Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rage Roundup @ August 2009

Winter rolls to its bitter close. (Okay, not that bitter. I had an okay time.) And it brings a swag of indie prog rock to listen to, oddly enough; I wasn't expecting that. Thanks again for all your lovely music videos, Rage!

I should point out, there's nothing here that really feels like 1970s-type prog rock; there's no definitive '70s stylings, no genuine '70s modes. And maybe these '00s tunes here, unlike '70s prog, aren't really trying to be 'experimental' or 'progressive'? They're just trying to be musical and interesting, I think. And besides that they're all too modest, too self-aware, too Gen Y. That's not prog! So. 'Prog-ish', let's say; or just, 'progressive'?
Aw heck, who cares. It's a vague word for a fuzzy genre, anyhow. Bring it on.

(You know what's awesome, by the way? This is awesome. Yes. Shut up.)

Quick, watch it before Sony notices! 'Embedding disabled by request', oh Sony you ridiculous fools, you . . .

These folks are Danish, apparently. That's nice. Anyhow, they've made a seriously beautiful video. The photography is gorgeously cool; the visuals are superb. Also, the subject matter: creepy floating alien laser cubes in a forest? Lovely! It's striking and evocative, and all the better for being unexplained.

More than the video, what really makes this worthwhile is the music. I'm always pleased when a song is not only (musically) unusual and interesting, but also clever enough to maintain a decent sense of dynamics. Far too many 'artsy' or 'intelligent' bands regress by default into dull, meandering mush, but not here. Listen to the spark in those rhythms, the barbed wire in the guitar! It's indie and intellectual but it's never boring, and it never collapses into wimp-rock. Fine, intriguing stuff.

Look, it's the unexpectedly epic new single from the Hungry Kids of Hungary (of Brisbane). Their earlier indieguitarpop singles had shown good songwriting chops (though, never quite good enough for me to include them in a Rage Roundup before;), but this is something else: they've taken an unexpected turn into Wings-ish, almost Queen-ish piano balladry. The hook at the tune's heart provokes an unusual song structure to hold things in place, but as a whole it actually works quite well. Solid piano chords and falsetto harmonies ride over a broken-leg momentum (almost Hey Jude–like) that's a real kick. It's familiar, but not overtly nostalgic; and it's never too familiar (occasional McCartneyisms notwithstanding). Addictive stuff, and it improves with multiple listens. I like it.

Also, note: bow ties. Totally a fashion again. Huh.
(With that in mind: if anything, the video is maybe a bit too mocking & cheap-jokey for its own good; the melody is strong enough that they could easily play the emotions straight and get away with it. It's the type of strong, catchy song that could honestly be a real crossover hit if given a bit of airplay, I think.)

I liked Blitzen Trapper's 2007 album, but despite several moments of brilliance it was honestly a little uneven . . . and worst of all, the production had this terrible, terribly modern-style mix that almost ruined it. The kind of mix where all the levels are balanced too high, so it sounds punchy and loud on a car radio but there's no clarity or depth. A mix like that is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it was bad news for Blitzen Trapper; they tend to have a lot of subtlety in their arrangements, an unusual folk-rock vs electronica sound, and it's the kind of thing that needs precision and clarity to sound its best, I think. So although I've been curious, I've so far resisted getting their follow-up album, Furr. However: based on this single, I might have to stop resisting. This here music is A+.

The song is a bluesy ballad with a country-folk arrangement, which would be nice enough in itself, except, except – oh, it's much better than that. Listen! The fierce bursts of electric guitar punctuating the verse's turnaround chords – the tense musical restraint and laidback vocal, screaming to explode, that never does – the synth melody like a violin 21C, like an antique UFO – the spiralling chord progressions – the snare rippling its frustration – brilliant! Even the little turns of phrase in the lyrics, simple but smart: the best kind of balladry. And check out the excellent video, which perfectly matches the musical mood via clever effects editing and inventive, creepy imagery. (Not to mention the washed-out and dreamlike exposure of the film itself, which creates a great visual punchline when we get to the 'black river' of the finale.) There's also a great sense of menace implied by never showing the protagonist's face: it's simple, but very effective. Splendid.

And to top it all off, even the mix sounds pretty alright. Maybe I should go buy the whole album after all.

That was August. I'm tempted to include Calvin Harris's Ready For The Weekend as a Bonus (!) – that lad sure knows how to produce an effectively excellent pop song, alright – but you've probably heard that one already. Instead, how about some new-school old-school punk? Check out Hungry And Tired, by The Riot. That's pretty stupidly generic band name, but they are from Brisbane. It's also a pretty stupidly generic punk song, to be honest, but gosh I really do like the particular way that the singer sings 'I was hungry, and I was tired . . .' – what can I say? I enjoyed it.

Also, please pay attention to Golden Silvers and The Mint Chicks. Whole bunch of good things released by them, lately . . .

Gosh gosh gosh gosh! Musicamusicamusics!
Awesome. I reckon this must be the time for me to stop typing.

Until next time . . .
--the Musical Thoapsl

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