Old and new albums of the month: March 2017

Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman (2017)
Lekman’s lyrics are playful and the humor is subtle, he’s quoted as saying humor is “a good way of telling a story, a good way of communication”. The dance pop production is a departure from the sound on his previous albums. For example he samples the beats off Ralph MacDonald’s The Path.
He boldly disses 90s recording artists on the opener To Know Your Mission. Evening Prayer is a strangely upbeat song about a tumor. How We Met the Long Version a tongue-in-cheek exploration of how our relationships can be traced backward. Postcard #17 about fears. How Can I Tell Him is about a bromance. Wedding in Finistère taps into the worry you might have about the future. Less original are songs such as What’s That Perfume You Wear? and Our First Fight, which contain some generic writing.
Overall though, the album won me over.
A few lyrics made me chuckle: "If you're gonna write a song about this then please don't make it a sad song"

Drunk by Thundercat (2017)
I was attracted to the album via the catchy single Show You The Way (featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins). Other memorable moments are Friend Zone and the melancholy closer DUI. Blackkk has an inviting groove. Other tracks are nice background music but kind of forgettable and lacking emotion. The synth in Drink Dat reminded me of The Beautiful Ones by Prince.
My overall assessment is similar to Childish Gambino’s 2016 album, too much vocal distortion and computerized instrumentation. I prefer listening to music of the past where you hear the talent of each musician and can distinguish them from each other.

Real Britannia by Ultrasound (2016)
I'd never listened to 90s group Ultrasound until now. Based on Rol's enthusiastic review I gave their latest LP a shot. An overlooked album with good tracks from start to finish. The highlight is the prog rock closer.

Endless (2016) by Frank Ocean
Has a distinctive mood, yet not as memorable as Blonde (2016), A few stand outs: At your best, Alabama, Slide on me, Sideways

Seventh Tree by Goldfrapp (2008)
Continuing my look back at their career. A few tracks outstay their welcome and are too repetitive lyrically, but even so, it’s a strong effort. Hardly any weak tracks. Alison Goldfrapp uses her vocal range to give the songs variation. The album is less sensual than Black Cherry and Supernatural, but her vocal is still otherworldly and angelic.

Head First by Goldfrapp (2010)
I didn't care for the LP when it was first released. Better than I remembered, even if there are a few weaker tracks. If Goldfrapp was around in the 80s, this is what their sound might have been. Not sure holds up to as many listens as other Goldfrapp albums, but as 1980s revivals go, Head First is enjoyable and competently made.

Tales of Us by Goldfrapp (2013)
Several songs feel like they were inspired by nature while other tracks could be lullabies sung to children. However I do think it’s a disposable LP, an album which, over time, has lost its sting. The closer Clay I still love for its energy and Alvar is beautiful, but a number of other tracks no longer do much for me. Maybe it's a case of overplaying. The dream pop/folk style is similar to Seventh Tree, which I prefer.

Silver Eye by Goldfrapp (2017)
Pitchfork wrote, the new album is "a combination of all the things the group has done well". While Slant Magazine claim the group "have failed to materially push their sound in new direction".

I agree with both those quotes. The vocal is workmanlike yet uninspired. Silver Eye is atmospheric and distinguished by its darkness. My favorite of the non-singles is Tigerman for the soundscape. The album finishes strongly with two haunting tracks. Obviously still early days, with the album dropping March 31, so my verdict may change in the upcoming months. There's lots of replay value, though not as memorable as their earlier work.

The Subway Organization 1986-1989 by Various Artists (2005) (compilation)
Suitable for those nostalgic for these 80s UK bands, or simply listeners (like me) who are curious about lesser known music from the era. The compilation consists of indie pop from The Subway Organization, an independent music label founded in 1985 in Bristol. Cherry Red went on to distribute the 2005 Best Of. I had already enjoyed the two Choo Choo Train tracks (High, and Flowerfield) which was how I stumbled upon the compilation on Spotify. There’s too much average material for a best of, although I did uncover some fine tunes, which I blogged about here.

