Soft rock, or near enough

In response to Alyson's soft rock appreciation, here are a few of my own picks. Her post was primarily dedicated to the 70s. Has been written soft rock evolved into the synthesized music of adult contemporary in the 1980s, so there's a bit of genre confusion in my 80s choices. Perhaps I should have titled the post differently. Hope you like them.

New Frontier by Donald Fagen (album: The Nightfly) (1982)
(Arguably The Nightfly is jazz pop, after all, it is a solo album by a member of Steely Dan. But I think the song can go as soft rock)

Young Turks by Rod Stewart (1981)
(Some may describe the lyrics as cloying. I like the big 80s chorus and optimism about the future. Wikipedia labels the album soft rock, though could be described as new wave/pop rock)

Let's Fall In Love Tonight by Lewis (album: L'Amour) (1983)
(Apparently singer-songwriter Father John Misty's wife walked down the aisle to this song. Reissued in 2014. Has been claimed the music is not from the 80s, a prank that was recorded in our times. Either way, a mysterious, soulful album I can get lost in. Could be labeled as ambient pop, fits here)

Any thoughts? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: July

In July, my viewing went in three vastly different directions, blaxploitation, the Planet of the Apes series, and Twin Peaks. I also found time for a few other random films, as well as a documentary about photographer Jacob Holdt. Below my thoughts on each.

Later in August, I'll share music in reply to Alyson's soft rock appreciation post.
If there's time, I will reveal my top 25 films of the 21st Century so far, in response to the New York Times' list in June. Lots of interesting top 25s have been doing the rounds this summer.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) (Melvin Van Peebles)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Influential for starting the wave of blaxploitation in the early 1970s, which served as an alternative to the Hollywood mainstream. Stylistically bold, psychedelic hallucinations, changing colors, half screens and editing tricks, which apparently illustrate main character Sweetback's alienation. He gets into trouble while also having frequent sex. Still relevant in regards to Black Lives Matter and the police confrontations of recent times. Difficult to care about the characters and difficult to get involved in the meandering story. Probably my least liked so far from 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Compared to entertaining and well-paced Across 110th Street (see below), this 1971 effort was a tedious chore and I almost gave up. Fortunately the other films of this subgenre I liked more.

Super Fly (1972) (Gordon Parks Jr.)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
A blaxploitation crime drama with an authentic feel, about the underworld drug culture in 70s New York. The story of ”one last job” is familiar, what makes it different is the black cast and promotion of black empowerment.
The film’s strength is the classic soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield and also a memorable performance by Youngblood Priest (Ron O'Neal), snorting coke from the cross on his necklace. Proof that you don’t need a big budget to create a suspenseful climax, the phone call/ elevator sequence has plenty of tension. Some of the acting is a bit dodgy, and several scenes don't really go anywhere, but worth a look. Even though "Priest" is attempting to get out, the film still glamorizes drug-taking, which some viewers may take offense to. While the story isn't as great as its reputation, it is somewhat saved by the great ending.
Favorite quote: “Look, I know it's a rotten game, but it's the only one The Man left us to play”

Across 110th Street (1972) (Barry Shear)
Opens with a messy robbery and the remainder is about the consequences and police investigation. A step up from Superfly. Again, set in New York, a bigger budget, less reliant on music to fill the gaps.
Full of powerful scenes: the robbery, the mobster visiting Harlem and getting laughed at, the criminal breaking down in front of his girlfriend due to their dead-end future without the loot, etc, etc.
Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn play the good cop/bad cop, working towards finding the criminals. The thieves are not particularly smart, the last 30 minutes is the film’s weakest section.
The critically praised title song Across 110th Street from the opening credits, written by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson, was a No. 19 hit on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart in 1973, and was later featured in Tarantino's 1997 blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown.

The Harder They Come (1972) (Perry Henzell)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Like Superfly, the soundtrack is iconic and a character in itself. The Harder They Come and You Can Get It If You Really Want are reggae classics of the 1970s.
The main character is someone I liked and disliked. I felt pity for him when he can’t find work, then disgust when a confrontation happens involving a bike. He seemed like a nice guy who lost his way and got corrupted by the big city and a false idea of what is important.
I don’t know much about singer/actor Jimmy Cliff who played the lead. The soundtrack was a nice introduction to his reggae. The film was a sensation in Jamaica due to its naturalistic portrayal of black Jamaicans in real locations and its use of local dialect. The latter was often hard to decipher, though I did get the gist of the story, about a talented musician (Cliff) trying to make it and the difficulties he encounters.
Not a true Blaxploitation, but fits in that category quite well . Does seem to glorify crime, but you sense the supporting characters are critical of his behaviour.
There’s a harsh critique of the record industry and also the newspapers, in how they take people’s dreams and problems and turn it into profit. Yet he wanted to live on the edge so he knowingly created his own trouble and headlines. The real “villain” and “hero” is open to interpretation, as there’s also a nod to the violent spaghetti western the character may have been inspired by.

The Mack (1973) (Michael Campus)
Great performance by Max Julien as Goldie. The message is a bit murky, and the glorification of pimping is unsettling despite the rich giving back to the poor angle. That said, it's a strong, ambitious story, and among the best blaxploitation movies I've seen so far. Quite a few memorable characters, especially the lead and the two supporting actors who play white cops stayed with me. A minor weakness is Richard Pryor, his character is quite amusing but he sadly doesn't have much to do. As with Across 110th Street and other blaxploitation, it's a gangster/crime drama. The dialogue is quotable and above average, with lines such as: "You breathe too deep, you blink once too often, I’m gonna make you look like an ad for swiss cheese, ok?".

Black Caesar (1973) (Larry Cohen)
A response to the success of The Godfather (1972). Enjoyed the James Brown soundtrack, and moments of action are memorable, especially in the first 20 minutes; the shoe shine scene, the barber shop, and the black kid delivering the envelope. Later on the chase in the yellow cab is thrilling. But the story is quite cold and the sound design is amateurish. Goes from one violent scene to the next, and becomes a bit numbing and uninvolving. Fred Williamson's lead performance is good, though his character is off-putting and there’s nobody to root for. The film indicates an absent father is a factor in his behavior. There’s a moving scene with his dad outside a church at the halfway mark which works well with the JB song, and the final scene is haunting for different reasons. But overall, Black Caesar isn’t as emotionally satisfying as other blaxploitations.

