Listen: Jamie xx - Girl
We’ve already heard one half of Jamie xx’s imminent double A-side in "Sleep Sound", and now the other has arrived. “Girl” is a fuller, more bass-heavy side of Jamie than we’re used to hearing, although the usual pitch-shifted vocal samples are there as always, but it’s still a sublime piece of work from one of the best producers in Britain right now.
Listen: Jamie xx - Girl
Song Of The Day
Number One when Hitsville’s Heather Iqbal was born, today’s song of the day is Pet Shop Boys’ “Heart”. Happy birthday Heather!
I remember when I first got my own copy of Illmatic. I was about 18 and bought it from a CD from a local record store in my hometown that doesn’t exist anymore. I drove around the city at dusk with a friend, trying to absorb all of the elements of the piece of classic hip-hop. Each song drew me closer to feeling as if I were transported back to 1994 when Nas first dropped the LP. I could see myself in New York City in the 90s, walking around in a pair of Timbs, blasting NY State of Mind through a portable cassette player while smoking a Newport.
Of course, this was far from my reality — I was in preschool in ‘94 and had no idea who Nas was until he released his fourth album, Nastradamus. My first real experience listening to Nas (at least one that I can actively remember) was seeing the You Owe Me video he did with Ginuwine on BET. The song was more or less forgettable for most people. The only thing that stood out about it was the Timbaland beat and overly flashy 90s patent leather apparel that made its way to the beginning of the new millenium.
Listening to Illmatic in my car at 18 was almost as if I’d been given a second chance to experience the greatness of Nas for the first time. It was that day, that moment in my life, I could see with unobstructed vision why Nas was such a big deal in hip-hop. It made sense to me why he was one of the greats, and why Illmatic was such a classic. I’ll never be able to experience 90s hip-hop in its heyday. By the time I got ahold of “the classics,” almost everyone I knew was already cranking that Soulja Boy and freaking out over the release of The Carter III.
The age of classic hip-hop was just a blip in history reserved for hip-hop oldheads and weirdly nostalgic kids like myself. But despite the age gaps and years past since the release, the feeling the album gave me was the same as if I’d gotten it in ‘94. The beats were genius and reflective of the time. The lyrics were poetry, and I was left with a feeling of longing when it was over. I wondered how it was possible for someone to put out such a monumental album at 17, let alone to have written it at 15. After all, I wasn’t too far off from that age when I heard it, and I knew I was incapable of doing something similar at that age. Not only that, but Nas continued to be a driving force for hip-hop past that point. Even though I had no idea what hip-hop was in ‘94, Nas was and is still making music. I actually had other Nas albums, or heard them from my older brother before getting my hands on Illmatic. But hearing the beginning of it all changed my perspective forever.
The album had all of the raw, unfiltered, ungroomed elements that made classic hip-hop so great. And 20 years later, that feeling hasn’t changed. It’s an album that can stand the test of time. No matter when or where you listen to it, it brings with it those same amazing feelings each time.
The sum total of my knowledge of Minnesota is mainly drawn from following the Vikings whenever I have one of their players in my NFL Fantasy Football team and from the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. In the 1996 classic, the brothers paint the state as a place of eternal white winter, full of homely Midwesterners, who’re extremely passive aggressive with a real dislike for confrontation; Brainerd, MN seems like a whole other world, one that plays up its Scandinavian roots with the lyrical tics, plates of comfort food, and the everymen and women just trying to get through the day. I can think of no film before or since that is similar to Fargo, without being an obvious homage. Though it has those beats and themes that are synonymous with the Coen Brothers’ work (the idea that money can corrupt anyone, that the easy way out usually ends up with the person taking it in a pit of absurdity), it is extraordinarily unique. It’s a crime film unlike any you’ve ever really seen.
And that’s where my love for it comes; sitting by far and away top of my list of the Coens’ output. Each character is so uniquely crafted that you know just what they’re about. You instantly understand how the mild-mannered, but ultimately frustrated, Jerry Lundegaard (played phenomenally by William H Macy) managed to fall into this life of crime; driven by sheer desperation. You latch on to the talented, affable, but similarly frustrated Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) easily; a police chief in the small backwater town that knows she can do better (as her skills and intuition throughout the film show) but keeps trucking on because life is comfortable, particularly with a baby on the way. She might also be the most likeable character the Coen Brothers have ever created, a bright star in the usual wash of darkness and malice that pervades most of their films, which is unique in and of its self. Fargo is a film of chaos taking over a small, quiet town; one mainly populated by repressed folk with a penchant for coding everything, making it frustrating to discover anything. It’s also extremely funny, utilising that black-as-tar humour the brothers do so well. It’s endlessly quotable, second in Coen-canon perhaps only to The Big Lebowski.
