Lady Gaga as La Chameleon in Machete Kills (2013)
Well this is unexpected, and intriguing.
First trailer for Oz: The Great And The Powerful: You might think this is taking Hollywood’s love of franchises and sequels a bit too far, but this prequel to The Wizard Of Oz looks excellent. Directed by Sam Raimi (yes, him of Evil Dead fame. We doubt there’ll be much similarity between the two), Oz will delve into the backstory of the Wizard, the Wicked Witch of the West and, we hope, the Munchkins. Raimi’s assembled a pretty fine cast too, with James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff taking a trip to the world of the yellow brick road.
Oz: The Great And The Powerful is released March 2013
It’s been quite an eventful six months hasn’t it? So far, 2013 has seen an incredible amount of big names return to the musical fore, some of the finest television for quite some time, and a collection of very opinion splitting films. With the sheer amount of discussion-worthy events and releases, we’ve barely been able to keep up and review them all, so this is our chance to look back at what we missed, and look forward to an exciting next six months.
This has truly been the year of the comeback album. David Bowie, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Black Sabbath, Jay-Z; they’ve all sauntered back into the spotlight after relatively lengthy absences, whilst the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Arctic Monkeys, Manic Street Preachers, Janelle Monae, Elton John, Franz Ferdinand, M.I.A, MMT, Arcade Fire, and Kings Of Leon are all prepping records for release in the coming months. That list proves how stacked 2013 is.
Bowie’s The Next Day [8/10] gave us all a chance to revel in some Ziggy nostalgia, whilst sticking to a fairly standard rock sound; essentially, it sounded like a latter-day Morrissey record in its instrumentation and production (no doubt thanks to Bowie & Moz cohort Tony Visconti twiddling the knobs in the studio), which is no bad thing because we all know Bowie has the charisma and songwriting chops to make even Rock 101 sound thrilling.
Instead the pop experiments were left to Mr Timberlake and his fourth album The 20/20 Experience [10/10]. If you had to pick a popstar who’d be chucking out an album of 7+ minute long opuses with enough hooks to still get huge radio airplay, very few people would have chosen the former N*Sync man (we’d have put our money on Lady Gaga, to be honest). It’s soul, R&B and pop stretched out into widescreen and it’s wonderful. Bring on the sequel, due out later in the year.
Over on the indie side of things, Vampire Weekend and Sigur Ros both came up trumps with their respective albums, Modern Vampires Of The City [9/10] and Kveikur [8/10], reworking their familiar sounds into something fresh and reinvigorating. Savages’ debut album Silence Yourself [9/10] is something to make you believe in young, pissed-off rock bands again; it’s a blast of fury and post-punk guitars. old Panda’s sophomore effort, Half Of Where You Live [7/10] ended up paling in comparison to its predecessor, uneven and ponderous, but a few sparks of pure genius (namely "Community", "We Work Nights" and "Reprise") and reddem it. Deafheaven produced the dark horse album of the year so far on the brutal but beautiful Sunbather [9/10], whereas Sheffield duo Nai Harvest laid the groundwork for something very special down the way with the flawed but endearing Whatever[6/10]. Mac Miler continues to bore on the utterly insipid Watching Movies With The Sound Off [4/10], whilst The-Dream, Wiley and will.i.am have all made me reconsider even bothering with modern pop or hip-hop with their respective “efforts” IV-Play, The Ascent and #willpower [all 3/10]. Even Jay-Z can’t give me something to holler about, as Magna Carta Holy rail [4/10] is even lazier than The Blueprint 3 (at least that had “D.O.A” and “Empire State Of Mind” on it).
