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With her mix of outlandish and vintage outfits and shoes, pre-teen overtones, pastel toned dresses and matching background, Poppy utters nonsensical and charmingly curious soundbites to a poignant réverbèrent ambient synth music background. With robotic gestures and a scripted voice, perfect smiles and perfect sad faces, doll-like postures, Poppy evokes a sort of ersatz product of some over-scrubbed never-never land of innocence stretched like a thin skin over a garbled interior of ill-fitting experiences of a wider world beyond innocence. Studying the Poppy phenomenon requires some degree of patience – how else can anyone sit through a ten minute video of her saying “I’m Poppy” and “I am poppy” in various tones; ten minutes of “Why don’t they listen? Why won’t they listen? I don’t think they’re gonna listen”; a thirty minute video of a repeating xylophone where two keys alternately play the same then different notes in a way that is both maddeningly irritating and compellingly difficult to skip or stop. While I admit I did not watch those videos fully, I have invested significant time in watching the majority of the others – given that most of them are a minute or less and easy to catch up on intermittently. That said, I did indeed watch the 49 and 24 minute videos of her reading from the bible non-stop. Something about that robot doll voice mindlessly intoning the impregnably lineage of biblical figures – it’s an easy target for easily offended sky-wizard worshippers, while plainly laying out the absurd notion that these texts, in and of themselves, are in any way magically charged with electric sacredness and wisdom. Poppy reading the bible (in two long Youtube clips that barely scratch the surface of that ponderous tome so often used to justify hateful acts and thoughts) becomes even more striking when placed along side Poppy cringing in discomfort because fuzzy objects are stuck to her.

Buried in the static and white noise are odd and arresting ideas laced with parody and deadpan seriousness: “I breathe new life into my phone with every charge. My phone defines me. When it’s dead, I am too.”
Poppy seems to mock and jeer at social media narcissism and device obsession with her meaningless but highly meaningful statements and rhetorical questions like “If it’s on the internet, it’s real! Do you believe everything that’s put in front of you?” and “What percentage am I? What percentage are you?”
She denigrates her viewers dismissively, racking up millions of Youtube views in the process: “You haven’t thought in a while, have you? Am I making you think?”
She comments on current affairs and politics, sounding simultaneously cluelessly infantile and somehow condescendingly derisive, such as during this conversation with a plant:
Plant: “It hurts when you eat us. You just can’t hear us scream”
Poppy: “What do you think – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?”
Plant: “I guess I’ll vote for whichever one is gay.”
Poppy: “I think they’re both gay, hahaha.”

Elsewhere she proudly and righteously holds forth on how she will speak out for her beliefs, exposing the futility and misguided hopes of social media activism:
“I’m offended by something a famous politician said. I’ve chosen to use the internet to express my opinion about it. My beliefs were challenged and I will stand up for myself. I will mock the famous politician that I do not agree with on twitter. I’m doing my part by tweeting angrily at a famous politician. The famous politician will see my tweet and change their behavior. My followers will praise me for my beliefs because they should think the way I think. I’m making a difference. I’m doing my part. I’m part of the movement.”

Poppy regularly celebrates the emptiness of celebrity and popularity and the blind dedication of fans:
“Do you love me? Will you do anything I say? Is money the most important thing to you? This episode is brought to you by Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.”
“What does it mean to be famous,” she asks, “How many videos will this retweet get? Does that mean people will love me more?”
She effusively bubbles while partaking of social beautification rituals that are disconnected from the true value of the individual: “I am applying my make-up to become more beautiful. If I apply make-up people will find me more attractive.”

Poppy offers inspirational-meme-worthy life coaching advice: “You’re in control and you have the power to succeed! Take it from me: happiness comes from within. Success: you + opportunity = success. What does it mean?”

A cult of conspiracy theories and conjecture has grown around Poppy, with claims she is a puppet of the Illuminati (her and Lana Del Rey, I suppose) and is using gestures of the Illuminati and other secret societies to plead for help or communicate mind control cues. Poppy appears to playfully stoke these ridiculous ideas , such as a video featuring a robot voice ordering “You will pledge your allegiance to Poppy. You will do anything Poppy says. Poppy loves you and will always love you… Prepare yourself for Programming Sequence 2.”

Poppy even deflects commentary, such as her “Poppy reacts to kids react to Poppy,” in which Poppy takes the established Youtube concept where kids are shown anything from old computers to clips of Metallica and their hilarious and enlightening reactions are recorded, and somehow turns the experiment around by ‘reacting’ to it by layering herself back over the original audio until finally sitting motionless in a gradually darkening studio. The kids are disquieted and confused. “She’s like a creepy doll!” one of them accurately notes. This was my first introduction to Poppy, suggested by the Youtube “you may also like” machine after being entertained by kids reacting to rotary phones. In a subsequent video the kids were captured reacting to Poppy reacting to them reacting to Poppy. Most of the kids appeared perturbed and anxious to learn Poppy had been in the room they were in, sitting in the same seat. Just this month the kids were invited to a virtual Q&A with Poppy, the concept spawning offspring and multiplying in the vacuous content portal of the internet.

