Vs. The (Pop) World 1

By Juan Manuel Freire

Steve Jobs' retirement is truly bad news. Some people might say enough already with the Mother Theresa - or even God-like - treatment of the man. But Jobs has done a better job than God; unlike him, he changed people's lives. I mean, look at the invention of the shuffle function on the iPod. Now the worst tasks are bearable, even taking out the trash. Waiting for the elevator, going down to where the trash cans are, getting rid of the bags, and so on, can be an opportunity to discover or rediscover a song you thought digested and forgotten. Standing in line at the post office? Easy. Renewing your passport? Bring it on. Even donating blood becomes easy when right at that very moment a rap track pops up to empower you.

We have to give thanks to Steve Jobs for allowing us to colour the most mundane moments of our lives with some unexpected melodic twists. Not all of his ideas will have been as successful: the Music Quiz stopped being fun after a couple of times and it used up the battery at insulting speed, remember that game? But the shuffle mode... The shuffle mode changed our routines and, at the same time, it took care of the double concept albums, although David Guetta has just released one. So Steve Jobs hasn't only saved our lives, he's saved pop music's life, too. Thank you, forever.

Hipster laughter “Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings” confirms - after “Flight Of The Conchords” and “Bored To Death” and before the promising series by songifiers Gregory Brothers - that a good hipster comedy is possible. In this absurd reality show, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal travel around the US to lend their services as directors of advertising to local businesses that deserve a small push. Among the first beneficiaries (or victims, when you see the ads) are the Holiday Hotel For Cats, wrestling school Make Me a Pro Wrestler and Da Spot Hair Salon, a mainly African-American hairdresser in search of a wider audience. In the last episode, Rhett and Link decide to let their own hair be done by Da Spot. The first gets a superhero cut, the second, some braids in the vein of Edward Norton in “Stone”. Check the video below for the result. Enjoy!

S uper video, in fact “The Warriors” stole some of its thunder in 1979, but “The Wanderers” was a great gang movie, too. And that story of gangs of New York in the sixties - infectious, exciting and dark - seems to be the inspiration for the latest episode of MTV's “Supervideo” series: Best Coast’s “Our Deal”, by Drew Barrymore. Does she confirm her abilities as shown in “Whip It!”, that feminist and warm version of “Rollerball”? Yes, she does. And like in that film (with the lethal Kristen Wiig, way before “Bridesmaids”, as Ellen Page's roller-skate mentor), the cast is top notch: Chloe Moretz, Tyler Posey, Miranda Cosgrove, Donald Glover... They fight, they fall in love, they go down in eleven intense minutes (there is a short version, but the full version, a short film, is better).

Watch The Throne

I know the collaboration between Kanye West and Jay-Z is more hip-hop than pop, but their album is too good - too euphoria-inducing, too pop, in fact - not to mention it in this column. One could expect a simple piece of entertainment (and some do see it that way), a product made exclusively with the intention of generating an extra headline. Although perhaps not as good as “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, this album is magnetic, exciting and explosive (or rather, implosive, given the fact that a usually contained production leads us back to the eternal “808s & Heartbreak”). The variety of sounds and guests might not make for a coherent sound, but it would be foolish to not let an inspired (as always) Frank Ocean take the mic ( “No Church in the Wild”) or a Beyoncé who sounds better than anywhere on “4” ( “Lift Off”). If anyone needs a less sophisticated, more visceral experience, check out the album by Ferrari Boyz (Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame); something like the poor man's “Watch The Throne”.

"Niggas In Paris"

High-brow pop culture

For those who still doubt that gut-wrenching cinema can also open your mind, here's a new book about the relationship of modern horror with its time and high-brow culture. New York Times theatre critic Jason Zinoman connects the dots between Harold Pinter and Wes Craven in “Shock Value” (The Penguin Press), a tribute to the directors that turned horror cinema of the seventies around: Craven and Polanski, Carpenter, De Palma... “Shock Value” has been defined as a bloody version of “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” by Peter Biskind; but it actually resembles another book about the New Hollywood, “Pictures At A Revolution”, by Mark Harris. Like Zinoman, Harris wasn't trying so much to be complete - but rather opted for a deeper analysis of some works and emblematic directors. For the formidable chapter on “Rosemary’s Baby” only, it's worth buying - though the whole book is brilliant; above all because of the interviews with some greats (John Landis, with a great anecdote about Hitchcock) and lesser known people (Terence Winkless, the man John Carpenter supposedly stole the idea for “Halloween” from).

