Category Archives: Music

The Liebster Award

Thanks to YoungCinemaBuffs for the nomination

liebster-award1RULES
• Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog.
• Answer the questions given by the nominator.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers who have less than 200 followers, and link them.
• Notify all the bloggers you nominate.
• Create 11 new questions for your nominees to answer.

I’m not sure who Liebster is or why there’s an award in his honour, but I’m gathering that this is really a way for blogs to promote other blogs who share common interests — that’s great. I would love to pay this honour forward as well, but I just don’t know very many other blogs (especially ones who, according to the Liebster rules, have less than 200 followers). Sorry, blog community. Nevertheless, I thought I would still share my responses to the questions posed to me for my nomination (so y’all can get to know me a little more). So here goes:

1. What is a movie you like that most people hate?

SUCKER PUNCHSucker Punch – I know people think that this movie full of huge CGI set piece fantasies for a group of young women in a creepy asylum is over-the-top ridiculous (and probably pretty sexist and exploitative) but I’m a Zack Snyder fan and I really like his visual style (though I did not love his Man of Steel movie. That was over-the-top.)

2. What is a movie you don’t like that most people love?

citizenkane2As far as classic movies go: Citizen Kane – Of course this is the pinnacle of cinematic classics, but I could not stay awake watching it and I don’t get the appeal. As for something recent, Oscar-winner Birdman did nothing for me. It just seemed like more Hollywood navel-gazing, and the whole superhero-fantasy angle seemed like an unrelated gimmick.

3. If you had to pick a different name for your blog, what would it be?

“Pop goes the world” – I don’t pretend to have delusions that I’m doing anything so important here, but I’m just chatting about pop culture that I enjoy (or don’t enjoy) and I’m able to share my opinions with people all around the globe! Fun.

4. What is your favourite movie and tv villains?

darth vaderMovie villain: Darth Vader from Star Wars – he’s just a classic in my eyes. He’s more of an icon than an actual character, but he was this pure emblem of relentless evil, and then he got redeemed! It’s a great arc.

Sideshow Bob by timshinn73
Sideshow Bob by timshinn73

TV villains: So many! Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons – he’s kind of a loser, but so fun and his diabolical-ness is wonderfully hammy. Plus, Kelsey Grammar’s voice is perfect for the role — and he looks so ironically ridiculous with his huge palm-tree hairdo. Also, Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. I definitely like my villains smart, and preferably erudite as well. Honourable mention to two villains both played by the amazing Michael Emerson: Ben Linus from Lost and William Hinks from The Practice

5. What movie has made you feel the most emotional?

JoyLuckClub_490PyxurzThis is going to be an unusual answer, but the movie that got the tears flowing the most is probably The Joy Luck Club. I know it’s obviously a very tear-jerking movie, but it gets me every time.

6. What season do you prefer: summer, autumn, winter or spring?

I like the autumn most. New TV season begins, kids go back to school and everything starts up again. I’m not a summer-party kind of guy so I like it when things get back down to business.

7. What is your favourite actor and actress?

cumberbatchThis is a tough question. For Actor, I used to always say Kenneth Branagh (who is still very amazing) but now I really like Benedict Cumberbatch (if not for his Sherlock alone). For Actress, my “celebrity crush” answer is Michelle Pfeiffer, but for serious, there is no actress that can hold a candle to Meryl Streep for sheer awesomeness. However, if we’re talking someone more recent, I will have to go with either Emma Stone or Carey Mulligan

8. What is you thoughts on debating?

This is an odd question. I admit that while I find arguments thrilling and often they’re my favourite kind of interaction (assuming they are not violent or hostile), but debates seem a bit lame and dull.

9. What are your favourite youtubers and why?

I assume we’re talking about musicians when we say “youtubers”, right? Well, I like Peter Hollens and Sam Tsui. They are both pretty good singers and they help me discover some of the pop music that I am pretty out-of-touch with. This is like the new “easy listening”. (They would probably hate to be characterized that way. Sorry fellas. Hey, I’m middle aged. Give me a break!). Plus, they seem like really nice people. I also like Pentatonix (such a cool group with mad skills) and Walk Off The Earth (another really fun group who impress me with their videos every time).

