26.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.10

Some nodules:

Last post we talked about crazy. WE SPOKE TOO SOON. This one was straight-up mental in the best possible way. Things going bump in the night. IN YOUR HEAD.

Acclaimed comix artist John Cassaday (who worked on Whedon's Astonishing X-Men) is responsible for the direction, and if this was his first gig, props props props! The shootout, the giant snowcapped tree, the apocalypse. Everything looked gorgeous. And a generous helping thrills and scares. Perfect.

The obligatory Tony + Priya SO CUTE squeek over here. SQUEEK! ... and I'm done.

As for the ending, well this is what we've been waiting for! The leading figures in the Dollhouse becoming a TEAM. A family fighting alone against the world. This is where Buffy, Angel and Firefly STARTED from. This is what all Whedon products are ABOUT. And with this show, we had to wait TWO FREAKIN YEARS before we get there. That, in a nutshell, is why Dollhouse failed to engage the fans and the wider audience.

Great reveal and everything, but did DeWitt had to be so cruel to everyone beforehand? A bit storytelling > character, I feel...

But WHO CARES! We have definite Scoobies vs. Big Bad set up now. ONWARDS!

25.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.9

Some nibbles:

So many odd frames! It's like everything is slightly skewed! Simple, and very NOT radio-with-faces. Much appreciated.

Also, that shot of DeWitt in a drunken stupor... classic! And the oner that follows her into the Dollhouse's communal shower... slick. Props Mr. Director Man!

Then again, the final stand-off between Echo and the hive-mind soldiers was a tad silly-looking. But how would YOU shoot that scene, huh? That's the thing about this show. The stories are another degree of crazy. How do you translate them for television on the cheap? Ultimately, I'll put up with the silly if there's enough clever.

And the clever in this episode? Soldiers are dolls -- programmed machines. Individuality, meaning, purpose, is excess to requirements. But love breaks through all mind-washes. Awww!

Speaking of, Priya and Antony are just THE CUTEST!! I think I may have said that already... like ten billion times.

Ballard's on the bench, because dead. How long will that last, I wonder...

And DeWitt at the end, bathed in the blue of the electric chair, the whites of her eyes glistening. Inhuman. Even dolls she's programmed refuse to give her what she wants. Jealousy, resentment, loneliness, fear. She has no allies anymore. No family. And so... scary white glistening eyes.

24.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.8

Some neurons:

Such a good teaser. Bankrupt guy loves a woman who doesn't exist. An "abstraction". The idea of her is what sustains him even when he can't have her anymore. But then Alpha comes in -- it's not enough.

That ideal, abstract woman is only a part of Echo, and Echo is bigger than that. The ideal is not as true and complex as a real human being. And that's what Alpha is interested it. A love supreme, one that encompasses the entire person. Real, equal, reciprocal love. Echo's clients settled for less, which is why Alpha kills them. But Ballard didn't. He wants Echo whole. And Echo loves him for it, which is why Alpha wants to be Ballard.

But is Ballard all that great? Joel calls him a "freak" when he hears he's working for the Dollhouse, and with good reason. We are reminded again -- Ballard hasn't saved Echo. He actually puts her back inside the Dollhouse, sure with Echo's concent and in order to take it down, but the way he can live with the means to that end is slightly disconcerting. We also have the stuff from the previous episode, where he can't accept that Echo is ready to make choices about who she loves. There's something about Ballard that just cannot stop fighting battles, which is both admirable and a little... freaky.

Great stuff between DeWitt and psychologist-Victor. Dewitt has to control her sexuality. Letting go is met with chastisement, punishment. Power requires a repression of femininity. The guys don't have to deal with that. (It's very cruel that Victor is the one telling her this -- her one weakness.) And Dewitt is jealous of Echo, who's sexuality, moulded my men (virgin, whore), is celebrated. She has personal reasons for torturing her.

Great stuff between Joel and Echo as well. The memories of the dead remain in our minds, like imprints. They become a part of who we are.

And of course we have to end with Echo. "What does that make her?" asks Topher, when he discovers she can remember and recall all her imprints. A free agent, is the answer. And what does that make Topher? "Obsolete", as he himself realizes. He's not in control anymore. Echo can choose who she wants to be.

