Thursday, August 14, 2014

Boyhood (2014)

Everyday Americans

Last year, Richard Linklater closed a personal arc of movie experimentalism with the triumphant Before Midnight. The Before trilogy spanned eighteen years, three films done at nine year intervals, tracking the evolving love between a couple in three different decades. Before Midnight was effectively our last peep into Jessie and Celine’s highly-charged relationship with each other and their own personal inner conflict.

And yet it left us wanting more, either to see the inevitable onset of old age or the awkward earliest years of their romance. Our interests were piqued about the many intimate processes that went into establishing the comfort level of their intricate discussions, the inane little behaviors that is unique to each relationship. Linklater had an ace up his sleeve all this time though and, in an obvious reply to this desire, started a project twelve years ago that finally is ready to stimulate our viewing experience. This stunning new film is Boyhood.

Virtually every review of the film so far has acclaimed the method of its making, heralding it as visionary and it is: Linklater shot it over a twelve year span (2002—2013), filming scenes a couple days out of each year allowing us to see the physical transformation of the actors involved in a real manner, not superficially. Critics have been quick to point out that other film-makers have used this method before, notably Michael Apted’s Up documentaries that have been following the same group of people since they were 7 years old. If this were all Boyhood offered then it would be a technical triumph, pretty much the way Gravity stunned with its cinematography last year but Linklater has written and produced the soundtrack to American youth with this film as well as directing a significant piece of story-telling.

The film follows the progression of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from pre-teen to young adult but it’s not shot from his perspective only. This is Linklater’s distinct directorial style on show; taking in the entire scope of lives and just presenting them as is, not specifically from one viewpoint. Not that he eschews particular moments because when we see the first argument in the film, it is from Mason’s sadly curious eyes as he hides in a darkened corner, observing his mom (Patricia Arquette) lamenting how she moved from being someone’s daughter to someone’s mother in a short time. Linklater doesn’t express judgment through his lens, just painstaking observances, some more nuanced than others. Mason witnesses the changes within his parents and while we watch him watching them, we can sit and observe what registers high on his scale (his dad, who else but Ethan Hawke, forgetting that he promised to give him his car) and what is casually observed (his older sister potentially having sex). It’s this pure maleness of the film that makes it riveting because aside from the usual testosterone bits like ogling semi-naked women in magazines and lying about sexual activities, 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.

Boyhood, like any great piece of American observational art, is trenchant in its simplicity. Like that immense scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Nigel schools Andie on the importance of Vogue, because she lives her life in such a space it created, such is this film finally creating a space for American cinema to express youthfulness without the trappings of highlights. There are no frills here, just an honest look at life in its ambivalence, similar to the way Bob Dylan deconstructed his own personal demons with the opening four songs on 1975’s Blood on the Tracks so that we can sing along in recognition as well even to this day. We’ve long waited for a new American perspective on something contemporary as youth and pop culture—which, in its own way, is so American—and finally an American director has delivered. The film references this fantastically with the music that plays over many scenes, none more genius that Vampire Weekend’s “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)” to indicate the excitement of Obama’s incoming presidency. As we head into the Oscar season, it wouldn’t be surprising if a better film comes out but I doubt we’ll see a more important American film this year. Boyhood will satisfy Linklater on many levels but it’ll satisfy you the viewer even more because through Mason’s journey, you can cross-reference so much with your own experiences. Scene after scene, from the children queuing up excitedly to watch Harry Potter dressed as little wizards to Olivia’s sudden bitterness towards empty-nest syndrome, Boyhood is the soundtrack to our lives, not just the highly-glamorous bits but the entire Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn parts: scary, uncertain, isolated but resolute in its continuity.

RATING: 9/10

Sunday, June 1, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Special Relationship

The new X-Men film begins with a sneaky bit of evolutionary theory: mutants being defeated by more-advanced mutants. Technically, they’re called sentinels and they’re not here to joke around. As they ruthlessly crush the band of mutants amid some spectacular scenes, it all suddenly disappears.

What we’ve actually been witness to is something that’ll never happen…a tricky circumstance that is explained to Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), a mutant who has the power to project a person’s consciousness back to the past and alter fate. Kitty’s power isn’t enough to stave off the dystopian present time that all the surviving mutants have found themselves in however, including Magneto (Ian McKellan).