On to what television has given us, then… just incredible seasons from Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, Parks & Rec, … the list goes on and on, and we haven’t even had the final episodes of Breaking Bad yet! When sites far cleverer than us talk about television overtaking film in terms of quality, they’re definitely not wrong. Mad Men and ame Of Thrones have both turned in stellar runs this year, bestowing upon us some of the most intricately plotted and gripping stories that I remember (although a lot of credit goes to George RR Martin for the success of GOT). Hannibal, Utopia and House Of Cards also came up trumps with excellent debut seasons, as did the sorely-underrated Gravity Falls; New irl matured into a sitcom both funny and heartwarming enough to rival the golden years Friends; Elementary escaped the shadow of its BBC-originating big brother to become a fine interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in its own right; 30 Rock and The Office both finished for good with returns to the form of their best days, enough to make us wish they would’ve stuck around just a year longer. Zombies were ironically alive and well in the last six months: The Walking Dead’s third season was its best yet, and set up an intriguing fourth, whilst BBC Three’s In The Flesh offered a fresh take on the undead, as did French series The Returned, both looking into the ramifications of a post-zombie world. But the biggest televisual event of 2013 so far wasn’t even technically television. Yes, that’s right, after seven long years Arrested Development returned exclusively on Netflix for a fourth season. It wasn’t exactly well received upon release, but repeat viewings and some serious in-depth analysis have shown that Mitch Hurwitz is some sort of wizard, or more realistically, a comedy genius with a penchant for interweaving plots and complex storylines. If you dismissed the fourth season after just a few episodes, it’s highly recommended you give it a second shot. The one big bum note this year was that terrible fourth season of Community; thank the TV gods that Dan Harmon is back as showrunner, even if he is a bit of an ass.
The silver screen hasn’t been quite as successful as its smaller cousin, although it’s still capable of some magic, even in blockbusters. Star Trek Into Darkness [★★★☆☆] and Iron Man 3 [★★★★☆] both offered up large-scale thrills which actually had some grey matter between their metaphorical ears (although STID more so than Iron Man 3), and even the fraught production which birthed World War Z [★★★☆☆] didn’t hamper what turned out to be a solid action flick. Man Of Steel [★★☆☆☆] continued the purple patch of men-in-tights at the box office, but ultimately ended up dull and flawed; not a good starting point for the Justice League franchise. Away from explosions and budgets the size of space programs, Django Unchained proved Quentin Tarantino can make a kickass and relatively considerate film about slavery, and still piss people off; The Evil Dead [★★★☆☆] remake proved to be a very good idea indeed, vastly improving on the originals; Cloud Atlas [★★★☆☆] and Upstream Colour [★★★☆☆] provided challenging but ultimately rewarding experiments in narrative; Behind The Candelabra [★★★★☆] surprised with a thoughtful and fascinating look at the life of Liberace, and, were it not for some idiocy at HBO, should have been festooned with Oscar nominations for Matt Damon and Michael Douglas; Stoker [★★★★★] transferred the talents of Chan-Wook Park over to the English speaking world without missing a beat; if our readers are as intelligent as we hope, it should be voted our film of the year. However, in terms of box-office bombs, it’s been a war-torn year in cinema: both V/H/S [★★☆☆☆] and its sequel [★★☆☆☆] failed to scare or entertain much, as did home-invasion thriller The Purge [★☆☆☆☆], failing the necessary aims of every horror film; Gangster Squad [★☆☆☆☆] turned out to be a laughable near-parody, despite an excellent cast; Les Miserables [★☆☆☆☆] ended up the most miserable cinematic experience possible, save for five Oscar-worthy minutes from Anne Hathaway; Baz Luhrmann performed something akin to literary necrophilia with his garish adaptation of The Great Gatsby [★☆☆☆☆]; Mama [★★☆☆☆] became the first truly bad watch in Jessica Chastain’s filmography and Spring Breakers [★★☆☆☆]… well, god knows what to say about that.
There is still hope for you popcorn addicts in the next six months however. Only God Forgives looks set to be another fine instalment of the “Ryan Gosling Looks Beautiful And Kicks People’s Heads Off” series directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity will give the world a whole new batch of worries over going into space; Pacific Rim will result in a whole plethora of nerdgasms, as well producing a lot of new kaiju fans; The Coens return with Inside Llewelyn Davis; Thor, The Hobbit and The Hunger Games all release sequels towards the end of the year; and The Wolf Of Wall Street sees DiCaprio and Scorsese team up once again, with Leo looking for that elusive Oscar.
