Wednesday, May 30, 2007

video #09: Röyksopp - Beautiful Day Without You

I know I just posted a Röyksopp video, but I'm going to go ahead and do it again. But which to choose? "Remind Me," especially the mix used in the video, is a great track, and seeing that video for the first time was what got me into the band in the first place. But "Remind Me" has been hyped and linked for years now. Deserving of a little more attention than it's received is "Beautiful Day Without You," the fourth single from The Understanding. Released almost a year after The Understanding, both the single and the video were more or less passed over and quickly forgotten. I've read some stinging critiques of the animation in the video, too, particularly of the main character. He's not detailed enough, his walk is funny, etc. Of course, any further rendering of him and we'd approach the uncanny valley, leading to more even complaints (this time justified).

I'm having trouble finding anything else from Damien Ferri, the director of this video. He apparently had a hand in this. I wonder if there's more to it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Nautilis - 081301

Nautilis - "081301"

There's a handful of artists I consistently enjoy despite a certain sense of ordinariness that creeps over their work. I'm thinking mainly of bands like Embrace, Switchfoot, Athlete, and most of all, Snow Patrol, who write pleasant songs, can rock out when the urge occasionally strikes them, but don't aspire to reinvent the wheel in such a way that I unrealistically expect most of my favorite bands to every time they release a new album. Maybe I've just read and taken to heart too much criticism of their music, most of it coming across like half-assed rants from people who may or may not have heard more than a song or two from whatever band they flippantly dismiss. I'm probably as guilty of this as anyone else, though, seeing as I'd rather not hear another song from Daniel Powter or The Fray as long as I live.

By the same token as Snow Patrol, there's nothing truly remarkable about Nautilis. His music is basic, turn-of-the-century intelligent dance music, beats and breaks and digital squibbles aplenty. I realize this is a gross oversimplification that could be applied to countless artists, but I bring it up because no genre or its fans demands constant evolution from artists quite like IDM. By the time that Are You An Axolotl came out in 2002, it was a sound that was stalling and falling out of favor as artists chose to go minimal or return to more traditional house and/or acid sounds. Most of the major players on Planet Mu and Warp were either laying low or trying to reinvent themselves, making this album one of the last major releases (that I'm aware of, Plaid and Amon Tobin aside) to explore this territory without trying to put any kind of obvious spin on it.

That's not to say that Nautilis (Skyler McGlothlin, who later released more hip-hop oriented cuts as Malcolm Kipe) is completely on autopilot here. He drops some humorous samples (original skits?) in on songs, raps on a couple tracks, and pens some genuinely moving melodies, none more beautiful than the album's centerpiece, "081301." A title like that doesn't promise much in the way of actual emotion (unless you get teary eyed while listening to Autechre) but it delivers and has kept me coming back to Are You An Axolotl for years now. The general complaint about IDM -- and I realize that continually using the term and then applying whatever qualities I want to it, along with any perceived judgments against it that people may or may not have actually made, makes me guilty of the same lazy and illogical arguments that I accuse others of -- was that it was cold and emotionless. This premise certainly encouraged the influx of warm, lo-fi droning (Nathan Fake, M83, Ulrich Schnauss, etc.) that largely displaced it in recent years. Not that I'm complaining or anything. I just wish there more tracks like "081301" had proven to be exceptions to the rule.

I don't know if anyone else is going to hear the same things in this song that I do. On the surface it's a very ordinary template that's been worked with countless times before, but McGlothlin turns a beautiful song out of it regardless. I want to say that he was obviously making some kind of personal statement, that he was clearly writing from the heart or something like that. But I have no idea. All I know is that it's a track that's resonated with me for some time, and that I hope others would enjoy just as much.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

video #08: Mr. T Experience - And I Will Be With You

Growing up without cable television meant that I'd had to hunt high and low to find music on television when I was a kid. This meant "Saturday Morning Videos" on Saturday mornings, "In Concert" on Saturday nights, and... well, that was about it. At least until I discovered JBTV on channel 66. That's station WGBO-TV, to be exact. It was never the highest-rated station in Chicago, or even in the top 5... or top 10, really. Years of re-runs, old movies, and local programs eventually gave way to endless infomercials, and the eventual switch to all-Spanish language programming. JBTV, which began in the mid 80s, soon moved to channel 30, where it may or may not still be on the air. I want to say that the show is a Chicago institution, but its appeal seems to be lost on the Myspace generation, not quite as dependant as most of us used to be for amusement, or as patient to stay up late and wait for it.

