Monday, February 22, 2010

Shutter Islander

I've attended a second showing of Shutter Island, and wish to redress my previous review. For one thing, the edits I mentioned before are, in fact, limited to the dream sequences, and are used for effect. They are quite effective once you figure out why they are there. There's still one shot involving a glass of water which I can't figure out, but other than that, I've no complaints. This is an immaculately assembled movie from a technical standpoint, though the sound issue in the beginning which I mentioned is still there.

I remain resolute that the acting is superb all-around. The performances are in fact better than I thought they were originally. When you see Shutter Island a second time, you realise how everything everyone says has two meanings, and the actors manage to convey this throughout. Whole conversations read with an entirely new tilt the second time. From a narrative standpoint, it is an airtight film. I do not know how the movie would fair on a third viewing, and I probably won't find out, but it is very much worth your time. Certainly, certainly twice. And I'm giving it an UpGrade.

Ed. Note; The Olympics have prevented me from getting caught up on reviews. I promise I will be back in a week with more reviews of Field Music, Joanna Newsom, Hot Chip, and likely more.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese

It's not often in life that you get to leave the theater, after having seen a Martin Scorsese picture, feeling a rush. Feeling impressed, sure. Feeling exhausted, as with The Aviator, and not in the rewarding sense? Sure. But a rush? Pshaw. No. These things are supposed to take a long time to digest, and they're not supposed to really hit you until the digestion is complete.

Shutter Island is Scorsese's stab at a Dennis Lehane novel, and, as a cinematic experience, it is utterly fantastic. The tone is tense without being exaggerated. You do not feel worried unless Scorsese wants you to, though he almost always wants you to. Simple shots of windows are terrifying, while offering seemingly nothing scary. There were many moments where a lesser film would have gone for the cheap scare, but this movie leaves most of the dissonance brilliantly unresolved. You are on the edge of your seat 99% of the time. Not to say you are necessarily scared... but you're antsy. Fantastically played.

The whole cast is superb, without anyone to single out as a downer. Leonardo Dicaprio is impeccable, as always, and Mark Ruffalo continues to show that he's not used often enough. He should be in more movies; we would all benefit from that. He is the type of actor who's work is always subtle enough that you can't notice it. To do so would violate the point. Michelle Williams has been making a slow comeback since her days on the 'Creek,' and she's phenomenal in her role. What she has to sell us in the few scenes she has would be formidable for any actress, and she fucking sells it.

What did surprise me, though, were the things that were wrong; none of them are excusable. The CG, which is admittedly used very little, was a bit obvious. Green screens were used to ill-effect, with the backgrounds in those scenes looking very, very fake. There was some incredibly sloppy editing, which in a Scorsese film is unforgivable. And, on a final note, whoever was in charge of mixing the sound for the first ten minutes of the movie should be shot. Or, perhaps, fired. I'm open to negotiations.

These little complaints do add up over the course of the film, and were occasionally distracting. Having said that, it is, I think, one of Scorsese's best from a directorial sense. I intend to see it again. As I've gotten away from it, I've started running it over in my mind, and I'm tantalised by what I think I remember. The end changes everything. Remember that. Or don't. Better yet.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hell, Legoland!

Massive Attack

There are a lot of bands struggling to live up to their past glories. It's part of what comes with moments of genius. And since we as a culture tend to assign genius to a person as an attribute, instead of viewing it as something they've come into contact with, all that pressure resides within. It can't be pleasant for anyone who's had a Top 40 single, or a Top 40 album. It really can't be pleasant for anyone who's actually touched God, as Massive Attack did with Mezzanine over ten years ago.

Keep in mind, I don't use that phrase lightly. If you've listened to any of Massive Attack's albums prior to 100th Window (which some thought was mediocre and others a masterpiece; I remain undecided), you know they were one of the best bands of the nineties. And they did it very, very quietly, without attracting all that much attention to themselves. Don't get me wrong, they were a big band; they just weren't filling stadiums.

