Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Christmas Film Review.

For Christmas this year I asked for the DVDs of my two favourite films of the past 18 months or so: Prometheus and the US version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I got Prometheus, we all watched it (again), we all loved it. However, I didn’t get the latter. Hm. This little disappointment has been lost in my cheese and chutney coma as we sit in a beery fug on Boxing Day watching the original Swedish film and I have decided that as a special Christmas treat for y’all I shall compare the two versions of ‘The Feel-Bad Movie of Christmas’ (smashing tagline).

Now I for one am loving TV’s obsession with Scandinavia at the moment. Shows like Borgen, The Killing and The Bridge have topped ratings and viewings both here in Albion and also Stateside resulting in US re-makes, like with the Milennium trilogy. Cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen are the place to be seen if you’re young, creative and dedicated to tofu. If you want to immerse yourself in sleeve tattoos and beards in beanies sipping locally-brewed ale, head on down to Vesterbro district in Copenhagen my friends. So while a large part of the English-speaking world, and certainly myself, is in love with all things Scandi-chic I must admit that, for me, the American re-make of TGWTDT surpasses the original. Here’s why:

In Noomi Rapace, we have this small, obscure punk-Goth who can quite clearly kick some serious ass and this effect rolls right off her razor-sharp cheekbones. We see very little vulnerability to Rapace’s Salander. Petite and compact though she is, when we see her body it is solid and honed muscle. (Her dragon tattoo beats out Rooney Mara’s though, I must admit). In terms of Mikael Blomkvist, the pockmarked and seemingly more blundering Michael Nyqvist doesn’t strike the same chord as Daniel Craig’s. This is more in accordance with the book and as I personally don’t have the hots for Daniel Craig I thought his injection of Hollywood heartthrob into the film was perhaps a bit unnecessary. This aside, the whole film in general doesn’t quite have the artistic flair found in the US version. In true straight-forward Scandinavian style the film plods from scene to scene, hardly taking the time for lingering head-shots or shifty gazes, or take in the slick background of Stockholm in the first 20 or so minutes of the film. In contrast, the US update with the godsend that is David Fincher as director has the camera moving through the scenes like a silent shark, picking up every eyebrow twitch and grimacing snarl. Even the sun-drenched, summery memory scenes of Harriet’s disappearance have a fluid menace to them. This is why Fincher was the perfect director for this film. With Se7en, Fight Club and most recently The Social Network under his belt, Fincher has made his mark as an auteur in film by developing that great knack of eeking out the nastiness that lurks beneath the surface in everyone. For me, having Fincher at the helm of this film is what tipped it as the better of the two versions.

As previously mentioned, Noomi Rapace is badass and we see her potential for ass-kicking right from the off in the 2009 film. But with Rooney Mara we see this elfin, mercurial cyber-Punk who looks too frail to ever even pinch anyone, let alone punch them and overpower them while going up an escalator. This is why when she gets her revenge on the revolting Nils Bjurman it manages to show with even more fervour just how mentally unsettled Salander really is, again Fincher’s brilliant technique of shifting the murky waters of his characters’ personalities The film in general seems to really show the dreadful bleakness of the storyline, in every aspect. The title sequence drowning in oily technological violence with the electrifying, crackling cover of Immigrant’s Song kicks things off with more panache. The supporting cast are well-chosen and eclectic (look out for theatre darling Steven Berkoff as Henrik Vanger’s lawyer Frode). Mara and Craig have far better chemistry. The cinematography and greyed light, as well as the small change of the whole film taking place in the bleak midwinter rather than changing seasons adds to the harsh cruelty of the film and means that we see how Hollywood’s big-budget artistic touch has enhanced rather than flattened this re-make. I often disagree with American re-makes, not least with the recent remake of the bleakly beautiful Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. It seems as though films with a more delicate, art-house touch are best left to be appreciated without a Hollywood helping hand. But this remake was something else, and for me Rooney Mara stole the show, well deserving her Oscar nomination.

So there it is. My special festive review of two not very festive films. I leave you with some fan art I found on the internet to seal my obsession with Rooney Mara. You stay classy, Internet users. ♥

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

AiA’s Man/Woman/Band/Singer/Guitarist/Bassist/Drummer/MC of 2012

Yes, it’s another end of year list, but instead of doing my top albums I wanted to take a different tack and give credit to individuals who have particularly shone rather than the works they have made. Consider this the inaugural AiA Awards, so without further ado, allow me to present the winners.

