Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer of "Glee"

This has been a horrible summer for me in terms of keeping up with music news and new releases. Traveling always takes me out of my usual routine, and this summer I've been traveling a lot more than usual. But it turns out that traveling has been conducive to catching up with one particular music-related thing -- "Glee".

I'm not sure why I didn't get hooked on "Glee" earlier. But I finally caved -- fittingly enough -- on a trans-Atlantic flight that carried the pilot episode on one of its in-flight entertainment channels. Instantly, everything clicked. The humour on "Glee" is dry and complex, even sadistic. This is probably the best thing about the writing on the show. But there are numerous negatives. Too many episodes that feel like after-school specials. Too many hit-and-miss storylines involving the adults. The lack of a Sue Sylvester spin-off. Generally crappy studio production that renders many musical performances sterile. But the whole is better than the sum of the parts. You have an hour to kill sometime and the mood always seems to be right for watching "Glee".

"The Power of Madonna" episode demonstrated how great the show can be when it breaks out of its usual mold and into a theme-episode fantasy world when plot advancement is somewhat optional. As long as they don't overdo it with theme episodes (the idea of the recently announced "Rocky Horror Picture Show" theme episode is mouth-watering) and don't fall into the trap of doing ten of them every season, then these theme episodes should be nearly impossible to screw up.

"Glee", and to a lesser extent, shows like "American Idol" have discovered that future music stars aren't really worth much, instead, the monetary value in music appears to be in milking the nearly limitless supply of back catalogues of major artists. And I think the artists are realizing it too, which is why so many of them have happily handed over the performance rights to all their songs to "Glee" to stage them as they see fit. Hitting the jackpot means getting two minutes on "Glee" and the one-week iTunes sales spike that goes along with it. Sure, artists don't earn jack from iTunes sales, but then again, they do literally zero work in making that money. Their songs turn up on "Glee" or "Idol" while they sit at home and do nothing. Shit, even Bruce Springsteen is in on this, he let them perform "Fire" on episode 16, did anyone think that was possible at the start of the season?

In no particular order, here is a shortlist of the best performances of the season "thus far" (I've seen most of episodes 1 through 19):

Everything featuring Kristin Chenoweth (as April Rhodes).
I actually can't stand the April Rhodes character (way too chintzy, way too Broadway, even for this show), but her musical performances are consistently breathtaking in their drive and intensity.

I don't really care for Lea Michele's voice, and it sounds too histrionic for most of the pop songs they always force her to sing. But letting her loose on Barbra Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade" found her perfectly in her element, and was the sole moment of the season to that point where the Rachel Berry character was 100% likable (a nearly perfect storyline arc ... she drives everyone nuts with her neurotic blabber about wanting to be a star, but when the chips were down and everyone needed her the most then they had to thank their respective gods that she is wired the way she is). And rumour has it that I may have shed a tear during the follow-up ensemble performance of "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

Everything in the "Bad Reputation" episode.
Probably the best episode of the series and the only one where the cover versions consistently outshined the originals.

"Ride Wit Me". There was a great moment in "Throwdown" (episode 7) where the Glee club rocks this Nelly song, which was memorable both for its enthusiasm and the total WTF-ness of hearing "Ride Wit Me" belted out by a show choir. Why did this version have to end after just one minute?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Love Parade 2010

I would really hate for the Love Parade to be remembered as the backdrop of a stampede in Duisburg, although at the moment, it feels callous and insensitive to think of it as anything but.

The more I think about what happened this weekend, the more inexplicable it becomes. This happened where? In Germany? The most meticulous, most organized country in Europe, especially when it comes to large outdoor festivals? And at the Love Parade? I can't imagine a more peaceful, more benign megafestival. Every year it goes off without a hitch, with the only tragedy being the bottom line of the unfortunate cities whose budgets get flooded with extravagant garbage cleanup costs.

The picture on Reuters' website doesn't give me a clue as to what really happened. Yeah, that looks like a fairly narrow tunnel -- or more to the point, a very low tunnel. The sound echoing from the ceiling might have provided the initial crush on the heads of intimidated partygoers, but that's complete speculation on my part. Nobody knows what really happened. We may never know.

For what it's worth (and right now, it's not worth much and is probably pointless to even mention), I think there will be another Love Parade. We're not talking about ecstasy deaths at an unlicensed rave in a dank club. Events such as those, although clearly tragic, had a whiff of inevitability. Of course the scene was out of control. Of course people would eventually die. Only then would people wake up and do something about the problem. Until this year, the Love Parade was an extremely successful event, it showed most of the best sides of dance music with very few of the ugly side effects.

I feel terrible for the families of the injured and deceased.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nachtmystium, "Addicts: Black Meddle Part II"; Horseback, "The Invisible Mountain"

A couple of songs into the new Nachmystium album, I'd thought I'd stumbled onto a Kiss record with slightly more distorted vocals. Maybe I just don't listen to enough metal because if I did, maybe I'd understand why so many metal bands turn toward rock opera or any other number of little WTF touches on their albums when they seemingly become bored of making the same music year in and year out. Maybe I'd be as bored of their signature sounds as they are. Call me crazy, but when I listen to a metal album, I want to hear, you know, metal. Luckily, "Then Fires" confirmed that "Addicts: Black Meddle Part II" was in fact a black metal album, and the latter two-thirds of the album really brought the goods.

Somehow I missed out on Horseback's 2009 album completely, I may vaguely remember hearing something about how he'd pursued a more guitar-oriented direction. I might have interpreted that as a shift toward more bass-heavy drones because let's face it, you couldn't find a way to stuff more guitar onto "Impale Golden Horn" unless you loaded it up with the low-end rumblings of the likes of Sunn O))).

Whatever I was thinking, I was wrong because I didn't know that "The Invisible Mountain" was a metal album. Not a riff/drone album, but a real metal album, with drums and vocals and extended running times and everything. Only the blissful album closer "Hatecloud Dissolving into Nothing" sounds like it could be a continuation of what Jenks Miller started on "Impale Golden Horn", and it's certainly the weakest track out of the four. James Plotkin mastered this album, and although I can't claim to have followed his career too closely, I can't say I've heard anything better with his name on it. His fingerprints are all over the trebly drums and the scorching, heavy dub-like bass of the title track. A sensational effort from Miller and his cohorts in crafting an album that features both the heavy and serene sides of metal.