Thursday, September 19, 2013

First Assignment - Narrative Non-Fiction

Having received and written my first assignment, and considering it's my first written one, in a style I like to write about, I'm putting it here for this reason. I think it's not too bad. The idea was to go somewhere public, sit down, observe, notice things, and write about them.

Narrative Non-fiction
Justin S. Campbell

I chose to go to the McDonald’s in Wal-Mart because it’s really the only place one could say I go – normally my breaks at work are taken there, and I know people so there’s some backstory involved.

On a Thursday evening the McDonalds located within the Wal-Mart 3638 – otherwise known as Barrhaven – has a normal healthy scattering of patrons. A family occupied the tables behind me as I sat in the booth walled-in by a small partition, facing the ordering counter. A party of elderly people sat together in one of the window-side booths. What looked like a young man, his girlfriend, and either aunt or mother sat further down at the tables. Typical for a fast-food environment, several kids from the family behind me wined and were otherwise let loose about the general area.

            Despite the activity, there were no lines at the counter as people came at infrequent times. The two girls at the counter – one young blonde, obviously still in high school, and an older-looking bespectacled brunette – appeared to be taking inventory of foodstuffs for the smoothie machine, coffee machines and other instruments in between orders. Only one person worked in the kitchen, a broad-shouldered, brown-haired young man just starting university.

            I knew something or other about the staff well enough on my own. I worked at the Wal-Mart. I came in on almost all of my breaks. They knew me by face. Probably by order, too. Jamie, one of the swing managers, moved around constantly between kitchen, fry station and the back. I didn’t know much about the two girls other than the names on their badges, but Jamie had been around for awhile (about seven years) and the kitchen person, Ian, knew me well enough both via work and our mutual connection to his sister. It’s normally commonplace for the two of us to randomly exchange glances of mutual familiarity between the dining area and the small gap between the muffin fixture and wall, into the kitchen. In fact he made the quarter pounder I just ate.

            Other than the typical small number of Wal-Mart unloaders and associates that often came in during break, of my knowledge there weren’t many regulars at the place but for the person whom everyone knew as the Crazy Lady. A lightly obese older woman with silver hair, glasses, and a high-pitched voice, she always came into the restaurant every single night – either before, during or after shopping at Wal-Mart. Her appearance in that random order parallels the voice-overs the restaurant constantly played over the Wal-Mart paging system – “come in before, during, or after you shop!” – and everyone, both Wal-Mart staff and McDonalds workers knew her immediately. Knew her and very likely loathed her.

            The rate of business at a place like a small McDonalds in Wal-Mart is always infrequent almost regardless of the time of day; it was quieter earlier despite the rambunctious children, though now lines sometimes formed. The two girls kept up the orders – one working the register, the blonde running in between conveying fries and burger cartons to trays, Ian cooking and assembling in the kitchen – and just as often the business would fade away. The crowd of people took their meals to go, left the restaurant, disappeared into Wal-Mart territory and beyond. I would guess that it was more likely later in the evening for people to take food to-go rather than dine in, whereas it was more lively during the day with people dining-in. Having the franchise based within a large retail outlet completely shifts the influx of people from those interested only in getting fast food directly from McDonalds to those who are shopping and decide perhaps as an afterthought or as a suggestion to go eat at the restaurant. The audience is different.

            As I finish this thought, a girl from the Fashion department not on shift stood with her boyfriend at the counter, waiting for the blonde to run their food to the tray waiting on the counter. That’s one other audience that this outlet does have – Wal-Mart employees, including myself, and those who aren’t necessarily working tonight. It’s a place where these associates even manage to have a light working relationship with the restaurant staff, especially if you’re just out of high school and working in either place.

            At this point, it’s quarter to nine and the Crazy Lady hasn’t appeared yet. I might have sat down after she’d left, but I would guarantee that she’s in Wal-Mart as I type this, eventually making her way here. Jamie actively assists behind the counter, moving wherever needed, and he’s a well-liked authority. I could hear him joking with Ian in the kitchen quite a bit while the others worked, and he happily delivered a long-awaited fries to a waiting table before the woman could get up to receive them on her own. The morale seems generally high among the staff whether they’re busy or not, and the customers are satisfied with their food.

            Perhaps the best way to describe the harmonious positive energy is something my best friend Shawn said. Shawn used to work at this McDonalds and he’d been here several years. According to him, a chain has to be maintained. Maintained and kept perfect for everything to work out. No sand or dust could get in these gears, and as Jamie has a light conversation with the blonde, Ian and the brunette during a lull in customers, as the patrons at the tables have enjoyable private conversations over fast-food, it’s quite obvious that good morale and harmony are perfect for keeping these gears running.

Justin C.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fresh Corn

While I love the decade of the 1980s for its music, movies and, well, mostly music, like anyone else, I cannot avoid the corny aspects.

Some would argue that the 80s had the corniest music, or music videos. Others would disagree, proclaiming it the time when music was real or otherwise memorable. Those people would almost certainly be those who were teens or young adults at the time, coming of age. That magical time in life when things seem ever possible, you're young and free, there's no fear of mortality, you're on top of the world, blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever. In my argument, every decade save for probably the 1950s and going backwards has its share of corniness. There's no more or less, because everybody's opinion differs.

I'm going to post my three chosen corniest songs/videos of the 80s below. I typically like songs from the 1980s for their sound and aesthetic, their deep drum sounds and synths, their tone and atmosphere, but there are some songs that still get too far. Not too ironically, for the songs that I've chosen, all three of them are fads for me - I liked them immediately, but that like was short-lived because of the fact that only one little hook or instrument riff spurred my interest.

