james debate
james debate

Friday, 10 July 2020

Directed by Thomas Kail
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Jeffrey Seller
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr, Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff
Studio Walt Disney Pictures
Running time 160 minutes


alexander hamilton 2020 musical film broadway disney plus lin manuel miranda oscars

If 2020 has had one singular moment in pop culture it is this. The past several months of pandemic and global shutdown have left in its wake a world starving for new content, a gap in the market that Disney have gleefully closed by bringing forward by more than a year the release of the film recording of the musical that conquered the world, Hamilton.

Before we begin I think it is important to give great credit to Disney here. At a time where the world is grieving, isolated and in greater need of entertainment than ever, most studios have chosen to delay their upcoming content by months or years rather than release to streaming services, with a view to maximising profit when cinemas reopen. By contrast, for Disney to have actually brought forward the planned release of this film by a full year is an admirable move and a much needed moment of brightness for us all to enjoy (side note: it is also obviously a shrewd business move that will earn Disney millions in new subscriptions, which begs the question why more studios are not doing this).

This is, of course, the much anticipated streaming release of Hamilton, the musical. Not a complete film adaptation of the musical, but rather a recording of the show featuring the original Broadway cast and directed by the director of the original stage production. Those coming into this film blind need to bear that in mind, not that they expect a full Hollywood treatment.

I found myself approaching this film in the perhaps slightly unusual position of having never seen the stage show and being only familiar in passing with some of the music. I was aware of the hype, of course (and indeed came close to seeing the show on Broadway back in 2015 before opting against it), but like many of you the sales pitch of a rap musical about one of America's Founding Fathers held little appeal for me, much less my non-American other half.

Having now seen the show, it is my considered opinion that Hamilton is that rarest of things: something which not only manages to live up to its hype, but exceeds it.

In retrospect, I think the coverage of this show as a "rap musical" has done a great disservice to just how good Hamilton actually is. Indeed the music of the show is every bit as diverse as its cast, drawing on a great number of different styles and influences from Sondheim-esque pomposity to nineties pop and the British invasion bands of the 1960s. Despite what you may have heard, Hamilton has more Les Miserables in its DNA than Biggie Smalls.

It is a testament to the considerable compositional talent of Lin-Manuel Miranda that he is able to dabble in so many different genres and produce such consistently excellent music. But as much as the sound, it is the thought behind the music that impresses, from its thematic consistency to the matching of different musical and vocal styles to different characters, and its clever use of recurring motifs to express its progression of ideas.

I often say that the test of a new musical is the extent to which its songs remain stuck in your head in the following days. By that metric Hamilton succeeds greater than any musical I can recall for many years. Sometimes you come across a good musical which gets a few songs stuck in your head (see Hadestown). Looking over the track list now, I can truly say that almost all the songs in Hamilton have found their way into my head at some point since watching the show.

While the music sounds great, it is the quality of the lyrics that stands out more than anything. Lin-Manuel spent ten years writing Hamilton and it shows. Every line is so clever, so carefully considered. The rhymes will impress, while the lightning pace of some of the lyrics can be dazzling. Above all, the content of these songs is remarkable and the extent to which Lin-Manuel manages to squeeze so much complex thinking, historical context, and ambitious storytelling in these songs belies an astonishingly adept command of language.

The quality of writing extends to its cast of characters. While the accuracy with which these historical figures are depicted is open to debate, these exaggerated larger than life personalities animate the characters in a way that historical figures rarely have been. A significant part of this achievement lies in the cast's strong performances. Daveed Diggs delivers perhaps the greatest spectacle of the evening with two markedly different yet wildly entertaining depictions of Lafayette and Jefferson. Renée Elise Goldsberry provides the most powerfully raw performance with her repressed proto-feminist depiction of Angelica Schuyler. Christopher Jackson's depiction of George Washington is perhaps the only one I have ever seen that truly managed to capture the fire and inspirational qualities behind the man. Jonathan Groff simply steals every scene in which he appears as his psychotic stalker-ex interpretation of King George. Then of course is the incomparably layered portrayal of Aaron Burr by Leslie Odom Jr. It says everything that Lin-Manuel's own performance, which is by no means shoddy, is probably the weakest among the primary cast.

So far I have mainly been discussing Hamilton's qualities as a stage production. But this is a review of a film recording. So we must also consider its qualities, both as a piece of cinema in its own right, and as an recording of the theatrical performance.

Over the course of lockdown I have found myself watching a great many recordings of theatre, including the National Theatre's own fairly elaborate cinematic recordings. In pretty much all cases I have found the experience to be an enjoyable if somewhat lacking alternative to the theatre, even in the case of productions that I really quite like. Try as they might, none of those recordings ever seem to quite capture the feeling of being there on the night, and ends up feeling somehow distant and sedate. Miraculously, Hamilton does not appear to suffer from these same issues, at least not to as great an extent.

Hamilton was filmed over three separate performances, including one session in an empty auditorium used for capturing all the close up shots. It is clear that a great deal of effort has been put into the camera work and the editing of the final film. I think this is ultimately what makes the difference. When you are actually sitting in a theatre, your eyes can provide that natural close focus, something which tends to get lost through the additional abstraction of the camera. By providing those carefully choreographed close up shots, this film effectively negates this issue and does a much better job of bringing you into the action. In some ways, I found the experience to be even superior to actually attending a production in person. That close up camera work allows you to appreciate the actors' performances in a way that you may not necessarily be able to do in a large and distant auditorium.

If I had to get nitpicky I would say that having to follow the director's camera takes away some of the audience's agency in choosing where to focus, potentially missing some of the fine work of the larger ensemble, or the background performances of the non-speaking cast. I also found it odd that Disney released the video without some chapter browsing functionality, something which would seem a bit of a no-brainer for a musical to allow instant jumping to particular songs or moments.

Clearly though, these are minor quibbles. Hamilton is undoubtedly a superlative piece of cinema which does a remarkable job of capturing the magic of theatre. As a piece of music, Hamilton is excellent. As a feat of writing it is a truly seminal accomplishment. That comes across plainly in this adaptation and the result is a cultural moment that should prove a delight to both longtime fans and newcomers alike. For the first time, Hamilton is easily and affordably available to everyone. If you have not yet managed to see what all the fuss is about, don't throw away your shot.










Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Created by Alex Kurtzman, Michael Chabon
Network CBS/Amazon Prime
Starring Patrick Stewart, Alison Pill, Isa Briones, Santiago Cabrera
Genre Science Fiction
Running Time 40-65 minutes

star trek picard next generation discovery cbs amazon prime best new show 2020

I will preface this review by stating for the record that I am a Star Trek fan. Over the years I have seen every movie, watched all the live action TV series and played most of the videogames. The franchise occupies a significant portion of my childhood nostalgia and I find the prospect of any new addition to the canon a cause of great excitement. I warn you, there will be a few spoilers in this review.

My longtime fandom notwithstanding, readers of this blog will recall that I was not especially fond of the most recent series Discovery (in hindsight I think my review score may even have been a bit generous). On paper the newest series, Star Trek: Picard, sounds like it should right all the wrongs of Discovery.