It’s for those reasons why, when FX announced they were creating an adaptation of the film for TV there was plenty of hesitation, and rightly so. Fargo is so unique that it seemed to even attempt to adapt it would, at best, create something that felt like a poor pastiche of what the Coen Brothers had so delicately and intricately created almost two decades ago. However, this TV adaptation, helmed by Noah Hawley (who’s probably best known for his 2009 series The Unusuals), works, and works well, in spite of itself precisely because it’s not Fargo. It’s as though Hawley is working from a rough sketch rather than a blueprint; the idea is there but it isn’t quite fully formed so Hawley & Co are going to fill in the blanks themselves. There are echoes of the original Fargo here but this is its own unique beast and that is fundamentally the reason why it works.
The pilot spends the first two-thirds of its hour-plus running time playing up to your expectations; everything is the same, but different. It opens on a snowy panorama, much like how the film begins, and an ominous yet slightly chirpy theme kicks in. But it’s not quite Brainerd, and it’s not quite Carter Burwell’s iconic theme that plays throughout the film. It even begins with the same tongue-in-cheek “this is a true story” disclaimer, only now the purported events took place in 2006, as opposed to 1987. Macy’s Jerry Lundergaard is now Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman sporting a pretty dodgy Midwest accent), another milquetoast salesman stuck in a state of constant frustration and depression, only this time he’s an insurance salesman and his main source of frustration is his wife Pearl who nags at him because he’s nowhere near as successful or fun as his younger brother. Marge is now split between Vern Thurman, the calm, collected police chief with a pregnant wife at home, and his plucky, intuitive deputy Molly Solverson (relative unknown Allison Tolman).
Everything here is set up to make this show seem familiar and, as a result, it can leave you feeling a little uneasy as though this really is just Fargo but with the names changed. The characters do all seem to fall into similar patterns that their cinematic equivalents did, particularly Lester who finds himself failing at his job, failing his wife, and failing to stand up to Sam Hess, the Biff Tannen-esque man who used to bully him in school and continues to do so in their forties. Similarly, after an encounter with Sam and his sons lands him in ER with a bust nose, Lester finds himself spiralling into a world of crime after meeting a malevolent hitman named Lorne Malvo who takes Lester’s complaints about Sam as signal to kill him (which he later does with a knife to the head while Hess is mid-coitus with a stripper). So far, we have a relatable protagonist unwittingly brought into this criminal world while a sharp detective is trying to figure out what’s going on. It all sounds very Fargo, until Hawley completely and utterly pulls the rug out from under your feet and you realise everything in that first 40 minutes was to merely get you settled and comfortable, before surprising you with what this Fargo actually is.
The catalyst of this rug-pulling is Billy Bob Thornton’s phenomenal turn as Malvo. The soft-spoken hitman doesn’t really have a Fargo doppelganger (although his quiet malevolence does have shades of Peter Stormare’s Gaear about it), but he feels like a villain/antihero that could quite easily exist in a Coen Brothers film, just not one that’s been created yet - a less immediately psychotic Anton Chigurh perhaps. From his introduction, Lorne acts as a Loki figure; the devil come to town. He likes to play with people and watch the chaos that can ensue for no other reason than he enjoys the result. He takes advantage of an young employee at the motel he stays at by telling him the best way to get revenge on the kid’s boss is to piss in her car’s oil tank. While the boy is doing so, Malvo rings the front desk to inform the boss of what is going on just so he can watch the boy get chased away by a very angry woman with a rifle. He also starts a fight between Hess’ two sons by phoning the elder boy pretending to be the lawyer in charge of their father’s will to tell him that he was getting nothing, and his brother was to get pretty much everything. Lorne can’t even see what occurs as a result of his phone call (namely assault with a hockey stick) but he still revels in the chaos he has caused. When he meets Lester by chance in a hospital waiting room, Lorne pushes his buttons by implying, though never outright saying anything of the sort, that Lester was less of a man because he didn’t stand up to Hess. But these mind games flick a switch inside Lester, turning him into his own character; no longer a mere mirror of Jerry. In a fit of frustration, Lester cracks his wife’s skull open with a hammer, her henpecking having finally become too much for him after a newfound sense of masculinity thanks to Lorne. It’s a point of no return for Lester and Fargo begins to feel more like Breaking Bad than it does the original film; Lester becoming an even more incompetent Walter White, without any of the criminal talent (though his run head-long into his motivational poster to knock himself out, creating some sort of alibi, is pretty clever).
