Thursday 30 December 2010

Daley - Rainy Day

There's no doubting that Daley can sing - just listen to his track More Than A Woman, simply vocals and drums throughout. 

Most recently, he's featured on the Gorillaz track Doncamatic and in 2011 is set to bring his neo-soul music to the fore.  Rainy Day fuses soul and jazz into a smooth musical creation, which support Daley's excellent vocals.  The simple black and white video also focuses our attention on him.

But despite this, Rainy Day just grates on me.  The whole song just feels very self-indulgent, with too many vocal acrobatics and musical posturing.  As such, the song doesn't tug at the heart-strings as intended but actually alienates the listener.  It also annoyingly doesn't end, just fading out as Daley closes his eyes and swoons to himself, all emotion hidden behind sunglasses.

On the merits of his voice, I can see why he's been nominated for SO2011.  But personally, there are more deserving candidates.


Wednesday 29 December 2010

Up In The Air (2009) - Jason Reitman

Up In The Air is a film about relationships and the need for human contact.  It's essentially a road-trip buddy movie between the older, cynical Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who finds solace in the isolation of air travel, and the younger, optimistic Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick).  Ryan is a professional "termination engineer", hired by companies to fire members of staff - a job which takes him across the United States.  On his travels he meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), literally "himself with a vagina".  When Natalie is forced to accompany him on his perpetual commute, what follows is a typical role reversal as Natalie is dumped and Ryan's cynicism fades as he falls for Alex, bringing a little sentimentalism.

And then the twist hits.

The film's message though is clear: relationships are necessary for life fulfillment, for better or worse it's how we grow.  This need for human contact is paralleled by the business sub-plot - it turns out firing people face-to-face is preferable to via web-cam.  No shit.  And this heart-warming message is achieved without conforming to slushy convention.

The film, like Ryan, is stylish, charming and sophisticated.  The opening credits alone are well constructed, the visuals synchronised to the soundtrack.  The script too is clever and witty, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.  Whilst Clooney does a good job playing himself, the stand-out performance is by Kendrick.  Her equally hilarious and empathetic performance is highly endearing.  Up In The Air is typical of Reitman's style - if you haven't already, watch Juno and Thank You For Smoking too.

And remember: everyone needs a co-pilot.


Tuesday 28 December 2010

Yuck - Georgia

Yuck are at the forefront of the grunge and shoegaze revivals set to occur this year and have been nominated for the BBC SO2011.  The band consists of ex-members of Cajun Dance Party, plus some new guys, after a year of experimentation following the band's dispersion.

It's great to see a proper guitar band arrive on the music scene and Yuck certainly fit the bill.  Their sound is reminiscent of the early 1990s, reflected in the nostalgic video to this track.  It's probably their most accesible and grows on you over time, with distorted guitar riffs and catchy melodies lightly sung by both male and female vocals.  Annoyingly, whilst it's great to hear the guitar sound taking the foreground, the vocals are a little too low in the mix and blend with the guitar, though this was probably intentional.  Also check out Rubber and The Base Of A Dream Is Empty - the former is a longer, more experimental track, whilst the latter is too similar to Georgia (though arguably better)The band have a great overall sound which will appeal to the diminishing rock demographic, so it will certainly be interesting to see how the full album pans out.

Additionally, the band have an acoustic side project named Yu(c)k.  Slightly XX-esque, the simple piano and vocal tunes are excellent- in particular Automatic and Weakened.


Monday 27 December 2010

Jamie Woon - Night Air

Another Sound of 2011 nominee, Jamie Woon is a 27 year old songwriter and producer.  After a few years in the business, he has now been signed by Polydor. 

Night Air typifies his brand of electro-soul.  It's a mid-tempo track, whose opening percussive synth will instantly draw you in.  It establishes a dark, sexy atmosphere that illustrates the titular night air and the sultry bass riff provides a distinctive groove.  The production overall is slick with the subtle addition and subtraction of various synth sounds which compliment the soft, soulful vocal.  The video too has a mysterious, silhouetted character which supports the music.

This is an excellent track and well worth a listen.  And visit his website to download a free track - sweet! Jamie Woon Homepage

Friday 24 December 2010

Tron: Legacy (2010) - Joseph Kosinski

I haven't seen the original 1982 Tron (it's on my list of films to see).  Doing so will probably aid in understanding this sequel and you'll probably notice some easter eggs along the way.  But Tron: Legacy has followed in the footsteps of its predecessor in choosing style over substance.

The film begins in 2D but switches to 3D on entering the computerised realm, though the effect is subtle and not as awe-inspiring as the colour moment in The Wizard of Oz.  Still, there's no denying that the style and setting of Tron is fantastic, with its iconic mono-chromatic and neon visuals.  The aesthetics are certainly unique and continue to point the way towards a 3D cinematic future, complimenting the well exectued action sequences.

The story, however, is a whole different disc game: boy gets sucked into a video game and has to save his father from his own computerised creation.  It's essentially a teenagers wet dream, with fast cars, dangerous sports and hot women in tight catsuits.  There's a Wikileaks style pretext about freedom of data and global corporations taking over *cough* Microsoft *cough*, but ultimately the narrative is too flimsy to make these themes particularly substantial.  The script is also dire.  Saying the words "radical, man" is just. not. cool.  Jeff Bridges, you should know better, as should Michael Sheen (reduced to androgynous comedian).  Thank God then for Daft Punk, providing an excellent musical score which combines electro and classical styles to perfect cinematic sci-fi effect.

It is a fairly entertaining popcorn film and is worth seeing for the visuals and music.  But sadly, Tron: Legacy is yet more evidence that films and video games probably shouldn't mix.


Wednesday 22 December 2010

Jessie J - Do It Like A Dude

"Stomp stomp, I've arrived".  This is who Cher Lloyd wishes she could be.

Essex born Jessica Cornish has recently come to public attention as a nominee for the BBC Sound of 2011.  She's certainly a strong contender.  She's already appeared in the West End Whistle Down The Wind, written songs for Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Chris Brown and has a writing credit on Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA (though don't let that put you off).  And she's still only 22.

