Saturday, September 19, 2015

Black Mass (2015)


First, the obvious: yes, this film will remind you of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winner, 'The Departed'. As it should because both are inspired by the same source material; the 2001 book 'Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob' by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill.

And if you still had any doubt, director Scott Cooper ('Crazy Heart', 'Out Of The Furnace') fills every scene with reminiscent shots, so we get the obligatory Irish bag pipes and heavy Brooklyn accents on heavy-set men who all look a little too familiar with murder. The difference between the two films is as fascinating as what both omitted. Whereas 'The Departed' was merely influenced by James “Whitey” Bulger’s notorious rise, 'Black Mass' totally sacrifices everything human about him to elevate monstrously into a criminal caricature.

In such caricature, Johnny Depp shines as Bulger, totally convincing with slicked-back balding hair, bad teeth and piercing bluish contact lenses. Given that his career is in the doldrums, it’s great to see the slide halted (hello Nicholas Cage!) with this role that is sure to delight his many fans. He devours every scene with his presence and hint of uncontrollable rage. This rage we see early one, making 'Black Mass' successful as we see his slipping from a semblance of a family man into a web of destruction. The more hideous he becomes, the more Depp throws everything into it--at times the tension in his body evidently under the mental strain it must take for such hardened men to operate.

The downward spiral of Bulger however is where 'Black Mass' falters. This is, chiefly, because Depp is the only one given an unrestricted leash and every leash eventually needs to be reeled back in. The rest of the actors, including Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays William his powerful brother, wastes away in offices, seated by the film’s writers, literally stuck, just as how whole 'Game Of Thrones' characters had to sit out this season because George R.R. Martin hasn't figured out just what to do with them yet. The writers, Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, decide to throw whole parts of Bulger's life out, thus making the other actors feel tacked-on: Peter Saarsgard has a memorable introduction then goes out inexplicably without much of a fight. Ditto for the FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), the man who helped protect Bulger’s cover as an informant. The context of behaviour is missing in 'Black Mass', making it engrossing but one-dimentional when one really stops to consider what would make these men act oe react they way they did.

Maybe because the book on Bulger is still fairly fresh the writers wanted to focus on him primarily but biopics don’t have to be based on ancient material to incorporate a great script—look how great United 93 turned out and that was released just five years after 9/11.
It’s interesting that Bulger’s long-time girlfriend Catherine Greig is absent from the film, as if to indicate his notoriety was so beyond any outsider influence by that period on his life. As if he was already beyond vulnerability. That’s what this film needed a little more of when Depp was not on screen to help unravel all the mysteries surrounding his life, which he keep so well hidden under those sad eyes and hollow cheeks.

As for the other obvious question that will linger long after the credits roll: will Johnny Depp land an Oscar nomination for his performance, the jury is still out on that for several reasons. Yes, he carries the film, dominating every frame but when it collapses into moments of disconnect and weirdness, it drags him down too: trying to reconcile his humanity at the loss of his son or when confronted in a situation beyond his power. Unlike when Jack Nicholson tore Frank Costello into pieces of sublime madness in The Departed, Depp has one shade throughout Black Mass. If Nicholson, clearly the superior actor didn’t snare what seemed like a sure nomination then it is likely Depp will fail as well. Don’t bet your house just yet, is what I’m saying.

RATING: 7/10

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Game Of Thrones, Season 5 (HBO)

Sister Blister

If the previous seasons of Game Of Thrones have been heavy on testosterone, then the opening scene of season 5 makes it clear that, finally, the rough interaction of men is making way for subtle war among the women folk.

We see a young Cersei Lannister (Nell Williams), already cocooned with smugness, ordering a witch to predict her future. What she receives is a warning, one that finds adult Cersei (Lena Headey) replaying in her head en route to view her father’s dead body lying in state. As she climbs up the majestic stairway in King’s Landing, she passes Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and they exchange the briefest of looks.

And yet, the significance of this brief exchange runs right throughout the rest of the leaked four episodes of the show. Cersei’s influence in the capital is fading after the death of her son (King Joffery) and father (Tywin). With the prophesy in mind, she knows her other son—now the king—Tommen Lannister (Dean-Charles Chapman) will be lost to her once Margaery marries him. Her fears aren’t unfounded because as Margaery becomes queen again she attacks: intimating to Tommen that Cersei should go to Casterly Rock, an ancestral home, effectively out of the picture.