Heligoland doesn't stand much chance, then, of being received favourably. Not when its forebears are such stone-cold classics. If you listen to it pretending this is a new band, which is how I feel most albums should be listened to the first time, it's pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. There are some morose fifteen-year-olds out there who will come across this having no idea who they've found, and their minds will be blown. The rest of us will simply nod appreciatively.

If you listen to it knowing MA, you'll enjoy the new bits of Dub they've added to their sound. It's darker, which I'm always a fan of, from just about any band. If only the material were at all memorable, which none of it is. So this is not Mezzanine, Pt. 2, either in quality or in sound. If it had been the latter, though, I would have been a bit disappointed. Say what you will about Massive Attack, but they never stay still. God blessed them for it once. That's more than most get.

The Trouble With Eels

End Times

To One Mr. E,

First of all, hi. How are you? I don't want to skip the niceties. Just don't think I'm really listening. I have a point to this, and I wish to make it quickly.

I'm a fan, sir. I've been one since Blinking Lights and Other Revelations came out a few years back, right around the beginning of my musical awakening. You were instrumental in my early forays into songwriting. You, uh, you may choose, understandably, not to take that as a complement.

I've always been one to say you write the same two or three songs, and you've never been one to lie about it, either. There's something to be admired about that, I suppose. I even used that point in your favour when I reviewed last year's Hombre Lobo, which was pretty snazzy. Swish, even.

Here's the thing; you usually manage to spread it out, so we have four repetitions of each song type on each album. On End Times, you seem to have written the same, I will say splendid, song fourteen times. And it's to the point that I have a hard time listening to even half of this thing in one sitting. Again, I want to emphasise, that song is great, but fourteen times is a lot to take in. Some variety is all I ask.

I can't say your album is bad, Mr. E. No. That would be a lie. Each song, on its own, is at the least competent, and at times very, very good. Like you do. But you usually mix it up slightly more than this. So I won't give you a bad grade. But I'm not going to give you a good one, either. I'm just not going to give you one.

Andrew Lynch.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blood in the Water

Astro Coast
Surfer Blood

As I continue to sit back and drink in the year, what pleases me most is that some of the strongest entries thus far have been from veritable non-entities, or at least from bands I've certainly never heard of before. Four Tet and Beach House have issued two of the best albums of the year, and I wouldn't have known either of them prior to those releases (There is Love in You and Teen Dream, respectively). Keep in mind, by the way, as I strive to point out my inconsistencies, that Spoon's excellent Transference will top at least Four Tet's album in my year-end list, despite having received an inferior grade.

Anyway, why we're here. There continues to be an upswing in excellent albums from people I don't know. Surfer Blood, a Florida-based guitar band, are releasing their debut, and it's remarkable how familiar it feels on the first listen. Think The Shins (sporadically, here and there), just a bit. Think Vampire Weekend (on 'Take it Easy'), oddly enough. Think Weezer, mostly. That's what this is. I read a review, in Spin I believe, which stated that the melodies in this album show latter-day Rivers Cuomo who's daddy. And what's wonderful is that's entirely accurate. Weezer haven't made an album this good in at least ten years, if ever. Keep in mind I'm not a huge fan.

What we have here is a young band with great ability for songcraft and loads of ambition. It's a sign both of their hubris and flat-out skill that two of these tracks, "Fast Jabroni" and "Slow Jabroni," are, musically, the same song; the latter has different lyrics and a tempo that's 50% of the former's. And it works. These songs come with "Stadium-Sized" stamped on the label, and I would be surprised if they didn't reach that scale within an album or two. It sounds like these boys deserve it and, more importantly, want it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bailey Raes and Anglophilic Tendencies

Since not every record review warrants, or will get, a full review, but I like to keep you abreast, here's the skinny on what's happened recently:

Corinne Bailey Rae's new album, The Sea, has moments of brilliance on it. The opening four songs are perfect, but the album falters in the middle. It does, however, finish strong, and if you're in the mood for some soul/R&B, you could do much worse.