Man of 2012 – Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus

Steven Ellison aka Flying LotusSuper-producer Flying Lotus is the first winner of AiA’s man of the year. It was started by his incredible album ‘Until The Quiet Comes’ which merges Jazz and Electronica beautifully, and weaving in guest spots from Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu into a fluid album that visits so many musical areas while still being one coherent journey through his mind. But what separated Ellison from any other person making brillaint albums, is that this great-nephew of John and Alice Coltrane also had a secret identity, as the elusive rapper Captain Murphy. Murphy became quite a talked about figure despite (or because of) his anonymity after the mixtape ‘Duality’ was released, and it’s easy to see why, as the flow is superb and the beats are fantastic. When a live performance revealed Murphy to be Ellison it all made perfect sense, and so this year’s man of the year goes to the man who can make the best electronic album around, and then stun everyone with some seriously good rapping credentials, letting everybody know Ellison is a proper genius.
Honourable mentions: PSY, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd.

Woman of 2012 – Claire Boucher aka Grimes

Claire Boucher aka GrimesBoucher earns her place here not only for making the album ‘Visions’ that won her such universal acclaim from journalists, blogs and other musicians alike, but also for the seamless way she has taken an important role in popular culture. Grimes’ music has seemed somewhat ubiquitous this year, and that’s because of the way she bridged the Electronica and Indie music worlds. In doing so she made herself somewhat of an icon. She manages to reverse the ever-so-slightly-annoying trend of modern electronic pop music makers being a shadowy male behind a laptop with a pretty girl doing vocals, which always seemed a little bit sexist, as if women were only the pleasant window-dressing to a clever man’s work. Grimes is a powerful, solo female icon at the top of her genre. She’s also responsible for breaking a number of smaller artists onto a larger stage, particularly Twigs, who seems to be her English counterpart. She only really ‘broke’ this year, but has garnered pretty much universal respect, all the while being truly weird, which is refreshing as we’ve had far too many overly pleasant musicians and it’s time we had some musicians who weren’t afraid to look and sound like nutters. So for her success, her pop culture position and her willingness to embrace weirdness, Claire Boucher is our woman of the year.
Honourable mentions: Angel Haze, Lucy Rose, Sharon Van Etten.

Band of 2012 – Death Grips

Death GripsThis was the easiest pick of any of the categories of these awards. Simply put, Death Grips have redifined whatever they’ve touched. Whether it is the fact that they put out two albums in 2012, the first of which redefined rap music, merging it with Punk, Industrial and Techno to make music that sounds like nothing ever made by anyone, ever, and the second that redefined their own sound, pushing their creations to a darker, more minimal edge without losing any of what made the first special. Then there’s when they proved themselves the last true punk band alive (or pulling off the year’s greatest publicity stunt) by splitting from their label, cancelling their summer tour, and giving away their awesome second album of the year for free on the internet, and posting private emails from their label on facebook. Oh yeah, and there’s the small matter of making the cover art for said second album a penis with the album title written on it. They have awed the music industry and in a time where it was becoming all to easy to moan about bland major label control of music, Death Grips were a slap in the face to 2012.
Honourable mentions: Alt-J, AlunaGeorge, Purity Ring, TNGHT.

Singer of 2012 – Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)

Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)The vocalist for one of 2012’s best new arrivals, Alabama Shakes, was probably the main draw for this band. Howard managed to bring all the class and cool of soul and combine it with a passion and energy that perfectly fitted the retro rock’n’roll that the outfit produced. Comparisons to Janis Joplin made perfect sense as Howard’s power and intensity were clear to anyone who encountered the band.
Honourable mentions: Jehn Beth (Savages), Frank Ocean, Tom Williams, Mark Lanegan.

Guitarist of 2012 – Jack White

Jack White2012 was another year in which Jack White proved why he’s such an icon of modern music. His album ‘Blunderbuss’ stole from any and all styles of music available, led by himself and his iconic guitar playing. There are very few people who can pull of riffs like Jack White can, whether  it’s in the crackle of songs like ‘Sixteen Saltines’ or his cover of ‘I’m Shaking’. But what truly marks White out from the crowd of brilliant guitarists, even more than his ridiculous multi-faceted role as head of a label, collaberator etc. is his restraint. White never takes his guitar where it doesn’t help the song he’s crafting, he wasn’t afraid to have piano lead many of his songs from ‘Blunderbuss’ to ‘I Guess I Should Go To Sleep’, proving that one of best modern musicians around also has one of the smallest egos in music (and also one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen in the video below).
Honourable Mentions: Douglas Castle (Peace), Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden).

