Monday, January 19, 2015

"Halargian World"

Coming off of that post on F sharp minor songs, I want to do a brief review of 'Mad World' by Tears for Fears considering my first hearing of that song was what prompted that post to begin with.

It's a song that, progression aside, makes me laugh for various little reasons, part of them thanks to the music video. The weird introduction. Some of the keyboard-based instrumentation. The abrupt ending, with everything cutting off except the tambourine rhythm. For some reason, and I don't know why, a lot of it makes me think of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Maybe it's the general cause and sound of the music - programmed keyboard synths, the science-fiction sound (to me). The abruptness. The ending is what really brings him to mind for me. Just bluntly abrupt. I don't know. It kind of makes me laugh.

I like how Curt Smith sings the song. His voice harmonizes with the music nicely. I've read that part of the lyrics were influenced by the band's interest in scream therapy, particularly the lyric about how the dreams in which the subject is dying are the best he's ever had. The best in relieving tension and stress - near death experience.

Before I read up on the lyrics, I heard Smith sing something about going to school and nervousness and teachers, and my first thought was that he was going in-depth on something minor or pointless in a funny way, creating another base for humour. Then there was the change in the last chorus, from 'mad world' to 'Halargian world.' At first I didn't get much but it just encouraged Sheldon to pop up in my mind again.

Some lyrics can obviously be attributed to writer Roland Orzebal's childhood - the kind of bleak way he writes, like about "children waiting for the day they feel good - happy birthday, happy birthday." As if that's the only real feel-good day. "And to feel the way that every child should, sit and listen, sit and listen." Several songs on that album (which is their first) refer to bitter upbringing. The album is called The Hurting, after all.

The music video is quite paradoxically sunny and bleak and weird.


Curt Smith must be the most burdened person in the world at that window, from which he never moves. What I find hilarious is the party scene; you can see him sadly standing at the window in the background, even though someone's having a birthday cake five feet behind him. Apparently the people around the table were friends and relatives of the two, including Curt's wife and mother, whose birthday they were celebrating. Everyone's cheerfully celebrating with party whistles and clown costumes and cake, but poor Curt won't move from his desolate position at the window in the background, apart from it all, interminably troubled.

Meanwhile, his friend is also absent, instead choosing to stand out on the dock outside to mime random gesticulations. I'm sure in the world of the song, Curt's mother probably decided she wouldn't bother inviting her troubled son and his unusual friend over for cake and cheer next time.

It's funny, though. That's the kind of physical humour I'd probably come up with if I were an early 80s band like Tears for Fears. During the bridge, Orzebal throws a ball and starts moving randomly again, until he's crossfaded with Curt at the sunny window. In the end, it cuts to these random people at night, lit up in the darkness. The intro to the song features a zoom-in to the same people standing in the sun as well. No idea who they are or how they fit in, unless they are some sort of country gypsy-type characters who possess a Roland Orzebal voodoo doll, with which they move his arms and twist his head and torso. And look, there they are at night, shrouded in mysterious white light, having not moved an inch. I wonder if that scene was shot from a boat. I also wonder what any river (or lake?) travellers might have thought when they saw a random guy downstream (or on the opposite shore) out on a dock silently moving his upper body and arms. Maybe he was practising swimming in his clothes before taking the dive? If they saw the gypsies I doubt they would have made any connection.

It's a good song. The instrumentation gives me a cool image and light and colour - and by cool I mean cool temperature. This could be a good winter song despite being filmed in the summer.

Music: B
Lyrics: B
Video: B+

This was Tears for Fears' first hit of any kind, and it's a good start for a band that would go on to make major contributions to 80s pop culture, considering their later songs like 'Shout' and 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World.'

"Happy birthday to...hey, Curt, get away from that damn window and cut the cake! Where's that mate of yours? ...Why is he out on the dock? He's doing what? Get over here!"

Red Cloud
"

F#min I III VII IV

When I did that synesthesia-chord personality thing, and rounded it up with songs from YouTube to accompany each chord/scale, some scales were easy to find songs for while others almost impossible. G sharp major was the one scale I could not find any pop song to accompany it. As for others, particularly minor scales, finding songs was pretty easy.

I found songs in those scales (over frequent use of the chord I was highlighting) largely to be true to what any musical person may take from what I'd written - if you were a musician or studied theory and saw "Dmin" you may assume I was talking about the scale and not necessarily the chord. Besides, root chord usage and scale usually go hand-in-hand - if a song predominantly uses an A minor chord to start its progression, it'll be likely that the scale is in A minor as well. The only way it wouldn't match the scale is if the chord were major while the scale minor, which is usually the case in pop music. It can be annoying as I found many songs in minor scales using major chords.

But on what I'm getting into here, some scales/chords were quite easy. But another interesting thing is musical progressions. F sharp minor is a scale that could produce a lot of pop music examples. Particularly in the I-III-VII-IV progression (1-3-7-4).

When I pulled into my driveway after work this evening, an unusual percussive beat came on the radio, an intro to a song. I found it sounded unusual, so I was intrigued to hear where it would go.

A keyboard synth began. The note sounded familiar. It went up three steps (not that I knew that exact number right away upon hearing it, but when it went up to the next note, I instantly recognized what I would likely be hearing). Would it go down to another familiar note? It did. Then up to the last one, completing the progression I expected to hear.

When you hear a certain musical progression often enough, you get good at predicting it upon hearing the second note. And I knew right away that the song was appealing to the ear, because it was a recognizable progression that would appeal to virtually anyone's ear. I'll explain how it has in a second.

The vocals were interesting. I was going to use my phone to record a video so I could re-listen to the lyrics best as I could while typing them down in a search online, but then I heard the lyric 'mad world' and instantly remembered that, although I'd never heard it, Tears for Fears did a song with that title. Now the voice sounded properly familiar.

It was a good song, and I quickly found that the root note (first note) was F sharp. So with that 1-3-7-4 progression and that key, the notes would be F#, A, E, and finally B.

That's when I realized that while it's a recognizable progression - I think of 'Alive' by Pearl Jam - it's not just the progression itself. It's the key it's in. F sharp.
That's when I remembered this song:

It's something I first heard when my mother recorded it to her VHS of music videos in the 90s. I've always liked the song. Same progression. Same key - F sharp. Just with guitars, and a little variation on some parts.
From the Britpop of the 90s I then remembered this:

Same progression. Same key. F freaking sharp. I liked the horn parts when it played in those Apple commercials seven years ago, and then my cousins happened to have it playing while on the beach, so from them I found out the song title and artist.

1-3-7-4. F#-A-E-B.

It's pretty amazing when a certain musical progression is so popular, in just this one scale, F sharp minor, that three different songs over three decades, over three very different genres, happen to use it. And all of them are well-known, relatively popular songs. 'Mad World' was Tears for Fears' first hit of any kind and gave them their first exposure. 'D'You Know What I Mean?' went to #1 in the UK and was a standard hit for Oasis. 'Around the Bend' is apparently the Dutch group's biggest single to date, thanks in part to those Apple commercials (and the song had a brief appearance in that spy comedy sitcom Chuck as well as being briefly heard in a segment of Top Gear). It's kind of funny. All of those songs sound pretty similar as a result. Different main instruments - from keyboard synths to hard guitar - but the same exact progression in general. 'Alive' by Pearl Jam had the same thing - but one tone down, on E. They're on E minor - two steps down from F sharp minor. E-G-D-A. It was just as popular. People described that as 'anthemic,' although that was due largely to the "I'm still alive" chorus.

This makes me think about one of the lyrics of 'Mad World:' "And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad. (...) When people run in circles it's a very very mad world..." Because it is kind of funny, and it is kind of sad. We are running in circles here. It's nice to listen to, but we're listening to the same thing each time. Yes, it's re-imagined and in a different genre with different dominant instruments playing slightly different parts in different styles, and there's some variation, but it doesn't go far, and in the main sense we are definitely finding the real appeal in that same progression, in that same scale. We really need to make a new one, because otherwise there's no more ways to get that exhilarating, heaven-like feeling when you're listening to something you haven't before and it's perfect to your ears - progression and key. We can't have exhausted every kind of musical progression out there, can we? If we can have thousands of words in the English language based on only twenty-four letters, surely we can come up with a wide variety of extremely appealing scale progressions with the twenty-four scales at our disposal.

Anyway, those three songs are pretty good. They use an appealing progression - in an appealing, bright, seemingly interested scale. I recall the chord of F sharp major being the kid with lots of neat things to share or talk about, the fun guy with the neat story. F# as a note and as a chord echoes that personality I get in each of those songs - though in a different colour (white-aqua shone on with blue light for Mad World, pale brown for D'You Know What I Mean? and white-brown shapes from the keyboard in Around The Bend). Of the three I probably like Mad World the best for its cool imagery/colour as well as the fact I'm new to listening to it.

