Sunday, January 2, 2011

Free music for the people

Welcome to the dystopian techno-age, where the effects of cyber-criminals can pose a very real threat to the humble citizen, where what is most valuable to our people are not our land and our community, but our identity, and where there is a rapidly growing divide between corporate powers and the budding techno-youths of the world.

I'm being a tad dramatic there, but believe me when I say that I've done that to make a relevant point. With cheap and easily available technology through a large portion of the western world, it seems all too easy to create, market and distribute your media. And if you play your cards right, you might just break through. It seems everywhere you look, Andy Warhol's prediction of everyone's fifteen minutes of fame is ringing true. Just as one teenage pop sensation fades, another one is brought into the spotlight.

I'd like to point out two types of producers and consumers here. There's the commercial record companies. They churn out gold records like they're yesterday's news and print it like it's the second coming of Jesus. They can set your career up to be a surefire success if it's what they want. There's the independent companies and producers. Bedroom musicians. People who work two jobs then go out and do their gigs.

When it comes to consumers, you get the people that feel compelled to pay for their music. I, for one, feel like it's a legitimate method to show my support for a musician. A tip of the hat to their intellectual property. However, if it's come from a commercial record company, there's a good chance that the intellectual property has been funneled through so many commercial filters that it just becomes a part of the machine. A product of the company, not the musicians. Then there's the pirates. You know who you are. You feel the music should be free for all. The musicians don't make their money off their records anyway. You're not really cutting into their profits.

Now, I don't have my facts all down, but a lot of this stuff is up for debate anyway, and the debate is really what I'm here to talk about. When it comes to intellectual property, where do you draw the line? Should people pay for someone's ideas? Patents have been saying yes for a very long time. But when intellectual theft is involved, theoretically, the law should step in and protect the individual who holds the patent or copyright, or whatever it may be. But when it comes to the commercial record companies, they're protecting their franchise. Call the musician an investment. Sure, the musicians are the intellectual creators, but the contracts don't always agree. And the commercail record companies have the resources to sue the shit out of you.

So with people downloading music illegally, amongst the masses, there are bound to be a few casualties. And the record companies send a vital message: they don't like being fucked with. I guess to a point, it's fair enough that a musician wants to protect their intellectual property, but the money the record companies are asking are far more than just an album or two.

And now I get to the specific example I've come to write about here: Sampling and Mash Ups. And more specifically, Girl Talk's new album. I first took an interest in this guy when his previous album was all over the radios. At that point in time, I didn't bother buying his CD or downloading it, but was quite content just listening to it on the radio. After all, he just takes songs from other people and blends them with each other. Then I watched a documentary which was not entirely focused on Girl Talk, but featured him heavily enough. And here it is:

Watch it all now if you like, or go back to it after reading this, I'm not really concerned. But I'll say that it is a very interesting film. I watched it for a course on consumer cultures at uni. It certainly got me thinking differently about music and intellectual property.

And then I caught wind that he just recently released a new "album" that is a free download that is the same as what he's done for his previous albums. Mashups. It seems he's got a method down. A lot of rap/hip hop up against pop/rock riffs. A lot of modern mainstream pop and dance motifs and a lot of classic rock motifs spread throughout. And a bit of more interesting stuff. Things you don't expect to hear together. I can understand that this sort of thing is not for a lot of people. I know many people will not consider it genuine music. Some people may think he's desecrating on the classics. Stealing from legitimante musicians to make his paycheck. But he's not on a commercial label. The music he's using requires a shitload of cash on top of the ok to use each sample to line the record company bigwigs' wallets with gold and diamonds. I think the movie linked above calculates the royalties required to clear his last album up at around a couple of million dollars. It probably wouldn't be hard to strip this guy of all he's got.