#3. Don't Leave Me This Way (Communards extended version)

I came across this thing while going through an 80s music video/song compilation on YouTube. I do that sometimes and find stuff I like now and then. But the important thing is that had the compilation not focused on the songs' chorus, I probably wouldn't have been interested at all.

Communards was a short-lived band fronted by Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles, both of whom had played in the earlier outfit 'Bronski Beat.' They only had two single hits, this one and another called 'Never Can Say Goodbye,' and both of them were covers of earlier disco songs - Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes originally did 'Don't Leave me This Way' and the Jackson 5 were the original performers of the latter. They were often accompanied by Jazz singer Sarah Jane Morris, who sang on both songs.

As for 'Don't Leave me this Way,' it was originally recorded by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes before being subsequently covered by Thelma Houston. Here's the thing that gets me about the Communards' version (the hook that hooked me in): The chorus has this horn riff at the beginning, right after the first phrase is sung. Just these horns that play the same couple of notes at the beginning of each lyrical phrase of the chorus. I don't particularly know why - it's likely the way they sort of go up into the higher notes - but it's just alluring to me.

When I looked into the other and original versions, there hadn't been horns in either one. Instead, for Thelma Houston's cover, it was, interestingly enough, the bass guitar that does the riff. Except it's a complicated-sounding mixture of melodic notes instead of these squawking horns. In the Bluenotes' original, while there are horns that play constantly throughout the chorus, it's also the bass that does the little riff.

The Communards are the only band that decided to replace the bass with horns, and probably due to its different genre. The Bluenotes' original was an early disco hit; Thelma Houston stayed within that genre with her cover, and The Communards were the only outfit that strayed from that and revamped it for their version. The only probably similarities really are the general piano melody and the drum rhythm. I wouldn't and probably couldn't play bass on their version, because while it's not as complicated in terms of extra notes, it's extremely frenetic and energetic because it instead bounces between octaves on each note. The bassist is switching between strings like crazy on the neck because one finger is playing a low F on the E string and then a high F on the D string.

Anyway, the video, in a very short summary, depicts the band secretly having a gig in a warehouse. They have an entire outfit there including a brass section and Morris joining in with Somerville on the second chorus. In a separate plot, a young blonde-haired man tries to escape pursuers that eventually capture him and force him to infiltrate the band's performance. The 'evil boss' character seems to represent something I'm unsure of but seems familiar at the back of my mind - perhaps certain historical political leaders or dictators or outfits. Either way, a force obviously opposed to the band or its message or songs. The man is admitted to the gig, spends the whole time watching/listening with what looks like an extremely hurt expression that looks like betrayal, and at the song's climax, the evil guys show up and shines a light on everyone after the blonde man whispers something into the walkie-talkie he has. Everyone scatters.

In the previous versions, the song has always obviously been about a man addressing a woman, or a woman addressing a man in Houston's cover, but this version seems more ambiguous. The blonde man's appearance and visibly hurt expression seems to suggest it's actually him that's being addressed. Two male heads in side-profile, one with a teardrop, on the single's cover art also suggest that, but that could just as well be Jimmy and Richard's side-profiles.

Here's where the song's corniness comes from: it's obviously campy, very dramatic and overly-colourful. There's a whacky organ-like keyboard in the chorus that elevates it into a campy sound. The bass sounds overly bright and bouncy. The vocals are, well, too much by the time the bridge comes along and they're chanting 'free-eee' endlessly in silly operatic voices. There's a ridiculous warbling of the bass that makes me think of the Village People and campy disco. After the wonderful piano solo (one other awesome part of the song I do like) the voices all return together - 'come satisfy me,' 'freeee,' 'don't leave me this way,' all coming together as Somerville yells 'nooo!' all in falsetto. It makes me imagine him falling down a well, actually. The voices are just way too melodramatic. For that - the silly chants, campy instruments, and extreme melodrama - it's #3.

Note that I embedded the extended version of the music video. That just means the entire song - not edited down for radio play - is in it, and you can hear that one other great thing about the song. Richard's piano solo, which sounds classical and sweeping in contrast to the melodrama surrounding it - is definitely something to listen to. It's one thing The Communards added that wasn't in previous versions and benefits the song beautifully.

#2. 'Shiny Shiny' (Haysi Fantayzee)

The second picking from an 80s video compilation, it caught my eye because the scene from the video - this woman wearing the most ridiculous outfit - and the general melody (from the instruments, not her voice) kept my attention. Originally I'd hear it and feel I shouldn't even look it up because it looked so silly and whacky, someone twenty-two years of age would obviously be way too old to listen to something so childish-sounding.

Curiosity got the best of me and I ended up looking it up, turning the volume down on the computer as low as I could without eliminating the sound completely. To my surprise, it wasn't just this outlandishly-dressed woman, but a duo - her and this outlandishly-dressed guy.

Haysi Fantayzee consisted of three people, actually - Kate Garner, Jeremy Healy, and Kate's boyfriend Paul Caplan, who did all the writing and producing. They were also short-lived (a pattern is developing here) and though I haven't mentioned it before, both these guys and The Communards originated in Britain. Garner developed their unusual dress and makeup, making the two of them as similar-looking as possible. This led to friction between them and Boy George, apparently, because the former decided the latter had 'stolen' the look; Boy George was probably best-remembered for his makeup and dress in that period. I guess the duo just couldn't popularize the appearance as well as Boy George could. Oh well.

