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

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