30 June 2008

It was supposed to be a quick trip to buy shoelaces

There are a lot of ways to say it, but the truth is that I am easily distracted. 

This evening, I was herding junior shoppers through a mall and heard a song somewhere.  I liked the sound of it and had the idea that I ought to know what it was.  Since most of the hip mall shops can tell you what they are playing, I raced to track it down and ask.  Big mistake.

It turns out that the Hollister Company (some kind of dreadful theme-park clothing chain with dim lights and a maze of twisty rooms all alike that pretends it is about surfing or something) has a touch-screen jukebox of all the latest "We are SO not emo! Punk, I swear, punk!" cool bands. So there I am, standing hip deep in camisoles and being sniffed at by young ubertrends, playing with the new toy and writing down band names.  (They have a limited version of this player on their web site, but it's not much.)  I think I was the only person in there who could have voted in the last election.

Eventually, I surfaced and hunted down the little kahunas so we could continue down the mall looking for skull shoelaces.  That brought us to Hot Topic, which is a remarkable collection of stuff.  I have never been in one before.  There is an excellent chance that no one in that store besides me will be voting in this upcoming election, either.  While my mini punks were going crazy over big skull beltbuckles and skull shoelaces and skull fingerless mittens and I don't know what all, I was leaning on the counter talking to the "I'm too cool to get excited about anything" clerk about the band they were playing, Allison (Mexico, power punk pop).  Turns out she is not too cool to get excited about them. 

Finally got the skull boys home and hit MySpace to look up a few of the bands. I was trying to figure out why Luna Halo's MySpace page shows four members and doesn't list a keyboard player, but the official bio on their official web page describes finding a keyboard player, so I pulled up their Wikipedia entry to see if it clears that up. In fact, it doesn't list a keyboard player as either current or former, even though at least one of the pictures on their site shows someone playing a keyboard.

I don't know if I will ever figure that out, and the puzzle doesn't make me not like their music.  I will probably get their current album. And maybe Crash Romeo's, too.

Anyway, then I spotted a link at the bottom of their Wikipedia article, one of the ones to a category that the entry belongs to. "American pop rock music groups", okay.  "Music groups established in 1999", questionable given the history of the band, but okay.  "Former Christian musical groups", wurru?  They have a category for this?  Is it so common?  Former Christians or former groups or what?

I clicked over to see, of course.  They list 5 groups, including Luna Halo, that

... were at one time considered a Christian artist or band, but are either no longer associated with the Christian Music industry or do not wish to be known as a Christian band, despite a large Christian fan base. Some of these artists may be on a Christian label or have an overtly Christian release, but have since stated publicly that they do not wish to be known as a Christian artist. An artist's inclusion on this page does not necessarily mean the artist has abandoned their faith.
This makes my brain go all asplodey.  What kind of alternative musical reality I was I getting a peek into?

And of course, my brain won't stop working on things like why there are only five such groups listed. Surely there must be more acts that have left a "Christian label".  What is a "Christian band", anyway?  Are there rules against Christians listening to bands without this tag?  Are there certifying authorities like there is for "Kosher"?  Is there an equivalent for any other religion?  Oh, what about black metal? Does Luna Halo count as a 1999 band, when all the members from then except one left and they got a new label and stopped being Christian and all? Or should they get their timer reset to 2002? And so on. 

I got so distracted that I nearly forgot to blog about it.  I think that many brain cycles are going to be wasted on these questions.  And on that missing keyboard player.

29 June 2008

Fluid Lines Dope Slaps Roger Waters

Really, this is me dope-slapping Roger Waters with Fluid Lines, but that doesn't make the same kind of headline.

Recently, I watched the documentary Pink Floyd: We Talk About How Great We Are. (Officially, Pink Floyd: Shine On.) It was very annoying and I don't recommend it unless you go in agreeing with them. It included big chunks of interviews with Roger Waters, apparently from the early 80s.

In this interview, he said something about punk that sat me back. Unfortunately, I didn't write down his exact words, but the paraphrase is that "There is nothing there. No one listens to it." And then he added the afterthought "Except the kids that go to the shows". He might have revised his opinion before he performed with Patti Smith at a big charity concert this month, but I keep thinking about how utterly stupid his original statement was even at the time.