“This might just work, Charles”, he utters after figuring out how to maximize Pryde’s talent but it takes Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to volunteer himself for the back-to-the-past mission because of his indestructible powers (which apparently extend to his mind). These are the opening fifteen minutes of the film and they are the most trying moments because Bryan Singer’s vision asks you to suspend reality amid the knotty trail. He also borrows heavily from other outstanding sci-fi films like The Matrix and Terminator 2 just to get going.

Once Wolverine returns to the past though, Days Of Future Past takes off and Simon Kinberg’s screenplay takes shape. We revisit the 1960’s where it’s revealed that the sentinel program got started by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) who was killed by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). She was then captured for research purposes and it’s her mutant DNA that enables the sentinels to defeat mutants in the future. Wolverine must put a stop to it before things spiral out of control or before Magneto’s thirst for revenge against humankind kills them all. For, rest assured, Magneto goes for the jugular in Days Of Future Past in a manner that not even Xavier saw coming. Like the sentinels, he means business.

The main difference between Days Of Future Past and the excellent First Class though is the distribution of minor characterization. While both McAvoy and Fassbender are simply outstanding in their respective roles (Fassbender continues to defy all conventional logic of anyone being able to best McKellen for this villainous role), the other mutants are mere paperweights, scarcely explored for their own complicated lives. Indeed, at one point, when Storm (Halle Berry) re-emerged onscreen I had long forgotten that she was even in the film.

There’s some triumphant scenes along the way however with these characters: the segue with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) playing ping pong by himself and breaking Magneto out of the Pentagon is sheer genius, indeed worth going to see the film alone. When Trask’s mutant-gene tracker goes off the first time, identifying Mystique’s presence at a secret meeting, the awkward sound and chatter is stunningly appropriate. There is also a simple yet devastating scene when Magneto has made up his mind to fire a gun and Xavier pushes him aside. As Mystique flees through a window, we see Magneto fall back but flattens his hand and the gun goes off anyway.

Such detail can only come from a director deeply invested in his source material and Singer is in top form, exploring feelings of alienation and difference through the characters. There are jittery, hand-held shots of Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) on the streets of Paris, bare for the public to scrutinize them. Though the attempt to tie in the mutants to actual global events is iffy early on, once President Nixon’s (Mark Camacho) paranoia hits the screen, it becomes believable. The ending sequence is brilliantly paced, juxtaposing the changing tides of events as they occur.

While the film continues to reveal new layers of the special relationship between Professor Xavier and Magneto, it also clarifies the main vexing issue between them: Mystique. For the first time in her life she’s beginning to understand her own uniqueness and, ultimately, feminist independence from the two men she loves the most. It’s messy for her to choose between these two “dads”, mainly because combined they’re not a home and separated, both lack what the other one has to develop her into a fully-formed individual. It is this inherent flaw—and not their ideological differences—that makes it difficult when all three are in a defined space. The camera finds Mystique often looking from one to the other, heavy in indecision about whose theories suit her best.

It’s a state of flux that Days Of Future Past isn’t able to resolve totally even after it dawns on Mystique that Magneto is only out to kill her as the simplest way to alter the future and nothing else. It’s that perfunctory for him yet, like the raison d’être of the film, its succinctly to the point. With Magneto at least Mystique knows what lies ahead: Xavier on the other hand is like a kid who’s had his prized toy taken away from him. And every now and then he wants it back.

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)


In Greek mythology, the hydra was a vicious monster that grew double the amount of heads anyone chopped off it. Since then, the term has been mostly associated with global crime organizations like the mafia or any country’s warring groups for that matter.

The first Raid film shielded the viewer from this maxim, instead director Gareth Evans focused on how a police operation on a shady-looking apartment complex turned into the deadliest Asian bloodbath ever witnessed on camera. Everyone came under gunfire and most of them died terribly. The bad guy was killed by the corrupt cop who walked away with the good guy. It seemed too-good an ending for such a bloody film. If the first film dealt with one main bad guy then this installment—by virtue of its title, ‘Berandal’ means ‘thugs’—intends to spread the evilness around.

