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The L Word – A case of managing expectations

May 29, 2009 2 comments

The L Word

I’ve just started watching the L word – I know a few of you PMed me and were wondering when I’d get round to it. Well, just to let you know: I got ’round to it!

Oh, yeah right, I hear you saying… here’s a guy who thinks he’s keeping up with the Jones’…

So, I realise that there are like, already 6 seasons and I’m far behind everyone else. but, hey… I’ve been tired.

Watching the first series has been a serious exercise in expectation management. Let me tell you why.

Fox Television’s “24” started a revolution in modern television action drama programming. Indeed, we might think of Pre-24 and Post-24 action and drama series programming as fundamentally different entities.

Pre 24 TV drama series, might include typical sleuth programmes such as Cracker, Taggart and Morse where a case is solved each week and the reset button is pressed. Even shows where continuity would have added so much, like the eponymous X-Files that were opened and closed conveniently each episode were crippled by the Scooby Doo Syndrome where audiences were forced to suffer from lines like “If it wasn’t for that gosh-darn-it dog and those pesky kids!” week after week after week. Promises of deep, intriguing and rewarding viewing were stunted by the “43 minute memory span” of a typical episode.

In X-Files, for example, it got to the point where I’d slap my forehead and shout things like,

“For Fuck’s Sake Scully Open Your God Damn Eyes!!! You Lost Two Hours of Your Life when You Were Taken on Board an Extraterrestrial Spacecraft Last Week, Experimented On and had some kind of Alien Chip Implanted in you and Now You’re Going on and on Like an Old Woman About a Man Who Claims to have seen an Alien!?!”

and I just plain lost interest at the end of season Five.

It would appear that Sci Fi suffered the most. It was as if no studio wanted to give their viewers credit for continued interest, despite the seven year run of, say, Star Trek Next Generation, which had only insignificant episode to episode connections but would have done much better with stronger ones.

Notable TV exceptions to this sad situation included lower budget classics such as the socio-religio-sci-fi epic “Babylon 5”, where individual episodes (after the experimental first season) were bound to a strong story arc with deep character development and long evolving plot threads. Yet still, one show “cheap shots” would take precedence over continuity. The more modern “The 4400” and “Taken” also took steps to fortify the overall story even at the expense of a little viewer responsibility.

The breakthrough was arguably reached with Firefly (by Buffy’s Joss Whedon) which spent it’s whole, tragically and unforgivably truncated 14 episode life, just building up the characters’ backgrounds and relationships one by one without even getting to the core of the story! How’s THAT for character development?  Sadly this show was voted out with a “paltry” 6 million viewers, just below the contract renewal threshold. Still, it wasn’t bad figure for a country and western infused sci-fi potpourri that tackled rocky topics such as blind loyalty, freedom of expression and sexuality, religious beliefs vs atheism, the connections between politics and syndicated crime head on, sometimes all in the same episode!

Among this suffering there was, ironically, a raft of cheesy melodramas and two-bit soaps and even crappy sitcoms that often had far deeper arcs and much more intricately twisted plots, not to mention the obligatory “previously…” bit at the beginning of every week to key the audience in to any recent developments they may have missed/forgotten/not bothered to consider/just made up. And this is exactly the sort of TV where this kind of thing is least necessary, where daily plots would probably have sufficed.

Bring out the Jack!
But the Jack’s Sleeping!
Then You’ll just go and have to wake him up!

On the fateful day of 6th of November 2001, Drama programming would forever be changed when Jack Bauer blazed onto the screen and single handedly saved America from all manner of evils, in one of the hottest, most radical concept series of all times. Built on a Hollywood Film budget with A-grade actors and actresses, the best production and editing ever used on TV and special effects that other series would have died for, 24 forwent or paid to get rid of all of the the baggage that held down other series and had the balls to expect, nay, demand its audience to watch once a week, every week, without fail, or else!

And they did, in their millions and millions.

Drama watchers were no longer treated like second class goldfish, but were rather treated to a new, rich experience that turned the whole perception of depth around and made any film less than a trilogy potential seem shallow.

Post 24 dramas pushed north the boundaries of what audiences were expected to remember and take on board in order to follow a series, leaving the directors time and breathing space to develop gorgeous characterisations, beautifully intricate plots, sumptuous histories and backgrounds, and in the case of 24 a whole new government organisation and structure.

TV series, such as Lost, Desperate Housewives, Prison Break proved to be compelling, intelligent television that made the viewer feel like a discerning customer and not a Joe Six-Pack.

  • Then along came the L-Word.

Billed as a slick, intelligent, high budget, well produced, “late night” (nudge nudge wink wink) drama about a bunch (flock, gaggle, murder – I don’t know the correct word) of beautiful, sassy lesbians living in Hollywood, no less… Every red blooded male’s fantasy programming…(!)

