Archive | November, 2013

Ian Watkins and the Protective Power of Fame

29 Nov

The case of Ian Watkins makes uncomfortable reading. His crimes are of course horrific, but the idea that the lead singer of Lostprophets managed to elude justice and continue being a pedophile turns the stomach.

It is hard to believe that no one around him noticed what was going on. I happened to see Lostprophets last year, shortly before Ian Watkins was arrested, and had no idea of the allegations that would appear – however can the same be said for those backstage who were close to the band, or his friends and colleagues?

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Like disgraced presenter Jimmy Saville, it’s hard to conclude that his crimes weren’t covered up by his celebrity. Saville escaped justice completely, while it took almost 20 years to build up enough evidence to arrest Watkins.

Apparently, one of his ex-girlfriends went to the police four years ago but they didn’t take any action. How much influence his fame had on delaying his arrest we will probably never know.

Also like Saville, Watkins also used his privileged position to gain access to his victims. The details are horrific but suffice to say that his crimes would have been far more difficult if he hadn’t abused his status to seduce fans.

Rockstars have always enjoyed the bounties of fame. This often includes taking advantage of their sometimes innocent fans. Tales of excess and debauchery are part of the rock’s glamour – who can forget the infamous story of Led Zeppelin and the fish? It’s all too easy to slip into the pattern of giving eccentric rockstars a free pass to do whatever they want, until it’s too late.

The revelations about Ian Watkins will undoubtedly be difficult for the music world to come to terms with. However the message is clear – being famous shouldn’t make people immune to the law. Being a celebrity doesn’t mean they don’t have to face consequences.

Holding on For Life After the Disco

28 Nov

Broken Bells

When James Mercer (of the Shins) and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) first collaborated in 2010, the duo created a fresh, Indie album under the moniker Broken Bells. The album not only saw huge commercial success, but also it depicted the seamless collaboration between acoustic and electronic sounds. “The High Road,” the first single off of the band’s debut, is a quintessential example of the “melodic” and “experimental” sounds the band produces. Here is a live version of “The High Road” for your eager ears.

Flash forward to 2013 and the dangerous shins are at again with the release of a new single, “Holding On for Life,” which will appear on their new album After the Disco in early January, 2014. In what I presume will be an early album of the year candidate, After the Disco, if “Holding on For Life” is any indication, will feature a more natural amalgamation of the complementary styles of Mercer and Burton. Listeners can look forward to an even more comprehensive mixture of sound. Let’s listen to the first single.

If the cover of the album and trippy opening suggests anything, it is that we have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and entered into some psychedelic, Van Gogh-like space dreamscape. And, in typical Broken Bells fashion, the music suits the scenery. Mercer’s skilled vocal is carried by a strummed acoustic that sits over spacey electronics and segmented percussion. At 50 seconds, though, Broken Bells transforms into the disco. In what we English nerds can best term allegorical, Broken Bells turns into the Bee Gees, and it is bloody awesome. It is short, but the call-back is skillful. It’s an excellent single from a band that just continues to prove its creativity in what often is a dry musical landscape

Arctic Monkeys Live Review

22 Nov

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(Sheffield Motorpoint Arena, 18th November)

It would have been understandable if the fans inside the Motorpoint Arena had held reservations about what was to come. After all, when the lead singer’s come down with Laryngitis just weeks before, you might be wondering if the gig would be a bit half-arsed, just completing their contact?

They needn’t have worried. From the start, it was clear all of the band were on fine form. The brooding glam rock of their first song, Do I Wanna Know, was almost drowned out by the crowd by cheers and people actually dancing instead of acting as Youtube cameramen.

It was also abundantly clear that the Sheffield band’s most recent album was the focus of the night. A whopping nine songs – almost half of the setlist – were taken from AM. It had been receiving rave reviews from critics and it was clear that the audience adored it just as much. Arabella, I Wanna Be Yours and One For the Road were all greeted by waves a cheering from fans that already knew every word. R U Mine, the last song in their encore, also remains a monster of song – possibly the most perfect one they’ve ever written.

Between the appreciation for the new album, the band managed to find time for a whirlwind tour of their hits. Quite a few songs from the middle period of their career were missed out, but who’s got time when the crowd’s holding a mass-singalong to I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor or swaying their lighters to Mardy Bum?

Even if Arctic Monkeys have already performed that setlist a dozen times before, the gig still felt special. There was a palpable sense of energy throughout, which was reciprocated by the audience.

