Thanks to the advent of social networking, mystery in music is all but gone. Albums get month long promo campaigns, artists tweet every time they blink, every tiny snippet of news is tweeted and blogged (we’re a bit guilty of that, sorry); the age of secrecy with bands is all but extinct… apart from Wu Lyf. The Mancunian four piece remained in the shadows of their hometown’s music scene for what seemed like forever, with an immeasurable amount of songs and demos floating about the interwebs. But as 2011 wore on, the quartet slowly but surely crept into the limelight, revealing themselves, doing press interview and the like.
For all the intrigue and suspense, Wu Lyf’s sound is fairly conventional; the skyscraping guitars of the current crop of stadium bands and the afrobeat rhythms of every band inspired by Foals or Vampire Weekend. But the liberal use of organs, reverb and frontman Ellery Roberts gravel-gargling voice makes for something that sounds out like a sore thumb in the current musical climate. Roberts singing (if it can be called that) is like listening to a broken Tom Waits vinyl, making the lyrics near impossible to decipher. But such a technique only helps to add to the intrigue of the band.
The way Wu Lyf present themselves enhances the appeal of the band. The social outcasts, the rapscallions terrorising the streets of Mancunia speaking in some garbled yoof speak, the Lucifer Youth Foundation. It’s inevitable they’ll acquire a cultish following with such a gimmick; in fact, they probably already have, which is why you’ve voted them to Number Five in our poll.

Thanks to the advent of social networking, mystery in music is all but gone. Albums get month long promo campaigns, artists tweet every time they blink, every tiny snippet of news is tweeted and blogged (we’re a bit guilty of that, sorry); the age of secrecy with bands is all but extinct… apart from Wu Lyf. The Mancunian four piece remained in the shadows of their hometown’s music scene for what seemed like forever, with an immeasurable amount of songs and demos floating about the interwebs. But as 2011 wore on, the quartet slowly but surely crept into the limelight, revealing themselves, doing press interview and the like.

For all the intrigue and suspense, Wu Lyf’s sound is fairly conventional; the skyscraping guitars of the current crop of stadium bands and the afrobeat rhythms of every band inspired by Foals or Vampire Weekend. But the liberal use of organs, reverb and frontman Ellery Roberts gravel-gargling voice makes for something that sounds out like a sore thumb in the current musical climate. Roberts singing (if it can be called that) is like listening to a broken Tom Waits vinyl, making the lyrics near impossible to decipher. But such a technique only helps to add to the intrigue of the band.

The way Wu Lyf present themselves enhances the appeal of the band. The social outcasts, the rapscallions terrorising the streets of Mancunia speaking in some garbled yoof speak, the Lucifer Youth Foundation. It’s inevitable they’ll acquire a cultish following with such a gimmick; in fact, they probably already have, which is why you’ve voted them to Number Five in our poll.

If The Horrors’ career path teaches us anything, it’s that first impressions and first albums are too important. Written off as po-faced comedy goths on their first record Strange House, the Southend quintet became critical darlings with the radical departure on Primary colours; out went Cramps-aping garage rock, in came a swirling blend of krautrock and shoegaze. Two years later and they’ve pulled it off again.
Skying is a dense, groove based album and the fact that it was made on a fair amount of drugs shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The psychedelic opener “Changing The Rain” sets the tone with its chunky bass and hazy, baggy beat, which sounds like nothing else around at the moment. “Moving Further Away” and “Oceans Burning” tread a similar path to “Sea Within A Sea”, experimenting with what the band can achieve sonically, but buried in between such tracks are the straight ahead pop tracks you’d never thought would come from The Horrors. “Still Life” has finally given the band a big, singalong anthem, whilst “I Can See Through You” is a concise gem of 60s pop. 
They may always have their detractors, but with the trajectory they’re on, The Horrors are likely to become one of those special groups in the lineage of classic British bands.

If The Horrors’ career path teaches us anything, it’s that first impressions and first albums are too important. Written off as po-faced comedy goths on their first record Strange House, the Southend quintet became critical darlings with the radical departure on Primary colours; out went Cramps-aping garage rock, in came a swirling blend of krautrock and shoegaze. Two years later and they’ve pulled it off again.

Skying is a dense, groove based album and the fact that it was made on a fair amount of drugs shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The psychedelic opener “Changing The Rain” sets the tone with its chunky bass and hazy, baggy beat, which sounds like nothing else around at the moment. “Moving Further Away” and “Oceans Burning” tread a similar path to “Sea Within A Sea”, experimenting with what the band can achieve sonically, but buried in between such tracks are the straight ahead pop tracks you’d never thought would come from The Horrors. “Still Life” has finally given the band a big, singalong anthem, whilst “I Can See Through You” is a concise gem of 60s pop. 

They may always have their detractors, but with the trajectory they’re on, The Horrors are likely to become one of those special groups in the lineage of classic British bands.

I am not a horror movie fan, not a conventional one at least. It is not my speciality, but I am very familiar with the classics and tropes of the genre mMy favourite horror movies are the Evil Dead trilogy and the Scream franchise if that offers any more indication). It is with this in mind that I am drawn to The Cabin in the Woods, Buffy creator/Avengers director Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ‘loving hate letter’ to horror cinema. A movie more in the ilk of Scream than Saw, The Cabin In The Woods is a fantastic post-modern film that evokes the codes and conventions of a horror movie and reflects on them in a great self-referential way.
What is clever is that this dissection actually leads to the movie constructing all of the elements of a horror movies in front of our very eyes, showing us a way in which the film can explain why the victims react to the horrors in front of them in such a stupid way; why horny teens find doing it in the middle of nowhere arousing and why they find it a smart idea to split up in the face of danger. It is through this construction that The Cabin in the Woods shines, and the extra voyeuristic level that is generated in the unique way the film is structured is the real part to enjoy in this as opposed to the stock teen characters suffering.
The film starts in your classic horror movie scenario. Five friends go on a trip into the middle of nowhere where satellite signals don’t exist, opting to stay in a log cabin, Evil Dead-style, before things become a little less party hard and a little more die hard. But as I said, this is not all that transpires. There is a lot more behind their horrors, a higher power if you will. Our entire expected experience watching horror is lampshaded and we are led to further reflect on the constructed explanations behind your usual horror tropes in a clever, meta way.
The film is perfectly cast (with names such as Richard Jenkins, Fran Kranz and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth popping up), and Whedon fans particularly will get a kick out of this film, with a few veterans of the auteur’s work making appearances throughout. But the real star is in the writing. If you know me you know I have a special place in my heart for Joss Whedon, and his writing with collaborator and director Drew Goddard just breathes the duo’s unique voice. It’s a surprise just how funny this movie actually is despite being a horror. It very much is more geared towards tropers and those who appreciate the knowing likes of Evil Dead II and Scream, where the comedy blends well in a word of post-modernism.
The characters are all both contrary and in agreement with the genre; there are many funny lines and clever situations that both follow and avert the standards of horror cinema. This film both is and isn’t a horror movie, where the real king is in the detail, and eagle-eyed viewers will definitely have a nice time come the third act. The Cabin in the Woods is a very clever flick; it somehow surpasses the self-referential nature of the Scream franchise, cleverly creating an explanation of the situations of so many horror movies behind it. It’s clever in the way it breaks the fourth wall, destroying everything you thought you knew about horror cinema and then putting up a transparent fourth wall to allow us to watch the deeper level of construction behind the film.
This movie is nothing like you’ve seen before. But in a way, you already have.

