What's More Unbelievable?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Keep On Trying Till You Run Out of Cake

While at Funspot, I realized that video games have come a long way. Vector graphics are indeed super cool and I loved revisiting those old musty gems but mostly I was glad to be able to come back home to the modern world where games don't end within seconds of gameplay. Many of the titles there chewed me up and spit me out. Both Bagman & Tutankhamen lasted a total of 15 seconds and left me longing for the security of Super Mario Galaxy and it's nearly endless do-overs. Even the games I did well at were a severe challenge. The handling on Burgertime is so sluggish and stiff it's like driving without power steering.

The music leaves something to be desired too. Many games have minimal soundtracks if they have music at all. There are almost always the requisite blips and boops but I didn't really find any new favorites or any melodies I could even remember on the drive home. These days, some games release their soundtracks on cds and there are travelling orchestras who perform in packed concert halls for people who rarely leave their basements.

After 20 years of playing Mario and Zelda, their themes are hardwired into my brain and just a few notes have me swimming in a sea of nostalgia. It's always fun to play the newest version of an old favorite to see how they modernize and incorporate the leitmotifs into the latest games. I won't get into the whole modern world of video game soundtracks and bands licensing or even writing songs for them, but it's safe to say that in 30 years, the musical world of video games has changed drastically.

One of my favorite songs from the modern era I first heard while playing Rock Band and have since become addicted to. It's from the physics based puzzler Portal which I have only briefly seen but not played. The plot of the game is that you are basically trying to escape from a research facility where you can create two portals in the walls of each room. By jumping in one portal you instantly emerge from the other so if one is on the floor and the other on the ceiling, by dropping through the hole in the ground, you will instantly fall through the hole in the ceiling. it's absolutely brilliant. A robot voice, GLaDOS guides you through the test chambers but, like HAL 9000, something is a bit off and she seems to grow more and more sinister as the game goes on. Like HAL, GLaDOS is eventually disconnected and killed but instead of singing "Bicycle Built for Two" as the curtain falls, she sings this lovely little number, written by Jonathan Coulton.

Portal OST - Still Alive - Jonathan Coulton

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm Headed to the Arcade

Today begins a week of tipping our hats to video game music. Tomorrow Mothra and I head off to Funspot (now officially the world's largest arcade) with a van full of junkies to celebrate the wonderful era of 8-bit brilliance that gave birth to such masterpieces as Q-Bert, Spy Hunter and Mr. Do's Wild Ride. I grew up in the 80s and seem to recall every game I ever played and every arcade I ever spent wasted hours in. To me there are few greater joys than playing video games whether it's old skool favorites like Donkey Kong where I tend to die within seconds or modern classics like The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess where I've already played for 10+ hours and have been told I'm just getting started.

I was just discovering the world when Pac-Man came out so I seem to have mostly missed the craze it spawned but I was certainly swept away in the aftermath. The early 80s Pac-Mania seems similar to the Wii-mania that we are currently experiencing since both captured the entire public's attention, not just computer freaks or hard core gamers. It's stunning how long Pac-man has stayed in the public consciousness. They're still making console games with him as the star. I remember countless sequels including Baby Pac-Man which involved a pinball machine as well as the normal video screen, Pac-Man board games, Pac-Man cereal and the bizarre Pac-Man Saturday morning cartoon.

Obviously, for the gaming world and beyond, Pac-Man is a pretty big deal. Part of his fame must be credited to the wonderfully stupid novelty single "Pac-Man Fever" by Buckner and Garcia.

Pac-Man Fever - Buckner And Garcia

It was released in December of 1981 to capitalize on the growing national obsession with the little yellow man. The lyrics are woefully stupid but well researched as well, at one point singing, "I've got all the patterns down, up until the ninth key." Consider yourself a true video game nerd if you understand that line. It somehow made it to #9 on the Billboard charts and led the songwriting duo to create an entire album of video game songs. Apparently they wanted to write pop songs about different topics but Columbia Records had other plans for them. I find it strange that they didn't want to become known as a novelty act who only wrote video game songs but I guess it was because they had so many other novelty songs on so many other worthy topics just begging to be set free. Their first big hit explored the idea of Howard Cosell as Santa Claus and is titled "Merry Christmas in the NFL." They went on to pen other greats such as "E.T. I Love You" and "Mr. T." Where have you gone, Buckner & Garcia? A novelty-starved nation turns its lonely ears to you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Go Back to the Gold Soundz

