Monday 31 October 2011

Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials

Ssh now Florence.  Get back in your mirrored box.

It's clear what the aim for this album was: taking Florence's goth-pop and blowing it up to epic, anthemic proportions.  Instead, what she's delivered is fifteen tracks of overblown, monotonous pop bombast.  Mostly, it feels forced, Florence living up to her bands name with a churning machine that, ironically enough, undermines her attempts at epic music.  In isolation, singles like Shake It Out are easily digested, yet as a whole album it's relentlessly loud monotone.  There's no diversity here, no light and shade, no time to breathe - for us or for Florence.  A few acoustic tracks and demos don't count - they're little more than an afterthought.  A far cry from the majesty of 'Lungs', 'Ceremonials' is sometimes haunting yet comes far closer to a collection of X-Factor celebration songs.

It's all peppered with electric guitar and synths, though the incessant tribal drums and endless choir choruses become tiresome. Individual instruments do shine - the church organ of No Light, No Light; the deep rumbling synths of Remain Nameless; the shimmering harp break in Spectrum.  Indeed, musically there is some great stuff here and some catchy melodies (particularly Never Let Me Go), but it's stifled by bad production.  Rarely has music sounded so overcrowded, or a vocal sounded so suffocated.  She is the drowning protagonist of What The Water Gave Me, her pockets filled not with stones but musical instruments and industry hype.  Florence need look no further than Bjork or Bat For Lashes to see how to do goth-pop with delicate subtlety.

But it's not just the production at fault here, it's Florence herself.  The album exposes the limits of her vocals, reduced to screeching banshee for the majority of tracks.  I suspect, though, this is to keep up with the overwhelming instrumentation.  Also questionable is Florence's dubious songwriting ability.  Lyrically, for all its fantastical and religious imagery, this is vacuous stuff.  What exactly are the heartlines on your head? 

Perhaps 'Lungs' was just a lucky break.  Or perhaps success has gone to her head.  Is Florence really the musical goddess the pop industry has labelled her as?


Gizzle choice tracks:
* Never Let Me Go
* No Light, No Light
* Spectrum

Sunday 30 October 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) - Lynne Ramsay

Forget Kevin, we need to talk about We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Firstly, we need to talk about the novel, written by Lionel Shriver.  The plot details a young boy, the titular Kevin, who embarks on a school massacre during the late '90s - contemporary to the Columbine massacre of 1999.  The first person narrative is from the perspective of Kevin's mother, Eva, as she recounts the story in a series of letters to her estranged husband.  It's an incredibly dense novel, written as a stream of consciousness as Eva's pent up, repressed emotions are splurged across the page; the narrative unfolding like a twisted oedipal trajectory.  The book's strength lies in its ambiguity.  Shriver has dared to approach a subject that is unsettling, posing questions that most mothers would consider only in secret.  Who will my child turn out to be?  What if he/she turns out to be a murderer?  Normally these questions are rhetorical, too horrific to contemplate.  But Shriver breaks the taboo with a novel that delves into the darkest corners of parenthood.  Ambiguity arises with regards to the nature/nurture debate.  Was Kevin born an inherently evil child?  Or is it the fault of his cold, callous, selfish and resentful mother?  It's a question that remains unanswered and will undoubtedly divide readers.  The novel is provocative, unsettling, disturbing and thrilling.

So then, we need to talk about the film.  Due to its distinct narrative style, this is not a novel that is easily translated onto the screen.  Yet Ramsay succeeds in her adaptation, by choosing to focus on the pscyhological aspects of the novel.  In terms of genre, it most closely resembles a psychological horror drama.  The film takes place essentially in the present, past events told in flashback rather than letter form.  As such, what the viewer sees is Eva's skewed vision of her son; fragmented, fragile memories.  Temporality is blurred like her visions, light and sound melting from one scene to the next, juxtaposed for significant, and occasionally comical, effect.  It's almost to the point of one long extended montage.  Yet unlike the novel, the film's script is its antithesis with remarkably little dialogue.  It reflects the emptiness in Eva's life following "the event" - filled with silence, cold harsh surfaces, nothingness.  The moody sound design echoes around Eva's sparse flat, exploding inside her head.  But cinematically, the mise en scene is crammed with symbolism.  Most prevalent is the colour red: both subtle and grotesque, its bloody connotations are clear.  In conjunction with cleaning and hand washing, it represents the blood on Kevin's hands and, by extension, Eva's hands as she struggles to move on with her life.  Typical of book-film adaptations, the plot has been stripped back and details removed.  As a result, the novel's ambiguity is retained but largely through lack of context rather than purposely integrating the nature/nurture debate of the book.  Moreover, Kevin's character is far less fleshed out - we never truly understand his reasoning and some of Shriver's most suggestive lines are missing in action.  I thoroughly recommend you read the novel before enduring the film.