For the song, I can say that I have very little idea of what it's actually about. I don't know. Their song titles and album title - 'Battle Hymns For Children Singing' - all seem kind of nonsensical and unusual. I don't know what 'John Wayne is Big Leggy' means (one of their other singles) so I doubt I can figure out what the lyrics of this song mean or refer to.

As for the song, here's what I do like about it: The low piano chords (particularly the deep and resounding C major near the bridge) are deep and great, the general melody is actually not bad, the guitar is kind of fun and there are certain elements that I like or make me think of younger times. The 'no chance' chant they yell now and then makes me think of a silly young brother-sister duo getting on together, and the little guitar lead-in after the first chorus makes me think of something I heard when I was a kid that precipitated good excitement either in a video or a silly song. At the same time in the video, Jeremy is playing it in a spotlight that reminds me of the Mr. Bean opening intro (though this was shot before Mr. Bean had been around). The little meditation-like phrase - 'bad times behind me' - is a good little positive element to it I find.

The video is a very typical let's play with special effects piece where they appear together now and then with images flashing behind or in front of them, scenes of Jeremy 'ripping' the video or image off the screen behind him, and stuttering repetitions that were not nearly as normal as they are in music today. Perhaps the biggest visual aspect of the video is their silly outfits. I will say though that Kate has an attractive face that may seem a little harsh in the white light. It's just plain silly.

For the corny aspect, just watch the video and listen to the song generally. I like the deep chords and bass melody, but their combined voices and certain effects and overall tone just make it seem so corny it's more or less like a Saturday morning cartoon opening sequence rather than a pop song. That's the tone I get from it - a children's show opening theme. And and early 80s one at that. It sounds like a children's song yet I doubt it's for children despite the album's title. The stuttering and repetition is silly. Garner's extremely high-pitched voice in the chorus - and her lyrics ('shiny shiny...') is just childish-sounding. I can't listen to the 'good times come to me now' introduction, though that's more to do with my difficulty listening to high-pitched female voices sing solo in general. I still think I'm too old to listen to the song or watch the video, because it seems more like kids would like it.

But I still like the deep piano chords...

#1. 'Breakin' ...There's No Stopping Us (Ollie & Jerry)

This is #1 because of how it covers basically every single corny aspect as possible. I found it in an 80s music video compilation (another pattern here - all located in compilations, all from short-lived bands) and is the most recent song to hit my notice. So recent that I still like to listen to it, and only for a couple of reasons.

As for Ollie & Jerry, they weren't from the UK but rather from the States - and they never had an actual album. Rather, they recorded this song particularly for the movie soundtrack to the film Breakin' in 1984. The only other thing they did (other than promote the song) was record 'Electric Boogaloo' - not as an independent single of their own with no affiliations but to supplement the soundtrack to the sequel of the Breakin' movie - Electric Boogaloo.

The duo apparently were session musicians that teamed up for this effort, but they were only ever for the movies. The song appears to be about 'breaking down the doors' and otherwise being able to do what you want to do (in this case break-dance).

Perhaps this song was only really made to be intended to be break-danced to, and if it was, then I'm sure it succeeds. What do I like (still like as of this point)? The keyboard chords. They sound positive and bright. That and the keyboard-bass which isn't that bad either. The high-pitched keyboard notes that are more obvious in the chorus nearer the end. That's about it.

The video isn't particularly corny really since it's just scenes from the movie the song comes from, and random shots of people break-dancing.

As for the corny aspect, the rest of the song is basically it. The drum machine is over-done - you hear too many flourishes. It's so electronic and exuberant that it's typical 80s but to a crazy degree. There's a robot voice that sounds rather cliched. The little warp noises are also cliched. The vocals are kind of cliched and silly at the same time. There's a lyric that goes 'now don't you try to laugh us out, 'cause we're breaking down the doors...' how can you not laugh at the sound of his voice by the end of that verse? It goes so high-pitched, it sounds like he turned into a baby. Or a cute high-pitched animal, whichever. The obvious keyboard-bass is cliched...this is full of a lot of cliches. Perhaps this is where all of music's cliches originated. The little minor verse between choruses where the singer goes 'na-nana-na-na-nana' is definitely cliched and repetitive. The voices don't even sound that good together in that chorus.

I can go on. Like I said, it's number 1 because it's corny and cliched all over, the point that's what the song is altogether. Ironically I still like it at the moment, but that's only because of the heavenly keyboard chords in the chorus and little organ-like ones that accompany it later.

Anyway, there's no point in my grading the three of these since all of them are corny and melodramatic and silly and childish and cliched, etc. etc., so I'll just leave it at that. There are probably worse stuff out there, and I while I do have them numbered from three to one, they can be considered one to three or whatever; they're all corny in their own respects.

Justin C.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Do You Know (What it Takes)?

Since I decided to go through every music video on my mother's old VHS back in 2011, I've reviewed about two songs that were on it because it re-ignited my interest in the song and/or the video. One was 'Enid' by Barenaked Ladies - a neat video that has a concept I'd want to do myself - and the other was Split Enz' 'Message to my Girl,' a sweet ballad of a song that also used an interesting video technique wherein the lead singer roamed through a seemingly massive studio on his own before coming to the rest of the band on the other side - though he hasn't really travelled that far.

As you get to the end of the tape, the songs/videos suddenly start to get more modern in time. My mother stopped recording stuff on it around 1997/1998 (she says it's when she then got a CD player) so the last few videos are from that particular time. Most of the tape centres around songs from 1990, 1992, 1987, etc. Musically, the late 90s was in the midst of Backstreet Boys, NSync, Hanson (hundreds of times better than today's One Direction) and other boy/girl bands. That was the pop of the time - and the very end of the tape reflects it.

