The period between Seasons 3 and 4 of NBC’s Community was a pretty tumultuous time. Rumours had long been floating around during the back end of Season 3’s airing in 2012 that, behind the scenes, things were a little bit hairy. The latter half of Season 3 was already being postponed, although it was to make room for the last season of 30 Rock, and news of the growing agitation with creator and showrunner Dan Harmon from NBC executives and Chevy Chase, who played Pierce Hawthorne, was common knowledge at this point. No-one really expected, however, that Dan Harmon would leave the show but, as shooting began for the fourth season, it was announced that Harmon was to no longer serve as showrunner and he would serve as “consulting producer” though Harmon himself has stated that the title meant very little.
Season 4, then, was already off to a bad start. Having lost the main creative voice behind the show, as well as many others who were so integral to the show who left with Harmon such as Chris McKenna, Anthony & Joe Russo (who left to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Dino Stamatopoulos, who, as well as writing, also played Starburns, those left in the writers room were forced to somehow grasp what it was that made Community so interesting without the one man who knew what that magic ingredient was.
It’s one of the main problems of living in a world where showrunners mean so much to TV by creating a specific voice that is difficult to recreate. Mad Men is Matt Weiner’s, The Sopranos is David Chase’s, Buffy etc are Joss Whedon’s. Though each show has a variety of writers, their creators are often synonymous with show itself. You need only to look back at the case of Twin Peaks to see what happens when that guiding voice is gone. Creators Mark Frost and David Lynch only had minimal involvement in its second season, leaving to pursue other endeavours, and, once the central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was solved in the season’s seventh episode (the spectacular “Lonely Souls” which both had heavy involvement with), the remaining writers were left without a paddle, with ABC wanting them to keep rowing as they threw the show all over the schedules. What we were left with was a show that was trying so desperately to recreate the Lynchian weirdness that defined Twin Peaks that it seemed to be trying too hard. David Lynch has a way of crafting weird characters that still seem to have a purpose, but season 2 introduced characters that were weird yet seemed to only exist to say “look how weird we are!” Storylines became ridiculous (as much as I love Ben Horne’s Civil War based breakdown, it is pretty stupid) and it wasn’t until they managed to establish an interesting idea, that of the Windom Earle arc, that the writers were able to nail down what made Twin Peaks as they were able to explore the mythology of the world. By this point, however, it was too late and the show was cancelled, leaving the show with what looks to be a permanent cliffhanger. Similarly, The West Wing tried to imitate Aaron Sorkin’s voice once he left after Season 4 to no avail; the dialogue was fast and flowed but it lacked that trademark Sorkin wit that punctuated every stroll through the White House corridors.
Community’s fourth season suffered as much from this lack of Harmon’s voice as it did everything else being thrown its way. Its premiere was scheduled for October 19th 2012 but it ended up being pushed all the way back to February 2013, with several shuffles of its slot in NBC’s schedule between October and Febuary. Community was being dealt bad hand after bad hand, with threat of cancellation no doubt the elephant in the writer’s room. Without Harmon, Community became a pastiche of what it once was. Its humour was broadened, no doubt to rein in more viewers and keep favour with the network lest the usual pop culture reference heavy humour alienated potential audiences, and it became too overly reliant on the big concept episode that had proved so popular in the past (I will still say that, despite how patchy Season 3 was, “Basic Lupine Urology” is still one of my favourite episodes; a sign of how to do concept episodes right). However, most of those pre-Season 4 concept episodes, regardless of how ridiculous the concept, often developed organically. It somehow seemed to make sense that a school would devolve into a warzone when the prize for a seemingly innocent paintball competition is priority registration for next year’s classes or that a trip into Abed’s psyche would lead to an imaginary Claymation world. Season 4 seemed to try too hard, almost as though these concept episodes were an obligation that didn’t seem organic nor provide some character exploration as the previous concept episodes somehow managed to pull off in spite of their ridiculousness. Only “Intro To Felt Surrogacy” managed to capture that feeling which is why it’s one of the better episodes of Season 4. Community, though, was never a show that dealt with the broad humour. It’s place in the world of comedy was to celebrate the misfits, the losers, and the outsiders but they were all relatable outsiders, not wild exaggerations, and this move to a broader humour made the show feel a bit lifeless.
This is why, when the fifth season was commissioned, fans were not overly keen on the idea. Many felt Season 4 was the show’s death knell and to carry it on would be flogging a dead horse, but then news trickled in that Harmon and McKenna were to return and the entire writer’s room was to get a bit of a makeover (which, unfortunately, meant the departure of Megan Ganz, who was moving over to Modern Family; the one person who really knew what to do with Shirley). But things were still not going so well for Community, as Chevy Chase’s departure at the end of Season 4, and Donald Glover’s plan to leave the show after just a few episodes of Season 5, meant that the show had lost two of its principal cast.
And yet the season which could have been marred by the sheer amount of departures, managed to keep itself afloat by going back to its roots and exploring these characters. It’s probably no coincidence that the cause the brings the former Greendale students back to the school is a campaign to “Save Greendale”, a slogan that fans too can rally around to go with the staple “Six Seasons and a Movie”.  The concept episodes were toned back, although they don’t work nearly as well as they used to, “App Development and Condiments” in particular feeling as empty as Season 4’s concept episodes although “Geothermal Escapism” worked as a nice close to the Abed/Troy relationship, and the focus was now mainly on the study group (renamed the Save Greendale committee). Particular focus should be made on “Cooperative Polygraphy”, this season’s bottle episode which sees the gang figuring out who they were and where they stood in life courtesy of a lie detector test established as part of the execution of Pierce’s will. It’s not flashy, it’s not fast paced, but it’s loaded with jokes, realisations and a real character driven story making it perhaps one of the best episodes of the show. It feels like such an organic exploration of these characters we have followed since 2009 that it acts as a sigh of relief that the show is finally going back to focusing on the characters as actual people rather than hollow joke delivery machines.
Of course, the season isn’t without its flaws, particularly in regards to Jeff, with whom the writers seem to have struggled with. While he still acts as de-facto leader of the group, his own storylines often felt a little clumsy, particularly his accidental OD; it’s almost as if they’re scraping the barrel for what to do with him (though, granted, the season’s thirteen episode run might’ve hampered how much these arcs could’ve been explored and put a constraint on what could’ve been done). The show is also still bad at working out the Jeff-Britta-Annie love triangle which is the reason why the season finale felt extremely lacklustre. However, the addition of Jonathan Banks to the crew and the return of John Oliver worked as adequate replacements for Troy and Pierce, giving the story new places to go, and the expansion of the world of Greendale through more great guest stars such as Walton Goggins and Mitch Hurwitz (easily the best thing about “App Development and Condiments”) made this a world that felt like it still had some life in it.

Season 5 might not be a return to the highs of Season 2, or even the freshness that came with Season 1, but is a return to the Community that I actually bother to watch each week. It’s inevitable that it’s going to have lost some of that old spark, just as any show might, but Community’s fifth season at least feels like the old Community as opposed to some broad pastiche trying to appeal to more viewers. It’s perhaps not quite the “must-watch” show it used to be, but then again neither is Parks & Recreation. Both shows, however, do still have that something that make you tune in each week, although I must admit I wish that both shows would end soon to at least preserve some of the legacy they both created.

The period between Seasons 3 and 4 of NBC’s Community was a pretty tumultuous time. Rumours had long been floating around during the back end of Season 3’s airing in 2012 that, behind the scenes, things were a little bit hairy. The latter half of Season 3 was already being postponed, although it was to make room for the last season of 30 Rock, and news of the growing agitation with creator and showrunner Dan Harmon from NBC executives and Chevy Chase, who played Pierce Hawthorne, was common knowledge at this point. No-one really expected, however, that Dan Harmon would leave the show but, as shooting began for the fourth season, it was announced that Harmon was to no longer serve as showrunner and he would serve as “consulting producer” though Harmon himself has stated that the title meant very little.

Season 4, then, was already off to a bad start. Having lost the main creative voice behind the show, as well as many others who were so integral to the show who left with Harmon such as Chris McKenna, Anthony & Joe Russo (who left to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Dino Stamatopoulos, who, as well as writing, also played Starburns, those left in the writers room were forced to somehow grasp what it was that made Community so interesting without the one man who knew what that magic ingredient was.

It’s one of the main problems of living in a world where showrunners mean so much to TV by creating a specific voice that is difficult to recreate. Mad Men is Matt Weiner’s, The Sopranos is David Chase’s, Buffy etc are Joss Whedon’s. Though each show has a variety of writers, their creators are often synonymous with show itself. You need only to look back at the case of Twin Peaks to see what happens when that guiding voice is gone. Creators Mark Frost and David Lynch only had minimal involvement in its second season, leaving to pursue other endeavours, and, once the central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was solved in the season’s seventh episode (the spectacular “Lonely Souls” which both had heavy involvement with), the remaining writers were left without a paddle, with ABC wanting them to keep rowing as they threw the show all over the schedules. What we were left with was a show that was trying so desperately to recreate the Lynchian weirdness that defined Twin Peaks that it seemed to be trying too hard. David Lynch has a way of crafting weird characters that still seem to have a purpose, but season 2 introduced characters that were weird yet seemed to only exist to say “look how weird we are!” Storylines became ridiculous (as much as I love Ben Horne’s Civil War based breakdown, it is pretty stupid) and it wasn’t until they managed to establish an interesting idea, that of the Windom Earle arc, that the writers were able to nail down what made Twin Peaks as they were able to explore the mythology of the world. By this point, however, it was too late and the show was cancelled, leaving the show with what looks to be a permanent cliffhanger. Similarly, The West Wing tried to imitate Aaron Sorkin’s voice once he left after Season 4 to no avail; the dialogue was fast and flowed but it lacked that trademark Sorkin wit that punctuated every stroll through the White House corridors.

