Mister Sinister (alt-J, Relaxer review)

A short poem.

Lifeless he crept upon her,
Daytime was not his friend,

Melancholy was her only friend,
What if the taste lingered for a time,

It is eerie outside at this time,
Too many sounds, too many noises,
It’s all rather eccentric.

We all need to own our weirdness, and alt-J could go in a million different directions at any given time, and they’ve proven that on their previous two albums, but what do I think of their third release? Let’s find out!

 

alt-J – After Laughter

released Jun 2, 2017
****** 6/10

alt-J are an English indie rock group featuring the talents of vocalist and guitar player Joe Newman, Cameron Knight on lead guitar and bass, Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and backing vocals, and Thom Sonny Green on drums. Formed a decade ago, back in 2007, alt-J have now released three studio-length albums, An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, and today’s special, Relaxer.

alt-J are the kind of music for Millenials like what pop punk and 90’s r&b were for Generation Y. The voice of a generation – oft confused by physical albums and the thought of saving for a rainy day, but still a voice. Wicked generalization timotheories. Dick.

The thing is, alt-J have been compared to Radiohead a lot, and that is such a tired comparison to make, especially given that while their albums don’t come out with as much regularity anymore, Radiohead are still relevant. This is interesting music, for sure, but it’s not as courageous as those first two albums that alt-J put out.

I could spend a lot of time dissecting this album and pointing out all the places to you where it sounds amazing (read: In Cold Blood, Dead Crush, and Last Year), like the band that created Breeze Blocks and Left Hand Free, but someway and somehow we’ve been treated to a snoozefest for the most part and so many people are singing it’s praising without any reservation. It doesn’t make much sense to me, with a spectacularly weird and awful track in Hit Me Like That Snare. What a flaming pile of garbage that song feels like every time I listen to it.

And as much as I hate that song. This is actually a good thing.

Because it means that alt-J aren’t settling into a pattern of record making. They are willing to explore, to try new things and take some risks when it comes to their sound. Building a unique identity is difficult after all, and all of the comparisons to greats like Arcade Fire, Bastille and Arctic Monkeys would start to get on my nerves too.

This isn’t your mom and dad’s album, and it’s not mine either. But damn it if it doesn’t have the makings of something wonderful for alt-J to grow into in their middle age. They are working on making the content more meaningful, where they already set the standard in pared down simplicity.

Pros: As far as audio engineering and labour goes, nobody has alt-J beat. These gentlemen are more than capable of making arrangements interesting, and using ambience to tell narratives.

Cons: When they add in nuanced lyrics or play with formats, they struggle. It doesn’t always sound good, and Hit Me Like That Snare feels completely out of place with the rest of this record. I wish the experimentation didn’t feature throughout the entire album.

Runtime: 39 minutes

Points of InterestIn case you didn’t already know this, the band’s symbol is the capital letter delta (∆), a triangle. This can be accessed on an Apple Mac computer with the shortcut of alt+J. The first single is 3WW, the second is In Cold Blood, which features lyrics that state 00110011 01110111 01110111, which in binary translates to 3WW.

Adding poetry to covers of songs like House of the Rising Sun is a little bit odd, and a bit too clever, but it’s that sinister sound behind that curtain that has us coming back for seconds. Or should I say 01110011 01100101 01100011 01101111 01101110 01100100 01110011?

theories Summarized

We need to give artists like alt-J the space and time to grow, because we got two really excellent debut and sophomore efforts from them. That doesn’t mean that this album automatically gets a pass, but it does have some high points, and some points you can relax to.

Tim!

Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy (Colin MacIntyre, cartoonist preview interview)

Well, fuck. I guess I should just give up the chase then. No more interviews.

At least, thats what I thought last Sunday, when I didn’t post this months preview post.

I made a mistake, doing this crazy venture, yet again. I thought I was going to make this awesome interview with a local cartoonist, a first for me on timotheories, and everything went to plan… right up until diving head first into the editing process.

You see dear readers, I brought in Colin MacIntyre of @thecolinium instagram fame with the intentions of revealing his secrets for you. Secrets about making artwork every day. This dude is insanely committed to sharing at least one drawing each day on his instagram feed. And he damn near does it at least five days a week. So that was my intention. To share a cool story with you, about a cool artist, and the awesome conversation we had.

Then I learned that somewhere along the line, his closeup video came out super yellow – I don’t know if it was the tungsten filer on my LED lights, or the warm tube bulbs hidden behind the chairs, but somehow, he ended an incredible shade of yellow and orange, like an Oompa Loompa. And so I messed around with Lumetri Colour settings in Adobe Premiere to correct my problem. Turns out that once something has been over-exposed, video or photo, it’s quite difficult to correct.

