Posted by: 愛撫 | May 30, 2009

The importance of cultural garbage

Demi Lovato is awful. Devoid of a powerful or an interesting voice, the Camp Rock star’s solo musical career has led to the creation of what, for all its string-laden overproduction and crunched power chords, is essentially a body of white noise: her increasingly-forgettable singles (most recently the shockingly unpleasant Don’t Forget, a notable exception to her usual blandness) lack even the frustratingly catchy hooks that make her labelmates the Jonas Brothers’ manufactured output a noticeable annoyance. She goes in one ear and straight out the other, and thanks to her makeup team’s apparent schizophrenia she never even looks the same twice. And, despite all this, I wouldn’t wish her away for anything in the world – cultural garbage of the sort that Lovato represents has an important role in society, perhaps as much so as the all-too-few legitimate examples of genuine artistry to be found.

To oversimplify the issue, it can be said that music like Lovato’s represents a sort of statistical baseline – it’s simply because we have bland garbage that we even know what bland is. A starting point, a nice ‘n’ easy guide with which to tell if something’s numbingly competent, “well does it sound like Demi Lovato?”, instead of having to simply work in the black-and-white extremes of the good/bad equation. After all, if there weren’t a baseline in place, then we’d be cheating some genuinely great music out of a favourable reputation by assuming it represents mediocrity (as no system can effectively operate on a bipolar scale). By embracing Demi Lovato, we’ve saved Radiohead from being crowned the kings of boring dad-rock. In a really weird roundabout manner.

In addition to establishing what mediocrity is, boring music helps make the good works only stand out more. As an example, while I enjoy the song in any context, when it was placed amongst an assortment of mediocre-to-awful top-40 white noise on MuchMusic (basically the Canadian MTV), the video for k-os’s 4 3 2 1 was turned into a gift from the heavens, a shining reminder of everything that music can be. It’s powerful, the effect that the middle of the road can end up having on the cultural landscape. So much so that it’s essential to the functioning of society, and that there’s even a certain art to it – when Andy Warhol exhibited his screenprints of Campbell’s soup cans, the message was clear that the mundane, familiar design of everyday objects holds a special place in all of our hearts. Another facet is that, if nothing else, the presence of middlebrow entertainment provides something easy to rage against, something that can be hated without any serious consequence, the hatred felt as unknowingly bland, banal and omnipresent as that which it’s aimed towards.

It’s not just music, by any means – TV sitcoms, crappy genre flicks in the movie theater, even boring books serve their purpose in establishing a cultural baseline that all of us smug assholes can feel better being ‘above’, while giving those without the willpower to form their own opinions an easy set of things to like, things to do and even issues to care about. Demi Lovato is very, very important.

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Posted by: 愛撫 | May 20, 2009

Mister Lonely

Dear hypothetical reader of this rarely-updated I’ve Sound Blog spin-off, please watch this movie.

Mister Lonely tells a story that seems trying too hard to be quirky on the surface, with the “wacky” setup about a communal farm run by celebrity impersonators sounding like it would make for groans at best. However, Harmony Korine’s masterful direction turns the most absurd of setups into some of the most breathtakingly beautiful filmmaking I’ve ever seen: to describe any one scene (beyond that which was shown in the trailer) would merely diminish its impact.

So, go to your local Blockbuster or whatever video store you use (or download it, whatever works) and rent this movie ASAP, dear reader. You’ll thank yourself for it.

Posted by: 愛撫 | March 19, 2009

There’s a Vivienne Westwood baby, here on page 16…

“I am a kitten: Kahimi Karie sings Momus in Paris” is the too-brief EP’s too-long title. I found it at Book-Off, and even though at $9 for some 5 songs (one of which is utter garbage, but I’ll get to that) it was somewhat overpriced for a used CD, I knew I had to have it. Something about how I remembered reading something on Pitchfork about how Karie’s music was garbage, a trace memory of some particularly scathing criticisms of songwriter/collaborator Momus’s lazy approach to composition, arrangement and, well, anything apart from lyrics (which he’s unquestionably brilliant at writing), managed to make the album irresistible despite all better reason.

And, really, I’m glad I ignored the fact that the only things I’d remembered about Karie and Momus were exceedingly negative: the way the album’s smoky ambiance suggests a Paris that hasn’t existed since the 1960s (if indeed it ever existed) and the beautifully understated subtlety of some of Momus’s most intriguing songwriting work together to create an album far more than the sum of its parts.

