Overrated: What’s up with the love for ‘Dead Silence’

I watched “Dead Silence” the same year it came out and it was during a phase of heavy horror movie watching. For a long time I remembered that I didn’t like it and didn’t think it was scary at all. Since then, many horror movie lists and film critics have tried to tell me again and again what a great movie this is. And only very recently, Slashfilm.com even called it an “unpopular opinion” to like it (which it isn’t, people love it, it’s just that it was a box office flop).

So, I finally watched it again, because I thought that maybe, maybe after 10 years I would realize the genius of this hidden gem.

Narrator’s voice: she didn’t.

Spoiler Alert for the following critique: Continue reading

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Cover song history: Robert Hazard ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ owned by Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper is not just a musical icon because she broke all our hearts with her beautiful song “Time after time”, no, she’s also one of THE best cover artists I’ve ever seen, heard and build a shrine made out of petticoats for.

Case in point: I still find out that certain songs she made her own actually were originally by another artist. Her cover of “When you were mine” is iconic because Cyndi did not change the gender of the Prince-song and therefore made it a favourite among the LGBTQ-community. Then she picked up “I drove all night” and turned this Roy Orbison classic into a cool and a lot sexier 80s hymn. And then she miraculously turned the somewhat offbeat “All through the night” by Jules Shear into a longing ballad that has to be heard through a car radio. Her touch is truly magical.

And still, I did not know that one of her biggest hits was a cover song. True Color me surprised!

Robert Hazard (born as the less dangerous Robert Rimato) was a musician who mainly played and wrote country songs but also tried out electro-pop, folk and for whatever reason (it was the 80s!) reggae.

His original song has a great sound but his intentions were a little – well – sleazy. The song originally was about the kind of fun men imagine “girls” are having in the bedroom (men included) and looking back at it now with Cyndi’s all-encompassing version stuck in my head, it’s nearly impossible to imagine this song as a weird pulpy dream by a dude.

(also, the first comment on this YouTube video is by Clive Preston who – apparently – played the guitar on this song. For all the horror that lurks in YouTube comments, there are very rare gems hidden)

So, what did Cyndi do? Initially, she wanted to skip the song. Having experiences with awful men herself, she shuddered at the thought of singing something like that but her manager believed that she could turn the meaning around and make the song her own. And so she did with the help of some much needed changes of the lyrics (in this case, the changing of the gender DID improve the song mightily).

That’s how effing great Cyndi is, who else can basically midas-touch a creepy sex-song into a feminist anthem? She also doubled down with the video which is all petticoats, wild hair and introducing “not giving a shit”-dancing to the world.

Wax Fang ‘Victory Laps’ – how the hell do I keep missing these album releases?

So, Wax Fang and I have a running gag going: I will listen to their albums and look them up and follow them on all social media accounts and wait for news of a new album and then roughly a year later I will do the same and realize that they have released a new album ages ago, like, seconds after I last checked them. I suspect that they do this in a weird time bubble that only special people get invited to and I am not one of them (maybe because I think that Szechuan McDonalds sauce is gross?).

Anyways, so back in 2017, Wax Fang released “Victory Laps” which starts with the spacey electro beat monster “Pusher”. It starts like you should be disappointed because it sounds so normal and then, as usual, it turns into the theatrical extravaganza that all of their songs and albums do so well (and do so differently each time). I guess, if you don’t like Scott Carney’s voice, you will be lost with basically all Wax Fang-albums because his vocals are so present (and desperately close) on all of them but I personally love this weirdo and amazing voice since the first time I heard it on “American Dad” (of all the places …).

Whereas their previous album “Astronaut” was a nearly claustrophobic psychedelic prog monster so intense that I once had to stop and listen to something else whilst on a plane, “Victory Laps” goes more into the pop/disco/rock’n’roll direction with the usual pizzazz of Carney’s vocals and the long, winding instrumental solos that always leave you somewhere completely different than the initial starting point. Every Wax Fang album, so far, has been like “Alice in Wonderland”, you just really never know what the hell will happen but it’s all so fascinating and quite charming if you don’t think too much about the head-chopping.

Maybe, Wax Fang is the closest we could get to a 21st century Sparks, if Sparks weren’t still releasing albums.

“Victory Laps” is less conceptual weirdo rock opera like “Astronaut” or “La La Land” but still beautiful. Songs like “Do the Math” are such a gorgeous break from the high-tempo, breathless predecessors. Weirdly enough, this could appear just as ironic and detached, dare I say “phony” as the Arctic Monkeys wearing weird beards now, but with Wax Fang, the humor always goes along with so much love to the pathos, that their music never sounds like a sneer towards the more emotional side of rock.

The only song that I really could live without because it’s full-on parody 80s sci-fi teen comedy is “Mystery Girl” which has a ridiculous chorus. But even that song turns into the weirdest space instrumental in the second half, so that you can’t even get mad at them. By the end of the 6:15 (one of the longest songs on the album), it’s like the annoying camp song you hated at the beginning but that now reminds you of all the good times, looking for that serial killer’s secret brother you fell in love with during musical rehearsals.