I am not a horror movie fan, not a conventional one at least. It is not my speciality, but I am very familiar with the classics and tropes of the genre mMy favourite horror movies are the Evil Dead trilogy and the Scream franchise if that offers any more indication). It is with this in mind that I am drawn to The Cabin in the Woods, Buffy creator/Avengers director Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ‘loving hate letter’ to horror cinema. A movie more in the ilk of Scream than Saw, The Cabin In The Woods is a fantastic post-modern film that evokes the codes and conventions of a horror movie and reflects on them in a great self-referential way.

What is clever is that this dissection actually leads to the movie constructing all of the elements of a horror movies in front of our very eyes, showing us a way in which the film can explain why the victims react to the horrors in front of them in such a stupid way; why horny teens find doing it in the middle of nowhere arousing and why they find it a smart idea to split up in the face of danger. It is through this construction that The Cabin in the Woods shines, and the extra voyeuristic level that is generated in the unique way the film is structured is the real part to enjoy in this as opposed to the stock teen characters suffering.

The film starts in your classic horror movie scenario. Five friends go on a trip into the middle of nowhere where satellite signals don’t exist, opting to stay in a log cabin, Evil Dead-style, before things become a little less party hard and a little more die hard. But as I said, this is not all that transpires. There is a lot more behind their horrors, a higher power if you will. Our entire expected experience watching horror is lampshaded and we are led to further reflect on the constructed explanations behind your usual horror tropes in a clever, meta way.

The film is perfectly cast (with names such as Richard Jenkins, Fran Kranz and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth popping up), and Whedon fans particularly will get a kick out of this film, with a few veterans of the auteur’s work making appearances throughout. But the real star is in the writing. If you know me you know I have a special place in my heart for Joss Whedon, and his writing with collaborator and director Drew Goddard just breathes the duo’s unique voice. It’s a surprise just how funny this movie actually is despite being a horror. It very much is more geared towards tropers and those who appreciate the knowing likes of Evil Dead II and Scream, where the comedy blends well in a word of post-modernism.

The characters are all both contrary and in agreement with the genre; there are many funny lines and clever situations that both follow and avert the standards of horror cinema. This film both is and isn’t a horror movie, where the real king is in the detail, and eagle-eyed viewers will definitely have a nice time come the third act. The Cabin in the Woods is a very clever flick; it somehow surpasses the self-referential nature of the Scream franchise, cleverly creating an explanation of the situations of so many horror movies behind it. It’s clever in the way it breaks the fourth wall, destroying everything you thought you knew about horror cinema and then putting up a transparent fourth wall to allow us to watch the deeper level of construction behind the film.

This movie is nothing like you’ve seen before. But in a way, you already have.

image

We’re trying not to ruin this for you, so we’ll keep this as spoiler-less as possible
The end is here. The wait is over. The epic conclusion is out for everyone to see. Four years after the phenom of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan wraps up his Bat-trilogy with his final film on the Caped Crusader. The hype and buzz has been near relentless, starting with the set photos, casting rumours and supposed plot leaks a year ago, leading right up to the promotional appearances and constant TV spots of the past few weeks. It’d be enough to put some off Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)’s swansong, but then those kinds of people don’t deserve filmmaking on this level. You’ve gotta feel sorry for whoever takes up the task of rebooting the Batman franchise.
It’s a tough ask to review a Nolan film, let alone The Dark Knight Rises, a film of massive magnitude, without just throwing out a list of superlatives and adjectives. Unless you’re a notoriously hard-to-please comic fan, I don’t think there’s any way to dislike Rises; it has the intesity, the brooding, the heart, the set-pieces, even a couple of zingers thrown in, so as not trip up on the criticism hurdle of being humourless. To put in an easy soundbite (quotation? typebite?), people are going to dispute whether this or The Dark Knight are better in the way that people argue over Godfather Parts I and II.
The first minutes of the film were revealed last year, ahead of showings of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, but to those who missed it, this prologue serves as a perfect introduction to big bad Bane (Tom Hardy). Whereas The Joker’s introduction (similarly in the opening ten minutes of The Dark Knight) showed him to be something of a wild dog, causing anarchy and chaos in a controlled environment, Bane’s first appearance helps play up the fact that the character is both a physical AND mental threat to Batman. This is a man who orchestrated the kidnapping of a scientist by getting captured by the CIA (one agent of which you might recognise as Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen), hijacked the CIA’s plane by having a bigger one flown over it, blowing the wings and tail off, and faking the scientist’s death in the prodceeding crash; in short, Nolan’s Bane is the most dangerous man in the world. And thankfully there’s very little to worry about in terms of his voice; the mask does muffle Hardy’s words maybe two or three times throughout, but that’s all. Bane’s accent comes off as a peculiar mix of Stephen Fry and Darth Vader (the Vader comparison coming up multiple times in my mind), but instead of being distracting, it makes everything he says more sinister and menacing.
Bane’s mid-air hijacking is just the beginning of the biggest film spectacular since Return Of The King. Grand without being grandiose, Nolan verges on both disaster moive and war movie terriorty with missiles flying, armies charging and significant chunks of Gotham being reduced to rubble at various stages of the film, Bane and Bats being the forces of nature bringing about the destruction. The two are more than a match for each other, and their fight scenes are relentlessly hard-hitting; none of this shakey-cam nonsense, each blow landed is there, clear as day and surprisingly realistic. To counteract this level of bone-breaking testosterone, Anne Hathaway provides what will surely become an acclaimed performance as Ms Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman. The casting of Hathaway in such an iconic role drew much ire from pretty much everyone; when you think of someone playing Catwoman, Hathaway is not the name you’d ever expect, but from her first scene, Kyle is electric. Sassy, subtly sexy, and providing a lot of one-liners, Hathaway is pretty much perfect, without needing the camp motifs used for Michelle Pfeiffer or Halle Berry’s portrayals of the character. It might even be sensible to put some money on award nominations coming her way.
As with every film approaching the three hour mark, there are a few pacing issues. There’s that much going on, and that much depth to the subplots, that attempting to give them all equal time was never quite going to sit perfectly, but with the result, it’s easy to forgive something so trivial. John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Comissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the plethora of supporting characters all earn their place in the story and on screen (Gordon-Levitt in particular is superb as hot-headed detective Blake), adding a lot of meat to the big bones of the plot. Oh, and yes, the cameo you were hoping for appear. Various grumbles from the obvious twists (hardcore fans will see them coming, and those who’ve kept up with the internet rumours will guess them after a while) to the lack of Batmobile (and even, ridiculously, the lack of The Joker, as I’ve heard several times) will be heard often, but you just have to sit the people spouting these opinions down and explain to them that they’re wrong.
It’s a superb piece of film and a hugely satisfying trilogy ender; relentless, gripping, heartfelt, gritty, bleak, gleeful, action-packed… I’m running out of adjectives here, but it’s a rollercoaster near-three hours, made of soon-to-be-iconic elements. Many tears, both happy and sad, will be shed during the denouement. It packs one hell of an emotional punch, both in-story, thanks in part to one hell of a performance from Michael Caine (another possible candidate for award nominations) and the sudden realisation that this is the end of the greatest superhero series ever.
Now to go watch all three back to-back, and wait for the DVD release.