Coffy (1973) (Jack Hill)
Don’t agree with her revenge mission, as there will always be another drug lord to take their place. Coffy (Pam Grier) isn’t a good role model by stealing a car and letting a man burn alive in his car. But her bravery, cunning and determination is commendable. Running over the busy road was insane. Other stand out action scenes were the cat fight at the party, and the abduction of George.

Foxy Brown (1974) (Jack Hill)
Compared to the other Pam Grier film Coffy, Foxy Brown’s storytelling is harder to follow. It’s not a carbon copy of Coffy, even though there are likenesses such as the feisty female protagonist and cat fight sequence. Foxy Brown is considered a sequel of sorts.
After roughly 30 minutes I still didn’t quite know where things were going. Something about a black man who can witness against a drug dealer and they are trying to get rid of him before he talks. Also a story about the pitfalls of prostitution, and a brother and sister relationship. Pam Grier’s wardrobe is eye-catching. The violent ending is unforgettable. Probably the most sadistic blaxploitation I’ve seen.
Love Theme from Foxy Brown by Willie Hutch which opens and closes the movie.
Not sure I agree with the majority of whites portrayed as wicked, it seems racist, intended or not. In that regard the film is dated. Today, there would be a sympathetic white character. Standing up for yourself and your rights is positive, but there's an implied distrust of whites, and for me the latter is the wrong message to send out, endorsing an "Us versus Them" mentality. Appears to be a returning issue in the blaxploitation genre, and you may find this unsettling as a viewer. A step in the right direction that African-Americans are getting lead roles in movies though.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) (Rupert Wyatt)
Impressive, believable special effects, and an engaging story. If I had seen 'Rise' first, I may have liked it more. You see, I had already watched 'Dawn' (part 2) and 'War' (part 3), which both did a better job of bringing out the personalities of the apes.
The Golden Gate Bridge as the setting of a big action sequence has been done before, though I did gasp during the helicopter scene. Probably the most kids-friendly of the reboot trilogy. There's an important message about caging animals is wrong, and that they need to be with their own kind.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) (Matt Reeves)
Enjoyable action/science fiction with CGI apes you can root for, although I was frustrated that many scenes are dimly lit, which may have been deliberate to make the special effects team's job easier. The mix of sign language and speaking apes worked, despite not fully explaining why both was included.
Caesar's revelation about humans and apes is a powerful scene with its racial connotations, but the film (except the image from the poster) is not as visually distinctive as 2017's War of the Planet of the Apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) (Matt Reeves)
Third part of the reboot trilogy. Saw this one in the cinema and the SFX and cinematography are oscar-worthy.
Not quite original enough to be a classic, characters and scenes are lifted from other movies. But among the most emotionally moving blockbusters due to realistic CGI apes. I got teary-eyed a few times, though others may find the storytelling manipulative and sentimental. Takes its time and is slower and more character-driven than 2014's Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The animal rights and anti-war subtext is important, even if the message doesn't deviate much from 'Dawn'. The plot point about revenge made sense yet didn't totally convince, as he was too smart to abandon his friends for that. As has been said by other reviewers, Caesar is a compelling protagonist. I cared about the apes and their journey.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) (Chad Stahelski)
Basically Commando for the 21st Century. John Wick is a man of few words who shoots a lot of people. A weakness is the scene in Rome involving the woman he is tracking down, security are alarmingly bad at guarding her. That staircase fight was particularly memorable and looks awfully painful for the (presumed?) stunt doubles. The reunion of Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves on screen is not all it's hyped up to be. A bit long, but a fun, mindless action sequel.

Crash (2004) (Paul Haggis)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Several interweaving stories. Works best when going for simplicity, the crash involving the police officer (Mat Dillon) and Thandie Newton trapped in the car was the most moving sequence, although only works thanks to a massive coincidence. The Iraqi wanting a lock for his store was also an involving thread. The two black men discussing differences between white and black gave the film comic relief. The Don Cheadle/Sandra Bullock/Brendan Fraser parts were less captivating, maybe because I didn’t care about those characters.
Not a great film, it's rather contrived, but held my attention. It’s unfortunate events had to be so neatly resolved. Redemption is for movie people. Wants to remind us that we are all both good and bad, prejudice can be caused by prior experience, and we have the power to change our mind set. An important message about tolerance, so I get why it was the winner of Best Picture.

Frantz (2016) (François Ozon)
Ozon previously directed 2003's Swimming Pool. Set in the aftermatch of WW1, Frantz is a historical drama in b/w. My favorite scene is at the dance when she puts her prejudiced courter in his place, defending the Frenchman by saying the war is over. We see this again with the group sitting around the table and them showing disdain for a friend expressing sympathy to the enemy. The film makes an important, somewhat heavy-handed case for post-war reconciliation between nations, which isn’t easy, as highly-strung parents have lost children in battle during WW1.
The slow-paced story isn’t as gripping or affecting as I had hoped, but is believable and well-acted. References poets Paul Verlaine and Friedrich Rückert.

Jacob Holdt - Mit liv i billeder (documentary) (2016) (Niels-Ole Rasmussen)
Jacob Holdt is one of America's significant photographers and he's not even American! Now 70, the Danish photographer of the 1977 book American Pictures is interviewed. He talks about his life, his yes-mentality paying dividends in his art, etc. He hitchhiked across the US in his youth with a camera, and tried to be accepted into the cultures he visited. It's questioned whether he exploited the women he met and photographed. Holdt's goal is to build bridges between black/white, rich/poor, foreigners/locals. Living with people who he might have prejudice against such as the Ku Klux Klan, in an attempt to understand them. For many years, he toured across the world with his slide show of American pictures, you can watch a sample of chapter 1 on YouTube. While I don't agree with everything he did such as selling his body to finance his journey, he seems to have his heart in the right place.