Anyway, it's a mad world, eh? Full of Fs and sharps and 1s and 3s and 7s, all grouped together over and over like that cryptic, ominous group of numbers running through Lost.

Red Cloud
"

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Target Missed

I normally don't focus on news surrounding businesses often unless they are ridiculous or somehow affect me. For instance, CD Warehouse is closing this year. They were a good place. I got my first-ever Madness CD there. It was the only place in the city (to my knowledge then) that had any.

This morning I did happen along a ridiculous news item business-related, and it was about Target.

Just like that, the company is folding entirely in Canada. Every single store is closing. Every single employee laid off.

It hasn't been here two years.

I find it remarkably ridiculous and funny. The store chain's history here could fit into a 90-minute comedic film about anti-Target protesters trying to bring back Zellers. A film in similar vein to Good Burger, but without the fast-food or the across-the-street-competition.

I don't think I've ever heard of any other big American chains like Target expanding into this country only to withdraw within a year and a half. I remember the Zellers on Merivale Road very well. My mother took me shopping there hundreds of times over my childhood. Then they closed it and spent months taking everything out, removing the rear wall and all interior walls, making a twenty-foot expansion from behind the building, and re-structuring the hell out of the whole plaza. Complete with a silly target logo. Months of renovation, deconstruction, reconstruction, and branding, and the time it was opened to the public barely outlasts the time spent on building it.

What a ludicrous waste of time and money.

From what I've read, their aim was the capitalize on people who crossed the border to shop at American Target stores. That failed entirely due to the chain having no choice but to have higher prices due to shipping taxes and tariffs, etc. The Canadian stores were more expensive than the same stores across the border. Apparently, the company wanted too much too immediately from Canadian shoppers as it over-hyped the new stores as being like the American ones (which they obviously weren't). Meanwhile Wal-Mart and everyone else continued making a profit. They were still opening new stores as late as August of last year.

Stores that had only been open for four months and a week or so before the announcement this morning.

If there was ever such a huge failure in something so big, this would be it. An American chain come to Canada to ultimately lose just about all of its money building stores to close months after opening. I read that many employees found out their job had vanished in media before ultimately going into work to be laid off. One of my co-workers has a wife on maternity leave at Target. No doubt that maternity leave has just turned into permanent leave. For a store and company that will no longer exist.

I wonder of that logo was something else in disguise in plain sight. Every store had one. A giant self-destruct button, which has now been activated. Evidently they aren't too sure of themselves and therefore has every store equipped with one. A giant red-white button.

This is the most inane business news I've ever heard. All 133 stores to close, just like that. After first opening them in March of 2013. The Merivale one opened during the summer of 2013. What are they going to do now? The self-destruct button has been pushed. Everyone's been let go. The lights are dimming. Who's going to move into the giant cavernous space left by the broken company? They structured the layout so that their back room runs down the middle of the building from front to back instead of along the back. It'll be interesting to see how they'll decide what to do for the space and its unique layout. If Zellers comes back, I only hope they have cleaner floors. They weren't bad. Just a bit messy and cluttered and disorganized. But I prefer a Canadian company.

One that won't miss the target and isn't so anxious it requires a giant self-destruct button.

Red Cloud
"

Monday, January 12, 2015

Inspired by Swedish Literature

For Christmas, my paternal grandparents got me a pretty nice gift: A novel I was interested in reading.
I phrase it that way because it's difficult to buy me something to read that I'll find interesting. More often than not I won't find too much to interest me at a bookstore. I'm a bit of a tricky customer. And when I do find something I get into, I hardly stop reading it.

Knowing I'd liked that 100 Year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window novel (they'd read it themselves), they happened across a second novel by the same author, a book called The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. Right away I took to it.

I won't get too much into it other than to say that I continue to highly enjoy the author's simplistic, ironic, comedic style of writing, and that secondary characters who are so dumb and childish and only exist to cause disastrous consequences for the main characters are really annoying to read. Oh, and I was irrationally overjoyed to discover a tertiary but important character named Henrietta. Plus a second, delightful new character at the end with the same name.

What I really find awesome here is how much both those novels have inspired my interests. No novel has really done that for me before. My all-time favourite novels, the two I can read over and over and over without losing interest or happiness in their plots - both Lightning and Watchers, by Dean Koontz - didn't even inspire much interest in their subject matters. One focused on time-travel and the Second World War. The other focused on biological experimentation and warfare, etc. Both featured strong main characters who find love halfway through the story. I didn't develop any interest in either World War II or research on mixing animal DNA to create intelligent war animals. Why the work of Swedish author Jonas Jonasson?

