Thursday, August 25, 2016

Electric Youth & College - A Real Hero

They say history repeats itself, and in many ways they are right. Musically they are right.

There are a lot of reasonable explanations as to why trends and fads from the past can become popular again but I suspect the most powerful motivation is nostalgia. Young people are very impressionable, and your first love will typically carry greater weight on your heart then the loves that follow, and again I am talking about music here. So when people grow up and become creative persons there is often a very powerful urge to embrace the sorts of sounds and songs they adored when they were young, and this is probably why every decade has a resurgence approximately twenty or thirty years after the fact. If you do some quick math you should be quick to realize I am currently talking about the eighties.

The eighties were a different time, but I suppose all times are different from all other times when you think about it, anyway the eighties was a strange animal. Glam rock had influenced hair bands, garish bright neon colors were the new black, but so was black, metal music was born, and pop music entered its golden age. I was there; I was alive during the eighties, I was too young to fully appreciate how important Guns N Roses or Def Leppard would become, I just thought they were cool dudes, with cool music, and I had a cool T-shirt of them, and it is interesting to think I witnessed the whole gambit of their careers over my lifetime, but I am not the only one, my whole generation went through this together and it affected us; the eighties is our decade of nostalgia, whether we like it or not.

The eighties are popular again and this is no surprise, it has been thirty years past and artist now in their thirties are looking back to their childhoods and remember how much fun they had back then. Edguy’s last album “Space Police” was adverted as “more eighties than the eighties ever were” and Tobias Sammet made a serious effort to prove that claim true. Tegan and Sara’s recent album release “Love You to Death” is embracing the eighties style in a big way. It is sort of weird those two acts are the first examples I think of to prove this point, but the point still stands.

I think I should finally get to the point, another place we have seen a return and an embrace to the eighties is cinema, and since this is a music blog I should probably focus on soundtracks.

In recent years a handful of movies have stood out to me as very eighties, not just set in the eighties but embracing eighties themes and style. I am very fond of movies like “Nightcrawler,” “It Follows,” and the “Maniac” remark, all of which were very eighties and had really strong eighties inspired soundtracks. I also enjoyed the comedic “Turbo Kid” and “Kung Fury” but those movies while comparably eighties are in a whole other category of their own. Most importantly is the movie “Drive,” not only is this the best movie of all the films I just mentioned but it also has the best soundtrack and the best single song we could pull from this collection, Electric Youth & College’s “A Real Hero.”

Bronwyn Griffin and Austin
Garrick; Electric Youth.
Electric Youth is a musical duo from Toronto, where basically Bronwyn Griffin sings and Austin Garrick plays the synthesizer and drums.

College is one of many projects by David Grellier, who for as far as I know, functions similarly to Austin Garrick as far as purpose and function when it came to the collaborative creation that is “A Real Hero.”

“A Real Hero” is so convincingly eighties that I struggled to believe that is was a new song when I first heard it. Clearly very careful consideration and deliberation was invested in the selection of sounds that creates the rhythm section of this song, I would suspect a time machine was used, but time machines are not a thing still... thanks Obama.

But, what is “A Real Hero” about?

My first instinct was always to tie it to the movie “Drive,” and I always suspected the course had a direct meaning to Ryan Gosling’s character;

“And you, have proved, to be,
A real human being,
And a real hero.”

Ryan Gosling in "Drive."
Ryan Gosling effectively plays a sociopath in “Drive.” His lack of empathy comes across more stoic than anything else, but there is an uneasy intensity in the cold and cool way he handles the conflicts facing him. This manifests itself in the elevator scene where Gosling efficiently and brutally stomps a man to death in front of his love interest who is left horrified of him, with his reaction being one of distant indifference. So... it could be argued, and I believe very effectively, that Gosling’s character in “Drive” did indeed need to prove himself to be an actual human being, perhaps by becoming a hero and avenging Bryan Cranston’s death, and after all Gosling’s character is in fact “emotionally complex.”

Oh... spoilers by the way.

Mel Gibson in "The Road Warrior."
However there is an alternative source of inspiration for “Real Hero,” and that is the “The Road Warrior.” Speaking of the eighties... “The Road Warrior” is an awesome movie that tragically has been eclipsed in very nearly every way by “Mad Max Fury Road;” but this is not a movie review, though I doubt myself sometimes, this is a music review, and “A Real Hero” may be about Mad Max.