Lesson learned I guess! But you know what creative cuties? The results aren’t so terrible, and they work on two levels I think.

1) Colin is a cartoonist, so that resulting video has an illustrated feel, and

2) Pushing through with this interview is definitely in the spirit of Colin’s deeply held mantra of making art no matter what

Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy, as the great Mrs. Frizzle used to say, amirite? That said, Colin is  is a full-time communicator. He works in sales by day, and freelances as a cartoonist, podcaster (I Have Some Notes), and blogger (The Long John Index) who makes art every day. In this preview clip below, he and I discuss why making a commitment to art is difficult.

And humour conveniently plays a factor into his response.

theories Summarized

Does it really surprise you though to learn that television, smart phones and overcommitment can play a huge role in why we don’t make art? This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg on why Colin is awesome and why making art is so important, even if you fail in the process.

So watch the clip, leave some comments, subscribe to my channel if you haven’t yet, and enjoy the process of watching me learn the ropes of this social media thing too, because surprise, I’m not an expert either. And it hasn’t stopped me from continuing this dream. Never give up, never surrender. That’s my own theory for success.

Tim!

Basic Training (Communication Basics)

Here at timotheories I believe it’s important to provide you dear readers with a depth and breadth to my content which is fairly uncommon in many blogs of the day.

I write about the arts (music, film, events), share global wisdom and learnings I’ve uncovered on how to maintain and flourish as a creative professional, and build lots of stimulating content about the value of art, often focusing on the medias of movies, table top gaming, and interviews with salt of the earth artists. I follow a monthly schedule to ensure I release a lot of quality content: written and video.

One of the reasons I do this because I believe that good communication is one of the key skills you need in life. Another of the reasons I have this workflow down pat is because good teachers and leaders practice what they preach.

#sobasic

So many of the lessons I share are cyclical,  the kind of stuff you’ll hear over and over in your life and which you really need to learn, those things you run away from until you finally own up to your obstacles and face them head on. It’s one of those theories that is so compelling when life is going great, but difficult to accept when you’ve just been handed a shit sandwich after life pummeled you and then ran over your dog.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.

Pema Chodron

I found this quote from Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan and practising Buddhist. One who happens to be both an ordained nun and acharya. In case you’re wondering what an acharya is, it’s someone who is a senior instructor in religious matters. They teach the next generation of monks and nuns, and are generally expected to stay put, rather than wander the earth as so many Buddhist monks do.

Communication is at the root of us facing our fears in life creative cuties. As soon as you recognize that other people aren’t actively trying to limit your actions, but rather further their own lives (just as you do), it becomes way easier to recognize that the EST models of life are a real thing – exist, survive OR thrive.

As I mentioned in my first post on communication, there are seven aspects of communication to consider and make crucial in your life – clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous. I’m not going to spend the rest of this post outlining how those aspects all work and what to do with them, though I can see that becoming a future series down the road, if I get enough interest from you fine folks…

Instead I want to go over the basics of communication.

All About That Base

I found this really cool chart from Psychology Today which demonstrates how communication works. I’m not sure if they made the chart themselves or got it from somewhere else, but kudos to whoever came up with this diagram. It’s on point.

You see friends, communication can happens with multiple people simultaneously, but more importantly it is always a process that happens between a sender and a receiver. I could be delivering a presentation to a group of fifty people, but no matter how many people I present to, I am conducting individual communications with each party in the room.

So while nineteen people could understand the message I am relaying about marketing, one person might shut down as soon as I mention how we need to use more third party services as an annual media mix. This is because as the sender I have a responsibility to consider how I encode my message for the receiver and to be sure I truly understand the subject matter I’m speaking to. If I have complicated thoughts and feelings about the topic, I may not explain myself well, and so the listener is more likely to miss the message.

Now from the perspective of the receiver, a few things could happen which led to the misunderstanding. They could have not really been listening to the message for one, and for two, they might not have the comprehension skills needed to decode the message, but refuse to acknowledge their limitations. Which is a whole other loaded challenge of its own. And third, by adding a separate meaning to the message from what was intended. i.e. the person might think I’m suggesting incompetence in them and by stating we should hire more third party groups, I am affirming to the receiver that I want another company to support the workload because they are more talented.

theories Summarized

All that said, communication is most definitely something we can all learn to do better, and while it is a two way street, as you become more competent you’ll succeed more,. That means choosing your words and expressions more carefully, as well as being aware of your shortcomings in communication AND asking others to explain back to you what you’ve shared. Then you can expect to have better results getting help with editing your videos, distributing your brand new EP, or booking that photography shoot with the paint night lady.