These aren’t the only women the series has lit fire under early on this season: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) finds herself under attack by a fanatical religious group (The Harpies) after she tears down their statues in Meereen. The Stark girls, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) are at crossroads too. Arya’s journey to the House of Black and White sees her discarding her earthly possessions except for Needle, her sword. Sansa has the tricky proposition of being carried around by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) to reclaim her home. One aspect that’s always improving about Game Of Thrones is the style of directing when both of these characters are on screen. It’s simply marvelous to behold the long shots of them handling each situation they’re dealt with.

It’s the women who are jostling for power now, fighting themselves yet realizing that while climbing higher and higher, more difficulties come hurling towards them. Cersei may be rid now of her father dominating her but finds her uncle equally stubborn. If the new season has an Achilles heel, then it’s the unwillingness to reveal all that resides in her mind. For example, where is she going with this religious sect, The Sparrows beyond getting back at Margaery? It’s also unsure how Daenerys can react now that two of her three most trusted protectors are on the verge of being eliminated. Will she have to, at last, turn to her dragons?

Not that the men in the show aren’t jostling for power: Jon Snow (Kit Harington) gets a title but also much envy. Littlefinger, ever the crafty planner, continues to maneuver all before him and even Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is scrambling to reassemble his family name. The main difference is that while the women of Game Of Thrones are now openly in opposition to each other, the men are seeking redemption and that takes them on paths of isolation. As we get to the end of the season though, it’s clear things will erupt and the body count rise. Fans of the show know that the producers are in no hurry to reveal their hands, so bunker down and get ready for the long haul---the deaths are coming.

So much promised death and destruction is to come this season but hardly anything can match the heart-breaking scene in episode two when Drogon returns home in the middle of the night and encounters Daenerys. Her instinct as a mother is to reach out to him but she is stopped when the dragon swoops down slowly and sniffs her then soars away. As she watches him go, no tears form but the implication is clear: mother can’t stop or control the coming winter now.

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, March 22, 2015

To Pimp A Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar) (2015)

The New Black

Around every decade or so, a voice rises to define music in all its glorious uncertainty and vulnerability. Remember this point ten years ago when Wolf Parade’s debut album, Apologies To The Queen Mary, positioned its lead singer Spencer Krug as the seminal voice of indie rock? His unconventional, nasal twang unleashed what The Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan had described the decade earlier as, “the resolute urgency of now”. Krug spun indie rock on its head with a type of raw tenderness both Radiohead and Interpol seemed not to want to express anymore. It also had an underlying male frustration that reached out beyond the socio-political but also the personal, behind his tremulous growl.

Such artistic prescience cannot be sustained forever, hence the Matrix-like cycle every ten years or so: indeed Krug essentially isn’t Krug anymore but merely a piano-based parody of himself and the hero in American music is now, unequivocally, hip/hop. When Kanye West resurfaced in 2010 with the masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this status quo was reaffirmed. But that was five years ago and as thuggish as his follow-up Yeezus was, it clearly hasn’t been as defining a moment as its predecessor.

Since then, a whole new school of hip/hop artists have sprung up post-MBDTF –names like Schoolboy Q, ASAP Rocky, Childish Gambino, Drake—but it took Kendrick Lamar in 2012 with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, to stir the first real potential label as a defining artist. The album was a stunning rise-from-the-ghetto document that every rapper must undergo as a type of baptism before serious artistic intent attention is directed their way by critics, studio heads and, ultimately, the buying public. Since its release, Kendrick’s every move has been carefully documented, commented upon and rewarded—even after his Grammy shut-out in 2013, NARAS has towed the line with I winning two awards this year.

To Pimp A Butterfly is the best possible follow-up Kendrick could offer us at this time and if I can just reference movies for a second, this is Berandal succeeding on Redemption for all you Raid films fans. Whereas GKMC created a space to dissect a geographical space, TPAB is the inevitable boundary-smashing document that looks at what it means to be a black male in America now, peeping into bits of heart-breaking beauty and ugliness simultaneously and not giving a damn. In the process, Kendrick is referencing so many struggles while beating us relentlessly with an originality that reduces everything in his path useless: the opening lines of the brilliant Alright echoes Sofia’s (Oprah Winfrey) lament in The Colour Purple (‘alls my life I has to fight, nigga…’) over a jazzy web of resentment and misogyny ( ‘what you want/ a house or a car/ 40 acres and a mule/ a piano, a guitar/ anything, my name is Lucy, I’m your dog…’). Indeed, the entire second verse rapped by Lamar is the closest thing any rapper has ever come to beat poetry on record: it’s that on point with its rage and hideousness.

