Tuesday, September 8, 2015

some thoughts on Beauty Behind the Madness

Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)
The Weeknd

Part of what makes The Weeknd interesting is this commitment to this disaffected persona that Abel Tesfaye puts forth in his albums.  I know nothing about what Tesfaye is like in real life, but as The Weeknd, he's forever aloof, staring into the middle distance as a wild party rages around him, doing drugs as a muscle memory, half-heartedly eating pussy.  It was thrilling, in a way, to see something so bleak in R&B, a genre that had long been known for sexy slow jams to fuck to, but that thrill was far from sustainable.  Nihilism rarely is.

And now The Weeknd is back with more dead-eyed hedonism in Beauty Behind the Madness, but something is different this time around.  This album, while certainly much more pop-ready and radio-friendly, has an insidious quality that lurks beneath its sexual party beats and catchy hooks.  Perhaps the bleakness that pervaded The Weeknd's earlier albums and EPs came from the fact that he knew that what he was doing – the partying, the drugs, the meaningless sex – was going nowhere, that maybe he knew he deserved better, that you definitely deserved more from him.  In Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd has given up, resigning himself to this life of empty decadence and deciding that this is simply who he is now – unapologetic, inconsiderate, openly disdainful.  The Weeknd of Beauty Behind the Madness does not eat pussy.

The strength of Beauty Behind the Madness comes from this heel turn from a known heel.  Nihilism may not have a lot of mileage, but it's to Tesfaye's credit that he put together a fresh new step in his persona's downward spiral.  Beauty Behind the Madness presents The Weeknd as someone who's tired of feeling bad for himself, tired of apologizing.  This is The Weeknd as someone whose self-actualization has revealed that underneath all that pained introspection is just a bad person.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

some thoughts on Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz

Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz

Listen here:

There's this tension between Miley's performative stoner/party girl persona and the sad introspection that makes up the best parts of her albums.  She's got those country music sadness ballads running deep in her musical DNA that, much like her Disney past, she won't ever really be able to distance herself from, no matter how hard she parties or how many drugs she takes and I think that's what appeals to me about her, that her partying and psychedelic aesthetic is such a transparent attempt to cover up an inner sadness.

Bangerz was a great breakup album because it took place in such a specific point of a breakup, that time when you're covering up your pain by announcing how fun you are, how ready you are to get back out there, how you're done feeling bad and you're ready to move on (but not really) by getting reckless.  Its strongest moments were the saddest ones, the ones away from the party where Miley gets a chance to take down her Mike Will Made It walls.

Similarly Dead Petz takes place in another very specific post breakup moment, the one where you've achieved an epiphany/clarity (perhaps partly premature because of drugs).  Dead Petz is about accepting loss, being lonely, and more importantly, being ready to move on.  The drugs and the psychedelia in Dead Petz, like the Mike Will Made It club beats in Bangerz, are both set dressing and coping mechanism, working to take her mind off her inner turmoil.  Her coping mechanisms and the causes she chooses to champion from her position of privilege are invariably the least interesting things about Miley on Dead Petz, but the difference here is in the after effect.  In the bleakness of Bangerz, the party ends and nothing's changed, but in the more hopeful Dead Petz, when she comes down from the high there's still that loneliness, but there's also awareness and self-examination.  It's a small victory, but after any heartbreak you take those when you can get them.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Godzilla In Hell #1

Godzilla In Hell #1
James Stokoe

James Stokoe comes back to Godzilla for this issue and it's a fun little treat.  Not quite as weighty and destructive as his Godzilla: The Half Century War, but more of a nicely violent little snack.  I'm not sure who is going to be responsible for the other issues of this series, but I'm gonna be honest: I'm not really interested in the rest of this series.  The story is minimal, a fight comic in its simplest, most brutal, most fun.  Frankly, the list of people I'd want working on that comic is so small and I'm betting none of them will be working on any upcoming issues, so I'm content with this existing as a simple one-shot in my mind.

