phoned in

January 19, 2011

Music-wise, 2010 saw the high-bandwidth/lo-fidelity indie revolution come full-circle. Just when you thought it was safe to admit to liking a few bands that had cracked the mainstream, indie kids thought the most appropriate course of action would be to start making music so unlistenable that simply to be able to tolerate it for the length of one (90-second) song indicated either an existence on a higher astral plane of musical enlightenment, or (more likely) a rejection of the convention of music itself, in any given scene, and a subscription to nothing more than painful self-effacement in order to prove some kind of anti-establishment political stance, like hippies who chain themselves to trees and defecate in their pants, or more appropriately, that god-awful “interior semiotics” video that went viral. Their only raison d’etre would be to serve as secret handshakes for entry into the indie elite.

Last year, liking bands that had only ever played one show, under a tarpaulin strung up beside some friend of the band’s step-dad’s caravan, in front of nine fans, and had the show bootlegged off a mobile phone recording onto a series of twelve hand-labelled cassette tapes, and then broke up because they felt they had already sold out too much, so they dispersed and then congealed into six separate side-projects (two each)…liking those kinds of bands became not only cool again, but a necessary requirement for having your opinions cared about.

The highlight and culmination of my year in music was probably when I met that one-man-band Duck Tails in Tokyo, who had just come off playing some shows in Melbourne. I asked him where he played and which bands he played with, and I hadn’t heard of any them. He did compliment me on my jacket, though, which I guess is validation enough for me.

Well, the anti-bourgeois battle plan kinda backfired. Sucks to your assmar, Duck Tails. Pitchfork decreed that bands like No Age and Beach House be unleashed upon the world, and that they be loved, and the ever-reliable legion of blog trolls played along, saturating my beloved internet with wave after Wavve of shitty repetitive lo-fi three-chord noise. The irony, of course, is that it’s now cliche to be into those very bands who were only forced into existence to try to avoid getting fans in the first place.

Luckily a few sage hands showed up to save the day. Here is a brief list of some of my favourites from last year.

best albums of 2010

The Gamits – Parts (click to stream entire album)

It’s fitting that my album of the year is also the biggest surprise, best throwback album, and comeback album of the year. The Gamits have proven once and for all the validity of modern pop punk. This album is gritty, heavy, catchy, but most importantly, it’s meaningful; here is a band that was pushed into obscurity when pop-punk and emo took off on a worldwide scale, and years down the track they have reformed and released a deeply personal, punishing, haunting album that blows away everything they did in the past (which was already very good in it’s own right). It flew under the radar when it was released, and I think The Gamits would almost prefer it that way, because Parts is a huge middle-finger to what pop music has become over the last few years. Put your prejudices aside and give this album an honest go – I doubt you will be disappointed.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

I almost stumbled on this one, yet there’s something about The Wild Hunt that came to define the first part of 2010 for me. You will either love his voice or hate it, but there’s no denying this kind of songwriting. There is a starkness to most of the lyrics and they carry an elemental preoccupation, rife with references to weather and landscapes; everything seems very personal, but at the same time it’s hard to pin down. Of course it also helps that Kristian Mattson is also a damn fine geetar player.

Tame Impala – InnerSpeaker

I feel like a dork for including this, but these guys put together one dreamy, breezy album so free of pretension you will forget what year it is.

Robyn – Body Talk

Swedish pop with attitude, enough said.

Miami Horror – Illumination

The latter half of this album isn’t nearly as engaging as the first, but Miami Horror deserve praise for taking some brave steps away from big-beat electro on their debut album. Singles ‘I Look to You,’ and ‘Holidays’ easily take their places among the best Aussie tracks of 2010.

Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP

Sufjan at his elaborate, intimate best; despite it’s extraordinary running time, this EP is remarkably cohesive and melodic, which is a first for him.

The National – High Violet

Like all their albums, High Violet is a slow-burner and one that takes a good while to sink in. It goes without saying, but The National are deceptively complex and reward repeated listens, and High Violet is no different.

The Walkmen – Lisbon

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

Ellie Goulding – Lights

Chromeo – Business Casual

Editor’s note: Chromeo and Ellie Goulding both also qualify as 2010’s biggest guilty pleasures.

Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

None More Black – Icons

best songs of 2010

Bag Raiders – Sunlight

Miami Horror – Holidays

Good Shoes – The Way My Heart Beats

Sufan Stevens – Enchanting Ghost

Tokyo Police Club – Favourite Colour

Marina & the Diamonds – Are You Satisfied?

Yeasayer – ONE

The Walkmen – Angela Surf City

Kanye West (feat. everyone) – Monster (Nicki Minaj’s verse is the defining musical moment of 2010.)

