Friday, 30 May 2008

So Long, Smedstua!

Decisions aren't always that easy to make. But the most difficult ones also tend to be the most important ones. This week I've had to decide whether to leave several lovely colleagues and students, or continue being at the mercy of a madwoman's moods. The decision I eventually made is a sad and bitter one, but still feels right. After all, I suppose there are many any workplaces around with people that are just as nice. And must of these probably don't have a psychopathic boss. So long, Smedstua. I'll miss you.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Music From The Other 80s

A lot of the songs people seem to remember from the 80s are also the least memorable ones. But it's still the tunes from this berated decade that formed the basis of my musical awakening. Here's a chronological "mixed tape" of some of the songs that accompanied me through this decade, and that have accompanied me ever since. Some of them are documents of their time, others are avant-gardist presages. The best ones are both.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

And The Winner Is...

Soon it's time for the EuroSong final 2008. The new arrangement with two semifinals seems to have worked out quite well, considering the fact that the most dreadful contributions (like Estonia and Ireland) have not qualified. However, some of my personal favourites have also disappeared along the way, like
Belgium (Was this the country's contribution in 1956? No, it's actually this year's song! This is EuroSong nostalgia with a certain appeal at least to sincerely yours)
Bulgaria (Really cool or really corny? Can't quite make up my mind. Both, I guess.)
Still, I think most of the songs that have made it to the final are pretty good. True, not many of them are the kind of songs I normally listen to. But then again, my general taste in music is not particularly EuroSong compatible.

9 PM: Ok, we're off! What follows is my spontaneous and simultaneous comments during the show.
1. Romania: Huh? What? We've started already? Bombastic duet. Not much more to say.
2. UK: People talk about Norway's "white soul". Regardless of skin colour, this is the whitest soul you get. Soul without a soul.
3. Albania: An acceptable ballad from this year's youngest contestant. Kudos for her avoding melodramatic gestures.
4. Germany: Spice Girls 1996? Flat and repetitive chorus. Uncharming and out of tune.
5. Armenia: Finally some action. Evocative introduction, then catchy rhythms. Lively and prolific stuff - with a hot chick.
6. Bosnia: Pantomime artist and Minnie Mouse. One of my favourites. With no chances of winning whatsoever.
7. Israel: Sure, it's evocative and melodious. And boring as hell.
8. Finland: Heavy rock will never be my preferred genre in any case, but this can't be very good no matter what, can it? But, by all means, this sure is rocking and rolling all right.
9. Croatia: Yet another different contribution. Melancholy and likeable old man's tango.
10. Poland: Terribly boring Céline Dion ballad performed by an American with fake teeth, fake hair and a fake tan.
11. Iceland: Euro-dance with trance elements. The synths and the drum machines work like there's no tomorrow. Soulless machine pop.
12. Turkey: Modern rock now. I guess this isn't too bad, although it takes some time for the song to hook on to the listener.
13. Portugal: Dramatic Fado. Good for being Portuguese.
14. Latvia: More machine pop. Now also with a pirates image. The only mock song surviving the semifinals. Fortunately.
15. Sweden: Plastic and silicon. If this is what they hope and think Western Europe will go for, I put my trust in the scolded "Eastern votes".
16. Denmark: Humorous cap pop from your neighbourhood geezers.
17. Georgia: Slow power ballad with something tAtU about it. Not my cup of tea.
18. The Ukraine: Catchy tune and a hot chick with obvious winning ambitions. And ditto chances.
19. France: Bloody hell, man, you look like crap! But you may have this year's coolest song!
20. Azerbaijan: Falsetto Angel and Rock'n'Roll Devil. Heaven and Hell are loose at stage - primarily the latter, I think.
21. Greece: This will no doubt be a popular song for those who like Britney. I don't like Britney.
22. Spain: Manu Chao doing the Macarena. Sure, this is utter crap, but still catchy in a horrible way. I like the clumsy chick in pink.
23. Serbia: After two verses that never seem to end, they finally get to a beautiful chorus. And then they stick to that. A good choice. Emotional Balcan melancholia.
24. Russia: As my brother just wrote to me in an sms: "Here comes tonight's gayest act." Russia really, really, really want to win! They put so much effort into it I'm getting worried they might strain a muscle or something.
Norway: Of some reason this song is often referred to as "white soul", but it isn't quite as boring as this epithet might indicate.

11:10 PM: Interlude awaiting the results. Unruly Balcan Punk. This is a kind of music I hardly ever get a chance to hear, but which is actually quite catchy, funny and "tolerance promotive". You realize how many-sided Europe culture actually is. And I suppose this is one of the fundamental ideas behind the Euro Song concept.

