Old and new albums of the month: July 2017

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan (1963)
The picture on the sleeve is a comforting image, a message of love that translates to any language. Dylan didn't want to be a savior or a spokesperson for his generation, although his songs were important to many and used as protest music.
Best tracks: Blowin' in the Wind, Girl From the North Country, Masters of War, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Don't Think Twice It's All Right, Bob Dylan's Dream, Talking World War III Blues

Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin (1969)
A strong debut. The opener Good Times Bad Times is a classic I was already familiar. Guitarist Jimmy Page is very talented. Bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John 'Bonzo' Bonham deserve praise too for their contributions. The last part of track 2 Babe I'm Gonna Leave You is memorable, I'm not even sure if it's drums or guitar. Dazed and Confused is quite haunting but overrated. Johnny Ramone credits Page’s down stroke style on Communication Breakdown as being the foundation for the sound of the punk rock group Ramones, with fast-paced heavy metal riffs the song is ahead of its time.
I Can't Quit You Baby is a reworking of Otis Rush's blues standard with an impressive, lengthy guitar solo.
Robert Plant has a distinctive vocal and is a charismatic lead singer, hitting those notes must take a lot out of him. The epic final track How Many More Times features Plant literally scream which is a powerful moment.
The plagiarism debates do take the originality down a notch, but in their defense every musician is inspired by something. While listening, I didn't notice any overlaps to other bands.

Electric Warrior by T. Rex (1971)
Became the best selling album of 1971. Would listen to while doing something else, just the music on its own doesn't quite work for me.
Best tracks: Cosmic Dancer (timeless lyrics). Bang a Gong (Get It On) & Jeepster (pop-friendly 70s classics but I find both a bit repetitive). Lesser known highlights: The Motivator, Life's a Gas, Rip Off

Quadrophenia by The Who (1973)
At roughly 82 minutes there's a lot to digest, even after a couple of plays I'm not sure where I stand. Not seen the film yet, which could change how I perceive the album.
Was already familiar with the closer Love Reign O'er Me, which was covered by Peal Jam for the Adam Sandler film Reign Over Me (2007).
Favorites tracks: Quadrophenia, Cut My Hair, The Dirty Jobs, Is It in My Head, I've Had Enough, Sea and Sand, Love Reign O'er Me

Raw Power by Iggy and The Stooges (1973)
Laid the template for punk rock. Has been called "savagely bombastic" and "perhaps the first record that could truly be called punk. Yet the songs have a beauty and complexity that make it more than that"
Best tracks: Search and Destroy, Gimme Danger, Raw Power, I Need Somebody, Shake Appeal

The New Age Steppers by The New Age Steppers (1981)
Recommended by C at Sun Dried Sparrows. An early 80s Dub/Post-Punk UK band, the very first album from Britain's avant-garde reggae label On-U Sound.
Opener Fade Away is the most memorable, a cover of the Junior Byles reggae original. ”The one who is always acting smart, but don’t carry the love in his heart, shall fade away” is a powerful lyric.
The rest of the album consists mostly of dark experimental instrumentals. Radial Drill surprisingly features the ring of a bicycle bell. Crazy Dreams And High Ideals has The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart on vocal but is too cold to enrapture. Tracks 5-8 are very good for the rhythmic melodies and atmosphere. Ari Up's vocal heightens the two songs she sings on (Fade Away, Love Forever), and I'm curious to listen to her other work with The Slits, especially the praised 1979 album Cut.

Author! Author! by Scars (1981)
Another early 80s obscurity suggested by C at Sun Dried Sparrows. I was lucky to find the full album on YouTube as it isn’t available on Spotify.
Competently arranged, gloomy Post-Punk. The spoken-word Your Attention Please is especially haunting, and would be perfect in the end credits of a nuclear holocaust film. The single All About You (which closes the album) is not as dark and has grown on me on subsequent plays. Definitely an album that could hold up to many listens. Everywhere I Go and 'The Lady in the Car With Glasses on and a Gun' are other high points.
The album didn't find a wide audience. I read in a review Author! Author! was "too pop for the punks and too genuinely arty for the Duran Duran crowd". The band’s vocalist Robert King on occasion sounds similar to Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen fame, particularly on the moody Leave Me in Autumn, which is a strong opener.
Steve McLaughlin on drums/percussion has produced, recorded and mixed the scores for more than 150 major feature films, including the Die Hard series and the Lethal Weapon series.

