Friday, 17 May 2013
Genre Disco, Classic Rock
Label Columbia Records
Producers Daft Punk
Daft Punk are one of those rare artists whose brand is almost synonymous with their particular genre. Few would argue that with their early work in the 1990s and early 2000s they defined the fledgling electronic dance music scene. Their 2001 album Discovery essentially set the precedent for the past decade of club hits and pop music in general.
In fact in pre-release interviews the band's creative duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter revealed that it is precisely this fact that has them so disillusioned with dance music in recent years. In their own words dance music has become stagnant, no longer evolving, and still entirely too dependent on the style and sound employed by Daft Punk themselves all those years ago. It's an astute comment.
With that in mind it's easier to understand the band's drastic departure with new album Random Access Memories. To begin with, they have entirely ditched the sample-based songwriting that dominated their past albums and produced an album of entirely original music recorded using live instruments. For this I commend them. Yet if Daft Punk's apparent intention is to redefine dance music yet again it's somewhat mystifying to see how.
Daft Punk have always drawn heavily on disco and classic rock influences in their music, but what made their past releases so noteworthy was the way they took these dated genre tropes and re-imagined them with futuristic production and a modern vibe that was unlike anything else. The same ideas as their disco and classic rock roots, but refreshed and given a slick space-age 21st century polish for a new generation.
With Random Access Memories they have done away with this signature sound and produced an LP of what is almost relentlessly straight disco, as is apparent from the opening track, the ironically titled Give Life Back to Music. This is certainly not a bad song, it's quite good in fact; velvety smooth disco groove with a sunny west coast vibe, but if you take away the classic Daft Punk robot vocals there's nothing to distinguish this from any song lifted straight out of the 1970s.
There's also a bit of easy listening piano music, a sound that's completely alien to Daft Punk, notably the 8 minute epic Touch featuring the vocals of Paul Williams. Again this is a very pretty song; moving, delicately sung and impeccably produced with sweet backing vocals and a thrilling instrumental mid-section around the 3:25 mark, but where is the trademark Daft Punk innovation that elevates this from nostalgia to something... more?
Gone for the most part are the exciting beats, high energy build ups, and synth guitars. Gone also for the most part are the vocoded robot lead vocals, the album now chock full of big name collaborators from Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas to Animal Collective frontman Panda Bear and DJ Falcon, from Nile Rodgers to Pharrell Williams. It's an impressive list of collaborators, but without the trademark style this album is near unrecognisable as a Daft Punk record, it just doesn't sound like them.
A great example is lead single Get Lucky. This is a perfectly solid dance track that's already being widely played around clubs. It has a suitably funky disco club beat, it even has a brief but chaotic vocoder section in true Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger style. But it lacks that Daft Punk rock and roll edge, and with Pharrell Williams taking the lead vocals this song comes off as nearly indistinguishable from any other r&b jam out there. This could easily be Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars or someone, it comes off as sounding incredibly generic and safe. This goes double for Pharrell's other song Lose Yourself to Dance, a song that sounds disturbingly similar to Timberlake's Rock Your Body.
The fact that the band has tried to do something different is by no means a bad thing, on the contrary I very much approve when musicians display diverse musical tastes. The guitar solos on Discovery still melt my face off, but I have no issue with Daft Punk trying something more mellow. The problem is that they haven't really brought anything new to the table. Far from revolutionising or reinvigorating a genre, Random Access Memories sounds more like an old school pastiche of other artists. A band that once led the way for music now follows others.
It's a sign of the high expectations that this alone renders the album somewhat disappointing. However once you detach yourself from any preconceptions you can enjoy the music for what it is. Random Access Memories is an ambitious and impeccably produced collection of luxurious and grandiose songs. Each one is a throwback to a different time, but it's a delicious and occasionally brilliant nostalgia.
Fragments of Time shows another example of a perfectly decent classic rock song in the mould of Steely Dan or Electric Light Orchestra. A lovely song in its own right once you get past the fact that it just sounds absolutely nothing like Daft Punk, save for a brief but explosive instrumental climax in the 3rd minute.
Still, Random Access Memories is most successful on the occasions where it endeavours to combine the old and the new. The summery Instant Crush is one of the best songs on the album, employing of all things a traditional verse/chorus structure in a Daft Punk song. Yet it builds on its simple, catchy tune with robotic vocals, dance music production and sensibilities, and a fantastic Daft Punk guitar solo. Doin' it Right is another highlight, featuring a sparse but effective arrangement. A simple driving baseline gives rise to Daft Punk's robotic backing overlaid with Panda Bear's distinctive vocals. Sounds like a funkier version of Animal Collective.
Ultimately the album might not tread much in the way of new ground, but it is big, opulent, and epic. The songs are packed with complex melodies and lush orchestral compositions, and with the transition to a full band of live instruments one gets the impression of Daft Punk maturing from basement dwelling hobbyists, arranging samples on laptops, into genuine music superstars. This is an event album, and while it will certainly divide existing fans, it shows all the signs of cementing Daft Punk as one of the world's biggest entertainment acts.
Doin' It Right
Give Life Back to Music
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Label RCA Victor
Producers Steve Brown
Given that the last few years has seen an abundance in jazz-inflected retro pop music, born of the work of artists such as Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey and Michael Kiwanuka to name a few, it takes something special to make the industry cognoscenti take notice and distinguish a newcomer from the rest of the pack.