Broken Bells – The High Road

Ellie Goulding – Your Biggest Mistake

biggest disappointments

Foals – Total Life Forever (This band’s main appeal to me was the feeling like each of their songs was the result of some mathematical equation designed for maximum tautness and efficiency. It was a world where emotions were simply not allowed. They were about as cold and detached as any rock band could possibly be. With their second album they went for a roomier and more atmospheric sound which is at odds with their cool stoicism. The result? Yawn.)

Bag Raiders (It sucks that the best track on this album is still ‘Shooting Star.’ A few others come close, but most of the album doesn’t make any impression. And what is up with that one track, ‘Always?’ That one sounds like it should be the aural accompaniment  to a Salt’n’Pepa video clip or something, featuring the worst key change and the worst lyrics released by any respectable group in 2010. Truly, truly awful.)

i just don’t get it

Sleigh Bells (The only difference between this band and a bunch of autistic 6 year-olds is that Sleigh Bells have a drum machine to make sure they keep in time.)

The Drums (Is this supposed to be cute or something? This is the musical equivalent of an ankle-high Scottish terrier that just doesn’t shut the fuck up.)

Caribou (One or two atmospheric and groovy tracks doesn’t mean anybody should give a shit. Most overrated crap of the year.)

Klaxons (They were shit back in 2006 and they have somehow gotten worse without changing a god damn thing.)

ok, you got me

The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (This album is actually pretty great.)

favourite remixes of the year

Now, I’m not pretending like I’m some expert on this kind of stuff. Alls I know is, these tracks feature some of the most insane beats you are likely to encounter and they will no doubt feature prominently when I start making my “special DJ set” appearances in 2011.

Muscles – Sweaty (Shazam remix)

Miike Snow – Black and Blue (NAPT remix)

Marina and the Diamonds – I Am Not a Robot (Passion Pit remix)

Cut Copy – Lights and Music (Moulinex Remix)

most anticipated

Bayside

Iron & Wine

Cut Copy

Kimbra

Tellison

special feature: best inexplicable cover of the year

This kid took yet another GaGa abomination and not only turned it into an actual song, but a fucking emotional roller coaster that will make your hairs stand on end.

So that’s it. I’m sure I’ve missed lots. I’m always open for suggestions so do let me know about my glaring omissions. I might post a “part two” of sorts wherein I talk about films and television and the likes, but then again, I might not. Until next time!

moths to a flame

September 7, 2010

Ah, Japanese karee raisu. Perhaps the single most reliable meal ever devised by man. No matter what the occasion, a good dose of curry rice is probably the answer to all your woes. For those unable to deconstruct the horrible bastardisation of a perfectly good English phrase back into something cohesive, karee raisu translates rather clumsily as ‘curry on rice.’ Of course, this isn’t any particular kind of curry: it’s a generically tangy, mildly spicy brownish subtance vaguely suggesting that it was once truly tasty, and whose ingredients, in keeping with traditional Japanese stoic conservatism, daren’t venture beyond being potatoes, carrots, onions and beef.

Karee raisu is a culinary last resort that caters to all situations: lack of money, lack of creativity in the kitchen, lack of time to source a meal of any real nutritional value, lack of real hunger (but urgent need to consume food; see: Fuji Rock 2009). This latest batch I’ve cooked up is a doozy; I doubled the recommended quantities on the package in a front-page news worthy act of domestic rebellion, and an equally huge ‘fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’  aimed squarely at those boring instructions printed so coyly on the back of the box. The result? Final confirmation that too much modern Japanese fast food is never enough. Here’s all that remains from my generous helping tonight (went somewhat cold as I was typing about it’s virtuousity, but it’s former splendour is still evidently visible):

I just found out how to embed mp3s into my blog, so from now on, expect this thing to be delivered not only in full color Panavision™ but also in stereoscopic surround sound!

The first little nugget won’t be a big surprise to anybody who knows how excited I was for the debut album from Melbourne electro groovers Miami Horror, or anybody who has been unlucky enough to be pulled up at a traffic light next to me over the past couple of weeks: this track, entitled ‘Holidays,’ is the best example of the group letting their pop smarts take the wheel, while keeping their indie/dance ambitions safely buckled in the child restrainer in the back seat. And don’t forget that the lead single ‘I Look To You’ features the divine Kimbra on lead vox!

What the hell, here’s the YouTube vid as well:

There are a few missteps on the album, which is a shame considering the strength of their first EP and the ridiculous amount of time they spent putting this thing together, but the good tracks are definitely worth the price of admission.

In the past, I’ve always been a little late to the party when it comes to Sufjan Stevens. With his last two or three albums, in particular the magnum opus Illinois, I felt like the hype had already swelled and receded when I finally got around to digesting it fully myself. For that reason, the whole exhibition seemed far too overwrought, too self-referential, too smart for it’s own good and kinda just not cohesive enough. Like different neighbourhoods of the area it was describing, most of the compositions felt too far removed from the ones immediately before or after them, and I was left thinking, ‘maybe I missed the boat on this one?’ Of course, there are a few undeniable heartbreakers on that particular album: ‘Casimir Pulanski Day’ and the haunting ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’ are two crushingly intimate songs with an emotional resonance I’ve rarely heard since Elliott Smith died.