Hey hey everyone. Mothra is back from his pottery odyssey (and has been for over a month now) and we're rocking full steam again. The last few shows have been unbelievable - the wittiest of banter, the choicest of song selections, the deadest of air. If you are unable to tune in live, you can check out the good times by clicking on the show titles to the right. Mothra just added a new one, the epic battle of baritones vs. sopranos. Who will win - Barry White or Frankie Valli? Tune in to find out.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Music Music Show Show

Little Richard - Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey
The White Stripes - Jumble, Jumble
The Hives - Knock Knock
James Brown - Please, Please, Please

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers - Baby Baby
The Ramones - Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
Badfinger - Day After Day
The Kinks - Yes Sir, No Sir

Theodore Bikel And Geuel Gill - Ayil Ayil
Bert Jansch - Doctor Doctor
Red Beans and Rice - Shame, Shame, Shame
The Flamingos - Vooit - Vooit

The Mountain Goats - Love Love Love
The 6ths - You You You You You
John Wesley Harding - Pound Pound Pound

The New Year - One Plus One Minus One Equals One
Elvis Costello - Radio, Radio
Hot Chip - You Ride, We Ride, In My Ride

ELO - Ma-Ma-Ma Belle
Joe Jackson - Cha Cha Loco
Tip McKinnon - I'm old but I'm awfully tough
Byron Lee & the Dragonaires - Whiny Whiny

Pavement - Maybe Maybe
Les Savy Fav - Yawn Yawn Yawn
Tom Waits - Cold Cold Ground

Butterglory - Fight Fight Fight
Silver Jews - Like Like The The The Death
Eric Bachman - Genie, Genie
The Minders - Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Joan Jett - I Love You Love Me Love
Burt Bacharach - Blue on Blue
Neko Case - Hold On, Hold On
John Fahey - Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel
Wilco - ON and ON and ON

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pitfalls of the Rock n Roll Lifestyle

Everyone knows that once-hunks like David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen aren't looking so good these days, but they've had years and years of hard living and are, by my estimates, approaching 70 years of age. But just for the record, let's see how they're looking:

Diamond Dave before & after

Eddie before & after

Yikes! That after photo of Eddie is especially creepy. Not even Keith Richards looks that far gone. A friend compared him to Rafiki from The Lion King, some sort of wizened old shaman who has seen visions of the land beyond and has come back from the experience scarred and otherworldy.
Anyhow, I expect hard living rockers to look haggard in the present day but what about the indie rock kids?
I saw this picture of David Berman of the Silver Jews recently and wondered what happened to him. So all of a sudden he's wearing women's sunglasses from the 70's and not bathing properly? Maybe touring is what does it to you since Silver Jews never really toured prior to 2005 and up until then he looked relatively decent. A year or two on the road is all it takes to pummel the looks out of someone. Check out some more examples:
Gene Ween
John Darnielle
Peter Buck
Maybe it has nothing to do with touring. It's not like the young punks in Be Your Own Pet are looking grizzled and old beyond their years due to a few short years of playing tiny clubs, eating shitty food and living out of a van. It's most likely just due to the fact that these people are getting older, as we all are, and it can be pretty shocking to compare old photos to new. The aging process is so gradual that you don't even notice it as it's happening but putting photos taken a decade or more apart next to each other can provide surprising and none too flattering results for almost everyone, excluding of course indie rock's perennial golden boy:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fun With Black Bars

I came across this on Pitchfork and decided to give it a go seeing as I'm a fan of 70s fashion and feathered hair. Usually I'm not in favor of the black bars but here they use the censorship tool in a pretty clever way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Justin Dances the Carlton

I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of The Darkness lately. You'd think after posting 5 videos from them the other day I'd be satiated but no. I kept searching to see what other gems I had missed and came across this wonder. It is a video from their first album that apparently wasn't even released in the UK. Instead it was sent out to other European nations who know a good club banger when they hear one. If this was the 70s, this would have been a smash for ABBA. Even if you hated the other videos or didn't watch them at all, as I suspect you may have, I beseech you to check out these 2. They are so bizarre and wonderful and completely unlike the other 5. Trust me - they have the Gamera seal of approval.

Friday Night

Drug use can alternately help or hurt musicians. With The Darkness it seems mostly to have hurt them. First off, they lost their Village People like bassist and his glorious moustache due to internal strife most likely brought on by drug problems. Secondly, Justin Hawkins, not a handsome man to begin with, lost some of his charisma and gained a bit of a paunch. He also looks odd in this video but I can't put my finger on exactly what it is. He looks pale and unhealthy but then again he's British.