Originally this song was written for Rihanna.  Yes, it's that good.  Though I don't think she would have approved of the explicit language - don't play this around your little brother or sister.  The slick production mixes hip-hop with a rock edge, though it's lacking an injection of bass and she does commit the cardinal sin of saying her name at the start.  But basically, it's sexy as hell.  Some may say she has "swagger" - I'd say she's cool personified (check out the video for some amusing facial expressions).  And with this track and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Jessie J proves she doesn't just do it like a dude, she does it better.

And to demonstrate her vocal talent, click here for an acoustic version of this track.


Tuesday 21 December 2010

Hurts - All I Want for Christmas Is New Year's Day

Kitsch.  Cheesy.  Camp.  Three words you'd normally use to describe Christmas 'classics'.

But not this one.

Judging by the title, you'd probably think this won't be a particularly festive track.  And in part, you'd be correct.  Much like Last Christmas, the song equally mourns the past and looks forward to the future.  As such it's actually rather uplifting - New Year being a time of fresh beginnings, new slates and resolutions.  The lyrics thus include lines such as "Everywhere there's joy around this festive time of year/And happiness is never felt so far away" and "Everywhere the snow surrounds you/And melts your troubles away".  It's the kind of oxymoronic song that will have you crying happy tears.

The production, however, is certainly festive with Christmas bells throughout and an anthemic chorus.  But rather than selling out and cashing in for the holiday season, Hurts have stuck to their own sound with pulsating, tinkling synth, heavy drums and smooth strings in addition to the dreary/promising lyrics.  It follows on from the excellent Wonderful Life and Stay - with talent like this, Hurts should be around for years to come. 

In short, it's the perfect match of Artist + Christmas, without the need for camp or capitalism.


This track is the iTunes single of the week - a perfect (and free!) present for your iPod.

Monday 20 December 2010

Top 5 Christmas Pop Songs

It's the start of Christmas week and there's only five sleeps until our houses will be invaded by a fat man in a red suit, who only leaves us presents after stealing our alcohol and carrots.  What better way of celebrating than a Christmas countdown?

5. The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

This song never really appealed to me when I was younger - the out of tune, droning male vocal annoyed me (and still does).  But as I get older the cynicism of this song appeals to the Scrooge in me.  And what's not to like with the classic lyric: "You scumbag you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot"?

4.  Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime

You can't go wrong with a bit of McCartney (just look at that picture!!).  Well ok, there is Mull of Kuntyre.  But the instantly recognisable synth that runs throughout this track has a distinctly warm, Christmas feeling.  To me it sounds equally nostalgic and contemporary - the perfect Christmas balance.

3.  Cliff Richard - Saviour's Day

Every household has a Christmas album they listen to every year.  For us, it's Cliff Richard (blame my Mother...).  We've listened to it every year since I can remember.  It's full of classics like Christmas Alphabet and Scarlet Ribbons.  But Saviour's Day takes the crown.  The pipes!  The drums!  The weird little electronic flute twiddles at the end!  Cliff is the personification of the ghost of Christmas past.

2.  Chris deBurgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling

Forget Lady in Red.  This is the best Chris deBurgh song (though admittedly, that's not saying much).  They say a good song tells a good story and this certainly does.  It has a suitably futuristic sound (for 1975) and a more subtle Christmas message.  Give it a listen and you won't get the 'la la la' chorus out of your head.

1.  Wham! - Last Christmas

I have a soft spot for slightly depressing music and this track is equally melancholic and uplifting.  Yes the synth hook is iconic, the mullet-filled video is appaling and everybody loves a bit of cheesy Wham!.  But more so, it points out that if this Christmas turns out to be shit, well at least there's always next year...

Sunday 19 December 2010

The Long Good Friday (1980) - John Mackenzie

How bad can one day get?

Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a British gangster-turned-businessman attempting to gain financial support from two American mafia members.  But things turn awry when a series of explosions and killings ruin Shand's plans.  Much of the following narrative involves Shand's hunt for the source of the disruption.  It's a classic British gangster plot with violence, comedy moments and a sharp script, which helped to establish many of the genres conventions that have since become cliched.  The grainy visuals and gritty style are quintessentially British, at times reminiscent of social realism.  And that's before the final speech which compares the "vitality" of Britain compared with the hot dog inventing Americans.

The film does however feel rather dated, not only through the visuals and special effects.  The largely electronic soundtrack, though well composed, is hit and miss in its relation to the narrative: sometimes atmospheric, othertimes jarring and more suited to, say, Miami Vice.  It adds a sense of glamour, along with the fast cars and alcohol abuse, which is contradicted by the visual style.  More so, it cements the '80s context of the film.  The performances too are a mixed bag, displaying a cornucopia of British talent ranging from the excellent Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren to that bloke from Casualty, that bloke from the Flash cleaner adverts and that bird from the cafe in Eastenders.  There's even a brief cameo from (then unknown) Pierce Brosnan.

Though entertaining and (for its time) well made, I don't feel the film has aged that well.  But it's undoubtedly an influential film, particularly on British directors like Guy Ritchie.  As such, it's worth a view as a precursor to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or even just for a game of 'spot the celebrity before they were famous'.


Friday 17 December 2010

Nero - Me and You

Any track with a Tron/Streets of Rage-esque video will appeal to the geek in me, but this track is pretty awesome in its own right.

This track of epic proportions is by British dubstep duo Nero, signed to Chase & Status' record label MTA.  It's dubstep but with a rock edge and wouldn't sound out of place on a film or video game soundtrack.  Below the LaRoux style vocal sampling and synth hook is an irresistable beat and a deep, rumbling bassline.  Play it too loud and you run the risk of sparking earthquakes and tsunami across the globe.

But this track deserves to be played at full blast.  If this doesn't get you super-pumped, I don't know what will.


Wednesday 15 December 2010

Dylan LeBlanc - Low

Can we first just discuss that LeBlanc is only 20?!  Yet with his smoky voice and dark, wistful lyrics, he sings with experience far beyond his years.