And, indeed it has. The Raid 2: Berandal starts almost immediately after our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) waves goodbye to his brother, Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and heads out of the compound. Unbeknown to all of them, other criminal factions have been watching the showdown and now that the local boss has died, they’re moving in to take over. Andi is dragged unto an open field by the ruthless Bejo (Alex Abbad) and killed after failing to follow through with a choice that was more a directive. In these opening minutes, through the snarky Bejo, we learn much more than the first installation of this franchise let on and we come to realize not only what is to come but why it will come to pass.

Bejo is a rising star in mercenary circles and at his employ are skilled assassins. His biggest weapon though is one of infiltration—playing on the fears of the younger generation that they’ll never rise up and succeed their old, more powerful bosses. We realize that Andi is killed because he is of no more use to anyone alive and because, in Bejo’s eyes, he isn’t ruthlessly ambitious enough.

On the other end of the power spectrum, the corrupt senior cop from Raid: Redemption, Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) is killed by a fellow senior cop because of his ruthless manipulation on both sides. Rama finds himself in de-ja vu as he is asked to go on another secret mission, to bring down another gang network. The senior cop, Bunawar (Cok Simbara), moves quickly to ensure Rama is embedded in prison—and virtually hidden by prying eyes and ears that may have ulterior motives. “There’s no such thing as a clean war”, he warns Rama, who is reluctant at first to take on the task but after learning of Andi’s death, he finally gets on board.
Once incarcerated, Rama makes sure to catch Uco’s eye (Arifin Putra) and it is at this point The Raid 2 takes off with a series of spectacular pencak silat (Indonesian fighting style) sequences. First, we’re treated to a muddy prison yard where guards allow prisoners to beat up on each other before intervening. Next, Bejo moves in on Uco and offers him a deal that he knows he won’t refuse.

It’s this deal that breaks the ten year truce between the two rival Jakarta clans, both realizing too late the destruction that Bejo is willing to unleash just for ultimate power. Unlike the first Raid film, here we are witness to frighteningly diverse set of mercenaries: Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, two terrifying siblings who wield weapons as if they were paperweight. Along with the Assassin, they start an attack that leads the two rival clans to launch counter-attacks that even has the corruptible part of the police force joining until all hell literally breaks loose. They all turn on each other in a brilliant, bloody finale that Evans expertly guides so that the viewer doesn’t miss any single thrill.

Like No Country For Old Men before it, The Raid 2: Berandal is 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. That the elders fail to recognize the same viciousness in their younger charges that heralded their own rise is their own tragedy. It’s cycle often repeated, whether a hero comes along to intervene or not. Rama wins this round with sheer determination but somewhere out there under the Jakarta sky lies yet another Bejo, carefully planning…carefully beheading several hydra heads to rebuild two-fold and come back to claim the underworld again.

RATING: 8.5/10

Sunday, February 16, 2014


"If Sting dies, dancehall dies." (Isaiah Laing)

While Jamaican remain largely unconcerned with the progress of pro-gay tolerance, we must not believe that such a stance is the norm globally. In most first world countries, the positive self-affirmation of the gay individual is very much a huge human-rights issue…and music has not been spared. In 2010, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, through changed laws blacklisted several dancehall albums due to their homophobic and violent content. That’s well-needed money being boxed out of record labels and music promoters hands, not to mention the artists themselves.

Said Ellen Köhlings, editor of German reggae magazine Riddim to the Sunday Observer four years ago, “ dancehall is ironically filliping the gay lobby's agenda. "These lyrics violate German laws which gives the lobbyists legal grounds to successfully censor music and gain media exposure," Interestingly, she added that artistes could compromise by maintaining their anti-gay stance but avoid the use of violence. This seems to have fallen on deaf ears, which leads one to really assess whether local artists see it as an insult to themselves or what they perceive as a God-given right to ensure violent lyrics are used.

Sting is now in its 30th year and its CEO, Isaiah Laing has been warning for a few years now that it’s getting harder and harder to draw sponsors for the one night event. According to Laing, sponsorship covers approximately one-fifth of Sting's expenses. He said since its inception in 1984, he and his partners have negotiated with loan agencies, including banks, for support.