Hyæna by Siouxsie and The Banshees (1984)
Well-produced. I'm already tiring of it after three listens, probably doesn't have a lot of replay value.
Highlights: Dazzle (feat. 27-piece orchestra), Running Town, bonus track Dear Prudence (Beatles cover)

Superunknown by Soundgarden (1994)
RIP Chris Cornell. The band's breakthrough album. To be honest, I find it overrated, with the singles as the memorable moments: Black Hole Sun, My Wave, The Day I Tried to Live. Lesser known highlight: Head Down

Elephant by The White Stripes (2003)
Seven Nation Army is a modern classic. Tracks 2-10, 12, 14 are very good.
The White Stripes may just become one of my favorite acts of the 2000s. Still a few more albums remaining to explore.

De Stijl by The White Stripes (2000)
Patchier than White Blood Cells (2001) and Elephant (2003). Some tracks feel like filler, but still an enjoyable, heartfelt album.
Best tracks: Hello Operator, Apple Blossom (Beatles-esque), Truth Doesn't Make a Noise

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (2006)
I prefer the jazz direction and personal lyrics of her debut. The more pop-friendly second album contains her biggest hits Rehab & Back to Black. Rehab has sadly lost its sting due to overexposure on the radio.
You Know I'm No Good and Back to Black are my favorite of the singles. A number of these songs aim for a retro production and could have been released 40-50 years earlier, a throwback sound to girl groups from the 1960s.
A well-made album, yet the big pop sound means it loses a sense of fragility and lived experience. Her first album made me feel something, her second rarely gives me that emotional response.

Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey (2017)
I feel she was in two minds here, with a desire to create something personal and retro, yet wanting to appeal to the commercial charts as well. Especially the second half of the album impressed me.
What makes the record different to her previous are the guest appearances. Begins strongly with the chill-inducing single Love, which also has an ambitious video set in outer space. The vocal is a bit samey on tracks 2-7 and many of those songs are lacking emotion and potency. There’s a whistle at the end of White Mustang which was a nice surprise.
God Bless America and When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing have political subtext and memorable choruses. Stevie Nicks was an interesting guest on Beautiful People Beautiful Problems, but sadly the cigarettes and life style have taken their toll on her voice. Tomorrow Never Came feat. Sean Lennon is the most pleasing of the duets.
Heroin and Change are hidden gems, sad ballads with beautiful vocal performances by Lana. The closer Get Free is ok but very similar to Radiohead’s Creep.
Nice to have new music from her and I found 6-7 stand outs. While uneven in terms of quality, it's a pleasant set of tunes. In a weak year for albums so far, I rank Lust for Life in my top 5. Hopefully tracks 2-9 are growers.

Everything Now by Arcade Fire (2017)
I was intrigued by the internet consumerism theme which is very zeitgeisty, although Pitchfork is right that the exploration of said theme feels half-baked. The music moves at such a fast pace so it’s difficult to catch my breath. Not a relaxing album.
Everything Now could be song of the year. Nothing I've heard this year is as epic as that piano kicking in at 0.45. Arcade Fire split the song in two on the album and I have no idea why. Signs of Life and Creature Comfort are enjoyable singles too, even if they turn out to be disposable due to their repetitiveness. Electric Blue is catchy but annoying. Put Your Money on Me might be a grower. We Don’t Deserve Love has a beautiful outro from the 4 min mark and onwards, though the electronic instrumentation in the intro may prove to be a stumbling block, we'll see. The middle section (Peter Pan/Chemistry/Infinite Content) is weaker. Not as strong as Reflektor and The Suburbs, but still a pretty good pop album.

Bad Baby by Sarah Jaffe (2017)
Her third album Don't Disconnect was forgettable, and unfortunately Bad Baby (her fourth) is also bland. It just wasn't for me. Lacking the memorable, deeply felt moments of her first two albums. This/That and S*** Show are well-produced and pleasant enough.
If you enjoy modern synth-pop such as Tegan and Sara's recent output, then Sarah Jaffe's latest could be for you.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Halfway point: Best songs of 2017 so far (#5 - #1)

1.) Everything Now by Arcade Fire
Nothing I've heard this year is as epic as that piano kicking in at 0.45. For me, 2017's song of the summer, geared towards big stadiums and crowds singing along. The lyric is about our generation's opportunity to consume everything)

2.)  We Got The Power (feat. Jehnny Beth) by Gorillaz
(While the album is uneven, the best track is an empowering, catchy pop anthem. Anyone could relate to the lyrics)

3.) Ran by Future Islands
(Doesn't quite top 2014's synthpop classic Seasons Waiting on You, but it's close. Ran has motion as its theme and would be ideal for an exercise playlist. The video fits well with the music, and I love the bass)

