If you’ve heard of J Mascis, chances are you are a fan. Not only did the guy make some of the best alternative rock albums of the 1980s and early 1990s with his band, Dinosaur Jr, but his idiosyncratic method of rock songwriting influenced countless noise rock, shoegaze and grunge bands. On top of this, he is one of the few aging alternative icons to manage to grow old gracefully. Given that he is 49 this year, he is still incredibly prolific, dropping a succession of albums with Dinosaur Jr, and a few solo efforts, all of which stand up as equals to the material from his heyday, while still making progressions in his signature sound. If you haven’t heard of J Mascis, I would like to kindly enquire after what the fuck you have been doing with your life? Stop what you’re doing and go and listen to You’re Living All Over Me and Bug right now. Then sit in silence and think about all the time you have wasted not listening to Dinosaur Jr.

Still, when your resume looks as good as J Mascis’, then the pressure is always on to keep up the quality of his work. Luckily, the enigmatic guitar hero doesn’t seem to give a second thought to this, and has knocked out yet another meticulously crafted album in a way that sounds completely effortless.

When it’s stripped down, the elements that make up this album are recognisable to anyone who is familiar with Dinosaur Jr’s work. Mascis uses simple, but effective, pop-rock chord progressions, and layers them with his signature “how the fuck does he make it sound so good?” guitar tone. The upbeat lead single “Every Morning” uses this to great effect, turning four chords, a snare and a hi-hat into a blissfully catchy number with some typically singular electric guitar solos from the man himself. Meanwhile, the closing track, “Better Plane”, is a fantastic little alternative rock ditty transposed into a sleepy folk song. Elsewhere, the masterfully paced “Heal The Star” would sound right at home on any recent Dinosaur Jr release. The little flares at the end of the phrases sound built to have some kind of effect pedal turn them into a squealing mess; however, in this more stripped down environment, you realise how magnificent some of the songwriting on their records really is.

This is not to say Mascis is simply repeating old tricks. There are several moments on Tied To A Star, just as on his other solo records, where he displays his unexpected ability to write beautiful folk leads. The opening track, “Me Again”, is a perfect example of this. The riff twists and turns and weaves its way throughout the track, providing a perfect backdrop for Mascis’ murmured vocal performance. Wide Awake repeats this, but adds strings and a female vocalist into the mix, which gives the track a perfect amount of texture to keep you interested, without becoming overbearing. Things are also shaken up on the strangely danceable “Drifter”, which sounds like an instrumental soundtrack to dancing drunkenly around a fire, which is certainly something you can’t say about many Dinosaur Jr tracks.

Of course, there are certain drawbacks to hearing Mascis step away from his pedal board. For one, his voice takes more of a central role on his solo albums, and some potential problems with it arise. His voice may have a love it or hate it quality to it: if you’re expecting dam-busting Freddie Mercury like performances, it’s probably best to look elsewhere (a Queen record would be a good place to start). The higher ranges of his voice are often utilised on this album, too, which may grate some. In essence though, most people don’t come into folk or grunge records expecting explosive vocal performances, and J’s mumbled tones often fit the weary content of his lyrics perfectly. One could imagine the refrain of “how much can I take?” in “Trailing Off” would lose some of its impact if it was delivered with any gusto.

Another potential pitfall with this album is that it relies on a certain formula; although it has to be said, this formula often works. The key to Mascis’ solo material seems to be to start off a song with sparse arrangements, and then build to a crescendo in the middle of the track. This works absolutely blissfully in some places. In “And Then”, when the electric guitar kicks in, it offers an expected change of pace that adds so much to the track, and to the album as a whole. This is also done perfectly on the aforementioned taking off, when the accelerator is suddenly hit and Mascis delivers the most blistering solo of the album over a frantic performance from the acoustic, before returning to its previous pace as if the track was embarrassed about the outburst. However, on tracks like the awkwardly placed and overly long “Come Down”, this becomes an underwhelming chore. It’s difficult to deny that J is good at what he does, but on repeated listens, this can become a tad predictable.

Overall, though, Tied To A Star is yet another beautiful listen from one of the most underrated songwriters of his generation. J Mascis has a wonderful way of not overstating things; from taking the simplest of chord progressions and carefully building them into something memorable and unmistakably individual, to his guitar solos, which always stop before they become unnecessarily overblown. If you’re a fan of this man’s work, this is an essential album for your collection. If not, you better get started on listening to those Dinosaur Jr albums I recommended. Like, right this second. There really is no excuse not to.  Get cracking.

