That was the initial thoughts of many when they saw that Canada’s favourite awkward teenager-playing-man Michael Cera randomly released an album through Bandcamp. Michael came to the public’s attention through playing the apprehensive, awkward George-Michael Bluth in cult sitcom Arrested Development, and then became a household name through the indie smash Juno, and the American Pie-esque coming-of-age comedy Superbad. His acting career is undeniably successful, even if he has arguably become a little typecast, but this sudden and unexpected move into music has left many exasperated.
Taken from the Daniel Johnston school of “absolutely nothing can sound bad”, or the Crispin Glover school of “celebrities completely losing their shit (musically speaking)”, Michael Cera’s debut album features a surprising lack of woodblock, despite his innovations in the field. Instead, it sounds exactly how you’d expect an album from Michael Cera to sound like. On the surface it appears to be cutesy, indie, lo-fi. On a casual listen, it may as well be substituted for half an hour of nervous laughter, because you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this album, is, however, how good of a musician Michael Cera actually is. He takes on a variety of instruments and styles with enough technical ability to know how to play around with time signatures and scales to give him somewhat of a unique style. Unfortunately for young Mike, much like his many of his arguably typecast film characters, his songs are quirky, but seem to be a little one-dimensional and lack dynamism. Maybe it was an attempt at being subtle: after all, there are moments such as the peculiar folk of “Too Much”, which uses panning to cleverly make the minimal instrumentation seem more interesting than it should be. However, most of the tracks seem to have a general idea of what they want to be, and stick to that idea until the track fizzles out. “Of A Thursday”, for example, reveals that Michael Cera can actually play a bit of jazz-inspired piano. Unfortunately, Thelonious Monk he aint. Monk had an understanding that you had to build up and release tension to keep a listeners interest. Cera believes that you just have to play a bit of piano, and that’s good enough. And it is, in a way. Providing, of course, that you’re already a successful movie star. That way people will check out your music regardless of the quality.
It seems weird that someone who presumably has a fair bit of disposable income would produce something so lo-fi. This has the potential to reek of inauthenticity, but it is surprisingly tastefully done throughout True That. This more of a loving homage to masters of the form, such as the Elephant 6 Collective. In fact, at many points, this album sounds like the weirder parts of Neutral Milk Hotel’s discography, such as the guitar noise at the end of “Brat”, which sounds a little like a condensed version of Jeff Mangum’s instrumental monolith "Pree Sisters Swallowing A Donkey’s Eye".
Because of this, we can at least tell that Cera’s aim was not just to cash in on his own name, which is where virtually all actors go wrong when having a punt at a music career. Let’s face it, True That is nothing if not unapologetically weird. If Michael was just writing on a songs for cash basis, he wouldn’t have opened it with “Unohtrouble”, a 48 second song that sounds like a Dillinger Escape Plan riff being played slowly into free recording software on an acoustic guitar. You really have to admire how little he seems to give a fuck on this album: he must have known he would be scrutinised for essentially having a bit of fun, so he seemed to throw everything out there and let the audience come to their own conclusions. Lil B would be totally proud: it’s a based as fuck attitude to have.
The rabbit hole gets deeper still when you realise behind all the quirky sounds and improvisational sounding tracks, there are some serious songs on here. The balls-out folk songs on here can actually get incredibly mournful, and are genuinely gripping to listen to. The highlight has to be “Ruth”, a track that contains the line “she only just lost the baby/seven months and a week”. Jesus Christ, Michael!
This puts the listener in an odd position. On the one hand, True That doesn’t want to be taken seriously, with its “not real cover art” cover art and its lackadaisical, uncapitalised song titles. On that other hand, lines in the aforementioned song and Cera’s musical ability seem to place it as a serious crack at creativity. If it’s the latter, it is worrying, because it’s hard to take it seriously when you know it’s being delivered by the kid from Superbad. Context is important in music to most people: imagine if Kurt Cobain wrote all the same songs, and performed them in the same way, but was a successful, middle-aged business man when he formed Nirvana. I think that would be a thousand times more interesting, but I’m sure that it would take away from the “tortured artist” story portrayed through the press that has cemented his legacy. That’s my point: the person delivering the music is important to the overall experience.