10. What TV series’ are you into?

game of thrones s3Oh my gosh, where to begin: Game of Thrones (natch!); almost anything sci-fi (but I miss the mega-franchises like Star Trek and Stargate); I’m enjoying The Flash; I can’t wait to watch Castle every week; I love The Good Wife (the last great lawyer show, along with Suits); I am really diggin’ Empire (trashiness brings back fond memories of 80s TV titan, Dynasty). On the comedy front, I’m still really enjoying Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, and Brooklyn Nine-nine. From the UK, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Sherlock are unmissable.

spurlockI also want to give special mention to certain shows that don’t get as much love in certain circles: anything by Morgan Spurlock is on the top of my list (recently Inside Man on CNN); also, there are occasionally some great cartoons that I love as well. Recently Avatar: The Legend of Korra came to an epic conclusion, and Disney’s Gravity Falls is one of my favourite shows and should be beloved of any sci-fi fan.

11. What is your most anticipated movie of 2015?

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-2-description-888x456It’s almost boring to say, but it’s definitely Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also Pixar’s Inside Out (they are at their best when not creating sequels) and (perhaps surprisingly) Pitch Perfect 2 — but I think it’s not going to be as good as the first one.

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Some Nights by fun. – Music Review

Last week I was trawling through iTunes, when I noticed Some Nights by the American band simply called “fun.” making its way to the top of the charts. I liked their previous mega-hit “We Are Young” so I decided to give it a preview, and I loved it! When I also tried the rest of the album, it reminded me of one of my favourite English bands: The Beautiful South. The album was going for less than $8 on iTunes, so I quickly downloaded the whole thing and I’ve listened to it repeatedly ever since. I am so excited that I’ve discovered a new favourite group. You young hipsters are probably thinking: “Discovered?! We’ve been into fun. for ages” [followed by condescending eye-rolls]. First, give me a break. Unlike fun., we are not so young. Second, it’s not easy for me to fall for new bands… [grumble grumble] Why do I have to justify myself to you anyway? <mumbling> darned, young hipsters… </mumbling>

For the benefits of you out there who may not be as familiar with fun., their style is often called anthemic (I’m not even sure that’s really a word, but the idea is that lots of their songs sound like anthems). One of the reasons they reminded me of The Beautiful South is because they juxtapose upbeat, catchy music with ironically tragic lyrics. If you are familiar with “We Are Young”, it’s a really good example of what the rest of the album is like. fun. has an eclectic sound that makes use of all kinds of instrumentation: everything from guitars and drums to horns and harpsichords. They have a slightly old-Irish sound at times, and then a progressive rock sound at others. Add to all that occasional voiceovers during the bridge, or sounds of conversation or street noise. Many of their songs have sections that vary from each other in tone, pace, and style (kind of like “movements” in classical music). Hopefully that doesn’t make them sound too esoteric or artsy because they’re not. They are extremely poppy as well, with great hooks in every song. Let me talk about a few of the tracks I liked:

Some Nights

Of course, my fave by far is “Some Nights”. It starts with an acapella harmony that reminds me a lot of Kansas’s “Carry On My Wayward Son” (without the country overtones). After it builds, the rest of the song is a rousing fife and drum anthem. The actual music video has the band performing on a makeshift stage in a field amidst a Civil War battle as re-enacted by Abercrombie & Fitch models. The driving, steady drum beat is rhythmic like a march and it’s virtually impossible not to bob your head or slap your knee to it. I’m not quite sure I really understand the lyrics (and I was a poetry major) or any of fun.‘s lyrics, frankly. Like a lot of people, though, I do like the line “I found a martyr in my bed tonight”. I was a bit disappointed that after the bridge there’s a whole segment that was Auto-tuned. Lead singer Nate Ruess has a nice voice, so they must have chosen to Auto-tune intentionally for the effect. I just don’t like it. Still, this track is on my “endless loops” list, which means that I enjoy it so much that I could listen to that song on an endless loop.

