Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Which I Review St. Vincent's "Strange Mercy"

Technically this album came out two years ago, but since I've only just discovered it, I think some reviewing is in order. This is probably going to become a regular thing here on le blog where I just review some favorites and whatnot. Something to keep my writing.

So St. Vincent, stage name of Annie Clark and her rotating backing band, have been around since about 2007, when debut album "Marry Me" was released. Then in 2009 came "Actor". And then in 2011 "Strange Mercy" was released, which is what I'm writing on here.

"Strange Mercy" is one of the most unique albums I've listened to, and is quickly working it's way into my top ten list. There are weird guitar sounds, string arrangements (but not in the cheesy way), gloriously abstract lyrics, and some amazing musicianship going on here. I gather more admiration for this band every time I listen to this masterpiece.

So bullet list? Bullet list.

1. I love Annie's guitar work on this album. The riff during the chorus in Surgeon is especially intricate, as well as the ongoing riff and disturbing first solo in Cruel, lead single from the album. The coolest thing is that no matter how complicated the guitar work gets, it doesn't take away from the music, like a lot of the stereotypical "shredders" out there. It's not just about the guitar, although it does take a spotlight most of the time.

2. The lyrics are quite excellent, and vague enough to be applied to just about any situation. Some favorites are from Champagne Year, Cruel, Cheerleader, Surgeon, Strange Mercy, and Dilettante. Particularly the opening lines of Champagne Year ("So I thought I'd learned my lesson/but I secretly expected/a choir at the shore and confetti through the falling air") or Cheerleader ("I've played dumb when I knew better/tried too hard just to be clever"). There's a witty lyricism at work here, but also a lot of depth and understanding of weird situations. There's a sense of loneliness too, which comes from how the  material was written. But either way it's absolutely marvelous.

3. Strings and synthesizers abound on Strange  Mercy, and they're used excellently. I'm especially fond of the fuzzy sounds on Year of the Tiger, the album's closing track that's a slight deviation from the rest of the sounds on the album. The effects on the guitars, marimba, and string section on Cruel add a lot too. And then Northern Lights comes along with sparse, almost punk-like, instrumentation and little more than a snare drum and some guitar with biting vocals and blows the whole thing to pieces. It's genius if you think about it.

So yeah, go listen to this album. And check out the rest of the St. Vincent catalog too, because it's amazing the range and depth this band go to to make good music.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Best of 2012 In Cinema

Welp, four months after 2013 has begun, and I'm posting my best-of lists. Here goes.

(These are in no particular order, by the way).

1. The Avengers. I'm pretty sure anyone who regularly reads this blog is tired of me going on about The Avengers, so I'll just stop with that for now. But yeah, best blockbuster of the year, hands down.

2. Argo. Yup. Even Oscar fame has done little to tarnish the reputation of this fantastic little movie. A nail biting, riveting, and altogether triumphant in just about every way, Argo lives up to the hype.

3. Silver Linings Playbook. A dysfunctional movie about dysfunctional people that made my dysfunctional side happy.

4. The Hobbit. Coming back home to Middle Earth after eight years was one of the best homecomings I've had the privilege to be there for. Desolation of Smaug is going to be the most amazing Middle Earth adventure yet.

5. Les Miserables. This also needs no more praise from me seeing as it's all I've talked about for the last two months. Or sang about really.

6. The Hunger Games. I admit it, I am a teenage girl who loooooves the Hunger Games. The action, the acting, the tension. It's all there with Hunger Games, despite a few problems I had with it. Catching Fire can't get here soon enough.

7. The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I fell head over heels in love with this book when I first read it, and I think like the movie even more. More than an adventure into mental illness, and also more than a teen movie. Emma Watson and Ezra Miller are the standouts here, but the rest of the cast does an excellent job as well.

8. Skyfall. Kick butt theme song, kick butt action sequences, witty dialog, and an excellent story. A triumphant return after the lopsided Quantum of Solace. The best Bond movie to date.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild. A unique take on the urban fantasy genre with an astounding debut performance by then six year old Quevenzahne Wallis. I want to be her when I grow up.

10. Life of Pi. The philosophical journey of a boy named after a French swimming pool and an adult Royal Bengal Tiger, that may or may not in fact be a tiger. Ang Lee's take on Yann Martel's instant classic of a novel is intriguing, visually dazzling, and an extremely memorable adventure. I didn't think I would like this one nearly as much as I did.

