Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas Xmas Woo Xmas

I hope you're having a fine & pleasant day.

Here's to World Peace!
Nah, I'm kidding. All I really want is turkey.

Merry X &c. !

—the Festive Thoapsl

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 #10: Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't (Part Two)

. . . Continued!

Yeah, so apparently they make a big deal about the "xx" being lowercase. I'll try not to hold that against them.

This band has been making waves lately; they don't look cool, and not looking cool is an excellent way to be cool, but that's not why people are paying attention to them. What makes the xx unique is their sound, which is incredibly stripped back: as other bloggers have noted, they make four musicians sound like two. That kind of sonic restraint is incredibly rare in modern pop. Even better, they have the skills to use this restraint in service of some really spectacular tension-&-release songwriting. It's quite unlike anything else out there right now, and it's great.

But not great enough for me to spend money on it just yet, apparently.

Their debut album, Replica Replica, should have been a much bigger success – the damn thing was absolutely crammed with excellent, hard-edged guitar pop. But Red Riders don't seem to have the right image for success, or something; they're just too tuneful for the hardcore, too artsy for the popsters, too Sydney for the Melbourne. And apparently one of their (multiple) singer-songwriters has left them since the first album, which is a huge shame; they could have been so much more, if they'd all stuck together . . .

But that's people, I guess. In the meantime: if the second RR album has half as many kickarse songs as the debut, then it will be worth buying. Either way I'll be buying it eventually, I'm sure.

<Embedding disabled by request, morons>

Aw, look – she's just so damn pleasant! I don't know what it is, but there's something about Lily Allen that I just find massively, ineffably appealing. I feel like I probably shouldn't like her music, but I do. It's neat, sweet pop; the lyrics are usually way more clever than they should be; and even when it's bitter and sardonic, which is most of the time, it's also damn nice. At her worst, she's not quite right, but at her best she's excellent.

I've written about Sarah Blasko before, but I guess I like to repeat myself.

Sarah Blasko is excellent. Her latest album appears to be even better than her previous albums, which were also very good. Enough said?

<Embedding disabled by request, morons>

Florence is epic. I'm not exactly sure how she ended up at #1 on this list, though; her legs may have carried her over the line, I guess. That and her voice, which is astounding. I'm not usually the kind of person to be too impressed by a conventionally tuneful singing voice, but her voice is simply huge; the album title is apt. I've no idea if the rest of her album lives up to the interesting potential of the few singles I've heard so far, but I'm sure it's worth a shot. That, and I worry that she'll beat me up if I don't give her money.

And there you have it – Top 10 #10! And I'll be posting Top 10 #9 will before New Year, turkey permitting.
Merry Xmas!

--the Musical Thoapsl

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 #10: Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't (Part One)

I didn't buy many albums this year; partly because I had less disposable* income, and partly because I've been unsure whether to buy music on CD or via iTunes (and sometimes indecision = no decision). I used to love the physicality and security of a real CD, but these days I usually listen to music through my computer or iPod, so are CDs still worthwhile? My bookshelf full of CDs still looks nice, but it's not so convenient. A few years ago, my collection of CDs was my personal music library; today, it's just an insurance policy in case of hard drive failure.

(Don't even start me on those horrific CDs with the most hardcore copy protection, the ones that won't even let you copy the music into your iTunes library . . !)

And I never buy DVDs, because I figure that the DVD is already a dead medium; so isn't it past time for me to give up on the CD, too? What do you think?

I've been watching Rage regularly all year, so I've heard & seen the singles from practically every new album release of 2009. A lot of these singles made me want to go buy albums, but I don't always do what I want. Here are the Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't.

(Note, also: when I say "didn't buy", I don't mean "downloaded illegally". I don't like to do that; and it's not like any of these albums were inaccessible or overpriced or only available via an inconvenient delivery mechanism, such as certain television programs might be said to be, hypothetically speaking. Aside from the music videos, and/or songs freely available on myspace, I haven't actually listened to any of these albums.)

Blueberry Boat, the FF's second album (from 2004), is absolutely brilliant. It's bizarre, it's dense, it's complex, and it's very long. I had to listen to it three times before it actually made sense to me. That might sound like a bad thing, and it usually would be, but not here: it's an album that rewards you for paying attention, for remembering that the melody you're listening to now is an echo of the melody from thirty minutes earlier. It's unique, entertaining, catchy and very, very smart.

So yeah, Blueberry Boat impressed me hugely, to the point that I was kind of obsessed with FF for a while. I even saw them live (and they put on a fantastic live performance, too). But every one of their albums since 2004 has been mediocre by comparison, even after repeated listens and much effort on my part. Widow City (2007) was occasionally excellent, but only occasionally. Bitter Tea was mostly weak. And as for Rehearsing My Choir . . . I mean, I really wanted to love that one. I wanted to enjoy it. I did not.

And that's why I haven't bothered to buy this new album: I've been burnt. The single (above) was good, but not mindblowing. Their most recent album (Widow City) was worthwhile, so I'd like to think that I'm Going Away is another step up, but I'm not willing to wager money on it. Not just yet.