…And Justice for All (1979) (Norman Jewison)
A watchable yet flawed courtroom drama. Al Pacino’s acting is solid, but the story has moments of implausibility, such as a judge firing a gun to quieten the room, and Fleming (John Forsyth) saying inappropriate remarks which I very much doubt an educated judge would say in real life.
The film wants to mix comedy with drama, which didn’t click for me, in the space of 10 minutes going from a comedic helicopter ride, to a serious discussion about a brutal rape, a scene with a man admitting to being beaten in jail, and then a comedic scene with Pacino’s grandpa’s false teeth.
That said, the scene when it’s revealed Arthur Kirkland (Pacino) is to defend Fleming is pretty funny, as Fleming loathes Arthur. The chopper sequence is fun, albeit a diversion. Besides that, the score is odd, disco music in the opening just isn’t what is needed.
Includes a well-known scene in which Pacino's character shouts, "You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They're out of order!"

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episodes 9-12) (David Lynch)
The revival may have “peaked” (see what I did there?) in the visually dazzling Episode 8. Not much happens in Episode 9. The most memorable scene of episodes 9-12 is Richard Horne (Ben Horne’s grandson) visiting his grandmother Sylvia in episode 10. Richard really is among the most despicable characters on the show.
Another stand out sequence (from episode 11) was the overexcited woman continuously honking her car horn due to a child firing a gun and causing traffic to stop. A commentary on gun control and road rage, the awkward humor befitting the atmosphere of the show.
I’m a bit disappointed by the female characters. Seems many are pretty faces with little personality who obey men. Or feisty females with a hostile attitude. From what we’ve seen so far, Diane and Audrey Horne are rude and unfriendly, and at this point lesser versions of abrasive Albert. Maybe these women have reasons to be angry. To me, both Diane and Audrey are neither funny or remotely likeable, but give it time, there's still a long way to go. Even Naomi Watts’ character is a bit of a tough dame in the delivery scene in E6, although she at least has other sides to her character.
Still enjoying Dougie Cooper’s child-like “Being There” behaviour, even if it is beginning to wear thin. Hoping he will wake up and become the real Dale Cooper soon.
Heartbreaking by Angelo Badalamenti is a nice piano instrumental at the end of episode 11.

What do you think? Seen any of these? As always, comments are welcome

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)
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

Old and new albums of the month: June 2017

Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes (2017) 
Disappointing and overpraised third album. The vocal is distinctive, but the melodies are inaccessible and unmemorable. Goes in a progressive-folk/jazzy direction. ”Naiads Cassadies” and ”On Another Ocean” are quite beautiful. Maybe it's a grower.

Room 29 by Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales (2017)
Recommended by Rol at My Top Ten. Inspired by the mystery and history of the Chateau Marmont, Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame in the 90s) has a way with words that conjures images in your mind, such as the opener Room 29 and its lyric:
”Holly has never grown here
Though someone once tried
But it died, almost immediately:
The climate was too dry
Yeah, this whole place is built on a lie
But what a lie:
The kind of lie that has the entire Western world agog
'Cos no one ever got turned on
By the Whole Earth Catalog”.
The song deals with the lie of Hollywood. Holly doesn’t grow there, so right from the start it’s based on a lie. According to Jarvis "a very seductive lie, and we’re still entranced by it."
Tracks like Room 29, Salomé, The Other Side, and A Trick of the Light address television and what it does to us. The latter is the album's longest and my personal favorite. There are also a number of references to the Golden Age of Hollywood. As thequietus wrote: "The hotel is the thematic link that runs throughout the record, with pithy perspectives of events that took place there".
Probably the most memorable of these lounge/piano tunes is Tearjearker, which hints at a soullessness and un-lived-in-ness of hotels: ”These surfaces are shiny. Anything wipes off them. These surfaces are hard. Nothing seems to mark them”.  Yet you could also imagine the surfaces he speaks of are about the human condition, how hard our exterior is to outside influences.
Some listeners may feel the album at times is bordering on boring and non-music, with its spoken-word and minimal instrumentals. I look at it as a welcome change of direction, Jarvis’ vocal suits this low-key collaboration well.
Extracts from interview with JC: "I remembered an ambition I had when I was eight or nine. You know when you’re thinking about what you want to be when you grow up, or how you want your life to pan out. I couldn’t imagine anything better than living in a hotel so you’d never have to worry about washing up, making the bed, anything like that, and having a servant to come in and play all your favourite TV programmes. At the time I was thinking we’d have a projector and he’d set that going so we’d be able to watch Batman and The Monkees whenever I wanted to - they were my two favourite TV programmes. And of course I got to a stage in life where I could make that dream come true if I wanted.(...) And about half way through the second episode ( The Monkees) I realised it wasn’t going to be quite as great as I’d expected."
“I don’t know if I’m totally alone in that ambition. It’s that thing of not wanting to commit to anything, and just wanting to slide through life, without having to pick up your own mess or really get involved too much.
JC: "I remember the first time I went to New York I was disappointed because I walked down to Wall Street where I knew all the skyscrapers were, and I thought, ‘they’re not that tall’. And I think I traced it back to the opening credits of Kojak. On that there was a helicopter shot looking down onto the skyscrapers - and he probably had a wide angle lens or something - so they looked like they were gigantic. Of course it wasn’t like that. In that way films almost improved on reality in a way. You get in a weird situation where the illusion seems to be better than reality."
The Line of Best Fit interview: Everything about the album is constructed to immerse listeners into this fantasised world. The distant whirring of an elevator, the dripping of a tap, the soft scratching of pen on paper… the omnipresent sounds of hotel life can all be heard throughout the record, transporting listeners right into the heart of this vivid setting. "I thought it'd be nice to try and make people feel like if they closed their eyes they could imagine they're in this hotel room with someone playing the piano and someone else stood quite near them singing a song," says Cocker.
Extract from loudandquiet interview: When Jarvis’ father disappeared when he was seven, he says he started to look for clues on how to be a man from his beloved TV that puzzled and thrilled him.
“Which is a terrible place to look,” he notes. “I mean, I was never going to be a cowboy or a rugby player, was I?”
A cautionary tale against placing too much faith in fantasy, the album is a resounding cry for something real. “I have a thing in any hotel I stay in now where I try to unplug the TV and put it in a closet,” says Jarvis. “Or I just put a coat over it. I don’t like it. I feel like I watched so much TV as a kid that I’ve done my time; I don’t need to watch it anymore.”

