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 big 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 patches of both Christopher Nolan and men in tights at the box office, as well as giving hope to DC Comics for that potential Justice League film. 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.