La La Land is Many Places

bill-paxton-films

by James Davies

[Spoilers ahead]

 

Finest Picture, for All Mankind

9. Arrival
Starts off promisingly, with a nice establishing of the story and visual appeal. Continues its success slowly-but-surely up through Amy Adam’s character, super-refreshingly, declaring it is/has to be a “non-zero-sum-game.” Then the ending destroys the whole film. A child-focused part is initially used respectfully, groundedly, and connectedly, but then is turned into a Terrible Thing Fulcrum (TTF) on top of a magical-mystical deus ex machina containing the false core of “reproduction is what (most) makes us human–what gives us our fullest realization as individuals and a species.” (Related to its POV)

8. Moonlight
Too much of a hyperconstructed, inorganic-organic, leaden work. It’s a critic’s darling like Boyhood was in that way. Maybe they feel that kind of construction flatters criticism and thus them? There seems to be a class convergence between professional film critics and these kinds of films. The characters never much feel like fresh-and-blood people, and at worse are walking stereotypes.

7. Hidden Figures
The story is compelling enough, but something is lost from the page to the screen. It might be too slick and (inadvertently) rendering things more inevitable than they were.

6. Lion
“You kept telling me how little I am, but look how clever I am.” … “It’s magic.” … “I can lift anything.” … “You’ve come very far, haven’t you? And one day you’ll tell me all about it.” Establishes at the outset that it’s about going through dark tunnels, yelling in them, and coming out on the other side. Much of it is sheer set-up for the ending and the ending is powerful. The scenes with the young Brierley do draw you in, but the adult-Brierley scenes are rather flat until the end.

5. Hacksaw Ridge
I can see some of what thethirdrevelation is saying and think some of those criticisms can be answered by the historical and biographical accuracy. I might describe the first part as kind of hokey–but even in that vein, Vince Vaughan works well as a caricature of a military sergeant who’s then softened-up/epiphanied by Doss. I think it makes a nice leap to the last 2/3. The war scenes alone gave it a high floor for me. The film actually under-depicts the abuse Doss took from his unit. They do compress the saving of lives he does from a span of like three weeks to two days, but still, I was moved. It automatically gets several bags of popcorn for the “principles” message and for how graphic, realistic, and sobering-stirring the war scenes are.

4. Manchester by the Sea
Didn’t like it as much as I wanted to, nor near its level of critical reception, but maintains a pretty high floor. It’s not like I can think of many better portraits of grief. Ultimately, though, it relies too much on the TTF to bear its (emotional) weight. Upstream Color is an example of a film that uses its TTF probably just right, namely, doesn’t overuse it and has color and shape and life outside of the fulcrum, even if the fulcrum can be said to always be there. Manchester doesn’t really do anything else wrong though, and does contain several powerful scenes. Those and the very good acting throughout help it maintain that high floor. Good use of region and locations.

3. Fences
I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by Fences, which now sits alongside Doubt as a quality play-to-screen adaptation. Denzel does so much quality, heavy lifting of hegemonic hypermasculinity and Viola Davis was such a quality add. They develop a believable push-pull chemistry.

2. Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water grew on me a fair amount as I compared it to the other Best Picture nominees. It’s a good genre film (neo-Western chase / cops n’ robbers), but also transcends it. It’s message and lessons about economic dislocation, pride, and justice are timely and reverberate loudly. Good casting, including Ben Foster at his manic best.

Ought to win: La La Land
Easily my favorite-best of the year, so I’m glad it’s the odds-on favorite for the big win. A lot of it is sheer set-up for the ending–about the same ratio Lion has–but boy what an ending. When you deliver one on par with Casablanca’s, your work is done here, with credit to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. My initial thought about it coming out of the theater was that Chazelle knew he had made a good enough film–had enough quality and craft laid down–to merit and support that ending. He slots it in there with confidence and panache; he is clear-eyed and full-hearted. That being said, I probably would’ve given it Best Picture right off as a riposte to the snobs criticizing the dancing and singing. Save your plastic pantomime, junkies. It’s been criticized for supposed nostalgia, but I think it’s more subversive than not on that front, and I agree with Charles Turner that “The making of modernity has sought to provide a defence of nostalgia as a critical tool of analysis. In this respect the nostalgic imagination may be a defensible, and at least an intelligent response to the end of the social.”* Relatedly, it exists rather independently of its Hollywood trappings and jazz parts, and is more universal than some critics are acknowledging. For one, New Englander Chazelle almost set in in Boston (he borrowed heavily from his own Boston-set film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench). It’s very explicit and knowing about this, like with the use of the on-lot coffee shop–going from “reality” to “dreamland” just so; the movers moving the picture of California orange groves; the cartoon depiction of Mia’s audition. This is all explicit attention to and a deconstruction of the artificiality, symbolism, and tropes here. It’s a meta-commentary. Maybe that’s an annoying self-innoculating move by Chazelle, but I think it works overall and I appreciated it. Other criticisms also seem rather misplaced, shading into the over-cynical. Gosling and Stone’s characters have been criticized as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and as “narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest.” Saying they’re both Manic Pixie Dreamers for each other seems to negate itself, and I’m pretty sure that criticism is incompatible with the second one. There may be some (Manic) Pixie Dream dust, but not a lot I don’t think–their characters are too independent. Also, I’m with the coiner of the term, Nathan Rabin, who has since renounced it in saying that “nuanced characters cannot be classified in such a restricted nature.”** I still think it can be a useful term in a narrow sense, but maybe at its sloppiest goes to Zoe Kazan’s charges of it being “reductive, diminutive, and misogynistic.” I also believe there can be manic pixie dream aspects alongside an equality between characters, and that seems to be the case here. Regarding the supposed narcissism and self-interest, I think that would have to overlook what is arguably the plot fulcrum of the whole movie, where Sebastian misunderstands/misinterprets a conversation Mia is having with her mother. From that overhear, he thinks she wants him to go the John Legend & Co. route. He thinks he’s pleasing her, which is the opposite of narcissism. That being said, the scene where they argue about it is frustrating. It seems artificially strained and too much of a shortcut. Finally, Seb is not some white savior of jazz. He doesn’t like the Legend Tour, but his purism and stubbornness is directly corrected by John Legend’s character, and I think the ultimate dream suggested, shared by Mia, is to have his own club that, if anything, is fusion and pluralist or whatever. It’s part of his evolution. I mean, his look at the end? That’s pure subjectivity.

Will win: La La Land

Bill Paxton in Terminator

Bill Paxton in The Terminator

Supportive Women in Cinema
5. Nicole Kidman
4. Octavia Spencer
3. Michelle Williams
2. Viola Davis
“Anything he can’t understand he wanna call it the devil.”
Ought to win: Naomie Harris
Does a lot with what little she’s given. Really hits those emotional high notes. “I just thought at the start of my career, I’m gonna make it my mission—or the criteria in which I choose roles—is gonna ensure that I’m representing positive images of women. So initially I had huge reservations about taking on the role, and it wasn’t until [director] Barry [Jenkins] explained to me that this was based on his own mother, you know, and that’s what really touched me, and I thought ‘Here is somebody who has a vested interest in ensuring that this character doesn’t become reduced to being a stereotype.”  “No Small Parts
Will win: Davis

Natalie Portman: Yeah, ‘cause there are, like, particular cultures in different towns and—
Michelle Williams: There were [?] and they were so particular about that. When I went up to this area there’s these towns that all abut each other…but they’re so distinct, you know, and like you go to Beverly and they’re like “Don’t you dare make it sound like Gloucester,” and you go to Gloucester and they’re like “We are nothing like Manchester-by-the-Sea’ and you’re like “Oh, God, I hope that you guys—I hope that it’s okay!”  “Natalie Portman & Michelle Williams — Actors on Actors” (Variety)

“The first time I saw Moonlight, the character of Paula felt like a misstep. In such a personal movie, to find what felt like an overburdened stock trope of black poverty was a disappointment. Then I saw the movie again. And I kept my eye on Harris: how she closes her eyes, warily, after a strange man brings her son home; how she barrels, spindly and unpredictably, toward Chiron when she’s locked out of the house; how her hand shakes while lighting a cigarette after years of being sober. As much as Moonlight is a movie about a time in a boy’s life, it’s also about the same time in his mother’s life. It’s advertised as a triptych tracing three distinct moments in Chiron’s journey. Telling that story means becoming a three-part series of snapshots of all the characters, including Chiron’s mother, whose life plays out as a nascent struggle with crack that becomes a full-blown addiction before finally evening out on the road to recovery. Paula is a supporting role, but a primary force, so much so that Harris is the only actor to appear in all three parts of the movie. The movie is very much like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) in that sense: shifts in the mother’s life loom so large in the story that she at times feels like a colead.”  “Naomie Harris’s Voice Is a Secret Weapon in ‘Moonlight’

Bill Paxton, Near Dark

Bill Paxton, Near Dark

Most Supportive Man
5. Dev Patel
4. Mahershala Ali
3. Michael Shannon
2. Jeff Bridges
Ought to win: Lucas Hedges
Will win: M.Ali

Our Man Michael Shan: I read that Christmas monologue, about that guy who hates Christmas.
I got the script in the mail, I read it, I thought, “Wow this is really bleak, I don’t know if this is for me.” … We [Shannon and Tom Ford] talked for a little while, I was like “This guy’s super smart. I bet he’ll make a good movie,” so I said yes; but I like the character Bobby because I’m really into those Jim Thompson books…so for me Bobby…could’ve been a character out of that genre. You know, playin’ a detective is fun, and all that.
Driver: You ever seen Fishing with John?
Shannon: No, I haven’t seen that show.
Driver: They’re really funny.
Shannon: People love that.
Driver: Yeah.
Shannon: Let me ask you somethin’: TV, stage, film–what do you prefer?
Driver: I don’t have a preference, do you?
Shannon: Theater.
Driver: Really?
Shannon: Yeah.
Driver: Why?
Shannon: There’s just less interference. There’s less people in your business, you know? You just get to go out there and nobody walks up and starts, like, touchin’ your face. [Driver laughs] You just go out there and say your lines and when you’re done, you’re done–you know?; and you can really–I just feel like it’s easier to get momentum on stage.
Shannon: I don’t want to get in a litigious situation here, but it wasn’t safe.”

Queen of the Castle!
5. Meryl Streep
4. Ruth Negga
3. Isabelle Huppert
2. Natalie Portman
“A woman should be allowed to be whole range of things, and just a complete human being on screen—the way men are portrayed.”  “Natalie Portman argues that ‘Jackie’ goes beyond ‘strong woman’ stereotypes
Ought to win: Emma Stone
Will win: Stone

“In an aptly exhaustive examination of the actor’s approach, Alex Abad-Santos over at Vox breaks down the historical significance of Jackie’s accent with the help of several linguistic experts. Not quite transatlantic and not quite New York, Kennedy’s accent was a product of her wealthy upbringing along with a childhood split between Southampton and Long Island. The driving force of her accent, though, came from her years in school in Manhattan. At this time, well-to-do students, much like Kennedy herself, were taught a mixture of American English with British English in order to encourage a seemingly posh dialect. Usually this was seen in the dropping of “r”s, referred to as non-rhotic affectation. Natalie Portman’s portrayal is rooted in a historical context, which is what makes aspects of her performance feel so unfamiliar. Jackie’s accent is not only an odd mixture of varied sources, inconsistent in the way only humans can be, but her accent exists in a time completely foreign to most people of a younger generation.”  “Natalie Portman’s ‘Jackie’ Accent May Sound Strange, But History Backs It Up

“Before the Oscars ceremony kicked off, Emma Stone had already cemented her place on the evening’s best dressed lists in an Oscar-gold old Hollywood gown. But her most noteworthy accessory was in service of a cause: a small golden pin in the shape of Planned Parenthood’s logo. Stone was not the only star who made a subtle political statement on the red carpet. Dakota Johnson sported Planned Parenthood’s logo on her clutch, and several stars —including nominees Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ruth Negga—wore blue ribbons in support of the American Civil Liberties Union.”  “Emma Stone Made a Political Statement With Her Accessories Before the Oscars Even Began

Bill Paxton and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies

Bill Paxton and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies

Best Baby Boy
5. Ryan Gosling
4. Andrew Garfield
3. Casey Affleck
2. Denzel Washington
“Death ain’t nothin’ but a fastball on the outside of the plate.”
Ought to win: Viggo Mortensen
“Are they sick? Everyone’s so fat!” Mortensen is the Reluctant-but-Happy Warrior-Driver of an alternative schoolbus of a film that is propelled by supreme feeling and heart. As he usually does in roles, I love how he delivers such feeling, impact, and high stakes so quietly. He’s an actor’s actor.
Will win: Denzel

Bill Paxton in Aliens

Bill Paxton in Aliens

Finest Direction, in a Filmic Sense
5. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
4. Dennis Villeneuve, Arrival
3. Melly Gibs, Hacksaw Ridge
2. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Ought to win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Will win: Chazelle

“The longevity and relevance of Gibson’s career up until 2006 was almost unparalleled. From his beginnings in 1979’s ‘Mad Max’ to the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise to his five ‘Braveheart’ Oscars that included best picture and director, the Australian-raised, devout Roman Catholic seemed to defy the career slumps that rendered many of his peers obsolete over the years. He has a particular gift for themes of redemption through violence and suffering; ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ which has already been described as an ‘inspirational’ comeback and a ‘miracle’ for his career, follows that template. In the World War II drama about an army medic who also happened to be a Seventh Day Adventist and pacifist, a man’s faith is tested, he’s nearly destroyed, he repents, he’s exonerated. … When asked what he might tell his younger self if given the opportunity, Gibson answered: ‘Don’t be so caught up in the little things; take advantage of all the gifts the world has to offer; and live every day to the fullest.’ Then he added: ‘I’d also tell my younger self to shut the f— up.”  “Mel Gibson goes from most hated man in Hollywood to receiving a standing ovation

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell, and Bill Paxton in Tombstone

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell, and Bill Paxton in Tombstone

Topmost Writing That Now Has a Second (Lease On) Life, Which You May or May Not Have Seen Coming
5. Arrival
4. Moonlight
3. Lion
2. Hidden Figures
Should win: Fences
Will win: Moonlight

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13

Writing Newly Born, Already Superlative
5. Hell or High Water
4. La La Land
3. Manchester by the Sea
2. 20th Century Women
Ought to win: The Lobster
Will win: Manchester

Bill Paxton in Weird Science

Bill Paxton in Weird Science

Film Editing
5. Hell or High Water
4. Moonlight
3. Arrival
2. Hacksaw Ridge
Ought to win: La La Land
Will win: La La Land

“After suggesting that a civil war would be the only way to prevent Trump from assuming the highest office in the land, Shannon asserts that if you feel okay about supporting his presidency, it’s probably time for you to just die already. ‘There’s a lot of old people who need to realize they’ve had a nice life, and it’s time for them to move on,’ Shannon said. ‘Because they’re the ones who go out and vote for these assholes. If you look at the young people, between 18 and 25, if it was up to them, Hillary would have been president. No offense to the seniors out there. My mom’s a senior citizen. But if you’re voting for Trump, it’s time for the urn.’ And if your parents voted for Trump? ‘Fuck ’em. You’re an orphan now. Don’t go home. Don’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Don’t talk to them at all. Silence speaks volumes.’ Despite being from the red state of Kentucky, Shannon says that no one in his immediate family ‘would ever remotely consider voting for Trump.’ So, it sounds like no one around his holiday hearth will have to sit frozen in terror as he stares them down with his severely threatening gaze.” Jordan Crucchiola, “Michael Shannon Tells Trump Supporters It’s Their Time to Die Now” Vulture, 11-17-16

*Charles Turner, “Sacred sociology: the life and times of Phillip Rieff” Theory, Culture and Society, 28(3): 80-105 (2011), as cited in Sociological Noir: Irruptions and the Darkness of Modernity (2016)

**From TV Tropes: “Unfortunately, the term ended up being misused to describe simply quirky female characters, with many who are actually well-rounded being given this label. Rabin would later disown the term, because instead of creating awareness of the ‘lack of independent goals in female characters’, the concept instead accidentally ended up suggesting that ALL quirky and fun women automatically merited this trope, whether they actually fit in or not. Despite all that (or because of all that), there are ways of utilizing this trope without falling into that pitfall.”

michael-shannon-hair

vs.

jccalhoun_400x400

Yale’s smart choice in renaming Calhoun College

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Oh Dear: The 89th Academy Awards; or, We All Pee the Same Color

main-actor-leonardo-dicaprio-accepts-the-best-actor-award-for-the-revenant-onstage-during-the-88th-annual-academy

The Oscars come but once a year.  Who shall, shalln’t, and shouldn’t win that sweet, sweet Oscar gold?   It’s time to put some shrimp on ice, grab a crisp porter ale, and watch the thrills, shills, probably a La La Land medley, and big Jim Kimmel tell us a consoling thing or two about Dan Trimp!  Buckle up your britches, sweet ones!

To the lists!!

(Some spoilers ahead)

Finest Direction, in a Filmic Sense

5. Melly Gibbons

From Metacritic:

TrevorsView  Jan 13, 2017

This is what Spider-Man should have been all this time. Here is what Ben Affleck should have done with Batman. Here is a true hero that outshines anyone wearing a colorful, shiny million dollar suit. In fact, all he has to suit him up and protect him from death is the holy word of God. He won’t even dream of laying either an eye or a finger on a rifle. If today’s superheroes can’t help us through gun control, then this real-life hero of Hacksaw Ridge can.

Gib.  You’ve won the game.  You’re a gibbon now.

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4. Denis Villeneuve

Other than the noisome dead girl plot device there’s nothing too unethical going on here, and I applaud anyone trying out something like a cool sci-fi that thinks about how your language informs your thought processes.  It’s just such a fumble on the narrative logic and character interaction fronts.  Not much feels intuitive.

3. Damien Chazelle

Some good production design and cinematography.  I’m just in the camp that would have preferred some more song and dance. Either that or a more layered story.  And perhaps it was a fool’s errand to expect the pace and specificity that made Whiplash what it was to have been in La La’s DNA.  Still, Simmons’ presence in both films underpins my theory that they take place in the same universe, wherein Simmons is some sort of Two-Face like villain that alternately goes around dumbing down and heightening jazz to its furthest extremes.

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2. Kenneth Lonergan

I agree with everyone who liked the subtle black comedy elements and clever little touches that make Manchester breathe with authenticity.  I also agree that there’s something of a built in ceiling with how closely it hews to its one terrible event informing just about everything with regards to Affleck’s lead role.  But that’s more of a feature than a bug in a project that works at a high level at what it wants to do.

1. Barry Jenkins

There’s always something of a pendulum push-back effect when a critical darling like Moonlight is so characterized by the prominence of its cinematography (that critic’s delight) and a camp decries it as critic bait.  Sometimes they’re right.  When they’re right, it’s often because the film lacks clarity or panders to a fault.  I don’t think either is the case here, this is potent human stuff.  One note: the chair that broke the bully’s back really shatters pro-wrestling style.  We need better chairs, DeVos.

Shall Prevail: Barry Jenkins(!)

The idea seems to be that Moonlight is the only real dark horse to the La La Land Juggernaut, so let’s go out on a limb and say this year they split Director and Picture honors, thus spreading the wealth.  But yeah, probably Chazelle.

 

Most Supportive Man

5. Dev Patel

Very standard role in a very typical awards season biopic, Patel is an ol’ hunk emoting a great deal, just what the doctor ordered.  It’s just a tough film to love.  As with Viola Davis, hard to tell how this ends up in the supporting category.  He’s on screen for almost all of his half of the two hour running time.  And that…probably means they should’ve branched out a little.

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4. Lucas Hedges

I don’t know if the film sets up the role to be all that dynamic, with a lot filmed over his or Affleck’s shoulders, or outside the car as they bicker in the car.  Definitely convinces as a young man right at the center of mourning and puberty, leaves nothing wanted.  Would like to know what position he plays on the hockey team. He seems like a defenceman.

3. Mahershala Ali

Very memorable in a small role, and in a very dialogue-light film, delivers the best lines.  Would like to have seen some more of him, but his absence after the first act is deliberate, any more and Moonlight is a very different film.

2. Jeff Bridges

He’s somewhere on the spectrum of witty disaffection he’s been playing over and over now, and that mode may be wearing a little thin, but I for one am still having fun.  It’s a shame his half of High Water’s narrative is the more rote, but he does sell the pivot from comedian to revenge seeker well.  It’s a shame his story doesn’t seem to quite contribute to the film’s more interesting takeaways at first glance, but then again, the politics of revenge is not a bad way of putting what the film seems to be thinking about.

1. Michael Shannon

A Juggernautish favorite and a true champion in general, Shannon brings his effortless charisma and a Cohen Bros.-ian jolt of dark humor to the project.  He starts off seemingly untrustworthy, dismissive and antagonistic, only to inevitably reveal himself as a fierce knight of pulpy justice.  He’s exceedingly well-cast.  It’s a real shame Nocturnal Animals ends on an ill-advised, reductive twist.

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Shall Prevail: Mahershala Ali

 

Supportive Women in Cinema

5. Nicole Kidman

No complaints, she’s just not given much to do.

4. Octavia Spencer

Hidden Figures has as charismatic a cast as you could ask for.  Taraji Henderson, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner are all pretty good too. I think this nomination kind of works as one for the entire team.  Teamwork is what it’s about.

3. Michelle Williams

Strong work in a small role, very effectively simulates the process of crying while trying to communicate in words that just want to jumble out at random; the panic and despair as an inevitable parting inevitably arrives.  I think it’s shrewd that we see her so little throughout the film before, makes that moment more powerful.

2. Naomie Harris

Delivers in a big way on the volatility front, including a scene that seems to want to evoke a panic attack on the part of the protagonist, and boy does she make a catalyst.  As Moonlight is set up as to depict the protagonist’s mindspace, she’s not allowed to reveal a ton of unexpected layers.  She’s remote, but she’s supposed to be because that’s how her son feels about her.

1. Viola Davis

Where the film is mostly shot in a minimal way evocative of the stage, which can sometimes leave actors to struggle when they’re not speaking or directly engaged by who is, does a really impressive job communicating without words.  And when she is speaking, look out.  Classically done.

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Shall Prevail: Viola Davis

 

Best Baby Boy

*Viggo Mortensen

Role unseen as of today.  The light of thethirdrevelation’s life reports, however, that’s he’s fine, just doesn’t have much material worth elevating to Oscar gold realms.

4. Ryan Gosling

Not to knock, but one wonders with both him and Stone how the whole project may have resonated differently with lesser known actors as Hollywood unknowns.  Narratively, I never got what turned Stone’s Mia on to Seb given the Debbie Downer routine she receives, short fusing the whole romance.  Whether that’s on the director or the actor is anyone’s guess.

3. Andrew Garfield

For what it’s worth, I did appreciate Garfield in Hacksaw, he certainly exudes what he’s asked to.  Not kidding, Spider-man had to be a good experience to be able to draw from for the hero’s tale.  I would say let’s hope Hollywood gets its ‘based on true events’ obsession out of its system, but that’s probably a pipe dream.

2. Denzel Washington

You can tell he’s spent time playing the character, I can only imagine seeing him live.  Perhaps the biggest feat is his ability to leave you any sympathy for the character despite allowing himself so little in the performance to elicit it.

1. Casey Affleck

He’s seems a little one note but that’s exactly the idea: he’s a man left hiding in a note. He’s a tough onion to peel, yet peel he does.  Tears ensue.  For those new to the actor, do yourself a favor and check out the excellent and little seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Take a wild guess who Affleck plays.

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Shall Prevail: Denzel Washington

Which is also a great choice.

 

Queen of the Castle!

5. Natalie Portman

For someone perhaps under-educated as to the Kennedy family and the finer details surrounding the assassination, Jackie came off at times a touch hollow, perhaps geared toward the expert?  Portman’s shock, seething bitterness and despair register impressively, but I found myself regularly wondering if I was lacking context knowledge to understand layers of meaning behind why she emphasizes or chooses certain turns of phrase just so, leaving the screenplay feeling scattered as often as arch, especially when ruminating on legacy.  As far as simulation, which seems to be our raison d’être, the remake of the 1962 White House tour and production design generally is fairly captivating, though Portman’s approximation of Jackie’s accent and manner feels a little over-played.