We Are Young

I hadn’t fallen in love with this song originally as performed by fun. or by the Glee cast (I am introduced to many popular songs by them), but by another group: Pentatonix (an cool acapella group who won the last Sing-off competition), who I am a huge fan of. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful track that starts out like an urban ballad with another military-drum backbeat. Who doesn’t love anthems about youth, eh? There is a great feeling of camaraderie in this song (like many of fun.‘s other tracks as well).

Carry On

This track has that Irish blessing sound, a whole lot like Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”, updated for this decade. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like linking arms with everyone else in the pub and swaying together. There’s a full instrumental sound (though I am not a fan of electric guitar solos). It is also features Ruess’s high tenor nicely.

It Gets Better

Not one of my favourites, but still not bad. The Auto-tune is back in spades, and there’s a more contemporary sound, with rapid-fire drum beats and a lot more guitar. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit more repetitive. This track sounds like pure Green Day.

All Alone

“All Alone” hooked me in right away by opening with harpsichord. Also, its tone and style sounded the most like a song by The Beautiful South. It expressed the same kind of irony that their songs did — it’s an incredibly fun and upbeat track, but as its title indicates, this song is about feeling all alone. (As I listened to more of this album, I realized that they were like The Beautiful South more in spirit than actually in sound, but by then I was already won over.)

One Foot

To me this one is a “circus” song (if there is such a thing). There’s a steady drum beat with a rhythmic brass melody over top. Also, the melody is very simple. As expected, there’s an irony between the sound and the lyrics, but in this case even the lyrics are a bit paradoxical. I can’t figure out if the song’s about moving on, or about giving up: “I’ll put one foot in front of the other one. I don’t need a new love, or a new life, just a better place to die.”

Anyway, I realize that it’s hard to get a sense of the songs just from my descriptions, but if you like what you’ve heard of fun. so far (whether it’s just “We Are Young”, or “Some Nights” as well), you should definitely give the entire album a try. It is very catchy and rousing. You’ll want to sing along or at least bob along (trust me). (4.5 out of 5)

“Don’t Stop Believing” – 2009’s pop anthem?

For some reason, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, has had a surprising resurgence in popular culture this year, 28 years after its debut (two years after it capped the finale of The Sopranos TV series). It’s been featured on American Idol, it was the number selected from hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages to be performed at the Tony Awards, and it was released for the video game Rock Band. Where I first rediscovered the song was in the pilot episode for the hot new Fox TV series Glee, where a cover of the song made the show-stopping finale (and probably helped that single episode win many eager fans for a series that would not show its second episode until more than 3 months later — less than a week from tonight!) Last but not least, I find this YouTube video with an inventive presentation of the song. I wonder how many more instances of it I will be seeing/hearing this year. Frankly I can’t get enough of it, so rock on!

Pop Culture comments: Bond, Bauer, and Archuleta(?)

OK. It’s coming up on almost a month that I haven’t posted. What gives? Well, for one thing, I haven’t really been out to the movies. Most of the candidates for my Saturday excursions to the cinema have gotten such mediocre/mixed reviews that I ended up staying home to catch up on the small screen. Movies like Blindness, Max Payne, Eagle Eye, City of Ember, RocknRolla, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, were all on my list and I just let them slide by. I will have to check them all out on DVD instead. I know everyone is now waiting to watch Quantum of Solace this coming weekend, myself included. However, I was wondering yesterday about the hype and anticipation around this movie. So much of it seems to be due to the fact that the target demo has not had a hit movie since Dark Knight. I don’t remember as much expectation was laid upon Casino Royale a few years back. I guess that one also had the problem of being in untested waters. No one was sure that Daniel Craig could be a good Bond, or that the whole aesthetic of the new reboot was going to work. Now that we all enjoyed the less campy, more contemporary Bond, we want more. The other gale force in this perfect storm of box office conditions has got to be strategic reshuffling of the release dates (courtesy of the semi-recent Hollywood writer’s strike). I know for sure that if I were anticipating Star Trek or Harry Potter in a few months (as opposed to the more than half-year wait that we’re facing), I would be salivating far less for this movie. Anyway, I’m no entertainment industry pundit. All I know is that when I read through my recent Entertainment Weekly fall movie preview, I was not too excited about any of the other movies coming out before Christmas (with the possible exception of the reboot of Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still).