Community’s fourth season suffered as much from this lack of Harmon’s voice as it did everything else being thrown its way. Its premiere was scheduled for October 19th 2012 but it ended up being pushed all the way back to February 2013, with several shuffles of its slot in NBC’s schedule between October and Febuary. Community was being dealt bad hand after bad hand, with threat of cancellation no doubt the elephant in the writer’s room. Without Harmon, Community became a pastiche of what it once was. Its humour was broadened, no doubt to rein in more viewers and keep favour with the network lest the usual pop culture reference heavy humour alienated potential audiences, and it became too overly reliant on the big concept episode that had proved so popular in the past (I will still say that, despite how patchy Season 3 was, “Basic Lupine Urology” is still one of my favourite episodes; a sign of how to do concept episodes right). However, most of those pre-Season 4 concept episodes, regardless of how ridiculous the concept, often developed organically. It somehow seemed to make sense that a school would devolve into a warzone when the prize for a seemingly innocent paintball competition is priority registration for next year’s classes or that a trip into Abed’s psyche would lead to an imaginary Claymation world. Season 4 seemed to try too hard, almost as though these concept episodes were an obligation that didn’t seem organic nor provide some character exploration as the previous concept episodes somehow managed to pull off in spite of their ridiculousness. Only “Intro To Felt Surrogacy” managed to capture that feeling which is why it’s one of the better episodes of Season 4. Community, though, was never a show that dealt with the broad humour. It’s place in the world of comedy was to celebrate the misfits, the losers, and the outsiders but they were all relatable outsiders, not wild exaggerations, and this move to a broader humour made the show feel a bit lifeless.

This is why, when the fifth season was commissioned, fans were not overly keen on the idea. Many felt Season 4 was the show’s death knell and to carry it on would be flogging a dead horse, but then news trickled in that Harmon and McKenna were to return and the entire writer’s room was to get a bit of a makeover (which, unfortunately, meant the departure of Megan Ganz, who was moving over to Modern Family; the one person who really knew what to do with Shirley). But things were still not going so well for Community, as Chevy Chase’s departure at the end of Season 4, and Donald Glover’s plan to leave the show after just a few episodes of Season 5, meant that the show had lost two of its principal cast.

And yet the season which could have been marred by the sheer amount of departures, managed to keep itself afloat by going back to its roots and exploring these characters. It’s probably no coincidence that the cause the brings the former Greendale students back to the school is a campaign to “Save Greendale”, a slogan that fans too can rally around to go with the staple “Six Seasons and a Movie”.  The concept episodes were toned back, although they don’t work nearly as well as they used to, “App Development and Condiments” in particular feeling as empty as Season 4’s concept episodes although “Geothermal Escapism” worked as a nice close to the Abed/Troy relationship, and the focus was now mainly on the study group (renamed the Save Greendale committee). Particular focus should be made on “Cooperative Polygraphy”, this season’s bottle episode which sees the gang figuring out who they were and where they stood in life courtesy of a lie detector test established as part of the execution of Pierce’s will. It’s not flashy, it’s not fast paced, but it’s loaded with jokes, realisations and a real character driven story making it perhaps one of the best episodes of the show. It feels like such an organic exploration of these characters we have followed since 2009 that it acts as a sigh of relief that the show is finally going back to focusing on the characters as actual people rather than hollow joke delivery machines.

Of course, the season isn’t without its flaws, particularly in regards to Jeff, with whom the writers seem to have struggled with. While he still acts as de-facto leader of the group, his own storylines often felt a little clumsy, particularly his accidental OD; it’s almost as if they’re scraping the barrel for what to do with him (though, granted, the season’s thirteen episode run might’ve hampered how much these arcs could’ve been explored and put a constraint on what could’ve been done). The show is also still bad at working out the Jeff-Britta-Annie love triangle which is the reason why the season finale felt extremely lacklustre. However, the addition of Jonathan Banks to the crew and the return of John Oliver worked as adequate replacements for Troy and Pierce, giving the story new places to go, and the expansion of the world of Greendale through more great guest stars such as Walton Goggins and Mitch Hurwitz (easily the best thing about “App Development and Condiments”) made this a world that felt like it still had some life in it.

Season 5 might not be a return to the highs of Season 2, or even the freshness that came with Season 1, but is a return to the Community that I actually bother to watch each week. It’s inevitable that it’s going to have lost some of that old spark, just as any show might, but Community’s fifth season at least feels like the old Community as opposed to some broad pastiche trying to appeal to more viewers. It’s perhaps not quite the “must-watch” show it used to be, but then again neither is Parks & Recreation. Both shows, however, do still have that something that make you tune in each week, although I must admit I wish that both shows would end soon to at least preserve some of the legacy they both created.

The sum total of my knowledge of Minnesota is mainly drawn from following the Vikings whenever I have one of their players in my NFL Fantasy Football team and from the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. In the 1996 classic, the brothers paint the state as a place of eternal white winter, full of homely Midwesterners, who’re extremely passive aggressive with a real dislike for confrontation; Brainerd, MN seems like a whole other world, one that plays up its Scandinavian roots with the lyrical tics, plates of comfort food, and the everymen and women just trying to get through the day. I can think of no film before or since that is similar to Fargo, without being an obvious homage. Though it has those beats and themes that are synonymous with the Coen Brothers’ work (the idea that money can corrupt anyone, that the easy way out usually ends up with the person taking it in a pit of absurdity), it is extraordinarily unique. It’s a crime film unlike any you’ve ever really seen.
And that’s where my love for it comes; sitting by far and away top of my list of the Coens’ output. Each character is so uniquely crafted that you know just what they’re about. You instantly understand how the mild-mannered, but ultimately frustrated, Jerry Lundegaard (played phenomenally by William H Macy) managed to fall into this life of crime; driven by sheer desperation. You latch on to the talented, affable, but similarly frustrated Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) easily; a police chief in the small backwater town that knows she can do better (as her skills and intuition throughout the film show) but keeps trucking on because life is comfortable, particularly with a baby on the way. She might also be the most likeable character the Coen Brothers have ever created, a bright star in the usual wash of darkness and malice that pervades most of their films, which is unique in and of its self. Fargo is a film of chaos taking over a small, quiet town; one mainly populated by repressed folk with a penchant for coding everything, making it frustrating to discover anything. It’s also extremely funny, utilising that black-as-tar humour the brothers do so well. It’s endlessly quotable, second in Coen-canon perhaps only to The Big Lebowski.
It’s for those reasons why, when FX announced they were creating an adaptation of the film for TV there was plenty of hesitation, and rightly so. Fargo is so unique that it seemed to even attempt to adapt it would, at best, create something that felt like a poor pastiche of what the Coen Brothers had so delicately and intricately created almost two decades ago. However, this TV adaptation, helmed by Noah Hawley (who’s probably best known for his 2009 series The Unusuals), works, and works well, in spite of itself precisely because it’s not Fargo. It’s as though Hawley is working from a rough sketch rather than a blueprint; the idea is there but it isn’t quite fully formed so Hawley & Co are going to fill in the blanks themselves. There are echoes of the original Fargo here but this is its own unique beast and that is fundamentally the reason why it works.
The pilot spends the first two-thirds of its hour-plus running time playing up to your expectations; everything is the same, but different. It opens on a snowy panorama, much like how the film begins, and an ominous yet slightly chirpy theme kicks in. But it’s not quite Brainerd, and it’s not quite Carter Burwell’s iconic theme that plays throughout the film. It even begins with the same tongue-in-cheek “this is a true story” disclaimer, only now the purported events took place in 2006, as opposed to 1987.  Macy’s Jerry Lundergaard is now Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman sporting a pretty dodgy Midwest accent), another milquetoast salesman stuck in a state of constant frustration and depression, only this time he’s an insurance salesman and his main source of frustration is his wife Pearl who nags at him because he’s nowhere near as successful or fun as his younger brother. Marge is now split between Vern Thurman, the calm, collected police chief with a pregnant wife at home, and his plucky, intuitive deputy Molly Solverson (relative unknown Allison Tolman).
Everything here is set up to make this show seem familiar and, as a result, it can leave you feeling a little uneasy as though this really is just Fargo but with the names changed. The characters do all seem to fall into similar patterns that their cinematic equivalents did, particularly Lester who finds himself failing at his job, failing his wife, and failing to stand up to Sam Hess, the Biff Tannen-esque man who used to bully him in school and continues to do so in their forties. Similarly, after an encounter with Sam and his sons lands him in ER with a bust nose, Lester finds himself spiralling into a world of crime after meeting a malevolent hitman named Lorne Malvo who takes Lester’s complaints about Sam as signal to kill him (which he later does with a knife to the head while Hess is mid-coitus with a stripper). So far, we have a relatable protagonist unwittingly brought into this criminal world while a sharp detective is trying to figure out what’s going on. It all sounds very Fargo, until Hawley completely and utterly pulls the rug out from under your feet and you realise everything in that first 40 minutes was to merely get you settled and comfortable, before surprising you with what this Fargo actually is.
The catalyst of this rug-pulling is Billy Bob Thornton’s phenomenal turn as Malvo. The soft-spoken hitman doesn’t really have a Fargo doppelganger (although his quiet malevolence does have shades of Peter Stormare’s Gaear about it), but he feels like a villain/antihero that could quite easily exist in a Coen Brothers film, just not one that’s been created yet - a less immediately psychotic Anton Chigurh perhaps. From his introduction, Lorne acts as a Loki figure; the devil come to town. He likes to play with people and watch the chaos that can ensue for no other reason than he enjoys the result. He takes advantage of an young employee at the motel he stays at by telling him the best way to get revenge on the kid’s boss is to piss in her car’s oil tank. While the boy is doing so, Malvo rings the front desk to inform the boss of what is going on just so he can watch the boy get chased away by a very angry woman with a rifle. He also starts a fight between Hess’ two sons by phoning the elder boy pretending to be the lawyer in charge of their father’s will to tell him that he was getting nothing, and his brother was to get pretty much everything. Lorne can’t even see what occurs as a result of his phone call (namely assault with a hockey stick) but he still revels in the chaos he has caused. When he meets Lester by chance in a hospital waiting room, Lorne pushes his buttons by implying, though never outright saying anything of the sort, that Lester was less of a man because he didn’t stand up to Hess. But these mind games flick a switch inside Lester, turning him into his own character; no longer a mere mirror of Jerry. In a fit of frustration, Lester cracks his wife’s skull open with a hammer, her henpecking having finally become too much for him after a newfound sense of masculinity thanks to Lorne. It’s a point of no return for Lester and Fargo begins to feel more like Breaking Bad than it does the original film; Lester becoming an even more incompetent Walter White, without any of the criminal talent (though his run head-long into his motivational poster to knock himself out, creating some sort of alibi, is pretty clever).
The show also dispatches with Vern Thurman pretty quickly too, with the chief being something of a decoy protagonist. A visit to chase up a lead at Lester’s house, not long after Lester had murdered his wife in the basement, leads to Thurman getting cut down by Lorne’s shotgun (a pellet of which ends up embedded in Lester’s hand; surely a telling piece of evidence for later in the series?). The show quickly becomes its own thing after gingerly luring the punters in with a false sense of familiarity with the film, but it’s clear that it was all a ruse, and one that pays off spectacularly. As that brutal scene in the basement occurs, you feel the transformation of Fargo into less of a show adapted from the film, and more a show inspired by the film; the only thing being shared is the name and the rough idea. Though the majority of the pilot focuses on Lester’s transformation from Jerry to Lester, we are introduced to a variety of other characters including Colin Hanks’ Duluth Deputy Gus Grimly, Bob Odenkirk’s Mr Show-esque simpleton Bill Oswalt (another cop who works with Molly), and Kate Walsh as Sam’s widow. Each makes their own little impact but we don’t see enough of them to make a decent judgement.

