TLMC Radio, Episode 1: The Radio Cometh

So I’m a little slow with the updates, and I’m going to try and get on top of that. Been a busy few months, and have just recently moved for a temporary two-month stay in Shanghai. Being that I’ve got no one else to talk to, I’m going to talk to you through this radio show that I’m doing.

To follow off the last post, this is kind of an experiment into finding new music, as well as enjoying some classics and sharing some thoughts about this or that.

I’ve got a lot more time on my hands, so hopefully this will start to become more regular…

louman

A Healthy Diet of Art: Fandom in the age of endless content

If I were to sum up the musical category of my growing up, it would seem likely to say that I’m a child of rock’n’roll. I can’t remember a genre played more in my household. The specific memories were cassette tapes of Aerosmith’s Pump and the Beatles’ 1967-1970, as well as the VHS copies of Pink Floyd’s Pulse and ACDC’s No Bull. My dad played in a local covers band called My Fur Coat, and they jammed out classic pub-rock tracks like Bryan Adam’s Run to You and Screaming Jetts’ Better, and even as I got older my father started to find some bands that as far as I can remember he hadn’t really listened to so much when I was a child, such as Black Sabbath and David Bowie. And yet despite all this, my earliest memory is throwing a temper tantrum in the back of the car because my dad wouldn’t play the cassette tape of Michael Jackson’s Thriller one day.

But that’s the thing about my father: despite being such a rockin’ dude, he did have a slightly bizarre and diverse taste in music. He had been this rock’n’roll hippy growing up and travelling through America through the 70’s, and yet on top of all the rock’n’roll he would crank at home, we also had a copy of Prince’s Batman soundtrack on vinyl, as well as a Mariah Carey VHS concert (back when she did more traditional soul and rnb songs) and Supertramp and Bee Gees tapes. At his core, he was a rock dude, but somehow he found his way to these other genres that made the music in our household so diverse that really it could’ve been anything I chucked a temper tantrum over. It just happened to be over MJ is all.

And I’m glad of it, because as I’ve grown older I think that kind of diversity in content has allowed me to keep an open mind regarding music. What’s strange is how much more varied my tastes have become in comparison to my fathers. Not to shit on the guy at all, because I love the dude, but man, he did not like country and folk music. One of his favourite jokes is, “Bob Dylan? More like Bob Boring.”

But again, I have to give him credit: he still could have an appreciation for some of the things he didn’t like. His problem with Bob Dylan was that he thought he was a great songwriter, but that the folk genre didn’t have the soul that he sought from his music, thus finding his satisfaction in Dylan’s song-writing generally through cover-versions by Jimi Hendrix. It’s a small thing, but I think that influenced an open-mindedness on me, and curiosity over the years got the better of me. Why did all these rock’n’roll artists love Dylan so much and cover his tunes over and over?

So I found my way to Dylan. And where my dad particularly liked some disco-flavoured genre artists like Bee Gees and Supertramp, or even his love for an artist like David Bowie, I found myself wanting to explore the genres that inspired them, and found my way to soul and funk music, something my father rarely listened to. (Though to be fair, one of his favourite albums is Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, and he ain’t wrong: it’s a fucking perfect record and is up there as one of my favourites too) So through all of his genres he loved, I went deeper and found Neil Young and Curtis Mayfield and Townes Van Zandt and Marvin Gaye, and going deeper than that went well on back to jazz artists such Max Roach, Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy, on top of the staples such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Even if my father didn’t listen to these artists, and with some would even go as far as saying he didn’t like them, he allowed an open mind to the quality of their artistry, and I’m grateful that he did.

