Now this is music #87: Emma Gatrill, Soleima, Lunch Ladies, Floor Staff, Crooked Colours

 

Love and despair. Sadness and happiness. Upbeat and downcast.

Life has many moods, many of them contrary and intermingled, and these five talented artists, who hail from around the world, are enormously adept at capturing these glorious inconsistencies and setting them to beautiful, arresting music.

Its insight and melody combined and it’s what you want from the music you listen to, since all that listening happens while you’re living life and it makes sense that it doesn’t just tickle the ears but touches the soul and mind too.

 

“Skin” by Emma Gatrill

 

Emma Gatrill (image courtesy official Emma Gatrill Facebook page)

 

There’s a delicate beauty to Emma Gattrill’s beauty that belies how robust the sounds created by the Brighton, UK native actually are.

“Skin”, which leads off her album Cocoon, is a gem, emblematic of Gatrill’s skill at investing her music, which Stereogum says sits “somewhere between the Julia Holter aurora and the Sufjan Stevens [musical] supernova” with real depth and substance, both melodic and lyrical.

In a statement about “Skin”, she explains how much thought went into every facet of this remarkably beautiful and meaningful song:

“Skin is a love song. It explores our desires as individuals to be together even when life pulls us in different directions.

“The shuffle sounding beat which lies underneath the electronic drums in the song is created by me tap dancing in socks on a wooden board and then continuously looped up to give that soft shuffle sound. I like the idea that many steps have been taken during this song as the song represents how we are continuously travelling, our paths weaving in and out of each other.”

 

“Wasted” by Soleima
Soleima (image via official Soleima Facebook page)

 

There’s an engaging loping quirkiness to “Wasted” by Danish artist Soleima, a song that carries a delicious double meaning, according to the Copenhagen-based native:

“… the term ‘wasted’ gets double sided in this song. The obvious meaning is of course being drunk/high and therefore unable to process thoughts and logic. The other way to look at it, is that some people, like myself, are able to lead a certain kind of life whereas many don’t have the same possibilities as me – and sometimes that opportunity can be wasted.” (source: The Line of Best Fit)

That added lyrical depth sets “Wasted” apart from its run-of-the-mill trippy genremates, augmented by Soleima’s beguilingly unique vocals which mix a little girl lost vibe with late night cabaret duskiness.

It all means that “Wasted” sounds like everything you’ve heard before and yet none of it, a clever musical bridging between the usual and the new that is evidenced on Soleima’s later tracks.

 

 

“Love is Overrated” by Lunch Ladies

 

Lunch Ladies (image via official Lunch Ladies Facebook page)

 

Channelling an infinitely appealing dreamy retro pop vibe that captures you from the word go, “Love is Overrated” kicks things off with a lovely long intro that never once outstays its richly multilayered welcome.

When the remote, lush harmonies come rolling in, you’re treated to midtempo, lofi pop with a persistently robust guitar underpinning that keeps things humming along without once feeling it’s in a rush to get anywhere in particular.

The once-were New Jersey natives, now Brookyn-based band have knack for crafting, do actually believe in love by the way, just in case you think the song suggests otherwise:

“Love definitely isn’t overrated. Love is very important, always, and especially in times like these. I wrote this song during a period where I didn’t get other people’s relationships and the drama that comes with it, and felt happy being on my own.” (source: vocalist/bassist Cynthia Rittenbach, Little Indie Blogs)

Some insightful slice-of-life observations and an luscious, exquisitely nuanced melody granted this song an appealing richness, which the band have brought to bear with compelling effect on their debut LP Down on Sunset Strip (March 10).

 

 

“Saviour” by Floor Staff

 

Floor Staff (image courtesy official Floor Staff Facebook page)

 

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Floor Staff aka singer/songwriter/composer Anthony Donnelly, sends us hurtling back to the lazy, hazy days of the polyester-loving ’70s with “Saviour”.

Blending light and dark, its giddily upbeat synth-driven melody, which is never less than smile-inducingly good and captivating blissful, contrasts with the lyrical content which Little Indie Blogs notes are dark, “confronting bereavement, fidelity and self-esteem.”

It’s a very Scandinavia mindset which works brilliantly well on the track, an approach that gives musical life to the idea that happiness and sadness aren’t always distinct from each other, merging and pulling apart in that untidy way life has of letting things go where they will.

The combination of less than stellar ruminations about life and the pulsing insistent chipper sound of the music can get into your soul in ways that a more direct approach may not always manage; you can find out how much Floor Staff’s music can get around your defenses by listening to his two EPs, The Good Luck EP and Convictions.

 

 

“Flow” by Crooked Colours

 

Crooked Colours (image courtesy official Crooked Colours Facebook page)

 

Perth, Australia-based electronic band Crooked Colours (Philip Slabber, Leon De Baughn, Liam Merrett-Park), arrived their uniquely sparse but melody-rich sound by listening to a lot of music as they told national Australian radio station Triple J’s Unearthed page:

“Our music is pretty diverse from song to song and it has taken us a long time to figure out the music that we really want to make. We listen to as much music as we can and spend a lot of time tinkering around on synths and whatever else we can get our hands on.”