To paraphrase something Muse said during an interview: "The bands of the future are in the audience today." (I think that was Bellamy, but again I didn't have a pencil handy.) Has this ever not been true? If a lot of young people are listening to one kind of music, how can it not have an influence? Even music that it is cool to despise have influences, if nothing else in backlash and revival.

What Waters said is so obviously wrong about punk in particular. Punk has tendrils flowering in music all over the landscape just because so many of the kids in the audience that Waters dismissed were inspired to "Do it yourself. Do it now." You can hardly play any modern music without running in to its influence. Green Day is easy to point to, but modern glamprog Muse themselves started out as punkers.

Lately, I have been listening a lot to some young bands like Fluid Lines that call themselves "punk pop". These guys were born nearly a generation after the Waters interview and yet there is punk popping out flowers again in their music. Fluid Lines and their musical kin are the living and growing demonstration of how far out of it Roger Waters was then.

(Plus, they are doing some interesting stuff, even though it doesn't sound quite ripe yet.)

28 June 2008

New Music I Push: short lists are hard to do

Someone asked for a list of new and new-to-me music from the last 5 years or so that I could recommend for him to check out.  My brain is now like the straw dispenser jammed by too many straws trying to get out at once—I spend a lot of time looking for new music.  I managed to cut it down somewhat by listing only stuff I listen to regularly and/or actively tell people they should listen to.

Not-Short List of Newish Music I Listen to & Recommend

Shorter List
  • Dewey Cox
  • Drowning Pool
  • Five Star Iris
  • Lee Mellor
  • Lights and Sounds
  • Maroon 5
  • Michael Tolcher
  • The Mooney Suzuki
  • Muse
  • The Phlegmatics
  • Arcade Fire
  • Celldweller
  • Deadbeat Poets
  • Deadstar Assembly
  • Fluid Lines
  • Jake Newton
  • Manu Chao
  • Neurosonic
  • Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Bonus List
  • Audiology
  • Blonde Redhead
  • Confliction
  • Conjunto Colores
  • Fanoe
  • Karsh Kale
  • Mudvayne
  • Pecker
  • Plusminus X
  • Stereoside
  • Thanks for Nothing
  • Through and Throughout
  • Tremoloco
  • Urbansnake
  • Wipers
  • Zeromancer

27 June 2008

Plug of the Week: Love Songs ("Les Chansons d’Amour", a movie by Honor√©)

"Love Songs" is a recent French film that is supposedly a modern version of "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", which I somehow missed (like punk) and which I obviously need to catch up on (as I am doing with punk). Since I haven't seen UofC, I have nothing to add to any comparison there.

"Love Songs" is set in Paris, about three young adults who are in a menage à trois that has just about run its course, the parents of one of the women, and another young man. It is all about these characters trying to figure out their various relationships and what love means, while smoking and speaking in extended metaphors. In other words, pretty standard French drama with some modern flavor. Despite that, the movie has its own weird wonderful personality. It is definitely not made in a movie factory.

The film is in three parts (signaled by big words on the screen saying "Part 1", etc.). At the end of Part 1, there is a surprising tragedy (saying that doesn't spoil because every blurb and review says as much), which puts everything on the boil.

What brings this movie to this blog is that it is a musical. You don't get a lot of those these days. It is not a "Hey, let's put on a show!" musical or a "Let's stop and do a Big Number!" musical. (For a good, lowkey recent example of the latter, I point you again to "Colma: the Musical", which I have already plugged.) This is a French movie about relationships—the characters talk a lot and have a lot of inner dialogs. Those dialogs are often in song.

The film is matter-of-fact about the music. The characters simply start singing as if it is a quite ordinary way to have a conversation. The songs are nice lightweight ballads which work very well in the contexts of the conversations and in the film as a whole. The songs are not wildly different from each other, but that makes sense in this film because individual people do tend to have a consistent way of speaking and the songs are extensions of their speech.

The instrumentation is used nicely behind the melodies to amplify what is being said. For example, there is one noteworthy scene in which two characters are singing sweetly about different kinds of love being like different kinds of apples and whether or not getting a worm between your teeth is a bug or a feature, while making very tender clothed love (and smoking, of course), while the music behind them gets more and more intense. The climax of the scene is pretty much the instruments having an orgasm while the characters stop singing and roll off screen (presumably to finish undressing and have their own orgasms). It is beautiful, affecting, and effective exposition.

