Lorin watched all the Best Picture nominees again, 2017 edition

February 25, 2017

Y’know, if they went back to just 5 nominees for best picture this would be so much easier to do. I actually thought I was done watching all of these and then I looked at the list and realized I still had two to go! Who has the time? I mean, I did have the time, but who else? Not most people. So here they are, with some thoughts. Right off I’ll say this year already has a leg up on past years in that there are no outright stinkers. See what happens when David O. Russell and Iñárritu take a year off. As well, no movie on this list was as good as Green Room, the actual best movie of 2016.

(Some spoilers ahead)

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Arrival

Did the end of this make sense to you? I mean, I know the aliens give the human race the ability to see the future but the whole phone call to the Chinese president bit with the words from his wife? I mean, that works? The movie said it did but I don’t buy it. Arrival feels like a film that is playing things very grounded(for an alien visit film) and suddenly switches gear to get very vague and metaphysical, and left me sighing out of the theater. After so much detail I was surprised that the movie ends with someone essentially saying “Everything worked out, don’t sweat the details.” This whole movie up that point was about details! Ahhhh! People love it, but the end felt like grasping at air.

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Fences

Everyone is acting super hard here but it felt like a play, because it was a play. Your milage may vary. Denzel is one of the greats and I know he won a Tony for this performance but it doesn’t feel lived in, the way so many of his other performances do. I think this owes to the difference between theater acting and film acting, of which I don’t know a ton about but I’ve seen some plays and I’ve watched plenty of movies and Fences is broad as fuck. This works in the intimate setting of a live play, the actors literally performing mere feet from your seat. But in a film, this feels off, like a rehearsal. Viola Davis is better, her big moment playing more grounded, but otherwise she’s consistent with the other players. Great play, but only ok cinema.

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Hacksaw Ridge

This is a strange one, since the first half of this movie is corny trash and the second half is a war gore fest, and they’re so at odds with each other that it’ll give you whiplash. Mel Gibson of course is a lunatic religious fanatic, so the religion stuff gets thrown around pretty heavily, but this movie looks good and you guys, this violence is bananas. People are using torsos as human shields, so many people get flamethrowered, and HEADSHOTSSSSS. Oh yeah, this is about a guy who just saves people and never fires a gun. Will admit, got a little choked up at the end, when they show the real guy in archive footage, but that’s just me getting weepy after becoming a dad. Dunno how this got nominated, but WW2 is an easy sell to Oscar voters.

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Hell or High Water

Y’know, this one was just ok too. Pretty on the nose about the poor and disenfranchised in this country, but also has a hokey moment with Jeff Bridges character and his partner that only works because Jeff Bridges is a really good actor. The movie wants us to believe something to the effect of “Sure he’s racist but he loves this guy.” I dunno, up to that point he seems pretty racist to me. Chris Pine has this great scene beating a guy up in one take that I liked, but otherwise, just ok.

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Hidden Figures

It’s a nice crowd pleaser, made with verve and just a touch of style. Could have used more style, but it had more than I come to expect from these kind of films, and it’s a nice little moment to see Janelle Monae before she becomes a giant superstar. Smart casting of Kevin Costner, this should have been a sleepwalk role and he still showed up.

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La La Land

Neither as bad as you’ve heard nor as good as the momentum would suggest. Has a deathly opening 20 minutes but then the songs stop and the film lets the leads be their charming selves. The big problem is that all the songs suck and the dancing is wan. I expected better from the director of Whiplash.

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Lion

This is a nice movie that literally no one will remember in a year. It’s like Room in that way. Remember Room? Everyone was all, “Did you see Room? So sad!” So Lion is like that in that it is sad, has a strong performance by a child lead, but for some reason the grown actor gets more awards focus for arbitrary reasons. Unless they’re awarding Dev Patel for his transformation from gawky nerd is smoldering long haired sex god, in which case, sure, give it to him. But seriously, the end of this movie made me cry.

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Manchester by the Sea

This one is sad but hey, not sad as fuck? This thing starts and I’m thinking “This is going to be sad as fuck” but it’s only kinda sad, definitely melancholy, sometimes funny in that “Yeah, that’s life brah” way, and I was invested the whole way through. Casey Affleck, terrible things he’s allegedly done in real life aside(insane how we have to keep saying that about every single actor and director these days), is very good in this, because he’s always been very good. Triple 9Gone Baby Gone, the guy has always been crushing it. I don’t think this is a showy enough performance to win, and his off camera issues probably hurt him too. Otherwise, good flick!

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Moonlight

I think this movie is good but after sitting on it for awhile I think the main character is too underwritten, to the point where his maturation and decisions seem more screenplay arbitrary than “This happens then this then this.” I agree that Mahershala Ali is very good and should win the Oscar but the problem is that his performance is so strong and commanding that when he suddenly leaves the film, there is an immediate void that the film doesn’t try to address, and when Chiron is revealed to take on Ali’s characters attributes as an adult, it felt like lazy movie shorthand. At first my reaction was “Of course” but then I thought “Of course?” Still, the final diner scene is so beautiful and tender and the fact that this movie doesn’t end like tear jerker massacre is a miracle unto itself.

Should win: Manchester by the Sea

Will win: La La Land

My Favorite Films of 2016

Green Room

Elle 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Hail, Caesar

Don’t Breathe

The Nice Guys

Manchester by the Sea

Favorite film moments of 2016

Boxcutter scene in Green Room

All of the Alden Ehrenreich scenes in Hail, Caesar

Gosling finding the dead body in The Nice Guys

Kevin Costner saying “My head was cold!” in Criminal

Batman warehouse raid in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Gerard Butler saying “Fuck me? Fuck you!” and then scraping a terrorist against a wall with an SUV because the terrorist said “Fuck you!” at him while trying to kill him in London Has Fallen.

Best Music of 2016

January 2, 2017

Being a dad means less time listening to music. Well, that’s not true, I listened to the “Busy busy busy busy/there is so much to do” song on my son’s Stand and Play table about 500 times this year. Definitely my most listened to track. The music below is what I had time for and enjoyed, in between that song and all the nu-metal I listened to over here. I echo similar sentiments from people like Al Shipley and Steven Hyden with my list this year. I didn’t get to hear as much as I wanted to, and sometimes even then I didn’t get to listen to some things more than once. As a snapshot of my 2016 listening experience, this is pretty accurate.

ALBUMS

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  1. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
    This has been a trying year for us Kanye-Stans. We’ve had to weather the outbursts and the delays and the album rollout and the Trump supporting statements and then actually meeting with Trump; it almost broke us. But we still had these songs. As an album it is certainly Kanye’s messiest since Late Registration but the peaks are so high, and the lows aren’t really that low at all. I ride for “Facts”, but hey, I’m a Kanye-Stan.
    p.s. The Pablo tour was flames before it imploded.

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  2. A Seat at the Table by Solange
    I never thought I’d become obsessed with a Solange album but 2016 was a year of surprises both good and bad. Solange finally crafted a piece of work that felt distinctly her own, not cribbing from obvious sources, instead fueled by a passion and point of view that is shatteringly personal. All of Solange’s previous work never sounded like it was necessary, while A Seat at the Table sounds vital and needed.