"There are times when it gets so bad that we have to sell personal properties in order to repay the loans, so Sting is not always a profitable business as some may believe. We had a good relationship with a particular bank for years but in 2010 when there was a no-show of Vybz Kartel we lost a lot, hence shattering our relationship with the institution," he said.

Mr. Laing says he has sacrificed a lot to keep Sting alive and his expansion into a worldwide pay-per-view service can only been seen as a positive step to ensure the event continues. Naturally, with expansion comes change with moderation.

Of course, not everyone will play along: Sizzla has been routinely side-lined from several countries and events because of his anti-gay lyrics. This year already, organisers have withdrawn him from performing at the ‘Melkweg’ festival in Holland. Melkweg said it had been made aware of Sizzla’s performance at a recent show in Jamaica (Sting) where he did a song against gay relationships. Melkweg said it does not want to provide a stage to anyone who sings such “very hurtful and hateful lyrics”. Sizzla, whose real name is Miguel Collins, has not held a US visa or work permit since 2008 when it was revoked. In 2007, his concerts in Toronto and Montreal were cancelled after protests by members of the Canadian Stop Murder Music coalition. One year later, he was sent back to the US after arriving in Madrid, Spain, for a concert. Spanish human rights organisations objected against his "hatred against homosexuals". There have been periodical bans on Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and Mavado from travelling to the United States and even Elephant Man had a temporary stop order imposed on his travelling.

Now, it may very well seem odd to Sizzla—indeed the majority of us Jamaicans—that a festival would feel so strongly against homophobia that it rescinds an invitation to an artist long held as one of dancehall’s finest but therein lies the cultural divide. Whereas organizers in Jamaica give a “bly” to such things, the gay rights movement in a country like Holland is significant enough to affect patronage. The average Jamaican may or may not support the killing of gays but it factors little into whether they turn out to watch a show. Or, rather, that concern is on the lower rung of personal values culturally associated with Jamaicans. Even here in the Caribbean, where average Jamaicans have been increasingly reporting discrimination at Bajan and Trini airports, the link between our music being violent is clearly being made. This may not be essentially because of homophobia but it is very hard to escape the close implication. Europe, well not the parts close to Russia, is moving in a direction where hate lyrics are not acceptable and the parts of our music that insist of recycling hate will be left behind.

But, as noted music industry Clyde McKenzie has said, ““If an artiste deems his message to be integral to his identity then he has the right and the option to eschew financial considerations and adhere to his beliefs. An artiste will have to decide which is of more importance -- his being able to secure a visa or his having the ability to say what he believes. Assuming that this might be the main reason for the ban in some territories. In this present scenario it might well be unlikely that he can eat his cake and have it. Strategy is about choice. It might very well be that a body of work which is now deemed offensive will find future redemption. There sometimes has to be a trade-off between longevity and immediate gratification. It will be incumbent on each artiste and his management to make the determination of which path they will take.”

So, if, for example, Sizzla has no problem with being barred overseas because of anti-gay lyrics then why should those who defend his right to sing such hate music? Jamaicans see these visa blocks as oppressive yet do not want to state unequivocally that the killing of a male just because he is gay is also oppressive. That’s exactly the point we’re at in our 51st year of independence. Our artists have not come up with any public statement that strikes a compromise so both ends are holding firm to their positions with fans being the ones suffering most. It doesn’t help that Most of us see and appreciate dancehall as interchangeably aggressive in its hetero-normative affirmation of manhood. Homosexuals are just one minority that are routinely denigrated in the genre—women, police, informers—are targeted too, the latter also subject to chants of death. Women are to be “murdered” sexually only and police to be avoided because they are of the “Babylon” system. I suspect a lot of dancehall acts wonder why it’s the gays of all these groups that must be resorting to action given that what they do is “wrong” but then all these groups are retaliating…women’s movements have been decrying the inequality in dancehall for years and just look at that anti-gang piece of legislation our politicians are set to pass soon. What may be stinging the genre is how organized local entities have been in identifying their brands as ones of inclusiveness, not discrimination. They have to though because they too rely on all types of persons to buy their various products. Which global brand is really going to go out there now and deliberately let is seem as if they don’t want to include gay buyers. A gay dollar is a dollar to any business after all. J-FLAG may not have as much pull as other LGBT organizations but it’s found allies willing to assist and highlight hate music and use it to their own means.