The album’s main focus though is cultural relations between races and sexes, very similar to the theme of black socialization Erykah Badu touched on with New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War), the only difference being she was waxing lyrical before Obama became president and Kendrick, seven years later, poignantly showing us that even with a black man in the White House, not a lot has changed where he’s from (note the sharp retort ‘what it do?’ line aimed at Obama in Hood Politics). But if Lamar shows disappointment with the status quo, he also turns the fire inwards: to how blacks treat each other: the lack of sympathy on How Much A Dollar Cost runs parallel to him not even recognizing Christ when they meet in the street, only to find spiritual joy mere minutes later on the live version of the self-affirming I. The free-loading mentality gets a toxic shakedown on King Kunta, a track that slyly posits sexual politics with phallic power (‘bitch where you when I was walkin’?/ life ain’t nothing but a fat vagina…’) while The Blacker The Berry is the obvious reference to the upheaval and hurt blacks still feel at police brutality post Trayvon Martin and Ferguson ( ‘sometimes I get off watchin’ you die in vain/ its such a shame/ they may call me crazy/ but homie you made me/ black don’t crack, my nigga…’).

And that’s what makes To Pimp A Butterfly such a great album: amid the maelstrom of superlative production and lyricism, Lamar keeps everything dead honest and vulnerable. And unabashedly black. What else could explain U, a desperate cry for redemption, the type of ideal Kanye tried to grasp for on Yeezus but failed to hold on to. Kendrick opens it up with a growl then repeats a single line, ‘loving you is complicated’ before tearing into a diatribe-laced verse of self-hate before morphing into a Spanish couplet then morphing into being drunk on resentment. It’s a damning verse, one where the role of manhood (father, brother, homie, role model) get castigated for its collective failure to lift the black community.

That manhood conundrum —so brazenly depicted on the iconic album cover-- has Kendrick tapping into so much vitriol at this point of his career that it’s hard to know when the resentment stops and the indifference takes over. Not even the reverence to what came before him holds him back: witness his “interview” with Tupac on Mortal Man and the sampling of greats of soul, past and current, who have all clearly influenced this album. Even modern-day masterpieces by Badu, D’angelo and Outkast come readily to mind when one imagines the playlist he must have been listening to when planning the album. It is a co-dependent relationship acknowledged, one he expertly masters time and time again on To Pimp A Butterfly, never skipping the truism emanating from the state of America’s constantly charged stance to the black male. Yes, to quote his contemporary Lupe Fiasco from a song this year, hate is eventually-accelerating terror but is there any defining voice out there digesting it in bytes for us to truly understand? We now know the answer: Kendrick, that’s who, boo boo.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vulnicura (Bjork) (2015)


By any pop music standard, the news came quickly: Bjork announcing just this very week the intimate details of her eighth album and then, less than twenty-four hours later, there it was on I-Tunes and on various download channels.

It’s a lot to take in: this is Bjork we’re talking about after-all and we’re used to the slow, steady build-up of her music. We usually get advanced background information too—who can forget the groundswell of curiosity that greeted her last album Biophillia, which was hailed as the first app-album in music history. But, that was nearly four years ago and, her ceaseless innovation aside, a lot has changed for the Icelandic icon. She had throat surgery in 2012 and got divorced from Matthew Barney a year later.

Vulnicura, a made up title, is her processing the turmoil of the break up while adjusting to the changes of her voice. Hence, the lyrics are especially poignant and sung quietly, without her trademark growls even though a few tracks threaten to unleash them without prior notice.
A lot has been made about the production value of Arca and The Haxan Cloak on the album but any Bjork album really only focuses on one thing: that sultry voice. A few tentative moments aside, when she lets it caress songs like Lion Song and Family, the familiar blissful awe of Bjork’s stature as the greatest female pop musician since the mid-1990s is strongly reinforced.

One senses that her career, in the quiet, off-air discussions of her fans, is being put into a before and after Matthew phase and Vulnicura could mark the decisive push to her return to underground dance music. She’ll never abandon brooding guitars (notice the glorious arrangement that drives Mouth Mantra) but parsing the tea leaves of her failed marriage clearly won’t last forever. How she juxtaposes her emotional output to various production experiments has always been Bjork’s unique gift. No other female artist, not even M.I.A has manages this tricky task as long or as innovatively. Even in its most subtle moments, Vulnicura manages admirable flourishes: you can’t listen to Quicksand and not chime in with “pop, pop” when the chorus begins. Or not sing along with her and Anthony Hegarty on the opener Atoms Dance when he steps in and she goes with the flow. In these heavenly moments, Bjork finds rarefied air and knows how to manipulate them for full effect.

Which leaves the question: what, at this point—twenty years into her meteoric rise—is Bjork exactly? Pop goddesses who redefines agelessness? Club godmother waving an unique wand? Visionary icon unwilling to rest on her laurels while showing up the competition? Does she still seek love or is she up late at night worrying as she approaches her fiftieth year?