Bassist of 2012 – Ayse Hassan (Savages)

Ayse Hassan (Savages)If you’re gonna form a post-punk band then there’s one member of your band that has to be the rock you bass yourselves on (see what I did there). Ayse Hassan provided this for one of the many ‘return of guitar music’ acts to arise in 2012. Hassan’s bass work is as solid as anything you’re gonna hear this year, its pounding drive absolutely core to what makes Savages stand out from the crowd. All the tension, aggression and menace is right there in the bass line. The obvious reference point here is Joy Division, but comparisons to The Cure work equally well. Songs like ‘Flying To Berlin’ and ‘City’s Full’ (the one in the clip below) are pretty much powered by basslines, and even their best track ‘Husbands’ hinges on Hassan holding its chaos and calm together. And last of all, she has the most awesome name of anyone on this list.
Honourable mentions: Chris Bierden (Poliça), Lesley Hann(Friends), Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden).

Drummer of 2012 – Thom Green (Alt-J)

Alt-J's Thom GreenThis was the second easiest choice to make after Death Grips for band of year. Simply put no one else’s drumming skills and style have caused as much of a stir as Green’s stickwork. He managed to find a place for acoustic drumming in areas where it seemed electronic and programmed kits were king, and his metronomic and cymbal-less sound has become iconic, and it won’t be long before generations of Alt-J influenced drummers start forming bands and getting airplay, all mimicking Green’s sound. Tracks like ‘Something Good’ and ‘Dissolve Me’ use complex but natural patterns to capture your ears and drag you deep into the song. With An Awesome Wave, Green put himself at the forefront of modern drumming, best in 2012, no contest.
Honourable mentions:Fay Milton (Savages), Drew Christopherson & Ben Ivascu (Poliça).

MC/Rapper of 2012 – Angel Haze

Angel HazeHaze wins rapper of 2012 because every blogger and music journo absolutely shat themselves over her this year. And it’s ver easy to see why. Haze is absurdly talented, her 2012 mixtape RESERVATION took her to the top of the game pretty much instantly with tracks ‘New York’ and ‘Werkin Girls’ scoring radio plays and viral successes. Female rappers have a tendency to be categorised and patronised, overlooked when it comes to best rapper lists, but Haze’s sheer force and will stunned many instantly, her absurdly audacious claim to ‘run New York’ sounded like a true threat to any established rapper. Haze is also marked out with a horrific past story (documented in her version of ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’) and combines it with a ferocious intelligence, apparently only being persuaded into moving from poetry to rap by a friend. Regardless of any of that though, Haze wins 2012 out of sheer skill, testament to the admirable nature of the Hip-Hop industry that all it takes to make it is ability, none of the bullshit that infests the alt/indie scene.
Honourable mentions: Kendrick Lamar, El-P, Killer Mike.

So there we have it, the top pretty much everything for 2012 (I excluded producer because it’s clear who would’ve won it). I’m a bit sad there was no place for Purity Ring or Poliça but that’s the point of these things I guess. Hope you enjoyed reading it and feel free to disagree violently in the comments below.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The 5 Best EPs of 2012

With the impeding approach of the all-important Album of 2012 list, and still a bit knackered from dealing with the behemoth Top 50 Songs of 2012, I thought I’d take a bit of time to celebrate the craft of the Extended Play. It’s a format that is becoming ever more important in the way that modern music functions. For starters it’s a great way for people to see if the bands are any good beyond one initial tune, it’s also vital for the bands themselves, so that they don’t rush headfirst into a 12-track album, but are still able to build a high profile. Their bargain price also means that I actually bought all of these releases, without the worry of forking out a tenner for something that could be crap.

Competition was incredibly high, and it’s worth saying that the order of the top 3 could be debated, but I had to pick one, and I absolutely stand by my decision. Commiserations to Haim, whose Forever EP nearly made it in, but I could never shake the vibe of the 80s off it. Pale Seas also had a release I liked in The Devil Waltz but it just didn’t have the power that these ones did.

5 – Twigs – Twigs

Twigs - Twigs

Twigs will win no awards for best cover art of the year, but this EP is a thing of unnatural beauty. Originally mysteriously anonymous and with only two intense songs and videos on youtube, this artist rose to prominence after being tipped by Grimes on Twitter. One of those two tracks was in my Top 50 of 2012, so when this EP was released only last week I was delighted. The Grimes comparisons only run so far, with opener ‘Weak Spot’ taking more from Massive Attack. Skittery drums and off-kilter beats give Twigs a very singular sound, intensely rhythmical without ever settling. ‘Ache’ is a masterpiece of dark beauty, with a genius video, while ‘Breathe’ is delicate twisted pop, and the closer, ‘Hide’, is a prorof of the minimalist music genius herein. This is edgy, dark and creepy music, and a sign that we might have a UK Grimes on our hands if the promise of these tracks can be fulfilled with the next release. The album is probably best experienced via her tumblr and watching all four songs through their very arty videos.

