00s gesture. (In fact, those voices at the end vaguely remind me of the Arcade Fire, oddly enough.) But I think the vocal tones in the rest of this song, and much of its riffage & rhythm, definitely show a strong 90s-indie influence. Australian-style 90s-indie, especially. But, not too much influence. So, actually, this is probably not a good example at all...

It's tricky to pin down Major Major here in terms of 90s revivalism, because there's really a different feel at work. The song sounds like any other guitar-indie at first, but it grows into something quite different. It's a neat track; the guitars have charm, there's some real emotion to the vocals, and I like it the more I listen to it. Also, "the beast is coming for me..." – it's a great lyric. The video is cheap and not particularly profound, but it has a nice look and it holds attention well enough.

So: not the best example for investigating signs of grunge revivalism in contemporary music, but possibly worthwhile on its own merits. Looking to their myspace, it seems that this single is actually much heavier than their usual stuff. Grunge is almost certainly a bad comparison to be making, then. So! Let's say we dodged some kind of bullet?

(Nice band name, too. Was it going for the Catch-22 reference? Would the name be better or worse if it was Major Major Major, or Major Major Major Major, or Major Major Major Major Major? How thick is the line between repetition for impact & interest, and repetition as a rambling joke? ...)

Most of the time, I can't really get into death metal; the scream vocals are just too dull for me. (There's no dynamic to it: it's constant, but in a way that erases tension instead of building it.) This isn't quite that, though. Here, the vocals are (just barely) on the side of melody and tone rather than guttural white noise. It feels like a scream for emotion, rather than a generic sound effect: it's interesting. Add that to some interesting structure and some nice guitar textures, and all of a sudden this is compelling stuff. There are rhythmic changes in the service of the song's form, rather than time-signature fripps for virtuosity's sake; it's not something you hear everywhere. People, this is good metal!
Also: excellent band name. At the very least, it's a heck of a lot better than most metal bands can manage. (I'm looking at you, Terror. And Kreator. And DragonForce. Although, actually I guess "DragonForce" is kind of awesome, when you think about it*...)

*By the way: I've just done some googling, and for a band you've never heard of, DragonForce sure have some astounding statistics. One of the songs on their myspace has over 2 million plays, and it's only been out for 2 months! They have more than 300,000 myspace friends, while Radiohead have less than 200,000! (And okay, Justin Timberlake has about a million, but he's special.) Also, they went through 4 different bass players in eight years. (If that's not rock, I don't wanna be right.) Most awesome of all, according to wikipedia: "The band have frequently referred to their style not just as power metal, but as extreme power metal."

For an out-of-nowhere pop wannabe, this is not nearly as terrible as it should be. I think that's largely due to the production, which manages to keep the sound pleasantly immediate and direct... as opposed to most commercial songwriter-pop, which tends to swathe the sound in a fog of ProTools unreality. This guy may look kind of like he's aiming to be a male Delta Goodrem – although apparently, he's trying to be a male Billy Joel? – but either way, he's doing a surprisingly good job. The songwriting isn't exactly sublime, but it's more than solid pop. Sarakula doesn't look like a sex symbol or a pretty boy, but he's less pudgy than Alex Lloyd. If he manages to swing some decent radio airplay & a guest slot on Rove, he could easily be another hotcakes.

Sons Of God — "Jesus Christ" Through Adriaan
Rage's "we'll play anything at 4am" open submissions philosophy occasionally throws up some truly bizarre stuff. (Also, Made Austria.) Take this: it sounds like 80s-style synth-rock (except for the evangelical-Christian lyrics), the stereo drops in and out like the tape was wearing out, the video looks like somebody pointed a camera at a tv screen while playing a loop of 1980s-tech visual effects, the name is "Adriaan"... and no, this isn't on YouTube. It isn't anywhere. Somebody discovered a Betamax tape that their crazy uncle had made while born-again and dropping acid in 1988, they mailed it off to Rage, and the Rage programmers were happy to broadcast it at 4 in the morning. And it will never be seen again.

For goodness' sake, people! If this doesn't make it for you then there's no hope, I have no hope for you. (See also.) Damn it all! Watch, listen, forget about it, this is wonderful. I promise. Please pay attention.

That's all for now. Let's rock!, etc.
--the Musical Thoapsl

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watch Pun Watch


You know what I thought this was like, adaptation-wise? American Psycho. An "unfilmable" text, adapted in a way that amplified the ironic and parodic elements of the original at the expense of its more serious aspects. And an excellent film as a result.
Vast numbers of people are already reviewing this movie to death, but I haven't yet seen anyone point out that Watchmen is funny. And that's on purpose: it's supposed to be funny. It's serious too, but there's a thread of irony that's essential to the fabric of the whole. All very dark, very deep, but: by stretching and inverting superhero tropes the way it does, Watchmen (book & film both) is essentially a kind of parody.