And then, we need to talk about Tilda.  This is her film, through a breathtaking performance that practically screams Oscar.  Her androgynous features are both beautiful and frightening, yet always captivating - perfect for portraying the ambiguous Eva.  With Swinton, hundreds of Shriver's words are depicted in a single stare.  Ezra Miller also succeeds as Kevin, shying away from the obvious malevolent facial expressions, despite the character being somewhat constricted in comparison to the novel.

Lastly, though it's a film that warrants discussion, we need to stop talking about Kevin: go out and watch the film for yourself.  I'll talk to you when you come out...


Thursday 27 October 2011

The Green Mile (1999) – Frank Darabont

I’ll put it out there, I hate Tom Hanks: a man who’s made a career playing the big, dumb idiot with big ears, a.k.a  himself.  Not even in Philadelphia did he impress. Here, his elderly double did well.

But thankfully, he’s overshadowed by a tiny mouse, though the film belongs to Michael Clarke Duncan as the meek John Coffey.  The film is of Titanic proportions, the narrative playing out in episodic fashion more akin to a US television drama series, weaving its themes of racism, morality and faith along with the supernatural.  It’s all beautifully shot, the dank cell block serving a suitably morbid tone, Duncan bathed religiously in celestial light.  The subject matter is melancholic, the situation harrowing and its final message depressing – life reduced to a deathly waiting game.

Aside from its length and a Tom Hanks sex scene, The Green Mile is a sad yet enjoyable watch.


For more 150 word film reviews visit Screen 150.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Daughter - Youth

This is beautiful stuff.

It begins simply enough, with just guitar and vocals laced with delicate reverb.  The affecting lyrics are infused with the poignancy of teenage heartache, direct like an arrow through the heart.  Then the song builds, combining the ambience of Sigur Ros with the fantastical-female-pop of Florence or Bat For Lashes - the tribal drums and dreamy vocals especially.  Then, as the music dissipates and the smoke clears, we're left with the line "And if you're in love then you are the lucky one / 'Cause most of us are bitter over someone".  Go on, shed a tear, I dare you.

Youth is from Daughter's (aka Elena Tonra) second EP 'The Wild Youth', available to download from iTunes now.  You can also listen to the EP on the Daughter Homepage.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Collective - Teardrop

Before all you haterz start hatin' on me, yes I do realise this is the Children In Need single: it's for charity and a great charity at that.

But is that any excuse for releasing appalling music just to churn some money?  This is a crime against music.

Massive Attack's Teardrop is just one of those songs you don't touch.  Now it's ruined by "The Collective", consisting predominantly of UK urban acts plus Ed Sheeran and Gary Barlow(?!).  Of course Labrinth's production slaps Massive Attack in the face with dubstep trappings.  The "rap" verses consist of three word sentences - I suspect these "artists" couldn't string together any more.  They may as well be quoting Trainspotting's "choose life" speech.  Then there's Tulisa's laughable attempts at vocal riffing - skip to 3'37 on the video to see what I mean.  Seriously, I think what the children need is some decent music to listen to.

By all means do Children In Need a favour and support the charity by donating on 18th November.  Heck, we should all be donating all year long.  But do yourself a favour and DON'T download this atrocity.


Monday 24 October 2011

Justice - Audio, Video, Disco

Ever wondered what heavy rock music would sound like played on synths?

Well, Justice have provided the answer.  They are, for all intents and purposes, a rock band masquerading as an electro act.  Heavy guitar riffs, rumbling basslines, driving drums and screaming solos - all predominantly synthesised.  If Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Queen, Rush or any other classic rock band were transported decades into the future, this is what they'd sound like.

Then again, ironically, this is nothing new.  But, though there were elements of this rock aesthetic on their previous (self-titled) album, it's so much more prominent on 'Audio, Video, Disco'.  Right from the industrial synth chords of opener Horsepower, you know you're in for an awesome barrage of music.  'Horsepower' proves to be a suitable epithet for the album as a whole - this is relentless, no holds barred stuff.  As a whole, it borders on monotony and your head will be pounding - but it's worth it.

Horsepower is also a suitable opener, acting as something of an overture to the remaining tracks.  At it's heart though, the album is pure pop-disco, as evidenced by previous single Civilisation.  Then there's the closing title track that epitomises the overall sound in a neat bundle of pop-rock-disco; Ohio has its sexy, funk bass; Canon has its roaring Another One Bites The Dust-esque bass; and penultimate track Helix delivers a stupendous riff of pure pleasure.  The general lack of vocals totally emphasises the non-stop bombardment of riff after hook after riff.  This is simply awesome pop music.

Justice are too often compared to French electro rivals Daft Punk (being a fan of both, this is something I'm guilty of myself).  There are similarities in their approach, but with 'Audio, Video, Disco' Justice have raised the bar of synth-rock to new levels of dynamism.


