Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Partnership Announcement

Isn't it strange how we're set to obsess over the "mystery" and "treasure" in what is not found within ourselves?

We're so tightly bound to this overarching ideal that the world itself is what we live for; that we should, literally, thrust out our own being to become one with this formless amalgamation, the world. Obsess over those in it. Where's in it. What's in it. It's secrets. Anything - anything - so long as you never consider the world of yourself.

You're directed to ponder other human beings. You're taught to concern over others. Set your mind to the collective static of the crowd - retain just enough to add to the cacophony, but restrain the crashing gongs of the soul. Instructed to desire; instructed to find this appealing. Find that alluring. Little more than thumbnails. Conform to a singular set of traits - broad enough to capture each and every mind with little deviance, yet specific enough to be little more than a spotless computer code. Backlit numbers, ones and zeros, telling the Plasticine brain where the prime directives are and demanding it search for those alone. No ulterior motives. No alternatives.

Directed to segregate. Directed to discriminate. Directed to divulge. Directed to hunt. Directed to perform. Act. Display. In front of an audience - directed to watch.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Another Late-Nite Ramble

Sometimes, you have to cut away the excess of the world. The fat, the filler; get to the core of it all.

At the very bottom of your being, there's an unspoken contentness. A happiness with all that surrounds you - comfort, really.

Through all the bad experiences one may have, that core will always be there - it may be hard to divide away the growing rust which builds upon it, but it is never overtaken.  It's the spiritual home in yourself; your interests, recurring thoughts, common settings. These things are faceless, and have no connection to the world in which they exist. Nothing can impact them, as they are one with that core.

At the dead of the night, I like to dig up that core and appreciate what it has to share. My own quirks, thoughts, ideas - simply enjoying the world of myself, the only one I'll ever truly know.

Staying in touch with your ethereal 'world' - or, perhaps, your soul altogether - blinds the eyes that sees only the aforementioned grime. You no longer notice the events which take place in this outer 'realm'; your focus is religiously dedicated only to the miniature galaxy in your mind. A galaxy free from the fallacies that make up reality, free of all but what fills your skull - it's probably the closest thing we can get to heaven on our own.

It doesn't matter where you are, who you're with, what you're doing. Your 'world' is always there.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The State of Gorillaz

If you have even the slightest knowledge of me, it's obvious that I'm a huge fan of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's 'Gesamtkunstwerk' creation Gorillaz. Part band, part art series, part cartoon, part display of innovation; as a whole scope, it's a rare modern example of unrelenting, honest creativity.

I caught their first North American performance of the year on the eighth of this month; and, hell, what a show. Pounding music, electricity anywhere you look, and an excellent sense of life no matter how eerie the music or accompanying visuals grew.

However - that aforementioned 'life' has been dividing fans as of late.

As most will know, Gorillaz' claim to fame is most often cited as their slew of animated 'faces'; parodies of pop music tropes, taking the place of Albarn himself as a satire on both modern music and his lightheaded past with Blur. It's not hard to argue that they themselves have grown far more famous than the men behind the masks, in fact - the fictional 2-D is far more marketable than the human being that fills the digital shoes. Though Albarn and Hewlett have consistently been known as the true creators of these frontmen, they've decidedly taken a 'behind the scenes' role; as would a puppeteer, hoping to bring life to the lifeless.

That very choice was what a semblance of reality to what ought to be a cheap gimmick - one never felt as though the cartoon cast were merely Hot Topic ploys, designed to draw in a less musically inclined crowd. They were part of the package - they filled the gaps between the two primary forms of art at hand, and vice versa. The strongest issue comes in the fall of this concept - Gorillaz is no longer the parody, nor the magic trick it was designed to be. The cast of 'false' musicians are now essentially the mascots for Albarn and his touring band - staying comfortably on Hewlett's end of the court, in art and videos, with the occasional obscured cameo on a screen behind the far more engaging band. These two dimensions almost never intertwine; gone are the days of cartoons performing onstage, writing about the making of their albums, and feeling perhaps more real than their living, breathing fathers.

Gorillaz' real-life history hardly makes this a shock; months before the announcement of an upcoming album (which grew into this year's release, Humanz), Albarn told NME that he "...Could put a Gorillaz record out next week,". While this may seem an oddly brash comment, ignoring the usual importance of Hewlett's end of the spectrum, one must recall that he almost literally has done exactly this with the Gorillaz name - releasing 2011's The Fall, a small scale album comprised of demo-like tracks made while on the previous year's Escape to Plastic Beach tour. It was essentially an Albarn solo record with the Gorillaz title pasted on out of relevance - Hewlett's only contributions being in the form of cover artwork, minor photos to accompany each track (none of which feature the characters in any form), and a music video comprised of tour footage (again, basically character-free).

Plastic Beach
's era as a whole - entitled Phase 3, going by Gorillaz' DVD based terminology - was where the classic Gorillaz formula began to falter. Inspired by previous Gorillaz-but-without-the-name production, Journey to the West, a large scale plot and scope of estimated three albums was presented by the band; a far cry from the laid-back, oddball Cartoon Network vibes of the previous two Phases of Celebrity Take Down and Slowboat to Hades. Money was blown out the window by extravagant concepts, tensions rose as creators couldn't find a reasonable balance between the relevance of the virtual concepts and the actual music, and everything cascaded into what seemed to be one final grave for what became far too tall a titan to confront for both main contributors. Many questions were left entirely unanswered, plotlines unresolved, and the future hardly looking bright - with allegations of Albarn and Hewlett's growing animosity budding left and right. With 2012's late collaboration with Converse - spawning the track DoYaThing, complete alongside a notably conclusive music video - it seemed that the tale of Gorillaz had come to a shambling conclusion.