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  3. Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown
    Danny Brown reviews always talk about how he’s melting down and his songs show a side of him that is wild and off kilter. I certainly see that, but I think the great thing about his albums is that the dude is just rapping hard. Front to back, his albums are just power raps, mowing down the competition. And I don’t even care about the competition. Beats: fire. Lyrics: crushing.

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  4. Crazy Eyes by Filter
    Filter frontman Richard Patrick has been rotating and replacing bandmates pretty regularly since 2008’s Anthems For the Damned with mixed results. The albums were never terrible, they just sounded patchy and conceptually weak and with 2013’s The Sun Comes Out Tonight, I was convinced that I could expect about half an album of solid tracks with a decent amount of filler every couple years and I was totally fine with that. Patrick got his groove back with this one, you guys. Basically front to back fury, with Patrick indulging in dance floor grooves, industrial blast beats and that wonderful strained yarl that all us Filter-heads live for. Easily their best album since 2002’s The Amalgamut.

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  5. SEPT. 5TH by dvsn
    I heard a lot of R&B this year that either was too sleepy and languid for my tastes or too indebted to old sources without adding anything new. dvsn was the group that really surprised me, with a strong, passionate and seductive sound that I hadn’t been hearing in these other albums. The vocal on “Try” is some oh shit oh shit level quality.

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  6. Power Under Control by Islander
    I first heard of these guys while researching bands that are considered to be nu-metal in 2016. They have co-signs from P.O.D. and Korn, but their sound is a mix of the hard charge of nu-metal with the melodic lightness of pop-punk. I know, I was skeptical too. This is Islander’s second album, their first falling into that emo/punk sound with little need for strong hooks. In between albums the lead singer basically ditched the whole band and started again from scratch. They’re now in that P.O.D. lane of being almost explicitly a religious band with songs like “Beelezbub” but they mostly stick to kick riffs on “Bad Guy” and “Better Day”. Terrible haircuts tho.

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  7. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
    No one expected this album and I don’t think anyone expected it to be pretty great when they found out about it. But Q-Tip is some kind of casual genius and having everyone record in studio together clearly worked, because this album is alive and vibrant. That said, there are plenty of albums made by people in different rooms who never meet, but let the mystique be. Having the title be something that Phife liked but never explained to anyone is the perfect ending to it all.

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  8. Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande
    We’re now three albums deep into Ariana Grande’s career and each album is better than the last. She packs it with a couple of all timers (“Into You”, “Touch It”) and just creates a real fun, high energy pop package that isn’t dumb or embarrassing. And girl can sang.

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  9. Into the Vanishing Light by Night Verses
    I found out about these guys because famed nu-metal producer Ross Robinson worked on and produced this album, one of six(!) albums he did this year (his work on De La Tierra’s II is also a highlight). For whatever reason, Night Verses and their emo/post-hardcore sound resonated with me this year, and Ross did a great job organizing the cacophony of their sound and having them branch out into other areas as well, like prog and shoegaze. I guess this one was divisive in their fan base, which could mean their next record is some “back to basics” BS. I hope not.

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  10. The Serenity of Suffering by Korn
    While I was definitely excited to hear this new Korn album I don’t think I expected it to be this good. It’s not even like it’s the best album they’ve ever done, but it is certainly the best album they’ve made in at least 13 years. The band members hyped this thing up as a back to basics, let’s just rock record, and the fact that it actually is the thing they said it would be is pretty mindblowing. 11 tracks, just Korn being Korn, big hooks, crunching riffs, no complaints from me!

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  11. Gameshow by Two Door Cinema Club
    These guys came back real strong after their second record turned out to be an actual sophomore slump. Dedication to light, fun dance pop/rock and good hooks make this the kind of breezy listen that sounds too easy, though I’m sure it was hard as hell to make.

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  12. Operator by MSTRKRFT
    MSTRKRFT’s last album Fist of God is an all timer for me, a front to back album of hard dance bangers, released in 2009 just as the whole blog house sound was dying out(much to my chagrin). They have let a couple trends come and go and come in the time since that record, and with Operator they sound like they’re in a transition mode of still knowing how to do the big hooks if they want to, but burying them in distortion and punk screams. It was initially disorienting but it is a definite grower with plenty of bangers to be found.

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  13. Prima Donna by Vince Staples
    Vince is the realest, and he sounds so disdainful half the time, and I love it. I listened to this the same week as that Travis Scott album and it only cemented the fact that that album is a piece of trash.

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  14. Cashmere by Swet Shop Boys
    Swet Shop Boys had the best song of 2014 and they now have an album that is almost as good. Heems continues his post-Das Racist run of success with more sharp/lazy sounding rhymes while Riz MC has apparently gotten even better and is spitting with a venom that is invigorating! 30 or so minutes of fire right here.

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  15. Anti by Rihanna
    When this came out, the talk was that Rihanna had finally made a cohesive album and not just a playlist of singles, which is the kind of thing you say when an album doesn’t sound like it has any big hits on it. I think this is about as consistent as Loud or Rated R, but without a big monster dance floor number, instead you have “Work”, which still sounds dumb and unfinished to me but I’m not upset about it. Most of the album is great moody numbers like “Needed Me” and “Kiss It Better”, and if I don’t think it is that much different from her other albums, it at least feels confident for an album that was being pushed back and retooled for over a year.

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  16. Hit Reset by The Julie Ruin
    It would be a shame if the only thing people remembered about Kathleen Hanna this year is that terrible song she put out with a (briefly) reunited Le Tigre. Thankfully, history should record this excellent Julie Ruin album, filled to the brim with strong rockers about standing up for yourself, getting over your past wounds and kicking ass.

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  17. Beyond the Fleeting Gales by Crying
    Writer Ian Cohen put these guys on my radar when he tweeted an enthusiastic endorsement of their first single from this album, “Wool In the Wash”. He said “Van Halen” and I’m always dying for more vintage Van Halen so I did not walk, I ran, to hear this band. And y’know, at first I agreed with a lot of the internet people who said that making the Halen comparison did not do this band any favors, because your mind goes to David Lee Roth in a codpiece doing kick flips, not a soft voiced woman singing over guitar solos and enthusiastic keyboards. But the guitar is shiny and glittery, the riffs are potent and the momentum never lags. It sounds like the future.

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  18. Lemonade by Beyoncé
    I think this is only her fourth best album, but it’s still pretty good and the visual element is an all timer. I also believe that the whole storyline is just for the album and has little to no actual basis in fact. I will accept the facts as they are presented.

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  19. Gore by Deftones
    Has a fair share of rippers along with the spacey, sensual stuff that I always expect from Chino. I’d say it’s a lesser work by them after the great run of Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokon but it still crushes where it counts and the finale is a classic.

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  20. A New Wave of Violence by Head Wound City
    I have spent a lot of time listening to the Johnny Whitney post-Blood Brother’s projects but this was the first Jordan Blilie and Cody Votolato project I checked out, and I am glad I did because it is 24 minutes of fury, the closest to Blood Brothers we’re probably going to get. Along with members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Locust, and produced once again by Ross Robinson, A New Wave of Violence is thrashing guitars and screeched vocals in the Blood Brothers vein, but with a punk efficiency. One story about Ross Robinson is that he likes to throw things at the bands while he records them, to get them to be alert and awake in the moment. Head Wound City sound like they would be ready to throw something right back.