There were more, but because I consider myself a film critic, I feel I must submit a top 10 list.

I would like to mention here that I am so so sorry to hear about the death of Roger Ebert. He was an amazing figure in the cinema community whose reviews have always been a pleasure to read. Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert.


Why Are You Not Watching Vikings?

Okay, aggresive title aside, if you haven't watched History Channel's Vikings yet, you're sorely missing out on the best epic show this side of Westeros. While there may be a few attempts to make this look like some Game of Thrones knock off, especially in terms of marketing, this show is actually pretty dang original for what it is. So here's an informative list of reasons why you should watch the most manly show you've ever seen (with sweet feminism).

1. Aforementioned awesome feminism. Female warrior vikings? Yup. Head queen in charge vikings? Yup. Having none of your stupidity today vikings? Yup.

2.  It is for the most part historically accurate, hence the History Channel thing. The attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and actions of the characters is amazing, and fits well with the tone of the story as well.

3. The story is intriguing, if a little scattered occasionally, but the writers usually get it back together by the end of the episode.  The last episode aired probably raised my blood pressure with all of it's tension.

4. A+ religious symbolism, especially in terms of Athelstan, one of the characters in the story.

5. It's actually funny amidst all of the darkness sometimes.

6.  Athelstan.

7. Doesn't gloss over much, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. There's some blood, guts, and childbirth. But that's in keeping with the historical approach we're going for.

Seriously though, what are you waiting for. Vikings is gonna rock your history socks off. The last episode of the first season airs next Sunday, April 28, and I eagerly await the results. The most manly and awesome show on television just so happens to be one of my new favorites.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

In Which I Review Paramore's New Release

Four years ago, Paramore released Brand New Eyes. Any fan of the band knew that the five piece from Franklin, Tennessee had suffered a near break up in the years leading up the album. We thought maybe that everything had been put right and that the band was past their creative combat.

Two years ago, we found out that was not so, and that founding members Josh and Zac Farro had left the band. It was an especially bitter break-up on the Farro's end, calling the band a manufactured label product, and also citing religious problems within the band.

However, remaining members Taylor York (guitar), Jeremy Davis (bass), and Hayley Williams decided to keep on trucking, but decided to keep it as low key as you can when you're a legend in the rock community. They released a song for one of the Transformers films, toured South America a couple times, and recorded in the downtime. And then, almost out of the blue, the single "Now" was released with the album on the way.

I wasn't particularly impressed by "Now", but it's usually the case with Paramore that I don't like their singles as much as I like their album material.

That proves to be true with this album. Not only does "Now" work better in context with the album, but the songs form a future we could never have imagined of this band.

The sound is definitely different than what we're used to with quite a few throwbacks to Riot!. There's a lot of poppy sounding licks, but the lyrics are brutally honest, occasionally somber, and also what we're not quite used to.

The lyrical tone is in turns bitter, fun, and matured from past releases. Hayley sounds less like a teenager now, probably because she's not anymore, and that really shows in the tone of the album. And the band certainly aren't skirting around their near break-up. There are quite a few songs on the record that are almost personal jabs at the brothers Farro. Songs like "Fast In My Car", "Anklebiters", and the aptly titled "Grow Up" along with "Now" are easily the most angry on the album, recalling in part the teenage angst of albums past.

The band's musical prowess has definitely increased in the midst of the breakup. Jeremy exhibits some pretty tasty bass licks throughout and the guitar riffs have a distinctly different taste than Josh's, but still are interestingly musically and to the casual listener. It's different. And the production is smooth, and really puts the new pace and tone into the spotlight.

Then there are some more slowpaced, and even sweetly romantic songs on the album, like "Hate To See Your Heartbreak" which experiments with a gorgeous string section and takes a few cues from the band's biggest mega hit "The Only Exception", and the more upbeat "Still Into You", which is probably the happiest song the band has ever put out.

There are tinges of electronica on this record, and that's definitely going to turn some longtime fans off to the album, but it almost feels like the band is challenging you to grow up with them too. The teenagers who found Paramore in their Riot! and even Brand New Eyes cycles are now older. They're growing up too. It's strange how the audience is mirroring the band.

I won't deny that I miss the old Paramore, but this new album is definitely one of my favorite recent releases. For all you hesitant fans out there, give it a shot, you might find some startlingly good, catchy, and utterly awesome new songs. Two thumbs up.