I've always kind of liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though I've never been a huge fan. But I always thought their songwriting was clever, and this album looked interesting; the singles were pretty good, at least. I'm kind of fascinated by the way they've changed their sound, too. It should seem like they're selling out, the way they've changed from punky-spiky-00s-rock into an 80s synth-underground feel – it's like a rebranding from one zeitgeist to the next, *cynicism* – but somehow, it just doesn't seem like a sell-out. Their new songs are good, and surprisingly subtle. Their new sound isn't a bland pop makeover. It's worth listening to.

But I actually haven't bought it yet.

Intriguing mix of psych-ish music under really grungey, 80s-punk vocals. (I really love the vocals – guy's got an awesome voice.) This single is probably their least impressive song, I think, but some of their stuff available elsewhere is pretty spectacular. Also, I'm building a collection of albums by cool bands with the word "Crystal" in their name.

The vocals are so English that it's almost distracting; together with the early-80s everything else, they obviously wish they were guesting on The Young Ones. But the more I hear of these guys, the more impressed I am by their pop songwriting & arrangement chops. It's really excellent stuff – the kind of clever, retro-but-not-pointless pop that only England ever seems to produce (see also, Mystery Jets). Damn fine. Even if I don't get a copy of their album this year, I'm sure I haven't heard the last of them.

Arctic Monkeys had such a meteoric rise to fame, and were so damn young and pretty, that their passage through the NME meatgrinder-of-adulation very quickly became the sausage of hipsters' casual dismissal. But they don't deserve to be dismissed: the original fame & adulation was well deserved, because their music at its best is absolutely excellent. Their first two albums were simply great. I haven't bought this third album yet, but I know I will eventually; if it's not also great, I'll be very surprised.

Gosh, there are more words on this list than I thought there'd be! I guess I have more to say about these albums than I thought I would. I'm going to have to split this post in two.

Back soon, with the top half of the Top 10!

(And don't worry, btw – the other Top Ten Top Tens will involve far fewer words than this, I promise :)

*all income is disposable

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top 10 Top 10 Lists That Don't Really Deserve To Be Top 10 Lists

We're coming up to the end of the calendar, which means only one thing: the mediasphere wants more lists. Yes, MORE lists. Endless, endless lists: Best Songs, Most Culturally Poisonous Films, Top 10 Everything, et cetera. MORE LISTS! And this year even more so than usual, because it isn't only the end of 2009: it's the end of the '00s.

(Speaking of which: how did we manage to live through an entire decade without being able to name it?* The Aughts, the Zeroes, the Noughties, the Nothings? – no. This was The Decade That Nobody Could Agree On The Name Of. When Generation Z grow up, how are they going to label their childhood nostalgia? We're not making it easy for them . . . And even worse, what the heck are we going to call the next decade? Are we really going to call it the "Twenty-Teens"? Seriously? I'm freaking out, man)

So, people like lists. You know this. It appeals to the human instinct for pattern recognition, I guess: people like seeing things ordered and labelled, we like to know what's important. That's why "Best Of" lists are always among the most popular blog posts, right?

But on the other hand, I'm kind of sick of Top Tens. The lists are almost always hopelessly subjective – which is fine – but they're also usually pretending to be objective and authoritative, which pisses me off no end. That list you just wrote up, that list you just read, over on that other blog? Please, internet, stop taking that list seriously. A list is not a table of statistics. It's a mixtape. For goodness' sake.
With this in mind: here's my Top 10 List of Top 10 Lists That Don't Really Deserve To Be Top 10 Lists.
10. Top 10 Albums Of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't
9. Top 10 High Concepts Improvised In Less Than One Minute
8. Top 10 Song Titles That Are No Longer Hits When Rephrased As A Question Instead Of As An Assertion
7. Top 10 Ambiguous Sporting Team Nicknames
6. Top 10 Pop Culture References That Will Make Me Feel Nostalgic For My Childhood, I Hope
5. Top 10 Pseudonyms Used By Undercover Ticket Inspectors On Melbourne Public Transport
4. Top 10 Least Respectable Titles Of Philip K. Dick Novels
3. Top 10 Sports That I Expect I Will Never Play
2. Top 10 Actors That I Can't Remember The Name Of, But Then When I See Their Faces I Go "Oh Yeah, I Know Them"
1. Top 10 Best Numbers Between 1 and 10
I'll actually be posting all these lists between now and the end of the year. No, wait – there's barely 10 days left in the year, that won't work. How about I post these Top 10 Top 10s between now and the end of, say, January? Or, at least no slower than once per week? Sure, at least!

Yeah, that's right. Watch me.

See you soon :)

*& cheers to M("F")V for reminding me about this, just the other day

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mondays Can Be Disturbing

Cheap of me to do two linkblogs in a row, rather than blogging something that I've actually created myself, but this tickled me too much to resist.

See, lately I've been looking for someone* to fill a vacant room in my house, and the process of interviewing prospective housemates has reminded me just how difficult it is to get to know people from only brief conversations. You can absorb a lot of intuitive impressions, but it seems impossible to really find out what they'll be like; I think people usually don't relax enough to show their "true" colours until you've been living with them for weeks, at least.

