Sunday, March 22, 2009

Everyone's at 'Skins'

"Why can't we all, all just be honest, admit to ourselves, that everyone's on it?" ponders Lily Allen on one of her best songs, "Everyone's at it". If you do not live on Mars, or if you are not completely dumb, you know that Lily's not talking about 'Desperate Housewives', but about drugs. The message is simple: illegal drugs are everywhere, and there's no point in pretending the opposite.

Apparently, my favorite British girl wasn't the first one to think like that (duh! really?) and that's where comes Skins. That show, broadly speaking, is a 90210 of England, showing the complicated lifes of beautiful teenagers full of hormones and issues to deal with. But with drugs. Lots of drugs. It is all about being cool and getting crazy as much as possible. You do drugs and you will be able to hang out with the cool guys and fuck the hot girls.

Obviously, that is only what a superficial look at Skins would lead you to believe. But if you pay closer attention, the series is not really defending the use of drugs, it is only showing life how it is. I mean, I never been to England, but I can tell you that, at least in NYU, kids do a lot of drugs. I lost count of how many times I had to say no... I'm pretty sure that happens in pretty much every college in the occidental world.

Anyway, back to Skins, the third season (which is the only one that I watched so far) basically shows the lifes of around 5 girls and 4 boys. Everyone is hot, everyone does drugs, they fuck each other a lot, there are lesbians, cute twins (one of which is lesbian), nobody has peace of mind, and the soundtrack is pop British music (and by that, I mean, music that plays in England, not necessarily made by British people). Sure I would expect to hear Lily Allen (she's everywhere!) and Klaxons, but how about Little Boots? How cool is it to listen to 'Meddle' in such a great show?

To sum up, I love 'Skins'. Despite not working, and not going anywhere, my Spring Break wasn't all bad. I have a new favorite show. Sure it exaggerates a little bit in its description of British teens (I'm assuming it does...) but, come to think of it, South Park exaggerates a lot and that's exactly what makes it so special.

Oh, and for the record. I NEVER did illegal drugs, I don't plan to do it, but I don't have a problem with people that do it. Everybody is free to do whatever increases his utility-this is an Economics expression, just don't ask me to do the same.

The day 'Family Guy' was good

July, 2006, friday night, around 1 am, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I'm bored in my bedroom doing useless stuff on internet. The phone rings. A friend (who was clearly out of options to go out with) asks if I want to go out. "There's this dance club that we always go", he says. "It's a little bit underground, but I like it a lot". I never used to go out in Rio, don't ask me exactly why, but since being at home was terribly boring, I took a very quick shower, picked a cab, and went with my friend to "Casa da Matriz". It was my first contact with "indie music". After that night, not only that guy who called me became really a friend, but also that type of music would in some sense define who I am now, and I would go pretty much every week to "Casa da Matriz" until I moved from Rio in July, 2007. Funny that when he called me I didn't have a clue about that...

March, 15, 2007, Rio de Janeiro: Sunday afternoon and I'm watching a movie at a local theather. The phone rings. My roommate (an old brazilian woman, very nice, btw), who speaks English well, tells me that a guy from New York University just called looking for me, and that I should call him when I have the chance. I knew well what that meant. Acceptance in NYU! Of course, I didn't finish the movie (funny that I don't even remember which movie was), I ran to home like my life depended on it. You know, just like in the movies, when someone is very excited or anxious (or both) about something. Up to that point, I had only rejections from big schools like Berkeley and Yale. also, just two days earlier I went out to celebrate my friends's acceptance in Harvard! I was devastated because, among other things, I had better grades than him. I knew that he was going to do better than me because, oh well, he is better than me, but I didn't expect so much. I mean, he gets in Harvard, and I get just medium schools? How is that fair? I thought at the time.