The limited series looks set to introduce even more quirky, weird characters who seem to have a bit of the Twin Peaks about them while still capturing that Coen vibe; unafraid to look at the implications of actions and to stare head-on at the concept of evil. That’s what Fargo does so well, it seems. It’s the first non-Coen Brothers project that has managed to get anywhere near to their style whilst not being an overt copy, which I imagine is hard to do, particularly when the show is based on one of their films. Over the course of the 70-minute pilot, it organically moves from the recognisable to its own thing. Like the film, Fargo isn’t really about those explosive moments, preferring to focus on the mundane and every day, which is why those explosive moments really do explode and make even more of an impact. But where the film gave Jerry some form of humanity despite his crimes, Lester has already become something of a monster under the influence of Lorne and can now begin to spiral out of control, whilst Molly and the rest of the police department try to keep things together as the web grows ever wider and things become more complicated. I’m intrigued to see where they’re set to take it but the grapevine seems to suggest that it continues to further deviate from the source material and only gets better and betters as a result of this. Put all hesitations you might have to one side, because I think we’ve got us a winner, don’tcha know?

The sum total of my knowledge of Minnesota is mainly drawn from following the Vikings whenever I have one of their players in my NFL Fantasy Football team and from the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. In the 1996 classic, the brothers paint the state as a place of eternal white winter, full of homely Midwesterners, who’re extremely passive aggressive with a real dislike for confrontation; Brainerd, MN seems like a whole other world, one that plays up its Scandinavian roots with the lyrical tics, plates of comfort food, and the everymen and women just trying to get through the day. I can think of no film before or since that is similar to Fargo, without being an obvious homage. Though it has those beats and themes that are synonymous with the Coen Brothers’ work (the idea that money can corrupt anyone, that the easy way out usually ends up with the person taking it in a pit of absurdity), it is extraordinarily unique. It’s a crime film unlike any you’ve ever really seen.

And that’s where my love for it comes; sitting by far and away top of my list of the Coens’ output. Each character is so uniquely crafted that you know just what they’re about. You instantly understand how the mild-mannered, but ultimately frustrated, Jerry Lundegaard (played phenomenally by William H Macy) managed to fall into this life of crime; driven by sheer desperation. You latch on to the talented, affable, but similarly frustrated Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) easily; a police chief in the small backwater town that knows she can do better (as her skills and intuition throughout the film show) but keeps trucking on because life is comfortable, particularly with a baby on the way. She might also be the most likeable character the Coen Brothers have ever created, a bright star in the usual wash of darkness and malice that pervades most of their films, which is unique in and of its self. Fargo is a film of chaos taking over a small, quiet town; one mainly populated by repressed folk with a penchant for coding everything, making it frustrating to discover anything. It’s also extremely funny, utilising that black-as-tar humour the brothers do so well. It’s endlessly quotable, second in Coen-canon perhaps only to The Big Lebowski.

It’s for those reasons why, when FX announced they were creating an adaptation of the film for TV there was plenty of hesitation, and rightly so. Fargo is so unique that it seemed to even attempt to adapt it would, at best, create something that felt like a poor pastiche of what the Coen Brothers had so delicately and intricately created almost two decades ago. However, this TV adaptation, helmed by Noah Hawley (who’s probably best known for his 2009 series The Unusuals), works, and works well, in spite of itself precisely because it’s not Fargo. It’s as though Hawley is working from a rough sketch rather than a blueprint; the idea is there but it isn’t quite fully formed so Hawley & Co are going to fill in the blanks themselves. There are echoes of the original Fargo here but this is its own unique beast and that is fundamentally the reason why it works.

The pilot spends the first two-thirds of its hour-plus running time playing up to your expectations; everything is the same, but different. It opens on a snowy panorama, much like how the film begins, and an ominous yet slightly chirpy theme kicks in. But it’s not quite Brainerd, and it’s not quite Carter Burwell’s iconic theme that plays throughout the film. It even begins with the same tongue-in-cheek “this is a true story” disclaimer, only now the purported events took place in 2006, as opposed to 1987.  Macy’s Jerry Lundergaard is now Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman sporting a pretty dodgy Midwest accent), another milquetoast salesman stuck in a state of constant frustration and depression, only this time he’s an insurance salesman and his main source of frustration is his wife Pearl who nags at him because he’s nowhere near as successful or fun as his younger brother. Marge is now split between Vern Thurman, the calm, collected police chief with a pregnant wife at home, and his plucky, intuitive deputy Molly Solverson (relative unknown Allison Tolman).

Everything here is set up to make this show seem familiar and, as a result, it can leave you feeling a little uneasy as though this really is just Fargo but with the names changed. The characters do all seem to fall into similar patterns that their cinematic equivalents did, particularly Lester who finds himself failing at his job, failing his wife, and failing to stand up to Sam Hess, the Biff Tannen-esque man who used to bully him in school and continues to do so in their forties. Similarly, after an encounter with Sam and his sons lands him in ER with a bust nose, Lester finds himself spiralling into a world of crime after meeting a malevolent hitman named Lorne Malvo who takes Lester’s complaints about Sam as signal to kill him (which he later does with a knife to the head while Hess is mid-coitus with a stripper). So far, we have a relatable protagonist unwittingly brought into this criminal world while a sharp detective is trying to figure out what’s going on. It all sounds very Fargo, until Hawley completely and utterly pulls the rug out from under your feet and you realise everything in that first 40 minutes was to merely get you settled and comfortable, before surprising you with what this Fargo actually is.