Fair enough, I was expecting Hollywood glitz, lots of good looking gals, relatable yet ultimately unrealistic characters (ala DH) and so on, perhaps even the odd shallowly disguised sexual double entendre or even a few tastefully, sheet clad morning after scenes.

I was looking forward to an intelligent series which might even linger for a few moments on social/sexual or political commentary thrown in under the pretext of entertainment.

Instead, this show rather unfulfillingly skims over, skirts around or just plain dodges every serious topic it bludgeons its way into at the beginning of each week’s episode and after eight of them, I’m left wondering… When will the real story start?

Stories and concepts are to be applauded for being written with a mainstream audience, albeit with one with a good degree of discretion and open mindedness, in mind. However, this is where the lauding ends, since the stories themselves are written with neither insight, nor focus and are littered with rather over the top, unnecessary sex scenes that actually do little more than obstruct the flow of each episode at critical fifteen minute intervals and in my opinion actually detract from the whole quality.

Case in Point; where another, earlier timeslot show would be forced to have some touching dialogue or nuanced atmosphere to demonstrate the (mostly temporary) feelings the two (or more) onscreen characters might have for one another, The L Word  forgoes the foreplay and gets down and sweaty: rather graphically and entirely unashamedly. Close, maybe but Porn this is not. Still, neither is it subtle, intelligent storytelling.

Sure, there is a veneer of a plot development, but it is really playing second fiddle to the weekly episodes and minor happenings that beset the women.

The protagonists appear thinly drawn and are either completely inscrutable or entirely predictable. Most seem far more promiscuous, eminently more shallow and altogether sadder than any of the LGB (or S) friends I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

Except for the “model couple” the characters range from childish and impudent, elitist and cliquey (like it’s morally OK for minorities to discriminate humourlessly against larger majorities) through to a number of downright selfishly hedonistic members.

Random or failed story arcs and traits of each character are not so much gently and subtly written out of the story as just left lying burned out and gutted on the side of the road!

To be honest, I don’t really know what points the directors are trying to make or even what impressions of the main characters they are trying to give, but they’re not particularly clear, whatever they are.

Still, despite all it’s flaws, I find myself looking forward to sneaking an hour in here or there, because, just like the sitcoms of old, it has a certain charm in its shallow, static, stereotypically drenched and somewhat bigoted storytelling that frees the viewer from any responsibility of having to remember plot threads or maintain a character directory of relationships to help solve a crisis, or indeed any responsibility at all: morally or otherwise. And of course, it has a Hollywood budget, excellent editing and production values and invariably first rate acting (except for the annoying appearance of a certain lecherous British professor who I remember from a dismal B-movie called Warlock).

Somehow though, I can’t shake the feeling that despite successfully pushing forward the visibility of lesbians in popular culture, they are doing so in an ever so slightly confrontational “sit on this and spin” fashion rather than with a cerebral exchange of opinions that would better aid integration. But then, that’s why tabloids outsell broadsheets, isn’t it?

It’s clear case of aiming for the bright and fancy patchwork rather than the rich at tasty melting pot!

Prodigy? Emilie Autumn

May 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I just don’t get it… Of practically every female artist I listen to of late, someone, somewhere invariably says they “sound like Tori Amos.”

Take Emilie Autumn, my latest audio crush. She’s a multi instrumental, cross genre chameleon of a star with prodigious amounts of talent. Classical violin trained from the age of four, nonconformist, Nigel Kennedy aficionado  in both style and attitude (which subsequently lead her to being kicked out of several prestigious, yet conservative teaching establishments).

“Victoriandustrial” is a label she’s placed on herself, “corsets and combat boots” a juxtaposition of styles that is mirrored in her heavy hitting gothic rock fused classical.  
Yet despite all of this attention and fame granted by her rather sexy alter ego, she has remained true to her solid classical heritage, demonstrating commendably deep and stable roots with her release of a gorgeous classical album at a time when, well, let’s face it, classical is not exactly pop.   
Emilie Autumn Opheliac Album Cover

Emily Autumn – Opheliac

So this Tori Amos woman… is she the what then? The root of all modern female artists? The *mother* of all modern female artists? Or is it more a case of a “tastes like chicken” moment when people forget what Tori’s music actually sounds like but are left with just a vague impression, an aftertaste if you will? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see (hear) the resemblance in anything more than one of the many influences (because there are oh so many) to grace her songs.

I mean, come on, there are moments, yes, just like there are moments when the flavour of the food you’re eating becomes a little indistinct, and even… dare I say it, chicken-like.

Yet saying she sounds like Tori Amos is much too simplistic and does her a disservice, as if she’s a follower rather than a setter. Why, then, don’t we add the obvious observations of similarities with Kate Bush’s killer flyaway choruses, Sarah Nixiey’s sumptuous prose, Sia‘s sultry smoked out close-miked vocals, Annie Lennox’s awesome vocal presence, The Cocteau Twins’ complex countermelodies, Siouxsie Sioux’s sexy gothica, Bat for Lashes’ beauty and style, Fayray‘s fabulous classical accoutrements, Imogen Heap’s incredible acoustic vocal flourishes. Heck, let’s even add Bette Midler’s beautiful bar-tale storytelling and noiresque mystique and even an occasional splattering of TLC for heaven’s sake! There are heaps of influences in there because this woman is a one-girl artistic encyclopædia who has experienced and even mastered ranges of music and art beyond what most modern “popstars” could even name. She has more talent than an average studio band rolled up into one sexy gothic lolita package.