I should really say this more often, but Eliza Dusku has been brilliant this season, perhaps because she now has more of a stable personality to work with. Major probs. Could have been the next Sarah Michelle Gellar, I'm sure of it.

23.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.7

Some nebulas:

Confronted by the workings of a free and unequal distribution of resources backed up by the full force of the law -- i.e. CAPITALISM -- Echo snaps and remembers how to ass-kick. Long live the revolution!

The central idea of the second season is repeated again. The show is no longer about recovering a pristine Caroline. Echo cannot go back, only forwards. The realization only fully arrives when she understands that Caroline wasn't perfect. Maybe Echo can do better than Caroline. Maybe she should have this body, this life. Maybe she deserves it more.

Echo can make choices now. She is a free agent. But Ballard can't get Caroline out of his head. He still thinks Echo is a mutant, a schizo, dangerous. He's still not getting it.

As for what is going on in the Dollhouse... search me. Everyone is dissembling. Toph's secret is uncovered, but what Boyd, Ballard and DeWitt are really up to, who knows?

22.11.10

Favourite songs of 2010

Going out early, because I want to preempt everyone else’s lists. Also, I’ve been sitting on and mulling over the playlist for too long. Need to get it out and have done with it already.

If last year was a pop music supernova for me, this year was like the big bang. An entire new universe of squelchy bleeps, bass growls, ominous wobbles and echoing voices opened up. Yes, yet another university-educated, middle-class whiteboi falls prey to the lures of dubstep, and its much maligned scary-turned-poppy cousin grime. I owe my interest in this stuff to Simon Reynolds, who’s writings on the subject of the “hardcore continuum” have led me to re-acquire loved and lost garage classics, and beyond that to dip toes in the bewitching noise of jungle and rave. Shout out to Blackdown a.k.a. Martin Clark as well for providing much guidance for the uninitiated. His Pitchfork round-ups have given me a very useful history of the past five years, in which I’ve generally preferred to spend my days listening to bookish indie kids.

I haven’t given that stuff up, by the way. I remain an enthusiastic dabbler in many genres, scene-less, voyaging on the infinite sense-stream of the internet. I’ve been to about four gigs this year, no raves. I consume music in isolation, detached from the cultures that produced it. This vantage-point is both good and bad, I think. Heavy investment in a single scene gives you community and solidarity, and can up the music’s raptures. But it can also place limits on your vision. On the internet, there are no borders or us-and-them binaries. Only me, and what distracts me away from real life for the next five minutes. And I’ve always been more of a breadth over depth person anyways... Also, investment requires time and money, resources I wish to spend on a great number of other things besides music. It can only be a small compartment in my life, which is kept mostly tucked away, drawn out only when I should be reading Montesquieu...

This list has rules, as all lists must. One track per artist, because it’s long enough already. A release date in 2010, and yes there are difficulties with this one, what with internet leaks and the insular dubplate culture that reigns over the dubstepping crowd. The bigger problem is the fact that I’ve spent more time in 2010 listening to music released before 2010, so the list only partially reflects my tastes this year. The grime massive suffers particularly. Oh well. Sorry chaps! Try harder! The list is divided into genres, to make it sound nicer on spotify. Yes, there is a spotify link at the bottom of the post for your easy reference. Most of the tracks are there in some form. No real order, although we shall of course begin with my track of the year. Which is...

Creepy Crawler (Reckless Soldier / Jungle Mix) - Terror Danjah feat. Triple Threat, Funsta, Shabba D, D Double E, Skibadee, Bruza, Melo D, Hitman Hyper, Ragga Twins

After all that talk about rules, bit of a cheat really, since this first appeared on an Aftershock compilation in 2008. But that album was leaked by Danjah on twitter earlier this year, and this particular track was brushed up and included as a bonus on Danjah’s Undeniable, also released this year. Which is enough of an excuse for it to go in. Stop complaining.