From the very beginning, Momus and Karie establish a strict modus operandi: I am a kitten is about contradictions above all else, and it sticks to the pattern of bait and switch for the entirety of its runtime. The most obvious contradiction is found in the production; both suggesting intimacy through Karie’s vocals (mixed louder than anything else, a fact that takes a bit to realize thanks to the softness of her voice) while at the same time keeping the instrumentation distant and indistinct. On the lone song to vary from this production technique, the uncomfortably kinked Nikon 2, Karie’s voice seems to actively struggle against the oppressive arrangement, contradicting itself rather through the typically Momus touch of a cheery hook cruelly thrown into the mire. The song’s lyrics, sung entirely in French (providing a degree of ironic distance helpful for letting non-French-speaking types such as myself listen to it slightly more comfortably), depict scenes of masochism and exhibitionism typical of both Momus and Karie, but in approach it’s far darker than anything either artist had done before or has done since: perversely catchy Moog riffing aside, the song’s murkiness suggests exploitation far more than it does the self-consciously cartoonish sadism of the rest of the EP.

In what is undoubtedly the EP’s best song, Vogue Bambini, Karie fantasizes in fine tragi-comic style about robbing cradles for her “vogue Italian bambini”, lyrics capturing both the silliness of Karie’s fantasizing (her described method of dealing with her stress is “lie down, I go BAM! BAM!”) and the sadness of the barren woman who wants nothing more than the child she can never have. It’s one of Momus’s masterpieces, and although he himself would later re-record the song, the Karie version is the superior take of the song by far. It also marks Karie’s best vocal performance on the album, with the childlike sincerity she brings even to ridiculous-sounding lyrics like “boys are just like babies, they do things that babies do” something to behold. The song also stands head and shoulders above the rest with regards to its production, muted strings and seemingly incongruous synthesizers telling the song’s story every bit as well as Karie’s vocal.

If the album has one misstep, it’s album closer “The Poisoners” (misspelled on the CD case as “The Poisners”), an underproduced failure of a song that keeps the vocals and instrumental backing track uncomfortably separated, as if Karie were singing over a karaoke track instead of recording live. Not only does The Poisoners not have much of a melody or production to its credit, but the song’s close has Karie dropping her singing voice entirely and giggling, ‘climaxing’ with a pathetic sampled scream in the background. While Vogue Bambini succeeded largely on account of its subtlety, The Poisoners falls flat by overexplaining: instead of the rest of the album’s teasing, playful approach to sadism and generally immoral behaviour, Karie sings about poisoning rich people. And, similarly, instead of the moral ambiguity read as subtext, she explains how she feels guilty about said poisoning when she feels “a kick in her belly”. It’s embarrassing, to say the least.

All in all, despite an eleventh-hour misstep, I am a kitten is one of my favourite albums. Which is why I reviewed it out of the blue.

Posted by: 愛撫 | February 16, 2009

Kazuya Takase can’t write in English

So there’s this ridiculously old WORM WORLD (Kazuya Takase alias) track called ‘BREAK ME DOWN’, appeared on a few early FUCTORY mixes both in its original form and remixed as ‘FUCK ME S.P.R. MIX’ (Takase was fond of ALL CAPS from the very beginning), and the thing that always strikes me about this song is how its lyrics are just so utterly confounding. I mean, I’ve heard bad Engrish in I’ve songs before, but BREAK ME DOWN just takes the cake when it comes to sheer absurdity. To the best of my knowledge, here’s the complete lyrics:

I just try to come to me
I know that may seem to paint
all ’round about me in another way
for the silence around me, yeah

I have no dissatisfaction
please don’t rape me, break me down

I can’t make it any more

Like that burning glass, baby
like that chopper fighting moonlight
love to hear me cry, no no no

You take a trip to the other world
oh come on tell it to the people
that you were lost and me the street girl
oh come on tell it to me, yeah

I have no dissatisfaction
please don’t rape me, break me down

I can’t make it any more

Like that burning glass, baby
like that chopper fighting moonlight
love to hear me cry, no no no

Really, I never thought I’d say this, but the lyrics to Red fraction were a massive step up from this.

Posted by: 愛撫 | October 29, 2008

A movie review, I guess

So I watched Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind today. I’d been meaning to do this for a fairly long while, as I’ve always been a fan of Gondry’s music videos and I seemed to be one of maybe a dozen or so people who actually liked his movie The Science of Sleep. Also, it intrigued me to find out that it was written by Charlie Kaufman, whose Being John Malkovich was one of the most brilliantly original comedies I’ve ever seen. Also admittedly one that kind of took a turn for the too-outré-for-its-own-good towards the end, but an enjoyable movie nevertheless. Anyhow, with these credentials in place it seemed like the movie was pretty much a “sure thing”, a fact bolstered by the glowing praise I remembered being heaped upon the film when it was first released.

Note: critics are almost always wrong. Fuck critics.