The catalyst of this rug-pulling is Billy Bob Thornton’s phenomenal turn as Malvo. The soft-spoken hitman doesn’t really have a Fargo doppelganger (although his quiet malevolence does have shades of Peter Stormare’s Gaear about it), but he feels like a villain/antihero that could quite easily exist in a Coen Brothers film, just not one that’s been created yet - a less immediately psychotic Anton Chigurh perhaps. From his introduction, Lorne acts as a Loki figure; the devil come to town. He likes to play with people and watch the chaos that can ensue for no other reason than he enjoys the result. He takes advantage of an young employee at the motel he stays at by telling him the best way to get revenge on the kid’s boss is to piss in her car’s oil tank. While the boy is doing so, Malvo rings the front desk to inform the boss of what is going on just so he can watch the boy get chased away by a very angry woman with a rifle. He also starts a fight between Hess’ two sons by phoning the elder boy pretending to be the lawyer in charge of their father’s will to tell him that he was getting nothing, and his brother was to get pretty much everything. Lorne can’t even see what occurs as a result of his phone call (namely assault with a hockey stick) but he still revels in the chaos he has caused. When he meets Lester by chance in a hospital waiting room, Lorne pushes his buttons by implying, though never outright saying anything of the sort, that Lester was less of a man because he didn’t stand up to Hess. But these mind games flick a switch inside Lester, turning him into his own character; no longer a mere mirror of Jerry. In a fit of frustration, Lester cracks his wife’s skull open with a hammer, her henpecking having finally become too much for him after a newfound sense of masculinity thanks to Lorne. It’s a point of no return for Lester and Fargo begins to feel more like Breaking Bad than it does the original film; Lester becoming an even more incompetent Walter White, without any of the criminal talent (though his run head-long into his motivational poster to knock himself out, creating some sort of alibi, is pretty clever).

The show also dispatches with Vern Thurman pretty quickly too, with the chief being something of a decoy protagonist. A visit to chase up a lead at Lester’s house, not long after Lester had murdered his wife in the basement, leads to Thurman getting cut down by Lorne’s shotgun (a pellet of which ends up embedded in Lester’s hand; surely a telling piece of evidence for later in the series?). The show quickly becomes its own thing after gingerly luring the punters in with a false sense of familiarity with the film, but it’s clear that it was all a ruse, and one that pays off spectacularly. As that brutal scene in the basement occurs, you feel the transformation of Fargo into less of a show adapted from the film, and more a show inspired by the film; the only thing being shared is the name and the rough idea. Though the majority of the pilot focuses on Lester’s transformation from Jerry to Lester, we are introduced to a variety of other characters including Colin Hanks’ Duluth Deputy Gus Grimly, Bob Odenkirk’s Mr Show-esque simpleton Bill Oswalt (another cop who works with Molly), and Kate Walsh as Sam’s widow. Each makes their own little impact but we don’t see enough of them to make a decent judgement.

The limited series looks set to introduce even more quirky, weird characters who seem to have a bit of the Twin Peaks about them while still capturing that Coen vibe; unafraid to look at the implications of actions and to stare head-on at the concept of evil. That’s what Fargo does so well, it seems. It’s the first non-Coen Brothers project that has managed to get anywhere near to their style whilst not being an overt copy, which I imagine is hard to do, particularly when the show is based on one of their films. Over the course of the 70-minute pilot, it organically moves from the recognisable to its own thing. Like the film, Fargo isn’t really about those explosive moments, preferring to focus on the mundane and every day, which is why those explosive moments really do explode and make even more of an impact. But where the film gave Jerry some form of humanity despite his crimes, Lester has already become something of a monster under the influence of Lorne and can now begin to spiral out of control, whilst Molly and the rest of the police department try to keep things together as the web grows ever wider and things become more complicated. I’m intrigued to see where they’re set to take it but the grapevine seems to suggest that it continues to further deviate from the source material and only gets better and betters as a result of this. Put all hesitations you might have to one side, because I think we’ve got us a winner, don’tcha know?

Since Tasty, Kelis’ breakthrough album which led to “Milkshake” taking the world by storm, was released in 2003, it’s fair to say that she was unable to replicate that success. Both 2006’s Kelis Was Here and 2010’s Flesh Tone were quite forgettable, save for the latter’s “Acapella”, which I still think is one of the best songs she has released to date. She had ditched the sexy, floor-filling R&B vibes of her first three records (which were helped out by late ‘90s/early ‘00s kings of production, The Neptunes), signed to a poor record deal and then, upon leaving, committed the musical cardinal sin (unless you’re Sia) of working with David Guetta and his EDM crew. Flesh Tone managed to make at least some of an impact because, here, she was behind the wheel and it was very much Kelis-doing-EDM rather than some EDM with a bit of Kelis on it; trying something different and, for the most part, doing a decent job at it, but it just didn’t capture most of what made Kelis great. Since then, she’s gone through a bit of a change.
1999’s “Caught Out There”, Kelis’ first major solo single coming off the back of her collaboration with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, painted her as the Alanis Morisette of R&B. Fuelled by anger and heartbreak it was the perfect anthem for scorned women everywhere; “You Oughta Know” for those who prefer a thumping beat to some grungy guitars. The Kelis we see in 2014 is unrecognisable compared to Kaleidoscope Kelis. She’s matured and no longer lets anger and pain rule her heart.
As well as maturing, she’s done a bit of a Paul Newman and ventured into food. Having enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2006, she’s since gone on to get her own cookery show in the States, launched her own range of products (mainly sauces a la Loyd Grossman, seeing as she trained as a saucier), and even took her food truck to SXSW to cook her recipes for punters. It’s a bit of an unusual diversion but it’s one that has heavily inspired this sixth album, aptly titled Food. 
It seems a cliché but the world of music and the world of food go together surprisingly well.The ideas of mixing flavours to discover the best combination and the utter precision that is required to create something good is present in both. Working with TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Kelis has managed to re-discover what makes her so special and craft whole dishes around that; dishes that are both playful and comforting with a real kick to them.
Album opener, and the first single from the album, “Jerk Ribs” acts as a nice entrée, showing you what’s to come and whether or not it’ll be to your tastes, though it’s hard to not be enraptured by the track. Horns blast out among the luscious string section as Kelis’ husky vocals lead the way. It’s a real tasty soul track and the perfect introduction to what Food is all about; namely a bunch of songs named after food and packed with soul and hands-to-your-chest, face-to-the-sky belters. From here it moves effortlessly into new worlds as though you’re navigating a tasting platter.
The sultry “Floyd” snakes and swoons as though navigating a smoky jazz club; a smooth slow jam that sees Kelis’ hoarse but no less sexy vocals croon “I want to be blown away”. “Hooch” really feels like a track that belongs on something put out by Ninja Tune. Kelis’ move to the label normally filled with leftfield electronic artists seemed like strange but it was a decision that had people, myself included, really intrigued to see what it would bring. “Hooch” has a really jazzy Bonobo feel to the brass mixed with Nile Rodgers-esque disco guitar work and even more swooning from Kelis. “Cobbler” has a more afrobeat vibe to it, with the percussion of claps and, what could quite easily be, the sound of pots and pans. But, like much of the album, it sits more on the mellow side of the scale. This isn’t the balls-to-the-wall club anthems of Flesh Tone, instead sounding more at home sat out in the last hours of the sun with a nice cold cocktail as the sky begins to be painted a deep orange and red. It’s more sunset street party, than sweaty basement club. “Friday Fish Fry” is, perhaps, the only track to really get a dancefloor going, with a great little call and response bit thrown in the middle.
Things take an interesting turn with a gorgeous cover of Labi Siffre’s “Bless The Telephone” which is filled with warmth, consisting of mainly an acoustic guitar and Kelis’ vocals. It’s impossible to not mention her vocals at all when a song like “Bless The Telephone” comes along. It’s that smoky feeling to it that just drips with sensuality that makes it so appealing. It proves a really nice break from the brass heavy rest of the album, taking things down to an even mellower notch.

Food is not an album that’s really going to produce the next “Milkshake” or “Acapella” but it is a fantastically immediate record that is captivating every time you return. Like Janelle Monae, Kelis dips into the retro vibes without falling into the trap of nostalgia. It’s all ideas we’ve heard before but it still feels distinctly ‘now’. As we glide from sexy brass, to funky African vibes, to a toned down Simon & Garfunkel-esque sound, it really does feel like we’re going through a full meal. Once you leave Food, you’re not going to feel stuffed, rather extremely content. It wants you to try different things but it isn’t in the habit of shoving too much onto your plate. Instead what you get is a set of well-crafted dishes that use different ideas like spices to really bring out the best in Kelis. And I’ve pretty much run out of food based metaphors so I should stop now. Check please.
★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Since Tasty, Kelis’ breakthrough album which led to “Milkshake” taking the world by storm, was released in 2003, it’s fair to say that she was unable to replicate that success. Both 2006’s Kelis Was Here and 2010’s Flesh Tone were quite forgettable, save for the latter’s “Acapella”, which I still think is one of the best songs she has released to date. She had ditched the sexy, floor-filling R&B vibes of her first three records (which were helped out by late ‘90s/early ‘00s kings of production, The Neptunes), signed to a poor record deal and then, upon leaving, committed the musical cardinal sin (unless you’re Sia) of working with David Guetta and his EDM crew. Flesh Tone managed to make at least some of an impact because, here, she was behind the wheel and it was very much Kelis-doing-EDM rather than some EDM with a bit of Kelis on it; trying something different and, for the most part, doing a decent job at it, but it just didn’t capture most of what made Kelis great. Since then, she’s gone through a bit of a change.

