Monthly Archives: September 2014

Poke and Destroy

I have a funny story about this song. Once upon a time in college, I was hanging out with a new friend and her friends on a beach in Santa Cruz. We were walking through a field to get into town and started talking music. She asked me if I had ever heard of The Presidents of the United States of America. I said something like I thought that I’d heard of them but wasn’t sure if I’d heard them. She then told me about this song called “Poke and Destroy.”

“Yeah, it’s really great,” she says. “It basically goes, ‘Poke and destroy! Poke and destroy! I’m a boy, I wanna poke and destroy!”

I thought this was funny enough, but then at that moment, one of her friends (they were all men – and far enough in front of us to have not heard anything) came across a barren tree. Just a lonely tree in the middle of the field. No leaves, just spindly branches. At that moment, he leapt up, grabbed a branch with both hands, snapped it off, and dropped it on the ground before proceeding to walk away as if nothing had happened.

“See???” my friend pointed out. “Poke and destroy!”

I will always think of that moment when I hear this song. Which is hilarious, by the way! I don’t have much music by PUSA (only 5 random songs, actually), but this one will probably always be one of my favorites, and I will almost always sing along to it.

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Squidbillies

Okay, I feel a little silly writing a post about the Squidbillies opening theme, but I swear there’s a good reason for it! And besides, the opening theme to a TV show is still music!

Let’s just go ahead and take a listen to the original:

Haha! What a silly little country ditty, right? The lyrics are pretty funny, anyway. “Sometimes I wish the sun would just explode” kind of fits in with the show’s absurd and surreal themes. Admittedly, I’ve only seen a few episodes. It’s typical late night Adult Swim fare, as far as I can tell. Televised fodder for stoners. (Not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing – it’s just a thing!)

So the creative minds behind Squidbillies have decided to mix things up a bit by having various artists record the opening theme. These include King Kahn and the Shrines, Centro-Matic, Todd Rundgren, and…wait for it…Neko Case!

WOAH. I like this angry, bitter Neko! And I want MORE! The silly little country ditty suddenly becomes this gritty noir-Western theme song. I could almost take the opening visuals seriously if it weren’t a cartoon squid. The style reminds me a lot of some of Neko’s early stuff, particularly some tracks from Blacklisted (“Ghost Writing” and “Runnin’ Out of Fools” come to mind). Gosh, what I wouldn’t give for this to be a full-length song.

This isn’t the first time Neko has worked with a Williams Street production – you may recall my post about her Christmas song for Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I have to wonder if Neko is a night owl who stays up watching Adult Swim while she’s on tour. Or maybe the folks over at Williams Street are just fans of hers. Anyway, I love these collaborations! It shows that Neko loves to have fun. And I love artists who love to have fun!

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Shake It Off

I’ve never really felt strongly about Taylor Swift’s music one way or another. But I do believe that when you say you have a guilty pleasure in music, you should never actually feel guilty or embarrassed for enjoying it. So that is why I am unapologetically enjoying the latest Taylor Swift single “Shake It Off”!

Oh my goodness, it’s just so much FUN. I hadn’t heard the whole thing until recently. I’d heard part of it before and liked what I heard. Then one day I had the radio on and I got to hear it start to finish. I just could not get enough of it! It was in my head all day! I knew this one was going right in the old iTunes library ASAP.

I’m reading that this is Taylor Swift’s first full venture into full, straight-on pop, and “Shake It Off” is a pretty good first step! Okay, it’s more than that – it’s a brilliant leap with a beautiful landing! It’s upbeat and catchy and makes me want to dance. In other words, it’s everything a pop song should be!

It actually reminds me a lot of Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” at least in the beginning and in the underlying beat throughout. Taylor’s voice sounds great here. There are even times when I think she sounds a little like Christina Aguilera. Not as an imitation, but in the strength and clarity of her voice.

What’s the opposite of a diss track? I feel like this is that, in a way. She’s dusting off her shoulders, holding her head high. She’s not going to lower herself to the levels of her critics, she’s going to celebrate herself as she is.

Have you ever noticed how Adele can write two albums about breakups and exes and angst and win Grammys, and she’s celebrated for it? Taylor Swift does the same thing and she gets classified as a self-absorbed teeny-bopper. The difference? I guess one sings R&B and the other sings country pop? Oh, no. I guess it’s the fact that they’re both in their mid-twenties and one has supposedly dated more high profile men than the other. Gee, this whole time I thought we were judging musicians based on their music, not their personal lives.