Yep, the time has come again. 2013 is nearly over, and by law, every newspaper, website, blog, magazine and human with an opinion is compiling their “best of the year” lists. We here at Hitsville are no different, and considering the wide spectrum we cover, we’ve got a fair bit of work to do. Unlike a lot of places, we give you, our dear readers, the chance to have a say in our end of year lists for music, film, television and gaming. As well as personal lists from individual contributors, we will be compiling lists of the:
based on your votes. There’s also a few other “just for fun” categories for you to have your say in. Ideally we’d like your top ten picks in each category, but it doesn’t matter if you choose more or less; we know it’s pretty tough to choose.
The polls close at 11:59PM on December 15th. Happy voting!
Matt Stephen’s highlights of the year
There’s always a golden age for something, and being the ridiculous optimist I am, I always seem to think we’re in the golden age for media as my standards continually drop and as a result, are continually met. But there’s been something about 2013, hasn’t there? Reunions, remakes, real originality, remixes, revelations - with the exception of the gaming world, which seemed to be patiently resigned to the releases of the new Grand Theft Auto and the launch of next-gen gaming. To digress, as a music fan I’ve been blown out of the water and I’m beginning to feel like we’re getting to the point of the phrase “music these days just isn’t that good” being so ignorant that it’s laughable. Thank god. Here’s my Best Five of the year.
Joe O’Brien’s top five albums
First off, I’d like to admit that I really haven’t gotten around to listening to as many albums in 2013 as I would’ve liked. I’m the kind of guy who spends more time listening to the back catalogues of bands I’ve just gotten into, or just the classics or whatever! I did, however, get to listen to a couple handfuls of albums this year, and so here’s 5 of ‘em! (PS: I’d also like to comment on how awesome the for artwork for these albums are. )
Kylesa - Ultraviolet
Kylesa is a band that I’ve been meaning to listen to more of. Ultraviolet is their sixth studio album and it’s actually the first one that I’ve heard in full. It’s a sludge metal album with some psychedelic rock creeping in there, in the vein of obvious inspiration Mastodon. It’s a terrific blend of hard and soft, with more emphasis on the former. Those heavier songs really do pack one hell of a punch, with gut-punching, tuned-down riffs that you can’t help but headbang to. The softer stuff feels very melodic and layered and gives the record a nice balance. The variation of male and female lead vocals is nice too. Plus the interchanging of instruments between the four members. A great layered metal album than demands numerous listens to full appreciate.
Listen to: “Unspoken”
Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regenerator Vendor
I’ve been a big Rob Zombie fan for a few years now. His love for horror movies and the way he incorporates the genre and a heap of references into his music is something that I’ve always found cool. With his 5th studio album, Venemous Rat Regenerator, he shows no sign of really changing his style. And that’s not a bad thing. The appeal of his music has never been in the quality of his song-writing or even in his vocals, but instead of the relentless energy that he gives into each performance. And the wicked catchy hooks. Much of the credit for the latter goes to John 5, who plays guitar on this album again, and provides some truly rocking riffs. Sure, the songs are simple. The riffs, uncomplex. The vocals, repetitive. But pretty much all the songs come off as instantly catchy and just a lot of fun. Production on the album must be credited too. It sounds huge.
Listen to: “Dead City Radio And The New Gods of Supertown”
Palms - Palms
Palms is a group formed by Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno and three members from the post-metal group Isis. Although I can’t say I’m all that aware of Isis, I’m a massive, massive fan of Chino Moreno; I think almost every project the guy has been involved with is awesome. Palms has a post-metal and alternative metal feel, which makes it feel sort of like a whole album of Deftones’ lighter songs. The instruments definitely feel more relaxed though, and the album doesn’t have the same “noise” or “fuzz” sound that Deftones albums seem to have. It’s all taken at a nice, chilled pace and Moreno’s vocals come through nice and clean, allowing him to really show off the incredible range he has. Man, this guy can sing! The album consist of six songs, each about seven minutes long, and they all lead into each other really well, giving it an excellently cohesive feeling. Really promising stuff with this debut.