We may never get all the answers—surely they’re not to be found on Vulnicura—but it’s nice to know that even with her technological interests, Bjork can still connect to her heart, just like she did at the start of her Matthew phase when she released Vespertine fourteen years ago. As she croons, ‘maybe/ he will come out of this/ loving me…’ on the heart-breaking Lion Song, it’s clear Bjork is looking back to find inspiration to soldier on to an uncompromising future. Like Janus, she is two-faced looking on…hopeful yet never stopping to harbour regret.

RATING: 8/10

Friday, January 16, 2015

Top 10 Best Films of 2014:

It’s been a great year for movies, especially independent ones. The recent Oscar nominations controversy is threatening to spoil this fact but here below is a reminder of the great films from the year:

Top 10 Best Films of 2014:

1. Boyhood: Boyhood is a rite of passage, an American inheritance reel that has never been attempted in such detail before by an American director. Other directors like Spielberg have centered on youthful fantasies and documenting special circumstances but here Linklater is on a yeoman journey and there’s no special tone being set---this is a long-haul essay into what shapes and turns a boy into a man.

2.Whiplash: Terrence Fletcher (an absorbing JK Simmons) is the boss from hell but gaining his approval matters in Whiplash and that’s what drives Andrew (Miles Teller) literally to the ground. Director Damien Chazelle could have overcooked this cast but he wisely pares Fletcher as a human instead of caricature. Simmons delivers the year’s greatest overall performance by sheer physicality: beast aggression encapsulated in temper and black suits. He drives his students to the point of bleeding with his tirades…and we, the looker, simply cannot look away.

3. Selma: Ava DuVernay’s brilliant film moves ceremoniously at first but once she gets dug in exposing how political and personal machinations work, the magic occurs. Led by an inspiring performance by David Oyelowo (as MLK), the film shows the painful clashes that essentially led to blacks getting the right to vote and not just in theory. DuVernay experiments with the historical figure too and events, using creative license to spill roughness on the present at the time and silently-glowering words whenever Carmen Ejogo appears on screen.

4. Force Majeure: though it missed out on an Oscar nomination, no one who has seen this Ruben Ostlund film can deny its power. Vividly directed, the film’s key moment happens so naturally that you’re bound to miss what’s really going on with the first viewing. What immediately becomes clear though is that Force Majeure isn’t a natural accident survival story but a devasting expose on marriage and the role men play in it.

5. Birdman: though Michael Keaton has grabbed all the headlines for his fine performance, in the grand scheme of things, he is the least remarkable tool in this stunning kit. Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is relentless with his unencumbered movement and it lights fire under Emma Stone and Edward Norton. Even Naomi Watts electrifies in her own space---all three play foil to Keaton who battles to keep his inner demon (or bird) in check before it capsizes him.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel: every hotel has a Gustave (the brilliant Ray Fiennes) running it but in Wes Anderson’s highly whimsical world, we see the man behind the aesthetics. Fiennes presents everything minimized yet magnified with dignity simultaneously.

7. The Raid 2: Berendal: a stunning expose on the different generational takes on violence. One level gives way to another and all the messy shocks and upheavals that change brings. While the older gang leaders can sit quietly around each other and dream of “peace”, this notion of calm is scoffed at by their younger counterparts. It’s the totality of control that they want and they want it now—no matter who gets killed or maimed in the process.

8. Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo can feel slightly put off after missing out on Oscar nominations for career-high execution in this seedy expose on our thirst for violence. He shoots the disturbing stories and she edits them for television. Together both ruthlessly go beyond the border of decency in the name of some zealous need, a-la Network.

9. Like Father, Like Son: it’s every parent’s nightmare: the possibility that you carried home the wrong child from the hospital. This Japanese family situational drama though doesn’t seek to have anyone arrive at solutions easily, no, in fact—through director Hirokazu Koreeda’s sad silences—it paces through many potential outcomes until the emotional turmoil is simply too much to bear.

10. The Trip To Italy: the boys are back and this time their culinary exploits take them to Italy where they end up discussing, among other things, the merit of Alanis Morissette’s music to Mo Farrah’s “sexy” legs. Yes, it’s a sequel so essentially the novelty isn’t as stirring but it’s just as funny and a thorough;y great male bonding show that neither bloke would admit to.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 30 Best Albums of 2014: PART III (#1--10)...

A new year-end winner is crowned...