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4. Emma Stone

Stone has one of the most expressive faces in Hollywood and it’s certainly on display here.  She’s deceptively great with the audition line readings, easily my favorite part of the film: some seem perfectly fine, some are a just little flat so you can see why casting would pass, and some are delightfully clunky.

3. Meryl Streep Sweet Sheep

I went into Florence Foster Jenkins with little knowledge of the woman or her singing.  The key bit of Streep’s performance is spent caterwauling incredibly badly, and for the uninitiated, it sounds impossibly over the top, and not as singularly hilarious as her audiences seem to find it (she couldn’t have been that bad).  Then, the film ends with a brief snippet of the real Jenkins’ singing and… we really would have been well served with that as a prologue because it turns out she was exactly that bad, and Streep is basically nailing it.

If one can ignore that the film portrays Jenkins as more oblivious than she may have been for effect, I actually enjoyed it.  Before things end with an inevitable melodramatic cudgeling, there’s a lot of razor sharp comic timing, along with a good balance of silly and sweet.  It mostly earns its warmness, and Streep is a treat.  Hugh Grant is also very good, resembling thirdrevelation favorite Patrick McGoohan in feature, regal posture and clipped intonation.

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2. Ruth Negga

Loving may be one of the most underappreciated films of the year, at least, coming from a fan of Juggernautish favorite director Jeff Nichols.  It’s fascinating how motifs from earlier Nichols films–here the paranoia is finally 100% clearly justified–naturally fit this story.  Negga is working with a high degree of difficulty, hitting home completely without the benefit of anything in the way of showcase moments.  She doesn’t need them.

1. Isabelle Huppert

I don’t speak a lick of French and this is a dialogue-heavy film so I’m limited in my appraisal, but even so, Huppert  is mesmerizing while owning the strange core of a Verhoeven project that seems to want to subvert every trope it can imagine and then double back again (maybe fecklessly at times).  None of it works if Huppert doesn’t command both such authentic and variously affected beats.  I’m not sure if any specific light bulb went on for me as far as agency, sex, aging, role playing, or any of the myriad themes at play in Elle, but that seems to be by design, for worse or better.  While I’m not sure how I feel about the film at the end of the day, Huppert is damn engaging.

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Shall Prevail: Emma Stone

 

Finest Picture, for All Mankind

For this section, we’re employing the first annual On Cinema At the Cinema style rating system, for your enjoyment and an enriched context, and so you know what to watch and what to skip.  All are champions of Oscar glory, they were nominated for Best Picture were they not?  It’s a 1 to 5 scale.

9. Lion — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe an Oscar, I think that’s the idea

The less known about it going in the better, as Weinstein co.’s true-story biopic comes with a ceiling on its dramatic stakes to begin with. Half Calcutta tourist flick about a lost little boy in an incredibly dangerous situation that seems hellbent on always pivoting away from implying real peril as quickly as possible, half gauzy award performance showcase, it at least benefits from not dealing with a major figure and the associated mangling of history (see The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The King’s Speech, etc).

Like with so many biopics, it’s a shame there isn’t time to characterize anyone much beyond their immediate relation to Brierley’s central conflict. His girlfriend and adoptive family never suggest much of a life beyond, so their incredibly steadfast support feels neither here nor there.  The same lack of context goes for Bierley’s specific conflict—what’s he like when he’s not Googling his birthplace, nuzzling post coitus, or brooding (“We swan about in our privileged lives!!”)?  Does he have a dog?  A little…chow or something?

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8. Hacksaw; or, Dip and a Ridged Chip — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a Bible–you forgot yours

Hacksaw Ridge just scans as too silly to gain any dramatic traction, coming off as propaganda, at least to the uninitiated.  I always appreciate a reluctant warrior story and a man sticking to his guns, so to speak.  Desmond Doss’ is a story worth knowing.  But this is rote and perfunctory to a surreal degree, kind of a time capsule from the conservative 50’s.  The stalker romance, the way he forgets his bible (of course he did!) just so.  Such a wonderful backlit boy.  The squad members who really terrorized Dodd reduced to lovable scamps.  The battles are well done in a sense, and the gore is appreciated insofar as, if you’re going to depict war, the more realism the better.  But this is consistently staged as a heart-pumping action flick: the two week campaign condensed into two days, the stormtrooper enemies that can’t hit our hero as he’s portrayed leaping from man to man just yards away, always at the nick of time, the force-fielded edge of the ridge where he keeps doing his pulley thing.  We seem to be closer to playing army guys than a Saving Private Ryan, which earned its melodrama more convincingly through the unflinching-take-on-war idea.  Garfield gives a strong performance for what it’s worth, he certainly exudes what was asked.

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7. Arrival — Five Bags of Popcorn, and maybe a Copy of David Bowie’s 1969 Album David Bowie, Featuring “Space Oddity”

Arrival is definitely to be applauded for the macro message on cooperation, and it tries to get there with some slick sci-fi imagery and the concept of linguistic relativity: the idea that language and thought processes influence one another, which is beautiful and true.  It’s gotten a lot of praise for being smart, and it is in a sense, but a disinterest in character building, along with multiple ticking-time-bomb scenarios there just to inject a sense of stakes that never feel credible, dulls things down.  Like Interstellar, another notably ‘smart’ sci-fi, it seems to want to turn you on to science (great!) but doesn’t trust the audience to follow along without an emotional gut wrenching it doesn’t really need.  If the dead little girl for the sake of pathos doesn’t ruffle you, fair enough, but at least a set up where the alien language grants Adams, maybe, keen foresight, or a new perspective on the situation, rather than full on reverse total recall would be welcome.  Arrival was adapted from a short story “Story of Your Life” and everything likely comes across more smoothly on the page, where I understand the action movie aspects are absent.  Hey,  at least now we know why McConaughey’s hero is himself five years in the future.

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6. Hidden Figures — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe enough fuel for the delta-V we need for re-entry burn

Four(!) years after Alfonso Cauron’s Gravity taught us to keep our heads down, we have a pro-space movie!  We could have trimmed a scene or two, but a solid ensemble cast and enough attention-capturing lines–“At NASA we all pee the same color”—leaves us in a stable orbit.  At $145m domestic, Hidden Figures was the top grossing film of 2016 that wasn’t a tentpole/franchise or animated sing-fest designed to become one.  Not incidentally, it’s also a standard-bearer for a year that saw a record number of top 100 films with female leads.

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5. La La Land — Five bags of Popcorn, and a big ol’ dumptruck, for all that Oscar gold

One narrative on La La Land is that it’s largely a setup to quite a payoff of an emotional punch at the end, and where you stand will depend on whether that punch gets through to you.  Well, it didn’t, but I’m not a hater.  From production stills and Chazelle’s excellent Whiplash I came in figuring that if nothing else this would have a very specific voice to it, one that may or may not strike a personal chord (and please, no cheap nostalgia) but something clear.  It turns out any nostalgia going on is nicely embedded in the production design and the story’s nothing if not direct.  Any really harsh criticism of Stone and Gosling’s song and dance routines is off base—what do you expect, Danny Kaye?—but for a musical that’s in part a love letter to musicals (right?) it’s a little short on songs.  So we just don’t have many opportunities for “wow” moments, say, on the level of Anne Hathaway’s show stopper from Les Mis or even Channing Tatum’s elaborate dance sequence in Hail, Ceasar! this year.  The romance didn’t do much for me, largely as we’re never really shown why Mia responds to Seb’s rude Debbie Downer in the first place, but I do appreciate the theme of keeping alive the spirit of worthwhile things, and how difficult that is.

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4. Fences– Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a copy of Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune album, featuring “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

I’m no great student of the stage, but made comment while watching Fences that I hate how critics seem to knock stage to screen adaptations for leaving things stagey, as if it’s a sin in and of itself.  That can be a tool too, guys.  A less inside-out approach could have made some of the monologues sound a bit less like, well, monologues, but a monologue once in a while isn’t so bad. Washington and Davis are both superlative.  The depiction of the disabled brother comes off as a product of the 50’s in more ways than one, though, kind of dated at best and a clunky narrative contrivance at worst.  The arc with the football-playing son is surprisingly moving.

Broadway Opening Night Celebration For "Fences"

 

3. Moonlight — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a chrome grill, because I’m honestly still not sure how they work

Probably the best cinematography and command of texture and mood of the set, sometimes bringing Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) to mind without the freaky-cosmic.  Moonlight is effectively restrained in its storytelling, and if the surreal and minimalist tendencies are a little showy, I still found it pretty sumptuous, especially with it’s knack for being quiet.  This is a story about a quiet soul.   It may be limited by the thee part structure, especially where a hell of a lot happens unseen between the second and third act.  Just a bit more connective tissue there may have gone a way toward helping the emotional payoff land, but, then again, the lack of it lends the last sequence a unique sort of mysteriousness.

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2. Manchester by the Sea — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a funeral pyre like they used in Medieval times

Putting a ton of pressure on Affleck, Manchester comes off even more singularly about its particular damaged protagonist than Moonlight, which feels like it speaks to more universal feelings and experiences.  Idiosyncrasy is the name of the game here, and Affleck comes through quite impressively, even if the persona he creates is so interior as to be perhaps not as indelible as some of the classic depictions of damaged people.  Your mileage may vary.  As abashfulharvestman pointed out to me, Manchester may be limited by hewing so closely to its “terrible thing fulcrum”; at the least, I’d like to have seen the characters explored from some more inconspicuous life events.  Still, excellent screenplay in its way, and I was torn between Affleck and Washington for best baby boy.

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1. Hell or High Water  — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a ticket to Westworld, because I keep having this dream I can’t wake up from and I’m not sure if I did something wrong

OK, in the end, I don’t quite know where to put Hell or High Water.  I’ll say this: it’s always nice to put something at the end of your list that strikes a personal chord, presenting something you noticed that maybe not everyone did.  Since we’ve been making these should-wins, Her struck that chord for me in 2013;  Whiplash, and even Amour almost did, Argo maybe not so much.

The revenge on the Banks angle is admittedly blunt as far as allegory, to start.  And I don’t know if the characters come to life perfectly: Pine is empathetic if not entirely convincing; Foster is exciting but maybe overacting; Bridges is very charming, but that particular mode of his is getting a bit predictable.  But the visceral takeaway for me, and I think it’s entirely purposeful, is the local civilians’ (who I think we’re to understand are also bank victims) universal and immediate eagerness to engage in high-holy ballistics.  To discharge their holy weapons, dispensing justice.  In this otherwise almost oppressively sparse, deserted, sleepy environment, they’ve been itching for it, for that posse. To be sure, this is in response to a bank robbery, with the pointing of loaded guns at people, so there’s a measure of balance here, some justification.  We’re not exactly demonizing.

Who’s being robbed?  Everybody?  So, some are robbing, and some are shooting robbers.  And even the robbers, for all we know, OK, probably, are voting for their banks, and their station, because at the end of the day, violence and mayhem is what we respond to and use.  I need to do a rewatch, but I believe the civilian shoots first in the botched bank job, not the cop or the robber.  The story of the cop partners may not tie into that theme as well as it could, but on the other end, it also ends up being a story about where and why you ought to point your gun.

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Shall Prevail: La La Land


Favorite Best Songs of 2015

Umberto Eco: “The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.”

Der Spiegel: “Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can’t be realistically completed?”
Eco: “We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

“[L]ists are magical…Lists and litanies are incantations; they can soothe or arouse or bemuse.”  –Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Italian Days

“Shortly after the death last month of David Bowie, for instance, [Bernie Sanders campaign aide Marc] Levitt said he was hunkered down in his apartment in Washington listening to the English rocker’s music and wondering ‘whether we could incorporate him into our playlist.’ ‘Starman,’ an early 1970s song by Bowie, is now blasted when Sanders leaves the stage after his events.”  “Songs of ‘revolution’ and others that make Bernie Sanders’s playlist

Bernie Sanders with supporter

Bernie Sanders with supporter

Q: “What does a Bernie playlist taste like?”
A: “…It’s like the most delicious cup of coffee ever. It tastes so good, and after that you’re just amped. We’re on the road a lot and going to these chain coffee places, grabbing coffee just to wake up. But every once in a while you go to a real coffee house, order one and just think, ‘Oh my God.”
Q: “He’s the real coffee house?”
A: “Yeah. He’s that amazing cup of coffee and that feeling you get 15 minutes after your first sip where you think, ‘Oh man, I feel it.”
Meet the Man Who Pumps Up Bernie Sanders: DJ Mel

Lately, Sanders has been featuring Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” Bowie’s “Starman,” and Muse’s “Uprising.”

“It’s Deesha Dyer’s first week in a new job that nothing in her back story suggested she would ever hold: White House social secretary. The job has historically been the province of upper-class white women with pedigree, connections and political networks. Dyer arrived in Washington with none of these. She was a girl from a hard-knock neighborhood in West Philadelphia who dropped out of college, got a 9-to-5, developed a side-hustle writing about Philly’s hip-hop and soul scene, went to community college, and at age 31 became a White House intern. It’s a résumé that would be highly unusual even among the more eclectic guests at White House state dinners — and now Dyer will be the woman who organizes them.”  “Deesha Dyer: How a hip-hop lover from Philly became social secretary

25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going

 

‘Twas a robust year for new music. I set out to be comprehensive and managed to collect 123 songs that I thought crossed the threshold. I’ve ranked them largely for convenience: a lot are clustered rather closely together; for instance, there’s not that much separating #75 from #50, and a number could go up or down a fair number of slots based on my mood. One, two, three–let’s jump in:

David Bowie is jumping in with us

David Bowie is jumping in with us

“My favorite memory was the time we did ‘Dancing in the Street’ together. We had to record the song and film the video all in one day. We walked straight from the studio onto the set of the video. At the end of the day, we were saying, ‘See, it can be done! Why are [we] spending years in the studio?’ We enjoyed camping it up. The video is hilarious to watch. It was the only time we really collaborated on anything, which is really stupid when you think about it.”  –Mick Jagger (“Mick Jagger Remembers David Bowie: ‘He Would Share So Much With Me“)

 

123. Beirut — “No No No”  No No No
“It’s a jaunty, syncopated, playful tune with a simple yet anthemic melody. The horn arrangements bring depth to the song’s spirited repetition. It’s undeniably Beirut — and a joyfully welcome return.”  (NPR)

122. New Order — “Plastic”  Music Complete
“At this point, the history of New Order is mythic. Like something Ovidian or divined by celestial heat, it is a creation story that begins in total darkness: ‘the dim rubble that was Joy Division fell, cleared, and gave way to a new earth— a New Order.’ … Handsomely crafted, freshly configured and at least a little oily, ‘Plastic,’ off the Manchester band’s cockily and righteously titled tenth studio album, Music Complete, is one of its most New Order-y songs since 1993’s Republic. … As with all of New Order’s finest, the song is fatless and crystalline — no cloudy chord changes, no Trojan-Horse song structures — just clean, modulated Newness. It comes in silky layers: (1) the latest in rhythm-technology textures, (2) a beat as sparkling and carbonated as something produced by Giorgio Moroder for Donna Summer, and (3) synths that crest and fall like sine waves. As ever, vocalist Bernard Sumner’s speak-singing is the gleaming glass topcoat, sealing the track with a serene little lyrical jab in [its] coda: ‘You’re like plastic, you’re artificial……..!”  (NPR)

121. Neon Indian — “Slumlord Rising  VEGA INTL. Night School
“‘It’s easy to be the miser/ When no one’s the wiser,’ [Alan Palomo] sings in a near-falsetto on ‘Slumlord’, against a pliant shuffle that hits its stride on the turnaround. Palomo’s lyrics arise and get submerged again—before the outro, where everything swirls into a live setting led by a Spanish announcer—with lines about ‘shaking our pockets loose’ and another that goes, ‘They say that this place ain’t got a heart/ I can still hear the beat.’ The effect is like dancing faces glimpsed for one flash in an otherwise darkened nightclub, suggesting one last gasp of the ecstatic before the hard reality of NYC life returns the morning after. Palomo sings that the rent is too damned high, but he’s dancing anyway.”  (Pitchfork)

120. Gregory Porter — “Liquid Spirit  Liquid Spirit
“‘My mother used to always talk about this water, this renewing, this cleansing, this flow of energy,’ he said. ‘I’m not speaking of the Gospel in every aspect. Sometimes it’s love, which is liquid spirit.’ He added: ‘The energy of the song, “Liquid Spirit,” comes from people saying, “Where can I find more music like this?” So there’s a thirst for it.’”  (New York Times)

119. Jam City — “Today  Dream a Garden
“Vivid and deeply idiosyncratic, the producer seems able to not only build his own sonic alphabet but to bend and break those rules as he sees fit. The track comes equipped with the following note: “Outside, beyond the screens, sticky and beautiful, undecided, dry grass is ready to burn. Our dreams are self-medicating; their dreams are boring. Who can afford them anyway? Times up. We’re too tired for sleep, we’re ready to push back, together. Spring is here. Not tomorrow, Today.”  (Clash Music)

“One of club music’s most celebrated artists returned this week with a politically charged pop record. Lisa Blanning gets the story behind Jam City’s radical metamorphosis.” “Jam City Today

118. Jaga Jazzist — “Oban
“It’s a testament to the compositions that if listened to loud this is an assault, but if listened to outside of the confines of volume, this becomes meditative, spacious, invigorating. ‘Oban’, in particular, really benefits from taking a degree of detachment – an odd approach to take when listening to an album, admittedly. When ‘Oban’ is pumped out, it really swings; rolling keyboards underpin reeds and xylophones build and recede. But when left to seep into a room, this is jazz like no other, at once classic and futuristic, a strange and alien force. Hooks and refrains disappear and re-emerge from unusual places and when one particular string [segment] swells from within a floating, lost black hole of ambience, it’s a definitive moment for the band. The band that sounded in awe of Stereolab on One-Armed Bandit has gone, Jaga Jazzist is now a band Stereolab would have to aspire to be. Starfire documents an incredibly talented band pushing themselves – and succeeding.”  (Drowned in Sound)

117. Deafheaven — “Come Back  New Bermuda
“Questions about the placement of Deafheaven on the metal spectrum have been discussed to shreds. They are generally moot when it comes to songs as sprawling and intricate as ‘Come Back’, the second single from their upcoming album, New Bermuda. The nine-minute track opens with crystalline guitar work backed up against a wall of nasty noise, all fangs and claws, which rattles and hisses until it breaks open roughly halfway through. At this point, the reptilian evolves into the birdlike, the fluttering melody of blissed-out chorus and delay alighting here, then there, all dazzling color and massive wingspan.”  (Pitchfork)

116. Madonna — “Living for Love  Rebel Heart
“Unlike Madonna’s previous two lead singles, the pre-EDM banger ‘4 Minutes’ and the cheerleader pep talk ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’,’ ‘Living For Love’ leaves its focus on its lyrics, with the singer beginning over a regal piano line that’s eventually joined by pulsing percussion. The confidence Madonna displays on the track recalls singular classics like ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘Like A Prayer,’ and when the song weaves its way toward a throbbing drop, Madonna continues crooning, refusing to be relegated to the background. ‘Living For Love’ sounds like a giddy combination of Madonna’s past and present, and represents an encouraging sign for a 2015 project that was unexpectedly thrown into jeopardy at the end of 2014.”  (Billboard)

115. Hailee Steinfeld — “Hell Nos and Headphones”  Haiz
“Following in the footsteps of ‘Love Myself,’ the new song is a pop smash waiting to happen, featuring empowering lyrics about being an outsider and confidence in your decisions. ‘I remember trying to make conversation at a friend’s house once and just getting, “Oh, cool, yeah, great,”‘ Steinfeld told EW when asked about the song in a recent interview. ‘And then the turned shoulder. I was standing there like, “I look like a complete loser!” So I faked a phone call in a house where no one gets service and went home. Then I went into the studio in a rage and was telling this whole story about not understanding why I couldn’t get these people to talk to me. It’s amazing how something like that song can come out of one night.”  (Entertainment Weekly)

114. easyFun — “Laplander  Deep Trouble
“Appropriately named after a Jeff Koons exhibition, EasyFun is perhaps the defining example of a PC Music project – an artificial pop outlet in the vein of Johnny Bravo from The Brady Bunch or BINKY, the pop group composed entirely of holograms which appears in an episode of PBS’ Arthur. Deeply rooted in the pop-art tradition, EasyFun’s sound feels as if it were scientifically broken down to its simplest elements and engineered for maximum pleasure: it takes the most basic building blocks of pop music and stretches them to playful, Fauvist extremes. The opening track, ‘Laplander’, for example, is built from countless layers of shimmery, chopped up vocal samples and dreamy synths. It’s majestic, injecting its listener with an intense feeling of adventure, of anticipation. An instrumental version of the track would make for great title screen music on a Nintendo 64 game. The whole EP is a textural feast for the ears and a scarily addictive rush of euphoria. I can’t explain what it is about EasyFun that I love so much: it is just a perfect combination of simple elements: soaring instrumentals, tender, extremely kawaii vocals and most importantly, enough subtlety to have you noticing new timbres and sounds with each listen.”  (Half-Gifts)

113. Formation — “Hangin’
“Will and Matt – both in their mid-20s – began Formation two years ago. The first song they wrote for the project was latest single ‘Hangin’, an infectious cut that ticks with a house beat under Will’s lyrics about ‘sleepless nights’ and lying in bed with a ‘three-piece suit on’, which he improvised. ‘I was listening to a lot of Stooges and our manager lent me a book about David Bowie and how those guys would freestyle lyrics and spit out a load of stuff,’ he says. ‘We wrote that song in 15 minutes. It’s some sort of subconscious stream. It just made sense at the time.”  (NME)

112. Jason Isbell — “If It Takes a Lifetime  Something More Than Free
“Jason Isbell is on a roll. There’s no better songwriter on the planet at this moment, no one operating with the same depth, eloquence, or feeling. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who can translate his material with flash or restraint, depending on what’s needed. And now he’s followed up one masterpiece of an album, 2013’s Southeastern, with a new one that is probably stronger top-to-bottom. … If there’s something that maybe separates Something More Than Free from Southeastern, it’s that hope is more prevalent, even in the bleaker settings. Opening track ‘If It Takes A Lifetime,’ with an acoustic bounce in its step reminiscent of Roger Miller, sets the tone. Isbell’s protagonist keeps fixating on the happy ending in the distance, even if he keeps tripping on the way to get there. The song also displays Isbell’s unique gift for contrasting telling details, like this guy’s drug tests to keep his job and his obsession with his cell phone, with moments of startling insight, like when he stops his ramshackle narrative to enlighten us: ‘A man is the product of all the people that he ever loved.”  (American Songwriter)

111. Youth Lagoon — “Highway Patrol Stun Gun  Savage Hills Ballroom
“Before the mania spills over, ‘Highway Patrol Stun Gun’ gathers up and dials down with a balladeer’s piano and violin in the open air around Powers’ singular voice. That voice is a curious jewel: homely yet highly stylized, impish and ingenuous, constantly warbling while always falling flush into place after all manner of melodic adornments and curlicues. Reference points include the steamy gleam of Devendra Banhart, the wounded gulp of Conor Oberst and the otherworldly vocal registers of Sigur Rós, but Powers sounds possessed by something wholly his own.”  (NPR)

110. Bully — “Trying”  Feels Like
“Life doesn’t seem fair for Nashville’s Alicia Bognanno. On the tart guitar-pop song ‘Trying’, she tallies the grievances against her, all with a bad feeling that the number one person on her shit list may be herself. Bognanno reels you into her world of hurt with a light allusion to pregnancy, an anxiety that soars on a guitar hook like Pixies’ ‘Velouria’. Despite the heaviness—the imaginary babies (‘praying for my period’), the mountain of debt (‘a stupid degree’) and the crippling doubt (‘loaded questions gonna get you alive’)—Bognanno aims to please. Invoking strong influences of 1990s alt-rock, Bully rejiggers the sentiments of female-fronted bands 25 years ago for a newer pop-oriented generation.”  (Pitchfork)