I remember a few videos that seemed to get played more than others, at least during the year or two that I tuned in during Wednesday nights in high school: "Liberty Calls," "Lo Batt," "Pure Morning," and this. It's not exactly the world's greatest fusion of live footage and animation ever seen, probably not slick enough to get them any MTV play. Then again, it probably still set them back a bit to make, and probably could have been done in Flash today for practically nothing. Not that that would make the video any better, but given the current woes of Lookout Records, it's just easy to look back and play cut-the-corners. At least they were ahead of their time with the fursuits.

This video probably has less than a minute of animation in it, so I don't know why I'm writing about it here. There's twice as much animation in, say, "Opposites Attract," but I have even less to say about that video (which is probably nothing at all, unless I really want to write about the unique challenges of Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat's interspecies relationship) than "And I Will Be With You." Selective nostalgia can't always be explained, I guess.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Orlando Julius - Disco Hi Life

Orlando Julius - "Disco Hi Life"

Once a year, Borders rounds up all of its damaged and discontinued merchandise, the odd items that the distributors refuse to take back and anything else that corporate decides not to carry any longer, and puts it up on a discount rack for customers to pick over for the next few weeks. 95% of this is virtually unsellable merchandise -- outdated computer books, seasonal merchandise, bargain DVDs -- that doesn't start to move off the shelves until it's discounted 50% off or more. Wait a few more weeks and prices fall even more, down to 75% off and eventually to just $1 per item. Only lucky customers (or lucky employees who horde their choices behind the counter for weeks) will find anything worthwhile at this point, especially when it comes to CDs. There's usually plenty of imports to choose from, though mostly singles, but once in a while something more substantial can be found.

I was lucky (or so I thought at the time) to find a 2-disc set of mixed Afropop and downtempo cuts. The package itself was worth the dollar I spent on it, but the music was surprisingly good, better than most chillout compilations that litter the dance music shelves in most chainstores here. I wish I still had it. I hate to think what it might cost if I had to order it again.

The first time that I listened to the mix, I was suffering from a severe migraine headache, and hoped that some Excederin, a damp rag over my face, and some mellow music would help ease my pain. My headaches now aren't nearly as bad as the ones I had when I was a kid, but when they hit, this is still the only way I know how to deal with them. I'll usually fall asleep and wake up a few hours later with a mixture of relief that my pain has finally passed, and regret that my circadian rhythm has likely been seriously fucked for the night. I put the first disc into my changer, turned out the lights and stretched out diagonally across my futon, which was too short to stretch out on vertically. Now that I have a "real" bed again, this isn't a problem.

Anyway, I never finished listening to either disc of this mix. What I heard was very good, but ten tracks in on disc one, the disc became unplayable and would skip in a regular and amazingly seamless three-minute loop of "Disco Hi Life" by Orlando Julius. In the half-awake and delirious state that I woke up in about two hours later, I wasn't prepared to understand why my CD player was still playing or why this song was still playing after ten, fifteen, and twenty minutes, but never changing. It never occurred to me that this might be unusual. Instead, I wondered just what, exactly, a disco "highlight" was, and somehow determined that it was some kind of punctuated sound that a signer could demand or call for ("Do it do it do it") on cue from his band. Was he actually summoning the horns that came in after the chorus? I know this sounds ridiculous, like trying to explain an illogical dream to someone. But that's basically what it was, so...

Later I checked the surface of the disc. A strange discoloration on the bottom of it, almost like a stain, radiated outward from the center. Disc two suffered from a similar malady and played even less before skipping itself into oblivion. Maybe that's why the set was on sale. I didn't really care, though. "Enjoy yourself and be happy." I dare anyone to listen to this on repeat and not give in to the power of suggestion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

video #07: Röyksopp - Poor Leno

Is there anything worse than reading Youtube comments?