(This is even more true for the film than for the original novel. There's a deeper suspension of disbelief when you're reading words and absorbing pictures; the absurdities are suppressed. But when it's live-action, a movie about costumed crimefighters can't help but highlight the strange and the ridiculous. And that's before you even get to the more obvious jokes – moulded nipples on the costume body armour, Rorschach's "Dark Knight" voice...)

Do you believe me? Just because a work explores some deep and serious ideas doesn't mean it isn't funny at the same time. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with acknowledging that, but it's true. When done well, that's part of what makes a good work so great: the humour can lend verisimilitude, and bring entertainment value too.

I love the original graphic novel, but I haven't read it for several years. (That was on purpose: I didn't want the differences between book and film to be too obvious to me, to be too annoying.) I went in with fairly low expectations. Based on the reviews I'd read, I was expecting that the movie wouldn't gel somehow; that it would duplicate the graphic novel's look but not its mood, that it would tell the events but not the story. The characters wouldn't seem right. It would be unsatisfying. That's what I was expecting.

Are you interested in my opinion?

Watchmen entertained the hell out of me. I thought it worked as a dark parody of superheroes (and of superhero movies), it worked as a compelling and unorthodox film narrative, it even worked as an action-romance with philosophical scaffolding. And I thought the fight scenes were awesome – seriously, some of the best movie fight scenes I've seen. (And that's coming from someone who usually hates any use of slow-motion, and who was only half-heartedly a fan of the action sequences in 300.) The music was great, too. (It's the musical choices that go a long way towards establishing a good subtone of parody throughout, too; I'm talking to you, Leonard Cohen's synth-heavy 1980s version of Hallelujah.)

I feel like I really need to talk about Watchmen with someone who watches a lot of movies, but hasn't read the graphic novel. Even better, someone who isn't especially familiar with comicbooks and superheroes generally. What on earth does this film seem like, to someone like that? There's so much bizarre excess in this movie, it's such an unusual brew of wild ideas... how does that play, to someone who has never read a superhero comic?

One thing in particular I thought interesting: by adapting the original text so faithfully, the first third (or so) of the film ends up with a narrative structure that's extremely unusual for a blockbuster. The way the story shifts from character to character and back and forth in time, exploring backstory and shifting perspectives (and all the while advancing the plot) – it's done in a way that's quite unusual, I think. There have been a lot of "ensemble"-type movies in the recent past, so many now that it's almost a subgenre of its own – I'm thinking about films like Magnolia, maybe I Heart Huckabees or Syriana or Crash, maybe even Pulp Fiction. All very different in tone, but I hope you know what I mean when I say they're similar in structure: multiple characters, interweaving storylines that build to a connected climax. You know what I mean. Watchmen has multiple characters and interweaving storylines that build to a connected climax, too.

But Watchmen is different to those films. It explores the characters' backstory and "origins" in ways that other ensemble films don't, I think. Following the pattern of the original text, the stories of the different characters are actually told differently, using narrative forms that reflect who they are. The segments with Dreiberg and Jupiter have a different feel to Rorschach's origin-told-via-psych-evaluation, which is different again to Manhattan's origin-told-via-simultaneous-time. Ensemble films often have different characters and different stories, but I think it's unusual to see different narrators used in this way. It works really well, too. It's a credit to the creators that it's never distracting, confusing or clunky – Watchmen is always a single film, not several different films cut together. (Or not to me, anyhow; again, I really need to talk to someone who knows the film but not the book! This is what I get for going to see it on opening night, when nobody else has seen it yet...)

There is a lot to this film, substance and style both. From sly easter eggs like "Good luck, Mister Gorsky" and the use of Apple's 1984 ad, to more subtle jokes (like the ironic/obvious musical selections), this is a film absolutely crammed with interesting details. The cast are great; in a couple of cases, they're excellent. If I wanted to nitpick, I'd say the very final scene was just slightly off – something about the pacing, maybe? – but even in the original book, that was a scene that never quite worked for me. Some people have said that the film doesn't evoke the Cold War feeling of imminent nuclear holocaust clearly enough; for myself, I thought that it was evoked well enough. But I might be more familiar with that sort of Cold War mindset than some people, I've been thinking about it a bit lately..?

I want to see it again. It's a great story, well told and thoroughly entertaining. It's funny!
In summary: see this film. If only so that I can talk to you about it.

--the Cinematic Thoapsl

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

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