This glorious diversity of influential sounds make a brilliantly listenable outworking on tracks like “Flow” which skips along with a driving beat and guitar flourishes while at the same time sounding light, fun and lavishly lightweight, the result of what Vents Magazine calls an approach “that has one foot in the indie world and one foot in a darker electronic realm.”

The song is their first release in 18 months and heralds the arrival of debut LP due later this year, which judging by its advance adventurous sounds, could well match the success of their initial triple volley of “Come Down”, “Capricious”, and “Another Way” which saw them hit no 1 on Hype Machine, in the process generating 6 million streams.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Girls just wrapped up its final season, but not before Adelaide-based Tkay Maidza was given the chance by creator and star Lena Dunham to contribute a song, “Glorious”, to the penultimate episode.

Read all about it at Junkee.

 

 

And what would life be like without someone mashing up the good Muppet-y citizens of Sesame Street with a catchy track?

Here’s a year-old effort from Mylo the Cat, which brings together Bert & Ernie (and the cast of the show) with “Regulate” by Warren G feat Nate Dogg.

 

 

Finally Lady Gaga has a supremely catchy new song “The Cure”, a deliciously listenable synth pop gem that she casually dropped during a set at Coachella, as you do (source: Forbes)

 

 

And yeah the fans LOVE it … how could they not? It’s FAAAABUUUULOUS …

 

The short and the short of it: Future Boyfriend and the romantic creepiness of temporally-mixed up dating

(image (c) Bellhouse Productions)

 

SNAPSHOT
Future Boyfriend, a short film by Bellhouse Productions, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2016. The film, directed by Ben Rock and starring Emily Bell, Ron Morehouse, and 3rd Rock From the Sun’s French Stewart, was adapted into a screenplay by Ularich based on his short play by the same name. The play had numerous productions around the United States, including the first Sci-Fest L.A., during their “Laugh Trek” comedy program. The Sci-Fest production starred Emily Bell and Ron Morehouse, and was directed by Meagen Fay. (synopsis (c) A Vincent Ularich)

The path to true love, delightful, sparkly, wonderful and deliciously overwhelming though it is, is never smooth now is it?

Quite how smooth it often isn’t is beautifully illustrated by this delightful short film, Future Boyfriend, where a charming if slightly odd guy (Ron Moorehouse) from 2078 travels back in time on a one-way ticket to date a woman (Emily Bell) who has taken his fancy in 2016.

To explain how he knows she exists or why is he so smitten with her would be to give away far too much about a film that is all about taking risks, putting your heart on the line and finding out that your dreams may be realised in ways you never expected.

And yes, while it’s true as Gizmodo notes, that future guy is a tad creepy in his approach, ultimately there’s something sweetly charming and appealingly earnest about someone going to all that trouble and giving us much in the pursuit of love sweet chronologically-mixed up love.

 

Book review: The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

(image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

The great Arthur C Clarke once sagely remarked, in what has become known as one of his three laws, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

In Robert Dickinson’s The Tourist, that threshold has long since been transgressed with the people of 24th century earth routinely back and forwards in time as easily and commonly as we pop down the shops for some milk.

Any sense that technology is even remotely magical has long since faded, although the clients who travel back to early 21st century UK, which is where we meet Spens aka “Tunnel Boy” who works as a tour guide or rep for one of the time travel companies, remain excited and fearful in equal measure by what awaits them.

While the exact timeframe is never specified, allusions to anti-time travel groups – who operate with the same morality and fact-free ferocity as the far right anti-immigrant groups of our timeline – current technology and cultural realities suggest that the events of this fascinating novel take place not far from the present day.

What draws the people of the 24th century to our place and time is a desire to see what pre-Near Extinction Event earth looks like – the NEE, as its commonly referred to takes place sometime in the latest 21st century – and to sample its food, culture, and even to stand outside and look at  blue skies or to feel the rain on their face.

“People have travelled and not returned before, but they were either on official business or scholars like Brink and Nakamura, who knew the risks and travelled knowing they might not come back. Or they’re extemps, supposedly alienated from their own era, who want to live in a simpler, more natural society.” (P. 35)

Most people choose to stay within the confines of their tours, assured by the companies bringing them to our exotically different present that all events are known and accounted for (one of the big pluses of time travel), but a number choose to “go native”, going so far as to move here, living and working and trying to fitting as much as people from three centuries hence can.

The thing is they are incredibly obvious thanks to their extreme height, dress, culture mores and speech and while most people are happy to have them there, given the great economic benefits they bring, there is an increasing fear of the Other, stoked by far right groups and even the government itself, a situation stoked for reasons that are never fully or adequately articulated, by a coterie of shadowy figures from the future.

Spens, as happens with many innocents abroad, finds himself drawn into murky goings-on beyond his experience, in which tourists, extemps and a range of figures with uncertain allegiances and agendas are doing battle, proof if ever we needed it that humanity’s capacity for self-destructive behaviour is able to survive pretty much anything including an NEE.

 

(image courtesy Redhook Books)

 

One thing that is made clear in Dickinson’s fast-paced novel is that future humanity is ruled in a fairly autocratic fashion, organised into rigid castes with fairly Orwellian names as Safety, Happiness and Awareness, where technology is advanced but resources, social behaviour and political expression are strictly regulated.