Plus, I like the circularity it gives to my year in music, which started with me rhapsodizing about the Run The Road compilation. In that post I included a link to Danjah’s “Cock Back” as an example of this music’s terrifying and compulsive energy. Well, “Reckless Soldier” has all of that PLUS an awareness of history, calling back to grime’s roots in jungle and even, with the Ragga Twins at the end, rave. It’s the only fitting symbol for the journey I’ve been on this year. And it captures in miniature something huge which I missed in the 90s, when I was busy being a kid and listening to Will Smith. Around me, unawares, MCs were yabbering over jungle riddims on pirate radio stations. How I wish I had listened to them!

But forget all that. Just listen to THIS thing. The sci-fi bleeps and bass stomps, the inhuman percussion, the way it pulls back and skanks before piling on the hyper-kinetic madness. And the MCs damage the track with infectious relish and gusto: Bruza’s home-grown ‘avin it attitude, D Double’s incomprehensible gibberish, Hyper’s arm-wave to the massive, Shabba reppin his endz. This pack of nutters are not to be denied. You WILL get crunk! You have no choice in the matter. This is what it’s all about -- the need for release. And because the pressure of the environment is so high, and the gaps out of it are so small, the release is manic, demonic, almost desperate. It’s blinding euphoria emanating from the dark urban jungle. The future sound of London in all its awe, terror and glory.

Grime has settled into a comfort zone these past couple of years that isn’t particularly inspiring anymore. I guess that edge of desperation is gone. The only Danjah-unrelated highlight for me this year was hearing D Double E’s freestyle over S-X’s ‘Wooo” riddim on 1Xtra. Big up 1Xtra, btw. If 6Music had disappeared, it would have assumed the status of my default listening preference when I’m on kitchen duties. Very glad it exists. Back to D Double, “Bad 2 Tha Bone” is basically an update of Big-E-D’s “Frontline”, but with the Newham General even more insane and inventive than he was in 2004. Which is saying something.

On to the post-dubstep diaspora. Two producers have reigned supreme for me (and many others) this year. But we’re on tracks, aren’t we? Top spot goes to another jungle homage -- Ramadanman’s “Don’t Change For Me”. The renegade snares are nothing new, I suppose, but the chopped up hyph-y vocal adds a new degree of compression to the elation, the exaltation, the riotous jubilation. And that’s only the first two and a half minutes. A delirious arpeggiating synth comes in, and the vocal hook returns echoed and receding, a memory of ecstasy rather than ecstasy itself. If dubstep really is the hardcore continuum becoming aware of its history, it’s also about the new generation’s awareness of having missed out. We are living in the twilight years, and we yearn for that past that shone all too briefly.

David Kennedy is followed closely by James Blake and his “Postpone”, which takes two minutes of clumsy moans and shuffles to step out onto a plateau of resplendent morning sunshine, complete with horn fanfare. Blake’s output this year has been terribly involving, but there’s no time to go into it here. Other highs: Joy Orbison will never match last year’s enormous “Hyph Mgno”, and thankfully he isn’t trying on “So Derobe”, which settles for bubbling loved-up garage instead. Raffertie restrained the wobble this year, but with “7th Dimension” proved he didn’t need it. DVA infused last year’s “Natty” with lots of soulepower and released it as “Just Vybe”, turning murk to truly divine funkiness. Fellow hyperdubber Cooly G’s constant teasing on “Phat Si” ultimately won me over, although don’t ask me to dance to it. Pinch’s “Elements” almost reaches “Qawaali” levels of itching menace. Finally, a bit cheeky to include Ramadanman’s refix of Jamie Woon’s “Night Air”. IT’S MY HEART. What can I say?

In goth/witch-house news: Crystal Castles’ sophomore album ends up as my favourite longplayer of the year, due to a lack of anything better. Apparently, goths like to go raving in forests, although me being me, I’ve settled on the low-key “Violent Dreams” as the object of my dearest affections. Zola Jesus is a reassuring mother hen on “Night”, which is what everyone needs, particularly if there is no Bat For Lashes available. Salem’s “King Night” wraps apocalyptic choirs around dirty south hip-hop and welcomes you to his horror show. Balam Acab is a bit milder on “See Birds (Moon)”, which shimmers very prettily between bass lurches. “Ready For The World” by How To Dress Well sounds like a mumbling Burial, but you would mumble too if you were trapped in that dank reverberating fog, with just that little vocal snippet for comfort.