Whereas the former was criticised for straying too far from the Star Trek formula, this new series brings back several beloved characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation, generally considered to be the high point of the franchise. Where Discovery was criticised for the poor quality of its acting and writing, Picard stars the incomparable Sir Patrick Stewart, and is (remarkably) written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon. While Discovery was criticised for its mindless action and lack of storytelling depth, Picard presents a more introspective and thoughtful premise focused on the twilight years of a retired Admiral, exploring difficult topics like mortality and loss.

On paper it sounds like the dream Star Trek series. Bold and inventive without losing its affection for nostalgia, backed by the very highest quality in acting and writing talent. Yet despite this, Picard frustrates as often as it delights, and replicates many of the same flaws that held back Discovery.

Let's begin with the positives. Jean Luc Picard is an iconic character, and seeing Patrick Stewart reprise this role is worth the price of admission alone. This is an ageing Picard approaching the end of his life. He is vulnerable, with a creeping world-weariness that appears unrecognisable from the Picard we have seen previously. But this is still the same man and the way Stewart allows that core of idealism to gradually re-emerge over the character's journey requires a performance of great complexity and dexterity. The story is (mostly) good and takes both the character and the franchise to some fresh and interesting places. Chabon, in addition to being a world-renowned author, is apparently quite the Trekkie and has clearly put a great deal of thought into his vision for the world.

Picard frequently delights when it brings back familiar faces from the old series. Jonathan Frakes briefly returns as Picard's former First Officer Will Riker, while Marina Sirtis reprises her role as former ship counsellor (and Riker's wife) Deanna Troi. Jeri Ryan plays a larger role with the surprise return of Star Trek Voyager character Seven of Nine, now barely recognisable as compared to the stiff, emotionally repressed Borg we have seen previously. Picard also quite brilliantly brings back Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh, a minor character from TNG rescued from the Borg by Picard and Data whose unique circumstances places them right in the thick of the action. The scenes with these characters form a highlight of the first season, but Chabon is smart enough to use a deft touch, such that these cameos never feel arbitrary or distract too much from proceedings.

The new cast is also pretty solid with stronger performances and more interesting characters across the board than Discovery. Santiago Cabrera is a particular highlight as Cristobal Rios, a washed up former Starfleet officer with more than a hint of Han Solo about him and a holographic crew of wacky characters (all also played by Cabrera).

Unfortunately Picard is plagued by frustrating production decisions. CBS sadly appears to be dead set on Alex Kurtzman overseeing everything Star Trek, and that means Picard features many of the same design choices as Discovery. The distinctive bright, optimistic visual palette of Star Trek has been replaced by super generic greys and blacks. The tone of the series still just isn't right: far too dour, too brutal, too miserable, with none of the classic Star Trek levity or optimism. I said this in my Discovery review, but Kurtzman and his people seem desperate to make Star Trek look and feel like Game of Thrones or The Handmaid's Tale and the result just comes off as a generic and bland imitation.

While the series starts very strongly, it suffers from significant pacing problems as the season progresses. Chabon is a great novelist, but he clearly hasn't yet mastered the rhythm of television. Some of these episodes really drag, and it often feels as though it takes a long time for anything significant to happen with little of interest taking place in between these moments. It's not so much that the series is overly long, quite the opposite. The problem is that the series and its characters are barely given any time to breathe.

As with Discovery, Picard features a 100% serialised story arc, with none of the classic self-contained Star Trek stories. This is problematic for a few reasons. Star Trek is primarily a character-based series and this format does not allow sufficient time to explore each character and their subplots. The result is that all these new characters and a confusing mess of different story threads get rushed into the main story arc in a way that barely allows them to register. This is why the pace feels like such a slog. Picard could really have done with an additional five or so episodes, each of which broke away from the main story entirely and focused on one of the main cast. I think the interesting characters are there, the writers just need to free them up a bit and add some of classic Trek's narrative variety.

But the biggest problem with Picard is the tone, something which I have already touched upon. This version of Star Trek is almost relentlessly brutal, nasty, and unpleasant. It tries so hard to be shocking and dark, but in ways that come off as feeling juvenile. The series is peppered with gratuitous cursing that feels totally out of place in the Star Trek universe. Several classic characters are brought back only to be unceremoniously killed off. In one particularly ill-advised scene, Picard brings back one of the child characters from Star Trek Voyager only to brutally torture and kill them within seconds (featuring an unnecessarily graphic eye removal). It's so gratuitous and out of nothing that it comes off as childish and robs the moment of any emotional impact that it may have had. Bizarrely this appears to be something of a theme with this show. Of the eight old characters that return in this series, five get killed off.

It is at this point that I refer back to my statement that the story was "mostly" good. It is mostly good, but blighted towards the end by several inexplicably bad storytelling decisions, culminating in a finale that is unfortunately quite poor. Heavy spoilers from here on out.

The titular Picard gets killed off, only to be resurrected moments later as an android, a pointless plot twist that doesn't really add anything to the story and is bereft of any emotional impact when we already know that a second season is on the way. The beloved character Data returns, only to inexplicably request assisted suicide with the idiotic rationale that "life is defined by death" (amusingly, Data actually had a speech in the last movie where he specifically expresses astonishment that any being would ever willingly die). Why bring back a character just to kill him off for no reason (and with a completely out of character justification)? Why kill off a character only to bring him back in the next scene in a way that adds nothing to the plot? Chabon clearly wanted to end this season with some sort of grand comment on the human condition, but what he's ended up with just seems trite and manipulative.

The story strikes another awkward note with new character Raffi. Raffi is a hippie stoner trailer-park girl who looks, sounds and acts more like a 21st century woman who just came back from Burning Man than an inhabitant of Star Trek's 24th Century setting. Raffi is a strange character in that I have no idea what her actual purpose is. I can't think of anything of importance that the character does in this first season and she appears to exist solely to provide some "attitude". It's jarring how poorly her character fits into the Star Trek setting, but the bigger annoyance is the way they portray her as this great old friend of Picard with this rich history together. Aside from the fact that Raffi does not seem like the type of personality that Picard would plausibly spend time with, there is something very obnoxious about taking a beloved old character, introducing some new character we've never seen before and pretending that they have all this history that we never saw, with nicknames and in-jokes, etc. It's a particularly strange choice considering we already have twenty years' worth of Star Trek characters with whom Picard actually does have an on-screen history that they could have chosen to fill this role.

I have done a lot of complaining with this review, but Star Trek: Picard is not a bad series, merely a frustrating one. The concept is there, but its atonal execution belies a muddled clash between a showrunner with no TV experience and a CBS production team who clearly don't understand Star Trek. What could have been a brilliant series has instead been minimised to something that is merely decent. Picard makes for a satisfying addition to the pantheon, but one that is largely carried by its brilliant lead actor.










Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Hello and welcome to the unending tedium that we now call every day life! Only, it doesn't have to be that way. On the contrary, the increased downtime and freedom from other commitments could be just the opportunity many of us need to realise a golden age in self discovery and improvement. To misquote GK Chesterton: there is no boredom, only boring people.

ephemeric how to survive lockdown activities fun theatre movies music

It turns out there are a wealth of different experiences that can be had without leaving the home. New hobbies, resources for learning, and more in the way of home entertainment than at any point in our history. Thanks to new technology and innovations in the field of laziness, we can experience whole new worlds and gain access to more information than we could ever process, all from the comfort of our living rooms. There are so many different ways to spend lockdown, and in this post I will discuss a few of my favourites from the past few weeks. Want to make the most of your lockdown experience? Consider indulging in the following:


Learn a skill

This deserves to be high up everybody's list. Sure, no one is going to be productive all the time, but now you have that rare luxury of having time both for learning and for goofing around. Fire up Duolingo and learn (or practice) a language. Take a class on Skillshare. Hit up some lectures or TED Talks on YouTube. Many universities offer online courses, including Harvard and Oxford, many of which are free. Consider also FutureLearn, which indexes many such courses into an easily accessible platform.

It doesn't have to be something academic either. Why not break out that guitar you haven't touched in years, or find a new instrument second hand online to try out? Something broken around the house? Learn how to fix it. No restaurants open? Learn how to cook new recipes. You would be amazed what you can learn with the additional two hours you save by not having to commute to work every day.


Take a night at the theatre

Miss throwing on your best trousers and spending way too much for a night at the theatre? Well thanks to the magic of the Internet you can now do it from the pantsless comfort of lockdown.

Indeed one of the more pleasant surprises with how the entertainment industry has responded to lockdown has been the advent of theatre home-streaming. The National Theatre's offering is perhaps the best known of these services, but we also now have Hampstead Theatre, the award winning Theatre Complicité, Fleabag, the Lincoln Center and countless others on offer. Ticketmaster has a pretty good index here, as does What's On Stage. Whether you're in the mood for drama, ballet, or Broadway classics, the options available really are remarkable.


Discover your neighbourhood
One of the few things we are currently allowed to leave the house for is exercise. So make the most of that freedom and take the time to learn your neighbourhood. Walk the quiet streets you've never been down, explore the green spaces if you have them, read up on the local history.

If that's not enough, use this time to better connect with your local community. Many of us have formed a common bond with our neighbours through what has become a weekly ritual, clapping every Thursday for our frontline workers. Others have engaged in street concerts, fun-runs and other communal activities. Apps like Nextdoor let you stay in touch with your neighbours, keep track of the local goings ons and share tips with one another. If you're feeling distant and detached from your fellow humans, this app will help.


Catch up on your backlog of TV series and films

Let's get this one out of the way. We all have a list of film franchises we've been meaning to get through, a TV series that you've been working on, a watch list that has been sitting there for two years. Now is the time to burn through all of that. I could write a whole separate post about all the different things you could be binge-watching (and maybe I will), but for now have at it, guilt free.

Watching movies at home seem old hat? Try one of the new home-cinema concepts being trialled by Secret Cinema or Everyman Cinema. Featuring all the novelty, dress-up and social connections of a night out at the movies, without breaking lockdown.


Get horticultural

If there's one thing I've learned from all those post-apocalyptic films and videogames it's that the key to surviving times like this is to become self-sufficient. Build your own shelter, mine an aquifer, power your home with solar panels and improbably small wind turbines. You may not be able to do all those things currently (although if you can then go you) but one thing you can do right this minute is get started on your own self-sufficient food supply.

Mint plants, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, buy seeds or extract them from fruit and veg that you buy in the store. If you have a garden get started on your own vegetable patch. If not, don't let that stop you. Our windowsill vegetable garden is thriving! No pots available? Not a problem, put those old milk and juice cartons to new use in three easy steps: 1) open one side with a knife or pair of scissors, 2) place absorbent material such as wool, styrofoam or insulation material along the base, 3) add soil - boom, you have a makeshift planter.

Sure, you won't become totally self-sufficient in this manner and the plants won't bear fruit for months, but gardening is fun, therapeutic, and is scientifically proven to make you feel good about yourself. If you have some space, try working on your green thumb.


Enjoy the golden age of live streamed concerts

The theme today is doing things from your living room sofa that you would previously have had to leave the house for, and the world of music is no exception. As concerts the world over have found themselves cancelled or postponed, artists have really come through for their fans. From off-the-cuff Instagram streaming to star-studded charity concerts, there has been an abundance of live content for our enjoyment from a vast array of artists.

First Aid Kit, The Killers, Chance the Rapper, David Guetta, Deathcab for Cutie to name but a few, without even mentioning the mega-sized One World Together at Home concert which featured the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lady Gaga and countless others. If you like music I have no doubt that there is something going on that you will enjoy. It may seem like an overwhelming amount to keep track of, but fortunately you don't need to be in the right place at the right time and there are plenty of resources available for you to discover what's coming up. I recommend Songkick, but you can find very thorough lists from the likes of Billboard and TimeIn (formerly TimeOut).


Visit a museum (virtually)

That's right, if you hadn't yet managed to get your fill of culture, now you can also visit some of the world's best museums without leaving the home. Like what, you may ask? To name a few: J Paul Getty MuseumVaticanGuggenheimthe Natural History Museumthe RijksmuseumMusée d'OrsayThe British Museum and many others. It is worth giving Google Arts & Culture a browse, the search engine giant having done a great job of digitally indexing many great works of art at high resolution. Frankly, if you can name the museum they probably have some form of virtual content on now.


Get into videogames

Feeling cabin fever from being cooped up in one place for so long? Turns out we already have the technology to visit just about any world imaginable without going anywhere. Granted, I'm not expecting every man, woman and child to suddenly discover they love Call of Duty death matches or Mortal Kombat, but it isn't the 1990s anymore. These days, no matter who you are, there's a pretty good chance someone has created an interactive virtual experience that will interest you.

Fancy a nice country drive? A leisurely walk? Maybe you just want to take up the rural life and start a farm? Or if you just want to hop on the bandwagon you can go play Animal Crossing like pretty much everyone right now. Spending a morning fishing and picking flowers may not fit everyone's expectations of what a videogame should be, but as a form of escapism you are unlikely to find anything more relaxing right now.


Read a book

You know what thing, what one thing, the most people say they want to spend more time doing (if only they had time!)? Reading. Now is the time to do that. This year I set myself the challenge of reading one book per month, and so far I am pleased to say that I have managed to hit that target.

This is undoubtedly one of my top recommendations. You may have a few dozen hours' worth of TV and films on your list, but the number of books out there to be read exceeds these by many orders of magnitude. Get a taste for reading, and instantly open yourself up to countless new worlds in which to immerse yourself.


Clean!

You know what? There is something therapeutic about cleaning house. Take this opportunity to finally clean out the cupboards, organise your sweaters, and empty those boxes of miscellanea that have been collecting dust. You'll be glad you did, and feel good about yourself.


Enjoy new cinema releases from home

One of the most peculiar quirks of entertainment in the digital age is the continued insistence on making people wait several months or even longer to see new films after they release in the cinema. There have long been calls to provide a home-streaming service for new releases, but ultimately it took a global pandemic to bring that vision to pass.

With the cinemas shut, studios have been forced to embrace new technology. Many of 2020's Q1 and Q2 releases have been made available months ahead of time for streaming, and in the case of Hamilton more than a year in advance. With the summer blockbuster season just around the corner, expect even more to be added to that list.