1999’s “Caught Out There”, Kelis’ first major solo single coming off the back of her collaboration with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, painted her as the Alanis Morisette of R&B. Fuelled by anger and heartbreak it was the perfect anthem for scorned women everywhere; “You Oughta Know” for those who prefer a thumping beat to some grungy guitars. The Kelis we see in 2014 is unrecognisable compared to Kaleidoscope Kelis. She’s matured and no longer lets anger and pain rule her heart.

As well as maturing, she’s done a bit of a Paul Newman and ventured into food. Having enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2006, she’s since gone on to get her own cookery show in the States, launched her own range of products (mainly sauces a la Loyd Grossman, seeing as she trained as a saucier), and even took her food truck to SXSW to cook her recipes for punters. It’s a bit of an unusual diversion but it’s one that has heavily inspired this sixth album, aptly titled Food.

It seems a cliché but the world of music and the world of food go together surprisingly well.The ideas of mixing flavours to discover the best combination and the utter precision that is required to create something good is present in both. Working with TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Kelis has managed to re-discover what makes her so special and craft whole dishes around that; dishes that are both playful and comforting with a real kick to them.

Album opener, and the first single from the album, “Jerk Ribs” acts as a nice entrée, showing you what’s to come and whether or not it’ll be to your tastes, though it’s hard to not be enraptured by the track. Horns blast out among the luscious string section as Kelis’ husky vocals lead the way. It’s a real tasty soul track and the perfect introduction to what Food is all about; namely a bunch of songs named after food and packed with soul and hands-to-your-chest, face-to-the-sky belters. From here it moves effortlessly into new worlds as though you’re navigating a tasting platter.

The sultry “Floyd” snakes and swoons as though navigating a smoky jazz club; a smooth slow jam that sees Kelis’ hoarse but no less sexy vocals croon “I want to be blown away”. “Hooch” really feels like a track that belongs on something put out by Ninja Tune. Kelis’ move to the label normally filled with leftfield electronic artists seemed like strange but it was a decision that had people, myself included, really intrigued to see what it would bring. “Hooch” has a really jazzy Bonobo feel to the brass mixed with Nile Rodgers-esque disco guitar work and even more swooning from Kelis. “Cobbler” has a more afrobeat vibe to it, with the percussion of claps and, what could quite easily be, the sound of pots and pans. But, like much of the album, it sits more on the mellow side of the scale. This isn’t the balls-to-the-wall club anthems of Flesh Tone, instead sounding more at home sat out in the last hours of the sun with a nice cold cocktail as the sky begins to be painted a deep orange and red. It’s more sunset street party, than sweaty basement club. “Friday Fish Fry” is, perhaps, the only track to really get a dancefloor going, with a great little call and response bit thrown in the middle.

Things take an interesting turn with a gorgeous cover of Labi Siffre’s “Bless The Telephone” which is filled with warmth, consisting of mainly an acoustic guitar and Kelis’ vocals. It’s impossible to not mention her vocals at all when a song like “Bless The Telephone” comes along. It’s that smoky feeling to it that just drips with sensuality that makes it so appealing. It proves a really nice break from the brass heavy rest of the album, taking things down to an even mellower notch.

Food is not an album that’s really going to produce the next “Milkshake” or “Acapella” but it is a fantastically immediate record that is captivating every time you return. Like Janelle Monae, Kelis dips into the retro vibes without falling into the trap of nostalgia. It’s all ideas we’ve heard before but it still feels distinctly ‘now’. As we glide from sexy brass, to funky African vibes, to a toned down Simon & Garfunkel-esque sound, it really does feel like we’re going through a full meal. Once you leave Food, you’re not going to feel stuffed, rather extremely content. It wants you to try different things but it isn’t in the habit of shoving too much onto your plate. Instead what you get is a set of well-crafted dishes that use different ideas like spices to really bring out the best in Kelis. And I’ve pretty much run out of food based metaphors so I should stop now. Check please.

Chet Faker is a name that has been around for a while but tip now he has yet to release an album. The Australian is blessed with a voice of soulful leaning and is mixed with electronic R&B production; he even caught the attention of beer brand Becks, who used Faker’s cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” in an advert during the 2013 Super Bowl. Working with fellow Aussie producer Flume helped to further achieve wider acknowledgement and Faker is signed to Future Classics, a label celebrated for it ability of pushing bands into the lime-light seemingly overnight. 
The album starts with “Release Your Problems” and “Talk Is Cheap”, which are fine examples of the increasingly prescient electronic R&B sound. “Melt” was originally released in August 2013 and features the vocals of Kilo Kish; I really like the bass in this, a kind of fuzzy-synth you would get as a preset on your first keyboard. Almost talking in a hushed conversation, Chet wearly slurring his words and Kilo whispering innocently, this song is about obsession and loneliness. The song “To Me” is a song I think most people can relate to, it is addressed to Chet himself, questioning, “What is he doing? Is he doing the right thing? Going down the right route?” And I think it can correlate with many different aspects of life; relationships, your career, your life’s path. 
The second half of the album starts with “Blush” which sounds a lot like like James Vincent McMorrow with a chilled drumbeat, and this is probably the highpoint of the record, with lots of experimentation and extrapolation from Faker’s regular sound. A more tropical affair comes in “1998”; vocal samples, warm synths and Balearic inspired piano makes this a most buoyant, pop-oriented song on the album. A simple guitar lick features in “Cigarettes & Loneliness: that is looped over slumberous electronic beats, whilst “Lesson In Patience” is the only instrumental on the album, and has something kind of bohemian jazz cafe about it with its saxophone and Rhodes synth taking centre stage. Last song on the album is the happily-titled “Dead Body” in which minimalist beats and reverb drenched vocals meter into a slow-burning R&B torch song, and a great closer to the album.
Built On Glass starts off as soul-infused electronica then turns into a downbeat summer vibes album, and I think I prefer the latter approach. The album feels like a good starting point in Faker’s career, the songs fit together really well and Faker definitely has a talent for creating catchy hooks and choruses. A debut album that, whilst not a defining statement, is still definitely worth checking out. 
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Chet Faker is a name that has been around for a while but tip now he has yet to release an album. The Australian is blessed with a voice of soulful leaning and is mixed with electronic R&B production; he even caught the attention of beer brand Becks, who used Faker’s cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” in an advert during the 2013 Super Bowl. Working with fellow Aussie producer Flume helped to further achieve wider acknowledgement and Faker is signed to Future Classics, a label celebrated for it ability of pushing bands into the lime-light seemingly overnight. 

The album starts with “Release Your Problems” and “Talk Is Cheap”, which are fine examples of the increasingly prescient electronic R&B sound. “Melt” was originally released in August 2013 and features the vocals of Kilo Kish; I really like the bass in this, a kind of fuzzy-synth you would get as a preset on your first keyboard. Almost talking in a hushed conversation, Chet wearly slurring his words and Kilo whispering innocently, this song is about obsession and loneliness. The song “To Me” is a song I think most people can relate to, it is addressed to Chet himself, questioning, “What is he doing? Is he doing the right thing? Going down the right route?” And I think it can correlate with many different aspects of life; relationships, your career, your life’s path. 

The second half of the album starts with “Blush” which sounds a lot like like James Vincent McMorrow with a chilled drumbeat, and this is probably the highpoint of the record, with lots of experimentation and extrapolation from Faker’s regular sound. A more tropical affair comes in “1998”; vocal samples, warm synths and Balearic inspired piano makes this a most buoyant, pop-oriented song on the album. A simple guitar lick features in “Cigarettes & Loneliness: that is looped over slumberous electronic beats, whilst “Lesson In Patience” is the only instrumental on the album, and has something kind of bohemian jazz cafe about it with its saxophone and Rhodes synth taking centre stage. Last song on the album is the happily-titled “Dead Body” in which minimalist beats and reverb drenched vocals meter into a slow-burning R&B torch song, and a great closer to the album.

Built On Glass starts off as soul-infused electronica then turns into a downbeat summer vibes album, and I think I prefer the latter approach. The album feels like a good starting point in Faker’s career, the songs fit together really well and Faker definitely has a talent for creating catchy hooks and choruses. A debut album that, whilst not a defining statement, is still definitely worth checking out. 



I know I wasn’t the only one who was devastated by the news last year that Das Racist would no longer be releasing music. Just driving by a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes. Luckily, a fraction of the group lives on through Kool A.D., although of course his solo project is more personally influenced than another Das Racist album would’ve been. His flow pattern is still the same, but shows more of who he is as an artist. And that’s nonsensical, chill and slightly underground.