It saddens me that Justin's substance abuse led to the dissolution of the band because no other musician has a falsetto like his and no other group made videos like this. From their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back!, this is the surprisingly disco-influenced "Girlfriend" with the equally shocking Flash Dance-inspired video featuring the greatest keytar solo I've ever seen. Laugh it up.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Come Into the Darkness

When I first heard of The Darkness, on MTV News strangeley enough, I thought, "Has it really come to this?" There was no way in hell anyone could really be excited about the return of glam/hair metal. Based on the video clips, they were obviously making a splash in England but good luck in America, you bucktoothed, jumpsuit wearing throwbacks. I was wrong. Their first album, Permission to Land, hit #36 here in the states and was certified Gold. Not only that, but I had a complete change of heart and learned to love again. I fell for The Darkness. I was ready for a band that didn't take itself overly seriously. They were somehow able to slyly play up the rock cliches of yesteryear while also executing them with panache. Jump kicks? Check. Double guitar solos? Yes indeed. Unitards? And how. I find the album a bit uneven but the hits are untouchable. Let's set the wayback machine to 2003 and revisit the first 5 videos The Darkness created.

The first single/video is a good way to introduce the band to the beer swilling millions across the pond. Their look and sound were certainly a bit shocking at the time but seeing them rock a capacity crowd allows them to use bandwagoneering to their advantage. After all, 1,000,000 toothless Darkness fans can't be wrong, can they?

Get Your Hands Off My Woman

Video 2 is a great leap forwards. It not only introduces the spaceship concept that runs through the next 4 videos and the album cover but gives us The Darkness' brilliant creation myth. A Pterodactyl mated with a spaceship which in turn laid the 4 eggs that would hatch the band members. Born as children, they commandeer a helicopter, get struck by lightning and emerge full grown men on the front lawn of a castle. Of course, it's mostly a rehash of The Iliad but what isn't? This video has got it all - a naked Justin Hawkins singing in the bathtub, a glowing jumpsuit and skeet shooting with guitars. Is this song about a new love interest or STDs?

Growing on Me

The third video and their biggest hit consists of a killer riff, low budget pyrotechnics and 3 guitar solos. The crab fight is hilarious as is the cardboard stage straight out of MST3K. Beamed in from an alternate universe, this video caught America's attention for a brief moment back when the Jonas Brothers were still zygotes.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Not on their album, this special treat arrived just in time for the holiday season. While it may be tied with The Kinks' "Father Christmas" for best Christmas song ever, it is certainly the greatest holiday music video ever made and possibly one of the 10 best videos of all time. Wearing a outfit from the Frederick's of Hollywood seasonal catalog, Justin leads us on a sentimental journey of love and loss at the end of the year which manages to be genuinely affecting. It's not all tears and sadness though as the rest of the band open heartwarming presents and a children's choir shows up to once again fill our hearts with hope and make us believe again.

Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)

Smartly waiting until after 3 barnburners and a holiday classic, The Darkness finally unleashed a power ballad on America and America shrugged. The song is a fine example of the form but the video lacks any of the power and wit of their earlier masterpieces. There is a nice shot of a waterfall though. Oh, who am I kidding? This is totally inessential but please do watch the other 4 videos. As the queen would say, "They're good for a larf."

Love is Only a Feeling

Sunday, June 8, 2008

You take the low notes, I'll take the high

Scott Walker - 30th Century Man
Crash Test Dummies - Androgynous
Pixies - La La Love You

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
Public Enemy - Night of the Living Baseheads
Tom Waits - Shake It

Johnny Cash - Nobody
Silver Jews - We Are Real
Chris Smither - Shake Sugaree

Hudson Shad - O Do Not Forsake Me
The Magnetic Fields - Xylophone Track
Toussaint McCall - Nothing Takes the Place of You

Beck - Hollow Log
Neil Diamond - Solitary Man
Halo Benders - Canned Oxygen

Daniel Johnston - Walking the Cow
Panda Bear - Comfy in Nautica
The Smiths - Miserable Lie

The Shins - Girl Inform Me
Beach Boys - Don't Talk (Lay Your Head on My Shoulder)
The Velvet Teen - Counting Backwards

Litte Joe & the Thrillers - Peanuts
Donnie Elbert - Little Piece of Leather
Rush - The Temples of Syrinx

Radiohead - Nude
Pinback - Tripoli
Voxtrot - Raised By Wolves

Queen - Play the Game
The Darkness - I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Thursday, June 5, 2008

El Diablo Blanco

Back when I was a Netflix subscriber (thanks the the Princess), I was obsessed with renting as many music documentaries as I could. One such film was Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, a fascinating sociological and anthropological exploration of the Metal Underground undertaken by the film's director and certified metalhead, Sam Dunn. It's a pretty amazing movie, even for those who are not huge fans of the genre. Mothra and I watched it together and were left wanting more.