We’re trying not to ruin this for you, so we’ll keep this as spoiler-less as possible

The end is here. The wait is over. The epic conclusion is out for everyone to see. Four years after the phenom of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan wraps up his Bat-trilogy with his final film on the Caped Crusader. The hype and buzz has been near relentless, starting with the set photos, casting rumours and supposed plot leaks a year ago, leading right up to the promotional appearances and constant TV spots of the past few weeks. It’d be enough to put some off Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)’s swansong, but then those kinds of people don’t deserve filmmaking on this level. You’ve gotta feel sorry for whoever takes up the task of rebooting the Batman franchise.

It’s a tough ask to review a Nolan film, let alone The Dark Knight Rises, a film of massive magnitude, without just throwing out a list of superlatives and adjectives. Unless you’re a notoriously hard-to-please comic fan, I don’t think there’s any way to dislike Rises; it has the intesity, the brooding, the heart, the set-pieces, even a couple of zingers thrown in, so as not trip up on the criticism hurdle of being humourless. To put in an easy soundbite (quotation? typebite?), people are going to dispute whether this or The Dark Knight are better in the way that people argue over Godfather Parts I and II.

The first minutes of the film were revealed last year, ahead of showings of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, but to those who missed it, this prologue serves as a perfect introduction to big bad Bane (Tom Hardy). Whereas The Joker’s introduction (similarly in the opening ten minutes of The Dark Knight) showed him to be something of a wild dog, causing anarchy and chaos in a controlled environment, Bane’s first appearance helps play up the fact that the character is both a physical AND mental threat to Batman. This is a man who orchestrated the kidnapping of a scientist by getting captured by the CIA (one agent of which you might recognise as Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen), hijacked the CIA’s plane by having a bigger one flown over it, blowing the wings and tail off, and faking the scientist’s death in the prodceeding crash; in short, Nolan’s Bane is the most dangerous man in the world. And thankfully there’s very little to worry about in terms of his voice; the mask does muffle Hardy’s words maybe two or three times throughout, but that’s all. Bane’s accent comes off as a peculiar mix of Stephen Fry and Darth Vader (the Vader comparison coming up multiple times in my mind), but instead of being distracting, it makes everything he says more sinister and menacing.

Bane’s mid-air hijacking is just the beginning of the biggest film spectacular since Return Of The King. Grand without being grandiose, Nolan verges on both disaster moive and war movie terriorty with missiles flying, armies charging and significant chunks of Gotham being reduced to rubble at various stages of the film, Bane and Bats being the forces of nature bringing about the destruction. The two are more than a match for each other, and their fight scenes are relentlessly hard-hitting; none of this shakey-cam nonsense, each blow landed is there, clear as day and surprisingly realistic. To counteract this level of bone-breaking testosterone, Anne Hathaway provides what will surely become an acclaimed performance as Ms Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman. The casting of Hathaway in such an iconic role drew much ire from pretty much everyone; when you think of someone playing Catwoman, Hathaway is not the name you’d ever expect, but from her first scene, Kyle is electric. Sassy, subtly sexy, and providing a lot of one-liners, Hathaway is pretty much perfect, without needing the camp motifs used for Michelle Pfeiffer or Halle Berry’s portrayals of the character. It might even be sensible to put some money on award nominations coming her way.

As with every film approaching the three hour mark, there are a few pacing issues. There’s that much going on, and that much depth to the subplots, that attempting to give them all equal time was never quite going to sit perfectly, but with the result, it’s easy to forgive something so trivial. John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Comissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the plethora of supporting characters all earn their place in the story and on screen (Gordon-Levitt in particular is superb as hot-headed detective Blake), adding a lot of meat to the big bones of the plot. Oh, and yes, the cameo you were hoping for appear. Various grumbles from the obvious twists (hardcore fans will see them coming, and those who’ve kept up with the internet rumours will guess them after a while) to the lack of Batmobile (and even, ridiculously, the lack of The Joker, as I’ve heard several times) will be heard often, but you just have to sit the people spouting these opinions down and explain to them that they’re wrong.

It’s a superb piece of film and a hugely satisfying trilogy ender; relentless, gripping, heartfelt, gritty, bleak, gleeful, action-packed… I’m running out of adjectives here, but it’s a rollercoaster near-three hours, made of soon-to-be-iconic elements. Many tears, both happy and sad, will be shed during the denouement. It packs one hell of an emotional punch, both in-story, thanks in part to one hell of a performance from Michael Caine (another possible candidate for award nominations) and the sudden realisation that this is the end of the greatest superhero series ever.

Now to go watch all three back to-back, and wait for the DVD release.

Developed by Tom Francis (formerly a games journalist with PC Gamer UK), Gunpoint is a game with a title that completely betrays how great the game is. It’s not one of the dime-a-dozen brown first person shooters that have been churned out lately by Activision or EA. It’s a neo-noir detective stealth puzzler. Interested?

In Gunpoint you play as Richard Conway, a freelance detective who just unwrapped and took a pair of Bullfrog Hypertrousers for a test drive. The main mode of transportation in the game, the Hypertrousers give you the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or just smash yourself through a plate glass window. The Hypertrousers set the tone of the humor for the rest of the game. The game has branching dialogue trees, and it’s up to you to make Conway a loose cannon detective with a loud mouth, or one of them strong, silent types, and the game rewards you for each personality in the end.

