Saturday 30 April 2011

Thor (2011) - Kenneth Branagh

Though many will be familiar with the basics of Norse mythology, Thor is probably one of the least well known of Marvel's comic book heroes (except to die-hard fans of course).  Like many, I therefore had few expectations before the film began, besides watching trailers filled with special effects and cheesy dialogue.

And these two elements are particularly noteworthy.  Visually, the realm of Asgard is stunningly designed with sprawling fantastical vistas filling each frame with eye-popping detail; the lightning-paced action well choreographed.  There is, however, an over-reliance on CGI which lessens the tangibility of the fantasy world.  This is accentuated by the fairly unnecessary 3D, which emphasises the separate planes of the image and, thereby, the heavy use of blue screen.

As for the cheesy dialogue, it's actually welcome here.  The first act of the film narrates the rise and fall of Thor in Asgard, relaying the necessary backstory before switching back to Earth.  At this point, the tongue-in-cheek dialogue seeps in ("I need sustenance!") and from here on in the film never takes itself too seriously.  It works in a similar vein to other blockbusters such as Iron Man and Pirates of the Caribbean, ensuring that Thor never gets bogged down in its own mythology.  Hemsworth does a fine job portraying the titular protagonist, though his beard and sparkling eyes do most of the work for him; Portman, as ever, is a very welcome addition.  The soundtrack is suitably epic, though pretty unoriginal.

Sure, the plot is rather silly, the characterisation two-dimensional and the cliff-hanger ending draws a bifrost path to the inevitable sequel.  But it's a fun and enjoyable hammer-wielding blockbuster that will thoroughly entertain.

And Avengers fans, make sure you stay until after the credits for a hint of what's to come next...


Thursday 28 April 2011

Ed Sheeran - The A Team

You may have caught this talented guy on Jools Holland this week performing a cover of Jamie Woon's rendition of Wayfaring Stranger.  The A Team is taken from his forthcoming album '+' released in August.

For a guy of just twenty, Sheeran sings with a maturity beyond his years.  Like the best singer-songwriter tracks, it's a great piece of storytelling - here a dark tale of drug abuse, mirrored by the simple yet clever video.  The song has clarity and immediacy, allowing the lyrics and breathy vocal delivery to take the fore.  As such, Sheeran epitomises the 'singer-songwriter' genre.  He takes a laidback yet emotional approach and the sound is complimented well by the electric guitar solo.

But with his Jools Holland performance, his use of a loop sampler hints at experimentation.  And in his 'No.5 Collaborations Project' EP, Sheeran shares the limelight with a number of urban artists.  It proves his multi-talented abilities and wide array of musical influences.  Definitely one to watch.


Wednesday 27 April 2011

Jamie Woon - Spirits

I can't get enough of this song at the moment. 

Woon's irresistable style fuses soul, RnB and dub-step for a cutting-edge, yet commercially friendly, sound.  Spirits is brooding and sultry, with haunting vocal melodies and a strong gospel feel.  This fusion is almost reminiscent of an ultra-modern Michael Jackson.  His liquid vocal is constantly at the fore, incorporating reverb effects yet maintaining the soulful tone.  The minimal production enforces this, giving the vocal space to breathe.

And then there's the YouTube live version (see below).  I'm a sucker for this style of loop sampling, but the way the song slowly builds is expertly crafted.  This version only fortifies Woon's songwriting and vocal talents.

I recently stated my disappointment at this year's 'BBC Sound of' nominee albums, namely Clare Maguire, Jessie J and James Blake.  Whilst each of these artists have had a couple of standout tracks, their albums have largely been unfulfilling.  Woon's album 'Mirrorwriting' (available now, pictured), featuring both Spirits and Night Airsomewhat falls into the same trapThese are undoubtedly the highlights in a decent, if a little monotonous, effort.  It's still well worth checking out though, even if it's just to download this absolute gem.


Monday 25 April 2011

The Expendables (2010) - Sylvester Stallone

A group of mercenaries come together to form the ultimate band of heroes, just as a group of old action heroes (a.k.a The A(ging)-Team) come together to create the ultimate action film.  This may be the most "awesome action cast ever assembled" but it takes far more to create the most 'awesome action film' period.