So I decided, when he surprised all of us with his latest All Delighted People EP the other week, to jump on this train while it was still picking up speed, so that I might not miss another revelatory Sufjan event that has people up in arms proclaiming yet another second (or third or fourth) coming of our musical saviour. And this time around, it definitely struck a chord. This release is fantastic; not just in the quality of it’s tunes but it’s structure and sequencing. I never thought I could enjoy 20 minutes of what is essentially the same song…and then still want to press play again when it was all over. The two versions of the eponymous title track that bookend this release are reverential, hymnal, intimate and catchy in that uniquely Sufjanese way. Wedged between, as if almost an afterthought, are a couple of sweet little acoustic tunes that would stand tall on their own and deserve definitely not to be overlooked. But it’s the title tracks that inevitably steal the show, and for the first real time I’m drawn in to Sufjan’s wild, sunny, musical world, where small furry animals run free, there is a (double) rainbow all day, every day, and of course, a poison tree lurking in the corner of the garden somewhere, never spoken about, yet constantly tempting everyone to darkness and despair. Consider me a convert.

My HTC Desire Android missile command centre has been chugging along like a champion for the last month or so, and I am yet to encounter any task that it is not fully eager and willing to perform at my behest. It really is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of mobile phones; I’ve pumped it full of ‘roids (overclocked it to 1.3ghz) and it still hasn’t faltered. I’ve put it through stress tests that would make Mr. Incredible’s knees buckle (I have cracked 1800+ on Quadrant). And that’s not to sell it’s brainpower short, either; I’m pretty sure if I pushed it, it would be equally as capable as good old saggy-titted Arny of becoming Governor of any given US state.

In fact, I’m so proud of the little guy that I’m attaching a screenshot just to show off how flexible and understanding he is to my needs and, um, desires. Notice the modern Japanese twist?

Ok. So this next thing isn’t exactly relevatory news or anything, but I feel it deserves a mention on my little blog, just once.

I’ve been known to go off on scathing tangents in the past, spouting pithy and mostly ridiculous garbage about the state of the mainstream media (and it’s audience) in the Western consumerverse, particularly in Australia. I have complained about the way news programs run lead stories featuring death, bloodshed, lies, pollution and corruption as if in some endless attempt to eventually plunge all of us into some equally endless spiral of despair and misanthropy, contrasted with some sick, twisted sociopathic shit that is apparently only included to make us all feel uncomfortable and inadequate about our own boring sex lives.

Take, for example, a random selection of headlines from the front page of www.news.com.au (Australia’s finest and most widely-read conservative news source) on my mobile phone as of this very moment, 8:45pm, Monday August 6th, 2010:

“Dad, why did you kill mum?” son asks.

Broke, scared man hides in shed for a year.

Politician’s wife exposed as prostitute.

KK (ed: who?) gets steamy with two naked men.

Long-distance romance ends in murder.

I don’t think I’m turning into one of those crackpot paranoid conspiracy theorists when I suggest that these headlines seem to be tending towards some pretty dark and violent topics. Why? It not only frustrates and confuses me on a philosophical level, but it makes me angry on a political level, too: there is so much fuss in Australia about censorship, the banning of this and and labelling of that as ‘not suitable’ for your children, or your disabled neighbour, your homosexual school teacher, your terminally ill grandparent who longs for euthanasia, your mixed-race girlfriend or your Nazi sympathiser pit bull terrier. Mainstream media and conservative politicians seem to love nothing more than telling us what is in the best interests of society, and that all these modern fancies (such as sex on TV, bad language and of course, the worst offender of them all, violent video games) are damaging the very fabric of society.

So what do they do in turn? How do they, judges of morality and final word on good taste, remedy this rot and atone for all the ills of the ‘alternative’ media? They jam violence and corruption down our throats, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 363 days per year (they tend to take Christmas Day off so they can push their pro-Christian agenda a bit harder), with headlines like the ones I quoted above. They commission ads which are, in a word, terrifying, scaring us into taking out expensive insurance policies and making voluntary super annuation deposits in case some horrible accident should befall us. And, judging by the amount of death and decay I see on the news every night, those odds are pretty high.

Then, in their most horrible act of hypocrisy and exploitation of a dumb population, already juiced up, primed and baited to swallow each and every terrifying tidbit thrown their way, the media networks present an endless parade of ‘reality TV,’ manufactured precisely to show us how scary and awful the great big world is: drug traffickers at airports, corrupt CEOs swindling honest-working employees, drug-crazed criminals attacking little old ladies in quiet suburban streets, and of course, their piece de resistance, paedophiles and rapists who are still on the loose, everywhere, in all their different guises, lurking around each and every corner, ready to pounce on your kids as they make their merry way home from school, scarring them for life and opening up your chequebook to years of expensive professional emotional therapy (because what kind of parent would you be if you didn’t provide this kind of professional help for your children?).

