Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 3, or: Lady Gaga's Revenge

My journey through the soundscape of trashy dance-pop has been surprisingly Lady Gaga-free for the past couple of days.  A couple of songs over a couple of hours yesterday, and exactly zero on Day 1.

That all changed today, when Lady G made her presence known four times in just over an hour.

Ke$ha Week 2011, Day 3: March 29, 2011

Ke$ha "hit" of the day: "Animal".  This song is really tame by Ms. Sebert's standards.  It's more nonsensical than unintentionally hilarious... no mention of "little bitches" or "keeping it in your pants" here.  Lyric: "our world is spinning at the speed of light" (which I sincerely hope that it is not).

Songs until I had to hear Lady Gaga: 3.  "Poker Face" was the first time she showed up, and not the (vastly superior) Eric Cartman version.  I also got "Telephone" around half an hour in.  I never realized about this, but somehow Lady Gaga managed to make a single (peaking at #3 on Billboard!) out of complaining that too many people call her, and that she would rather dance than talk on the phone.  "Alejandro" decided to roll after about 45 minutes, and I just missed the tail end of "Just Dance" because I had a meeting.

Does Jason Derulo announce his name at the beginning of all of his songs?  Yes, see also either "Whatcha Say" or "In My Head," both of which I got to hear today.

Peak ridiculousness: "Sexy Bitch," David Guetta feat. Akon.  "Sexy Bitch" contains both of these lyrics: "I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful" and "damn you's a sexy bitch."  Now, I was (and remain) willing to consider the notion that this song is tongue-in-cheek, an ironic commentary on the limited vocabularies of other hip-hop artists, meant to offer a deliberate juxtaposition of vulgarity and respect.  But I'm skeptical: this song is so far out of the realm of good taste that if it is in fact a joke, it's an ill-conceived one.

Actually not that bad: "Everytime We Touch," Cascada.  It's pretty standard dance-pop, derivative and relatively uninspired, but at least it's energetic, and there's nothing offensive about it.  After "Sexy Bitch," Cascada suddenly starts sounding really good.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 2, or: "Club Can't Handle Me"

Yesterday's selection featured much more of a dance club-ish vibe, rather than the shotgun spread of whatever was on the radio circa 2010 that surfaced on Sunday.  (Miss what all this is about?)

Ke$ha Week, Day 2: March 28, 2011

Ke$ha "hit" of the day: "Kiss n Tell".  I hadn't come across this masterpiece until around 11 am yesterday.  It's full of lyrical brilliance, but its standout lyric is without a doubt "you really should have kept it in your pants; I'm hearing dirty stories from your friends."

Worst song: "Cooler Than Me," Mike Posner.  This song has exactly twelve words, six of which are "you think you're cooler than me."  I know I'm cooler than whoever wrote the drum part on this song, because he only knows two rhythms.

Saving grace: "Airplanes," B.o.B.  Dearest Hayley Williams, I've never been so happy to hear your voice.  I could really use a wish right now, too.  It involves not hearing any more Mike Posner for the rest of the week.

Should Britney Spears sings dubstep? No, as we hear in "Hold it Against Me".  (Actually, it's doubtful that anyone should ever sing dubstep.)  Here's a sample lyric: "you feel like paradise, and I need a vacation tonight, so if I said I want your body, would you hold it against me?"  Get it?  You're so clever, Britney Spears Britney Spears' songwriter.

Songs until I had to hear Lady Gaga: 3 ("Born This Way").  "Lovegame" also made an appearance. (Lady Gaga wants to take a ride on my disco stick.)

Song I skipped: "Bass Down Low" by someone who calls herself "Dev".  She sounds like a second-rate Ke$ha, and this song pulls off the unlikely feat of making me wish "Kiss n Tell" would show up again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 1

I lost a bet recently.

The details aren't as important as the wager.  If I lost (and I narrowly but decisively did), I would have to listen to Kesha Radio on Pandora for a week.  Whenever I sat at my computer and otherwise would have been inclined to listen to iTunes or or one of my own Pandora stations, I got nailed with Ke$ha instead.

And I couldn't count on exploiting any loopholes: Two skips per hour.  (No skipping if our dollar-signed friend herself showed up.)  And no manipulating the playlist with thumbs-upping/downing.

It's a tall order, but I'm honor-bound to go through with it.  Ever wondered what a Ke$ha Pandora station is like, but a little too scared (or proud) to investigate it for yourself?  You can live vicariously through me!

Ke$ha Week, Day 1: March 27, 2011

Ke$ha "hit" of the day: "Blah Blah Blah".  This song is so inspired that it's hard to pick out the best lyric, so here are two: "don't be a little bitch with your chitchat," "I wanna be naked, and you're wasted."

