Two videos I just want to watch, so back off, okay?
Is there a word for when you feel like something is blatantly, shamelessly pandering to you, but you’re still into it for reasons beyond your control? That’s how I feel whenever I watch the video to “Fast Slow Disco” by St. Vincent.
But maybe I’m being dismissive of its artistry. Perhaps I should watch it again.
I can’t get too into this video, because I get irrationally and unfairly annoyed whenever I see women in gay bars. I also think that while I’m still a huge fan of St. Vincent, sometime around Masseduction she started over-estimating her own coolness by about 10-20%, and she could stand to pump the brakes a bit.
But it’s still a pretty good song, and I can hardly ever turn down a chance to watch guys with their shirts off making out with each other. And even though it feels a little like she’s wearing a gay bear leather bar as a costume — similar to how Lady Gaga’s meat dress probably wasn’t intended to make people think about cows — it’s nice to see someone fairly mainstream normalizing body types like this as being sexy and fun. This video isn’t all that sexier than the one for “Cold-Hearted” by Paula Abdul, and that one ran constantly in 1989 — on network television, even! — back when I was still trying to figure out why the scenes with Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? were clearly connecting with me in a way they weren’t intended to.
Poet and musician shows that “calming & relaxing” can have some amount of substance
I’ve had good luck with the algorithm this week: just five minutes ago, I checked Apple Music to see if there were any interesting recommendations, and it offered up Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks. “Hope” is a standout song because it’s the mission statement of the album: uplifting music about a topic with substance.
It first reminds me of Morcheeba, probably because that’s the only frame of reference I have for a British woman singing over a lofi electronic track. Parks’s music isn’t as musically complex or unusual as even Morcheeba’s (which deliberately is about “chill”1In quotes because using chill as an adjective is a huge pet peeve for me more than challenge) but the lyrics are much more complex.
Two tangentially-related tunes every Tuesday! This week: do you have what it takes to unlock the baffling subtext?
Two songs have been running through my head this week. What mysteries could my subconscious be holding?
One is Seu Jorge’s Portuguese cover of “Changes” by David Bowie. If for some reason you haven’t seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or unfamiliar with Jorge’s music for that movie, I really recommend checking it out! I think those covers, along with The Venture Brothers, made me more of a fan of Bowie’s music. (This one and “Life on Mars” I have to say I actually like better than the originals).
The other song is “Found a Job” by Talking Heads, which isn’t one of my favorite of their songs, but it was in Stop Making Sense, which means that it’s permanently embedded in my brain.
Even though my Spanish is limited to counting and identifying pencils, I could tell that “Antipatriarca” is a political song. (I used context clues). What the video makes clear is that the idea of separating art from politics isn’t “conservative;” it’s absurd. It’s only because people have spent decades encouraging an insulated and uninformed middle class — which, to be clear, absolutely includes me — that we’ve even got the notion that political decisions don’t have much of an impact on “normal people.”
And this is a great example of the old idea that music is universal. I know even less about Chilean politics than I do about Spanish vocabulary, but pairing the images and the messages with music means that more people like me are going to be seeing it and hearing it for the first time.
The most recent performance by Tijoux that I can find is this video from KEXP, in which she performs 5 songs. It’s kind of a tough sell for me to listen to 20 minutes’ worth of songs in a language I don’t understand, but this is really a showcase for what a fantastic singer she is, as well as being a talented rapper. And she not only seems to effortlessly slide between singing and rapping, but she combines the two at key moments. It’s completely captivating.
My favorite track so far is the title track from her album 1977. Based on the title and the video, I’m guessing it’s her life story. The focus is on her rapping, but I love the samples just as much. It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever heard before.
This week I’ve been a little pre-occupied thinking about the Teenage Engineering OP-1. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: for the past five or six years, I’ve been a little pre-occupied thinking about the OP-1.
It’s something I’ve talked myself out of, dozens if not hundreds of times. But I keep being drawn to it, even as someone who’s by no means imaginable a musician, much less a professional one. The problem is that no rational counter-argument has worked for me because the draw is largely irrational: from the industrial design, to the UI, to the sounds coming out of it, to the advertising, it feels like an object made completely to inspire fun and creativity.