With Monty Python currently wrapping up their career with a month of live shows at London’s O2 Arena, it might just be time to put the group’s sole American member Terry Gilliam out to pasture as a film director too. His latest film and his first since 2009’s ill-fated The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorem is a sad grumpy shambles, a parody of the ideas and themes which built Gilliam’s reputation as a true auteur.

Set in the brightest digital dystopia you could think of, The Zero Theorem centres on agoraphobic office drone number-cruncher Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) tasked by his shadowy corporate overlords with coming up with the mathematical equation of “zero equals 100%”, whilst waiting on a mysterious phone call to explain the meaning of life. He’s surrounded by a cavalcade of obfuscating technology and consciously zany characters, from Melanie Thierry’s manic pixie cam-girl to David Thewlis’ jittery toupee-wearing supervisor and Tilda Swinton’s app-based shrink. But for an excellent-on-paper cast and potentially fertile ideas at play, The Zero Theorem ends up as a weak pastiche of a genre Gilliam helped to codify; a film created by old men worried about people’s use of technology and how they don’t understand it - Gilliam has even explained in an interview that the film acts as “a warning against the perils of a digitised existence” - the kind of worldview that Monty Python likely would’ve satirised were they in their youthful prime today.

There’s just so much weak symbolism and so many rote metaphors floating around in the film; “The Church of Batman The Redeemer”, haha yeah coz people “worship” pop culture and celebrity and stuff. A crucified Jesus statue, but with Jesus’ head replaced with a security camera. A all-powerful corporation called Mancom, which is repeated until it sounds suspiciously like “mankind” by the end of the film, and Qohen’s insistence on using “we” instead of “I” and correcting a colleague how persistently gets his name wrong. This is a film which is transparently about the meaninglessness of life and the lack of any higher power and how religion and belief is silly and atheism is clearly the only way to go and how big business is bad and… really the only way to convey the major thematic ideas of The Zero Theorem is with mouth farts. It’s just that lumpen and undercooked.

I was genuinely shocked to find its writer Pat Rushin is a creative writing professor because his script is a) duller that an Ikea instruction manual and b) crammed with ideas that should barely make it past a sixth-former’s rough story notes. It was, however, less of a shock to discover this was Rushin’s first ever screenplay, written in ten days with  ”no idea what [he] was doing” and using “several screenwriting books and screenplays out from the UCF library, including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil”. There you go, kids; if you pen a sub-par script directly inspired by a director’s masterpiece, he’ll eventually direct the adaptation of what you’ve written. It boggles the mind how the likes of Waltz, Swinton and Thewlis - actors who’ve all been in classic films with top-tier screenplays - read this and didn’t immediately reject it. To their credit, they all do the best they can with what they’re given and are still immensely watchable.

To be fair, it’s hard to lay much blame at Gilliam’s door. His world-building is second to none, and whilst the future dystopia he creates isn’t entirely original, it does feel like a fully fleshed-out place from the cumulative fifteen minutes or so we see of what’s outside Qohen’s dilapidated church dwellings. A meld of the smokey industrial gloom of 1984 and the bright saccharine hedonism of The Hunger Games’ Capitol, with a dash of omnipresent advertising, news, and tech, this future doesn’t feel so outlandish as to be a clear departure from the world we live in now. It’s actually worryingly prescient. But the fact that a filmmaker of Gilliam’s talents couldn’t at least polish a turd of a script into something interesting, if not, thrilling, is a real disappointment.

In the opening minutes of the new season of Channel 4’s Utopia, Rose Leslie’s Milner balances on one foot over a drop into the guest in a lavish mansion party. For those familiar with the show, it will hardly come as a surprise - the superb first season of Utopia continually did this; knife-edge tension during moments of extreme calm and beauty. The show’s return for a previously uncertain second season began in wholly unfamiliar territory. Through a 4:3 aspect ratio and ’70s TV filter, we see the early origins of the Utopia story, a young Jessica Hyde, and a young Arby, as more of the show’s clandestine villains are exposed and their motivations explained. 

Philip Carvel, the writer of the fabled Utopiamanuscript from the first season, is played superbly with a Kubrickian tint by Tom Burke, not only in appearance but in character traits, which only lends itself to the retro interiors and sets. There’s a distinctly familiar feeling to the opening episode, as we watch the bittersweet and uneasy, but relatively undisturbed lives of Milner and Carvel before the events of the first series, scored impeccably by Cristobal Tapia De Veer who uses childlike theremins and choirs in equally effective measure. Rose Leslie as a young Milner is brilliant, a zealot for her cause whose descent (or ascent) into the character we know is brilliantly spelled out. It’s once again, pretty tough going, but honestly, with Utopia, it’s hard to have it any other way. 