Low is a track from his album Pauper's Fields (pictured)Originating from Louisiana, his music fits neatly in the Americana category - American folk-rock with a splurge of country.  Think Ryan Adams, but with more of a country twinge.  The song is characterised by the finger-picking and pedal-steel slide guitar styles providing a distinctly American sound and a drum beat that chugs away like a train, above which LeBlanc asks "Are you feeling alright? Are you feeling low?".  It's perfect music to just lie back and relax to.

Sure, country isn't for everyone.  But with this track, LeBlanc has managed to take a fairly uncool genre and make it cool again.

And if you sign up on his website, you can download an mp3 of this song for free! Check it out.


Tuesday 14 December 2010

Gypsy and the Cat - The Piper's Song

Get past the slightly odd name (apparently taken from an old childrens book) and you will unearth an absolute treasure: this duo originating from Melbourne (though now living in London).

Their music is a happy, fresh mix of synthesised and acoustic instruments, sounding like a folk-pop Empire of the Sun or MGMT.  Equal parts retro and contemporary, their influences range from 70s and 80s pop to modern dance music.  This song in particular has more than a passing resemblance to Toto's Africa but with a contemporary twist.  It's instantly catchy with gentle guitar riffs, falsetto vocals, anthemic chorus and excellent production (all done in an Australian garage) - truly halcyonic.

This is the perfect summer antidote to your snowy, winter blues and will undoubtedly put a smile on your face.  

From the album Gilgamesh (pictured) released next week.


Sunday 12 December 2010

The Prestige (2006) - Christopher Nolan

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called 'The Pledge'.  The magician shows you something ordinary... But of probably isn't.  The second act is called 'The Turn'. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary...  But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call 'The Prestige'".

At first glance, this film doesn't appear typical of Nolan's work, seemingly more of a straight drama when compared to the abstract Memento and perplexing Inception.  But though it's a little slow to show it's hand of cards, The Prestige reveals itself to be no less labrinthine in it's narrative.  Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) are two illusionists, competing for audiences, fame and wealth in early 20th century England.  But what begins as a simple rivalry escalates into a narrative of obsession, deception, sacrifice and sabotage.  In typical Nolan fashion, twists pile upon twists, culminating in a spectacular unravelling.  Once you get past the jarring English accents the narrative slowly sucks you in and before you know it, two hours have passed.  I will say no more for fear of ruining the plot...

The aesthetics and cinematography are beautiful, the performances excellent (though Bale appears to be stuck in dark, brooding Batman mode) and the film as a whole is subtly gripping.  Nolan is rapidly developing an impressive and ingenius oeuvre.  After the next Batman film, who knows what he will come up with next - I for one am on the edge of my seat.


Saturday 11 December 2010

Rihanna feat. Drake - What's My Name

It seems Rihanna is hell-bent on world domination.  Not content with a massive number one single this November (Gizzle Review: Only Girl (In The World)), within the space of a couple of weeks she's released not one but two singles which have made the top ten instantly: this track and Who's That Chick with David Guetta (seriously, does she not know who she is?!).

Thankfully, this track (second single from current album Loud) is the best of the three.  Here, Rihanna shows her softer side, especially when compared to the harder edge of last album Rated R.  It's still typically sexy though, with plenty of lyrical innuendo: "Baby you're a challenge, let's explore your talents".  Though, to be fair, after her recent X-factor performances I don't think anyone can blame her.  It's just a shame about her dress sense in the video...

But all this sex is sugar-coated into a great RnB pop song - it's cute, but with a knowing wink.  Where Umbrella was a sweet romance dressed up in dark production, this track is it's antithesis.  The mid-tempo beat is somewhat reminiscent of Rude Boy, but with a light synthesiser riff, a soaring middle eight and catchy hook: "Oh na na, what's my name".  It's smooth, glides over the ears, and thankfully, Drake's Kanye West impression is restricted to the start of the song and nothing more. 

For my money, Rude Boy is still her best track.  But there's just no stopping her at the moment and it seems that goal of world domination is inching ever closer.


Thursday 9 December 2010

Far East Movement - Like a G6

Every time I hear this song, one question continuously springs to mind: what the hell is a G6?

Well, I decided it was time to put this question to rest.  Using the only weapons necessary in any researcher's arsenal - Google, Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary - I will attempt to shed some light on what this song is actually about...

'G6' refers to a number of encyclopedic entries, ranging from the six largest European Union members, to various pieces of vehicle engineering, the third note in the whistle register and a chessboard square.  Somehow none of these seem relevant enough.

However, 'G6' apparently most probably references the Gulfstream G650.  And what is that exactly?  It's a twin-engine business jet aircraft currently under construction by Gulfstream Aerospace and once completed will be the largest, fastest and most expensive jet in the Gulfstream with an estimated pricetag exceeding $58million USD. 

But why would a hip-hop song want to refer to an aircraft?  As the song goes, "Now I'm feelin' so fly like a G6".  Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't 'fly' in urban language mean 'cool'?  As the Offspring eloquently put it: "pretty fly for a white guy".  Somehow I don't think this aircraft, however expensive and sophisticated it may be, could be described as cool.  Perhaps this is the Far East Movement punching above their status, aiming to be popular enough to be able to afford a ride in this jet, or even buy it?  Or perhaps it's a pun on the word 'fly', because, you know, that's what aircraft do?

This last definition is probably most likely when we consider the lyrics.  The song is clearly, from the offset, illustrative of getting horrendously drunk, with such colourful lyrics as: "when we drink we do it right gettin' slizzard" and "drink it up, drink-drink it up, when sober girls around me, they be actin' like they drunk".  Therefore, I think it possible to summise that "Now I'm feelin' so high like a G6" means 'You're so f***ing drunk off your tits, you're flying high like an incredibly expensive airplane'.  But closer inspection reveals another couple of lines: "I'mma make it fizz...Take that bottle to the head".  Now perhaps it's just me, but this sounds like sexual innuendo for oral sex, which I think everyone would agree would no doubt add to said europhic, aircraft-like state.  Just take a gander at the phallic CD cover art (above).  Further, this appears to be backed-up by Dev's Booty Bounce, which is sampled on Like a G6 and who is a featured vocalist.  No prizes for guessing what that song is about...