Previously, the argument that I always used to talk myself out of it — apart from the eye-wateringly, guilt-inducingly high price — is that I can just use GarageBand on my iPhone or iPad and immediately get better results, since I understand much better how the tools work. That’s still undeniably true, but it also misses the point. It’s not just that a well-designed device with tactile buttons and knobs and cows and gorillas on the display is more fun to use. The whole process of not knowing exactly what you want and how to get it immediately is the whole point of exploring and experimenting.
(To a point. Over the years, I’ve gotten several of the Pocket Operators. They’re super fun and appealing at first, but I’ve quickly gotten frustrated with them and tossed them into a bucket to sit while their batteries corrode).
Anyway, here’s some interesting stuff I’ve see this week!
Composer David Bruce collaborated last year with Jeremy Blake of Red Means Recording, to do an orchestral arrangement of one of Blake’s now-iconic OP-1 compositions he does on YouTube. It’s a neat idea because it breaks down so many of the preconceptions about and divisions between different types of music and musical performance, suggesting that at its heart, it’s all about expression. Also an orchestral interpretation of an electronic beat drop is just rad.
op1.fun has a ton of individual sounds and sound packs available for downloading to the OP-1. (And other synthesizers, presumably). One of my favorites at the moment is the Lofi Hip Hop N Chill pack by “Lord_Shongo”
First up is this lovely version of Clair de lune from the soundtrack to Sayonara Wild Hearts. It’s the music for the first level of that video game, and I think it’s beautifully performed and brilliantly used as the magical introduction to the game, even though I am just terrible at it.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of those games that I can appreciate intellectually even though it brings me little joy. It’s not fun to me because it’s not really my type of game, and it just makes me feel clumsy and old. Also the music is unabashedly synth pop, and so it isn’t really for me, apart from “Clair de lune” which I like in just about any form. (Except, surprisingly, Debussy’s own performance of it).
I bought the game anyway because Simogo are outstanding developers, and they’ve got eternal goodwill from me for making Device 6, which remains one of the best games I’ve ever played on any platform. The game is relentlessly clever and darkly funny throughout, but if I’m honest they had me from the opening theme, which was also composed and performed by Daniel Olsén.
I feel like video game music is too often dismissed as being just a pastiche or an imitation of styles, but I think some of the best video game music — outside of a Mario game — is more like a distillation of a style down to its essence, so it can be re-applied to a new piece of art. This somehow immediately evokes the themes of The Prisoner and The Avengers to me, even though it sounds nothing like either of them, and it’s distinctively modern. Like every other aspect of Device 6‘s aesthetic, it’s perfect.
Jon Batiste’s new dance-filled video is a lot of fun… I think?
Jon Batiste seems to be in the middle of a promotional blitz lately; I’m assuming it’s because of his work on Pixar’s Soul? Part of that is the video for “I Need You,” which is a lot of fun.
I mean… I think it is? There’s something about it that makes me think it’s as authentic as one of the old Gap commercials. Which, to be clear, I loved at the time, but then felt bad about it afterwards. As if I’d let my guard down and let myself be charmed by something completely insincere.
I suspect the reason I haven’t heard of Batiste before is because I don’t watch the Stephen Colbert show, for similar reasons. It seems to come from the same place as a lot of the stuff I want to like — D&D, Lord of the Rings, David Byrne, unconventional music-video presentations — but somehow makes them feel completely inauthentic. It’s this weird dissonance; I don’t doubt that Colbert was genuinely into D&D, or that Batiste genuinely loves jazz. But when I see one doing a play-through, or the other doing a dance video, it comes across as forced sincerity.
I’m a lot less conflicted about the video for “Don’t Stop” from 2018. It’s just a pared-down song and a similarly sparse dance performance on a New York rooftop, and it feels a lot more genuine was a result.