Call your friends

Just because you're in isolation doesn't mean you need to feel isolated. How fortunate that this pandemic hit in the year 2020, a time where more than at any point in our history we have the capability to connect with one another over great distances in meaningful ways.

So take some time to give your friends a call, set up video chats on Zoom or House Party. These days there are apps that allow you to play games or watch movies together. Set a date, meet up with a group, you'll be surprised the extent to which you get used to virtual hangouts. The best part? No more struggling around each others' diaries and work schedules. Paradoxically the greater time freedom afforded by this crisis makes it a perfect opportunity to catch up.


Workout

One of the few things for which you are allowed to leave the house is exercise. Take advantage of that opening and make the most of it. The weather has been beautiful this spring, go for a run, a jog, or even just a good long walk.

No nearby green spaces? Workout from the comfort of home with your favourite YouTube workout routine or yoga channel. Personally I have been indulging in a bit of The Body Coach and Yoga with Adriene. Like many of you I was worried that lockdown would mean physical inactivity and all the health and fitness concerns that raises, but honestly I'm probably exercising more now than I ever did before, largely because I actually have the time during the day to do so.


Bake

Probably the single most popular of lockdown activities. Go to your Facebook or Twitter feed right now and likely someone is talking about their attempt at banana bread. Few things feel as satisfying as baking, from the therapeutic physical process to the incredible aromas, and of course the tasty treat at the end.

Baking takes time, and right now we all have loads of it. If you're working at home, set something in the oven and go back to work while it bakes. Learn a new skill. Ease your local food chain by supplying your own. Best of all, most of the ingredients you need for baking are long-life. Get baking, and then share the results on social media. You'll be glad you did.


Get Creative

But the number one way to put this lockdown time to best use is to get creative. Whether your chosen creative outlet is writing or drawing, programming, making music, now is the best opportunity of your working life to get it done. Break out that old paint set, finish that novel you've been working on. Make a game, record some music. Use this opportunity to build that thing that you've always wanted to but didn't have time.

This is a great chance to free your creative impulses without worrying about work or other commitments. Just as importantly, getting immersed in a project can have a transportive effect, providing a welcome respite from the tedium of daily routine. So start a project, create something.


If there is one thing you should take away from this list, it is not to see this lockdown as a period of aimlessness, a period of limitation, but an opportunity to make up for lost time. We all have passions and things that we would love to spend more time doing. This list is just a few of the things that I love to do with my spare time, but I'm sure you have many of your own. So pick one and go do it.

But you know what? There is also nothing wrong with using some of this time to relax and unwind. Use this time to be productive, sure, but also make sure to take a chill day once in a while. Find out the balance that is best for you, and don't let the productivity (or lack there of) of others put you down. I hope you enjoyed this list, have a great week!







Wednesday, 6 May 2020

The Ephemeric is back, and first let me apologise for being so absent at a time where we could all do with a little distraction. I chalk it up to a combination of busy season at work and frankly having other things on my mind. I am blogging again, with plans for a number of posts not all of which will offend you. But to begin with, I just wanted to say a few words about everything that is currently happening.

2020 coronavirus pandemic message of positivity thank you nhs
There is no avoiding the fact that what is currently going on is a horrific event. Historic for all the wrong reasons, traumatic to the global confidence in a way most of us have never seen, and more than a little bit frightening. Even now, with the initial shock of pandemic having passed and many nations beginning to chart an exit strategy, we are still hearing estimates of months or even a year or two before we return to normalcy. I have heard it expressed by more than a few perfectly rational individuals that things may never be normal again, or that we are on the verge of some dystopian "new normal" (a meaningless phrase that I hope never to hear again).

So I guess the first thing to say is that things will get better. No doubt you have heard such exhortations from your local politicians in recent weeks, and I know it is difficult to hear those words coming out of their mouths and not interpret it as "here's me trying to sound inspirational, please vote for me". But really, they will. The Human race has achieved far more remarkable things than the containment of one virus, and we will deal with this one even if it takes six months, a year, or two years.

In actual fact, incidence has slowed greatly in recent weeks, and the number of virus deaths is shaping up to be far fewer than the worst case scenarios initially suggested (unless you live in America - more on that in a moment). The swift and severe measures taken by most world governments have proven a success, and this is due in large part to the efforts of regular people, with greater than expected compliance during these lockdowns. The unfortunate exception is the United States, the only country in the world where incidence of the disease is expected to increase over the summer, a sad cautionary tale of what happens when governments refuse to do what is necessary and alternate realities go mainstream.

So as you can see, now is not the time for pessimism. On the contrary, from my viewpoint the story of the past several weeks has been one of renewed positivity and remarkable compassion. From the rainbows painted on our windows and the weekly cheer for our care-workers, to regular tales of everyday heroism. People have come together in a way that has surprised many, but really should not have done so. People have an inherent pull towards good. A billion years of evolution has made it our natural instinct to be supportive of one another and to succeed together. The sensationalism of public information has always tended to focus on the negative, preying on our morbid fascinations like a bad itch that you can't stop scratching. The greatness that we are seeing in one another is not a new thing. What has changed is that we have all gained a renewed appreciation for recognising the positive in the world, and I hope that continues when this is all behind us.

It is also worth remembering that disruptive events can serve as a catalyst for change, both big and small. Remote working has become the norm in many industries, and to everyone's surprise it seems to be working pretty smoothly. What will our daily lives look like in a year's time when companies realise that they can continue to function without spending vast amounts on office space?

There has also been a notable change in how we consume culture in recent weeks, with greater efforts being made to provide online streaming of theatre and live concerts, and movie studios pushing cinema releases direct to streaming platforms. The entertainment industry, of course, is notoriously slow to embrace new ideas. After all, we didn't have Netflix and Spotify until piracy forced the industry to accept the Internet as a better platform for content delivery than brick and mortar shops. It will be interesting to see what permanent effects may persist going forward as a result of these forced adaptations.

But perhaps the most profound shift that we have seen is in the newfound respect we have for one another, particularly our healthcare workers. For most of us it will be absolutely mind boggling today that just a few months ago we were seriously debating cuts to the NHS, and that mainstream American politicians have spent a decade campaigning to cut down access to medical care. The number of stories coming out of governments cutting down pandemic response measures in recent years seems like a case of tragic hindsight, but really it was never justified and hopefully that is clear now. If there is one big takeaway here it is that we have sleepwalked into this crisis by undervaluing the infrastructure that keeps us safe, and that includes policy and people. I can only hope that going forward more people will appreciate the importance of both.

Now before I go, I would like to leave you with a selection of my favourite, strictly non virus-related stories from the past few weeks as a reminder that good things are still happening in the world:

The ozone layer is healing, has a chance for a full recovery.

Wales is building a national forest that will span the length and breadth of the entire country.

After 240 days, the wildfires stopped in Australia.

NASA fixes Mars rover by telling it to hit itself with a shovel.

Dozens of blue whales spotted in Antarctica for first time since 1980s whaling ban.

And finally, make sure you are all checking out John Krasinski's excellent new YouTube show Some Good News, a channel dedicated entirely to the sort of uplifting reporting that I have attempted to celebrate with this post.