So why haven't they already? Free music taking from the intellectual property of others. Maybe it's just sheer luck he hasn't been dragged to the gutters yet, but maybe I think the commercial record companies can feel power slipping from their hands. Slipping into the fingers of the consumers. The pirates. They want free. They want something that can be shared without fear or guilt. They raise their middle fingers at the record company bigwigs en masse. The record companies sent a message to the public when they voiced their disapproval for pirating. And when the public kept right at it, that was their way of saying "we don't give a shit." Sure, it makes things harder for independent musicians trying to make a living, but it makes the creative process a lot more open-ended. Creative commons, sharing the intellectual property. We live in an age of remediation, where everything is an intertextual reference. Everything is recycled from somewhere else. Share the music. Let your identity expand and blend with this rapid-growing society of remixers, become part of something bigger. If nothing else, Girl Talk serves as a reminder that the big American corporations are becoming less and less dominant the more they try to hold society back. Why else is he still doing what he is? Creativity is not something to be bought and sold and traded like on the stock markets. It's not something that's entirely mine or yours. It's a product of identity. It grows and changes and lives and breathes.

My entire life is built upon ideas. I find myself constantly doubting where that could lead me. Corporate America doesn't make things easy, but I guess there's just one thing I need to remember; that true intellectual property is that without compromise. You can listen to Girl Talk's new album and tell me it's just another mash up, but to me, it's not about the music, it's what that music represents, and I think that's something that's bigger than all of us.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Easy Listening Electronic

Is this blog on its way towards revival? I don't know. But right now I'm caught in the updraft of easy listening electronic music. The stuff that sounds nice and soft while sounding fresh and unique.

Well, first off, I'll say that I'm not talking about any one genre here. Often I find it's an experimentation between genres or at a slower tempo or with a lighter tone. The first song in the mix is something I heard recently quite by accident, and as if like a trigger, it hit me with nostalgia for the other feel good electro/dance/break songs like it. Well, not so much like it, but feels like goodness.

Stray: Frost

What hits me about the song is how the beat just rolls along with that tubular hat sound, and the synths swell in and out, and then the guitar just jams along giving a great organic vibe to the song. It's introduced me to Med School Records, a side-label to Hospital records (which I'll talk about more soon). A great first impression, and I'll definitely look for Stray's releases in the future, as well as other up and coming artists on the label.

I could listen to it all day, but I'd never get this written otherwise. Now, order's not really important here, but I guess I'll work my way backwards (roughly) to another song I came across quite recently by an artist that also appears to be quite new. I don't know if he's got a label yet, but I've listened through his repertoire on his soundcloud page, and I really like the sound he's got going.

Hosta: True Love is a Fairytale

Looking back to the days of garage bands, I listen to this stuff that's got the production quality sheen to it, and the reality of it is that a lot of these musicians start out making music in their bedrooms or on their laptops or things like that. It's almost like the bedroom producer is the new garage rock band, with the exception that musicians have the ability to produce high quality music and distribute it without leaving their own home. Does this mean the music is less 'authentic' because its medium is primarily a digital one? Personally, I love that anyone can get their hands on the kit to make good music. Yes, you still need skills to pull it off, but at least you can reach an audience without sacrificing your first-born child to the major record companies.

Anyhow, this next song got stuck in my head for a very long time since I first heard it. It's got the poppy love-song lyrics fused with an anthemic riff fused with a drumline and bassline that zips along with all the energy of a drum n bass track. And then there's the guitar line again, giving the song a bit of organic soul injection.

London Elektricity: Just One Second

These guys have got a bit of experience up their sleeves, having been in the drum n bass/breakbeat scene with a few albums already to their name. This was my first time hearing them, and it was around about the time I started paying attention to other musicians on the Hospital Records label. It's the mainstream drum n bass sound that's just too nice to be lumped in with the dirty gritty underground drum n bass. It's a different style altogether. But even though Hospital Records pulls some big names when it comes to drum n bass, it's an independent label that produces some pretty interesting sounds.

This next song, for instance, comes from a musician on their label who released his debut album last year. He's done some pretty experimental stuff, and the songs on the album have a wide variety between them. Not bad for a former pencil pusher.

Mistabishi: The Light is Really Bad

His music can be quite aggressive at times, but for Mistabishi, this is really mellow stuff. The drums are punchy and the synths stick out pretty high in the mix, but I think it's the bass that really does it for me. That offbeat drone... well, that and the vocals really smooth this track over. It's funky and grabby and I listen to it and it just works. Mistabishi is not a name to be sneezed at kindly. He's done some brilliant work in his short time in the game, and this song is not one you want to pass up.