In chillwave news (a diffuse genre if ever there was one) the following mpfrees stood out from the crowd. Active Child’s “She Was A Vision” anchors its swirls with massive drums and piercing synths, to the point where the guy’s harp becomes pretty obsolete. White Hinterland’s “Icarus” pleasantly pulses and breezes, and the drums skip merrily along, providing just enough groove to sway to. Memoryhouse’s “Sleeping Patters” feels like those few minutes before the alarm clock rings. Twin Sister’s “Lady Daydream” coos just enough for you to forget the slightly clumsy lyrics. Elite Gymnastics relegated “Is This On Me?” to a b-side, because they are idiots. The dull vocalist is buried under a thousand layers of rich orchestral electronic psychedelia. Good save. “Heaven’s On Fire” by the Radio Dept. kicks off with some anti-capitalist spiel, before deciding to take you to the beach. Bunch of hippies. Chad Valley showed everyone that the Brits can do this hazy house stuff just as well as anyone with “Up and Down”. NDF’s “Since We Last Met” quivers fleetingly while an echoed vocal looks forward to the point when forgetfulness makes the pain go away. “Everything Is Working” by Games is just gusts of icy breath before the beat drops. And then all kinds of noises and voices drift in, retreat, come back, retreat, until a single voice is left crying ‘too young...’ A lot more interesting than the stuff Oneohtrix has done on his own. The spirit of Dilla lives on in “Maximalist” by Baths, only it’s gone surfing the Milky Way. And Lone’s “Raptured” throbs along like any other Lone track, until those arpeggios twist you right up, and then the snares get interesting, and then the arpeggios return. But you always have that sample to get you back on the straight and narrow.

In hip-hop news, little to report this year. Big Boi’s album could not BUT be disappointing, since the best cuts were leaked online before it came out. Of which, “General Patton” gets the nod here. Fat Sax rides out in front of a giant horde of orcs and proceeds to slew every rapper that ever lived. How did he manage that? He finally learned to spit SLOWLY, laying out the various reasons for his superiority so that even the biggest idiot can get the picture. That biggest idiot being, of course, me. Also, Eminem is back again, although his best work is not on his own album, but on what he did to B.o.B’s “Airplanes”. Verse of the year goes to Nicki Minaj on Kanye’s “Monster”, but the rest of the song was absolutely dire. Thankfully, “Go Hard” (originally from 2009, but on a mixtape comp released this year) is a good enough alternative. Finally, more dancehall than hip-hop, but the “Boy Shorts remix” by Mr. Vegas and Teairra Mari has to go in. Pisses on Rihanna’s “Rudeboy” from great height. Once again, hold tight 1Xtra for putting me on to this.

In dance/pop news, it was Robyn’s year alright. For more on “Cry When You Get Older”, go here. Meanwhile, Hot Chip’s “One Life Stand” is rather mediocre until Joe Goddard comes in with his falsetto, and then the chorus, and then the Knife-like stabbing synths. And that’s pretty much perfection right there. Hated faux-lesbian Katy Perry rights all wrongs with the inescapable and irresistible “California Gurls”. Designed as a riposte to Jay-Z’s “Empire” of last year. By my reckoning, if it doesn’t succeed, it also doesn’t fail. Plus, it has Snoop doing the sleazy patriarch thing. And Perry having the stones to shoot whipped cream from her tits in the video. What’s Jay gonna do now, huh?? Dubstep went pop this year, and while Katy B’s “Mission” was great, Diplo’s rework of Sunday Girl’s “Four Floors” beats it by doing the emotion thing better. Arthur Baker’s remix of “Life Magazine” by Cold Cave does little apart from make the song BIGGER, which is exactly what it needed. “Rockin That Thang” by Telephoned is about as joyous as electro gets. “Marchin In” by Lo-Fi-Fnk is happy bashing piano chords and singing stupid hooks, and you should be happy about that too. “Girls Night” by First Rate People has the cutest hook of the year, and then this DUMB DUDE muscles in and starts singing all over it! Ruined, I thought. But actually the interplay between the two elements is quite winning. The song is ABOUT dumb dudes being dumb, and that’s not so bad.