It explains the attraction of our chaotic, messy century, a magnet for time tourists even if most of them are too afraid to go much beyond the strict itineraries assigned for them; unfortunately, Dickinson leaves much of the future veiled in a shadows, leaving us to guess about the motivations of the people involved.

It does mean that it becomes increasingly hard to care too much about the people involved in this thrilling temporal conspiracy caper such as Spens, fellow reps Edda and Li (who adores being away from home), and Spens’ childhood friends, brothers Reimann and Cantor who, while they’re caught up in a series of events so brilliantly built-up and executed, for most of the book at least, that The Tourist is a genuine page-turner, fail to have much of their character or background revealed.

They are teased out as characters just enough for us to have some investment in the events that fill the books but the story of which they’re apart, which rips along at a furiously-involving pace for the first 3/4 of the book or so only to fizzle out to a wholly unsatisfying end, you’re left wondering what the hell just happened and why.

“His back is turned to you. You realise this is a chance to shoot him. You also realise it’s one you won’t take. Or can’t. His coat might be heavy enough to stop a pin; even a shot to the back of the head night not be effective. You keep your hand at your side. Killing him wasn’t inn your instructions.” (P. 197)

Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue especially if you’re comfortable with artfully oblique endings that are more suggestion than actuality; but The Tourist, while immensely engaging, well-paced and utterly engaging for much of its length, eventually forgoes any kind of satisfying finally in favour of placing all its eggs in a Lost-like basket.

It’s a failing of many mystery books, which build their puzzles in ever more enigmatic, intriguing layers until such time as they present us with a dazzling finish, one that justifies the investment of all the tricky twists and turns of the plot, or collapses in on itself, limping to a middling end.

That’s not to say that The Tourist isn’t worth your time or an unruly, unreadable schmozzle; in fact, it is beautifully written for the most part, a book that enthralls with its central conceit and ideas, and whose characters, though limited in expression, command enough interest to keep you immersed into the fast moving story.

It simply never fully pays off its early promise, leaving you wondering what might have been if we’d been given a little more of an idea why many of the narrative strands were there at all, what was motivating many of the characters to act as they do, and why the past matters so much to the people of the future, beyond being a fun, unspoiled place, from their point of view, to visit.

By all means take a trip with The Tourist which will make you wonder what life would be like if you had the ability to move around the past at relative will, but be aware that like many trips we take, that it may not end as satisfactorily as you might hope.

Living Level 3, South Sudan: Graphic novel shines an important light on a desperate situation

(image (c) World Food Programme)

 

It’s been well-documented that art and pop culture can have a powerful effect in spreading information and awareness, creating a groundswell of understanding and motivating action that leads to real change.

One quite striking way this is being demonstrated at the moment is a 48 page graphic novel, Living Level 3: South Sudan (LL3: South Sudan; this refers to the most severe type of humanitarian crisis), which features a real South Sudanese man, Apu Riang and his family who, like so many of their country people, have been caught in the civil war and resulting famine that has affected the new country.

It’s a confronting situation but one that desperately needs to be publicised so people outside of South Sudan understand that once the cable news channels have ceased to have any interest in the story, that there is still an immense amount of need there, and hence, help desperately needed.

The World Food Programme is playing a pivotal role in alleviating the dire need, and its stories such as that of Apu Riang and his family that is underscoring how dire the situation truly is and how much needs to be done.

 

 

As Apu Riang says in the video, filmed as part of a two week information-gathering trip by World Food Programme staff – head of television communications Jonathan Dumont, head of graphic design and publishing Cristina Ascone, and LL3: South Sudan‘s writer Joshua Dysart – you only make the decision to take your family on a perilous long journey from your homeland if there is really no other choice.

The aim of of LL3: South Sudan is to galvanise the international community to act and act now; any delay could cost lives, many lives, and the fictional aid worker in the graphic novel, Leila Helal, plays a key role in making clear how great a task she and her colleagues face.

The aim has always been to accurately document what is happening in South Sudan and as Ascone notes in a Mashable article:

“It’s taken many, many months because South Sudan is [complicated],” Ascone said. “You need to be very careful about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. We needed to make sure we’re portraying the country, the people, everybody in the right way.”

While it aims to be engaging, that is merely a means to an end with the take-away message a vitally important one.

“Basically it says, if people know these stories, then there’s hope. Because then there’s the chance that, whether it’s the World Food Programme or the U.N. or the international community, somebody will care. Somebody will be able to do something to help.

“I think that’s the takeaway. And I think that’s something the reader can use.”

 

(image (c) World Food Programme)

Colony: “Ronin” (S2, E13 review)

Maybe the Governor General has a beating heart after all? (image courtesy USA Network)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE END OF THE WORLD … KIND OF

If you are ever looking for a master class in how to end a season of taut, nuanced drama in the most tense and gripping way possible then you should immediately turn to “Ronin”, the finale of what has been by any estimation a brilliant second season of Colony.