Finally, Urban Dictionary appears to successfully define G6:
"A pimp azz private jet made by Gulfstream (Gulfstream 650). Only Ballers, Rappers, Uber Celebrities, and successful executives are fly enough to get slizzard on a G6."

Equally, from another concise definition:
"A shitty piece of musical composition usually accompanied by illiterate intercity children and oral sex."

So to conclude, what is a G6?  Or more precisely, who gives a shit, especially when (though it is annoyingly catchy and somehow I've managed to dissect this much out of it) the song is, ultimately, rubbish? apparently...


Wednesday 8 December 2010

The Black Eyed Peas - The Time (Dirty Bit)

Oh dear.  It seems Will.I.Am (what's wrong with plain William?) is the administrator of an impressive fall from grace.  After The Black Eyed Peas' previous highs of Where is the Love, Don't Phunk With My Heart and Pump It, he has discovered a passion for sampling, production and futuristic electro which have been imbued into their most recent albums.  Unfortunately, this passion hasn't transfered positively into the music and this song is undoubtedly their worst song to date.  They may be having the time of their lives, but the rest of us aren't.

Why anyone would choose to sample "The Time Of Your Life" is beyond me.  Not only is it a rubbish song anyway, but it's incredibly well known.  Perhaps Will.I.Am has challenged himself to try and make it cool.  He's failed miserably.  It appears that both he and Fergie are incapable of singing without the assistance of autotune - they're no longer human. 

But this sampling is meshed horribly with the "dirty bit": insipid futuristic techno with electronic bleeps and vacuous rapping that is mere tortuous noise.  The combination shouldn't work.  And funnily enough, it doesn't.

Two songs for the price of one?  No deal.


Tuesday 7 December 2010

Michael Jackson & Akon - Hold My Hand

I'd just like to preface this by saying that, contrary to this review, I am a big Michael Jackson fan...

This, however, is quite frankly insulting; a saccharine song that not even diehard fans should be proud of.  I've never been a fan of Jackson's ballads, especially the pretentious Heal The World.  For me, his apparent ambition as world peace-keeper was more than a little above his station.  Unfortunately, Hold My Hand follows in the same vein as he implores us to hold his hand because "together we can be alright".  He even whispers the song title at the end in an exact copy of Man in the Mirror ("make that change..."). 

But with the inclusion of Akon things go from bad to worse.  We must endure his autotuned singing and imitative "oohs" and "aahs", which, together with the preaching gospel choir, completely overwhelm Jackson's vocals.  It's almost as if he's purposefully trying to drown him out.  The production is languid, uninspired R&B affair, with a monotonous drum beat, tinkling piano and uses the same standard pop chord sequence throughout.  Jackson's material was always progressive, modern and inspirational, but there's nothing inventive here at all - in fact it's thoroughly dated.  The song was recorded back in 2007 and clearly there is a reason this is previously unreleased - it's simply not good enough and Jackson probably knew it.

Most criminal of all though is that, whilst the song is marketed as a duet, it's more truthfully just an Akon track sampling Jackson's vocals.  As such, I can't help but feel Hold My Hand is, disgustingly, merely his capitalising on Jackson's death.  He even has the audacity to name himself at the start before "MJ". 

Akon previously (and rather arrogantly) stated that "The world was not ready to hear Hold My Hand [in 2007]".  If only it had stayed that way.


Sunday 5 December 2010

Alexandra Burke - The Silence

Finally, after the atrocious Start Without You, Burke has released her first major ballad since Hallelujah - a song which finally shows off her voice.  She's certainly got a powerful set of lungs and on The Silence she's finally allowed to let loose, both vocally and emotionally.

For me, it's a song of two halves.  Following on from Rihanna and Eminem's Love The Way You Lie, we have yet another song seemingly about domestic abuse - it seems weirdly fashionable at the moment... The lyrics are simple but effective, the synth backing is thoroughly contemporary and the chorus brings a strong beat and a soaring vocal hook.  But then two thirds through it all becomes formulaic.  Obvious use of silence (see what you did there) and Phil Colins-esque drum break?  Check.  Needless modulation? Check.  Glorifying backing choir? Check.  It's a shame as Burke doesn't need such ostentatious production, the voice is enough. 

Still, it's a good pop song and a strong contender for Christmas number one.


Saturday 4 December 2010

Coldplay - Christmas Lights

"When you're still waiting for the snow to fall,
It doesn't really feel like Christmas at all"

...Chris Martin lazily croons.  We don't need more snow at the moment, but I'm still waiting for this song to deliver on its Christmas promise.  What else have Coldplay yet to achieve but a Christmas anthem?  Following on from the best (Wham, The Pogues) the song details yet another Christmas break-up, which is pretty standard, depressing, Coldplay affair.  What the song really needs is a kick up the arse from Santa's boot.

The start shows promise, a simple Christmas carol reminiscent of Til Kingdom Come.  But once the band proper enters, it becomes totally generic and uninspiring - exactly what you don't want from a Christmas song.  The second half turns to triple time as the song moves into a waltzing, anthemic sing-along.  At least, it would be if there was a decent singable hook - Hey Jude this isn't.  The change is jarring, as if Martin has suddenly discovered what a 'ritardando' is (it's where the music slows).  It all feels rather hollow.

Considering their hiatus from the music scene, I expected more from this.  Is a development in the band's tired sound too much to ask?  You can hear the cold, calculating, financial cogs turning but creativity is nowhere.  I think more effort was put into the violin playing Elvis impersonators in the video.  It's a nice enough song, but nice isn't good enough.  Christmas Lights is, ironically enough, crucially lacking in transporting Christmas magic.


Friday 3 December 2010

Monsters (2010) - Gareth Edwards

District 9 + Cloverfield + Jurassic Park = Monsters.