Sly Stallone directs and stars, looking increasingly like David Guest in his old age as he pants along for much of the film.  It's shot largely by fast-paced handheld camera in the dark, seemingly to hide the wrinkles.  Clearly he didn't bank on some people watching in HD (mwahaha).  This also has the effect of making much of the action unintelligable, falling victim to typical action film syndrome.

And typical this is.  The story narrates the....wait...there was a story?  It's just a load of blokes blowing sh*t up.  Any attempts at characterisation fall not only flat, but are blasted into the grenade-induced dirt-filled craters.  Guns, knives, vehicle chases and big, tattooed muscle-men smoking cigars all feature heavily.  The script is so laughably predictable it's quotable before the lines are even spoken.  And let's not forget the one short scene that features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, despite apparently taking six hours to shoot - so appallingly cliched that they aren't even credited.  Even Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down a role because he felt the character had no substance.  That's saying something.

But watching Sly racing to jump on a moving plane, chest wabbling, heart visibly pounding, his stumpy legs almost failing to keep up is comedy genius and proves the film doesn't take itself too seriously.  The Expendables is so bad it's....almost....good?


Thursday 21 April 2011

Beyonce - Run The World (Girls)

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for a female role model.  But we've seen this female empowerment before from Beyonce and Destiny's Child.  Independant WomanSingle LadiesIf I Were A Boy.  And now this trash. 

Of course, there's more to Beyonce than just hands-in-the-air uber-feminism - from Crazy In Love to Sweet Dreams (a personal favourite).  I just wish she'd branch out a bit more from time to time.

The sparse production may have worked for Single Ladies, but that record had the benefit of a decent hook.  Run The World has an eastern flavour, with melodies inflexed with chromaticism and tribal drums that are sure to get yo' bitch's booty shakin', though it massively overuses the main sample.  It's just a poor man's Diva and a far cry from Beyonce's previous anthemic material.

Most criminally of all though, this track totally underuses Beyonce's vocals.  For much of the song, she is reduced to a shouting monotone that borders on rap.  Beyonce is an incredible SINGER and therefore deserves a record where she can SING and prove her vocal prowess.  Why Don't You Love Me is a sterling example.  Run The World is not.

It's available to download from iTunes from today, though why you'd want to is beyond me.


Tuesday 19 April 2011

We Are The Ocean - The Waiting Room

On the one hand, I really like this track.  I listen to this and reminisce of being a hormonal teenager listening to moody rock music - what my parents would call "the angry young man" act.  Catchy guitar and vocal riffs, the odd shouting vocal line and energetic drums are the order of the day, coupled with suitably emo lyrics - "Locked in the waiting room, my time is coming soon / There's no more life in me, I'm tied to catastrophe".  The downtrodden lyrics with aggressive, high-powered rock will always be a winning combination (The Wombats - take note).

On the other hand, consider this: this is the second single from the upcoming album 'Go Now And Live' after What It Feels Like, yet both tracks sound identical.  Plus, We Are The Ocean follow on from more recent emo-pop-rock acts such as You Me At Six and Kids In Glass Houses that have graced the airwaves.  It's no wonder they've all toured together - they're all much of a muchness. 

Despite this, the radio-friendly rock tunes of all three bands are difficult not to like.  And this enjoyment proves you're never too old to play the angry young man.


Monday 18 April 2011

The Wombats - Anti-D

This record really is appalling.  I don't understand why the radio stations feel the need to play this practically on repeat.  I'm looking at you Radio 1.

"Please allow me to be your anti-depressant", drones Murphy.  All you're doing is making me feel more depressed.  This isn't therapeutic somehow.  It's a durge and far from the grand production it attempts to emulate.  Note to bands: orchestral strings alone do not an epic song make.  From the langurous vocal to the slow tempo and repetitive instrumental lines, Anti-D can only be described as a distillation of boredom.  After listening to one play through I needed prozac to be injected directly into my brain.

It's the antithesis to the upbeat, sing-a-long Moving To New York and more recent Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)The only people who could possibly enjoy this shite are twelve year old emos whose long, lank hair is so greased up it's blocked their capacity for rational thought and the ability to recognise decent music.

Excuse me whilst I go and slit my wrists.


