With a guitar line to rival Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, La Roux’s longtime coming second album Trouble In Paradise kicks into high gear. Anthemic and groovy, the opening track “Uptight Downtown” is symptomatic of the entirety of Elly Jackson’s newest record. Since the 2009 self-titled debut, Jackson has parted ways with the second half of La Roux, producer Ben Langmaid, though five of the nine songs on “Trouble In Paradise” were co-written by Langmaid. 

The result is a tropical, surfy and synthy pop album with near enough nine pop classics. Lyrically, the songs deal with failed and painful relationships: “Cruel Sexuality” touches, obviously, on the topic of sexuality, and comes to a massive synthpop conclusion as Jackson sings “oh, you keep me happy in my everyday life/why must you keep me in your prison at night?” and the first track from the album we heard, “Let Me Down Gently” is about letting go being the best thing to do. 

Sometimes the songs feel as though they’re missing a layer, there’s often a sparse feeling too the production and it’s not clear if it’s intentional until “Paradise Is You”, a wonderfully airy song with just percussion, piano and synth pads until it breaks through the other side with a bright but shrill pad that channels’ various 80s indie bands as Jackson’s vocals layer over themselves over and over. Though it is executed perfectly in this case, sometimes “Kiss And Not Tell”feels a little uninviting and as though it’s not quite ready to be a pop song. It’s splendidly retro, roland synths bouncing through guitar bits and xylophones on "Tropical Chancer". Jackson’s voice too, feels upgraded particularly on this track and certainly departs from the self-titled album’s more high end vocals.

In truth, it’s disappointing that Trouble In Paradise is so short - at just nine tracks long it feels like Jackson had ideas upon ideas for this record and it’s a shame that this isn’t a double album, so greedy am I for more of the same. The instantly catchy “Silent Partner”feels lifted straight out of the ’80s with its chorus and harmonised vocals. Of course, lead single “Let Me Down Gently” almost deserves a review of its own - a brilliant synth pop classic from start to finish, stripped down to synths and vocals and growing until there’s a saxophone solo - the true hallmark of a pop classic. While Elly Jackson’s influences seem to stretch across the entire discography of the 80s, the album is most certainly modern in execution of ideas and it’s good that there are some months left of the summer to soak this album up. 

The Manic Street Preachers are as reliable as they are unreliable. Now on their twelfth album, the Welsh stalwarts have lived a career defined by context and rallying against the odds, never ones to truly settle down. Futurology comes just one year after Rewind The Film, an album that saw the band gazing inwardly at themselves, contemplating their middle-ages and where they are now. It was a record drenched in melancholia and pastoral atmospheres, their most resigned yet. In typical fashion, Futurology might be their most bombastic and extroverted, a love letter to European highways and Simple Minds. The only problem with the Manics ethos is that misfires can and do happen.

Futurology’s musical aesthetic involves shimmering guitars, krautrock-influenced bass and light drums, riffs being drenched in effect pedals until they don’t sound like guitars anymore. The Manics have long freed themselves from constraints and expectations, and it certainly feels good to know they’re revelling in their creative freedom. Songs like “Europa Geht Durch Mich” and “Dreaming A City (Hughesovka)” are some of their weirdest yet, the former being some kind of siren-blaring industrial grind with sloganeering and declarative German vocals from Nina Hoss, the latter being a spaghetti western-influenced instrumental that doesn’t so as much gallop but rather soars off into space. Lyrically, Nicky Wire spends Futurology reminding listeners of where the band came from politically, a typically hypocritical stance when you consider the weariness of Rewind The Film. Compare “Let’s go to war to feel some pureness and pain” to “I can’t fight this war anymore, time to surrender, time to move on” from last year’s "This Sullen Welsh Heart".