Though the title is shockingly awful, this film thrives on atmosphere.  After an alien outbreak in Mexico, two Americans must traverse the 'infected zone' and escape to America.  It's essentially a road trip movie with a very thin plot.  Much of the film time is utilised to establish ambience, with moody imagery of the post-apocalyptic environment - empty vehicles, deserted buildings, dead bodies and beautiful shots of the Mexican landscape.  This is accompanied by a fantastic ambient soundtrack which matches the moody tone.  Monsters is filmed almost entirely with a hand camera to give the film a realistic feel.  The overall situation seems credible.

However, Edwards is relentless with the imagery so that you eventually become immune to it.  Further, though the evidence of the alien threat is laid before you, actually witnessing any action is extremely rare.  As a result, the journey never feels truly dangerous and the narrative lacks intensity.  Instead, the focus is on our two protagonists who, by the end of the film, we still know very little about.  It cycles rapidly through the various environments, but wallows in their inane thoughts - I just lost the will to care about them.  The characterisation (or lack of) isn't helped by the laughably appalling script, though this was apparently mostly improvised.  The end, therefore, is cringeworthy and lacks the emotional weight necessary to fulfill Edwards' ambition.

Ultimately, despite the moody ambience, the film just isn't all that interesting and, as such, is hard to recommend.


Wednesday 1 December 2010

An Education (2009) - Lone Scherfig

Everyone learns as a child not to get into cars driven by strange men.  Equally, bad things don't happen to schoolgirls, so there’ll clearly be a happy ending.  For Jenny, David represents an escape from her claustrophobic, Oxford-obsessed school life.  But it’s impossible to sympathise when he’s so disgustingly, charmingly pedophilic it borders on psychotic, despite the lack of intelligent support from her gullible parents.  As such, the twist and denouement come as no surprise. 

More so, An Education is so overly British, so overly upper-class, it’s all rather off-putting.  Although it’s set in 1961, the film’s aim is a universal coming-of-age film for young girls.  However, whilst the film’s values of career before romance may be indicative of the modern woman, due to the setting it all feels old-fashioned and out of date.  As a result, An Education will likely appeal only to a small minority of posh birds.


For more 150 word film reviews visit:

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith - Not In Love

Crystal Castles are an experimental electro group originating from Canada.  Their second, imaginatively titled album Crystal Castles II (pictured) was released earlier this year and now they've re-produced Not in Love to include vocals from The Cure frontman Robert Smith.  The processed vocals of the original are perhaps a little too quirky for popular tastes; here the distinctive vocals of Smith add a sense of 80s romance and nostalgia.

Indeed, this track mixes the best of both worlds and the collision of 80s new wave with modern electronic noise works extremely well.  The sorrowful lyrics depicting the breakdown of a relationship ("And we were lovers, now we can't be friends") clash with hyped-up, frenzied electronica.  It's a more accesible track than the last single, Baptism.  But if you like this, the rest of the album is definitely worth checking out, pushing electronica into new, progressive territories.


Afrojack feat. Eva Simons - Take Over Control

This is the best club track I've heard in a long while.  Plug it in and turn it on.

The song juxtaposes the female vocal of Dutch 'Popstars' winner Eva Simons, with a hard house beat.  It's incredibly catchy and is guaranteed to get your blood pumping, whether out clubbing or simply sat in your living room.  Yes, club music isn't everyone's cup of tea.  But chuck some vodka down your throat and you'll be all over this.

To think, Dutch dance music superstar Afrojack is only 23.  And his mentor is David Guetta.  Bastard.


Sunday 28 November 2010

A Single Man (2009) - Tom Ford

"Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty"

Beauty being the operative word here.  Ford's focus is clearly on the visual artistry of the film, as you'd expect from a fashion designer, but unfortunately the film falls victim to style over substance.

The film presents a day in the life of George (Colin Firth), a man living in Los Angeles in 1962 on the brink of suicide after the death of his long-term partner.  The narrative portrays how he copes with his grief, depicting that there is life after the death of a loved one, as he finds solace with his friend Charley (Julianne Moore) and student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult).  Though the plot is brief, it is thoroughly compelling and emphasised by the visuals.  This is an impeccably stylish film.  George has shades of Richard Gere in American Gigolo with his immaculate and meticulous dress sense and of course the costumes are exquisite.  The use of colour as George makes peace with his grief is cleverly employed.  And Ford manages to find beauty in ever minute detail of the human form.

At times, though, some of the visual effects seem a little forced, as if Ford is trying to prove a point that his film is to be taken seriously (this being his debut).  More so, for all the visual artistry, the plot lacks some emotional weight.  Ford chooses to emphasise the isolation of a homosexual man in 1960s America, rather than explore the broader theme of coping with grief applicable to all.  Whilst films such as Brokeback Mountain successfuly exploit wider thematic implications, A Single Man feels a bit insular by comparison and isn't quite as clever as Ford would have you believe.

Firth gives a brilliant performance and is deserving of his Best Actor Oscar nomination.  The film relies on his characterisation and luckily it's easy to get drawn into the plot and empathise with George.  But the narrative substance can't quite live up to the visual opulence.


Saturday 27 November 2010

Nicole Scherzinger - Poison

RedOne strikes again.  He sure does get around.  But you know what really bugs me?  When artists feel the need for their name to be said at the start of the track.  Craig David was all over that (boink) and now Nicole is at it.  There's no need.

Still, this is quite a good track.  Scherzinger is clearly trying to move on from the Pussycat Dolls with a hard-edged, aggressive track, coupled with the superhero/villain video.  Sure, lyrically it's simplistic stuff and the song is essentially just a vehicle for her to pout and look sexy.  But it proves that she's managed to get a good production team behind her.  It's hardly innovative, but it's a good dance track that's sure to do well.


Friday 26 November 2010

The Reader (2008) - Stephen Daldry

As if we didn't see enough of Kate Winslet in Titanic, there's plenty of nudity and eroticism here in The Reader, even if it does border on child abuseMoreover, Winslet reveals herself as a truly talented actress deserving of the high praise she has received.