4.) Ballad of the Dying Man by Father John Misty
(A beautiful retro melody, and an amusing yet telling commentary on the absurd self-importance of man in the internet age when everyone has an opinion. You could say singer-songwriter Josh Tillman is preachy about the many failings of humanity, but his sense of proportion stood out for me on the album, how we are minor in the grand scheme of things. He has a point that contemporary news is becoming like entertainment with the likes of The Daily Show etc, and I think he's right to question that)

5.) Fear by Kendrick Lamar
(Album highlight, a smooth beat, sampling 1973's Poverty's Paradise by The 24-Carat Black. A Lamar track that I'm pleased to say keeps it relatively simple, on an album I've otherwise struggled to connect with. For further reading, Noisey dedicated an entire article to Fear)

What do you think? As always comments are welcome

Halfway point: Best songs of 2017 so far (#10- #6)

6.) Real Death by Mount Eerie 
(Perhaps we don't need another album about death/mortality, in the last 18-20 months David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave gave us their take on the matter. Yet I still consider Real Death to be the most heartbreaking song of the year so far. In 2016, songwriter Phil Elverum tragically lost his wife, illustrator and musician Geneviève Castrée, to cancer, and put into words his emotional turmoil)

7.) Next Time by Laura Marling
(I find her albums a struggle, but I can usually bank on Laura Marling to deliver a great song on each new release. Has a timeless quality)

8.) Sweet Arcadia by Saint Etienne
I'd probably enjoy Sarah Cracknell narrating audiobooks. A proggy-electronic spoken-word train journey through southern England, referencing the sweet shop of the same name. The flute-assisted section starting at 3.14 might be the most beautiful moment on the album)

9.) A Trick of the Light by Chilly Gonzales & Jarvis Cocker
(Addresses television and what it does to us. The album's longest and for me best)

10.) Friend Zone by Thundercat
(I may have been too harsh on Thundercat's Drunk earlier in the year, this track has grown on me. The lyrics are about being stuck in the friend zone)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. Check back for my top 5 in a few days!

Films and TV of the month: June

Fatal Attraction (1987) (Adrian Lyne)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Gone Girl for the 80s. Also with shades of 70s horror Black Christmas, the phone calls are ominous. The eerie, minimal score adds to the sense of dread. Without any need for bells and whistles, the straightforward story grabbed me, and though a few events are easy to predict, it’s an effective thriller.
My only issue is the film could make audiences more afraid of mental illness, Glenn Close’s character is one in a thousand and not the norm.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) (Amy Heckerling)
A film that held my attention throughout, there was never a dull moment. Probably one of the most entertaining and realistic high school movies I’ve seen.
The awkward teenage situations have aged well despite the film released 35 years ago. Also quite hilarious in places, such as Led Zeppelin in the car, and the small people sitting in restaurant with big menus. Many future stars can be seen in supporting roles, Sean Penn has some of the most quotable lines.
Highlights on the soundtrack include We Got The Beat by The Go-Go’s (from the opening), Sleeping Angel by Stevie Nicks played when they are trying to solve a problem that arises, and Moving in Stereo by the Cars when Brad (Judge Reinhold) is fantasizing about Linda (Phoebe Cates) in the red swimsuit.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) (Mamoru Oshii)
Based on a manga, the story follows cyber-cop Major Motoko Kusanagi (Scarlett Johansson in the 2017 remake) as she tracks down the mysterious Puppet Master. Kusanagi struggles to deal with her part-human, part-machine identity.
Set in 2029, an interesting futuristic premise about the advancement in technology, cyberspace expanding into human reality. A brain-computer interface, our “ghost” able to travel, relaying thoughts to other networked brains, a new tool for government surveillance and control. A hi-tech society when one or more body parts have been replaced by robotics, and they face issues such as brain hacking, maintenance of self, false memories, invisibility, and the evolution of the human body.
The film is ambitious, unsettling and influential, having inspired The Wachowski's The Matrix. Visually impressive in its detail of the city, sometimes I found myself forgetting I was watching animation. Her jump from the top of a building is iconic and was recreated in the remake.