Gizzle Choice Tracks:
* Horsepower
* Helix
* Audio, Video, Disco

Sunday 23 October 2011

The Love of the Nightingale @ Theatro Technis, Camden

Entering the space, bodies litter the floor, moaning, writhing.  In the centre is a tall, cage-like column structure, phallic and imposing.  The bodies move with an alien quality, muscles glimmering in the subtle lighting.

This opening was a springboard for an intensly physical performance of feminist playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker's work, which adapts the Greek legend of Tereus's rape of Philomela - here performed as a tryptic with The Threepenny Opera and Antigone by the Fourth Monkey Theatre Company.  This was an often horrific production - the rape itself was especially shocking.  Physically this was dynamic and visceral, the actors so close the audience could literally smell and touch them.  The constructed set was underused, but the performances were at once base and animalistic yet sensitive to the subject.

For the cast, this was an incredibly exposing production.  In a literal sense, the costumes were minimal, the tribal feel contradicting the Greek setting yet heightening the barbaric nature of the plot.  It also emphasised the physicality of the show, the girls particularly were objectified yet frighteningly powerful in such an overtly feminist play. 

On the other hand, it was exposing in terms of acting ability.  At times the acting felt over-exaggerated to an A-level drama standard, though the central three protagonists coped well with the difficult subject matter.  On the flip side, it's an extremely ambitious undertaking for a young cast to connect with such a challenging text and though they sometimes lacked credibility, their efforts were commendable.

It's impressive that the feminist agenda of the playwright did not overshadow the power of the direction.  It may have bordered slightly on pretentious but it was nonetheless a captivating production.


Saturday 22 October 2011

Constance - Oscar Wilde @ The Kings Head Theatre

Over the last month, the Kings Head Theatre have been producing the world premiere of Oscar Wilde's Constance.  A premiere?  Of Oscar Wilde?  In 2011?

Indeed.  Wilde began writing the play shortly after his release from prison in 1897 but it was never performed.  Instead, it was handed to an American actress, followed by the French writer Guillot de Saix in the 1930s and after multiple translations and over a century later, it arrives back on English shores for the first time in mutated, rather than original, form.  As such, it's arguable whether this even counts as a Wilde play.  His son, Vyvyan Holland, declares the work is "undoubtedly his" but there can be no doubt that what we receive today is in fact a much edited version.

It does, however, bear the hallmarks of a Wilde play.  Newly released from prison after indecent behaviour, Wilde clearly used this writing as an opportunity to indulge his wild side.  The characters indulge in a spot of light hedonism, the sexual tension palpable; the script is imbued with wonderful witticism; and of course there's the (almost obligatory) homo-eroticism. 

The result is a work that resembles Wilde, but is far from a wild play.  The script is incredibly wordy, which largely serves to hide the lack of plot.  There is little tension, little momentum, and little for the audience to invest in except a bunch of (sometimes) loathsome middle class characters regaling in melodramatic scandal.

It's then left to the production to pick up the pieces, but unfortunately the approach only highlighted the play's flaws.  In a bid to convince the audience this really is a Wilde play, those aspects were exaggerated to the point of tiresome hyperbole rather than allowing the script to breath.  Each line was delivered with a nod and knowing wink, which only made the self-assured witticism of the script (with its theatrical and literary humour) appear crude.  What's more, the stylized eloquence was overplayed to the point of pantomime, only heightened by the audience's incessant cooing and laughter at each of the narrative's farcical twists, whilst the fidgety stage action was overly-distracting.  In short, the implicit was made overly-explicit, patronising the audience in the process.

The end result is a limp play the production team have squeezed like a damp cloth, wringing out every ounce of the writer in an attempt to persuade audiences that this really is an Oscar Wilde play.  Ironically enough, in doing so, Constance loses any form of subtext or subtlety - the undercurrents of repressed sexual desires were all too plain to see. 


Friday 21 October 2011

T.E.E.D - Garden

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.  What a name.

But what of the music?  Well if you were expecting samples of T-Rex snarling, pterodactyls in flight and munching brontosaurus - a sonic Land Before Time if you will - then you've come to the wrong place.  This is contemporary dance music and it's cool - perhaps too cool, self-conscious and self-aware.  The style is minimalist and restrained, ironically enough for such an epic sounding name.  The only element of grandeur are the headresses.  But it's the dreamy, listless vocal that draws you in.  It borders on boredom, but the track as a whole is never dull, it just floats on through time like the psychedelic video.  Garden was originally released last year, but is now re-released as an EP available now.

The 'garden' reference?  Not a clue. 


Thursday 20 October 2011

The Ting Tings - Hang It Up

That's Not My NameA pretty awful track.  But the benchmark by which all Ting Ting's tracks will be judged. 