Always possessed of a fierce intelligence, and preference for allowing the slow burn to take precedence over the short term and flashy, a failing of many other shows in our hyperactive new golden age of television when more and more things happening in a single episode is never enough, Colony excelled itself with “Ronin”, where the alien guillotine was lowered inch by razor sharp inch and it was every person for themselves.

Well, that’s if you’re Snyder (Peter Jacobson), a man so wrapped up in his own self-survival that he manages to scuttle out from beneath the jackboot of impending doom each and every time, smelling if not like roses, then not like a corpse, a major achievement in a world where that seems to be the only constant.

In this episode alone, Snyder managed to ferret out that Total Rendition of the L.A. colony was impending – so impending in fact that when he finally got Governor-General Goldwin (Ally Walker) to admit it was underway, it was but six excruciatingly short hours away – garner a barely believable promise of a new position with the Global Authority in Europe from his golden-haired frenemy, stitch up a deal with Will (Josh Holloway) to be spirited out of the bloc, and then double-cross them as they’re speeding hell for leather out of the doomed city.

Not bad for a day’s work is it?

Bram (Alex Neustaedter) was reluctant to get in the car with him, as was Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp), proof if you needed it that the children have a better sense of who to trust and who not to than their parents Will and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies).

As it turns out, they were right on the money with the shell-shocked Bowmans too exhausted and stressed from escaping certain death, and horrified by the arrival of a fleet of alien spacecraft to wipe out the bloc, that they failed to notice Snyder press a bright red blinking button, hidden in his hand.

 

Synder has moved far beyond a double agent and is octagonal and counting (image courtesy USA Network)

 

It was hardly surprising that he acted this way; he has, after all, demonstrated over and over that he is the ultimate collaborator, a man who will sell everyone and anyone out to get what he wants.

See that bus speeding by? Snyder has just pushed you under it.

The futility of his actions, spurred on by a promise by the head Blackjack who is overseeing L.A.’s wiping off the brand new alien-drawn map that he will want for nothing if he succeeds in returning the alien gauntlet, is evidenced by Maddie (Amanda Rightetti), who, stripped of Nolan’s (Adrian Pasdar) protection, finds herself in with the rest of the human cattle being readied for slaughter.

In scenes eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of gas chambers, hundreds of people are herded into giant warehouses, the ever-increasing overcrowding finally alerting Maddie to the fact she is well and truly screwed.

After clawing her way up from another one of the alien-oppressed plebs to a Green Zone local with privileges, luxury and, more importantly than anything, diabetes medication for her son, Maddie found herself the victim of a power play by Nolan who, like Snyder, is too blind to see that all the promises in the world mean nothing when you have Hosts (again, thank you, OUR planet, not theirs; the Hosts tag is the most galling of all the injustices wrought by the invaders) who are as self-interested, even more so, than we are.

In fact, after witnessing a Rap being operated on at the start of the episode, where we witnessed that they are either machines or cosseted away beings who never leave the safety of their ships and beam themselves virtually into robotic bodies – the latter is unlikely given the frantic efforts to recover a kidnapped Rap earlier in the series, and the palpable tension accompanying the episode’s opening scene – and hearing that they are up to their necks in infighting between hardliners (currently in the ascendancy) and moderates, you have to wonder if you are better doing a Snyder or a Nolan, or accepting your fate like Maddie.

In the end, the results is the same, and Colony has affirmed over and over, that all the collaborators is doing is buying themselves some time, nothing more.

This is a zero sum game for humanity, and the only hope, wafer slim though it may be, is to slip the noose like the Bowmans do, gallingly with Snyder’s help, is to resist and try to overcome.

Admittedly, at this stage that doesn’t look like the most promising of strategies, but unless you’re prepared to throw your lot in with the Raps, something many people can’t stomach, it’s pretty much your only choice.

 

She’s the queen of poor judgement for all the right reasons and they all lead to a final, possibly inescapable fate (image courtesy USA Network)

 

The brilliance of Colony is that it doesn’t sugarcoat this grinding new, short on great options reality.

Echoing the searing truth that anyone who has ever lived under tyranny knows all too well, there are no real happy ending, just varying degrees of unhappy ones.

Sure, hope springs eternal – the Bowmans wouldn’t be escaping the L.A. colony nor would Broussard (Tory Kittles) be staying behind to give the Total Reditioners hell if they didn’t see some chance of making a difference – but it is always prefaced and followed by the uncomfortable presence of everything going mortally pear-shaped at just about every turn.

One reason among many why “Ronin” such a stellar season wrap-up is that it doesn’t indulge in faux-tension building devices – there is no ticking clock, no countdown on the side of the screen, no near escapes (well mostly) and no real promises of everything turning out OK – preferring to let time tick down to the grim certainty of the bloc, and all its inhabitants (including the Red Hats who find themselves kicked well and truly to the curbs by the Blackjacks), being extinguished in what looks like being a hellish cataclysm of fire.

The show’s willingness to tell it like it is, to evoke the nightmare of Nazi occupation, of every totalitarian ruler who has ever imposed their will on a cowering population whose choices are few and options scant, is what makes it such a tour de force of dramatic storytelling.

While it is cool to see the aliens, the ships, the sci-fi trappings, what really makes Colony tick, makes it soar in fact, is that it is not cheap, glitzy storytelling dependent on bombs, explosions and contrived narrative devices.