Second, I've listened to Charlotte Gainsbourg's new album, IRM, and I didn't care for it. It was produced by Beck, fresh off his luke-warm (at best) Modern Guilt, and he seems dead-set on recycling an aesthetic that barely maintained interest the first time around. This album could have been produced by Danger Mouse, and I would never have doubted it. But I'm sure some people will love it. It came highly recommended.

Now, we have a playlist, which I've made for three friends. I won't be including explanations, but here is the track list. This is a good introduction to slightly more obscure British music for the current music fan with slightly limited experience.

"Anglophilic Tendencies Pt. 1"

1. "Rockist Part 1" by School of Language
2. "Rockst Part 2" by School of Language
3. "Situation Vacant" by The Kinks
4. "Line Up" by Elastica
5. "The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future" by Los Campesinos!
6. "If You Found This It's Probably Too Late" by Arctic Monkeys
7. "Jason and the Argonauts" by XTC
8. "This Year's Girl" by Elvis Costello
9. "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" by Joe Cocker
10. "Womanizer" by Lily Allen
11. "No Distance Left to Run" by blur
12. "In Context" by Field Music

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Beach House

Teen Dream
Beach House

Growers are the best records.

This is a fairly well-established principle of the music lover, the connoisseur, the audiophile; albums that get better on repeated listening are generally preferred, and for the obvious reason that they give you, in a purely fiscal sense, more bang for your buck.

Growers are fairly common; not common enough, unfortunately, and they tend to become less common as the public taste grows away from albums, but they aren't exactly a rare beast. You'll always be able to find a few. What's less common, and what I tend to appreciate the most, is a sub-family of the grower album, the Active Grower. Now, the Active Grower is an album that actually grows on you as you listen the first time. These tend to be albums with a hypnotic power, which, I'll admit, could be argued as a form of cheating, but it works for me, so who's to argue?

I haven't listened to Beach House before. This album, Teen Dream, is a lovely thing, with great, slow-burning melodies. The track that first stuck out to me was "Walk in the Park," which sounds so much like Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" that it provoked me to pull out Veckatimest and give it a listen. The rest of the album follows the same general pattern, with dreamy tracks topped by sweet, hummable melodies. It's all very... nice, I suppose. But not in the bad way.

No, this is actually very good. And as you listen to it, you get sucked further in... most of this album hovers at a similar tempo, and, as I said earlier, it becomes hypnotic. By the end, you love every moment of it. And then you start it over and realise you loved all of it the whole time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dat-da-da Hollywood, ba-dup-du-dup-du-da-duh Hollywood

The Oscar Nominations have been announced, and so, as a blogger, it is my solemn duty to comment. That I didn't do so for the Grammys should tell you in itself the esteem with which I fail to regard that particular award show. The Grammys are to music what the Blockbuster Movie Awards were to movies, and should go the same way they did.

At any rate, let's start small and work our way up. I will list both my personal choice and my prediction, when those two things don't coincide.

Best Adapted Screenplay
'District Nine'
'An Education'
'In the Loop'
'Up in the Air'

My choice, and prediction, coincide on the superlative 'Up in the Air', but look for a possible upset from 'District Nine' or 'In the Loop,' which is the token "Excellent film we couldn't be arsed to nominate in any other category, so we're doing it here" entry. 'In Bruges' was given a similar distinction in its time, though it didn't win.

Best Original Screenplay
'The Hurt Locker'
'Inglorious Basterds'
'The Messenger'
'A Serious Man'

My mind says 'The Hurt Locker,' but my heart says 'Up.' I would be surprised if it went elsewhere. 'Inglorious Basterds' was too messy to rightfully take this award home.

Best Animated Feature
'Fantastic Mr. Fox'
'The Princess and the Frog'
'The Secret of Kells'

It's going to go to 'Up.' I say so with certainty because of what I've cunningly coined the 'Crouching Tiger' Principle of Oscar Nominations; When and if a film is nominated both in a 'lesser' film category, such as Best Foreign Film or Best Animated Film, and in the 'greater' film category of Best Picture, said film will, inevitably, win the 'lesser' category, essentially by a process known as 'default.'