109. Florence and the Machine — “What Kind of Man”  How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
“Musically, it’s big. Wagnerian backing vocals and horn blasts turn ‘What Kind Of Man’ into a spectacle worthy of her new festival headliner status…. On first listen, it’s no dramatic departure from her last album, 2011’s ‘Ceremonials’ – full of the same Kate Bush bluster, with a powerful, big-lunged chorus to rival that album’s lead single, ‘What The Water Gave Me’. ‘What Kind Of Man’ has more snarl though, given a sense of menace by producer Markus Drav’s chopped-‘n’-screwed vocal effects. Between this, the brass-led, symphonic teaser track posted earlier this week and Florence’s description of ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ – it’s about ‘how to love in the world rather than trying to escape from it’ she wrote in a press release – all signs point to her most expansive full-length yet.”  (NME)

108. Misterwives — “Not Your Way  Our Own House
“The name of the album stems from the band’s family-like closeness, and their ability to invite others into their ever so musical ‘house.’ Also, lead singer Mandy Lee has said, that she wrote most of the album while in a treehouse, which is exactly what you will see on the album’s cover – a treehouse with colorful animals escaping from its windows, most likely indicative of the band members’ colorful and diverse personalities. … Another song that shares a similar vibe is the second track, ‘Not Your Way.’ Its fun trumpets surprise the listener by suddenly slowing down at the tail end of the bridge before speeding back up to its regular tempo. The song’s lyrics are wonderfully written with a feminist perspective, and inspire the listener to break traditions and take control of one’s own life.”  (Pop-Break)

Misterwives

Misterwives

107. Motorcraft — “Track 1  Motorcraft

106. RP Boo — “Bangin’ On King Drive
“Once a year, on the second Saturday of August, thousands of Chicagoans descend upon Martin Luther King Drive on the city’s South Side to behold the Bud Billiken Parade, the oldest and largest African-American parade in the United States. Launched in 1929 by Robert S. Abbot, founder of historic black newspaper The Chicago Defender, it’s a celebration of youth and education, traveling down King Drive from 39th Street to 55th and heralding the start of the school year with performances by local dance groups. As a showcase for a variety of Chicago dance styles—stepping, bop-ing, drill teams, hip hop, and more—the Bud is also a site of historical importance for Chicago’s footwork scene.”  (Thump (Vice))

105. Fracture x DJ Monita — “Luv Ta Luv Ya

104. Jlin — “Infrared (Bagua)  Dark Energy
“Featuring a Chinese string orchestra and the voice of Shao Kahn, ‘Infrared (Bagua)’ plays with a similar set of references. They fit well with the taekwondo patterns of its lava-thick bass riff. A brutal, elegant kind of chaos; wushu gabber. … Dark Energy recalls Iain Sinclair’s observation regarding the psychogeography of London: “When the surface of the world is so overloaded with competing narratives […], there is an understandable impulse to go underground.” If the Chicago dancefloor is cluttered with contention, Jlin has provided us with evidence of veins untapped, an obscure map of zones still to be colonized in the name of the dance.”  (Tiny Mix Tapes)

103. Adele — “When We Were Young”  25
“‘It was just like a movie,’ she sings. ‘It was just like a song.’ In those lines you can hear Adele’s awareness that her drama is completely constructed, but the power of her singing is enough to transcend all self-consciousness. ‘When We Were Young’ is built around somber piano chords loaned by Randy Newman, and designed to show off her staggering, empathic voice. She raises the stakes in every section, switching between husky crackle to a soaring delivery before eventually climaxing with a come-to-Jesus money note. It’s natural to be skeptical of anyone romanticizing unremembered nostalgia—lighten up a little, you want to say—but Adele is a classic diva in the mold of Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, capable of elevating maudlin sentiment into high art. A million people could sing a line like ‘I will always love you,’ but only one woman made it iconic. Everything about Adele’s presentation suggests she has similar goals in mind.”  (Pitchfork)

102. Car Seat Headrest — “Something Soon  Teens of Style
“Car Seat Headrest is the alias of Will Toledo, who writes wordy confessionals buried beneath craggly instrumentation—think Bright Eyes by way of Guided by Voices, sung by a Virginia boy both mopey and hopeful. Toledo finds that sweet spot of diaristic songwriters who draw listeners in with their gloom before managing to scrape and claw toward an optimistic conclusion. … Toledo’s lyrics luxuriate in their angst—he lounges around watching TV, professes a desire to talk like patron saint of stiff drunks Raymond Carver, and wants to ‘sing this song like I’m dying’—but they’re also written in the way of depressed people who know they should know better.”  (Pitchfork)

101. Isaiah Rashad — “Nelly
“Isaiah Rashad is the least-intense member of the TDE crew surrounding Kendrick Lamar. You might overlook him. He doesn’t have Lamar’s aura, Schoolboy’s erratic intensity, Ab-Soul’s old school devotion, Jay Rock’s 2Pac growl. He is a Southerner, from Chattanooga instead of L.A., and he sings and raps in a scratchy, pleasing voice that he never lets stray outside of a conversational, three-or-four-note range. He’s unassumingly musical as a rapper, and his 2014 breakout Cilvia Demo took a few moments to sink in as a result. But his tracks are more [than the] sum of their modest parts, and ‘Nelly’, a track that debuted last week, reminds us of this. It has a nice, draggy lope to it, a back-phrased snare that leaves a half-breath’s space between the kick and the actual pulse of the beat. Rashad lurks just behind the beat with his singing as well. It doesn’t burn a hole through your headphones, but it is soulful, a precious commodity.”  (Pitchfork)

100. Sleater-Kinney — “A New Wave”  No Cities to Love
“[No Cities to Love] immediately stakes its claim as the rock album of 2015, in such style that I can’t believe that even the most hardcore of SK acolytes could have anticipated such fire, such bite, and such power. … ‘A New Wave’ calls for togetherness in breaking the status quo, singing of hungers unsated, and how the smallest ripples of discontentment can build to waves of radicalism. It’s one of many songs here that finds that so-sweet spot between heaviness and melodicism: Sleater-Kinney always had volume, but here they’ve mass too, more than ever.”  (Clash Music)

99. Miss Red — “No Guns  Murder
“The most elastic sound of all, however, is Stern’s voice, which can leap from guttural mic chatter to an uncanny squeak. She can also do the kind of smoky spectral singing you’d associate more with a trip-hop chanteuse than a dancehall MC. Given her background, it’s tempting to take the refrain ‘talk is better than a gun’ from ‘No Guns’ as a comment on Israel’s political situation, but most of her lyrics deal in dancehall’s standard party-starting proclamations, braggadocio and paeans to weed. But there’s also proud female empowerment….”  (Resident Advisor)

98. School of Seven Bells — “Open Your Eyes  SVIIB
“‘Open Your Eyes,’ though it retains some of the group’s typically idiosyncratic songwriting and meandering phrasing, is the most straightforward pop ballad SVIIB have recorded—Deheza’s speak-singing resembles a number of current radio hits, and change a few chords and the piano and percussion would evoke closing credits. But the song would not work any other way. SVIIB’s career, from beginning to likely end—has been a process of paring down their sound, jettisoning all extraneous material until all that’s left is emotional truth.”  (Pitchfork)

You’ll Fall in Love Again: The Story of School of Seven Bells

97. Rabit — “Pandemic”  Communion
“Rabit’s ‘Pandemic’ should probably come with a warning sticker. Not the usual PMRC ‘Explicit Content’ one—there’s no obscenity here, no swearing, not even any lyrics; the voices lurking deep in the mix feel like leftover fragments from a film, or a nightmare. ‘There aren’t any people,’ says a voice, early on, in response to an indistinct question; the flat, lonely statement bubbles up from a ruined landscape like some stray radio frequency flashing through poisoned air. Later, after a long stretch of blown-glass synthesizers, tarnished 808 kicks, and a heavy, sluggish rhythm that feels like running manacled through river rapids, a cry rings out. It’s easy to miss its fleeting glimpse of humanity, though, because by then the song has morphed into a full-on firefight between heavy-gauge machine guns.”  (Pitchfork)

96. Julien Baker  — “Something  Sprained Ankle
“On Julien Baker’s new single, the Murfreesboro musician doesn’t sound desperate so much as fitfully resigned. ‘Something’ chronicles the aftermath of a hurried goodbye, the kind of departure that upends your insides and makes the world feel like it’s caving in on itself. The kind that you’ve seen coming for a long time. In the case of this single, that goodbye happens in a parking lot as Baker’s narrator watches a beloved one drive off without hearing her parting words. ‘I should’ve said something, I couldn’t find something to say/ So I just said nothing, sat and watched you drive away.’ But Baker’s pain transcends her internal, cavernous well of thought and into her tangible surroundings: ‘I should let the parking lot swallow me up, choking your tires and kicking up dust/ Asking aloud why are you leaving? The pavement won’t answer me.”  (Stereogum)

An Interview With Young Phenom Julien Baker

95. Kero Kero Bonito — “Picture This
“Young kawaii royalty Kero Kero Bonito have returned with a newly frosted confection of Nintendo 64 synth tones, preset MIDI drums, and bilingual sing-song raps. Maybe you are as happy about this as I am. When that KK Rider-core vocaloid melody kicks off ‘Picture This,’ I start to feel something like this:

(*´`*)

Look at my little arms. They rise above my head in celebration. … The beat by Jamie and Gus (a.k.a. Kane West) maintains their high level of production detail and omnivorous tonal sensibilities, channeling the contemporary electronic vanguard and a lifetime of video game immersion in equal measure.”  (Tiny Mix Tapes)

Kero Kero Bonito blend English and Japanese rap into bouncy pop tracks

94. Napalm Death — “Dear Slum Landlord”  Apex Predator — Easy Meat
Apex Predator – Easy Meat finds Napalm Death as hungry, innovative, and aggressive as ever. … While there is enough diversity from song to song, Apex Predator – Easy Meat sounds truly cohesive and is best experienced as a whole. It is dismal and often ominously oppressive, while simultaneously possessing lyrics that are often oddly uplifting, given Napalm Death’s socially conscious bend. The experimentation with darker atmospheres, as evoked in ‘Dear Slum Landlord’, shows a more contemplative side than we have seen from Napalm Death perhaps ever….”  (Monolith)

93. Whitey Morgan — “Waiting Around to Die” (Townes Van Zandt)  Sonic Ranch
“Nearly 600 miles separate Flint, Michigan, from Nashville, Tennessee. For Whitey Morgan, a honky-tonk hell-raiser who grew up in the shadow of Flint’s shuttered factory buildings, that distance might as well be 6,000 miles. Large, bearded and barrel-chested, Morgan mixes the twang of his outlaw heroes with the blue-collar bombast of the Great Lakes State, carving out a sound that owes more to the Rust Belt than Music City. Don’t be fooled by the pedal steel guitars. This may be country music, but it’s dirtier and more dangerous than your average Tennessee two-step, filled with songs about people who drink out of desperation, not celebration. … ‘I’ve always loved that Townes song,’ he says, ‘and I thought, “What if we gave it a western vibe? What if we made it sound like the next Sergio Leone movie?” It’s already a very dark-sounding song, so we took the guitars and tuned them down to C sharp and just ran with the idea.'”  (Rolling Stone)

92. Jason Isbell — “Hudson Commodore”  Something More Than Free
“Part of what makes Jason Isbell’s songs so damn good is his ability to capture the South in his lyrics. … What may be the best song on the record, or at least the best story, has to be ‘Hudson Commodore’. In this song about free spirit, Isbell sings of a girl raised to be prim and proper, who wants anything but that out of life. It is one of my favorite songs from any of his records.”  (No Depression)

Jason Isbell Has Conquered Fear, But He’s Still Learning About Himself

91. Blur, “My Terracotta Heart”  The Magic Whip
“‘My Terracotta Heart’ has a very indie, lo-fi English rock feel to it – in essence, it’s characteristically Blur – but the arrangement and approach feel fresh. It’s been twelve years since the release of Blur’s last studio album Think Tank, but while each member has clearly had a lot time to receive new musical influences, it’s hard to tell if ‘My Terracotta Heart’ feels fresh because of those new influences, or because Blur have always been ahead of the curve. Sure, you can find hints of Wilco and Coldplay if you want, but did Wilco rub off on Blur, or did Blur rub off on Wilco? … ‘My Terracotta Heart’ comes from a place of nostalgia, darkness and sadness. Blur took that melancholy and made something truly beautiful out of it.”  (Atwood Magazine)

90. Kedr Livanskiy (Lebanese Cedar) — “Sgoraet (Burning Down)
“Opening with the kind of hissy, lo-fi air that suggests it may have originated from the early 80s, dubbed four or five times in an attempt to smuggle it past Checkpoint Charlie, Livanskiy’s chords are dramatic and wistful both, soaring and sad at once. The arpeggios give the track an anxious feel and her voice lands somewhere between that of early Grimes and Laurel Halo. But just when you think you’ve triangulated the song four minutes in, Livanskiy shifts gears, the whoosh of the analog keyboard overwhelmed by a furious breakbeat. It’s a surprising wrinkle from a surprising new scene.”  (Pitchfork)

Kedr Livanskiy

Kedr Livanskiy

89. Dawes — “All Your Favorite Bands  All Your Favorite Bands
“Perhaps the most patently Dawes song on the album, though, is the title track, a rich bon-voyage of a piano ballad that no other band on the planet could have possibly written. ‘I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it[‘d] be/I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever,’ Goldsmith sings on the chorus. ‘I hope the world sees the same person that you’ve always been to me/And may all your favorite bands stay together.’ … So when Goldsmith toasts someone and says ‘may all your favorite bands stay together,’ it’s serious business. It doesn’t matter if he’s bidding farewell to an ex-girlfriend, or to a friend who is moving across the country. The effect of the statement is the same either way: a loving and genuine well-wish from one music obsessive to another, entirely devoid of bitterness, cynicism, or regret. It’s the perfect encapsulation of who Dawes are as a band, and of how they probably view life in general: that no matter the heartbreak or circumstance, the world will keep spinning just as long as the music keeps playing.”  (Absolute Punk)

88. Beach House — “Sparks  Depression Cherry
“The song opens with a hymnal sigh made up of Legrand’s multi-tracked vocals, sliding against each other as though fighting their way out of a massive, spiderwebbed cathedral. It’s broken by a ripping, shoegaze-y guitar, smothered in feedback—noisier than we’ve come to expect from Beach House, but by no means messy. Knocking drums follow and the song clicks into place, an organ seemingly lifted from their debut keeping time beneath the rumble. ‘It’s a gift taken from the lips,’ Legrand intones at one point, cutting a path to the song’s lovelorn heart. ‘Sparks’ is like a distilled version of the devotionals with which Beach House first found their footing, pulling from the past while looking resolutely into the future.”  (Pitchfork)

87. Domenique Dumont — “L’esprit de l’escalier  Comme Ça
“The lilting beat sounds like bossa nova by way of the Cure’s ‘Close to Me’; the guitar tone has the faintest hint of Caribbean steel pan. And while it may make you think more of sweater weather, the vocal counterpoints in the song’s bridge sound a little bit like Yo La Tengo at their most wistful. … The synths and guitar and that bubbling little beat make for the peppiest vision of chillwave imaginable: It’s a carbonated coconut, a palm tree dangling a disco ball.”  (Pitchfork)

86. JR JR — “Gone”  JR JR
“The album’s first single, ‘Gone,’ steps into that carpe diem fold, led by a finger-picked acoustic guitar, carefree whistling and honeyed vocal harmony. It’s a sunny, melodic guide to following your own path, ditching the expectations of others to express your true self. … The years of experience Epstein and Zott have gained as bandmates have enhanced rather than dampened the enthusiasm in JR JR’s music. Epstein and Zott have always come at their craft naturally, having absorbed Detroit’s musical history, from the melodic Motown charms of their parents’ generation to [the] rising dance culture of their own formative years. On this, a purposefully self-titled album, they’ve settled the kids-in-a-candy shop excess and drawn their focus to a fine point.”  (Paste Magazine)

“Bernie Sanders told an Ann Arbor crowd Monday night his campaign is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ … The U.S. senator from Vermont, who is competing against Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, addressed an estimated crowd of 5,750 people during a rally inside the Crisler Center on the University of Michigan campus. ‘What this campaign is about is asking each and every one of you — the American people — to think big, not small,’ he said. The rally included an hour-long concert featuring Nate Ruess of the band Fun and the Detroit-based band JR JR and a lineup of other speakers. The crowd cheered loudly when Shailene Woodley, a 24-year-old actress known for her work in The Divergent Series, made a surprise appearance. ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport,’ she said, repeating one of Sanders’ lines and encouraging everyone to vote on Tuesday.”  “More than 5,700 attend Bernie Sanders rally in Ann Arbor

“Back in July, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. changed its quirky name to the simplified JR JR, it must have seemed a curious move for both admirers and music critics. But as with anything the Detroit pair do, there was careful thought and consideration behind the decision. In a lengthy post on their official website, the dance-rock duo explained it had nothing to do with the famous NASCAR driver (a self-professed fan of the band) and everything to do with his fans and the confusion that ensued. ‘We’ve had people drive long distances to shows only to be disappointed when they realize it’s a neurotic Jew and wild-haired gentile from Detroit they’ve paid to see. A number of times now, we’ve received hope-filled inquiries from people who have dying relatives that only want to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. (the driver) before they pass.’ Daniel Zott (the Jew) and Joshua Epstein (the gentile) were uncomfortable with legitimately upsetting people in this manner. And so, after building a reputation under their original moniker for almost five years, they switched things up.”  “Review: JR JR Throws the Most Charming House Party Ever”

85. Braids — “Blondie  Deep In the Iris
“‘Blondie,’ with its drum and bass rhythms and chamber vocals, is the most interesting track on the album. Standell-Preston’s high-pitched delivery builds similarly to that of Blue Hawaii’s ‘Get Happy,’ but the explosive development is far more rhythmic. Nintendo’s Marble Madness-style effects roll into big bubbles and droplets as Standell-Preston bombards her way into the shattering Metalheadz-era drums. Where Braids might’ve been more subdued and content with building atmospheric work in the past, they’ve now allowed themselves to get harder and more outwardly experimental. This is the immediacy in their music that the isolation in the production process brought out, and it’s the track that’ll grace prime playlists.”  (Paste Magazine)

84. Appalachian Terror Unit — “Casualties of a Rape Culture”  We Don’t Need Them
“Lyrics on environmental issues, anarchist ideals, animal cruelty, solidarity with feminists, LGBT folk, political prisoners, and oppressed people worldwide, and the police state dominate their other screeds, and the music itself is as simple and deadly as a Molotov cocktail—brash, urgent, thrashy, crust-speckled anarcho-punk, crowned by enraged dual vocals. A fair few of their songs hinge upon political rants dressed up as quiet spoken-word passages, which adds an interesting dynamic and ensures that their most important messages will come through loud and clear. … ‘Casualties of a Rape Culture’ is a simmering rallying cry that attacks sexism and our country’s often poisonous attitude towards sexual assault—’Sisters of the world we will never be quiet/We have a voice we will not drown in the silence /We have to stick together we have to fight back/No more violence no more attacks’….”  (Noisey (Vice))

Appalachian Terror Unit interview with CVLT Nation

83. Lil Simz — “Wings”  A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons
“From the off, the level of lyricism and pure quality that Little Simz has often struck over her many mixtapes and EP’s is upped. A trip of emotions about combatting fame and the changes it can bring to a person’s life in different ways makes up the general atmosphere of the album, best articulated on ‘Wings’, a track filled with determination, bold statements and questions that see Ajikawo’s confidence and belief in her ability grow. It’s easy here to draw parallels to Raury’s high energy message of youthful revolution.”  (The Line of Best Fit)

82. Mura Masa — “Lovesick Fuck  Someday Somewhere
“The desperate repetition in ‘Lovesick Fuck’ is met with an easy, bouncy beat that lightens up the otherwise dark singing. Mura Masa’s ability to match a variety of beats with provocative vocals testifies to his talent as a producer. Although some may regard Someday Somewhere as too sad for dance music, Mura Masa generally manages to keep the mood positive, even when addressing the theme of pained love.”  (Only the Beat)

81. Colleen — “Captain of None  Captain of None
“It’s doubly remarkable in that, compared to Les Ondes Silencieuses, the pallette Colleen works with is, on the surface, more reduced here, with no reeds or bells and her viola played solely by plucking, not bowing. Apart from a few homemade percussion sources (apparently including chopsticks, of all things), Melodica and a delay pedal, Captain Of None is crafted entirely out of Schott’s viola da gamba and her voice. Pretty much every track feature[s] flurries of plucked viola notes that cascade out of the speakers like falling snow, the loops masterfully interlaced and juxtaposed until they form a beatific curtain or blanket of sound.”  (The Quietus)

80. Mbongwana Star — “Malukayi”  From Kinshasa
“The video for Mbongwana Star’s debut single, Malukayi, was a mysterious and rather compelling thing. Figures loom out of a low-lit, smoke-wreathed gloom: a dancer, a frantic percussionist, a couple of middle-aged men in wheelchairs, and, most intriguingly, a spaceman wandering the streets of Kinshasa. The latter seemed like the perfect metaphor for a track that seemed to have fallen out of the sky, that somehow managed to be both identifiably Congolese – you can’t mistake the amplified likembes of guest stars Konono No 1 – and utterly unlike anything else the fertile Kinshasa music scene had yet produced: hypnotic rhythm patterns that clattered and echoed as if they were being played at the end of a vast tunnel; vocals coated with so much distortion they sounded like something picked up on a shortwave radio; a beautiful, keening male voice marooned over spacey electronics and mournful gusts of feedback to eerie effect.”  (The Guardian)

79. Mas Ysa — “Margarita  Seraph
“In a parallel universe, Mas Ysa’s Thomas Arsenault might be strumming away at an acoustic guitar at an open-mic in a coffeehouse right now, belting his way through Joni Mitchell covers and picking up the pieces of a recent breakup. But Arsenault’s arsenal is an assortment of electronic tools that surround him at his solitary live performances. … There’s a balance of the ethereal and the gigantic on ‘Margarita,’ a heroic pop song that feels less akin to the aforementioned Grimes or Blake, and more like a Peter Gabriel or U2 song from the mid- to late-’80s, which is an impressive enough feat in itself. The song bleats and beeps and thuds, but at heart its pop that aims for the heavens, like the album’s winged namesake.”  (Treble)

78. Danny L Harle — “Broken Flowers”  Broken Flowers
“Luckily, ‘Broken Flowers’ is still a thrilling listen two years on. This is the closest thing the label has to a deep-house cut, a song that would feel at home on almost any dancefloor despite its winkingly maudlin lyrics. The track builds with impressive precision, with sinuous arpeggios, marimba notes, and reverberating vocal samples clicking into place atop a driving 4/4 beat. What’s more, it sounds as if Harle has rebuilt the song from scratch for this release; where the original reveled in cliché house sounds, every element in this mix, including the vocals, feels cleaned up and refined.”  (Pitchfork)

77. Lin-Manuel Miranda — “Alexander Hamilton”  Hamilton

Who is Alexander Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda: “The bus driver who drove us to school wanted to be a rapper and didn’t want to be. So he would teach us raps that we would memorize. The first rap I ever learned was “Beef” by Boogie Down Productions KRS-One and it was all about being a vegetarian. [Laughs]”
Katie Couric: “Well hit it.”
Miranda: “Beef, what a relief / When will this poisonous product cease / This is another public service announcement / You can belief it or you can doubt it”.  “‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on the first rap he learned

Alexander Hamilton and the looming high court battle

76. Enya — “Echoes in the Rain  Dark Sky Island
“Enya is: a gravitational force from the Emerald Isle who’s dominated the world-music charts for several decades, a mysterious sprite who lives in an actual castle, the melodic accompaniment of choice for slightly crunchy Boomers. Enya is also: a synonym for uncool music, South Park’s source of despair, and the soundtrack to a perturbing, vaguely New Age-infused period in the ’90s when the Irish Tiger was roaring. … All that acknowledged, there’s something enormously soothing about Enya’s music—possibly because it sounds like a humanized version of the whalesong they play when you’re getting a massage, or because her lyrics are poetic gibberish, or because her slightly distorted vocals make it sound like Mother Earth herself is struggling to be heard over the bells and the 57 violinists playing the same note. … On the song ‘Echoes in Rain,’ she sings the word ‘Hallelujah’ over and over again while a jaunty string section plucks one of two lonely notes in the background. (There’s an odd, seemingly improvised piano solo in the middle that sounds like one of the aforementioned forging angels might have been a jazz fan.)”  (The Atlantic)

Guess the song lyric: Adele, David Bowie or Enya?