SONGS

1. Crying: “Wool in the Wash”
2. Ariana Grande: “Into You”
3. Primal Scream: “Where The Light Gets In” (feat. Sky Ferreira)
4. Kanye West: “Father I Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”
5. Filter: “Nothing In My Hands”
6. Kwesta: “Ngud'”
7. Tegan and Sara: “U-turn”
8. Deftones: “Doomed User”
9. Beyoncé: “Formation”
10. Tokyo Police Club: “PCH”
11. Islander: “Bad Guy”
12. Chance the Rapper: “All Night” (feat. Knox Fortune)
13. A$AP Mob: “Yamborghini High” (feat. Juicy J)
14. Noname: “Diddy Bop” (feat. Raury and Cam O’Bi)
15. Chance the Rapper: “No Problem” (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)
16. Justice: “Randy”
17. Desiigner: “Panda”
18. Korn: “Take Me”
19. Rae Sremmurd: “Black Beatles” (feat. Gucci Mane)
20. John Mayer: “Love On the Weekend”

Spotify Playlist

Apple Music Playlist

Joanne by Lady Gaga

October 28, 2016

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When you consider all of the big popstars of today and the last twenty or thirty years, there is something to be said for staying power and impact in the zeitgeist. There are stars and then there are icons. Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, embedded in the culture and hitless for around 20 years but still, their legacies are secure, and that was the case even before Prince and MJ passed away. But is Lady Gaga on that level? The way articles and she herself portrays her career, you might think so,  and yet Lady Gaga isn’t even ten years into a career that has only spawned one actual hit album, 2008’s The Fame. She buffered that with the EP The Fame Monster but when she finally dropped the actual follow up, Born This Way in 2011, she had to juke the stats with a promotion where the album sold for a dollar. Since that trick, the powers that be have changed the rules on how cheap you can sell your album and have it “count”. She got a number 1 single out of it with the title track, but neither that song or any of the other singles had any staying power in radio playlists after the year was up. If you hear a Gaga song at a wedding or social event in 2016, it is definitely something off The Fame. 2013’s Artpop was a genuine flop, not going platinum and without a number 1 single (“Applause” got to #4, “Do What You Want” to #13, “G.U.Y.” to #76) and accompanied by rumors of sabotage and general mismanagement. Gaga has spent the time since rehabilitating her career by doing “normal” things, like dressing in conventional clothes and singing duets with old people, appealing to the norms. Now we have Joanne, and it’s clear that Gaga didn’t realize that it isn’t the music we were shunning, it was her.

I actually really liked Artpop and Born This Way. They both indulged in maximalism which is Gaga’s best look, always adding too much and overwhelming the senses. The thing with an all sugar diet is that eventually you’re gonna crash, and that was Artpop, too over the top and indulgent for it’s own good. But also, I think the whole Lady Gaga thing, people were done with it. Gaga had taken all of us to the edge of her abilities, and the world said, “Ok, I get it. I’m gonna pass.” With Joanne, Lady Gaga is trying to woo back people with what she thinks they want, with something she isn’t good at, which is being chill.

Joanne is a frustrating listen, like a bronco that has been tranquilized. Certainly Lady Gaga means well with her Trayvon Martin ballad “Angel Down”, but it sounds like sad word salad with lines like “living in the age of social” which strive for poetic but sound more like fumbling profundity. But more so, when the bpms rise, the production is still muted and dull, with an embrace of guitars and “real” sounds over the “fake” sound of EDM drops. As if guitars are just hanging off trees, waiting to be plucked.

The reviews for Joanne are tepid but kind. No one wants to out and out slam her, and even the supposed pan from Jon Caramanica in the New York Times is actually more even handed than Gaga’s retort would suggest. And about that, why is Lady Gaga responding to reviewers? Never a good look, girl.

What we do have to look forward to is the next Gaga album in 2 or 3 years, where she drops some megawattage video with huge synths and screaming vocals and does interviews where she says “Yeah, Joanne was a weird moment. But I’m back, sitting with you, covered in leeches.”

Jason Bourne

August 22, 2016

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Jason Bourne is the worst entry in the series to feature Matt Damon. I haven’t watched the Damonless The Bourne Legacy but Tony Gilroy wrote it so it probably has some moments. Gilroy also wrote the original trilogy but did not return for this run around the globe. It shows. Director Paul Greengrass attempts to make Bourne current by having a subplot about internet privacy but it just lays there on the screen, everyone tapping their toes wondering when Bourne is going to throw a guy off a roof. Don’t worry, that eventually happens.

I remain confounded by the popularity of the Bourne franchise. Sturdy, sure, but so damn dull. The original trilogy managed to deliver the same film three times, each one more efficiently than the last, with little sense of play or fun. Jason Bourne is a nothing character and he demands so little emotionally from Matt Damon. Yet, that wouldn’t matter if the films were better. But they are largely shots of screens and suits and people on cell phones barking the names of cities. The action is always shaky and blurry, the hint of movement with zero clarity. Why anyone would prefer this over even the worst James Bond or Mission Impossible film is the great mystery of our time. I have seen the argument that these films are “smart” but I think people just mean “serious” and “humorless”. Jason Bourne doesn’t joke, the people chasing after him don’t either. This is spy craft and espionage at it’s most dry. I will give the original trilogy credit: right when you start to glaze at the pointlessness of the plot, something crashes, someone is shot, Bourne kills someone with a magazine.

Jason Bourne picks up with Jason living off the grid and earning money as some kind of underground fighter. He is reintroduced taking out a guy with one punch(!) and then walking off, all bad ass. But then he starts feeling sad, because Jason Bourne has never felt cool ever, because he’s too busy either being confused or depressed. He gets contacted by good ol’ Julia Stiles to find out more about Operation Treadstone and Daddy Bourne’s involvement with it. This leads to the first action sequence of the movie, where Bourne and Julia ride around on a motorcycle, weaving around incredibly docile rioters. No one ever really gets in their way, but in typical Paul Greengrass style, at one point someone puts their leg right in front of the camera, because it isn’t an action shot if Greengrass can’t obscure the action with either a head or a limb or just shaking the camera until the image is a rusty blur. Eventually all this riding around comes to an end with the death of Stiles by a sniper’s bullet. This is a direct echo of Franka Potente’s death in The Bourne Supremacy, so if you’ve been looking for another woman to die for a man, Jason Bourne has you covered.

The action throughout Jason Bourne is consistent with this style, blink and you’ll miss it fights and impacts, and strangely blocked scenes that only work to frustrate a viewer trying to just see what the fuck is going on. The big finale in Las Vegas is just oh so very slightly clearer, but still an edit fest requiring you to basically guess where these cars are in relation to one another. It helps that they get stacked on top of each other a few times.

Jason Bourne is one of the more blatant money grab IP extenders of the summer, with no one in front or behind the camera caring about much besides hitting their marks and cashing a check. Tommy Lee Jones might be the most bored and evil character of all time. My man is fucking yawning at one point.