Laura Mvula had that something special when she released her EP She to widespread critical acclaim at the tail end of last year, and it follows that her full debut album Sing to the Moon featured prominently on this year's list of highly anticipated albums including the BBC Sound of 2013 and The Ephemeric's own annual hot list. Released last month, the album manages to somewhat justify the hype.
The quality of the music comes not just from the cleverness of Mvula's songwriting as much as the originality and boldness of the soundscape. As a singer Mvula has the classically rich, strong voice that draws her comparisons with other soul artists, but it's her refreshingly refined take on the genre that stands out.
Mvula sets herself apart through the distinct quality of her compositions, striking a tone that is at once instantly recognisable as her own without stifling the diversity of her work. Songs range as far as the euphoric harmonies of opening track Like the Morning Dew to the downtempo sobriety of Jump Right Out and the electrified Green Garden. Yet all these sounds have in common the same signature sensibilities; the delicate and complex melodies, the quirky and pleasantly unpredictable arrangements and universally tasteful refinement that belies Mvula's classical background.
At its best, Sing to the Moon can be dazzling. It's an impressive debut display of songwriting talent from the Birmingham-based songstress that will doubtless establish her name in the pop music landscape.
Like the Morning Dew
Jump Right Out
Monday, 4 March 2013
Label Columbia Records
Producers Tony Visconti
When David Bowie revealed Where Are We Now?, the first single from his long awaited comeback to music, the rush to acclaim was enthusiastic but at the same time almost passively judgemental. As delicately refined as the ballad was, it bore the elegiac sound of a weary elder statesman of rock and roll. The reaction to this single can be summed up as equal measures of jubilation that one of the most revered musical icons of the last fifty years had returned, of praise for a lovely song in its own right, and of bittersweetness.
After health problems drove Bowie, now in his sixties, out of the touring lifestyle and into a decade long hiatus, the conclusion was that we were witnessing the plateau of a new more sedate era in his career. Pundits envisaged a gracefully nostalgic Bowie without the youthful flair and audacity, but with the measured tastefulness and complexity of a true rock legend. Fortunately this was all misdirection.
The listener realises this instantly upon listening to the opening and title track of The Next Day. This is a true comeback song; punchy, to the point and sung with real venom as Bowie literally growls "Here I am, not quite dying". Musically it elicits memories of Let's Dance era 1980s Bowie, at what some would say was the height of his powers.
Releasing a new album at all was a big enough shock, but no one could have expected a David Bowie with this much energy and power. Comparing this to his most recent albums a decade ago one would swear they were listening to a man at least ten years younger. For the first time in decades his voice has the angsty edge of youth, such is the range on some songs that you can scarcely believe you're listening to someone approaching seventy.
The best example is the sublime Valentine's Day, easily the most addictive song on the album. Everything from the hypnotic guitar licks to the almost synthetic sounding vocals just screams Ziggy Stardust, and suddenly it's as if you've gone back forty years and started listening to twenty year old Bowie. The song itself is an instant classic, and would be a surefire bet for a hit single if not for it's controversial subject matter (hint: it has nothing to do with flowers and chocolate).
But these throwbacks are no mere rehash of the greatest hits; The Next Day is imbued with a sound all its own, an inarguably classic style refreshed with flashes of modern sensibility. Back in his prime David Bowie was known as the chameleon of rock and roll, and it's the return to this outlook that sets his newest album apart from the rest of his musical peers today.
Contrast the ballad of his lead single with the stinging diatribe of The Stars (Are Out Tonight), a frantic and paranoid assault on the cult of celebrity that raises many staple Bowie themes from androgyny to lack of identity. Laced with complex instrumentalisation and tremulous vocals, this is probably the most "Bowie" song he's recorded in a long time.
Contrast this to the stadium busting anthem of (You Will) Set the World On Fire, or the spaced out pop of Dancing Out in Space, or the pure weirdness of How Does the Grass Grow? True to form Bowie has crafted an album where every single track sounds completely different, and yet works together as a whole. The only thing that unites these disparate sounds is that each is incredibly listenable; Bowie has clearly spent much of his hiatus honing these melodies to the point where every single one is utterly unique and very memorable.
Without doubt this is one of those albums that demands and rewards multiple listens. These are songs of great depth, lyrically thought provoking, and beautifully strange. Just as important, each song is nearly perfectly formed, short and spiky never overstaying it's welcome, and expertly produced. Over the course of a few play throughs the record grows from a collection of decent songs with three or four great tunes into an absolute classic with no filler.
Ultimately The Next Day is a far better album than anyone could possibly have expected. A revitalised David Bowie has tapped into what made him great before, and delivered an LP that not only puts all his most recent albums in the shade, but remarkably stands up on a par with his very finest work. Reviews have been racing one another to declare this the greatest comeback in rock and roll history, and it would be hard to argue except that on this basis it's hard to believe he ever left. The Ephemeric has no hesitation in awarding this our first five star review in four years.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
Where Are We Now?
(You Will) Set the World On Fire
Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List, we hope you enjoyed our preview of the essential music in 2013. This week we will turn our attention to the cinema, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting movies set to hit the screens in 2013.
Last year's cinema was big on Hollywood establishment and so-called "prestige" pictures, if short on surprises and new faces. The year ahead however contains a healthy mix of returning heavyweights and potential breakthroughs for the up and coming. In fact the year looks so promising that we had to expand our list to 15 films. It simply could not be whittled down to fewer. As always our annual film preview begins after the Oscar deadline, so just because a film was released in 2013 does not mean it is in contention for this list.
So behold, here is the top ten list of key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:
15. The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel is being brought to the big screen, this time courtesy of director Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.
The Great Gatsby makes this list for the second year running following a series of delays, with a May release date now having been set. The official word is that the shift in schedule is merely a tactic to maximise profits, but delays plus pre-summer release suggests the studio does not have high hopes for this film come awards season.
Luhrmann has taken a bold approach to this hugely anticipated adaption, juxtaposing the novel's old fashioned setting with rather more modern sensibilities. One wonders whether the themes of the novel will still resonate as strongly.
Release Date: May 10th 2013
14. August: Osage County
An adaption of Tracy Letts' 2008 Pulitzer winning prize play of the same name, August: Osage County has awards written all over it.
The latest tentpole from The Weinstein Company, co-produced by George Clooney, directed by former WGA President John Wells, starring Meryl Streep, Benedict Cumberbatch and Julia Roberts among others; this film is about as packed full of Hollywood royalty as it gets. In particular we are excited to see Cumberbatch get his shot, and with no fewer than six prominent projects on his plate 2013 promises to be a big year for him.
No release date has been announced yet, which suggests we'll see it towards the end of the year right when the Oscar season begins. The Ephemeric bets good money that this will be in contention.
Release Date: TBA 2013
13. Steve Jobs
A little background is required here because there are two films on the horizon about the late Apple CEO. The first which has been in the press a lot lately is the independently produced jOBS, starring Steve Jobs lookalike Ashton Kutcher and being produced by a highly inexperienced crew. Based on early buzz The Ephemeric is betting that this film is not going to be anything worth seeing.
More exciting is Steve Jobs, a studio adaption of the official biography, with a script being penned by none other than Aaron Sorkin. As long time Sorkin fans we can't wait to see what he comes up with. If it's as successful as his last tech pioneer biopic, The Social Network, then we're in for something special.
Precious little else is known about the film so far, save that it will unconventionally contain only three scenes, each taking place in realtime, each focused on a key product launch across Jobs' career. Fingers crossed that it does see release in 2013.
Release Date: TBA 2013
12. Pacific Rim
Now for something a bit different, a change from all the literature and theatre and Oscar bait.
The premise of Pacific Rim is simple, but glorious. Monsters vs giant robots. It's a monster movie, usual nonsense, but this time people decide to fight back by building giant robots. So to recap: it's a movie about giant monsters fighting giant robots, and the trailer contains the line "Today we cancel the apocalypse". Go pre-book yourself a ticket, you're welcome.
Oh but there's more. It's being directed by Guillermo del Toro, more than just your average action movie director. The Spanish auteur has in the past been known for dark and twisted productions and foreign films. Seeing him take on a picture starring giant robots and monsters should be very interesting indeed.
Release Date: July 12th 2013
We are very excited about South African director Neill Blomkamp's sophomore feature film following his 2009 debut District 9. Initially coming to prominence as the controversial director of the doomed Halo movie, Blomkamp proved the doubters wrong by showing that smart, engaging sci-fi could be made on a shoestring budget.
Set amid a similarly dystopian future, Elysium features a cast starring the likes of Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley. The talent involved is impressive, and the increased freedom afforded a director with a hit on his resumé should see a project of far greater scope.
With four times the budget of District 9 it will be intriguing to see how a director known for blending low-fi realism with seamless CGI adapts. The release date is set at the tail end of the summer now, about what you'd expect for a summer tentpole that aspires to be slightly more than just a vehicle for selling popcorn.
Release Date: August 9th 2013
10. Inside Llewyn Davis
No list of upcoming films would be complete without the latest project from the Coen brothers. Loosely based off the posthumous memoirs of folk singer Dave van Ronk, Inside Llewyn Davis sees the Coen brothers return to a familiar 1960s setting amid the New York folk music scene.
The cast stars Oscar Isaac as the eponymous folk singer, the always excellent Carey Mulligan and the surprisingly not terrible Justin Timberlake, whose acting star seems to be on the rise following his excellent turn in the Social Network.
It's quintessential Coen Brothers fare that should see an hour or two of off-beat dramedy, and likely a best screenplay nomination. As yet no release date has been announced, but it is anticipated to arrive on screens some time in late 2013.
Release Date: TBA 2013
9. The Fifth Estate
One film that is sure to make headlines in 2013, The Fifth Estate tells the story of Wikileaks and in particular Julian Assange.
It was inevitable that someone would do it, and it will star none other than rising star Benedict Cumberbatch as the Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Add that it's being directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon and you have a recipe for quite an intriguing picture.
Sure to cause controversy upon release, Assange himself has had a sneak peek at the script and described the film as a hit piece on his ethics and the early days of his organisation. Either way this will be an important film to catch when it hits cinemas, and a late release date of 15th November suggests optimism and ambition from Dreamworks Studios.
Release Date: November 15th 2013
8. The Butler
Another hot tip from The Weinstein Company, The Butler is loosely based on the true story of Eugene Allen who served eight Presidents as the White House butler until his retirement.
The film stars Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, and the star studded cast includes the likes of Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Melissa Leo and many more big names.
So to recap we have a very awards friendly premise, a studio known for winning Oscars, and a star studded cast full of former Oscar winners and nominees. This comes as a very safe bet to be in contention for the big prizes upon release. So far this release date has not been announced, but it is anticipated to his screens late 2013 just in time for the frenzy of awards season.