Come on, admit it, it was a chicken moment… she doesn’t really sound *that* much like Tori does she?

Good Things Come in Threes: Three Women and their Pianos – Angela Ai (History)

December 15, 2008 Leave a comment

This is the third part of the second article in my series “Good Things Come in Threes”. In the previous two articles, I looked at

  • Angela Aki a Japanese-Italian solo artist and pianist, brought up in Japan educated in the US and made famous by her Final Fantasy XII theme tune.
  • Fayray, a Japanese singer and pianist brought up and raised in the US before finding major success in her home country, Japan with the album Hourglass.

 

Angela Ai – History (US, 2001)

In this part, I will be looking at Angela Ai and her landmark album, History.

angela-ai

How I found her

I was looking for the song “Rain” by Angela Aki on iTunes when the new iTunes 8 feature “Genius Sidebar” suggested I might like Angela Ai.

Yeah, that’s a laugh, I thought, new the Genius function might be, but not so Genius when it comes spelling it would appear!

On a whim, I clicked on the identically titled “Rain” by the fictitious and misspelt (or so I thought) “Angela Ai.”

It was not the version of Rain that I had expected. iTunes had no information on their Artist page, but intrigued I jumped across to Last FM to see who she was. Fortunately, Last FM had complete versions of her songs for playback. (The whole track is available here if you’re a Last FM member, or a reasonable chunk can be found on her site here.)

Instead of Aki’s shouttastic rendition of a typically staid love song, I found myself listening to an engaging, short romantic-tragedy in the form of a regular, common-all-garden pop song.

With Ai’s sublime voice, it told an insanely solid tale in its few short minutes about a woman watching in dismay as her best friend, to whom she was the bridesmaid and who she’d had a secret crush on for years, got married! Startlingly bold for a debut single!

I was blown away. This was NOT Angela Aki. Not by a long shot. I had found Angela Ai.

Angela Ai is an American Chinese who was, to quote from her website:

…born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Her passion for the performing arts began at the age of 5 when she began studying ballet. She studied classical piano at the age of 7 following with brief studies on the violin and flute. While in high school, she began auditioning for and was chosen to be the lead in many of the school musicals and plays.

After graduating from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Finance, she moved to New York City and started a career in investment banking of all things. Her heart lay elsewhere, however and she went on to study Jazz at the Manhattan School of Music before making a career for herself on Broadway in the US.

She is a technically superb pianist, highly trained in both classical and jazz (as are Fayray and Angela Aki to whom I am comparing her) which has set her up perfectly for a wide range of sounds and genres. However what sets her apart from the other two is her background of voice training and experience on the stage as an actress. That experience alone puts her voice and manner in an entirely different category altogether, and it shows on her album, “History”.

She commands total mastery over all aspects of her performance from the piano to her immaculate voice. And there is only one word to describe her voice: spectacular.

Where Fayray’s voice would deftly and delicately give way on the high notes, Ai’s is right there, in control and without the barest hint of stress or strain. Where Aki would tend to shout in order to wring out her full emotional gamut, Ai’s strength and passion manifests itself much like an ice skater’s performance: Effortlessly graceful yet immensely strong.

Her music

She is Asian, a singer songwriter with a classical and jazz background, she plays piano, she has a fine voice. There the similarities with the other two end.

I consider Angela Ai a rather notable departure from my usual tastes in music, even taking to consideration the changes my library has gone through over the last year.

Where she differs most of the music I usually listen to and the other two women to whom I’m comparing her,  is that she brings the vivid passions and emotions of theatre, drama, the stage and of Broadway musicalsin particular and moulds and tempers them into songs of remarkable simplicity, elegance and beauty.

Every song is a play, every line is a scene: Much closer to Chicago the musical than Chicago the 80’s pop band.

Thus, this simplicity and cross discipline genre busting comes at a price to the listener, however, as her songs tend to be remorseless assaults on your imagination. Each one is steeped in thespian emotions and soaked in graphical imagery painted with fat, wide brush strokes, like the backdrops to the stage plays from which they might have been used for in another life.

For Ai, there is no hiding behind an orchestra, no percussion or rhythm sections to get the listener going, indeed no backing whatsoever. There is, for the entire album, Just Ai and her piano.

“History” is an entire album of piano and voice alone.

Also, the subjects of most of the songs could not be considered conventional: child abuse, the imminent death of a father and a believer’s shock at being denied entry to heaven don’t really sound like the sort of things that can be sung about, but on stage anything can happen.