And then there's the musicians that thrive off the underground drum n bass scene. Even when I knew very little of drum n bass I'd at least heard of a few musicians that people spoke of as if they were gods. They're names you just know. Like GaGa or Beiber, although these musicians are popular not through trends or marketing or popular music, but because they shit pure talent. Well, the two that spring to my mind so vividly are Noisia and Spor. And since Noisia doesn't really fit the topic, and Spor only just does, kind of, sort of, whatever, here's some Spor.

Spor: Overdue

I might as well come straight out of the gate and say that this guy makes his music with the same software that I've got. I shit you not, this guy really is that good with even the amateur stuff. Another vouch of confidence for the amateur producer. I love this song. The delay on the strings, a simple enough effect, but it breeds atmosphere. And the steady rolling drum beat really amps things up. Maybe not so much feel good, but definitely chilled out in only the way Spor's fast and fierce style can produce.

And now to a song that's just not electronic. Yes, I know, I'm not really following any sort of pattern, am I? Although it is by one of the most innovative electronic musicians around. Yeah, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to flaunt some Aphex Twin around.

Aphex Twin: Avril 14th

This is probably my favourite Aphex Twin song because it's short and sweet and simple and resonates a real musical beauty that is scarcely heard or seen or felt nowdays. It's just the piano, it's just minimal classical. Like a song written by Erik Satie. It's a beautiful, simple little song, and nothing more needs to be said.

And finally, I'm going back to Med School Records for another new artist I came across after hearing Stray. I'd call it minimal idm, but really, it's just a thing of beauty.

Bop: Song About My Dog

The synths sound like they're pulled from a videogame console, and, growing up with those 8-bit and 16-bit gaming consoles, I've grown quite fond of the sound. And I've heard other experimental musicians try this sound too. Kingbastard springs to mind (search him, you won't be disappointed), maybe a little Radiohead, but this guy right here strips it back to its simplicity, its bare bones. It's soft and relaxing, but it's also quite chilling and almost depressing. It's how I'd imagine 21st century silent films to sound like. Emotive and wordless. It's just sounds from a computer, but really, it's much more than that. It's something that sounds like it wants to be real organic music, but the nature of the music is that it can never be.

So just sit back. And listen. And enjoy. Let the music take you places.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Discovery... of French House!

I am, of course, refering to none other than Daft Punk. These guys are my idols, I can rant and rave about how brilliant they are until the cows come home. And I plan to. They're not just some musicians I stumbled upon and fell into blindingly linear fandom only to move on in the years passed. To me, these guys are the real deal, two guys who started making electronic music in their bedrooms, who have grown to take on the world. Of course, I know, they are not perfect, and there are aspects of their music that I will focus on more than others. I won't even begin to touch on their upcoming soundtrack to the Tron Legacy film. I'll reserve my opinions until I hear it in its complete form.

Right now, though, I want to focus on a particular album of theirs, Discovery (2001). And I want to focus on three things in regards to it; the production, the culture in which it was produced, and what I got from it from my own personal context. I'll also branch out and touch upon their other studio albums, their live album, and I think it's important to note a phenomenal by-product of the Discovery album, and that is the film that paired up with it; Interstella 5555.

Daft Punk first came on the scene as two French dudes making low-budget house music to prove they could pull off a high quality DIY record. The result was their 1997 debut, Homework. Their major single off the album "Around the World" ironically, gained them international recognition. They went from being two French dudes to Daft Punk, the very icon of house music throughout the world. I'm not a fan of the album, but it has its moments.

From there, the duo took some time to cool off in the studio, Thomas Bangalter worked with other artists and formed one-off acts such as Stardust (The Music Feels Better With You) and Together. They donned the robo-suits for which they became reknowned for, and went back to the recording studio to spend their time producing a sleeker, more refined sound. This sound was to be their 2001 album, Discovery.

Discovery was a new direction for the duo, it was a more rounded, more polished sound, that was very much at home in the clubs, ripe for dancing out the new millenium. It was a classic house album, but there was something different about it. It was catchy, yet it had an otherworldly sound about it. Maybe it was the autotuned vocals, maybe it was the riffs cleverly sampled and disguised so well, maybe it was the beats, or the overall impression of the album. I know for one thing that autotune never sounded so good.