On the TV front, have you noticed the relatively ample standing room around the water cooler? (OK, we don’t have a water cooler at my office and frankly I’ve never been in too many TV conversations at work, but you get my point.) As much as I enjoy a lot of shows like Pushing Daisies, Chuck, Supernatural, The Office, Desperate Housewives, etc., none of these are really buzz-friendly shows conducive to water-cooler chatter. Even new shows like Fringe and True Blood do not really get the conversations going. It seems like those kinds of shows are still waiting in the wings. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m still looking forward to all those shows to come back in January and February: I want to know what happens to the Oceanic Six (especially what’s going on between Sun and Mr. Widmore) and how are they going to bring Jin back? I want to know who the frakkin’ last human-form Cylon is. For goodness sake, the tease is killing me! I want to see Jack Bauer in action again (thank Fox, we’re getting a telemovie in a couple of weeks). But be warned Fox, if Day 7 is as crappy as Day 6, that show will be dead to me (and no amount of adrenaline injected straight into the heart will save it). The shows that I am currently enjoying seem to be more run-of-the-mill fun. I can enjoy an episode of Chuck quite a bit without recalling anything about last week’s. Even Supernatural (which is currently my most-anticipated show of the week) is simple to enjoy in bite-sized pieces. I am totally digging the angelic story arc. It’s kind of the opposite of the “Touched By An Angel” approach to angels. Now I want them to bring on a female angel to add some interesting dynamics to the mix. I don’t know if it’s the macho overtones of the show, but it’s weird that they’ve moved to having the demons (Lilith, Ruby) be females, and the angels (Castiel, Uriel) be males. What is show-runner Eric Kripke trying to say?

Music is not really my strong suit when it comes to intelligent comment (or even just sarcastically quippy comment). Partly it’s because I have shamefully unsophisticated musical tastes. (Yes, I love Top 40 pop music. It’s a disease, OK?) Anyway, I was actually anticipating the debut album of American Idol runner-up David Archuleta. I don’t watch the show, but I was able to catch some of his performances and I enjoyed his style. When his first single, Crush, came out a few weeks ago, it was pretty disappointing how bland it was. His eponymous album does not seem much better. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps too many music industry cooks spoiled the broth, but having previewed the album on Amazon, I can’t say I remember a single track from it. I guess I’m really not the target demographic. Arculeta’s true audience of 11-year-old girls are probably crazy for his puppy-dog cuteness and can overlook the uninspired-even-by-pop-standards music. Unfortunately that does nothing for me so, whatever … The flipside of the reality-show-pop-song coin is a major hit in the UK (that’s where the tween girl inside me really comes from). It’s by Geraldine (not her real name or even gender) and it’s a spoof on music competition shows. The song is called The Winner’s Song and performed by British comedian Peter Kay (in character as the zaftig Geraldine McQueen) for a parody comedy show called Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice. Funnily enough, I first heard this song on Hit40UK (a legitimate UK pop chart) and liked it (to be fair to myself, it is written by former Take That singer Gary Barlow). It’s made its way up the charts over there — God bless the Brits!

So, that’s some of what’s been going on in my pop culture universe these days. I’ve also been watching a lot of anime. I’m working on a post about that. If you’ve been interested in anime but found most of it inscrutable and surprisingly dull, I hear you! Stay tuned for my recommendations.

Madonna’s latest video – 4 minutes

Have you checked out Madonna’s latest video for 4 Minutes (a song from her upcoming album, Hard Candy)? Here’s a link to the video on YouTube.