Release Date: TBA 2013
7. The World's End
The legendary comedy triumvirate of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright return to complete the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, following on from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
The concluding film in the series, The World's End, follows five childhood friends reuniting to go on an epic pub crawl. In a similar style to the previous two films in the trilogy not all is as it seems, and quickly the mundane setting will become quite surreal.
If you enjoyed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, then chances are you'll be quite excited about this. The release is set for the end of the summer this year, it should be quite a show.
Release Date: August 14th 2013
6. Star Trek: Into Darkness
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot four years ago was a great success; the highest grossing Star Trek film of all time, the most critically well received, and the first Star Trek film to win an Oscar. It is only natural, if a bit belated, that sequel is in the works, and ready to hit screens in 2013.
In addition to Abrams directing again, the same cast returns of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and this time joined by Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, him again) as the villain.
With everything that made the last film so great still in place, there's no reason to think that this won't be even better. We'll be able to see for ourselves this May when the film hits the big screen.
Release Date: May 17th 2013
Another familiar face from last year's list, Gravity sadly never saw release in 2012 but it's still coming, and it still sounds great.
This is of course the new, mysterious project from director Alfonso Cuarón, whose last film Children of Men is generally considered by critics to be one of the finest of the 2000s. It stars Oscar winners George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and tells the story of surviving astronauts marooned on a damaged space station after an accident.
Buzz is quite high for this one despite the prolonged development cycle, and the talent involved is considerable. Gravity comes to the cinemas this October, it's definitely one to keep an eye on.
Release Date: October 4th 2013
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
Now we're onto some real heavy hitters. The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the memoirs of Wall Street fraudster Jordan Belfort and is practically bursting with Hollywood credentials.
The legendary Martin Scorsese directs, and marks a fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio who stars as Belfort himself. The rest of the cast excitingly features Jean Dujardin in his first big Hollywood role since his breakout Oscar winning performance in the Artist, along with Kyle Chandler and Jonah Hill among others.
Excellent cast, great director, and a very poignant subject matter that also happens to be one of Hollywood's favourites, this could be special. The release date has not been set yet, but should expect this in the tail end of the year.
Release Date: TBA 2013
3. Saving Mr. Banks
Here we have quite an exciting landmark in film. Tom Hanks will become the first person to play Walt Disney on screen in Saving Mr. Banks, which follows the travails of the legendary filmmaker during the production of Mary Poppins.
The rest of the cast is no less impressive, with Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti on board. Directing the picture meanwhile is John Lee Hancock, a man with a few solid Oscar flirting films under his belt. This could be his year to finally take the big prize.
The release date says it all here. A holiday season release for this kind of film indicates someone is shooting for Oscar gold. With the quality attached it may well succeed.
Release Date: December 20th 2013
Next up we have a film that is of particular interest to us here at The Ephemeric. Danny Boyle is hands down one of our favourite directors, with such films to his name as Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, 127 Hours and many others, not to mention his stunning Olympic ceremony and superb theatre productions; anything he touches turns to gold.
Trance tells the story of an art auctioneer who gets mixed up with a criminal syndicate and undergoes hypnotherapy in order to find a specific work of art. His dark secrets start to get the better of him and slowly the line between dream and reality becomes blurred. It sounds like a trippy, Danny Boyle directed version of Inception, and that's no bad thing.
Starring the excellent up and coming actor James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson, Trance will see release in March in the UK, and every single detail points towards excellence.
Release Date: March 27th 2013
1. Man of Steel
So what could possibly beat all these potentially excellent films? Well it would have to be the rebirth of one of The Ephemeric's favourite superheroes. Helmed by the intriguing production team of Zack Snyder directing and Chris Nolan producing, the hype is that Man of Steel will do for Superman what Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy did for Batman.
The film stars Henry Cavill as Superman himself, with Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon as bad guy Zod, while Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner also feature.
The early trailers look frankly phenomenal, but we will have to wait until the mid summer blockbuster season to see the results for ourselves.
Release Date: June 14th 2013
So there you have it folks: 2013 in movies. Tune in next week to find out what's new and exciting on TV this year!
Friday, 18 January 2013
Happy New Year everyone and welcome back to the Ephemeric. Over the next few weeks we will be rolling out our Hot List, the essential guide to your year ahead. This week we begin with a look at the most exciting new music set to hit the airwaves in 2013.
Was 2012 a bit of a slow year for music? Well it's time to put that behind you, because 2013 is shaping up to be pretty promising, with a myriad of major returning bands and a good array of up and coming new talent.
So behold, here is the top ten list of albums to keep an eye on in the coming year, starting with number 10:
10. Body Music - AlunaGeorge (New band)
London electronic duo AlunaGeorge have already made quite a name for themselves in the past year, particularly with their biggest chart hit to date Your Drums, Your Love.
While The Ephemeric is still not fully sold on their blend of futuristic pop and R&B, there's no denying that they have an interesting and fresh sound.
Regardless, AlunaGeorge are set to be a major presence when they release their debut album Body Music in June. The buzz for this band is so loud right now that whatever your views on them they're going to be one to watch in 2013.
Release Date: June 2013
9. MGMT - MGMT
One of the Ephemeric's hotly tipped bands of 2008, MGMT's debut album Oracular Spectacular brought the band overnight success. Songs like Time to Pretend and Kids were quickly etched into the memory for a long time to come, and the burden of high expectation has followed.
This was exactly the problem with their follow up, Congratulations, wherein the band decided to raise a middle finger to such expectation and record a rather more experimental, non-commercial, and some might say self-indulgent album.