Listen to: “Future Warrior”
Arctic Monkeys - AM
I’m not going to pretend that I’m one of Arctic Monkeys’ biggest fans. I obsessed over their debut album back in 2006, like everyone else did. But then I got over it in a big way, and since then I haven’t been interested enough to check out any of their albums in full. I did, however, for whatever reason decide to check out AM and it was a damn good decision. What I instantly loved about the album is that it sounded heavier than what I had come to known Arctic Monkeys’ sound as. Sure it’s still primarily indie/garage rock or whatever you want to call it, but there’s nice elements of hard rock and even psychedelic rock in this record that feel right at home. Those heavier, louder, faster tracks are right up my alley, and there’s catchy enough lighter ones to counter-balance it. There’s a couple of dud tracks in there if you want to get nitpicky, but overall the album flows with a really nice kick, giving you tunes you’ll be humming all week afterwards.
Listen to: “R U Mine?”
Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork
When I was making picks for this list, the only album I was 100% certain of was Like Clockwork. I had been excited about this album since I first heard Era Vulgaris all those many years ago and the six year wait was agonizing. In those six years I got to know QOTSA inside-out, and now I profess them as one of, if not, by favourite band around. Like Clockwork is worth the wait. From the very few seconds of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, I knew immediately that I was in for something special. The rest of the album doesn’t quite keep up the same downtuned, slow, ridiculous heavy vibe of this opening track, but that’s a good thing. Because what the album is is a collection of songs that each feel completely unique. We get the fast, catchy single “My God is the Sun”, and then the weird psychedelic “Kalopsia” (featuring NIN frontman and soundtrack guy to every movie ever, Trent Reznor). We get the wacky, poppy “Fairweather Friends”, featuring Elton John of all people, and then we get the ballad-esque title tack; it’s such a layered, brilliantly written, brilliantly produced album that demands to be heard again and again. Those songs that don’t appeal the first time, will certainly the second time. It boasts a heap of guest artists performing in various shapes and forms, and Josh Homme has never been better at writing songs. It’s an album that shouldn’t quite feel like it pieces together, but it does, finding some sort of cohesion in the evil, somehow sexy feeling that can be found hiding in every track.
Listen to: “I Appear Missing”
Jimmy Hatcher’s album of the year (and one runner-up)
2013 continued the trend of R&B’s heavy influence on indie electronic music producers. Rhye’s Woman, released in March, took the sound of ’90s Sade and adult contemporary music from the ’80s and turned it into something new and fresh. Inc. put out No World, an album with indelible influences from Maxwell and Jam & Lewis that resulted in a divisive (though in my opinion; great) album of downtempo atmospheric R&B.
So in a year of albums with direct lines of influence back to past titans of New Jack Swing and Adult Contemporary hits, Beacon's The Ways We Separate sticks out a bit. The debut full-length from the Brooklyn duo certainly fits in with the artists mentioned above, the music is much more individual. The Ways We Separate is less Roxy Music and Teddy Riley than it is a fusing of the chilly electronics of 100th Window and the emotion of Take Care.
The Ways We Separate sounds as if it is totally devoid of acoustic instrumentation, yet manages to sound warm and human throughout. Mullarney’s vocals cut through the layers of synths and echoing drum pads in a way that makes you forget the cold and calculated nature of the digital instrumentation. Said vocals sing yearning tales of modern love at its ugliest with stories of abandonment, obsession, emotional distance and neglect. A loose story could be woven together from the lyric sheets of the album.
From start to finish, The Ways We Separate creates mood and space from sparse instrumentation that implies small scenes in large venues. Every drum hit echoes into the distance and every synth line floats in from elsewhere. Despite the lightness of all parts, it’s still propulsive and intense at points. It’s pleasant to have as a backdrop but rewards closer listening with it’s detailed and rich production.
All of this makes for what was my favourite album of 2013. It infuses spacy ambient music with the emotion and soul of R&B. Definitely not a record to be missed.