At the least it had personality.  Hang It Up, is just a contrived attempt at personality.  It's the new single after last years Hands, released in preparation for the long-coming second album.  It begins with a drum beat taken straight from Dizzee Rascal's Fix Up, Look Sharp, whilst the track as a whole is channeling RUN-DMC & Aerosmith's Walk This WayAs for the lyrics, I can hang what up exactly?  And don't even get me started on that bloody rap in the middle.  It's all a bit rock-meets-hip-hop-meets-funk-meets-punk - the Chili Peppers did it so much better over a decade ago.  For three years work (since their debut) this is just a mess. 

Like the skateboarders bailing in the video, the duo's attempts to be cool are flat and laughable.  BYE.


Wednesday 19 October 2011

Coldplay & Rihanna - Princess of China

In theory this should be a gem - two of the hottest artists of our time uniting for one epic track.  In practice, Coldplay have certainly gone off the boil in recent times and Rihanna has stagnated with a string of complacent dancehall tracks.

So what of Princess of China?  Surprisingly enough, the theory is put into practice, resulting in a track that takes the best of both artists: a collaboration that is their best work in years.  Lyrically this is far from profound, detailing a break-up with fairytale imagery narrated by both sides of the coin: "I could've been a Princess, you'd be a King / Could've had a castle, and wore a ring / But no, you let me go".  As ever, Martin prefers "oohs" and "aahs" to actual words, but this does allow for some sing-along hooks.  It's the music that shines though - synth heavy for Rihanna, yet retaining some heavy guitar and drums to provide power and momentum as well as the signature piano, continuing the epic feel Coldplay have been striving for recently.  It also stretches Rihanna vocally, both technically and emotionally - a bonus to hear considering she normally settles for lazy-sexy.  The production may have a glossy sheen but it's a successful collision of two opposing music worlds.

Ultimately Princess Of China is a decent pop track that should satiate the appetites of both sets of fans.  Perhaps there is hope for 'Mylo Xyloto' after all?


(NB. As below, the only videos available are of shoddy quality - I'm assuming this isn't representative of the final mix)

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Adam Street Singers - Rock On @ The Lost Theatre

As an extra special one-off, the lovely Vicki Hill has written a "Vizzle" review of the Adam Street Singers.  Being a member of the choir, my review would of course be more than a little biased, but Vicki writes of her experience and enjoyment as an audience member.  So without further goes....

The Adam Street Singers - Rock On

A show choir. Hmm. I am a fan of music and of musical theatre, but an evening of numbers that sort-of-but-don’t-quite sound like songs that I like is not generally up my street. Since the arrival of Glee, more and more of these choirs have surfaced and I am pretty certain that this is no good thing. The difference with the Adam Street Singers though, is that they are actually very good at what they do, extremely good in fact. Unfortunately, however, they don’t seem to realize quite how good they are.

The performers are, for the most part, electric on stage; the passion emanating from them is both captivating and contagious. These are people with day jobs who are doing this purely for the love of music and performance and it shows. The choreography was perfect: not too much, not too cliché and at the right level for the performers.  The band was brilliant and all the technical aspects were wonderful, if not a tad excessive. My favourite numbers included: ‘The Girl in 14G’, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’,  ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’ and the unforgettable ‘Queen Medley’. Special mention has to go to Catherine Rice, who stole the show with both her vocal talents in ‘14G’ and her gift for dance in ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’. Also the show’s choreographer, Catherine is a born performer and a truly talented one at that.

However, what seems to be lacking here is a realization of just what the Adam Street Singers have to work with. I would love to see more full company numbers and fewer ‘clever’ mash-ups. Whilst these are occasionally funny, the joke doesn’t always last as long as the song itself. The group can also move away from the Les Mis ‘crowd pleasers’ in favour of the rock anthems that they do so well. My final critique is that the show went up 15 minutes late and latecomers were admitted at really inappropriate times. I really strongly feel that a company should put the audience members who turned up on time before the stragglers.  

I would like to just round off by making special mention to Mr ‘Gizzle’ himself. Ed’s manner and judgment onstage is perfectly suited to each number in which he performs and was a joy to watch (and he didn’t even tell me to write that).


- Vicki Hill

For more information, visit the choir website:
You can also visit the YouTube channel here.

Monday 17 October 2011

M83 - Midnight City

French musician-producer Anthony "M83" Gonzalez releases new album 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' this week and at 22 tracks long it's an epic.  M83 are well known for combining acoustic and electronic instruments, for a dream-pop chillwave feel and this album continues the trend.  The tracks are varied: from electronica, to more indie sounding tracks and ambience, but throughout there's one foot in the present and another squarely in the eighties.

Midnight City is without doubt the standout pop-electronica record of the album, actually released back in July.  Scratch that: it's the standout pop record of the year.  It's catchy from the outset with that synth hook, even if it does sound like a monkey crying.  The dreamy vocals, the layered synths, thumping drums all topped off by a sax solo.  What more could you want?  Midnight City sets a high standard the rest of the album strives to match.  Just don't ask about that cover art...