75. LoneLady — “Silvering”  Hinterland
“The verses give way to an elegiac chorus and its all over before you get a grasp on something solid giving way to ‘Silvering’ which is both frenetic and restrained and utterly wonderful, an absolute endorphin rush of a song. Silvering is the process by which glass is coated with a reflective surface to create a mirror and like much of Hinterland, looks both inwards and outwards: ‘And I wander in this endless territory / Through the distances inside me. / Crossing the territory inside / It wants to keep me in here.’ It’s probably the most expansive song on Hinterland, sharp and bright, extolling the pleasures of the drift and evoking a sense of awe in the little things dotted in the landscape, ‘the cracks, silvering.”  (Manic Pop Thrills)

Brutalist Music” with LoneLady, part of Doug Aitken’s Station to Station exhibition

74. Molly Nilsson — “1995”  Zenith
“Last week, Windows 95 (and personal computing as we know it) celebrated its 20th anniversary. The vanguard operating system was sold on the promise of multitasking (as opposed to the DOS systems it sidelined) and the possibility of connection to ‘the information super-highway’—though as anyone who experienced it recalls, it couldn’t really do either of these things that well. If there’s anything to mourn about the buggy OS, it’s that sense of potential, of ‘standing on the threshold to the end of time,’ as Molly Nilsson puts it on tribute ‘1995’ (‘a metaphor for what I feel inside’). Two decades ago, technology still felt capable of making giant, life-changing leaps; today any developments feel more like incremental saturation: ‘I’ve gone so far, not even knowing how/ I suppose the world is so much smaller now,’ Nilsson sings. Mourning vintage tech can sometimes feel affected, but Nilsson’s monotone Nico-as-algorithm delivery contrasts with the track’s synthetic island shimmer (seemingly a refraction of Toto’s ‘Africa’) to give ‘1995’ a utilitarian, transportive romance.”  (Pitchfork)

“When Windows 95 was being developed, executives commissioned music legend Brian Eno to develop a ‘piece of music’ to play when the operating system started up. This music would become known as ‘The Windows Sound.’ Eno is probably most renowned* for his ambient music — long tracks with deep sound beds and drifting melodies. But this track had to be a little shorter. Eno related the story:  The thing from the agency said, ‘We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,’ this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said ‘and it must be 3.25 seconds long.’  “Creating the Windows 95 Startup Sound

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’: A History of the Windows Start Menu

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is Nostalgia Heaven

73. Shana Cleveland & The Sandcastles — “Holy Rollers”  Oh Man, Cover the Ground
“While ‘Holy Rollers’ starts out like a primer in classic Americana, it picks up into what feels closer to a Heart intro than a campfire song. Meandering and psychedelic, it rolls along like a caravan, fitting somewhere in between early Cat Power and Jessica Pratt. Cleveland’s open-tuned fingerstyle guitar playing clearly draws from a very specific moment in folk history, but the modern age bleeds through, and as she injects jazz keys, reverb and a clarinet into ‘Holy Rollers’, she is interpreting her influences rather than imitating them.”  (Pitchfork)

72. This Is the Kit — “Silver John  Bashed Out
“This Is The Kit’s ‘Silver John’ envelops you like fog rolling in off the water, heavy with atmosphere and full of uncertainty. Kate Stables writes innocent, wide-eyed songs that set you at ease, before suddenly dropping a line like ‘you apocalypse on us, yes,’ like a kick to the back of your knees. A simple shift of syntax turns the end of the world into a verb itself, enacted and sweeping over the sides of the deck, a storm surge with no warning. Part pirate tall-tale, part out at sea, the song’s refrain, ‘we’re not ready yet,’ takes on weight when you realize it’s a meditation on the end of the world. Like the title track off her forthcoming third album, Bashed Out, Stables is confronting enormous, baffling questions within the tranquil bounds of her own breed of folk rock. Given these restraints, the concentration on existence comes down to a single guitar chord, a swath of organ, or a wordless harmony. Apocalypse, mind waiting till the song’s over?”  (Stereogum)

71. Oneohtrix Point Never — “SDFK”  Garden of Delete
“‘SDFK’ is interesting because it consists of two samples. One is a John Adams sample, from ‘Dream in White on White.’ The other is a very long sample of an industrial band called Grotus. Calling them an industrial band is a bit of an insult, though, because they’re so much more than that. Their track was called ‘Brown,’ which is actually kind of disgusting and provocative; I feel like they’re always dealing with these kinds of fecal scenarios. ‘SDFK’ is just a vowel-less abbreviation of ‘sad fuck.’ I was trying to see how much of someone else’s music I could just slap inside another piece of music. I really do love that piece, and it does work as a pivot point leading into ‘Mutant Standard.'”  (Thump (Vice))

Celtics Green, Champion's Green

Daniel Lopatin: Celtics Green, Champion’s Green

70. Courtney Barnett — “Elevator Operator”  Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
“‘Elevator Operator’ came from when I was living on Easey Street in Collingwood, and I was playing around town in a duo with my friend Oliver, who now plays in the Finks. He came over for dinner one night, and he told me this story about how he’d gone into the city and gone up the top of the Nicholas Building: When he was in the elevator, this lady accosted him and thought he was trying to commit suicide. She tried to talk him out of it. He was a bit shocked. It was really out of the blue — he went there all the time. And I think he was a bit like, Do I look like I’m having a bad time? It’s a few seconds of being in an elevator together — how had she totally concocted this story? It was also a bit surreal and absurd, so he laughed. I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy, she’s totally misinterpreted the situation’ — but it was kind of funny. That’s basically what the song is about, with a bit of poetic license. But I just couldn’t finish it. I had the start of it sitting there for, like, five years, and then, when I wrote the album, I went back to it and made an ending. That was a long process.”  (Vulture)

69. Grimes — “Flesh without Blood”  Art Angels
“‘You claw, you fight, you loo-oo-se,’ she begins the four-minute track, a blow-out pop song. Running underneath the track’s punchy, metallic drums reminiscent of those on Visions is something new for Boucher: a pop-punk evoking guitar riff. Perhaps this is her take on ‘bro art,’ the loose term she’s used to describe the music that inspired Art Angels. But if there is anything bro-y about ‘Flesh without Blood’, released with a video set in California’s kitsch hotel Madonna Inn, it’s that it has serious swagger as the album’s introduction.”  (Pitchfork)

68. Domenique Dumont — “La Bataille de Neige (The Snow Battle)”  Comme Ça
“Not much is known about Domenique Dumont, but not in the usual way that makes PR campaigners froth at the mouth because The Music Speaks For Itself. Rather than crafting ominous self-contained work, Dumont crafts a kind of bubblegum pop that feels communal but also echoes and bounces outwards — like much of the production on Grimes’ ‘Visions’, or the broad, open field pop of Braids on ‘Native Speaker’, this record feels strangely grand. Dumont’s voice reverberates around, phased shimmeringly in comparison to her tinkering, flatlining beats and muted guitar. … The dub-influenced ‘La Bataille De Neige’ uses little samples of ambient sound to fold into the background of amusing whistling and aimlessly played percussion. It’s like hearing the purest joy you could ever experience happen just out of reach.”  (Norman Records)

67. Purity Ring — “Flood on the Floor”  Another Eternity
“While Megan James has publicly attributed the resurrected Purity Ring 2.0 to less introspective songwriting, the heart of Another Eternity’s novelty is certainly its production. Corin Roddick seems to have acquired some affinity for EDM, as nearly every chorus on the record is built around a drop. The standout tracks revolve around these moments where James’ voice soars over discrete synth pangs, most notably on ‘Bodyache’ and ‘Flood on the Floor.’ The former starts like any fluttery Purity Ring track—you know the kind, where you imagine fields of blossoming flowers on some foreign planet with a red sky. But then the trap beats—another common feature of Another Eternity—enter strong, building up to chorus that shatters any image of wonder preceding it. ‘Flood on the Floor’ works similarly, with a blippy, glitchy hip-hop beat that more forward-thinking rappers like Pusha T or Drake might use to back their verses. Whereas Megan James once shared a wavelength with Grimes, her wispier, hook-oriented vocals now put her in a field with Tinashe or Jhene Aiko. The effort that Purity Ring employed to craft mythical environments is now focused on the isolated elements.”  (Pretty Much Amazing)

66. G.L.O.S.S. — “G.L.O.S.S. (We’re From the Future)”  Demo
“Punk still offers this transcendence, and within the recordings and performances of two remarkably contemporary young groups, it seems to be getting better at it. G.L.O.S.S. and Downtown Boys perform two-minute acts of pure insurrectionism: their irreverence rejects canons and gives voice to the unheard. Their lyrics are such purposeful and poignant sketches of modern ire and malaise from the margins—for queer and trans people, for people of color, for women and the working class—that you could picture some of these words reborn in gospel or folk. They burn the no-future scripture of punk history to the ground as they scream its ashes away. Now, in punk, there is only the future.”  (Pitchfork)

65. Chromatics — “In Films  Dear Tommy
“Compared to most Chromatics music, the new ‘In Films’ is positively buoyant. It’s got a hook that displays a bit of warmth and confidence, and there’s a synth line that suggests the near-unthinkable idea that Johnny Jewel may have listened to a few minutes of commercial EDM in his lifetime. Rest assured, though, it will still sound great when you’re driving through abandoned city streets at night.”  (Stereogum)

64. Marie-Pierre Arthur — “Rien à faire

63. Oneohtrix Point Never — “Sticky Drama”  Garden of Delete
“‘Sticky Drama’ is a couple of things. I’m sure other people would be able to explain it better than I can, but Stickydrama was kind of a gossip site with a chat board—just an awkward, prototypical web-hang place. It was associated with Jessi Slaughter, who experienced one of the first examples of horrible Internet bullying after she accused a member of Blood on the Dancefloor of raping her. … This track is crazy: a lot of lyrics emerged from typing weird things that sounded right with the rhythm I wanted for the vocal melody in a speech synthesis software called Chipspeech. … This record to me is all about finding ways to be a drummer without using drums or drum sounds, although I do use kicks under every wailing, lead guitar-esque sound. I wanted to make a piece of music that sounded nothing like anything I had heard before—something that had this intense contrast of bubble-gum and a hyper-abstracted version of metal.”  (Thump (Vice))

62. Sophie — “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye”  Product
“‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’ is my favorite of the new tracks on SOPHIE’s upcoming PRODUCT singles collection, probably because it’s the one whose structure most resembles a traditional pop song. But there’s not much traditional about the British producer’s production choices, so the result is a bittersweet, glitchy slow-dance of a track. It’s a bastardized take on ’80s pop filtered through a couple more decades of electronic experimentation, like a Carly Rae Jepsen track if it was flattened out onto a cold metallic surface with a rolling pin. The leaden synths keep their distance, but those fucked-with vocals are distinctly human: the way they speed up on the line ‘I haven’t seen you since I was about, hmmm, sixteen years old,’ or when they mumble forward: ‘We were young/ We had everything we needed/ I had everything I could ever need, but it makes me feel and it makes me feel and it makes me feel…'”  (Stereogum)

61. Rockwell — “Dizzle”  Obsolete Medium
“Since we made him one of our Stars Of The Year back in 2010, Tom [Green] has resided uneasily in the attic of the drum and bass castle like the genre’s own Dr Frankenstein: a uniquely gifted technician conjuring tempo-trouncing concoctions that are adored by bass music connoisseurs and junglists alike. His debut LP finds his spidery, 170bpm tech-roller adrenaline kaleidoscoped into hyperactive 4/4 genius, wonky trap skitterings, slick hip hop molotovs and exquisite half-time arias – and there’s also the industry-baiting song titles that confirm his wry anti-hero status. Taking his wrecking ball to 170bpm orthodoxy, Rockwell remains the genre’s most obsessively gifted producer and a true dancefloor punk.”  (Mixmag)

60. Shura — “2Shy
“Shura, real name Aleksandra Denton, is a singer-songwriter from Manchester. She’s exploded onto the music scene in the last year, producing beautifully formed RnB electro-pop songs packed with chilled out 90s house vibes; making for a sound likened to that of such contemporaries as FKA Twiggs and GrimesShura delivers a soft-yet-powerful vocal not dissimilar to a young Mariah Carey, and produces music showcasing an eclectic range of influences, making for a truly unique and special experience. The first song I heard from Shura was 2Shy, an achingly sweet pop ballad bursting at the seams with 90s style synths and melodies.”  (The West Review)

Shura

Shura

59. Snakehips ft Tinashe, Chance the Rapper — “All My Friends
“The pair craft a subdued r&b beat with pop influences and occasional hints at the new-wave shimmering bass sounds that are commonplace from Australia. This acts as the bed for Tinashe to open up the track with her own verse, before launching into the chorus about a love-hate relationship with going out. Chance The Rapper joins her on the hook to make it much more singable. ‘All my friends are wasted/ And I hate this club, man I drink too much/ Another Friday night I’ve wasted.'”  (Music Times)

58. Chvrches — “Clearest Blue”  Every Open Eye
“Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the Glaswegian band, every Chvrches song has a certain staying power, a way of forcing itself into your memory to be recalled later on. They write hooks that hit so hard they make the bottom of your stomach fall out, and each one of the singles that we’ve heard off of Every Open Eye punches just a little bit harder than the last. After sharing ‘Leave A Trace’ and ‘Never Ending Circles,’ the band’s offered up the album’s namesake. ‘Clearest Blue’ might be the strongest for a simple reason: it builds and builds and builds and doesn’t break down until you’ve nearly lost faith that it will. When that moment of release finally arrives over two minutes in, it feels like slicing through the surface of an icy pool of water after taking a mile-high plunge. Refreshing and cathartic, maybe even healing.”  (Stereogum)

57. Gin Wigmore — “Written in the Water”  Blood to Bone
“Gin Wigmore is a singer-songwriter from New Zealand that takes all different genres and puts it into new, exciting contexts. What Wigmore does best in the track is employ the use of big room dancey music without staying a slave to nostalgia.’Written In The Water’ propels her music into new places, showing the listener shades of blues, jazz and even electronic music without missing a beat. Not to mention, her voice on the track carries notes and melodies in an incredible and strong way you won’t hear anywhere else. Speaking of the track, she says ‘I love how there is such light and dark in the song with the way it is anchored to the floor with the sub bass and lively drum rhythm, and then almost swims away with it’s sweet and whimsical backing vocals that layer the top.’”  (Noisey (Vice))

56. Majical Cloudz — “Control”  Are You Alone?
The band’s new album, Are You Alone?, picks up where Impersonator left off: Stark, ethereal instrumentals buoyed by Welsh’s unflinching voice. Musically, their roots are in English romantics like Depeche Mode, themselves a moody electronic gloss on the lieder that composers like Franz Schubert were writing 150 years earlier. Philosophically, they chart a junction of new age and hardcore punk, both of which prize a radical scraping away of excess in their search for truth. Majical Cloudz want empathy and they want it now. … A few weeks ago, I blew off part of an afternoon to see the Pixar movie Inside Out … I kept thinking of Majical Cloudz, whose music—like Inside Out—seems to recast sadness as a feeling that doesn’t damage the self but helps keep it whole. Now, when I see that album title (Are You Alone?), it seems less like a grim rhetorical question than an invitation—the kind of thing you might ask someone who is alone but looks like they could use a little company.”  (Pitchfork)

55. Young Galaxy — “Body”  Falsework
“Sumptuous dancefloor music – blurring glitter in the black of night. Sounds flicker and skitter as Catherine McCandless sings about absence, presence, the physical fact of an unreliable body. Just a tower of sounds, full of reach and wobble. (Full disclosure: Young Galaxy commissioned me to write a short story to accompany their terrific record.)”  (Said the Gramophone)

54. Christine and the Queens — “Saint Claude”  Chaleur Humaine
“Letissier stated in an interview that ‘Saint Claude’ was written just after having seen people verbally abuse a man with tattoos on a bus and been happy that she could get off at her stop (Saint Claude) without being engaged by the group. Guided by guilt, she wrote a reimagined episode. The video, by the way, is exquisite. She seems to dance solely for herself, and so ably that it seems implausible that she could move in any day-to-day manner. She has been told that she is the female Michael Jackson, and her music does have the sound of the Thriller record about it (‘Half Ladies’ for instance), but their artistic resemblance reaches its zenith when backed up by her ‘loafers, six inches of ankle, then trousers’ look, which she has somehow managed to make look fantastic.”  (The Line of Best Fit)

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53. Denai Moore — “Blame”  Elsewhere
“With a blend of chamber pop and folk, Elsewhere is an album that highlights a great attention to detail. … The introductory track Piano Song reaps a lot of rhythmic momentum and genuinely universal lyrics that feel very pop friendly. Blame follows this same formula but Moore’s attention to rhythm creates diversity within these two similarly constructed songs. Moore’s vocals and harmonies are effective in creating the echoic and reverberated sound that is distinctively her own. Blame finds its own mojo with the inclusion of a guitar solo at its most climactic point. Overall, these tracks are first-time listener friendly as they familiarise the listener with her sound.”  (Renowned for Sound)

52. Domenique Dumont — “Un jour avec Yusef”  Comme ça
Comme Ça‘s B-side slopes away from the dance floor and towards something more horizontal—this is music for hammocks or sun lounges. There’s some of Jon Hassell’s fourth world concept in ‘Un Jour Avec Yusef,’ whose buttery percussion and stretched-out guitar transports you to an imagined tropical paradise.”  (Resident Advisor)

51. Morly — “And Sooner Than We Know It…”  In Defense of My Muse
“The latest signing to our favorite little label is Morly, aka Minnesotan producer/songwriter/conjurer-of-magic Katy Morley. Her beautiful new EP In Defense of My Muse is made up of what the label calls four ‘lo-fi explorations into the transient space between joy and melancholy,’ and is inspired, at least in part, by the ‘deep wintry sadness’ of Morley’s home state. That sadness starts to fade, though, on the EP’s glorious emotional centerpiece ‘And Sooner Than We Know It…’, as the lonely, plaintive piano that opens the track slowly and steadily squads up with a gently rousing beat, sunbeam synths, and gorgeous, uplifting, wordless choral swells, and it feels like the ice is melting away, the clouds are parting, and everything’s going to be alright.”  (Gorilla vs. Bear)

Morly

Morly

50. Frankie Cosmos — “Young”  Fit Me In
“Like all Frankie Cosmos songs, ‘Young’ is over before you’ve noticed it—two minutes and two seconds, just a handful of lines. Like all her best songs, it packs a small universe of observations into music that could fit on a grass blade. In its breeze and brevity, ‘Young’ is a clear-eyed dissection on three nebulous states of being: ‘young,’ ‘fun,’ and ‘alive.’ Each line skips like a rock across the surface of a larger idea, gathering up an essential truth before leaping to the next.”  (Pitchfork)

49. Jamie xx — “Obvs”  In Colour
In Colour is apparently the result of a new found confidence, as Jamie slowly realised through his irregular singles, lauded remixes and occasional production spots that his alchemy of elements of garage, dancehall, drum and bass, house and techno is more than worthy of a full-length. … The brightest moments aren’t just those that we’ve already heard, though. ‘Obvs’ is the logical conclusion of Jamie’s longstanding fascination with steel drums, the usual joy of Caribbean music subverted by a kerb-crawling bass line and a snatch of vocals that somehow manages to be at once celestial and gloomy.”  (The Line of Best Fit)

48. Georgia  — “Move Systems”  Georgia
“When fiery emcee Georgia insists, ‘Ain’t no one gonna tell us that we ain’t going to move systems,’ it’s unclear whether she’s talking about political upheaval or a worldwide dance-off. The young Brit’s first single ‘Move Systems’ exudes rebellion from start to finish, showcasing her confrontational flow over nonstop click-clacking drums and grimy synth bass. In the track’s video, Georgia is the last woman standing in an eery, evacuated nightscape, dominating empty pool halls and wig shops with her serpentine dance moves. If there’s any lingering doubt of just how in charge she is, her upcoming debut album was written, produced, and performed by her alone. Who needs the system anyway?”  (Stereogum)

47. Sheer Mag — “Fan the Flames”  II
“On all fronts, Sheer Mag’s salty-sweet music understands pop’s pleasure center. They retain the architectural elements that punk seeks to ignore or unteach: the aerodynamic pull of a chiseled pre-chorus guitar melody or middle-eight before the inevitable fade-out. A slow thump and cascading riff pulls ‘Fan the Flames’ open, echoing the major-key coils of ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ or any number of Lynyrd Skynyrd singles. Sheer Mag’s aesthetic is scrappy, but not casual, and like their previous self-titled EP, these soda-pop rippers will soundtrack the foreseeable future of dance-parties for young people who can’t dance.”  (Pitchfork)

46. Disemballerina — “That is the Head of One Who Toyed with My Honor
“Worm Ouroboros and Amber Asylum are easy touchpoints, but really, nothing else in the world sounds like the perfect storm that arises when Ayla Holland’s guitar and bajo quinto meet Myles Donovan’s viola and harp and Jennifer Christensen’s weeping cello. … Myles Donovan explained the cryptic-seeming title, telling us via email that, ‘It’s a piece that was inspired by this news story about an anonymously-reported woman in Turkey who decapitated her own rapist following periods of photographic blackmail and humiliation. The title is the phrase she said after throwing his head into the town square. More than just…great words for living, we thought it was a fantastic symbolic response to the resulting shame and preserving silence of rape culture, and it definitely resonated with all of us on some deep personal levels.”  (Noisey (Vice))

45. Waxahatchee — “Air”  Ivy Tripp
“Besides the airy tangibility of past Waxahatchee records – which has always been seriously lovely in its own right – Crutchfield’s careful whittling of sound has meant that you could track each addition and subtraction like a scene in slow motion. The Alabama singer-songwriter makes art that’s simultaneously transparent and poignantly opaque. So one notices the added brushstrokes on ‘Air’: that wonderful falsetto-as-riff that dots the breaks; the subtly wider proportions of the song’s sonic space (in a press release Crutchfield noted the changed atmosphere of the new LP); that radiant mood-change of a chorus that quite literally adds a new dimension to the rugged economy of Cerulean Salt’s directness. What remains is Crutchfield’s sense of weighted detail (‘I left you out like a carton of milk’) and her still-remarkable ability to say more with less.”  (Half Cloth)

44. Ryan Adams — “Out of the Woods”  1989
“Much more than 1989′s lead single ‘Shake It Off,’ ‘Woods’ broadcast the Jack Antonoff-contructed wall-of-1980s-sound that would define the album. Adams’ choice to tack on two full minutes of lush instrumentals to close the song was a great one. ‘Woods’ was meant to establish a sound, and Adams uses the track to let you live inside the one he has created. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the original—and one of the best here, too.”  (Wired)

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43. Hudson Mohawke — “Ryderz”  Lantern
“Ryderz is based around a sample of DJ Rogers, a minor 70s soul singer. Rogers has previously been sampled by Kanye West in his role as producer of Common’s 2005 single Faithful: a classic College Dropout-era West production, the old soul sample warped to elating effect. And that’s what Ryderz would sound like too were it not for the fact that Birchard warps the sample too far, speeding it up and slowing it down until it feels grotesque and sickly. The rhythm track scampers around it: there are moments when the vocals and the beats feel like they’re about to lose their grip on each other and fall out of time. The effect is disorientating and woozy, like a moment of dancefloor euphoria viewed through the lens of a punter so over-refreshed they’re on the verge of passing out.”  (The Guardian)