The game really starts to shine when you’re given the “Crosslink” ability. With one simple flick of the mouse scroll wheel you can see what every security camera, light switch, hand scanner, or even guard’s pistol is connected to. Then, you can rewire everything. Want one guard to shoot his buddy standing next to him? Wire that guard’s gun to a light switch. Flick the switch and one guard’s got a hole in him and the other’s got a murder conviction. Want the guard to open the door for you? Turn off the lights in his room and rewire the light switch he’ll go for to the door you want opened. Give that guard enough time to walk to that switch and boom, you’re in. The opportunities the game presents you for these sorts of things are always brilliant and they leave you feeling like you deserve to be wearing that fedora and trench coat, and that you have a reason to be dressing up like a MRA flasher.

The game is unique in that it doesn’t want you to feel bad for going through a level, beating every single guard to a bloody mess and jumping through every window, but it gives you the same amount of money that you would get if you  were as quiet as a mouse. The only difference is the grade it gives you after the mission, which doesn’t hinder or help gameplay in any way, and is only there for perfectionists.  

Everything works together in Gunpoint to make an incredibly exciting experience that leaves you feeling smart afterwards. As to be expected, there aren’t a lot of issues with a game that was developed by a man whose job it was to point out issues in games. That being said, the only issue I’ve experienced is that sometimes the controls go a little wonky and aren’t as precise as usual. More than worth the $10.

A Field In England is a strange beast. Released simultaneously in cinemas, on television, DVD and online, Ben Wheatley’s fourth feature film is a quintessentially British period piece, twisted by psilocybin mushrooms, violence, and occult misdeeds.
An intentionally esoteric affair, the film follows a group of men during the English Civil War. Deserting the heat of battle, they are led by Cutler (Ryan Pope) towards an elusive pub in search of beer, food, and, as snarled by Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) “an English pair of tits”. As the journey progresses, the mushrooms in question are slipped into their food by Cutler. Soon, the hallucinating soldiers find themselves searching for treasure under the command of O’Neill (Michael Smiley). Things get very weird, very quickly.
An occult entity clad in flowing black and a tall hat, Smiley embodies O’Neill’s palpable evil excellently, with a subdued viciousness and absolutely terrifying screen presence. He’s almost the polar opposite of Smiley’s immensely likeable Gal from Wheatley’s brilliant 2011 horror, Kill List. With O’Neill in command, the protagonists descend into a black magic and drug-induced madness of hallucinations and visceral violence. The film’s hallucinatory sequences are particularly brilliant, a trip experienced by the pathetic, submissive main protagonist Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is a dizzying visual assault of mirrored footage, bizarre sound editing and lightning-fast stroboscopic cuts.
The film is shot entirely in back and white; a great choice, as it lends itself well to some of the more chilling scenes of the film. In particular, visions of a terrifying black planet in the sky, and O’Neill’s wraithlike dark form against pale grass. The mood set is very similar to Kill List, with both imagery and sound used to disconcert and disturb. Similarly to Kill List, you find yourself aware of the fact that there must be very strange underlying meanings or messages, but their esotericism just adds to the overwhelming feeling of “Oh God, something’s wrong” that Wheatley nails every time.
In terms of its importance, A Field In England is another one of those bizarre films, like Shane Carruth’s recent mind-bender Upstream Color that has managed to find an audience despite its unapologetic lack of A-list stars, a mainstream audience-friendly plot, or sex appeal. With 35 blockbuster sequels released in 2013, these highly original films are like those flowers you see growing between concrete slabs. That sounds incredibly fucking pretentious, but it’s just refreshing to see such an unabashedly experimental film trending on Twitter on release day.
Dirty, English, Gothic and druggy, this never quite reaches the incredibly high bar Wheatley set for himself with Kill List, but if you don’t get chills when in a beautiful one-take slow-motion shot, Whitehead emerges from O’Neill’s tent in a trance, his vacant face stretched by a demonic grin, then you’re just plain wrong.
★★★★★

A Field In England is a strange beast. Released simultaneously in cinemas, on television, DVD and online, Ben Wheatley’s fourth feature film is a quintessentially British period piece, twisted by psilocybin mushrooms, violence, and occult misdeeds.

An intentionally esoteric affair, the film follows a group of men during the English Civil War. Deserting the heat of battle, they are led by Cutler (Ryan Pope) towards an elusive pub in search of beer, food, and, as snarled by Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) “an English pair of tits”. As the journey progresses, the mushrooms in question are slipped into their food by Cutler. Soon, the hallucinating soldiers find themselves searching for treasure under the command of O’Neill (Michael Smiley). Things get very weird, very quickly.

An occult entity clad in flowing black and a tall hat, Smiley embodies O’Neill’s palpable evil excellently, with a subdued viciousness and absolutely terrifying screen presence. He’s almost the polar opposite of Smiley’s immensely likeable Gal from Wheatley’s brilliant 2011 horror, Kill List. With O’Neill in command, the protagonists descend into a black magic and drug-induced madness of hallucinations and visceral violence. The film’s hallucinatory sequences are particularly brilliant, a trip experienced by the pathetic, submissive main protagonist Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is a dizzying visual assault of mirrored footage, bizarre sound editing and lightning-fast stroboscopic cuts.

The film is shot entirely in back and white; a great choice, as it lends itself well to some of the more chilling scenes of the film. In particular, visions of a terrifying black planet in the sky, and O’Neill’s wraithlike dark form against pale grass. The mood set is very similar to Kill List, with both imagery and sound used to disconcert and disturb. Similarly to Kill List, you find yourself aware of the fact that there must be very strange underlying meanings or messages, but their esotericism just adds to the overwhelming feeling of “Oh God, something’s wrong” that Wheatley nails every time.

In terms of its importance, A Field In England is another one of those bizarre films, like Shane Carruth’s recent mind-bender Upstream Color that has managed to find an audience despite its unapologetic lack of A-list stars, a mainstream audience-friendly plot, or sex appeal. With 35 blockbuster sequels released in 2013, these highly original films are like those flowers you see growing between concrete slabs. That sounds incredibly fucking pretentious, but it’s just refreshing to see such an unabashedly experimental film trending on Twitter on release day.

Dirty, English, Gothic and druggy, this never quite reaches the incredibly high bar Wheatley set for himself with Kill List, but if you don’t get chills when in a beautiful one-take slow-motion shot, Whitehead emerges from O’Neill’s tent in a trance, his vacant face stretched by a demonic grin, then you’re just plain wrong.