1.Beyonce Beyonce: Beyoncé pushes boundaries not because it sells sex at every turn, but because it treats a power-balanced marriage as a place where sexuality thrives. At a time when when young people are gripped by an ideological fear of monogamy’s advertised doldrums, Beyoncé boldly proposes the idea that a woman’s prime—personal, professional, and especially sexual—can occur within a stable romantic partnership. Monogamy has never sounded more seductive or less retrograde as when dictated on Beyoncé's terms. What’s more is that the erotic themes don’t feel out-of-step with the album’s more decorous moments, like the stadium-filling XO or Blue, its requisite treatise on motherhood. In Beyoncé’s world, there are illicit doors to be unlocked in the halls of tradition and vice versa. (Pitchfork)

2. Ariel Pink Pom Pom: You can interpret this as another surreal metaphor in his search for enchanted love or chalk it up to a teenaged fixation with the Doors. Maybe a little of both. He can be the frog prince, Shotgun Billy, or ride shotgun in a pink corvette. He can be a rock'n'roller named Ariel from Beverly Hills, complete with his own billboards. And in a place where delusion, self-reinvention, and wish fulfillment have long been the principal cash crop, who are we to tell him otherwise? (Pitchfork)

3. St. Vincent St. Vincent: it’s hard to ask too much more from an album that boasts melodies as lovely as Prince Johnny and Severed Crossed Fingers. That last one is the best closing song on a St. Vincent album yet—a self-deprecating, slow-motion parade of a ballad. It’s a moment of vulnerability and bleak hope rounding out Clark’s hardest, tightest, and most confident record to date—a vaguely ominous promise of better days ahead. "We’ll be heroes on every bar stool," she vows, sounding so sure of herself that you’re liable to follow her to whatever planet she’s headed. (Pitchfork)

4. Schoolboy Q Oxymoron: Oxymoron is a victory in that Q’s sound has made the jump to the majors fully intact in an era where major label debuts often take a chop shop approach to assembly. Interscope’s trust in TDE saves the album from the awkward test tube collaborations that bog down many of its peers, but Oxymoron’s doubling down on a reliable formula makes for a relatively risk-averse listen. Q shines the most when he’s able to reconcile his hustler past with his rap star present rather than mining each separately. (Pitchfork)

5. Tune-Yards Nikki Nack: Garbus is an artist who lives with weird but flirts with normal. Gone is the chipper ukulele of w h o k i l l and BiRd-BrAiNs; Nikki Nack signifies maturity while still allowing room for Garbus to do zany things like scat-sing "One two three o'clock/ Four o'clock, walk and walk and talk and talk and walk and talk and then/ Five, six, seven—seven—seven—heaven—heaven—take me again" for 90 seconds straight on full tilt. In moments when Garbus does calm down, she does it with the grace and certainty of an archer drawing back her bow—less a concession than a show of power. (Pitchfork)

6. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2: these two test each other’s hip-hop fluency often. It’s almost as if they’re competing to see who can rap faster, better and more articulately. But there’s a darker undertone to this record than the first time around; they’re happy, but they’re also pissed. Run The Jewels borrows from a range of hip-hop techniques, but they always deliver. You can feel the effort with every syllable, that this music is coming from their very core. It’s a comprehensive essay on the style and vernacular of hip hop. (Paste)

7. Ty Segall Manipulator: Manipulator sounds like a 70s record in that every element is always audible; there's no mastering everything louder than everything else. Every instrument has its place, and every instrument does its job: there's nothing sloppy about Manipulator; it's precise. From its title track onwards – a delicious descending organ riff, joined by a perfectly constructed guitar line that doubles up on itself – Manipulator feels like a statement album, as if Segall has had enough of being hailed as a god by three dozen people in tiny clubs with extensive record collections drawn entirely from labels like In the Red and Sympathy for the Record Industry. (The Guardian)

8. Black Milk Glitches In The Break: For a project amassed in a few short months, Glitches In The Break has the workings of an even greater full-length LP had more time, elaborations and work been put in to the album. Regardless of that, this EP stands as another solid piece of work from one of Detroit's finest and tracks like Dirt Bells, Ruffin and Cold Day will have you revisiting this album many times this year and citing those as the best songs off of this one. (Hiphop Speak Easy)

9. The Men Tomorrow’s Hits: Regardless of the slight upgrade in fidelity, Tomorrow’s Hits is much like what preceded it, with “the Men” serving as a fantasy camp construct for the record collectors making this record collector rock. Chiericozzi literally gets out of bed only to chase the songwriting muse (on several other songs, they sleep in or don’t sleep at all). Even if the songs aren’t necessarily about them, the Men like to play up the transformative power of rock'n'roll, as Dark Waltz kicks off Tomorrow’s Hits with a litany of classic archetypes: a drummer with a badass, weed-dealing brother and mom buying your first guitar. (Pitchfork)