Thanks to both those novels, I've been going on Wikipedia and looking up prime ministers and presidents mentioned in them, as well as flying around in Google Earth to visit places mentioned in both books. I thought Jonasson created Vladivostock as a fictional Russian port town that burnt up. Actually, it exists, and only its massive fire is fictional, only happening in his first novel. I saw it mentioned in an article on Russia on Wikipedia today.

Unlike Lightning, The 100 Year-Old Man novel caused me to develop an interest in WWII. I even burrowed a book from my paternal grandfather called How War Came, published in 1989. I started it a few days ago. Some of the sentences are so long they're a little hard to comprehend, but my interest hasn't waned. I've even been doing light research on how certain governments are structured. I really didn't actually know specifically what a constitutional monarchy was - other than that it had to do with a government working with a King or Queen. It's a system where the monarch answers to the constitution of the government. I kept noticing via news and media how some European countries had both prime ministers and presidents at the same time; they simply have systems in which the president is the head of state and the prime minister manages the legislature.

No novel(s) have ever inspired me to research all of these things. History and politics. South Africa actually did have a brief nuclear weapons program in the late 70s. Interesting. I now know a federation is a country where its states/provinces have their own autonomous governments but are still under a central government (like Canada or the U.S.). I used to think all monarchs had real, absolute power. Most actually don't and just exist as ceremonial figureheads.

I think the works of Jonas Jonasson worked this inspiration for me simply because they provided a simplistic point of view of something in an interesting way. His characters go through real, documented events that are given to the reader in a simple point of view that paints interesting personalities and backstories onto the historical figures involved. Apparently, the former prime minister of Sweden, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is a clean freak. Or that's something Jonasson created to make him sound interesting in a comedic sort of way in the book. His character is presented in a scene as wearing an apron and cleaning up the dishes. Meanwhile, with Dean Koontz, you are supposed to have at least a minor knowledge of some of the historic events pertaining to the Second World War, and his intertwining that bit of major history with a time-travel element creates an entirely alternate version of that time. And I like that novel for its main character and her life story more than for the Third Reich's secret time-travel experiments.

I think it's pretty awesome if a novel makes you think - and not merely about yourself or your own stances on something or other, but about the world or its history, or the state of things. My grandfather thinks I've merely reached the age where I've started to think about things in general (you probably wouldn't find many teens or young adults on the brink of their twenties thinking further than their own wants and needs) but it's really these two novels that got me interested. In the past I would always find events in novels interesting to the degree that they're interesting in the universe of the novel, but never further than that. I wouldn't speak up on any kind of events or push forward much opinion on anything because I don't think I know enough to have the authority to speak - but you can't live your life being ignorant of everything and not developing some sort of world view.

On a brief unrelated note, I've noticed a surprising amount of views here from Russia. Whether the KGB still exists or not, I don't know, but if it does, I have nothing to give or cause reason for scrutiny. I'm just a young man sitting in the capital of Canada. Just because the prime minister of my country bluntly scolded the Russian president about being in Ukraine during the G20 doesn't mean there's any connection here. I did some research on that country today. Canada's mere ten provinces is puny compared to their forty-six oblasts (basically the same thing, provinces). There are thirteen federal subjects in Canada; 89 in Russia. That's a huge comparison. I will say though, if I have some sort of audience over there, they'll know I see the obvious beauty in their girls - though they're in an entire spectrum that includes the Ukraine and Serbia. Maybe Georgia. Probably Scotland as well. And Germany. But those first three mostly. I'd like to go there someday.

If Jonas Jonasson writes anything else, I'm definitely going to read it. He's even inspired my writing style, though I'm definitely far from writing like him. I'm happy in my interests. And if I ever write something that gets published someday, hopefully that will inspire someone as well.

Thanks for lighting such a hunger in me for history and politics, Mr. Jonasson. And your fun writing. Sweden has always delivered on neat, interesting, great things, literature or music or whatever. I'd like to go there someday as well.

Red Cloud
"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

How I Met Tracy - Final Review

After starting at ten to noon yesterday, I finally finished the last three episodes of the eighth season and the entire final season all in one run.

I remember what I wrote sometime last year about points of view. I'd commented that perhaps the writers put too much emphasis on one thing which usually makes people react too badly or happily when it's just one part or aspect of life focused on with a magnifying glass.

