29 October 2023

Summer Jam 2023: The lost summer

Yeah, dude. After years of decline, I don't know. This summer was confounded by both actually important things going on in my personal life (my pregnant wife), a waning disinterest in a lot of pop culture for primarily personal reasons (again, creating a life changes you), and a continued fracturing of what it even means to be a Summer Jam.

I'm not sure there was even one big song that you could point do and say, "Yes, that's it!" So this isn't even in any order and I'm not anointing one. That may seem like it breaks from tradition, but if you've learned anything from this site is that tradition for anything matters very little. We always focus on what our lives, actually mean, and freely disregard what we are supposed to do for what we are doing. Anyway, let's review a smattering:

Morgen Wallen brought huge crossover force to the summer and found a lot of mainstream pop success in addition to the country charts. Country might actually be getting popular, and I know that there are more country stations than any other, but that is also because radio stations exist in like five mile blocks and you need a lot to fill the...country. But real humans might actually be listening now, and this was a big summer. Anyway, it was also apparently the #1 Streamed song on Spotify.

This is probably my pick if I had to grab one. SZA has been around forever, but is also finally finding some mainstream appeal, especially with youths. This is not her best song, but easily one of her most accessible. It was on the radio forever and is very listenable. I dug it.

This was also the summer of Ice Spice, which is fun because it rhymes. Man, this is the most mispronounced song ever. My rate of mondegreens are already way too high. I can't understand anything. I thought it was about astrological signs. Again, on the radio forever and really did seem catchy. But that doesn't even matter any more, does it!? I think people liked it.

It's genuinely rare for anyone to come out with a song as popular (and superior) so an initial hit fourteen years apart, and ten years after her peak. But "Flowers" is great, unpretentious, a true maturation of Miley as an artist, which proves what a lot of knew, which is that she's far more Lady GaGa than Katy Perry - as in, she's actual artist with things to say, someone who works hard, and finds new ways to challenge herself. We're big fans.

Taylor Swift might be one of the most powerful artists (and frankly, human beings) on the planet right now. She is more powerful than the NFL. And the movies. It's wackadoodle. She keeps coming out with genuinely great hits. When do we just acknowledge her as one of our greatest artists? She had some continual hurdles or some reason. This and "Karma" are reliably great, either are fine choices for song of summer.

Dua has had some great years and Barbie (2023)'s obscene success certainly thrust this forward. It's a standard Dua Lipa song, which means it's very solid but not earth-shattering, but it also really works as a perfect song for the movie, where it can just innocuously exist but is also a legitimate banger.

Is it possible that Olivia Rodrigo isn't an industry plant after all? Nice that she's showing she's not a one-hit wonder although this isn't really any kind of step forward as an artist. It's a step sideways, which is...fine. It's not backwards awful. It's just not really anything hugely new or interesting. Will it get on a Halloween mix this year?

Obviously the Tracy Chapman version is definitive, but man this version hits hard. It wasn't all that big, but I did really dig it this summer. Somehow the blue collar cred just seeps out of this one and it becomes deeply sad. I get bummed out just about every time, but it's a good kind of bummer. 

This was definitely a song that would come on, be enjoyable, but like, you could never place the artist or what the song really was. It was a classic 5-8 spot by our old list system. Like, always around but never at the top. And again, I don't think it ever did well on streaming. Just radio. Sort of. We're in weird territory here, folks. I don't even know how we share anything.

What a great 2008 song, right? Of course it's got today's modern sampling. But there isn't really any passion here, it's two old dudes fighting for relevancy. I mean, it's fine, but this made zero splash anywhere. Except on my local radio stations that would still play it, presumably to go after the wacky dad vote. As you can tell, I'm so out of touch. It's why I'm retiring. I couldn't get into any Bad Bunny this summer.

This always reminded me of that intro song from La La Land (2016), you remember that? I feel like no one cares about La La Land anymore. Which is fine, but the future will be surprised to remember how big of a deal we felt about it at the time. This song is so light and fluffy, it really is a great summer song. It seemed like it was mildly popular.

We gotta have one Tik Tok meme song, right? Man, all this shit has just left me. Anyway, this is pretty cool, it's got a tubthumper of a beat and some pretty fire bars to land on our poor old ears. I'm down with the youth. I don't know if anyone actually listened to it, I think that maybe it didn't take off? I saw them running down the street and stuff, seemed fun.

Here's another sampled song that does work, but it also feels old and outdated. But sort of popular! It's fine. We had so many just fine songs this summer. It gets me kind of amped, right? I don't know, the original is probably better and they're just counting on nostalgia to push forward, but the truth is there are plenty of great original songs like "You Wish" out there that are genuine products of artistry. Oh well.

There were other ones like "Chemical" by Post Malone, which is just kind of dumb, and that Selena Gomez song that starts with VIBES which was cool but came out like a year ago, I guess? Anyone, one of the above, or definitely just Bad Bunny is the song of summer.

And that's probably why I'm hanging this up. It's all Bad Bunny's fault. But more accurately, it's my fault for not being able to distinguish in the slightest modern Spanish-language songs from each other. Pop culture moving on without me combined with some significant life changes are really fueling a disinterest in keeping up this section of our Fabled Blog. Maybe we'll keep doing a Fall wrap up, right around Halloween, of course, but I just think its time to move on.

Happy 2023, everyone!

03 September 2023

First Impressions: Across the Spider-Verse

 Hey Folks! What a long strange couple of months. I never get personal here, but needless to say, I've been busy. Mostly a lot of travel, including a few cross-hemispheric weddings this summer, playing a lot of Tears of the Kingdom, and also my wife is pregnant. I have seen a decent amount of films, although August was the lowest month in years. I have not been exploiting Netflix DVD's last ride quite at all, I'm afraid. I also failed to make a post in August, which is the first post-less month since we started this in June 2009.

So is this done? Maybe? I can't really see me ever being done, but I'll certainly take a step back with impending children and whatnot. But I've seen four theatrical movies this summer and it's our solemn duty to review each one, dammit. So let's pretend it's June, 2023 again and talk about Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023).

More and more I really think Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is not only one of the greatest superhero movies, greatest animated movies, but straight up greatest movies of all time. It created this new visual style which has finally started creeping into other mainstream works, it echoes and comments on a very old superhero story and still finds something new to say, is incredibly funny, and most importantly, all three aforementioned aspects relate to and enhance the actual story being told. It's amazing. So how do you follow this up?

Well, just do it again. I might give Into the edge because of its novelty, and it's always hard to really strike out on your own when you're following up such a project, but damn Across really comes close to surpassing it. It is an excessively long movie that never feels quite so long. It takes a tremendous time with its characters and dealing with all their problems and sincerely fleshes out both Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales. At first it seemed like it would just be a Gwen movie, and you could still make the deuteragonist argument, but then they circle back and give Miles both an organic advancement of his story from the first movie, but his own sincere stakes as well.

That sincerity is something that it seems like some filmmakers are having trouble coming to grips with. This and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) are so deeply, deeply silly, but the characters have real emotions and they react like real people when conflict arises and when obstacles emerge to interrupt the path to both their tangible and subtextual goals. It's why these are films people can actually connect to and why something like Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) completely falls apart, despite being equally (or more) silly. We continually learn the wrong lessons, but nothing is new there.

The basic premise is that Miles is a few years into his career as Spider-Man now (maybe even one year), but he's visibly older and more confident, although like all Spider-Men, he's having a tough time balancing school and family and all that good stuff. Gwen, having her own issues with her father and struggling to find her place after her best friend Lizard Pete died, joins a multidimensional Spider-Person task force. They succumb to temptation and see each other and then the whole world gets into a mess.

There is a lot more going on here. First of all, this series is adept at consequences. Even very minute things from Into seem to echo here. And that is also the whole point of both this movie and Spider-Man himself. This movie centers on what it means to be Spider-Man and not affecting "canon" events, or arbitrary moments that every hero deals with like deaths, that try as they might, they cannot affect lest they not learn the lesson they need to learn. This is inherent to Spider-Man. Don't do your duty and stop a burgler? Well, he killed your Uncle Ben.

It's revealed that the whole reason why Miles became Spider-Man is because of an intradimensional spider got loose and bit him, giving him both slightly odd powers and a misalignment with the other Spider-People. His universe got two Spider-Men after all, although Miles' presence got the Alpha Spider-Man killed (or so he's blamed, I mean, choose your own interpretation of what happened).

The butterfly effect carries from there. He threw a bagel (maybe everything) at a guy and he got caught in the dimensional collider and became the Spot - a great perfect throwaway villain that they joke about being an A-lister, who then turns into an A-lister. Spider-Man has too many great villains to not use them in a movie (I guess all I'm really waiting for at this point is Kraven...and no, that movie does not look good. Where's my Stegron?!). Maybe a proper Scorpion. At the same time, we've seen a lot of these jabronis on screen already, so it's fun to find a new antagonist. But then that antagonist becomes Spider-Man 2099, who treats Miles harshly for both refusing to comply with his rules about canon and frankly, for being a different, out of place Spider-Man.

And this core concept has so many ramifications. For one, what does it really mean to be Spider-Man? Or a hero in general? Are we a hero because of the tragedies that made us or can we just forge our own path and make our righteous decisions? What does it take to actually be a Spider-Man? And what doesn't seem to be written about that much is the huge elephant in the room - that Miles Morales is a Latino African-American Spider-Man.

There was this whole undercurrent in the first film that Miles had to prove he could be his own Spider-Man and do it his way. This involved the infusion of a lot more black culture than the typical Peter Parker, who is the whitest dude on earth. Not only is this a way better update for a contemporary resident of Queens and the downtrodden underdog that Spider-Man is supposed to be, but it pushes the other-ness of the character. Folks write him off, or say that he can't be a real Spider-Man. Like the best sci-fi this is interdimensional on the surface, but the subtext is racial.