I'm sure there are many more great stories out there that I have missed. If you have any, please do leave a comment. I will be writing much more in the coming weeks, but until then I wish you all great happiness and good health.








Sunday, 15 March 2020

Hello and welcome back to 2020's final post from the Hot List. This week we will be looking at the most exciting new movies set to hit the big screen in 2020 from March onwards, after the cutoff point for this year's awards season.

ephemeric hot list most best hottest anticipated new movies films 2019 exciting

This post has taken longer than usual to produce, for reasons that I am sure will come as no surprise to anyone. With all the craziness going on in the world right now, things like films and games can inevitably seem kind of trivial in comparison. But after giving it some thought, I've come to the conclusion that there is worth in the message that things will return to normal, and that we have much to look forward to when that happens. I complete this preview as a testament that whatever else happens, human creativity and passions endure.

2019 is a year that I think is fair to say was one of the stronger in recent memories when it comes to cinema. From Joker to Jojo Rabbit, Parasite to the Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to 1917, rarely has there been such a wildly eclectic lineup of high quality films, resulting in an awards season that remained uncommonly unpredictable right up until the end. It pleases me to look at the year ahead and see another treasure trove of bold and exciting projects, which should provide something for everyone to enjoy.

I should caveat that the release dates below are accurate as of the time of writing. In recent days we have seen a spate of delays and industry disruption that could easily see them change.

So without further delay, the key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:


15. Stardust

hot list best films movies 2020 ziggy stardust david bowie johnny flynn We begin with the first major motion picture concerning the life of legendary songwriter David Bowie.

Stardust will star Johnny Flynn (an impressive likeness and well regarded songwriter in his own right) as a young Bowie circa 1971, the years leading up to the creation of Ziggy Stardust, the work for which Bowie is arguably most well known. The film will be directed by relative newcomer Gabriel Range, with Marc Maron and Aaron Poole set to play supporting roles.

The film's production has not been without its share of controversies, with Bowie's sone Duncan Jones disavowing the project and claiming that the film has not been made with the cooperation of the Bowie estate (and therefore presumably without music rights). There is also the concern that this could just be another musical biopic piggybacking on the recent success of Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody.

So concerns abound, but the source material is there, as is a great story. Here's hoping they can craft it into a worthwhile film.

Release Date: 17 April, 2020


14. Trial of the Chicago 7

trial of chicago seven 7 aaron sorkin best movies films 2020 sacha baron cohen eddie redmayne jeremy strong joseph gordon levitt michael keaton mark rylance The second feature to be directed by legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Trial of the Chicago 7 is based on the story of the Chicago Seven, a group of defendants charged by the Federal Government with conspiracy to incite anti-war and counter-cultural protests in 1968.

Sorkin, also writing the screenplay, directs an all-star cast including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance, Michael Keaton and many others.

Add to this a veteran cinematographer in Phedon Papamichael and an awards friendly September release, and clearly Chicago 7 is expected to be a big deal among this year's cinema.

Release Date: 25 September, 2020


13. No Time to Die

james bond 007 no time to die skyfall best films movies 2020 cary fukunaga phoebe waller bridge daniel craig rami malek The next, and for Daniel Craig the last (this time he apparently really means it), James Bond film is coming, No Time to Die.

This time around directorial duties fall to Cary Fukunaga, best known for True Detective, Maniac, and Beasts of No Nation, while superstar of the moment Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Killing Eve, Fleabag) writes. Craig will be joined in the cast by Oscar winner Rami Malek, as well as Lea Seydoux, and cast regulars Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, and the rest.

Originally schedule for an Easter release, the ongoing public health crisis has necessitated a delay until November 2020. All the signs so far suggest it will be worth the wait.

Release Date: 12 November, 2020


12. Dune

dune denis villeneuve best films movies 2020 timothee chalamet oscar isaac josh brolin Dune, an epic sci-fi adventure franchise beloved by many, but with a trouble history of adaptations. The 1965 novel was notably made into a film in the 1980s, and a miniseries in the early 2000s, but has generally struggled with screen adaptations, owing to the complexity and ambition of the source material.

In 2020 a new adaptation is coming courtesy of Denis Villeneuve, an Oscar winning filmmaking with a burgeoning reputation following his work on Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Sicario. Villeneuve also co-writes the script along with Eric Roth (Munich, Forrest Gump, A Star is Born). Dune will star man of the moment Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem.

Release date is set for December, indicating high expectations not just commercially, but critically.

Release Date: 18 December, 2020


11. Nightmare Alley

nightmare alley guillermo del toro best films movies 2020 bradley cooper cate blanchettNightmare Alley is the next picture from Guillermo del Toro, his first since winning the Oscar for Shape of Water. While that film may be far and away del Toro's greatest success, he has a long history of the bizarre and macabre from Pan's Labyrinth to Crimson Peak. While my expectation is that this will be more of the same, it is interesting to note how different the source material is from his usual fare.

The original novel follows a con-man and female psychiatrist who trick people into giving them money, but includes none of the supernatural elements that we might associate with a del Toro film. One can only hope that he maintains his characteristic directorial flair, even as he moves into more traditional genres.

The cast includes a lineup of strong performers, including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, and Willem Dafoe. Release date is TBA.

Release Date: TBA 2020


10. Next Goal Wins

next goal wins taika waititi best films movies 2020 michael fassbender elisabeth moss Taika Waititi is having something of a moment, the New Zealand filmmaker and actor has come a long way from indie comedy hits like Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows to running the Thor franchise for Disney and, of course, his Oscar winning success with Jojo Rabbit.

His next film, Next Goal Wins, is based on the true story of Dutch football coach Thomas Rongen and his efforts to take the American-Samoa national team, then considered the worst in the world, to the 2014 World Cup.

Michael Fassbender stars as Rongen, and he will be joined by Elisabeth Moss, Armie Hammer, and long-time Waititi collaborator Rhys Darby.

Release date is still TBA.

Release Date: TBA 2020


9. In the Heights

in the heights hamilton musical lin manuel miranda jon chu best films movies 2020 When it comes to films that will make a lot of money, In the Heights has got to rank up there as a sure thing. This is an adaptation of the Lin Manuel Miranda stage musical, the one he made before Hamilton.

This project has had something of a turbulent production history. Originally cancelled in the early 2010s, only be resurrected following the success of Hamilton by none other than Harvey Weinstein. Then all that happened, and this projected ended up over at Warner Bros.

In the Heights will be directed by Jon Chu, a man best known for the rather forgettable Step Up franchise of dance films, but who more recently has found his break in the world of serious filmmaking with the critically acclaimed Crazy Rich Asians. The former will stand him in good stead for directing a musical, while the latter showed him to have some genuine talent as a filmmaker. I think this is in good hands.

Release Date: 26 June, 2020


8. Irresistible

irresistible jon stewart steve carell best films movies 2020The return of Jon Stewart, legendary comedian and former host of The Daily Show who has largely remained on the sidelines (in terms of showbiz anyway, he has been very influential as an activist) following his retirement.

Irresistible is a political comedy starring fellow Daily Show alumnus Steve CarellRose ByrneTopher GraceChris Cooper and Natasha Lyonne, which sees two prominent political strategists take national politics to small town Wisconsin, turning a local race into a battle for the soul of the country.