If you’re expecting Drive 2, reconsider watching Only God Forgives; we’re not in neon-pink Los Angeles anymore, Toto. This is a much more surreal, much darker environment, devoid of true heroes and villains, a foreign land for anyone not well-versed in Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography past his previous collaboration with Ryan Gosling. Here, the ambiguity of Valhalla Rising is more relevant a reference point, that film’s use of the spiritual and metaphorical replacing the sleek hyper-realism of Drive. The result? Quite possibly Refn’s finest and most divisive film to date.
In the measured hour and a half he presents, Refn molds the clay of previous filmmakers into a stylish nightmare of a fever dream. It almost reaches the Tarantino-tier of cinematic homage: fiercely bright colours teamed with ominous soundtrack recall Suspiria, the heavy use of one-point perspective is siphoned straight from Kubrick, there’s a beautiful grisly nod to Un Chien Andalou, the neon realm evokes Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void… hell Refn’s even acknowledging his own work with yet another silent, violent protagonist, continuing the tradition set by One-Eye in Valhalla Rising, and of course The Driver in Drive.
Speaking of The Driver, Gosling is given a lot more to do this time around, but with even fewer lines. Julian, a drug-dealing, fight-fixing, fucked-up mummy’s boy, is streets ahead in terms of development. The relationship between Julian, his mother and brother is… complicated to say the least. The very first time we see Julien and his mother Crystal is so Oedipal and filled with incestual vibes that Freud must be all aquiver in the afterlife, and that’s not even going into the discussion of endowment over dinner with Julian’s “entertainer” girlfriend Mai; it’s clear to see why Julian might have some issues.
The two other central performances are superb as well: Kristin Scott Thomas excels as Crystal, a wonderfully horrible battleaxe, a world away from the typical roles Scott Thomas is seen in, whilst Vithaya Pansringarm’s corrupt police captain Chang is truly chilling, and deserves his nickname The Angel Of Death. These two dominant higher powers loom over Julian as he becomes caught in their crossfire. Chang represents death and justice, going to extremes to achieve what he believes to be right, thus being the God of the film. Crystal represents vengeance, seeking selfish satisfaction through bloody revenge against this Angel of Death, she’s our the devil. But that’s just one reading of the film. One of the most satisfying aspects of Only God Forgives is how open to interpretation it is; there’s a lot of subtext and ambiguity at play, which is quite refreshing compared to the majority of contemporary Hollywood exports that wrap everything up with a bow on top.
On a technical level, the film is pretty much perfect. The cinematography is really on point: each shot is exquisitely framed to the point where seems like it should be a photograph on its own, and a large majority of the film is bathed in so much red and blue,  you’d think you were watching through a pair of retro 3D specs. Combining such visuals with another excellent Cliff Martinez score helps to create a vision of Bangkok caught somewhere between hell and purgatory. Even if you’re not quite getting the plot or are one of the many turned off by the sparseness and punctuations of brutal violence, you’ve truly got to admire the beauty of what you’re seeing on the screen.
It’s easy to see why so many critics disliked the film, and it was booed after its screening at Cannes. There are a lot more heavy-hitting sequences, a lot more blood spilled and a lot more symbolic slow-zooms involved than Drive, which (I hate to insist on this point again) you’ve got to imagine is what most people were expecting going in. However, it’s truly one of the films of the year on all fronts.
★★★★★

If you’re expecting Drive 2, reconsider watching Only God Forgives; we’re not in neon-pink Los Angeles anymore, Toto. This is a much more surreal, much darker environment, devoid of true heroes and villains, a foreign land for anyone not well-versed in Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography past his previous collaboration with Ryan Gosling. Here, the ambiguity of Valhalla Rising is more relevant a reference point, that film’s use of the spiritual and metaphorical replacing the sleek hyper-realism of Drive. The result? Quite possibly Refn’s finest and most divisive film to date.

In the measured hour and a half he presents, Refn molds the clay of previous filmmakers into a stylish nightmare of a fever dream. It almost reaches the Tarantino-tier of cinematic homage: fiercely bright colours teamed with ominous soundtrack recall Suspiria, the heavy use of one-point perspective is siphoned straight from Kubrick, there’s a beautiful grisly nod to Un Chien Andalou, the neon realm evokes Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void… hell Refn’s even acknowledging his own work with yet another silent, violent protagonist, continuing the tradition set by One-Eye in Valhalla Rising, and of course The Driver in Drive.

Speaking of The Driver, Gosling is given a lot more to do this time around, but with even fewer lines. Julian, a drug-dealing, fight-fixing, fucked-up mummy’s boy, is streets ahead in terms of development. The relationship between Julian, his mother and brother is… complicated to say the least. The very first time we see Julien and his mother Crystal is so Oedipal and filled with incestual vibes that Freud must be all aquiver in the afterlife, and that’s not even going into the discussion of endowment over dinner with Julian’s “entertainer” girlfriend Mai; it’s clear to see why Julian might have some issues.

The two other central performances are superb as well: Kristin Scott Thomas excels as Crystal, a wonderfully horrible battleaxe, a world away from the typical roles Scott Thomas is seen in, whilst Vithaya Pansringarm’s corrupt police captain Chang is truly chilling, and deserves his nickname The Angel Of Death. These two dominant higher powers loom over Julian as he becomes caught in their crossfire. Chang represents death and justice, going to extremes to achieve what he believes to be right, thus being the God of the film. Crystal represents vengeance, seeking selfish satisfaction through bloody revenge against this Angel of Death, she’s our the devil. But that’s just one reading of the film. One of the most satisfying aspects of Only God Forgives is how open to interpretation it is; there’s a lot of subtext and ambiguity at play, which is quite refreshing compared to the majority of contemporary Hollywood exports that wrap everything up with a bow on top.

On a technical level, the film is pretty much perfect. The cinematography is really on point: each shot is exquisitely framed to the point where seems like it should be a photograph on its own, and a large majority of the film is bathed in so much red and blue,  you’d think you were watching through a pair of retro 3D specs. Combining such visuals with another excellent Cliff Martinez score helps to create a vision of Bangkok caught somewhere between hell and purgatory. Even if you’re not quite getting the plot or are one of the many turned off by the sparseness and punctuations of brutal violence, you’ve truly got to admire the beauty of what you’re seeing on the screen.

It’s easy to see why so many critics disliked the film, and it was booed after its screening at Cannes. There are a lot more heavy-hitting sequences, a lot more blood spilled and a lot more symbolic slow-zooms involved than Drive, which (I hate to insist on this point again) you’ve got to imagine is what most people were expectingoing in. However, it’s truly one of the films of the year on all fronts.