As such, it’s far from the most accessible album released, much less so than her debut, self titled mini album from which the song “Rain” was pulled.

Is it worse for that?

For from it. its shocking simplicity is a refreshing breath of air in a world where every facet of every album is produced down to the ground.

If you enjoy the sheer beauty of what a voice can achieve, if you enjoy musicals and love the sound of a well played, lucidly recorded grand piano, if you’re fed up to the eye-teeth with insipid love songs, Angela Ai’s History is a real treasure.

Angela Ai, History

At nine songs long, it’s not an epic, but each song has something to offer. There are no fillers, no masturbatory demonstrations of piano skill. She doesn’t need them. The album is as sparse and simple as her songs themselves; nothing wasted, nothing superfluous, yet dramatic and emotional as a Broadway production.

(click on the songs’ titles for excerpts direct from Angela Ai’s Web site at http://www.angelaai.com)

It opens with →history, sung in the first person to the listener. On a conventional theme of lost love, it might be considered a taster if you will and something to ease the audience into her world. It offers a nostalgic look at lost love and the pain of living close to the source of your pain while forcing yourself to move on with your life.

Despite her assuredness that the relationship is over, is history, the loss she suffered, the anger she felt and the love that lingers despite her best efforts remains as her voice bursts with every stab of pain, every nostalgic twinge, every memory.

The stage influence on this track as on every one on this album is plain to hear. You can almost see the feel and moody set, a flickering streetlamp, grey extras milling past and among them, in colour, her lost love.

This theme is returned to in the third song on the album, →i Really Miss That, a more mellow, introspective song but sung from the viewpoint of a woman who yearns for the relationship she once had, a relationship that somewhere along the way lost everything that once made it so special. More than the finality of the first song, this one offers a ray of hope for the future. 

world War Three (Yes, the first letter of every song on the album is a small letter)

This is such an unbelievably cool concept for a four minute song that I feel obliged to share it with you.

A “believer” who has behaved impeccably her whole life, yet for all the wrong reasons, dies and is confronted by God. She is shocked on being questioned by Him as to her worthiness in spite of her life of apparently good deeds. He tries to make her understand the error in her ways, that her deeds were all done out of a sense of duty and selfishness rather than out of love. By way of example he explains, but she is unable to comprehend. God, in a final attempt to enlighten His child accompanies her through Hell where she is forced to witness World Wars One and Two. Yet, still unable to comprehend, she is left there to face World War Three alone. Yowzers!

This song with its beautifully memorable chorus sung from the viewpoint of the deserted subject, is a magnificent piece worthy of entry into the Annals of “Seriously Great Concepts.”

daddy, the fourth song on the album is an emotional song that touches on the trauma left by family breakups.

A daughter visits her father on what may well be his deathbed; a father who it appears left or even abandoned his family and his daughter a long time ago.

As she sits there with her dying father, she remembers the pain that he caused her and the loss she felt at his leaving. She remembers how she blamed herself for his leaving.

She visits him in hospital with the intention of forgiving him for his lies and the past, to let bygones be bygones. The daughter reveals her soul to him, asking him to come back to her, only to be rebuffed bya  refusal to accept her, her love and most importantly, her forgiveness.

raw the most powerful and heartfelt song on the album stays with the theme of family trauma.

A woman comes to terms with the emotional scars left by a self esteem destroying childhood under the thumb of a domineering, perhaps even violent family and moves on with her life.

Ai conveys the confusion and fear of the child through the lamenting chords of her piano and a voice that falls into depths of pain before  rising symbolically and soaring above the music to freedom.

Listening to this song, it’s hard to believe that such a powerful number wasn’t written autobiographically. The emotions on display here are palpable and, just like it says on the tin, raw.

For me, this one song alone would justify purchasing the album.

just a dream

This song, coming just beyond the midpoint of the album stands as a turning point from the darkness of having things taken away, fear, entrapment, hate and remorse proffered by the first five songs to the the latter half of the album on which each song promises so much; dreams, happiness, thankfulness, forgiveness and freedom.

Angela takes a 180 degree turn from the darkness and despair of raw and sings an uplifting, almost Disneyesque  song which could have quite easily come from a children’s musical.

Something, (My innate cynicism and dislike of Disney, perhaps) unfortunately prevents me from experiencing this song in the unfettered and childlike manner which it deserves.

Instead, I feel that it doesn’t have the depth of feeling or context that the other songs on the album have. Even so, I can feel that it represents childlike imagination and the purity of childhood joy and thus earns its place at the head of the four Yang songs that counterpoint the five Ying songs that came before it.

WholeA woman hungers for solace and finds the man who she feels can fill the hole she has inside. The woman, obsessed with every aspect of his being  feels salvation a mere heartbeat away, if only she can hold on to herself and not lose herself in the process.

you Gave Me, is an unbridled song of thanks to a mother or parents and feels as though it was written with her own parents in mind.

free, one of the strongest tracks after WW3 and Raw, ends the album on a high note (no pun intended). Where the first track history is a gentle introduction, free is a reminder that Angela Ai is a performance artist at heart with powerful, modern influences and is the best demonstration of how far she has taken her craft.