This marks the second feature film to be directed by Stewart following 2014's impressive Rosewater. If that hard hitting political drama seemed strangely outside the comfort zone for Stewart, Irresistible will be right up his alley.

Release date is set for May 2020, right in the thick of the Presidential election.

Release Date: 29 May, 2020


7. West Side Story

west side story steven spielberg ansel elgort best films movies 2020 If you're like me, your first thought here was probably "do we really need another adaptation of West Side Story?" And you would be right, but this is Steven Spielberg, and Spielberg doesn't make a film unless he has something worthwhile to say.

Spielberg is not the only legend on this project, with the screenplay penned by the Pulitzer Prize winning Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America and co-writer on Munich.

The presence of such luminaries makes a great opportunity for star Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars, Baby Driver) who has been threatening to break into Hollywood's A-list for some time. This could be the one that puts him into the stratosphere.

West Side Story will release this December, the thick of the awards season.

Release Date: 18 December, 2020


6. Tenet

tenet christopher nolan best films movies 2020 john david washington robert pattinson michael caine kenneth branagh Tenet sees director Christopher Nolan return to the familiar action/thriller territory of Inception following his award winning turn with Dunkirk. The plot line is simple: "a secret agent is tasked with preventing World War III through time travel". Sounds like classic Chris Nolan mind-bending shenanigans.

The cast this time around will include Blackkklansman star John Davd Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor Johnson, and of course long-time Nolan collaborator Michael Caine. Tenet will, however, mark a rare Chris Nolan film without brother and long-time collaborator/screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, with Chris taking on writing responsibilities himself as he did for Dunkirk.

Tenet is set for a July release, and is being billed as the summer blockbuster to keep an eye on for 2020.

Release Date: 17 July, 2020


5. Soul

soul pixar best films movies 2020 pete docter jamie foxx tina fey Pixar Studios have two films set for release in 2020, but it is Soul which looks to be the more exciting prospect.

This one is directed by Pixar legend Pete Docter, director of Up and Inside Out and stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. The great Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will team up once again to deliver the score.

Soul is classic high-concept Pixar storytelling. Foxx plays a jazz musician who suffers an accident which results in his soul being separated from his body and sent to "the great before". There he must race against time to be reunited with his body before it is too late.

Soul is aiming for a summer release, and looks set to be another great entry in the Pixar canon.

Release Date: 19 June, 2020


4. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

ghostbusters 3 three ivan jason reitman bill murray dan aykroyd paul rudd finn wolfhard carrie coon ernie hudson best films movies 2020 It is finally happening. We are finally getting a real sequel to the classic Ghostbusters films of the 1980s. We can now officially pretend that awful Paul Feig reboot never happened, because we have a real sequel and it looks good. It's just a shame they couldn't make it happen before the death of Harold Ramis.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife will be directed by the son of original filmmaker Ivan Reitman, and acclaimed filmmaker in his own right, Jason Reitman (Juno, The Frontrunner, Up in the Air).

The film follows a new cast of characters, starring Paul Rudd, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame), and Carrie Coon as a family who stumble across their deceased Grandfather's (presumably Ramis' Egon) old ghost catching materials, and presumably hell literally breaks loose.

Ghostbusters releases this July, and I am very, very excited about it.

Release Date: 10 July, 2020


3. Mank

mank david fincher citizen kane herman mankiewicz gary oldman amanda seyfried lily collins best film movie 2020 If there is one thing Hollywood loves, it's films about films. Mank is a biopic of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, writer of Citizen Kane. This is the latest film of David Fincher and the big tentpole of Netflix's 2020 film lineup.

Mank will star Gary Oldman as the lead, with Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, and Charles Dance in supporting roles. This also marks another collaboration between Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on the score (they're having a busy year!).

Release date is still TBA, but one would expect a release in the latter stages of the year for awards season. A film about films, and such a beloved film as Citizen Kane at that, is almost guaranteed success.

Release Date: TBA 2020


2. News of the World

news of the world tom hanks paul greengras best films movies 2020 News of the World sees director Paul Greengrass team up with Tom Hanks for the first time since Captain Phillips. This is based on the novel of the same name.

This historical drama sees Hanks play a Texan traveling across the wild west shortly after the end of the American Civil War, who agrees to return a kidnapped girl, Helena Zengel, to her family on the other side of the country, facing off against the tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces.

Greengrass co-writes the screenplay along with Luke Davies, seen mostly recently with the acclaimed Lion.

Release date is set for an awards-friendly Christmas day.

Release Date: 25 December, 2020


1. The French Dispatch

best films movies 2020 french dispatch wes anderson timothee chalamet benicio del toro adrien brody adrien brody frances mcdormand tilda swinton bill murray And finally we have the new film of Wes Anderson. French Dispatch is a love letter to journalism, set in the outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional French town in the mid 20th Century.

The cast features a typically well-stocked lineup of big names, including Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Saoirse Ronan, and of course all the usual Wes Anderson collaborators such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and many others.

Love him or hate him, a new film by Anderson is always worth seeing, for the style of filmmaking if nothing else. Anderson will be joined once again by long-time cinematographer and collaborator Robert Yeoman.

Release date is set for July 2020.

Release Date: 24 July, 2020



So there you have it folks: The 2020 Hot List. Chin up, things will get better, and the Hot List will return in 2021.








Monday, 2 March 2020

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2020 Hot List. I hope you enjoyed our last entry covering the essential theatre of 2020. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting new music due for release in the coming year.

best anticipated new music 2018 albums hot list

I am sure I say this every year, but this has been a particularly difficult longlist to whittle down to the final 15. A number of very prominent acts (and old favourites) ultimately did not make the cut in what was a very strong year - sorry The 1975 and Red Hot Chili Peppers, I promise I still like your music! So a very exciting year ahead, with some promising new acts, some old favourites, and on this website they've been narrowed down to just the real creme de la creme.

So without further ado, here is our list of the top albums to keep an eye on in 2020, starting with number 15:



15. Arlo Parks (New band)

arlo parks debut new album 2020 best most anticipated musicFirst up: Arlo Parks. Hailing from south London, Parks has found herself featuring on many big in 2020 previews. A teenage prodigy and poet, Parks specialises in low-fi music that displays a control and lyrical nous that belies her tender years.

The key tracks from the scattering of EPs released to date include Cola and Paperbacks, two tracks that keenly demonstrate her characteristic tone that has been commonly described as "bedroom pop".

Parks embarks on her first headline tour this spring, with a debut album reportedly in the works for later on in 2020.

Release Date: Late 2020


14. Broken Bells

broken bells 2020 third album best most anticipated new musicFor those who are not in the know, Broken Bells is the experimental side project of underground wunderkind turned A-list producer Danger Mouse, and The Shins frontman James Mercer.

Danger Mouse, of course, legendarily bootlegged a mash up of Jay-Z and The Beatles called The Grey Album, and has since worked with artists such as Gorillaz and Adele, formed one half of Gnarls Barkley and produced a number of his own award winning solo material.

Broken Bells will release their as yet untitled third studio album this summer, and have so far released new single Shelter. While we await further details, you can remind yourself of the band's talents with previous tracks The High Road and After the Disco.