Even gays themselves, I suspect, do not determine their participation at local music festivals on whether a homophobic act is performing. Indeed, it may spur them on to show up in greater numbers just not to be “outdone” and sing along (sometimes even louder than anyone else) as an act of defiance. in 2009, J-FLAG estimated that up to 270,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people lived in Jamaica. That represents "between three to 10 per cent of the population". That number may have increased given the wide exposure of information and openness young people have access to, in terms of identifying and self-asserting their sexuality. The gay community isn’t as intrinsic on issues as overseas groups, instead its splintered into little pockets of ideology and has its own major issues to confront like gay-on-gay crime and the monster that is LBGT homelessness. It is many years away from being able to effect policy changes in Jamaica much less dancehall.

Of course, the way Laing told the press that both D’angel and Sizzla were banned from subsequent Sting events makes one wonder if this was a knee-jerk reaction or some actual policy being entrenched in the show. Laing said Sizzla was repeatedly warned but was this put in a contract or was it just an oral arrangement. Was there a meeting or communication sent to artists beforehand to state what was acceptable and what would not be? D’angel being barred as a patron was even weirder.

Said Laing:"What kind of image is D'Angel portraying as a mother? She's saying she came to clash but that's not how the clash went. It was not about Ninja Man, she embarrassed herself. At least a five-year ban for D'Angel." I can understand a public cussing about her trying to get on the stage when not billed but the mother bit does smack a little of sexism. I mean, how many of the men that clash at STING are behaving like fathers (when most of them are)? This, mark you, from the show that had the atrocious Lady Saw/Macka Diamond clash which had even liberal-minded adults cringing. Even Lady Saw stated that she regretted her behaviour subsequently. Also, the part about “at least a five year ban” makes me wonder if these bans are subject to change to Laing’s mood or her apology (if she ever apologises).

Laing did go on to state, "We have written to the artistes about their behaviour at the event, and we are committed to further steps when and where necessary,". This gives Sting the opportunity to implement what could turn out to be landmark decisions that reach deep within the dancehall community. Music lovers, local and overseas, now wait until this year’s edition to see just how effective these policies are.

This articles owes a lot to clippings/articles from The Jamaica Observer.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

2013: Top 10 Best Films:

Here at last is my film list and this year I decided to simplify it but just having one word reviews attached...

1.Drug War: (DETERMINED)

2. 12 Years a Slave: (FREEDOM)

3. Gravity: (STRENGTH)

4. Before Midnight: (LOVE)

5. A Hijacking: (AUTHORITY)

6. Blue Is The Warmest Colour: (HORNINESS)

7. Laurence Anyways : (QUEER)

8. Short Term 12: (HOPE)

9. The Hunt: (HURT)

10. Neighbouring Sounds: (EXOTIC)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Top 30 Best Albums of 2013: Part III

the conclusion...

1. Divino Nino Pool Jealousy: a trio, Divino Niño is Guillermo Rodriguez (guitar), Javier Forero (bass) and Camilo Medina (guitar); they share vocal duties, and the three-man approach to vocals allows the band to accomplish complex harmonies in their songs. The LP is a great retro-sounding bunch of songs that recall Elvis and dark 1960s tones. What Divino Nino present is an interpretation of adolescent times and it works so seamlessly that it’s hard to figure out why critics haven’t discovered them yet.

2. Danny Brown Old: Old is a seemingly logical conclusion of a two year morphing of Danny Brown the character into a drama with several jokes; every storyline and angle is played up with routine care and painstaking attention to detail courtesy of Brown's tripping and swooning rhymes.

3. Blu NoYork!: NoYork! straddles a delicate line between the outlandish and the truly experimental, pushing listeners to almost as far as they can go because there never is a limit to what can be done with music. Blu pushes hip-hop to its limit with his supposed proper major-label debut; before Warner had chance to release the record formally, Blu distributed NoYork! for free to the internet to little fanfare. Maybe the record challenged his fan base built up from debut Below the Heavens a bit too much. Exile's beats, although done very well, more strictly adhered to the tenets of the established hip-hop production cannon. Regardless of the reason, NoYork! has been criminally slept on.

