Saturday, 18 September 2010
Friday, 10 September 2010
Genre Indie Psychedelic Pop,
Producer Kevin Barnes
Release Date September 14th
You never really know what you're going to get with Of Montreal. Their previous albums are laced with genius and catchy hooks, but overwhelmed by zaniness and almost too much creativity, if such a thing is possible. Their newest release False Priest continues in this fashion.
Most tracks on this album contain an element of brilliance, a great chorus or an infectiously catchy verse, but unfortunately it seems that these transient moments are surrounded by a whole lot of "weird for the sake of weird". For long time fans, this craziness might be what attracts you to the band, but for others I can see it being a major put off.
This is probably best exampled by Like a Tourist, a crazy, non sensical glam rock tune with a wonderfully euphoric chorus. Overall I find the song fairly irritating, but the chorus makes it worth listening to. Much of the rest of the album is equally hit or miss, and it often does not work.
When it does work though it's pretty excellent, and in general the production on this album is much tighter than their past work. One thing I would advise to those who listen to this album is do so with a good pair of headphones to take advantage of the full instrumentalisation. Janelle Monae collaboration Enemy Gene in particular is a real pop gem with a dreamy chorus and arguably the most satisfying tune on the album.
This is immediately followed by another good song in Hydra Fancies, an R&B tinged track which combines effectively with elements of classic rock and funk. Like most songs on this album, the lyrics are gloomier than the deliriously happy melodies would suggest.
Beyoncé's sister Solange lends her vocal talents to the infinitely danceable Sex Karma, a song which probably best sums up the band's penchant for the ridiculous. You may not want to, you may end up hating yourself for it, but this is one of those infectiously catchy pop numbers that simply won't leave your head.
These three tracks may be among the most over the top sugary, upbeat things I've heard all year, but they are undeniably some of the most catchy as well. Indeed this is where a band like Of Montreal succeeds, much in the same spirit as British popster Mika or the Scissor Sisters. If you don't mind taking in some innovative pop with a side of manic crazy then you'll probably enjoy some of this album. If grunge like Oasis is more your thing, then steer clear.
Monday, 6 September 2010
Genre Alternative pop-rock
Label Island, Vertigo
Producer Stuart Price, Daniel Lanois, Brendan O'Brien, Brandon Flowers
Release Date September 6th (UK), September 14th (US)
When the Killers announced in 2009 that they were going to take a well earned break after nearly six solid years of touring and recording, there was one person who was not ready to slow down just yet. Making music is what frontman Brandon Flowers lives for, and in the absence of his bandmates he is going solo with his debut LP Flamingo.
I'd like to begin by dispelling a few go-to clichés that lazy journalists are using to describe this album: 1) that this album is basically a new Killers album and sounds exactly the same, and 2) that this album is an "adventurous" and "experimental" body work from the notoriously audacious Flowers, who frequently laments the creative restraints his band places upon him.
Thematically Flamingo harkens back to the days of Sam's Town, The Killers' loving ode to their home town of Las Vegas. The lyrics here are awash with gambling terminology and old fashioned Americana, and musically speaking the Springsteen influences return along with a much more overt country music overtone; honestly there were times when this album sounded more like Conway Twitty than The Killers.
For sure there are one or two songs on this album that sound reminiscent of the Killers, which would be hard to avoid given Flowers' distinctive vocals, but in the end this album is just not as tight as a Killers album, it lacks the disciplined composition and production. It is sometimes suggested that the reason the Killers achieve such success is this dynamic where the band helps to restrain and focus Flowers' creative gifts, and this album is perhaps the ultimate proof of that. In the same way one could argue that this album is much more personal and introspective than anything the Killers have ever produced.
This is also a darker affair than what we're used to from The Killers and Flowers, and often guilty of taking itself far too seriously. Songs are inundated with religious imagery and overblown talk of redemption, while the music is often overproduced (or sometimes just badly produced) which I suppose is inevitable when you bring in so many different producers to pool their ideas into one album. Arguably, Flowers' best moments tend to come when he's being playful as with Hot Fuzz or Day & Age, and one has to wonder why he chose to go back to the same melodrama that earned Sam's Town such mixed reviews.