When I first listened to this album I was ten. I heard "One More Time" on the radio and I loved how catchy it was. I borrowed money off my parents to buy the single, and I played it on repeat in my discman. Then I borrowed money off my parents to buy the album and I played it on repeat in my discman. This was my first album. I flicked through the lyrics booklet to read along with the music. Some of them had vocals, some didn't. But, as a ten year old does, I picked favourites to listen to more than the others. It was mainly the first four, three of the main singles. One More Time, Aerodynamic, Digital Love and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. The other ones I'd listen to if I felt like it. I also loved the videoclip for One More Time. Blue anime aliens singing and dancing, it was all very surreal, very sci-fi. But I'll talk about that more later. At this age, and over the coming years I came to be fascinated by music. I would pour over each CD again and again until I could remember just about everything about the album. I'd remember each song's title, order, year, that sort of thing. I'm not so good with that sort of thing nowdays, partly because I've got too many albums, and partly because it's been so long. One thing I love about this album is that after 9 years, I still find myself coming back to the album again and again, I love it so.

Now, moving on, sampling is a large part of house music, it's among the genre's defining qualities. This album uses samples in great chunks, and reworks them into the house music genre. Their sampling doesn't compare to the likes of the Avalanches, who seemingly use nothing but samples to construct soundscapes of vast complexities, so minutely fragmented, it can't not be impressive. The video below lines up a few of Daft Punk's samples, in their Daft Punk songs, and then in their original context, all of which are from the Discovery album, except from the last, which is a sample in Robot Rock from their 2005 album Human After All.

Some may find it shocking that such riffs have been taken without a great deal of modification and applied to Daft Punk's songs. You may even be asking why it took Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo four years to make this album. Well, to me, listening to this album now, as opposed to my ten year old self, sure I listen to the album differently. But what I see they've done here, is they've taken those samples and applied their own signature to it. In the seventies and eighties, those songs held a much different context than they do in the post-2000 clubs throughout the world. These guys must have done something right, it's not like they deliberately pulled the wool over our eyes. I, for one, admire them more for what they've accomplished from the album.

But it doesn't stop there, oh no! Two years later, the duo's work with Japanese animator, Leiji Matsumoto, resulted in "Interstella 5555", an animated house musical. What a bizarre combination! The film was essentially a series of animated music videos that strung together each song of the album into a cohesive movie. There is no dialogue in the film, other than the song lyrics, of course, yet it tells the tale of an alien band kidnapped and forced to perform their hits by the evil music agent. The plot drives deeper, love interests emerge and, while it's not the greatest story ever told, it is told in a very interesting and original way, such that you forget that you're just watching a glorified music video and you start believing that you're watching a film. Personally, I love the film. I think it's brilliant. It's another reason why I love the album.

I first watched the film probably two years ago, and even after about seven years since I first bought the album and listened to the songs, I found myself eager to watch it. I'd seen the videoclips to some of their songs. Indeed, I still remember watching the video for One More time on RAGE on Sunday mornings back when the song came out. I think it was back before Anime and Pokemon were household names. So I searched shopping centres for the DVD, and, with some persistence, I came out successful. I watched the movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's the videoclip for one of my favourite songs off the album: Digital Love (gotta love the autotune used properly).

As you can see, the film features anthropomorphic aliens (and various other Sci-Fi elements) that take the film "out of this world". As the album's content is truly groundbreaking, so does the movie present a world so vivid and new that it is still today, very much a pleasure to watch as the day that I bought it.

Ok, so back to the album, where I think I'll adopt a generic brand review system for the album, and go song by song down the tracklisting:

One More Time. Oh my god, the thing about hearing this song nine years later is that it is still being played. At the start of the uni semester, with orientation going on, there was a help station set up, where they had speakers playing this very song. Don't get me wrong, it's a good song, but it's way overplayed, and definitely not the best on the album. The use of autotune vocals was innovative at the time, but the song is repetitive, not so much as Around the World (or the entire Human After All album), but from this catchy starting point, the album kicks right upwards.