Reading back through the various blog posts and forums and trudging through the puerile poorly put-together ‘exposes’ and fan videos, one can begin to assemble a quasi background on the Poppy character. The brainchild of Titanic Sinclaire, Poppy seems to be a re-boot of a prior concept wherein both Titanic and pre-Poppy robot doll Mars Argo traded odd and nonsensical quips and earnest gibberish statements against a white background between 2009 and 2014. In addition to the strange videos about deleting your Facebook account and rejected Mountain Dew commercials, Mars and Titanic posted videos of incredibly well-crafted, decently performed, and catchy indie-pop tunes on their channel grocerybagdottv. Combing through the Mars Argo / Titanic Sinclaire backlog, you get the impression of a sort of art project aimed at parodying mainstream celebrities. Mars and Titanic parted ways in 2014. The music and videos ceased, and apparently Mars removed most of the back catalog, leaving only three behind, but much of the content has surfaced. It’s not bad music, and worth checking out.

Against this backdrop, many foaming-mouth online commentators have been straining at their leashes to accuse Poppy of fakery, plagiarism, and unoriginality. Those same folks will watch a Spiderman reboot tomorrow with no complaints. Other careful Youtube sleuths are excited as they shakily announce how they have followed the bread crumb trails to discover that Titanic Sinclaire is the director and producer of Poppy’s videos, as if this is some secret plot being uncovered. But it’s not a secret plot, just a continuation and revamping of an interesting concept with a new lead actress. Poppy is also a musician, yet comparatively her songs simply do not match up in any way with Mars Argo. Poppy’s covers and unreleased tracks on Soundcloud are, however, not bad, and much better than her official releases.
A phenomenon like Poppy cannot exist with the puerile gullibility of the viewing masses with their eyes wide open at the data sluice, ready to drink the unfiltered overload. Only in a world hooked on the emotion-quashing influx of networked mirror-commentary and fleeting online attention can Poppy inspire this kind of obsessive curiosity and drive to be expert fans, the mindless insistence on some great conspiracy underpinning her existence, the desperate clawing to uncover the deep-seated Meaning within the bubble-gum posts with their mild social commentary.
As a phenomenon, she’s fascinating. As an example of the odd corners of the internet, she’s illustrative. As pure content, it’s entertaining, I’ll say that much.
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Rooftops’ “A Forest of Polarity”: Music review

I can’t remember who told me to check out Rooftops, but this sadly defunct band was exceptional. Along the lines of, say, Irish instrumental math rock band The Redneck Manifesto, in the region of Echoscape, similar in some ways to also defunct great precision band Quiet Sons featuring Justin Wierbonski and Adrian Lee, they’re a decent listen indeed.
As one Youtube commentary points out: “Not only are the song titles anagrams of each other but the title of the album ‘A Forest of Polarity’ is an anagram of the song titles and the band name, I’m sorry but that’s orgasmic.” It is extremely clever, it must be said: just like the music.

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Creation Myth’s “Dead Living”

“Dead Living” is heavier than earlier Creation Myth releases such as their 2012 demo or 2013 “Always,” with the more ethereal and softer elements taking a back-seat and the drums and bass sounding more industrial. Yet still Jennie’s echo-layered voice swirls in the sound cauldron, and as the album advances something approaching a blend of the earlier ethereal
qualities and the newer rawer sound emerges. The result has elements of, say, the heavier Cranes albums, along with, dare I say it, some of the hypnotic circular beat drones of the Happy Mondays.
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The Wild Reeds’ “The World We Built”: Music review

Indie folk band The Wild Reeds are chiefly a three-piece of Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe and Sharon Silva. I’ve looked online for any info on the drummer and bassist who appear on their second album, “The World We Built,” and who are also on tour with the band, but there’s scant mention of them anywhere. In any case the two of them are as solid a rhythm section as you could ask for, backing up the trio that seem as telepathically vocally linked as the Grateful Dead circa “American Beauty.”
The Wild Reeds know how to write songs, that’s for sure. Their melody lines and chord changes are highly pleasing and catchy, bordering on the kind of pop you might hear from 90s indie bands, while investing the music with a heavy strain of emotional pining and poignancy. The combination calls to mind those stalwarts from the indie era like Buffalo Tom, and more modern inheritors, the sadly defunct Boston band Mean Creek.
Seeing them live is quite the experience, as their intensity of feeling literally swells the room, and they begin to grow and expand as the set winds up to its climax. You can hear some of their massive energy and outpouring captured in, say, the latter stages of “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight),” or when the vocals jump up an octave at the end of “Capable.” That’s not to say they aren’t able to strip it back – take the bridge around 2’20” in “Capable” when the drums peels back and the guitar gently supports the vulnerable lyric: “and my anger surrounds me like a coat when I shiver / I let it surround me with these thoughts often so bitter.”
I checked out The Wild Reeds at Rough Trade recently based on being massively impressed with a track I heard online, and they frankly blew the entire audience away with their directly emotional songs and impressively drilled set-list. I’m looking forward to working back to their debut album from 2014 to see how that is, and looking forward to see what they do next.