It’s the hypocrisy that pisses me off the most: telling us what is and what isn’t acceptable in the media, and then subjecting us to their own twisted brand of news and ‘entertainment,’ the whole while passing it off as wholesome, informative, relevant and appropriate.

I mention this because since living in Japan I have noticed that the predilection with fear and violence is not world-wide. No, friends, in two years living in Japan, I have seen less than ten ads for banks, insurance companies or anything like that. Likewise, news reports are rarely focussed on local crimes, so people aren’t constantly reminded that there are horrible violent crimes occurring just around the corner. The result? A somewhat repressed, but generally upbeat population.

Take Exhibit A. I love this ad. There is no pretension here. There is no pressure. There is no exploitation, no stereotyping, no condescending dialogue. Just a catchy jingle and some dancing around. It’s all over in fifteen seconds. And that girl is seriously such a babe.

Why can’t Australian ads be more like that? Instead, we get this kind horrible shit. Words cannot describe how much this kind of thing infuriates me. If you, humble viewer, can endure this ad from beginning to end, then you are a bigger man than I:

That was a horrible song when it came out ten years ago, and your awful amateur actors aren’t making it any better. The worst thing about this ad, though, is the singularly selfish message behind it. Complaining about your fellow citizens and whinging that you always get the short end of the stick seems to be socially acceptable these days, and even ad-worthy.

Unfortunately, that one particular car insurance ad isn’t even the worst offender. Why didn’t I include an even more offensive one? I was talking to my mum about this the other night. The absolute bottom of the barrel ads, the ones that have been making us hate turning on the television for decades, are so God-awful that neither of us could even remember the name of the company they were advertising, rendering it impossible for me to even look them up on YouTube. That really says something for the effectiveness of television commercials.

Of course, I know I’m not alone in voicing these kinds of sentiments. Michael Ruppert has far more experience (and eloquence) regarding these matters than I do.

Well, that’s enough spite for one day. I’ve been pretty busy over the last week, mostly writing and marking exams under excruciating sweatshop conditions for the powers-that-be at my school. Somebody (me, perhaps) should make a webcomic about Japanese bureaucracy, and how anything slightly out of the ordinary is ‘difficult’ and subsequently muri desu (impossible). Like for example, how I was told that a percentage mark is ‘unfair,’ so instead I should write an exam out of exactly 100 marks. That would be some pretty good material for my first edition.

Tonight I am gonna go home and perhaps get stuck into some video gamin’. By gar, it’s been a while, and that new Metroid game looks like a riot. Maybe I’ll pick up some chewing gum on the way home…

Til next time!

blips and beats

August 25, 2010

I love being able to spend an hour or two on Hype Machine, and at the end of it all, come away feeling like I’ve just scraped the risen cream off the top of the world’s music blogs, and tapped back into a scene once so near and dear to me. More important, though, is the rush of energy that pulses through me every time I indulge in some piping hot new music which allows me to forget, however briefly, the stifling atmosphere of the country (both in a social and meteorological sense).

Images flash in my mind like portentous fragments of some acid trip in waiting, whether they are scenes from stories waiting to be written, sets from movies waiting to be filmed, or just places I wish I could be, with as-yet-unnamed characters providing the dialogue en masse. And yet another unstoppable urge to take a trip down to Tokyo engulfs me and leaves me powerless to resist. Indeed, it is the only place where this new soundtrack may find an appropriate storyboard to play out against, and the only place where these fantasies of mine might have the slightest chance of materialising into some lasting experiences.

It gives me some distant satisfaction when I see some previously-obscure (yet always terribly dear to me) Aussie act make a small splash on the infinity of the blogosphere, at some random blip in time. Moreover, though, I enjoy being able to sit back and marvel at my own prescience and good taste.

In somewhat geekier news, I can’t get enough of my HTC Desire Android-powered phone. This thing has occupied an unhealthy proportion of my total attention span of late. I love it for all the ways it’s different from my old iPhone; it’s snappy, user-friendly (unlike the iPhone, which actually hates people using it), pushes Gmail, and I can over-clock that mofo like nobody’s business. It may sound trivial, hell, it may even sound like I’m some spoiled white kid playing with his latest tech gadget, but in truth this is yet another part of my personal liberation, some might even say my penance for man’s original sin: giving birth to Apple products (the forbidden fruit).

Not long now until I’m back in Melbourne. I wonder, will she be able to fit me into her busy schedule? If so, will she be as eager to catch up as me? I wonder which trendy magazine I might see poking out the top of her calico book bag, where she might suggest we go to eat before going out. Or will she just play that disinterested, preoccupied card and leave me to make my own fun? Will she be all like she don’t even know me? But distance only makes the heart grow fonder, and I know that whatever happens, however she may feel about me when it’s all said and done, I will be glad we had spent some time together.

sugar high

January 24, 2010

Oh yeah. One of those moods again. Time for the best and worst of 2009! I wasn’t nearly as tuned-in this year as I have been, owing mainly to my geographical and cultural displacement, but make no mistake, everything on this list is worthy of your attention. On with the show!

best albums

Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another

Bertie Blackman – Secrets and Lies

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Pheonix (Predictable, but come on.)