CityOfVillains13 (2 months ago)
For those of you who are wondering what a Leno is it's a 5 year old dork in a teddy bear suit who gets captured by the feds and gets put into a rehab clinic where the CEO takes him away and into a zoo. Oh then he writes on the wall

AlwaysCandyTime (1 month ago)
I think the video has a deeper meaning. Its not only about locking up animals in a zoo, its also about people putting others down and be separated from your loved ones because of others. perhaps the video also tries to say something about discrimination. Leno is a human being like the others but because he wears a bearsuit they think he's less than them.

(1 month ago)
dat monkey at 1:56 scares the shit outta me!

yazmin182 (1 month ago)
"Lenos usually co-habit in pairs". 25 seconds. That is so sad, he looks so lonely! What does it all mean!

BMFRU2 (3 weeks ago)
Don't make sense. Any1 with 2 brain cells can tell it's a boy in a snow suit. What do U thinks gonna happen when he decides 2 take it off? And U know his parents ain't gonna let a missin child go unfound. Great song. Unfocused video.

gigan36 (1 week ago)
The part where he is runnning away is hilarious

Sunday, May 13, 2007

S.A. Smash - Illy

S.A. Smash - "Illy"

Def Jux was on fire in 2002. Coming off of the release of The Cold Vein, the label put out one stunner after another. Fantastic Damage, I Phantom, Deadringer, and the Labor Days EP, all sounded so fresh and so vital. It was a great time to be rediscovering hip-hop and...

What's that? Oh... yeah, I really wasn't listening to a lot of hip-hop before that. No, I didn't care for much of it, but I honestly never gave it very much consideration, and it wasn't like I was one of those people who'd tell others "I like all music, everything except country and rap, I mean." I really wasn't. No, I didn't own a copy of The Chronic until last year. I wasn't an Outkast fan until I heard "B.O.B." I didn't give in to genius of Missy Elliott until four albums in. That much I'll own up to. I won't apologize for not listening to Master P or Puff Daddy, though. Just because I turned my back on that crap and waited out for something better that actually interested me doesn't make me an indier-than-thou snob. It doesn't excuse me from not listening to Wu-Tang Clan, but I've done my best to make up for that since.

Anyway, Def Jux were on a roll, one that seemed like it would never end, but the backlash was inevitable, and what better way to kick it off than with Smashy Trashy, the debut from Cleveland's S.A. Smash. This was not "conscious" hip-hop like Mr. Lif, nor did it feature the kind of introspective lyrics (later deemed "emo" by lazy bloggers worldwide) that Aesop Rock was best known for. The dark visions of Cannibal Ox and El-P gave way to more traditional hip-hop braggadocio, just the kind of content that Definitive Jux was "supposed" to stand against, or so we all thought. Confused critics largely trashed Smashy Trashy for daring to be a party album on a label that was supposedly "above" such ideals. Ironically, most of these critics and writers would later pull a 180 and appoint Young Jeezy and Ying Yang Twins to priveleged status, while regarding indie rap as pretty much the worst thing ever.

S.A. Smash delivered just what they promised, even if it rubbed me and countless other listeners the wrong way. I know I heard the entire album and, from the opening skit, hated most of it. Not very much of it turned out to be very memorable, save for "Illy." Produced by El-P, it was easily the best track on the entire album. Camu Tao and Metro might not have been the best lyricists in the game, but they saved all of their best lines for this track, ably staying on top of what's possibly the best bassline I've ever heard in a hip-hop track. I know that statement veers close to dangerous hyperbole, but I stand by it. In hindsight, this could have and should have been a some kind of a crossover hit, but instead it became the first Def Jux flop, Exhibit A for anyone trying to convict the label of failing to live up to the narrow standards they'd supposedly set for themselves.

