Monday, August 21, 2017

The War On Drugs’ “Pain” Video Captures Philadelphia In A Unique Way

On Monday, Philadelphia band The War On Drugs released a captivating video for “Pain,” a single from their forthcoming album A Deeper Understanding. The video mixes shots of Philadelphia with clips of the band playing on a barge sailing along the Schuylkill River. Shot entirely in black and white, the film looks as if it belongs in U2’s epic concert film Rattle and Hum.

While the pensive mood of Adam Granduciel’s lyrics are a stark contrast to the groove that soothes, the video captures a uniquely Philadelphia vibe that is similar to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s 1991 video for “Summertime.” Both videos used the Schuylkill River as the centerpiece of short films that primarily shunned the obvious shots and captured more localized parts of the city. Instead of sticking to the Art Museum and City Hall, “Pain” opens with children riding bicycles underneath an overpass. As it proceeds, the video flashes to different parts of the city and its people in a way that helps relay the emotion of the song.

A Deeper Understanding will be released on August 25. The War On Drugs will begin their tour in support of the album at the newly-revamped Dell Music Center in Philadelphia on September 21. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To “Beyond The Wall”

This post contains spoilers of the Game of Thrones Episode “Beyond The Wall” and prior episodes of the series.

Game of Thrones has traditionally saved its most stunning scenes for the penultimate episode of a season. Ned Stark lost his head, the Battle of Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the battle for the Wall, Daenerys harnessing the power of her dragons, and the Battle of the Bastards all took place in the second-to last show of the every season. For the first time in seven years, Game of Thrones has produced a more balanced season and “Beyond The Wall” was just one in a series of action-packed episodes of this installment of the series.

The three plots of the episode featured mixed results. Daenerys continued her bizarre questioning of Tyrion’s loyalty and the Stark sisters clashed again. Both of these plots are frustrating and neither is having an enjoyable direction. Even though Tyrion was named as Daenerys’ most important adviser, her logic for questioning his judgment makes little sense and is only way to create unnecessary friction in the Targaryen camp. Similarly, the drama at Winterfell is needless. The Starks have finally reunited, yet Sansa and Arya are interrogating each other and Bran is flashing occasional omnipotence that has not proven to be terribly helpful.

One week after the ill-conceived, but enticing, plot of kidnapping a member of the army of the dead was hatched, “Beyond The Wall” did not disappoint. Flaming swords, a frozen lake, and an encircled band of warriors all made for a unique circumstance. The sequence was well-filmed and another testament to the production crew of Game of Thrones.

The clash beyond the Wall featured three outcomes: one was predictable and the other two were more unforeseen. Daenerys swooping in with her dragons to save the day was really the only logical outcome to the group’s predicament.

As unlikely as it was that Jon Snow would die again, his rescuer was not as anticipated as Daenerys’ dragons. Benjen Stark had previously rescued his other nephew, Bran, in Season Six. His first appearance this season was brief, but amazing. Benjen hacking through the Army Dead with his flaming flails was an unexpected and refreshing twist to the episode.

The biggest (and least predictable) outcome was Daenerys losing one of her three dragons and what became of one of her scaled children. After centuries of a dormant war between the living and the dead, the dead were better prepared for Daenerys’ dragons than anyone in Westeros or Essos. The dragon received an epic death as it crashed through the ice, but its resurrection was more shocking and creates more exciting possibilities. Will the dragon breathe ice or fire? Will it clash with its brothers in the sky? Will it fly over the Wall?

All of these future stories are intriguing and create a new dynamic as the dead look to defeat the living. The other emerging plots of the season seem to be more directionless and excessive. An inquest of Tyrion’s loyalties and Stark family drama are derailing the known qualities of previously well-established characters. The most important stories of this season have been handled well, but Game of Thrones is creating extraneous drama that is threatening to undermine the final seasons of the series. 

Is There A Streaming Content Bubble?

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal published an article that heralded Apple’s intent to spend $1 billion to create original content for streaming in 2018. With an indelible level of brand excellence in so many different fields, it feels like Apple will not fail to create buzzworthy programs. Apple and its competitors may be running into a different challenge. The market for good streaming content and in-home entertainment has never been stronger, but with a rapidly growing number of options is there a bubble hovering over the expansion of streaming content?

Netflix began streaming content in 2007. In 2013 the watershed series House of Cards was released and the possibilities for in-home entertainment changed overnight. Streaming companies could now release an entire season of television at once and feed our binge-watching habits. It may now seem like a moment from the Stone Ages of Streaming, but Kevin Spacey's appearance on The Colbert Report in 2013 included a discussion of the merits of bingeing television. Bingeing is such a natural part of our viewing options now, but four years ago House of Cards changed how audiences watch programs. 

Kevin Spacey on The Colbert Report, 8/4/13

After initially relegating their streaming options to Netflix or cord-cutting services, major networks like NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS have already used various applications to explore ways to broadcast their own content. Amazon Prime has also created shows like The Main In The High Castle and Alpha House. Streaming company Hulu has not only begun developing original shows, but is also launching its own live streaming service (Hulu Plus). Earlier this week it was announced that Disney would withdraw their property from Netflix by 2019 to create two channels. One channel will be dedicated to Disney and Pixar and the second would feature content from ESPN.