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Lissie’s “Catching a Tiger”: Music review

Lissie’s first release was her 2009 EP “Why You Runnin'”, and while it contains some strong songs and is definitely a memorable debut, the 2010 album “Catching a Tiger” is worlds above. Three of the five EP tracks where reissued on the 2010 album (“Little Lovin’”, “Oh Mississippi” and “Everywhere I Go”), but they seem to sit better in that context, and there are nine other very strong tracks on here to accompany them.
For me Lissie is a revelation, even though she’s clearly been on the scene for most of the decade before coming to my attention, and has garnered a significant fanbase and respect including everyone from Lenny Kravitz to David Lynch. Lissie’s debut album contains all the power of a Florence + The Machine release (yet without perhaps that overly bombastic quality of Florence that makes me feel somewhat battered after listening), with all the dizzying momentum of a Joan as Policewoman record.
 
Her voice, with its touch of Dolly Parton, is instantly captivating from the opening “Record Collector” as it swoops through the octaves of her range and through the luscious melody hooks. The percussion reminds me of Gomez’ “Whipping Picadilly” while the song structure drifts towards the kind of artfully flexible territory of Tim Buckley without getting too shapeless, moving into a kind of slow “Don’t let me be misunderstood” tribute line before bouncing back with a passage whose tempo and chord progression is somehow reminiscent of Kate Bush’s “Babooshka.”
 
The album continues the high pace straight into the restless “When I’m Alone” and the explosive “In Sleep” with its full-on no-holds-barred lead guitar solo outro.
“Bully,” a treasure-trove of melodic hooks, takes the tempo down a notch, and “Little lovin’” drifts languidly from a kind of early cheeky Bob Dylan fingerpicking territory into bluesier stuff.
“Stranger” seems like it would just be far too ambitious to pull off, but there it is: 90s indie pop rock meets 60s pop song brilliance, little hints of Motown records like The Miracles or The Supremes.
A Roger MgGuinn / Tom Petty guitar sound lifts “Loose the Knot” from its urgent, moodier verses, opening the track up gracefully. The charming “cuckoo-coo!” backing vocal on “Cuckoo” feels like an intentional nod to the Beatles’ “The Walrus,” and that seems fitting because there’s indeed something early Beatlesy in how listenable and pleasing these songs and melodies are.
The instrumentation pulls back to let Lissie’s voice fill out the spaces and ring with emotion and reverb in “Everywhere I Go.”
“Worried About” is tight and insistent, a song about a claustrophobic relationship with a draining negative personality lacking in self-awareness or self-care.
“Look Away” tricks you into thinking there’s some re-working or cover of a Dylan song (“Look away from my window! Look away from my door!”) before unfolding into another one of those “Is that Dolly Parton?” moments with compelling vocal jumps before the album closes with the solid “Mississippi,” co-written with English singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt.
I check out a lot of new music, often unable to tolerate more than a track or two before knowing it’s more of the time-wasting sludge that abounds too frequently on the airwaves. Sometimes I come across artists that seem worth a further listen, and I grab a CD or two. Sometimes that’s very rewarding. Rarely do I stop in my tracks and give the album repeat listens. Lissie’s debut album gains in power each time!
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“Dressed to Kill”: Movie review

After a lonely housewife gets herself slashed up with a straight-razor on her way back to recover her wedding ring from the apartment of a daytime tryst with a stranger, a prostitute witness to the murder must find the killer to prove her own innocence before the killer finds her. Etc. etc. Schlocky 80s thriller , light on acting and plot and overly-heavy on stylistic devices (lightning flashes light up the hidden killer; cold blue-lit sterile luny-bin nutjobbery; sparkly lights unnecessarily twinkling from doorknobs turned slowly by a killer-hand; irritating clever split screen merges two separate scenes so that the dialogue from either is hard to catch, until wow! magic! both characters in the different scenes are watching the same TV show!).
While the film itself is not great, it’s truly dragged down the chute by the fact that its treatment of the trangender character is, let’s put it mildly, somewhat problematic when examined with any sort of critical eye.
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“Hacksaw Ridge”: Movie review

“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss who refused to bear arms or kill enemy soldiers, yet became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his courage under fire and the many lives he saved in Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. The movie focuses on the battle of Okinawa, where Doss single-handedly saved the lives of 75 soldiers atop a jagged ridge under heavy Japanese fire. While the film takes maybe one or two liberties for the sake of the narrative (obviously his unit knew something about his courage under fire prior to Okinawa, given he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for aiding wounded soldiers under fire in Guam and the Philippines), it is nevertheless an electrifying portrait of this brave medic and his incredible actions in the grueling hellish conditions of Okinawa.
The medal of honor citation is, however, an even more striking and unbelievable telling of events, and well worth reading.

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