Worst song of the day: "3", Britney Spears.  Lyric: "1, 2, 3/ Not only you and me,/ Got one eighty degrees,/ And I'm caught in between."  This song is about having a threesome.  It is so overproduced that Britney actually sings autotuned harmony with her autotuned self.  

Did "Like a G6" show up?  Yes, around the sixth song.  It might have been a remix, because the album was listed as Far East Movement Remixes, but nobody announced "remix!" at the beginning, so I wasn't sure.

Peak ridiculousness: "I Like It," Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull.  When a song's selling point is that it was included on the Jersey Shore soundtrack, you can guess about how good it is.

Song that I skipped: "Bottoms Up," Trey Songz.  I shouldn't have been surprised that this song was so bad given how Mr. Songz chooses to spell his name.

"Currently listening" is on hiatus for the next week.  Mourn for it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lisbeth Salander and My New Kindle Addiction

It's rare the books create social phenomena.  (Insert your own social commentary here.)  Over the last decade, it's happened only three-ish times.  One started in 2001 or so with Harry Potter, which became incredibly popular when phrases started getting thrown around like "my kids actually want to read now!".  Another happened in 2003 with The DaVinci Code--and, while it was a fun story and a well-done thriller, the only reason that Dan Brown's books became known to the mainstream at all was an overblown religious controversy.

And in the last few years of the 2000s, Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander books somehow accelerated themselves into the public consciousness.  It's surprising.  Harry Potter had the tween vote going for him, Robert Langdon was the darling of every media outlet in the world for a few months... and Salander?  The books about her are just good.  Yet they're all over the place--people not usually known for being voracious readers have read all three of the books in the series and love them.  Larsson has acquired piles of accolades in countries all over the globe.  And as recently as fall 2010--two full years after its US release--there were nearly one hundred people waiting for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at the Berkeley Public Library.

By last August, I'd been told so adamantly by so many people to read these books that in a Netflix-esque move, I broke down and put the first one, Dragon Tattoo, on hold.  Four months later, I finally got my hands on it and read it over Christmas.  It didn't disappoint.  Larsson has a real talent for putting together intriguing, complex plots that are perpetually one step ahead of you as you read--so you can't help but keep reading more.  His books aren't page-turners in the classic thriller (Dan Brown) sense of spewing plot at a breakneck pace and organizing it into two-page chapters.

Instead, Larsson is so adept at bringing multiple characters and plots together that you keep reading just to see how it all shakes out.  Sometimes it's political conspiracy, sometimes it's cold-case forensics, sometimes it's gritty journalism... and Larsson's knack is putting it all together gracefully and (mostly) believably.

Dragon Tattoo turned out to be such a great read that I wanted to read the following books (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) as immediately as possible.  The prospect of another four-month penalty lap courtesy of the BPL wasn't looking so good, but fortunately I had a new friend in the Amazon Kindle.  This thing is magical and deadly.  It makes reading so damn convenient that you will want to take it everywhere and read.  Whether that's a good thing will depend entirely on how much free time you have and how many five-to-ten-dollar checks you're willing to offer in tribute to your new Amazon overlords.

Needless to say, I bought both Fire and Hornet's Nest immediately, but it took an embarrassingly long time to get through them both because things like "doing my job" reared their ugly head come January.  Now that I'm finally finished, I can say for sure that the entire trilogy is absolutely worth reading, though it does come with a couple of caveats.  A major theme in the trilogy is violence against women and society's role in preventing it (or at times condoning it), and to drive home his point, Larsson isn't afraid of including some graphic scenes of abuse and rape.  But we're all adults here, and given that those scenes actually serve a point (rather than being merely pornographic, like similar scenes included in many movies), they're easy enough to look past.

The other popular criticism of the series, and of Dragon Tattoo in particular, is that it's too fundamentally Swedish for an international audience to be able to enjoy it.  Characters make plenty of references to decades-old Swedish politicians, shop at Ikea and drive Volvos, and live on streets that have the character "å" in their names.  It's confusing and even a little off-putting at first, but the overwhelming Swedishness gives the books character.  And either Larsson or his editor had the grace to start adding footnotes to elucidate the more obscure references to those of us that live outside of Scandanavia.

Are these books "classics," Lisbeth Salander destined to become this generation's Tom Sawyer or Sherlock Holmes?  I've long ago given up the "classic" discussion, but one thing's for sure: the best chance that these books have of being read decades from now is Salander herself.  She's an incredibly complex character: reliable even though few people understand her at first, moving past "self-sufficient" into just "selfish," intensely good at what she does but downright poor at what almost everyone else can do.  Salander's competence to function as a normal adult is raised as an issue throughout the series.  The reason she's such a fascinating protagonist is that although most of the skepticism (and of course all of the abuse) directed towards her is downright wrong, Salander can't help but call her own competence into question.

