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

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