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

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