Monday, April 20, 2009

Rage Roundup @ 17 April '09

After a long and difficult week, here I am again. Dial C for Compulsion?
Okay. Here are some recent music videos that I thought were kind of interesting.

Quite a neat video, this one. It's shot with such magic-hour elegance and classy professionalism that it's always pleasant to look at. But if I feel sort of empty now, it's strange: in retrospect, the whole video feels weirdly insignificant to me. Images without affect. But that can't be entirely true, because the visuals match the music very well, and the melody has a definite kick of attention to it. It's a well-written song all over; the arrangement is clever, and the whole package is varied and dynamic enough to be compelling throughout. It's good. The chorus lyrics are a bit daft, maybe – "we are all the same, we are" – but I think they get away with it. Perhaps I'm distracted by the girls in tank tops? But even there, at least the presentation of the dancing girls is more inventive and less blatantly exploitative than usual.

Man, I just don't know. Is it the music's undeniably weird emotional tenor, irreparably infecting my mood, now? Damn. Ask me tomorrow.

Okay, so they've come to fame via an iPod commercial, but let's not hold that against them. These guys are actually pretty good, and they're certainly interesting. (I grabbed a song from theirspace a while back called "Planet Health," which has some hilariously wonderful lyrics – I almost want to use a word like bonzo, but that would probably be inappropriate.)

The video here is the most obviously interesting aspect: it's based around a visual effect that's disturbingly familiar, even though I'm sure I've never seen it before. I won't spoil the novelty by trying to describe it: just watch the video, it's fascinating.

Aside from the visuals, I think the music itself is quite intriguing. It's certainly another example of the late-'00s goldrush into '80s pop aesthetics, but it's playing with the synths and production here in a way that seems wilfully unusual. Each individual musical element is so retro it's almost hokey, it's almost clumsy, but the way the song is put together – it's like a ten-year-old kid builds a Transformer toy out of unrelated Lego blocks. The finished product seems terribly familiar and cheesy and obvious, at first: but the closer you look, the stranger and more unique it becomes. And it's still just as fun to play with, too. I think I like it.

This is the first I've heard of these guys (they're from Sydney, apparently?), but it's a cracking debut. When I first started watching this video, I was five seconds away from fast-forwarding through it to get to something else: but five seconds was enough to hook me for the next five seconds, and then the next, and in the end I watched the whole thing without a break. This is a great punchy rock tune, a good example of the current strain that's evolving out of post-punk angular riffage + grunge/emo melodic intensity.

Also compelling is the video. At first, I was hooked because it captures so well the geography of inner-suburban terrace-house parties I've known (damn my nostalgic heart). At second, the old music video trick of actors-mouthing-the-lyrics is exploited here more cleverly than I've seen before. Rather than singing along in a typical music video way, instead the actors' expressions and behaviours are exactly matched to the visuals' implied plot: it's like the characters are saying whatever they would actually be saying, except that their words happen to fit the song, instead. It's a clever surreal device that I've often seen attempted, but it almost always falls flat. However: here, I think it works really well.

Not only does this make me excited for more releases from these guys, it also reminds me a bit of Red Riders. Man, the debut album from Red Riders, a few years ago: absolutely killer. Have they been quiet since then because they imploded, or because they're crafting an awesome Album #2, or because they're crafting a crap & overblown Album #2? Wherever they are now, their return is relevant to my interests.

Wait, is that it? Only three singles worth talking about? What?

I guess it really has been a quiet couple of weeks, music-videos-wise. Ben Harper released a new single (though I can't find it on youtube), but I'm worried that I can't consider that one too closely without putting myself at risk of some kind of pathetic existential implosion. (I'm pretty sure that this would not be a risk for people who weren't impressionable teenagers in 1997.)

Oh wait, here's something else – actually a few weeks old, but I didn't mention it last time for want of space & time:

You have to admit that "Summarize" is a pretty neat name for a pop single, right? (Even if Little Birdy, notwithstanding their origins within a certain socio-linguistic environment, have caved to the lingering possibilities of America and spelled the word with a "z" instead of an "s.")

This is a real nice song. The production on their previous (i.e. second) album was kind of clumsy and over-commercialised, but in a very vague sort of way – disappointing, is what I'm saying, and also without the consolation of pop success. So this new single returns to a more natural Little Birdy sound: less obviously trendy, and probably more Australian, too. The tune has a number of nice '60s-soul-/-rhythm-&-blues influences (you'll know them when you hear them), but it's never a pastiche. It's not spectacular, but it has a couple of great moments in the chord progression and it's very easy to like.

The video is nice, too. The setting is a clever nod to '60s pop tv, and it makes a good match for the music. Clever editing stops the scene from looking too dorky or ridiculous – mostly – and the black-and-white filter casts an appropriately Mod sheen over the whole thing. Overall, this is a genuinely decent and promising return. Good luck to them.

Aw hecks now, let's just leave it at that. This morning, I finished reading Infinite Jest: I'm pretty sure I must be overdue for some kind of a nap.

--the Musical Thoapsl

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