However, despite the good intentions, oftentimes Futurology just doesn’t work. This is no strange concept to the Manics (witness the flat and dull atmospherics of 2004’s forgotten Lifebloood), and in Futurology, the biggest victim here is ultimately just poor songwriting choices. The opening title-track is always threatening to blow up, but instead stays uncomfortably in the middle-ground with over-produced drums and middling lyrics. “Let’s Go To War” has a snake-like guitar riff straight out of PiL’s Metal Box, but the chorus never lives up to the rest of the song’s otherwise confrontational aesthetics. Numerous other songs follow this same pattern, of never really lifting off the ground, most of them drowning in over-production and unpleasant guitar effects. It can be somewhat frustrating to listen to, as though you’re listening to a different song as to what you were promised.

Although, as with every disappointing Manics album, there are still gems to uncover. "Walk Me To The Bridge" creeps up on you with its fantastic and explosive refrain, “Sex, Power, Love And Money” is a self-conscious parody of their glam-punk days and it utterly works in how ridiculous it is. The ending of the Green Gartside-featuring “Between The Clock And The Bed” is genuinely beautiful. The two instrumentals “Dreaming A City (Hugheskova)” and the closing “Mayakovsky” are genuinely massive, hinting at the sky-high ambitions the band have always been proud to declare, whilst "Europa Geht Durch Mich" is Futurology living up to its aggressive, confrontational promise, like Kraftwerk’s Autobahn beating Nine Inch Nails into the ground, if it grew up listening to Generation Terrorists.

The thing with the Manics is, they’ve never been shy to their own failings. Some ideas work, some don’t, it just happens. It’s what makes them always so fascinating to follow. The band have never been one to give in, always one to proudly scream their influences from the goddamn mountains. Manic Street Preachers are one of the most ambitious bands to walk the earth, and it’s what makes even their duds still absolutely essential.

Check out the new Big Hero 6 official trailer!

I’ve always thought the Ramones were better than The Beatles. I know that they aren’t really even that comparable, aside from the fact that the Ramones got their name from Paul McCartney’s hotel check-in alias, but I just feel like it’s just a really big, important statement that reverberates from the depths of my soul and needs to be said out loud whenever the opportunity arises. I also know that that’s a really dramatic sentiment for a band that writes lyrics like “Buh-buh-ba-da-da/This ain’t Havana/Do you like bananas?/Buh-buh-bananas”, but I don’t care because Tommy Ramone just died so please get off my back. 

The Ramones are generally acknowledged as the forefathers of punk, and, while that may be true on a grand scale, they were basically Bowery punk through the filter of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. But that’s their charm! Sure, maybe the Sex Pistols are more authentic because they never would have starred in their own movie, let alone one as campy as Rock ‘n Roll High School, but that’s because they were boring and took themselves way too seriously for a group of guys who probably spent at least 45 minutes spiking their hair every day. “Johnny Rotten” already sounds like the name of a Scooby Doo villain, so he might as well have slapped on a leather jacket and pretended to be addicted to pizza. 

Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s seminal oral history of punk, Please Kill Me, might as well have been titled Everybody Is A Trashbag Except For The Ramones. While Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders were busy dating teenagers, the Ramones were just a bunch of corny goons from Queens trying to pose as “brudders”. Not to say that they were entirely innocent—one of their most memorable songs “53rd & 3rd” couldn’t have existed without Dee Dee’s experiences as a prostitute and mounds upon mounds of heroin. But somehow, through all of the insanity of the Max’s Kansas City and CBGB scenes, the Ramones still managed to maintain a menschy reputation over the span of their career.

This is probably due mostly to the presence of drummer/producer/manager Tommy Ramone. While the rest of the band was off running wild through the streets of New York City, Tommy hung back to take care of business. He co-produced their first three albums and wrote their first press release, in which he stated “The Ramones all originate from Forest Hills and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates or dentists. The Ramones are a little of each. Their sound is not unlike a fast drill on a rear molar.” No matter how hard people have tried to replicate their simplistic force, no one has or will ever fill the hole that the Ramones have left. At least we still have Marky. 