The truly amazing feat is that this was all there in Into, but it's fully formed in Across. He's outright rejected as a Spider-Man because his background isn't the same as everyone else's. But he shows that he can be the best out of all of them. He outwits hundreds of Spider-Folk and earns the admiration and trust of both new and old friends because of his character, drive, and righteousness, not because it's automatic. And it's not automatic because he's not a white Spider-Man.

Continuing this theme, the first movie felt like it had a satisfying ending and could have been done, and it's also amazing that this movie makes that feel like a necessarily first installment in a trilogy. I'm not sure I've ever felt that way, maybe in the John Wick movies. Like, this is such a perfect second installment in Miles' character journey. He's no longer the naive kid, he's an experienced hero, but the big thing he needs to learn is that he doesn't know everything yet. He thinks he's got everything down pat, but he has a long way to go. It's such a crystal clear character progression. You can really see that he will hopefully become a fully formed hero by the third installment. Suddenly there is meaning to everything from the first film that echoes here.

Against all this we also have Gwen, which is where the film starts, then we get a big Miles section but she comes and goes. You can feel her pain quite a bit here, with her conflicting feelings about protecting Miles, even that means abandoning him, but that's all because of Lizard Pete. She's guarded but the movie earns it, with some of the most brilliant abstract art on film to display emotion that I've ever seen. The whole movie is gorgeous but they saved the most stunning aspect for the Gwenverse.

And apparently the animators were treated like shit, so it's important to remember workers rights. The art on display here isn't some tortured artists enacting his or her vision at all hours of the night. It was paid professionals executing someone else's vision toiling under pretty rough circumstances. Every movie needs a disclaimer now! Nothing is ever fun.

What stuck out the most is the juxtaposition of radically different animation styles simultaneously, which is downright breathtaking to behold. This of course only works because everything else is firing at such a high level. It is thankfully not the kind of film where you say "the story sucks but you gotta see it for the visuals!" You definitely need to see this for the visuals, which seem to somehow push the genre even more further than the first film, but it's also for the characters, the story progression, and the tight as hell thematic resonance.

Also SPOILER here, although if you're still reading you should know the deal with this website, the ending is mind-blowing. You can see it coming quite a bit but it doesn't deaden the impact. My only real gripe is that for again, an excessively long film that ends on a cliffhanger, it definitely Return of the King (2003)'s its ending and you're sitting there like, "Okay, I get it, let's go" but it still has a tremendous impact. I'd like to think that mostly this is because this movie series is so obsessed with genuine consequences that this should carry on for the whole third movie, with three antagonists. It should hopefully be a lot of fun.

24 July 2023

Summer Jam 2023: Mid-Summer Jam Check in 2023!

I know, your ears are blistered from all the tasty jams crushing the radio this summer! Nah, I think we literally broke somewhere in the past year. No more mainstream shared music. That's okay. We've still got some cherry jams for you here, a little past the infamous July 4th weekend.

It's just a weird time, man. Your options are country, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, or the Barbie Soundtrack. That's the deal. I might even break this column more than I usually do. Let's just throw everything at the wall in no real order.

Morgan Wallen and Jason Aldean

I heard, "Try That in a Small Town" song by Aldean, and I dunno, it's typical bizarrely defensive posturing. Morgan Wallen seems to have more crossover appeal with "Last Night" overtaking "Wasted on You" as the preeminent song. There are always some more creeping in the woodwork, but Wallen seems to be the big dude who is getting the mainstream hits right now. Probably because he's not actually overtly racist.


Yeah, pick "Karma" or "Cruel Summer" or even "Anti-Hero" still and Taylor Swift is still cranking out the jams. It's bizarre to say, but it's because she's an artist and is still coming up with things to say. The more she shakes off what she should be and the more she just puts out genuinely groundbreaking songs that continue to evolve and push her image the more success she seems to find. In an era of façade, posturing, and gilded success we yearn to latch on to something genuine. Yeah, I'm saying Taylor has it.

Bad Bunny

I'd like to throw in not just Bad Bunny, who has had a remarkable run the last few years, but other Hispanic hits like Peso Pluma and Grupo Frontera. I'm sorry that I just can't get into this stuff, but I don't want to ignore it. After all, Summer Jams exist irregardless of my opinion. But for sure they aren't playing this on my local radio. All I get is country trash. Maybe if I heard it every day I'd develop some kind of yearning for the hot Latin rhythm.


Pick Nicki, Dua, Lizzo, Billie, Charlie XCX. I mean, this soundtrack is bangin, bro. Barbie's huge, the music's huge, you love it, I love it, RED WHITE AND PINK BABY! I'm not sure how much any of this will last and it's a little late in summer for anything to jump out, but it's definitely in the zeitgeist right now.

The Rest

Is Olivia Rodrigo not actually an industry plant?! "Vampire" is pretty solid. SZA and Ice Spice and PinkPantheress are all still holding strong. "Creepin'" remix from the Weeknd, that's a thing. GaGa and Miley still creepin too. I'm not super into "fukumean" by Gunna, but that's representing all of hip hop right now.

So, that's that. What songs are you vibin this summer? Anyone rediscover any other Kate Bush songs?
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