Release Date: Summer 2020


13. "Juvenoia" by Strabe (New band)

strabe new best most anticipated debut album 2020The cream of the new faces in the Irish pop scene, Strabe is a twenty-something producer based in Dublin working on a debut album Juvenoia with collaborator Angelica.

The first tracks out so far include Best Worst Year and Acid Love, two pristine examples of pop that elicit a psychedelic/disco feel. Despite the heavy retro influences, their's is a very clean and elegant sound, and one that could see them make something of a splash in the indie scene.

We don't have a release date for Juvenoia (originally slated for 2019), but it is expected to drop before the summer.

Release Date: Summer 2020


12. "Miss Anthropocene" by Grimes

grimes miss anthropocene 2020 album best most anticipated new music
Canadian songwriter Grimes is having something of a moment as a darling of art pop, her last album Art Angels earning rave reviews and numerous rankings among the top albums of 2015. Faced with a new level of stardom and expectation, Grimes is releasing Miss Anthropocene, her biggest and most ambitious album to date.

Less upbeat than Art Angels, signs are nevertheless good that album number five will produce a work of very high quality. The tracks released so far are an eclectic but undeniably intriguing bunch, including Delete Forever, Violence and 4EM.

Grimes is fast establishing herself as one of the more interesting songwriters in the business, and I expect this will be another major hit.

Release Date: Spring 2020


11. "Swimmer" by Tennis

tennis swimmer best new most anticipated album 2020
Denver indie pop mainstays Tennis return for a fifth album, one which sees a continuation of their evolution from the low-fi radio pop beginnings to more full-blooded nostalgia throwbacks.

Swimmer looks to be another lovely selection of pop songs about love and marriage, most notably lead single Runner, which could easily pass for a forgotten Kate Bush classic. Also check out I'll Haunt You and Need Your Love.

Swimmer is definitely the highest production value from a duo that began recording tracks in their bedroom over a fuzzy mic, and makes clear the band still has much to say.

Release Date: Spring 2020


10. "Suddenly" by Caribou

suddenly caribou new album 2020 best most anticipated
What is it with 2020 and fifth albums? This time we are with Caribou, another of the Canada's indie pop darlings and his new album Suddenly.

The six years since previous album Our Love seems a long hiatus by modern standards, but if there is any rustiness they don't show it with the production of the new album's first tracks. The pick of the bunch has to be You and I, a bittersweet gem with a hint of Kraftwerk about it. It pairs oddly well with folk ballad Home, also a cracking tune with a great sample.

A new Caribou album promises rich soundscapes with eclectic influences, and we can't wait to see what else they have in store when the new album drops.

Release Date: Spring 2020


9. Beabadoobe (New band)

beabadoobee debut album best new anticipated music 2020This London-based prospect blends a too-good-to-be-true origin story with a timely and well-shined homage to 90s alternative pop. Beabadoobee started writing songs from her bedroom as a teenager (she's still just 19) using a secondhand guitar. A friend uploaded a track of hers' to Spotify where it generated thousands of listens, and she was quickly signed up for a record deal.

The last few years have seen a string of well received EPs uploaded, but 2020 will see Beabadoobee touring the summer festivals while working on a debut album. In the meantime, you will want to check out the key songs Coffee, Space Cadet, and If You Want To. It's mostly simple, elegant fare, but enough to suggest a promising future for the young songwriter.

First album is expected some time in 2020, but no firm release date has been provided. I would expect to see it towards the tail-end of the year.

Release Date: TBA 2020


8. "Out of the Darkness" by Gizmo Varillas

gizmo varillas new album out of the darkness best new anticipated music 2020
Spanish-born, London-based musician Gizmo Varillas is one of the most promising young performers in the indie-folk scenes; a producer of consistently strong music and a surprisingly prolific collaborator with a number of other prominent artists.

His third studio album Out of the Darkness is due for release this summer. At the time of writing we have just a small number of potential songs from the new LP, including the titular Out of the Darkness and Cysgod dy Gariad, both of which are excellent. While we await further details, you can tide yourself over with some of the other excellent tracks he has put out in recent years, most notably Freedom For Change.

Blessed with bright textures, and warm melodies, Varillas has a great ability to meld both light and dark into his tracks in a way that I find quite effective. All indications are that this is a star in the making.

Release Date: Summer 2020


7. Everything Everything

everything everything new album best most anticipated new music 2020
Manchester's best musical import in decades have had a few big years, finding great critical and commercial success with their last two albums Get to Heaven and Fever Dream.

Now having had a three year break since the latter, Everything Everything are getting ready to release their fifth (again!) studio album.

No details on the new album except that it has been worked on pretty much constantly over the past three years and will release sometime in 2020. So in the meantime, here's a few tracks to remind you what all the fuss is about: Distant Past, Good Shot, Good Soldier, and Regret.

Release Date: TBA 2020


6. "The Slow Rush" by Tame Impala

tame impala slow rush new albums 2020 best most anticipated
For their long-awaited fourth studio album, Aussie indie rockers Tame Impala have delved more into the realms of smooth psychedelia, creating another LP of remarkable creativity and invention.

The dizzying emotional highs and lows of Tame Impala can be quite adequately represented by the new album's two lead singles, Borderline and Lost in Yesterday.

For those who like something a bit different, or who appreciate their pop music with a dose of thoughtful and decidedly introverted lyrics, this new album will likely be right up your street.

Release Date: Spring 2020



5. The xx

the xx jamie xx new album best most anticipated music 2020Now we get into the top five, where the real big-hitters await. First up we have the long overdue return of The xx, one of Britain's best new bands of the 2010s.

Over the last few years art-rockers The xx, and the side project of co-founder Jamie xx, have produced an impressive portfolio of work, with brilliant tracks such as VCR, On Hold, Loud Places and I Dare You.

So what do we know about studio album number four? Literally nothing aside from the fact that it has been announced via social media, and will release in 2020. Do we need to know anything more at this stage? Nope, the fact that a new The xx album is on the way is ample reason on its own to be excited.

Release Date: TBA 2020


4. Joy Crookes (New band)

joy crookes debut new album best most anticipated new music 2020The top rated newcomer of 2020, Joy Crookes is the south London soul songwriter that has taken the music blogosphere by storm.

The last year has seen her grace just about every list and nomination of new musicians and promising new songwriters, now a debut album is in the works, due to release by May this year.

Joy Crookes is a gifted storyteller with a timeless sound, with a deftness of songwriting that belies her tender years. Essential tracks released so far include Mother May I Sleep with Danger? and Hurts.

Release Date: May 2020


3. "Shore" by Fleet Foxes

fleet foxes fourth album 2020 new album best new anticipated music
By now you're probably tired of all these mysterious albums that will release in 2020 but we don't have any details yet. Well here's another one!

This is the return of Fleet Foxes, masters of contemporary folk rock and, with Helplessness Blues, the writers of what in this blog's view was the single best album of the 2010s. For an understanding of this band's awesomeness, check out White Winter HymnalHelplessness Blues, Third of May / Odaigahara and for good measure Someone You'd Admire. Tremendous.

