Thursday, February 1, 2018


Hardly a watershed year but the films included are stunning in personal grasp on human emotion. Here goes:

1. GET OUT: you know a film is special when it carries Oscar buzz a year ahead of the actual nominations. But many are still trying to come to terns with what exactly makes this horrific satire so special--and well, part of the reason is that it didn't start out to be special but just gathered moss as it went along. The originality of the plot twinned with the paranoia that blacks rightfully feel in America is genius as is the need to literally inhabit the very skin being persecuted 21st century style. All i know is that Jordan Peele made a hell of a debut film!

2. GOD’S OWN COUNTRY: lazy critics will quickly call this the British version of Brokeback Mountain but what God's Own Country dishes out better is its in-the-soil approach to the murky life of Yorkshire residents and their quiet, closed-off way of life. Once Gheorghe arrives though and we see the cultural differences clash--his almost sensual approach to farm-handing and love vis-a-vis Johnny's thuggish brutality---the film strikes a defiant tone of accepting reality and letting ages-old prejudices go.

3. HEAL THE LIVING: through a medical transplant, three stories and several lives get interwoven in this French-Belgian drama. Based on the novel Réparer les vivants (Mend the Living) by Maylis de Kerangal, the film treats tragedy as quick turn of event from which you stare unblinkingly and move on.

4. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: even if the coming-of-age film consisted only of Michael Stuhlbarg's heart-breaking speech towards the end and Timothée Chalamet crying silently into the flames, Call Me By Your Name would still be a triumph. Director Luca Guadagnino has managed a stunning trick: shows us the reception of the evolving relationship between the two males through everyone else's eyes, oblivious to them but as the viewer you can watch, judge, note, or do whatever it is one does observing others in love.

5. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI: the premise sounds so simple yet the beautiful thing about the film is how it shows a town's bias while reconciling that a very bad thing was done. Frances McDormand, surely Oscar-bound, plays a tough mother who wants justice for her daughter and nothing will get in her way. McDormand is so blistering that we get no softening at all. It's left up to everyone else to come full circle, even the dastardly Dixon (brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell).

6. BLADE RUNNER 2049: meticulously crafted by Denis Villeneuve, Deckard returns to complete a touching arc of life, family and the end of things.

7. THE BIG SICK: passed over mostly this current awards season but not forgotten by critics and movie-goers, The Big Sick is inspiring because instead of blowing up the cultural differences between Kumail and Emily, it allows them to stumble towards a loving truce that's hard-fought, you know, like in real life.

8. DUNKIRK: at times disjointed but always immense in scope, Nolan's look at the personal peril of war connects.

9. THE POST: Streep and Hanks at a Spielberg film--quite a mouthful just to behold and to watch the two acting titans hurl off each other, especially given the subject of press freedom and a woman trying to assert herself in a man's world, proves extremely satisfying.

10. LADY BIRD: I keep hearing how great Greta Gerwig's directing is and, at last, I can partake in that notion. Buoyed by a strong Saoirse Ronan turn, the film takes its precious time to work out the female angst of growing up.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2017: Part III (#1--10)...

An outstanding year for the album, especially the artistic type. These ten (10) albums present ten different perspectives, all fascinating, all reaching deep into humanity and what makes us tick. Here they are:

1.Kendrick Lamar DAMN: Kendrick Lamar traded the jazzy density of his 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” for tracks built with stark loops on “DAMN.” But he hasn’t pared back the dexterity of his rhymes or the scope of what he sets out to address, which encompasses his Compton neighborhood, his career, American politics, spiritual matters and the state of hip-hop. (NEW YORK TIMES)

2. Benjamin Clementine I Tell A Fly: Upon inspection of his visa allowing travel from Europe to America, Benjamin Clementine stumbled across five intriguing words: “an alien of extraordinary ability”. Those five words acted as the catalyst for Clementine’s second studio album, I Tell a Fly. Initially conceived as a theatrical play, this wildly unpredictable and dramatic record - informed by Clementine’s nomadic experiences and the current geopolitical climate - narrates the tale of two flies in love, exploring and learning about the world together before they part. (THE LINE OF BEST FIT)

3. SZA Ctrl: How complicated is modern love? Factor in desire, intimacy, self-consciousness, competition, lies, the internet, jealousy, mixed allegiances, loneliness, rhythm, economics, gossip, insecurity, selfishness and unselfishness, and they lead to the perpetual negotiations that SZA details throughout the shadowy, fitful grooves of “Ctrl.” The songs suit slow-dancing all alone, wishing for that elusive true partner. (NEW YORK TIMES)

