Sunday, 30 March 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- Raury’s “God’s Whisper”

Hype hʌɪp/noun/
1.     Extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion.

Raury is a 17-year-old kid from Atlanta, Georgia who claims he began writing music at 3, taught himself to play guitar at 11, and then started producing his own studio material at 15. He’s young, cool and eccentric. He feeds the press controversial sound bites like American schools are “a system of indoctrination and brainwashing,” which causes hungry journalists to go into tailspin while also getting his target audience to totally connect with him. He states his influences include Phil Collins, Kid Cudi, Bon Iver, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Manchester Orchestra, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Jackson, and Coldplay, which further enhances his music credentials because there’s something in that list which everyone can agree on. This kid seems to be saying all the right things and that’s why the hype keeps building.
Everyone from the Billboard in the US to the BBC in Britain is backing Raury as something special. In the constant search for discovering the next voice of a generation, the hype machine around Raury is in overdrive. All of it would be for naught if he hadn’t arrived on the scene with such a strong introductory track and effective music video that plays like a tamer iteration of a Larry Clark movie, though the “Amish swag” element is something to behold.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- Daniel Avery’s “Drone Logic”

Music publicist Robin Turner certainly did his job well when describing his British client Daniel Avery’s track Drone Logic as: “[Something that] doesn’t really fit expected templates of what a dance record in 2013 should sound like. There are no set piece vocals; when voices emerge on tracks, they are invariably disembodied, odd. And as distortion whips across techno-based backing tracks, it splices modern club music with the kind of sounds that forward thinking guitar bands might conjure up. The result is wholly compelling, gloriously transcendent and, yes, trippy.”
As one may deduce from the highly eloquent way people talk about Avery’s music, this is an artist intent on making heady dance music, the type that erudite revellers will revel to in the hip clubs of Shoreditch and PhD students will have on in the background while typing their thesis. Drone Logic is high-end dance music designed to get the listener feeling and thinking about stuff, kind of like the way it did in the acid house era when an entire generation spent whole weekends consuming psychoactive amphetamines in some field in Manchester while dancing away unaccounted hours.
There is something inherently Chemical Brothers about Avery’s track and its madly esoteric music video demonstrates that this is a song you have to work at connecting with. As Robin Turner says, it’s transcendent.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Crookes’ “Play Dumb”

Sheffield, England is a true rock city. The Human League, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Def Leppard and loads more come from that grim industrial city which remains hugely artistic thanks to a solid creative base.
The Crookes also come from Sheffield and takes its name from a suburban area surrounding the city. While the 1980s pop vibe of their new song recalls that infamous Karla DeVito track used in the dance sequence of The Breakfast Club, the music video suggests that the band has more pressing issues on its mind.
The north of England has a tradition of imbuing pop music with narrative qualities, where a song is a vehicle for channelling storytelling. Play Dumb is obviously about a very bad and abusive relationship, with singer George Waite taking on the role of a woman subjugated to conforming to what their lover expects of him (her?). Yet for all its heavy themes the song remains pure indie pop. If white guys with guitars were still in vogue then The Crookes would be a bigger deal than what they are currently. Of that I’m sure.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

-Movies on my Mind- Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX’s “Fancy”

Iggy Azalea’s new video deserves to be reported on this blog for reasons so obvious it’s not worth elucidating. Partnering with Britain’s Charli XCX, these two girls pay homage to the mid-‘90s shenanigans of Cher Horowitz and Tai Frasier in canny style. The music video for Fancy is fantastic fun, both brilliantly affectionate in its tribute and meticulously detailed in mimicking the movie it parodies. It’s videos like this that spread like wild fire, and this particular clip is probably going to make Azalea a big star.
As much as one likes the video and track, there’s something strangely bizarre about Iggy Azalea’s star profile. Azalea is an Australian bogan (a redneck form Down Under) who was raised in a inchoate property hand built of mudbricks. Her reincarnation as a white girl that intones an affected African-American ghetto vernacular will be admirable if it was being done tongue-firmly-in-cheek; but it’s not. Azalea has absolutely no sense of shame in presenting herself as an embarrassing caricature of a Caucasian girl thinking herself American and black. Not only that, her fan base sees nothing weird about it, either.
As someone old enough to have watched Clueless during its initial theatrical run, I’m pretty sure that Azalea’s ersatz hip-hop hoe antics would have been laughed at back then as was Vanilla Ice’s. Times have changed and it seems you really can do anything you like without incurring appropriate scrutiny. It’s a mad, mad world.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Superhero Movies are Outstaying their Welcome

The image below is of a McDonald’s fast food joint somewhere in war-torn Afghanistan. Remember it because it will chime later on.