The documentary spans the entirety of metal touching on everything from L.A. Hair Metal to Swedish Death Metal. The real treats in the film are the live performances and the amazing amount of interviews. Sam Dunn interviews insanely rabid fans, some of whom are straight out of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, as well as an incredible array of musicians. There are many highlights including: the metal family tree; the massive amounts of swords and armor that fill the surprisingly short Ronnie James Dio's house; the interview with Slayer's Tom Araya where he admits they aren't really Satanists; the mindblowing shot of Sverd i Fjell (Swords in Rock) on the Norweigian coast. After hearing tales of Norway's black metal purveyors burning down churches and murdering people and then witnessing this gigantic homage to their viking ancestors, you realise that Norway is not faking it.

Sam Dunn is back this summer with his second documentary delving deeper into the world of metal and the metal of the world. Global Metal follows Sam through four continents to see how different cultures react to heavy metal and how they reinterpret it in their own contexts and cultures. Check out the trailer here and try to keep from throwing up your devil horns.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Weezer's Steady Decline in Four Self Portraits

Weezer (1994) - An inauspicious start to be sure. Who were these geeks on the cover? You couldn't tell right away which one was the singer or which one was the drummer. They didn't look like rock stars or poseurs, just a semi-motley crue against a pale blue background. The album was a wonderful collection of summery pop and crunchy guitars. They were one hit wonders who somehow kept having hits.

Weezer (2001) - 7 years on, Weezer still look geeky but that lightning bolt on the guitar strap screams rock star. Also, the font is way too big and the green is sickly and makes me think of pea soup. No good. Who's that unkempt guy on the left? And where did that short haired guy go? You know, the one with the great high pitched voice who sang backup and looked good in a tight sweater in the Buddy Holly video. Oh, he left? Did he take all the good songs with him? Not completely as this had some winners but nothing anyone says will convince me that "Hash Pipe" is a good song. Not even John Darnielle.

Make Believe (2005) - What the hell is going on here? Weezer's journey through the looking glass. I don't know anything about this album. Apparently "Beverly Hills" was a hit but who cared by this point? And once again, there's some new guy on the cover. Weezer go through bass players like Spinal Tap went through drummers. Plus, they all seem to be glowing for some reason. I kind of like the black but it's all too overstyled and pretentious. Would it kill them to smile?

Weezer (2008) - Nothing could prepare the world for this hellish cover. Occasionally albums are purchased based on cover images alone but in this MP3 world, this is certainly a rare instance but couldn't they at least try? Weezer have officially thrown in the towel with this monstrosity. If you're not horrified by Rivers' paunch and moustache, you aren't paying attention. And that creepy Serpico imitator on the left? With elbow patches? Seriously? Looks like that tough guy bassist is still with them these days and he's now cocking his head to the left displaying his range of emotion. This most likely is not their last album but where do you go from here?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hey I'm F*@#in' Walking Here!

Andrew W.K. - I Love NYC
They Might Be Giants - New York City
T Rex - New York City

The Ramones - I Remember You
The Strokes - Barely Legal
The Walkmen - Little House of Savages

The Mountain Goats - Then the Letting Go
Jim Croce - New York's Not My Home
Cat Power - New York
Atilla - Amplifier Fire pt 1

A Tribe Called Quest - Steve Biko (Stir It Up)
The Beastie Boys - Pass The Mike
Ratatat - Tropicana

The Rolling Stones - Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)
Enon - New York's Alright (If You Like Saxophones)
Franz Ferdinand - Eleanor Keep Your Boots On

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat
Sonic Youth - Cross The Breeze

The New Pornographers - Myriad Harbour
Olivia Tremor Control - NYC-25
The Magnetic Fields - The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side

Richard Hell and The Voidoids - The Blank Generation
Blondie - Call Me
Talking Heads - Love For Sale

Rufus Wainwright - Poses
Tom Waits - Coney Island Baby

Les Savy Fav - What Would Wolves Do?
The Rapture - Out Of The Races And Onto the Tracks