Unfortunately for Michael Cera, he chose a career as an actor, and according to the laws of the universe, we have to be very dubious about his music career. It’s a shame, really. If he was some nobody who was just starting out his indie-folk career, would Cera have become an underground legend? Who knows, but it doesn’t really matter, considering we are living in the universe where most people already know him as a sitcom character that is in love with his own cousin.
True That could have been beautiful. It could have occupied the “so bad its good” slum of celebrity albums currently dominated by the likes of William Shatner and Macho Man Randy Savage. Unfortunately, Cera released something that was alright. Which, in turn, made it worse. It’s not super-bad, but I’m not McLovin it. Juno what I mean?
I think I’ve finally realised that I’m getting old. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a relatively young adult, but the sort of half-baked philosophical meandering and faux-poignancy which populates a lot of the YA genre no longer appeals or speaks to me, and I’ve no desire to really seek it out in order to help me feel like I’m deep or misunderstood or intellectual (it also helps that I realised I’m none of those things to begin with). It’s likely that because of this, The Fault In Our Stars left me completely unmoved.
(I’d like to apologise before approaching the meat of this review for it being so disjointed and scatterbrained. TFIOS numbed my brain to such a degree that I can barely string together a coherent grumble of displeasure, let alone a full analytical review)
Hollywood cancer is a lot prettier than real life cancer isn’t it? Shailene Woodley is positively radiant, looking like she’s walked off the set of a shampoo commercial for the majority of the running time. I hope if I ever develop cancer, I get the Hazel-Grace Stage 4 variant. Shit looks like it’d be a breeze.
Watching The Fault In Our Stars, I felt as though I was in the process of an extremely long mugging by sentiment and emotion, neither of which has been earned. Everything was designed to say “THIS IS SAD AND POIGNANT, FEEL IT”, from the dreadful screenplay which is apparently taken verbatim from the novel at a lot of points, to the plaintive score, composed by Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes (how the mighty have fallen). It’s mawkish and entirely unartistic, the celluloid equivalent of a blank Hallmark card, an overlong TV movie but with none of the visual or narrative flair of the highlights of TV’s current golden age. Two and a quarter very poorly paced hours of incredibly dull cinematography and mostly duller indie songs for a soundtrack. I hope M83 got paid very well for the desecration of their previously wonderful “Wait”. Even the certified pop genius of Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” is reduced to backing an awfully amateur travelogue establishing shot sequence.
There’s little different here from any other YA romance film, but the “odds to overcome” filling of the cinematic sandwich happens to be a teenage relationship where both parties have or have had cancer, instead of less fatal USPs. Of course mortality and disease and death are subjects and themes which should be broached more often in fiction aimed at a younger generation, but something shouldn’t be praised to the hilltops just because it happens to. Against my better judgement, it makes me want to shout Fight Club’s “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” mantra over and over at the screen. That might be an incredibly harsh reaction to the tragedy of being afflicted with cancer so young, but it’s that poor of a film.
The whole endeavour feels purpose made to turn its opening anti-Hollywood romance spiel into a pack of lies, being a schmaltzy, sugar-coated, emotionally manipulative, cliche-cored tale of true love. Even after Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort, playing the most infuriating manic pixie dreamboat in film history) and Hazel make fun of a couple they know for the annoying tick of saying always after every kiss, they turn into hypocrites, forming their own incredibly similar cloying tick. You can’t discuss how silly and obvious the tropes of romantic fiction and fiction involving cancer, like you’re a trailblazing innovator of some new storytelling techniques, and then invoke pretty much every single one, completely straight. This film contains the line “I guess the world’s not a wish-granting factory”, spoken entirely sincerely after a pivotal revelation. I genuinely had to walk out of the room from a mixture of anger, bemusement, and not wanting to spew over my laptop. How the hell does that kind of crap get into a major movie script? I wouldn’t even expect that in bad fanfic. Roughly 99% of the dialogue and narration is less what teenagers realistically speak like and more what we all think we’re like as teenagers - confident, charismatic, intelligent, quick-witted, deep - when we’re annoying, smug twerps. It’s the voice of a pretentious grown adult coming from two handsome, flawless movie star mouths.