Thus, there's been a running joke between me & my other (non-new) housemate about the absolute best way to interview a stranger: the Voight-Kampff test.

The Voight-Kampff test is the interview from Blade Runner (via Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) that's supposed to test your empathy – empathy, of course, being the unique quality that sets humans apart from "non-humans" (e.g. animals, psychopaths, killer robots). I've always thought it would be great fun to spring the Voight-Kampff interview questions on somebody when they're not expecting it, but I've never had the guts to do it "for real" . . .

. . . unlike the journalists at San Francisco's The Wave magazine, who decided to give the Voight-Kampff test to all the upcoming SF mayoral candidates. If you don't know Blade Runner, you probably won't get it, but I thought it was freaking hilarious.

As one would expect, at least half the mayoral candidates are definitely not human.

*Subsequently found: hello, Sarah D—! She's moving in tomorrow, good luck to all involved . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009


No more than a fortnight to go, at the most. The Santa clearly has the upper hand.

I'm quite looking forward to the Xmas, this year. I'm not religious* (you could probably tell from the awesome Todd Schorr image I've posted above), but I much appreciate the nostalgia of midsummer turkey & family & feasting & gift-giving. And the X-holiday relaxation, especially: it's several days during which I don't have to do anything that isn't X-related. Freedom to loll (& lol) on a couch almost all day, freedom to feast, freedom to ignore work. Fantastic.

Even better – the gifts I've bought are already wrapped, a funky little stack in the corner of my room. How the hecks did I get my presents all sorted out so early, this year? I have no idea. It's very unlike me. I like it.

So! Two weeks until Xmas. Three weeks until 2010. More on events as they develop.
Good luck.

*So I figure the 'X' in my personal 'X-mas' simply stands for something other than 'Xrist'? (Or technically that would be 'XPIΣTΌΣ', for all you scholars of Ancient Greek and/or Theology in the audience . . . I know you're out there . . .)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Like A Tiger

I do not care about this recent Tiger Woods affair car-crash whatever thing. I also did not care about the Premier of South Australia having an affair last week, or whatever that was. I mean, I don't think I ever used to care about "celeb adultery shock!" stories, much – but lately I've been more than uninterested, I've been damn well anti-interested, to the point that celebrity sex scandals are actually repelling my interest.

Is it just me? I know that famous people's extramarital affairs used to be much more of a big deal, years ago, because extramarital affairs used to be much more of a big deal in general, years ago . . . Until the 1970s, divorce was always scandalous and/or nigh-impossible; sex scandals could literally bring down a government. Fair enough these stories were well newsworthy, then.

Today, though . . . how is adultery still worth a broadsheet's front page? Is it really news? I mean – what's the divorce rate, these days? I'm 28 now, and I'm almost the only person I know whose parents aren't divorced. Only a minuscule fraction of marriages last from the vows 'til death without being interrupted by adultery and/or divorce. Shouldn't it be a hell of a lot more newsworthy when famous people don't have an affair and/or break up?

This is the gist of my rant: adultery is BORING. Adultery is ROUTINE. Adultery is EVERYWHERE, even if some people still refuse to admit it. So can't we just assume that most famous married people are having affairs, and then forget about it? With rare exceptions, adultery has no bearing on anything that the famous person is actually doing in the public sphere. And it's none of our business, right? Look, I enjoy reading about (some) famous people, I totally understand the impulse to learn the "private" details of their lives; it's a neat thrill, sometimes. But adultery just isn't doing it for me, anymore. Adultery is dull, predictable and petty; it's not exciting, it's not even sexy. It leaves me feeling vaguely glum. I'd rather know what Tiger Woods eats for breakfast than know the state of his marriage, and I don't really care what he eats for breakfast. I don't even play golf.

I DO NOT CARE about Tiger Woods's marriage.

However. I did find this Chinese news report rather intriguing:

(via Pajiba)

The Onion's version of events is compelling, too.

Am I in a minority of one, in not caring about celebrity adultery? Am I being too old-fashioned, or too new-fashioned, or just daft?

/end rant

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Is Out Of Context

You know, somebody says "Slug Monster!" and you think you know what they're talking about. You turn around for a look, but you already feel like you know what you'll see. Heck, you've seen some horror movies, you've got a pretty vivid imagination; you've seen plenty of slug monsters before. How bad could this one be?

Obviously, you have underestimated certain German illustrators of the early 1920s.

(Note, also: the body in the lower left is not being crushed by the slug. It is being absorbed, or possibly growing out of the slug's body like a deformed limb.)

This image is actually part of a cover for a 1920 issue of Der Orchideengarten, a fantasy magazine that ran for an impressive fifty-one issues in Munich from 1919 to 1921. After the horrors of the Great War, THIS is what people were reading to relax.

Image via the ever-awesome A Journey Round My Skull blog. There's plenty more mind-melting Orchideengarten imagery and info to be found out there, if you dare . . .

This Friday Is Out Of Context Thoapsl Says: A salt is not a defence.