On his own, A.D.’s sound shows that he was one of the stronger components of Das Racist. But when each beat is catered to his flow, it shows his versatility. The mixtape starts off sounding kind of reminiscent of early ’00s underground hip-hop, before taking a slightly trippy electronic turn on “Tight”, thanks to production by Toro Y Moi (in my opinion, it kind of sounds like Death Grips, but less frightening). The Bay Area native’s heavy west coast influence shows up throughout the album; the Kassa-produced “Look” sounds like a nod to the late Mac Dre and Too $hort, while the “Special Forces” beat would fit in comfortably on a Lil B mixtape. Toro Y Moi makes another production appearance on “The Front”, and the pairing of the two makes an excellent combination; there’s a perfect natural chemistry between the two, and it shows itself in beautiful samples and well-matched lyrics. The other highpoints come thanks to A.D.’s longtime producer Amaze 88 being behind contributing to a handful of tracks, and gets shouted out as his A&R on “Life & Time”. Talib Kweli makes an appearance with Boots Riley on “Hickory”, which has the makings of one of those fun summer-time songs, but thankfully it doesn’t go the Will Smith route. Overall, Word O.K. is simple but intriguing; it shows Kool A.D.’s artistic evolution and showcases his personality in the best possible way.

Despite being a member of Das Racist, Kool A.D. isn’t a stranger to the solo artist path. Word O.K. is a great piece to help him truly establish his identity outside of the group. Of course, he’ll probably always be linked to Das Racist, especially if his Wikipedia page has anything to do with it. This mixtape separates him from his group identity and makes you want to get to know him more as a solo artist. Although I’m sure he doesn’t want to completely detach his name from his Das Racist days - after all, the success from it helped to launch his career and helped mould him into the phenomenally chill rapper he is today. Yet in the music industry, there’s always an evolution of artists, whether solo or as a group. For those trying to establish some sort of solo identity after being in a popular group, you’re held to a different standard. And after a while, you want to be known for your individuality, hard work and whatever else you want your music to say. 

I’d say that Kool A.D. was successfully able to break away and show his strengths as a solo artists with this mixtape. It’s as if he was trying to tell the world “I’m Kool A.D., and I shit on other rappers, Das Racist or not.” At the same time, it fills the void that Das Racist left in my heart. It just might be better off this way. Every artist needs room for growth, and this was the right path for him to take to hone his own sound.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

I know I wasn’t the only one who was devastated by the news last year that Das Racist would no longer be releasing music. Just driving by a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes. Luckily, a fraction of the group lives on through Kool A.D., although of course his solo project is more personally influenced than another Das Racist album would’ve been. His flow pattern is still the same, but shows more of who he is as an artist. And that’s nonsensical, chill and slightly underground.

On his own, A.D.’s sound shows that he was one of the stronger components of Das Racist. But when each beat is catered to his flow, it shows his versatility. The mixtape starts off sounding kind of reminiscent of early ’00s underground hip-hop, before taking a slightly trippy electronic turn on “Tight”, thanks to production by Toro Y Moi (in my opinion, it kind of sounds like Death Grips, but less frightening). The Bay Area native’s heavy west coast influence shows up throughout the album; the Kassa-produced “Look” sounds like a nod to the late Mac Dre and Too $hort, while the “Special Forces” beat would fit in comfortably on a Lil B mixtape. Toro Y Moi makes another production appearance on “The Front”, and the pairing of the two makes an excellent combination; there’s a perfect natural chemistry between the two, and it shows itself in beautiful samples and well-matched lyrics. The other highpoints come thanks to A.D.’s longtime producer Amaze 88 being behind contributing to a handful of tracks, and gets shouted out as his A&R on “Life & Time”. Talib Kweli makes an appearance with Boots Riley on “Hickory”, which has the makings of one of those fun summer-time songs, but thankfully it doesn’t go the Will Smith route. Overall, Word O.K. is simple but intriguing; it shows Kool A.D.’s artistic evolution and showcases his personality in the best possible way.

Despite being a member of Das Racist, Kool A.D. isn’t a stranger to the solo artist path. Word O.K. is a great piece to help him truly establish his identity outside of the group. Of course, he’ll probably always be linked to Das Racist, especially if his Wikipedia page has anything to do with it. This mixtape separates him from his group identity and makes you want to get to know him more as a solo artist. Although I’m sure he doesn’t want to completely detach his name from his Das Racist days - after all, the success from it helped to launch his career and helped mould him into the phenomenally chill rapper he is today. Yet in the music industry, there’s always an evolution of artists, whether solo or as a group. For those trying to establish some sort of solo identity after being in a popular group, you’re held to a different standard. And after a while, you want to be known for your individuality, hard work and whatever else you want your music to say.

I’d say that Kool A.D. was successfully able to break away and show his strengths as a solo artists with this mixtape. It’s as if he was trying to tell the world “I’m Kool A.D., and I shit on other rappers, Das Racist or not.” At the same time, it fills the void that Das Racist left in my heart. It just might be better off this way. Every artist needs room for growth, and this was the right path for him to take to hone his own sound.

It’s amazing how much artistic growth SZA (aka Solana Rowe) has managed to do in such a short period of time. She doesn’t seem new to the music game at all, which is ironic for being Ivy League educated in marine biology. I imagine that this natural musical ability didn’t just manifest out of the blue — it had to have come from somewhere. Regardless of where the secret of her talent lies, Z is the perfect compliment to SZA’s growing catalogue of glitter trap greats. It’s sexy, bass-heavy, melodramatic and soulful. Except this time, there are more indie and electronic sounds added to the mix, not that it’s unfitting or anything. She never seems to do anything the same way twice. And this is a good thing — she keeps you on your toes in an elusive pixieish way.
"Sweet November" has Rowe slipping into the guise of an jazz crooner with a modern twist, giving off an old soul vibe over a Marvin Gaye sample. “Childs Play” takes the infamous XXYYXX “About You” sample and pairs it well with a melancholy verse from the usually hype Chance The Rapper. TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar makes an appearance on “Babylon”, an eerily sexy track as heavy on bass as it is emotion. Even softer sounding cuts like “Julia” and “Warm Winds” are dripping with soul and suffering, adding to her authenticity. You’ll probably never hear a poppy, sunshine-riddled track from SZA; her music is intentionally haunting and brooding, perfect for angsty creative types (like myself). The electronic and indie influences shows up in “Green Mile”, which sounds like an ingenious mixture of Animal Collective and The Cranberries, with a splash of hip-hop. She’s nothing more than completely honest in all of her work, finding an outlet for years of being sheltered growing up in an Orthodox Muslim home.  SZA also isn’t afraid to stray away from traditional song-writing patterns, evident in tracks like “Ur”.
Different seems to work for her; you’re always left wondering what she’ll do next. Z is another instalment of a three part series of EPs, appropriately titled S, Z and A. The second instalment is admittedly darker than its predecessor, but this darkness doesn’t always translate to sadness though. If anything, it’s more of an honest look at relationships, emotions and life in a way people often shy away from for fear of seeming cynical. Call it what you want, but it works beautifully for her. 
★★★★★★★★☆☆

It’s amazing how much artistic growth SZA (aka Solana Rowe) has managed to do in such a short period of time. She doesn’t seem new to the music game at all, which is ironic for being Ivy League educated in marine biology. I imagine that this natural musical ability didn’t just manifest out of the blue — it had to have come from somewhere. Regardless of where the secret of her talent lies, Z is the perfect compliment to SZA’s growing catalogue of glitter trap greats. It’s sexy, bass-heavy, melodramatic and soulful. Except this time, there are more indie and electronic sounds added to the mix, not that it’s unfitting or anything. She never seems to do anything the same way twice. And this is a good thing — she keeps you on your toes in an elusive pixieish way.

"Sweet November" has Rowe slipping into the guise of an jazz crooner with a modern twist, giving off an old soul vibe over a Marvin Gaye sample. “Childs Play” takes the infamous XXYYXX “About You” sample and pairs it well with a melancholy verse from the usually hype Chance The Rapper. TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar makes an appearance on “Babylon”, an eerily sexy track as heavy on bass as it is emotion. Even softer sounding cuts like “Julia” and “Warm Winds” are dripping with soul and suffering, adding to her authenticity. You’ll probably never hear a poppy, sunshine-riddled track from SZA; her music is intentionally haunting and brooding, perfect for angsty creative types (like myself). The electronic and indie influences shows up in “Green Mile”, which sounds like an ingenious mixture of Animal Collective and The Cranberries, with a splash of hip-hop. She’s nothing more than completely honest in all of her work, finding an outlet for years of being sheltered growing up in an Orthodox Muslim home.  SZA also isn’t afraid to stray away from traditional song-writing patterns, evident in tracks like “Ur”.

Different seems to work for her; you’re always left wondering what she’ll do next. Z is another instalment of a three part series of EPs, appropriately titled S, Z and A. The second instalment is admittedly darker than its predecessor, but this darkness doesn’t always translate to sadness though. If anything, it’s more of an honest look at relationships, emotions and life in a way people often shy away from for fear of seeming cynical. Call it what you want, but it works beautifully for her.

When Childish Gambino and Chance The Rapper strolled onto the rap scene, I feel like they started to fill a void in hip-hop that we weren’t even aware was there or needed to be filled. There was something about their brand of high energy, danceable, semi-sung, hood-influenced, somewhat dramatic hip-hop that made you want to listen, despite any of your preconceived notions. Their sound dug its way into your mind, set up shop and kept you hitting repeat for the next week or so. But with those two as the only visible faces for the sound, we were left to wonder — who was next?