Home Counties by Saint Etienne (2017) 
There are good songs, but very patchy as an album experience. The first six tracks I found dull, thankfully there are 19 to choose from and does get better. Take It All In has a pleasing retro 60s sound that fits their style. Out Of My Mind, with its nostalgic 80s-era vibe, runs out of steam due to a repetitive lyric. After Hebden is my favorite vocal performance on the record. Heather wants to be moody yet misses the mark with the vocal. Train Drivers in Eyeliner suits Sarah Cracknell's voice much better.
Unopened Fan Mail is worth your time for the melody alone. Sweet Arcadia (a reference to the Arcadia Sweet Shop in Bedford) takes the listener on an intriguing spoken-word trip, reminiscent of album highlight Over the Border from their previous LP, but darker.
There’s an audience for Saint Etienne, otherwise they wouldn’t keep making albums. I couldn’t wholeheartedly get into it, the vocal is often lacking emotional resonance. The wittiness and message was not immediately obvious and maybe takes time to unpack. The group have said the album is about “the love/hate relationship people have with ‘home’ ", which in their case is the UK.

A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie (2017)
The melodies are unremarkable and samey, but scores points for lyrically and vocally depicting the emotional turmoil of loss. The album has a timelessness and honesty.
On a day-to-day basis, it isn't something I would reach for, expect when dealing with the passing of family/friend.

Ti Amo by Phoenix (2017)
A light, summer pop album with Italian disco influences. I've listened a couple of times and plenty of replay potential, containing many pleasant moments. Best songs: Role Model, Goodbye Soleil, J-Boy, Via Veneto, Telefono.
To celebrate the release of the new album, check out a retrospective on their discography and my top 10 Phoenix songs.

Between Darkness & Wonder by Lamb (2003)
Atmospheric and melancholy. Electronic sounds mixed with orchestral instrumentation. I'm surprised Between Darkness & Wonder is among Lamb's lowest rated on RYM. A personal favorite with hardly any weak tracks.
Stronger is an empowering anthem, Angelica a beautiful instrumental. Till the Clouds Clear taps into not being able to let go of thoughts. I wouldn't listen often, but when I'm in the right mood this album hits the spot.

White Blood Cells by The White Stripes (2001)
Garage Rock Revival. The White Stripes' third album and considered their breakthrough. If you want guitar riffs, this is a modern band to seek out. Includes mostly rock with the occasional twee ballad diversion.
Highlights include We're Going to Be Friends, Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, Hotel Yorba,  and Offend in Every Way. The latter is about the pressures of stardom and expectation.

(What's the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis (1995)
Arguably the pinnacle of the Britpop era. The run from tracks 2-5 (Roll With It, Wonderwall, Don't Look Back in Anger & Hey Now!) is incredible,  and also has one of rock's best closing tracks in Champagne Supernova. The lyrics have aged well considering it's 22 years old now.

Ten by Pearl Jam (1991)
The group's most commercially successful LP. Includes Black, arguably one of Pearl Jam's most powerful songs, which surprisingly wasn't a single. Alive and Oceans are other stand outs from their debut. Jeremy I find overrated.
If I'm critical, it's sometimes difficult to hear Eddie Vedder's words, and the album is very loud.

A Kind of Magic by Queen (1986)
I love the intro of Who Wants to Live Forever, and One Vision & A Kind of Magic are also Queen classics. The album is well-produced, but there are some skippable tracks and the lyrics tend towards platitudes at times. Don't Lose Your Head is a lesser known highlight. The Highlander soundtrack, also from 1986, includes a number of overlaps.

Zenyattà Mondatta by The Police (1980)
Despite the Grammy attention and critical praise, I found the album a bit boring. Can't really compare with other Police albums. There are glimpses of experimentation, but mostly plays it safe by sticking to a pop structure. Canary in a Coalmine is a decent attempt at reggae, but I prefer proper reggae artists. The recognizable singles Don't Stand So Close to Me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da I was already familiar with.

The Wall by Pink Floyd (1979)
A thought-provoking work with a handful of classic songs. I love the writing on this LP. Considered among the best double albums. The only weakness I noticed was some repetition of the instrumental sections, but that is hardly a flaw, as it gives the album a cohesiveness. The Trial sounds like it belongs in a West End stage musical.
Best tracks: Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, Hey You, Comfortably Numb, Run Like Hell.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports by Brian Eno (1978) 
A relaxing ambient album. Good as background music for studying. The piano-driven opener 1/1 is beautiful and very tranquil. Tracks 1-3 are too long and repetitive, though this is by design. I find the wordless vocals of 2/1 and 1/2 overly cold and melancholy. 2/2 is a great closer, going in a synth direction with a melody that is harder to pin down.

Another Green World by Brian Eno (1975)
Considered a transitional work that bridges his earlier rock with subsequent ambient direction. I like Brian Eno as a multi-instrumentalist, less as a singer/songwriter.
The lyric "And I'll come running to tie your shoe" becomes annoying, but it's forgivable on an otherwise fascinating album of textures and instrumentals, which is atmospheric and varied. St. Elmo's Fire is probably the most pop-friendly. The trio of songs Golden Hours, Becalmed & Zawinul / Lava are beautiful. An album with lots of detail to unearth.

A Night at the Opera by Queen (1975)
I respect their talent, just wasn't for me. Couldn't stomach the over-the-top-ness and campiness. Only a couple of the songs I connected with emotionally, the masterful single Bohemian Rhapsody and the minor classic You're My Best Friend. Overall I found the album rather uninvolving. My rating is based on enjoyment, not the quality of the music. I might prefer Queen in moderation, a full album is a bit much.

Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones (1969)
The two classics (Gimmie Shelter & You Can't Always Get What You Want) that bookend Let It Bleed don't fit that well with the blues rock which the bulk of the album consists of.
Still, an entertaining listen. There's a feeling tracks highlight a different instrument, the harmonica-driven Midnight Rambler I enjoyed. An album with a lasting value and worth many plays.