This song is a great reaction to all that criticism. Taylor Swift is just living her life. She considers what people say about her: she stays out too late, goes on too many dates (and here she rightfully laughs at what a ridiculous idea this is), but she can’t make them stay. But she keeps cruising and won’t stop moving because of the music in her head. Yes! Music makes everything better! She’s dancing to the soundtrack of her own life.

There’s even a bit of spoken word in the middle: “Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.”

Don’t waste time on the haters, heart-breakers, and fakers. You’re so much better than that and life is so much sweeter! As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Okay, so this is one of those famous yet disputed quotes. But she definitely said “Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

So now I think it’s time to talk a little about the music video. There’s been some criticism for her featuring twerking. The video features many other types of dancing, but twerking was the style that was criticized. The reason being that she is a white woman and twerking is seen as belonging to African American dance culture, therefore by featuring it in her video, she is using African American women as props.

Now, let’s go back a little to the time that I talked about Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here.” Looking back, I think I still agree with the criticisms I made. I mean, she sings “Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain” and then features women of color shaking their asses. It was defended as parody or satire, but I fail to see whether she’s shaming women who shake their asses or celebrating them. There’s a lot of doublespeak going on in this song and video.

So I’ve also been thinking about whether I can apply these same criticisms here, and I don’t think I can. Where Lily focuses almost exclusively on African American bodies (the twerking AND the champagne being poured on their butts AND the slapping of said butts), Taylor doesn’t particularly focus on any one type of body. If the African American women (and it’s not exclusively or even mostly African American women) who are twerking are props, I think so is everyone else in all the other styles of dancing. And there are people of color in all the other styles of dancing (except, it’s been noted, the ballet dancing, sadly).

I think the difference here is that the dancers (every one of them) are all scenery, in a way, and Taylor is trying so very hard to fit in by imitating them, though she’s not doing a very good job of it. And that’s because she was never meant to. She was meant to be herself. She’s not graceful like the ballerinas. She drops her pom-pom when she tries cheer leading. She’s not able to immerse herself in interpretive dance. And she sure can’t do that awesome finger-dancing (or whatever that guy is doing at 1:17 – it’s hypnotic!).

But I can see where the twerking (and even hip hop) segments would make people uncomfortable. I feel like she could have tried break dancing – like trying to spin on her head but flopping over. Would’ve worked for her! Twerking is a tricky one though. In an interview, Taylor admitted that the dancers were trying to show her how to twerk, but it just confounded her. I think she could have made this more clear!

If you want to read more about this, Feministing had a great point-counterpoint about this (the counterpoint article links to the point article). As for me, I’m not going to say anyone’s right or wrong about this. I’ve stated my opinion and respect all others.

Anyway, Taylor Swift looks like she’s having SO MUCH FUN in this video, and I love that! I just want to jump in there and dance with her, like she does with her fans at the end. Yes, those are some randomly (I think?) selected fans! And that is where we see her at her most comfortable, her most Taylor. This is the Taylor the fans love, and when it comes down to it, aren’t those the people who matter most?

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blue blue

It’s all coming together! The predictions came true: snow queen Jonna has melted and so have her surroundings. In her latest single/video “blue blue” we find her in tropical landscape, surrounded by palm trees, white sand, and crystalline waters.

The first thing I noticed in the shot of her in the sand was that this is just like the opening shots in “good worker” and “idle talk” from kin. I’m not sure what it means, except that, as with kin, we’re going along on a journey with her. She’s been followed by one of the mysterious people in black, who now, rather than chasing her, provides her with comfort and companionship. She may have awoken in a strange new place, but she doesn’t have to be alone. She seems fascinated by the waves, and her new friend encourages her to explore them. While Jonna was running from the shadowy figures in “hunting for pearls” and “vista,” she seems to accept them here. She has nothing more to fear from them. They only meant to provide her with support.

There’s another Jonna in this video, one who’s slightly more dressed up in plastic bodysuit and paper frill. Unlike the first Jonna, who’s free and inquisitive, this one is sad and brooding. She sheds blue tears as she examines herself in a mirror. One of the shadow people stands behind her, watching. Somehow I feel like this is an earlier version of Jonna. Maybe one who felt stuck in one of her older phases and couldn’t figure out how to get out of it till she found her support.