But it’s too much. There’s just so much content. And all I ever seem to want to do is find more. Even within my own genres of music that I found as part of my growing up, such as punk rock and hip-hop, how does one keep up? Even the staple records; there are still classic punk and hardcore albums and bands that I’ve barely gotten around to listening to, if at all, such as a good deal of the Dead Kennedy’s back catalogue or Cro-Mags, or even Minor Threat, a band I’ve only listened to a handful of times. This isn’t so much due to disinterest, it’s just that how I consume music is that when I get into something it can be hard for me to divert my attention, so whenever I’ve chucked on Minor Threat it’s likely been as a side-track from a Black Flag binge, with my thinking being “this will further satisfy my current interests”, but really all I feel like listening to is Black Flag.

And on top of this, what of all the new records coming out? These last few years I’ve felt particularly out of touch, with only a handful of records really standing out and getting some repeat business. This has gotten so bad for me that I kind of just switched off and forgot to pay attention.

But I’m trying to re-find my way. Recently I listened to Joe Rogan’s interview with Henry Rollins, in which Rollins talks about how goes about consuming his music, referring to his weekdays as the digestion of good, lean protein (taking in new music he’s yet to listen to), and the weekends as his carb-up (listening to the classic records he’s loved for years). I found this to be a really interesting way to go about taking in music, almost as if its a discipline in order to keep yourself and your tastes relevant. For him now it’s purely as a fan. For myself, it’s both as a fan and a songwriter.

And I do feel it’s important. I remember seeing an interview with Tom Araya from Slayer once, and he talked about how he didn’t really know any of the bands from the festival tour he was on, and didn’t really listen to much new music anymore. I just couldn’t help but feel like this perfectly summed up why Slayer is such a stale band. Not that Tom really writes for Slayer, but if you’re not taking in music anymore, what’s inspiring you? Not that I expect Slayer to take influence from modern trends to change their sound; I don’t particularly care if Slayer are the ACDC of thrash metal music and always sound the same. But at some point if you’re not find outside influence you become just a snake eating its own tail, and at then what’s the point?

So I’m going to do my best to take a leaf from Rollins book, and I’m going to save my potatoes for the weekend. I’ve already digested enough Cave In in my life (no I haven’t… and I never will), so that can be reexamined on my Saturdays and Sundays. But my weekdays are going to be about finding new music to take in. This doesn’t necessarily mean brand new, because there’s still Minor Threat to give a good, hard listen to. But already I’ve found my way to a few new records that I’m quite enjoying, and once again, I’m grateful of my father’s instilling a keen interest in diversity in sound in me. Feist’s Pleasure just came out, and today I gave it my first spin, and then my second and third. This folk album is a great listen, but that first track just sticks with me, with its riffy chorus being so infectious. I’ve also been getting my metal fix with Mutoid Man’s War Moans, and although it’s not quite the wacky sound I loved from their first release, it’s still good fun with a few really great tunes, and what might be one of my favourite songs of the year with the closing power-ballad Bandages.

But I’d be remiss if failed to mention what is currently my favourite record of the year, Oxbow’s Thin Black Duke. This is one of those records that immediately just captured my attention, and once finished I thought, “perfect.” It is an absolutely fantastic record, and I’ve been loving it since it came out. And this was prior to hearing the Rollins’ podcast, and I’d never even really explored Oxbow in the past; I just for some reason heard they were releasing an album and thought, “I’ve been meaning to check them out.” Admittedly, it was like the title that got me, being a big David Bowie fan and sorely missing Bowie since his passing and the release of what has become one of my favourite records of the last few years, Black Star. But even if you’re not a Bowie fan, this isn’t exactly a total Bowie tribute. The band claims they’ve barely taken influence from Bowie with their songwriting, but still, I think inadvertently they may have stumbled across a sound that is kind of reminiscent of Bowie’s own Thin White Duke era, most especially with his Station to Station record (my favourite… I fucking love that record). Not that it sounds especially like that record, but it reminds me of the same poetic and melancholic songwriting Bowie had done, with a similar diversity in sound, but with a more modern fitting. It’s as though it’s Bowie by way of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, with hints of Neurosis, Soundgarden and even a little Deftones in there.