It might not be a basic instinct, but communication really is key to success in the arts, and business in general. Just a theory I have.

Tim!

She’s So Animated! (Wonder Woman (2009) review)

Super heroes have been dominated by male leads in film since almost the beginning of their celluloid representation. Which is odd, given that there are more than enough female super heroes to go around, with compelling story arcs of their own to be had.

This is one of those times.

 

Wonder Woman (2009)

Cast: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, Virginia Madsen, David McCallum
Director: Lauren Montgomery
re-released on blu-ray May 16, 2017
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, Audience Score 78%
The Guardian: n/a

Lauren Montgomery is an American animated film director and artist. Aside from directing the Wonder Woman film I’m about to revisit, she also had a hand in Green Lantern: First Flight, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Justice League: Doom, and co-directed Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Batman:Year One. A fairly young director still, Montgomery has been drawing from a young age and is heavily influenced by Disney, Bruce Timm of Batman: The Animated series fame, and anime.

Wonder Woman is her first directorial outing. And to be frank, it’s quite entertaining. But I’ll let the plot drive some of this demonstration for me first.

The story opens by explaining that the eternally youthful Amazons and their queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen) were granted the island of Themyscira after defeating Ares (Alfred Molina) and his monster army in battle. Hippolyta even beheaded her and Ares’ son Thrax in battle, who was begot from rape.

Hippolyta would have killed Ares too in battle, but  his father Zeus (David McCallum) stopped her from the action. Instead, Hera (Marg Helgenberger) bound his powers with bracelets that could only be opened by another god and the Amazons held Ares in prison cell indefinitely.

Later, Hippolyta was granted a daughter with Zeus’ blessing, and Princess Diana (Keri Russell) was born from sand and blood.

Over a millennium later, an American fighter pilot, USAF Colonel Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), crash-lands on the island. Steve and Diana meet and fight, and she defeats him, taking him to the Amazons. Interrogated with the golden lasso, they learn he is not an enemy. An emissary will be tasked to take him home. Diana volunteers, but her mother argues against that notion, to which Diana defies the order and participates in the emissary contests with a helmet to hide her identity.

Simultaneously, the Amazon Persephone, seduced by Ares, kills Artemis sister, Alexa, and releases him. Now also tasked with capturing Ares, Diana brings Trevor to New York, and he volunteers to help Diana.

In the world of man, Diana starts an investigation that will eventually lead her to Area, by way of the underworld. Diana attempts to stop Ares, but harpies knock her out and Trevor saves her instead of stopping Ares. Elsewhere Ares persuades his uncle Hades (Oliver Platt) (who has made Thrax his slave) to remove the braclets, to which Hades agrees.

When Diana wakes up, she is furious that Trevor saved her instead of stopping Ares, but Trevor makes good points about the Amazons isolation and ignorance, winning her over.

Ares and the Amazons battle in Washington, D.C. and Ares raises the undead to his side, but Artemis is given a chant from her dead sister Alexa to redeem the dead and remove Ares’ command. Ares promptly destroys the undead while Hippolyta faces Persephone in combat and kills her. Not before Persephone points out that by hiding away, the Amazons never got to know men and be whole women.

Ares and Diana finally square off and Diana narrowly outmaneuvers and beheads him just as Hippolyta beheaded Thrax. Diana and Trevor share a kiss and we see in the Underworld that Hades has enslaved Ares just as he did with Thrax.

Hippolyta  determines that Diana should be the official Amazon misses emissary and sends her back to New York. Trevor and Diana become a couple and Diana is now by the world as Wonder Woman.

The animated Wonder Woman follows many of the same notes as its 2017 live action version, but interestingly enough, it has different examples of humour and even more in the way of action sequences. Wonder Woman rejects the notion of a secondary role for women in action/ adventure stories, she is her own heroine.

Pros: It’s fast paced, well animated and the voice acting is excellent in almost every instance, though you never feel like are expected to know tons of her back story. Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Alfred Molina in particular are a treat to watch in action.

Cons: Aside from the complex issues of gender, there are dialogue moments which are difficult to swallow (ie. “You’re starting to sound like a woman”), and it is a bit jarring to hear Rosario Dawson’s voice and see a white woman in her stead.

Runtime: 1 hour 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The movie originally received an R rating from the MPAA, though most of edits came from minor changes to the battle scenes. This is the second time Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion have worked together, after Waitress.