Alex Turner has a reputation a stoic, restrained frontman, preferring to let his songs talk for him, however he was relatively chatty in Sheffield. Perhaps enjoying being back in his hometown, he seemed relatively chatty, asking the audience ‘Are you mine?’ and playfully telling them off when they began singing too early.

Although they didn’t bring any gimmicks like Muse or U2, Arctic Monkeys put on a hell of a live show. It was technically very proficient. With just some lights, a couple of small screens and a towering AM backdrop, they put on an incredible show where the stage always seemed to reflect the mood.

For some reason, the speakers mangled the sound for a couple of the subtler songs like Fireside, but it handled the louder ones brilliantly. The sound was at the perfect volume that encourages you to sing until your voice is raw.

Simply put, this good a band with such a magnificent back catalogue of songs can’t help but put on a hell of a show. Seven years of touring has made them into a well-oiled machine that knows exactly what crowds want.

Interlude is Bringing the Music Video Back

20 Nov

Like a Rolling Stone

Watch the Video 

A particularly creative video for Bob Dylan’s 1965 hit “Like a Rolling Stone” is still making its rounds today throughout several media outlets. The video, an interactive, 16-channel sampling of lip-synched versions of the song, is not only addictive and awesome, but also it symbolizes the transformation of the music video. Before we get more into the interactive video company that created the video, let’s talk about why this video is so cool.

I assume by now you have clicked the above link and have watched the video. Did you enjoy toggling through the channels? How freaking amazing, right? I can only use colloquialisms to describe my absolute endearment to this video. It’s just so cool. There are 16 television channels to flip through, and several television personalities get in on the act. The channels range from a cooking show to a children’s cartoon. And, according to the video creators, more television shows/personalities want to get in on the video. Soon enough, the interactive, malleable video might expand to a full assortment of television channels. This would create an even more diverse experience for the viewer, who, as video director Vania Heymann describes, are provided with a unique experience of “television … look [ing] back right at us.”

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Even Drew Carey gets in on the act.

The video also demonstrates something fundamental about “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. The song, which is nearly 50 years old, is ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest song of all time (no surprise … self-promotion – just kidding!) It has transcended time. The song is anthemic; it’s a true proclamation. It still maintains the same potency that it had in the 1960s. It is a song about loneliness and the loss of innocence. The themes are germane no matter the decade. 

Dylan’s piece works perfectly with the Interlude interactive video. This is not the first time at the rodeo for Interlude. On the website of the company, there are several examples of completed projects. Let’s focus on the music videos. Interlude created an interactive, “choose your own adventure” music video for Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up,” which you can view here.

How do these interactive music videos impact the art of music videos? Well, since the advent of music videos and the consequent propagation on MTV (prior to the channel turning into a source of trashy television), music videos have become more creative and complex. When MTV turned away from music videos, YouTube picked up the slack and provided a format for the videos. The “music video” remained stagnant, though. Interlude’s interactive music videos provides a new generation of creative videos. Instead of providing a 3-4-minute story played to the song, viewers can now actively take part in the viewing/listening experience. This even goes so far as giving listeners an option to choose a cappella or band in the “Keep Your Head Up” video. Is this the new trend in music videos? I hope so.

The X Factor – Season Least?

14 Nov

The X Factor Season 3

The X Factor USA is the middle sibling of vocal talent shows. The older sibling, American Idol, has settled down, had a few kids, and lives in placid suburbia in a three-story house with double white doors and a patio with a grill. The younger sibling, The Voice, is getting all of the attention because, well, it’s frankly more entertaining to many people. That leaves the gangly, awkward X Factor in the middle to acquire acne and try to make it in the cruel world of reality singing competitions.

Now in its third season, the X Factor has desperately tried to spice things up. An x-shaped battle round provided a little juice to the competition, but, despite its differences, it was seen as a reaction to the little sibling’s vocal battles. Some strange form of live voting was attempted, but it failed miserably and caused a 2-hour live show to be scrapped and wasted (there is something the X Factor can proudly say was unprecedented).

Frankly, though, no matter what the show does, people will watch it for the singers. And, no matter how much the judges want to praise this stock of vocalists, this is really the season of the least. Of the remaining contestants on the show, I can count on a few fingers how many actually have the so-called X Factor. In year’s past, I have put together a full review of each contestant. For this season’s remaining contestants, I am going to do something a little different. Each contestant will receive a ranking between 1 and 5 Xs (1 the worst, 5 the best) as well as a brief, frank reason why they are ranked this way. Let’s get to it. Oh, and two of these individuals are voted off tomorrow, by the way.

