I’m enjoying listening to Smoke + Mirrors, the new album from Imagine Dragons. It’s derivative, blatantly, but it’s influenced by such a broad range of styles that it doesn’t feel like a “rip off.” Would I prefer originality? Of course. But where can I find that these days?
What I like most about this album is none of the songs are boring. It’s a fairly low standard, I know, but I’ll take it. Love them or hate them, no one can accuse these guys of making elevator music.
Anyway, this album is so “in your face” I thought the critics were going to hate it. I thought most would say it was generic or egregious or pandering. I was wrong. I’d say the reviews were 50/50. I guess when an artist or band is as popular as Imagine Dragons, it doesn’t pay to slam nor praise them.
If you’re like me and have been disappointed with recent efforts from U2, The Killers, Coldplay or any other self-indulgent pop-rock band, Imagine Dragons’ sophomore album may just be the cure for you.
The Las Vegas quartet’s second album ups the ante on the glossy, hit-making ambition of their debut, pitched somewhere between Coldplay’s epic romance and Mumford & Sons’ anthemic folk, with a hefty dose of digitally processed trickery.
Could anyone design a band more impervious to criticism than Imagine Dragons? Formed at Utah’s Brigham Young University and graduating to become Las Vegas, and then global, sweethearts, the group combines heartland earnestness with showbiz sheen at such a shameless pitch it’s almost innovative.
By naming its new album Smoke + Mirrors, the hit rock band from Las Vegas has provided the most honest possible indictment of the sound within. It’s a work almost entirely devoted to embellishment, showing far more care with what surrounds a song than with what lies at its core.
If Imagine Dragons’ first album, 2012’s Night Visions, sounded as if the band was to the arena born, its sophomore release, Smoke + Mirrors, finds the Las Vegas-spawned quartet making sure to reach fans in the nosebleeds with easily digestible, melodic, mid-tempo paeans to angst.
Like their countrymen Foster the People, Las Vegas-based quartet Imagine Dragons are the quintessential contemporary rock band, combining Coldplay-style choruses with, in their own words, “weird stuff.” In truth, Smoke + Mirrors isn’t weird at all, its electronic-flecked songs designed for adolescents who find Arcade Fire too edgy and are quite fond of house.
It’s no accident that this band is one of the few rock acts making commercial waves at a moment dominated by pop and electronic dance music. Imagine Dragons makes rock that functions more or less as EDM, with the same sleek synth textures and throbbing rhythms and, most important, the same emotional fever pitch…
I’m currently working on several graphic novels and though I prefer photorealism in visual art, I’ve learned to accept that it doesn’t work for comics. If I can get my finished pages looking half as detailed as this screenshot from the video game “The Wolf Among Us,” I’ll be very satisfied. Understanding how Telltale Games pulled this off is very high on my list of things to learn right now.
I want to stress that this image is a stylized, real-time rendering of a 3D scene. It’s not a promo picture. This is how the game actually looks while playing it. So, a huge bonus of figuring out how the producers achieved this effect — and implementing it myself somehow — is that the rendering stage of whatever workflow process I eventually end up settling on will be very quick.
I found this screenshot at The Verge, by the way, in their review of the game. It’s a very inspiring image for me.
A brand isn’t a tangible, physical product. It’s the idea, the theme that holds multiple, similar products together. It’s the style of their design and the quality of their usefulness. Though they may be very different and seemingly unrelated, any consistencies they contain or represent integrates them as one, thereby earning their producer a certain reputation: a brand.
In the typical case of a line of products, the theme can be narrow, like “healthy eating” or “trending topics” or “camouflage underwear.” In the case of an individual, however, the theme can only be one’s philosophy. The basic, fundamental idea holding all of a person’s ideas, actions and products together is one’s philosophy.
I think what it means to brand myself is to promote my philosophy, my view of the world, as a commercial product. So, when I say I want to brand myself, it means I want to package my world view and sell it to the public.
Primarily, I consider myself an artist, a fiction writer. So the idea of putting my personal thoughts and emotions “out there” has always been with me. I’ve always thought of it as an occupational hazard, just part of the job. But I’m starting to realize that promoting my philosophy is the job. Otherwise, why publish my work at all?