42. Aldous Harding — “Stop Your Tears”  Aldous Harding
“Aldous Harding’s self-titled debut LP…is a striking collection of confidently delivered songs. When contemplating the record, the term ‘anachronistic’ immediately springs to mind, as many of the songs exist in a pre-modern, or even mythical, context. Her songs might correspond with gothic fairytales and English folk music tradition, but it’s not an impenetrable release. Rather, Harding’s tales of heartache and loss – often laced with tragedy – are widely accessible. ‘The songs are all based around the same sort of idea,’ she says. ‘They follow the kind of slow mistrust of the world and your mind.’ Despite the record’s decidedly downcast tone, Harding says it’s not an exercise in nihilistic doom. ‘I wasn’t trying to be like, “Look how upset I am.” A lot of them are actually very hopeful songs. I think the only song that doesn’t have any hope at all is No Peace At All. That is basically just suffering and then death and murder. Not in that order [laughs]. But, like, Small Bones of Courage is basically telling people to straighten up and stop crying. Then of course there’s Stop Your Tears.”  (Beat)

Clueless is one of her touchstone films, like Howl’s Moving Castle or It’s Complicated, which along with books such as J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, and The Wind in the Willows, she always comes back to for both safekeeping and inspiration. ‘Nothing bad actually happens,’ says Harding of Clueless, and that matters to a 24-year-old, who believes that the elemental force of her songwriting is motivated by fear. … What comes next however, will be different. ‘The songs are nicer, a lot sweeter and a lot calmer. I want the next record to be a combination of my healing songs and the things I like since then,’ Harding promises. ‘I have a plan.”  “Aldous Harding feels the fear and writes a song

41. Braids — “Miniskirt”  Deep in the Iris
“Initially, I didn’t want to project too much onto this song, but damn did Braids just release one of the most spine chilling feminist anthems of the new year. … ‘Miniskirt’ is a song about all of the things that make being a woman on this earth seemingly impossible on the best of days. … There are songs that take your breath away and leave you feeling empty, completely unaware of your surroundings, resigned to an artist’s willingness to share a tiny shard of themselves. ‘Miniskirt’ is one of those songs.”  (Stereogum)

40. Yo La Tengo — “Before We Stopped to Think”  Stuff Like That There
“‘We would write our songs soft / Then we would try to make them tough.’ That’s a line from ‘Before We Stopped To Think,’ a song by the obscure, now-defunct indie-rock band Great Plains, covered by Yo La Tengo on its new album, Stuff Like That There. The choice of song is telling. Like Great Plains, Yo La Tengo was formed in the ’80s, when indie rock had yet to become a genre, let alone a mainstream phenomenon — and when playing jangly, noisy pop was as radical as playing hardcore punk. Writing songs soft, then trying to make them tough: That’s what bands like Great Plains and Yo La Tengo did 30 years ago, fueled by nerves and desperation instead of geek-chic ambition.”  (NPR)

39. Dilly Dally — “Desire”  Sore
“The most immediately disarming thing about Dilly Dally isn’t the hellfire guitar tone or the booming drum work. It’s Katie Monks’ voice, a scuffed-up howl descended most directly from Courtney Love but also from Layne Staley, Frank Black, Kurt Cobain — all those singers who heard the harshest grain of their voice not as a flaw but as a weapon. Monks has one hell of a snarl, and hearing her rattle it like so many rusty chains draws Dilly Dally’s debut out of the endless background noise of ‘90s revivalists and into a space where it can thrash around and feel alive. The Toronto band’s ‘90s roots are deep, though — Hole’s DNA shines through in gutter-pop stunner ‘Desire’ … The chorus of ‘Desire’ sees her repeating the song’s title in between background screams of ‘this fire, this fire,’ but what she howls before the bridge is anyone’s guess. Make it out for yourself and it’s yours — the meaning doesn’t rest in the text but in the way Monks rubs her vocal cords raw trying to strain the words out of herself.”  (Consequence of Sound)

38. Julia Holter — “Feel You”  Have You in My Wilderness
“It feels slightly odd to use the words ‘commercial breakthrough’ in conjunction with LA’s Julia Holter. Holter has long set out a defiantly avant-garde stall, making music that gave the kind of critic who likes to talk about things like mesotics and detournement the opportunity to talk about mesotics and detournement until they passed out from exhaustion. On one early solo release she used John Cage’s Circus On – a score consisting of an instruction on how to turn a book into a performance – to make music out of a Los Angeles church-club cookbook from the 1920s. … Two years on, Have You in My Wilderness takes her pop inclinations further. … Opening track Feel You is beautiful, airy and sunlit, its melody elevated by the arrangement’s harpsichord and strings and fidgety, stop-start drum pattern (the drumming is really inventive throughout, not a phrase you’re often required to deploy when reviewing new rock albums in 2015). In a more interesting world, it would be all over the radio.”  (The Guardian)

37. Adele, “Hello”  25
“The meaning of ‘Hello’ isn’t about reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend. ‘Hello’ is about Adele reconnecting with herself. In her Twitter announcement of 25, her third studio album and first in four years, Adele talked about growing up and finding herself again. She called 25 a ‘make-up record’ because, as she put it, ‘I’m making up with myself.’ ’25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realizing,’ she wrote. … ‘Hello’ is not a literal song. The ‘million miles’ she says separates her from the person she’s addressing aren’t physical — they’re emotional. No one who’s been through what Adele has could possibly be in the same place psychologically. In four years, she’s grown leaps and bounds. ‘Hello,’ and by extension 25, are an exploration of what it’s like to come together with yourself after such growth.”  (Mic)

“Adele can get caught up in her own songs, and she wouldn’t want to change that. ‘In order for me to feel confident with one of my songs it has to really move me,’ she said. ‘That’s how I know that I’ve written a good song for myself — it’s when I start crying. It’s when I just break out in [expletive] tears in the vocal booth or in the studio, and I’ll need a moment to myself.’ … ‘She’s got this incredible intuition about what’s right and what’s real and what suits her,’ said Paul Epworth, who wrote and produced songs with Adele on both ’21’ and the new album. ‘She’s the sharpest, most instinctive artist I’ve ever worked with. She’s pure gut, pure intuition.’ … ‘Everyone thinks I just disappeared, and I didn’t,’ she said. ‘I just went back to real life, because I had to write an album about real life, because otherwise how can you be relatable? If I wrote about being famous — that’s [expletive] boring.”  “Adele Cries to Her Music, Too

36. David Bowie — “Blackstar”  Blackstar
“The most compelling interpretation – bolstered by a remark made by Donny McCaslin, the New York jazz musician whose electro-acoustic trio forms the core of the backing band on Blackstar – is that the album’s opening title track is Bowie’s response to the rise of Isis. It seemed plausible: Bowie has always been fascinated both by messianic dictators – not least the relationship of their power to that of celebrity – and by the idea that the world is facing a future so terrifying that the thought of it, as he once put it, makes your brain hurt a lot. The theory was subsequently denied by Bowie’s spokesperson, which seems a shame: there’s a pleasing circularity to the idea of a muse that burst into life amid what the writer Francis Wheen called the ‘collective nervous breakdown’ of the 1970s, apparently sparking up again amid the collective nervous breakdown of the present day.”  (The Guardian)

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Ziggy Stardust supports your dreams

Ziggy Stardust supports your dreams

35. The Mountain Goats, “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”  Beat the Champ
“Bursting out after a peaceful, sleepy opening track, ‘Chavo Guerrero’ sets the album’s tone immediately, with an upbeat tempo and a relentlessly giddy energy. The acoustically driven folk-rock serves as a solid bed for Darnielle’s lyrics and ever-distinctive voice … As the song progresses, ‘The Legend Of Chavo Guerrero’ reveals itself to be of a piece with 2005’s The Sunset Tree, Darnielle’s beautiful meditation on growing up in the home of his abusive step-father, the late Mike Noonan. In that context (and as made explicit in the album’s cheekily titled liner note, ‘This Here Is An Album About Professional Wrestling’), Guerrero becomes a kind of real-world superhero, diving off the top rope to moonsault evil wherever it stands and deliver justice for a kid who couldn’t find it on his own.”  (A.V. Club)

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34. Jai Wolf — “Indian Summer
“Revolving around some massive synths, a pitched-up vocal, and a grab bag of other sounds that will make your feel good as fuck, ‘Indian Summer’ puts Jai Wolf in the boat with producers like ODESZA, Flume, and Maribou State, all artists that have captured the perfect marriage between indie, pop, and more obscure dance sounds. Like those other artists, Wolf might just have the chops to find success with such a diverse and approachable style, landing his music in a plethora of different ears, as well as probably a couple of television commercials.”  (Thump (Vice))

33. Tame Impala — “The Moment”  Currents
“There’s another volume to be written about psychedelia’s curious afterlife: the fact that a genre assumed to be a fad, inexorably linked with a moment in time and a fleeting burst of druggy utopianism, turned out to be anything but. … Of all the music by the current crop of psychedelically inclined artists, Tame Impala’s albums have been the least slavishly indebted to the 60s. Lonerism, in 2012, wasn’t above dropping the odd reference to the Beatles or the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but the songs came draped in modern electronics and slathered in distortion – not the warm, familiar fuzz of overdriven amps, but an alien, digital noise, the sound of modern machines going wrong. The result was a very 21st-century album. It served notice that Parker wasn’t interested in revivalism or sticking to a script. Thus far, he seems to have spent 2015 moving even further off-piste. … His biggest hit to date is Elephant, a track that stomped crowd-pleasingly along on a bover-booted glitter beat: when the same rhythm appears on The Moment, all its macho swagger is recast as a flighty, delicate skip, supporting a beautifully sugary pop tune.”  (The Guardian)

32. Low — “What Part of Me”  Ones and Sixes
“Despite being recorded at the Eau Claire studio of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, the Grand Poobah of tender-rock, it rattles along on a synthetic buzz, glacial guitar throb and the rhythm of a knackered tram. Driven by a desperate sentiment – ‘what part of me don’t you know?/What part of me don’t you own?’ they trill – husband-wife pair Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker harmonise with more urgency and weight than has generally been their wont, giving the tune the mechanical, countrified indie-pop feel of early Stars. Don’t go thinking it doesn’t still have sleep in its eyes though; ‘upbeat’ for Low is still what Cerebral Ballzy would consider flatlining, but their fundamental languor and grace sails on into more dynamic sonic waters here.”  (NME)

31. Grimes — “Realiti (Demo)
“‘REALiTi’ is the best new Grimes song since Visions. Boucher says it was recorded in early 2013 and salvaged from the cutting room floor where she is working on her new album, which is impressive. As much as the atmospheric pop collagework of the breezier ‘REALiTi’ could have fit on Visions, it’s also a compelling step forth: unlike last year’s ‘Go’, there’s no big-tent dubstep drop, but ‘REALiTi’ still absorbs EDM and trance into Boucher’s seemingly infinite pallete of sound. She accomplishes no small feat in making these typically massive elements feel like subtle brushstrokes rather than buckets of paint dumped whole. Listen closer and there is a heaviness to ‘REALiTi’ that is new for Grimes—it’s an energizing mini-anthem for anyone who knows what high-stakes are worth, the sound of a jet-setter emerging from the clouds and landing home. ‘Every morning there are mountains to climb/ Taking all my time,’ Boucher sings on the chorus, ‘When I get up this is what I see/ Welcome to reality.’ Her pop has been grounded before, but it’s never been so human.”  (Pitchfork)

30. Metric — “Too Bad, So Sad”  Pagans in Vegas
“Toronto indie rock mainstays Metric strive towards snapping through the monotony and loneliness of life on their emphatic, celebratory new song, ‘Too Bad, So Sad,’…. Like previously released cuts ‘Cascades’; and ‘The Shade,’ Metric continue to explore the synth-pop spectrum on ‘Too Bad, So Sad,’ in which percolating, whinnying synth lines interweave with pounding drums and a simple, but stadium-sized, guitar riff. Singer Emily Haines, meanwhile, delivers [a] wide-ranging vocal performance, sounding pensive and subdued one moment, before releasing the most vehement ‘Woo hoo!’ since Blur’s ‘Song 2.'”  (Rolling Stone)

Metric is of Minnesota

Metric is of Minnesota

29. Pearl Charles — “You Can Change”  Pearl Charles
“On hearing this material, the NME said ‘Think of Pearl Charles as a stoner Lana Del Rey or a Jenny Lewis with grit’, and it’s not an enormous stretch of the imagination to imagine Pearl reaching the heights of popularity shared by those artists. The impressive thing about this EP, is that Pearl hasn’t had to abandon her love of classic sixties / seventies rock to make this happen. … The hooks here are huge and much more universal than the majority of her peers – the sorts of hooks that are likely to land fans of Jenny Lewis, Ryan Adams and the likes. And having that voice certainly won’t do her any harm either. There’s plenty of variety on show here too – a diverse melting pot that takes in vintage psychedelic / folk-rock, Americana, Laurel Canyon and unabashed Fleetwood Mac style seventies pop-rock.”  (The Active Listener)

Pearl Charles: I Went Time-Travelling

28. Methyl Ethel — “Twilight Driving”  Oh Inhuman Spectacle
“It certainly wanders down a more lo-fi dream-pop path in comparison to the band’s previous work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not got its fair share of memorable hooks – second track, Shadowboxing, and the fifth, Twilight Driving, are standouts in that respect, with glistening guitar tones and catchy lyrics….”  (The Music)

27. TOPS — “Anything
“TOPS are a Montreal shoegaze-pop four-piece whose 2014 record Picture You earned a spot on our Top 50 Albums Of The Year list. Listening to their brand new moonlit-nightmare of a song ‘Anything,’ you’ll start to get a sense of why. Somewhere between Dirty Dancing and Twin Peaks, ‘Anything’ starts moody and low before building to a dramatic chorus full of loss. Despite this undercurrent [of] despair, the track is sprinkled with bright, sprightly moments. ‘I don’t have anything,’ Jane Penny laments, condensing her entire universe into the loss of a romance. Boy, does that ring a bell.”  (Stereogum)

26. Chvrches — “Empty Threat”  Every Open Eye
“One can almost be forgiven for thinking Chvrches are merely a vehicle for singer Lauren Mayberry’s dulcet voice and cutting, emotional lyrics. To an extent, that’s true: The group’s monolithic, austere synth compositions are almost 100% mechanical, and without Mayberry’s earnest delivery veering between defiant resolve and quivering desperation, Chvrches would sound almost inhuman. But on Every Open Eye, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty coyly play to their singer’s strengths, whether they’re repurposing samples of her voice to serve as a backing chorus or simply not stepping on the toes of a stunning, clarion chorus. They’re gracious band members, supporting Mayberry not only musically, but even in her highly publicized war against Internet misogynists. … In a recent interview for the Andy Greenwald Podcast, Mayberry, following an admission to a teenage obsession with Jimmy Eat World, jokingly pointed out that Chvrches’ sound is merely a combination of electronic textures and emo melodrama. It’s an apt description, as every feeling conjured is stadium-sized, worthy of a synthetic symphony. Mayberry’s lyrics are vulnerable and welcoming; what they lack in specificity they make up in an inhabitable yearning, whether it’s for release or independence or simply something better. … Rather than shy away from the populism of The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches double down with strong melodies and production flourishes, from gooey disco synths on ‘Empty Threat’ to wobbly bass drops on ‘Never Ending Circles,’ that could legitimately have the band snagging radio play.”  (Slant)

“What I do not accept, however, is that it is all right for people to make comments ranging from ‘a bit sexist but generally harmless’ to openly sexually aggressive. That it is something that ‘just happens’. Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not. Objectification, whatever its form, is not something anyone should have to ‘just deal with’. … Women are spoken to like this every day, and not just those deemed to be in the public eye. The depressing reality is that campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project would not need to exist were casual sexism not so startlingly commonplace. I should note here that I have never said that men – in the public eye or otherwise – do not receive such comments. I can, however, only speak of what I know, which is that the number of offensive messages directed towards me, ‘the girl singer,’ compared to my bandmates is undeniably higher. I should also clarify that this has nothing to do with hating men, as some have suggested. I identify as a feminist but subscribe to the pretty basic definition of a feminist as ‘someone who seeks equality between the sexes’. I am now, and have always been, in bands with smart, supportive guys, and have many amazing men in my life as family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful.”  “Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry: ‘I will not accept online misogyny’

25. Courtney Barnett — “Depreston”  Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
“If you’ve seen Courtney Barnett and her band in the past year, you know this one. It’s a more vulnerable headspace for the wry lyricism that has become Barnett’s trademark; her most direct contemporaries might be bands like Parquet Courts and Speedy Ortiz, their clever poetry itself recalling Pavement, but rarely have any of these groups been so cutting. ‘Depreston’ is Barnett’s somber tale of house-hunting in the suburbs of Melbourne, a sad neighborhood with few cafés and visible crime, heavy with an emptiness you can feel in this spacious, mid-tempo music. The song is rooted in a dilemma of all artists—that of finding a cheap place to live on the outskirts, of embracing domestic self-reliance and just brewing your own coffee—but it winds its way into a poignant ballad of memory, death and growing.”  (Pitchfork)

“Amazon named her one of 2015’s ‘artists to watch’ and the Herald’s live music reviewer, George Palathingal, called her ‘the kind of star Australia needs’. It has been a wild ride for a woman who, until last year, had never travelled overseas. ‘When I was finishing school and everyone was on their gap years, I was really jealous because I wanted to go to London and backpack around Europe, but I didn’t have the money – or my family didn’t have the money – so it seemed like a long shot,’ she says. The changes in her life have taken some getting used to. Only six months ago, she told Fairfax she would prefer to be in her back garden at home in Melbourne’s Northcote than travelling. ‘I get overwhelmed very easily, and kind of anxious, so it’s kind of nice to have that safety feeling of being at home,’ she says. … Barnett is ordinary in the best way; she gives off the kind of calmness characteristic of people who make friends easily. She smiles broadly and spontaneously. Above all, she seems authentic – a trait that comes through in her songs. … Barnett’s delivery is appealing because people find comfort in it. Most listeners connect with her music first and her poetry later. Her tone is warm, with a disarming hint of vulnerability, her enunciation is sharp and she sounds Australian, which works in an age when indie music is less homogenous than ever.”  “Indie singer Courtney Barnett’s reluctant date with global domination

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett

24. Carly Rae Jepsen — “Run Away With Me”  Emotion
“So, here it is. Officially: Carly Rae Jepsen‘s ‘Run Away With Me,’ the best pop song of 2015. … ‘Run Away With Me’ is that song. It’s massive — sonically speaking, lyrically speaking — all around, just plain bliss. Who worked with Carly to make this huge? A bunch of Swedes, duh. Specifically, Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson, otherwise known as Mattman & Robin (they also did Taylor Swift’s ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ and Tove Lo‘s ‘Moments,’ among other gems) and Shellback, the superstar producer (and frequent Max Martin collaborator) responsible for co-crafting much of 1989 and Britney smashes like ‘I Wanna Go’ and ‘Up N Down.’ ‘Run Away With Me’ is next level pop, elevating her far, far past the cutesy realm of ‘Call Me Maybe’ and her joyously sparkly Kiss into thunderous, arena-worthy territory. It’s essentially her very own edgier (yes, edgier) ‘Teenage Dream’ or ‘Style’; a nostalgia-evoking, euphoric, us-against-the-world anthem made for windows down, shout-along late night drives, first kisses and triumphant rom-com endings. From the opening ’80s sax blast alone, drowning out the noise of basic radio bops playing in the distance, you already know things are about to be very, very different this time around.”  (Muse Muse)

23. Majical Cloudz — “Downtown”  Are You Alone?
“Majical Cloudz’s latest single both pays tribute to and deconstructs the joyous downtown pop lineage. Rather than being in the middle of any sort of hustle and bustle, frontman Devon Welsh sounds like he’s eyeing Broadway from a thousand feet above, levitating. Wisps of droning organ hold him up as he finds his own downtown in another person. ‘Nothing you say will ever be wrong,’ he starts, ’cause it just feels good being in your arms.’ On their face, Welsh’s words could almost read as bubblegum, but the starkness of the arrangement and the gravitas of his delivery hint at the emptiness around him—he could fall to Earth at any moment. Hardly one for needless obfuscation, the songwriter puts a point on this dark spectre by ghostwriting his own eulogy: ‘And if suddenly I die/ I hope they will say/ That he was obsessed, and it was OK.’ Life and love will pass, but downtown is forever.”  (Pitchfork)

“He warms up with the Canadian national anthem, hitting every note, before digging into a deep croon: ‘Someone died/ Gunshot right outside/ Your father/ He is dead.’ … Those who know Welsh best mention his commitment, onstage and in the theater of life, to not breaking character … This strategy plays out most vividly during Majical Cloudz’s austere live shows, which can be startling in their directness. The first time I saw Welsh and Otto play, I was sitting on the floor in a small room, looking up as Welsh locked eyes with various members of the audience for extended periods of time, heightening the mood to hypnotizing, uncanny levels. … ‘He’s a real performer,’ notes Welsh’s friend Claire Boucher, aka Grimes. ‘The first few times I saw him live, it seemed so insane that someone could command a stage at such a high level whilst performing for 10 or 20 people, with almost no musical experience at all. People would weep or faint during the shows.’ Welsh and Boucher met in 2007, at a first-year dorm party at Montreal’s McGill University. Welsh noticed one of Boucher’s peculiar drawings hanging on the wall and asked who made it. ‘Oh, that’s Claire—she’s weird,’ a friend said. Welsh recalls thinking, ‘I should probably meet this person.’ … For his part, Welsh likens his role as a performer to one of a clown. But he’s no sad Pagliacci; when I first saw him play, he compared himself to Bozo. For Welsh, being vulnerable and being a clown are different sides of the same coin, and this is paramount in how he pulls off his incredibly stark performance style, diffusing the self-serious energy with strange banter or unexpected shenanigans. ‘I’m interested in the serious side of what a clown does,’ he says. … Welsh, a devout scholar of expectation-exploding comedian Andy Kaufman, describes his onstage antics as ‘prankish,’ and they range from singing behind curtains or speakers to making everyone come onstage and introduce themselves one-by-one. … Welsh spent last winter holed up at a friend’s place in Detroit writing Majical Cloudz’s forthcoming album, Are You Alone?…. The answer to that titular question seems to be a resounding ‘no,’ as the record’s theme once again involves maximum empathy, with Welsh dialing into what he calls ‘the electricity connecting humans.”  “Fall Down Laughing: The Story of Majical Cloudz

22. Skrillex and Diplo (Jack Ü) ft Justin Bieber — “Where Are U Now”  Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü
“The track is unexpected in all the best ways. It tones down everything you know about Skrillex while retaining his knack for dynamics. Diplo puts his own 10-ton-glowstick tendencies aside as the song combines sharp dancehall stabs and a gloriously sad Eastern melody in a way that recalls golden-age Timbaland. And Justin Bieber sings with something akin to actual human emotion.”  (Pitchfork)

The Inside History of ‘Where Are Ü Now’”

21. Wolf Alice — “Bros”  My Love is Cool
“Remember the first time you heard ‘Bros’? Tugging the heartstrings without ever being mawkish, even on its hundredth listen it sounded magical. And yet this was still early days for them. If there was ever one marker for what this band could be, that was it. … That’s Wolf Alice’s special power in one word. Personality. This is no last gang in town, more leaders of the pack. Each member has their own identity, but together they work in perfect harmony, like cogs in an organic machine. Not cold, not metallic, but real – feeling their environment and pitching perfectly. … Bands like Wolf Alice come along once in a generation. After years of the slow build, the release is here. Believe the hype.”  (DIY)

20. Hop Along — “Powerful Man”  Painted Shut
“‘Powerful Man’ might showcase the group’s sensibilities at their most pop, but the hooks are hinged with regret. The track tells of turning a blind eye to an abusive situation. ‘I just thought he looked like a powerful man,’ the vocals screech, a searing guitar solo easing into hefty driving refrains and intricate percussive riffs. By coming to terms with their worst moments within these tracks, the band have – however unintentionally – created a warning that is completely aspirational.”  (The Line of Best Fit)

19. Susanne Sundfør — “Delirious”  Ten Love Songs
“Firstly, it is worth noting that there are electro and synth pop textures contained within many of the tracks, that’s very likely to have been influenced by her new friends but it’s wrapped in Sundfør’s cloak of spontaneity and dramatic shape-shifting complexities. Take for instance one of the album’s most radio friendly tracks ‘Delirious’. On the face of it, the chorus has all the essential elements of a sure-[fire] hit including a danceable rhythm, uncomplicated memorable and rhyming lyrics, a steady beat and a typical structure of breaks, basslines and drops found in electro house. Whilst Sundfør’s subtle voice transition into Robyn also adds to that illusion…it begins with suspenseful Lynchian creepiness, powers up like a THX advertisement and sucks us in [by] patiently mimicking Fever Ray’s ‘If I Had A Heart’. It also contains the new rave of The Klaxons and climaxes with an orchestral string section that maintains her love for Betthoven-esque classical composition.”  (We Plug Good Music)

“The 29-year-old Norwegian is a self-confessed pop nerd who loves Abba and Carly Simon along with Radiohead and Joni Mitchell. Yet she is also classically trained, as in thrall to Handel and Mozart as she is to Baroque music and Philip Glass. She sees no inconsistency in these passions. It is the mingling of all these strands that makes her latest album, Ten Love Songs, such an intriguing record. Released to much acclaim in February, the largely self-produced album comprises 10 ruminations on love. At the darker end of the spectrum are songs about bad relationships such as Kamikaze and Delirious. The latter includes the lyric ‘I hope you’ve got a safety net ’cause I’m going to push you over the edge’. The album also contains songs of yearning, such as the astonishing 10-minute Memorial, which starts as an epic ballad in the vein of Madonna’s Live To Tell before it veers off into an extended classical coda. And then there are moments of pure pop joy. Sundfør was driving down Route 101 in Los Angeles listening to Fleetwood Mac when she was suddenly overcome by the urge to write ‘a car song, just for fun’. And so Fade Away was born. The result is an album that is decidedly complicated and contradictory. It is also full of heart and punctuated by unexpected melodic twists. Sundfør says she loves music that ‘is going one way then goes another, like a beautiful maths piece’.”  “‘I want to be a bit geeky with you. Watch.’