Music Journal, June 6th 2016

June 5, 2016

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Islah by Kevin Gates

The great contradictions of a person make them interesting, like when Vin Diesel goes to give a woman a kiss. Kevin Gates is the greatest embodiment of contrast, with moments of real empathy and openness right alongside tracks where he goes on and on defending his decision to assault a fan at a show. The music is good to great across the board, lush and full without being overproduced, the beats aren’t particularly showy but never generic. Islah has Gates offering footrubs while his lady talks about her day, juggles his two phones(business and pleasure) and he loves to fuck. He can also rap, sing the hook, and eschews guests. Kevin Gates is too real.

Ξ by The Toxic Avenger 

The overhanging menace is a bit much. No attempts to dance. I think there is a GG Allin sound bite. A good reminder that blog house is dead too. Closing track “Together” aspires to some kind of lights in the sky, hands up in the air losing it moment but that dark menace, for whatever purpose it is supposed to lend, just sucks the air out of the room. This is so tasteful it might as well be hors d’oeuvres tray.

The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us by Beach Slang

The lead singer has that nice grit in his voice that makes guys like Ryan Adams and Walter Schreifels so appealing. The majority of these tracks rip it up, and “Dirty Lights” might be the rippiest of them all. My favorite part is this line in “Ride the Wild Haze”:

Get really high
Stay up for days
I come back down and somehow things are all the same

That’s fucking life, man.

The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

7 for 7, or 8 for 8 if you count Watch The Throne. For all the mess of the release and the fact that you still can’t buy it unless you have a Tidal account, TLOP is a winner. I’ve been listening to it incessently and it’s one of my favorite things he’s ever done, just like Yeezus before it. Kanye doesn’t seem interested in being a rapper anymore, and his twitter bears this out, but his curating and production abilities are still without peer. Is this a mess? I feel like Late Registration was a messier album, plus it had those terrible skits. TLOP doesn’t have any skits, it does have more prayers but it also has the drops and misogyny and that certainly gives you whiplash but that’s every Kanye album.

Post Pop Depression by Iggy Pop 

Iggy has made hints that this is a retirement record and it sounds like it. More subdued than one would expect considering the Josh Homme assembled band, Iggy Pop gets some jabs and wails in but he mostly sounds like someone who is tying up loose ends. A nice record to go out on, just don’t expect him to tear the world down around him while he exits.

Don’t You by Wet

This album is boring and sucks.

Majid Jordan by Majid Jordan

This is nice and pleasant and then you’ve fallen asleep on the couch.

Hotel Paranoia by Jazz Cartier

Fake Drake songs bump into fake Meek Mill songs into fake everybody else. Guy has no personality of his own. He is sure of himself though, so shouts to his self esteem.

I Don’t Think It Is by Say Anything

This is the worst album Say Anything have ever made. The production is either purposely bad or they literally had no budget. I kinda think it’s the latter. Max Bemis does more of the same from the last couple Say Anything albums, but with weaker hooks and a thin sound. I would say it’s a cry for help but every Say Anything album is a cry for help. This one just sounds more desperate.

Khalifa by Wiz Khalifa 

Wiz Khalifa is the owner of the most bored tone in rap, maybe tied with Big Sean. He just never sounds that interested in anything he is saying. The production on this one is not bad, always good to see Lex Luger getting a check. Strictly for the die hard Wizheads, or whatever they’re called.

10 Ways to Steal Home Plate by Wolfgang Gartner

We’re ten years removed from the Summer of 06, the beginning of the blog house era, an incredible time to be alive and have an internet connection. We’re now in a sort of post EDM era, so guys like Gartner, who as recently as 2011 were dropping mega opus albums with 8 minute tracks, are turning around and making 3 minute pop tracks featuring rappers. Not complaining, you have to work hard to put food on your family. 10 Ways gets the job done.

Views by Drake

I guess I’m back off the Drake train again. After the back to back delivery of Nothing Was The Same and it’s run of all timers (“Worst Behavior”, “Hold On We’re Going Home”) with 2015’s If You’re Reading This Its Too Late I figured Views would be a slam dunk. But instead Drake has delivered his first dirge record. Rapping at a minimum, singing and whining cranked up to 11, all over 40’s “The fridge is running” production soundscapes. No one needs these cold bummer tracks for such a hot summer.

Anti by Rihanna

It is easy to declare “Best Rihanna Album” on first listen. It seems so cohesive! I went back and listened to Rated R, Loud, Unapologetic and Talk That Talk just to be sure and those albums basically have the same success/failure rate as Anti, though Anti has less obvious A&R trend chasing.  Without any bangers, much of Anti’s runtime is given over to moody midtempo slither. “Needed Me” and “Kiss It Better” have a simple majesty and as a singer Rihanna has never sounded better and maybe one day she’ll make a true front to back burner. “Work” still sounds like RiRi’s “The Lady I Know” and that Tame Impala song is now a Rihanna song, sorry, no take backs.

Hymns by Bloc Party

A couple years ago I went to my cousin’s high school graduation party and I happened to mention an upcoming Bloc Party concert. “No one cares about Bloc Party anymore”, my cousin informed me. Hymns will not change that view. The title is taken in a literal sense, with endless soft paeans to a higher power that have no interest in strong hooks or melodies. Now running without Matt Tong’s iconic drumming or Gordon Moakes bass work, Bloc Party has taken on the guise of one of front man Kele Okereke’s tedious solo records. This guys used to be the jam. A real bummer.

Transmission by Death in Vegas

Richard Fearless is now partnering with Sasha Grey on his ventures as Death in Vegas, and while it’s a better album than 2011’s endless drone Trans-Love Energies it doesn’t play as much more than extended interludes. Grey doesn’t add much to the mix besides some monotone vocals, and besides functioning as a kind of white noise, I’m not sure what anyone is supposed to do with this music. It never elevates to the point of interesting art and instead functions as elaborate “on hold” muzak.

Coloring Book by Chance The Rapper

I still can’t take Chance’s voice for too long. Too thin, always sounds like he’s on the verge of a gasp or a crack. And if he tries to sing, it’s even worse. Sorry Chance, you’re no Kevin Gates. Still, Coloring Book has his best songs so far. “No Problem” has an incredible hook and some pretty good verses from 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne and “All Night” is the kind of party banger that you have to put on repeat because 2 minutes and 21 seconds isn’t long enough. Chance says his favorite Kanye album is The College Dropout and Coloring Book is slathered in it’s influence. Not a bad place to start.

 

 

 

Watchin’ those Oscar pics

February 27, 2016

Last year at the Oscars was unfortunate. You know why. It looks like my dog Iñárritu is looking to pull a twofer, which is about right. Some people fail up in different ways. But enough about Al for a moment. Let’s look at all the competition. It was tough to see everything nominated for best picture but I managed to rally this week. I wanted to watch all the acting nominated films but then I looked at what the films were and I thought “There is no reason to ever watch Trumbo.”