What begins as a simple plot about a teenage boy in Germany and his illicit affair with an older woman spirals, over time, into a story about the impact of Auschwitz through the generations.  More so, it is a tale about the impact of the past on our future; the catharsis of literature; and overcoming guilt.  This is framed by the overarching story of a father who learns to accept the past and his emotions, finally opening up to others - most of all his daughter.  It is a fairly slow narrative that gradually draws you in, most prominently through its characterisation.  It is no surprise that Winslet won an Oscar for her performance as a woman conflicted by inner turmoil, shame and regret - the success of the film hangs largely on her character and she proves here that her skills are remarkable.  Kross and Fiennes also do a fantastic job in their dual role as the teenage and adult Michael respectively.

It is, due to its melancholic subject, a rather bleak and sombre film, matched by the washed out visuals.  But, though the film evades over-sentimentality, it seems to be lacking a certain amount of emotional impact.  The film invites us to question the morality of a prison guard at Auschwitz and expects us to accept that, due to her illiteracy, her complicity in mass murder can be forgiven.  This, understandably, is a little hard to stomach.

Ironically, the film is based on a novel by German writer Bernhard Schlink.  Though I am not familiar with it, I would imagine that the film has attempted to encompass all of its details.  As a result, the film covers too much ground and lacks focus.  Perhaps for this reason Winslet's performance is so prominent - it provides a constant for the audience to latch on to.

The Reader is worth watching for Winslet, but, though the film is thought-provoking, I'd choose Schindler's List for a more successful take on the tragedy of Auschwitz.


Wednesday 24 November 2010

Warpaint - Undertow

Originally from LA, this all-female band have been buzzing on the music radar as of late and I was curious to hear their music.  With a name like Warpaint, I was expecting something a bit more hard-edged but instead this track is suprisingly chilled out.

It's no coincidence that they've been touring with The XX - if you like one, you'll likely enjoy the other.  The guitar sounds are intriguing and the song has a sombre, relaxed feel.  Some may call it hypnotic and psychedelic, I would say it's verging on dull.  The verses and chorus blend together into one continuous texture and the song is lacking a real killer hook.  On the plus side, once the song builds to include the drums, the overall sonority is an interesting foil to the processed pop in the charts.  You can easily sit back and just let the music wash over you.  But at 5mins53, it feels a little too long and it's not something I'd choose to listen to repeatedly.  And the backing harmonies are out of tune in places...

Undertow is the iTunes single of the week, so with a free track this experimental band are certainly worth checking out.  Even from a quick listen, their album, The Fool, has other, better tracks with a much darker edge that are more worthy of your time.


Tuesday 23 November 2010

The Script - Nothing

I'd like this song far more if I'd never heard The Script before.  But the band name is very apt - with each song the band has played it safe, sticking to the same love themes and musical sonority.  It's all very well creating a niche for yourself, but some variation would be welcome.  With each new song you know what's coming before you've even read the script...

On the other hand, this is certainly one of their best songs.  The soaring chorus may utilise the standard pop song chord sequence, but as a whole the song typifies the band's sound (the middle-eight is very Goo Goo Dolls-esque), tweaked to slick pop-rock.  More so, they write excellent lyrics which tell a great love story.  The singing's not bad either. 

As a single, it works.  But once you've heard this, you won't need the album.


Monday 22 November 2010

Duffy - Well, well, well

As the title suggests, this is one of the most repetitive songs I've ever heard. 

Her debut may have sold millions, but with the new album her sound hasn't changed or developed - it's exactly as expected.  Not only does the instrumentation not change throughout (funky as it is), but neither does the chord sequence.  Ever.  Even the lyrics repeat the same lines over and over and over...

Meanwhile we have to endure Duffy incoherently screeching over the music, like the merging of a squeaky toy and a baby whining.  The song is relentless noise, 2mins 44 seconds too long.  That's the length of the song.

Well, well, well, Duffy.  More like waah, waah, waah.


Sunday 21 November 2010

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) - Sanders, DeBlois

...I could give you step by step instructions, but watching this animated film by Dreamworks is much more entertaining...

Our story concerns hapless Hiccup, a young clumsy Viking desperate to prove his worth to his father Stoick (chieftain of the tribe, voiced by Gerard Butler) and his love, Astrid.  When he manages to capture his first dragon, a deadly Night Fury, nobody will believe him as he is unable to kill it.  Instead, he befriends it and ultimately proves his worth to the Viking tribe in a predictable, yet thrilling, way.  Sure, it's a children's film, but like the best it has universal appeal.  It has loveable characters, both human and reptilian, and though it's not a complete comedy, it has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments.  Most of all, it's cheerful, upbeat and highly enjoyable, without being slushy.

Special mention must be given to the visuals, though I am a sucker for fantastical Viking/Dragon style.  This is a beautiful film, especially on Blu-ray.  The environments look incredibly realistic; the dragon characters are full of expression; and every detail of the scale, hair and fur textures can be seen.  Stunning.

This really does have everything: a heartwarming narrative, epic musical score, excellent visuals and charm.  It's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.


Saturday 20 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) - David Yates

(NB. I will keep this spoiler free for anyone not familiar with the plot)

Watching the Potter films as a fan of the books is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, fans are more forgiving of the series' faults, whilst simultaneously criticising the lack of detail in comparison to the books.  Finally, with the penultimate film, a Potter film has arrived that fans can be proud of, though Potter haters will be more alienated than ever.

As has been persistently said, this is the darkest Potter yet; the bleak tone set before the titles even appear.  The extension to two parts has allowed for more detail for the audience to be immersed in.  There is even time for extra scenes such as that at the beginning with Hermione and her parents.  In terms of fan service, this is the most detailed Potter film yet, covering all plot points of the books almost to the letter.  Fans will relish another chance to fall in love with Rowling's magical world. 