Against the grain of dystopic claims,
Not the thoughts your actions entertain.

Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, comes across as a heartless stranger, indifferent to the plights and struggles of others, but in the end he goes very far out of his way to save the day. His actions are not the same as his thoughts.

Captain Sully
Sullenberger, a real hero
But there is one more verse to consider:

A pilot on a cold, cold morn,
155 people on board.
All safe and all rescued,
From the slowly sinking ship.
Water warmer than,
His head so cool,
In that tight bind knew what to do.

Well... that is very specific, this has to be something; and it is! It is about Captain Sully Sullenberger, who successfully safety landed a plane, presumably with one hundred and fifty five passengers, after a flock of geese flew into the jet and disabled it. I think it is safe to say that Sullenberger is a real hero, a real life hero, and I doubt anyone has reason to question his qualification as a human being, a real one at that, unlike the last two fictional characters we just finished discussing.

I have to give credit to The Hollywood Reporter for informing me about some of the details here:

Evidently it is not reaching to project Mad Max onto this song; it is in part Austin Garrick’s intention.

It is an interest soup Electric Youth have stewed with “A Real Hero.” Triple heroic inspirations, with a collaboration of talents, and very heavy eighties influence. Not to repeat myself but “A Real Hero” so perfectly captures the sound of the eighties I thought for certain it was some lost classic from that decade, or maybe an Italian hit that never surfaced in North America. I always suspected Electric Youth to be Italian... I do not know why.

So the eighties are back, and depending on how you felt about it the first time around, this may or may not be a good thing. This too will pass and we will have yet another odd catalogue of great songs that seem out of time, belonging to other moments in history altogether, and that thing, history, will continue to repeat itself.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves


I really like this live version:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Lindsey Sterling - Shadows

In 2010 Lindsey Stirling competed on the fifth season of “America’s Got Talent.” She was voted out in the quarterfinals where professional British jerk Piers Morgan told her the world had no use for a hip-hop violinist. Like a lot of things Piers Morgan has said, he was wrong.

The music industry is changing. There was a time when most people were dependent on the radio to discover new music; then came music television; then for unknown reasons music television stop playing music, now we have the internet. No one, including Piers Morgan, could possibly have known how the internet would support and encourage musicians in so many new horizons. For Lindsey Sterling it was youtube; with a variety of videos comprised of original material, covers, and many collaborations, Lindsey Sterling has become incredibly popular, now maintaining eight million subscribers.

Sterling is an interesting case study for a variety of reasons; she is a fine example of the new blue print on how to gain an audience and become a musical sensation in the modern world, and also she is yet another reminder that the world craves original, unique experiences, and a hip-hop violinist is a new thing that Sterling currently holds the monopoly on. Lastly is the interesting divide between consumers, Lindsey’s audience exists almost exclusively online and it is almost entirely interacted with there, and then there is everyone else who still depends on radio and television to assist them on this front and they almost entirely have and could not have heard of Lindsey Stirling or any other internet based musician.

Two of my closest friends are huge fans of Lindsey Stirling. Many a drunken evening we have embarked upon taking turns choosing youtube videos to watch and every evening my two friends would go down a rabbit hole that always thoroughly endorsed Lindsey Sterling. To be honest I was not taken with Sterling initially. I had no negative comments to share but she struck me primarily as an interesting but forgettable creature. Given just how wild the internet has become a girl covering pop songs and video game music on violin did not overly impress me, but this got me thinking why do people like Lindsey Sterling so much?

There are several reasons.

Yeah, she is pretty cute.
Lindsey is unique. Piers Morgan was too quick to dismiss the popularity of something new and daring, and violin covers of hip hop songs was certainly something new.

Lindsey is talented. It is so strange we tend to overlook such obvious things when writing critiques, but we do. Lindsey is a very good violin player, and people like that, believe it or not.