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Wooo, Room. This could have gone so wrong but instead goes so very right. Brie Larsen is the favorite to win best actress and she has some showy moments and I see why she’s the favorite but I can’t call it a transcendent performance. It’s good, good work. It isn’t a transformation, which a lot of best actor and actress awards generally go towards (shouts to Charlize Theron), but it isn’t schmaltzy or cloying. Also important for Room, the kid is a good actor. He’s no kid-from-The Babadook but he’s good. Bad child actors will sink your whole operation. No shit, I thought the big twist of this movie would be a reveal that Jack is actually a girl but no, he just never cut his hair while in captivity. So no twist. Sorry twistheads. But why is William H. Macy in this thing? He shows up for a couple scenes, I’m betting on a juicy Bill Macy sequence and then he just never shows up again. Did they cut him for time? Maybe I’ve just been Macy deprived. Props to Sean Bridgers, who with Room and The Woman is one away from a kidnapper/creeper movie character hat trick. You’re a natural, Sean!

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Spotlight is drab to look at, but it’s not boring but also maybe it tells the wrong story? Like, I believe that what the Spotlight team did was great and important work, but the dramatization of their quest for the truth is kinda bland. They run into roadblocks and conflicts sure, but nothing cinematic. Any sense of exciting drama is culled from Mark Ruffalo going method tic crazy with his notepads and slouching style, as well as his decision to hold a telephone just like the real guy(so I assume, it isn’t a normal way I would hold a phone)! At one point Ruffalo’s character discovers some particularly damning evidence and he takes a taxi while calling his editor to give him the juicy deets. The filmmakers decide to just show us a what looks to be stock footage of a taxi ambling along through traffic, while Ruffalo’s voice over drops the knowledge. All this did was let me know they didn’t want to strap a camera to the side of a taxi and film Mark inside. Nitpicking, I know! But when the whole thing was over and Rachel McAdams watches her grandma sigh and read and sigh and read the whole messy expose I thought “Isn’t the story what happened to these people that were abused?” And it is! The story that Spotlight wrote is the actual interesting story! But seeming them write it is like, well, seeing someone write something. Like, literally watching them write.

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The Martian is a whole lot of fun. It’s like someone watched Gravity and thought, “Needs more jokes!” and that idea actually worked out. For the record, disco is great and this movie knows it. Later period Ridley Scott is kinda unpredictable, eh you guys? This, The Counselor, Exodus, Prometheus, guy seems like he’s just pointing at random, “That seems like a jolly good whatever.”  I hope Matt Damon wins best actor, leans over to shake Leo’s hand and whispers “I never actually went to Mars.”

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Brooklynnnnnnnnnnnn, stand up! Nah, it’s not really that interesting. A couple years ago James Gray made The Immigrant, starring Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner and nominee), Joaquin Phoenix (multiple nominee) and Jeremy Renner (he was nominated for The Fucking Town, son!) The Immigrant is a great film, but for a long time I could only be told this, because it’s release had been buried and/or pushed back. When it finally got released it played one theater in town for a week, and it was the shitty Birmingham 8 where old people talk through the whole thing and drop entire pockets of change on the ground during the quiet parts. After I saw it, I thought it’s quality was pretty undeniable and that the Academy Awards would latch onto it’s sad but honest story and performances and give it, if not a win, at least a nomination. But it was ignored there as well, and maybe the fix was in, because Brooklyn is basically the Sesame Street version of The Immigrant. Where in The Immigrant countless horrors and setbacks plague Cotillard’s character as she attempts to enter the country and then make a life for herself, being forced into a burlesque show and prostitution, Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis in Brooklyn faces the minor inconveniences of bitchy roommates and being in love with someone who adores baseball. What little conflict this movie presents is so quickly brushed away that the whole thing seems like an overlong trifle. Maybe I shouldn’t even bring up The Immigrant but that movie felt like a true expression by an artist. Brooklyn might as well be a painting in a dentist’s office.

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The Big Short is bleak. Incredibly bleak. Popping along like a comedy with fourth wall breaking and zippy dialogue it might even be misconstrued as a comedy but the second half is so dire and hopeless that I’m surprised they didn’t just suck all of the color out of the images. But I liked it! It’s great! This is the kind of Steve Carell dramatic performance that I can get behind, just all screaming and pissy. When Gosling describes his angry face as “the bad guy in Dune” I wanted to applaud. Christian Bale is doing his weirdo ugly thing here: glass eye, weird teeth, bad hair, no social skills. In typical Bale fashion it’s pretty lived in, but by it’s nature he wasn’t my favorite character(I did like when he cranked Mastodon, that was great). The Big Short also works as a corrective to all my problems with Spotlight. Here is an event I am familiar with, presented from an interesting angle, well acted, but with cinematic style and flavor. We’re making movies, baby! Live it up!

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Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time. This is just a fact. Bridge of Spies is one of the late career films that people instantly underrate because it isn’t a big special effects picture and because it has a wonderful script. At least, these are the only reasons I can figure that people would say Bridge of Spies is a “minor work”. So yeah, minor work Spielberg gets a best picture nomination but no director because Tom Hanks didn’t actually freeze in Berlin. This is top level Hanks here. The plane crash sequence! And this script! It’s so great! Of course it’s co-written by the Coen Brothers! I really loved this movie, and it deserves to be seen by everyone forever.

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What is left to say about The Revenant? Obviously it stinks and sucks, but why is it also the favorite to win all the Oscars? I think the reasons it stinks and sucks are also the reasons it will win. There is a solid premise here. A man left for dead comes back for vengeance? Great premise! Fight against the elements? Getting hotter! But it is how the movie is about these things that sinks it. Iñárritu can’t let a single image pass without reminding you that he was there too. So the grit and grime that this kind of picture needs is removed for admittedly beautiful pans and technically impressive one takes that are smooth when they should be the complete opposite. The script is abysmal, with no effort done to make anyone a real, three dimensional character. Tom Hardy comes closest, but that’s because he’s the only actor performing. Leonardo Dicaprio is a really good actor who I have loved in many many films and who I loathed for every second of screen time. Who is his Hugh Glass really? We never spend enough time with him to get a sense of what type of guy he really is, and the flashbacks are pseudo artful backstory filler that signify nothing. Tom Hardy’s character is right about him too! Hugh Glass definitely lead to the slaughter at the opening, his going off provoked the bear, and he was definitely slowing them down. I listened to a podcast where a couple guys enthused at length about The Revenant, with one guy exclaiming “This actually happened!” over and over again. Having read up on the story this is based on, they actually took a might be bullshit survival story and made it worse. There is no dead son, he doesn’t kill the guys when he finds them, and there is no rape scene. They added all that! They sat down and said “This story of survival needs only female characters that are either dead or a raped. Ok, print it out. Lets get some sandwiches.”  Still, Birdman is worse.

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Mad Max Fury Road is too good for the Oscars. Straight up. It either wins everything it is nominated for or it shouldn’t have been nominated at all. I’ve watched it twice, and both times it felt like a miracle. Furiousa’s “Remember me” is an all time, bad ass hall of fame ownage moment. Hope they include that in the clip package.

 

 

Favorite Movies of 2015

February 15, 2016

I didn’t see everything that came out in 2015, so it is entirely possible that in a year’s time when I eventually get caught up this list would be completely changed. But that’s my problem, not yours.

The Best

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1) Mad Max Fury Road:  Fury Road tells a story with glances and actions. It might be the best film in the genre, maybe even the best of all time. I’ve seen it twice and both times I felt like I was watching some kind of miracle. Charlize Theron says it all with her eyes, Tom Hardy says it with “It’s not my blood.”