The actors do their own singing, which they do reasonably well. They are better than J. Random Actor, but ordinary enough to make their performances easy to relate to. I wouldn't buy a soundtrack album, but I found the singing pleasant and very natural to the characters. (As a nice bonus, there is much pleasant non-cookiecutter actor and actress hotness, in a variety of flavors.)

What is particularly handy is that this film is available in the Netflix Watch Now program, which means it is free if you have Internet Explorer and a Netflix subscription. Free is good.

One note: There is same-sex snogging / macking. Whether this turns you on, turns you off, or you don't care—now you know.

Love Songs

Love Songs
on Netflix

23 June 2008

Plug of the Week: Muse

I am hooked on Muse. I know they are big in Europe, which makes them radioactive in the US, but I like them. It's hard to describe them. Think of how Queen had its roots in ballads, music hall, rock, and classical and then pushed toward glam, and prog rock. Muse did sort of the same thing but starting from punk, new romantics, classical, and prog rock. And then discovered there is no top they won't go over. (I am not making any comparison of musical or performance quality.) Sort of like the Wipers and the Cure get in a spaceship together and head out for Planet Glam. In any one song, they can switch from noodly space synths to banging rock on a dime, throwing in a bit of flamenco or surf guitar or ballad just for fun. Sometimes the lead drifts over onto the bass while the lead singer/guitar are wandering completely off in outer space. They lay beautiful liquid flowing backing harmonies over and through it all. Plus, "Supermassive Black Hole" is one of the best dance songs ever recorded (IMO, of course). It sounds as weird in practice as the description, but it works.

I think that their live performances are tighter than their studio recordings (leaner arrangements). They have a good chunk of one of the concerts available for free (hard to beat that) if you'd like to sample. CLICK HERE FOR FREE STUFF. You can get one song and video clip on the front page; register to get a handful more of each. If you buy the CD of that performance, they throw in the concert DVD for free. Plus, the bass player says that they don't make much money off the records anyway, look at them as promotions for the concerts, and don't care a lick if people download them. (I mean, not that anyone would do that anyway.)

on Amazon.com

19 June 2008

The only thing better than an overwrought ballad is EMBEDDING an overwrought ballad

IMEEM is turning out to be a lot of fun. It has video and audio players for material from artists and users, which is all cool. It doesn't play nice with Last.fm scrobbling, alas. Here is one I listen to often that I should be embarassed to admit I really really like:
Muy Dentro de Mi - Marc Anthony
I think this gives only a 30-second clip here, but you can hear the complete track if you click through. I think -- I'm still figuring out the details.

18 June 2008

A Little Post is Better than Nada

Check out the twin-accordion action! Doug Sahm & Freddy Fender are on my short list of best vocal combinations in a rock-like group. Two of my other pairs are Micky Dolenz & Mike Nesmith and Layne Staley & Jerry Cantrell.

Why I am hiding in my sandbox like Brian Wilson

It doesn't seem like the modern world has a place for ordinary grief left to take its own course. We are supposed to manage it somehow, I think. There are routines, ritual ways of talking about it, limits on leave and the expectation that after a few weeks or months it will just be over. And it's just not like that. My friend died 3 months ago. I am past thinking of him everyday, but I still haven't been able to delete his number from my phone. I am handling the day to day stuff pretty well, but I can't get a handle on anything much more. Whole weeks of routine laundry and grocery and going to work slip by without leaving any sense that time has passed. It's getting better, bit by bit, but there are bad moments like spotting his birthday in the calendar ahead that still break me down. (I was so proud to put that in there. All these years and I was never able to keep his birthday straight, and lost the note every time I wrote it down.) I'm listening to a lot of music and thinking about it. I have things I want to write about, some written notes even. I just can't get my thoughts on anything abstract to line up coherently. Time for small steps. One useful thing I've learned: all those things they tell you about how to feel better really do work. Sleep more, drink more water, get outside and walk around, all that stuff that seems like such a drag--it works, not overnight but gradually. The big three for happiness: sleep, water, and sunscreen.