So this new album will be called Shore, but otherwise we know nothing, aside from a redacted list of song titles teased by frontman Robin Pecknold on Instagram last year. No pressure, but we expect greatness.

Release Date: TBA 2020


2. The Avalanches

the avalanches third album wildflower since i left we will always love you running red lights new album 2020 best new anticipated musicWhen The Ephemeric predicted a few years ago, in a Hot List post much like this, that The Avalanches were returning for a second album, it was kind of a big deal. The Avalanches famously struck gold with their debut album Since I Left You back in 2000, before getting mired in a legal and production nightmare that would see the follow up take an astonishing 16 years to release. It was worth the wait, and Wildflower ended up being one of the decade's best albums.

So when I hear that the band are producing another record, I am understandably excited. We don't have an album name or release date yet but the first single has dropped, We Will Always Love You, and it's another lovely track, if a bit of a departure from the band's usual fare.

My bet is the album drops around the summer. Until then, tide yourself over with a few of The Avalanches' classic tracks, Since I Left You, Colours, If I Was a Folkstar, and probably their most famous song, Frontier Psychiatrist.

Release Date: TBA 2020


1. "Imploding the Mirage" by The Killers

the killers sixth new album imploding the mirage 2020 most anticipated best new music
And we'll finish with a bona fide music blockbuster, a new album from The Killers.

These guys don't need any introduction, they're one of the world's biggest bands and have produced an array of hit songs from Mr. Brightside to All These Things I've Done, Read My Mind and Human. We know nothing about the new album aside from the fact that it will be titled Imploding the Mirage, and that it is likely to release in the summer.

For all the hits they have released over the years, they arguably haven't had a great album since 2008's Day & Age, and while the last two albums have been reasonably well received, the fan response has generally not been as strong as with the first three albums. But a new album from The Killers is always going to be a big deal, and we are hopeful that this will mark a triumphant return.

Release Date: Summer 2020



So there you have it folks: 2020 in music. Tune in next week for this year's final Hot List, where we look at the most exciting new movies in 2020!





Friday, 14 February 2020

That most magical period of the four year cycle is upon us, the start of President election season in earnest. The Democratic Primary is well underway, and as we move ever closer to deciding who will face off against Donald Trump in November the time has come for this blog to make a decision. The Ephemeric endorses Pete Buttigieg for President.

2020 election democratic primaries endorse mayor pete buttigieg trump democrat republican iowa nevada new hampshire election

If you had told me a year ago that I would be endorsing a little known 37 year old former mayor of small town Indiana for the Presidency I would not have believed you. But such has been the astonishing rise of Mayor Pete over the past 12 months that not only does he have a plausible path to the White House, he might even be one of the current frontrunners.

During this time I have flirted with the idea of throwing my support behind a few candidates, Senators, Congressmen, Vice Presidents, and I will admit to being highly sceptical when I first heard that this political unknown was throwing his hat into an already overcrowded ring. But I distinctly remember the first time I saw him speak, and was taken aback by his eloquence, his wit and poise. I remember thinking at the time that it was a shame this man would never gain any traction in the primary (or indeed in dark red Indiana for the foreseeable future), because it was clear that this guy had the makings of a future political superstar.

What stands out most about Pete is the way in which, when you ask him a question, he directly answers it rather than dancing around the topic with some carefully crafted political spin. This is an impression that has been voiced by some of the industry's most renowned interviewers and pundits. When Pete speaks to you, he really speaks to you and not at you. He comes off as a genuine, passionate, and above all ordinary guy, who just so happens to be pretty darn bright.

That he answers questions so frankly and directly is all the more notable considering how many ostensible liabilities Pete has as a candidate. His youth, his relatively low level of political experience, his homosexuality... these are all things that call into question his electability for President, and yet they are things that he is happy to address head on, and does so in a way that is surprisingly convincing and sensible.

As a mayor of a town, he actually does have more executive experience than most of the candidates running (many of whom hail from Congress). As a former army Lieutenant, he has more military experience than everyone else running for President combined. He is a Harvard educated Rhodes Scholar who speaks eight languages fluently. He may be young, but he would be the first to point out that the two most successful Presidents of his lifetime (Clinton and Obama) were also considered young for the office. As for his homosexuality: in a race full of multiple divorcees and fifty-somethings who struggle with commitment, Pete's stable and happy relationship with primary school teacher husband Chasten and two dogs Buddy and Truman by contrast paints an idyllic picture of a wholesome and well-adjusted American family. Anyone who has a problem with that in this day and age really needs to reconsider their priorities in life.

Yes, much has been made of Pete's intellect and charisma. He rarely seems perturbed even under pressure, and responds to difficult questions with a convincing and reassuring calm and directness. I have long been of the opinion that the single most important criteria for selecting a leader is intelligence, and this unflappable quality he possesses undoubtedly makes him a great fit for the demands of the office, not to mention a formidable challenger to take on Trump in a debate. But of course, these personal qualities are not the only reason to make someone President. Pete also has  strength in his policy platform.

A lot has (strangely) been made about how Pete is one of the "moderates" in the race, but the reality is that his platform would represent the most progressive of a Democratic Presidential nominee in decades. His proposals include a $15 minimum wage, quadrupling the earned income tax credit, universal childcare and Pre-K up to age 5, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are willing to work for their status.

Pete promises enfranchisement for the millions living in Washington DC and Puerto Rico who are American citizens and yet, astonishingly, do not have the right to vote in supposedly the world's greatest democracy. He has proposed bold political reforms to gerrymandering and the electoral college, which have been disgracefully abused in recent years to allow consistent minority rule over the majority. His proposal to curb the increasing partisanship of the Supreme Court (by making half the court non-political appointments) is easily the most workable proposal anyone has put forward.

The most important (and yet strangely under-addressed) issue in this election is always going to be the climate. To this end, Pete's proposal contrasts those of his primary competitors by focusing on pragmatism and efficacy, rather than simply throwing the largest dollar amount at the problem.

But the centrepiece of Pete's platform is Medicare for all who want it, a commonsense solution to American healthcare that builds on the near-universal coverage achieved by Obama's Affordable Care Act by offering what essentially amounts to the public option originally proposed for that reform package before being gutted by Republicans. It is hard to see any downsides to this approach; provide a minimum level of care for all Americans, while allowing those who want to pay extra for the quicker or more comfortable private plan to do so. It just makes good sense.

Simply put, Pete's platform is an array of sensible, well thought out policy proposals backed by evidence. It contrasts the proposals of just about any other candidate in that there is barely a whiff of an agenda or partisan red meat, just good ideas intended to solve real problems.

But above all the President is the face of this nation, and his message of positivity and inclusion is what this country needs right now more than anything. Pete's brand of oratory and optimistic tone have earned comparisons to Barack Obama, as has his preference to remain above some of the uglier infighting we have seen on the primary trail to-date from the likes of Bernie/Warren, Biden/Castro, etc.

We are going to need someone who can inspire the nation to come together and rebuild. Pete recognises that people won't turn out to the polls just because of Trump's issues, but because they see someone else running that they believe represents their interests and will make the country better. The next decade is going to require a gargantuan effort to restore America's reputation and place in the world, and in my view there is no one better suited to that task than Pete Buttigieg.








Older Posts