However, problems arise from the change to two parts and stem from problems with the book itself.  Some characters and plot points are glossed over here - characters cut in the earlier films suddenly grow in importance this late in the story, but are given little to no introduction.  Whilst this is fine for fans, those unfamililar with the books may find the story difficult to follow.  Also, by splitting the film into two parts, the story too has been split in half.  The pacing of this part is a little slow as most of the exciting set-pieces occur in the second half of the book - the film to come.  As such, this film is a little unsatisfying and will leave the audience wanting more.  This is probably intentional, but it's frustrating nevertheless.

Further, I had a personal gripe with the book's plot which still rings true here.  One of my favourtie parts has always been Hogwarts itself - its history, its teachers and lessons and, most importantly, its MAGIC.  In this film, as Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run in search for horcruxes, Hogwarts is nowhere to be seen.  Although the first six stories do become somewhat formulaic, I found each book reassuringly familiar.  For the series finale, the break in formula fits with the darker themes, but sometimes I feel the book (and, by extension, the film) takes itself a little too seriously and loses some of the charm, sense of wonder and magic of the earlier stories.  However dark the stories may become, they are still essentially children's tales.

The special effects are fantastic, the Burton-esque animation of the Deathly Hallows story is particularly well done.  There's also a slightly racy moment I won't spoil - it was unexpected but boundary pushing is welcome.  Performances are as expected across the board - some great English talent does a fine job.  But with the focus on the central three children, most of the peripheral characters are criminally given little to no screen time.  And though Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have improved with each film, the more tender moments between them are awkward and fall flat (Harry dancing anyone?!).  The soundtrack is very good, though is used sparsely to enhance the empty sense of dread.

Overall, this is a brilliant entry in the film series that fans will love, despite effectively serving as an appetiser in preparation for the next film.  I just look forward to the time I can watch both films back-to-back as intended, instead of two halves.  The poster's tagline should be taken as a warning: "The end begins".

And do yourselves a favour, whether for the first, tenth or millionth time - READ THE BOOK FIRST!


Tuesday 16 November 2010

Ellie Goulding - Your Song

As heard on the John Lewis Christmas advert...

Want to do a cover of a well known song?  Simple.  Reduce the instrumentation to a simplistic piano figuration and add some romantic cello.  Bob's your uncle.

This may be a standard method of 'making a song your own' (apparently), but it's certainly effective at adding some haunting romance to a piece.  And when the song is as good as this, it's a no brainer.  Goulding's slightly squeaky vocal may not be to everyone's taste, though here it gives a sense of vulnerability.  This cover version does lack some of the more interesting electro sounds from Goulding's album.  But it's beautiful and nostalgic, despite not being hugely original.  A bit like Christmas then...


Monday 15 November 2010

John Williams @ Bridgewater Hall

Classical guitarist John Williams is often compared to his contemporary 'rival' Julian Bream, the former the precise technician, the latter the soulful emoter.  Unfortunately, this comparison still rings true today.

For the discerning guitarist, the program was tantalising.  Williams walked out in his striped woolen jumper and addressed the audience with an air of informality, though this somewhat seeped into his playing with very little preparation time to tune between pieces.  He was almost impatient to move on to the next piece.  My key criticism of his playing is his lack of emotion, stemming primarily from his choice of tempo.  Much of his playing was too fast, with phrases merging relentlessly into long melodic marathons.  By contrast, other pieces were played too slow, seeming laboured and as if Williams was merely going through the motions. 

This was particularly evident in the first half.  The second of the Villa-Lobos Preludes lacked the bouncy and lively rhythms necessary, whilst the fourth was so fast it was as if Williams was sprinting to the interval.  Disappointingly, his rendition of Brouwers Black Decameron fell victim to the same problems, though the second movement is stunning played at any tempo.  I realise I'm being particularly critical being familiar with these pieces, much of the audience did erupt in rapturous applause.

Fortunately the second half took a turn for the better, due largely to the emphasis on Williams' own compositions which he clearly feels more comfortable playing.  These pieces felt much more relaxed and offered some beautiful playing.  In the final part of the programme, Williams relapsed into the same frame of mind as the first half.  However, the playing was largely more relaxed as, understandably, first half nerves dissipated.  More so, Williams' precise playing style is more suited to the Baroque sensibility of Barrios' music.  Of course, it must be stated that the pieces were technically incredibly challenging and in this Williams must be praised.

William's technical skill is unparalleled and certainly a sight to behold.  But I can't help feeling that the old master is, sadly, past his prime.


Saturday 13 November 2010

Enchanted (2007) - Kevin Lima


Ok, being a twenty-something cynical male I was never going to like this.  But still...really?  I had to sit with a sick bucket next to me...

The concept behind it is actually quite good, giving the Disney cartoon a 21st century reality check.  It's just the execution is terrible.  I know it's a children's film, but the comedy was completely juvenile.  It has none of the family humour of the Pixar films and none of the memorable songs of the Disney classics.  Yes, I realise it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and over the top.  And no, I'm not averse to a 'girly' Disney film - I'd happily watch Sleeping Beauty or The Little Mermaid.  But it is possible to make a comedy Disney film without completely ridiculing its history.  The only people who could possibly enjoy this film are 4 year old 'princesses'.

Yet it does still have some Disney charm.  And somewhere, deep down in my cold heart, a miniscule spark of romance was lit.  Kind of.  We all need a bit of fantasy in our lives, but let's not get carried away...


Friday 12 November 2010

James Blake - Limit to Your Love

My old music teacher always used to define music as 'organised sound and silence'.  This track fits that description perfectly with some intense use of silence, high emotion suspended in oblivion.

It's a cover of Feist's The Limit to Your LoveBut Blake puts his own spin on the song, which becomes dark, mournful and haunting.  Predominantly, the texture is simply superb vocals and piano, punctuated by some percussion and the use of sub-bass and computerised editing.  It's here that the dub-step influence comes in, though subtly done.  Other tracks, such as CMYK, reveal a greater electronic influence and prove Blake's excellent skill as a sampler, editor and producer.

Limit to Your Love is a perfect example of less is more - sparse but beautifully sung.