Out of the music videos that stood out to me as favourites at the time - there were several, particularly 'Where's the Love,' 'D'You Know What I Mean?' and 'Do You Know (What it Takes)' (Hanson, Oasis and Robyn) - I'm going to review the latter by Robyn because while the Hanson and Oasis videos were mostly what you'd expect (performance videos with some slight backdrop or story mixed in) Robyn's had a different approach. And it's a good song that I feel some relatability with.

Looking at it again in recent years it's become a visual part of my childhood, watching it. But I've gotten into the song and the lyrics as well. The music is the standard late 90s pop sound but the lyrics I find I can relate to in a small way, even if it's sung from a woman's perspective.

When I was young, like everything on the tape, it was the video over the song that caught me. I know now that the song is about looking for commitment and assurance of monogamous love, particularly for someone who is very deep and obviously passionate about it.

The singer, Robyn (born in Sweden as Robin Carlsson) was only eighteen at the time of the song's recording and her debut album's (Robyn is Here) release. At that I feel I can applaud her efforts at such a young age; perhaps she could be considered a pioneer of female dance-pop music, hailing long before acts like Hilary Duff or that crazy Miley character, a young woman I have no applause for at all.

Since I've already detailed that the lyrics seem to be about seeking assured commitment, I'll just go into the video details. There were a couple of them, but the one that I saw back when I was six-seven was the video filmed in Los Angeles. I don't know why two videos were filmed, especially one in America when the artist is Swedish, but I guess it was perhaps to market her to American audiences.

It's simple. Intercut with shots of her in a revolving, egg-like chair (Evil Genius?) she drives a nondescript black van through the streets until she stops abruptly at an intersection. By which I mean right in the middle of the intersection. She makes a half-turn in front of an oncoming car, intentionally, stops, and parks there, blocking it. Every direction subsequently becomes blocked and clogged by gridlock as she locks up the intersection.

Upon parking, she turns on a large amp, climbs on top of the car with a microphone and stand, and immediately starts singing the rest of the song while people start milling about below.

There's another story involved that caters to the song's lyrics, in which a young, good-looking man leaves his house and gets in his car. Obviously this is the person she's referring to (in the video). Eventually he finds himself stuck in traffic caused by her van, so he investigates only to find her there, addressing him through the music. The video ends with him smiling up at her in understanding as she happily finishes the song.

I've found out through YouTube comments and Google Earth that the video was shot on the intersection of Wilcox and Yucca Streets in Hollywood. You can even virtually go to the intersection using Google Streetview. I shouldn't say that the street names weren't difficult, actually, since the street signs are quite obvious in certain parts of the video. What I find funny is that the egg-seat scenes were actually filmed in the back of the van, with the vehicle parked in an awkward position at the corner of the intersection where people would normally wait for the light. The street sign is the most obvious here. I guess after she messed up the street by being in the centre, she somehow managed to get the van to the corner afterwards, waiting until nightfall to spin around in the chair (before it closes on her you can see it's nighttime around the van).

The Intersection in Streetview

Watching it again, I kind of like the cinematography and point of view shots, the way the camera's at the corner of the man's car as he drives or the brief shot of Robyn through the side mirror. The overhead shots are very nice too, especially when you can see how the traffic's done up. It must have taken a lot of coordination to get the cars in place, choreograph the gridlock, get a helicopter overhead to shoot everything from above. It's interesting to compare shots from the video with the Google Streetview image, and that provides some more background on the video - for example, that it was shot only a block north from Hollywood Boulevard (and three away from Sunset Boulevard). The streets themselves were very minor collector ones, not big arterials, and she was driving east down Yucca before she stopped to face northeast in the intersection.

For the music and song itself, it's a traditional late-90s sound that largely brings back nostalgic memories. I think it's pretty good, simple, and kind of girly as well, in terms of the music anyway. One thing I actually don't like is the very introduction - the 'Always be around...' her layered voices all together make her sound too angelic and perfect and almost hypnotizing, as if it's a hypnotic chant, too positive as if you feel you must obey those words. That and the little bridge that leads right back into that same chant. The 'don't waste my time with your lies' part. It sounds like it was sung by a group of old women, as if Robyn's mother came for support in her message and decided to ensure the boy involved was responsible for her daughter's feelings. Then the too-positive, too-perfect angelic voices chant the 'always be around' part again, and the song launches back into its normal vein.

To finish this, I'm impressed with the then-young artist's success and and efforts. Eighteen and already singing on top of a van for the cameras. And she didn't end up at all like any of virtually every other female standalone artist in the past fifteen years - I've never heard of her shaving her head, or posing for naked photoshoots, or strutting around half-naked onstage at performances. I know she's still releasing stuff these days, and I believe her music is still to some degree popular. Sweden's came out with all sorts of neat stuff over the past century, from Robyn to Roxette, and even Pippi Longstocking. This song was her breakthrough to America (probably why the video was filmed, for audiences to see her fully on MTV, etc.) and it's still with me all this time later.

Music: B
Lyrics: B+

It's just a huge nostalgic memory to watch and listen to. Those were fun days back then. '97...I was only in grade one. We still had huge garage sales in the courtyard. There were great people around in the neighbourhood. It seemed sunny all the time. I look back on then and smile.

Justin C.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Lovely B (or H)

I know I'm putting out a lot all of a sudden, out of nowhere, in such a short space of time. I guess I've just been re-infected with the blogging bug or something.

This is something that emerged about a year ago, or a year and a half ago, and it was an awareness of the B chord or note in songs and what I connected it with.