Aerodynamic succeeds in every way that One More Time does not. It's got the raw, organic feel of the fast, melodic guitar line replacing the autotuned voice, and the soft, phasing synths smoothing it over like butter. This was one of my favourite tracks as a kid, and I still love this song. It's definitely one of the better ones on the album. And because I like it so much, here it is:

Next up is Digital Love. You've listened to it already. It's a great song, it's a real feel-good tune. You know I love this song, and aside from the catchy, upbeat rhythm and radical guitar solos, there's not much more I can say.

Harder Better, Faster Stronger. Now this is an interesting one. At this point in the album, when I would listen as a kid, I'd give the album up to this point a perfect ten. I loved this song. I loved the quirkiness of the instrumentation and the robo-vocals. It was structured, the lyrics were repetitive and formulaic, yet in the strucutre, as with Aerodynamic and Digital Love, this electro-robo-computer music seemed to grow into something more than just that. Of course, with the phenomena that was the internet-fad, videos such as "Daft Hands" and "Daft Bodies" this song hit a different sort of popularity than One More Time or Around the World. Over time though, I've found the novelty of this song wearing off. For me, this song has lost a lot of its appeal, as I've grown to like other songs on the album that I'd previously ignored.

I never really liked Crescendolls. To me, the blend of organic samples and mechanic synths/drums never quite felt right. For an album I enjoy so much in its entirety, this would be my filler number one. I've learned to appreciate it more over time, the movie's certainly got me seeing the song in a different light, but it's nothing spectacular, as far as the rest of the album is concerned.

In terms of catchy house tunes, ripe for the dance floor, Nightvision is the actual first filler of the album. It's a short, soft, slow ambient track, soft pads progressing to a thump-thump heartbeat of the kick drum. This song never goes anywhere but in circles. It's a nice, relaxing tune, but it doesn't offer much beyond that.

Now, Superheroes is my personal apex of the album. It starts slowly. Snare roll followed by a thumping, constant beat and a whining vocal that cuts and repeats over and over and over and over. I hated it as a kid. It took too long to go somewhere, and the repeating sample was annoying. But, as a long build up usually does, it grew on me. Once you get past the intro and the synths fade in it gets its melody, and when the sparkly lead melody comes in so clear it becomes really catchy. It hangs there for most of the song, changing and evolving ever so slightly, always staying central to that catchy riff and thumping beat. It also presents a defining moment in the film, and not only is it probably my favourite song on the album, it's probably one of my favourite songs full stop.

Following Superheroes is High Life, another song I'm not overly wild about. To me, it's got a sort of Crescendolls type clash with the samples and the music, although in High Life it is not so obviously holding the song back. I guess this song makes for the perfect house track though. It's quite catchy, very repetitive, but, as with just about everything else on the album, its progression makes the song less boring and repetitive, and over time, the enjoyment of this piece will increase. It's mind-numbingly linear, but the subtle changes over the constant melodic progression is a defining quality of this song. Don't think too much, and your foot will start tapping itself.

Something About Us is different in a similar way to how Nightvision is different. It's very chilled out and has a very retro seventies/eighties sound to the bass. The song is very calm, and the little melodic interjections reflect that calmness, while elaborating a solo flair that allows the song to progress forward. The vocals are again autotuned but this time are very stripped back in the mix, with a lot more space than the other songs. It lacks the catchy danceable sound of most of the songs on the record, but instead, it has its own cutesy playfulness going on that really shines through in the movie. If you think of this album first and foremost as a dance record, you'd question why this song's on here at all, but when you listen to it as a soundtrack, there couldn't be any other way. It's a brilliant song, and while I don't listen to it as much as many others on the album, it's certainly one I enjoy listening to.

Now, here's where the album picks up again: Voyager. It's got the chords on the ambient pads and the constant drum beat, then comes the groovy bassline and the guitar licks. And again, I find Daft Punk's music seeming to grow and flair out so beautifully. It's a more repetitive piece, but it's instantly catchy, it's a Superheroes that gets straight to the point. The arpeggios (like the many others peppered throughout the album) give the song a real kick, a real zing, and, while it was never going to be a hit single, it's definitely one of my favourites off the album.