Developed by The Fullbright Company, Gone Home focuses on telling the story of Sam Greenbriar through the house she lives in. You play as Katelyn Greenbriar, her older sister who just returned from a long trip in Europe to an empty home, and the game gives you the mission of finding out why nobody’s home, which you must explore the home to do so.
The game is set in 1995, and it shows through the copied VHS tapes of The X Files and Silence of the Lambs, cassettes, and riot grrrl zines around the home. The entire game is set within the home, nicknamed “the psycho house” by Sam’s schoolmates. Despite the house’s nickname, Gone Home is not a horror game, but does have a few creepy moments. The home feels like someone actually lives there, and is filled with the clutter and personal items you’d expect to find inside someone’s house, even Dad’s nudie magazines. In addition to Sam’s story of lesbian teenage romance, there are at least three “substories” that are left without a narrator, and are up to you to piece together on your own based on the notes, letters, and locations in the house. To progress through the main story, you have to visit certain rooms in a certain order, and while the game is good at guiding you, it is easy to stray off of the linear path and hear the story out of order, or skip certain rooms entirely. Because of this, it is possible to beat the game in just over a minute. However, this is only possible via prior knowledge of knowing exactly where to go. My first play through the game took about two hours, and by the end, I was crying. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the story is amazing, and the location only further cements the story in your head.
For example, you’ll walk in the living room and notice a pillow fort, with no context given as to why it’s there. Only later on will Sam (who you never see, only hear in the form of an expertly acted voiceover) explain to you why it’s there and why it was built. The house has several cassettes laying around, and if you put them in a tape deck you’ll hear music by groundbreaking riot grrrl bands Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy. Gone Home does an admirable job of perfectly knitting story and atmosphere together and has received several perfect review scores, and, in my opinion, is a strong contender for Indie Game of the Year.
★★★★★

Developed by The Fullbright Company, Gone Home focuses on telling the story of Sam Greenbriar through the house she lives in. You play as Katelyn Greenbriar, her older sister who just returned from a long trip in Europe to an empty home, and the game gives you the mission of finding out why nobody’s home, which you must explore the home to do so.

The game is set in 1995, and it shows through the copied VHS tapes of The X Files and Silence of the Lambs, cassettes, and riot grrrl zines around the home. The entire game is set within the home, nicknamed “the psycho house” by Sam’s schoolmates. Despite the house’s nickname, Gone Home is not a horror game, but does have a few creepy moments. The home feels like someone actually lives there, and is filled with the clutter and personal items you’d expect to find inside someone’s house, even Dad’s nudie magazines. In addition to Sam’s story of lesbian teenage romance, there are at least three “substories” that are left without a narrator, and are up to you to piece together on your own based on the notes, letters, and locations in the house. To progress through the main story, you have to visit certain rooms in a certain order, and while the game is good at guiding you, it is easy to stray off of the linear path and hear the story out of order, or skip certain rooms entirely. Because of this, it is possible to beat the game in just over a minute. However, this is only possible via prior knowledge of knowing exactly where to go. My first play through the game took about two hours, and by the end, I was crying. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the story is amazing, and the location only further cements the story in your head.

For example, you’ll walk in the living room and notice a pillow fort, with no context given as to why it’s there. Only later on will Sam (who you never see, only hear in the form of an expertly acted voiceover) explain to you why it’s there and why it was built. The house has several cassettes laying around, and if you put them in a tape deck you’ll hear music by groundbreaking riot grrrl bands Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy. Gone Home does an admirable job of perfectly knitting story and atmosphere together and has received several perfect review scores, and, in my opinion, is a strong contender for Indie Game of the Year.

Nobody quite does neurosis like Woody Allen, probably the most neurotic writer and director around (or as his screen persona would have us believe). After over 40 years in the film industry, Allen keeps delivering top quality comedic cinema that increasingly has more to tell than just laughs. His latest offering, Blue Jasmine, contrasts his beloved eastern New York and San Francisco. Cate Blanchett stars as the eponymous Jasmine, an Eastern socialite who is forced to go west to try and start a new life with her down to earth sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after losing her millions when it turns out that her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has being committing fraud all along to fund their lifestyle. Jasmine not only brings her Louis Vuitton suitcases, but her Stoli vodka martini drinking, Xanax popping and anxiety ridden ways. She is a woman on the verge of a breakdown as she turns up on Ginger’s doorstep, and it’s not just because of her long, first class flight. 
 If this is all sounding a bit familiar, it’s probably because I’m not the first to compare this film to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with many critics calling it an remake, a homage to or at the very least influenced by the classic play. From the plot to the characters to Ginger’s tiny, cramped flat where the present action and tensions leftover from the past unfolds, the similarities are screaming at you in the face. Even Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale) has the hyper masculine sweat and beer about him coupled with an intensely volatile love for his woman of Marlon Brandon’s Stanley Kowalski. This is not to say you can’t appreciate this film without having read this play, but you might just want to Wikipedia it quickly before you buy your cinema ticket.
Many are calling Blanchett’s role her finest and I can see why. At first Jasmine is utterly detestable, with her drawling East coast accent monologues about her woe-is-me self-obsessed fall from the ultimate 1% lifestyle along with Baldwin who oozes so much sleaze it may as well come in his hair gel bottle (probably at $100 a pop). She is ridiculously critical of her Ginger and her life, looking down on her and her boyfriend with the utmost snobbery both in the flashbacks and in the present.  After all, it is really hard to be sympathetic to the super rich. But like Tennessee’s Blanche DuBois, she is not a woman of reality, she is a woman who wants to live in a fairytale; a fairytale that is so far in the past and so carefully constructed that she has even changed her name from the plain ‘Jeanette’ to the name ‘Jasmine’ which her husband claims is one of the reasons he fell in love with her. She is full of contradictions and impulsive actions like ‘wanting to make something of herself’ but dropped out of her degree in her final year to marry Hal for bogus happy life and almost doing exactly the same when another rich, eligible man swoops in before the illusions and lies she has constructed so well come crashing down upon her all over again.
Blanchett not only portrays a woman who is not meant for this lowered lifestyle, but a woman who was not meant for the world outside of her imagination. One could liken her in this sense to the lead of Gil played by Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris as he prefers his fantastical made up version of the city hanging out with Fitzgerald and Hemingway than he does with his real life fiancé. She increasingly stares off into the distance with a glazed look as she talks, hearing the song ‘Blue Moon’ playing when nobody around her except the audience can and talking to herself on the street (much to her own social humiliation).
Of course, Allen manages to find humour in this where it almost feels uncomfortable to laugh, with one of the funniest scenes in the film being Jasmine spieling about her breakdown and all the various medications the doctors have tried her on to her two nephews in a fast food outlet when left to babysit, blissfully unaware that 10 year olds don’t know what Prozac is. You may find Jasmine’s actions terrible to the point of delusional and may hate the extremely affluent with a passion, but Blanchett’s performance strips her down to just another person with problems like the rest of us.
It is not only the 1% that gets Allen’s thorough examination though; Jasmine’s criticisms of Ginger begin to play on your mind too. One would expect in this film that this living off minimum wage and enjoying the simple things way of life would be set up as a much more wholesome alternative. But some senses, she is reliant on male attention and  impulsive like her sister, starting up an reckless romance with a man she meets at a party (a fantastic small role played by comedian Louis C.K) and when that all goes to pot taking back the abusive ‘loser’ Chili just as quickly. She is nowhere near as bad as Jasmine, but her own tensions are teased out too.
At times, the dialogue is slightly clunky and it perhaps relies too heavily on A Streetcar Named Desire’s legacy, but these are minor criticisms of what is otherwise a truly strong Woody Allen film, with some critics calling it the strongest he has made in years. The cinematography is crisp and glittering like the super rich world that Jasmine and Hal once inhabited. Not only that, but there is Oscar talk flying around about Blanchett’s performance and all with good reason. It is relevant, funny and heartbreaking all at once, with an ending that will leave you with mixed feelings about its lead. Definitely a must see film for 2013. 
★★★★★