Oh, before I forget, I hadn't heard of 'The Secret of Kells' prior to reading the nominations, and so I looked it up. It's a foreign animated film, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Gob-smackingly so. It doesn't come out in the United States until March, but I very much look forward to it.

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, 'Nine'
Vera Farmiga, 'Up in the Air'
Maggie Gyllenhaal, 'Crazy Heart'
Anna Kendrick, 'Up in the Air'
Mo'nique, 'Precious'

The smart choice, both on buzz and on current award season success, is Mo'nique, and I won't stray from that. But I want Anna Kendrick to win. Her tightly-coiled performance in 'Up in the Air' was a source of much of that movie's humour and, more importantly, its emotional heart. Mo'nique should win for her incredible, brutal work in 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,' but I want Kendrick to win. I know it's selfish. Leave me alone.

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, 'Invictus'
Woody Harrelson, 'The Messenger'
Christopher Plummer, 'The Last Station'
Stanley Tucci, 'The Lovely Bones'
Christoph Waltz, 'Inglorious Basterds'

I like that The Tuc is getting all these nominations. It's nice to know 'The Lovely Bones' had at least one redeeming quality to it. Let me be clear, here and now, that Christoph Waltz will win, and Christoph Waltz should win, and Christoph Waltz gave what is, for my money, one of the all-time great performances of cinema. I mean it. Watch it, Oscars. Don't fail me here.

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, 'Blind Side'
Hellen Mirren, 'The Last Station'
Carey Mulligan, 'An Education'
Gabourey Sidibe, 'Precious'
Meryl Streep, 'Julie and Julia'

Oooooh, a real knuckle biter, this one. Honestly. Sandra Bullock keeps winning awards, but so does Meryl Streep. Carey Mulligan won't win, but her career has been made, provided she uses this momentum properly, and we'll be seeing her name many, many times in the future. This much I promise. Hellen Mirren thinks it's nice to be nominated, I'm sure, and she's still got Oscar for 'The Queen.' It comes down to a vicious three-way fight between Meryl, Sandra and Gabourney. Gabourney hasn't won many of the major awards yet, despite across-the-board praise, and that could work in her favour. On the other hand, Meryl Streep hasn't taken an Oscar home since the early '80's, believe it or not. On the third hand, this is the only time Sandra Bullock will ever be nominated for an Oscar. So she has that going for her. Well, that and a Golden Globe and a SAG Award. She has all those things going for her, too. Consider my arms thrown up.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, 'Crazy Heart'
George Clooney, 'Up in the Air'
Colin Firth, 'A Single Man'
Morgan Freeman, 'Invictus'
Jeremy Renner, 'The Hurt Locker'

Jeremy Renner was overlooked by the Globes, and it really bothered me. Without him, 'The Hurt Locker' wouldn't have worked. So he's where my personal choice goes, though George was great in 'Up in the Air.' He's a close second. Jeff Bridges is going to win, as a beloved veteran actor who's rarely appreciated in awards seasons. But wouldn't it be swell if Renner or Clooney won? It certainly would.

Best Director
James Cameron, 'Avatar'
Kathryn Bigelow, 'The Hurt Locker'
Quentin Tarantino, 'Inglorious Basterds'
Lee Daniels, 'Precious'
Jason Reitman, 'Up in the Air'

I would ultimately be okay with this going to Cameron, under the strict, strict condition that he not take home Best Picture. I say this because it was an incredible job, arranging everything for 'Avatar' to function properly, and I'm not above awarding that accomplishment. Kathryn and Jason, however, should be the winners. There have been ties in the past at the Academy Awards. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they tied? They won't. James Cameron will win. But it, too, would be swell.