It simply tells the story of people, in this case the entire population of the earth, who find themselves, shorn of their home, their freedom, their rights, their humanity and just about everything else you can happen, and who have little to no recourse.

A story that compelling, which is horrifically playing in constant, grotesque variants all across the globe right now, doesn’t need overblown narrative bells and whistles – it just needs to be told, something Colony does with superb elegance and quiet ferocity, and which thanks to a late in the piece renewal for season 3, it will continue to do, giving voice to anyone who has ever suffered under the brutalist self-interest of dictatorship.

Master of None? In name only as Aziz Ansari returns for season 2 (trailer)

(image (c) Netflix)

 

There is something inherently likable about Aziz Ansari.

He embodies a genuine warmth and friendliness – that smile alone makes you want to be his friend – and he brings his innate likability to his characters, along with a great sense of humour and a bright, effervescent intelligence.

He has combined all these qualities, as he did so effortlessly on Community, his book Modern Romance, and of course, the first season of Master of None, which premiered on Netflix to rapt reviews in 2015 including one from Variety which said “It’s as if an earnest op-ed piece came to vivid life in an effort to make the viewer laugh out loud — and succeeded in the attempt.” (To see how much love there was for the show’s first season, check out these reviews.)

Possessed of a remarkably simply but brilliantly well-used premise, that of a thirtysomething single man in New York who has a close network and the time to devote to them thanks to the nature of his stand-up comedy work, Master of None explored with humour and witty authenticity, what the search for love looks like in a world where people just as likely to be searching online, if not more so, than in real life.

It mirrors the content in some ways of Modern Romance, but it brings it humourously to life, illustrating with nuance and wit, how complicated, and yet also how simple, love is in our hyper-busy modern age.

 

(image (c) Netflix)

 

Given the open-ended nature of life and love, and the fact that Ansari’s character Dev made a major life decision at the end of season 1 (so closure please!), Master of None is back 12 May on Netflix.

And true to form, the show will return Dev to his aspirational acting career, his stalled love life and of course, his close group of friends and family, as per the official season 2 synopsis:

“After traveling abroad, Dev returns to New York to take on challenges in his personal and family life, a new career opportunity, and a complex, developing relationship with someone very meaningful to him.”

If you’re wondering why the big gap between season 1 and 2, then there’s a good reason for that, according to Anzari (quoted on TV Insider).

“This show isn’t the type of show where we’re going to be able to just turn around and turn it in right away. We covered so much stuff in Season 1 and wanted to make sure the ideas we had in Season 2 were equally interesting and the episodes were just as ambitious.”

All of which makes sense. Rushing another series into production just to have one might have robbed us of the one thing that makes Master of None such delightfully compelling viewing – it’s willingness to frankly and unabashedly talk about life and love in ways that make sense and mirror what it’s like balancing what we expect with what we end up having.

Besides life never marches to the beat of the drum we want so waiting some time makes it seem all the more real and worth watching which we’ll be able to do on 12 May on Netflix.

Get your pasta maker ready!

 

Get Ur Freak On with Missy Elliott and the Teletubbies

(image via Teletubbies wikia)

 

It’s true what they say – you can’t keep a freaky good Teletubby down!

Actually no one likely says that at all, but they should with a brand new mash-up video, by YouTube user Robert Jones, giving the Teletubbies, who ran for 365 episodes in 1997-2001, before being revived for 60 episodes in 2014, a chance to get their freak on Missy Elliott-style.

The song was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), a compulsively listenable song in a collection of similarly-strong songs. The movie, which I quite enjoyed in a pulpy switch-your-brain-off kind of way, may not have met with critical acclaim, but the soundtrack, which gathered together Missy Elliott, Nine Inch Nails, The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx among many others, was a resounding success.

Now 16 years later, the Teletubbies, who as noted have experienced a pop culture Lazarus moment of their own of late, are giving “Get Ur Freak On” a whole new brightly-coloured lease on life and we are all the better for it.

So you heard them – off you go and well, you know …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

And just so you have a reference point, here’s the non-Teletubbies original clip.

 

Weekend pop art: Joey Spiotto’s pop culture Little Golden Books

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

My love for Little Golden Books knows no bounds.

A key part of my childhood, they are the stuff of joy and nostalgia, a reassuring touchstone that there are some great and wonderful things in this world that are inherently simple and uncomplicated, and intensely rewarding.

The only thing better than Little Golden Books is when someone like Joey Spiotto, a talented artist who I’ve featured to my inestimable joy on the blog before, takes this eminently elegant idea and furnishes it with brilliantly imaginative pop culture flourishes.

The best part is, if you’re in L.A. now until Saturday 22 April, you can see his work, Storytime 3, up close and enchantingly personal at Gallery1988 (East) and you can even prints of them if you like via the gallery’s website.

Childhood and pop culture mixed together? Sounds a perfect exhibition to me!

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

Where can you see it? Right here!

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 4 – Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

AUSTRIA: “Running on Air” by Nathan Trent

 

 

THE ARTIST
For an artist whose song is all about the good and the bad things in your life, Nathan Trent has certainly led a charmed existence to date.