Lindsey is cute. Yeah, she is pretty cute. She has captured the market for magical violin playing frolicking elf girls. Speaking of magical frolicking elf girls:

Zelda Medley:

Lastly, video games, Lindsey is popular because of video games. My friends are gamers, a title I cannot honestly claim to wear anymore, I played the hell out of World of Warcraft for a while there (for the horde!), but as a “gamer” I checked out long ago. There is something fantastic about gamers they are infinitely loyal and supportive. If you like the game they like, you are suddenly friends. If an actor voice acts in a game, gamers will start following their entire acting career. If cute girl dresses up like a video game character, gamers fall in love with her; should she thereafter make music videos about games like “Assassins Creed,” “Halo,” “Dragon’s Age,” “Skyrim,” “Final Fantasy,” and “The Legend of Zelda,” she is set for life. Lindsey Sterling having done exactly this, she now has a huge loyal fan base who will follow and support her forever.

Well I am not a gamer, so that angle did not hook me.

I was on a rabbit hole adventure on youtube by myself when I stumbled across Sterling’s “Shadows.” It was then I began to truly appreciate what she was all about.

“Shadows” falls into the category of original material. It is no surprise that an original musical composition is what won me over, I firmly hold to the value that creation is just as, or more so, important then performance.

Broadly, Lindsey does two primary things, she plays violin (obviously), and she dances. Most of her music videos are a combination of playing violin and dancing about the place with the energy of a magical elf girl, as explained earlier. “Shadows” is a full on embrace of these two talents with a charming concept that is both artistic and fun.

The video for “Shadows” has Lindsey playing before a propped up wooden base board in presumably a garage, possibly a warehouse. The light is shot at such an angle to project her shadow upon this said baseboard and as the song progresses her shadow begins to deviate from her own actions, and then breaks into a full dance while Lindsey plays, then they play together again for a while, with the shadow’s accompaniment possessing a sound distortion that is muffled. This visual ascetic gives the viewer a very engaging representation for every sound that this song produces. I really, really like it.

I really like the song “Shadows” itself as well. I really like the ebbs and flows of Lindsey’s violin and I love the subdued accompaniment of the “shadow’s” violin. I also really like how the climax of the song punches out with a silencing of the backbeat just before it arrives. It is a really good instrumental, has a lot of personality.

My two friends, have discussed at length how one day they would plan a trip down to Seattle, or Portland, or Denver, or really anywhere in the United States and see Lindsey Sterling perform live, because they were quite convinced she would never tour Canada. I, the more experience concert goer, always told them to just wait. A few days ago, on August 4th, of this year, Lindsey Sterling played the Jubilee Auditorium in our home of Calgary. Naturally the three of us attended.

I have seen a lot of concerts now, and visually, Lindsey Sterling may have been one of the best. There was some very intelligent thought put into how to present the liveliness of her music videos into a live performance. I suppose I should talk about “Shadows.”

"Shadows" live in Los Angeles

The fourth song of the show was “Shadows.” The road crew brought out three projections and as Sterling played her shadow was projected onto one of the blank slates behind her. Then Lindsey acted all surprised and cute when her shadow began deviating from her own actions. Then about midway through the song a stage size projection screen was dropped and Lindsey’s shadow was then cast onto that and dances away as the song concludes.

This full screen backdrop served the next couple of songs really well. “Elements” was next and the visuals for the rain and then flames were very impressive. Then they played a song I am not familiar with, but I really liked it, Lindsey used one of those machines that records what you play and plays it back in a loop, allowing a single person to create their own rhythm section for a song live, I really dig that kind of stuff, and as for the visuals a bird cage was gradually drawn upon the empty canvas behind her and then a pair of trees, it was simple but nice.

I think Lindsey Sterling made a
pretty good Aerith.
If I had one complaint, it would be Lindsey did not indulge her gamer fans enough live. She performed a nice medley of five or her most popular video game covers, but it was fairly short. Dare I say most slyly, “do not forget who brought you to the dance Lindsey.” The bulk of Sterling’s popularity can be directly linked to gamers, and while not a gamer myself I thought that medley should have been at least twice as long. Also a huge part of Sterling’s charm is her willingness to dress up as video game characters. I cannot fault someone for preferring to focus on their own creative work, but still, you see what I am saying.

The music industry has changed. Taboos such as nerdy or non-mainstream subject matter and weird creativity techniques are no longer a barrier to entry, now they keys to success. The old music industry would never give Lindsey Sterling a serious chance, but the new one embraces her and lifts her up to heights once thought impossible. The times, they are in fact, changing.

- King of Braves


It does feel a little bit odd/needless to post on the Internet an article promoting Lindsey Sterling, as this is the one realm she is so well known.