Compare this previous era to the current one - little to no plot, characters far separated from the music... and, yet, things seem to be running like a well-oiled machine. We've received stellar results from both courts - the aforementioned live performances are an excellent experience, new innovation has made the cartoon crew more accessible than ever, the album itself has seen huge success, there are plans to create a full animated series featuring the cast, and much more. It's an exciting time, and everyone involved seems very energized and enthralled to be back at the reigns. It raises the point; perhaps this is the way Gorillaz needs to be run, at least in it's current state. Phase 3's core issues raised from overabundance; Phase 4 has plenty of room to breathe, and then some. It's worth noting that, character relevance aside, this was also true of Phases One and Two - essentially successes, as far as the 'completeness' of their respective goals is concerned. Sacrifices are certainly being made - but, perhaps, the sacrifice of the project's initial goals in the name of continued survival is one that will prove the most wise in the long run. Albarn is the star; Gorillaz are his cohorts.

I personally see this as a watering down and perhaps reversal of the originally critical views presented by the band - however, alternatively, this is a far more streamlined approach than the endless correcting, explaining, and developing concerning storylines and what have you as seen in the past. It's quite similar to Daft Punk's own mascots, the Robots; there is no hiding who the men within the machines are, but it's fare more exciting to suspend disbelief and ignore the truth. Perhaps that applies best here, as well. It also begs the mostly personal question; what exactly is the heart of Gorillaz? Does it matter which component of the creation is strongest? Should they - or maybe, can they - be balanced properly?

Friday, July 7, 2017

This Is It Folks!

I've become obsessed with Ralph Bakshi's 1975 animated commentary "Coonskin" as of late; it's unabashed, it's creative, it's stylish, and it's never afraid to blurt it's loud mouth left and right.

I woke up after - yet again - unexpectedly passing out with music related to the film buried in my mind. Like a long treasured memory, or, perhaps, even an instinctual commodity; the bass soaked, horn veering and all-around delightfully retro jam of a track found it's way into the depth of my skull.

Wandering to the basement - probably to set a scene not dissimilar to the vignette currently on this blog's sidebar (albeit perhaps with a Disney feature rather than a drive-in horror picking) - that orchestra of noise carried every step. I'm a person of which is weighed heavily upon by my own mentality; for better, usually, but on an emotional level it can tend to be for the worse. However - entirely inexplicably - the visuals and sounds rattling right through the seams in my head seemed to burn the dead masses I often found still clinging to my ankles. How - Why - I'm not entirely sure. Is it the tempo? The colors?

I suppose, thematically - the reason would be the unafraid nature of the very subject matter itself. This is not a review, nor an overview; however, as is likely apparent by the poster alone (featured as this writing's headline artwork), the film has no censor for it's choices of satirical imitation. Though further detail is easy to find in a variety of interesting articles covering the cultural depths Coonskin resides in, to clarify - the entire setting, a Blaxploitation film set in Toontown, is a harsh, violent and hotheaded attack on the popular stereotypes paraded as 'truthful'. By using these images and themes, it assaults them. Coonskin has a mind behind it's striking imagery. A mind hiding behind jazzy, gun-slinging rabbits, making deals with bouncy mafia members, taking down lively pop icons, and generally having a hell of a time.

It's abstract thinking. But somehow that very concept - this upfront mimicry, totally driven by creative impulse and a fair dosage of pride - seems to have sparked with my mind.

I began writing this article after flipping through my copy of "Good News for Modern Man", a 1971 modern translation of the Bible. Something about the following words took the air from my lungs entirely.

"Do not love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you do not have the love for the Father in you. Everything that belongs to the world - what the sinful self desires, what people see and want, and everything in this world that people are so proud of - none of this comes from the Father; it all comes from the world. The world and everything in it that men desire is passing away; but he who does what God wants lives forever."
Coonskin parodies the commonplace racial tropes of old, but also uses this weighty setting to create a parallel to our own world. Through the film, death and sin is rampant; material is the one and only goal in the lives of not only our leads, but, in fact, just about every character. A man poses as a religious figure - promising an ethnic revolution - only to be revealed to the masses as a money hogging, shady and entirely false prophet. An alluded to husband leaves his partner simply because he cannot offer anything of his own to the cooperative 'deal' of a relationship. Our lead character - after rising to the very ultimate reaches of society - ultimately leaves it all, simply looking forward to the next accomplishment.

The worldly values that govern our sinful nature are dust. They come and go, as the bullets fly through the air. Little can lead to the end; the end can lead to far more. In the grand, unimaginable scheme of life, nothing matters besides that trust in that, one way or another, life is not far from the twisted chain of events well embellished in Coonskin. Life is a series of dark paths, diverging from a clear road. They are all too appealing, all to enticing. Yet all lead to a death; all lead to another corpse on the ground.

When you see the world as it would be illustrated on paper, you begin, too, to see yourself as a concept. A cartoon. Where will you - the man behind the pencil - lead yourself to next? Or, perhaps, where are you destined to be driven?

Will you choose the easy sketch - or the elaborate, intricate, majestic illustration?