Raised bilingually by an Austrian father and an Italian mother, he grew up learning to play the violin and piano and appearing in productions at the State Theatre in his hometown of Innsbruck, before making his mark in talent shows across Austria and Germany and studying, you guessed it, at the Music and Arts University in Vienna (c’mon it’s not like he was going to do commercial law with that creativity woven into his childhood).

If all those achievements don’t dazzle your Eurovision-loving senses, how about the fact that writes his own songs and was discovered by Austrian broadcaster ORF based on his debut single “Like It Is”, leading to an invitation to represent his home country at this year’s contest?

All in all, not a bad life but can he take the song he co-wrote with Bernhard Penzias and make it even better?

 

(Copyright: Jan Frankl; image via official Nathan Trent Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
From a sheer likability factor alone, you want him to do well (simmering jealousy as his laudable achievements thus far notwithstanding; oh just me? Well okay then), and certainly “Running On Air” (truth be told, he’s running on snow in the clip but we’ll let that go through on the basis of artistic license), which delightfully combines the musical sounds of John Mayer and Ed Sheeran to highly-listenable effect, puts him in with a real chance.

Granted, it’s not some cutting-edge pop/R&B that redefines music as we know it, and that could lessen his cut-through factor with voters.

Having said, the combination of a catchy song, that occupies rare middle ground niche in a year when it’s ballads and dance number at polarising, duelling 40 paces, that smile and upbeat, bright vocals should deliver up a berth in the grand final at the very least.

 

 


BELARUS: “Story of My Life” by Naviband

 

 

THE ARTIST
Apparently, Artem Lukyanenko and Ksenia Zhuk, who have performed together as Naviband since 2013, are the yin and yang of musical artistry.

Ksenia, a vocalist, is described as “the bullet” while Artem, who is qualified as a journalist but works as a professional guitar and piano player (hard to say which is the more precarious professional choice: let’s hope his parents didn’t want him to be a doctor) is regarded as the “calm and reasonable”.

While I’m not sure if that means we’ll be treated to a dramatic diva moment by Ksenia while Artem tries to mollify her in between thrown plates and bass guitars, one thing that is certain is that their entry will be the first song sung in Belarussian in the entire history of Eurovision.

It’s not as dramatic a claim as it sounds when you remember that Belarus has only participated in Eurovision since 2004, but it’s great to see an act singing in their national language, particularly given the fact that Belarus is 800 years old this year.

So beside a gigantic birthday cake that must, and I repeat must be included in their onstage performance – guess it didn’t make it into the clip given the logistics of carrying big baked goods into the forest- will they get a lovely crystal microphone to take home?

 

(photo courtesy official Naviband Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It would be quite the fairytale finish and frankly if Belarus’s participation in Eurovision this year was being written by Hollywood, or a damn good PR company, it would indeed happen.

As songs go, this one is irrepressibly upbeat and joyously alive, anchored by Ksenia’s gloriously exultant vocals and Artem’s more grounded singing – their voices merge to quite beautiful effect – and benefits in a multitude of ways from being sung in Belarussian , which sounds brilliantly expressive.

You can only hope that people will tap into the exquisitely happy energy of “Story of My Life”, written by Artem – you have to assume he’s had a damn good life; either that or he’s adept at being dirge-like in giddily-merry fashion – which is entirely possible if the live performance is as captivating as the clip.

 

 


BULGARIA: “Beautiful Mess” By Kristian Kolov

 

 

THE ARTIST
Clearly a man who sees virtue in shirking his domestic cleaning responsibilities of his song title is any guide, Kristian Kolov is one of the babies of this year’s contest, clocking in at the tender age of 17.

But don’t let his baby face fool you – he’s managed to cram quite a lot into his short time on earth (which rather distressingly for those who are not 17, pretty much occupies the 21st century alone).

He kicked things off at 6, going solo at age 11 – thank god because those pre-pubescent boy bands are just THE WORST – taking part in competitions, the high water mark of which was taking part on Russia’s The Voice Kids where past Eurovision entrant Dima Bilan was his mentor.

From there it was off to Bulgaria, chart topping songs in Bulgarian and English, and perhaps a sneaking, whispered subconscious fear that he’s peaked way too early? Prodigies even do existential angst early I’ve heard.

Will Eurovision further cement his meteoric rise or will be spared achieving everything before the end of his teenage years, thus spared a life of heavy drinking and regret? (Just me again? Gotcha).

 

(photo courtesy official Kristian Kolov Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
His song “Beautiful Mess”, proves it take a village of songwriters (Joacim Persson, Borislav Milanov, Sebastian Arman, Alex Omar and Alexander V. Blay) t write a catchy but ultimately forgettable song.

It’s not that it’s a bad song, and in fact is pretty damn lovely at times, but it spends much of its three minute-mandated running time – Eurovision songs can’t exceed the 180 second mark on pain of … frankly I'[m not sure – meandering pleasantly but with little real impact.

Kostov has a lovely enough voice but again nothing out of the box and it’s hard to see this year’s Bulgarian entry doing much more than providing a nice interlude towards the end of the second semi-final when everyone will be getting a little tired from all flag-waving, hollering and glitter inhalation and will be looking forward to kicking back with a cup of tea and some easy listening loveliness.

