Bummer Summer: The Sad State of Modern Comedy

What is wrong with the world of comedy? 2011 has undoubtedly seen some of the worst mainstream comedies in recent memory, and it seems there is no end in sight. This past summer we were inundated with a glut of loud, obnoxious, arrogant, brash comedies that failed to arose the slightest hint of interest from either critics or audiences: The Change-Up, The Hangover: Part II, Hall Pass, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses. This past year’s films have been met with nothing but disappointment, disgust, and displeasure (granted, Horrible Bosses did inexplicably manage to receive strong critical response despite a rather meandering plot and boring characters). This summer’s comedies weren’t just bad or unfunny; they were something more: they were all just plain irritating.

I bring this up because there seems to be a shared affinity between these disparate, underachieving films. Yes, the actors and directors all seem to lack comedic timing, the actors themselves aren’t very funny, and the jokes are completely unoriginal (unless you consider bizarre pairings of expletives funny – “Fuck-knuckle” anyone?). All of these issues contribute to the films’ failures, but there is something much simpler, rather obvious, and quite mundane that is missing from these films: they are all unable to generate any audience empathy for their characters.

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Watchmen Comic Coming to the Big Screen

Warner Bros. have announced that they have purchased the rights to Watchmen now infamous graphic novel written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. It’s a novel that portrays the behind the scenes events of a group of superheroes and has become one of the pioneering graphic novels. Time magazine recently named it one of the top 10 graphic novels of all time. As well, it was the sole graphic novel to be named in their list of the 100 best novels since 1923. The film is being produced by Lloyd Levin (Hellboy) who is currently working on the 9/11 film Flight 93. Paul Greengrass was originally slated to direct Watchmen but his name has since been removed from the project. This film has had quite a history with directors like Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky all slated to direct at some point. However, Greengrass is busy working with Levin on Fight 93, so I think something could be brewing here and I imagine seeing his name pop up again.

Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band – Horses In The Sky

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band – Horses in the Sky
(Constellation)

It seems that the band once known simply as A Silver Mt. Zion has settled on a name. After changing their name with each subsequent release, A Silver Mt. Zion has now released two albums under the same monicker. It also seems that the band has settled on a sound.After the significant sonic departure of their disappointing last release This Is Our Punk Rock, SMZ has settled on a sound more akin to their earlier release Born Into Trouble As the Sparks Fly Upward.

I hope these name changes haven’t been a plea for attention, for SMZ has always stood in the background while some other post-rock bands were receiving at least a modicum of success in the past few years.But while many of SMZ’s contemporaries have relied on creating atmospheric noise out of highly structured, repetitive chords, SMZ has relied primarily on what sounds like spontaneous compositions.

Over the course of 11 minutes, the lead track “God Bless Our Dead Marines,” makes the transition from a distant sounding piano to middle-eastern tribal dance to chamber-pop – all the while sounding completely sporadic, and never forced.Sure, Godspeed You Black Emperor recorded with Steve Albini, but that’s about as raw as they get. With SMZ, much of this album was recorded next to a campfire, with the crackle and hiss of a fire throughout.Sure, its become cliché to use ambient noise to pass for artistic lo-fi, but with SMZ somehow it seems less like an effect, and more like real character. — Zak Bronson

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – s/t

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – s/t
(Ind.)

If hype has ever helped a band achieve success, I’d be surprised. Consider the number of bands each year that have been slated to be the next big act: any sort of attention begins to have a negative effect after a while. Then, consider the hype surrounding Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. After selling out the original pressing of their debut album without a record label, as well as making fans out of David Bowie and David Byrne, CYHSY went on tour, performing as an opening act for The National. Early reports suggest that many audience members are going solely to see CYHSY and leaving before the National take stage.

Yet part of the beauty of their debut album is that it is made with almost no pretense whatsoever. The album, recorded prior to any of the major press that they have received, contains some of the most honest, and humble music ever recorded. The humility found in singer Alec Ounsworth’s quaking voice in “Details of the War,” and throughout the album is at once both irritating and alluring. At the same time the backing musicians have an ability to showcase to Ounsworth vocals, while not being overshadowed themselves.

“Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away,” bridges the gap between early-era Radiohead and Talking Heads. Perhaps what makes the album so enjoyable is its ability to combine a multitude of influences without trying to duplicate, but rather to celebrate them in a cacophonous mix of pop music. — Zak

The Russian Futurists – Our Thickness

The Russian Futurists – Our Thickness
(Upper Class)

In the early 1900s emerged a group of young artists called the Russian Futurists who experimented with the current art movements, relying on abstraction over symbolism in both art and literature. Kind of an interesting name choice for a band that plays electro-pop music, and could quite possibly be featured on the newest season of the O.C. – not that that is a bad thing. Rather, quite the opposite.

The Russian Futurists is the brainchild of Toronto-bred Matthew Adam Hart with a mic in one hand and a computer mouse in the other. Relying primarily on processed beats and samples, Hart creates music so catchy, you’ll be surprised that he’s still swimming in relative anonymity.

“Our Pen’s Out of Ink,” combines the pop sensibilities of the Beach Boys with a hip-hop beat. “2 Dots on a Map,” slows it down to create a near-80’s sounding romantic ballad a la Phil Collins. But don’t let that scare you. The problem with describing this album is that all descriptions of it make it sound much worse than it is. But perhaps that is where the problems with it lie. While this album may have sounded amazing a few years ago, in the age of bands like the Postal Service, the Futurists don’t offer anything new to the table. Lyrics like “all it was is all it was, I don’t know why we’d call it love/all I need’s an aeroplane, to carry me right there again,” don’t help the situation. Not that the Postal Service weren’t incredibly cheesy themselves, it’s just that this album fails to make any huge breakthroughs.