In writing this post, I decided to look up 'B' in Wikipedia, to see what kind of background stuff I could find - for instance, one time I looked up D major and in the prose I found phrases like 'especially brilliant' (when played on violins) and read that D major was referred to as the 'key of glory' in the Baroque period. Highly-known and visible composures almost always used D major in violin concertos in their famous works. A Russian composer named Scriabin, at the bottom of the article, described the key to be 'golden in colour' and when I looked him up, he had a colour system for the keys of music; while it seems that he had synesthesia and the article mentions that about him, it's suggested that he actually didn't and only used colours as a reference guide.

I didn't find nearly as much information or little trivia on B major; for B minor, I saw this:
"In Baroque time, B minor was regarded as the key of utter despair." Otherwise it was also known as a 'black key' and 'not suitable for music in good taste.' Funny, because B minor is one of the two main chords used by Mike Barson in the Madness song 'Not Home Today,' a song I love for the use of that chord as well as E minor. Those two chords are especially obvious in the keyboard lead-out after the first chorus. E minor.....B minor....E again... Sound sombre? You can hear it exactly at 58 seconds into the song. Ironically Barson - from what I've read, the most pessimistic member of the group - is not credited with either the music or the words. Instead it's Suggs and bassist Mark Bedford that's credited. Interesting.

Getting back to B, it seems regarded as both an easy chord to play as well as a dark or negative or even distasteful chord in certain music. I love it - both the individual note and the major/minor chords.

I did also find in the article that in certain European regions it's not actually referred to as B but as H instead - so you could call it 'H' or 'B,' whichever you want. I'm going to stick with B to avoid confusion, and I think not using them together going forward is a good idea as well since one might read this and think I'm referring to pencil lead or someone's initials.

As I've mentioned in the past, whenever I get to know someone over a short period of time, I start relating them to musical riffs or instruments synesthetically because the music somehow translates into an aspect of them, such as their personality. This exact process happened five years ago when I started listening to 'In the City' and the organ translated into a girl's smiling, grinning face and positive exuberance. Hers and Zooey Deschanel's, and a few other similar-looking faces. But with the B note, or chord, in a song, it started a different thing for me particularly last year; I'd been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I actually harboured deeper feelings for someone in every kind of way - not just physical but in style, essence and personality, as well as other things I couldn't explain (the lyric 'It Wasn't Her Looks' I wrote earlier is about that). And when I'd hear songs at Wal-Mart, particularly, songs that had an obvious musical sequence that was obviously in B, I'd see that person. Her, well, background and just personal way. The essence of her. I guess what that means is what a person is like towards you - their personality and interest and behaviour towards you. And that signified a different feeling from me. I didn't just see a way about themselves, because it was much deeper, and I saw a lot more, as well as an emotional response to it, so the note seemed to signify more to me.

Can you fall in love via Synesthesia? I don't know. What I do know is that it has helped trigger certain realizations or feelings I've developed towards people in the past. Made me see things in a different way, through a different lens perhaps, that's way more colourful and vivid and meaningful. Normal people see feelings and facial ticks or emotions right away and read them face to face directly, immediately, and develop feelings that way. I hear an instrument, or an instrument playing a certain chord or note or riff, and it suddenly translates into a part of a person I find attractive, which I wouldn't see as vividly or immediately otherwise. I know the organ in 'In the City' did that.

Despite what I just said, though, synesthetic translation via music is not the source of this stuff. How could I see that in a person if I didn't see it first in person? No, Synesthesia just enhances and makes it a lot more obvious and beautiful for me. I saw the optimistic ebullience in that wonderful girl back in high school before I saw it in the song - Mike Barson's organ-playing just threw it point-blank in my face as obvious and beautiful as possible. Which made my interest sky-rocket.

I guess the final answer here is that for me, Synesthesia rather enhances and colours up the attractive qualities I see in a person - friend or crush - which leads me into realizing and coming to terms with what kind of feelings I have in result. Can you imagine that a rather random song like 'In the City' or 'Rasputin' or 'Wouldn't it be Good' can enhance what a person or girl seems like to me? Believe me, none of those songs' lyrics have anything - absolutely anything - to do with it, nor their tone. It all comes down to one little riff, or a couple of off-beat, random organ key notes (C# - A!) or a mixture of synths in a one-second span of the song.

As a result for the note of B, I've determined that that's the note of emotion and love for me, because I heard that, thought of this person, and felt all of those feelings because the chord or note made me see all of the qualities I loved in - that person. Which makes the B note the (person) note, because it makes me see all of that. I don't think it's a black note or a distasteful one but rather a kind of forlorn but endearing note/chord. Also kind of cool and funky, even. The only thing left to wonder is if that note is only tied to that one person. Which it might, in which case it's not a love note to me but a...'that person' note.

That's one thing I worry about, because then it loses its depth unless I'm thinking about '...that person' as I put it, which is counter-productive to my current circumstances. I can't listen to songs or music that have an obvious B note or key and wind up only thinking about '...that person' all the time. When I was in that 'relationship' long-distance two years ago, the D major chord was the big thing for my relating a musical note to a girl I liked or loved, but in retrospect I think it was only such a deal because I referred to it that way and talked to her about it in that kind of vein without really feeling it because it briefly felt that way for me at one very brief point earlier. The same thing as people floating a rumour around to a point where so many people believe in it, the very belief is what makes it true. That was false.

In conclusion, though, I don't think the B note or chord is only attributed to my feelings towards one girl, because I have this lasting proof, which saves it: 'Not Home Today.' It all comes back to that. 