The answer has come about in Virginia-based rapper Goldlink. It should’ve come as no surprise to me when my roommate suggested that I listen to him - she’s a rabid fan of both Gambino and Chance. Goldlink is young, charismatic, dramatic and, as Tom Haverford will be pleased to find out, knows how to make a banger. The God Complex is a nine track introduction to the artist that will make you want to dance and move from start to finish. It’s a blend of sounds that finds a little bit of something for everyone, from trap to dance rhythms that’d fit perfectly in clubs, to hip-hop and everything in between (he appropriately refers to this sound as future bounce). 

Goldlink is reflective of a restless and reckless generation, while being catchy and energetic; I’d chalk his appeal up to youth and drive. Amidst all of the things that makes him an ideal listen for younger crowds, he incorporates a lot of classic hip-hop, R&B and jazz samples to attract older listeners. He has a good understanding of rhythm and cadence, enabling him to be versatile in his beat selection. The mixtape is less than thirty minutes from start to finish (clocking in at about 26 minutes to be more exact), with none of the tracks making it to the four minute mark. “Bedtime Story” features a sample from fellow Virginia-native Timbaland’s “Drop”, pairing it with a classy jazz sample and an upbeat drum pattern, whilst the skittish electronic sound of “How It’s Done” is reminiscent of Odd Future members The Jet Age of Tomorrow. The slowest points you’ll find are the initial moment on the intro track “Ay Ay” before it transitions, and the closer “When I Die”, which takes an unexpected sober turn as Goldlink talks about all of his last wishes before crashing his car and abruptly ending the mixtape.

Goldlink is captivating, has the ability to draw you in before the first beat drop and overall, more than you’d ever expect. Because of its short length and great consistency, The God Complex is worth listening to the whole way through each time. Production by a few small names (Louie Lastic, Fingalick, JFK Jaylen!, McCallaman, Lakim and Teklun) keeps the mixtape interesting throughout its entirety. The worst I can manage to say about it is that it’s just so damn short - I was almost disappointed when it was over. But all good things always come to an end. The end of the mixtape just meant it was time for me to search for Goldlink’s back catalogue and anxiously await whatever is next.

★★★★★★★★★☆

When Childish Gambino and Chance The Rapper strolled onto the rap scene, I feel like they started to fill a void in hip-hop that we weren’t even aware was there or needed to be filled. There was something about their brand of high energy, danceable, semi-sung, hood-influenced, somewhat dramatic hip-hop that made you want to listen, despite any of your preconceived notions. Their sound dug its way into your mind, set up shop and kept you hitting repeat for the next week or so. But with those two as the only visible faces for the sound, we were left to wonder — who was next?

The answer has come about in Virginia-based rapper Goldlink. It should’ve come as no surprise to me when my roommate suggested that I listen to him - she’s a rabid fan of both Gambino and Chance. Goldlink is young, charismatic, dramatic and, as Tom Haverford will be pleased to find out, knows how to make a banger. The God Complex is a nine track introduction to the artist that will make you want to dance and move from start to finish. It’s a blend of sounds that finds a little bit of something for everyone, from trap to dance rhythms that’d fit perfectly in clubs, to hip-hop and everything in between (he appropriately refers to this sound as future bounce).

Goldlink is reflective of a restless and reckless generation, while being catchy and energetic; I’d chalk his appeal up to youth and drive. Amidst all of the things that makes him an ideal listen for younger crowds, he incorporates a lot of classic hip-hop, R&B and jazz samples to attract older listeners. He has a good understanding of rhythm and cadence, enabling him to be versatile in his beat selection. The mixtape is less than thirty minutes from start to finish (clocking in at about 26 minutes to be more exact), with none of the tracks making it to the four minute mark. “Bedtime Story” features a sample from fellow Virginia-native Timbaland’s “Drop”, pairing it with a classy jazz sample and an upbeat drum pattern, whilst the skittish electronic sound of “How It’s Done” is reminiscent of Odd Future members The Jet Age of Tomorrow. The slowest points you’ll find are the initial moment on the intro track “Ay Ay” before it transitions, and the closer “When I Die”, which takes an unexpected sober turn as Goldlink talks about all of his last wishes before crashing his car and abruptly ending the mixtape.

Goldlink is captivating, has the ability to draw you in before the first beat drop and overall, more than you’d ever expect. Because of its short length and great consistency, The God Complex is worth listening to the whole way through each time. Production by a few small names (Louie Lastic, Fingalick, JFK Jaylen!, McCallaman, Lakim and Teklun) keeps the mixtape interesting throughout its entirety. The worst I can manage to say about it is that it’s just so damn short - I was almost disappointed when it was over. But all good things always come to an end. The end of the mixtape just meant it was time for me to search for Goldlink’s back catalogue and anxiously await whatever is next.

Game Of Thrones’ fourth season opens with a callback to one of the closing images of Season 1: Eddard Stark’s greatsword, Ice, the one used to decapitate him, being melted down and reworked into two new swords for Tywin Lannister’s son and grandson, scored by the now instantly recognisable “Rains of Castamere” (which over the last year has become the show’s own “Imperial March”). Gone are the days of the Starks of the North, Season 4 is all about the lions of the Lannisters. It’s a testament to Game Of Thrones that on its 31st episode, the title music still sends most fans into a frenzy of excitement.
As I’m sure all of you remember, Season 3 ended with about half of the original cast mutilated, scattered and in some way or another, bashed up. None of them are magically fixed or revived, so you must learn to live with it. While the debut season could been seen as a political thriller, the second season a war drama, and Season 3 was a “behind enemy lines”-type espionage story, Season 4 looks set to be firmly in the mould of “buddy cop” genre, with the duos of Brienne Of Tarth and Jaime Lannister; Arya Stark and The Hound; and to a lesser extent, Tyrion and Bronn. Not to suggest this season’s going to have any of the levity of that brand comedy - far from it - but the dynamic between the aforementioned pairs is much the same - particularly Arya and the Hound, who would look set to be the season’s highlight, if it wasn’t for the major new introduction to the cast.
Oberyn Martell is the first Dornish character to be introduced by name and there’s no doubt that he’ll soon become a fan favourite - with his venomous distaste for Lannisters, his bristling vengeance, not to mention his swift introduction as another queer character in the show alongside Ellaria Sand, his paramour from Dorne.
Episode 1, titled “Two Swords” has firmly surrounded itself with the settling dust from Season 3’s finale, all talk and little action (save for the tense tavern brawl finale). It bodes well, though, with Jaime and Cersei Lannister reunited to trade barbs at one another, Oberyn Martell to soliloquise of future revenge, Daenerys cursorily flirting with the recast Daario Nahaaris and Jon Snow eulogising the late Robb Stark.

Season 4 is looking promising on virtue of this opener, with characters very firmly set on their path for the rest of the season, particularly Arya who looks certain to become an pint-sized agent of vengeance, and Oberyn Martell, whose role in King’s Landing and all-round bad-boy status will be the high point of the series for many. Hopefully.

Game Of Thrones’ fourth season opens with a callback to one of the closing images of Season 1: Eddard Stark’s greatsword, Ice, the one used to decapitate him, being melted down and reworked into two new swords for Tywin Lannister’s son and grandson, scored by the now instantly recognisable “Rains of Castamere” (which over the last year has become the show’s own “Imperial March”). Gone are the days of the Starks of the North, Season 4 is all about the lions of the Lannisters. It’s a testament to Game Of Thrones that on its 31st episode, the title music still sends most fans into a frenzy of excitement.

As I’m sure all of you remember, Season 3 ended with about half of the original cast mutilated, scattered and in some way or another, bashed up. None of them are magically fixed or revived, so you must learn to live with it. While the debut season could been seen as a political thriller, the second season a war drama, and Season 3 was a “behind enemy lines”-type espionage story, Season 4 looks set to be firmly in the mould of “buddy cop” genre, with the duos of Brienne Of Tarth and Jaime Lannister; Arya Stark and The Hound; and to a lesser extent, Tyrion and Bronn. Not to suggest this season’s going to have any of the levity of that brand comedy - far from it - but the dynamic between the aforementioned pairs is much the same - particularly Arya and the Hound, who would look set to be the season’s highlight, if it wasn’t for the major new introduction to the cast.

Oberyn Martell is the first Dornish character to be introduced by name and there’s no doubt that he’ll soon become a fan favourite - with his venomous distaste for Lannisters, his bristling vengeance, not to mention his swift introduction as another queer character in the show alongside Ellaria Sand, his paramour from Dorne.

Episode 1, titled “Two Swords” has firmly surrounded itself with the settling dust from Season 3’s finale, all talk and little action (save for the tense tavern brawl finale). It bodes well, though, with Jaime and Cersei Lannister reunited to trade barbs at one another, Oberyn Martell to soliloquise of future revenge, Daenerys cursorily flirting with the recast Daario Nahaaris and Jon Snow eulogising the late Robb Stark.

Season 4 is looking promising on virtue of this opener, with characters very firmly set on their path for the rest of the season, particularly Arya who looks certain to become an pint-sized agent of vengeance, and Oberyn Martell, whose role in King’s Landing and all-round bad-boy status will be the high point of the series for many. Hopefully.