It is a testament to Brandon Flowers' considerable musical and vocal talents then that this album is not at all bad. I'll have to be honest and say that the first time I listened to the album I had difficulty picking out anything that was particularly noteworthy, but then I had a similar initial impression of the album's first single Crossfire, which later grew on me. So this time I made sure to listen to the album a few times over before forming a conclusion and it also grew on me a great deal. More so perhaps than with any other album I've listened to, this is a grower.
Once again, Flowers takes us on a tour of his hometown Las Vegas, with each song serving as a standalone memoir of life in and around Sin City.
The album opens in a typically bombastic fashion with Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas. This song wastes no time in getting its American Mythic intentions out the door with swooning country guitars and Mojave-fried lyrics, while building up to the pomp and grandeur of the glittering lights of Las Vegas in increasingly sardonic tones.
The second track Only the Young is perhaps one of the best on the album, and really could have been a classic if not for some niggling annoyances with the production. Flowers piles layer upon layer of unnecessary vocal effects at every opportunity, and frankly the chorus can't help but sound slightly contrived. But beyond these issues lie haunting synths and one of Flowers' best vocal showings yet with some lovingly nuanced verses.
Hard Enough follows, a duet with Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and the most sentimental track on the album. Spirited enough musically, but even longtime fans are likely to find the lyrics a little too saccharine. It's not a bad song, with pleasant verses and Lewis bringing something a little bit different to the mix, but ultimately this is one of the more forgettable songs on the album.
Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts marks a return to Flowers' Springsteen tinged rock and arguably pulls it off better than any of his attempts on Sam's Town. Catchy verses and energetic chorus surge through dazzling city lights and casinos in the escapist frenzy of a broken hearted man. The drive and energy level marks this as a standout on an album which mostly aims for a less upbeat style.
Next we take things down a notch with Playing with Fire. A down tempo lounge beat and santana-esque guitars bring to mind images of a smokey bar in Vegas whilst religiously infused lyrics grow increasingly contemptuous in the face of sleaze and corruption.
Was it Something I said? Is one of the strangest songs on the album, with Flowers moving into full on Elvis-infused rockabilly. The result is something that sounds like a modern twist on Grease the musical. I suppose it's up to you whether that's a good thing or not.
The album takes a welcome turn into 80s style synth-pop with Magdalena, opening with a lush intro reminiscent of OMD which soon makes way for latin themed journey of redemption complete with castanets. Once again this lyrics of this song appear to be heavy in religion and morality. By this point I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes Brandon would lay on his beliefs a little less thick and stick to ambiguous classics like "are we human or are we dancer". Can't fault the song musically though, similar in latin style to Happy Birthday Guadaloupe, but much much better.
Crossfire is a song that most people have probably heard by now, the first single released from this album a few months ago. A strange choice for the first single of Flowers' solo career as it's certainly not the strongest song on the album, but it's a fine number nonetheless with epic, ethereal piano and a rare sighting of guitar on this mostly synth album.
The penultimate track On the Floor is something of a misstep, moving into pure country music territory. The lyrics are the most heavily religious on the album, complete with gospel choir. I've seen a few reviewers identify this song as a highlight, but it's certainly not my cup of tea.
The album finishes on it's most playful note with Swallow It and the change in mood is most welcome. A serviceable if not particularly memorable pop song with fairly catchy verses.
Then of course there's the four bonus songs. The Clock Was Tickin' is pure country music once again, not something I really expected or wanted from this album.
Jacksonville is another victim of unfortunate editing, with a melody and vocals that could have made a great song if not for an annoyingly emphasised electronic bass on the chorus that drowns out and distracts from the prettier melody in the background. In general this song just sounds rough around the edges, effectively drowning in all the OTT sound effects that have been piled on. The song strangely morphs at the end of the second chorus, ditching all the droning effects and bringing in acoustic guitar, and frankly it sounds great. Another missed opportunity.
