Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rage Roundup @ July '09

Howdy howdy howdy! It's been a while since the last one of these roundups, but the word "irregular" has a nice ring to it, yeah?
Alright, then: these are some music videos that I saw on Rage. I have surrounded them with words.

The sheer sonic variety in this is gorgeous, I think. Basement Jaxx have done some clever, inventive pop singles in the past, but the arrangement of this tune is just explosive. The promise of electronic music is that you'll never need to accept the limitations of a live performance – i.e. a consistent set of realisable instruments – but few musicians take full advantage of this idea. Modern music often uses different instrumental sounds for different musical sections within a song (e.g. the "quiet acoustic verse, loud electric chorus" mid-90s grunge template), but "Raindrops" uses different sounds from one note to the next. The drums carry a stable rhythm, but everything else is in flux; even the vocals are processed differently from word to word. This could easily be jarring or ridiculous, but it's not. The tonal mosaic always serves the music: as it progresses, the sonic texture continually rearranges itself to match the song's melodic whims. It's impressively intelligent stuff.

The other reason it all works is that it's simply a catchy, well-written tune. And the video is a great visual fit to the sound: a brilliant, decadent kaleidoscope of colour and rhythm. It's also full of near-naked dancing girls, which would usually be questionable... but the visuals are ultimately too bizarre and abstract to seem really exploitative, I think. Clever work, this. Splendid.

Lotsa buzz around these Dirty Projectors people, lately. Did they get a good review on Pitchfork, or something? (Why, yes they did.)

What I find really interesting about this is the way that it's clearly indie-hipster-indie in every appearance (e.g. the Pitchfork thing, the outfits that are MC Hammer via American Apparel, this album, etc etc) and yet it's also just so pop. Squint with your ears, and the music could easily be a Timbaland production; a lost Kelly Rowland single, with slightly less impressive vocals and unprofessional dancing in the video. It's like the wannabe-disco/80s-revivalism of 2009 indie has caught up to the abstraction of mid-00s avant-pop — although approaching from different directions, they're suddenly both in the same place. Isn't that something?

Anyhow, I probably wouldn't mention it if the song wasn't also catchy as heck. The structure of the melody is fractured and drawn out over several phrases before it resolves; it's a weirdly intellectual way to write a tune, almost like a doped-up bebop melody, but it certainly hooked my attention. I hardly ever remember lyrics, but "there is a higher mountain!" has been rolling around my head all day. Addictive listening, this stuff. Maybe I should go buy their album.

Not much in the way of full-on guitar musics released this month, sadly – "guitar groups are on the way out" – but there was this. (There was also something from The Dead Weather, I guess, but I really can't be bothered talking about that.) There's nothing especially groundbreaking about this song, but the arrangement is very good; the intertwining guitars are unusually effective, and the gasping rhythm of the chorus is excellent. The vocals in the first verse were dangerously close to something that I wouldn't like, but the singer's performance in the choruses carved up enough edge to win me over. It's hard to find anything that's superb, here, but all things are at least above average: simple, but effective. It's just a nice, tasty wedge of alt-rock. The lyrics are more interesting than the usual, too – "you don't need me" is not a common lyrical sentiment. I like it.

"Heartbreaker" is not an uncommon song title, but then there are a lot of heartbreakers out there irl. (Am I right, folks, amirite?!)

This particular "Heartbreaker" is built around a piano riff. It's not easy to make a piano sound cool (you can't pitchbend* an ordinary piano, for one thing) but Mstrkrft's riff is impressively sharp. The chord progression is circular in a way that cleverly builds tension without losing energy; the vocals are quite decent, too. Mastercrafty music.

What happens in the video? A gang of ugly hooligans disregard the private property of a local storekeeper. The least ugly hooligan and the storekeeper's daughter totally don't make out. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

*Pitchbending being the easiest method by which an instrument might mimic the emotive qualities of a human voice; guitars and horns pitchbend to make cool sounds all the time...

This post is about finished, I think. For a Bonus (!) I'd like to mention Stone Cold Sober by Paloma Faith. It's an unusually interesting little soul-pop single, and I like how it has the guts to drop out the sound on the words "Stone! Cold!" – certainly an attention-grabbing move, that.

So: it's August now. Seriously. August, 2009. *pff!h*
--the Musical Thoapsl


  1. Hey, I like your Rage Roundup idea. Good stuff.

    And now you have a bigger audience! +1

  2. Cheers, Duncan! If you're angling for a cupcake by trying to get on my good side, you're on the right track :)