Portishead by Portishead (1997)
Dark, atmospheric and VERY melancholy. There are a bunch of good songs, although it's not something I would listen to often. I can't handle the sadness. The singer sounds like she is in a pit of despair which is impossible to escape from. Approach with caution.

Radio-Aktivität by Kraftwerk (1975)
Futuristic yet timeless album, with a global appeal. By building their own equipment together with a sound engineer, Kraftwerk created new sounds. The music is influenced by machines and the city. You can view the band as historians or cultural commentators. Music that penetrates the air, but as with radioactivity is alarmingly invisible to the eyes. Released at a time when nuclear war was a distinct possibility, and still poses a threat today. The title track is the most iconic, but the rest of the album is solid. The version I listened to was a mix of English and German.

The Doobie Brothers by The Doobie Brothers (1971)
Yacht Rock / Country Rock. A harmless debut from their pre-Michael McDonald days. Passable entertainment. Not much variety, but a few decent tracks such as Nobody, Travelin' Man, and my personal favorite Greenwood Creek.

Toulouse Street by The Doobie Brothers (1972)
More ambitious than their 1971 debut. There's quite a nice variation throughout the album with genre detours, and faster and slower tracks. The two openers Listen to the Music and Rockin' Down the Highway get a lot of love, but I find them slightly overrated and too similar back-to-back.
Of the two, Rockin' Down the Highway I prefer, which is suitable for a road trip compilation.
Mamaloi goes in a surprising reggae-styled direction. The title track Toulouse Street is vocally Cat Stevens-esque, which I like for the horn midway. Don't Start Me to Talkin' is very bluesy. Jesus Is Just Alright is the album highlight, with its catchy foot-tapping melody and sing-along lyrics. Also enjoyed Disciple, a long-ish jam with an infectious riff.

The Captain and Me (1973) by The Doobie Brothers 
Considered their best album. You can’t fault the musicianship, nothing is out of place and the players work very well together. Long Train Runnin' and China Grove are two Doobie Brothers classics which still get radio play. The album has plenty of replay potential and is more cohesive in its rock sound than the experimental Toulouse Street (1972).

Any thoughts on these albums and reviews? As always, comments are welcome

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 30-21)

Saint Pablo by Kanye West (listen on Spotify)
Hip hop. The closer touches on many themes such as the need to say no. "400 years later we are buying our own chains". Samples Yvonne Fair's 1975 Let your Hair Down.

White Privilege II by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Pop rap. A thought-provoking think-piece that doesn’t dumb it down. About what it might be like to be white in the face of black lives matter. The production is as epic as the lyrics

Untitled 03 by Kendrick Lamar
Jazz Rap. How is this a B-side?!

Movin Backwards by A Tribe Called Quest (listen on Spotify)
Conscious Hip Hop. Possibly the most overlooked (and best) song on the album. Great beat. Found on the second disc.

Final Credits by Midland
House/ Dance. A few publications named this the 'song of the summer' at festivals

Closing Shot by Lindstrøm
Nu-Disco instrumental. Keeps building, love the layers of synths. Beautiful and meticulously crafted.

Irene by Courtney Marie Andrews
Singer-Songwriter. There’s a sincereness about her, the album was made with friends, with no studio intervention.

Growing Up by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Pop rap. About parenthood

Blue Remembered Hills by Ultrasound (buy)
Prog Rock. An epic that reveals new aspects on each listen. Thanks to Rol for the recommendation.

30.) Burn the Witch by Radiohead
Art Rock. There's a political message to be decoded in the 'Wickerman' imagery

Find anything you liked? Already know some of these? Which are your favorites from these albums? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 20-11 coming soon!

Best of Subway Organization 1986-1989 (compilation)

Suitable for those nostalgic for these 80s UK bands, or simply listeners (like me) who are curious about lesser known music from the era. The compilation consists of music from the Subway Organization, an independent music label founded in 1985 in Bristol. Cherry Red went on to distribute the 2005 Best Of.
I had already enjoyed the two Choo Choo Train tracks (High, and Flowerfield) which was how I stumbled upon the compilation on Spotify. There’s too much average material for a best of, although I did uncover some fine tunes, see below:

Shimmer by The Flatmates (1988). Haunting for the guitars and vocal, and to me the jewel of the collection. The founder of the Subway label, Martin Whitehead, is the guitarist. Debbie Haynes on vocals. Surprisingly the band would only release an EP and singles.