True to the title of the track itself, the songs form spirals, seemingly out of control as she invites her audience to come with her as she explores freedom itself, building up to a freeform pillar of sound like I haven’t heard since Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

“I scream, and you can scream with me ’cause I am free.”

However, Ai demonstrates that there is a fine line between freedom and chaos and her masterful control shows on which side of the boundary she lies as she brings the song masterfully back under control before soaring off, quite literally into the stratosphere in one of the highest notes I’ve ever heard in popular music, proving once and for all the divide that lies between mere, trained ability and given gift.

In closing then, History is a challenging yet thoroughly rewarding listen which offers a touch of class and a LOT of emotion delivered by a master of her craft!

 

Angela Ai (History)

angel ai history

  1. history
  2. world war three
  3. i really miss that
  4. daddy
  5. raw
  6. just a dream
  7. whole
  8. you gave me
  9. free

Good Things Come in Threes: Three Women and their Pianos – Angela Aki (Home)

December 3, 2008 2 comments

This is the second part of the second article in my series “Good Things Come in Threes”. In the previous article, I looked at

  • Fayray, a Japanese singer and pianist brought up and raised in the US before finding major success in her home country, Japan with the album Hourglass.

The third article looks at

  • Angela Ai, an American Born Chinese, raised in Columbus, Ohio who is and an actress, on Broadway, a singer and a talented pianist.

Angela Aki, Home

Angela Aki

Angela Aki’s upbringing might be considered a mirror image of Fayray’s:Born to a Japanese father and Italian mother in Shikoku, Japan, she emigrated with her family to to the US, Hawaii at the age of 15. Later she moved to Washington DC where she attended and subsequently graduated from the George Washington University with a double major in Politics and Music.

More than anything else, Angela Aki is renowned for her no-holds-barred, powerful voice: with full control over its entire, wide range, who like many Asian pop singers has been influenced heavily by the queen of Canto-pop Wong Faye.

To a much greater extent than Fayray, piano or keyboard take the lead on her ballad laden debut album, Home. And although many songs have a string accompaniment, with minimal percussion and electronica.

The album starts Kiss Me Goodbye, the most well known single on the album, made famous for being the theme song to Final Fantasy XII.

“Kiss Me Goodbye”, although being popular and catchy enough to put it number 1 on the album doesn’t really show Aki’s voice off in its best light, and she drew criticism from some quarters for “shouting rather than singing.”

Certainly there are moments when all you hear is the power and nothing else, but it is still a fine Wong-esq pop song.

Incidentally, she performed a cover of Wong Faye’s Eyes on Me, the theme song to Final Fantasy VIII.

“Love is Over Now” is a more archetypal Aki affair and she is given much more room to explore the extents of her vocal talents which take centre stage in this, a far more emotional number.

“Kokoro no Senshi” has her shouting again for another powerful, bestselling single.

There’s no denying the impact of her orchestra backed pop and this, more than any other song on the album defines a young and energetic Angela Aki with a memorable number that stays with you long after the album has been put away.

“This Love” starts off suggesting a gentle ballad but progresses up the scale, much like Kokoro no Senshi into yet another shouty, full orchestral climax of the ridiculously catchy chorus.

Whereas most albums would be content with a 1, 2, 3 Punch. Aki outdoes them by adding her fourth single to the front loaded album. that made this album a 600,000 disc seller.

After the first four groundbreaking singles, “Music” the fifth song has a difficult job to feel anything other than a slight disappointment in its lack of distinctive hook and ends up as just a pop song.

Any feelings that the album may have lost steam however are blown out of the water by the dark, deep piano strings and heavy drum section that open “Uchuu,” the sixth song on the album. In terms of composition and orchestration alone, Uchuu is by far the tightest on the disc. It’s a one song opera, dark powerful and fearsome one moment transitioning to beautiful, drifting solitude the next with Aki taking on the role of the entire cast with her adept voice and pulling the whole ensemble together beautifully. It’s beautifully dramatic in the way songs by Queen tend to be and feels much fuller and longer than its sub five minute length would suggest.

Uchuu is probably the understated highlight of the whole disc.

“Onegai” comes as blessed respite after the heavy “Uchuu” and signals a pause for a breather before the start of the last half of the album as a slow, gentle piano solo ballad.

The last half is less remarkable than the first, which can’t really be helped considering how this album starts off.

“Rain” and “Kiseki” and “Hallelujah”  return to Aki’s regular pattern of fully rounded and powerful chorus backed by strings and a band without ever loosing the piano from the front and centre, with the final song of the album, “Home” being a rather strong closing song to this pattern. There is a suggestion that she may have been struggling for inspiration at several points during the album with these four songs being very similar, pulling influences from late 90s domestic stars such as Onizuka Chihiro, Yaida Hitomi and others. Still, if you like one, you’ll probably like all four.