Re-discovering Foster the People with a recent EP I like almost as much as their first album
Foster the People isn’t “new to me” music — although I did only get into Torches after it seemed like everyone else in the world had gotten tired of it — but I kind of lost interest for a while. I’d been pretty eagerly waiting for their second album, but it didn’t do much for me. And I was so uninterested in their third album that until just now, I didn’t even realize it existed.
But last year they released a new EP, In The Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing, and it somehow re-captures the stuff I liked about Torches. Specifically: that album was so all over the place that I’d been hearing the most well-known tracks for at least a year before I realized that they were all by the same artist. But at the same time, there’s a consistent sound that ties the whole thing together.
My favorite track on the new EP is the first, “Walk With a Big Stick,” because it sounds like it was designed to be my favorite: it’s like they took an alternate take of “Pumped Up Kicks” from Torches and duct-taped The Beach Boys on top of it. And it works brilliantly. I’ll always associate this band with Los Angeles, because Torches came on while I was driving alone through the city on a road trip to Disneyland, and it felt at that moment like it was the official soundtrack to early-21st-century LA. Adding a surf guitar chorus just amps that up even more. Maybe it’s a gimmick, but I don’t really care.
Also feeling like an odd mash-up of styles is “Under the Moon.” It has a mid-80s sound I can’t quite place — Echo & the Bunnymen? Psychedelic Furs? — but is tied to the rest of the EP by Ben Foster’s unique voice.
From what little I know about the band, I get the impression that the first album was so heavily influenced by having a “viral hit” and licensing deals for games and TV commercials, that it has an inescapable connotation of being a purely commercial record. Which is unfair, since it’s a really good album overall. Something about this EP feels like they’re going back to embracing the hooks and the gimmickry, and I think it’s much better for it!
I had a hard time coming up with a theme for today’s tune two-fer: what do you say about a totally uneventful Tuesday in February, in the midst of a year of shelter-in-place orders, where every day feels like the same? Even YouTube seems to be in a bit of malaise: I went on this morning looking for something interesting to watch, and I could only see an old action movie from the 1990s starting Alec Baldwin. It’s going to be a long winter!
Instead of anything appropriate, I’ll just pick a familiar classic: this old song performed on Top of the Pops in 1965. I think I was just the right age so that I didn’t know Sonny & Cher as singers, but as guests on The New Scooby-Doo Movies. So they’re always up there in the pantheon along with Jerry Reed, Sandy Duncan, Cass Elliot, and of course, Batman & Robin. Looking back at that video now, I have to say that people were right: Sonny’s hair was too long.
But for a change of pace, here’s this performance from Late Night With David Letterman. What’s remarkable watching it now isn’t so much how much changed between 1965 and this video in 1987, but how much has changed between this video and now. Sonny Bono’s passing, the mentions of Chaz Bono with his name at the time, and I’d forgotten about Cher’s feud with Letterman. I was actually surprised when I realized that 22 years had passed between the first two, but it’s been 33 years since the second! Somehow, I always think of Letterman clips as being contemporary, and probably will forever, since that was part of my cultural “anchor.” I guess it’s a reminder of how time keeps moving on, and you can’t just keep reliving the past.
Today has been a drag, and I almost forgot it was Tuesday. I’d been happy that we were getting unusually heavy rain over the past few days, until I was reminded that heavy rains tend to bring a biblical plague of ants into the house. We spent a good chunk of the morning and early afternoon trying to head them off, and ever since, it’s been a combination of obsessively cleaning surfaces and freaking out when I imagine something crawling on me.
It’s been difficult to get any work done, much less my blogging duties. But in honor of the tragedy, here’s “It’s Raining Again” by Supertramp. I never liked this song, to be honest, but I’ve heard it a billion times because it seemed to play every ten minutes on MTV and Night Tracks. In the early 80s, you just had to make a video “cinematic” to guarantee it got played a lot; it didn’t have to be particularly good cinema. In videos like this, where they hired actors and dancers for most of it, you could only tell who was actually in the band by looking for beards.
I’m pairing it with “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, because that’s how they’re getting in. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve about had it with Melissa Etheridge letting ants into my house!