Sunday, July 28, 2013

SCANDAL's "Wonderful Tonight" is Auto-tuned to Hell

NOTE: Sony Japan tried to have the video above removed from YouTube by filing a DMCA takedown notice, thereby proving themselves to be even bigger dicks than I accuse them of being below. But I fought back, and won. The video is now restored to YouTube.

SCANDAL pretty much combine everything I've ever liked into one convenient and unique musical package. I've seen them live, really live, so I know they put on an amazing show. I buy all their stuff. Their most recent release is this:

It's their yearly live disc release - this one's of their special one-off show at Osaka-Jo Hall in March of 2013. Osaka-Jo Hall is one of the biggest arenas in Japan and their hometown venue - when they started out, their first shows were literally in a park across the street from it, and they've dreamed of playing there since then. This was the biggest show they've ever played (bigger than Budokan), and the most emotional for them.

So it's really too bad that their record label borked the disc. I feel like I wasted about $70.

Watch the video at the top, if you haven't yet. Don't ask me what's up with their outfits - there is a meaning behind them, but it's too obtuse if you don't follow them closely. (They do change to regular black outfits later in the show.) Anyway, the point is the Auto-tune.

SCANDAL's always been kind of a weird band in that they straddle the line between being pop idols and rock stars, but they themselves insist that they are a rock band. They do really play, they do really sing, they write at least some of their music, and they want people to respect them as a band. And in the old days, at least, they were really raw and powerful, like a Japanese version of The Runaways.

So it's out of character that this whole disc is just an Auto-tune extravaganza. It's like T-Pain style stuff in almost every song - I could tell there was Auto-tune going on before I even compared it to the original M-On footage in the above video. If it's not as obvious to you, try listening with headphones - in addition to the perfect pitch, listen for abrupt pitch changes that don't sound human. Once you hear it once, you'll hear it everywhere.

Now, I'm the one that put that video together - I didn't do it to make the band look bad, I did it to make the Auto-tune look bad. In fact, I don't think Auto-tune really has any place in rock music and I'd prefer if they left it off completely, even if it means the girls go off key every once in a while. Hey, that's rock 'n' roll. And they know that - I doubt the band themselves had any input in this.

This is the interface for Auto-tune 7. This is the root of much of the musical evil we've had to endure for the past ten years or so, right here. All the humanity-killing, soul-sucking electronic sorcery that turns a normal human voice into a robot - this is it.

In fact, Auto-tune isn't supposed to be heard. It's supposed to be invisible, or "transparent" in audio parlance (and it may be on their previous Budokan disc - it's not clear whether they used Auto-tune on that release or not). You see near the top left, under "Pitch Correction Control", those three knobs and one button are there so you can adjust Auto-tune to where it will correct tuning issues without being obvious about it.

My guess is that whatever summer intern Epic Records had working on this disc just set these controls incorrectly and then didn't bother listening to the result. "Retune Speed" is the most likely culprit, combined with misuse of the "Humanize" control. How this actually got approved for release, though, I have no idea. I would think a person higher up in the food chain at Epic would have to listen to a major release before putting it out on the market.

It's really a shame, because it was a great show (you can still watch the entire M-On version), and one I know the band will remember forever. But this isn't a good disc for us fans to remember it by - this isn't what they sounded like, and in fact no one naturally sounds like this. My hope in posting this is just that more of their other fans will take notice and force their record label to treat them as a rock band and/or actually listen to their future releases before putting them out there and charging us money for them.

Some of their fans may not notice or care, but if they want to broaden their fan base to real rock fans, this kind of thing doesn't help.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Naomi Watts, THE IMPOSSIBLE and getting dirty

Like most people, I first became aware of Naomi Watts in MULHOLLAND DRIVE, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. (I'm a David Lynch fan.) Since then, there's almost nothing she's done that I haven't been intensely interested in. She just does not give a fuck. She can and will do anything. ANYTHING. That's a big part of what makes her fun to watch.

This is a chopped up scene from THE IMPOSSIBLE, her 2012 film about the 2004 Asian tsunami, which my wife and I watched the other night:

That's real water. In the special features, the kid playing Lucas says a lot of the fear in their faces wasn't acting. Later in the film you see that Naomi Watts is actually shoved through that glass wall by the wave. Not a stuntwoman! (Sure, it's breakaway glass, but still - you try getting hit by a wall of water through a solid object!)

THE IMPOSSIBLE is a pretty good film, although I was a little uncomfortable at times with the story of that tsunami - which largely killed poor Southeast Asians - being told from the point of view of rich white tourists. I guess that makes it more "relatable" to us westerners. Still, Naomi Watts does her goddamn best to make us understand how awful it was whatever your ethnic background. (By the way, I liked Ewan McGregor in the film too, but this post is not about him.)

A lot of actresses are afraid to even get dirty. It's going to spoil their precious image and ruin the illusion that they're beautiful. Not Naomi Watts:

It's even more amazing that she's doing this at age 44! (Even she says on the special features, "I'm not 25, but I'm being thrown around like this.") She's aging amazingly well - admittedly, kind of hard to tell in this shot. But she's still hot!

This is the ultimate realization of her natural state on film. If you put Naomi Watts in a film and she doesn't end up at least with matted hair and preferably covered in blood, mud, dirt, smeared makeup, tears, or a combination of all of those by the end, you're doing it wrong. You have not challenged Naomi Watts. She's bored! She's been building up to this.



THE RING TWO (sorry, couldn't find a good shot from the first one):


I don't know how this woman has not won ALL the Oscars. I mean, anyone who can make KING KONG watchable... come on. She's everything an actress should be. And not just because she likes to get down and dirty.

This is the face of a woman on a mission:

Intense. Naomi Watts will hire Jacob from LOST to kill you if you don't give her all the Oscars. The dichotomy about her is that this thin little blonde woman with a chipmunk face can be such a badass. And that intensity is the reason.

She didn't have to be this type of actress - she's always had the looks to play glamour roles:

And she's not above appearing in sexy magazine layouts. Which only makes me respect her more. She chooses to take on roles like MULHOLLAND DRIVE, 21 GRAMS and THE IMPOSSIBLE. She doesn't have to. She could take her pick of lightweight Hollywood rom-coms and period princess dramas that don't require her to get grimy, sob believably on command, scream at the top of her lungs or come close to drowning. (And sometimes she does, when she just wants a few days at the beach. Hey, she's earned it.)

To sum up, I like Naomi Watts.

THE IMPOSSIBLE? Worth a rent.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V gameplay video - this is current-gen?!

I don't follow video games as much as I used to and I only talk here about a few series I really care about, but Grand Theft Auto has always been one of those. And holy Jeebus, watch that trailer - this is being done on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360?? I almost can't... no, I almost don't believe it. It looks so good, I am suspicious of what it's actually running on. I'd be happy with these graphics on the PS4, much less the PS3.

If this actually is running on current-gen consoles, then Rockstar North have really outdone themselves - and everybody else. No other developer can touch this.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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