Genre movies have an amazing knack for metaphorically embodying society’s deepest current fears. Godzilla was a cinematic reaction of Japan’s horror in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was America’s filmic response to blind eye McCarthyism and cultural conformity in the post-war Eisenhower era, not to mention the threatening erosion of identity Soviet-bloc communism posed. The British Hammer adaptation of Dracula identified the vampire as a blood sucking aristocrat feeding off the honest goodness of peasants, the kind who had been sent to war in Europe by trickster elitists. Genre films, therefore, are the best signifiers of any tumultuous period in the last hundred years. To know genre cinema is to know history.
For our generation the events of September 11th 2001 were a defining act in global disequilibrium. It was a watershed moment and genuine turning point. America has understandably not fully recovered from what was its greatest single loss of civilian life in a deliberate act of killing. The cycle of grisly torture porn horror films that proliferated in the aftermath of the attacks was perhaps the most obvious genre reaction to the event, notable for limning young American characters in extremely gruesome situations. Torture porn has pretty much run its course, but there is another genre that America can’t quite shake off: we’re talking of superheroes.
Superheroes are almost as old as cinema itself, but their popularity since the Bush administration has been astounding. Superhero movies are about the only guaranteed success one can have today, the genre actually growing in both profitability and uniformity. Whereas back in the 1990s the only superhero character that stood a chance was Batman―aided largely by an auteur filmmaker like Tim Burton helming, not to mention a roster of bona fide movie stars starring―other efforts to adapt superhero characters like The Shadow or The Phantom failed to connect with audiences. Superhero movies were considered phony and not good cinema. In December 1996, Variety ran a report stating that Bryan Singer, a high-minded filmmaker who directed The Usual Suspects, had signed on to make the X-Men movie. The world was largely unexcited as Bryan Singer himself had turned down the project numerous times before on grounds of comic books being “unintelligent literature”. Variety buried Singer’s attachment deep within the publication, refusing to give it headline prominence. Bryan Singer released X-Men in summer 2000 and things were never the same again.
Hollywood has pretty much abandoned sophisticated cinema altogether, preferring to hatch distribution deals for independently funded dramas like American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street rather than developing and financing such projects in-house. Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, admitted to Variety last month that Sony will release Spider-Man movies “every year” in order to offset an operating loss of $181 million. After having suffered a disastrous summer with non-branded tentpole features like After Earth and White House Down, Sony has realised that fiscal stability comes from familiar content. The safest option is giving audiences exactly what they want, meaning more of the same. The studios know that hordes of people will watch something they are already used to, much the way we all know what to expect when tucking into a Filet-O-Fish no matter what country we eat it in.
Many will agree that Hollywood hedging its bets on superhero films and branded concepts (movies about Lego® included) is to the detriment of cinema. One refuses to believe that the most interesting filmmakers of our past came about through watching just one type of film. Nay, they watched all sorts and were inspired by everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Decalogue. (You can bet that Bryan Singer most certainly was.)

Returning to our opening gambit; Afghanistan, a country in need of real superheroes, is ostensibly developing a strategy of constructing more McDonald’s restaurants in its rebuilding program. The greatest of American exports―burgers, fries and Golden Arches― is a marker of modern civilised society, much in the way men with the ability to fly about and dress in ostentatious costumes has become another signifier of global hegemony. The world is in need of superheroes because the real ones seem totally unfitting. In a post 9/11 world, the superhero movie did something clever: they eschewed traditional camp and played things for real. Bryan Singer, a proper filmmaker, never played X-Men for laughs, choosing instead to play the dynamics between Professor Xavier and Magneto akin to the civil rights power struggle twixt Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Also, Christopher Nolan’s seminal Dark Knight Trilogy unfolded as a pseudo-complex morality play done with all the existentialism of a neo-noir film. Even last year’s Man of Steel was told with the intension of depicting how Superman may deal with things if he was a real entity.
But Superman will never be a real person, and to think otherwise is just plain silly. The notion that civil rights and complex moral themes should be filtered through the prism of superhero movies is not good at all, especially when these are the only few types of films studios are willing to develop nowadays. The idea that in order to engage modern people with the Bay of Pigs Invasion or Kennedy Assassination is through revisionist devices involving X-Men characters is almost offensive, especially when you consider it’s played for spectacle and not honesty. (Both of these plot devices have subsequently been part of past X-Men films.)
The superhero movie trend is too much of a good thing as this year will feature more than six of them; next year upping the quota further. It is indicative of our times that guys in costumes smashing each other into skyscrapers are the derivative tropes of choice. (And CGI, lots and lots of CGI.) Because of the sensitive nature of the world right now, and a parental desire to mollycoddle kids from the slightest element of hard truth both for them and themselves, superhero movies are predominantly sanitised and focus group delineated products, never trying to do anything unexpected.
A comic book fan fifteen years ago would have endured having their head flushed down the school toilets thrice weekly, but now they are oddly enough considered mainstream. It’s crazy that a niche interest has become universally acceptable, perhaps even cool. How long this fad continues is anyone’s guess, but nothing lasts forever and change will likely come when it’s probably least expected.
Geeks, beware.