So it was really a big relief to be accepted at NYU, the first top school that I got in (I would be accepted also in UPenn and Chicago, other schools at the top of my list). Anyway, I got home that Sunday and called the professor and confirmed that I was accepted. Next day, monday morning, around 11:30 am, I'm back at home, my roommate asks me if I was happy with the acceptance and I say: "Well, I'm just back from the celebration, what do you think?". I was more relieved than happy, like letting a big burden go away. And at that time it was pretty clear that I had learned how to party hard...

I don't know why I brought these events here. I was just thinking it's funny that some days become special when you're not really expecting them to be. I mean, at that Sunday, I didn't expect a call from NYU because, among other things, "they don't work on sundays", I thought. I was very miserable and that basically saved my week.

Some day last year, Bobst Library, NYU: I was there for god knows so many hours. Suddenly, the prettiest girl ever walks to me and asks: "1994 is, like, the twentieth century right?". Paralyzed by how gorgeous she looked, I just said: "Yes". Then she did a face like she was thinking: "Oh, such a stupid question" and walked away. I never saw her again. Later I was thinking: "Oh, you could that used that as a conversation starter, maybe that was the point, or you could have said how stupid she sounded, so she would be pissed off, and you could have used that as a conversation starter, but you should have said something better than just yes!" But then it was too late. I missed the opportunity.

What I'm trying to say is that life is about expecting the unexpected, taking the opportunities when they show up. you never know when you're going to have the chance of your life, something that could completely change your destiny... or not. The important thing is to be prepared and for most of the time I think I'm not, so I should make an effort regarding that.

All of this philosophical talk was (feel the irony...) motivated by 'Family Guy'. The irony is that I was watching 'Family Guy' in a saturday night just before going out (and getting ridiculously wasted...), and I am NOT a fan of that cartoon. On the contrary, I agree with the 'South Park' view that 'Family Guy' has random (and pointless) jokes and that it's just a cheap rip off 'The Simpsons'. But, mysteriously (or not), 'Family Guy' makes me laugh sometimes and even inspired me to write about it...

Anyway, the episode was about 'Peter' (the 'Homer' of 'Family Guy') getting nostalgic and wanting to go back to when he's was 18 years old. Then, in a ridiculous, yet funny way, his wish was granted by 'Death' (you know, the guy with the black coat and the ax...), and he was able to go back in time, but just for one day. But it turns out that he decided that he didn't wanted to go out with his girlfriend 'Louis' ('Marge'?) . Instead, he spent the night with one of his friends. The problem is that, at that night, his girlfriend, being abandoned by Peter, fell in love with another guy, changing the whole future.

When Peter came back to the present, he realized that everything was different and he no longer was married to Louis, and no longer had kids. Then, after some reflection with his talking dog (ok, Family Guy, I gotta admit, dogs don't talk on 'The 'Simpsons'. Am I being too hard on them? I think I am. I'll stop now...), Peter concluded that he should never have left Louis on that night. Thank god that in the Family Guy world things are so easy, and 'Death' can make Peter go back in time again and make things right. And, then, if he screws up again, he can go back again and again, until he does the right thing. The point is: an apparently small thing turned out to be vital for Peter's future, and he had all the chances to blow it, but he didn't. The same thing goes for my life.

What if I didn't go out with my friend at that night in 2006? He called very late, and I had every reason to turn him down, but I did not. Would I be listening to MGMT if I had not go out that night? What about the interesting people (by people, I mean girls) that I knew directly or indirectly because of that? Would I still be listening to emo stuff spending my saturday nights at home? Maybe not. Maybe I would be into "Indie rock" anyway. The point is, I'll never know. In real life, there is no 'Death' to make you go back in time. so I should stick to every opportunity, no matter how small or uncertain it may look like.

This really resonates on my actual moment, not only on personal grounds (that I'll not talk about here, I don't think that would help me...) but also regarding school. I keep thinking that "there is still a long way to go, that my PHD is 4 or 5 years in total, that is like forever, right?" But it is not. It's true that what ultimately matters is my job market paper (google it, if you don't know what that is!), but maybe the courses that I'm taking right now will lead to events that will determine what kind of job I'll get. Or maybe the courses are all useless and the network connections that I make now will make a real difference. Or maybe it will be an internship. The point is, life is too short and I cannot, and I will not, let things pass by.