I will give it props for accurately representing, however fleetingly, a basics of a modern young relationship; the incessant texting (although the twee handdrawn text bubbles onscreen can fuck right off), late night phone calls, TV show binges… hell, even the use of Gmail over a suspiciously similar fictional substitute is welcome. And I have to give it props for being a female-led summer film which held up well against mega-grossing franchise behemoths. But other than those factors, and Woodley exhibiting an incredibly naturalistic talent for acting, showing she’s increasingly likely to challenge Jennifer Lawrence for the title of young queen of Hollywood, I genuinely can’t find anything to like about The Fault In Our Stars.
The most likeable character is Willem Dafoe’s grouchy bitter ex-pat, the author of Hazel and Augustus’ favourite novel, and even he is hateful and rude and dismissive of his two hopelessly naive fans who travel to Amsterdam to meet him. Perhaps because by the point he first appears I had equal dislike of our two protagonist goons, but he’s my favourite character. He feels like a necessary stab of negative realism popping the romanticised, entitled bubble of the cancer romancers. Yeah, asking if the cancer has spread to Augustus’ brain yet in response to a dumb question is offensive, but they kinda deserve it. Part of me hopes Dafoe took the role because he agreed with his character, but alas that’s probably wishful thinking.
Lastly, maybe it’s just me, it feels borderline offensive of John Green to have used the house of Anne Frank as a setting for the crest of an average teen romance, just to lend some gravitas to the situation or something. And then to have the characters have their first kiss in that house’s attic, to a goddamn round of applause, no less, it’s bafflingly tone-deaf.
Honestly? I envy Augustus’ amputated leg, at least that got to leave this thing early.
Introducing first, hailing from the pen of Arash Amel, weighing in at 103 minutes, accompanied to the ring by its director Olivier Dahan, it is the number one contender for the title of Worst Film of 2014 and sure to be nominated for a bucketful of Razzies come awards season, it’s Grace Of Monaco!
Yes, it’s true. The biopic (although Dahan insists this is not a biopic -“ I hate biopics!” - instead “fiction based on real events”) of Hollywood legend-turned-principality royal Grace Kelly lives up to the hype of being truly putrid. Despite an interesting subject matter, a truly top tier cast, and a director of a previous Oscar winner, Grace Of Monaco is a vapid, horribly camp, utterly tedious attempt at making a serious and “important film”. It comes off more as a schmaltzy perfume advert stretched over an hour and three quarters.
There are some decent elements in there; the beautiful Mediterranean vistas, lush miss en scene, glamourous costuming (Dior dresses and all) and lavish production design are all candy for the eyes, but they really can’t polish this turd. Every member of the cast, from Kidman as Kelly to Tim Roth as Prince Rainier, even untouchable veterans such as Frank Langella and Derek Jacobi, feels dead behind the eyes and more dead. Although you can hardly blame them with such a risible script to work with; Amel reduces potentially fascinating material in Kelly’s personal conflicts to the star being a pawn between her husband and a hammy moustache-twirling Charles De Gaulle, as well as asking us to side with the tax evaders and gamblers and millionaires of Monaco (a bewilderingly tone deaf move in the current economic climate).
It should come as no surprise that the children of Kelly and Rainier relentlessly criticised the film, describing it as “needlessly glamorised and historically inaccurate”, with their requests for changes completely ignored. So not only is Grace Of Monaco distasteful to anyone with a modicum of taste in cinema, but it’s offended the family it’s based on. Worst of all, it’s not even in the category of “so bad it’s good”, so we’re left with a near-two hours of one-dimensional, humour-free bilge.
The jobber-level pun in the title is about as clever as Life After Beth gets. The central premise is a young woman (Plaza) who dies from a poisonous snakebite returns to life a few days later as if everything is normal and nothing ever happened. Shock horror, she’s slowly turning into a zombie, to the confusion and despair of her boyfriend (Dane DeHaan). There’s very little else to the film apart from this.
First time director Jeff Baena makes the strange and dissatisfying choice of kicking off Life After Beth with his title character already dead and buried (save for a very brief, wordless prologue of Beth in the woods). The problem with this is we don’t have anything to judge how different Beth is, no gauge on whether her personality has in anyway changed. It doesn’t help that Plaza is too strangely charismatic for a part which initially requires some level of unremarkable to pull off (the same goes for DeHaan - perfectly cast as awkward loners and intense weirdos in Chronicle, Place Beyond The Pines and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - who is far from convincing as an everyman). I have no doubts that switching the roles of Plaza and Anna Kendrick (who barely gets five minutes screentime here) would’ve been a far more successful move. Plaza is oddly unconvincing at the physical elements of being undead and - despite being naturally funny in pretty much everything else, even in real life - doesn’t seem able to elevate the thin, flat, functional script. Not even the sight of DeHaan fucking a scarf can really lift Life After Beth above average.