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2) Magic Mike XXL: A tale of a bunch of friends going on a road trip and having the best time as they meet people, have parties, and try to be their best selves. Channing Tatum is in his natural element, being charming and dancing. The workshop dance to “Pony” is an obvious tip of the hat to Fred Astaire, and the final sequence at the convention is one of the great finales, with an incredible build and payoff. Magic Mike XXL is more fun than we deserve.

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3) Furious 7: 

It could have all gone wrong but it all went so right. Despite all the setbacks and tragedy, Furious 7 is a wonder to behold, incredible action cinema, and it has Jason Statham fighting The Rock AND Vin Diesel. The franchise peak, at least until the next one.

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4) The Hateful Eight: I liked how everyone is actually, truly, totally hateful in a real awful, genuine way. I had a friend message me just disgusted by the Sam Jackson sequence involving the son of the old Confederate soldier and he was kinda right, it is a little homophobic and cruel. But that is the point! Up to that moment in the film, we have no reason to dislike Jackson’s character, but then there we are, confronted with the terrible ugliness. And it only gets worse.

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5) Creed: Rocky Balboa’s Philadelphia is a vivid and real place, established over 6 films spanning over 30 years. Creed inserts itself effortlessly into this world, knows the rhythms and the people and just exists, like a stunning slice of life piece as well as a boxing movie. This one plays in such a way that I could be convinced that these characters are actually out there, living their lives and having this human adventures right now. The training montage ending with the street bikes is an all timer.

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6) It Follows: The creepiness of this film is unmatched. Arguments about whether it follows it’s own rules seems like it is beside the point, since I am all in on the mood. The panning shots of nothing that might not be nothing but maybe they’re nothing and I’m just paranoid, that is the type of thing you can’t fake.

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7) The Martian: No, it’s true, this movie is hilarious.

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8) Knock Knock: McCarty and I love Keanu Reeves more than most people, maybe all people, besides his parents and close friends. But this one looked like an MRA fantasy come to life. And it kinda is! But it’s also Eli Roth’s best movie, with actual tension from frame one, through the “chess match” sequence, culminating in probably the best single scene of Keanu Reeves’ career. If you’re a Keanuhead, this is a must see.

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9) Blackhat: I recently showed Blackhat to my wife, and she kept saying “This is so Michael Mann.” And it is. Michael Mann has reached a point, probably since Miami Vice in 06, where he isn’t interested in anything except gleaming surfaces, serious men, and his take on “realism”. The behind the scenes feature on the Blu ray has actors talking about reams of backstory and multiple takes on neck stabs to make sure they’re done right. Mann is so concerned about the details because somebody better be.

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10) Unfriended: This movie is stunning. Creating tension from being unable to delete a .avi file? The unease of a blinking cursor? This movie does it. I go to the movies to see things I’ve never seen before, and I had never seen anything like this. We’ll be talking about Unfriended for a long time.

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11) Chi-raq: I think Spike Lee doesn’t have filter and he just goes for broke and it can be particularly polarizing. But this worked for me, as allegory and as a simple tone poem.

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12) The Diary of a Teenage Girl: This level of honesty and truth in film isn’t normally allowed so for most of this film it felt like a miracle. Obviously, everyone should see it.

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13) Bone Tomahawk: Kill of the year.

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14) Wild Card: Jason Statham plays a compulsive gambler and tough guy investigator that people know can be trusted to help them out in a jam. He can also kill a group of people with just a spoon. The big spoon kill finale is of course superb but the gambling breakdown sequence shows that Statham has more range than people give him credit for.

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15) Ex Machina: Oscar Isaac is a gift to cinema and he’s never been bad in anything. He literally elevates this whole movie to essential viewing.

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16) Mission Impossible Rogue Nation: LOOK AT THAT SCREEN SHOT!

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17) Kingsman: The Secret Service: Church sequence obviously, but Colin Firth needs extra notice for not slumming it up and actually giving a shit in this wacky comic book movie. But yeah, that church sequence fucked the game up.

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18) The Gift: The ending is so cruel and awful. Who knew you could still drop something like this in the summertime? Jason Bateman finally achieves his scumbag calling.

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19) What We Do In The Shadows: Werewolves not swearwolves, the hypnotized police officers finding safety violations, the lovable Stu. And other funny parts that are better just being experienced.

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20) Clouds of Sils Maria: Kristen Stewart is great in this, because she actually holds her own against Juliette Binoche. The Primal Scream “Vanishing Point” sequence is very visceral and true.

The Worst

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Jupiter Ascending: A folly on a scale rarely seen. Miscast and overwrought to the point of tedium. Gets pretty much everything wrong. Eddie Redmayne is one of the worst to ever do it. Of course he has an Oscar.

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Jurassic WorldPandering horseshit. Dull and derivative, probably the most pointless sequel ever made…

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Terminator Genisys: Except for this one. Tries to not only ripoff the original films but also retcon them out of of existence. Just another in the long list of crimes committed by Jai Courtney.

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The RevenantFor all of it’s flaws as an adventure tale: too boring, too clean looking, the overshadowing Leo torture narrative, the final shot of this film is what truly sinks it for me. Only a director like Iñárritu would indulge an actor’s ego like that. It’ll probably pay off too. A shame.

Future Film that Time Forgot

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We Are Your Friends: Zac Efron’s instantly dated and woe-begotten EDM film doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be, jumping from bro-down farce to romantic drama back around to message movie on Life Right Now, with a music making montage that doesn’t tell us much about how electronic music is really made. Somewhere there is an interminable 3 hour cut where Efron’s bro posse gets the full subplot they demand(but don’t need) and Wes Bentley’s alcoholic guru either gets help or a proper comeuppance. At least it has the decency to end with the characters basically back where they started, as failed actors, wanna be door men, and in Emily Ratajkowski’s case, late for school on the first day of class. Girl, you’re never gonna get that degree.

Best Music of 2015

January 14, 2016

2015 went in directions I never could have anticipated. Here is what I loved this year.

Best Albums of 2015

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1. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

What a triumph. After an almost ten year hiatus, to return and be this great? Sleater-Kinney are one of the greatest bands to ever exist and No Cities is chokablock with burners. Corin Tucker still wails, Carrie Brownstein is still a guitar god, and Janet Weiss is still one of the greatest drummersalive. This album is so powerful and true, it crushes and makes my heart ache with joy. Album of the year, band of your life.

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2. HEALTH – Death Magic

Like being engulfed in a supernova but you can hear a tender voice whispering sweet nothings as the flames consume your body. Imagine the noise of a collapsing building restructured with a melody. The proper follow up “Die Slow” demanded.

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3. Madeon – Adventure

Dance album of the year. Finally someone makes the sequel to Discovery that Daft Punk couldn’t be bothered with. Adventure has about five peak moments and never lets up. My most listened to album of 2015.
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4. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION

Jepsen is now two for two for great albums that were ignored by the general public. Like KissE•MO•TION is front to back pop bangers, impeccably produced and performed. Jepsen is over here making fucking albums, ALBUMS! and people don’t even care. Hope she never stops, “Run Away With Me” and “Making The Most of the Night” already classics.