The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground (1969)
Expected a rockier album, surprisingly restrained and minimalistic. Half of the songs are classics (Candy Says, What Goes On, Pale Blue Eyes, Beginning to See the Light, After Hours), and the other half are good.

Moving by Peter, Paul and Mary (1963)

Peter, Paul and Mary by Peter, Paul and Mary (1962)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Halfway point: Best songs of 2017 so far (#15 - #11)

11.) Evening Prayer by Jens Lekman
(A strangely upbeat song about a tumor. The lyrics are also about friendship and not knowing if you are close enough to care)

12.) You Can Never Go Back to New York by The Magnetic Fields
(Very catchy. I'm on the fence if I enjoy the vocal performance on 50 Song Memoir, reminds me of the goofy voice in the ukulele scene in Blue Valentine. Although clearly Stephin Merritt is a better singer than Gosling. Stupid Tears is a memorable song too even if the melody seems so familiar?)

13.) Shotgun Mouthwash by High Contrast
(T2 Trainspotting soundtrack. Works well in the treadmill intro scene. The lyrics are objectionable, deliberately so I'm guessing)

14.) Sugar for the Pill by Slowdive
(Got stuck in my head)

15.) The Flame by Johnny Jewel 
(Soothing instrumental which features in new Twin Peaks as score music. My favorite part is at 2.20 when the saxophone kicks in)

Honorable mention:
Amar Pelos Dois by Salvador Sobral
(Portugese winner of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Sometimes less is more)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome.  #10 - #6 coming soon! 

Solutions to high-rise fires like at Grenfell Tower

I was sickened by the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London. Obviously everyone was shocked and angered this could happen. From what I understand the fire was caused by a fridge, which the firefighters claim to have put out, but by that time the fire had spread up the building.

I’ve been wondering how a disaster like this could potentially be avoided. Clearly authorities are working on changes so flammable panels and fire sprinklers meet safety standards. Apparently the UK government confirmed that councils estimate 600 high-rise buildings could have similar flammable exterior cladding to that used on Grenfell Tower.

Of course, the matter of housing the victims is a priority, and many, firefighters, surviving residents, and onlookers, need aid and counselling. What was nice to hear was the outpouring of support by Londoners who offered food and clothes to those who lost everything in the fire.
In an interview with a solicitor, it saddens me the public enquiry doesn’t allow the victims to be heard, which an inquest would.
This is one of the richest boroughs who made £13m gross profit in 2016 and £12m in 2015, so you’d think they could afford to meet basic safety regulations.

Unfortunately, there’s also the question of political bias. Musician Lily Allen in a brave interview spoke of approx. 300 politicians with 72 of them landlords, a situation which conceivably might impact the voting for the passing of a law on fire safety.

I hope I'm not being insensitive, if so I apologize. I was reminded of the 1970s Hollywood disaster film The Towering Inferno. What lessons can be learned is the reason for mentioning it. Note, the IMDb description says the building was "poorly constructed".
Spoiler warning: The plot is a rescue operation, with Americans trapped in a burning skyscraper. A solution in the film (described in this clip) is allowing water tanks in the building to wash down over the flames. Perhaps wasn’t an option in London? Spoiler end.

A practical method I’ve become aware of is at, a $1500 product that could save you in an inescapable highrise fire like Grenfell Tower. I'm not receiving a penny to promote this rescue device. I'm just trying to find ways to save lives.

mr police man, I promise to go faster

I usually enjoy car journeys on the motorway, listening to music and without the stress of heavy traffic on smaller roads. Recently, I was going along as usual. Many others dangerously use the motorway as a high-speed race track and never seem to get a ticket. I was travelling at 80 km/h (50 miles/h), which is on the slow side, but with two lanes there is a chance to overtake, and I know cars with trailers HAVE to go max 80 km/h in our country. I didn’t have a trailer on but felt entitled to drive carefully, and it’s easier to listen to music at that speed, as there’s less engine noise. Then I find myself followed by a car. At first didn’t concern me, then went on for 30 minutes which is unusual as drivers usually lose patience and move past. When I reach my turn-off the car continues to follow and I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable. Are they going to follow me all the way home? I hope not.
A police car has been waiting by the turn, follows me for a while, then suddenly puts his lights/horn on. I’m wondering if he simply is busy and wants to overtake. Then he gestures for me to pull-over which I do at the next roundabout. Apparently someone had phoned the police to warn them I was coming. When I stopped, the policeman approached. I feared the worst, so said nothing. Asked for my driving license and if I owned the car. Apparently I was driving too slowly on the motorway and not in a straight line. The accuser had assumed I was driving slower because I was drunk, which I wasn’t. I was merely trying to save petrol as my 1,0 engine uses up almost twice as much if I go along at 70-80 miles/h. The motorway was very quiet.
Regarding the swerving from side to side, I didn’t mention to the police, but my car model is light-weight and the steering is the weakest aspect of the car. I’ve spoken to another person who owns the same model and with side wind and gusts it’s normal for a bit of turbulence, especially at higher speeds. Probably I should have explained this, but I didn’t want to make excuses. I just said I was sorry, wanted to save petrol, and wasn’t trying to bother anyone. It’s hardly my fault if a cheap car is not steady on the road. He still wanted me to blow into a breathalyser even though I said I hadn’t been drinking. I asked what the lowest speed you are allowed to drive is, the rules are murky as they can’t force you to go at a specific speed. He advised me to take the highway instead, if I want to go at that speed.

Who is right in this situation? I can understand someone worried about a drink/driver, but I think it’s an excessive overreaction for a random person to follow me for so long and deliberately slow down. If they want to go faster, why drive behind me? I’m 99% sure it’s the follower who phoned in my number plate. The accuser also 'beefed up' his story by claiming I was travelling at 70km/h (43 miles/h) which is dishonest.
Part of me thinks they got some pleasure from seeing the police catch me, and the policemen had no choice but to follow procedure. A misunderstanding that I’d rather have avoided. I guess there are people who have nothing better to do than complain. I never imagined I’d say to a police man, ”I promise to go faster…” . Was almost absurd saying that sentence out loud. Obviously the experience isn't as shocking as Spielberg's Duel pictured above, though my incident has left some mental scares.