This can be dangerous territory for a creator. Do I create products I like personally or do I create products I think will gain and keep an audience? Does branding myself inevitably lead to the alleged “capitalism versus art” dilemma? Or is there another way?
I think there is only one way. Why assume that if I create deeply personal products no one else will identify with them? Why assume catering to an audience will lead to my success? It’s a false alternative based on false alternatives. The truth is the free market and creative independence cannot exist without each other. No creator is more miserable than the one who sells out, except the one who sells out and still fails. And no creator is happier than the one who finds at least one consumer who truly understands and appreciates the painstaking work he put his whole heart into.
Of course, these days no creator works this way. I watch about 50 TV shows a week and some movies, too, and not one of them presents an intentional theme or message. It’s universally assumed that a good creator isn’t allowed to express his or her own personal views. Moral agnosticism and faithfully representing all philosophical viewpoints are about the only standards left, if they can be considered standards at all.
I think what it means to brand myself is to promote my philosophy, my view of the world, as a commercial product. – Michael Island
If I want to be successful in today’s culture, do I have to put the audience first? Above my own preferences and standards? Above even the quality of the products themselves? Do I need to take an opinion poll before I kill off one of my characters? Of course, I think this is crazy talk, but that’s how it’s done these days. Audience first, product next and creator last…
What if I did the opposite? What if, instead of creating products that reinforce the most prevalent viewpoints, I created products that challenged them by expressing my own? All I’d have to do is reverse the value hierarchy mentioned above. All I’d have to do is place myself first, the product second and the audience last — and then let God or Google sort out the rest.
Of course, I don’t merely want to create and publish this way. I want to flaunt it. I want to double-down. I don’t merely want to promote my philosophy through my work and persuade others to believe as I do about morality and politics. I want to persuade other creators to work and publish as I do, to place expressing their own beliefs and values above everything and everyone else.
My philosophy is implied to others in everything I do. As a writer and artist, branding myself means shoving it in their faces to the best of my ability and forcing them to accept or reject it based on their own. This doesn’t mean my work has to be aggressive and confrontational, of course. It just has to be blatant and honest. That’s what it means to brand myself.
I’ll probably never get around to fulfilling this desire, but I’m very interested in learning more about computers and software and the people who envisioned, invented and produced it all. This list of books and articles devoted to Silicon Valley and its history should be a good place to start.
If the stories are anything like Halt And Catch Fire, which is one of my favorite TV shows, then these works should be very intense and entertaining, too. I like high-stakes drama driven by characters who love their work, and that’s hard to find these days.
Computers certainly changed my life for the better. I thought of myself as a mere writer, and then I got my first PC, and now fifteen years later I still haven’t worked through all the possibilities of the types of works I can create. Nearly every form of media from poetry to films is “creatable” for me now, even though I have zero “traditional” artistic ability.
The professional independence the Internet has afforded me is what I value the most, however. I spent years struggling against my own beliefs to create products that agents and publishers might appreciate and, as a consequence, never really produced anything. Now I’m completely independent as a creator and a publisher and getting my work to the public — the whole world! — is as simple as hitting the publish button in WordPress.
“Computers certainly changed my life for the better.” — Michael Island
Yeah, I should really find the time to learn more about the history of Silicon Valley. My appreciation feels insufficient. It feels like I owe a debt to people I don’t know and can never repay.
That’s why this article from Salon is calling bullshit and urging me not too fall for it like the Beltway media allegedly has. Both democrats and republicans are fighting for the middle because they want to steal each others’ votes. No candidate today would dream of promoting his or her ideology unfiltered. That would be political suicide.
The “moderate” media is simply willingly and knowingly following its “moderate” leaders, just as the “moderate” writer of this article is defending hers. No way she’s naive enough to think they’ve been fooled. And I don’t think she’s genuinely worried about Americans being fooled, either. Foolishness is what “moderate” politicians depend on.
“There’s no such thing as a fake moderate.” – Michael Island
The joke’s on all of us, though. All moderates are fools and anyone who compromises his or her beliefs is a moderate. There’s no such thing as a fake moderate.