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5. Capsule – Wave Runner

Yasutaka Nakata first came on my radar when I was advised by many a twitter denizen to listen to Perfume’s 2013 album Level3. That album sounds like being executed by a thousand lazer synths at once. It’s incredible but eventually overwhelming. Nakata produces for Perfume but Capsule is his main band and he has a long career of various pop and dance meldings and experimentation. Wave Runner is actually straight ahead dance pop for the most part, but it’s more aggressive than what I am used to hearing. Every song sounds like it was made for a space launch.

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6. Drake – If You’re Reading This Its Too Late

I keep thinking I don’t like Drake that much and then I listen to this repeatedly for a month.

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7. Daniel Johns – Talk

The surprise of the year was the r&b album from the former lead singer of Silverchair. Mostly midtempo, Talk isn’t going from some white guy lover man schtick, instead displaying a wounded vulnerability that Silverchair tended to overpower with it’s alt rock thud. Johns is a confident crooner, and the production is wonderfully varied and unique.

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8. dumblonde – Dumblonde

The production shimmers and it sounds like the vocals were chopped and filtered and sprinkled around the tracks like ornaments. Danity Kane is the worst thing that created the best things.

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9. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

A double album without the feeling of being worn down by the length. Staples raps with fury and with a smirk and the beats are undeniable.

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10. Local H – Hey, Killer

Local H are one of my all time favorite bands. They are responsible for two of my all time favorite albums and their live show is without peer. Hey, Killer is a better than solid collection of crushers, peaking with “John The Baptist Blues”, which has one of those riffs that makes life worth living.

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11. Future – Dirty Sprite 2

Can a mumble and a gurgle be profound? I say yes. Future raps of opulence and excess overwhelmed by sadness. Is this guy ok? Someone check on Future!

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12. Janet Jackson – Unbreakable

One of the greatest to ever do it, still doing it. This is one of those front to back, bring a smile and bring a tear kinda albums.

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13. Girls’ Generation – Lion Heart

The accusing tone of “songs made by committee” holds less weight to me than say, a film made by committee. A great pop song can be written by someone alone, just flowing out of them as the muse hits. Or it can be made in the lab, tinkering so that the chorus is bigger and the verses are tighter and the whole package races out the door like a spaceship at lift off. That is what this album delivers, carefully crafted and molded pop/dance without a speck of dust or grit. In a way, it is perfect.

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14. Failure – The Heart is a Monster

My senior year of college I became a Ken Andrews obsessive after hearing the album Make Believe he released under the On moniker. I went back and got all his other shit, did an embarrassing interview with Andrews for my college radio station(the recording is in my basement somewhere, safe from us all), devoured his other solo and side project work (Year of the Rabbit is a used bin staple, but it rocks), and of course meeting other Ken Andrews fanatics in my travels. The uniting principle for all of us Andrewsheads is his first band Failure and their 1996 opus Fantastic Planet, one of those cult pieces that burrows deep inside a small audience and has them still talking about and obsessing some 20 years later. The Heart is a Monster is a direct sequel to FP and it ended up being even better than anyone could have hoped. For the hardcore Andrewsheads it is a fulfillment of long held hopes and dreams.

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15. Fall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho

FOB’s strange pop comeback barrels on, and for every strange left turn decision that I have trouble reconciling (Big Sean on the last album, the Munster’s sample on this one), they still deliver some career best work(“Jetpack Blues”, “Fourth of July”) and make a song with SebastiAn (“American Beauty/American Psycho”) that sounds just a like a SebastiAn song. So, good. And the remix album for this was not half bad either.

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16. Empress Of – Me

This one reminded me of when Bjork made albums with beats and melodies you could dance to and play over and over again.

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17. Destroy This Place – Animal Rites

Not to discount the previous Destroy This Place albums, but this is the first one that sounds like a real, fully fleshed out Band. The influences are obvious but the tracks aren’t boneheaded, and if you thought the last Foo Fighters album was a dud this one picks up the slack. “No Apologies” is a particular triumph as it is one of the great closing tracks. Great closing tracks are so few and far between! These guys are on a roll.

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18. Dr. Dre – Compton

Dre didn’t owe us shit but he dropped this anyway. I guess there is a backlash to this album but it knocks and I didn’t think Dre was into knocking anything anymore.

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19. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School

This thing has a weird gurgle sound on the keyboard for the first half but the songs themselves are solid and the back half is all hits. Best thing Alan has done since “Parking Lot Nights”.

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20. Eagles of Death Metal – Zipper Down

My kneejerk response was too slight, but it has grown on me with repeated listens and the riffs are strong. I was also foolish in not realizing that “I Love You All The Time” is a new one for the canon.

 

Honorable Mentions

Grimes – Art Angels
John Carpenter- Lost Themes
Shamir – Ratchet
Jack Ü – Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

 

Best Songs of 2015 

Cool For The Summer

 

 

  1. “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato: “Cool for the Summer” was my most listened to song this past year. It is a perfect piece of pop design, with the kind of blow-out-the-speakers chorus that Max Martin has become the master of creating. Demi Lovato imbues the track with the obvious sexual fire but also a yearning humanity that I don’t get from someone like Katy Perry. Other artists perform, but Lovato owns this track. There are many ways to sell the “bodytype” line, Lovato made it legendary.
  2. “Back Together” by Robin Thicke featuring Nicki Minaj: Robin Thicke is the most hated man in pop music, and all he did was be kinda skeevy and have a drug problem. In comparison to Justin Bieber and R. Kelly, he’s practically a saint. So this comeback track failed to do just that, but it still stands a supreme piece of production and writing by, yup, Max Martin. My wife and I listen to this song a lot.
  3. “A New Wave” by Sleater-Kinney: This is the feeling of infinite possibilities, set to music.
  4. “Run Away With Me” by Carly Rae Jepsen: Jepsen bringing that sax fire. Bowie would be proud.
  5. “Cool On Fire” by Daniel Johns: The best groove on the album.
  6. “10 Bands” by Drake: Fuck it, let’s not even discuss it, man.
  7. “tender green life” by dumblonde: The vocals are pitched up almost to a chirp, and the coo over the chorus is inspired. The whole thing sounds like “You know what would be crazy? If we did THIS!” But 11 times.
  8. “John the Baptist Blues” by Local H: Monster riff milked for 6 glorious minutes. Rock n roll heaven.
  9. “L.A. LOOKS” by HEALTH: The closest HEALTH will get to being poppy, and the closest to a love song. “It’s not love but I still want you.”
  10. “Sign” by Girls’ Generation: On an album of pop perfection, this one is the most perfect.
  11. “Solid” by Ty Dolla $ign featuring Babyface: No drums! Just the guitar and that hook. When the notes go higher and then ring in unison, ohhhhhhhhh baby.
  12. “Keep Searchin'” by R. Kelly: R. Kelly is probably a sexual predator. That said, he still possesses one of the greatest voices on the planet. It’s tough. His new album is ok, but this bonus track is some wonderful throwback shit. Almost sounds like Michael Jackson near the finale. Oh, Michael was problematic too.
  13. “To Ü” by Jack Ü featuring AlunaGeorge: Best drop of the year.
  14. “Wolves” by Kate Pierson: Kate Pierson has a hall of fame voice. Her work in the B-52s is peerless. Her solo album is a fun jaunt, and this track is it’s peak.
  15. “All Day” by Kanye West featuring Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney: The definitive version is live with flame throwers, but the studio version is also fire.
  16. “B Boy” by Meek Mill featuring Big Sean and A$AP Ferg: What? Big Sean on a good song? 2015 was out of control. Best song that Meek Mill kept off his album.
  17. “Coffee” by Miguel: I thought the new Miguel album was a disappointment(Please no more California Songs) but “Coffee” was a strong single and closest to the sound I loved on his last album.
  18. “Right Here, Right Now” by Giorgio Moroder featuring Kylie Minogue: Moroder dropped the ball on his album but “Right Here” is a flames collaboration with Kylie, who tends to pull greatness from her producers. If the rest of album wasn’t a stinkfish I’d say make a whole project together.
  19. “Nightclub Amnesia” by Ratatat: Every Ratatat album has a song that makes you forget that Ratatat albums are largely boring filler.
  20. “Dreamin’ Boy” by CAPSULE: “Are you ready?”