Song Of The Day
Amazing musical duos are most definitely in fashion right now. As Slow Club get pop, Drenge and Playlounge get loud and Royal Blood storm the airwaves. Southern are most definitely in the running to be the best of the bunch if their first two EPs are anything to judge by.

Where I Want To be is taken from their Where The Wild Are EP which is available now!

Silicon Valley comes from the minds of Mike Judge (King Of The Hill, Office Space) and longtime writing partners John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky (Role Models, Blade Of Glory), who have also been writers on some of Judge’s previous projects. Between the three, there’s plenty of hits and misses, and plenty of silly, crude comedy. Fortunately, HBO’s Silicon Valley feels destined to be a hit, often embracing the crude familiar gags we’ve come to expect from Judge, but also delivering on the clever stuff too. And that’s not to say that Judge hasn’t written clever comedy before. What is brilliant about him is that he’s really a man who uses both sides of his brain when writing; the lower common denominator comedy and the more cognitive, smart comedy. Silicon Valley probably leans more towards the latter, and it’s all the better for that. Considering it’s essentially a show about computer nerds, it could have so easily fallen into traps that the likes of The Big Bang Theory unashamedly falls into week in, week out. But, for the most part, it doesn’t, and that’s a very good thing indeed. 

The premise is a young employee (Richard, played by Thomas Middleditch) working at Microsoft-esque digital mega-corporation Hooli who accidentally creates a compression algorithm that could be revolutionary in the world of computing. The big boss man of Hooli, Gavin Benson, offers him 10 million dollars for his code, but Richard instead decides to go with another investor, brilliant oddball Peter Gregory who offers him a substantially smaller amount for a percentage in his company. This allows Richard to stay in control of his company, Pied Piper and employee his incubation friends and co-workers to build the product from the ground up. 

The team are a group of vibrant characters, each super nerdy in their own way, and each pretty hilarious in their own way too. Martin Starr stars as Gilfoyle, a character which very much resembles the character he played on Party Down a few years back; droll, sarcastic, and well, a Satanist! Kumail Nanjiani plays Dinesh, who is almost the token Indian nerd; a good programmer who’s still with the ladies leave a bit to be desired. Zach Woods (best known as Gabe from the Office) plays Jarred; a fidgety, weird but smart in his own way kinda’ guy, who handles the business-y elements of Pied Piper. T. J. Miller plays Erlich Bachman, perhaps the funniest character on the show. A self-proclaimed Jesus who is completely up his own arse, but feels like it’s warranted. It’s his arrogance and confidence that provides the show with some the best awkwardness, and it’s a stark contrast to the likes of Richard, who is a lot more timid and modest than he. They play off each other fairly well, as do the rest of the main cast as a whole.

As pointed out, one of the reasons why the show hits the right notes is it’s balance between crude and clever humour. It delivers the sort of jokes about one character being turned on by another’s code and jokes about “how fast you could jerk off all the dicks in the room”, and they are thrown at us at a nice pace, making it entirely possible to leave viewers smiling ear to ear for the duration of an episode, or indeed the season as a whole. It’s pleasantly surprising just how witty the show is, and being produced by HBO gives it the sort of freedom to go places that network sitcoms aren’t allowed to go. It’s worth noting too that the show isn’t strictly a “sitcom”, although it might appear that way on first glance. There’s some drama in there too, albeit ridiculous and larger than life, but it’s there. And the show is heavily serialised too, something which would make it much more difficult for more casual viewers to jump in and out of, but will reward dedicated TV viewers myself who thrive on such serialisation.