“Oogesa ni Aishiteiru” (“exaggerated love”) is stuck in amongst the above four songs at #10 on the album and takes a very different turn, ebbing and flowing at a gentle pace with Aki at the piano, where she belongs.

This song would do well as a showpiece for her voice and piano playing, displaying them both in their best light and would do as well on a stage in the East End or Broadway (were it sung in English) or backing up Tom Waits in one his more mournful moods. It is also slightly reminiscent of late 90’s Japanese group Hana*Hana’s acoustic numbers.

“Your Love Song” is a placid closing ballad in similar vein to “Oogesa ni Aishiteiru” above but is sung in English and makes a beautiful, restful close to the album.

Aki is a young powerful talent who hasn’t quite found her comfort zone, although perhaps its at the edge with songs like Uchuu, Your Love Song and Oogesa where she shines the most.

There are hints of brilliance on her album Home, but one gets the feeling that two or three songs could have been shaven off to lift the overall average.

Angela Aki – Home

aki-home

  1. Kiss Me Good-Bye
  2. Love Is Over Now
  3. Kokoro no Senshi (心の戦士, “Kokoro no Senshi”? lit. “Soldier of the Heart”)
  4. This Love
  5. Music
  6. Uchū (宇宙, “Uchū”? lit. “Universe”)
  7. Onegai (お願い, “Onegai”? lit. “Wish”)
  8. Rain
  9. Kiseki (奇跡, lit. “Miracle”?)
  10. Ōgesa ni ‘Aishiteru’ (大袈裟に「愛してる」, “Ōgesa ni ‘Aishiteru'”? lit. “Exaggerated ‘I Love You'”)
  11. Hallelujah (ハレルヤ, Hareruya?)
  12. Home
  13. Your Love Song

Good Things Come in Threes: Three Women and their Pianos – Fayray (Hourglass).

December 2, 2008 4 comments

This is my second in a short series of articles looking at good things that come in threes.

The first in the series was Women with Attitude, where I took brief look at Lily Allen,  Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse.

This time, I’ll be looking at three culture-crashing Asian singer-songwriters who have taken my fancy over the last couple of years. And no, this is not a typo, Angela Aki and Angela Ai are different people.

The two other articles in this series cover:

  • Angela Aki a Japanese-Italian solo artist and pianist, brought up in Japan educated in the US and made famous by her Final Fantasy XII theme tune.
  • Angela Ai, an American Born Chinese, raised in Columbus, Ohio who is a Pennsylvania U graduate, an actress, on Broadway, a singer and a talented pianist.

Fayray (Album: Hourglass)

fayray

Hourglass is a beatifully produced, audiophile grade album with impressive taste and style. A real treat to Jazz and Pop fans alike or those who want to stretch their hifi with some well recorded accoustics and female vocals.

The opener, “First Time”  starts with the powerful, subterranean stings of a beautifully captured double bass that will sound best with decent earphones or a subwoofer. The deep strings give way to an English voice which if not of unfettered, soaring range is one of impressive control and resonance; as rich and pure as the accomplished band that backs her.

Most surprisingly, First Time is sung entirely in English on a Japanese album, making it an unusually brazen opener for a rising star. Taking into consideration its slower, more understated, calmer pace and its also being far less famous than several of the others songs on the album, she bucks the recent trend of lining up the popular singles 1, 2 and 3 to catch casual listeners in the shopping centres at the expense of album flow, rhythm or atmosphere.

The fact that this is so demonstrates the confidence in her craft and control over her own production values.

The pace picks up a little with the third song, a Wong Faye esq ballad “最初で最後の恋” (My first and final love) and a rather 90s retro “Fell” harking back to Nakajima Miyuki with a little added electric guitar.

Classical piano influences show through heavily with most songs featuring an accomplished piano or keyboard track, played by herself.

The fifth song is a meandering, self composed piano instrumental solo demonstrating (perhaps a little unnecessarily) her prowess in front of a keyboard. Although a beautiful piece in and of itself, I can’t help feeling that it was a little unessessary.

“白い二月” (White February) is an Enya-like, synth piano floating number featuring her voice sailing breezily across its entire range into falsetto.

“道” (The Way) ups the pace to about the fastest and most upbeat the album gets with another Wong Faye influenced unashamed pop song and one of the few tracks which dispenses with the keyboard as the main melody carrier and instead pulls in a battery of electric, accoustic and spanish guitar.

“Look into My Eyes” is the hit single that put the album on shelves throughout Japan and features Fayray in her best light: On classical piano and in control of voice, the song’s well crafted rhythm and its gentle melody with other instruments, accoustic and electric guitars, a full string section and decent drums following her piano in its wake like the Pied Piper.

“Living Without You,” the second English composition on the album and signals the entrance to the final, distinct segment of the album.