I Came Here to Get Over You is a decent rock song that really could have been included on the album, if only to break up the dreariness of much of what has been left. David Bowie influences aplenty, this song takes a few listens to grow on you, but it's definitely worth a listen.
Strangely, the final bonus song Right Behind You is probably the most interesting song on the album and one of its finest moments. This is more the kind of fresh, original idea we've come to expect from Flowers with a distinct vocoded chorus and another very hummable tune. Really this is a song that sets Flowers apart as a solo artist from the Killers and I find it very odd that it was left off the album.
Without a doubt Flamingo is a fine collection of "good" songs as one would expect, but I can't say there's anything on here that's actually "great". In terms of quality these songs hold their own against your average track from the Killers, but the album is definitely lacking that knockout blow from a Mr. Brightside or a Human. Without that, the album can't help but feel somewhat bland. Once these songs have been given time to sink in you'll fine that there is much to like about this album, but perhaps not much to love.
Only the Young (30 sec preview)
Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts
Right Behind You
Saturday, 4 September 2010
song of the week: "Black Sheep" by "Metric ft. Brie Larson"
thing that makes me smile today: My impending trip to Washington DC.
pic of the day
Returning to my blog
Neglecting you while in Italy
Friday, 3 September 2010
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright, Bryan Lee O'Malley (comic)
Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 112 minutes
Scott Pilgrim, an immature 23 year old slacker going nowhere in life, meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. Now he must defeat her seven evil exes in order to be with the woman he loves.
The ambition of the original Scott Pilgrim comics has no lesser goal than to define a generation. This is the ADD generation where twenty-something males grow in a state of perpetual adolescence. Scott is a relatively ordinary youth if a bit sketchy, dating a high school girl named Knives Chau until something better comes along, completely self centred but still oddly lacking in self esteem. It's a mundane life, but through the videogame and pop culture infused mind of Scott Pilgrim it's a cataclysmic battle between good and evil where he sees himself as the white knight on the side of good.
Whether we are supposed to take these events literally as a fusion of the real world and videogame elements, or as the work of a juvenile fantasist is never really confirmed. Ultimately it doesn't matter, this is a commentary on the youth of today and the journey of growing up.
The first thing that most people are going notice when watching this film is the distinctive visual style. Indeed the visuals are dazzling, with comic-like special effects seamlessly integrated into the world. Sound waves pour out of musical instruments, batman like sound effects appear with each punch, videogame-like status indicators display vital statistics, and the effect is really quite unique. I don't think I have ever seen a film which so expertly merges live action with these unreal comic book and videogame elements, it truly does succeed at bringing the comic panels to life in a way that no other film has. I shudder to think about the inevitable imitations we will now see over the coming years.
In addition, the sound work is highly impressive, making use of some nostalgic videogame sound bytes. In a film where musical pop culture is as pervasive as videogame and comic book, it is fitting that the music for each of the three bands we encounter has been composed by big names from the industry. Scott Pilgrim's band Sex Bob-omb has none other than Beck writing their music, whereas Crash and the Boys has Broken Social Scene humorously breaking from their usual style. Meanwhile indie darlings Metric contribute their song Black Sheep to mega superstar band Clash at Demonhead.
The acting also deserves praise for the most part. While some of the minor characters stray unfortunately close to the Napoleon Dynamite school of teenage acting (ie. act badly and blandly because that's how teenagers sound), the casting is generally excellent.
Of course everyone's going to be talking about Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim. He does ok with the role, although he's a bit weedier than one might expect Scott Pilgrim to be from the comics. In some scenes he is just too effeminately over the top, particularly with the running gag on Scott's hair. Otherwise his comic timing is excellent as usual, while it does falter somewhat due to the film's general pacing problems in some of the more rushed scenes like his first dream sequence, but that's not really his fault. It is also refreshing to see Cera leave his comfort zone with the various action scenes he is involved with, and he definitely kicks a fair amount of ass in these scenes.