4. Sheep, Dog & Wolf Egospect: the recording alias of Daniel McBride who still is just 19 years old...the coolest teenager making recorded music and you’ve probably never heard of him. The songs are multi-faceted, rarely rest in one melodic place, and adopt mood swings between off-kilter electronica, multi-tracked vocals over shifting time signatures, pastoral folk, minimalism and multi-layered arrangements for horns, voices and guitars. There is a steady hand to McBride’s art, the type of sure genius that takes some bands years to even breach.

5. Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP 2: the kind of sequel that gets people shouting at the screen in disbelief before their seats are warmed up. Nostalgia is everywhere. Eminem surrounds himself in allusions to classic hip-hop: it's telling that the only guest MC is Kendrick Lamar on Love Games probably because his slippery syllable-juggling owes a lot to Eminem. Yet Eminem's former obsession – his own media image – has been replaced with a 41-year-old's cranky concerns. He's still a solipsistic cretin, but in a more general, everyday sort of way.

6. Jamaican Queens Wormfood: Out of the ashes of Prussia rises Jamaican Queens. The Detroit trio’s debut is a deliciously schizoid album, as whimsical and as chemical as love itself. It varies from fuzz-crinkled, glammed-out space rock to richly resonant, surf-toned lullabies, down into some bass-throbbing, trap-hop harkening, murkily-modulated indie-rap, and back up into punctured new-wave. It never substantially toes any one style’s shore, be it vibes of melodramatic/operatic pop nor satirical, dirgey-disco-elbowed electronica. And variance is stormed through just within one four-minute song, (Annie) marking the middle point of the album.

7. Kanye West Yeezus: as a sonic experience, Yeezus isn't as dangerous as it likes to think it is but it's certainly the epic banger Kanye's worried he didn't have in him since he first ran to Timbaland to help beef up his drum sounds on Graduation. The idea of it being a rush job to the finish line can be a romantic one for fanatics, but keener eyes might realize a really fantastic album is dragged down a little more than it's supposed to be by it's A.D.D. nature and litany of awkward moments. It feels self-sabotaged as often as it does transcendent, and that may be the statement he'd like to make most of all. Yeezus is that man searching for a baptism in his sex sweat. It's not a pretty sight, "but tell me have you seen that before?" asks the showman as the curtain closes.

8. Radkey Cat & Mouse EP: on their Facebook page, the band—three brothers—state that their aim is to save the world from fake rock n roll. Cat & Mouse is a stunning 15 minute masterpiece that does indeed put us critics at ease. ‘Cat & Mouse’ is everything that good rock music should be. It screams along at blistering speed, induces blown eardrums and potential alcohol-induced liver failure, and is more ferocious and powerful than a bull elephant on heat.

9. Hooded Fang Gravez: Gravez uses the same general structure as their previous LP – both open and close with a short jammy instrumental. Both are pretty short, clocking in at just thirty minutes. The real difference is the charge-ahead philosophy Hooded Fang seems to have recently developed, and the hypnotic, slightly druggy motifs they touch on. I suppose they were trying to duplicate fellow Canadians Arcade Fire’s success with that. With Gravez they’re tighter and nastier, and unlike before, they’re demanding your full attention.

10. Parquet Courts Tally All The Things That You Broke: with a ranted stream of consciousness rattled out like gunfire with a drunk’s finger on the trigger, the song couldn’t be any more Mark E Smith if it gave an awkward interview and sacked a guitarist for the third time in a week. But a whiff of unoriginality aside, what this EP offers Parquet Courts addicts is fresh meat to chew on, signs of innovation and further evidence that these New Yorkers are one of the world’s most essential new bands.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


The finale...

1. Consumerism (Lauryn Hill): Hill says she “felt the need to discuss the underlying socio-political, cultural paradigm as I saw it.” Coming from someone as smart and complicated as Hill, such a discussion is more than welcome.