The second episode brings us crashing back to present day, catching us up to Jessica Hyde (Fiona O’Shaughnessy who is as enigmatic and venomous as ever. In a mirror to the pilot, Ian ( Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is once again stuck in his office job, though his growth since the pilot is immediately apparent, as is Arby’s, who now plays happy families with his girlfriend and her daughter, and insists on being called by his birth name of Pietre. Old characters are dripped into the plot, which doesn’t quite shift into top gear immediately. Parallels can be drawn with the pilot over and over again, as hints of danger and unrest boil below the surface. It’s perhaps for the best, as new viewers of the show are able to watch without feeling overwhelmed with the pace and it benefits from having a slow, anxious buildup to the darker events of the episode. It’s still light-hearted, too, with Grant (Oliver Wooliford) and Ian clashing early in the episode as they’re reunited. 

The show is still stunningly shot, with a plethora of superb sets and moments of cinematic style that make this show stand out above the rest of British television. There’s no disparity of quality between Utopia and American hit shows, with the exception of the upper strata of television, and like those hit shows, sometimes Utopia is victim of tedious dialogue and writing with patronising plot exposition that was present in the first season rearing its ugly head from time to time. 

Promising start for the second season of a show which may have ended abruptly enough to never have a second season. Thankfully it’s back and hopefully can cement itself, much like the graphic novel in the show, as a cult classic.

“Surf goth” sounds like a genre that a 15 year old made up after seeing a picture of Kurt Cobain at the beach on Tumblr and, from the example set by the dark princes of sunshine, Wavves, it probably isn’t too far off from reality. Surf goth is a field that seems to be dominated by Californian dudes who don’t have much to complain about besides how bored they are with themselves and everyone/everything else; “it’s too hot out, all my friends hate me, and the people at this beach are dumb”. However, the Massachusetts band Fat Creeps are finally waking the West Coast noise from its weed induced coma with a dose of dry East Coast humor on their first full-length album Must Be Nice.

With jangly guitar riffs and buoyant drumming, Fat Creeps are a call back to beach punk bands like the Trashwomen, but with a much needed production upgrade and probably a proneness to depression. Bassist Mariam Saleh and guitarist Gracie Jackson harmonize about boyfriends, the sun, and parties, which on the surface may seem like a continuation of what every other ‘60s throwback band is doing, but there is a tinge of gloomy irony underlying it all. They monotonously sing “Isn’t she wild, having so much fun dancing in the sun?”. The droning harmonies of Saleh and Jackson give off a hymnal vibe, if your version of church is a dingy basement in Boston and your holy water comes in a 40oz. 

2012’s self-titled EP was a step up production-wise from previous demos but Must Be Nice has finally propelled the band into hi-fi glory, proving once and for all that it’s possible to be a grimy punk and have clear sound quality. With all of the demos and EPs they’ve put out in their four years as a band, Fat Creeps have never once phoned it in and, still, Must Be Nice goes above and beyond anything they’ve previously released. It’s an album that is best listened to in full and in one sitting, which isn’t hard to do as it’s only a little over 20 minutes long.

The album varies from hazy grunge melodies like “Daydreaming” to punchy instrumentals like “Back 2 Skool”, while still holding on to Fat Creeps’ signature witty surf vibes throughout. One of the most outstanding songs is “Party”. Saleh mocks bro-y party hookups, talking like a stilted caveman over the jittery beat (“Leaving the party/Taking her from party”). She and Jackson sarcastically shout in the chorus “I’m gonna piss off her folks!/I’m gonna stick it up her nose!”. It’s a hard and fast song exemplary of  their DIY roots and their sense of humor that is somehow both dark and goofy. The album closes with “Nancy Drew”, which is a cleaned up version of one of their first demos. It might as well be Fat Creeps’ theme song, considering how long they have been performing it and the fact that it has one of the most memorable choruses in the history of mankind (simply, “doot doot doot doooo/hey Nancy Drew”). The song opens with a quick bass line, leading into a guitar riff that sounds like it belongs in a ‘60s movie about a detective who only solves crimes that were committed during high tide. With a closer as ripe for getting stuck in your head as that, you’ll be hearing this album for the rest of your life whether you like it or not.

The Manic Street Preachers are as reliable as they are unreliable. Now on their twelfth album, the Welsh stalwarts have lived a career defined by context and rallying against the odds, never ones to truly settle down. Futurology comes just one year after Rewind The Film, an album that saw the band gazing inwardly at themselves, contemplating their middle-ages and where they are now. It was a record drenched in melancholia and pastoral atmospheres, their most resigned yet. In typical fashion, Futurology might be their most bombastic and extroverted, a love letter to European highways and Simple Minds. The only problem with the Manics ethos is that misfires can and do happen.