Foxes - Glorious
God know why anyone would want to be a popstar right now. Well, I mean, I know why people would want to be one in general; fame, adulation, money, success, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, etc. But right now, launching a career as a one seems like it’d be hard as hell, as the market is pretty saturated with every conceivable kind of star. So all the props to Foxes, aka Louisa Rose Allen, for plowing on and carving out a niche. Allen’s signature style is dynamic and dramatic, and stronger than the majority of her electro-pop peers, whom would sell their grandmothers for a song as undeniably great as “Youth”. 

However, through much of Glorious Foxes seems caught somewhere between creating something truly unique and interesting, and flat Emeli Sande-esque beigeness; “Let Go For Tonight” and “White Coats” would be considered too dull for even the worst teen drama soundtracks, whilst the title track is uninspiring as pop gets. But whilst the slower-paced tracks are uninspiring, it’s the attempts  towards upbeat pop where Foxes shines (“Night Owls Early Birds”, “Holding Onto Heaven”, “Talking To Ghosts”) and shows that she’ll be a good-to-great proposition for a long time.

Future Islands - Singles
The big cult albums of the last few years never particularly seem to grab me like they do everyone else. Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, James Blake’s eponymous debut, Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold, Kurt Vile’s everything, St Vincent’s Strange Mercy and countless, countless others have invoked musical canonisation in others, whilst leaving me cold - that’s not even a weird hipster brag about disliking popular things either; I’d rather enjoy something than not - and Future Islands seemed be this year’s major iteration of this personal phenomenon. 

The North Carolina trio shimmied into the consciousness of the switched-on musical public with that superb Letterman performance, bringing an massively increased spotlight to their fourth album Singles, and with it, seemingly blanket adulation. But for once, I can sort of see where this tidal wave of praise is coming from. Musically, Future Islands aren’t too far down the road from The Killers; sprightly, dramatic synth-pop, which is melodic as hell but far from “main-event status”. It’s confusing to see people enthusing about this particular aspect of the record, but it’s not the focal point of the attention current foisted on the band.

Their real secret weapon is, as anyone who’s watched that Letterman spot knows, Samuel T. Herring, the most charismatic frontman of the age, a physical cross between young Marlon Brando and Kurt Angle, with the stage presence of Nick Cave. And that voice, jeez. It elevates the sound of Singles from decent to must-listen, makes “Seasons (Waiting On You)” a golden pop anthem. It’s irresistible and unplaceable, at times swinging from Elton John to Alison Moyet to William Shatner, and it’s the major attraction of the record. The lyrics may be lacking and the music a few steps above decent, but it’s that voice, that damned magic voice that will keep dragging me back to Singles throughout the rest of the year.

The Horrors - Luminous
Everyone knows the trajectory of The Horrors by now; po-faced impossible-to-take-seriously goth-punks become shoegaze revivalist icons become the least likely arena band in the world. But whilst metamorphosing into a band who will likely headline major festivals in a few years, they’ve kept their interesting quirks unlike a lot of groups who reach the same standing. Luminous continues the psychedelic, druggy edge that developed on Skying, which is the first time the band has actually retained a sound between releases. However, where Skying felt a bit cloudy and murky for the most part, Luminous lives up to its title; things seem bright and, if not sunny, then at least warm in The Horrors’ world. 

In a way, it’s a little disappointing to not hear a drastic change in the band’s sound for once. It’s almost like you kind of know how each track will turn out; baggy beats ’n’ bass, swirling rushes of guitar effects, solid pop melodies. This is not such a bad thing - good sounds are good sounds, regardless, and perhaps to someone less familiar with the band, this will sound wondrous - but for a band so exploratory and experimental with their own sound, it’s kind of uninspiring. 

The fact that seven of the tracks here extend past a five-minute running time is a bit of a drag too. Chopped down to three minutes, and “First Day Of Spring” could be a great, concise pop song. The same with “So Now You Know”, which falls back on the “repeat the title-chorus forever” trick to fill out its five minutes. Oddly it’s both the two shortest tracks (“Falling Star” and “Mine And Yours”) and the longest (the krautrock-y single “I See You”) which are the biggest bright spots.

I’ll be honest, the majority of Luminous makes me just want to go and listen to “Sea Within A Sea”. It’s not as if the record is without merits outside the aforementioned three tracks; the waltzing “Change Your Mind” is a wonderful deviation from the rest of the album’s sound, and the first half is perfectly serviceable. But it feels like this is a band treading water, rather than doing laps around everyone else in the pool.

BADBADNOTGOOD are an instantly memorable band. Be it their pig-masked drummer, their uniquely funky collaborations with Tyler, The Creator, their thrilling live shows or simply their superb brand of modern electro-jazz, it’s hard to forget about them once you’ve tuned in. Their debut and sophomore releases, called simply BBNG and BBNG2 are two records smattered with covers and original tracks, covering a large bit of ground from hip-hop to post-punk (superb covers of Nas’ “The World Is Yours” and My Bloody Valentine’s You “Made Me Realise”on BBNG and BBNG2 respectively).
Their third release, unsurprisingly titled III, is a little lighter on the covers front. Across the 10-track album, the group tighten their grip on jazz and loosen their grip on everything else - BADBADNOTGOOD’s airy, fuzzy sound remains but the focus is more consistently put on the jazz side of things. “Differently, Still” is a meandering piano jam with a rattling double bass and fizzing drums a far, far cry from the early rap covers on that first album, while “Eyes Closed”has energy not dissimilar to previous BBNG tracks, but once again more in the direction of jazz than any of their other influences, with a prickly Foals-esque guitar line that rises into unease.
It’s a credit to BADBADNOTGOOD that they’ve managed to refine their sound so completely without losing any of the hair-raising eeriness of their songs. “CS60” and “Can’t Leave The Night”are the chief offenders, with the drone of strings going through peaks and troughs as the guitars and drums fire through off-beat upon off-beat to breathless conclusions. “Since You Asked Kindly” is a welcome highlight, revisiting some of the more electronic elements on previous releases with a thumping bassline and rock organs complimenting machine gun drums.
III has captured a lot more emotion than many instrumental albums have in recent times, and regular collaborator Leland Witty rejoins for “Confessions”, a tender saxophone jam worth driving in the rain to. “Kaleidoscope”is a paranoid seven minute opus with drummer Alexander Sowinski in the driving seat, and, as in several other tracks, a brass ensemble complementing the trio’s standard drums, double bass and keyboard combination.
III is the undoubtedly fullest-sounding BADBADNOTGOOD record yet, with a specific mission plan and vision, while retaining the band’s unfaltering appeal - their easy-going, off-beat jazz improvisations. Although perhaps fans might expect another fantastic cover version on this album, what they will be rewarded with instead is ten absolutely superb and memorable original tracks. 
★★★★★★★★☆☆

BADBADNOTGOOD are an instantly memorable band. Be it their pig-masked drummer, their uniquely funky collaborations with Tyler, The Creator, their thrilling live shows or simply their superb brand of modern electro-jazz, it’s hard to forget about them once you’ve tuned in. Their debut and sophomore releases, called simply BBNG and BBNG2 are two records smattered with covers and original tracks, covering a large bit of ground from hip-hop to post-punk (superb covers of Nas’ “The World Is Yours” and My Bloody Valentine’s You “Made Me Realise”on BBNG and BBNG2 respectively).

Their third release, unsurprisingly titled III, is a little lighter on the covers front. Across the 10-track album, the group tighten their grip on jazz and loosen their grip on everything else - BADBADNOTGOOD’s airy, fuzzy sound remains but the focus is more consistently put on the jazz side of things. “Differently, Still” is a meandering piano jam with a rattling double bass and fizzing drums a far, far cry from the early rap covers on that first album, while “Eyes Closed”has energy not dissimilar to previous BBNG tracks, but once again more in the direction of jazz than any of their other influences, with a prickly Foals-esque guitar line that rises into unease.

It’s a credit to BADBADNOTGOOD that they’ve managed to refine their sound so completely without losing any of the hair-raising eeriness of their songs. “CS60” and “Can’t Leave The Night”are the chief offenders, with the drone of strings going through peaks and troughs as the guitars and drums fire through off-beat upon off-beat to breathless conclusions. “Since You Asked Kindly” is a welcome highlight, revisiting some of the more electronic elements on previous releases with a thumping bassline and rock organs complimenting machine gun drums.

III has captured a lot more emotion than many instrumental albums have in recent times, and regular collaborator Leland Witty rejoins for “Confessions”, a tender saxophone jam worth driving in the rain to. “Kaleidoscope”is a paranoid seven minute opus with drummer Alexander Sowinski in the driving seat, and, as in several other tracks, a brass ensemble complementing the trio’s standard drums, double bass and keyboard combination.

III is the undoubtedly fullest-sounding BADBADNOTGOOD record yet, with a specific mission plan and vision, while retaining the band’s unfaltering appeal - their easy-going, off-beat jazz improvisations. Although perhaps fans might expect another fantastic cover version on this album, what they will be rewarded with instead is ten absolutely superb and memorable original tracks.