And speaking of Soundgarden, my weekend carb-up has definitely been a good deal of delving into the Superunknown. Chris Cornell’s tragic passing shook me, and though I’ve been a fan of Soundgarden for a few years, and increasingly found myself enjoying them more and more as one of my favourite acts of the 90’s, their music has taken a whole new form for me since Cornell’s passing. It’s horrible that such a terrible event has been what really took my enjoyment of the band from liking to loving, but it was with a much more keen ear that I started listening to the band not just as a great and fun rock band, but for the incredible songwriting and lyricism. Soundgarden is one of those rare bands that was popular, yes, but almost understated through how complicated their sound was, and yet beat all odds considering how complicated their sound was. It’s easy to just listen to them as a rock fan and say, “yeah, cool… rock’n’roll,” but when you really delve into it, they were like the Beatles by way of Black Sabbath but made for the 90’s. Soundgarden were an incredible band, and in no small part due to Cornell and his talents as an amazing singer and songwriter, and he will be very sadly missed. (Also, naturally I explored his solo material, of which there is a good deal of great material, but most especially check out Temple of the Dog if you haven’t already. Only one album, but is absolutely fucking phenomenal)

So these are the goals I’ve set for myself. On top of music, I also intend to try and further my horizons with my interests in other artforms as well, most especially with film and literature. After a while of not having read so much, I’ve been getting back into the swing of it with some Elmore Leonard and Stephen King. And I’ve been found myself somewhat sentimental about the times when films would draw in crowds partially due to their star-power. Not so much that I need a great name attached to a film, as that certainly doesn’t guarantee a quality movie, but certain stars were who they were because there was a charisma that was undeniable, like a Harrison Ford or a Tom Hanks. It was much more amplified with classic actors like James Stewart, but at the same time, I love me some James Stewart. So I’m trying to follow up on some older films that I’ve either never seen or haven’t seen since I was a kid, meanwhile taking in newer films as much as I can.

Also, I finally watched Westworld. TV’s a whole different thing, and I might write about my thoughts on long-form narrative another day, but it was pretty good, but made especially great by Anthony Hopkins, yet another incredibly charismatic actor and an amazing performance.

Alright. Time to listen to Minor Threat.

-Louman

Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott, and the Half-Life of Artistry

Of recent years there’s been a bit of a backlash to critical thinking in relation to film. I don’t think there’s a better example of this than DC’s cinematic universe, the DCEU. Quite simply, fans fucking hate critics. It’s the critics who fail to see that these films are made “for the fans”, and that pulling apart all the aspects of ‘Batman V. Superman’ or ‘Suicide Squad’, or even Marvel’s first absolute failure, ‘Iron Fist’, is a failure on their part to enjoy the films as the fans do. Due to this, any critical thought about a film means an instantaneous dislike for that film, and there is no middle-ground, no grey area, nor any room to move from that position.

This, of course, simply isn’t true, and is a ridiculous simplification of the mindset of critics as to derail any argument that they might have against a film that fans happen to love. Because in truth, the reason why critics are critical is not because it keeps them from liking bullshit pieces of art, but much more likely because it allows them enjoy a wider range of art. Regarding fan-service films like that of the DCEU, unfortunately more often than not it means derision. But as many have argued to upset fans about the critical bashing those films have taken: it’s not that we want to hate them, we actually want to love them… but we hate them.

The reason I stress these points at the beginning of my article about Alien: Covenant I’m sure is already clear: I do not like this movie. Was this to be expected based on my thoughts on Prometheus? Maybe, but I didn’t shit on Prometheus. I had issues with it, but there was a lot I liked in that film, and ultimately, with all its stupidity aside (primarily in its second half), I felt what Prometheus suffered from most was a lack of any real antagonist. As it turns out, in exploring that idea I inadvertently happened to come up with an alternate plot for the film that has now turned out to essentially be the plot of Alien: Covenant.