2. Anxiety’s Door (Merchandise): a throwback to big hair bands, Merchandise presents an unforgettable guitar riff and awesome song of lost love and that guitar riff will become immortal.

3. 1 Train (A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown): sandwiches its momentary Rocky gaffes with thrills of pure lyricism and stunning guest skill-set tracks which see Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar bring the house down in style.

4. Black Skinheads (Kanye West): we’ve heard him discuss the poor treatment of black Americans in their own country before, but we’ve never had Kanye lecture us on how this problem perpetuates as a result of capitalism and blind consumerism.

5. Red 2 Go (Danny Brown): It is unimportant that he has smoked more than his lungs can handle, a true Danny Brown would never stop smoking the kush and floss greatness about it.

6. Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe (Kendrick Lamar): his isn't an alpha male's boast. It's a pipsqueak's first pass at a chest-puff. It's also a monster of a radio-ready single, with Kendrick rapping in three voices (in double- and triple-time, no less) over an insane beat.

7. No Bueno (Angel Haze): The furiously gifted young rapper Angel Haze made her name with a pair of mixtapes last year, and now she's set to follow them up with delightful misogyny. No Bueno cuts hard on teeth that would stereo-typically be done by men.

8. Q.U.E.E.N (Janelle Monae ft. Erykah Badu): the Kansas-born neo soul singer is making music that really stands out and Q.U.E.E.N. is no exception, with its fun soul vibe in stark contrast to the dance club sound of most R&B releases of late.

9. Full Of Fire (The Knife): absent for seven years, The Knife returns just as sharply from whence they left off. Full of Fire spits out death ray beats and electronic spasms of pure joy.

10. Doing Nothing (Blu): that Blu incorporates heavy jazz juxtaposed with hip/hop beats and makes this track bounce is stunning enough. That it’s the same formula that dominates his album makes it even more phenomenal.

11. Tunnel Vision (Justin Timberlake): Justin’s sex appeal resurrects itself from all the attempts to sanitize it. Timbaland responds by throwing the kitchen sink in, creating lovely havoc in the background.

12. My Song 5 (Haim): the definite standout on their charming debut, the track verges pop and rock into a thrilling type of Dirty Projectors-esque rave that unearths many levels of cool that’ll no doubt soon be copied

13. Love Game (Eminem feat. Kendrick Lamar): a throwback and also an inner attempt to scratch new possibilities. Kendrick's verse is more oblique than Eminem's two, and more innovative…it’s his way but Eminem isn’t left far behind. This is the most anti-rap song in his arsenal and, against all odds, he’s pulled it off in fine style.

14. Evil Twin (Eminem): if rapping were a purely athletic competition, Eminem would be Michael Phelps and Mary Lou Retton combined: pure agility and flexibility, like an unstoppable bullet with only white-hot hate in his wake. His flow only gets more baroque and knotty and outrageous with age.

15. Feel The Love (Rudimental feat. John Newton): It’s propulsive, full of energy and frenetic beats married to Newman’s sublime vocals that bear the sweetest fruit. Give in and ride away on a sheer wave of happiness.

16. Wonderbread (Danny Brown): the song details Brown’s trip to the store and he witnesses the shooting of a junkie. It’s a cautionary tale, sadly one that plays out often in the ghetto

17. Fucking Problem (ASAP Rocky feat Kendrick Lamar & Drake): the snappy beat alone guarantees its greatness but Drake and Kendrick brought the tools to blow us away.

18. Soviet Bicycle (Norwegian Arms): a stunning freak folk nugget that shimmers as much as it throws down a challenge to more established folk like Animal Collective.

19. BBD (Azealia Banks): Azealia returns with a subdued groove but manages to still hit it out of the park, while just paying minimum attention. Let’s hope this is heralding more goodies from her upcoming LP.

20. Egospect (Sheep, Dog & Wolf): the blistering title track from McBride’s debut leaves a smouldering hot trail, snapping up electronic sparks that culminate into one grand statement.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top 30 Best Albums Of 2013: PART II (#11--20)...

The penultimate section...

11. Foxygen We are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic: the duo’s sophomore delves deep into trippy Bowie territory, staggered by two brilliant tracks (No Destruction, On Blue Mountain) but backed up consistently with seething, bluesy rock that bands longer in the tooth still haven’t come close to mastering. The beats and choruses trip in without a moment’s notice—nice trick when one just wasn’t expecting it.

12. Sat. Nite Duets Electric Manland: calling this a classic rock album may be pushing it but the record’s numerous nods to gold-encrusted oldies are impossible to ignore.. Alternately blistering and bittersweet, the album’s hazy images of ex-girlfriends and wasted afternoons spent getting high are pure Sat. Nite Duets. This is an impeccably produced concept LP-- a herky-jerky jaunt stuffed with wanky guitar stabs and Talking Heads-esque breakdowns that still manages to touch on the band’s pet theme of fleeting summer fun.

13. David Bowie The Next Day: ten years have since the last Bowie album and as much as a rock god he is, no one expected much. How wrong we are: The Next Day brims with shocking ferocity while revisiting his hey days of the 1970s but not stealing from it. The most immediate thing is the lush instrumentalism and Bowie’s vocals rising to match it. The grooves are stylistic and lyrically the man is still pushing buttons.

14. A$AP Rocky Long Live A$AP: hip/hop continues to be the one genre that evolves into exciting new territory and last year saw the rise of the sensitive thug type: the young, urban male (Schoolboy Q, Frank Ocean)examining a harsh life and spitting it out back. A$AP Rocky is no different and his debut LP continues this trend by demanding its fair share of pussy, weed and respect. Though Long Live A$AP clings to the past at times, it sandwiches its momentary lapses with thrills of pure lyricism and guest skill-set tracks like 1 Train where Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar bring the house down in style.

15. The Child of Lov The Child of Lov: already branded with goodness in the form of contributions by Blur and Gorillaz front-man, Damon Albarn and punk band Doom, The Child of Lov’s (Cole Williams) self titled debut is a pretty good way to commence one’s musical trajectory. The album is scattered with an alluring high wail reminiscent of Cee Lo Green and is an energetic ride. Williams died a few days ago so that makes this project even more special.

16. Popstrangers Antipodes: an album that revels in the dissonant darkness, adept at offering something accessible before pulling the rug out from underneath. This is first evident on Jane, where an organ and seemingly innocuous guitar riff subtly shifts in unease when the bass rumbles through. There’s a minute of this musical interplay before everything explodes into white distorted noise, and Joel Flyger’s disaffected vocals drift in. That sense of unease pervades much of Antipodes – the stretched, off-kilter chiming guitar and Flyger’s hushed, slightly menacing voice in In Some Ways.

17. Autre Ne Veut Anxiety: propelled by two massive songs at the start (Play by Play, Counting), Arthur Ashin’s debut LP roars to life with its Prince-aping futuristic R&B pop hybrid. Though sure to be divisive, the album’s production is spot on, clever even. The textures involved feel sparkly and exciting: hear and just believe the metallic effect of the guitar subtlety guiding Ego Free Sex Free.

18. The Doppelgangaz Hark: New York duo The Doppelgangaz, made up of childhood friends Matter Ov Fact and EP, have released their much-anticipated third studio album, Hark. The 12-track project includes reader-approved singles Hark Back and Oh Well. There are no guest features but the flows are tight and among the very best rap will have this year.

19.M.I.A Matangi: like the woman who made it, Matangi is hugely inventive and a bit exhausting: if it's hard to take in anything other than small doses, you can't help but be glad it exists. On the title track, Arulpragasam takes aim at her legions of pallid imitators: "Lookalike, copycat, doppleganger, fraud … if you're gonna be like me you need a manifesto." You could argue that's yet another example of her tendency to, as the Australians say, let the wind blow up her arse and waggle her tongue.

20. Black Joe Lewis Electric Slave: “Electric Slave is what people are today, with their faces buried in their iPhones and the only way to hold a conversation is through text,” Lewis explains in the album’s press release. While he’s not always singing about escaping modernity, the music itself carries a good deal of that weight. He may mythically title songs like Vampire and Golem; the lyrics largely focus on timeless issues of the heart and an old-fashioned drive for good times.