I admit that I originally made claims of the Futurists becoming the next big band from the underground to hit it big, and so far they haven’t created much of a buzz. While I still agree with that original statement, I don’t think this is the album that will do it for them. — Zak

Headphones – s/t

Headphones – s/t
(Suicide Squeeze)

It seems nowadays that every decently popular band in the indie market also has some sort of side project going on. I mean just try to count all the side project Zach Hill has going on right now. And if you’re the fan of one, you have to be the fan of the other right? So, if you’re a fan of Pedro the Lion I guess you have to purchase this album, or you’re probably going to anyways. Luckily, the album is surprisingly successful and I think it would appeal to a larger audience than PTL normally gets.

For all its success, PTL has mostly remained on the margins. Even among indie rock fans, PTL’s music has never quite received the attention that I think it deserves. It’s always been a little too simplistic and too bitter to achieve any large amount of hype. Upon hearing about David Bazan’s new project being comprised solely of synthesizers and drums, you might think that Bazan might be trying to catch onto the dance-punk fad, and to finally start selling records. Yet, if you’re familiar with his work, you’ll realize that they last thing Bazan wants is to get the indie kids dancing in their seats.

Any concerns will be allayed within the first two songs. “Gas and Matches,” and “Shit Talker,” rely on the dark, dismal lyrical styles of New Order with odd time signatures courtesy of drummer Frank Lenz (Starflyer 59). “Gas and Matches” foregrounds the best elements of any PTL album, which is Bazan’s lyrics, as it tells the story of the storyteller being tortured, doused with gas and lit afire by a former friend. Or in “Hello Operator,” as a man uses his phone to choke his wife to death while he makes a phone call. If there’s one thing that Bazan excels at more than any other it’s his ability to tell stories of misery and sin.

This is largely what made this album so enjoyable. Bazan has the ability to make everything he touches sound so sincere. He never sounds like he’s preaching to you, and it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to follow any trends. — Zak

The Soundtrack Of Our Lives – Origin Vol. 1

The Soundtrack Of Our Lives – Origin Vol. 1
(Republic/Universal)

I remember hearing of this band a few years ago, and about how they were going to be the next big thing along with the Hives in the rock and roll revival. Since then, the Hives seem to have disappeared and all I know about TSOOL is what I’ve heard from the classic rock stations that my dad listens to. Regardless, I didn’t really have high hopes for this album.

However, the album gets off to a really strong start with “Believe I’ve Found.” It doesn’t sound like their other material, which has a very classic rock sound, but is much poppier, using a nice “do do do” chorus. However, they don’t stick to this style, but rely on much more formulaic classic rock styles for the rest of the album.

The next song, “Transcendental Suicide,” starts with a guitar riff that I think Pete Townsend could probably target in a copyright infringement suit. That, along with some of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard really don’t add much potential: “And it feels like we know everything/ So, who’s gonna be there to tell us what tomorrow will bring?/ When you can’t change it/ No, you can’t change it/ And love is in the air for a transcendental suicide.” Yeah, okay. Then the song ends with “We’re gonna last forever.” Yeah, good luck with that—whatever transcendental suicide means.

However, my biggest complaint about the album is that almost all of the songs seem like they’re copies of something else, and I feel like I’ve heard all of the songs better somewhere else. Half of the album sounds like it was written by Keith Richards in an attempt to recreate some of his classic songs.

The album’s artworks furthers the sense that nothing is more than a copy. It is filled with old, sepia pictures of Aboriginals, Indians, military soldiers, with the band members’ faces photoshopped onto their bodies. The artwork gives the album more of a kitsch feel than any real value, and I would say that the music leans towards kitsch as well. It so derivative that it seems like they are simply reusing songs by classic rock bands and simply adding new lyrics that aren’t as good as their predecessors. TSOOL seem to be trying to appeal to some nostalgic sense of classic rock, but without adding anything original to it. — Zak Bronson

Run Away From The Humans – We Exist

run.away.from.the.humans. – we exist
(Expedition Zero One One)

So, apparently in the downtime between Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service, Ben Gibbard decided to start a third group. However, run.away.from.the.humans.’ press kit seems to deny it. But don’t believe them, in fact don’t believe anything you read. Trust me, it’s really him no matter what they say. Just listen to “We Are,” which sounds like it could easily fit on Give Up, and there will be no doubt in your mind. However, it seems like the band is trying to remain oblivious to the obvious Postal Service comparisons. The band’s website even says that lead singer Jason McBride’s vocals are reminiscent of Neil Tennant and Ian Brown, completely ignoring the Gibbard comparisions.

Sounding like another band isn’t necessarily a horrible thing and I wouldn’t hate a band simply for sounding too similar to another group. But run.away.from.the.humans. doesn’t seem interested in adding innovation to their sound. “We Are” is the best example, as it sounds like a complete replica of The Postal Service. For the majority of the EP, the band prefers to use the most simplistic electronic beats as background. It seems like the band recently bought Fruity Loops and made some beats really quickly to back the music because the drummer quit the week before.

The song “All That Was Left Were Ashes,” does sound like the band is trying to do something different. It starts off beautifully with vocals, piano and ambient noise, until the drums kick in and begin playing the lamest beat imaginable. The beat doesn’t even match the tempo of the song. It had the potential, but it never quite makes it.

My main problem with the album is that it is too middle-of-the-road. The band should have focused more on their electronic sounds, or more on the guitars, rather than minimally developing either. It looks like they want to follow a current trend, rather than break any new ground. As it is, the album sounds too much like The Postal Service, but not quite as good. If they added more electronica things might be different. I liked the song “Lost My Way” precisely for this reason. It sounds more like a poppier version of The Pet Shop Boys. They do show a lot of potential in these two songs; however, on the rest of the EP they settle for mediocrity. — Zak Bronson