Phoenix albums reviewed and top 10 Phoenix songs

To celebrate the release of the new Phoenix album Ti Amo this June, below is a career retrospective. My thoughts on the albums and my top 10 Phoenix songs.

United (2000)
Thomas Mars has a distinctive vocal style, and Phoenix's debut sees the band finding their feet. There's a wide range of instruments and genre experimentation, although it all fits within a pop sound.
The opener "School's Rules" has an enjoyable guitar intro which sadly isn't a fully formed song. "Too Young" is a great single that has that fun-loving Phoenix-y sound and was included on Lost in Translation soundtrack. The blissful instrumental at the end of "Honeymoon" is beautiful. "If I Ever Feel Better" goes for fast spoken pop and is a bouncy, memorable track. "Embuscade" is a nice jazzy instrumental. "Summer Days" feels like a lesser variation of "Too Young". "Funky Squaredance" at almost 10 minutes might be the most ambitious track, opening with 3 min of vocal distortion, then becomes funky and Daft Punk-esque, and at about the 6 min mark there's a soaring guitar section. The closing track "Definitive Breaks" reprises Too Young, adding a saxophone.

Alphabetical (2004)
Sporadically good, but a patchy follow-up to 2000's United. The melodies are often uninspired and the word repetition on choruses to "Run Run Run" and "If It's Not With You" are annoying. There aren't really any big stand outs, with "(You Can't Blame It On) Anybody" the most pleasing to the ears.  "I'm an Actor" appears to be about addiction.
The track-by track order is lazy and hurts the listening experience. Why, for example, is "If It's Not With You" featuring the repeated lyric "together",  followed by "Holdin' on Together", another song with "together" in the lyrics? Also, the instrumental "Congratulations" is too similar to the track that precedes it.
"Victim of the Crime" and the title track "Alphabetical" are more melancholy than anything on their debut, and seem to be about life as a pop star. Kudos for trying something different. "Alphabetical" works as a sad ballad, but the rest of the album plays it safe, presumably not wanting to alienate the fanbase.

It's Never Been Like That (2006)
Rockier third album, the melodies are unmemorable. I initially liked the single "Long Distance Call" but after a few plays the word repetition in the chorus becomes irritating.
Favorite lyric from the track "One Time Too Many": "Hard to tell you kindly that ain't what I'm like".

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009) 
Their 2004 and 2006 albums were patchy. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a return to form and maintains its energy from beginning to end. Probably their most upbeat and well-produced since 2000’s United. Earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. On the playful album title referencing Mozart, Thomas Mars said: ”almost like a childish thing, like you’re unleashing a child into the museum and he draws a moustache on the Mona Lisa or something”
Best tracks: Lisztomania, Love Like a Sunset Part II, 1901, Rome, Armistice

Bankrupt! (2013)
Fifth full-length studio release, and arguably the group's most underrated. The sound was described as "a peachy, fun vibe", in keeping with the sleeve, and there appears to be an Asian influence.  A couple of weaker moments are Drakkar Noir and S.O.S. in Bel Airhave, which have unconvincing lyrics. As another reviewer notes, perhaps the album tells a tale of the lonesome feelings of making it to the top and the conflicting emotions of stardom.  
Best tracks: Bourgeois, Entertainment, Trying To Be Cool, Bankrupt!

Ti Amo (2017)
Their latest released June 9. A light, summer pop album with Italian disco influences. I've listened a couple of times and plenty of replay potential, containing many pleasant moments. Best songs: Role Model, Goodbye Soleil, J-Boy, Via Veneto, Telefono

My top 10 Phoenix songs (in no particular order)
Too Young (Lost in Translation soundtrack)
If I Ever Feel Better
(You Can't Blame It On) Anybody
One Time Too Many
Love Like a Sunset Part II (Somewhere soundtrack)
Funky Squaredance

Honorable mention: Role Model

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: May

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episodes 1-4) (David Lynch)
E1-E4 of Twin Peaks S3 are slower than S1 and S2 from the 90s, but not as dark as the 1992 prequel Fire Walk With Me. As a fan of Lynch, a must-see return into this world, a fanservice revival ala Star Wars. The use of music is surprisingly sparse, keeping the original theme music in the intro, while relying on sound effects more so than score.
The guy in the building in NY watching the empty glass box looks like a young Agent Cooper, those scenes were an intriguing addition, Sam and Tracey have chemistry, and it works as a commentary on the passivity of TV.  Another memorable part of E1+E2 takes place in Buckhorn South Dakota featuring Matthew Lillard, whom I usually hate, in a good performance as a man accused of murder. Maybe he is guilty, maybe not.
My main problem with the first few episodes is the characters are not given much time to hang out together and reveal their charm, which was part of the appeal of previous seasons. There’s no coffee-and-pie house they meet at. I want more than just cameos.
For the most part, the quirky dead-pan humor is effective, the funniest of them in E3 with the bizarre casino visit, chocolate bunny discussion. In E4, the comedy happens in the pancake scene, meeting with Denise Bryson, and Wally Brando’s poorly written yet ultimately amusing speech about his shadow.
Hopefully as S3 progresses, it will flow more naturally and provide reasons to care. It’s nice to see familiar faces again, though the former Twin Peaks cast are disconnected and don't yet have much to do compared to the eventful main story involving Agent Cooper.
The opening four episodes have many intriguing loose ends, sometimes sexy moments, and Lynchian weirdness, but also needlessly slow and sometimes lacking in warmth. The characterization and story is not as novelistic, intimate and dialogue-driven as Twin Peaks from the 90s. In Season 3, we don’t really get under the skin of what they are feeling, thinking and dreaming about.
Funnier than anything Lynch has done before, even if the revival is a David Lynch greatest hits of sorts. A flawed return, but good to have him back directing after a decade-long absence since Inland Empire.
Check out Laura Hudson's spoilery review for The Vulture, she makes several interesting observations.
Favorite quote: “I had enough dirt on you to fill the Grand Canyon”

The Trip to Spain (2017) (6 Episodes) (Michael Winterbottom)
New location, same formula. Travel, food, conversations. culture, & the worrys of middle age. Coogan and Brydon, blurring reality and fiction, drive from the north to the south of Spain, making stops at restaurants. I binge watched the 3 hour TV-version. I recommend the first two 30 minute episodes especially, which are the most entertaining. The last four parts are weaker and I began to tire of the impressions and repetition.
If they do bring the duo back for a fourth series, it needs reinventing, as the concept is becoming a bit stale. The two hour film adaptation is probably better by trimming the fat. With the recent passing of Roger Moore, the Moore impersonations now feel a little inappropriate. That's not Coogan's and Brydon's fault as the filming of the series took place months ago, it's just an unfortunate circumstance. The Trip to Spain feels like it was made for the fans and is sporadically brilliant, though they could be running out of impressions as a few are rehash.