While the story has clearly stuck to the visual aesthetics of comic book history, we are never treated to a sexualized or naive Diana Prince – she always carries herself as a patron of truth, justice and freedom. In fact, there is little in the way of narrative calling her out based on gender. The story is strong, and ripped out of the Wonder Woman’s past, so expect to feel that higher sense of morality by film’s end. It’ll be a wonder if you don’t.

theories Summarized

I’ve now seen both this film and the live-action version, and while I love the weirdness of comic books, the 2017 film is something to behold. Yet, that doesn’t make this story irrelevant. It touches more on the greek myths of which Wonder Woman is based, and in some cases, has even better mature humour. If you’ve enjoyed any of the DC Universe Animated Original Moves, you should give this one some time.

Tim!

For The Lolz (Paramore, After Laughter review)

A friend of mine once told me that the kinds of music you prefer to listen to can tell you a lot about your personality, maturity and proclivities.

Not to mention all of the hundreds of articles and quizzes out there which claim to predict your personality based on how you answer certain questions. For instance, someone who listens to classical music would be typified as smart, hip hop fans are extroverts, and punk rockers are intense, energetic, and low on empathy.

Here’s an example, for the lolz.

 

Paramore – After Laughter

released May 12, 2017
******** 8/10

Paramore are an American rock band. Led by vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro, they have seen more than their fair share of lineup changes over a thirteen year career. Have released five studio albums to-date, After Laughter is their most 80’s influenced and pop rock styled recording. Consider their greatest single Ain’t It Fun – which was released with the fourth album, 2013’s Paramore.

That track was the single greatest predecessor for all of the fun Paramore are having on this latest album.

So what does it sound like you ask? Well, it’s a combination of pop, emo pop, pop rock, alternative rock, and indie rock. So according to that personality test, it means that Paramore are outgoing and nervous, creative and curious, but have low self-esteem.

Apparently this test is working out for me because I would have to agree with all of that. This is a very upbeat and creative album, exploring a ton of different topics includes the oft ignored arenas of mental health and suicide. It’s a more mature vibe and different then what we’ve seen from Paramore on previous outtings, with Hard Times exemplifying the high energy and shift into synth and the odd. Further demonstrated by Rose-Coloured Boy, the track has a pop music tonality, with Williams showcasing her chops to keep the tempo up, but if you listen to the lyrics she is coming from a place of depression and anxiety. It’s chilling really.

Told You So continues in the same fashion, with a sobering outlook on the future and no expectations for more from life. It’s almost as if the bard are using pop music as a vehicle to showcase the challenges in pretending to be happy all the time, when the internal battle is far more difficult and filled with disparaging thoughts.

Forgiveness, Fake Happy, and 26 all channel 1980s movie soundtracks like something that Blondie would have featured in or better yet, Madonna. Before she really went grunge in the 1990s. Forgiveness in particular is quite powerful as a ballad, and easily one of the albums best, especially when paired with Pool, which I think sandwiches that section of the record quite well.

This album really does mark a shift for the band and while the ska and reggae towards the end of the record seemingly come from no where in Caught In The Middle, it’s fucking brilliant. Reminding me of early No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

 

Pros: Moving away from their grunge-rock ways was a ballsy move from Paramore, but if anybody has the vocal range to play in the 1980s, its Hayley Williams. And while Idle Worship tells us they might not like themselves anymore, I still think they’re pretty damn cool. *Hugs*

Cons: I don’t really know where No Friend fits in this album, it’s kind of an odd duck, black sheep and red mark on an otherwise perfectly tuned effort. Also kind of slow? And ominous?

Runtime: 43 minutes

Points of Interest: After Laughter marks the return of former drummer Zac Farro to the band, as he recorded drums for the album and officially returned in February 2017 as a full member. Hard Times is the first single and Told You So is the second single.

I’ll admit I didn’t really pay attention to Paramore much when I was younger, which is odd given that they cite certain bands which I personally like as influences – Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Thrice and New Found Glory. Plus Hayley Williams takes personal inspiration from the  likes of the Ramones, Blondie and The Cure. For realz. I think John from ARTV said it best by declaring this an album that doesn’t sound like Paramore, but which is a good album nonetheless.

theories Summarized

Paramore are pop punk for the 21st century. They do all of the things that punk music are supposed to do, rhythm, high energy and tackling social issues, while having the fun, heart, and catchiness of pop music. That they’ve been able to transition into other areas of pop music while keeping the messages alive demonstrate their character and willingness to make meaningful music. The kind that makes you laugh heartily.

Tim!