10. Kate Tempest Everybody Down: Not everyone who saw this 27-year-old's spoken-word theatre show Brand New Ancients(for which she became the youngest-ever winner of the Ted Hughes prize) will be excited by the poet's venture into hip-hop. Likewise, there are hip-hop fans already dismissing the idea of a former Brit-schooler trying her hand at MCing, no matter that Tempest spent her teenage years on the battle-rap circuit. Forget genre, though, and this unique album has much going for it. Everybody Down tells the story of three characters battling loneliness in the big city, with each song representing a new chapter. Tempest shines, though, through her use of language, which illuminates the subject matter – from boardroom drug deals to vacuous parties where "everybody … has got a hyphenated second name" – to dazzling effect. (The Guardian)

Monday, December 15, 2014

THE BEST 100 SONGS OF 2014: PART V (#1--20)

Here at last is the final section--closing out the year in style:

1.Marshall Law (Kate Tempest): beams you right to the bar of an insufferably fashionable east London club, where a velour-clad video director holds court and “everyone here has a hyphenated second name/Blowing more breeze like the wind at a weathervane”. There, a girl called Becky falls into conversation with Harry, a reluctant drug dealer who’s overindulged at the free bar and splurges everything about his miserable life. The music shifts and mutates in line with Tempest’s unfolding narrative; as strobe lights flash, the synths warp and flicker. Harry falls for Becky, but Becky leaves with her mates, and they laugh about it in the cab: “I know he was one of those save-me types/And I couldn’t be dealing with that, not tonight”. And so, a story creaks into life. Tempest writes complex and believable characters, each one carrying their problems like a lead weight hung inside their heart. (NME)

2. I (Kendrick Lamar): the idea that this was jumping a shark or aimed toward a specific demographic feels dismissive. The charm of I isn’t in its message; it’s in its weirdness — from the video to the obvious Isley Brothers sample. Within that weirdness lies potential. This could be the start of a transformation for hip-hop’s young prince who’s been saying he’s on a mission — a serious one. But within that cloud of mystery lies a now-ness — that screaming a pledge to yourself is the only means to wish away the throes of the world. (Consequence Of Sound)

3. Los Awesome (Schoolboy Q): Hankering for a new Neptunes-produced Clipse track? Los Awesome, produced by Pharrell, is probably the closest one can get for a while, with the virtuosic violence and elastic beat." "Liable to drive-by on a summer day/July 4th will be in June," sneers ScHoolboy on the bridge, a line that's eerily similar to the scope of Pusha T and Malice's Chinese New Year. (Billboard)

4. Drunk In Love (Beyonce feat. Jay Z): though it has put surfboard forever in our minds, Drunk In Love remains firstly an ode to heterosexual love and commitment. Then after you gloss over that fact, check the lyrics for the smutty yet delicious truth—this is love in urban America 21st century style.

5. Infernal Fantasy (Owen Pallett): a bombastic acid-jungle meltdown with these gorgeous little string-bends peeping out at the intro. As the track builds, these tiny gestures become incorporated with the bassline, which in turn takes the motif in numerous different directions. (The Quietus)

6. Little Fang (Avery Tare’s Slasher Flicks): The jangly, sauntering cut still retains some of Portner's trademarks from his work in Animal Collective and by his lonesome—a distinct sense of murkiness, stray sound effects that sound as if they were ripped from a funhouse ride—but the melody is pleasingly straightforward, a glammy earworm reminiscent of fellow Los Angeles denizen and cosmic brethren Ariel Pink. (Pitchfork)

7. Forerunner Foray (Shabazz Palaces): creates a miniature galaxy over the space of four short minutes. You can practically hear the twinkling of the stars echoing in the vacuum of space — and that’s before Palaceer Lazaro jumps in with some oblique lyrics that place racial struggles on a cosmic scale. (Treble)

8. White’s Not My Color This Evening (Cherry Glazerr): very much influenced by grunge, punk and riot grrrl, with plenty of guitars that fizz and hiss their way through, and vocals that sometimes sing beautifully tunefully and then turn coarser and more psychotic. The spooky laugh is a particular highlight. This description may have you thinking of The Cramps, and perhaps that influence is part of the make up of this song as well. It's definitely carrying the torch for the dark and depraved alt-rock bands out there into a new generation. (The Sound Of Confusion)

9. Continental Shelf (Viet Cong): Reborn from the remnants of Women, Viet Cong announced their self-titled debut album with a brutal slab of nihilistic post-punk. "When all is said and done, you'll be around until you're gone," declares Matt Flegel as the song kicks into life, and things don’t get much more cheery from then onwards. Just press play and let those drums crash along your ears canals like tectonic plates ratcheting through the Richter scale. (Treble)

10. Not Enough Violence (Ariel Pink): ever the mysterious eccentric, Pink shifted to all out commentary this year. While it has caused controversy—picking on Grimes to call her “silly”, his music has cut even harder to the bone. Not Enough Violence buries its intent in 80s synths but when he yells, “penetration time tonight”, you know the girl that has been denying him sex will have to put out today or face his lurid wickedness.