Split (2016) (M. Night Shyamalan)
Not as good as M. Night Shyamalan's best films. A minor horror/thriller that is too eager to reveal what is wrong with James McAvoy’s character, those revelations in the first half kill some of the tension. But there are sporadically thrilling moments concerning the girls and does capture a sense of claustrophobia. McAvoy’s performance is noteworthy, though the film is overlong, and I often found my mind wandering due to boredom. SPOILER WARNING: The last 10-15 mins are surprising, but tonally completely different to what the story is about. Or maybe the ending does make sense on a certain level, could it be a commentary on not being able to get rid of him (from your mind), no matter how hard you try.
On a side note, Natascha Kampusch’s powerful autobiography 3096 Days goes deeper into the psychology of victim and perpetrator.

T2 Trainspotting (2017) (Danny Boyle)
What made the original stand out were the inventive visuals and soundtrack. Neither of these aspects are as impactful or unique in the sequel, although I do like the new songs by High Contrast and Wolf Alice.
What we get are a number of homages, reunions, and watching 40 somethings misbehaving. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is as funny and crazy as he was in the 90s, even when he isn’t aware of it. There are reminders the group are getting older, such as a decline in physical health and family obligations. I mostly felt pity for them.
Especially the improvised song and the chase in the multi-storey car park stood out. The updated choose life speech has depth, but the scene feels scripted and unnatural in its presentation. T2 has glimpses of urgency, but lacks the unrelenting energy that kept me glued to the screen of Trainspotting. I agree with another reviewer who says it “wallows a little too much in cinematic nostalgia for the 1996 original.”

Happy Gilmore (1996) (Dennis Dugan)
A quotable comedy, which popularized the ‘Happy Gilmore’ hockey/golf swing. Funny moments such as the alligator and the ball "go home" scenes, though the punch lines often are offensive by centering around violence. Not many women would date Happy, having witnessed his short fuse and anger management problems. The love interest aspects had warmth, but are not totally realistic. Happy (Adam Sandler) is only mildly likeable, because he is up against arrogant Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald).

Mask (1985) (Peter Bogdanovich)
Based on the life of Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis, strong acting and a number of sweet moments. I remember watching parts of the film years ago and was freaked out by the main character's deformed face. Now, I can see past that and appreciate the story. A coming of age drama about struggling to fit in due to being different, and also focuses on the relationships he has to family/friends.
What made the 80s different to today's cinema were the life lessons sprinkled into the screenplays, and there are a few of those here. Like John Hurt in 1980's The Elephant Man, Eric Stoltz is unrecognizable in the lead role. These type of films sometimes depict the deformed character as an angel, but I think it works here by juxtapositioning the teenage son with his troubled mother (Cher). I cared about these people and it's one of those films that stays with you.

The Towering Inferno (1974) (John Guillermin)
Wrote about the film here. Watched because of recent Grenfell Tower disaster and an inner sense of duty to find solutions to high-rise fires.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episodes 5-8) (David Lynch)
So far, season 3 lacks the sense of community of the classic original. But instead of yearning for what Twin Peaks used to be, I’m trying to take the revival for what it is. Dougie and his family I feel a connection to because they keep returning, and is some of the funniest stuff Lynch has ever done. Kyle MacLachlan delivers maybe a career best performance.
The scope of S3 is ambitious, but feels choppy when jumping from one location to the next. It’s intriguing, imaginative, often weird, though I will say many characters are not given enough screen time for us to care.
Short summaries of Episode 5-8 (spoilers):
Episode 5: Set-up, presenting a number of threads and details. The Kyle MacLachlan scenes are the most entertaining and amusing, craving coffee in the elevator, desperate for the toilet, the phone call that causes a disturbance. There’s also some violence at the casino.
Episode 6: Again, the Dougie scenes I liked most, him standing in front of a staircase is a laugh out loud moment, and sitting with his son has warmth. There’s a surprising event in Twin Peaks involving a mother and son which is powerful, yet I can’t see how it has any relevance to the series. There’s also the most bizarre coin-toss I’ve ever witnessed. Diane (who Dale Cooper recorded audio messages for in the original) is revealed in a brief cameo. Naomi Watts is given a moment to shine as the Tough Dame in the delivery scene.
Episode 7: Diane meets evil Cooper and thinks something is off with him. There’s a noise in the walls at Twin Peaks hotel. A mysterious man covered in black oil walks the hall way. Dougie Cooper’s car was stolen and the police confirm this. The dwarf tries to murder Dougie Cooper. Evil Cooper convinces the prison to let him go in exchange for information.
Episode 8: Filmed in black and white, and set in the past. The strangest episode so far, almost wordless visual storytelling. An impressive atomic bomb sequence that would look good on the big screen. A silent horror of sorts, the “gotta light” character is creepy, his scenes are not suitable for kids. We are not given much context so have to piece it together ourselves.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


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