Veridis Quo, another V song, another cracker of a tune. The organ introduction and somber melodies set a slower pace and softer tone. It's repetitive, yet catchy, like with Voyager, but it's got undertones of Nightvision in its ambient mood. The beat progresses little from the beginning, and melodically, aside from the organ tune, it's just chords, yet something about this song is so satisfying. After getting a good majority of the way through the album, this is a moment of laid back relaxation with the reassurance of the steady beat and soft gated rhythm.

What follows is much less soothing. It's leather jackets and seventies haircuts acting all massive freakout like. It's Short Circuit. It's all over the place. It's crazy sound. And I don't fancy it all that much. When the short circuit shorts out, so to call it, about half way through the song, and the beat fizzles out to a softer edge, the song becomes easier on the pallette, it becomes better to listen to. And then it degrades in quality bitcrushing to a satisfying end. It's an ok song, an awkward break between Verdis Quo and Face To Face, but once you get through the hard edged first half of the song it just breaks down into something easier to listen to and easier to enjoy. It's a bit of a random nonsense filler piece, the hesitation before the finale.

And here, I must say, is where the album comes into full bloom. Face to Face was a late single for the album, it's a really amazing house song that sort of got swept to the back end of the album and forgotten about. It's catchy and quirky, and the vocals are fantastically warm and real. The music itself is segmented and flows from one riff to another, one sample, etc. in a delightfully fun and catchy way. It's a fantastic song, on it's own, in the film, wherever. Another favourite that's grown over time, although I recall enjoying it to some extent as a child. And because you've been so great reading this far, here's Face to Face:

The album finishes with a 10 minute song ironically called Too Long. It starts with a dry A Capella and, as per the style of the rest of the album, the intro is undercut with a core aspect of the main body gradually zoning in. It's sort of hypnotic the way the intro sections are sort of used to seduce you into the beat. This song is long and slow, although I find that its self awareness of being "too long" and its variations are enough to keep this song from dragging. It changes as though it is comprised of an assortment of songs. Sort of how a reprise works in a play, although, admittedly, everything in the song seems to spur from someplace new, building new riffs and melodies from others. As a closing piece it feels right. It grows and evolves into its segments, similar to Face to Face, although here it stretches these segments out until they are worn out as much as possible so that there could not possibly be another end than this. It's a great song, and it's an excellent end to one of the best albums I've ever heard.

It's a dance/house album, yes, but the thing I love about it is that it is not JUST a dance/house album. It's so much more. The songs, so infused with repetitive progression are brimming with style and flair and energy, and as a whole the album is packed with variation. The songs are fantastic, and they're still great tracks by today's standards. Six singles came from this one album, which I guess is a testament to how wide-reaching the appeal goes, to have almost half the album released as singles. And the time taken to produce the album too is a testament to how finely crafted it is. The film, only furthering the awe I have for this fantastic artistic vision. Almost ten years on I still love this album to pieces, I wouldn't be surprised if I'll still feel the same way a further ten years down the track.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Those times when you can't keep it in...

I'll write about why I started this blog later. I was going to mainly focus on favourite artists and albums and what not, but there is plenty of time for that later too. Right now, however, I'm going to talk about musical numbers. You know the ones that seemingly come from nowhere.

Now, I do enjoy my music very much, and the musical, I feel, is a very deprived art form, it certainly isn't appreciated as much as it should be. I guess all the glitz and glamour of it all can feel a bit laboured, a bit surreal in a "get over yourself" sort of way, although I have never really felt it myself. The milk-bar innocence of middle America (and the wholesome family tunes produced therein) juxtaposes nicely with the gritty, bloody narrative that is the man-eating plant on Skid Row in "Little Shop of Horrors, and projects lyrics and music in a delicious pulp-filled package that is brimming with irony that feels so wrong it's right. The friendly barber of 19th century London goes drastically over the top, slashing his victims to tunes that hardly match the sincerity of the act, but tell the tale in a very rigorous and involving manner. Yes, I think musicals are just brilliant, but the subject of my talk here today is a derivative, a by-product, let's call it, of the ever-fading musical art form.