Points are gained for introducing some nice new elements to the undead mythos - they have a taste for smooth jazz, and like attics a lot - but apart from that there’s no sense of direction and the tone is highly inconsistent. It kind of feels a little like an expanded, allegorical “crazy ex” story at points, which is highly unsavoury; your dead/ex girlfriend turns up and ruins every aspect your life. Very enlightened.
Perhaps the idea of a movie starring Plaza, DeHaan, Kendrick, John C Reilly, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Molly Shannon - even if it is a zombie movie, a genre which decidedly had its brain chewed out a while ago - had my hopes vaulting above reasonable levels, but it’s not really incompetent enough to be bad, and not innovative or interesting enough to be good.
When Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes swung into cinemas, it did so with little fanfare or expectation, other than the expectation of it being terrible. The last Apes movie audiences were subjected to was Tim Burton’s abominable 2001 remake of the original classic, which essentially put down any interest the cinema-going public might have had in the super advanced monkey genre. Yet, with a solid cast, top-line CGI, a relatively logical plot and Andy Serkis, Rise was a cut above. Not just a churned out, popcorn blockbuster, but a surprisingly touching tale of humanity, as well as one man and his chimpanzee.
Like so many films that produced with little expectation but triumph upon release - Batman Begins, The Godfather - Rise left audiences eager for more, but the birthing period of Dawn was not the smoothest or fear-allaying. The departure of star James Franco and director Rupert Wyatt, its future and potential to match its predecessor was far from assured. Thankfully, the arrival of Cloverfield director Matt Reeves was something of a masterstroke. as was pushing Serkis’ Caesar to front and centre.
Taking us a decade forward from the end of Rise, Dawn sees humanity all but extinguished across the globe whilst Caesar and the other artificially advanced apes exist peacefully as a community in the dense forests of San Francisco. No ape has come across a human for two winters now… but, inevitably, that all changes. You’re watching a Planet Of The Apes movie, you know there’ll be a human vs ape fight at some point, and you should really know what themes will be present; coexistence, conflict, what it means to be human, family, man vs nature, man vs man, etc. But Dawn is no less engrossing or thrilling for being a tad predictable in its story or outcome.
It’s most definitely a film that adheres the modern franchise sequel formula, in broadening and darkening the world in which it is set (as is almost inevitable when switching locations from pre- to post-apocalypse). Credit where credit is due to Reeves in pulling the story back to just a decade after the virus outbreak, instead of setting it a lot further down the line as was planned by the producers. Reeves also showcases his eye for visuals, with some amazing imagery during the centrepiece battle between the species, including a fantastic 360° long take from the turret of a tank which might just be one of my favourite shots of the year.
WETA’s work on the appearance of the apes is so far beyond anything else in film right now. Their motion-capture work has swung to the top of the tree since the first film, and is quite possibly the pinnacle of motion capture to date. The biggest compliment you can possibly give Dawn’s animation is that you swiftly forget that these walking, talking apes are pixels painted over people in white-dot suits; their characters and performances are that damn good. In Koba, Toby Kebbell has created one of the most fearsome villains in some time, and this is quite possibly Andy Serkis’ best shot at Academy Award recognition. The one stumble in the effects is the climactic fight scene, which really fails to convince, looking more video game-y than anything cinematic
But despite the film excelling in many areas, it has some glaring flaws which keeps from achieving its full potential. The aforementioned predictability doesn’t exactly hinder Dawn too much, but there is an overlying lack of surprise which isn’t exactly preferable. It also suffers from some pacing problems, especially during the latter end which is a lot longer and a lot more static than it needs to be. The characterisation of the humans is probably the biggest hurdle that the film fails to clear. Whilst their ape counterparts are these fully realised, lush, detailed painting, the human survivors are barely sketched out or at most, given one coat of paint. Human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) turns out to be slightly more than the raving apeist of the trailers, but Malcolm (Jason Clarke) could well have been replaced with a stick figure wearing a t-shirt stating “protective and idealist father”; he has no true arc, his views and motivations are the same from his first frame to the last, which is really rather dull in terms of narrative. When compared to the narrative strand of Will Rodman (James Franco) and his Alzheimer’s-suffering father (John Lithgow), which essentially drove the plot of the first film, the humans of Dawn pale in comparison.