Sunday 16 October 2011

Terrible Advice - Saul Rubinek @ Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, friends don't always say the right thing and we have to learn to take their words with a pinch of salt.  Sometimes the advice we receive has a positive outcome; other times, it has disastrous consequences.

This is the premise of Rubinek's first play, as premiered at the Menier Chocolate Factory.  Set in America, Stanley is having relationship problems with Delila and seeks advice from best mate Jake, himself married to Hedda.  Yet Jake harbours a secret that may have influenced the advice he gives, altering the relationships irrecovably.  But for better or worse?  The ending is infused with ambiguity that leaves the audience with mixed emotions, drawing a fine line between pessimism and brutal honesty.  The latter is key to the play - it's a frank exploration into human relationships.  The early scenes are filled with amusement and explicit discussions, though as a whole there was less humour than anticipated.  Instead, this was a dark portrayal, the audience equally laughing and viewing themselves through a microscope.

Appropriately, the acting was naturalistic and believable.  The talent behind the production was exceptional, with Frank Oz at the helm (best known for his voice work on the Muppets, Sesame Street and Yoda from Star Wars), Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Star Trek) and Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly, Jonathan Creek) in the cast, and Rubinek himself well known as Daphne's fiance on Frasier.  The acting was superb by all, Quentin as Hedda especially proving she can switch from comedy to anger and pathos with ease, whilst Andy Nyman shone as the tormented and naive Stanley.  The production too was slick: scene changes highlighting characters in spotlight and using rock and roll music to set a suitable mood. 

In the words of Rubinek himself: "Scary.  And funny."


Thursday 13 October 2011

Unicorn Kid - True Love Fantasy

Here's one to split opinions.

Unicorn Kid (aka Oliver Sabin) has been bubbling around for a couple of years now, but following the recent release of his 'Tidal Rave' EP (pictured) he's been receiving some decent Radio 1 airplay.  The three track EP contains this track, plus Chrome Lion and Boys of Paradise (both worth a listen) and he's been supporting Owl City on his European tour, which comes as no surprise.  His music will either be hated or loved.  I fall in the latter category.  Yet he's probably most famous for wearing a massive lion hat.  No joke.

In all seriousness, this electropop, chiptune music is sort of terrible.  I mean, the EP title is 'Tidal Rave' for God's sake.  It's a frantic torrent of bleeps and bloops clearly put together when Sabin was sat alone, bored in his bedroom.  His music is the sort you hear on holiday in Magaluf, declare your love for in a drunken haze of ecstacy and then never speak of again.  Alternatively, it would make a suitable accompaniment to Sonic The Hedgehog.

Is that such a bad thing?  On the flip side this is sort of...utter brilliance.  Sure, it may be the cheesiest thing you'll hear all year, but it's so catchy and happy - a musical bundle of glee.  This is my new guilty pleasure.  I defy anyone to listen and not want to have a rave in their bedroom.  Just keep it in there, you wouldn't want your secret love being known to the masses...


Wednesday 12 October 2011

James Blake - Enough Thunder EP

Blake's debut album was a disappointment.

There, I've said it.  The Wilhelm Scream and Limit To Your Love are standout, beautiful tracks but the rest of the album failed to live up to the hype.  It's with hope then, that 'Enough Thunder' arrives on the scene.

It's not long, though, before disappointment begins to set in.  Again.  This EP is essentially six rejected tracks from the album, a clear continuation of his previous material that doesn't meet expectations.  At the core of the EP is A Case of You, originally by Joni Mitchell.  The improvisatory feel of the vocal suits Blake's own style, but it lacks the warmth of the original.  Then there's Fall Creek Boys Choir, the recent collaboration with Bon Iver - the result of which is a Bon Iver track being mangled by Blake's production machine.  Framing these are four tracks filled with too much silence, grating autotune and emptiness.  His experimental approach makes for an interesting yet difficult listen.

What frustrates most is that Blake has such potential.  The reason Wilhelm Scream and Limit To Your Love work is that his unique style is set within a clear structure, allowing the listener to melt into his sonic world.  Instead, this latest material is too abstract and fragmented, leaving the listener drowning in melancholic oblivion.


Tuesday 11 October 2011

Bjork - Biophilia


It's the ideal word to describe this latest album from the Icelandic songstress, not only in terms of the music itself but in its delivery through the innovative iPad app.  'Biophilia' is a modern, innovative, boundary breaking multi-faceted project.

Then again, so far I've managed to avoid the extraneous application.  Call me a traditionalist, but the music should speak for itself without the distraction of technological wizardry.  With music as innovative as Bjork's, it certainly adds another dimension but it's not something that will catch on in future pop releases.