And yet, I don’t like this movie. It’s not without its perks, and I do think this film starts fairly strong. Some things are a little too on the nose, and once again for some reason all the characters are stupid horror cliches and you know exactly who’s going to die and in what order. But the pacing for the first 30-40 minutes is strong, and I was honestly enjoying the film to begin with. But then the film cameto a grinding halt, and for 45 minutes to an hour this film is fucking boring, which just so happens to be when my plot idea starts to take place.

Was I wrong about that idea being a strong one? Maybe I’m arrogant, but I don’t think so. It’s hinted at in the opening scene of Alien: Covenant, and I was immediately excited for it, and I still stand by the idea. But Ridley Scott and co. went way too far with it, branching into new territory that not only shits on whatever mythology they built up with Prometheus, but also shits on everything the xenomorph was to begin with, and thus fucking up the entire mythology of the Alien franchise.

So what went wrong, and who’s to blame? In the latest episode of the Weekly Planet, James and Maso discuss at one point essentially the half-life of a filmmaker, specifically Ridley Scott, and whether given the reaction to Alien: Covenant he should call it a day. Now, generally I’d say who cares, and so what if the majority of Scott’s work these days isn’t great, or that Francis Ford Coppola hasn’t made a notable film in 20 years, or that Oliver Stone’s recent films are all middling at best? None of it matters really, and good on them for keep on keeping on.

That is, of course, unless they start stepping my toes as a fan. As I said in my Prometheus article (and the Weekly Planet boys discuss on their podcast), maybe for some franchises its better to let some new blood come into the mix. Blade Runner 2049 looks genuinely impressive, but it’s all the more exciting being that the director is Denis Villeneuve, who has not only proven himself a fantastic director time and time again, but has also proven himself a fantastic science fiction director. And we’ve now seen that all it took was getting rid of George Lucas to make Lucas’s very own brand of stories good again. So perhaps Ridley Scott just isn’t the guy to be doing these Alien prequels? Maybe it’s time to let somebody else take reign of the series?

As I said in my Prometheus article, I love the set up of these prequels. But not only was Prometheus a misstep, but if you were genuinely interested in seeing where that plot was going you’re now shit out of luck. So it concerns me that Scott is apparently going to continue this franchise, especially off the back of a film that so utterly fucks up the mythology. And to be clear, it is fucked. I’m doing my best to not spoil the film, but the xenomorph is no longer the force of nature it had been in the past, and whatever way an engineer ship filled with face-hugger eggs ends up on LV-426 now given the events that take place in this movie (and will supposedly extend on for a possible two more films before leading into Alien) will be the most contrived storytelling possible.

It’s not that Scott is a poor director, and this film I don’t even think reflects that. It’s just that he’s nothing without a good script. His films can still look amazing and he can bring out fantastic performances from actors and the guy does sci fi in a way that makes you just want to love it… but if the script is poor, the film will suck, and unfortunately it seems that these scripts are just reflections of his ideas. When Prometheus was initially a more straight-forward Alien prequel, it was Scott that ordered the rewrites by the king of confusing storytelling Damon Lindelof. And given the reaction to Prometheus not being gushing like Scott had hoped, he then decided to make a more straight-forward Alien film with Alien: Covenant. Given the reaction to this film, what will be next?

And as a fan, I’m just disappointed. I can still get behind Prometheus to an extent, because as frustrating as that film ended up being, I feel the intentions were there in its first half and that it was sincere in what it was trying to do. It may not have had a great sense of direction, but there was something there. With Alien: Covenant, the direction is more clear, but it is completely baffling how this series will pan out in relation to the original Alien franchise, and it sadly hurts the mythology of the creature itself. I want to like it, especially because there’s some really strong and exciting scenes in the film. Quite likely I’ll watch it again and maybe enjoy it a bit more knowing what it is, much the same as I have with Prometheus. But where Prometheus left me with a feeling of wanting something more, Alien: Covenant has left with a feeling of wanting something completely different.