Oh, and that last song? My kinda song. Actually, I did hear that song when it was released but apparently still missed the memo about the album. Still, “Exit Strategy” is the kind of dark, desperate scream into the void that really speaks to me late at night shortly before I remember all the horrible things I’ve ever done. It’s disturbing and gorgeous and oh so sinister. Also, Carney’s duet with the guitar is beautiful.

Arctic Monkeys ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ – something’s missing

Since the debut album in 2006, the Arctic Monkeys have cemented their status as a band with some of the greatest ironic song titles combined with – at times – surprisingly intimate songwriting. Alex Turner has a way with words and just knows how to make everything sound more meaningful even if it is just about returning home to your partner after a long time away or flirting with someone in a club.

For the first couple of albums, these strengths in songwriting were combined with superb and quite titillating melodies and song structures. And then, for better or worse, Alex Turner met Josh Homme and it feels as if nothing has ever been the same since then.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Qotsa and think Homme is a great musician if he’s not kicking music journalists in the head like a total dick. And I love the Arctic Monkeys. But the Homme-touch did turn all Arctic Monkey albums that followed into a musically more experimental, daring albeit less fun venture that sometimes (for me, too often) lacks heart.

I loved the first two albums to death and even respected the somewhat different direction of “Humbug”. Every new album feels like I could get back to the initial excitement and a few songs always intrigue me but it’s now been nine years and three more albums and I guess I have to admit that I just don’t like and/or get their music anymore. For me, the band that used to be so much fun, ironic but still sensitive, smart and rambunctious turned into a band that always sounds detached, a little bit bored and despite obvious talent within the whole band, a little lackluster despite the quality of their songs. Like a lounge band on a ship after 10 years of serenading people in cargo shorts eating all-you-can-eat shrimps day in, day out. In short: the fun you could hear from the music back then seems to has lost its way for something that’s more artistic maybe, but also quite a bit smug.

I love the retro vibe of the new songs. But honestly, I thought that Turner’s side project “The Shadow Puppets” did it better. The production is impeccable and Turner’s vocals are getting better and better each year. But it’s weirdly off-putting for me to hear Alex Turner sing like a parody lounge singer, mashing and drawing out his vocals into something sticky, sleazy, something you do when your friends ask you “to do that thing, you know, the thing” and then you parade around the room and everyone laughs.

(it’s all such a look but it feels so artificial)

Everything feels ironic with the new album and maybe that’s the plan but after songs like “505” or “Do me a favour”, which sounded like honest views (from the afternoon) on someone’s life, this irony is layered a bit thick.
I don’t care about musical finesse if there’s a Zappa-esque ironic detachment, it’s like a hollowed out candy, like the wizard of OZ it deflates as soon as I look behind the curtains. I guess I would have appreciated more if they would have started out differently but this way, it’s just a little sad to say goodbye (for now).

Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I still would recommend the album if you like musical experiments and a little weirdness thrown in because it’s a brilliant album when it comes to that. It’s just not what I was looking for.

Blackwater Holylight: holy shit you guys, this rocks!

Blackwater Holylight just released their album (you can hear it on Bandcamp) and it is so delicious, I can’t even!

It starts out in this 80s wave-length that I generally get drawn to but then, OMG, they suddenly drift into this heavy doomy bass-ridden Stonegaze as if True Widow were asked to do the soundtrack for “Stranger Things” and it is absolutely marvelous.

“Willow” is the first song on the album and it packs a punch. I mean, listening to this I kinda wish they would remake “The Craft” and only use Blackwater Holylight for the soundtrack.

For one, it’s such an awesome combination to have the melody-happy 80s mixed with the heaviest guitar walls and pretty much move you into dark and fuzzy psychedelia. Their song “Sunrise” is so gorgeous because it’s cool, retro but also old, dangerous and stares at you way too long. Fronted by vocalist and bass monster Allison Farris, the band also consists of Laura Hopkins (vocalist and guitar dragon), Cat Hoch (drumming machine) and Sarah McKenna (official 80s synth siren).

It’s the greatest kind of fusion, especially when you thought you know what they’re about and suddenly a song turns around the corner to do a gitarrero bit or sludge its way to your heart.

Look, if you want to get way too hard into a band this year and shout at everyone who doesn’t know them, this is the band to beat.

Orlando Weeks ‘The Gritterman’ – it took a while to get here

Sometimes, an illustrator also does music and he does it so well, that all people know him for is his music. And because maybe he is humble or maybe he does not yet know what to draw, one day he does music and lets another illustrator draw the story for it and then one day, the music as he did it before comes to an end and now there’s time and there’s an idea and there it is, a book, a picture book full of snow.

To be honest, I saved this one, because that’s what I do. I keep the thing that I want most on the plate and eat everything else, so I can have it for myself without anything else distracting me. And sometimes, I wait too long and then I am full and don’t want it anymore or the story about a gritterman on his last day of work in the midst of Winter feels awfully out of place on a warm day in Spring. But here I am and here is the book full of snow and here is also, a lovely audio book but also an album that feels like a radio play that has fallen out of time into our time, right into Spring, as it is.