Hopefully new albums from El-P and Aesop Rock (Can Ox, where are you!?) will help restore Def Jux to the save level of respect they earned back before the Internet went insane. Unlikely, I know.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

video #06: TISM - Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me

TISM are a masked band of agitprop culture-critics from Australia who'd probably fit in well with Chumbawumba or Negativland if any of they actually gave a fuck about fitting in. Next to The Residents, they might be the second biggest band in the world that's truly maintained any degree of anonymity throughout its existence, having been together for over 20 years now, even having a handful of hits in their own country. From what I've read, however, they seemed to do everything they could to sabotage their own success along the way (singles with titles like "Defecate On My Face" and "I Might Be A Cunt, But I'm Not A Fucking Cunt" just might encounter a bit of... resistance from radio). I'm new to TISM so I might be missing the point (this might be just what they want, I don't know), but their contempt for the media, consumer culture, and for other bands in general seems to be genuine.

"Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me" is probably their most self-deprecating hit, containing no real cultural or political overtones or critiques. On the surface, it would be easy to write off as a sub-Bloodhound Gang throwaway or a novelty song, but TISM play it straight without the slightest bit of irony, and no, that's not a "joke" either. Of course, it's doubtful that most people would have heard it without viewing the video online. I don't know if its viral success has really helped the band or not; none of their recordings are available in America, so there's not much that anyone here could do to support them even if they wanted to. I know that this would have been my jam if I had heard it more than two years ago when it was released. This won't hit close to home for everyone, but let me say that truer words have never been spoken:

Corporate chambers and office amore
Shenanigans outdoor and in
Resist and then later your find out there's more
Regret in not doing the sin

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Johnny Lytle - The Village Caller

Johnny Lytle - "The Village Caller"

I've always loved mallet instruments and am a huge sucker for almost any marimba/vibraphone/xylophone-powered song. I should listen to more jazz, but what I've heard of Gary Burton just bores me (maybe this wasn't the best place to start) and I don't know who else to check out besides Bobby Hutcherson. Naturally, I gravitated towards bands like Tortoise and Stereolab for my idiophonic fix, not to mention composers like Steve Reich, but probably at the expense of hearing a lot of great mallet jazz.

I first heard "The Village Caller" on my clock radio one morning when I was living in my old apartment. Unlike my current residence, I could actually get radio signals through my wall, so I had my alarm clock tuned to V103 (actually found on frequency 102.7, go figure). What I liked about V103 was that they actually played music in the mornings. They had some kind of a "morning show" and probably still do, but this one featured lots of music, which is still a novel idea in Chicago radio. V103 mostly plays R&B but on this morning, they slipped in "The Village Caller" just as I was waking up. Naturally, they didn't bother to identify it after it was finished, so I had to check their website to find out what song it was.

No long, repetitive passages here, just a short, sweet, and playful-sounding mellow tune. Is this a jazz standard? I really don't know. I once wanted a xylophone of my very own, but even a small one costs more than a nice electric guitar, and a musician-friend in college told me that I'd be better off if I learned some piano first. She probably had a point but unfortunately I don't think that's ever going to happen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

video #05: Ah-Ha - Take On Me

What more can be said about "Take on Me" that hasn't already been said? I know I said the same about "The Genius of Love," which is just as worthy of being the definitive animated video of the MTV age as this is, but since this is maybe the most covered song and parodied video of the last 25 years, it's not really a contest. It's probably not very surprising that most people would prefer this to the art-damaged, Sesame Street squigglevision of "Genius of Love." It's aging pretty well, too, at least compared to how most high-concept 80s videos have.

A few things I've always liked about it that tend to go unnoticed:

1. I love coffeeshops. Not coffee houses, but coffeeshops. Ones with stainless steel fixtures, glass cases, and ashtrays and bottles of Heinz on every table. Ones with angry waitresses that don't have time to drop your stuff off in the lost & found box, especially if it looks like you just stiffed them on the bill. Ones with constantly running fans to help move the cigarette smoke up to the ceiling (soon to be a memory of the past here). So even without any of the rotoscoping, this would still be one of my favorite videos.

2. The "Nice Cold, Ice Cold MILK" sign above the booth. I WANT this.

3. The "Surprise, motherfuckers!" look that Morten Harket (Ah-Ha lead singer, and of course I had to look that up) gives his attackers when he suddenly flashes a wrench of his own at them. The "Oh shit!" look on their faces right before that sudden reveal is great. To this day, no one knows where he obtained this weapon, especially given the featureless, empty hallways that he was trapped in. One of the great video mysteries of all time.