Nobody quite does neurosis like Woody Allen, probably the most neurotic writer and director around (or as his screen persona would have us believe). After over 40 years in the film industry, Allen keeps delivering top quality comedic cinema that increasingly has more to tell than just laughs. His latest offering, Blue Jasmine, contrasts his beloved eastern New York and San Francisco. Cate Blanchett stars as the eponymous Jasmine, an Eastern socialite who is forced to go west to try and start a new life with her down to earth sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after losing her millions when it turns out that her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has being committing fraud all along to fund their lifestyle. Jasmine not only brings her Louis Vuitton suitcases, but her Stoli vodka martini drinking, Xanax popping and anxiety ridden ways. She is a woman on the verge of a breakdown as she turns up on Ginger’s doorstep, and it’s not just because of her long, first class flight. 

 If this is all sounding a bit familiar, it’s probably because I’m not the first to compare this film to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with many critics calling it an remake, a homage to or at the very least influenced by the classic play. From the plot to the characters to Ginger’s tiny, cramped flat where the present action and tensions leftover from the past unfolds, the similarities are screaming at you in the face. Even Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale) has the hyper masculine sweat and beer about him coupled with an intensely volatile love for his woman of Marlon Brandon’s Stanley Kowalski. This is not to say you can’t appreciate this film without having read this play, but you might just want to Wikipedia it quickly before you buy your cinema ticket.

Many are calling Blanchett’s role her finest and I can see why. At first Jasmine is utterly detestable, with her drawling East coast accent monologues about her woe-is-me self-obsessed fall from the ultimate 1% lifestyle along with Baldwin who oozes so much sleaze it may as well come in his hair gel bottle (probably at $100 a pop). She is ridiculously critical of her Ginger and her life, looking down on her and her boyfriend with the utmost snobbery both in the flashbacks and in the present.  After all, it is really hard to be sympathetic to the super rich. But like Tennessee’s Blanche DuBois, she is not a woman of reality, she is a woman who wants to live in a fairytale; a fairytale that is so far in the past and so carefully constructed that she has even changed her name from the plain ‘Jeanette’ to the name ‘Jasmine’ which her husband claims is one of the reasons he fell in love with her. She is full of contradictions and impulsive actions like ‘wanting to make something of herself’ but dropped out of her degree in her final year to marry Hal for bogus happy life and almost doing exactly the same when another rich, eligible man swoops in before the illusions and lies she has constructed so well come crashing down upon her all over again.

Blanchett not only portrays a woman who is not meant for this lowered lifestyle, but a woman who was not meant for the world outside of her imagination. One could liken her in this sense to the lead of Gil played by Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris as he prefers his fantastical made up version of the city hanging out with Fitzgerald and Hemingway than he does with his real life fiancé. She increasingly stares off into the distance with a glazed look as she talks, hearing the song ‘Blue Moon’ playing when nobody around her except the audience can and talking to herself on the street (much to her own social humiliation).

Of course, Allen manages to find humour in this where it almost feels uncomfortable to laugh, with one of the funniest scenes in the film being Jasmine spieling about her breakdown and all the various medications the doctors have tried her on to her two nephews in a fast food outlet when left to babysit, blissfully unaware that 10 year olds don’t know what Prozac is. You may find Jasmine’s actions terrible to the point of delusional and may hate the extremely affluent with a passion, but Blanchett’s performance strips her down to just another person with problems like the rest of us.

It is not only the 1% that gets Allen’s thorough examination though; Jasmine’s criticisms of Ginger begin to play on your mind too. One would expect in this film that this living off minimum wage and enjoying the simple things way of life would be set up as a much more wholesome alternative. But some senses, she is reliant on male attention and  impulsive like her sister, starting up an reckless romance with a man she meets at a party (a fantastic small role played by comedian Louis C.K) and when that all goes to pot taking back the abusive ‘loser’ Chili just as quickly. She is nowhere near as bad as Jasmine, but her own tensions are teased out too.

At times, the dialogue is slightly clunky and it perhaps relies too heavily on A Streetcar Named Desire’s legacy, but these are minor criticisms of what is otherwise a truly strong Woody Allen film, with some critics calling it the strongest he has made in years. The cinematography is crisp and glittering like the super rich world that Jasmine and Hal once inhabited. Not only that, but there is Oscar talk flying around about Blanchett’s performance and all with good reason. It is relevant, funny and heartbreaking all at once, with an ending that will leave you with mixed feelings about its lead. Definitely a must see film for 2013. 