18. Colleen Green — “Deeper Than Love”  I Want to Grow Up
“‘Deeper Than Love’…is an existential meditation on the human capacity for connection and disconnection. Driven by heavily processed bass, a metronomic drum machine, and a twinkling, haunting guitar melody, Green’s soft voice, doubled, asks persistently: ‘Will I find a love that lasts as long as my life or will I die before ever becoming a wife? And I’m wondering if I’m even the marrying kind. How can I give you my life when I know you’re just gonna die?’ It is intensely claustrophobic, the kind of stream of mundane self-reflective horror that we all run away from by tapping at our phones or flipping channels. Then it turns in on itself, Green’s voice nearly a whisper as she recounts the reasons she holds potential partners at arm’s length: ‘Cause I’m shitty and I’m lame and I’m dumb and I’m a bore/ And once you get to know me you won’t like me anymore.’ The coda, repeated, a shiver in the spine, guitar and synth spiraling around it: ‘Further than fantasy, deeper than love ever could be.’ The fear of intimacy triumphs over the fear of death.”  (Pitchfork)

17. Chvrches — “Leave a Trace”  Every Open Eye
“On ‘Leave a Trace’, the lead single from Chvrches’ forthcoming second album Every Open Eye, Mayberry has mastered a move more effective than wounds and weaponry: the coolest of indifference. ‘Take care to tell it just as it was/ Take care to tell on me for the cause,’ she jeers at a calculating ex who she knows will try and keep score long after she’s dropped the mic. The blame she accepts, though, is key to her recovery. ‘I’ll admit that I got it wrong/ And there is gray between the lines,’ she sings stoically, over a cold darkwave tremor that shows off Chvrches’ newfound embrace of simpler arrangements, and not at the expense of impact. Those ineffable, imprecise gray areas can be the sites of revelation, which Mayberry seizes in a pitch that’s all transcendent ASMR tingle: ‘I know/ I need/ To feel/ Relief,’ she gasps, finding that liberation way outvalues the puny spoils of being right or wrong.”  (Pitchfork)

16. Sufjan Stevens — “Should Have Known Better”  Carrie & Lowell
“In a hushed voice, he sings like he’s clinging onto a blanket for warmth as he fixates on the black shroud that enveloped him in the wake of [his mother’s] absence, muting his ability to transparently express himself. But halfway through, an uplifting electric keyboard line kicks in; a subtle percussive note steadily taps out a reminder to keep going; his voice shakes off the ice and forms a chorus with itself, flowering into something hopeful. Sufjan flips the melody from the black shroud into a tender lyric about shoving aside his fear, discovering an oasis of perspective when he looks to his brother’s newborn daughter and sees his mother in her face. When he sings ‘nothing can be changed,’ he doesn’t sound resigned, but ready to look forward. It’s the dawn at the end of a long night, a prayer that past traumas might be healed by a beautiful present.”  (Pitchfork)

15. Grimes — “Kill V. Maim”  Art Angels
“‘Kill V. Maim’ isn’t the only all-out, fantasy world banger to leap out of ‘Art Angels’, but it’s the most magnifying. Just when the next step doesn’t look like an option, she goes one further. Vocals go from enraged roars to a state of pitch-shifting bananas. It’s an odd state of joy that catches you like a spider’s web. A zombie disco, crazy cyborg of a pop song, it’s the further depth of Grimes’ imagination to have been exposed to date, and it’s impossible not to follow every move like watching a mad plot unfold. Naturally, the song’s all about Al Pacino’s Goldfather Pt 2 character becoming a gender-switching vampire. ‘You gave up being good when you declared a state of war,’ she chants, and make no mistake – this is Grimes at her most uncompromising, doing battle on her terms.”  (DIY)

“When Grimes recorded her breakthrough album Visions in 2011, she was going through a chapter of emotional turmoil. The LA-based singer.-songwriter, born Claire Boucher, had emerged from a period of drug addiction and two of her friends had recently died. She locked herself in a room with blacked-out windows, ‘tons’ of amphetamines and no food. Nine days without sleep resulted in an altered mind state, plus a dazzling portfolio of gurling electronica and pop synths that translated into huge critical acclaim and a Juno award in 2013 for Electronic Album Of The Year. [Art Angels] was made under less tumultuous circumstances, though her [process] still bordered on the eccentric. ‘I went to the woods’ she says, talking between mouthfuls of spaghetti in her LA home studio, where work on her fourth studio release has only just been completed. ‘I wanted to get away from Hollywood bullshit. So I moved to Squamish, a small town in British Colombia. There was a lot of “crazy” going on, but it was organised “crazy” – like lying in the dark and seeing if I could hallucinate. It felt good, letting myself be a total fucking weirdo. And I had cookies.’ Such are the extremities in which Boucher [currently] operates. When work started on her latest project in June 2014, she dispensed with the synthesized spine of Visions and learned how to play the driving guitars and New Order- style basslines that underpinned her latest batch of throbbing pop harmonies. Boucher also immersed herself in a concept she refers to as ‘bro-art’: albums by such artist[s] as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, and gangster movies. ‘One song on the album, Kill V Maim, is written from the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt 2,’ she says. ‘Except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel [through] space.’  “People Are Strange

“1. Grimes’ least favorite song on the Art Angels is Easily.
2. Her favorite song on the album is Kill V. Maim.
3. The song California isn’t about California.  It’s a ‘hate track to Pitchfork.’
4. Alexis Krauss used to sing at bar mitzvahs
5. As a teenager, Caroline Polachek baked a pie for Joanna Newsom and tried to give it to her at a show.”
Grimes + friends take over SiriusXMU in honor of ‘Art Angels’ release!

14. Oneohtrix Point Never — “Animals”  Garden of Delete
“The whole time I had wanted to write a ballad; ‘Child of Rage’ is kind of like [a ballad], but it still has this mid-tempo quality to it. I wanted to do something even slower, so I thought, ‘Okay, let’s just sit down at the piano and come up with one nice progression, then do this nice mantra-esque vocal melody over it.’ I’d been reading [Oxford professor and philosopher] Nick Bostrom’s stuff about artificial intelligence, and in the course of reading that, someone—Nick or some other thinker—suggested a scenario where far more evolved beings than we are would just ignore us, the way we ignore animals and insects. We wouldn’t pose a big enough risk to them to deserve eradication. That thought scared me so much—imagining a cyborg ignoring you. He’s not even going to take time to kill you. I liked that thought, and I used a metaphor of a couple sitting on a bench in front of the zoo and laughing, realizing that could easily be a [situation] that humans find themselves in. … The final observation I try to make in those lyrics is basically about something I caught me and my significant other doing, which is waking up in the morning and both immediately looking at our phones and facing away from each other. If you were to photograph that from a bird’s eye view, it would [be] so sad.”  (Thump (Vice))

Garden of Delete is OPN’s negative opus and is a testament to the hopeless nature of criticality, specifically rendered in the form of Ezra, an invented alien friend who Lopatin conversed and consulted with throughout the making of G.O.D. In a PDF subtitled “to the fans,” he expands on his relationship with the alien, describing him as having ‘an abject cluster of slime stuck behind his tonsils […] as […] certain phonemes would morph into rippling fields of noise.’ Despite all the excessive mystery that surrounds Ezra’s conceptualization, the invented muse seems to speak to the degraded aspects of the culture apparatus dictating music discourse, an apparatus reflexively altering the characteristics of the artist. Lopatin’s move to construct an alien straw-man as a self-portrait and a portrait of culture demonstrates his responsiveness to the threat of living under ‘the gaze’ of discourse, one that G.O.D. effectively attempts to both satisfy, develop a rapport with, and delete. ‘The gaze,’ as is discussed by Lacan, or as is felt by any subject inevitably interpellating social pressure, can be violent. It’s become so pertinent that it demands that the artist ‘arrest the gaze before the gaze can arrest the viewer,’ as critic Hal Foster put it. Lopatin demonstrates that not dealing with the pressure of the gaze would lack sensitivity to Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘moment’ in 2015. As such, by weakening the invested meaning or scope of his work by arbitrarily complicating its relationship to the shell of an anticipated ‘public,’ Lopatin is reflecting the grotesque bits of culture into a grotesque rendering of self.”  (Tiny Mix Tapes)

13. Father John Misty — “Bored in the USA”  I Love You, Honeybear
“A biting spin on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The U.S.A.,’ ‘Bored In The USA’ is a scathing takedown of the mindless materialism and overmedicated emptiness that has come to define the lives of far too many Americans. But Father John Misty’s indictment doesn’t end with capitalism and pharmaceuticals. He also targets organized religion, deficit funded greed, our obsession with physical beauty, a broken political system and the failed promises of the American Dream. It’s a plainspoken but take-no-prisoners assault on the veneer many people hide behind as they run out the clock on their otherwise meaningless lives. ‘Save me, White Jesus,’ Father John Misty pleads. ‘They gave me a useless education / A subprime loan, Craftsman home / Keep my prescriptions filled / Now I can’t get off, but I can kind of deal / Oh, with being Bored in the USA.’ Father John Misty’s voice, and the song’s swing from melancholy minor chords to uplifting majors, recalls the wistful story songs of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson. It’s a tragic tune, but also a painfully comical one, particularly when Father John Misty fades in the sound of a studio audience laughing callously at his tale of woe. Brilliant and beautiful, but also brutal, ‘Bored In The USA’ is a fitting anthem for a nation hobbled by its own shortcomings….”  (NPR)

12. Alejandra O’Leary, “Burn Me Up
“There’s something to be said for perfectly made pop. For musician Alejandra O’Leary, the execution of this kind of immaculately made noise seems to be an integral part of who she is as an artist. Taking a shimmering set of pop sounds and merging them with a classic rock attitude, she manages to inject her songs with a thrilling momentum. It’s all about splitting the influences with O’Leary, a kind of dichotomous exploration of inspiration and production—a sound that’s easy to feel your way through but far more difficult to describe. With her new single, ‘Burn Me Up,’ she once again takes these genres to task, drawing out the heart and soul of the sounds until there’s nothing left but pure influence. She then layers each melodic section on top of the next in a winding staircase of effervescent pop rhythms. The song becomes a monument to her being able to rearrange these sounds into something that speaks to her motivations, as well as those of the artists who have had such an obvious impact on her development. ‘Burn Me Up’ is jubilant and ambitious, and you’ll probably be humming it for weeks—and that’s not a bad thing.”  (Joshua Pickard)

Alejandra O'Leary

Alejandra O’Leary: A Champion of the West and a New-Frontier New Englander

11. St. Vincent — “Teenage Talk
“The song is a breezy yet mournful affair with a dumbed down hip-hop beat and loose electronic chords, creating a mesmerising backing for Clark’s vocals, which are soothing and gentle; her falsetto as achingly beautiful as ever when she reaches the final chorus. Clark’s angular riffs and dextrous fretting are absent here, and the song is reminiscent of the gentler tracks from her astounding eponymous LP, such as Prince Johnny and I Prefer Your Love. … As expected from St. Vincent, Teenage Talk is both highly listenable and rich with thoughtful lyrics, but none-the-less veiled; the mystery of who or what Annie Clark is, is further perpetuated by this tantalising glimpse into her past. Indeed, the single artwork is an old photograph of a very young Clark, singing from a tattered piece of paper. To her side is the subject of the song, lying on a bed smiling at the camera. … Clark asks [her] ‘How do you see me now/ Now that I’m a little bit older?'”  (Rotary Review)

St. Vincent Explains ‘Teenage Talk’ on “Fallon’

Musician Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, Finally Speaks About Waitressing at That Dallas Taqueria

10. Brandon Flowers — “Between Me and You”  The Desired Effect
“Album highlight ‘Between Me and You’ falls more in the Killers wheelhouse as well, and could legitimately have been a b-side from Battle Born. Lyrics like ‘All my life I’ve been told “follow your dreams”/But the trail went cold,’ and ‘These hours I’m working ain’t nearly enough/And chasing every dollar girl, is this what I was born to do?’ reflect that album’s themes of reaching for escapism and fighting for the American Dream. Half Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen, Half So-era Peter Gabriel, ‘Between Me and You’ is a ballad with real stakes, and one of Flowers’ best songs. Bruce Hornsby shows up on keyboard to lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings, while Rechtshaid takes the song to the next level, trading his normally bombastic production style for a more subdued arrangement, but still allowing certain moments (like the electric guitar accents on the bridge) to spark with thunderous intensity.”  (Absolute Punk)

9. Cosmo Sheldrake ft Anndreyah Vargas — “Rich”  Pelican We
“Featuring vocals from Anndreyah Vargas, ‘Rich’ is a melting pot of R&B and alternative pop built on a myriad of loops and samples, clapping instrumentation and melodious brass and strings sections. At different points, the track grooves to a different instrument, but there’s no feeling of restlessness; it’s perfectly balanced, with Sheldrake allowing each piece to take to the stage.”  (DIY)

8. Natalie Prass — “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”  Natalie Prass
“Sometimes a relationship collapses so slowly it catches you by surprise. You can spend years encouraging another person to put his or her weight in your hands, learning habits and welcoming faults, feverish with devotion until something else starts to reveal itself, materializing like a small fracture in your windshield. Over time, the fracture starts to splinter, and that same person you once knew grows suddenly unrecognizable. On Natalie Prass’ ‘My Baby Don’t Understand Me’, the opener to the Nashville singer-songwriter’s self-titled debut, she depicts this kind of realization with plaintive, fortifying clarity. ‘What do you do when that happens?’ she implores over a sweep of horns and piano during the song’s chorus. ‘Where do you go when the only home that you know is with a stranger?'”  (Pitchfork)

Prass: “There came a point when I was thinking, ‘I’m now 26, 27, working on music every day but I’m not making, like, a lot of money. What’s happening? I guess I’ll just start making dog clothes’. I was designing and making them myself and sold a ton. I was like, ‘Is this my calling now?’”

“It’s a nine-song capsule of longing and grief crosshatched by fantasy, from a voice somewhere on the spectrum near Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Janet Jackson, if Janet had any ambition toward singing jazz standards. … White and Pollard reveal a voice completely vulnerable to the elements around it. Their lush string and horn arrangements show what she cannot tell. … Prass takes us through her obvious influences in ’70s soul, old Nashville country, and R&B, but, on occasion, she also sends the listener tumbling through a dream portal, where life feels and sounds like a Disney princess movie. The portal was created early. Live-action role-playing dominated Prass’s early teen years. Dressed up as a werewolf one summer in Boston at a LARPing camp, she stared up at the night sky and says she thought, This is the coolest, best moment of my life. I need to remember this. Completely embarrassing? Yes, but not without merit. LARPing saved her life. ‘When you’re that age — that middle-school age, early high school — you’re changing,’ Prass tells me. ‘You’re going crazy. So I put all of my energy into pretending I was someone else, battling and screaming and all that stuff — casting spells and getting into a whole fantasy world. It was really healthy for me.’ … This album is an introduction for new listeners. It’s more of a yearbook for Prass — songs and stories rooted in moments that have, for better or worse, defined her twenties.”  “A Long Hello: Natalie Prass’s Beautiful, Time-Tested Fairy Tale

7. Joanna Newsom — “Leaving the City”  Divers
“Last year, the singer and harpist Joanna Newsom appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice as Sortilège, a maybe-clairvoyant beachdweller who in Pynchon’s description ‘liked finding new uses for the term “beyond”‘ and once taught the novel’s protagonist how to tell time from a broken clock. Her beliefs are ethereal but her presence is grounding: In one scene, her and Joaquin Phoenix share some pizza; in another she strokes his hair, not like a lover but like a mom. In the context of a story about the corruption of ’60s ideals, Sortilège becomes a monument to everything lost, her innocence not naïve but defiant. The casting was canny. Newsom herself has always seemed like a refugee from the present, an artist whose elaborate song-suites and Spenserian diction stuck an oar into continuously moving waters. One early highlight argues that ideas are interesting to kick around but don’t hold a candle to birds; another uses a wardrobe of elaborate dresses as a metaphor for romantic armor. But despite the nature and antiquity, Newsom’s message never seemed nostalgic so much as perpetually modern: The same things that supposedly make our lives better make them more complicated, too. You can hear the friction play out in ‘Leaving the City’….”  (Pitchfork)

6. Belle and Sebastian — “Nobody’s Empire”  Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
“About that opening track: ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a rarity for Murdoch—pure autobiography—but his appealing songwriting has often featured character-based lyrics with a depth and a detail that’s easily mistaken for memoir. Coming off of the longest character study he’s ever attempted—a feature-length adaptation of God Help The Girl—the newly minted filmmaker’s writing sounds refreshed on Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. … Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is the purest expression of the big, bright sounds that have always been within the band, visions of Belle & Sebastian as Naked-era Talking Heads or an ABBA for 2015.”  (A.V. Club)

5. Joanna Newsom — “The Things I Say”  Divers
“Why ‘Divers’ as an album title? Because its lyrics contain diving as a metaphor for love and moving through time. Maybe, also, because that is the Middle English spelling of diverse, a word that hints at the multiplicity in Joanna Newsom’s work. She plays the harp using polyrhythms; the sound of her music reflects the serious singer-songwriter folk-pop of the 1970s, American folk traditions, art song and operetta. Her voice is a wild bunch of tonal shadings, and her compositions tend to move through several strains. And maybe, also, ‘Divers’ because this rather brilliant record is heaving you into the deep end. You might as well go headfirst. … But, by the end, ‘Divers’ refers — obscurely — to Demeter, symbol of fertility, goddess of harvest. Newsom-watchers have already pointed this out, as they have pointed out that the album closes with a half-word — ‘trans’ — which, when connected with the album’s first word might deliver an overarching theme. You may not have to know all of that. Ms. Newsom’s unusual singing and the way she constructs her music contain the same information: In one way or another, they make you think about time and metaphysics. ‘The Things I Say’ begins like a modal folk song. ‘If I have the space of half a day, I’m ashamed of half the things I say,’ Ms. Newsom sings. The tone of her voice oscillates between goofy young-girl singsong and constricted old-woman crackle. But on the last word of the next line — ‘I’m ashamed to have turned out this way’ — her voice suddenly goes soft, full and focused. And after two minutes, the simple song starts repeating and echoing and running backward. At a climax, it disappears.”  (New York Times)

All the Big Words You’ll Learn from Joanna Newsom’s New Album ‘Divers’

4. Caravan Palace — “Aftermath”  Robot Face
“Robot [Face], the third album by Parisian retro-futurists Caravan Palace is a record out of time in several ways. Though aimed at modern dancefloors, it is based on the sort of swinging, syncopated, pre-war hot jazz that’s the best part of a century old now. And its combination of soulful vocals, lurching stop-start dynamics and unabashed dancefloor populism is reminiscent of the years when Fatboy Slim ruled the nation’s charts and dancefloors. This is instantly accessible music, not for chin-strokers or music snobs. … When the likes of Saint Etienne melded jazz and house in the 90s, theirs was a cooler, more laidback hybrid. This record sacrifices Saint Etienne’s late-night melancholy for an altogether more in-your-face approach. That’s not to say that the mood doesn’t get more abstract on occasions: the relatively downbeat ‘Aftermath’ features distracted scatting and woozy, disconnected atmospherics.”  (Bearded)

3. Rozi Plain — “Actually”  Friend
“Emotional – rather than sonic – clout is its energy source, and Rozi Plain’s third album connects at a level beyond mere volume and muscle. The opening Actually sets a scene whispered but devastating: ‘It will be reported to be a tumultuous year…’ Arrangements are thrillingly sparse – shuffling percussion, needlepoint acoustic guitar, vintage synth. Plain sings, as ever with a keen sense of wonder, but this time around she inhabits a freer, warmer world.”  (The Skinny)  Sofar London version

2. Courtney Barnett — “Pedestrian at Best”  Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
“The song is a roaring, headfirst dive into the ever-so-charming wordsmith that is Courtney Barnett. The singer-songwriter out of Melbourne, Australia is known for her quirky lyrics, her soft-spoken vocals, and her carefree guitar pop-rock sensibilities. … ‘Pedestrian at Best’ may be Barnett’s loudest work to date. It’s muddled with brash and aggressive guitar playing, topped off with Barnett’s static-heavy vocals. It’s a 90s Nirvana and grunge fan’s dream. She opens the song with the lyrics: ‘I love you, I hate you, I’m on the fence, it all depends.’ We immediately plunge straight into Barnett’s brain and current mental state. She’s losing her touch with reality and doesn’t know what to think. She’s in a state of mixed feelings, mixed advice, and a general second-guessing of the paths we take in life. We find out later, through her incredibly chaotic and earnest approach to storytelling, that Barnett is having a small crisis with becoming known better, even in an indie sense. … What’s so wonderful about ‘Pedestrian at Best,’ is Barnett’s boldness and ability to speak the truth about her flaws, her fears, and her challenges, while also being ridiculously catchy and clever. She even rhymes ‘turpentine’ with ‘cyanide’ and ‘diatribe,’ and also ‘erroneous,’ ‘harmonious,’ and ‘sanctimonious’ all in the same verse. ‘Pedestrian at Best’ is a solid, brave, and cunning release from indie’s newest charmer….”  (PPcorn)

“‘That line [was] inspired by a friend’s teenager who was a great student but felt totally pressured to decide on the rest of her life now,’ Barnett said. ‘That was in my mind when I was writing it… when teachers or fans put crazy pressure on you to [succeed now] because the rest of your life relies on it.’  “Courtney Barnett’s Pedestrian at Best named the best song of 2015

Courtney Barnett on dreams, ‘fuckheads’ and her guerrilla gig in London

1. Caravan Palace — “Lone Digger”  Robot Face
“[Vocalist] Zoé [Colotis]…lends an extending hand on a fair share of the album’s tracks, such as her excellently sweet and seductive performance in monstrous opener Lone Digger, bringing out a certain smoothness and moxie that perfectly captures Caravan’s excellent contrasting blend of classical and modern dance tropes. On the production side, each track carries a vintage film with the synths, which have a certain subdued warmness to them that perfectly mix with the organic aspect of Caravan Palace’s band of multi-instrumentalists. Lone Digger…illustrates Robot’s outstanding chemistry perfectly. The simplistic mix of speedy trombone riffs, buzzy electro synths, and…Colotis’ fast-paced sung/rapped vocals show how the three…elements work to the utmost effectiveness….”  (Sputnik Music)

Every Movie Ending Is Improved By That One Stupid Dire Straits Song

He's a blackstar

He’s a blackstar


2016 Oscars / Mad Oscar: Fury Carpet; or “The world’s always changing brightness, and hotness.”

[Spoilers ahead]

“This is not only for the survivors of this horrific situation. But for me personally, and [I’ll] only speak for me, this is really for the disenfranchised everywhere. This is for every Flint, Michigan in the world. This is for the powerless. This is for the powerful who take advantage of the powerless.”  —Michael Keaton

George Clooney: “I would also make the argument, I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?”