Special note needs to be made for some of the evil exes. In particular Brandon Routh as the vegan-powered Todd, who provides some of the film's funnier moments, and above all Chris Evans as brilliantly funny action star Lucas Lee who really does steal the show for his few scenes. It is a testament to the quality of acting among even many of the minor roles that such a sense of character can be conveyed through only the few lines they are afforded.
However, the star performers in this film are Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kieran Culkin. Winstead as Ramona has an intangible quality about her that seems to simply dominate proceedings when she's on screen, as well as the most bizarrely anime-like eyes I have seen on a live action actor, which helps her match up to how her character is drawn in the comics. Meanwhile Culkin takes the best character from the books, Scott's witty and self assured gay roommate Wallace, and turns him into the best character in the film in what is possibly a breakthrough role for him.
Of course you are always going to have problems adapting a comic book series to a film. For starters the surreal nature of comics generally doesn't translate well to the big screen and Indeed, some scenes work better than others. For example Matthew Patel's fight with Scott is a bit too over the top, complete with a Bollywood musical number and dancing demon hipster chicks. I didn't need to see that.
More crucially though, you're condensing six decent length books into a film that's under two hours long. Inevitably this means you're going to have pacing problems, as well as story elements and character depth cut out in order to fit. Unfortunately in this case the result is something of a mess.
Now I don't envy the job that director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) had on his plate; given the running time, it seems likely that studio execs told Wright to keep the film under 2 hours in order to appeal to their target demographic and to maximise potential cinema revenue. This means they need to get through one out of the six comic books in just twenty minutes each. As you would expect then quite a bit of the background story and narrative meat has been removed with the hope that this would allow Wright to flesh out what remains.
The problem is that even this wasn't enough, and the scenes that are left in the film still feel incredibly rushed, condensed and cut into a sequence of quick-fire events that simply don't allow the audience to gain any appreciation of what they're watching. In any good story, you need a certain amount of time to dwell on the key plot points and revelations, and time to get to know the characters and become emotionally invested. This film takes no time to do any of this, and sprints through scenes like there's a time limit (fitting for a videogame movie perhaps), haphazardly introducing new characters and relationships and then moving onto the next bit. It doesn't help that the script itself is not as sharp as the source material, and indeed the best lines are taken straight from the comics.
For what is essentially a love story, there is no great romantic scene between Scott and Ramona. Any time anything even vaguely emotional or profound takes place it's over in about three seconds, notably toward the end where Knives has her moment of enlightenment complete with the sublime Broken Social Scene song Anthems for a Seventeen Year old Girl. This scene lasts four seconds before unceremoniously cutting to the next. Sadly, this almost dizzying manner of storytelling is entirely typical of the film in general, which constantly feels like it's rushing to the finish line.
But in fairness when you consider what Wright had to work with, he has generally done a good job of whittling down the content to the key plot points and streamlining them so that the film as a whole does not suffer from everything else that has been cut. I would even say that there are certain parts of the story where Wright has improved upon the comics, particularly with the ending.
The final book involved a rather confusing and, once again, over the top battle between Scott and various forms of his nemesis Gideon, much of which went over my head. The film makes this a much simpler affair, while still maintaining some of the more humorous, and indeed the more profound moments from this climax. In fact the coming of age moral of the story is actually more focused here than in the comic books, with a very clear resolution. This ends things on a very satisfying note that, for all the frustrations I have with the pacing of this movie, had me leaving the cinema with a positive impression.
Ultimately Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a remarkable technical achievement, visually revolutionary and aurally sublime, and the acting is mostly good with some great laughs. Unfortunately, the pacing and structure of the film is off and the result is a messy affair. This film could have benefitted from an extra half hour with which to take its time over some of the more important scenes, but that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable 2 hours.
Great audio production
Poor pacing and structure
Skims through the books