4. Kelela Take Me Apart: Take Me Apart feels as if Kelela is taking the different ingredients that have characterised her music to this point and forming them into an honest whole. This honesty extends to the album’s crowning glory: her voice. No longer mannered in style or tone, it is rich and warming, reminiscent of Janet but also of Aaliyah, another pioneer who made music that also worked in conventional terms. (THE GUARDIAN)

5. Ty Segall Ty Segall: For someone with roots in a genre—garage-punk—that puts a premium on gritty authenticity, Segall has become increasingly fond of artifice, be it the Bolan-via-Barrett faux British accent that’s become his default vocal tic, the silver-lipstick vamping, or his use of Emotional Mugger as a vehicle to masquerade as a surrogate band and terrorize morning news programs. And that mischievous zeal is the glue that ultimately holds this album’s disparate pieces together, particularly when they collide in the same song. (PITCHFORK)

6. Perfume Genius No Shape: Mike Hadreas' goth-glam songs of longing uncoil like someone who's waited a long goddamn time for things to go right; when they finally rise to a crescendo, the release is thrillingly palpable. They do this often on his fourth Perfume Genius LP, which by his standards feels startlingly optimistic, with pop and rock tropes queered into dreamlike scenarios. "Go Ahead" conjures "Kiss"-era Prince and mid-Sixties Dionne Warwick ("say a little prayer for me/Baby") over dyspeptic electro-funk. "Die 4 You" is goth Sade, while the darkly ecstatic "Wreath" invokes Kate Bush ("Running up that hill/I'm gonna peel off every weight") over harpsichord gilt. (ROLLING STONE)

7. Sampha Process: Throughout Process Sampha captivates with his voice—a unique thing that I can only describe as gospel meets celestial—over a self-produced sonic landscape that feels like muffled crying meets CD-ROM meets tribal celebration. He harnesses all of these elements into an impressive, cohesive debut album. (COMPLEX MAGAZINE)

8. St. Vincent MASSEDUCATION: The hefty programmed beats, emphatic electronic hooks and gargantuan choruses of current pop are the framework that Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, chose for songs about pleasure, fame, lust and drugs — and their extreme, even deathly consequences. The songs ended up cryptic and emphatic, tragicomic and bold: taking things to the limit in taut three-minute packages. (NEW YORK TIMES)

9. Thundercat Drunk: Thundercat produces consistently smooth music, solidly based in jazz and funk but with a yacht-rock sheen, synth stings and nerdy as fuck lyrics (he namedrops both Dragonball Z and Mortal Kombat)—shit that the next generation’s Dr. Dre will want to sample the hell out of. Just 33, the artist also known as Stephen Bruner became the bassist of Cali punk-metal legends Suicidal Tendencies at 16, before work with Flying Lotus led him to become a major collaborator on Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. On Drunk, his third solo LP, it’s clear he’s found his groove. We’re in it too. (COMPLEX MAGAZINE)

10. King Krule The Ooz: Details that seem to provide levity -- "Man this band that's playin', is playing fucking trash" among them -- have a way of heightening the sense of inescapable dread. No matter that feeling, illustrated with one distressed scene after another, filtered through a multitude of inspirations and a few bodily fluids, The Ooz is a completely engrossing work from a one-off. (ALLMUSIC)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

THE TOP 100 SONGS OF 2017: PART FIVE (#1--20)...

The final part and a new year-end champion is crowned as Kendrick Lamar ends up third. He has extended two records however: most top 10 songs ever on this list (10) and most top 20 songs (15), way ahead in both categories.

But the newly-crowned top track gives hope to abstract ideas being able to fit into pop music, just like Joanna Newsom and not feel like an outside oddity.

Here are the best songs of 2017:

1. Better Sorry Than ASafe (Benjamin Clementine): a decade ago, Joanna Newsom spun a fantastic yarn about a monkey and a bear escaping essentially from slave labour. I remember thinking how nuts it was and utterly brilliant but surely a pop music oddity never to be repeated. I was wrong: Clementine’s track, indeed his entire new album, is told from the view of two flies---yes, you heard right—arguing about life and love. Here one eggs on the other to live for once, daring to do things outside the box. Clementine throws in all the intoxicating medieval production he could muster for good effect. Breathtaking stuff!'

2. When I Met You (David Bowie): it’s still too painful to relive Bowie’s death last year but given the context of recording his last LP, here is the final masterpiece we’re surely ever to hear. When I Met You, no doubt inspired by his wife, Iman, simply soars under his vocals, which would be at home in any Bowie album.

3. DNA (Kendrick Lamar): there’s so much going on here, all the while Kendrick snatches the wigs and presents receipts.

4. One Weird Tip (Lemon Demon): I said last year that this dude is the new Of Montreal and here is further proof. Cicierega sounds like he exploded on video game sounds and slick schemes, all culminating in sheer brilliance.