The show also dispatches with Vern Thurman pretty quickly too, with the chief being something of a decoy protagonist. A visit to chase up a lead at Lester’s house, not long after Lester had murdered his wife in the basement, leads to Thurman getting cut down by Lorne’s shotgun (a pellet of which ends up embedded in Lester’s hand; surely a telling piece of evidence for later in the series?). The show quickly becomes its own thing after gingerly luring the punters in with a false sense of familiarity with the film, but it’s clear that it was all a ruse, and one that pays off spectacularly. As that brutal scene in the basement occurs, you feel the transformation of Fargo into less of a show adapted from the film, and more a show inspired by the film; the only thing being shared is the name and the rough idea. Though the majority of the pilot focuses on Lester’s transformation from Jerry to Lester, we are introduced to a variety of other characters including Colin Hanks’ Duluth Deputy Gus Grimly, Bob Odenkirk’s Mr Show-esque simpleton Bill Oswalt (another cop who works with Molly), and Kate Walsh as Sam’s widow. Each makes their own little impact but we don’t see enough of them to make a decent judgement.
The limited series looks set to introduce even more quirky, weird characters who seem to have a bit of the Twin Peaks about them while still capturing that Coen vibe; unafraid to look at the implications of actions and to stare head-on at the concept of evil. That’s what Fargo does so well, it seems. It’s the first non-Coen Brothers project that has managed to get anywhere near to their style whilst not being an overt copy, which I imagine is hard to do, particularly when the show is based on one of their films. Over the course of the 70-minute pilot, it organically moves from the recognisable to its own thing. Like the film, Fargo isn’t really about those explosive moments, preferring to focus on the mundane and every day, which is why those explosive moments really do explode and make even more of an impact. But where the film gave Jerry some form of humanity despite his crimes, Lester has already become something of a monster under the influence of Lorne and can now begin to spiral out of control, whilst Molly and the rest of the police department try to keep things together as the web grows ever wider and things become more complicated. I’m intrigued to see where they’re set to take it but the grapevine seems to suggest that it continues to further deviate from the source material and only gets better and betters as a result of this. Put all hesitations you might have to one side, because I think we’ve got us a winner, don’tcha know?
James Franco Being A Dick of the day: If persistently hitting on a girl half his age via social media didn’t sully your opinion of James Franco, then throwing a very public tantrum over a milquetoast Variety review of his performance in a recent revival of Of Mice And Man will probably do the trick. The irony of a noted Ph.D student in Yale’s English department who’s also published author of both poetry and fiction misspelling “embarrassed” in a tirade about someone being a supposed “idiot” is not lost here. Still, on a day when that Bryan Singer news has broken, Franco’s not the biggest celebrity arsehole at the moment.
Since Tasty, Kelis’ breakthrough album which led to “Milkshake” taking the world by storm, was released in 2003, it’s fair to say that she was unable to replicate that success. Both 2006’s Kelis Was Here and 2010’s Flesh Tone were quite forgettable, save for the latter’s “Acapella”, which I still think is one of the best songs she has released to date. She had ditched the sexy, floor-filling R&B vibes of her first three records (which were helped out by late ‘90s/early ‘00s kings of production, The Neptunes), signed to a poor record deal and then, upon leaving, committed the musical cardinal sin (unless you’re Sia) of working with David Guetta and his EDM crew. Flesh Tone managed to make at least some of an impact because, here, she was behind the wheel and it was very much Kelis-doing-EDM rather than some EDM with a bit of Kelis on it; trying something different and, for the most part, doing a decent job at it, but it just didn’t capture most of what made Kelis great. Since then, she’s gone through a bit of a change.
1999’s “Caught Out There”, Kelis’ first major solo single coming off the back of her collaboration with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, painted her as the Alanis Morisette of R&B. Fuelled by anger and heartbreak it was the perfect anthem for scorned women everywhere; “You Oughta Know” for those who prefer a thumping beat to some grungy guitars. The Kelis we see in 2014 is unrecognisable compared to Kaleidoscope Kelis. She’s matured and no longer lets anger and pain rule her heart.
As well as maturing, she’s done a bit of a Paul Newman and ventured into food. Having enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2006, she’s since gone on to get her own cookery show in the States, launched her own range of products (mainly sauces a la Loyd Grossman, seeing as she trained as a saucier), and even took her food truck to SXSW to cook her recipes for punters. It’s a bit of an unusual diversion but it’s one that has heavily inspired this sixth album, aptly titled Food.
It seems a cliché but the world of music and the world of food go together surprisingly well.The ideas of mixing flavours to discover the best combination and the utter precision that is required to create something good is present in both. Working with TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Kelis has managed to re-discover what makes her so special and craft whole dishes around that; dishes that are both playful and comforting with a real kick to them.
Album opener, and the first single from the album, “Jerk Ribs” acts as a nice entrée, showing you what’s to come and whether or not it’ll be to your tastes, though it’s hard to not be enraptured by the track. Horns blast out among the luscious string section as Kelis’ husky vocals lead the way. It’s a real tasty soul track and the perfect introduction to what Food is all about; namely a bunch of songs named after food and packed with soul and hands-to-your-chest, face-to-the-sky belters. From here it moves effortlessly into new worlds as though you’re navigating a tasting platter.
