Categories
Music

Jenny Lewis vs. Rilo Kiley

Jenny Lewis vs Riloy Kiley

A bit of background: although I enjoy Rilo Kiley’s music, I’ve never been a huge fan. They are a nice little indie band that does quirk and usually does it fairly well. I have several of their albums, but I haven’t listened to them much recently.

The first time I heard their most recent album, “Under the Blacklight“, I was turned off pretty quickly and ended up deleting it from my hard drive. From that first impression, it seemed clear that they had decided to jettison everything intimate and quirky about their sound in an effort to make it big in the mainstream, and I found the results lacking.

As for Jenny Lewis, I enjoyed her first album under her own name, thought it was a nice change of pace, but, again, I didn’t think it was anything earth-shattering. It seemed more like Neko Case-lite with a girl group spin. It’s one of those albums that I appreciate but never listened to that much or that often. However, when her second album, “Acid Tongue“, came out, I listened to a few samples and was immediately hooked. I bought it pretty promptly and it’s not only in heavy rotation, it’s easily one of my most favorite albums of the year.

After listening to Acid Tongue a few dozen times, I started wondering if I had written off Under the Blacklight unfairly, so I decided to give it another spin and see if there were any hidden gems I missed the first time around. To make a long story short, there are definitely some pretty amazing songs on the album, but they’re the exception to the rule. Although my first impression was harsh, it wasn’t too far off base.

The best song on the album is Close Call, the second track. It’s got a good hook and a really catchy chorus. Even though it isn’t that stylistically different from the rest of the album, its one of the few places where the different elements the band is working with here actually gel into a cohesive whole. I also like the first track, Silver Lining, even though it sounds like a Jenny Lewis solo song fighting to get out of a traditional Rilo Kiley arrangement.

The most consistent stylistic elements throughout the album are robotic drums (drum machines or otherwise), new-wave synths and a band taking itself way too seriously. Interestingly enough, the robotic drums and new wave synths have always been a big part of their sound, but in their earlier work it sounded more like a teenage girl recording cynical ballads in her bedroom with a drum machine. Not in a bad way, mind you, but the songs sounded smaller, more intimate and less self-consciously “mature”. Lyrically, the subjects were far more mundane and/or knowingly quirky. They had the new-wave style without turning into something inorganic.

Almost the entire first half of their newest album seems to be trying to prove that they are, in fact, a serious band ready for the big leagues. Mostly, they just sound like they need to relax. Most of the songs have a chilly, distant atmosphere, which works well in small doses (Close Call), but just seems overwrought after four or five tracks. There’s a crucial point in the album about 6 songs in where I’ve wanted to turn it off almost every time. When I’m in an album-listening mood, I don’t like skipping tracks, so if a song gets on my nerves, I’m more likely to never hear the rest of the album after that. Today I made myself keep listening, and I have to admit that the album continued getting on my nerves.

It’s kind of amazing how stark the difference is between Lewis’ solo stuff and her work with the band. Where Rilo Kiley has become more inorganic and stilted, Lewis’ second solo album feels organic, warm, lived in and vibrant. Apparently the recordings were all perfected on tour and recorded live, and it shows. Ironically, Lewis is more cohesive with the rotating cast of characters serving as her solo bandmates than she is with her ostensible mainstream gig.

Solo albums are kind of a strange animal. They’re oftentimes nothing more than experimental detours or egotistical failures. It’s a rare case where a solo album is this much better than an artist’s work with their actual band. Considering how much her solo work has grown by leaps and bounds, I would be very surprised if Rilo Kiley has another album in them. At this point, they’re doing nothing more than holding her back.

Jenny Lewis on YouTube

Categories
Television

The Lost Legacy of Heroes

Heroes continues to occupy my mind this week. I think that’s another good sign that it’s a show worth watching. The shows that I end up removing from my recording schedule are the ones that I don’t care about, that I don’t miss when they’re gone.

Heroes, lurching monster that is is, is still compelling enough that it keeps me rehashing its convoluted story-lines around the metaphorical water-cooler we call the internet.

Accordingly, something that has been occupying my mind this week is the giant influence that Lost has had on network TV in general and Heroes in particular. Heroes is one of several shows that were created in the wake of the initial huge (and unexpected) success of Lost. Suddenly every network had its own ensemble show with complex story-lines, flashbacks, and the occasional hint of science-fictional doings. Most of these shows disappeared fairly quickly.

Off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure that Heroes is the only “post-Lost” show still on the air. I qualify it as a “post-Lost” show simply because its debt to Lost is right out there, front-and-center. However, rather than outgrowing its debts and influences over time and coming into its own, Heroes seems to be slowly collapsing under the weight of its creative debts. There are a few aspects of the show that seem particularly drawn from Lost, for better or worse, and I’ll break them down after the jump.

Categories
Television

Who watches The Watchmen? Definitely not the Heroes writers.

First off: a disclaimer. I’m going to discuss this week’s Heroes episode in my post, so if you’re spoiler averse, please stop reading now.

With that out of the way, I think those of us who are current on the newest season of Heroes can all safely agree that the show is a complete mess. By the same token, I think if you are current on the show, it’s because there’s still something about it that keeps you hooked and ready for the next episode. It’s almost as if it has some kind of charisma that makes you want to forgive its plot-holes and serious lapses in writing.

It’s why I keep watching, and keep hoping that the writing will rise above the current level and the writers will avoid any serious lapses in logic or character motivation. I have a feeling I will continue to get my hopes up only to have them dashed yet again.

Categories
Books

Inexplicable Cover Redesigns

I’m continually fascinated by the process of book cover designs and redesigns. I actually follow several blogs that focus on nothing but the subject of new book cover designs, often comparing hardback to paperback and US to UK or international versions. It’s really interesting how books are sold in completely different ways in different countries. Re-released versions are also alternately fascinating and disappointing, depending on the thinking behind the updated version. Here’s a good example:

The Diamond Age, Old vs. New

On the left is an earlier cover for The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The cover on the right is for a version re-released this year to coincide with Stephenson’s upcoming book, Anathem. For some reason all of Stephenson’s books (except for the Baroque Cycle) are being re-released with covers that match the style of Anathem: a shadowy figure, lit from behind and walking or running through a doorway at the end of a long hall or large space.

It’s kind of bizarre, especially since the new cover makes The Diamond Age look more like a Jason Bourne book than a post-cyberpunk / steampunk / fantasy novel about a girl and the virtual world that exists in her diary. The old cover may be a bit dated and “of its time”, but I think it does a much better job of communicating what the book is actually about, with its juxtaposition of rusty gears and amorphous 3D imagery.

If you’re interested in checking out a few good blogs focusing on book cover designs, here’s my reading list:

  1. The Book Design Review
  2. …by Henry Sene Yee Design
  3. Book Covers Anonymous
  4. Caustic Cover Critic
Categories
Films

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I remember watching the first Ghost in the Shell movie and being confused and mildly disappointed. up until that point, my only exposure to anime was Akira, which – although it was confusing as well – seemed far more epic in scope. I remember wondering if there were that many full-length anime features that were as good as I thought Akira was, and for a few years, I didn’t think so.

I was, of course, wrong. there were a hell of a lot of really excellent full-length anime features out there, I just hadn’t found them yet.

Now, in my personal continuum of anime features, nothing will probably ever top Spirited Away. That would just be heresy; I’d say that and Akira are on equal footing in my realm.