Glastonbury by Rodney Allen (1986). A change of pace, a slower, piano driven number. Quite endearing, despite its sentimentality. Besides his solo work, Allen had a brief spell in The Chesterfields (see below), and joined Bristol based The Blue Aeroplanes.

Completely and Utterly by The Chesterfields (1987). A Smiths-esque sound. They released four albums between 1987-1995, which I’m curious to look into.

The Subway Organisation Label previously put out the compilations Whole Wide World - The Subway Organisation Label 1986-1990 (1993) and Whole Wide World Vol 2 - The Subway Organisation Label 1986-1990 (1994).

High by Choo Choo Train (1988)

In response to The Swede's recent post, I give you a criminally overlooked single from when Velvet Crush were known as Choo Choo Train. Irresistibly upbeat.

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 40-31)

Evil by Savages
Post-punk revival. I wish the rest of the album had the same punch. Amazing guitar riff. The vocal is a throwback to Siouxsie & The Banshees.

Blackout by Garbage
Alternative Rock. Musically reminded me of The Cure and feels like an anthem for introverts.

I Need You by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Singer/Songwriter. Heartbreaking, regardless if you know what transpired in Cave's life or not.

Blackstar by David Bowie
Experimental Rock. Bowie is supported by a group of jazz musicians, who may go on to have separate careers of their own. A long time Major Tom has been looking for peace or rest and he found it as the skeleton in Blackstar video.

Dystopia by Megadeth
Metal. The album was considered a return to form by critics. Excellent guitar work. The title track earned the band its first Grammy win (for Best Metal Performance)

St. Ides by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Pop Rap. About family and the non-commercial life

Try Everything by Shakira
Pop. A catchy, fun track from Zootopia soundtrack

Doing It to Death by The Kills
Indie Rock. Love the guitar. Who said you shouldn't dance at a funeral?

Downtown by Still Corners
Synthpop. Using "Downtown" as the chorus is hardly new, Petula Clark did so in 1965. Yet still very atmospheric and Still Corners make it their own.

Amerika by Young Giants
Indie Rock. Perhaps the most underrated song of the year.

Find anything you liked? Already know some of these? Which are your favorites from these albums? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 30-21 coming soon!

Federer as a future comedian?

Bongo Cam clip from the Hopman Cup in January brings a smile to my face each time I watch. Federer is not only the most successful tennis player but apparently also a comedian. I feel sorry for Zverev who is not half as animated.

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 50-41)

Alone by Pretenders 
Rock. A patchy album some fans consider not to be proper Pretenders because of who is involved. Chrissie Hynde has a sense of humor. The title track is funny and relatable for introverts.

Lazarus by David Bowie
Art Rock. Using your impending death as inspiration to look back on your life. A dark, powerful swan song.

Kiss It Better by Rihanna
Pop. That opening guitar riff is stunning. 

Murder One by Metallica
Heavy Metal. A homage to Lemmy of Motörhead. The best animated music video in a long time. Scattered Ashes by Minor Victories is a close second for the giant cat among the skyscrapers.

Ultralight Beam by Kanye West
Hip Hop/Gospel. About Kanye’s faith in God, and there’s a surprising sample from Natalie is Great’s Instagram. He is backed by a church/gospel choir.

Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest
Indie Rock. Catchy and well-written ("that voice in your head, giving you shit again"). Generally the lyrics are good(take note of The Ballad of the Costa Concordia). There are some good ideas on the record, but I didn't like the noisy guitars and harsh sound of most of the songs. Cosmic Hero is my 2nd favorite.

The One by Carly Rae Jepsen
Synthpop. Easily digestible retro 80s pop.

Fever by Carly Rae Jepsen

Bear by The Wedding Present
Indie Rock. An overlooked gem by a band considered past their prime. We all need someone who catches us when we fall.

Alt-Country.  Another animated video."Go and live a little".