The season pans out at a slow-enough pace, with Pied Piper being put to the test on several occasions. There’s plenty of bumps along the way, with name changes, idea changes, coding errors and of course their main competitor, Hooli, who had stumbled across some of Richard’s algorithm code and have decided to rebrand it as their own, making it bigger and better. By the end of the season, both Hooli and Pied Piper are performing at a software competition and after Hooli’s crowd-pleasing presentation proves that their product is superior to Richard’s, he decides to “pivot” his idea into something even more exciting. The season ends right there, setting up plenty of thick plot-fuel for season two. It’s a show with great wit delivered by a good cast of oddballs, and the heavily serialised nature of the show makes it actually quite exciting and definitely addictive, as if it were created to be binge-watched. Silicon Valley is another worthy recent addition to HBO’s increasingly brilliant catalogue of programming, and will hopefully grace our screens for quite a few seasons yet.

Wonderful Coincidence of the day: If there’s a fictional character who deserves a grandiose statue, it’s Parks & Recreation's Ron Swanson. Someone on Reddit posted this photo of a statue found in Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre, which bares a startling resemblance to Nick Offerman’s moustachieod begrudging government worker, albeit in Roman garb. It turns out it’s actually a likeness of legendary Philadelphia actor Edwin Forrest… either that or Offerman is a Time Lord.

Wonderful Coincidence of the day: If there’s a fictional character who deserves a grandiose statue, it’s Parks & Recreation's Ron Swanson. Someone on Reddit posted this photo of a statue found in Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre, which bares a startling resemblance to Nick Offerman’s moustachieod begrudging government worker, albeit in Roman garb. It turns out it’s actually a likeness of legendary Philadelphia actor Edwin Forrest… either that or Offerman is a Time Lord.

How do you solve a problem like Tom Cruise?

The guy is probably is one of the top five movie stars on the planet with a filmography that stretches back to 1981 and arguably one of the most successful box office draws ever. There are, however, two big sticking points for Cruise at this moment in time; firstly, he’s been on something of a dry run for the last few years, either since Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in 2011 or even further back since Mission: Impossible III in 2006, and secondly, we’ve seen him save the world time and time and time again to the point where seeing him as a cowardly novice really breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Both those points combine to leave Edge Of Tomorrow on shaky footing from the beginning, nevermind the derivative Groundhog Day/Quantum Leap/Source Code-esque time-loop plot. It comes as something of a surprise to find that it might be one of the better blockbusters of the summer. It’s also possibly the best video-game movie not based on a video game.

When William Cage (Cruise) - formerly a army PR talking head, hired to big up a failing war effort against the alien force devastating Europe - wakes up on the first day of his demotion down to active duty grunt, he’s basically at the start of his level; his first checkpoint. Eventually, a close encounter on a French beach with an monstrous alien attacker — a tough end-of-level boss — kills Cage and sends him back to the start of the game, forcing him to play the two days again. With each death, he has to learn from his mistakes and discover how to survive to reach the next ‘level’.

Despite being pieced together from those aforementioned time-loop-travel films and shows (as well as elements of Aliens, The Matrix and a pile of other sci-fi/action classics), and despite the repetition of the premise occasionally strangling its momentum, there’s a lot to like about Edge Of Tomorrow (that title - chosen over the source novel’s All You Need Is Kill -  is not one of them). The action sequences are expertly shot by Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith director Doug Liman, in particular the first instance we see of the futurist Normandy landings, which probably stand as the best representation of D-Day on film, after Saving Private Ryan. The supporting cast is great too, with Brendan Gleeson and Noah Taylor continuing to be two of the finest character actors of the moment, and Bill Paxton providing a wonderful hardass of a sergeant. However the highest praise has to go Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, who can now walk into any high-profile action role she wishes after this. Blunt is truly remarkable, casting off any “English rose” tag which some may have placed on her and kicking ass like Ellen Ripley reborn. In fact, the film would’ve been infinitely improved by switching Cruise and Blunt’s roles around, especially since Blunt’s legendary war hero - alternately nicknamed The Angel of Verdun and Full Metal Bitch - is forced by plot contrivance to step aside midway through the film to let Cruise perform his usual running-based heroics.