 

 


CROATIA: “My Friend” by Jacques Houdek

 

 

THE ARTIST
Jacques Houdek may have 13 albums to his credit, which have attracted gold, platinum and diamond status, he may have performed thousands of concerts, and be a mentor on the voice of Croatia, but what has really made his day, year, in fact all 16 years of his professional career, is that he is representing Croatia at this year’s event.

But don’t just take my word for it.

“Eurovision has been my life long dream, and everyone in Croatia knows this! I have been a fan ever since I was a kid and I’m so thankful for this once in a lifetime opportunity, finally! I am so happy!”

It makes sense that he’d be elated since this is just a case of being the flag bearer for his home country; it’s the peak of his musical journey so far, once defined by a life “completely devoted to music – for me there us no life without it”.

So creative and career boxes ticked but will the reality on the ground, which let’s be honest is not always kind to elation-wrapped, childhood dreams, going to matchthe starry-eyed expectation?

 

(photo: Damjan Fiket; via official Jacques Houdek Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
According to his official Eurovision bio, Jacques is known as Mr Voice in his homeland.

Given his vocal multifaceted performance on “My Friend”, he maybe perhaps henceforth as Mr Voices, a fitting musical sobriquet given the fact that he duels with himself, switching between earnest pop ballad warbling and populist operatic singing.

The effect, no doubt intended to be epic and profound, comes across as a weirdly multi-personality disorder that doesn’t fully gel, and conjures up mental ages of Houdek running from one side of the stage to each other throughout the song pretending to be two people (will that count to wards the country’s limit of stage performers I wonder).

It’s a pretty enough song but I don’t think the execution is as successfully in practice as it likely seemed on paper, and while it may summon the necessary chutzpah to catapult Croatia into the grand final, it’s just a little too weird to hand the country the win.

 

 


DENMARK: “Where I Am” by Anja

 

 

 

THE ARTIST
If you think that Australia’s sole connection to Denmark is that we have selflessly contributed a future queen to their royal ranks, think again.

We have also, and again selflessly it should be added, given Anja, who was born and raised in Australia to Danish parents, to the people of Denmark to represent them at this year’s contest.

And not just any old entrant, with Anja the winner of the 2014 series of The Voice Australia, and the runner up of last year’s Danish Eurovision selection contest Melodi Grand Prix and a singer who has been singing from a very young age, pet snake in tow, and had YouTube videos to prove it.

She has the credentials, and she has a love of her other homeland, and newly-polish Danish-speaking skills, but she have the song she needs to make Princess Mary and the entire nation proud?

 

(photo courtesy official Anja Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
“Where I Am” kicks off pretty spectacularly with some intense, almost acapella chanting.

So far so good. But then the song by Anja Nissen, Michael D’Arcy, Angel Tupai – see she writes songs too! – slows down and becomes a little too pedestrian, enjoyable enough in its own way but not possessing enough of a point of difference to really make a mark.

One thing in Anja’s favour is her voice which is more than up to the task; unfortunately while the song may kick up a gear live, highly likely if the video is any guide, it’s simply not distinctive to win the contest for Denmark, Anja’s childhood dream or not.

My only worry is that by not unabashedly supporting the song I may have cost myself afternoon team with Princess Mary but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

 

 


ESTONIA: “Verona” by Koit Toome & Laura

 

 

 

THE ARTIST
Bow before Estonia’s entrants, ye peasants, for they are apparently widely-regarded as Estonian pop royalty, a power couple who have the rare distinction of representing their country in 2005 (Laura as part of group Suntribe, “Let’s Get Loud”) and 1998 (Koit, “Mere Lapsed”) as solo artists, and now as a duo.

They come from quite different worlds with Koit bestriding the world of musical theatre and Laura as the head of the Estonian Jazz Union, which is less militant than it sounds, organising jazz concerts right around the country, but together are channelling the spirit of Romeo and Juliet for their performance. (Hopefully without the tragic double suicide which, let’s face it, would be a major downer for the telecast.)

When they are not making each other laugh – it’s an occupational hazard it seems, triggered either by Laura’s odd improvisational vocal warmup exercises. or by Koit’s pre-performance weird walks – they are, we’re assured, an amazing team who will, in all likelihood knock our figurative socks off.

But there is hype and then there is reality – where on this showbiz spectrum do Estonia’s newly-minted duo (a surprise to them and their fans; I smell a concocted entry) fall?

 

(photo courtesy official Koit Toome & Laura Facebook page)

 

 

THE SONG
“Verona” isn’t exactly coy with the Romeo and Juliet allusions, rather clumsily inserting them into just about lyric.

It doesn’t exactly work all the time – the music is reasonably catchy though hardly a standout and the lyrics sound oddly forced, but the manufactured duo’s voices do meld rather pleasingly, with Laura do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to making a vocal splash.

Again, this is a case of not a bad song, one that could quite possible grow on you with repeated listens, and may do well on the night with an inspired staging, but it’s not going to be the talk of semi final 2, and doesn’t stand any real chance of taking Estonia to the grand final.