I won’t say the movie was a complete mess from beginning to end, not quite. The story (regarding the erasure of unpleasant memories) was a promising one, and some of Gondry’s trademark visual effects are used somewhat well. I guess. But these two mild saving graces don’t do much for a movie as fundamentally fucking broken as Eternal Sunshine of the Pretentiously Overlong Fucking Title. Every aspect of this turd, from the inconsequential subplots that only accentuated the flimsiness of the main plot thread, to the horrible stunt-casting choice of Jim Carrey for the lead role, to the relentlessly bad pacing, to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl written to be a neurotic psycho bitch without a hint of the endearing qualities that Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character in the far-superior Science of Sleep would later show… it’s just all so hideously broken. And the worst part is, as I’ve said, the creators of this movie should’ve known what they were doing. Kaufman at his best has a rare knack for getting us inside characters’ heads (as anyone who’s seen Adaptation can surely attest), yet in Eternal Sunshine we feel disconnected from our cardboard cutout of a protagonist even when we are literally shown inside his head. None of the characters ring true in the same way, say, John Cusack’s obsessive puppet-master in Being John Malkovich did – their quirks, instead of providing accents to well-developed personalities, make up entire personalities. Take the Mark Ruffalo character, for example: he’s fucking Kirsten Dunst’s character. And he smokes weed. This is the entirety of his character. Now, I’m not arguing that every supporting character must be fully fleshed-out and have a novel-length backstory or anything, but the same “two traits” model could be applied to any of the characters. Aside from our protagonist and his love interest, mind you: their personalities are more accurately limited to one per person.

I would say more about the movie, but I think I’ve exhausted my vitriol for the time being. If someone tells you to watch Eternal Sunshine, tell them to fuck off.

Posted by: 愛撫 | October 4, 2008

January fucking second

January? January 2? Yep! That, apparently, is when the 2009 I’ve at Budokan show is set to be. This is massively convenient. Because, if it’s on the 2nd, that means that I’ll totally have enough time to get the money together, make proper reservations, and actually be able to use vacation time instead of losing my job and thus my means of income thanks to I’ve. Or maybe the exact fucking opposite.

Part of me really wants to rant, to go off on some epic tangent about the importance I put into making this show and the disappointment that comes with the realization that I won’t be able to do that, but the other part of me is really too drained already to bother. Nothing’s going to change the stupid fucking date.

And really now, Geneon, is there really that much of a difference in profits to be had between a show at the beginning of the year and one at a more sensible, anniversary-appropriate date? Do profits even matter to you, faceless corporation? None of the company’s marketing decisions made over the last few years have made any sense whatsoever, and this is just another one when it all comes down to it. I’ll get over it, but… it isn’t pleasant right now.

Not pleasant at all.

Fuck.

Life’s been weird. I’m not going to say a single thing about it that goes into any more detail than that, but I’m sure my imaginary readers will get the picture in three words as well as they would in 300.

Nobody’s uploaded master groove circle to BitTorrent yet, or at least it seems that way. This is vaguely distressing, as waiting for a CD to be made downloadable makes it seem like I’m a horrible leech who never actually buys I’ve CDs and instead only downloads like an evil pirate or something. Which is entirely true, but (much like this blog) terrible for my imaginary image. Oh, the torment!

But anyways, master groove circle presents a unique first in my admittedly-brief history reviewing new I’ve releases: it’s the first album I’ve genuinely wanted to suck. That’s right, I want this one to be a big fat stinker. And the reasons are multiple: First, there’s a simple factor of not wanting to reward shipping out remix duties to a few of Europe’s more washed-up DJs and the only real ‘in-house’ mix getting mucked up by Shiva Joerg’s presence. Geneon’s been treating I’ve like shit for most of their history (where was the promotional campaign for MELLSCOPE, guys?), and the last thing my love of I’ve would want is for them to actually have done the right thing by getting guys like EAT STATIC to sit in for the regular crew.

Second reason is a bit more personal. At this point, things are going so terribly for master groove (did you hear those promo clips, reader who lives in my head?) that a certain sense in me is starting to go off: the sense that a travesty is coming, and that I’m going to be there to review it when it hits. I’ve been told my negative reviews are more fun to read than the ones where I actually like the song in question (my WHEEL OF FORTUNE review is possibly the blog’s least-read), and to be terribly honest they’re the most fun to write as well. So in this I see a chance to make writing about I’ve fun again, and that’s pretty special to me.

So, true believers, I hope some evil pirate bastard’s going to be uploading mgc soon because I’m ready to write about it. So ready, in fact, that I’m writing about writing about it before I’ve even written about it. What? That’s right. I’m so ready I’ve stopped bothering to make sense. Peace.