So what of the music itself?  This is Bjork's ode to the earth, a romantic album in the most traditional sense with its focus on the awe-inspiring power of nature.  The grand sense of scale is impressive, from the cosmos (Cosmogony), through tectonic plates (Mutual Core) down to the microscopic (Virus)It highlights the insignificance of humanity within the universe, yet the use of such imagery as representative of human emotion suggests grandeur and drama in our own personal worlds.  Biophilia is a unique expression of nature, science and art in musical harmony.

The range of expression translates to the sonicscapes Bjork has developed - so unique she has produced new instruments for her sonic vision, like the gameleste.  'Biophilia', ever experimental, is further removed from her previous techno and jazz inspired albums.  Such elements are saved for specific moments - the huge percussive explosion at the end of Crystalline that shatters through the musical textures; the industrial eruptions of Mutual Core that indicate the raw power of natureAs a whole, though, it's an incredibly intimate album, the production precisely crafted.  Bjork's vocal, too, has a wide dynamic range stretching from gutteral outbursts to delicate melodic lines and otherwordly choruses.  In Virus especially, her fragile voice matches the tinkling gameleste and obsessive dependancy presented in the lyrics.  Then there's Dark Matter and Hollow at the centre of the album, two of the most frightening pieces of music in existence.  Although Crystalline is the first single, it's Cosmogony that stands out with its celestial choir and penetrating sub-bass perfectly mirroring the extensive nature of Bjork's work.

Bjork's ambition has paid off, with an experimental and abrasive record that remains beautiful in its magnitude.  Like the universe itself, Bjork continues to expand her talents  in limitless, glorious fashion.


Gizzle choice tracks:
* Crystalline
* Cosmogony
* Virus

Monday 10 October 2011

The Gizzle Awards 2010-2011

It's official - The Gizzle Review is now one year old!!  Firstly, a huge thank you to all who have read, supported and shared their views over the past year.

Now, on to proceedings.  To celebrate the first birthday, The Gizzle will be naming the best and worst pieces of music, theatre and film from the past year.  Nominations are taken solely from the reviews - with only 365 days in a year not everything can be reviewed (I do my best!).

So without further ado...


* Full Metal Jacket (1987) - Stanley Kubrick
* The Prestige (2006) - Christopher Nolan
* The King's Speech (2011) - Tom Hooper
* Black Swan (2011) - Darren Aronofsky
* Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) (2011) - David Yates


The film choices were taken from both this year's releases and DVDs of older films.  Full Metal Jacket and The Prestige were two previous releases that deserve praise, Harry Potter was a great adaptation and The King's Speech featured brilliant acting in a multi-award winning film.  But for the Gizzle, Black Swan stood out above all.  The dark, twisted and psychologically disturbing narrative; Aronofsky's exceptional directing, particularly the astute use of mirrors; an exquisite performance by the beautiful Natalie Portman.  In short, the film is simply stunning and rewards repeated viewing.


* The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud (2010) - Burr Steers
* Battle: Los Angeles (2011) - Jonathan Liebesman
* The Human Centipede (2009) - Tom Six
* The Expendables (2010) - Sylvester Stallone
* Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) - Rob Marshall

WINNER: The Human Centipede

It may now be two years old, but its age has only added to its infamy.  Those who watch it will vouch never to see it again; those who haven't may be intrigued enough to give it a go.  Whilst the gore and violence at the end don't live up to expectations, it was the "slideshow" of the "operation" that caused this wetter of a reviewer to faint.  That does not a pleasant film make...


* Much Ado About Nothing @ The Globe
* Madame Butterfly @ The Royal Albert Hall
* Ghost: The Musical @ The Piccadilly Theatre
* Doctor Faustus @ The Globe
* Parade @ The Southwark Playhouse

WINNER: Dr Faustus @ The Globe

The summer proved a brilliant season at The Globe, with Much Ado and Doctor Faustus impressing.  But it's Faustus who takes the crown - combining imaginative, magical staging with commendable acting and storytelling for a visceral and thrilling evening.  Weeks afterwards, I remain enchanted by its dramatic spell.


* Rent - South Manchester AOS @ RNCM
* The Camden Fringe (in general)
* Midsummer Night's Dream - ENO @ The Coliseum
* Rock of Ages - @ The Shaftesbury Theatre

WINNER: Rock of Ages

ENO's Midsummer may have disappointed and the Camden Fringe as a whole contained few above par productions, but nobody can dispute what an appalling show Rock Of Ages is.  A juvenile and cliched production excreted from Guitar Hero worshipping prepubescent boys (probably), it's simply not what you expect from a West End standard piece of theatre.


* Janelle Monae - Cold War
* Clare Maguire - Ain't Nobody
* Nero - Me & You
* James Blake - Wilhelm Scream
* Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend

WINNER: James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream

The toughest category of all to pick nominees, let alone a winner.  Robyn and Nero spent a ton of time "On The Playlist", Ain't Nobody is far and away Maguire's best record and Janelle Monae continues to thrill well over a year since her album was released.  But Blake's mesmerising and beautiful Wilhelm Scream takes the prize for its inventive production and soulful vocal.  Just.