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Music Journal, December 10th, 2015

December 10, 2015

 

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Confident by Demi Lovato

My beloved “Cool for the Summer” is one of the few bright moments on this surprisingly serious album. In fact, “Cool” is an outlier thematically, with just about every track branching from the title song’s empowerment message of confidence against naysayers and heartbreak. Lovato is coming from a real place, and I commend that, but by the time you get to the ode to her dead father* you’re going to be scrambling for something more upbeat, like say one her early albums. Great voice but this just isn’t much fun.

*Songs about Demi Lovato’s father are an expected feature on every album, like how every U2 album features a song about God.

 

Revival by Selena Gomez
Great production, terrible lyrics. Gomez has a nice husk to her voice even though she packs more groaner lines than I thought imaginable. Much of the time, Gomez sings the way Bjork talks, if you can imagine that. Selena Gomez might just have a really interesting, strange album in her just yet.

 

E•MO•TION by Carly Rae Jepsen

This one was a real grower, every listen getting better and better. It has more in common with 2012’s Kiss than anyone wants to admit. That album was a rock solid pop record, and this one is even better, though “I Really Like You” turned out to be a big whiff. “Run Away With Me” is an instant classic, “Boy Problems” sounds like Taylor Swift shade, the whole thing is a blast. A lot was made about working with supposed left field indie producers like Dev Hynes but this album doesn’t sound that different, production-wise, from other pop records. If anything, it sounds better than I expected considering that she didn’t work with Max Martin and his ilk. Saying you didn’t work with those people like it is some sort of badge of honor makes no sense. Those guys make great hits! But I digress, this album rules.

 

Big Grams by Big Grams 

Great for Phantogram’s career. Not for anyone else. Was going for chocolate + peanut butter, ended up with vinegar chips and vanilla ice cream.

 

I Changed A Lot by DJ Khaled

Come for the Future features but leave before the reggae dancehall track. These albums are consistent to a fault. By track ten it feels like the production is stomping on your face with a steel toe boot, leaving a “We The Best” imprint in your cheek.

 

As If by !!!

!!! are now eight years and three albums removed from their career peak, Myth Takes. That album sounded like a band opening their arms and letting in the world, while subsequent recordings Strange Weather, Isn’t It? and THR!!!ER have ended up sounding reserved and almost conservative. As If is no Myth Takes Part 2 but it is a step in the right direction. It struts harder, gets weirder, and seems just on the edge of really, truly losing it right as it closes. Don’t stop, you guys.

 

Purpose by Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber is an uninteresting vocal presence. On Purpose, Bieber sings nearly the entire album in a flat stage whisper and when he does aim for a high note, it ain’t much to tell your friends. The production is consistent with the Diplo/Skrillex/Major Lazer sound of the summer, repeated and remixed until it all starts to sound like the same chirpy bird sample has taken up residence in your ear canal.

The promo cycle for this album was all about redemption, but for most of Purpose Justin Bieber sounds unrepentant and passive aggressive. The first line of “Sorry” is “You gotta go and get / Angry at all of my honesty / You know I try but I don’t do too well with apologies”.  Way to put it all on us, Bieber. This woe is me theme pervades the album. On “I’ll Show You”, JB pulls the old poor little rich boy line. “Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing / When the pressure’s coming down like lightning / It’s like they want me to be perfect / When they don’t even know that I’m hurting”. Wow! The lack of self-awareness is about the only thing I can recommend about this album. Song after song of this shit. The gall!  When Justin Bieber isn’t apologizing while knocking bowls off the table he’s worried about the children of the world. I know this because he seriously, truthfully, I am not fucking kidding, starts a dance track(!) with the lyrics “What about the children?” I’m kinda in awe.

But seriously fuck this guy.

 

Get Weird by Little Mix

This is what kids in 3rd grade call “edgy”. Terrible album.

 

Bang 3, Pt. 2 by Chief Keef

Chief Keef is actually an incredibly consistent artist. Bang 3 was fire, this is fire, Chief Keef is forever on fire.

 

Unbreakable by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is a legend. Her career was sadly derailed by prudes, but the quality of the work never really dipped. Damita Jo is flames! Now with Unbreakable, Jackson delivers more wonderful songs, perhaps not as sexually driven as previous albums, but still undeniably personal. Working again with Jam & Lewis, Unbreakable is a front to back album, not a dud to be found. We are not worthy.

 

Vega INTL. Night School by Neon Indian

The first half of Vega INTL. Night School sounds like it was recorded underwater. The synths bloop and bleep like they’ve been submerged in goo and are trying their best to make a sound. I hated it on the first listen and it has grown on me but a version without the bloopy soaked effect would definitely sound better. The latter half of the album is pretty much fire, best thing Neon Indian has ever done, still not as good as the old Ghosthustler tracks and demos this guy started with, but that is my problem.

 

 

Sicario

October 4, 2015

Sicario

(spoilers)

Sicario is some beautiful bullshit. Sumptuous cinematography abounds and yet I cannot glean the point of this film beyond a simple display of badass moments. There is a view taken by quite a few critics that Sicario is a blunt presentation of the marginalization of women and minorities involving issues, in this case the drug war. And it is, sure, but it is not much of a critique. Emily Blunt’s character Kate Mercer is set up as our audience surrogate but then pushed out and left standing on the sidelines at every moment. Literally every moment! Kate is devoid of agency every step of the way and yet she keeps coming back because the screenplay demands it. When the film shifts focus in the late third and follows Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro) on his one man plantation raid, Sicario has fully abandoned any sense of lesson or sly allegory and has decided to just be “fucking badass”. Showing us unrelated scenes of a random corrupt cop only to quickly dispatch him feels like a hollow afterthought. Do we really get the corruption and wrongheadedness of the operation? Sorta, but the film doesn’t even add up, if you consider that everything that has happened was done by the government for Alejandro because, why? They owed him a favor? The man-hours and effort involved does not seem worth it. Maybe that is the point. But Kate pointing her gun off the balcony feels like a weak feint at meaning.