When I first started listening to it around early 2007, there was something I noticed in the song that's not obvious at all to the common listener, unless you wanted to learn the piano to it and therefore consciously listened very closely. I heard it because when I like something I'll listen to every musical part possible to see how it works. There's a neat trick you can do - not sure you can do it anymore with today's music players though - where if you pull the earplug slightly out of the socket on the side of the player, particularly a CD player, you can eliminate the vocals, bass, and most dominant instruments. It's called removing the centre channel in music recording, which includes certain tracks that those instruments/voice were recorded in. You can do the exact same thing in Audacity or Audition (usually an option called 'Remove Vocals' or 'Centre Channel Extractor'). 

Back in 2007, I discovered this trick the ear-plug way, and discovered this sound in the song: A very quiet but obvious B note played in the first verse. Low on the piano. Not a chord, just one piano key, B, hit seemingly randomly. In saying that I sound obvious - okay, I found a B note, when I already stated the chords are B minor and E minor - but here's the thing. You wouldn't hear it at all if you didn't know it was there (or at which point in the song it's played) and when you are conscious of it and know when it comes, it's very subtle, very quiet, kind of blended in and, to me anyway, very deep and endearing.

Exactly what I wrote nine paragraphs ago. "When I heard songs in Wal-Mart that had an obvious B in them...I saw a depth and an emotion...and this girl..." That extremely blended-in, quiet B note from 'Not Home Today' is something I noticed and saw over six years ago. Way before '...that person' and everything now. It's not only tied to that. It's something I've been aware of, at least consciously, for some time. The way it's in the background. That quiet depth and endearing feeling. That whatever it is, it's meaningful.

This basically answers that question. H/B is lovely to me. In synesthesia, when I hear it, I see those very over-used words - depth, emotion and endearment, unconditional love. I've seen it that way consciously since that awesome Madness track from 1980's Absolutely album. It wasn't always foremost in my mind but it was definitely there...and when I didn't notice it, it appeared elsewhere in other music and caused me to match those feelings with '...that person' because I saw those exact styles and depths in her.

Now I've clarified they'll just work for someone new in the future, which means I can move on. Most people think of connecting love with religion or astrology...I connect and enhance it beautifully with synesthesia.

Just in case anyone's interested, I'll embed the song below.

The single B note I'm referring to occurs at the end of the 37 second mark, right as Suggs sings "...he wished,' precisely during the word 'wished.' Can you spot it/notice it?

Justin C.

Lover of the Russian Queen

I should have done this review a long time ago. I discovered this song back in May.

One spring day, while driving back to the college after having lunch, an unusual drum pattern started up on the radio, and then what sounded like Euro-pop started playing. An unusually low, hard-to-hear voice sang, and then the chorus started - with these female voices.

I couldn't really determine what it was about other than the fact it sounded European. But I slowly heard more and more Russian references or names, particularly words like 'Moscow' and eventually the name Russia itself. At the end, a voice declared "Oh, those Russians."

It made me laugh out loud. As soon as I got into the building, I looked into my old prof's office, told him what I'd heard, and immediately got the answer that it was an outfit called 'Boney M' - several black women and a guy. Okay then.

I eventually figured it out as 'Rasputin' by Boney M. - basically a German producer who writes the lyrics, sings the male vocals, and arranges the music. The people who show up in concert and on packaging are basically models - the women do sing, but not the guy.

The women are Jamaican-born British models in this German group, singing about a Russian historic figure named Rasputin. The crazy drum introduction was played by Keith Forsey, a British drummer and later songwriter who would go on to write 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' for Simple Minds to record. The guitar was played by...let's leave it at that and say everyone involved was from 'all over the world.'

The entire song focuses on the background of Rasputin, detailing his aid to the Tsar's son's hemophilia (he was a 'faith healer' and was thought to have actually cured the Tsar's son). It also sensationalizes him as a lover of the Russian queen (considering she brought him in to - 'successfully' - treat her son) as well as 'such a lovely dear' to 'Moscow chicks.'

In the song's climax, the lyrics turn to his attempted assassination by his fellow men in 'higher standing' - his survival by a poisoned wine and then later multiple gunshots. "And so they shot him until he was deeeeaaad!" What a nice lyric to end on. It's both ominous and funny at the same time since it sounds so dramatic - and upbeat - at the same time.

At first it made me laugh quite a bit because I'd never heard a song about Russia before and stuff like that just gets me, partly because I have Slavic heritage on my dad's side (though Ukrainian rather than Russian). For a time it became a song I'd listen to just about all the time, as I am with all fairly newly-liked songs. Then I located a much higher quality version on YouTube than the one I'd been listening to, which enhanced the musical - and synesthetic - experience by a lot.

Musically it's very disco - the typical open hi-hat rhythm and upbeat, melodic bass lines - and it's probably the first disco song I really got into, other than 'Don't Leave Me This Way' - which I didn't exactly get into really, as it was the Communards version I first heard which is in the "Hi-NRG" genre and enjoyed what I call a 'fad' with my interests - I like it a lot when I first hear it but it gets boring very quickly and I stop listening to it not long after I first discovered it. Usually songs that have it that way with me are so because of one tiny little hook or part that drew me to it - in that case it was the brass in the chorus. Anyway, I'm getting off topic and the disco version of that song was by Thelma Houston.

I don't really listen to disco but there are some good stuff out there and this song is one of them. What I like is its mostly B-led arrangement - I think it was in the key of B, because when I play it on the bass it's usually the B fret I'm playing, and when I put the strings voice on my keyboard, I find the strings in the song usually start or end on the B key. When I heard the proper, high-definition version of the song, I noticed a few things I hadn't before notably in the chorus - first, that the male voice actually sings the 'Ra-ra Rasputin' lyric along with the female vocals, and second, there's a subtle string cue that's soft, deeper than the rest of the strings, and entirely just 'B' on my keyboard.