The runner-up would have to be Three Sided Tape Volume One by Lil Ugly Mane. Though not a proper album per se (that’s still coming up), the first in the Three Sided Tape duology by Lil Ugly Mane offers a glimpse into the creative mind of Shawn Kemp outside of his relentlessly dark, aggressive and abrasive material released thus far. Consisting of 61 minutes of mostly instrumental hip hop productions, Three Sided Tape Volume 1 shows that for the past few years, despite his chosen direction in sound shown on Mista Thug Isolation and Playaz Circle, Kemp is at all times running circles around his contemporaries without even really trying. The 32 “tracks” present here are separated into three tracks running 17, 25 and 19 minutes each. Across its runtime Kemp covers radio rap, warped vaporwave-esque tracks, east-coast hip hop, avant-garde, gospel-and-breaks type beats, cloud rap (he out-Clams Casino’s Clams Casino with the warped vocal samples and fuzz), drum & bass and even black metal. Despite the sheer breadth of styles covered on this tape nothing ever feels out of place and it all sounds like a Kemp production.
Here’s Jimmy Hatcher’s original review of New Leaf:
The first thought that comes to most people’s heads when they think of the Animal Crossing series (if they haven’t played the games) is usually that it’s a cute game that has more in common with Farmville than, say, Gears Of War or something out of the Call Of Duty franchise. For the most part, you’d have a hard time finding anybody who would classify Animal Crossing as a series of titles for hardcore gamers (ugh) due to its bright colours, light and cheery music, and lack of a story structure or mandatory objectives. This is a false train of thought however, and as anybody who is a longtime fan of the series since the release of Animal Crossing for the GameCube in 2001 (the first title released worldwide) will tell you, Animal Crossing requires a tremendous amount of focus and diligence.
Animal Crossing hardly relies on your sense of hand-eye co-ordination and too many, this immediately disqualifies it as being any sort of game for a mature, “hardcore” gamer. Indeed, outside of the fishing and bug catching, there isn’t a whole lot of stress put on your ability to hit a button at the right time. This ignores the real challenge of the game though: patience. Animal Crossing is a waiting game through and through. One of its chief features is the real-time clock. Unlike other open world games like Grand Theft Auto or its many clones that utilize an accelerated time system which mostly functions as a means to determine whether streetlights are on or off and also move at an accelerated rate (e.g. 1 second = 1 minute), Animal Crossing has a true real-time clock. One hour in-game is one hour of real time. When you aren’t playing, time goes on inside the game. This leads to situations where playing at the late hours of the night leaves you with no way to buy furniture or sell the various things you’ve collected during your time in the game. You could adjust the game clock forwards or backwards, but your town will become overgrown with weeds and your villagers will leave after you ignore them for too long. The only option, if you want to “game” the game is to wait.
The developers of Animal Crossing seem to want to point out that anybody can focus hard and twitch their finger hundreds of times a minute at targets on a screen. What most people can’t do is plan ahead, make their own goals and take action. In Animal Crossing, these are the most important skills to getting anywhere in the game. You need to plan ahead to play when you have time in your real life, You have to decide how you’re going to go about making money to pay off your loans (more on that in a bit), you have to boot up the game every day and repeat this in order to achieve any sort of progress. In the world of Animal Crossing, the carrot and stick present in other games still exists, the proverbial carrot is just a lot smaller and on a much longer stick.