 

Best of All Pictures

8. Brooklyn
Never rises much above your standard immigrant’s tale. I never cared whether she picked Ireland or the U.S., to the extent both places are depicted as boring and not a little bit stupid. Too much maudlin yearning for domesticity. America was never innocent, as the film often seems to suggest.

7. The Martian
A lot of the film is an extended commercial for NASA, which consulted heavily on it. Snugly slots into the recent series of space-catastrophe movies. Like the others, it’s rather well-done overall, but stays shrouded in its own next-frontierism fog.

6. Spotlight
Important story that’s hard to translate to the screen–the gravity and impact of the issue is difficult to fully capture. I love investigative journalism and appreciate the focus on it here, but the moves and discoveries lack the pop and sizzle they probably had in real life. Thethirdrevelation correctly predicted it to be a high-floor, good-but-limited-ceiling procedural. Tom McCarthy said he fought to keep in the two to three minutes of Excel spreadsheets shots and the like, and I love that for its accuracy and its implicit endorsement of putting the work in even if it’s mind-numbing at times. It all feels relatively bloodless though, with victims more peppered in than followed. There are a couple of scenes Michael Keaton has that are emblematic of the film’s high-floor, good-but-limited-ceiling character: you want them to be great, but they’re boxed into being good only. I did like him winning the New York Film Critics award for Best Actor. Good use of Boston as a filming location.

5. Bridge of Spies
Liked this more than I thought I would, after getting the impression that it was simply Spielberg moving his terrorized action-child theme to a protecting & principled-patriarch one. Whole chunks of it are rather cookie cutter–though not uninteresting or without heart–until the end, when the last few moments brought it home for me. It’s about doing things despite not knowing the payoff, i.e. going on principles. It’s also about the enormity of social and political issues and systems, and the idea that the individual can do something in the face of them. Has several well-constructed and well-placed taut scenes rife with symbolism. An arguably instant classic entry in the “Everyman Rises to the Occasion and Accomplishes Something Great” category (Reluctant Warrior supracategory), and raises the question of whether or not we have a thinner stable of quality leaders today than in the past. Depicts the high stakes well. T.Hanks delivers classic tenacity in classic T.Hanks style. Smooth performance by Mark Rylance. His character’s “Would it help?” is rather good as far as black-humor lines go. Leaves you with one special docket for your passport so you can do all the special negotiating you need to.

4. Room
The film isn’t much more than the performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, but that’s plenty. Larson meets the big challenge of having to do the character in both the character’s captured and freed states. Tremblay’s character has some choice “out of the mouths of babes” quotes, including the following after he escapes: “The world’s like all TV planets on at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen. There’s doors and…more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. It never stops. Plus, the world’s always changing brightness, and hotness.” Yeah, you’re telling me kid.

3. The Revenant
I continue to be leery of Iñárritu, and the film was certainly a little much–as thethirdrevelation pointed out–on the symbolic, the magic–including the magic Indians–and the narrative incoherence. Yet I might not deduct a lot on those, if for no other reason than I don’t expect much else from the guy. I didn’t mind the hyperreal. The whole thing is beautiful to look at and something to contemplate and meditate on, and that’s probably worth at least one bag of popcorn. A strong, and pretty well-depticted ravenousness theme runs through it; it may have actually lifted shots and scenes directly from Ravenous. I also liked Fitzgerald’s Nitschean squirrel speech–probably the best part of the whole film. The film does get a little too ponderous and is limited by its revenge theme. Leo vs. the Hardy Boy proves a solid foundation though, plus we get a serviceable Domnhall Gleeson who will think twice about mercy-killing you. From Wes Morris: “Melena, have you seen the Instagram photos of a Revenant screening/sleepover that Oprah Winfrey hosted? The people who love this movie *love* it. Apparently, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had an ecstatic sleepover, too. I’m milder about it, but Mr. DiCaprio’s best actor speech, in which, at the end, he makes seemingly sincere acknowledgement of American Indians who play a larger more contemplative role in that movie and asserts that they deserve more from this country. Bravo. Still, this is a movie about the suffering of a man played by Mr. DiCaprio.”

2. The Big Short
The first third or so is shaky, marked by unsuccessful attempts at humor, but it builds up steam pretty well as it goes, namely as it gets more serious. The last third to half is solid, at least insofar as it’s getting at civilizational edifices, and the warp and weave of societal rot and the economic collapse. It uses (acquisitive) masculinities to criticize (rapacious) hypermasculinities to show the extremes to which we’ve been pulled; here it’s akin to Rust Cole telling Marty Hart that “The world needs bad men. We keep other bad men from the door.” We also get a tonic of Christian Bale doing Rain Man Light with an infusion of Patrick Bateman. The film is a good addition to a series that includes Inside Job and Margin Call. I liked it better than Wolf of Wall Street, which I didn’t think was critical enough. It leaves you with a dream of Wall St. regulations with teeth. As it tells us at the end, and as Bernie Sanders is pointing out on the campaign trail, this extraordinarily destructive, wanton gambling with other people’s lives through financial speculation is ongoing.

Michael Burry at work

Michael Burry at work

Goldman to Pay Up to $5 Billion to Settle Claims of Faulty Mortgages

Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
A great, almost seamless blend of action, ideas, issues, and the meditative. Its feminism is in its depiction of men and women working together for mutual liberation. When Imperator Furiosa kneels in the sand, we acutely feel her pain.

Will win: The Revenant

 

Number One Better Half
5. Rooney Mara
4. Rachel McAdams
3. Alicia Vikander
2. Jennifer Jason Leigh
Ought to win: Kate Winslet
Will win: Vikander

Most Supportive Man
5. Mark Ruffalo
4. Sylvester Stallone
3. Mark Rylance
2. Christian Bale
Ought to win: Tom Hardy
Will win: Stallone

Queen of the Castle
5. Charlotte Rampling
4. Jennifer Lawrence
3. Saorise Ronan
2. Cate Blanchett
Ought to win: Brie Larson
Will win: Larson

Superlative Actor in a Leadership Role
5. Bryan Cranston
4. Eddie Redmayne
3. Matt Damon
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
Ought to win: Michael Fassbender
Will win: DiCaprio

Best of All Directors
5. Tom McCarthy
4. Alejandro Iñárritu
3. Adam McKay
2. Lenny Abrahamson
Ought to win: George Miller
Will win: Iñárritu

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Brooklyn
4. The Martian
3. Carol
2. Room
Ought to win: The Big Short
Will win: The Big Short

Cinematography
5. The Hateful Eight
4. Carol
3. Sicario
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Ought to win: The Revenant
Will win: The Revenant

Visual Effects
5. The Martian
4. The Revenant
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Ought to win: Ex Machina
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Film Editing
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Spotlight
3. The Big Short
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design
5. The Danish Girl
4. The Martian
3. Bridge of Spies
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Score
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Bridge of Spies
3. The Hateful Eight
2. Carol
Ought to win: Sicario
Will win: The Hateful Eight

Sound Editing
5. The Martian
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
3. Sicario
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing
5. Bridge of Spies
4. The Martian
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sometimes you have to ride off a cliff and be reborn from a dead horse to win an Oscar.

Sometimes you have to ride off a cliff and be reborn from a dead horse to win an Oscar.


2015 Oscars: Uses and abuses of biography and history; or, “You get what it gives you. That’s how this thing works.”

“By using real names, the film purports to be a documentary account. But it makes only gestures toward presenting all facets of the case… The documentary is a real medium of journalism; the docudrama usurps its authenticity, just as would an advertisement written to be indistinguishable from a news column… Real names, people and places are not common property that can be taken and remolded at will by thesis-builders. They should be reported with respect for the evidence in its own right.” New York Times, “The Chicanery of ‘Silkwood

“What this reveals is a lack of standards and ethics in the film industry that, if replicated in the fields of history or journalism, would have produced a scandal of the first order. Evidently, because it’s ‘just a movie,’ members of the filmmaking industry and the public seem to think that this is all right. Granted, filmmaking is generally considered to be entertainment, and so viewers tend to give it very great leeway where truth and believability are concerned. But when films purport to tell true stories — especially the life stories of living people — they should be held to a higher standard.”  –Maxwell King, “‘Beautiful Mind’ controversy: Hollywood’s truth problemPhiladelphia Inquirer, 3-20-02

“Notwithstanding their boosters’ claims about these films’ relation to the historical moments they depict, Selma and its recent predecessors, like other period dramas, treat the past like a props closet, a source of images that facilitate naturalizing presentist sensibilities by dressing them up in the garb of bygone days. And the specific sensibilities that carry the spate of slavery/Jim Crow-era costume dramas are those around which the contemporary black professional-managerial class (PMC) converges: reduction of politics to a narrative of racial triumph that projects ‘positive images’ of black accomplishment, extols exemplary black individuals, stresses overcoming great adversity to attain success and recognition, and inscribes a monolithic and transhistorical racism as the fundamental obstacle confronting, and thus uniting, all black Americans. History is beside the point for this potted narrative, as is art incidentally, which the debate over the relative merits of Spielberg’s Lincoln and Tarantino’s Django Unchained demonstrates. The only metric that could make comparing such radically different films seem plausible is the presence or prominence of a black hero or black ‘agency.’ … It is past time to consider Prof. Legette’s aphorism [‘The only thing that hasn’t changed about black politics since 1965 is how we think about it.’] and engage its many implications. And that includes a warrant to resist the class-skewed penchant for celebrating victories won in the heroic moment of the southern civil rights movement as museum pieces disconnected from subsequent black American political history and the broad struggle for social justice and equality.”  –Adolph Reed, Jr., “The Real Problem with Selma: It doesn’t help us understand the civil rights movement, the regime it challenged, or even the significance of the voting rights actnonsite.org, 1-26-15

 

Accuracy is important; and in a world already swimming in inaccuracy, we should be quite careful not to add any more. Yet this year the Academy Awards is headlined by films featuring serious abuses of biography and history. There are camps defending it and there are camps saying it doesn’t matter. The use of the “artistic license” defense is now so overused as to be absurd. Our history knowledge is already at an appallingly low level, and the misinformation effect of inaccurate movies is serious. What’s particularly appalling, and so characteristic this year, is both the blatant and unnecessary nature of the changes that make the movies less interesting. Lots of source material, including books out for years, was either not consulted or blatantly changed, often to fit an easier, more predictable, and more saccharine narrative. Those narratives are insulting enough without adding the injury of misappropriating real people and real events. In other words, those filmmakers can’t have it both ways. They can’t have the privilege and trust of using the actual, just to shoehorn it into flights of fiction and easy stories.

Tonight we’re going Commando to safely get to the chopper.

 

Best of all Pictures:

8. Birdman
Thethirdrevelation and I discussed Birdman at length.

7. The Theory of Everything
Inaccurately goes more Godsmack than science, then heavily focuses on the domestic and arguably gets that even more wrong, with Jane Wilde short shrifted and Hawking made out to be nicer than he was. They also made the family less colorful than it really was, and thus the movie less interesting. For example, according to Biography, the family vehicle was actually an old London taxi; they kept bees in their basement; and they often ate dinner in silence, with each member of the family focused on the current book they were reading. The high gauziness overlaid on the stories ensures that even when events and emotions that we know to be dislocations appear on screen, they’re boring. Jane Wilde and Stephen Hawking’s lives were not this dull, and I’m not sure anyone’s life is.

6. American Sniper
Thethirdrevelation helpfully underlines the movie’s tonal oddities–it’s almost at war with itself, and for all I know that’s indeed because it’s Spielberg + Eastwood, though at the end of the day they’re probably more alike than different. Inaccuracy deductions off the top for inventing a super-sniper showdown between Kyle and a shooter from Syria, particularly because it’s used to deliver the film’s climax. The Syrian sniper was real, but in his memoir, Kyle said he “never saw him.”  Our obsession with snipers–off the top of my head, I can think of Navy Seals, Sniper 1-5, Saving Private Ryan, Enemies at the Gate, and Shooter as movies featuring snipers–is surely part of our larger dance with the myth of being removed from the costs of war. Rumsfeld tapped into this with his “quicker and lighter” emphasis. The film partly debunks it in a “things he carried” way–a fair amount of time is spent on Kyle getting traumatized and trying to recover; at one point, his wife, Taya, tells him he needs him to be human again, although this is within an incredulous portrayal of her as hysterical. Kyle’s own brother, deployed himself, says “Fuck this place.” However, this is still a “war is a force that gives us meaning” / “ideal soldier” story about the will, focus, and determination of the individual. Even when Kyle and others act akratically, this is encapsulated by fealty to hypervigilance and super-soldierdom. A central contradiction is that it showcases Kyle’s selflessness–and maybe he was on the battlefield–but leaves out his fabulism, self-promotion, and racism, save for one use of “savages.” Kyle himself was at least somewhat conflicted about being seen as an ideal soldier, saying that any profits made from his memoir should be considered “blood money.” At one point we get a sermon about the apostle Paul and judgment, and about how life is a puzzle and a mystery, that we can’t fully know it, really figure it out, or properly judge it. This is particularly problematic in the movie because American military involvement in Iraq had over-confident and over-entitled judgment all over it, to the point of corruption. No mystery there. Sometimes we have to leave our guns in the dirt.

5. Selma
The piece by Penn professor Adolph Reed quoted above is the best and most comprehensive one I’ve seen on the problem with Selma. Let me add historian David Garrow on the quality of the initial screenplay by Paul Webb, and Ava DuVernay’s rewrite: “It’s a tragedy that Selma wound up with these two [Webb and DuVernay]. This is a choice between two crap sandwiches: Do you prefer the one labeled Cat Poo, or the one labeled Dog Poo? The person who would have done it right is that Paul Greengrass guy.” The two most glaring and most-discussed inaccuracies in the film are its depiction of Johnson and its treatment of King’s marital infidelities. Garrow rates DuVernay’s depiction of Johnson as being reluctant on civil rights as “100 percent false.” DuVernay departed from available tapes and transcripts that show cordiality between Johnson and King, instead unbelievably depicting Johnson as whiny and contentious. DuVernay seemed to admit she didn’t do her homework when she said “I didn’t have to learn Selma to make Selma. I didn’t have to research what kind of place this is.” As Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg point out, DuVernay “rationalized that because her mother works in Selma today, she is herself somehow–mystically–connected to the city’s past.” Mysticism is insufficient and homework is not something you can sacrifice when doing a project of any significant scope. The film fails to capture the immediacy of the times, which, granted, is a difficult task. It feels too scripted, too pretty, and too romantic. It sets the Birmingham church bombing a year later than it actually occurred. Oprah is distracting, taking the viewer out of the action just when it’s most important to be drawn further in. Oyelowo is only okay as King and the film doesn’t really capture King’s political genius. Further reading:
Alvin Tillery, “Who disagrees with ‘Selma’s’ portrayal of LBJ? Blacks in the civil rights era
Elizabeth Drew, “‘Selma’ vs. History

4. The Imitation Game
The filmmakers go for a British A Beautiful Mind, with Turing as a socially awkward, constipated/tortured genius. Christian Caryl has the leading correction on this and the rest of the film:
“There’s no question that the real-life Turing was decidedly eccentric, and that he didn’t suffer fools gladly. As his biographers vividly relate, though, he could also be a wonderfully engaging character when he felt like it, notably popular with children and thoroughly charming to anyone for whom he developed a fondness. All of this stands sharply at odds with his characterization in the film, which depicts him as a dour Mr. Spock who is disliked by all of his coworkers—with the possible exception of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The film spares no opportunity to drive home his robotic oddness. He uses the word ‘logical’ a lot and can’t grasp even the most modest of jokes. This despite the fact that he had a sprightly sense of humor, something that comes through vividly in the accounts of his friends, many of whom shared their stories with both Hodges and Copeland. (For the record, the real Turing was also a bit of a slob, with a chronic disregard for personal hygiene. The glamorous Cumberbatch, by contrast, looks like he’s just stepped out of a Burberry catalog.)”

3. Boyhood
“The film’s called Boyhood, but it could be called Motherhood, Fatherhood, [or] Bumbling Through Adulthood. As adults, we look back and see ourselves as fixed, but we’re anything but.” One sing-along to you with Ethan Hawke as your dad. Hawke pointed out that all of Linklater’s films have had “a unique relation to time” and that “all of us struggle with the passage of time.” The film succeeds with its point about punctuated, hebetudinous equilibrium, but for all its pretensions to verisimilitude it feels somewhat too constructed and too inorganic to be the Best of the Best.

2. Whiplash
What a depiction of the potential danger of the combination of talent and a will to please, achieve, and/or serve bad gods. Problematic ending in that it reinforces the notion of abuse as a pedagogical tool, but I essentially concur with thethirdrevelation’s view of it as the story of these two particular people.

Ought to win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I hated The Royal Tennebaums and was thus sympathetic to this kind of criticism, but landed at what thethirdrevelation very aptly describes as “universal sentiments of guilt, the putting on of airs, and the elasticity of memories.” The parodies of Nazism work–they smartly help to desensitize–which deserves significant credit because they could have easily not.

Will win: Birdman

 

Number 1 Better Half
5. Emma Stone
4. Meryl Streep
3. Keira Knightley
2. Patricia Arquette. A precocious lil’ Samantha Linklater said Arquette’s character “doesn’t want to make the same mistakes her parents did.”
Ought to win: Laura Dern
Will win: Arquette.

Most Supportive Man
5. Norton. The whole role is too strained.
4. Duvall. Has scenes here that belong in a better movie.
3. Hawke
2. Ruffalo
Ought to win: Simmons
Will win: Simmons

Queen of the Castle
5. Jones
4. Pike
Gillian Flynn: “And also a guilty laugh…am I bad person?…what does that say about me?…I like those laughs.”
Gone Girl‘s main positive might be its showcasing of the extremes we can go to for and against another person, and how we act when we feel we don’t have to do anything in particular, or no one’s watching, or when no special (motive) forces are at play. It gains some yardage with its commentary on the public/private dichotomy, but ultimately fumbles the ball. It goes revenge fantasy instead of seeking collaborative solutions to sex equality. The tensions are internalized domestically and bodily instead of being sent outward productively-sociopolitically; the social, in part represented by the media, is conceded as lost. Unfortunately, the whole thing is marred by misogyny, taken to a faking-rape level. Almost everything that comes out of Amy’s mouth, and even the way she says it, is unreal and unrepresentative, and much of the film feels the same. They keep her quite at that cipher, blank-from-hell level Wesley Morris has referenced. It’s conventional in its exploitation of the “love is a drug” and “love makes us crazy/dumb” tropes, and they’re problematically yoked to what feels like a minimization of rape, abuse, and murder. It’s story malpractice to leave out as much explanation and sourcing of behavior and motives as the movie does. The book is apparently more nuanced and more ethical, in that Amy is acting more out of desperation and numbness, rather than the sheer malice the movie mostly consigns her to. There are a number of good quotes, ideas, and character interiority in the book that are omitted from the movie, which focuses on thriller and cat-and-mouse aspects at their expense. For example, in the book Amy says: “It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing matters, because I’m not a real person and neither is anyone else. I would have done anything to feel real again.” The movie could’ve sourced the unrealness & unrepresentativeness like that. Instead, it’s tonally similar to Fight Club and has similar problems with its symbolism. It’s arguably misanthropic. Some fans and critics are citing its satirical and supposed stereotype-breaking aspects, but the older woman right next to me in the theater seemed to be reading it straight, exclaiming with dismay at one point, “What a fucking bitch!”
3. Cotillard
2. Witherspoon
Ought to win: Moore
Will win: Moore

Superlative Actor in a Leadership Role
5. Redmayne
4. Keaton
3. Carell. Shows us the danger of leadership forms that are without substance; of husks without corn.
2. Cooper. “You get what it gives you. That’s how this thing works.”
Ought to win: Cumberbatch
Will win: Redmayne

Best of all Directors
5. Inarritu
4. Tyldum
3. Miller
2. Linklater
Ought to win: Wes Anderson
Will win: Inarritu

Best Original Screenplay
5. Birdman
4. Foxcatcher
3. Boyhood
2. Nightcrawler
Ought to win: Grand Budapest
Will win: Grand Budapest

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Theory of Everything
4. Imitation Game
3. American Sniper
2. Whiplash
Ought to win: Inherent Vice
Will win: Imitation Game

Best Film Editing
5. Imitation Game
4. Grand Budapest
3. American Sniper
2. Whiplash
Ought to win: Boyhood
Will win: Boyhood

Best Makeup & Hairstyle
3. Foxcatcher
2. Guradians of the Galaxy
Ought to win: Grand Budapest
Will win: Grand Budapest

Best Visual Effects
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
4. Captain America: Winter Soldier
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past
2. Interstellar
Ought to win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Will win: Interstellar

 

tom-hanks-trash-can


2015 Oscars: If I Get All the Way Out There and I Find that You’ve Been Lying to Me…I’m Going to Find You, and I’m Going to Take More than My Money Back. Is that Alright With You?

Best of all pictures:

  1. The Theory of Everything

What a real sweet treat, and a feat. Science: what a treat. What a timeless story of love, and a privilege to know. Sweet? Check. A treat? Check. This is a film you want to watch with the finest shrimp available to your community. One for the annals, and for the children as well. It made me look at the sky and think, “wow.” The ending kind of reminded me of, if you can remember, how on a VHS tape you would have to rewind it to watch it again, and you could actually watch the film in reverse if you left the TV on–kind of like going back in time. It’s like you were going through time. And sometimes you would pause it in the middle and it would kind of stop flickering between frames and you’d get a picture of a character about to blink and it would almost look like they were winking at you, like they knew you were there; like you were peeling back the veil of the universe to see the unthinkable machinery. It was really scary, kind of like a horror that nobody else would ever see.

  1. American Sniper

Brad the dad Cooper has been on the awards circuit explaining that American Sniper is about the neglect returning vets face. “We looked at hopefully igniting attention about the lack of care that goes to vets. Discussion that has nothing to do with vets or what we did or did not do, every conversation in those terms is moving farther and farther from what our soldiers go through, and the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.” (NYT)

We’ve been swindled, Coop. We’ve been swindled. Swindled like babes left out on the driveway. Left out in the fallow field, for ‘coons to inspect. It was a wholesale job.

Such a film may have depicted:

  • A trip to a VA that has been constantly in a state of outright scandal due to mismanagement, resulting in thousands of veterans being wrongly denied benefits, having benefits delayed unduly, or being put through inordinate amounts of duress to claim them.
  • A spousal or parenting relationship that was affected more deeply and lastingly by tours of duty abroad than Kyle’s, wherein his wife–who is allowed to do nothing, nothing expect nag him for his absence the entire film–resolves the thread with the transcendental showstopper gush, “you are a wonderful husband, and you are a wonderful father.” Full stop.
  • A treatment of Kyle’s murder at the hand of Eddie Routh, a fellow PTSD sufferer and veteran featuring something more than a random demonic glare from said wife towards the actor portraying him, a hasty title card, and a congratulatory funeral montage.
  • A vet having difficulty finding his or her feet on returning to the U.S. in large part due to a lack of an internal or external training program that by and large provides veterans decent odds at gainful, stable employment after their service.