11. Red Eyes (The War On Drugs): from the get-go, Red Eyes sounds like a song that echoed from your dad’s radio as he drove you to school as a kid. It’s the song you cranked up to drown out your parents arguing in the next room, the one playing when you first felt a tongue touch yours. The chorus isn’t words; it’s the riffs and the sound your mouth makes as it tries to vocalize them. It’s instantly recognizable, an entry point, an open door into an album that ambles and rollicks, the arena-ready single among so many slow burns and cerebral digressions. (Consequence Of Sound)

12. Driver (Perfect Pussy): Meredith Graves’ voice bunches and strains against the pound of the drums, the whine of electronics, that rough, steely guitar. One second she’s murmuring quick syllables under her breath, and the next she’s exclaiming stuff like “death comes last to the party!” She never lets the rhythms around her box her in. She lands words like uppercuts: “I eat stress, and I shit blood/ Buddy, I’ll tell you, it never gets better.” She has been lied to her whole life and on “Driver”, she finally gets to strike back. (Consequence Of Sound)

13. Deep Sea Diver (Angel Haze): though its massive pop hook gets heads moving, the song itself is a sad tale of a love that has passed—and that’s what so great about Haze; her ability to sculpt hard and soft into one malleable product.

14. Child Support (Blu): a slice of hook-heavy pie, African-American style. Blu chronicles a failed romance and the resulting source of resentment. It’s not just a reason why the love failed to hold him and his woman together, but the daily grind mess behind the scenes.

15. Deadly (Five Steez): The production is done by DJ Crooks, and from the instant you hit play, you will be nodding your head like there's no tomorrow. The beat is insane and it features a Caribbean/Reggae sound. Five's flow is funky, and raw—an up-tempo and energetic instant hit is sure to make everyone's day. (TheUCalbum)

16. Welcome (Five Steez): just a breezy intro to his world but as usual, the production is impeccable and the lyrics bite hard about the system that grinds everything in Kingston...a sorta ode to the capital we call home and all its glory/shenanigans.

17. Tin Foiled (Andrew Bird): that Andrew Bird is a musical prodigy is not in doubt, but who knew he could pick up that guitar and craft something so folksy yet totally human.

18. Heavy Metal And Reflective (Azealia Banks): up to the time of its release, we were starting to get weary of Azealia’s incoming album. It’s as if she sensed it and dropped this gem—a traveler’s passport stamped with various name and pop culture checks but that filthy pop groove and her weird “I’m in every city/ they say hello/ to the head bitch” real talk keeps the love burning.

19. Superpower (Beyonce feat. Frank Ocean): Pharrell and Frank Ocean helped to co-craft Superpower, a pensive, slow-strutting contemplation about, the (super)power of love set against soft strings and a gentle doo-wop melody in the background. It’s all about the experience of understanding your true potential in a relationship. “The laws of the world never stopped us once,” Bey sings, “’cause together we got plenty of superpower.” Given that she’s part of one of the world’s most famous power couples, it’s hard to disagree. (Muumuse)

20. Never Catch Me (Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar): a super charged sprint to the subway, a fight to the top and a launch to the stars above. It is relentless and it never lets up; It’s hard to legitimately keep up with a song name like that. The instrumentals imply a live jazz setting and we are wowed all the same. Then there’s Kendrick Lamar’s umpteenth piece of evidence that he is one of the best rappers of our time, as he tackles both speed and wordplay as if it was as effortless as brushing his teeth. (Live In Limbo)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

THE BEST 30 ALBUMS OF 2014: PART II (#11--20)...

the penultimate section...