A few notes on the six episodes:
Best impressions: John Hurt as The Elephant Man talking to Anthony Hopkins, Elvis Costello battle, Marlon Brando reciting Monty Python, Mick Jagger battle, Mick Jagger doing Shakespeare, McCartney/Lennon

Worst impressions, mostly in episode 3: David Bowie, Captain Kirk, and John Hurt

Most overused impressions: Roger Moore, Marlon Brando

Funniest quotes:
 “-There are few things in this life worse than a tomato with no flavour.
-Well, bombing in Syria? That might pip it at the post”.

"My name isn't Roger Muslim, it's Roger Moore!”

Films: City Slickers (bull fighting), Laurel and Hardy

Books: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (bull fighting), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish writer Lopadero? who wrote 500 plays.

Music: Human beatbox song(a highlight of the series), Windmills of Your Mind, Toledo by Elvis Costello, SOS by ABBA

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) (Basil Dearden)
Recently deceased Roger Moore considered this his best performance, which was what prompted me to give it a look. About a man who can’t explain why there is a duplicate of himself. A thriller that does a good job of building suspense by not revealing the mystery. Like the audience, Moore’s character Harold Pelham is in the dark and trying to find answers. You can definitely see why he was picked for Bond a few years later, Pelham has a similar presence and humor to Moore’s 007. He is not the most versatile, and the bowler hats are a bit dated now, but a screen actor I enjoy watching. Nice score by award winning composer Michael J. Lewis.

Alfie (1966) (Lewis Gilbert)
Michael Caine, in a star making performance, plays a charming yet cold-hearted ladies man, who treats women as disposable objects he describes as “it” and “bird”. Not wanting to attach himself to anything serious, he moves from one affair to the next, whether the women are married or not.
In its time, the film was praised for its sexual frankness and persuasive rendering of Swinging London, although the situations seem mild by contemporary standards. You could be envious or disdainful of Alfie, maybe even both. While he beds a number of women, it is a sad film in which I shed a tear for his hollow life and temporary relationships. But he only has himself to blame. The song “Alfie,” by Burt Bacharach was Oscar nominated, and heightens the emotional impact of the last scene.
I will say though that the womanizing is overdone and overemphasizes its point. The bar fight and medical examination could have been trimmed.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) (Taika Waititi)
An unlikely duo (Sam Neil, and newcomer Julian Dennison) venture into the wilderness. An adventure-comedy that has an 80s innocence and characters you care about. Pure fun without the need for making the story overly gimmicky. The two leads have good chemistry and further proof the New Zealand director is a talent to look out for. Also enjoyed Taika Waititi's previous film, vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014).

Silence (2016) (Martin Scorsese)
A timeless historical film about 17th-century Portuguese missionaries. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is stunning, especially the landscapes. Most of the key scenes involve suffering and persecution, so I wouldn’t call it “enjoyable”.
I was interested to see how would play out, and was moved by the characters plight. But it’s a flawed epic, repetitive in its storytelling, and quite long-winded.
There’s something to be learned that even in the darkest times, Christianity will endure and give us hope and courage. Faith is so important that some people are willing to suffer for it. But why the Japanese villagers have put aside Buddhism and devoted themselves to Christianity I felt was unexplored? I couldn’t grasp their motivations. You could say their unwavering faith is admirable, but you have to be able to compromise to fit into the society you live, and they didn’t. The real issue is intolerance and the Japanese not accepting different beliefs.
The film showcases that the export of religion is dangerous in how it creates division. Spreading Christianity in Japan was not ideal, the Christian priests and Japanese villagers seemed naive to the conflict their steadfastness was causing. The title is about the silence or non-silence of God.
Was alluded to on What the Flick! review that you can regard the theme of ‘identity against the law’ as an allegory for all times, could be Jewishness, sexual orientation, or mental illness, where you have to decide how you are going to face society.
For me, the film is about not blindly following a certain path, and staying critical whatever life throws at you.

One More Time With Feeling (documentary) (2016) (Andrew Dominik)
Follows the template of previous documentary 20,000 Days on Earth (2014), with music segments from the album in question, intertwined with moments of revelation and reflection. Like aforementioned doc, the studio sessions feel a bit like padding.
Details Cave’s decision to write non-narrative lyrics. Says this new direction allows his songs to have a prophetic nature like a dream can foretell situations, and he admits: “I don’t think life is a story, we all hope that it is” His interviewer begs to differ, that we all are born and gradually decay.
Cave ponders the creative process on his latest album. Wanting to write songs that connect with people and don’t alienate. Searching for a magical place with his friend Warren Ellis when the jamming isn’t to do with knowing where you’re going, but collaborating as a team.
Doesn’t directly discuss the trauma of his son’s death until 65 minutes into the film. The emotional state influenced the recordings, leading to a sense of helplessness and nakedness in the music. Cave and his wife bravely reveal their insecurities, grief and uncomfortableness about the interview situation, especially in the second half. He is right that somebody has got to “sing the pain”.
Quite affecting and sporadically interesting, but I didn’t feel the insights on loss are breaking new ground. There was nothing here that made me go, wow, I’ve never heard that before. A life changing event for the Cave family which I can empathize with, but not a life changing viewing experience. Without any info provided on Arthur, Cave’s son, the viewer is at a distance. Skeleton Tree (2016) is a sad yet beautiful album that stands on its own without the need for a documentary.

Demolition (2015) (Jean-Marc Vallée)
While we are not given an opportunity to get to know and care about his deceased wife, I did empathize with Gyllenhaal’s painful situation. Everyone deals with loss in different ways. There's both a predictableness and an unpredictableness going on. I felt I had seen the plot before in other films, but held my interest throughout.