BOYS

Tim Olstad

Tim Olstad (XXX)

Three Xs for soft-spoken Tim Olstad. He seems like a kind and genuine person. His voice is sweet and he carries a good tune. His issue is his kindness. He lacks an edge. Besides from his good voice, he has nothing else that sets him apart.
Josh Levi

Josh Levi (XXXX)

Early favorite. He has the combination the X Factor is looking for: looks, dance moves, and good enough voice. His vocal needs a bit of work, but, let’s be honest, the studio does wonders. He is marketable; that’s what matters. If the female voters think so too, he will be around for a long time in this competition. He’ll play on the Bieber factor for as long as he can.

Carlito Olivero

Carlito Olivero (XX)

An older, less talented version of Josh Levi. He will also try to play to the public with his combination of looks, dance moves, and vocals, but his vocal is a bit whiny and that won’t last long in this competition.

Girls

Ellona Santiago

Ellona Santiago (XX)

Same person as Jessica Sanchez from Season 11 of American Idol? Both Filipino singers from California around the age of 17-18. Both sing the same style of pop-diva music. I’m fairly confident they are the same person. Too bad Jessica Sanchez is better, and Ellona is the doppelgänger.

Khaya Cohen

Khaya Cohen (XXXXX)

Give it up for the saving grace of season 3 of The X Factor. Raspy, Amy Winehouse-like voice paired with some gritty classic rock ‘n’ roll soul all mixed together with modern flavor; Cohen is hands down the best singer in the competition, and she should sail to the end of the show without must issue.

Rion Page

Rion Page (XXX)

Rion Page has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which screws with the joints in her hands. Despite this, she is perhaps the most optimistic person you’ll ever meet, and I do not think it’s an act. While she inevitably has to play the sympathy card (because people see the disability), she clearly doesn’t want to. She just wants to be a country singer, and, frankly, she is pretty good (better than most of the people in the competition). Who are we to judge? She is talented, kind, and better than all of the over 25s and groups combined!

Over 25

Nicole (Lillie) McCloud

Nicole (Lillie) McCloud (X)

What a great way to start off the two worst categories on the show. If you watch the X Factor, you know this contestant as Lillie McCloud. But, as the X Factor finally admitted during the show yesterday, Lillie is actually Nicole McCloud, a recording artist from the 1980s – 2000s. But she only put out one single and never made (“I was so close”), right? Wrong. She is a fraud. FRAUD. She recorded four studio albums and her single “Don’t You Want My Love” became an international hit. This single reached the top 10 on the U.S. dance charts, in addition to charting in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Her 1994 single “Runnin’ Away” peaked at No. 3 on U.S. Dance charts. She has had 7, yes, 7 charting U.S. singles, the latest one just a little more than a decade ago. Never made it? Are you kidding me? She is an absolute fraud who should never have been allowed in the competition. I know X Factor does not have a record contract clause like some other shows, but come on, it destroys the purpose of these competitions. I just feel bad for the other contestants who are just looking to make it for the first time. Move aside and let someone else get his/her turn.

Jeff Gutt

Jeff Gutt (XX)

An uninspiring rocker with a decent rock croon and, uh, that’s basically it. It’s good that the show has a true rock singer, but I just don’t see where Gutt fits in the market. I guess he is a good enough band singer, though, so hopefully he joins up with some semi-successful band and provides solid lead vocals.

Rachel Potter

Rachel Potter (XX):

In the process of writing this post, I had seen Potter’s name every time I glanced over at the contestants, but as I started writing her segment I had to look back to get her name again. What does that mean? She is forgettable. Is it just me or are you also sick of fringe female country singers? They are limited vocally and generally hokey. Last night’s performance was overdramatic and almost comical.

The Groups

Alex and Sierra

Alex and Sierra (X)

Ah, the groups – Simon’s babies. One issue. He doesn’t have any talent this year. Oh well. This duo is terrible. Let me sum them up with some vocabulary words: mawkish, maudlin, syrupy, and nauseating. The girl is an awkward mess. The guy does a terrible Jack White impression. The act is garbage, but it will stay because they are a couple and for some reason this resonates with a desperate American public. They should have never made it past auditions.

Sweet Suspense

Sweet Suspense (X)

Sweet Suspense provides me with such suspense that every time they perform I immediately fast forward through the performance. Why? They suck. No lead singer. No harmony. Just three young, pretty girls performing hackneyed, karaoke renditions of mostly terrible songs.

Restless Road

Restless Road (XX)

I am starting to get a bit restless. A product of Simon, Restless Road is a country boy band. I loved Simon’s thinking. I actually think this concept can work … with better singers. One of the three is good. The other two are filler. This act could last for a while because it is country, but ultimately it will wear out.

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