Posted by: 愛撫 | September 16, 2008

Louis Vuitton is rolling in his grave

Make no mistake, I have no particular affection for luxury luggage brand Louis Vuitton. But when I saw these shoes (linked to me by a friend who’s a bit of an LV nut), I had to feel a bit sorry for the late Mr. Vuitton (or whoever it was who invented the company’s famous monogram pattern). Nobody deserves to be bitten like this:

MY EYES THEY BURN

MY EYES THEY BURN

The brand is ‘SPX’ (not one I’m familiar with, nor one I want to become familiar with if their shoes are all like this), and they’ve apparently got at least three different colourways for these LV-“inspired” sneakers. The worst part about the knockoff monogram is how obvious the changes made to the pattern are; the elements are well-spaced and have a good degree of graphical continuity until you get to the garish ‘X’ and the undersized ‘crowns’ carelessly stuck in between rows. The fact that the shoe’s upper is a lazy Vans grab (with a sole that’s part Air Jordan and all ugly) barely even bears mentioning; with that monogram and a garish lace-lock like that attached you can barely even notice what the shoes actually look like.

Posted by: 愛撫 | September 12, 2008

MyAnimeList + favourite anime themes

So I was looking at Aibu reader Pastanoodles‘ profile on MyAnimeList, and I realized something: I could do this! So, umm, here it is. My own personal Anime list, updated whenever I remember something I’ve seen.

But just a link wouldn’t make for much of an entry, now would it? Nope, it wouldn’t. Inspired by the list of anime I’ve seen, here’s an anime list that may be of interest to this blog’s admittedly few readers: my personal favourite anime theme songs! With YouTube videos! Because YouTube is awesome.

Read More…

Posted by: 愛撫 | September 7, 2008

Why I’m not going to I’ve at Budokan ’09

The upcoming I’ve 10th anniversary show at the Nippon Budokan is one of the sexiest prospects for a concert in the whole wide world of sports far as this writer is concerned. Not only is there the promise of having the entirety of Love Planet Five plus god knows who else in the same place on the same night, but there’s also the whole “emotional significance” thing: the idea of for once truly being a part of the I’ve experience instead of just writing about it snarkily from the sidelines. It would be a night to remember for years to come, and something I wish beyond wishes that I could actually do. So here’s why I won’t.

FIRST: Money.

I’m happy with my job, I really am. But while making just above minimum wage doing part-time work at a shoe store might be just fine to provide extra spending money while I make my way through university, if I’m trying to save up for the ridiculous expense of a trip to Japan plus the inevitable ass-fucking provided by prices for scalped tickets… well, it’s not going to happen. No two ways about it.

SECOND: Total lack of Japanese knowledge

Seems somewhat stupid for someone to have a blog devoted entirely to Japanese music when one can barely speak a single word of the language, but that’s me for ya. Even if I did manage to raise the money, get my tickets and wind up in Japan, there’s still the fact that I’d be ridiculously lost in Tokyo. More lost than Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, because at least he had interpreters. And Scarlett Johanssen. And Oscar-worthy angst.  うぐう~っ…

THIRD: The show’s going to be in less than a year, probably

I know Hikaruhoshi has a track record of almost never being right about anything (sorry buddy, but it’s true), but even if he’s wrong and the concert isn’t in February, chances are it’ll still be less than a year from now. And I’ll be honest here, the planning required to make something like this mythical Budokan trip happen would have to take a year. First off, see how much money can be saved up, then make reservations far in advance, and make backup plans in case anything fucks up. But if it were in February? No. No way at all. Barely even time to make first plans, much less backups. Especially considering that it’s not just me – there’s no way I’d go without Hikaruhoshi, and having to work with another person, especially one who lives in another country, complicates planning even further.

FOURTH: I fucked up my mission to go to Rock The Bells

Fun fact about the writer of I’ve Sound Blog: Aibu is quite fond of hip-hop. So when I heard about the “Rock the Bells” concert series, I immediately started making plans to travel and see at least one night’s incredible lineup… and… uhh… never did anything. In fact, with the money I was going to spend on tickets I bought myself a pair of jeans or something. Now, OK, I admit that Rock the Bells is a yearly event and the lineup is far from the once-in-a-lifetime Budokan experience (in fact, the acts I most wanted to see – Mos Def, Spank Rock and MF DOOM – are all fixtures of pretty much any music festival worth its salt, making it more a ‘once in 6 months’ situation than ‘once in a lifetime’), but my utter inability to save money or follow through on plans hasn’t changed.

Well, there I have it. But, in the vein of Miley Cyrus’s obnoxiously omnipresent single “7 Words”, there’s an eleventh-hour turnaround at the end!

Why I might go to I’ve at Budokan ’09:

Oh come on. It’s I’ve at Budokan. How could I not try my hardest to make this work? See you there, motherfuckers. And if I don’t, well, see you on 愛撫.

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