So, Katy Perry then. One of the foremost pop stars on the planet (no need to differentiate between male and female: male popstars have been firmly bush league compared to the globe-straddling dominance and relevance of female singers for an age), but she’s never really had much of her own identity. From back when she kicked in the door of public consciousness to now, there haven’t been many unique identifiers for Perry; she kissed girls and liked it (well, she did in the video at least), she had whipped cream squirting boobs, she was married to Russell Brand for a length of time which surely sullies the sanctity of marriage, she looks a bit like Zooey Deschanel… she’s always felt more of a hired pop gun rather than an “artist” in the dominant creative way Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
That’s not to say Perry has been a faceless Popbot 3000, in the style of… erm, well it’s rather appropriate that none immediately come to mind. Her singles have a way of being colossal, immovable chart-toppers and radio hits the world over. It’s just a lack of anything tangible to grasp onto, for fans and listeners to clasp to their chests, to lift up and espouse with the passion people who love pop should have.
It must have been a heart-wrenching period of her life, but Perry’s collapsed marriage can be seen as quite a positive for her music. It’s a pivotal important moment to be drawn on and in which influence and emotion can be found; the sort of life experience which can’t be faked, which she didn’t have four years ago to inspire her breakout album One Of The Boys. For all the shiny newness of a fresh pop star on their debut album (okay, it’s not technically her debut, but shush), it’s no match for an artist who has lived a little and has vulnerability, experience and something to say from their heart.
Now, that doesn’t mean this is Katy Perry’s version of the raw confessional likes of Blood On The Tracks or Adele’s discography, but she has a much deeper well to draw on. “Dark Horse” and “Roar” are a great pair of companion pieces, a before-and-after, if you will; the former a wounded warning to a waning lover with eyes shifting between other women and the exit, whilst the latter is the resurgent anthem of a newly-single woman ready to shrug off a failed relationship and get back to being "the champion". It’s no surprise “Roar” was chosen as he lead single from Prism, with such a clear “fuck you” message from the wronged party. What better way to kick off a new chapter of your life and career than this declaration that you’re back and better than ever?
The rather conspicuous Indian influence of the stomping "Legendary Lovers" is enjoyably camp and another nice nod towards the relevance of Perry’s personal life on this record (India was the place where Perry and Brand both became engaged and married a traditional Hindu ceremony, no less), whilst "Walking On Air" deserves to be remembered as one of the defining songs of Perry’s career. It’s a supreme fusion of classic ’90s house and four-to-the-floor disco (which has thankfully become the genre du jour thanks to Daft Punk) with a bloody brilliant chorus hook; I haven’t been this hyped by piano riffs since Bombay Bicycle Club’s "Shuffle". I’m ready to declare "Walking On Air" the pop song of 2013 right now, which should be enough to tell you at what level this is on.
It’s a shame then, that the handfuls of solid gold pop nuggets on offer are surrounded by the sort of fare I was expecting when diving into a Katy Perry album. Despite my earlier singing the praises of “Dark Horse” as a sign of the more open, vulnerable, personable Perry, it’s a limp ballad, with a pointless feature from Juicy J, and a beat that deserves to be used in actual hip-hop, rather than an allusion to it on a pop album. It’s the beginning of a run of sprightly-but-ultimately average dance-pop tracks, lacking in any personality traits to pull them out of the darkness of mediocrity. “This Is How We Do”, “International Smile”, “Unconditionally”… these are the sorts of songs which should’ve been filtered down to Miley Cyrus and her second-tier ilk, rather than actually making it onto an album from a Top 10 talent like Katy Perry.
"Ghost" and "Love Me" offer some respite in the latter half of the album; solid, well-made pop, stuff you’d happily hear on the radio, and whilst that level couldn’t be reached in a lot of places on Prism, there are still enough encouraging signs that Katy Perry is on her way from a singer who "used to bite [her] tongue and hold [her] breath/scared to rock the boat and make a mess" to earning her place as a proper definitive popstar of the 21st Century.
★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

So, Katy Perry then. One of the foremost pop stars on the planet (no need to differentiate between male and female: male popstars have been firmly bush league compared to the globe-straddling dominance and relevance of female singers for an age), but she’s never really had much of her own identity. From back when she kicked in the door of public consciousness to now, there haven’t been many unique identifiers for Perry; she kissed girls and liked it (well, she did in the video at least), she had whipped cream squirting boobs, she was married to Russell Brand for a length of time which surely sullies the sanctity of marriage, she looks a bit like Zooey Deschanel… she’s always felt more of a hired pop gun rather than an “artist” in the dominant creative way Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

That’s not to say Perry has been a faceless Popbot 3000, in the style of… erm, well it’s rather appropriate that none immediately come to mind. Her singles have a way of being colossal, immovable chart-toppers and radio hits the world over. It’s just a lack of anything tangible to grasp onto, for fans and listeners to clasp to their chests, to lift up and espouse with the passion people who love pop should have.

It must have been a heart-wrenching period of her life, but Perry’s collapsed marriage can be seen as quite a positive for her music. It’s a pivotal important moment to be drawn on and in which influence and emotion can be found; the sort of life experience which can’t be faked, which she didn’t have four years ago to inspire her breakout album One Of The Boys. For all the shiny newness of a fresh pop star on their debut album (okay, it’s not technically her debut, but shush), it’s no match for an artist who has lived a little and has vulnerability, experience and something to say from their heart.

Now, that doesn’t mean this is Katy Perry’s version of the raw confessional likes of Blood On The Tracks or Adele’s discography, but she has a much deeper well to draw on. “Dark Horse” and “Roar” are a great pair of companion pieces, a before-and-after, if you will; the former a wounded warning to a waning lover with eyes shifting between other women and the exit, whilst the latter is the resurgent anthem of a newly-single woman ready to shrug off a failed relationship and get back to being "the champion". It’s no surprise “Roar” was chosen as he lead single from Prism, with such a clear “fuck you” message from the wronged party. What better way to kick off a new chapter of your life and career than this declaration that you’re back and better than ever?

The rather conspicuous Indian influence of the stompin"Legendary Lovers" is enjoyably camp and another nice nod towards the relevance of Perry’s personal life on this record (India was the place where Perry and Brand both became engaged and married a traditional Hindu ceremony, no less), whilst "Walking On Air" deserves to be remembered as one of the defining songs of Perry’s career. It’s a supreme fusion of classic ’90s house and four-to-the-floor disco (which has thankfully become the genre du jour thanks to Daft Punk) with a bloody brilliant chorus hook; I haven’t been this hyped by piano riffs since Bombay Bicycle Club’s "Shuffle". I’m ready to declare "Walking On Air" the pop song of 2013 right now, which should be enough to tell you at what level this is on.

It’s a shame then, that the handfuls of solid gold pop nuggets on offer are surrounded by the sort of fare I was expecting when diving into a Katy Perry album. Despite my earlier singing the praises of “Dark Horse” as a sign of the more open, vulnerable, personable Perry, it’s a limp ballad, with a pointless feature from Juicy J, and a beat that deserves to be used in actual hip-hop, rather than an allusion to it on a pop album. It’s the beginning of a run of sprightly-but-ultimately average dance-pop tracks, lacking in any personality traits to pull them out of the darkness of mediocrity. “This Is How We Do”, “International Smile”, “Unconditionally”… these are the sorts of songs which should’ve been filtered down to Miley Cyrus and her second-tier ilk, rather than actually making it onto an album from a Top 10 talent like Katy Perry.

"Ghost" and "Love Me" offer some respite in the latter half of the album; solid, well-made pop, stuff you’d happily hear on the radio, and whilst that level couldn’t be reached in a lot of places on Prism, there are still enough encouraging signs that Katy Perry is on her way from a singer who "used to bite [her] tongue and hold [her] breath/scared to rock the boat and make a mess" to earning her place as a proper definitive popstar of the 21st Century.

★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