But these Apes reboots continue to be far far better than they have any right to be. Dawn is definitely not a perfect film, nor an all-time great blockbuster, but it is assuredly engaging emotionally whilst also blowing any competition in the technical arena out of the water. What we have here is a very ambitious film in an already ambitious franchise, and an example of rebooting done right, and for that at the very least, it most definitely has to be applauded.
Bad Words represents a brace of firsts for Jason Bateman. It’s his directorial debut, and it’s also the first time since his rise to the wider consciousness on Arrested Development that he’s definitely not played the straight man. Thanks to the likes of Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief, Paul, Hancock and Juno, we’re used to Bateman being the supposedly stern, put-upon, mature figure, essentially playing variations on Michael Bluth. But as bitter man-child protagonist Guy Trilby, he finally lets rip.
Alas, Bad Words is only a moderate success. Bateman is a competent director, making up for a lack of flair with a good understanding of what works best visually and a nice translation of his on-screen comic timing (although everything seems to be doused in that awful green wash so common in upper-level indie flicks). The real key component of the film is first time writer Andrew Dodge’s slight-but-solid script, which sees the middle-aged Trilby exploiting a loophole in the rules of a National Spelling Bee so that he can compete and win, against a bunch of pre-teens. Black comedy and unsuspecting kids together are a winning formula for comedy gold, aided by Bateman dropping F-bombs across the board. Trilby is obviously a terrible, warped human being, but Bateman has so much fun with with it and is so acerbic that you can’t help but root for his character. It helps that there’s an adorable comic foil in fellow competitor Chaitanya Chopra (Homeland’s Rohan Chand), who helps balance out Trilby’s nihilism with some wonderful childlike pep.
The thing is, if the pitch black comedy was dialled down even just a notch or two, Bad Words would essentially just be a rather trad “daddy issues” indie drama, almost like something Zach Braff would make. That freudian excuse behind Trilby’s actions is so anodyne that it can be guessed the second it’s brought up, and it’s brought up a whole hell of a lot. Constantly dangled like the proverbial carrot in front of us by the reporter (Kathryn Hahn) sponsoring Trilby’s exploits in exchange for the scoop, Trilby repeatedly refuses to tell her, for no real reason other than because the screenplay says it’s not time to reveal it. Everything ticks along just too neatly to match the supposed unpredictability of its main character. There was definitely potential for a truly great film about coming-of-age a bit too late here, but instead, Bad Words will have to serve as a mild beginning to Bateman’s career behind the camera.
I’ve never been one for cheesy action films. The movies contained within those mountains of DVD cases that fill bargain bins in high street shops and supermarkets, the ones that make up the numbers in the schedules of satellite TV. The odd hero worship of the vascular macho men who couldn’t act their way out of your four year old cousin’s nativity play. I love action as a genre, but the utter unironic devotion to the wholly average subsection of films led by Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Seagal, et al, really go over my head. For these reasons, the Expendables franchise has never really found its way into my purview. Geriatric glorified bodybuilders reliving their heydays isn’t exactly in my cinematic wheelhouse, but surprisingly, this third entry in the saga is kinda watchable?
Yes, it might as well be plotless, and deals solely in unashamed nostalgia and tired action tropes. And sure, Sly Stallone still speaks like a drunk guy with marbles in his mouth which is a baffling choice for a lead actor. And yeah, even though he’s the antagonist, it’s awkward watching Mel Gibson get a presumably hefty Hollywood payday after his various transgressions. And of course, nothing to do with this film is going to challenge for awards come 2015. But I really can’t deny how gleeful it is to watch these major action stars trade quips and spout gruff one-liners.