I have always been a fan, so I wanted to find out what new material from the Material Girl was going to be like. It’s a catchy-enough song, but true to the nature of dance music, is doesn’t have much of a melody. The whole thing sounds like the introduction to a song that will finally kick in once this song is over. Its hooks remind me a lot of Nelly Furtado’s Promiscuous Girl (because of the involvement of Timbaland, that’s no surprise), and in fact, another YouTube uploader posted a video to 4 Minutes featuring footage from Furtado’s video in lieu of the real thing.

What’s with the nude-coloured outfit for Madonna? Granted, she’s still in awesome shape for her age, but is Madonna trying to recall her Open Your Heart video, back when she tried to make strippers hip?

The way that the wall of glass is quickly closing in on everyone is kind of odd. However, the way that the glass wall causes us to see inside a person’s flesh and bones is a bit gross.

Justin Timberlake seems to be the go-to-guy for artists trying to make their pop music cool. Between him and Timbaland, it’s a miracle there’s any room left for Madonna. It’s like she’s a guest in her own video. I’m not sure if he and she are supposed to be some kind of couple in this video, but all I could think about was how their age difference made it kind of creepy. There are a few moments when they look like they’re about to sleep together or kiss, and I kept thinking, “Yikes! Not yet, please.” The epitome of that came at the end of the video when they each removed an item of the other’s clothing. When Justin pulled off the belt that Madonna was wearing, I had a Superbowl flashback and half-expected her boob to be exposed. (Plus check out Madonna doing a few moves straight out of The Matrix. That was pretty comical.)

Frankly, I don’t know whether I want Madonna to act her age or not. She’s pretty much chewed through every female sexual icon from courtesan to dominatrix to geisha. With her thigh-high boots and boy-toy, perhaps this time she’s making it cool to be a cougar.

Life in Cartoon Motion by Mika – Music Review

mika.jpgWhen it comes to music, I’m no sophisticate. Don’t give me jazz, classic rock, or even R&B inspired pop or Hip-Hop hipness. Whatever. Give me the pure pop music, and lots of it. To fill my request, along comes London singer Mika, whose debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion, is already a pretty big hit in North America. This album has got to be one of the purest pop albums ever. (I know, I’d kill for some good hyperbole!)

The first track (coincidentally the first-released single), “Grace Kelly”, really gives the essence of Mika’s music. It’s an eminently head-boppable song, with a touch of George Michael smoothness and theatrical campiness. [Falsetto alert: At least half of this album is sung by Mika at a falsetto register, so if that’s the kind of thing that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you, steer clear.]

Mika, the high-pitched wonder, continues to explore the various styles of falsetto with an even catchier second track. “Lollipop” has a Jackson Five kind of sound and it combines playground-style callouts, snap-clapping along with Sesame Street-style piano backgrounds into a sweet, super-fun, pop music confection.

When you think that it just can’t get any more catchy, the fourth track is so addictive that I think I’ll need a neuro-surgeon to get this song out of my head. “Love Today” has an uptempo Bee Gees tone — pure disco. Despite the fact that I can feel my clothes transmuting to polyester as I listen, I really love that song.

So far it’s all just camp and vamp, but can Mika handle that other pop music staple — the ballad? “Any Other World” is his answer to that question, and I think he does pretty well. Mika’s voice is still at its best when he hits the high notes during the chorus, but the strings- and choir-enhanced, bittersweet melody is quite nice. It fits his overall style.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned yet are the lyrics (generally I don’t pay that much attention). Frankly it’s a bit tricky to pick out the lyrics when someone is singing falsetto. Nevertheless, I think there’s a kind of irony between the shiny, whimsical melodies and maybe some of the more grown-up themes and lyrics. What does “suckin’ too hard on your lollipop” really mean anyway? Discuss.