It is a classic piano ballad, slow and thoughtful and if not a classic in itself is nevertheless a pleasent listen and lays the way for the final three songs, which feature her on the piano with a sprinkling of backing, winding down the tension with her gentle, soothing tones and masterful playing in a string of medium-close miked accoustic compositions, which she produced, penned, perfomed and sung herself.

Fayray’s classical background, starting at the age of 4 with the piano, squarely places her in the top echelon for technical ability. Adding intelligent and thoughtful compositions supported by an accomplished, confident voice which does not squeak, squeal, grate nor need computer assisted modulation makes her accessible and enjoyable to a wide range of Japanese and overseas listeners alike.

Mini Facts

Although she works in collaboration with a number of colleagues, the album is essentially her own production.

She often appears on TV in Japan, in dramas as well as hosting TV programs as an English language interviewer of artists, politicians and other notables.

Fayray, Hourglass (Japan, 2004)

Hourglass - Fayray

 

  1. first time
  2. 願い (Negai; Wish)
  3. 最初で最後の恋 (Saisho de Saigo no Koi; My first and last love)
  4. feel
  5. 樅の木-樹の組曲- (Momi no Ki-Jyu no Kumikyoku-; Fir Tree -Musical Suite of Woods-)
  6. 白い二月 (Shiroi Nigatsu; White February)
  7. 道 (Michi; Road)
  8. look into my eyes
  9. living without you
  10. 口づけ (Kuchizuke; Kiss)
  11. 愛しても愛し足りない (Aishite mo Aishitarinai; No matter how much I love you, it’s never enough)
  12. 名前 (Namae; Name)

Next up, I’ll be taking a look at Angela Aki.

How Eclectic are your music tastes?

October 8, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve been using Last FM seriously for about six months now and find its statistics fun and enlightening, as well as nice for finding out new artists.

I took Anthony Liekens’ Super Eclectic Test, a quite simple statistic for finding how similar your top 50 listened artists are to each other by searching for common “similar artists”.

The concept is that by taking 20 similar artists from each of your 50 top listened artists, you end up with a potential pool of 1000 artists, assuming there is absolutely no overlap between any of them. The more similar your top artists are, the more common artists they have that overlap, reducing your overall score.

Anything over 700 is considered eclectic. I managed 757/1000 as of today, so I can officially say I have eclectic tastes.

So, I appear to be in the most eclectic 6 or 7%… Yay for me.

Unfortunately, I noticed a trend in the way Last FM labels foreign artists: Every female Japanese artist I have in my library is considered similar to every other Japanese female artist in my library!

I guess they just label all Japanese stuff as similar, like old people who say stuff like, “All Chinese look the same.”

It’s a bit sad that this sort of indiscriminate grouping exists considering this is a music site. I can only hope they realise at some point that Nakajima Miyuki (50 something cabaret/ballad singer) and Utada Hikaru (20 something R&B / Pop singer) have about as much in common as I have with Henry Ford.

Categories: 2) Music & Film Tags: , , ,

Film Review: Lost And Delirious (2001, Canada) – La Rage au Coeurs

September 23, 2008 2 comments


Quote

Tori: Paulie, listen to me ok, because I'm going to say this once 
      and never, ever again. I will never love anyone the way that I love you. 
      Never. You know that, and I know that, and I will die knowing that, ok? 
      But it just can never... it just can never, ever, forever be. 
      Do you understand? 

Overview

This exceedingly well acted and often touching Canadian film follows the lives of three girls whose complex relationship spells trouble in the claustrophobic confines of a posh all-girls boarding school.  

 

Synopsis

*Note that although various aspects of the story might be hinted at here, there are no second half spoilers or revelations that will ruin your enjoyment of this film*

Mary Bedford, or “Mouse” as she is called, (played by a young and slightly Sarah Michelle Gellar-esque Mischa Barton), is an intelligent, sensible and mature girl who is sent to a prestigious boarding school after the death of her mother and finds her into room with two seniors, who although both are influential and well liked by their peers are worlds apart in their outlooks on life.

Victoria “Tori” is the archetypal rebellious oldest daughter of a wealthy, closed-minded yet proud Anglo-Saxon Christian family.

And although she loves her father’s devotion to her, she despises her mother for always “mking comments about her teeth”. She feels she cannot escape the future set out for her by her family: A future where she is destined to be the wife of some successful and hideously wealthy professional. This also makes it abundantly clear to her that while smoking abundant quantities of weed is affordable, studying is merely optional. In one situation where her attitude leads to potential embarrassment, Pauli is forced to step in to protect her from making a fool of herself in front of her classmates.

Pauli also happens to suffer from an annoyingly prim and proper (except for her bad language) younger sister who is occasionally barging into her room to wake her up with her group of overenthusiastic friends and interrupting their peace and quiet.

Pauline or “Paulie” is the star of the film and is played by the deliciously adaptable and eminently talented Piper Perabo, (who also happens to have played a more recent lesbian role in the film “Imagine Me And You”).