The one caveat on that is a knockout live performance, which has been shown to elevate less than stellar songs, which both performers are eminently capable of delivering.

 

Saturday morning cartoons: The Funky Phantom

(image via YouTube (c) Hanna-Barbera/Warner Bros)

 

Show business has had a long and productive love affair with the axiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, happy to keep churning out variations on a theme, or even the same theme itself with minimal changes, if the viewers kept turning up to consume it.

Everyone is guilty of it, of course with everyone from Hollywood studios through to TV stations and comic books, happy to jump on the bandwagon and keep riding it until the wheels broke, but one of the foremost proponents of the art was Hanna-Barbera which for all its groundbreaking successes such as The Flintstones, the Jetsons and Scooby Doo, was always keen to take a basic concept and rework into all manner of likeminded permutations.

Case in point is The Funky Phantom (11 September 1971 – 2 September 1972), produced for Hanna-Barbera by Australia’s own Air Programs International, whose 17 episodes owed, in more ways than one, a substantial debt of creative inspiration to the far longer-running Scooby Doo (and apparently to a 1946 Abbott and Costello film The Time of their Lives, which features two Revolutionary Era-ghosts caught in, you guessed it, a clock).

With everything from roughly the same gender split of core characters to the fun mode of transport to the weekly mysteries and wise quips and aside, The Funky Phantom was quite the carbon copy of its more successful cousin, taking its creative mimicry even further by having the titular character, a Revolutionary Era-American patriot named Jonathan Wellington “Mudsy” Muddlemore, use the same voice as Snagglepuss (courtesy of Daws Butler), even down to the word “even” which punctuated the end of sentences.

That doesn’t detract from one minute from the fun and enjoyment to be had from the series, but it’s worth pointing out simply to illustrate that cannibalising, in the most flattering way possible, previously successful properties, was something that Hanna-Barbera, ever on the look out for another commercially successful idea, did remarkably well.

It didn’t lead to the same longevity as the source material – neither The Funky Phantom nor Speed Buggy nor the slew of other imitators from the studio lasted anywhere near as long as the big marquee series that made the studio’s name – but when you’re a young kid, like I was in the early to mid-1970s, you don’t really mind.

 

 

The Funky Phantom delivered up what I wanted in cartoons at that point:

  • Characters I liked – Skip Gilroy (Micky Dolenz) and Augie Anderson (Tommy Cook), who were in a love triangle with the beautiful April (Kristina Holland) and who, along with Elmo the Dog (Jerry Dexter) drove The Looney Duney all over the place, financial backing never disclosed, in search of adventure and mystery (thus opening the opportunity for endlessly creative storylines)
  • A fun, camp protagonist in Muddsy and his ghostly cat Boo who hid themselves in a grandfather clock in revolutionary Boston to escape British pursuers and never left dying while they waited and only being released when the The Looney Duney gang stumbled into the haunted mansion where the clock remarkably still sat (clearly not a gentrifying neighbourhood).
  • A cute, cheesy expository theme song that lays everything you need to know before the mystery sleuthing begins.
  • Some over the top silly situations, mostly due to over the top villains camply posturing their way through each episode and engaging in all manner of chases and ultimately ineffective terrifying of the kids (the bigger scaredy cat was Muddsy who was, believe it or not, actually afraid of ghosts; and yes it was pointed out to him time and again that he is one).

What is interesting as someone who loves comic books is that it was the print version adventures of The Funky Phantom that showed more creativity than the TV series.

Dispensing with the Scooby Doo-esque villains in a mask trope – one episode of The Funky Phantom (#3 “I’ll Haunt You Later”) even used the phrase “I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” – they tried a completely tack to drive the narrative, according to Wikipedia:

“In the 1970s, comic books of The Funky Phantom were released by Western Publishing and Gold Key Comics. The comics were both original stories as well as adaptations of some of the TV episodes. The stories in the comics, however, took a different turn from the TV episodes. While on the show, the “ghost” was always a villain in a mask (like Scooby-Doo), in some of the original comic stories, the villains would often turn out to be other ghosts from on or around the colonial era. (The show never addressed why it seemed that there were no other ghosts besides Mudsy and Boo.) The comics even did a twist on the series when the gang traveled back to colonial times via an erratic time machine, only to find out that the kids are now the ghosts (the machine could only transport spiritual matter) and Mudsy is once more inside his original flesh-and-blood body. Also, the comics introduced a new regular character who never appeared in the show. Priscilla Atwater, a ghostly matron from Mudsy’s time, who lusted after Mudsy and pursued him actively, although she tended to flirt with about any other ghost who came along.”

That burst of creative originality aside, The Funky Phantom was never a powerhouse of cutting edge storytelling but then was that ever really the point for it or many of Hanna-Barbera’s workhorse series?

They were designed as entertainment for kids on a Saturday morning pure and simple, and we cared not if it was thematically groundbreaking or if the backgrounds all looked the same, or whether The Looney Duney even looked like were driving on all four wheels thanks to its placement on said backgrounds; in truth, I, and countless other kids like me, just wanted to laugh, and have some precious non-school fun, something The Funky Phantom delivered in spades, and even after all these years, still manages to the delight of my still cartoon-crazy inner child.