Find anything you liked? Already know some of these? Which are your favorites from these albums? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 40-31 coming soon!

Films of the month: February 2017

Moonlight (2016) (Barry Jenkins)
Best Picture winner at the recent 2017 Oscars. Good performances that say a lot without the use of words. There's a restraint reminiscent of European cinema. The more I think about Moonlight, the more it grows on me. I don’t mind what color the actors are, as long as there’s a quality story, and thankfully there is. Nothing was especially new in Moonlight, yet you can empathize with the main character’s struggles. You might argue the film is too manipulative in encouraging us to feel pity for Chiron.
It’s debatable if the main character was too elusive, but could also be acknowledged as a strength by allowing the audience to contemplate their own injustice through a thinly-defined boy. And of course Chiron is written as a withdrawn character on the page.
Spoilers occur. The scenes between Chiron and Kevin are memorable, especially their encounter by the beach, the fight, and the reunion at the diner. A quality the film has is letting the supporting characters have layers. You can be a drug dealer(Juan) or a drug user(the mother), yet that is not all you amount to. I wasn’t bothered by the big changes Chiron undergoes, but it could be problematic for some viewers that the three actors look quite different physically. The poster reflects his growth and changing face.
I like what Courtney at On The Screen Reviews said in her review about “fears of acceptance and love continue to hold us back”.
Moonlight’s messages about tolerance of difference, acceptance of yourself, and the need for compassion towards the marginalized are important. Not just because of Trump's recent intolerance towards foreigners, but always.
The third act is the most captivating and André Holland as the adult Kevin delivered my favorite performance in the film, he made Chiron feel comfortable. It’s interesting the adult Chiron takes on the persona of Juan whom he met as a child. Could be because he perceives Juan as a hero/father-figure, yet in the back of his mind he must realize the consequences of drug-taking due to his mother’s addiction. An odd choice of job given his past, and one I struggled to come to terms with.
Some noticed similarities to Boyhood (2014) in the structure. I’ve read Jenkin’s was influenced by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film Three Times (2005). Aspects reminded me of Boyz n The Hood (1991), especially Laurence Fishburne's character Furious Styles who had a similar scene by the beach as Juan did.
On a side note, I find it troubling that professional reviewers are apprehensive to criticize a film with a black cast which has a message of tolerance that most agree on. But you are not, intolerant, homophobe or racist for finding faults with a film.
I’ve read it’s the same issue with the female Ghostbusters, film critics are cautious about their reputation and possible accusations of misogyny. Perhaps bloggers are the ones who can review these films fairly, because there is not the same risk when you have anonymity.
Favorite quotes: “You ain’t got to love me, but you gonna know that I love you, do you hear Chiron?”
”I wasn't never worth shit. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn't never myself.”

La La Land (2016) (Damien Chazelle)
Musical. Considering the Best Picture buzz, and my appreciation of Whiplash, La La Land was a disappointment.
Let's start off with the positives. Apparently Ryan Gosling spent two hours a day, six days a week learning the La La Land music by heart, so that effort deserves praise. I liked the defence of jazz, with mentions of Charlie Parker, Chick Webb and Count Basie. The dance in the stars sequence was memorable, and the City of Stars song is catchy if overused.
But the music and story was not at the level of inventiveness of the classics. Even though musicals are a rarity today, it’s still a very contemporary piece of entertainment, in wanting to be retro and pay homage. Also, I think John Legend is dull as a musician. The musical numbers felt a bit forced and added on to give an average story some color. A frivolous, artificial movie that was difficult to connect with emotionally.
A defense of the realism I've heard is that the two leads are aspiring talents and not great singers yet. That's a fair point. If they were great singers they would have been signed already.
Musicals are supposed to lift our spirits and this one unfortunately didn't do that for me. Whiplash was a better film.