-louman

The Prometheus Effect

 

Reexamining the flawed film and anticipating Alien: Covenant

With the release of Alien: Covenant creeping up soon, there is both excitement and concern for what director Ridley Scott will bring to the beloved franchise that he began near-40 years ago, with 1979’s ‘Alien’. Scott’s original film is considered a sci fi and horror classic, and in many ways has been the structural map for a great deal of genre films since, but there’s a sense of trepidation leading up to Covenant due to Scott’s 2012 return to the franchise with one of the most confusing and divisive films of the series, Prometheus. Now, five years on, it’s interesting to look back and examine the effect the disappointment of Prometheus had, not just on fans of the Alien series, but more specifically with the cinephiles who anticipated it.

Straight off the bat, I’ll come clean: I wouldn’t call myself a big fan of the Alien series. Rather, I’d consider myself a fan of the first two Alien films specifically. This is probably true of most people, but there’s a specific point to that. Alien is, to this day, one of my favourite films. Rewatching it the other night, I still love it, as both a sci fi fan and a horror fan. The movie has such a perfect setup and pace for a horror film, and a brilliant aesthetic that has been mirrored and straight-up ripped off by so many other films since. Much the same can be said about James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’, which I do thoroughly enjoy, but I have some issues with, notably I don’t particularly like how Newt was written, and I also think the Director’s Cut (which is now the generally accepted cut of the film) is a bit bloated. Aside from those films though, I can’t say I really care for the whole series much. I appreciate what Alien 3 was trying to do and David Fincher’s aesthetic, but the plot is far too imbalanced, and the less said about Resurrection (and the fucking awful AVP series) the better.

My point being, when Ridley Scott announced he was returning to the Alien franchise, it wasn’t so much the franchise I was excited about, but rather Scott’s involvement. And honestly, that excitement was amplified by the fact that it wasn’t going to be another xenomorph-centric film, but an exploration behind the ship the xenomorphs came from and why they came to be. To me, another generic Alien movie would be pointless; though Aliens did a great job setting up a purpose for Ripley to go back to LV-426 and fight the xenomorphs again, after that any further exploration of her character vs xenomorphs would just be contrived and redundant (and was).

And I don’t feel I was alone with this line of thinking. Though there were certainly those who were disappointed about the promise of no xenomorphs in Prometheus, Scott’s decision to return to the director’s chair with a new and particularly interesting premise exploring the lore of the xenomorphs’ creation excited fans. Maybe not so much the die-hard Alien fans who just wanted to see more Ripley vs. Aliens, but the fans who loved what made those original Alien films so damn good. It wasn’t just that we were getting a new pseudo-Alien film, it was that we were getting a film that expanded the Alien universe in a unique and interesting way, and from the universe’s fucking creator no less.

And that’s why Prometheus hurt so bad when it landed. The film just wasn’t very good. It wasn’t an utter trainwreck of a film (though some do think so). It was just kind of stupid. Scott did show that he still knew how to make a great-looking sci fi film, sure, and there were some truly impressive, intense moments of horror. But it was just such an utterly confused script, it left you to wonder which would’ve been better: a more straight-up-yet-boring story, or what we got?

Truthfully, the ambition of the story I actually love. Though there were red flags here and there in its first hour, I absolutely adored what it was setting up. The exploration of humanity and our beginnings… it felt like I was watching a new take on 2001: A Space Odyssey, only instead of tripping on acid in the second half, the film was going to deliver pure terror. For half the movie I was sitting there giddy with excitement, and that’s why it hurt so much… oh so very much… when Milburn went to pet the space-snake. Now, I didn’t care much about Milburn, and I certainly hated the Fifield character from the moment he first spoke, and them getting lost in the engineer ship already felt a little contrived… but I remember that space-snake sequence and it just being so painful to watch, because all of a sudden this seemingly grand film that was moving along so well and looked amazing turned from being the best set up to a fantastic new horror movie to being the best set up for some generic, cliched horror bullshit.