In indie/rock news. Japanese Voyeurs don’t want to let grunge go, but if they keep giving us vulnerable monsters like “Smother Me”, then that’s alright by me. Male Bonding lord over their American noise-garage-rock superiors by relentlessly rushing towards the lowest common denominator on “Year’s Not Long”. All the better for it. The latest album by Los Campesinos! had to have two tracks removed before it could be enjoyed properly (Gareth should NOT croon). Fave song keeps changing, but I’ll settle for “Straight In At 101” as probably the best introduction to what they are about. Johnny Foreigner’s new album, bar the singles, was a disappointment, but “With Who, Who And What I’ve Got” (bleepy version) restored my faith. Get it here. A free mp3 by Freelance Whales called “Generator Second Floor” had been floating around my library for a good while this year, and I’ve only just realized that it’s great. Will investigate further. Broken Social Scene return with a decent if not spectacular effort. The Emily Haines ballads are always the best things on each of their albums, and “Sentimental X’s” is a worthy addition to the group. It’s about the shift between ‘used’ and ‘used to call’. And is that “X” an ex or a kiss? It’s both. The title of the album says it all. Call it forgiveness. The Besnard Lakes finally release a good song in the form of “Albatross”. Took long enough. Glasser’s “Home” makes up for no Bat For Lashes this year even more than Zola Jesus does. And we end with Sharon Van Etten’s devastating “Love More”, which words can barely describe. Just listen.

Here’s how:
http://open.spotify.com/user/iliapop/playlist/6FWcQ2EIDe8tleykUugUWG

19.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.6

Some notations:

Still heavy on the PLOTPLOTPLOT, but this time there was slightly more something else. A shame that Denisof ruined it a tad with the horrible overacting. The arch pull-in to close-up didn't help matters. But yes: "we can be who we decide to be". What the show is all about.

Bennett turns out to be slightly less interesting. She's envious, bitter and out for revenge. Seems to be out of control too. One wonders why she is allowed to keep her job after stitching-up her house so badly.

But who cares, really? It's Summer Glau! Being cute with Topher, sadistic with Echo and creepy, scary and sad when she is alone. Great work, despite the character not being all that much.

Speaking of Topher, how about Viktor doing Topher? And how about Topher and Viktor-Topher talking about girls? How about that "backdoor" innuendo? High-larious high-jinks! Levity! More please!

Pleased to see that the show doesn't let characters go without giving them a little space to say something. Here, Cindy Perrin has a short scene to talk about how horrible it is to be married to someone you can't stand. She sold the venom as perfectly as she sold the sunny affection in previous episodes. And then she got strangled to death. Pity, that.

It's Ballard and Sierra's turn to sit on the bench. But with so much going on, it's difficult to fit them in anyway...

Ms. DeWitt turns on the seduction, and you start wondering how far she'll degrade herself to get what she wants. But then she turns on the power. And the threat. And you're rooting for her all the way. Which is also what the show is all about.

16.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.5

Some nectarines:

This one was all PLOTPLOTPLOT and not a lot else. So what to say? Ummm... Well, I do wonder if THIS was the pace and style of the show from the very beginning, would it have got a larger viewership? And would it have been less interesting? I mean, say what you like about the GODAWFUL looking pop star and religious cult episodes from Season One, but they built up patterns across plotlines, used visual symbols and generally arrived at some kind of wraparound theme. Here, we just have relentless forward momentum. Keeps you guessing, sure, but you're left with cliffhangers, not ideas.

Still, pretty good cliffhangers, particularly the end of the second act. And most of the final scene didn't make any sense to me, although I WAS busy riding the high of seeing Summer Glau again. She is (once again!) brilliant at playing strange, scary AND sympathetic. The growing Mutant Enemy stable of actors is a fine pool of talent. Hollywood should take note.

So, the episode answered a lot of old questions, and posed a great many more. It was efficient, fast, engaging, like any good sci-fi action show should be. At the same time, there was less of the funny, clever, weird, embarrasing, unique stuff that made me love Dollhouse in the first place, despite its glaring formal flaws. So... I'm in the middle, and curious as to where the show goes from here.