“The Gritterman” is – first and foremost – about saying goodbye. On many pages, we see him on his own in his flat, sitting by himself – his “Joy” died a while ago – and going about his day as people do who feel something’s missing but don’t feel like giving up.

“Truth of the matter, it’s always the same. You dress for the sun and down comes the rain so you dress for the rain and the sun’s out again. It’s as old as the weather.”

The Gritterman has his last day as the gritterman on Christmas eve, they don’t need his old van anymore, nor his grit, nor the shaky headlights nor him. So we go along with him, on his last drive.

The accompanying record is narrated by Paul Whitehouse as Gritterman. The songs and the music are by Weeks who is incredibly soft-spoken, a warm piano like a blanket. It’s like a Christmas tale by the fire, such a lovely, gentle story, such a beautiful and sad story, something that doesn’t feel like it ever was written but was something that one person told the other and so on.

“I love that one. You never think of someone having to write Christmas carols. They’re just sort of there, aren’t they, like the AtoZ.”

You can wonder whether it is the loss of his job or the looming loneliness that awaits without anything to look forward to, without his Joy to be “company on the slower days”. Is “The Gritterman” about grief that is buried under the snow or is it about an old thing coming to an end because the time has come for change and some things don’t fit when things have changed?

It’s equally open to interpretation (or maybe not so much) how the Gritterman ends his last day of work. Alongside the smaller and smaller illustrations of the places his van has driven by all the years and the small shining light in the dark and stormy night, the story itself grows into fragments of thoughts and images and finally a dark starry night.

When one thing ends, it’s sometimes hard to grasp how anything can go on afterwards. In small ways, it can be the end of a band you’ve listened to since 10 years and more. In big ways, it can be the loss of a person who you were so close to and who was as much a part of your life as you were part of theirs. And without them, your life feels a little lonelier but you’re also missing some parts that went with them, maybe the person you could only be when you were with them.

Sometimes, though, there is a moment, when everything is calm and peaceful, like a starry night, like snow on Christmas, like a last journey on well-trodden paths. Sometimes, in small ways, someone might pursue what they intended to do in the first place and create a book full of snow and create music full of warmth and love and create a story about something that is sad but hopeful. Sometimes, in big ways, you find that the loss has grown into a new part of you and it might not only be filled with grief but also with love and memories and dreams that allow you to see them, if only for a while, if only at night.

Janelle Monáe ‘Dirty Computer’ – oh what a time to be alive

I thought we had reached peak pop culture when Beyoncè released “Lemonade” but hearing (and seeing) “Dirty Computer”, the long awaited album by Janelle Monáe, it seems like this was just the beginning of a new era of pop and I am here for it.

In a way, “Dirty Computer” is build on the legacy of “Lemonade” (and also in big parts on the legacy of Prince). Beyoncè`s message to the world was: “I am a black woman in America, don’t forget it” and it was a powerful and beautiful message. Janelle Monáe goes one step further and says: “I am one of many, diverse, unique and amazing black women in America” and her representation is fantastic (I am sure that the LGBTQ+-community will celebrate this album for years to come).

“Dirty Computer”, together with the emotional movie (Monáe’s words, not mine) tells the story of a woman who comes to terms with who she is and how she wants to be seen by the world: unapologetic.

If you’ve read the amazing Rolling Stones interview with Monáe by Brittany Spanos, you know that she used her “Electric Lady” alter ego/persona as a shield from criticism but also from people who might not welcome her as she is: a black queer woman. Luckily, Monáe herself saw that shielding yourself from the world can be a gift and a curse and “Dirty Computer” – the flawed, human version of her “Electric Lady”-persona – is a beautiful showing of a voice in pop music that is strong, queer, black, funny, smart, vulnerable, progressive, political, a great dancer, a fashion role model and overall a versatile artist with a very strong vision. It’s the kind of pop star the world doesn’t even deserve right now but the one the world really needs.

For these themes, one could have expected brooding, angsty songs like from Lorde circa 2013 but instead “Dirty Computer” is mostly an incredibly fun and catchy album that shows the strong relation- and mentorship Monáe had with the late Prince. Especially “Make me feel” (which I already celebrated here) is such a loving and gorgeous homage to Prince`s legacy from the styling, the dancing, even how Monáe plays her guitar. For such a fun song, I got awfully teary-eyed because I was so moved by such an obvious homage to a musician who defied gender stereotypes since the age of dawn and always truly lived up to his hype (and his mysterium).

Another highlight of the album is “Pynk”, a lovesong for someone but also for a whole gender and probably the future favourite song for many lesbians because it’s such a warm, fuzzy, funny and overall lovely song in the name of the female pynk (with or without vagina because pynk is super inclusive).

One of the main feats of Monáe (which she already showed in heaps on “Electric Lady”) is the fact that she has a vision but so many ways to realize that her albums are always an incredibly rewarding experience. No fillers, no snoozy skips, just a whole bunch of hits.

All in all, I am excited what such an album can do to modern pop and especially for (queer) POC in the industry (in front of and behind the curtains, because there’s a lot of talent in the background of these projects).