Monday, September 28, 2009

Break Up... if only they had.

Not so long ago I had the opportunity to see a screening of Julie and Julia before it was released... it made me wish I was Superman. If I were the "man of steel" I could fly around the earth fast enough to turn back time, find Nora Ephron in her editing bay, and use my ex-ray vision to destroy the Julie half of the movie. Listening to Break Up, the new release from Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson, made me want to don that cape again.

The changes that need to be made on Break Up aren't as black and white as those necessary on Julie and Julia... but something needed to be done. The songs, for the most part, are engaging enough but the vocals and the production are... well... uneven. Here's the surprising part, it's Scarlett Johansson's work that shines. That's something I never thought I'd say after hearing her 2008 album, Anywhere I Lay My Head. On that earlier work she sounded distant and disengaged. On Break Up she sounds very present, very innocent and very sexy all at the same time. Pete Yorn, on the other hand, sounds like he settled for scratch vocals. My guess is that he would defend the approach as a purposeful juxtaposition of male and female... hard and soft... rough and smooth. Unfortunately, the end result is simply sweet and sour.

The production is understated, which fits the material, but on almost every track there is a sound or a riff or a lyric that takes you out of the moment. It could be the line from the song Relator (lifted from The Beatles', All My Lovin')... or the just a bit too loud and distorted guitar that pops up repeatedly throughout the album... or Yorn's ragged vocals that break the spell... but the magic always seems to get marginalized.

Here's the real tragedy... this album could have been a great one. Instead, it's a mildly engaging record that makes you wonder what Scarlett Johansson might have done with similar material... and no Pete Yorn.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Diamond Born of Pearls

I spend a lot of my time online searching through the trash heap of user generated content for something remarkable. Most of what I find is... well... awful. On the rare occasion when I do stumble upon something captivating, it's usually easy to categorize. By that I mean, it falls into a standard art format such as music or video... but every so often... I uncover a wonderful surprise.

Pogo is a young lad from Australia. I don't know how young exactly, but judging from his MySpace pics I'd say somewhere around 20. He likes to create new music and video from pieces of his favorite movies. The end product is much more than your standard mash-up. Somehow he manages to combine the borrowed bits with original electronic tracks to create amazing new works of "mediart". What is even more amazing is that his creations not only capture the magic and spirit of the movies he mines... they enhance them.

I'm not going to try to analyze what he does or justify the ethics of using other artists work as components in new, albeit derivative, pieces. What Pogo does is fresh and inspiring, and I hope that the filmmakers whose movies he dissects will grant him the freedom, and the rights, to continue to use what he harvests to create new artistic life.

Here are a couple of links to Pogo's projects:

Imogen Heap... Connected?

I'm one of those fans Imogen Heap made her new record for... I loved her maiden effort! I was impressed at how she found a way of fusing electronic music with emotion... she gave the Tin Man a heart.

I also enjoyed her tweets as she moved down the road towards the completion of her sophomore effort. I felt connected... but something happened on the way to the Emerald City. Somewhere along the path the scarecrow lost some straw. Sure, the new album has her iconic electronic tracks and her lyrical stories sound as though they were taken from different pages of the same journal... but something is missing. The music still has a heart... but the pulse is weaker.

Maybe being connected to her fans clouded the creative process instead of giving it clarity. What if that lonely feeling she felt the first time around actually strengthened her heart and enhanced her creative vision. Would Van Gogh have been a better painter had he felt connected?

Still, I count myself as an Imogen Heap fan and look forward to a long and prolific career from her. Most artists suffer a bit of a sophomore slump and, fingers crossed, that may be all this is. I only hope that the next time out her music will do the lion's share of the connecting and that Imogen will remain just enough of a loner to allow a few more tears to hit the keys.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Age and Wisdom... not always a package deal.

No doubt about it, the boomer generation was musically blessed. Still, many of my contemporaries listen to nothing but oldies, or songs that sound like oldies. They deride most new music as shallow and transient while they pine for the good ol' days. Their creative cortices have atrophied.

I'm not making the argument that old is bad and new is good, I'm just saying that old is old and new is new. Art changes. Van Gogh was rejected in his time. Warhol would have been burned at the stake in the century before he ruled the art world. Perhaps music IS more shallow and transient now... but so is the world it reflects.

Let's wait for the digital revolution to play itself out before we judge it. I suspect that there is a group of "mediabeatles" out there somewhere right now ready to lead a "cyber invasion". Remember, the world rarely recognizes brilliance until it become obvious... and even then it's all too often missed or dismissed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Idea Diet

Those who can... do. Those who can't... blog. It's easy to rattle on about the next big thing, but it's an entirely different matter creating it. I should know, I do it all the time. Having always been a perfectionist, I obsess on every detail. Sometimes that trait has served me well but more often than not it bogs me down in an endless cycle of doubt, indecision and ultimately, inaction. Every idea is perfect in my mind but the edges get rougher when I translate those visions into reality. It's so much easier to just write about how something should be done than to actually do it. That's why I've decided to muscle-up my willpower and embark on an Idea Diet. Just as food diets limit certain "bad" calories, the Idea Diet seeks to control "bad" ideas. What's a bad idea? As it turns out, the vast majority of ideas aren't inherently bad. It's what's done with them once they've arrived, that's where the discipline in needed.

The Idea Diet doesn't require me to go "cold turkey" when it comes to daydreams and epiphanies. Instead, it seeks to filter the intellectual wheat from the idealistic chaff. For example, let's say I catch myself thinking about writing a song. The Idea Diet wouldn't attempt to stop that process... it would simply require me to sit down at my keyboard, fire up the proper program and actually write the song! Ouch... this may not be so easy.

So, this is day one of my Idea Diet. I'll check back in from time to time with updates but it should be fairly easy for you to track my progress. If I start writing about music... that's bad... if I actually start writing music... SUCCESS!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The "Free" Jury

Lately there has been a lot of debate about the economic concept of "Free", especially when it comes to music. Has "Free" ever worked? Yes, in certain instances. A free food sample at Costco might make you purchase a larger quantity to take home. In the area of music, a free MP3 might make you more interested in buying a ticket to a band's concert.

I'm not, however, as convinced as some that "Free" is ultimately beneficial for all of the creative arts. Time may prove that it is, but at this point I don't see the empirical evidence. Yes, there is much more music out there, but the quality across that mass isn't anything to praise. True, there is more video available on YouTube than all of the footage network television produced since its inception, but again... quality?

The expanding access that is part and parcel of today's internet is a wonderful thing. No doubt it will allow artists who never had a shot before, gain some level of notoriety. The question is, will they have to drive a cab their entire lives to pay for it. I think the jury is still out on that one.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

One Stop Pop Culture Shop

Where are they... The MediaBeatles? That team of new creatives who realize they don't need anyone but themselves to flip pop culture on its back. How long until the day of destiny dawns... that "ah ha" moment when an artistic alliance of composers, performers, videographers, writers, webmasters, game designers, blog jockeys and code monkeys unite to launch the net big thing? Care to hazard a guess?