The strings is another trademark of disco music, and this song is no different. It's quite nice and flows well. But that subtle riff right when the lyric 'lover of the Russian Queen' is sung is the icing on the cake for me.

I don't know why, but since last year, every time a song has an obvious B chord or bass note or whatever, it makes me think of love and of a certain - face. I'm tired of saying that line, a 'certain face' because I keep bringing it up. When there's an obvious B in a song, it used to just bring up that face or person, but since 'Wouldn't it be Good' and 'Rasputin,' among others, it's also signified, synesthetically, depth, love and emotion to me. One would think the D major chord or something like that would sound more like a 'love' chord or sound, but for me it's B. I'll write a separate post focusing on that entirely later.

All in all it's an interesting, upbeat, funny song. I like the musical arrangement - sounds complicated and European - and the strings and key of B it's played in. The lyrics tell a good story. I see a lot of red, pink (for the string riff during 'lover' in the chorus) and burgundy. For a disco song it's typically dancy and melodic, and I like the bass.
I'll post the HD, enhanced version here:

Note that other than the women who do sing the backing and chorus vocals, the guy doesn't do anything at all but pose and lip sync during concerts or appearances. The male vocals are sung by Frank Farian who produced, arranged, wrote and essentially did everything.

As well, I'm also going to embed this:

This very rare live version is awesome - normally they would always just play the song and the people on stage would lip-sync and dance to it, with no instrumental backing, but here, they've got a live version playing and the female (and male) dancers actually sing. What's so awesome about this is the different bass line and instrumentation. It's much shorter as well, eliminating the second verse and chorus and jumping straight into the bridge after the first chorus. The violins during the chorus - especially the cue I've been raving about that's essentially just a B chord on my keyboard - is also very obvious (played at the start of the 'lover of the Russian Queen line). I find the bass during the chorus especially amazing since it plays lower and sounds kind of feel-good to me. I can play it myself and even uploaded a video to YouTube of me doing so, but I won't put it here because otherwise I'm just bragging by now.

Music: A-
Lyrics: A-

I thought about giving it a B, but it always uses B as a main core note in the song so much (and so lovely) that I felt it deserved something higher.

Justin C.

[Update: I should have mentioned that my paternal grandparents love this song, particularly my grandmother - the Ukrainian Saskatchewan native I get my Slavic heritage from]

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Sweetest Girl: A Photographic Review

I've taken a tonne of screenshots of the music video in a different approach to critiquing the clip, since I find it so funny and unusual.