Midnight: Europe has spoken. What gradually caught my attention was whether the Greek Britney Spears or the Russian Justin Timberlake would win. As you know by know, the winner turned out to be the latter. Stradivariuses, figure skaters and Timbaland producers... If you've got the money, you'll get the results.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Alice In Chains

Do you ever get the feeling of having fallen down a rabbit's hole, inhabited by strange and unpredictable creatures? Me, I get the sense of wandering in a curious Wonderland almost every day. I constantly encounter Mad Hatters, stressed out White Rabbits and inscrutable Cheshire Cats. Most of these are sweet and fun characters who make my everyday life more eventful, and whom I wouldn't want to be without. But before you know it, the moody Queen of Hearts may appear, a tyrannic monarch shouting "Off with his head!" to anything or anyone displeasing Her Majesty. I guess most people have encountered some insane queen in their everyday lives. In the croquet games of life she may seem awesome, roaring her commands whilst constantly making up new rules along the way. But just like Alice one should remind oneself of the fact that the Queen and her lackeys are nothing but a pack of cards; ludicrous paper tigers one really shouldn't take too serious.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

A Caucasian Case

Personally, I think music videos can be one of the most interesting art forms around. When they are art, that is. True, most videos are primarily product promotion. They may be appealing and aesthetic, like most commercials, but they seldom generate a genuine art experience. When they actually do, however, the synthesis of visual and musical stimuli may create a higher unity (in the true Hegelian spirit).

One of the most bizarre, but also most fascinating music videos I've ever seen, is Juno Reactor's "God Is God". It gives me connotations of Buñuel's Surrealism and Greenaway's tableaux, but I also suspect that several of its obscure references go far above my head. The colourful, enigmatic and aesthetic imagery definitely creates the artsistic experience I mentioned earlier. These are images you don't really need to understand, just experience.

Curious as I am, however, I've been wondering from what cultural sphere the images of "God Is God" actually originate. I have not been able to identify the peculiar garments, buildings or sceneries in the video. I've also noticed that this unidentified culture has several similarities with the imagery in another music video: Deep Forest's "Sweet Lullaby". (A video not quite as striking as "God Is God", but this too obviously with certain artistic ambitions.)

So, the other day I decided to dig deeper into the morphology of these videos, and after some research (thank you, Internet!) I discovered that the "God Is God" video is actually based entirely on footage from the Soviet-Armenian cult movie The Colour of Pomegranates (which in its turn also has inspired the director of "Sweet Lullaby"). Anyone who has experienced Freddie Mercury wallowing in Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis, will probably be pretty sceptical of the concept of using movie classics segments in their music videos, but in Juno Reactor's case I think the result is brilliant! A match made in Heaven! The unexpected encounter between ethno trance and beautiful cineastic tableaux proves with all clarity the fact that music videos can be an art form in its own right!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Norvège Un Point

Soon it's once again time for the Eurovision Song Contest (also known as EuroSong). I guess life's too short to always insist on being a pretentious culture elitist, so I'll probably end up watching the show this year as well, although my reaction always tends to be "bloody hell, what a load of crap!". Maybe I'm just not gay enough to appreciate the humour of overtly bad taste...

After having watched the advance presentation, my overall impression is that the songs this year are as forgettable as ever before (although this admittedly is my recurring impression every year). However, I do remember an Irish turkey (both literally and metaphorically!), which must be said to belong to the category "we don't give a crap about EuroSong, so some crap is what we'll give to EuroSong". I also noticed our Swedish brethren contributing with a totally grotesque act, with both a song and an artist obviously based on a synthesis of silicon and plastic! Belgium's contribution, however, is one of the few I found sort of interesting this year. Once again they go for lyrics in an imaginary language: . Maybe this could be a general solution for this divided nation? How about making Elvish their official language? But, to be honest, I think France's contribution is the only one that could work as a pop song also outside this weird musical vacuum that's called EuroSong. With their shoobeedooah-electronica they've got a song which actually sounds a bit like Europe in the 00s (or at least like Air in the 90s...).

Historically, my musical taste has proven to be pretty incompatible with EuroSong. One of my foremost favourites last year was Georgia - primarily because of the songstress, I readily admit, but also because this was music that intuitively appeals to me (along with, alas, just a handful additional EuroSong voters, it turned out). My rating of the EuroSongs usually follows my heart rather than my head. I support the tunes I think deserve to win, not necessarily those that may have a chance to win. Well, we'll just have to see how it all goes in the final on 24 May.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Three Times Lucky

After now having heard all of Portishead's new album, it's obvious that the guys and gal have moved on towards a more lo fi sound. All old fans may not appreciate that, but personally I think that's much better than inventing the trip hop wheel all over again. Rather challenging than predictable. They may sound even darker than before, but have still got that unmistakable Portishead sound. And they don't mind picking up the ukulele when they feel like that.