Paulie is smart, driven to the point of obsession once enflamed and has a lot of repressed anger stemming from a desire to meet her real mother who had her adopted at birth. She has one obsession stronger than all others, however: Her roommate, Tori whom she practically idolises as some kind of angelic heroine from a Shakespearian sonnet.

Mouse, foisted upon the seniors’ secretive lifestyle soon gains their trust by being calm, open minded and mature beyond her years and by revealing aspects of her past to them that allows them to bond.

This trust, coupled with numerous room-filling marihuana sessions loosens the inhibitions of the two girls in front of her and the realisation that her roommates are sharing more than just the room soon dawns upon the unsuspecting first year.

Mouse’s maturity allows her to at first accept and later come to appreciate the precious and loving relationship her two newest friends have, as if substituting for the lack of love she feels towards her new mother.

However, as the numerous Shakespearian references to love and tragedy throughout the play constantly hint at, even the strongest of loves faces challenges and it is not all smooth sailing as the news of their relationship inevitably spreads through the tight-knit and conservative community of the school. 

Mary is forced into a difficult situation as her roommate’s relationship comes increasingly strained. She becomes the natural intermediary as Tori fights to retain her social status and position among her peers and the standing within her own family and Paulie fights to regain the love of her “Princess”.

Impressions

The beginning of Lost and Delerious starts off a little like The Shining, with the family car winding its way towards the grand estate of the boarding school, but its tone is soon lifted, with the sounds of cheerful and carefree girls enjoying their last freedom before returning to the real world.

Of course, “Mouse” doesn’t see it like that: The loneliness of the shadow of her mother’s death, cast three three years earlier and her father’s remarriage cause her to blame the new couple, her busy father in particular for her new and unwelcome situation.

This sets the tone for the main themes of: balance of freedom, love and family, which are repeatedly pushed home throughout the film.

Three girls, although from very different backgrounds feel a kinship in their “abandonment” by their parents and a feeling of being unloved and unwanted by their families and revel together in their newfound freedoms.

Yet the girls find out that their freedom is not as complete as they’d wished when obsessive love, and obsessive peer and family pressure begin to tear at their world, pulling them in unwanted directions.

The film’s crux is the point at which the secret of the two young lovers’ relationship breaks free and Mary finds her friends placing increasing demands on her stability and maturity, making her position among her classmates similarly difficult.

In the end, she herself is forced to turn to the “salt of the earth,” matter-of-fact advice of the old groundsman, whom she has built up a relationship with by helping on the school grounds, for guidance on how she can handle the important decisions she has to make and the impeding crisis which she feels is looming before them all.

Summary

The film’s attention to detail is striking, portraying the grandly austere and sometimes stuffy atmosphere of the school and varied lives of the young adults away from home and tasting freedom for the first and perhaps the last time in a much more fully than other films have tended to depict boarding schools.

Dorm room, dinner, playtime scenes and of course classroom scenes take up much of airtime, but other scenes are equally important in filling out the details, like for example the ritual daily mail check: Portrayed a symbol of the connection to the real world outside, with scenes of Mary and Paulie often returning sullenly empty-handed from their sojourns to the post boxes and almost ecstatic when a letter of any kind arrives.

The film’s relationships elegantly display how people deal with the pressure of being cast into a role against their wills and how one can be pulled downwards by the weight of love, obsession and loyalty.

A key point is Mary’s affection for and loyalty to her friends which renders her unable to let go as she is torn in conflicting directions by their obsessions. In fact, one might add loyalty to the list of themes covered by this film: Loyalty to friends and family and the costs and consequences of those decisions.

As the third boarding school film I’ve watched since Dead Poets’ Society in 1989, this one shares many aspects common to those earlier films and not to mention a tangential similarity to Harry Potter’s experiences after coming away from an unloving home.

Yet of course, this film has plenty that makes it unique, one being the illicit relationship between the two girls.

Still, unique or not, with its many Shakespearian references to love and life, and an increasingly heavy emphasis on medieval “heroes” and “heroines,” as shown by Pauli’s fascination with fencing and more unusually, falconry.

…this drama occasionally appears in danger of becoming heavy handed and a little too “thick with metaphor” but the drama is intense, the story and characters on the whole very believable and the acting of the three girls and their eccentric Headmistress, excellent, pulling this film back from art-flick territory and in to the mainstream.

If there is one minor criticism, it would be that the story is too focussed on the three girls with only minimal time time given to outsiders: i.e. the school appears to have just a headmistress, a teacher and a gardener with only the latter ever given a real relationship building chance. Even Mary and Tori’s parents are given only one peripheral scene apiece, despite their importance to the story.

For those expecting a mildly titillating upskirt, lesbo, sailor-costumed schoolgirl romp, let it be noted that you are in for a disappointment! It’s far more Dead Poet than St. Trinians.

Final Verdict: A Big Thumbs up for the acting and relationships of three main characters.