Stokoe's art is of course the star of the show as he takes advantage of taking Godzilla outside of a cowering city and having him fall endlessly through a stone abyss surrounded by giant carved lettering announcing his new domain (destroyed almost instantly by one of Godzilla's radioactive shrieks, of course).  We also get some of Stokoe's weird, squishy, dripping design sense in Godzilla's encounter with a Hellish doppelgänger.  It's wonderful and strange, but ultimately it left me wanting more as this level of Hell seemed to be a vast, mostly empty desert flatland.  Part of the fun of Stokoe's art for me is seeing him draw those expansive and bizarre environments, and he doesn't really play that angle here.  We get to see Dante's tornado of sinners and some bizarre monster stuff, but it's set amongst mostly formless blacks and browns and reds.  This level of Hell is a barren wasteland and Stokoe conveys that well, but I think one of the reasons Godzilla elicits such fear and awe is through sheer size.  Every single one of Godzilla's opponents and obstacles in this comic is as big or bigger and I think that diminishes the awe of Godzilla as the shock of seeing something bigger than our favorite monster starts to wear thin when we realize she's probably gonna come out of it ok.

I guess my problem with it was a reduced amount of collateral damage and the fact that there was no real emotional hook or at least a sense of danger.  Half Century War got that right with its focus on the Godzilla hunting crew.  There were actual stakes when we followed humans around as opposed to our invincible super monster.  It's tough to actually care about Godzilla here because we know that she can't be stopped, and whatever's trying to stop her is from Hell anyway, so they're probably the bad guys in this situation anyway.  Since she can't be stopped the thrust of the action is less "will Godzilla survive?" and more "how's Godzilla getting out of this one?"  But that doesn't mean it's irredeemable.  What it lacks in emotional hooks, Godzilla In Hell makes up for in inventive action and fight scenes.  We know that she's getting out of this, but how?? is the question that moves us forward here.  I'd have preferred more collateral damage and senseless destruction, but for a one-off issue like this one it's fine.  Low investment, high thrills.  We should never need to think about a Godzilla comic this much anyway.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Werner Herzog on The Avengers: Age of Ultron

(This post originally appeared on my tumblr)
“For what would Stark’s technology be without a monster lurking in the dark? What once was a man of iron is now a stupid child, screaming horribly into a coffin of his own making.”
“Look into the eyes of Scarlett Johansson and you will know real loneliness.  It is a kind of bottomless loneliness that can only be felt by those surrounded by inferiors, but who know they themselves are inferior.”
“A being driven by anger and denial of the self leaves very little to the question of the common character of the universe.” 
“We see the Captain grimace in pain, but what is truly illuminating is the knowledge that his pain does not come from the hostility of his environment but instead from his own self-loathing and guilt, his frustrations at being a man displaced seething within him, consuming him from the inside.  He grimaces not for his body, but for his soul.  Ultimately his pain is his ecstasy as he gazes further into the emptiness of his mission.” 
“Superhero movies are the death of cinema.  It is the very opposite of passion.  Film is not the art of nerds, but of illiterates.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


The season finale of Empire is happening tonight, and what better way to celebrate the first season of a ridiculously over-the-top primetime soap opera with some BOLD-ASS PREDICTIONS?

1.  Andre chills out and gets medicated, but still resentful of his family's musical talents, switches teams and works for Anika and Beretti.

2.  Malcolm finds out about how Cookie wrongfully set up the hit on that drug dealer, then he finds out about Lucious killing Bunkie.  But he's super loyal to both of them and sweeps it under the rug anyway and handles any problems that may arise because he's really good at his job and he's the best.  I love Malcolm.

3.  Lucious finds out about Cookie and Malcolm and decides to file this away for season two.

4.  Lucious fucks Rhonda.

5.  Vernon reveals that he loves Lucious.  Like, LOVES Lucious.  Lucious, predictably, does not have time to deal with this.

6.  Lucious faints right before the credits roll.

7.  Hakeem, disillusioned by the music industry, buys a motorcycle and just drives off to see America.  He is not in season 2, save for a snippet of "Drip Drop" that we hear before Jamal does something far more interesting.

8.  Titan is released from prison just in time for the season finale concert, where he and Royale-T promptly get into a fistfight.  Cookie loves it.

9.  Jamal's ex-boyfriend comes back.  He's gotten deep into the Bushwick art scene and he needs money to pay back some kickstarter backers for his foray into the conceptual sculpture scene.

10.  Porsha and Becky hang out and become best friends and get their own spinoff show.