It’s unashamedly silly and juvenile - the final battle takes place in the fictional country of Assmanistan… yes, really - but never really veers towards being puerile or exploitative. Despite the unabashed right wing “AMERICA FUCK YEAH” gun-nut fervour which flows through every frame, there’s surprisingly little bloodshed or gore involved, which makes for a nice changeThey even managed to include a female character this time around, and although UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champ Rhonda Rousey ain’t exactly Meryl Streep, it’s nice to have a little variety in those doling out ass-kickings on screen. The standouts of this all-star lineup are newcomers Antonion Banderas and Wesley Snipes, appearing in his first major release in five years. The pair add some much needed flair and charisma to the franchise regulars (Terry Crews could only hold things up on his own for so long on that front), and also help provide a lot of the comic relief.
I can’t in good conscience rate this highly at all. It’s not good enough to transcend its B-movie ghetto, but it has too much between its metaphorical ears to fall into the “so bad it’s good” or “how did this get made?” category. Likely the best entry into the franchise and probably the highlight of most of its cast’s recent careers, it’s two hours of your life you won’t get back, but were you really going to do anything worthwhile with them anyways?
Let me start by saying I’ve never watched a Transformers film. It’s not that I have a low tolerance for ludicrous CGI based blockbusters featuring bangs, whooshes and untold metropolitan damage - I’m an unabashed fanboy of Pacific Rim, as well as the Marvel Cinematic universe which seems to run on those tropes - and whilst my desire to chase Hollywood’s foremost probably racist, definitely sexist Michael Bay out of town with torches and pitchforks is high, I’m still capable of acknowledging he can make a good film now and then (The Bad Boys franchise and the horribly underrated Pain & Gain are all highly enjoyable in my eyes). But the combination of two enormously unsubtle, bombastic elements, coupled with the inclusion of cardboard cutouts of Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox had the same effect on me as a violently swung broom has to a cat.
So the news of the casting of Mark Wahlberg in the fourth film of the series piqued my interest slightly. Marky Mark’s a charismatic screen presence, who can actually act when he wants to (Boogie Nights is the obvious example of hid talent, and I’m still kinda bitter about him missing out on the Supporting Actor Oscar in 2007 for The Departed), so his inclusion in Age Of Extinction certainly made the film a more watchable prospect than the initial Shia Trilogy. But unfortunately this of one of Wahlberg’s autopilot performances - playing an inventor, even an amateur one, seems out of his range - in a film which is lazier than a stoned sloth. I don’t think there’s ever existed a director with more disdain for his audience - or any audience than Bay. Sure, budget CGI beings and the ever-present explosions might entertain some for a moment or two but for anyone who prefers to engage their brain when watching something, it’d be more stimulating to watch paint dry.
Everything here is just so hacky, from the comic relief to the character names (Cade Yeager? Seriously? Not only a transparently poor Pacific Rim nod, but also utterly ridiculous for a human being) and archetypes. It’s a recurring theme in Bay’s work for the military to fetishised whilst government and “suits” are the absolute evil, but it’s just taken to ludicrous extremes. It almost feels like a parody of manufactured production line Hollywood blockbusters, something you’d see mocked in an infinitely more aware and intelligent property. Dialogue so wooden and unnatural, and character arcs seemingly transplanted from the ‘60s about over-protective fathers, and the serial objectification of women, where the “reward” for just happening to be powerful and female one is to become a sex object… all this is a braincell-destroying, arse-numbing , thumb-twiddling three goddamn hours. Why does a story of wisecracking intergalactic robots punching each other need more screen-time than 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Apocalypse Now or The Godfather?
There’s so much about Age Of Extinction's existence that boggles the mind, although with the continued massive success of Bay at the box-office, he clearly has carte blanche to do whatever the fuck he wants with budgets that dwarf the GDP of some small countries. He could film himself scratching his taint for day and it’d still probably make a billion dollars. It’s utterly depressing that, in an era of mega-budget films that at least pretend to be made with thought and heart and a interest in entertaining their audience, we have to put up with this bilge.
It’s rare to come across an artist who absolutely dismantles the current slew of popular alternative music and sits suddenly and abruptly in its place, and yet it seems like that’s what has happened. FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks”, the first single from her debut album LP1 has been receiving pretty extensive radio play (I heard it on BBC Radio 2 while my mum was listening to it and asked to turn it up; she refused.). It’s both natural and unnatural - the songs are astoundingly accessible and well written, though the ostentatious noise of the instrumentals might have proven to be too challenging for mainstream audiences as Kanye West proved with Yeezus, and many bands do when they go in a more abstract direction.