Wow, a simple 'Family Guy' episode led to this. I gotta give that cartoon more credit! What happened to Peter in the episode that I was talking about? I do not know. I didn't finish it because I was so eager to go out. Last night, the episode was just a way to put me in a good mood, to get psyched to go out. Only after 4 hours of dancing, sleeping, having a small hangover, and going to the gym, I gave it more thought and decided to write about it. And maybe I will watch the entire episode now... See, my life is full of small ironies.

PS: I had a great time clubbing last time. They played kids, by MGMT. That, alone, makes half of a night.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Album Review, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz!

  After the first listen, I described this album as being one with two killer singles, and a lot of songs that I wasn't comfortable with. That wasn't fair. This is probably my favorite album of the year so far (and I really liked Franz Ferdinand and Lily Allen's releases!), so here comes my final (or not) veredict about it:

"Where are the guitars?". "They are just going electronic, doing what everyone else is doing", "Karen O is not screaming as in the other records". Who cares? Apparently a bunch of closed minded fans who would be happy if one of the most talented bands of this decade just tried to rewrite 'Fever To Tell' in every album. It's true that could work. A band can survive and manage to please fans by doing exactly the same in every album (hello Kaiser Chiefs!), but the YYYs are just better than that. 

It's Blitz! is, above all, an amazing reinvention exercise, of a band who is able to change things and still remain more than interesting. 

Opener track and lead single 'Zero' gives you the right idea of the quality that you're going to find in the rest of the album. A dance track with synths a la TV On The Radio, once it takes off, it feels like nothing can stop them. 'Your a zero, what's your name, no one is gonna ask, you better find out where they want you to goo!', this has been the sound track of my life for the past weeks and I just don't see myself getting tired of it.

Things get even better with 'Heads will roll'. 'Off with your head. Dance till you're dead!'. You know that feeling of going out, getting wasted and dancing all night long like nothing else in the world matters? This is just that. I can see this taking over indie dance floors all around the world and for me is a serious candidate for track of the year.

Third song 'Soft Shock' slows down things a little bit but never too much. The party feeling doesn't really leave here, although this may please fans of slow music. 

Just when you start to think that they came up with a dance album, there comes the surprise. Many ballads trying to rewrite 'Maps' but with new and interesting elements. Most critics seem to love 'Skeletons' (Pitchfork gave it grade 8, for a mainstream band that's a lot) but I'm really not into it. I just think it takes too long to take off, but anyway it's a small defect in a very good album.

"Dull Life' is just old school YYYs. Strong guitars and drums, lots of screaming. 'Orgasmic' is how a friend described me this track when the album leaked. I think it is a a prefect description.

In 'Runaway', they push harder in new directions. A ballad starting with just piano! Sure it is very different that what you could expect from them, but I see a potential to become a fans favorite. Beautiful!

At first listen, I didn't like 'Hysteric', but it is definitely a grower. In some sense, you find the best balance here the YYYs from 'Maps' and the new dance floor friendly group from 'Heads will roll'. And I always admired the way this bands talks about love, without being too cliche. After "they don't love you I love you" form 'Maps', Karen O sings here 'Flow sweetly, hang heavy, you suddenly complete me'. It's such a touching moment. I just can't get enough of it.

The album closes with 'Little Shadow' where YYYs teach U2 how to aim big without being boring. A song to sing along, to get sentimental, but without losing the personality that was always characteristic of this band. A very nice way to close the album.

But don't think the party is over just yet. Bonus track "Clap Song' is a surprisingly nice pop moment, with strong synths as in 'Zero'. Why do they always do this? Songs this good shouldn't be 'bonus tracks'. 

"Last on the village scene, fall apart, I'm hot, more alive than you've ever been", sings Karen O in 'Dull life'. At age 30, she is at the top of her game and she knows that. With another complex yet accessible pop effort, YYYs might have just become bigger than the sound.

9 out of 10