Propagandhi – Supporting Caste

Built to Spill – There is no Enemy

Mariachi el Bronx

A Wilhelm Scream EP


best singles

Bag Raiders – Shooting Star (This one actually first surfaced in 2008 but was hands-down the breakout incredible single of the year. Pure euphoric pop bliss. Watch out for Bag Raiders running away with the crown of Aussie electro/pop in 2010 when their album drops.)

80kidz – Frankie

Bertie Blackman – Byrds of Prey

Perfume – Kiss and Music
(Warning: cute Japanese girls.)

Phoenix – 1901


Passion Pit – Little Secrets


Paramore – Ignorance


Polar Bear Club – Living Saints


Propagandhi – Supporting Caste
(Arguably the hardest-rockin’, smackest-talkin’ track of the year.)

A Wilhelm Scream – Bulletproof Tiger
(On second thoughts, this one is the hardest rockin’.)

Mariachi el Bronx – Litigation


Future of the Left – Arming Eritrea


The Maccabees  – Kiss and Resolve


best albums not released in 2009

The Matches – Decomposer (What an album. Bursting with wit and creativity, unlike anything else in the genre and still sounding totally fresh.)

Bodyjar – How it Works

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Live at The Sands (Peerless.)

The Fire Theft – S/T

I am the Avalanche – S/T


best discoveries

Bertie Blackman

Perfume (Pitch-perfect electro-charged J-pop.)

The Benevento/Russo Duo

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings


biggest disappointments

Paramore – Brand New Eyes (The best one-two opening punch of the year besides Phoenix quickly degenerates into boring, predictable soft rock a la Green Day. Snore.)

meWithoutYou – It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright (Supremely accomplished, sophisticated album, but after Brother/Sister, I was hoping for a punishing, challenging listen, which this definitely isn’t.)

Blakroc – S/T (Lazy rhymes and half-arsed beats from the Black Keys. Shame.)

Maxïmo Park – Quicken the Heart (A lazy album from a band that needed to step up to be counted.)

The Maccabees – Kiss and Resolve (Despite a few highlights, here’s another case of a band on the brink that played it way too safe this time around.)

The Decemberists – Her Majesty (wtf?)


i just don’t get it

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (I would rather listen to Jet than this disharmonic pretentious mess. Fuck this band.)

Ladyhawke – S/T (I’m all for Kiwis making it on the world stage, but since when did ‘lame ironic nu-disco’ become a synonym for ‘indie royalty?’)

The Wire (After hearing people go nuts about this show in the same way as The Sopranos, I thought I’d better check it out. Maybe I’m just not in tune enough with lower-class American suburbanality, heroin dealing or wharfies union struggles, but this has left me pretty cold.)


bands that should have quit in 2009

Animal Collective (Spare us. Please.)

Muse (How many albums of Matt Bellamy soothsaying in falsetto do we need?)

Rise Against (Just oh so over.)

Green Day (If I want American politics I’ll watch the Colbert Report. You’re a pop-punk band – talk to me when you feel like writing another song about masturbation.)


bands that shouldn’t have quit in 2009

Bodyjar


most anticipated

Tellison

Bag Raiders

Kimbra


best gigs

Parkway Drive @ Freeway Jam, Koriyama

80Kidz @ Fujirock

Fall Out Boy @ Fujirock (Even Pete Wentz’ idiotic babble didn’t detract from the energy of this show. Cheesy band, great set.)

Polysics @ Fujirock (The only band I’ve ever seen to successfully get a festival-sized crowd pogo-ing in perfect timing. Wacky, wacky shit, with the best recorder solo in pop music.)


best movies

Up

Okuribito

The Road

District 9

Fantastic Mr. Fox (An animated film with a difference. It took Wes Anderson to do it, but finally, something that can go toe-to-toe with Pixar’s efforts.)


worst movies

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Where the Wild Things Are (I never read this as a kid, but how could anybody really get into this film? A bunch of oversized sad-sacks complaining about each other for 90 minutes.)

The Hangover (Come on, everyone. This was just so silly. And as if we needed another movie about loud Americans partying in Las Vegas.)

Sherlock Holmes (I really wanted to like this, but even despite RDJnr’s enthusiastic turn, this is nothing more than an uninspired exercise in dumb action sequences, ignoring every opportunity to turn into a thoughtful and worthwhile new franchise.)


best movies of 2009 that i haven’t seen yet

Inglorious Basterds

(500) Days of Summer

A Serious Man

Moon

Bad Lieutenant


best television shows

Breaking Bad (More times than I can count, this show made me sit up in a state of pure shock and admiration. Great writing, great dramatic timing, and the acting revelation of the year in Brian Cranston.)