Over the last two years Netflix has already invested $11 billion towards original content in anticipation of this streaming spree. Instead of being left without enticing content in the streaming wars, the service has decided to focus on developing programming in order to keep their massive subscriber base.  Despite being over $20 billion in debt, Netflix has allotted $7 billion for 2018 and plans to become their own content provider.

With this type of large-scale investment and emphasis on original content, the saturation of entertainment seems like an inevitability. The options with just Netflix alone are already overwhelming. In May of 2017 the company released a plethora of high-profile shows: Sense8, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Keepers, and House of Cards along with comedy specials from Tracy Morgan, Sarah Silverman, and Hasan Minhaj. In June, the network followed with another slate of shows that included Orange Is The New Black and the fantastic new show G.L.O.W. With all of this content available at the same time it can be challenging to stay current with television. Unlike a typical network schedule, entire seasons are now available at once. While they can be watched at a leisurely pace, the social media-driven urgency of Must See TV is no longer a single night, but a rush to keep up with the Joneses and binge the most popular shows as quickly as possible.

Major corporations like Disney are not the only companies to enter the market. Unlike any other aspect of modern entertainment, the Internet provides the opportunity for entrepreneurship. The market allows for investment from big names in entertainment like Kevin Hart. The superstar comedian launched the Laugh Out Loud app in August. The app includes scripted and unscripted comedy and the entire Def Jam series. Smaller apps like VRV can deliver shows with a devoted following like My Brother, My Brother and Me to a targeted audience and grow their brand with similar product. These apps also have the potential to focus on diverse multicultural audiences that have been shunned by network television and grow quality content.

This mass of quality entertainment is already running up against a wall. There are only so many hours in a day and the vast amount of entertainment is already at an all-time high level. With network television in decline, the average audience for a show will continue to dwindle because customers are leaving traditional television for streaming. This will continue as the number of options grows. Another factor that will enter the equation is that most people will only subscribe to a limited number of apps. The combined cost of signing up for different apps to watch Disney, Netflix, ESPN, Laugh Out Loud, and Amazon Prime in addition to other regular options such as network television and premium channels like HBO or Showtime is likely to have a negative effect on the marketplace.

There is only so much time and money that an audience can invest in watching television. Will the billions of dollars being spent receive a good enough return to continue this wealth of entertainment and is this rush of quality entertainment really a bubble about that is about to burst?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Song Exploder Dissects Music's Modern Masters

There are many layers to a hit song that may not stand out as fans hear music from even the most well-known artists. A listener may catch on to the drums, a vocal, or a guitar riff, but it is rare to dissect the separate components of every hit that comes out. Music fans usually just appreciate a song in its complete form. The fascinating podcast Song Exploder excels at taking apart a track and digging into the creative process of a wide variety of musicians.

The podcast is created and hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, although the musicians are typically the only voices heard in each episode. As Hirway interviews each artist, the podcast includes isolated parts from a select recording and the musicians explain the origin of each part. Most episodes are between 15 to 20 minutes in length and provide an interesting takeaway about a song. While certain technical aspects are explored, at no point does the podcast overwhelm with studio minutia.

At times the musicians’ explanations can be exorbitant (the seven-year process to create Solange’s “Cranes In The Sky”) or focus on the happy accident (the Lumineers’ microphone clipping during “Ophelia”). Song Exploder will also delve into what did not make it on to the song. The Lumineers had recorded “Ophelia” with the help of the E-Street Band’s horn section. Their efforts were ultimately withheld from the final take because of how the horns changed the tone of the music. You can hear some of the horn section’s contribution on the episode and listen to how their addition altered the band’s traditional sound. Hearing the different cuts of the same song encapsulates why Song Exploder can be interesting for music fans. It highlights the experimentation that can occur in the studio and allows for insight into the creative process.

To date, Song Exploder has already focused on high-profile artists like U2, Michael Kiwanuka, Solange, and Gorrillaz. While most of the song choices are hits like Phoenix’s “Ti Amo,” the podcast also looks at less obvious choices as well. The Black Key’s Patrick Carney was not interviewed for any songs from his Grammy-winning band, but about his instrumental theme for the Netflix series Bojack Horseman.

The most recent episode featured St. Vincent, who discussed her new single “New York.” St. Vincent not only broke down the evolution of the track, but commented on how her affinity for swearing found its way into the song. In a way that is typical of Song Exploder, she also credited the contributions of other artists, such as Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. Guests like St. Vincent help make the podcast unique. Even though it is more customary to watch a documentary that analyzes the recording of a classic rock album like Pink Floyd or The Beatles, Song Exploder profiles work from both established and rising musicians. This allows for the feeling that you are listening to the construction of a classic from a well-chosen roster of contemporary masters.  

Prior episodes of Song Exploder can be found at: