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.