Going back to basics with their self-titled third album, and with decidedly more intrusive oversight from the record label if stories are to be believed, MGMT describe their new material as "fun and rewarding". So far the only taste we've got is this live recording of new song Alien Days. Don't read too much into its quality, as the band has always been a bit shaky live. We previewed this album last year, but following delay after delay we can confirm that it is definitely, finally coming out in 2013.
Release Date: TBA 2013
8. Amok - Atoms For Peace (New band)
This one could be a bit tasty. Atoms For Peace are the new supergroup consisting of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on synth and R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker, as well as multi-instrumentalist Mauro Refosco.
The band first started performing together in 2009 in order to promote Thom Yorke's solo album The Eraser. Now a debut collaborative LP Amok is in the works and due out next month.
If the first single, Default, is anything to go by this album looks set to take Thom Yorke's experimental style and run with it, very much in the same vein as his recent solo and Radiohead work. Whether you're a Yorke fan or detractor, this is definitely an act to keep an eye on in 2013.
Release Date: February 25th 2013
7. Mosquito - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
For the past ten years, New York indie band Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been one of the darlings of the indie scene with fantastic tracks like Maps and Skeletons to their name. Naturally then we are excited at the prospect of a new album in 2013.
Due to be released April 16th, Mosquito has some of the worst album art we have ever seen, but due to their history of high quality music we can give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
So far there is no new confirmed material to listen to, but the band has described the album as more playful, low-fi and feel-good. Let's just hope the lack of taste in the art department is not reflected in the music.
Release Date: April 16th 2013
6. Bankrupt - Phoenix
French alternative rock band Phoenix has been around for a number of years now, but it was only really with their most recent album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that they broke into the mainstream.
Now the band is returning with a much anticipated follow up, Bankrupt, due to arrive sometime this April. Little is known so far, but the band has posted on their blog that they intend to create something a little more experimental.
No new songs have been revealed aside from a brief, almost Daft Punk-esque teaser, but if they can match the quality of previous hits such as Lisztomania then we can all live happily ever after.
Release Date: April 2013
5. TBA - Haim (New band)
Another newcomer with a great deal of hype to live up to. Recently named top of the BBC's Sound of 2013 list, Haim has been firmly on most pundits' radars since the release of first single Don't Save Me.
A Californian band consisting of three sisters, it may be easy to dismiss the group as the latest in a line of industry-fodder girl-pop but to do so would be a great disservice to the group's rock and roll roots. Haim owes far more to the likes of the Strokes and Blondie than Avril Lavigne or TLC, and in particular there is a real touch of Goldfrapp quirkiness to their sound.
Details remain thin on their debut album, save that it is coming in 2013. Until then they have released EP Forever to tide us over.
Release Date: TBA 2013
4. Sing to the Moon - Laura Mvula (New band)
Now we are getting to some truly special prospects. Birmingham's Laura Mvula is one of the hottest tipped acts of 2013 and it's easy to see why. Female solo acts are a dime a dozen, but such are Mvula's talents that she stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The velvet-voiced singer combines her R&B roots with delightfully unexpected classical jazz stylings. Her songs contain lush orchestral soundscapes, but maintain a unique low-fi serenity. The music sounds incredible, and the soulful lyrics only sweeten the deal.
First single She is a song of rare beauty, a delicate and understated example of soulful pop. Her follow up Like the Morning Dew is no less remarkable with its rich Beach Boys-like harmony.
Signs are very promising for the debut album Sing to the Moon, and you would be a fool not to check it out when it releases this March.
Release Date: March 4th 2013
3. TBA - Arcade Fire
Across three studio albums the multi-instrument Montreal band Arcade Fire have gone from strength to strength. Now perhaps at the height of their powers following 2010's epic The Suburbs, which ended up winning The Ephemeric's best album of 2010 Debbie Award, it is no shock that their upcoming 2013 effort can be found high up this list.
Little information is available other than that it is due in late 2013. Rumours suggest that LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy is collaborating in some capacity, and that the sound will appropriately be more uptempo and "dancey".
Beyond this is anyone's guess, which can mean pretty much anything from a band which has a penchant for diverse styles of music. In the past this band has brought us everything from brooding rock and roll like Modern Man to energetic power-pop like Sprawl II and roof-blowing anthems like Wake Up. The Ephemeric can't wait to see what they bring us next.
Release Date: TBA 2013
2. No End - Daft Punk
So why is a band as good as Arcade Fire only number three in the list? It might have something to do with France's biggest ever musical export.
Daft Punk are one of the all time biggest names in electronic music, but they haven't released a studio album in almost a decade. Needless to say the prospect of new material from the people who gave us songs like Digital Love, One More Time and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (which younger readers may recognise as that song Kanye West ripped off) is a very big deal indeed.
So far the album title No End, cover and release date are just rumoured leaks, to be taken with a pinch of salt. Either way, word from the band and producer Nile Rodgers confirms that the album does exist, and that it is widely expected for release this year, even if it's later than the rumoured March date.
Release Date: March 3rd 2013?
1. The Next Day - David Bowie
If Daft Punk didn't do the job, this one definitely pushes us over the edge into hitherto unknown realms of anticipation. David Bowie is one of the greatest rock and roll stars of all time, with a catalogue of depth, invention, and genius to rival any living musician.
In a career spanning fifty years, David Bowie has shown he can do anything, from piano ballads like Life On Mars to spaced out pop hit Starman and rock and roll classic Let's Dance. We can list classic songs all day, and each one will be a different genre and amazing.