New York, New York (1977) (Martin Scorsese)
Musical. Actually better than I expected. Considered second tier Scorsese, but even his weaker films are as good as a lot of top tier stuff released today.
The opening ball sequence is my favorite part of the film, which is both technically impressive, and Robert de Niro’s stalking women is amusing to watch. The marriage proposal scene is also a stand out, a very awkward moment and that’s why it’s memorable. Robert de Niro was convincing as a saxophonist, although I’m not a jazz expert. New York, New York is among the greatest songs of the 1970s and the jazz music was given enough space to make an impression.
La La Land was heavily inspired by this Scoresese film, especially two leads as creative people in love in the entertainment business. In Scorsese's film I cared about them, in La La Land I did not.

Delicatessen (1991) (Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s black comedy debut feature. Sweet, funny, dark and visually imaginative. You can’t tell what year the film is made, the dystopian future has a timelessness. The ”musical number” made up of rhythms and sounds in the building is pretty hilarious. Julie and Louison are a cute couple.
I never understood why the Troglodistes stayed so long, nor did I understand why the bathroom was filled with water? They should make a prequel with the main character as a circus clown.
May have been an influence on the comedy The Green Butchers, which German title is Dänische Delikatessen.

Valhalla Rising (2009) (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Beautifully shot with some very violent scenes. Remote locations, reminiscent of Aguirre the Wrath of God (1972). The story is set in 1000 AD and is about survival and faith. A difficult film to rate. Mads Mikkelsen delivers a captivating performance as the wordless one-eyed stranger, and the story has a hypnotic atmosphere. But I could see viewers becoming bored by the pacing and lack of story.
I’ve now completed Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography and he really hasn’t made any duds. Even those that flopped at the box office (Valhalla Rising and Fear X) are interesting. I just hope he doesn’t sell out to Hollywood.

Johnny Larsen (1979) (Morten Arnfred)
Won four Danish film awards, including Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. A film about generations and making important choices. There's a nice flow to the coming of age story, which is set in the 1950s. The main character is in nearly every scene and his rebellious nature adds tension to situations. The love story is quite sweet.
It all feels very familiar and nothing especially original. If I had seen it when I was young I reckon the film would've been more impactful.

Lemonade (2016) (65 min version) (Kahlil Joseph & Beyoncé Knowles)
”Where do you go, when you go quiet”
”All the love I’ve been giving goes unnoticed. It’s just floating in the air”

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) (Frank Capra)
Rewatch (Review)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (BBC tv-series) (1981)
Comedy/sci-fi. You know what? I’ve never read the book. At three hours and only six episodes, the tv-series was quicker than reading the novel. Began life as a radio series in 1978. A satirical, at-a-distance look on human existence and foibles. To show the absurdity of modern life, and how things that we consider of great importance are actually insignificant in the larger scheme of things. Many of the situations mirror situations, events, or institutions on Earth, but are exaggerated for comedic effect. Galactic bureaucracy is shown to be staggeringly inefficient(Episode 6). Bad poetry is depicted as painful, the planet earth is disposable as a hyperspace bypass is to be built in its path.
Wasn’t laugh out loud funny, but imaginative and witty in its own way.  I like the sunglasses, those are pretty radical!
Author Douglas Adams was a convinced atheist, and the logic of why god vanished is quite clever. Very true that the lack of answer to the meaning of life is good business for publishers, because you can keep arguing on and on and never reach a result!
The story makes jokes about road work, loud concerts, and the food industry, a talking pig amusingly saying something like "it's ok to eat me". Adams pokes fun at the money-crazed culture with singer Hotblack Desiato spending a year dead "for tax reasons".
Now I know where Radiohead got the term “paranoid android”, which is how the manically depressed Marvin the robot is described. The robot is probably a parody on negative thinking and geniuses being too serious to have much fun.
Googleplex Star Thinker probably inspired the search engine Google. The Googleplex is the corporate headquarters complex of Google, Inc.
While the sets and practical effects do look slightly dated by today’s standards, I didn’t mind, as the story was the reason to watch. The sets and interludes have a certain charm. The scenes with supercomputer Deep Thought were especially memorable for the design. For an old series, I was pleasantly surprised there was an intelligent female character. I can see why it’s a celebrated cult classic because of the originality, quotable lines, and subversive commentary.
Favorite quote: “I'd far rather be happy than right any day.”

Any thoughts on these films and reviews? As always, I'd like to hear what you think in the comments.


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