5. 2100 (Run The Jewels feat. BOOTS): as the world sobered up watching Trump taking the presidency of America, a lot of hurt and soul-searching began and the duo are on record stating that this is to start the healing. I’d say job well done.

6. Thank You Mr. K (Ty Segall): we know Ty Segall can bring the noise but the cohesion surrounding this rave of a track is epic even for him.

7. Accelerator (Paul White & Danny Brown): dizzying arrangement sweeps over Brown, like an addict drying out from the last hit.

8. Dollar Bills (Syd): prowling around the strip club and checking out booty.

9. Drew Barrymore (SZA): superfan geekdom meets retribution of those who haven’t treated her right.

10. Chanel (Frank Ocean): continuing from his iconic Blonde last year, Ocean continues to chronicle the new normal within the gay/bisexual dating community.

11. I’m Better (Missy Elliott feat. Lamb): we’ve been awaiting a new Missy album for a decade now but we’ve gotten a few singles that are gems…we want the album but if this is the standard in the interim then we’ll be patient, eh!

12. Shine A Light (Shabazz Palaces): samples Dee Dee Sharp’s “I Really Love You” slowed down a bit to explore a wonderful, futuristic love affair.

13. Dearly Beloved (Kiesza): partially conceived through tragedy, “Dearly Beloved” positively shines with relentless energy and defiance.

14. Humble (Kendrick Lamar): given the last few years that he’s had, Kendrick has more than earned the right to pull out braggadocio every now and then, while dragging everyone who now want to hop unto the train because he’s famous.

15. Frontline (Kelela): the standout track on an outstanding album, “Frontline” manages to serve up her unique take on obvious influences (Aaliyah, Janet Jackson) as she burns a soon to be ex-lover.

16. Lion’s Den (Paul White & Danny Brown): a B-side track that demands its own close-up.

17. Evermore (Grandaddy): lead Jason Lytle is on record as saying that he’s always wanted to do a song around a constant sound, imagining what it’s like throwing stuff out of a plane. Yup, I’ll agree that this is exactly that.

18. Babyee (Jay Som): two decades ago, Bjork revealed all the little things women throw aside when in love on “Hyper-ballad” to be more appealing to men and now here is the dissection mid-way from Jay Som.

19. Santa’s In The Closet (Ariel Pink): tis’ the season to be merry and why shouldn’t Pink put out his own twisted version of Santa Claus where he gets bogged down of all this cheerfulness?

20. K2 (Elbow): you’re forgiven for not even remembering that Elbow released an album this year but it’s downright criminal to have ignored this takedown of Britain’s Brexit hoopla. Lead singer, Guy Garvey’s lyrical poison doesn’t stain the blissful electronic arrangement, which reinforces the fact that the pretty damage will hit the country with an unsuspecting effect…making its legacy all that more devastating.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2017: Part Two (#11--20)...

getting closer to the moment of truth...

11. Ariel Pink Dedicated To Bobby Jameson: not without its moments of eccentricity — 'Death Patrol' opens with the kind of sleaze reminiscent of 'Sexual Athletics' before plunging into a fuzzy AM radio refrain, while 'Santa's In The Closet' rings out like a deranged Addams Family nightmare. Slightly more soothing are the auto-tuned vocals on funk number 'Acting', not to mention the pleasant lo-fi glaze that hangs over 'Time To Live', which emerges gracefully from a sea of ominous feedback with atmospheric guitars that soar atop chants of "time to live, time for life". Though it’s hard to imagine what a more mature Ariel Pink may sound like, 'Dedicated to Bobby Jameson' offers an enticing preview, delicately ebbing and flowing between irreverent pastiche and tender melancholy, and in the end striking a balance that makes it one of Pink's more accessible and immediately gratifying records in recent memory. (CLASH MUSIC)

12. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3: Their interplay is instinctual this time around; the songs move and shuffle with its MCs intuitively trading bars, filling the gaps in each others’ phrases, and feeding off each others’ energies, using their booming voices to cut through the startling noises of a future dystopia. “Poor folk love us the rich hate our faces/We talk too loud, won't remain in our places,” El-P raps on “Everybody Stay Calm.” They’re both observers who refuse to sugarcoat. “I just try my best, man, to say something about the shit I see,” Killer Mike told The New Republic in 2015. “Because I don’t want to go crazy. I don’t want to be walking around angry and feeling rage.” To that end, RTJ3 isn’t a response or reaction, it’s a preemptive strike, laying the groundwork for the battleground ahead. (PITCHFORK)