And to make the shipping costs more worthwhile, add another item to your basket: for example, “Supergods”, by comic scriptwriter Grant Morrison (Spiegel & Grau), an exploration of the modern myth of the superhero with insider knowledge, although it's also a big ego trip (about his early days, Morrison says: “Being young, good-looking and cocky forgave many sins.”). The deconstruction of the superhero par excellence (remember “Batman: Arkham Asylum”) is something between a critical history and egomaniacal memory in a book that is a very easy read (at the speed of The Flash). That's how Morrison explained it on Newsarama.

Super video #2

While I'm waiting for the first novel by Colin Meloy, “Wildwood” (more info, I hope, in the next Vs.), I watch the latest video of his band Decemberists, “Calamity Song”, over and over. On the suggestion of Meloy himself, director Michael Schur, co-creator and show runner of “Parks And Recreation”, turns a passage from David Foster Wallace's “Infinite Jest” into images with music: the passage dedicated to Eschaton, the war game for which the players have to be skilful at hitting targets with tennis balls. The end might be different, somewhat friendlier, but the video’s still a delicious piece of black humour and very well directed, too. Play.

KoL not cool

Okay, they sounded in “Cloverfield”. And on the upcoming In-Edit there will be a documentary which apparently makes us believe in their redneck background. But Kings Of Leon are a band that's hard to love. And although St. Vincent (don't miss out on “Strange Mercy”, a ridiculously beautiful album) talks about 2010 as the worst year in history, something almost cosmic, KoL would say 2011 is a thousand times worse. KoL are having a 2011 that is worse than yours, mine and everybody else's. Doves have been shitting on their heads. They cancelled their entire tour. Even the oldest of the Hansons knows it: “I have a hard time with musicians who act like pricks ... The Kings of Leon guys are running some risks. They're irritating people; you can't do that too much. Eventually the bad boy image affects fans' willingness to show up. Their fans will get bummed out.” As far as I know, Caleb hasn't responded to any of it yet...

Super video #3

Chairlift must be one of the most unjustly underrated bands of the last century, along with Violens and Holy Ghost! - with whom their singer Caroline Polachek has collaborated, coincidentally. We hope their luck will change thanks to the (super) video of their new single, “Amanaemonesia” (granted, that title won't help them reach stardom). Directed by Todd Hines (not Haynes) and Polachek herself, it's a bit “The Skin I Live In”, the musical: we see the singer dressed in a body but instead of doing yoga and reading Alice Munro, she's singing an impossible song and doing some even more impossible dance moves, choreographed by herself and Juri Onuku. Search, compare, and if you find a more fascinating video, let me know. Chairlift's next album will be out in 2012 on Columbia.

Unfinished sympathy

Possibly an absurd question: but don't you think the iPod, in shuffle mode, plays too well at times? Linking songs that are just too much in the same vein? For example, a while ago mine played “Heaven”, by Emeli Sandé, and “What Have I Become”, by Loney Dear, in a row. If you're asking what the Scottish urban singer and old Loney have in common, I'll give you two words: “Unfinished Sympathy”. Sandé's debut single is almost an accelerated and syncopated revision of Massive's classic; the last track of “Hall Music” ends in an orgy of strings very reminiscent of Wil Malone's arrangements. It's a double knock-out to say goodbye, or almost, until next month.

Emeli Sandé - Heaven Loney Dear - What have I Become


The Weeknd/ Thursday: The second mixtape. Drake is going to have to fight to deliver some equally suave R&B. Lo-Fi-Fnk/ The Last Summer: To deny the end of summer, nothing better than the new/old electro-pop gems of the marvellous Swedish duo. Active Child/ You Are All I See: Harps, falsettos and super classy chill-wave, what’s not to like? No matter what Ron Shelton says, white men can jump. Slow Club/ Paradise: Carefully crafted harmonies, affective lyrics: a paradise for the lovers of sophisticated indie-pop. Other Lives/ Tamer Animals: The cousins of The Rosebuds record a miracle. “Heading East” is an impressive final: John Barry goes hauntology.

Next: Pilot season, the orgasm of “Drive”, The Soft Moon, “Straw Dogs” before and after, Spongebob pummelled by the cops, actor's records, justice for Justice and, with a bit of luck, a good beef. TV series, horror movies, music videos directed by posh stars, Eschaton, some important albums, rap come pop, Steve Jobs, iPod shuffle and the decline of Kings Of Leon come together in this month's pop column.

Vs. July 2011

Vs. June 2011

Vs. May 2011

Review: " Watch The Throne"

The Decemberists - “The King Is Dead”

Review: The Decemberists “The King Is Dead”

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