Gimmie Danger (2016) (Jim Jarmusch)
Documentary about the influential hard rock band The Stooges. Expected a bit more offbeatness from Jarmusch. Entertaining enough, and Iggy Pop is a good storyteller. But very by-the-numbers and the anecdotes are soon forgotten. On a positive note, there are some interesting references to other bands.

Raising Arizona (1987) (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Probably the funniest Coen brothers comedy I’ve seen. Very quotable too.
Cochroches like popcorn
"What was he wearing? A dinner jacket! Wuddya think, he was wearing his damn jammies!"

Faraway, So Close! (1993) (Wim Wenders)
A disappointing and overlong sequel to Der Himmel über Berlin (1987). An angel becomes human and struggles to choose between good and evil. There's a clever transition between color and black & white, but this aspect becomes needlessly confusing. Many scenes go nowhere and it's tough to care about any of these characters, as the impatient camera keeps hopping from one situation to the next. Fails to recapture the atmosphere of the original. Everything interesting about this universe you can find in the first film.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) (Stephen Herek)
Sillier than Back to the Future. The filmmakers probably stole the phone booth idea from Doctor Who, but the ”excellent” quote with air guitar is iconic, and is repeated many times in the movie. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are believable as high school friends. I liked the story included what these historical figures would do in our modern world, although some of them were too easy to kidnap. The house cleaning scene is laugh out loud.
While superficial and basically a kid’s movie, it is funny and crowd-pleasing, and could inspire you to look deeper into the history.
The 80s soundtrack has some obscure gems, especially I Can't Break Away by Big Pig from the intro. Father Time by Shark Island & Dancing With A Gypsy by Tora Tora are entertaining hard rock songs. Play With Me by Extreme even samples Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca, in reference to the film character.

The Running Man (1987) (Paul Michael Glaser)
Based on a story by Stephen King who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Pretty much an 80s Hunger Games or Battle Royale, set in an Orwellian police state. In The Running Man, many citizens are seemingly happy. Comparable to Roman times, the audience is pacified and entertained so they are less likely to rebel.
Interestingly, the story is set in futuristic 2017. Looks nothing like today’s society, although foreshadows the popularity of reality-tv, a reality show host/president with military authority, fake news stories used to manipulate public opinion, and predicts the world economy would collapse. Art, music and communications are censored, which is still the case in China, and at the time was happening in Eastern Germany.
Unfortunately I find the game show aspect unrealistic. Would audience members over 60 years old really be cheering on violence? There’s also a twist in the last third which I found implausible.
Worth a look, but not as well-paced or memorable as other Schwarzenegger movies from the 80s. The kiss scene is cringe-worthy.

One False Move (1992) (Carl Franklin)
Neo noir crime thriller. Cops (including Bill Paxton) are hunting down a group of dangerous criminals (Billy Bob Thornton and others) on the run.
Tonally changeable, with violent moments, and unpredictable twists. Also tackles interracial love.
Probably the best scene involves two LAPD detectives belittling the ambitions of small town police chief (Paxton), claiming amongst themselves he wouldn’t last 2 minutes in the big city. Paxton’s character Dale "Hurricane" Dixon happens to hear this which causes an awkward situation. It’s interesting he has that nickname. Better than average low-budget independent film.

Bedazzled (1967) (Stanley Donen)
Considered among the best of the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore movies. Manages to present potentially dry discussions about god and the devil, good and evil, in a fun, entertaining way. The argument that God is withdrawn to give us freedom of choice makes sense. The story isn’t entirely their own, but a 1960s interpretation of Faust.
About being in love, with your feelings not reciprocated. George Spiggott / The Devil (Peter Cook) gives sad Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) the chance to live out his imagined happiness, but amusingly even the fantasies falter when realized. A commentary on how we try and be a different person to achieve our goals.
There are surprises and original ideas such as the fly on the wall and pop star performances, although not all of it works and some sequences feel like variations of the same. Isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. His inability to escape the nunnery got a few chuckles out of me, even if that sequence goes on too long. The final speech is eerily relevant in its attack on capitalism.
A remake was released in 2000 with Brendan Fraser and Elisabeth Hurley, which I haven't seen.

Out of Sight (1998) (Steven Soderbergh)
I believe I rented this neo-noir crime/romance in the late 90s, all I could remember is the car trunk scene, so a rewatch was overdue. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez have good chemistry, the movie is best when they are both in the same scene. Her discovering him in the bath is very sexy and surprising.
Most of the supporting characters didn’t interest me. The dialogue is sharp and witty, but the story is all talk and little action. There are clever flashbacks, though the film is style over substance. The diamond heist isn't as captivating as it could have been.

Graduation (2016) (Cristian Mungiu)
Not as powerful and harrowing as the director’s masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007), but an interesting conflict of a teenager daughter (Eliza) who is attacked before her important exam. There are slight similarities with The Salesman (2016), in how there is a post-traumatic stress factor for a female character, and the attack is not directly revealed.
Granted the over-protective father (Romeo) is passionate in his way, but I found the characters rather cold and lacking distinguishing traits, so tough to have much attachment to them. The muted palette is also very colorless with its greys and blues. Obviously these are conscious choices by the filmmakers. Engaging on an academic, ethical level, and as a study of life in Romania.
Romeo is desperate for Eliza to take a scholarship abroad and lead a better life. But in his actions the father is negating the values he has instilled in her. The title has layers, with him also put to the test regarding his actions. As another reviewer pointed out, his “moral compromises ultimately make him not that much different from the societal forces he believes he's fighting against”.
I’ve met Romanians and it seems to be a common thing for them to want to escape poverty and seek their fortune in other parts of Europe. The writer/director has said Graduation is about people who live in a corrupt country and “feel they don’t progress or advance in society based on their own merit.” Cristian Mungiu is quoted as saying that most of his generation, “decided to just leave”. He talks about migration as “an individual solution”, in some ways easier than sticking around and trying to effect social change, the “collective solution”.There’s suspense in the last third. The ending is both clever and frustrating, and may divide audiences.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


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