Sunday 17 April 2011

Source Code (2011) - Duncan Jones

"What would you do if you knew you only had one minute to live?"

Or in this case, eight.  Like Jones' excellent Moon, Source Code depicts a man stuck in an endless cycle determined to alter his fate.  Gyllenhaal's character must repeatedly endure the same eight minute train journey, his mission: discover the identity of the terrorist train bomber to stop future attacks.  It's an intelligent concept, though the "science" is pretty baffling. 

A thriller like this lives or dies by its story, dependant on a satisfying denouement.  Unfortunately, Jones chooses the easy way out.  The film touches on some intriguing themes, in particular the meaning of life after death, but it doesn't delve deep enough.  It's a real shame - Inception proved its possible to create an intelligent summer blockbuster, yet here Jones has focused on the blockbuster elements and lost some complexity in the process.  When the ending finally arrives, its overly-romantic nature feels far too contrived.  The music follows suit - Chris Bacon's orchestral score feels too melodramatic.

Source Code is an intelligent, stylish and enjoyable film - it's far from a train wreck but not quite the gratifying thrill ride it pertains to be. 


Friday 15 April 2011

Lady Gaga - Judas

Ear condoms at the ready, prepare for the next musical insight into the crazy world of Lady Gaga.

This is pretty much Gaga by numbers.  And by now, we all know what those numbers are.  Massively over the top production.  Bizarre lyrics ("fame hooker, prostitute wench").  Stuttering vocal hooks ("Juda-Juda-ah-ah").  A rapped middle eight (with the aforementioned "ear condoms").  And an incessant beat that will have men and women across the globe dancing in a ridiculously camp fashion, sweat dripping between their breasts as they claim that Gaga is the best thing since Madonna.

There's no denying that the chorus to Judas is weak.  Sorry 'monsters'.  It's dull.

However, she makes up for it with the sexually chromatic bassline and beat combo - thunderous and bombastic.  There are multiple similarities with Bad Romance, mainly in the lyrical message and the catchy "Juda-Juda-ah-ah" hook, though I fear this will rapidly annoy.  But, like the best of Gaga's output, it's loud and proud with dramatic production that juxtaposes the dark and seedy with the upbeat - fans will definitely be in need of the ear condoms.  It may be formulaic but it's been expertly crafted in her own unique way.  I previously stated that Born This Way would be the pop anthem of 2011.  I was wrong.  Judas is.

Most of all, it's FUN.  Perhaps it's time we all fully embraced the bizarre and learnt to let loose a little.


Judas is available now on iTunes.  To listen to the track in full click here.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em

"Sensuary overload" doesn't even cut it.

Their sound is described as 'noise-pop'.  Understatement.  Tell 'Em sounds like the result of a buzz saw having a scrap with a fog horn in a robot factory using electric guitars and laser guns for weapons.  And amongst the hysteria a choir girl sings in angelic falsetto.  It shouldn't work.

Yet somehow it does.  It's distorted, rough and percussive and deserves to be played LOUD.  The grinding racket will truly thump your eardrums.

Tell 'Em has been available for over a year on iTunes but has only recently come to the attention of English audiences, especially as Nick Grimshaw's record of the week.


Wednesday 13 April 2011

Matthew Morrison - Summer Rain

I can feel the bile rising in my throat.

It's available now on iTunes, conveniently poised to take advantage of the spring.  As such it is full of all the summer clichés - most notably the ukelele.  Basically, if Glee did a Jason Mraz episode, it would sound A LOT like this. 

The trouble is, I can't decide what Morrison is trying to achieve with this track and the upcoming album - if a full album is even bearable.  Is this just Mr Schue riding the Glee tidal wave that has spread across the globe?  Or does Mr Morrison wish to be taken seriously as a credible music artist?  Morrison himself seems torn.  The bubblegum pop sound is clearly geared towards the young Glee demographic, whilst the slightly risqué lyrics ("Your eyes are beggin’ me to touch you there / Could be a thousand people watchin’ but we don’t care") will appeal to his more adult fans.  Can he successfully straddle both ends of the spectrum?  Commercially it's a no-brainer...