So imagine our excitement when Bowie chose to spring a new years' surprise on us by announcing his first new album in over a decade. The Next Day is due to be released in March of this year. Only one song, Where Are We Now? has been revealed so far, and it's a typically lovely, downtempo track in keeping with Bowie's most recent material. That said, word from within the Bowie camp suggests that this song does not represent the general mood of the album, and that The Next Day will see a return to classic rock and roll Bowie. Gentlemen you had our curiosity, now you have our attention.
Release Date: March 11th 2013
So there you have it folks: 2013 in music. Tune in next week for the essential upcoming movies of the year!
Saturday, 29 December 2012
It is that most pivotal time of year again, the moment where the entire story of the twelve months gone by is laid bare and scrutinised. No film, song, restaurant or significant event is safe from the all-seeing eye of The Ephemeric and our esteemed panel of judges (i.e. me).
Initially conceived as a way to slag off people I don't like, these awards have since grown into a ceremony greater than the Grammies, Emmies and Latin Grammies combined.
So happy holidays you magnificent bastards, and without further ado here are the:
2012 Debbie Awards
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Winner: Parks and Recreation
Runner Up: Homeland
Parks and Recreation comes from the creators of The Office (US Version of course). Filmed in a familiar mockumentary style and blessed with the same calibre of off-beat humour and larger-than-life characters, Parks and Recreation keeps getting better and better with each season. Now in its fifth season, it's the funniest show on TV and one on which no one should miss out. Don't let the five seasons of catching up put you off, it's worth it.
Homeland comes in second. Having taken the world by storm with its excellent debut season, the second has duly continued its fine form and ingrained itself upon the essential TV mindset of western audiences.
2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year
Winner: The Newsroom
A great cast including Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterstone, created by the near infallible Aaron Sorkin, and centred around a particularly poignant issue of our time; The Newsroom was a show with the potential for true greatness. While such a political show was always liable to divide audiences, there is no denying the entertainment value and quality of production. The Newsroom is a fine show, and here to stay.
3. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Runner Up: Les Miserables
With the potential exception of Lincoln, which unfortunately The Ephemeric has yet to see, this year's competitive Oscar field just goes to show what a medicore year for film it is. So it is with little hesitation that we award this most prestigious of Debbies to Looper, the breakthrough hit from art-house director Rian Johnson, starring the considerable talents of Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Looper is that rare blend of intelligent science fiction that actually works, and for that reason it takes this year's Debbie for best film.
While certainly not the best film of the year, arguably the most enjoyable was the powerful, ambitious, and ultimately flawed Les Miserables. The long awaited musical adaption shines through its stellar cast, but muddies proceedings with uncertain directing and inconsistent pacing. Despite this, any fan of the musical is sure to be giddy throughout.
Music & Theatre
4. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year
Runner Up: The Master and Margarita
By contrast, this was an excellent year for theatre in London. After much deliberation, and with great difficulty, The Ephemeric has chosen this year's winner of the coveted Debbie as Gatz. A common criticism of Great Gatsby adaptions is that the material loses much of what makes the novel so special without the full language of the book. This eight hour production solves that problem by presenting the entire novel in play form. Honestly the most fun we've had at the theatre in a long time.
The Barbican's production of off the wall Bulgakov novel Master and Margarita takes a very close runner up slot, and in any other year could have won the big prize. Fun, frenetic and unforgettable, this show is returning in January, so do yourselves a favour and snap up tickets if you can. You'll thank us later.
5. The Debbie for Worst Theatrical Production of the Year
Winner: In the Republic of Happiness
If there's any Debbie that has truly been earned this year, it's this one. In the Republic of Happiness has the dubious honour of being the first and only play that The Ephemeric has ever wanted to walk out of in twenty five years of ardent theatre-going. If you have tickets already burn them, you'll have more fun smoking them. This play is the absolute worst kind of pretentious, and by that I don't mean overly complex, I mean it's mind numbingly brainless, lowest common denominator crap, and yet its passed off as some kind of high art. Unremittingly tedious and unfunny, with occasional profanities and songs awkwardly thrown in, because apparently that makes things funny. I've never seen anything like it, but everyone with an aisle seat left the theatre before an hour was up. It's a good thing there was no intermission or else it would have been empty before the second act.
6. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: Home Again - Michael Kiwanuka
Runner Up: Gossamer - Passion Pit
The album of the year is, ironically enough, an album that The Ephemeric in its limited wisdom neglected to include (by a whisker) in its preview of most highly anticipated albums for 2012. Soulful and understated, Kiwanuka's brand of acoustic rock is as good a record as any that has been recorded for years. The Ephemeric has no hesitation in repeatedly admitting its mistake and naming Home Again the debut album from Michael Kiwanuka as the best album of the year.
The runner up prize goes to Gossamer by Passion Pit. A new Passion pit album is always a cause for celebration, and the follow up to their 2009 debut lives up to lofty expectations. A more elegant effort that nevertheless manages to capture the same highs and lows of pure mania, Gossamer is an experience in itself
7. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: Home Again - Michael Kiwanuka
It's the album of the year, it's a debut album. Naturally Michael Kiwanuka's album Home Again will also take the Debbie for the best debut album. Home Again is the first album to take both Debbies since Passion Pit's debut album Manners back in 2009.
8. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: It's Not My Fault I'm Happy - Passion Pit
Runner Up: Troubleman - Electric Guest
It was a difficult year for picking individual stand-out songs, but the eventual winner was Passion Pit doing what they do best. While mainly known for their infectious concoction of distilled "happy", their finest tracks have always been of the deep, anthemic variety. It's Not My Fault I'm Happy is truly an epic; touchingly lyriced, boldly melodic verses, and a grand, sweeping chorus.
For the second prize we've selected one of the more understated options. The eight minute long Troubleman forms the centrepiece of Danger Mouse's newest project Electric Guest. As smooth as a good scotch, and as playful as a bad one, it is wonderful.
Videogames & Technology
9. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Curiosity Mars Rover
It's been a big year for scientific milestones, with various bosons and things traveling faster than the speed of light. But for sheer audacity, romanticism and "hell yeah we did that" factor The Ephemeric has to give this award to the Mars Curiosity Rover. From its unorthodox (read: insane) method of entry, to the pure fact that we fired a fully equipped laboratory the size of a hummer from here to another planet in one piece, to the wealth of data and photos its beaming back, Curiosity has reignited the public's love for exploration more than anything in recent decades.
10. The Debbie for Lamest Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Apple Maps
At some point, Apple decided that it was a good idea to dump YouTube and Google Maps from their default apps. A quick google search (ironic) will reveal many purported reasons for this move, but whatever the rationale the end result is that iPhones now ship with Apple's own replacement, Apple Maps. Needless to say Google weren't complaining when the resulting debacle sent users over to their android platform, and they still aren't complaining now that their re-released Google Maps and YouTube apps are top selling apps on the iTunes store. Generally not a good moment for Apple.
11. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: Mass Effect 3
Runners up: Dishonored
A controversial choice, but aside from the disastrous ending Mass Effect 3 was for the most part a great success. Mass Effect 3 takes the cinematic and narrative elements that made the first two games a success to a whole new level of excellent production, and adds on an addictive and rewarding multiplayer mode. Nearly perfect, shame about the ending.
Close behind is the surprise package of the year, Dishonored. A bold new IP in a visually striking world and some of the most finely honed stealth gameplay ever seen. A franchise is born.
12. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi, retains his trophy, frankly not in the same category as the rest of us mere mortals when it comes to footballing ability. For this reason I have decided that picking a runner up would bely the gulf in class between him and the rest. Also I didn't even bother changing this blurb or picture from last year's awards.
13. The Debbie for Football Match of the Year
Winner: Champions League Final 2012- Bayern Munich v Chelsea
Football is a game of skill, but no one denies the role that fortune has to play. Sometimes though something happens that's so completely improbable, so shocking in its defiance of logic and chance, that it's honestly hard to believe it actually happened. Chelsea's victory in the Champions League final was one of these moments. Unlikely equalisers, statistically impossible penalty saves, ironies upon ironies, and that's not even taking into consideration the incredible circumstances in the earlier rounds of the competition. Truly one of those surreal moments that transcends football fandom.
14. The Debbie for Party of the Year
Winner: James' Birthday party at Strawberry Moons
Biased? Perhaps. But once upon a time there was an epic birthday party, there was mingling of friends both old and new, and The Ephemeric himself looked dapper in his new waistcoat. Drinks were spilled.
15. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Runner Up: Ledbury
A year of tough decisions for this culinary Debbie, ultimately coming down to two Restaurants that can count themselves among the very best in the world. This year's prize goes to the newcomer Viajante, which opened this past year. Blind tastings, perfect pairings and unique combinations make each and every dish sublime. Calling it a true carnival of food does not even do justice to this unforgettable experience.
Close behind and in a similar vein comes the officially top rated restaurant in London, Ledbury. The food is as fine as it comes, and the service among the warmest in town. In every aspect, Ledbury is at least a match for Viajante, but loses out on two counts: invention and festive atmosphere.
16. The Debbie for Nightclub of the Year
Winner: Cirque du Soir
London is celebrated for its club scene, and the standout from this year's crop is Mayfair's Cirque du Soir. Cirque lives up to its name by turning the standard dance club fare into a circus/carnival extravaganza. Costumed dancers, face painters, games, giant popcorn vending machines and all sorts of other craziness create one of the most unique night spots in London.
17. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi
The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro is famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around.
Travel & Adventure
18. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Venice, Italy
This year's destination of choice is Venice, Italy. Forget Paris, Venice is the city of romance, with beauty that is absolutely unparalleled, and character that will win over the harshest skeptic. Venice is one of the most magical places on Earth, and if you've never been before do yourself a favour and set aside a week next summer.
19. The Debbie for Wine of the Year
Winner: Tignanello 2001
Tignanello is certainly one of the more well known wine producers, and the most famous of the Antinori vineyards. In particular though one considers the 2001 vintage, known for being one of the great years for wine in the region. Elegant, silky and with a deep crimson colour, this wine is irresistable.
20. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year
Winner: Champagne Mailly L'Air
For the second year running The Ephemeric awards its best champagne Debbie to L'Air. Champagne Mailly's latest Grand Cru continues the "four elements" theme, this year bringing air to the table, and it might just be their best yet. This delicious 2005 vintage is rich, fruity and irresistibly smooth.
Well there you have it, another great year, and here's to the next one being even better!
Sunday, 16 December 2012
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne
Running time 160 minutes
Tom Hooper hasn't wasted any time following his breakout hit The King's Speech. Instead of retiring on his bed of money and accolades, the Oscar winning director has chosen to jump straight into his most ambitious project yet. While this is hardly the first time that celebrated Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables has been adapted for the big screen (most recently in a 1998 version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush), never before has anyone tackled the stage musical itself.