For a more fine-toothed look at the lack of care that goes to vets, see… Starship TroopersVideodrome? Eastwood is credited as director, and is not nominated for best directing ostensibly because the film was developed by Steve Spielberg with Cooper cast in the main role and over six months of principal photography having been shot before Spielberg bowed out due to creative differences. It shows in the tonal oddities. I have to imagine a significant set of spouses and families of veterans cringe at the depiction of Kyle’s wife as a creature whose seemingly only function in the world is to badger? The full reintegration into the family, especially for soldiers seeing extensive combat, deserving of so little screen time? Does Kyle himself depict things so simply in his book? The scene where Kyle successfully flirts with the wife by pointing a gun at her in front of toddlers? Is it possible Eastwood isn’t throwing us a curveball here? At any rate, two coworkers have, to date–unsolicited–imparted to me that American Sniper is in no uncertain terms the best film ever. But where was Tom Cruise? Get Tom Cruise in there.

  1. The Imitation Game

Biopic three: engage. Prestige piece B, 2015. Yet another biopic that would have been exponentially more interesting had it aimed for a remotely balanced portrait of the subject’s life. I was actually somewhat surprised they spared even a single scene directly addressing Turing’s subjection to chemical castration. Instead we focus on the faux romance and a delightful genius complex. “Sometimes it’s the people no one expects anything from who do the things no one expects”.

So. I continue to be a net fan of Cumberbatch, and the genius shtick is perfect for the solid BBC Sherlock series, but here without the implied campiness afforded by the TV format it just comes off as perfunctory. Threads of Turing’s landmark work on computers, minds and identity (do check out Turing’s work, it’s well written and impressively accessible given the ideas he’s working with) are suggested, but never really picked up. There is a much better film to be made of Turing’s work and legacy, too bad it’s not allowed to live here. Weinstein’s “Honor the Man.  Honor the film.” plea for awards recognition is the definition of beyond the pale.

  1. Boyhood

Was initially skeptical of the 12-year timespan, expecting it to be leaned upon overmuch so as to come off as a melodramatic gimmick.  Instead, I was surprised to see the film actually holds out against that pitfall until the last half hour or so. Mostly, things spool out organically, allowing the viewer to supply a lot of subtext; if anything, the passage of time is oddly unremarkable. I found myself appreciating the scene where the protagonist gets his head shaved, as the film had theretofore been using drastic hairstyle changes to accentuate the passage of time to the point where they started to become characters in and of themselves. The film is at its best when it’s comfortable being about ‘familyhood’ beyond ‘boyhood’, with some entertaining moments on that front especially in the early to middle stages. Finally succumbs to needing to explain/justify itself more and more towards the end as later teenage hangout scenes begin to feel wooden; boy begins to ask father “what’s the point of everything”; we begin to see the conversations I suspect parents have with their children in their heads and wish their children would solicit, rather than interactions that really happen. The last scene is a real thud as we’re offered a fuzzy glorification of “moments”: ah, yes, that’s what you’ve been providing us, you miracle of film you; thank you for that, thank you. The best film here tells the story of this boy’s boyhood, instead of flailing at a universal boyhood, particularly the implication that it is a suburban one.

  1. Birdman

Abashfulharvestman and I discussed Birdman at length. 

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’m not generally a big Anderson fan—his films too often consist of weak or excessively twee stories that seemingly exist as vehicles for the signature, highly specific to the point of high comedy motifs and aesthetics. I haven’t been fully into one since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, which was early enough in the catalog that the fashion was fresh. This is a different film than Tenenbaums, attempting more to evoke universal sentiments of guilt, the putting on of airs, and the elasticity of memories, whereas Tenenbaums dove into idiosyncratic characters with very rich and specific inner lives.  The latter may be a more fertile ground for Anderson’s sensibilities, generally, but Fienes as our comedic lead and Tony Revolori as his straight man foil make a very strong central pair, seemingly agents in Anderson’s world rather than affectations of it. The wide supporting cast is hit or miss–Adrien Brody is miscast and Bill Murray’s appearance along with other Anderson-regulars’ cameos are tedious boxes checked. Jude Law, Tilda Swinton and Jeff Goldblum fare much better.

  1. Selma

The only film of the set that got me emotionally choked up. The one biopic that perhaps was jostled from the flaming wreckage of the Doomed Biopic Mothership on atmospheric re-entry. Remarkably little history revision done for the sake of convenience or entertainment (there is some), and the flourishes there tend to constructively elucidate patterns and situations. I’m largely in agreement with Mark Harris’ good piece on it, and with respect to the lack of attention it’s receiving would emphasize simply that 12 Years’ deserving accolades last year have sapped the industry’s puny reserves of focus with respect to ugly pasts, black disenfranchisement especially. This is a year for propaganda, for revision.

I like that Selma tries to bring in lesser-publicized factions of various, often competing, civil rights groups of the time, but the actual logistics of things are rendered a little bit unclear for those of us who aren’t experts. Oyelowo deserved a Best Actor nom over any of Cooper, Cumberbatch, or Redmayne.

  1. Whiplash

This is a real throwback, replete with physical performances, scenery chewing, and the old *setting the table/working hard, hitting adversity hard, redemption* three-act arc. Does an exemplary job at conveying with efficiency, such as showing the protagonists’ background and giving a good sense of his dating life without a single note beyond what’s needed. I think it does at the end of the day traffic in the myth that education through negative reinforcement is effective, especially at mastery levels—or at least that it’s acceptable in the “big leagues”. But there’s so much going on here within the characters that I’m willing to look past that and focus on this as the story of these particular two people. There is some room for the idea that our virtuoso could have flourished without the abuse, the question’s tugged. The one fly in the ointment is that the last scene’s tone is a bit too broadly suggestive of reconciliation–it probably would have been best left more ambiguous, or, to somehow imply the boy’s fulfillment of his own agency transcending the demon teacher. As is, things end on a bit of a shrug. Music itself absolutely a plus. Very strong editing throughout, heightening not just the most dramatic tussles but the lighter moments, too.

Shall win: Birdman

Should win: The Homesman

—————————————-

Best of all Directors:

5. Morten Tyldum — The Imitation Game

Where’s Tom Hooper?  Get Tom Hooper in there!

4. Alejandro Innaritu — Birdman

3. Bennett Miller — Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher‘s tunneled focus and near complete lack of external context to the events depicted at the Foxcatcher farm lend it a lot of its claustrophobic, intense feel. It also becomes a major narrative handicap given how things are framed around the climactic tragedy. The script is actually pretty good and the acting’s there…it’s just glaring how the film seems not to quite capitalize on a great thread about wealth and isolation and megalomania, and how it throttles the world at large.

2. Richard Linklater — Boyhood

A mixed bag. While Foxcatcher needed to widen the scope a bit and speak more to broader things, Boyhood struggles a bit with the opposite problem. Strong work early on gives way more and more to stultifying waves at universal themes that aren’t there and didn’t need to be.

1. Wes Anderson — The Grand Budapest Hotel

We’ll interpret “best directing” this year as the one leading a project that best maximized its potential. Grand Budapest Hotel, despite a relatively complicated plot, displays the most effective control of tone and drama here.

Shall win: Richard Linklater

 

Superlative Actor in a Leadership Role:

5. Benedict Cumberbatch — The Imitation Game

Sometimes you feel like a treat.

4. Eddie Redmayne — The Theory of Everything

Sometimes a treat feels like you.

3. Brad the Swindled — American Treat

Coop really nails the ending of scenes by staring at a point about two o’clock high from the camera. What is he lookin’ at? A tango? A goat? Moral fabric? Patrick Duffy, he could have sworn? Regardless, keep working those baby blues. Practice better gun safety.

2. Steve Carell — Foxcatcher

Wins the Tom Hardy annual Most Fun to Try and Impersonate in Random Situations award. Seriously, though, if you’ve spent any amount of time around a wealth baby that’s been raised in an at least partially self-imposed valley of unreality and witnessed the mysteries that they present, Carell is really doing some good simulation here.

1. Micheal Keaton — Birdman

Last year, on the subject of Actor in a Leadership Role, this blog wrote, “With Daniel Day-Lewis out becoming a stone mason for the next five years, I think folks like Bale, DiCaprio, and Michael Keaton have a real chance to break through.”

Ethics 101.

Shall win: Eddie Redmayne

 

Most Supportive Man:

N/A — Robert Duvall — The Judge (role unseen)

4. Ethan Hawke — Boyhood

3. Edward Norton — Birdman

Kind of disturbing now that I know his role was in many ways, and self-avowedly, Innaritu himself.

2. Mark Ruffalo — Foxcatcher

Really brings into the communication posture lexicon the little t-rex thing wrestlers apparently develop. Exudes brotherly concern at hypercritical levels.

1. J. K. Simmons — Whiplash

The obvious hook is his ability to go over the top, but as with all the great roles it’s the little off-beats and pauses that really bring things to life. Draws out and gives room to a strong performance from co-lead and relative newcomer Miles Teller.

Shall win: J.K. Simmons

 

Queen of the Castle:

5. Felicity Jones — The Theory of Everything

This makes Ms. Jones the first actress to receive a nomination for a role in a Horror film since Ellen Page in Juno (2007). Good show!

4. Reese Witherspoon — Wild

3. Marion Cotillard — Two Days, One Night

2. Julianne Moore — Still Alice

1. Rosamund Pike — Gone Girl

One of the things that doesn’t seem to get discussed about Gone Girl is just the degree to which it really is a vehicle for her performance. Everything else is furniture.

Shall win: Julianne Moore

 

Number 1 Better Half:

N/A Meryl Streep (role unseen)

4. Keira Knightley — The Imitation Game

Pip pip, old boy!

3. Emma Stone — Birdman

I often tell friends they should start making films with the title and simple concept of “Actor A vs. Actor B”. For example, “Michael Shannon vs. Willem Dafoe” or “Tom Cruise vs. Tom Hanks”. We almost got “Nic Cage vs. John Travolta” with Face/Off, but even that strayed a bit from the core man vs. man dialectic. “Emma Stone vs. Jennifer Lawrence” could be good.

2. Patricia Arquette — Boyhood

Such unhappiness!

1. Laura Dern — Wild

Continues to be the most effectively alarming presence in unexpected jump cuts in film today.

Shall win: Patricia Arquette


Super Bowl XLVIII Ads

By abashfulharvestman and thethirdrevelation

“In the whole field of mass communication, the ‘hidden meaning’ is not truly unconscious at all, but represents a layer which is neither quite admitted nor quite repressed—the sphere of innuendo, the winking of an eye and ‘you know what I mean.”  –Theodor Adorno, 1953

“As [George] Gerbner was fond of saying, those people who tell most of the stories most of the time control a culture. Certainly, in today’s increasingly ‘hypercommodified’ world, advertising tells most of the stories.”  –Lawrence Wenner, “Narrative strategies and dirty logics in Super Bowl commercials” in Sports Events, Society and Culture (Eds. Katherine Dashper, Thomas Fletcher, Nicola McCullough), 2014

“I am hearty. I am a delicate work of art. I am of the finest maple, crafted with American spirit and pride. I go back in time. I am ahead of my time. I am timeless. I am ingrained in American tradition, weaving generations past with those yet to come. I am simplicity. I am family. I am a longtime friend. I am Longaberger.”  –Advertisement for Longaberger baskets

 

Bud Light — “Up for Whatever”

We open with deception and a beauty–standard view. The ad is called “Up for Whatever,” but everything is actually tightly scripted, including that you have Bud Light in your belly by the end. Co-opts the idea of fantasy construction and carefully enlists the viewer to be complicit in it. Appropriates the idea of going down the rabbit hole so it can entrap you in its warren. The targeted demo is the coveted 18-35 white-male one, at which beauty-standard, scantily-clad women are thrown. You appear to be the center of attention, the star of this exciting, spontaneous little film—call it “It’s A B.Lightful Life”—but you’re really the subject of an experiment and surveillance. The action is ordered around the surveillance, with superficial weirdness like Don Cheadle with a lama in an elevator thrown at you to distract from the true work being done. If you had any doubt this was a hypermasculine fantasy, Arnold appears and assures you that it is. He was paid exactly $3 million to do it. He calls you his little princess—which sounds better than bitch—to make things clearer still. The concluding message comes via the song lyrics: that all that you want and need is Bud; that the only thing you can trust is Bud; that we must all live under One Bud Light Republic. Bud Light said it was trying to tap into the vein of The Hangover movies and to “reflect Millennial values like optimism and [the] desire to ‘go out there and experience the world.” The admakers are exploiting our desires for narrative meaning, exploration, spontaneity, excitement, and to know and be known—all to close us up good in a tight little Bud Light World. Bud Light has been doing this world-building kind of advertising for years now, becoming so confident in their artifice with it that here they go ahead and make it explicit by breaking the fourth wall. Ad created by BBDO.

Maserati — “Strike”

We open with a tsunami. Your interest is piqued. Is this something Interstellaresque? Don’t I recognize that voice? A shot of an isolated farmhouse backgrounded by a tornado produces a flicker of anxiety that this is another heartland car commercial or private disaster-relief grab. Sheer rock face. The geography is intimidating here, shading into catastrophic, but also waiting to be reclaimed, tamed, and settled. Also, we all want to avoid natural disasters. Then…lil’ Quenz Wallis, aka Hush Puppy to the apparent rescue! Watch the fire now! She’s talking about overcoming giants in the schoolyards. It is a hard knock life. “We were small, but fast, remember?” Oh yeah, I do! “We were like the wind, appearing out of nowhere.” Let’s win with magical realism! Bullied birds flock together! Lil’ Q tells us we have to continue to be clever. Black engineer. Ballerina. Steelworker. Fisherman. Autoworker. Hey, those are tough occupations! The bullies got so big they became skyscrapers. This is a civilizationist battle. She then announces…an offensive strike! Wow, we got those bullies! Violence as problem solver! What did we win besides our freedom? It’s a…Maserati? Wait, what?! Well, ain’t that a punch to the solar plexus. Hush Puppy overcomes racism, poverty, orphanhood, and geography to…tout a luxury Italian car?! Is that what you’re telling me?! Using the anti-bullying theme and claiming true grit just adds insult to injury, and we’re left with the acrid taste of an all-time, brazen piece of appropriation. Maserati is owned by Fiat. Ad created by Wieden & Kennedy.

Jeep — “Restless

Something of a throwback as far as car ads go these days, it targets youth—and the idea of youth—without resorting to a baby-boomer nod, or notions of parenthood, home ownership, etc. Promotes ballistic culture by saying stillness kills. Yeah, wouldn’t want to sit with our own thoughts for a minute–the horror. I mean, that would cause the “walls to close in” on us, as the ad says. Promotes an “active lifestyle” composed of jumping into water muscularly; throwing a dim flare of unclear provenance; implied imminent sexual docking. Verbally invokes a genetic destiny of car ownership and tries to appropriate free will in the same breath. Looks to a sort of platonic “getting away,” which we might take as a somewhat refreshing departure from the more common themes today of implied apocalypse, and of society as something only to be rued or subdued. Ad created by Richards Group.

Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee — “Seinfeld Reunion”

Did this actually air? Mostly just stunned that we would have an ad that’s not only not for a product, but for something as small as a web series—and it’s a 90–second ad! Newman’s malicious rooting for the Seahawks refreshingly lands in a comedic place of not needing to be explained. This year I attended a Super Bowl party of nothing but people rooting for Peyton “The Chosen One” Manning “to have the best season ever”—whatever the hell that would entail—and was rendered an outsider through my inability to share in the room’s disappointment. With a Seinfeldian down-the-garden-path sarcasm, I kept insisting that he would come back, being the Chosen. My insistence rose in proportion to the group’s mounting despair as the Orange Ponies fell into ignominy. It really is a box score for posterity.

Budweiser — “A Hero’s Welcome
“The spectacle is nothing more than an image of happy unification surrounded by desolation and fear at the center of misery.”  –Guy Debord
Army Lieutenant Chuck Nadd has died and gone to heaven. For one day, though, he gets to visit his wife on Earth. Or is it Earth? He comes down an escalator from heaven and greets his wife. A white car is indoors: it symbolizes rebirth, safety, and newfound purity. A red SUV passes a red barn: the new (pastoral) lifeblood from the remains of a dying star is already pumping strong. We stop at a parade that’s for Lt. Chuck Nadd and for you, even though you’re not dead yet. All the paraders are people who have died inside. Wherever we are, Clydesdales are not yet liberated from King Bud’s servitude. It’s always a winter of spectacle in this Winter Park. A spectacle is about putting it all together. Do you feel put (back) together? The ad promises to restore a lost terrain, but overlays its own map—with its trap regions of love, capture, and consumption—in the process. The green of your drivers signifies renewal—specifically, your renewal of allegiance to King Bud and his suds. One dalmatian reassurance for good measure. Time is a flat beer can. Freedom…to stasis. #Save a Hero. Ad created by Anomaly.

Bob Dylan for Chrysler

Dylan at the 2015 Grammy Awards ceremony: “[Popular covers of Dylan] songs were like commercials. But I didn’t really mind that, because 50 years later my songs were used for commercials. So that was good too.”

“He love your sexy body, he loves your dirty mind / He loves when you hold him when you grab him from behind / Oh baby, you’re such a pretty thing / I can’t wait to introduce you to the other members of my gang // You don’t need no wax job, you’re smooth enough for me / If you need your oil changed, I’ll do it for you free / Oh baby, the pleasure would be all mine / If you let me drive your pickup truck / And park it where the sun don’t shine”  –from “Dirty World,” by Bob Dylan’s supergroup The Traveling Wilburys

Let’s go ahead and restore a mythic, idyllic past, shall we? The ad opens with the all-time tautological and unintentionally comedic line “Is there anything more American than America?,” delivered by Bob Dylan no less, who has moved on from spilling Victoria’s Secret. That’s followed by a barrage of sheer Americana and a propagation of the myth of rugged American individualism, starting with: horses; cheerleaders; a beauty-standard lass sporting dark sunglasses, literally wrapped in the American flag, and beckoning to the sea. The flag provides warmth and safety amid the present dislocation. We know who we are, yet are essentially unknowable. Boys run in dust and probably into the diner to become the old-school, weathered man eating by himself. Die–young youth and beauty touted a la James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The ballistic is enshrined via images of horses, amusement park rides, baseball, basketball, motorcycles, roads, and cars. More sunglasses and cool sheen. Rosie the Riveter is shamelessly used. Dylan tells us that “cars made America,” which is an oversimplified and irksome thought to settle on, yet too true. A shot of a mother–with–babe suggests new souls for the old America: a pronatalism we can all get behind. Cowboy falls off horse under oddly-placed light source; presumably gets back on horse. Dylan uses the word “conviction” in the sense of “We are convinced that we don’t need to change.” We then watch Car Salesman Dylan go into a music store, ostensibly in search of a fine guitar, but actually a lost self, and he stares at a Bob Dylan guitar book with a picture of his younger self on it, the effect a highly-attenuated Dylan projection and an invitation to gaze at pale images in dull relief reflected in an infinity mirror of suckcess. Then, the open road and all that. More fleeting youthful beauty. Dylan tries to naturalize this car/ballistic ecology by telling us we’re “creatures” that believe in “the zoom, and the roar, and the thrust.” Another shot of a mother and babe, this time from the ’60s (unchanging values). Dylan goes on, telling us to “let Asia assemble your phone.” Are human rights and labor abuses not our problem Bob? Shall we actually pull the flag up over our eyes? You wouldn’t be able to tell from the ad that Chrysler is now majority-owned by the Italian car company Fiat. Final shot is of him at a pool table, putting a ballistic bow on this present. Thus do we get a cultural icon who used to sing against chrome horses but now endorses them; who used to sing about wheels spinnin’ and times a-changin’, but now brakes hard to reinforce a car-culture status quo. He’s here to refresh and drink your American lemon socialism lemonade; he drinks it up. Dylan has remained gnomic enough over the years to be rather easily appropriated. This former restless rollin’ stone—a metaphor that goes all the way back to ancient notions of fortune—now arrested and spoked to a wheel of cheap, selective nationalism. One way the nationalism is selective is that it disavows that other supposed American hallmark: remaking oneself. Also, contrary to the thrust of the whole ad, Dylan has said that, while growing up, he felt like he’d been born in the wrong place. That’s the America we should be highlighting: the one that no matter how long you’re in it, its foreignness, strangeness, and unnaturalness persists. Ad created by Global Hue.

GoPro — “Red Bull Stratos”

Again I say: this aired? Whew! The social citizen in me rejoices in the near-complete disconnect between the event depicted and the product title card, a disconnect made all the more poignant by the novelty of the reality. Extra points for lots of shots of cameras that I’m pretty confident have nothing to do with the “GoPro.” Is it a brand? A model? A software? A space tourism agency? A sweet, sweet quality audio channel? A keeper? A key? A kingdom? A vector? A constant? It gets a final extra point for a line reading that sounds like a combination of a barely–awake–from–heavy–drinking slur and a Tom Hardyesque, cagey dialect. Better than Interstellar?

“It’s hard to believe people didn’t see these numbers coming. GoPro, which makes wearable cameras from $199 to $399, hasn’t advanced its core technologies meaningfully enough to compel consumers to upgrade from, say, a Hero 3 model to a 4K Ultra HD. But most of all, the action cam industry was built on a very shaky premise: that the general public does a lot of cool stuff worthy of capturing on video. “GoPro’s empire was built on one big fatal flaw

Intuit QuickBooks Presents GoldieBlox — “Come On Bring The Toys”

Male genderization of worthwhile, creative toys under wholly unsupported rationales of profit maximization is a worthwhile issue to address. The ad, along with a surface glance at the company, depicts a standard response of deflection. The premise is fundamentally and purposefully unclear at its core: the typical viewer probably just notices girls grabbing female-gendered toys and running with them in some seeming celebration and just shrugs. Someone looking at it more closely might notice that they use the toys to make and launch a rocket ship: a problem possibly addressed, possibly creatively. The categorical failure of purpose would seem to extend to the company and its needless genderization of the products: these are not toys you’re going to buy junior without the neighborhood dads taking notice of the “you are a girl, this is a girl thing, you match” thrust. Contra a LEGO–type playset, these are clearly designed to follow a single design, emphasize clothes and female accessories, and, if my price is right, to be a premium designer set for the upper class. Ad created by RPA.

Kia — “The Truth”

We open outside of a nice hotel in Paris. A well-dressed, beauty-standard, top 1% white couple walks toward a valet at a valet podium, which is perched centrally on the sidewalk. The woman takes the blue valet ticket out of her designer purse to give to…Morpheus! Holy shit! “Let me tell why you’re here,” he strongly suggests. The woman flashes a look of concern to her man, to say “Why is this natty black valet in Paris talking to us in a direct way? Doesn’t he know we’re here because we’re entitled to be here? Why is he wearing sunglasses at night? I can’t see his eyes and that doesn’t help my judgment.” Morpheus knows he has to come at these people strong, otherwise they’ll just blow him off. The man is willing to listen to another line from Morpheus–the man’s life is god-awful boring after all. Morpheus follows with a strong truth claim about luxury. This unsettles the man, who does not want to confront any truths about how he’s been living a big lie–at least not right now in Paris. “We just want to go get our car,” he says out of escape impulse. Undeterred, Morpheus lays the red choice / blue choice decision on them. The man surprises himself by pretty quickly making the red choice, though he’s not surprised at all that he made a unilateral, no-discussion decision for both him and his partner. A Kia pulls up and we hear the instant-classic Matrix out–of–joint sound effect. The car is white and thus pure and can be trusted. “This is unreal,” the man says. “No, it’s very real,” Morpheus corrects, and we’re now clearly driving through nothing less than a fundamental remaking of truth and reality. If you didn’t already know that this is a preview for the upcoming feature film Matrix 4: Opera of Creative Luxury Destruction, where Morpheus is captured and brainwashed by the machines, now you do, as he breaks into Nessun dorma (“None shall sleep”) from Puccini’s Turandot. It’s nothing but smooth, rabbit-hole-free sailing from here for our protagonists, but none shall sleep besides them, as they leave a trail of disturbance and destruction in their wake. The strength of nostalgia for the ’90s on display here tells us just how terrible the current times are, and the parodic tone just how much we’ve succumbed to the artificiality we were supposed to be guarding against. The blue pill never sounded so good. Ad created by David&Goliath.