LP1 is most certainly challenging. You’ve probably by now heard the oscillating “Two Weeks”, a brilliant song accompanied with a fine music video, but it’s definitely the most pop-oriented song from LP1, though “Lights On” and “Video Girl”make reasonable claims with the former’s vocal harmonies and double bass/noisy drums combo and the latter’s eery sub bass and groovy drum line. There are real hints of twigs’ former tourmate James Blake in “Pendulum“‘s stop-start pianos and in “Hours”, where there are real hints of UK garage that stretch beyond Blake’s influence. It would be foolish to call this a pop album; it exudes UK garage vibes like nothing has since Blake’s bursting onto the scene. The songs are expertly crafted, with scrapbook arrangement at times that never strays into an untidy-feeling way of writing songs.
FKA twigs doesn’t shirk on lyrical duties - some artists would be content to let the songwriting and instrumentals do the work but twigs has something to say, too - on the surface the songs seem to have a sensual undertone to them, though the message on “Kicks” does seem a bit too overt to have just one dimension to it. In “Preface”, she quotes Thomas Wyatt in saying “I love another, thus I hate myself.” which goes onto define the album in a lot of ways.
The spectacular songs will grab the attention - “Pendulum“‘s bright piano led choruses, “Two Weeks” speaks for itself - “Kicks” and “Lights On” are potential future singles, the former of which is a fitting outro to the album with massive synth stabs and sulky vocals, but it’s “Closer” that stays with me the most, with the massive, spacious choir vocals and the gargling, unintelligible pitched-up vocals and a slow burning beat that runs like a train parallel to the song.
LP1 is an unforgettable album which, with any luck, will come to define the shape of UK pop music for a good while in the future - god knows we need to hear more of this.
There’s a special kind of unabashed confidence that’s bred in the Midwest and found in no other region of the United States, and possibly even in the entire world. Maybe it’s the product of surviving some of the cruelest winters known to man, or maybe it’s just the sort of “fuck you” attitude that comes with the rest of the country pompously thinking of you as simple. Regardless, the Chicago natives Twin Peaks have found a way to turn that spirit into a sonic gem with their sophomore album Wild Onion.
The album shifts seamlessly from jangly beach riffs, dreamy instrumentals, and abrasive power pop jams, sounding almost as if it could be an epilogue to the Nuggets series. The album fully embraces the hubristic ‘70s rock ‘n roll vibes that their debut (2013’s Sunken) only hinted at. Coming in at almost 40 minutes—twice as long as Sunken— Twin Peaks’ developed personality has thankfully been given the chance to bust through. They’re no longer weighed down by all of the fuzz and reverb that’s only served to mask their talent on previous releases and it seems that, finally, Twin Peaks have found a way to capture the boundless energy of their live shows and distill it into an invigorating record.
Wild Onion on the whole seems like it could be the official soundtrack to a journey through the Chicagoland area. It takes a detour in the dingy, PBR-soaked basements of Logan Square, with DIY punk-inspired songs like “Strawberry Smoothie“ and “Fade Away“, and moves on through the busker’s paradise that is Chicago’s Loop with the saxophone-heavy “Stranger World”, to ultimately ends up on a record player in a suburban bedroom. There’s a feeling of honest camaraderie that permeates the entire album, even through songs about ex-girlfriends, depression, and loneliness, highlighting the sort of devil-may-care attitude that could classify the album as a work of modern Americana.
It’s not really blowing the lid off of anything to say that Twin Peaks are by no means pioneers—they’ve basically been wearing their Rolling Stones influence on their sleeves since before any tracks from this album had even been released. But to live up to that comparison is a tall order, and previous attempts from other, more hapless bands have usually just ended up sounding kitschy. Twin Peaks have managed to revive the traditional rock ‘n roll spirit without sounding like a novelty act. Considering the similar classic sensibilities of fellow Chicago buzz band The Orwells, it’s possible that Wild Onion signals a shift in the zeitgeist from indie fuzz rock to a more confident, brash sound. Though they may not be innovative, Twin Peaks could be the leaders of a new generation of rock ‘n roll.