14.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.4

Some notaries:

Hey now where is Ballard? The commentary reveals all. Show has no money, so we get less actors. Boo! Thankfully, there is enough stuff going on so that we don't feel the absence.

Like, with Boyd! Finally! Of course he'll have a dark past. What paternal character in a Whedon show doesn't? Those father figures... ya just can't trust 'em.

And Topher starts to open up. Finally! DeWitt, as usual, does the spelling out. You don't have a conscience, you just like to play with people. And now someone is taking your toys away. But what really makes Topher spiral is the comparison with this episode's bad guy -- the brain doctor who fucks up Sierra's mind, enslaves her and rapes her. Isn't Topher pretty much doing the same thing? Isn't HE also the bad guy? In the end he gets his toy back, but he's not sure if he wants to play anymore.

Dichen Lachman isn't here for the funnies this episode. She's her for the happy, defiant, angry, scary, crazy, horrified, sad, etc, etc, ET CETERA. Astonishing stuff.

Meanwhile, Victor does Italian and cute, fluffy bunny. SO CUTE! Marvellous. The love blossoms are not corny enough for me to resist the sappy. Go sap!

Two songs this episode. The first ("Drones") performed by Jed Whedon. Lovely stuff. The second is only "Travelling Woman" by freaking BAT FOR LASHES. As soon as those piano chords drifted in I knew. Pumped. And for sitting through all the terror and darkness, we are rewarded with a beautifully hopeful shot at the end.

If we forget all about the second episode, this second season is shaping up pretty well...

6.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.3

Some noties:

Hey Ballard! Wanna dance?
'Not overly.'
...but Victor does!

Funnies make a triuphant return. As does Boyd. But no Sierra? Sadface!

Love the lingering shot of DeWitt just as Ballard is talking about pushing people away and being surrounded by copies. And the irony DOES NOT END!

Meaty stuff from Minear and Solomon, this. They have a question for ya: is a woman who exploits her sexuality for her own ends empowered? Creepy medievalist thinks so -- the Wife of Bath is NOT a whore, she doesn't let men define her, she uses the power all women have to make men her slaves. Butbutbut, (OH irony!) he is speaking to a woman he has defined! He is, in fact, the master. And Echo is his whore.

Cross-cut with creepy serial killer, because Terry also treats women as toys, although (SO MUCH irony!) his methods are cruder than those of the Dollhouse. Terry uses the power that all men have -- violence. But through some macguffin his power is transferred to Echo. Prey turns into predator, and we don't find out if the prof survives. Echo in turn gives it to Terry's prospective victims. You have to kill him, she says, or he'll kill you. If you are menaced by a monster, you have to become a monster, at least a little bit, in order to survive. Hence that final reveal -- scary and sad. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

4.11.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.2

Some notez:

Apparently Topher codes instincts now. Echo can't forget being a mother because her body isn't letting her. You lactate, you have a 'maternal instinct', you cannot be fucked with. Umm... kinda weird territory, isn't it? Is motherhood all about biology?

Of couse, the guy can't do the fatherhood thing properly, because... what? The biology isn't there? Instead, only psychological hurdles need to be overcome -- Nate has to stop thinking his son killed his wife.

Again, very strange ground the show has found itself in. Where did the feminism go, guys?

Not a total bust, however. The episode did draw a rather interesting parallel between the way Madeline and Echo deal with the loss of their children. The former chose to forget, and has become comfortable, cold, 'not sad'. The latter chooses to remember, letting the sadness in, because feeling something is better than feeling nothing at all. John Keats would have liked that sentiment.

Looks like Senator Wesley is this season's Paul Ballard. How very last year. You wonder where this will go. THERE'S A MOLE AGAIN! Yawn...

The teaser. Exposition much? Clunk!

The thunder and butcher's knife combo was a bit OTT, really. Buffy etc. could get away with such silliness, because it spent much of the time aping and mocking genre cliches. Dollhouse is going for a serious sci-fi feel, so these references end up becoming straight cliches. Fail.

Where is Boyd?

Where are the jokes?

Where for the love of any and all gods is Joss Whedon?