And how greatly disappointing it was. For me, this had to be one of my most anticipated films ever; a film that prior to it’s announcement I had no idea I wanted and then all of a sudden wanted so bad. And for it to turn out to be not all that great, it was such a let down. There have been those who wave its flag, claiming that the movie is genius and that it all makes sense, and I’ve heard all the theories of how it all works. But honestly, can anyone really get behind the decision making here? It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the film: I get that there are questions left unanswered purposefully, and that there’s subtext, and that sequels were always intended. But the biggest problem with Prometheus (beyond the stupidity of some of its characters and its “reveals”) is that it doesn’t have any driving force working against its protagonists. Sure, David does the thing with the black goo in Holloway’s drink, and the idiots in the ship fuck around with the space snake, and then Weyland comes into the picture and then they wake up a pissed off engineer… but who’s Shaw actually fighting against in this film? As much as David sort of instigates the events that take place, the reasons why are never explored and he’s not really used as the main antagonist. So shit just kind of… happens.

I’d like to briefly point out what I think was a missed opportunity regarding David in this film. In the blu-ray edition of the film, there is an easter egg that suggests that the Alien universe and Ridley Scott’s other seminal sci fi film Blade Runner’s universe are connected. It seems to me that this could’ve been explored with the character of David. While the humans are invested in discovering their beginnings and meeting their creators, David is aware of who created him, and is in many ways superior to humans, but remains a slave. Perhaps upon arrival on LV-223 David learns that the engineers were intent on destroying humanity, and maybe that triggers a response that leads him to manipulate events in favour of the engineers. Partner this with Holloway’s answer to David when asked why he was made, stating “We made you because we could,” maybe David (much like the replicants before him) has an ambition to be free. This would allow a more emotionally satisfying conclusion the film, as even without questions about the engineers intent answered, the resolution of the David plot would conclude the thematic purpose of the movie.

But unfortunately there was no emotional satisfaction to be had, and the excitement felt anticipating Prometheus was replaced with a feeling of deflation. And this excitement didn’t feel measured by the number of fans invested, but rather it was that the excitement of those invested just felt so dense. Marvel may draw bigger crowds, and nothing can match the volume of anticipation felt with the return of Star Wars, but those franchises are sold on their delivering more of the same. It’s fan servicing, and though that is exactly what people wanted, asked for and got, it also has been the most consistent bit of criticism against those films due to its lack of creativity. Prometheus on the other hand excited fans about the possibility of something beyond what we’d seen or imagined, and looking back now, for me personally (and I don’t think I’m alone here), this was bigger than just another entry to the franchise, this was an artistic exploration of an idea.

But now we’re getting Alien: Covenant, and though its trailers look promising and its initial reviews sound pretty okay-to-decent, it doesn’t feel quite as grand as what Prometheus felt like. I can’t help but wonder if maybe Ridley Scott should do to the Alien franchise what he did with Blade Runner 2049 and just hand it to someone else. Plenty of people were excited about a proposed new Ripley and Hicks sequel by Neill Blomkamp, but not me so much. Firstly, a lot of people had issues with Elysium, and most hated Chappie, so why is everyone so certain about his take on Aliens? And secondly, again, I don’t need another contrived Ripley vs. xenomorphs story. It’s been done.

Honestly, my hope is that Covenant does explore some of the ideas from Prometheus, but just with a bit more focus, and with a few less idiotic characters. Because I greatly appreciate what Scott has been trying to do, and it’s not without precedent; in recent years there have been a few really great alternate takes on established universe’s, such as this year’s’ Logan or (my personal favourite universe building film) 2015’s Creed. Expansion of a story and redirection of focus is a fantastic way to treat fans to something familiar while offering them something new, and it’s something that I think people are really beginning to hope to get more of from tentpoles such as Star Wars and Marvel. But it requires thought and restraint. We want these films to take chances, but they have to be respectful to their audiences. We don’t want any more stupid characters and dumb decisions in our Alien universe, just like we don’t want to the DC lore get completely shit on in the cinematic universe and then have it wipe its ass along the ground. Let’s hope Scott’s heard us, and that Alien: Covenant gets it right.

-louman