Musicals are often difficult to adapt to film owing to the contrasting sensibilities of the different media. This is even more the case with Les Misérables' sprawling, epic narrative and its tendency towards melodrama. It's a tough ask for any director, let alone one whose career has largely been built around a single movie. Fortunately while the production of this film is far from flawless, there is still plenty for long time fans of Les Misérables and of musicals in general to celebrate.
Without wasting too much time on plot details with which most people are probably at least a little bit familiar, Les Misérables tells the redemptive story of ex-convict Jean Valjean set against the backdrop of French working class suffering circa early 19th Century.
As an adaption, this is pretty faithful to the source material. Only a few of the songs are curtailed or modified, and numerous details from the book have even been worked in that are ordinarily not featured in the musical. More interesting is the inclusion of an all new song, "Suddenly". On the surface it might appear a slightly cynical attempt to increase the volume of Oscar opportunities to include best original song, but it does serve a purpose of fleshing out a plot point from the book that is largely skimmed over in the regular musical production.
In a way this film is less an adaption of the musical or the book as much its own beast, taking elements from both and inventing entirely new material that takes advantage of the inherent qualities of cinema, adding elements to the production that would not be possible on stage or page. Where this film shines most of all is in the actors' performances. Two Oscar nominations for acting seems a certainty, and three or four entirely plausible.
Of greatest interest will be Anne Hathaway as the tragic Fantine. Pre-release opinion seemed to be largely divided on this casting, but anyone who is familiar with Hathaway's work will already know that she is an astounding singer. I am pleased to say that in this role she has also delivered by far her best acting performance, tender but powerful. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is indeed an actor's dream come true; filmed in a single take focused almost entirely on her face, it allows Hathaway to really show off what she can do. Arguably the high point of the entire film.
Hugh Jackman will also rightly earn plaudits for his Jean Valjean. On the back of a wildly successful stint on Broadway but lacking in true "triple A" cinema kudos, Jackman was another uncertain but ultimately inspired casting decision. Valjean has been dramatised by fine actors like Liam Neeson and sung by legendary stage performers like Colm Wilkinson (who has a small cameo role as the Bishop of Digne), but Jackman's ability to combine the subtlety of dramatic performance with his considerable vocal skills make this a complete portrayal unlike any other.
The other lead is Russell Crowe as police inspector Javert, Valjean's nemesis. This was the casting decision that worried me most of all, and it must be said it is the weak spot of an otherwise stellar ensemble. Don't get me wrong, Crowe is a fantastic actor, and at his best moments he brings real gravitas to the role, particularly in his key confrontations with Valjean. That said the role does appear a little miscast, with Valjean supposed to be the more physically intimidating of the two, something which is clearly not the case here. There is also real issue with his singing. Russell Crowe can sing, and does so in fact in a band back in Australia. Unfortunately being a decent singer does not make you suited to singing in a musical and Crowe's voice often sounds bland, lacking the dramatic vocal qualities that one would get from a seasoned stage performer.
However, my personal highlights among the excellent performances belongs to Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the morally bereft Thénardiers. I've never seen these roles, particularly that of the innkeeper himself, played so humorously through ad-libbing and creative delivery with such great effect. This is an example of pitch perfect casting, with Baron Cohen seemingly born for this role.
Finally a shout out to fellow Etonian Eddie Redmayne who continues to go from strength to strength, and embraces what could be a massive moment for his career. It's a fact that the two romantic characters Marius and Cosette also typically happen to be the least interesting characters in the story, but here Redmayne injects some much needed spark into his portrayal of Marius and makes him all the more sympathetic for it.
Ultimately what holds the film back from greatness is the filmmaking itself. I enjoy Tom Hooper's movies, but none of them have made me sit back and marvel at his directing ability. Hooper has been fortunate to work on some extraordinary projects and handled them ably, but does anyone really think that without Colin Firth he would have won that best director Oscar? The trouble is that a project this ambitious needs more than just a capable director, it needs a world class one, and Tom Hooper has yet to reach that level. At its finer moments Les Misérables glows with memorable cinematography; in particular the visually stunning opening scene that starts the film off with a bang. Indeed many of Hooper's artistic decisions, such as the oft mooted "live singing"and certains specific camera shots like the I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own sequences, are brilliant.
Unfortunately for much of the film the camera usage detracts from the production as a whole. Hooper's obsession with relentless close-up camera shots goes far beyond the one or two set pieces where it actually works. It can be very disorienting and often takes the audience away from the setting. More than that it's monotonous. Each song has a different feeling and a different energy level; some are introspective lullabies, and others are grand, powerful anthems. Every song has a different level of scale, a different level of intimacy. So it makes no sense for every single one to be filmed in this close and personal style, there is too often a fundamental discord between what the viewer is seeing and what he is hearing. In addition there are pacing problems in certain scenes, a perfect example being the early scene with Valjean and the Bishop of digne. It's an absolutely pivotal scene in the story of Les Misérables, and yet it's brushed over at a ridiculous speed. It's one thing if you're like me and you know the scene off by heart, but newbies may be at a loss as to what exactly is happening.
Despite its flaws, Les Misérables is still a fine film that will rightly be talked about when awards season rolls around. The performances are great, the production values top notch and the end result is one of the most emotionally powerful films in years. At the same time with weak direction and some uneven pacing, one can't help but see this as a missed opportunity for something truly spectacular.
Great source material
Brilliant ensemble cast