The rest of the album is similarly-flavoured: some tracks less catchy than others, but if you’ve heard “Grace Kelly” or “Love Today” on the radio and found yourself boppin’ along, you should definitely pick up Life in Cartoon Motion. (5 out of 5)

The Open Door by Evanescence and A Thousand Different Ways by Clay Aiken – Music Review

In the last month, two acts who sold massive quantities of their debut albums have put out new follow-up CDs (I know Aiken had released a Christmas album, but you can’t expect me to count that). After all kinds of personal turmoil, it was perhaps uncertain whether Evanescence would be around to produce a second album, but they have returned with The Open Door. Clay Aiken’s album, A Thousand Different Ways, hit stores several weeks prior, and though their two styles could not be more different and their target audiences probably don’t overlap (except in weirdos like myself) I’m sure that they (and their respective record companies) are expecting big financial returns from those albums. After having listened to both discs a few times, I confess myself disappointed. It seems like both acts have fallen into the sophomore trap: trying to make lightning strike twice with an album full of tracks that all follow the act’s signature style but sacrificing the freshness of variation in the process. While I like both Evanescence and Clay Aiken’s styles, I find both new albums to be on the monotonous side.

evanescence_the_open_door2.jpgThe Open Door

On their official web site, Evanescence say that on The Open Door, they have been able to use their difficult experiences to add greater variety of emotion to this album. If they’ve done that, it must all be in the lyrics (which I find difficult to focus on in an Evanescence song when all the guitars kick in) because the music of the tracks are far less distinct than those on the band’s previous album, Fallen. The expected elements are still there: Amy Lee’s beautiful, strong, and mournful vocals, along with the engine-revving guitar riffs to counter-balance them. Whenever the guitars ease up and her voice comes through, it’s as refreshing as walking out of the dark woods into a sunny clearing.

Some reviews have mentioned that The Open Door has a fewer “hooks” than Fallen. I hate the term “hook” used in describing popular music because it sounds condescending. If I enjoy the melody, am I some kind of stupid fish that has been easily caught by unsophisticated musical bait? I prefer to say that Fallen had a lot more distinctive melodies, more catchy pieces that allow me to say, “I like this song”. On The Open Door, there’s only the last track, “Good Enough”, which resists the temptation to kick in the growling guitars and stays quiet and melodic throughout (it makes me miss Fallen’s ballad “My Immortal”). I think that’s my favourite track on the album, but it completely sounds like an Evanescence take on a Sarah McLachlan song (“I Will Remember You” perhaps). With the exception of another track, “Lithium”, I can’t say that any song really stuck out for me—not even the current radio hit “Call Me When You’re Sober”. (3 out of 5)

clay.jpgA Thousand Different Ways

Some of you might consider it sacrilege for me to even mention Clay Aiken in the same review as Evanescence. Some of you might be shocked that I actually like his music (no, I am not channelling a 12-year-old girl from the American South). I have always been a fan of un-hip, un-R&B pop music, and Aiken really has that down to a “T”. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself really enjoying his debut, Measure of a Man. Unfortunately, with A Thousand Different Ways he has done what so many of the more mellow artists tend to do: covers of classic songs. The idea of covering classic songs seems like a guaranteed success story, but I think that is the gutless way to do things (in more ways than one). Not only does it fill an album with safe songs (which were hits before, so presumably will be hits if merely re-sung by someone else), but it also means that the true essence of the cover artist, and his/her musical style is not really going to come through. The ghost of the original artist lingers.

A Thousand Different Ways covers all manner of white-bread pop classic: Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting”, Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away”, Celin Dion’s “Because You Loved Me”, and the ultimate: “Everything I Do” by Bryan Adams. While there are artists that can really reinvent and reinvigorate any or all of those songs, that just didn’t happen for this album. I blame the producers. There doesn’t seem to be anything inventive about the arrangements. It’s more like “Clay Aiken does Karaoke Night”. For my money, I prefer the songs that are original to this album, including “Lonely No More”, “Here You Come Again”, and “These Open Arms”. Actually, I am not even sure (without checking the CD insert) that these are original songs (I just don’t recognize them), but the gusto that Aiken sings them with really makes the other tracks feel like he’s being vocally straight-jacketed by the fear of tampering with a “classic”. Unfortunately, not even the best tracks on this album rival those from Measure of a Man (3.5 out of 5).