Animal Crossing is frequently touted as having “no objectives”. It’s commonly described as a game about boredom or relaxation. This is true to a degree but like most games, Animal Crossing has goals and objectives you must clear. The common “jobs” for the player in all games of the series are filling the museum, expanding their house, and paying off their loans. Filling the museum requires (without save file-ruining time travel) At least one year of continuous gameplay. Certain fish and Insects only appear during specific seasons and fossils can only be found at a rate of roughly 3 per day or less. Along with this, finding authentic paintings is a matter of sheer luck and anybody who has managed to fill their museum’s art gallery has a level of willpower that I envy. The other primary goals go hand-in-hand. When you first arrive in your town in any Animal Crossing game, you are required to purchase or build a house for an amount of money far beyond what you can afford. From then on, you are required (until New Leaf) to upgrade the size of this house and add floors for ever-inflating cost until you are eventually in a prohibitive amount of debt that must still be paid off. Raising the funds to fully expand the players house and also pay off the loans for this expansion consumes most of the time spent playing the game. In the later stages of the home improvement process, it’s a battle of attrition as you sell fish, bugs, and fossils for mere thousands of Bells (the in-game currency) while your loans total in the sub-million hundreds of thousands. This brings the “casual” nature of Animal Crossing into doubt. Sure, the game can be picked up and played for 20 minutes a day, but you’ll never make any headway on your museum collection or making enough money to pay back your loans at a decent rate. The only way to “clear” the game in a decent amount of time is to put in hours a day over the course of a year or two, more akin to a game like Skyrim than Facebook Peggle. That being said, I don’t know anybody personally who has cleared every part of the game. I, myself, usually run out of patience and abandon my games long before I ever pay off even my third house expansion or fill even one section of the Museum. Somewhere, on a lost GameCube memory card, my town waits for me to return and take care of these things as if I never gave up and started wasting my time on Fire Emblem: Awakening.
The lack of any storylines is also frequently brought up as both a positive and a negative point for the series. Like most other assumptions however, this is wrong. There’s a rich story in Animal Crossing, you just have to learn to listen to the people in your town. Other than the villagers themselves who over time develop friendships and rivalries and trade furniture and clothes while you try to pay off your loans and occasionally stop to interact with them, the background characters (as if there were any foreground characters) have stories of their own. If you put in the time to say hello every so often to the quiet hedgehog at the back of the tailors shop (it makes sense in context, trust me), you discover not only the story behind her life and why she’s so shy, but also that of the mercantile tanuki Tom Nook, who goes from owning a small shack selling a few essentials and one item of furniture to becoming a real-estate developer in the latest game in the series, New Leaf. Indeed, there is a story to Animal Crossing, you just have to take the time to listen and gather the clues over the course of the series. Unlike most games, you don’t figure it out at your pace you figure it out at the pace of someone else’s life, as it’s their story to experience first-hand and yours to find out about later. Contained is an important lesson about paying attention and getting to know the people around you.
Animal Crossing is one of the hardest games you will ever play because it requires you to have mental fortitude rather than an ability to shut out distractions and react over and over to the same stimuli and engage in simulated violence with no repercussions. Push villagers around or hit them with your bug catching net? They will get mad and through some manner of Video Game Developer Sorcery, everything they say will hit on a personal level despite being tiny 3D animals that speak in a weird gibberish language. Chop down all the trees? They’ll begin to hate the town (and you by proxy, as the town is an extension of the player) and move away. All acts of violence in Animal Crossing end with your friends leaving you. Any attempt to play Animal Crossing how you would play most other games ends with a condescending rebuke from the game itself. Running itself is an action for which the game extends a giant hand from the screen and wags a finger at you to say “No, no.” When running, fish disappear into deeper water, bugs fly or jump away, flowers are torn up, in the rain you slip and fall. You’re punished for trying to do anything quickly. Trying to catch the biggest fish you can find will frequently net you a Sea Bass, which are far from worth the trouble for the amount of Bells they net for sale. Furthermore, being too twitch-happy on the A-button while fishing will scare the fish away, you have to wait for them to nibble and draw the lure underwater before you can reel them in. Changing the system clock brings more terrible annoyances. In the end, it all comes down to patience once again.
Animal Crossing is a special type of game. For all it does to infuriate anybody who considers themselves a “hardcore gamer” with its forced slow pace, colourful and cheery “for kids” aesthetic and emphasis on diligence and patience over brute force or quick-but-satisfying acts of violence, It gives back by providing a challenge to the part of the brain that doesn’t often get much attention from modern entertainment. Animal Crossing requires that you set daily goals, stick to them, and be diligent if you ever want to “clear” the game. It also lets you do everything at your own pace and develop your own type of gameplay. Maybe it’s truly the first real-life simulator in an age when “realism” to most people means gruff stubbly men with big guns and boob physics. Animal Crossing wants you to believe it’s a casual game to play every so often, but that’s just so it can trick you into using your head for a few hours a day for a change.