So let's start:
They have a sort of introduction wherein they use what seems to be sign language...I guess, in case the person watching can't hear the song. But then, why watch anyway? At least they're perhaps the only band on TV at that time that announced their name to deaf people...but then you've always got the channel's listing for it already, at the beginning of the video. You know, the little titles that pop up at the corner along with the station, show or channel logo that proclaims the song title, artist(s), record company and director? Since this is the very beginning, the station's song credits would show over top the word 'Hello,' mixing it up in a confusing way.
I can't entirely put that down, really, because at least they're being somewhat creative in trying out the sign-language subtitle.
Moving on. Now there's a floating red dress, levitating directly above a staircase within a water pumping station. Apparently it's a Victorian-style setup, and it looks like it. Why is the dress there? Does the sweetest girl reside there?
It's hard to tell here, but Lee Thompson (far right) is spinning around in circles. In the scene just before this one, which is brief, you can spot two feet dangling just above the camera. This is basically the performance room/scenes, where they're playing instruments, lounging, reading a paper, etc.
This is the archer who spends three scenes raising the bow and lining up the arrow, but not doing anything. I guess he really needs precision. Or he's very anxious and has to try a few times to have the courage.
This is apparently supposed to match the album cover. At least I think so since their poses are the same. What I find interesting is the look on Mark Bedford's face (far right again). He looks like he's wondering they're even doing this. What's the point? Makes me wonder if this was the very last scene shot and they'd seen a rough cut of what they'd filmed before, and he'd been unimpressed. The look on his face very clearly says "this is stupid."
I took the liberty of (with difficulty) freeze-framing all the very fast cuts of these masked characters. Two of them are masked with the other two just have sunglasses on. They intercut the scene of the six of them above, making the whole sequence twitchy, unusual, and attention-demanding. Why cut them so fast?
This is Seamus, one of the keyboard players they recruited after Mike Barson left. I felt I needed to show this particularly since he features on their 'Uncle Sam' single cover artwork and isn't shown anywhere else in the video than here, wandering around with an accordion. Naturally Chas Smash lounges on the lip-like sofa reading The Guardian.
This is one of the more memorable scenes from the video - the massive suit. One size obviously fits all here. When the station shuts down for the night, after all the workers have gone home, these men in a giant suit lurk about, silently moving around.
I felt I should introduce these three. It's actually quite interesting that the band included some of the background players that helped out in the recording of the album in the video like these girls and Seamus. These three make up 'Afrodiziak,' a trio of female backing singers the band worked with on the album. They also worked with them earlier, particularly on their earlier single 'Michael Caine.' I guess it makes sense to really have them show up in the video considering they explicitly have an obvious line that's not entirely background vocals - 'loving it, ooh, loving it!'
Woody, eternally in the background, deserves a screenshot. He didn't record anything on the album - they used a drum machine the entire time - so he's just the human replacement for a machine for the video, which is, after all, supposed to be promoting the song and band.
This is one of the best scenes. Suggs begins touring through the pumping station - and his expression looks forced, particularly when Lee Thompson pops up and joins him. They seem to happily rock alongside each other as they sing, with Thompson obviously enjoying it while Suggs looks tolerant and just not into it. Bland, bored. Then a random red dress appears out of nowhere, apparently knocking Thompson backwards as he completely disappears from view.
I wonder what this translates to, if anything. It's a very random scene that just pops up out of nowhere.
The rest of the video continues in this similar vein, with Suggs touring away. Notice the rest of the band in the background leaning against the hand rails on the opposite side (it's difficult because they're standing behind black space behind them). It really translates well to Suggs describing a training video for new pumping station workers...
"Please refrain from riding bicycles in the station, or jumping from the guardrails." Most of the band repeats the pose of stepping up and leaning on the railing as if they intend on jumping, which doesn't make sense to me.
One of the most unusual scenes: Suggs spins a dummy around and throws it onto the floor. Then he 'becomes' the dummy on the floor, stands up and dusts himself off.
In between the scenes of the dummy/Suggs on the floor is a flash of an image of one of the other masked figures; that's what covers up any shifting between the dummy's position and Suggs when he takes its place, obviously, and it's kind of silly-looking.
The flying suits scene. Maybe they're morphing together to form the one giant suit. The red dress was the first one to zoom by.
Another memorable scene, though I find it memorable for Suggs' dancing. The woman in the red dress finally appears.
Not surprised. It actually is pretty funny when you notice Woody's head wiggling at the left.
You can tell he's in front of a green screen here, because of the odd vantage point over the stair well and the weird way his face moves. Very much like a talking head, described video for orientation and very little like a visual representation of the song 'Sweetest Girl.'
I have no idea why she felt he needed to be slapped; while Suggs sings from above, the band follow the girl up the stairs, run in the opposite direction after losing her, double-back, and meet her at the head of the stairs - where she immediately slaps Lee Thompson as he walks up to her with his arms splayed welcomingly. It looks kind of, well, weird. He looks like he's about to fall into Chas Smash behind him, who bounces backwards before the scene changes.
This is a sort of weird running gag in their last few videos: Suggs catches something or picks up something and puts it in his mouth. In 'Uncle Sam' he catches a piece of debris flying about and eats it; in 'Yesterday's Men,' a video that has a recurring scene with an Earth ball rolling along, Suggs picks up a now tiny Earth that has rolled to his feet at the edge of an intersection and eats it before the video abruptly fades. Here, after a balloon has been shot down by the archer (finally), he grabs a piece of balloon and munches it up, in a sort of sped-up motion while the rest of the band runs around behind him.
Near the end, we finally see Suggs dancing with the woman in red. I haven't seen her face that clearly's reminiscent of someone I know. But it's only that way because I choose to see it that way really - all it takes is the figure, dirty blonde curly hair and the dancing. But the video takes the clay masks up an entirely new level when it concludes like this:
The final ending of the video is the same opening scene but a subtitle that spells 'Another cheap video.' I don't know, but it sounds like it has some credibility behind it.

The song itself has a deeper message that is difficult to figure out since the original writer was Green Gartside, who was interested in word deconstruction and original, layered meanings and wrote in such a way to play with those ideas. I don't have much of a clue as to what 'Sweetest Girl' is actually about - and I'm unsure the director of the video, or the band, knew as well.

If they did know, and it really was about a woman in a red dress wandering about in a Victorian-era water station while a bumbling group of musicians run around, ride bicycles, jump off railings and otherwise tour throughout and sing, then Gartside had a very unique idea as to what his lyrics meant. The director and the band likewise had very unique visual ideas, such as the twitchy face mask cuts, the throwing oneself onto the floor, the giant six-person suit and random scenes of people black on black or performing in a room. Why are there heart-shaped balloons floating around? Why is there an archer practicing raising his arrow fifteen times - and then shooting one? Why have Suggs sit and perform a talking head with a backdrop of this pumping station? I think at that point in the video the director got lazy and bored and ran out of ideas, so he put a camera on a tripod, focused it on the opposite side of the stairwell, and told the band to run around in front of it on the other side while it filmed; later he sped it up and then put it on a green wall for Suggs to sit in front of and sing.

I'm going to guess Sugg's unusual quirk of grabbing random little things and eating them was suggested by either him or the band.

All in all, it's an unusual - unique - video. Nothing like the earlier videos they did, which had some cohesion, story and linear humour. Here they've thrown random things together - a water station, a six-piece band, a woman, a giant suit and a red dress. There's still the question of why and how the dress materialized over top the stair well. Where's the woman? Is she hiding nearby, naked but for her undergarments? Is she yet to materialize within the dress? After all, it appears there, then appears in front of Lee Thompson as he and Suggs happily sing along together, and then it finally appears heading the line of suits that go flashing by on a line...where's the woman then? Thompson and the woman seem to have bad blood between them; first her dress stops him in his path, and then for some unknown reason, she slaps him. Maybe it's because he ran into her dress earlier on? I don't know.

It's a completely nonsensical video that comes across as both an orientation film for water station employees as well as just a bunch of random sequences thrown together with minor, random bits of humour that I largely derive from Sugg's facial expressions as he walks along, the big suit, some of the drama and little things - like Woody's head wiggling futilely as they lay on the floor, unable to escape the confines of the huge suit. It's only his head you can see.

Anyway, I have to get to bed, so I'll leave it there. It's funny to me in its weirdness.

Justin C.