* Far East Movement - Like a G6
* Black Eyed Peas - The Time (Dirty Bit)
* MJ & Akon - Hold My Hand
* Nicola Roberts - Beat of My Drum
* Cher Lloyd - Swagger Jagger

WINNER: MJ & Akon - Hold My Hand

Another difficult category, with so many terrible songs over the year it was difficult limiting the nominees to just five.  It's not often, however, that a song is so bad it makes me genuinely angry.  After the tragic death of Michael Jackson, Akon's horrific track is not only a bad song in its own right but is essentially graverobbing, marring the exceptional career of a musical legend and taking advantage of his death.  Cher Lloyd may have come close, but Hold My Hand is utterly disgusting.


* Rebecca Black - Friday
* Cher Lloyd - Swagger Jagger
* Far East Movement - Like a G6
* Rock of Ages
* Black Swan
* Parade
* Doctor Faustus
* Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)
* Nicola Roberts - Beat of My Drum
* George Michael - True Faith

WINNER: Black Swan

So despite the slating and comedy of some terrible songs, productions and films, you chose the review of Black Swan as your favourite of the year.

Agree?  Disagree?  Sound off in the comments below...

Sunday 9 October 2011

True Grit (2011) - Ethan & Joel Coen

Fans of the Coen brothers' films will praise this entry into the directors' canon; others will probably find themselves bored stiff.

True Grit is a fairly straightforward Western revenge tale.  After her father is murdered, young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) searches for a man with true grit to avenge his death.  By losing her father, she discovers two father figures in Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon); together they set off across the wild, snowy desert of the midwest in search of their man.  However, the plot holds little dramatic impetus - the real focus is the unlikely relationship that flourishes between the three protagonists.  Typical of the buddy film it grows from strength to strength and subverts obvious stereotypes, with Mattie the one with true grit compared to the bickering old men. 

It's one of the Coen's more watchable, classically told films, yet it remains slow.  The emphasis is ultimately (and perhaps self-indulgently) the filmmaking - sweeping shots of delicately snow-tinged landscapes reveal the veritable beauty of the wild west.  Certainly the cinematography is highly commendable.  Hailee Steinfeld's performance as the precocious Mattie deserves praise, even just for the fact she's the only actor who doesn't mumble their way through the peculiar dialogue.  Bridges and Damon may be believable in their respective roles, but there's no point being there if you fail to enunciate, losing the wittier moments of the script.  Additionally, the music is utilised in an utterly cliched manner, particularly during the climax which borders on schmoltz.  Unfortunately, no amount of stunning shots can hide the fact that True Grit is, very disappointingly, less than thrilling.


Saturday 8 October 2011

The Lion King 3D (2011) - Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff

The mind is a funny thing, playing games with your memory.  Its favourite trick is nostalgia - a cruel mistress and double-headed Janus, making you feel all warm and fuzzy until your world comes crumbling down and you realise the truth.  Remember those films and tv programmes you used to watch as a child?  Yeah...well...they're all rubbish.

Except there is the odd exception, The Lion King being one of them.  Seventeen years after its original release, it's still as brilliant as ever.  You will still cry at Mufasa's death.  You will sing along to every single word.  You will laugh until your belly is sore at Timon's hula dance.  Goosebumps will prick every inch of your skin as Simba rises as the true king, Hans Zimmer's score soaring with every raindrop.  You will watch in awe as the African savannah is brought to life in magnificent animation. 

In short, this is the same incredible film you remember it to be.

So what of the 3D?  It's pointless and unnecessary.  Except the odd bird flying at you, the effect actually emphasises the fact this is absolutely a 2D film, created on layered handrawn cells that those stupid glasses make ultra-visible.  And the sumptuous visuals are jaw-dropping enough on their own: from the spooky lighting of the elephant graveyard, to the lush rainforest and that slo-mo shot of Simba running across the desert.  At the least, this is an opportunity to see the film on the big screen in all its glory - the opening sequence is worth the entrance fee alone.

So what are you waiting for?  This is the greatest Disney film; the greatest animation film; the greatest kids film; and one of the greatest films of all time.  You owe it to your memory and your inner-child.


And just for banter...

Friday 7 October 2011

The Debt (2011) - John Madden

The Debt is a film that demonstrates the power of cinema as a storytelling medium.  The well-worn and rather predictable plot is elevated by the editing, cleverly juxtaposing time frames as the narrative unfolds.