That said, the more I listen, the more the bile descends into my stomach.  It's catchy, it's got a funky bassline and Morrison is a talented performer.  For all it's cheesiness, just like Glee, Summer Rain is inoffensive, harmless fun that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling. 

That is, until reality hits... well, it was fun while it lasted.


Tuesday 12 April 2011

Charlie Simpson - Down Down Down

It's not quite the year 3000, but times have changed for Charlie Simpson.  Post Busted, he went on to front alt rock band Fightstar, though whether they've gained credibility and mainstream success following Simpson's pop career is questionable.  They've since taken a year hiatus and now, with his solo career, Simpson is facing a similar dilemma.

However, he's actually managed to crack out a decent track.  Down Down Down is the first single from forthcoming album 'Young Pilgrim' and has been featured on Radio 1 as Fearne Cotton's record of the week.  The acoustic sound is a world away from the comedic Busted and the heavier Fightstar, though of course retaining Simpson's unmistakeable voice.  It blends British and American folk influences, the vocal harmonies revealing a tinge of Mumford and the final chorus taking a Country vibe that will have you reaching for your cowboy hat.  The descending opening riff proves a great hook and whilst it may not be the most original of songs, it definitely substantiates Simpson's musical credentials - finally he deserves to be taken seriously.


Sunday 10 April 2011

Million Dollar Baby (2004) - Clint Eastwood

Do yourself a favour and watch this film before you read any further.

Done? Good.

You'll know then that Million Dollar Baby isn't the film you thought it was going to be.  It begins with a fairly hackneyed story - boxing trainer (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes on female boxer (Hilary Swank) in search of redemption for his past mistakes; female boxer makes it big against all the odds; trainer becomes substitute father-figure.  All is relayed through voiceover by Morgan Freeman, ripped straight from The Shawshank Redemption

The simplicity of the narrative reveals Eastwood’s confidence in his directing ability, astute script and the exceptional performances.  It starts off slow but lures you in through the strength of the characters – endearing, believable and human.  

But in the final round, the film shifts towards a chilling, heart-rending denouement.  It’s an incredibly powerful film that will stay with you long after the final bell. 


For more 150 word film reviews, visit Screen150.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Kanye West feat. Rihanna, Kid Cudi - All Of The Lights

Although the video features most prominently Kid Cudi and Rihanna (with her rack/side-boobs out - standard), this track additionally includes a wealth of talent from Alicia Keys and Fergie to John Legend, La Roux and Elton John.  The point?  Who knows.  It just smacks of Kanye's arrogance - the differing voices are massively underused and hardly noticeable.  Ultimately, this is very much a Kanye track with a bit of Rihanna thrown in for good measure.

The track begins with a melodramatic piano and cello opening (Elton John's contribution), which never sounds quite in tune.  When the track proper begins, the most pronounced sound is the obnoxious synth brass - clearly ripped from an early '90s Casio keyboard.

Yet despite these faults, Kanye's inherent sense of cool shines through.  His rap tells a dark tale of domestic violence and adultery, befitting a noir thriller.  Well, the album is called 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' after all.  The production as a whole is a high energy, perpetual crescendo, though it does overpower the narrative.  Only when you listen with headphones can you hear the impressively detailed layering.  Most of all, the vivacious percussive beat is irresistable.

Be warned though: the video takes the title literally, it WILL hurt your eyes.


Thursday 7 April 2011

My First Tooth - Sleet and Snow

Searching for the next big thing?  Well it's right here.

If you're heading to Glastonbury this year, make sure you catch this band - they're awesome live.  Before you do, check out the album 'Territories' - it's a brilliant listen.

Sleet and Snow is released as a single on the 11th April (available here) - if you've been listening to Lauren Laverne on Radio 6 recently you may have already heard it.  It may have (just) turned into summer, but if it's already too much this wintery themed song will be your hayfever antidote.  My First Tooth have successfuly merged pop melodies with a folk aesthetic and with this track it works beautifully.  The opening mandolin riff sets the mood - equally melancholic and hopeful.  At it's core, Sleet and Snow is a great little song, but the addition of female vocal harmonies, flute and trumpet elevate the sound with warmth and a jaunty charm.  It's enough to make you skip the summer so you can cosy up to the fire to escape the blizzard, this song on repeat. 