There’s also a wonderful vein of comedy running throughout, a branch of what Tyler Durden termed “flashback humour” - expertly placed gags and Gilligan cuts help prevent things from slipping into too much of a grim lull, and laughs are certainly needed amongst the bloodshed and explosions - whilst the score and creature design are both far more interesting than any summer schedule-filler has any right to be

But in spite these elements worthy of praise, the core of Edge is far from sturdy. There are numerous plot holes, as is always the case when messing with time, which would take a lot more words than I’m willing to write to explain, and everything just kind of sputters and slows out around an hour in when Cage and Vrataski become isolated on an abandoned farm for the requisite sexual tension filler. Perhaps I was spoiled by Pacific Rim not cramming a giant square peg of romance into a triangular hole, but there’s really no need for that sort of thing just because you have a male and female lead in your movie. Yeah, it makes narrative sense for Cage to eventually develop feelings for Vrataski after spending what could be years for him in her company, but in the prime timeline, she’s known him for all of a week at the very most, which we’re pretty sure is the dictionary definition of far too long to be around any incarnation of Tom Cruise. There’s also an uncomfortable theme of “war is character building” running throughout, which kinda borders on offensive, depending on your sensibilities.

Perhaps despite its uneven structure and glaring weak points, Edge Of Tomorrow can find a prolonged second life as a slightly silly cult classic, in the vein of Independence Day or Starship Troopers (it certainly shares a lot of similarities with the latter, albeit without its biting and oft misunderstood satirical element). It’s certainly entertaining enough and has just about the right amount of brains. And if it doesn’t, hey, it can just die and come back and try again.

The Blair Witch Project will be the yardstick for the found footage film for probably all of eternity. The lo-fi, low budget horror was hardly the inventor or most pioneering of found footage films, but undoubtedly the most iconic and most successful, inspiring a decade and a half’s worth of similar shaky-cam scares. Its dual cameras and genuinely bone-chilling plot were truly the most effective tools in making it a cult classic horror and massively profitable film (it was budgeted to the tune of $750,000 and grossed over $248 million worldwide). 

If you consider a horror film as a ninety minute joke or a series of jokes over an hour and a half, the punchline is part of the payoff of the film - it may not be worth telling the joke if you don’t get to the punchline. Some horror films suffer massively for this, losing so much steam in the third act that everything that came before is a distant memory by the time the film trundles to a halt. Blair Witch has, in my opinion, the finest plot punchline in any horror film, with the mythos of the Blair Witch brought crashing back to reality in a night-vision sequence in the abandoned house, peppered generously with screaming and shaky camera. 

It’s a marvellously simple film in concept, both a mockumentary and a horror although the latter is in slightly more equal measure than the former, though the mockumentary elements are crucial to the film’s effectiveness and sense of mystery. The cast of essentially just three characters go around their local area asking about the town’s dark history - on their travels hearing stories of murdered children, witchcraft, and kidnapping. All of the stories are taken in a sort of detached urban myth state of mind and this is why Blair Witch is so effective. The scepticism of real world paranormal events coupled with the realism of the film’s plot makes the events in the forest that much scarier. Not many can doubt the vastness of the wilderness in which they’re lost, though when they are continually frustrated with their ability to navigate, and when one goes missing, weird stuff starts happening and the scepticism is gone. 

The trio of characters could be any friend group, and as the cracks begin to show they deliver powerful performances of being lost and stuck in the woods, pretty much consigned to certain death. 

For me, The Blair Witch Project is the scariest horror film I’ve ever seen -mostly because it steps out of horror tropes and jumps and instead unnerves the audience, feeding them a rich pallet of spooky information before taking that away and drip feeding tiny, creepy bits of plot until the final, and devastating punchline. 

NEW MUSIC MONDAY
Lewis Watson - Holding On
Taken from his debut album which was released this week; “Holding On” is the newest track from young future star, Lewis Watson. Expect your friends to be adding this chap to your festival playlists very soon.