11. Owen Pallett In Conflict: On In Conflict, Pallett mostly steps free of his own labyrinth. The album is mournful and restrained in tone, featuring his most pleading and open vocal performances. The lyrics, meanwhile, veer often into excruciatingly personal territory. He's less concerned with dazzling us this time around, and as a result he moves us more. His looped violin is still the DNA of the music, but the giddiness has been carefully siphoned from it: The arrangements are far simpler and cleaner, highlighting his beautiful, long-breathed melody writing. (Pitchfork)

12. Angel Haze Dirty Gold: For all its musical commerciality – the glossy production, the huge, irresistible hooklines of Deep Sea Diver and Sing About Me – Dirty Gold has its dark side. It says something about the emotional tenor of Dirty Gold that a track about a relationship breakup comes as light relief, not least because Haze has a way of telling people she fancies them that could send a potential suitor scarpering for the nearest exit while screaming in terror: "You send messages to the pits of my womb."(Pitchfork)

13. Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues: Transgender Dysphoria Blues is wholly focused on pushing aside so much of what Against Me! has built through the years; even in their shortcomings, they remain who they are. But it's fitting that there are facets of the album that refuse to cohere, that don't quite fit right, that flail about in its too-eager execution. These welts are ultimately part of Grace's journey to the depths of self-discovery, and the journey to Against Me!'s true sound, all while playing to the theme of transformation. Punk has always been about disruption of order, and this new revolution that Laura Jane Grace leads doesn't surrender her identity, it reclaims it. This revolution is no lie at all. (Pitchfork)

14. Azealia Banks Broke With Expensive Taste: Broke With Expensive Taste is a reminder that the corner of Harlem that she claims is walking distance from both Washington Heights and the Bronx, where you’re as likely to hear hip-hop booming out of apartments and passing cars as freestyle, reggaeton, house, or bachata. Broke With Expensive Taste glides through all of these, just like the faithful 1 train sampled on Desperado. Both album and the artist revel in the freedom of a New York City where divisions between these sounds and scenes have ever so slowly ceased to exist. (The Guardian)

15. Five Steez These Kingston Times: Five Steez is about as authentic as you can get in today’s rapidly expanding music industry where nothing is completely original. Indie rappers are a dime a dozen-indie anything seems to be the current trend-but Five Steez manages to stand out without the gimmicks or flamboyance that many come to expect from modern musicians. His success rides solely on his talent - something he has in abundance. Some might argue that talent isn’t enough anymore, and the all too ambiguous and often elusive “x-factor” element may or may not be in his possession; his talent however, is undeniable. (Jamaicans Music)

16. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks Enter The Slasher House: As Portner admitted in a recent Pitchfork interview, the Slasher Flicks concept was born of a desire to mess around with the sort of 60s garage-rock and horror-movie tropes that yielded novelty hits like Monster Mash. On Enter the Slasher House, that influence proves to be mostly implicit. You won’t find any ditties here about ghouls and ghosts hosting graveyard soirees, but the songs craftily split the difference between cheeky and creepy, pitting innocent nursery-rhyme-like melodies against mutating, hallucinogenic backdrops. (Pitchfork)

17. Gem Jones Admiral French Kiss: Recorded in Dexter, Iowa to four-track porta studio. Admiral French kiss is a Midwest bonanza of sweaty post-Prince stylistics. Gem Jones plays full-band jammers, piano key laments, dub-inflected anthems, and damaged rock discharges, buoyed by a nimble funk finesse that belies his bedroom. Gem Jones belts out lyrics like he really means them. His demented guitar solos are like teenboys flailing around basements with raw testoid delirium. Nonetheless, Gem’s delicate zigzag between postures carries a whiff a sly parody–a balladeer peeking out the corner of his eye, gauging the vibe, and shapeshifting accordingly. (Animalpsi)

18. Future Islands Singles: Singles is a great balance of pop and melodrama. It’s built around the sturdy new wave beat, almost always four on the floor, giving Herring a comfortable frame in which to sing. Its themes are also symmetrical, as Herring plays with antithesis like an eager English student: day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter, man and woman. His words are the sort of thing that would tumble out of your mouth if you were told to write a love poem right now in eight seconds. (Pitchfork)

19. FKA Twigs LP 1: Barnett's music is the latest chapter in the ongoing transatlantic vogue for barely-there R&B, and this album joins her two previously released EPs in providing the subgenre with new heights. At its most textbook, R&B is urban body music, but this stuff is filtered through a prism of otherworldliness, not strictly made for the dancefloor, although the option of horizontal dancing is strongly suggested throughout. (The Guardian)

20. White Lung Deep Fantasy: Just about every aspect of White Lung’s music is aggressive and sounds angry and invective, though “I Believe You” stresses the resonance and empathy; while Way’s philosophical and theoretical leanings might not be considered “mainstream,” it’s a compliment to Deep Fantasy to say that none of its calls for dignity, for humanity, for understanding sounds remotely radical—rather, they’re pretty fucking rational. Deep Fantasy is a product of its environment, as well as one hell of a survival guide to live through this. (Pitchfork)