After now seeing it all and garnering some credibility - I stand by my objective write-up.

The writers of that show - apparently quoted as wanting to 'write about the stupid things we did in New York' - put five main characters together to blast drama around and at each other for nine seasons. The traditionally married (or set-in-stone-going-to-get-married-early-in-the-third-season) couple, two single guys and one other single girl. No doubt at all she's going to bounce around between them or away from them. The writers created that dynamic and tweaked it around over and over to grease peoples' feelings and hopes, which is a great way to keep the audience into it. And the archetypes are there - Ted's everyman personage, Barney's 'player' image and Marshall/Lily's quirky couple dynamic.

That all being said, I think they did a pretty good job a fair amount of the time. The only issue for me was getting into the later seasons, particularly after the couples' firstborn comes along. The early seasons have Ted and Barney almost merrily holding court amongst the girls at the bar and doing things with enthusiasm. M/L are cute, before and after the drama of their summer separation. Then after good ol' Vicki Lewis steps in to help deliver their baby, things get more disinterested and jaded for Ted, until he's living alone in his own apartment feeling isolated and pessimistic, ready to date the craziest idiot who's reading the same book as him on the subway. I wasn't particularly in to the eighth season. The best episode from that season alone was the one focusing on "Robin Sparkles" turning into "Robin Daggers" in an obvious parody of Alanis Morissette. I never expected to see Gino Vanelli's 70s portrait fill my screen via an episode of H...IMYM. Otherwise, by that point I was eagerly waiting for him to finally meet the darn mother.

I loved Cristin Milloti as the mother (Tracy). As soon as I saw her I had to smile. I loved how she appeared throughout the ninth season, though my patience was really tested for their first meeting (which is one of the last actual scenes of the series). I felt for Ted; the previous season he wasn't in a good place, and he'd been through a tonne of crap over the series (as every main character typically goes through in any series). Here was his saviour. The woman to change and make his life complete like he'd always wanted and dreamed of. She even looks like she could be his wife. I was overjoyed at her appearance. If I didn't like something the writers did, it was limit her actual appearances and interactions to small little flash-forwards and pictures and quick little scenes, a lot of which involved everyone else before Ted.

I can also see the viewer's feeling of being cheated when Robin/Barney split up in the final episode after an entire series based around their wedding weekend, as well as all of Barney's schemes and actions and determination to actually get her (pretending to be with her co-worker Patrice, etc.) but I repeat what I mean about the writers focusing a lot on one thing, and to be objective, that to me was how it had to work. They had to make Barney jump through hoops and plans to get Robin - and then focus on her entire weekend for a season. If that doesn't show a characters' full depth and breadth as a person, if that doesn't elevate someone like Barney from a one-dimensional superficial cartoon of a person, I don't know what would. They divorced for a very reasonable reason - he couldn't keep up with her business travelling.

I think it was a good ending, and I'm happy that Ted's children insist on his pursuing of Robin. It is the story of how he met their mother - at the end of a huge story of how he felt around, with, about, and for Robin. I think Tracy does deserve more time and space and attention, way more - but the fact that it really was all about Robin is also definitely sweet.

From the first season where they're enthusiastic twenty-somethings ready to sword-fight and play "Have You Met...?" to grown-up characters who more or less move on in many ways, I think this series deserves a pretty good mark. The downsides are the pessimistic view of dating it tended to give me towards the end as well as Tracy's limited screen time, and the positives are its realistic writing, its handling of all the relationship dynamics (regardless of the attention/focus some of those dynamics got) and consistency. I love that a super-minor character like chauffeur Ranjit can appear as a cab driver in the Pilot episode when Ted goes after Robin, then appear randomly throughout every season until near the end of the very last, as well as so many other minor characters. One of the most powerful scenes for me was one the flash-forwards of the final season where Marshall and Lily, a year later, are in Italy arguing about snack food until Marshall's mother and Lily's father come in with their toddler and baby girl in a pram; Marshall gets down next to the stroller and peeks at his baby daughter. That's a beautiful moment to me right there. I hope I have a moment like that in the future.

There are so many other things to laud and nitpick (why did Bob Saget narrate only to be replaced with a grey-haired Ted in the second-last scene with his own voice?) but it's late and I've got my life to return to, so...

How I Met Your Mother: B+

It was a long, binge-watching journey (finished this in roughly four weeks). I'm happy I watched it. It was lovely.

Red Cloud
"