Bored to Death (Finally, an American comedy that doesn’t try way too hard.)

Honourable mention: John Safran’s Race Relations (I’m not sure this classifies as a ‘good’ show, but it left me as enthralled as anything else I saw in 2009.  John Safran embarrasses, dishonours and mutilates himself (literally), all just to prove a point to himself. At turns hilarious and repulsive, I’m proud that the Australian censorship board still lets him do whatever the hell he pleases and get away with it.)


worst television shows

30 Rock (Yawn.)

Community/Parks and Recreation (Flaccid, cliched attempts to cash in on the success of The Office.)

Fringe (Halfway through the first episode, when an FBI agent allows an incarcerated mad scientist to submerge her in water and attach diodes to her head in an attempt to sync up her dreams with her catatonic lover in virtual reality – and the plan works – well, that is when I knew this show was not for me. Oh yeah, and the mad scientist said she would have to do it naked, but turns out she was wearing a black sports bra. Worst thing I have seen in ages.)


best books read in 2009

Truman Capote – In Cold Blood

Saul Bellow – The Adventure of Augie March

Stephen Pinker – The Language Instinct

George Orwell – 1984 (again)


best video games

Mario Galaxy (Wii)

New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)

Machinarium (PC) (A wordless old-school adventure with a whole lot of heart.)

GTA Chinatown Wars (DS) (Does so many things right and proves that the DS is still the handheld platform with the most versatility and potential.)


best lifestyle choice made in 2009

Shaving in the shower. Never before have I known such effortless smoothness.

Well, I guess that’s it. Until next time!

it’s a jungle out there

October 16, 2009

This blog is rapidly turning into a place where I can air my identity crises. The crucial difference between this blog and real life, though, is that around here I can’t be interrupted. In their past lives, my blogs were forums for confidence issues and (barely) veiled jabs at various girls who had gon’ up and don’ me wrong, but I guess these days my problems are more existential in nature, and are probably, in the long run, better off for it.

My desk is a hideous mess of Australiana (dig that rad kookaburra), lollies I use to bribe minors, Japanese textbooks that I have skimmed, not read, and a variety of teaching materials that, surprisingly, have been getting a pretty solid workout of late. While it is true that at times I may have been something of a lazy ALT, that trend has definitely been reversed as I’ve been able to identify the more bothersome areas of my job and work on improving those, rather than the aimless stressing of eras past. I’m steadily realising that bored, unmotivated students aren’t the problem; it’s disorganised co-workers. I am repeatedly inundated by inconsiderate and illogical requests for help with classes that aren’t mine, translations of things of a singularly personal nature, and so on. I believe the thought process resembles something like this: Darren is an ALT, and ALTs aren’t busy or just don’t work very hard. だから、Darren mustn’t be busy. It’s beautifully Socratic.

Anyway, in light of these revelations, job satisfaction is at an unusual high, as I have adopted an even more nihilistic approach to my job: I chat with students whenever I feel like it, and about whatever I please. I play DS with them and snap unflattering photos of them. I ask them about their boyfriends and girlfriends and point out cute girls in magazines. So when it comes to classes, most of them are comfortable enough with me by now to play along with whatever I come up with. However, I think the main thing that has improved my working life is that, as the months have rolled by of late, I have become increasingly willing to strike up a conversation in punctuated Japanese, and the kids have started to realise that I am actually a living organism of equal or greater intellectual capability, one who has thoughts and feelings of his own and the gift of self-expression. Who would have thought – a foreigner!

I’m definitely beyond repair. When I start visiting – and enjoying – websites such as this (a cute girl appears in the day!) there seems to be little chance of redemption. To make things even worse, this link was sent to me by a female Japanese friend of mine. There’s just something irresistible about homely girls posing for coy photos and bashfully describing their personal traits.

The longer I spend observing other cultures, the more convinced I become that the world we inhabit is governed primarily by sex and money. The sex industry in Japan is omnipresent and, as a young woman, there is no better way to make easy money than to become a hostess or waitress in a fancy bar. Middle-aged men pay through the nose to merely be in the company of these creatures, and while prostitution itself is outwardly frowned upon, its no secret that money can buy everything, the porn industry is rampant, and the vast majority of establishments fronting as pleasant, classy lady bars are little more than extortionately-priced brothels. On a more personal level, it seems that wherever I go in the world, the thing that impresses the majority of girls with the most boring regularity is a boy with money and the willingness to flaunt it, both on himself and on his girl. The extravagance that passes for class and style in Japan can be truly sickening, especially when a dude in parachute pants can be considered cool just because they cost hundreds of dollars. Oh, and on that note: fuck you, Ed Hardy. I hate you and everything you create.