The oceanic journey motif carries on pretty heavily here. Her outfit at 1:32 is evocative on the sails of a ship. We see glimpses of Jonna on an physical ship as well. Near the end, one of the shadowy figures sends little paper boats into the water to drift away freely. This journey isn’t going to end any time soon. Who knows where she’ll end up next?

Jonna wakes up in the sand at the end, and it seems the whole day has passed. It’s dusk now Did she just imagine the whole day? Her shadow companion is nowhere to be seen. Floating in the shallows, we see the sails of her outfit. She plucks them out of the water and the video ends.

This might just be wishful thinking (I’ve mentioned before that I’m DYING to see them in concert) but I really think this project might be iamamiwhoami’s way of saying they’re ready to go out into the world, i.e. on tour. I mean, that’s GOT to be what they’re hinting at, right? Sailing around the world, from their snowy, frozen Sweden to warmer and warmer landscapes? Otherwise they’re just telling an interesting story about a journey, which is fine too. But COME ON! I need to see them in concert! The only times they played in the States was once in NYC (psh, of course) and another time at some random music festival in Middle-of-Nowhere, Northern California.

Anyway, I’m not sure we’ll be getting the rest of the videos before the album comes out. It seems unlikely, seeing as how they’ve been releasing them monthly (give or take), “blue blue” is the fifth track out of ten, and the album comes out in November. So, the math doesn’t add up. But it’s okay, I have pre-ordered my digital copy and I’ll be able to watch the rest of the videos the day BLUE is officially released! I’m still annoyed at where it ended though. What is she going to do next? That final shot was such a tease!

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Top 5 – Björk

I watched Dancer in the Dark for the first time this weekend. I know, I know: I’m an über Björk fan and yet somehow I managed to go this long without seeing it?! Anyway, it was completely devastating and made me cry my eyes out.

But this is a music blog! And since the movie put me in the mood for my favorite Icelandic singer, I thought I’d do a little post about her. Specifically about my top 5 favorite Björk music videos! In no particular order, of course.

1) “Human Behaviour”

Spectacular. Just spectacular. Björk (and director Michel Gondry) set the bar so high with her very first music video. It’s very whimsical and childlike and sinister all at the same time. Like a five year-old’s fever dream or a Nick Jr show gone wrong. Björk fits very well into this world, and the sets and backgrounds are such a joy to observe. I wish I could climb inside this video and have a look around, though I think that might be a bit dangerous.

2) “Army of Me”

Another Michel Gondry joint venture and another thrill to watch. It’s got the same sort of design going on, just slightly more evolved. It’s got this very constructed feel to it, like you can tell it’s a set and it’s all make-believe, but it’s pulled off so well. The only way I can think of to describe it is that it feels punk-Seussian. It’s another set I might like to go poking around in, though I might be more creeped out in this one.

3) “It’s Oh So Quiet”

So much fun! This may be one of the best music video interpretations of a song ever! The way everyone and everything comes to life is just magical. The world becomes this open playground to interact with. The part where the mailbox comes to life and dances may just be my favorite part. It really is like a musical in every way, which is exactly where this song seems to belong. (Yes, I am aware it is a cover – of another cover, no less.)

4) “Hidden Place”

Compared to the others so far, this one is incredibly simple. Yet it’s so sensual and hypnotic, much like the song that goes with it. I really like how stripped down it is. There’s almost a feeling of unease associated with it, being so close to Björk’s face and watching this weird goo oozing in and out of her orifices. It’s almost too intimate. But that is what Vespertine was all about, really. Being intimate and sensual and physical.

5) “Bachelorette”

I know – another Michel Gondry production! But his most of his videos are my favorites. Of the worlds he created so far on this list, this one feels the most real, and perhaps that’s what makes it the most emotionally impactful. The play within a play within a play just gets to me somehow. It’s this tragic cycle that’s never going to end. And when it does end, it doesn’t end well. The dramatic music goes so well with the equally dramatic visuals.

So you may have noticed I left off a lot of Björk’s later work. I don’t know, I just feel like they don’t have as much oomph as her earlier work. Not that she doesn’t put as much effort into them, just that she’s doing something different with them. Maybe I’ll just have to rewatch all the post-Vespertine videos. Till then, these are my top 5 Björk music videos!

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