Time is integral to the plot - it neither heals nor allows us to forget.  Instead, it emphasises how one moment and one decision can change the course of life irrevocably.  Though on the surface an espionage thriller, at its heart The Debt is a love story between three Mossad spies on a secret vengeance mission - their target the Nazi war criminal and infamous "Surgeon of Birkenau" who performed medical experiments on jews; the titular debt thus owing to the spies' jewish kin.  The dual narrative depicts the spies during their mission in 1966 and the aftermath in 1997.  But rather than relay to the audience in chronological sequence, the parallel plots are cleverly interwoven, revealing the effects of one on the other.  It also, through flashback, gives us insight into the psyche of the three protagonists, Rachel Singer in particular - played wonderfully by Jessica Chastain and leaving her elder counterpart, Helen Mirren, trailing behind. 

The various twists and turns are easily predicted and the final third feels a little preposterous, leaving many unanswered questions.  Yet the employment of an intricate narrative framework and astute editing provide a compelling and chilling piece of storytelling - something only cinema can provide.


Thursday 6 October 2011

The Marriage of Figaro @ ENO

Watching a first night production puts the reviewer in a precarious position.  It's understandable that a few kinks may show that, in time, will be ironed out.  On the other hand, surely a paying audience are entitled to see the same standard of show whichever night they choose?

Though small, the negatives were noticeable and concerned predominantly the music, giving the production a slightly rough-around-the-edges feel.  From the off, the overture was played tentatively and failed to dazzle as it should and in later, more complex moments, conductor Paul Daniel was unable to control orchestra and singers in tempo as tightly as necessary.  There were also moments of tangled words, made all the more noticeable with the surtitles.  This may be nitpicking, but when the production has the potential to sparkle the faults of this rough diamond become clearer.

Mozart's farcical melodrama was directed with aplomb by Fiona Shaw.  The rotating, all-white, minimalist set provided a suitable maze not only for the protagonists' web of intrigue and double-crossing, but for the servants bustling in the background hoi polloi, though at times distracting.  Impressively swift set changes gave the impression of a believable microcosm in which the narrative plays out, sung to a modern and often hilarious libretto.  Roland Wood made a suitably forboding Count, whilst Devon Guthrie's Susanna really hit her stride in her fourth act aria and Kathryn Rudge balanced the pure and the hormonal in her portrayal of Cherubino.  However, the night belonged to Elizabeth Llewellyn, who not only excelled as the melancholic Countess, but did so on short notice after Kate Valentine was unfortunately forced to drop out last-minute through illness.  The mix of 18th century and modern costumes proved a rather odd choice however.

Though some first night jitters stopped the production from soaring, this was a solid performance with a cleverly thought-out design.  But I guess that's what press nights are for, eh?


Wednesday 5 October 2011

New Look - The Ballad

The generic title of this track belies its personal message, one that the duo have been reluctant to discuss.  It remains, however, a beautifully subtle and emotive record.

New Look consist of producer Adam Pavao and his singing/model wife Sarah Ruba and their debut, self-titled album (pictured) was released last week.  The Ballad is its centre-piece: a delicate balance of icy synths and passionately reserved vocals.  What also strikes the listener is the use of negative sonic space - the bare, minimalist electronica production is given space to breath, though not quite as dramatically as, say, James Blake.  The duo's music has more in common with other acts signed to !K7 records, such as the poptastic Chromeo and (recently reviewed) When Saints Go MachineThe Ballad's ambient synths wash over you and soothe the soul, complimented by the lyrics: "This is the part when everybody says they love you so / You know I love you so".


Tuesday 4 October 2011

Evanescence - What You Want

It's pretty ironic when, as a rock band, your most iconic song is a piano ballad - My Immortal in the case of Evanescence.

Now we have their comeback single - a piece of forgettable pop-rock trash that only prepubescent boys will enjoy.  That enjoyment stems predominantly from front-woman Amy Lee, who admittedly has a decent voice but is here reduced to shouting over aimlessly thrashing drums and guitars, subtly controlled by a tinkling piano yet equally lacking the pop hooks of their previous material.  Juvenile, emo lyrics like "Somewhere beyond the pain there must be a way to believe we can break through", shows this band have far from grown up.  Then there's the video, where a vampiric Lee stares at the viewer like a tempting dominatrix before throwing herself into a (clearly fake) crowd of air-punching onlookers.

One for the twi-hard fans then...


Monday 3 October 2011

Feist - How Come You Never Go There

A subtle little record this one.  Perhaps too subtle.

Feist's most recognised track is undoubtedly 1,2,3,4, as used in the 2007 iPod campaign.  Taken from her new album, 'Metals' (released today, pictured), How Come You Never Go There at first works on a similar level of whimsy, a relaxed affair that fades into the background.  In truth, this is a track filled with angst, detailing the breakdown of a relationship: "We carry on as if the time is through / You carry on as if I don't love you / And so we find the way to lie...".  The underlying brass adds a brash swagger; the electric guitar solo provides an inward outpouring of emotion that contradicts the protagonist's restraint; the song rhythmically staggers and stumbles on like the relationship in question.  See past its easy-listening tendencies and the song has a raw edginess about it - this little voice demands to be heard.