Thursday 11 November 2010

Willow Smith - Whip My Hair


For her age she's certainly got star quality and is a disturbingly confident performer.  But I can't help but feel that's more the result of clearly the pushiest parents in showbiz.  SHE'S TEN.  Surely this song is evidence of todays celebrity focused culture reaching younger depths?  I don't think she's as musically talented as people seem to be making out.  SHE'S TEN.  Instead it's down to the producers for creating a track that is simultaneously annoyingly catchy and weirdly quite cool.  Take note Justin Bieber.  I just feel a bit sick watching the video, in the same way that American child beauty pageants are repulsive.  SHE'S TEN.  Yet despite the fairly adult styling (she looks like a younger Rihanna) and lines such as "all my ladies" (SHE'S TEN), it somehow strangely works and Whip My Hair is quite a good party track.

Still, SHE'S TEN.  Shouldn't she be in school?


Wednesday 10 November 2010

Full Metal Jacket (1987) - Stanley Kubrick

Forget the new Call of Duty and have yourself some Kubrick...

The plot is simple, following a group of marines in the Vietnam war.  It is filmed in stark realism, bordering on documentary and divides neatly in two halves.  The first half depicts the group in training.  The Marines is not a place for the individual.  From the off, the men are seen having their heads shaved, losing all sense of identity.  Gradually, two men emerge from the group as our central focus - 'Joker' and 'Pyle'.  Pyle's story is particularly heartbreaking (why are the fat ones always so endearing?), with moments of pathos and light comedy juxtaposed with shear brutality.  Just as the men are training, this half prepares the viewer for the horrors to come.

The second half takes us to war-torn Vietnam and the strict military precision of training makes way for the fluidity and chaos of war.  Here, the plot centres on Joker, now a soldier-reporter.  His reporting and filming of the events parallels Kubrick himself, emphasising the sense of realism.  The use of music in particular is excellent, ranging from the ironic "Chapel of Love" and "Surfin' Bird" (forever linked to Family Guy...) to more abstract soundscapes which heighten tension.  The final shootout is especially tense and gripping.

Ultimately, war turns good men into monstrous killing machines, but the breakdown is eminently watchable.  There is far too much in this film to discuss in this small piece of Internet space.  Full Metal Jacket is a must-see film, not only as a precursor to more recent war films such as the recent (and brilliant) The Hurt Locker, but as a provocative piece of film in its own right.


Tuesday 9 November 2010

JLS - Love you More

Blimey.  You know you've made it big (so to speak) when you release your own brand of 'just love safe' condoms.  Suddenly the title of this track makes sense...

Rubber aside, Love You More is the first ballad from JLS following a string of pop RnB tracks.  It's pretty standard boyband slush and it's a shame that they're incapable of singing in harmony, despite there being four of them.  However, though I know I probably shouldn't, I actually quite like this.  It's simply a nice little pop song and every time I listen to it I like it a little bit more... and moooooooore.

Best of all, Love you More is this year's Children in Need single.  So you won't feel guilty for downloading it.  Good job they've got those 'lucrative' jonnies to make up for the lack of cash...


Sunday 7 November 2010

On The Town (1949) - Kelly & Donan

You don't mess with the classics, especially when it involves Bernstein's music...

But that's exactly what On The Town does, a film adapted from the musical of the same name.  The plot is admittedly a bit silly - three sailors arrive in New York with one day to experience as much of the city (and the women) as possible.  The trouble is that the film only vaguely follows the narrative and script of the original musical and for the most part lacks any form of darkness or danger.  This is fluffy, camp Hollywood through and through.  More unforgivably, much of Bernstein's music is substitued for cheesy, romantic schmoltz by Roger Edens.  In fact, despite this being a musical, the music and nasal, flat singing are the worst parts of the film. 

Unsurprisingly, those sections that utilise Bernstein's score are the standout moments - from the opening 'New York, New York', to the fantastic Miss Turnstiles dance routine and the dream ballet which serves as Gene Kelly's moment in the spotlight (literally).  The emphasis on tap dance is a welcome one - Anne Miller in particular has a spectacular routine.

Despite its obvious flaws, you can't help but be swept along by its charm.  In the words of Hildy, the film is ", so charming".


Top 5: Harry Potter characters

Having just watched Half Blood Prince in preparation for the latest release in the series (keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming review), I decided that rather than review the film, I'd reveal the top 5 characters in the series, in my humble opinion.  Everyone loves a good countdown, right?
(NB. This is based on both the books and the films...)

5. Voldemort

He has the features of a cold-hearted snake.  He selfishly and ruthlessy murdered people to split his soul and maintain his own immortality.  In fact, he's so malevolent, people daren't speak his name.  That's pretty evil...

4. Remus Lupin

He's a freakin' werewolf.  'Nuff said.

3. Bellatrix Lestrange

I was never a huge fan of Bellatrix during the novels.  But thanks to the excellent portrayal by Helena Bonham-Carter, her evil borders on the psychotic and her devotion to the Dark Lord is almost fetishistic.  She even rivals Voldemort himself for the title of best villain.

2. Hermione Granger
Or Hermy-one as I affectionately named her, before the films revealed the correct pronunciation.  Looking at the three child protagonists, we have firstly Ron: a dim-witted pratt with no redeeming features, he's just a comedy act.  Second, there's Potter himself: our (supposed) central focus, who relies purely on luck to get by.  Then there's the much under-appreciated Hermione, who's main attribute is intelligence - finally something I can get behind.  She's clearly the brains behind the threesome.  On top of her natural aptitude for magic, she spends hours slogging away in the library, discovering solutions for Harry's problems, only for Potter to steal all the glory in the end.  What a bastard. 

1. Severus Snape

He may have started as the teacher we all love to hate, but through the series he grew into the most interesting and ambiguous character.  The latter part of the series is very much Snape's story, not Potter's.  He is the Anakin Skywalker of Hogwarts, burdened with forever balancing the opposing forces of good and evil.  And Alan Rickman purrs to perfection in this role.  He may be the Half-Blood Prince, but in my view he's king of the series.