Set the scene. This is not a musical. This is a world where impromptu singing in rhyme and rhythm to an unseen band is not normal. It's like a surprise party for the audience. You're being led along by the actors, they're grinning ear to ear as they string you along but you don't know anything because they don't say anything. They get you to close your eyes. Then they take you through a door where the musical world hits you with the "surprise!" and the tune strikes up and they start singing and it's this musical grandeur, this brilliant spectacle, just for you, and you can't help but not get into it.

No, it's not something you'll hear on the radio or listen to while driving to work. It's very much limited to the text in which it's produced, but I do love a good musical number. And I do love how some TV shows or movies will just belt one out for good measure and then drop you back in the world of the non-singing, non-dancing TV world with awe etched into your face. I'm currently spooling through the entire Futurama collection (that is at this point, four seasons and four movies) and those guys have done this on more than one occasion.

Most of the time it's just a little tune here or there, often a schoolyard-esque parody of known tunes (Santa Claus is gunning you down), but there have been several occasions on the show that they've brought out a real ripper of a tune appropriate to the plot and timing in which they appear. In the episode "Hell is Other Robots", the Robot Hell song kicks up when Bender breaks his vows to the church of Robotology and finds himself at the mercy of the robot devil, truly the climax of the episode, partly due to the narrative arc, and partly due to the tune that aids itself to the intensity and theatrics of finding oneself in a real, physical hell for robots.

What I really like about this song is the smooth, jazzy tone, which pulls along at a pace which is very much out of the control of the main characters. Bender finds himself being pushed and pulled into all sorts of ironic punishments which condenses and intensifies this image of hell and really brings it to life, in a way, as a world outside our own, as a world dictated by rhyme of increasing urgency the further you descend in hell, and the levels of hell mentioned in the song, of course, refer to Dante's nine circles of hell, with each progression further representing a worse level of sin, and thus, deserving a more severe punishment. The ease at which Bender descends first from level one to two, then through to five and onwards signifies his terrible wrong-doings in a comical manner matching in tone with the cartoon itself.

The other tune I wanted to share is from the first movie, "Bender's Big Score". "This Trinity's Going to War" adopts a variety of styles, from the jazz infused syncopated rhythms of the retro seventies/eighties synths and guitars with an old school hip-hop beat carrying the song underneath.

The song revolves around the "trinity" of reinvented religious icons; the robot santa, living on Neptune, with a malfunctioned naughty/nice program; the hanukkah zombie, a jewish undead zombie; and the kwanzaabot, an African-American rap/hip-hop robot. Their gathering is in rebellion to alien scammers taking over Earth, with their retaliation emerging as a convergence of forces, rather brutal in their reappropriated natures, the funky tune and singing with gusto works as a sort of mini-montage, testing artillery and all that, and introducing the characters and their unique qualities verse by verse, with the backup vocals of the elves (do do, do doo).

The concept of using music to pump up for confrontation is nothing new, but I think what really works with the song is how it works with the context of the show (ie or knowledge of the characters, the style and all that) and to some extent, our cultural understanding of the Jewish, Christian and African-American holidays on which they are based. Again, the timing of the musical number is well articulated, and the song works as a preparation for the fight to come, it springs life into the main characters who sit idly to one side for the song's duration and it drops them into the music-less heat of the battle with a newfound sense of optimism.

Like hell, the toyshop works as a place outside the norm in which these songs can burst forth without causing too much doubt. Who knows if the devil sings in rhyme in hell or whether santa strikes up a tune in his toy factory? In a way, the unreliable constructs of the show position us to read these musical numbers as possible within their world, however, as the show is not constructed as a musical (ie, there isn't a song hiding around every corner), it constructs spaces within the world in which the characters themselves plunge into an unfamiliar "musical" space, where the constructs of the musical seems to be a present norm taken for granted by the characters that exist naturally within that space.

Although there aren't too many more examples in the show outside of this, it's enough to really catch my attention and bring a smile to my face. I think the musical is a brilliant art form, and I love that it's still working its way around today. I'm a Futurama fan, through and through, and I really think these songs of theirs are a great testament to the musical.