Gorgeous and touching, this band isn't to be missed.


For more information on the band and to hear Sleet and Snow click here, or to hear the full album, head over to Spotify

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Justice - Civilisation

As much as I like Justice, for me they've never quite lived up to their clearest rivals - Daft Punk.  Both are French electro duos, though these guys don't feel the need to hide behind helmets.  Justice have taken a heavier approach to their music, with pounding basslines and distorted synths lending a rock edge.  They've produced some great tracks, including Genesis, D.A.N.C.E and the excellent We Are Your Friends vs Simian. 

Civilisation continues the trend.  There's been much hype surrounding the return of the duo, amplified by the recent Adidas advert and this track certainly lives up to expectations.  It's audacious, electro with guts - turn the volume up and play it LOUD.

And yet the similarities with Daft Punk continue - the recent material of both bands sounds fairly analogous.  Though I tell myself it's unfair to compare, Daft Punk unfortunately are Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.


Tuesday 5 April 2011

Metronomy - The Look

This video contains the most disturbingly animated seagulls I've ever seen...

Video aside, the song's not bad either, chosen by Nick Grimshaw as his record of the week.  The electro band first formed back in 1999 and are set to release their forthcoming third album, 'The English Riviera', later this month featuring The Look.

The electro style is clean and minimalist, somewhat reminiscent of Hot Chip.  It's an interesting mix of electronic and acoustic instruments and has a restrained sense of cool.  This is also the song's biggest weakness.  The Look feels too clinical, too measured, matching the blank whiteness of the video.  The name 'Metronomy' is fitting of the band's reticent nature and the track only really gets going once the synth solo hits, more befitting an 8-bit video game.  Whilst this has its charm, the band lacks soul.

I also don't get the relevance of the seagulls, except to scare the sh*t out of me.


Monday 4 April 2011

Rushmore (1998) - Wes Anderson

A fairly bizarre little film this one.  Jason Schwartzman (in his first film) plays Max Fischer, a precocious and outlandish teenager at Rushmore High School.  He's flunking his academics but excels at every extra-curricular activity going.  Soon after his headteacher gives him an ultimatum to improve his schoolwork, he falls in love with the elementary school teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) and strikes up a friendship with Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a local businessman.  A peculiar love triangle develops between them and provides the impetus for the narrative.

It's a comedy-drama with subtlety and understated performances, despite the oddball setpieces.  Whilst the comedy isn't laugh-out-loud and the drama merely hints at darker elements, it's still an entertaining film.  The music especially provides humour, as well as providing a jarring retro tone which mimics Max's overly mature attitude to life. 

Rushmore is a film worth seeing, even if it's just to witness the beginnings of Schwartzman, Anderson and (co-writer) Owen Wilson's careers.  That in addition to a droll performance from Murray that continues with Lost In Translation.


Sunday 3 April 2011

Aloe Blacc - I Need A Dollar

This is sure to hit a chord with much of the world's population during the current ongoing economic crisis. 

More so, it's a great song.  Soul music has been experiencing a revival over the last few years and I Need A Dollar fits neatly in this mould.  It marks a return to traditional songwriting and motown sensibility, with a tight funk/soul band and smooth vocal.  This wouldn't sound out of place on a Stevie Wonder or Bill Withers album.  It's got a catchy hook, punchy piano and a message that everyone can get behind.

And yet, in this day and age, it sounds fresh and vibrant - a sure-fire summer hit.  Along with Janelle Monae, Aloe Blacc is another young, funky black artist leading the way in the retro soul revival. 

Give him a dollar, download this track (on 1st May) and play it all summer long.


Friday 1 April 2011

Rebecca Black - Friday

You know what day it is...?

That's right, it's FRIDAY.

That can only mean one song is reviewed today: Rebecca Black's incredible single.

Seriously, I LOVE this track.  It's the best pop track to be released in years.  The musical production is incredibly complex and the lyrics are profound beyond belief.  "Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday / Today i-is Friday, Friday".


And then there's her unique voice - simultaneously haunting yet beautiful.  She really is a true talent.

Plus the exquisitely filmed video sums up the track wondefully - young, fresh and fun.  I just can't get this out of my head.