4 – Savages – I Am Here

Savages - I Am Here

I don’t need to reiterate why I think Savages are one of the best new bands around to any people unfortunate enough to talk to me about music in real life. Simply enough, Savages are a band that plunder one of the golden eras of music, the early punk/post-punk scene, specifically bands like Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees. By moving from being more influenced by the latter than the former with this EP Savages pushed further ahead with dips into quieter moments while never letting the tension up. This EP was taken from recording of the band life and the ferocity, aggression and, yes, savagery of their playing really comes across. Saving their defining song, ‘Husbands’ (again, one of my Top 50) till last ensures that when this record ends, the only thing you want to do is get to a Savages show, that’s if you can resist throwing yourself around the room with the pure, unadultarated energy of this insane track.



TNGHT were a revelation. I was fully prepared to be annoyed at them for nicking SBTRKT’s little name trick. That is, until I saw them supporting SBTRKT at Manchester’s Warehouse project. After checking up on them once home I continue to be impressed by this music. The 5 songs here are intense enough to be highlights of any night out, especially the track ‘Higher Ground’ which I cannot resist, but they are all also short enough to prevent getting tired of them, or having to worry about not being sustainable. The genre ‘Trap’ is getting increasingly bandied around, along with the phrase ‘the new dubstep’, and it seems TNGHT may have accidentally placed themselves (renowned producer Hudson Mohawke (Scottish) and Lunice (Canadian)), at the apex of this style, with it’s half time beats and 808 intensiveness, being a strong feature of this EP. The fact this is being taken up by fans of all sorts of music, as well as regularly getting actual club plays proves how good this EP is, with it’s surreal samples and massive beats.

2 – Peace – Delicious

Peace - Delicious

“WHAT! NOT NUMBER ONE!” I hear you yell impotently at your screens. “But, but… it’s so perfect. These four songs, each bringing something unique to the EP, the intro of ‘Ocean’s Eye’, the better-than-Foals-funk-pop of ‘Bloodshake’, the best ballad of the year in ‘California Daze’ and the genius rising, falling waves of the 10 min long trance cover ‘1998 (Delicious)’.” Yes, yes, all of that. This EP is definitely perfect. It put Peace on the map as one of the finest bands in Britain around. The level of musicianship these guys have is ridiculous. I am eternally in awe of the outro to ‘Bloodshake’ where the guitars and drums make impossible rhythms seem effortless, and they way they converted trance into psychadelic rock is worthy of worship, making a massive song so easy to listen to. Their album is recorded and ready to be released next year, and seeing as I also love earlier single Follow Baby it’s one of the most anticipated records to come. But this EP is not number 1. Then what is?…

1 – Burial – Kindred

Burial - Kindred

They’ll be two reactions to this news. The first “Who the fuck is Burial and why is this better than Peace”, and the other “Yeh this was an easy guarantee”. Burial is a producer from London who has come to make some of the most important and influential electronic music around. And while I knew this last year, and was familiar with his seminal release Untrue, it wasn’t until I got this EP that Burial unraveled and I could appreciate the genius within. In simple terms these three songs are all longer than a usual Burial track, and it allows each song to fully unravel in a way that cannot fail to blow your mind. Opener ‘Kindred’ takes the trademark choppy garage drumbeat but expands it with this heavy bass, that is immensely unsettling. Multiple times the song seems to just disintegrate completely into this ambient rain-soaked calm before returning with more of the trademark spliced vocal hooks. What instantly makes this release so much more different and so much more special than his other work is the sense of unease and depression that soaks through this track. Electronica music should not be able to be so emotionally affecting, that’s supposed to be the clarion call of the indie-punk guitar bands, the Jake Bugg Tru-Music clan. But somehow this release pulls it off.

And then the EP gets to ‘Loner’ with it’s sampled intro. It moves out of the what we would expect, applying House drums to this consistent aura of darkness. As the vocals slide in and out and the distant bass rolls across arping synths, I am struck yet again by how incredibly powerful this music is. It takes everything that made Kindred so outstanding and keeps applying it to make the single saddest song that can still get your feet dancing. Finally, almost 20 minutes after pressing play we reach track 3, ‘Ashtray Wasp’. Somehow this manages to build the two previous songs into one insane, super-long track that jitters and whirls, fading and returning, shifting and changing.

11 minutes later, after a half hour of music, for only £2.50, we emerge. The oppressive darkness and depression is lifted, and we can reflect on the experience. Thirty minutes of awe-inspiring music, the most intensely affecting electronic music you’re likely ever to hear. While Peace’s EP was perfect and built the anticipation for next years release, this release doesn’t need anything else around it, it is completely fulfilling. The best albums are musical journeys that leave you a slightly different person once they’re finished, like The Suburbs, or It’s A Wonderful Life. Burial is able to accomplish this in only three tracks. For £2.50 you can get a record as good as anything on the upcoming album of 2012 list. So now you’ve read this, what’s stopping you?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,