Read Stieg Larsson's books for Lisbeth Salander; read them to feed a Kindle addiction of your own; read them just to get your friends off your back.  You won't be disappointed.

Currently listening: "Go Places," the New Pornographers

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Lost: The Complete Collection

I just bought myself a belated birthday present: Lost: The Complete Collection on Blu-Ray.  It goes without saying that I'm such a Lost fan that I'd have been completely happy with it even if it just contained every episode of the series... but this is Lost, so we should expect nothing so mundane.  Instead, we get a superbly crafted mini-pyramid of mysteries that manages both to contain the series and encapsulate it.

In addition to thirty-five Blu-Ray discs, this thing includes (in increasing order of esotericness) a guide to all the episodes, a map of the Island, a (slightly secret) copy of the Blast Door map, a sheet from the Black Rock ledger, a Dharma Initiative blacklight keychain, a senet board complete with black and white rocks, and an ankh with a "secret message from Jacob".  This all sounds absurdly made up to anyone with a life, but trust me, it's geekily glorious to us fans.

The blacklight lets you search for hidden messages within the collection.  That's the surest sign that whoever was responsible for this package really hit it out of the park, because that's exactly the sort of thing that someone willing to throw down $170 on a bunch of discs of Lost would be excited about doing.  Through careful exploration, you can decode the "secret message," find the hidden thirty-sixth disc (requiring you to, cleverly enough, "move the Island"), and learn to play senet.  You can also explore the hidden messages on the Blast Door map and find some hidden illustrations in the disc sleeves.

Of course, you also get the entirety of Lost, which is pretty cool too.  I popped in a season 6 disc just to make sure they worked, and 44 minutes of "Dr. Linus" later, I'm reminded how incredible this show really is.  If you're a fan, do yourself a favor and buy this set.  The brilliance of Lost was that you got out of it as much as you put into it--and you could put an astonishing amount in.  Somehow, Lost: The Complete Collection manages to pull that off too.

Currently listening: "Mutiny, I Promise You", The New Pornographers

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Eisley: The Valley

I've liked Eisley for a long time, and although I recently got to see them in concert, it's been until now that I've had the fanboy pleasure of hearing one of their albums on its release date.  (Protip: living on the west coast means you can technically download the album at 9 pm the day before it releases.)

Where Eisley's earlier albums were built on happy sentimentality and surreal fantasy, The Valley has a much darker tone.  Eisley has collectively grown up a lot, producing an album that's more despondently mature than anything they've ever released.  And it's not yet clear if that's a good thing.

It's clear that the songs on The Valley are coming from an entirely different place than those on Room Noises or Combinations.  Bad things have happened to the lovely ladies of Eisley over the past four years, including a broken engagement and a divorce, and that provides most of the somber creativity on this album.  It's a surprisingly visceral set for a band that built its freshman and sophomore albums on songs about mermaid-entwined shrubbery and alien body-snatchers.  There's something to be said for how raw and personal a lot of the material is.

But on the other hand, it's not the Eisley that we know and love.  We like Eisley because they're the band that plays at our local coffeehouse, singing songs about being lost at sea with people they love, wearing floral-print dresses and carrying a refreshing air of non-pretentiousness.  Hearing them sing about their very real tribulations seems somehow wrong.  Maybe it's not a bad wrong.  Maybe it's just a wrong that's going to take some getting used to.

To help ease the transition, Eisley includes plenty of songs that sounds stylistically (if not thematically) at home on the earlier albums.  "Watch it Die" and "Oxygen Mask" both evoke Combinations' more ethereal songs ("I Could Be There For You," "Come Clean") with falsetto-Stacy vocals and string/piano backing.  And "Kind" and "Mr. Moon" owe a lot to the aesthetic of Room Noises, with guitar syncopation and major/minor interplay just toeing the line of whimsical.

There are a lot of strong tracks on The Valley, but this is a sort of album where no two listeners are going to prefer the same set of songs.  Early standouts include "Sad," a Sherri vocal tour de force (every Eisley album has to have at least one, see also "Marvelous Things" and "Invasion") and "Ambulance," a strongly piano-driven reflection on, yes, a broken relationship that's better heard as a single track than as a closer to an album filled with yet more reflections on broken relationships.

The Valley represents an intriguing new stylistic direction for Eisley, but what's really going to be interesting is the direction that their future albums take, once these wounds have had a few years to heal.  If Eisley can retain some of the darkly emotional energy of The Valley and integrate it with some of the playful fantasy of their earlier albums, then there are very bright things in Eisley's future.

Currently listening: "Miracle," Paramore