The sultry “Floyd” snakes and swoons as though navigating a smoky jazz club; a smooth slow jam that sees Kelis’ hoarse but no less sexy vocals croon “I want to be blown away”. “Hooch” really feels like a track that belongs on something put out by Ninja Tune. Kelis’ move to the label normally filled with leftfield electronic artists seemed like strange but it was a decision that had people, myself included, really intrigued to see what it would bring. “Hooch” has a really jazzy Bonobo feel to the brass mixed with Nile Rodgers-esque disco guitar work and even more swooning from Kelis. “Cobbler” has a more afrobeat vibe to it, with the percussion of claps and, what could quite easily be, the sound of pots and pans. But, like much of the album, it sits more on the mellow side of the scale. This isn’t the balls-to-the-wall club anthems of Flesh Tone, instead sounding more at home sat out in the last hours of the sun with a nice cold cocktail as the sky begins to be painted a deep orange and red. It’s more sunset street party, than sweaty basement club. “Friday Fish Fry” is, perhaps, the only track to really get a dancefloor going, with a great little call and response bit thrown in the middle.
Things take an interesting turn with a gorgeous cover of Labi Siffre’s “Bless The Telephone” which is filled with warmth, consisting of mainly an acoustic guitar and Kelis’ vocals. It’s impossible to not mention her vocals at all when a song like “Bless The Telephone” comes along. It’s that smoky feeling to it that just drips with sensuality that makes it so appealing. It proves a really nice break from the brass heavy rest of the album, taking things down to an even mellower notch.
Food is not an album that’s really going to produce the next “Milkshake” or “Acapella” but it is a fantastically immediate record that is captivating every time you return. Like Janelle Monae, Kelis dips into the retro vibes without falling into the trap of nostalgia. It’s all ideas we’ve heard before but it still feels distinctly ‘now’. As we glide from sexy brass, to funky African vibes, to a toned down Simon & Garfunkel-esque sound, it really does feel like we’re going through a full meal. Once you leave Food, you’re not going to feel stuffed, rather extremely content. It wants you to try different things but it isn’t in the habit of shoving too much onto your plate. Instead what you get is a set of well-crafted dishes that use different ideas like spices to really bring out the best in Kelis. And I’ve pretty much run out of food based metaphors so I should stop now. Check please.
|—||In case any of you had hopes and dreams of dating Taylor Swift in the near future, here’s the boxes you gotta tick, according what a supposed TSwizz insider told Hollywood Life recently. Best get learning them languages/changing absolutely everything about yourself then…|
Chet Faker is a name that has been around for a while but tip now he has yet to release an album. The Australian is blessed with a voice of soulful leaning and is mixed with electronic R&B production; he even caught the attention of beer brand Becks, who used Faker’s cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” in an advert during the 2013 Super Bowl. Working with fellow Aussie producer Flume helped to further achieve wider acknowledgement and Faker is signed to Future Classics, a label celebrated for it ability of pushing bands into the lime-light seemingly overnight.
The album starts with “Release Your Problems” and “Talk Is Cheap”, which are fine examples of the increasingly prescient electronic R&B sound. “Melt” was originally released in August 2013 and features the vocals of Kilo Kish; I really like the bass in this, a kind of fuzzy-synth you would get as a preset on your first keyboard. Almost talking in a hushed conversation, Chet wearly slurring his words and Kilo whispering innocently, this song is about obsession and loneliness. The song “To Me” is a song I think most people can relate to, it is addressed to Chet himself, questioning, “What is he doing? Is he doing the right thing? Going down the right route?” And I think it can correlate with many different aspects of life; relationships, your career, your life’s path.
The second half of the album starts with “Blush” which sounds a lot like like James Vincent McMorrow with a chilled drumbeat, and this is probably the highpoint of the record, with lots of experimentation and extrapolation from Faker’s regular sound. A more tropical affair comes in “1998”; vocal samples, warm synths and Balearic inspired piano makes this a most buoyant, pop-oriented song on the album. A simple guitar lick features in “Cigarettes & Loneliness: that is looped over slumberous electronic beats, whilst “Lesson In Patience” is the only instrumental on the album, and has something kind of bohemian jazz cafe about it with its saxophone and Rhodes synth taking centre stage. Last song on the album is the happily-titled “Dead Body” in which minimalist beats and reverb drenched vocals meter into a slow-burning R&B torch song, and a great closer to the album.
Built On Glass starts off as soul-infused electronica then turns into a downbeat summer vibes album, and I think I prefer the latter approach. The album feels like a good starting point in Faker’s career, the songs fit together really well and Faker definitely has a talent for creating catchy hooks and choruses. A debut album that, whilst not a defining statement, is still definitely worth checking out.