13. Jesca Hoop Memories Are Now: The empowering title track, which opens the album, is spare yet pointed. Accompanied only by a pulsing bassline, tambourine, and Hoop's own backing vocals, it plays like an offbeat anthem for the newly self-reliant ("Clear the way/I'm coming through/No matter what you say"). The whole record, in fact, is injected with a heavy dose of gumption and irreverence, a spirit that, deliberate or not, seems timely in the sociopolitical climate of early 2017. (ALLMUSIC)

14. P.O.S. Chill, Dummy: There are songs of straight-up political outrage that channel his mid-aughts agitation (“Wearing A Bear”) balanced against the hard-earned optimism of Never Better (“Gravedigger”). The nearly 9-minute closer “Sleepdrone/superposition” sees Alexander yelling about the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, his failing kidneys, and trying to find some semblance of calm amid these tragic moments. The song puts production in the backseat, letting huge hits of bass linger and distort, allowing Alexander to unleash spit-soaked syllables that carry the song from beginning to end. It’s a bold move, but one he pulls off by putting the focus on himself and his struggles, loading verses with lines that feel ripped straight out of his journals. (AV CLUB)

15. SOHN Rennen: as a soundtrack to a new era where we’re all through the looking glass, old certainties bonfired and every phone alert quickening the pulse, Rennen hits the right tone - its rhythms shivering and uneasy, its melodies veering from melancholy to euphoria in a single stride. This is an album we can both dance and cry to - and lord knows we’ll likely need a lot of each in the months to come. (THE LINE OF BEST FIT)

16. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology : Songs like "Did You See Butterflies?" and "Loops in the Secret Society" certainly owe a great debt to artists of the past, but the way Weaver puts together the pieces is fresh and entrancing. The record really takes off when she breaks out of the mood established on those aforementioned tracks and adds unexpected elements, like the heavy post-rock drums on the pulsating "The Architect" and the sawing violins and stentorian vocals of guest Malcolm Mooney of Can on the utterly hypnotic "Ravenspoint." Not only do these tracks serve to add an extra bit of dynamic tension to the album, they also point to more exploratory avenues Weaver could attempt in the future now that she's mastered synth-heavy dream pop. The Silver Globe was Weaver's coming-out party; Modern Kosmology serves notice that she's here to stay. (ALLMUSIC)

17. Miguel War & Leisure: The songwriting is tight and delightful, as are the beats that go along with them. His guest list—Travis Scott, J. Cole, Kali Uchis, Rick Ross—serves as a much needed grounding, allowing him to stray and try new concepts. And then there’s his voice—his unblemished jewel of a voice. As clear as it is powerful, it’s his strongest asset, and he knows it. Even when the songwriting gets a bit muddled, as it does on “Now,” you’d be hard-pressed to care. He sounds equally at home singing in English or Spanish. So, sure, Miguel may have lost the thread there for a little bit, but as this album proves, it takes very little for him to get it back. (COMPLEX MAGAZINE)

18. Dent May Across The Multiverse: The songs are all shot through with West Coast sunshine; even the most melancholy of them have warmth emanating from their centers. Partially, it's the lush arrangements that account for this, but really, May's winsome, winning vocals are the beating heart of the album. He's got a nice boy-next-door quality going on -- if the boy next door sounded like he passed his time singing duets with Muppets -- but he can also break a heart when he needs to. Tracks like "Take Me to Heaven" and "Don't Let Them" might have very shiny surfaces, but they have depth, too. The entire album has a surprising depth; even in its lightest moments -- like on the strutting "I'm Gonna Live Forever Until I'm Dead," which sounds like an outtake from The Point -- there's a sense that May is playing for real stakes, small as they are. The combination of frothy tunes and real feels is a deadly one, and May makes it work again and again. (ALLMUSIC)

19. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever The French Press: With three distinctive singer-guitarists—Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, and Joe White—at the helm, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever don’t operate so much like a traditional rock band as an improv theater troupe riffing on a pre-established theme. The locomotive rhythm may be locked in, but each member is free to ride it wherever they please. A Rolling Blackouts song rarely retraces its steps, often eschewing standard verse/chorus/verse structure for a parade of changing melodic motifs that are passed around the singers like hot potatoes. (PITCHFORK)

20. Priests Nothing Feels Natural: While Nothing Feels Natural speaks for an underground that won't be silenced, it also speaks to the human condition, whether on "Nicki"'s vampiric post-punk or the jittery no wave of "No Big Bang," which spans mania and self-doubt in drummer Daniele Daniele's riveting monologue. Challenging times can result in beauty as well as anger, and Priests express a prettier -- but just as vital -- side on inward-looking songs such as "Leila 20" and the gorgeously haunting title track, which finds Katie Alice Greer and the rest of the band hitting new heights of eloquence. Here and on the rest of Nothing Feels Natural, the hunger, vitality, and intelligence coursing through these songs feel timeless as well as timely. (ALLMUSIC)