Best Picture
'The Blind Side'
'District 9'
'An Education'
'The Hurt Locker'
'Inglorious Basterds'
'A Serious Man'
'Up in the Air'

Let's start by getting rid of the films which certainly wouldn't have been nominated had it not been for the increased number of nomination slots. That kills 'The Blind Side,' 'An Education,' 'District 9,' and 'A Serious Man.' I'd have gotten rid of 'Up' as well had 'Beauty and the Beast' not set the precedent back in 1991 for Animated movies occasionally (re; twice) getting nominated for Best Picture.

This leaves us with 'Avatar,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglorious Basterds,' 'Precious,' 'Up,' and 'Up in the Air.' We can say with great confidence that 'Inglorious Basterds,' 'Precious,' and 'Up' will not win, though I may do flips if 'Up' wins. 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Up in the Air' were undoubtedly the two best movies made in the last year, with 'Up,' in my opinion, very close behind. I'd like it to go to 'Up in the Air,' but I think it needs to go, whatever that means, to 'The Hurt Locker.'

I can't say with as much confidence as I'd like that 'Avatar' won't win, but, honestly, it better not. That's a threat, Academy.

My Betting Ballet:

Best Adapted Screenplay: 'Up in the Air'
Best Original Screenplay: 'The Hurt Locker'
Best Animated Feature: 'Up'
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'nique, 'Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire'
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, 'Inglorious Basterds'
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, 'The Blind Side'
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, 'Crazy Heart'
Best Director: James Cameron, 'Avatar' *
Best Picture: 'The Hurt Locker'

* I would love to be wrong. You don't even know.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Los Campesinos!

Romance is Boring
Los Campesinos!

I listen to a lot of hyper-precise music; Field Music, Gorillaz, early-to-mid-and-latest-period Blur, Radiohead, Elvis Costello. The list could go on. Even Spoon are precise, albeit in a way that can occasionally come across as remarkably im-. While I dislike bands that are too precise, such as Supertramp and, increasingly, middle-period Coldplay, I seem to enjoy it on a general level. So it is always a great pleasure when I find messy bands I enjoy.

Los Campesinos!, a Welsh band from Cardiff, have been around since 2006, and this is the first of them I've heard. They feature a male and a female lead singer, both of whom have good voices with great personality, and that's the first thing they have going for them in my book. Second, they have a good variety. Opener "In Media Res" is a nice piece of work, with one of the only bits of music I've heard in the last several years which I would go so far as to describe as dangerous.

Los Campesinos! have a very nice sense of melody, though they seem to do their best to hide it. "Plan A," for example, is a rapid fire two minutes of almost noise, and, if you can make it through that track, you'll be good for the whole album. It's the heaviest thing here by a long shot. The other thing I like about them is, I think, the lyrics. Whilst that may sound a weird thing to say, I've never focused on the lyrics all the way through a song (one very notable exception coming up in a moment), but when I catch fragments of them, they're very good. They seem to be picking out details from the ether, and using them to tell wonderful little stories. "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock," he says in "Straight in at 101." Which reminds me, they also have a very nice way with titles.

The best example of all of this, and the first great song I've heard all year, is "The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future." The song had me so excited early on that I created a teaser post about a week ago. It opens simply enough, with a simple repeating guitar figure. Strings enter, followed by drums, and it feels like you're standing on a wharf, looking out over the ocean. The first verse opens with "I grab a hold of her wrist and my hand closed from tip to tip. I said, "You've taken the diet too far, you've got to let it slip." One of the more gorgeous lyrics I've read recently is, "I ask her to speak French, and then I need her to translate. I get the feeling she makes the meaning more significant." It's a perfect bit of story telling, the whole thing. And it's sonically fascinating, which is a bonus most bands with writing of this caliber don't bother with.

They seem to know the only way to follow that song, on most albums an ideal closer, is to distract you with something unexpected, and so "This is a Flag. There is no Wind" opens with "Please can we all calm the fuck down?" It's a flawless transition. That the rest of the album doesn't pale in comparison to "The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future" is merely an indication of how proud Los Campesinos! should be of this mess.