I always misspell the word ‘opinion’ and it comes out looking something like ‘onion.’ Perhaps there’s something in that.

Dudes. I’ve been all over this new Paramore single for a week now. How is it better than anything they have done in the past? Let me count the ways: Hayley’s voice isn’t as pitch-perfectly auto-tuned as the last album, and, moreover, she sounds way more pissed off on this track. Whilst ‘Misery Business’ was definitely a catchy (dare I say good?) song, it always seemed a little trite and forced to me. On this one, she simply spits out the lyrics in a much more natural meter, and the whole song is better off for it. Next, this song plays with time signatures and syncopation in a way that would make even the most capable metal bands envious. Its structure consists of multiple layered elements and constantly blurs the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge distinction. The arpeggios in the pre-chorus and breakdown are simply insane. Paramore’s drummer is awesome and is clearly the most impressive thing about the band besides Hayley’s voice. Listen carefully next time!

This movie was rad. The first half of District 9, in particular, takes the now-familiar mockumentary style into pretty interesting and challenging territory, offering a charicature of bureaucracy that is comical, satirical and confrontingly honest. Its themes are superficially obvious, and its a kind of wonder that it has taken so long for sci-fi films to come up with this idea. But the allegory extends further that just ‘how should governments deal with illegal immigrants,’ into far more personal territory: how do we overcome language barriers with foreigners? Is there any way to deal with the issue whilst retaining personal sensitivities? Indeed, can there even be a non-violent resolution to these kinds of problems? It nods towards the pervasive racism issues with a handful of ingenious quips, the kinds of slips-of-tongue usually reserved for mid-level politicians that are likely to see their superiors caught up in some heated PR backpedalling:

“I mean, you can’t say they don’t look like that, that’s what they look like, right? They look like prawns.”

It is amazingly well-acted, particularly by Sharlto Copley, who carries the second half of the film single-handedly and prevents it from ultimately becoming little more than a gruesome FPS-inspired alien blastfest, although even Copley can’t save it from crashing and bashing its way to a somewhat underwhelming end. District 9 combines some of the cinematic elements of Independence Day, Children of Men, The Host and…well, Starship Troopers, but its South African orientation gives it a pretty unique feel overall. Definitely see this movie!

Well, there was going to be more, but now there isn’t. ‘Til next time!

flutterby

April 6, 2009

The onslaught of material worth writing down in Japan is so torrential that it washes away all other consecutive cognitive processes in a mire of fractured memories and splintered shards of recognition. I should resort to poetry or (gasp) lyricism. Alas, all that inspires me to write is that most inappropriate of sources; that want for an audience of sorts, or recognition of the fact that I have but finally put pen to paper, or fingertip to typepad, as it were.

Japan, I’m sorry. You alone cannot force my hand, not this time, no sir. It requires a mocking tenacity, goading persistence of spirit to cause this bird to rear, retreat, take flight, open the gates, surrender the fort. Greatest pleasure of late has been found in mapping out an itinerary for persons not myself, lining up the dominoes in order to hastily and improperly knock them down, setting myself again the task of restructuring and organising, resolving and inevitably abandoning in the larval stages the germs of real accomplishment.

Documentation and opinion to be redirected henceforth towards a more wholesome and practical arena. Endless depths to be explored and then occupied, both here and there, but to different ends.

A handful of albums that have had a considerable effect on my life, my worldview, my perspectives on certain events and my appreciation for art and beauty, presented in the chronological order in which they appeared and ignited something within me. Apologies to those who probably deserve to be on this list but aren’t. These are, after all, my formative years that are in plain view.

  • Oasis  – What’s the Story (Morning Glory)?
  • Everclear – So Much For the Afterglow
  • Propellerheads – Decksanddrumsandrockandroll
  • Lagwagon – Double Plaidinum
  • Saves the Day – Stay What You Are
  • Staring Back – On
  • Jimmy Eat World – Clarity
  • Jets To Brazil – Orange Rhyming Dictionary
  • Smoking Popes – Destination Failure
  • Blueline Medic – Text_Bomb
  • Miles Davis – Miles Ahead
  • The Black Keys – Thickfreakness
  • Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – Streetcore
  • The Lawrence Arms – The Greatest Story Ever Told
  • Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak
  • Elliott Smith – X/O
  • Built To Spill – Keep It Like a Secret
  • Common – Be
  • The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
  • mewithoutYou – Brother/Sister
  • Twin Vickers – Demo
  • Muscles – Guns, Babes, Lemonade
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call

Until we meet again – so long, friends.

the paper chase

January 20, 2009

This is madness! Two blog posts in one night?! Note: like last year, this stuff didn’t necessarily come out in 2008, but let’s just pretend.

favourite albums of 2008:

mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
Twin Vickers – Demo

These two recordings were so far beyond anything else I heard in 2008 that I feel the need to break up the list in order to point out this fact. The rest can be considered more or less equal.

Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
Muscles  – Guns Babes Lemonade
The Decemberists – The Crane Wife/Picaresque
Smoking Popes – Stay Down
Bayside – Shudder
The Benevento/Russo Duo – Play Pause Stop
Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond
The Black Keys – Magic Potion
The Maccabees – Colour It In
Annuals – Such Fun
Judy and Mary – The Great Escape
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call
Crystal Castles – S/T
Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Foals – Antidotes
The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
New Order – Substance
Ratatat – Classics
Justice – †
Kanye West – Graduation
Louis Jordan – Greatest Hits
Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Oh Mercy – Priviliged Woes
The Bronx – III
The Presets – Apocalypso

favourite songs by bands/off albums i may or may not necessarily give a shit about:

Twin Vickers – The Way To Walk Out Of Here
mewithoutYou – O Porcupine/The Dryness and the Rain/Wolf Am I!
Oh Mercy – Can’t Fight It
The Greasers – Shelley
The Bronx – Past Lives
Annuals – The Tape
Cut Copy – Feel The Love
Death Cab For Cutie – I Will Possess Your Heart/Cath…
Common – Be (still probably my favourite hiphop track)
Kanye West – Robocop
Bayside – The Ghost of St. Valentine
MGMT – Time To Pretend (I liked this when everyone was still obsessed with ‘Kids’)
Muscles – Jerk
Hot Chip – Ready For The Floor
Driving Music – Demo (all five tracks)

bands that should have quit in 2008:

Fall Out Boy
Jimmy Eat World
Saves The Day (hurts me to mention these last two)
Bloc Party
Kaiser Chiefs
Coldplay (still)
Metallica (still)
The Getaway Plan

bands that shouldn’t have quit in 2008:

Blueline Medic…

best new bands/new to me:

The Paints
Kimbra
The Benevento/Russo Duo

biggest disappointments:

Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreaks
Common – Universal Mind Control
Lagwagon – I Think My Older Brother Used To Listen To Lagwagon

best gigs:

The Paints @ Noise Bar
mewithoutYou @ Soundwave Festival
Saosin @ Soundwave Festival
The Matches @ Soundwave Festival
Ratatat @ The Espy
Kimbra @ The Toff
Twin Vickers @ The Old Bar
Justice @ Ganban Night ’08
Lagwagon @ Club Quattro Tokyo

i just don’t get it:

MGMT
Deerhunter
The Gaslight Anthem
Vampire Weekend

biggest surprises:

Local artists outshine just about everything else regardless of genre
After shockingly saccharine Plans album, Death Cab release scary good song with ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’
I develop a nasty affinity for nasty electro (although I can pinpoint this to one very particular night)…
Sum 41 most popular pop-punk band in Japan (not really surprising actually)
Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading, mental

best movies:

Let The Right One In
Wall-E
The Dark Knight
The Killing
Tekkonkinkreet
Burn After Reading (Coen-lite but still hilarious)
Battle Royale
Hidden
5 Centimetres per Second
Tokyo Story
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (why are there so many thrillers on this list?)

worst movies:

I didn’t watch anywhere near as many movies this year so thankfully I didn’t see many bad ones. Let me think…

Babylon A.D. (stumbled across this on the plane to Cambodia, I couldn’t look away it was so appalling)
The Orphanage (not bad by any means but just a bit of a disappointment)
Ghost In The Shell (so overrated)
Pineapple Express (had its moments but ehhh)
My Blueberry Nights (ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)

best television shows:

The Colbert Report
Monster
Death Note

worst television shows:

The Office (quit while you’re ahead!)
Heroes
Lost

best games:

The World Ends With You (DS)
Space Invaders Extreme (DS)
Kirby Canvas Curse (DS)
Jump! Ultimate Stars (DS)
Geometry Wars (DS/PC/360)/Grid Wars (PC)
Everyday Shooter (PC)
N+ (DS)

best books read in 2008:

The Grapes of Wrath
The Name of the Rose (it took me like four months, it must be good…I think…)
Red Dust
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler

best book read in 2008 that i didn’t really care for:

Slaughterhouse-Five

most anticipated/fingers crossed/predictions for 2009:

New Decemberists album redefines indie rock, tops both Pitchfork’s best albums chart and the New York Times book review
Fabled second Postal Service album finally drops
Kimbra becomes the next Björk sans the cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof act
Blueline Medic reunite and finally get the recognition they deserve
Hacking the Wii becomes even cheaper and easier
Nonetheless, Nintendo continue their march towards total world domination
Barack Obama launches rocket full of conservatives into the sun
Kevin Rudd’s internet filter blocks every website except tubgirl
Electric cars
People start talking about how many Yen gold can buy, not the other way around

That’s a whole year’s worth of pop culture right there! Sadly I can’t even remember half of the stuff I read and watched in 2008. The first half was spent in a warbly daze and the second half swimming in neon and smokey karaoke bars. Consider my lesson learned.

よろしく。