Futurology’s musical aesthetic involves shimmering guitars, krautrock-influenced bass and light drums, riffs being drenched in effect pedals until they don’t sound like guitars anymore. The Manics have long freed themselves from constraints and expectations, and it certainly feels good to know they’re revelling in their creative freedom. Songs like “Europa Geht Durch Mich” and “Dreaming A City (Hughesovka)” are some of their weirdest yet, the former being some kind of siren-blaring industrial grind with sloganeering and declarative German vocals from Nina Hoss, the latter being a spaghetti western-influenced instrumental that doesn’t so as much gallop but rather soars off into space. Lyrically, Nicky Wire spends Futurology reminding listeners of where the band came from politically, a typically hypocritical stance when you consider the weariness of Rewind The Film. Compare “Let’s go to war to feel some pureness and pain” to “I can’t fight this war anymore, time to surrender, time to move on” from last year’s "This Sullen Welsh Heart".

However, despite the good intentions, oftentimes Futurology just doesn’t work. This is no strange concept to the Manics (witness the flat and dull atmospherics of 2004’s forgotten Lifebloood), and in Futurology, the biggest victim here is ultimately just poor songwriting choices. The opening title-track is always threatening to blow up, but instead stays uncomfortably in the middle-ground with over-produced drums and middling lyrics. “Let’s Go To War” has a snake-like guitar riff straight out of PiL’s Metal Box, but the chorus never lives up to the rest of the song’s otherwise confrontational aesthetics. Numerous other songs follow this same pattern, of never really lifting off the ground, most of them drowning in over-production and unpleasant guitar effects. It can be somewhat frustrating to listen to, as though you’re listening to a different song as to what you were promised.

Although, as with every disappointing Manics album, there are still gems to uncover. "Walk Me To The Bridge" creeps up on you with its fantastic and explosive refrain, “Sex, Power, Love And Money” is a self-conscious parody of their glam-punk days and it utterly works in how ridiculous it is. The ending of the Green Gartside-featuring “Between The Clock And The Bed” is genuinely beautiful. The two instrumentals “Dreaming A City (Hugheskova)” and the closing “Mayakovsky” are genuinely massive, hinting at the sky-high ambitions the band have always been proud to declare, whilst "Europa Geht Durch Mich" is Futurology living up to its aggressive, confrontational promise, like Kraftwerk’s Autobahn beating Nine Inch Nails into the ground, if it grew up listening to Generation Terrorists.

The thing with the Manics is, they’ve never been shy to their own failings. Some ideas work, some don’t, it just happens. It’s what makes them always so fascinating to follow. The band have never been one to give in, always one to proudly scream their influences from the goddamn mountains. Manic Street Preachers are one of the most ambitious bands to walk the earth, and it’s what makes even their duds still absolutely essential.

Silicon Valley comes from the minds of Mike Judge (King Of The Hill, Office Space) and longtime writing partners John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky (Role Models, Blade Of Glory), who have also been writers on some of Judge’s previous projects. Between the three, there’s plenty of hits and misses, and plenty of silly, crude comedy. Fortunately, HBO’s Silicon Valley feels destined to be a hit, often embracing the crude familiar gags we’ve come to expect from Judge, but also delivering on the clever stuff too. And that’s not to say that Judge hasn’t written clever comedy before. What is brilliant about him is that he’s really a man who uses both sides of his brain when writing; the lower common denominator comedy and the more cognitive, smart comedy. Silicon Valley probably leans more towards the latter, and it’s all the better for that. Considering it’s essentially a show about computer nerds, it could have so easily fallen into traps that the likes of The Big Bang Theory unashamedly falls into week in, week out. But, for the most part, it doesn’t, and that’s a very good thing indeed. 

The premise is a young employee (Richard, played by Thomas Middleditch) working at Microsoft-esque digital mega-corporation Hooli who accidentally creates a compression algorithm that could be revolutionary in the world of computing. The big boss man of Hooli, Gavin Benson, offers him 10 million dollars for his code, but Richard instead decides to go with another investor, brilliant oddball Peter Gregory who offers him a substantially smaller amount for a percentage in his company. This allows Richard to stay in control of his company, Pied Piper and employee his incubation friends and co-workers to build the product from the ground up. 

The team are a group of vibrant characters, each super nerdy in their own way, and each pretty hilarious in their own way too. Martin Starr stars as Gilfoyle, a character which very much resembles the character he played on Party Down a few years back; droll, sarcastic, and well, a Satanist! Kumail Nanjiani plays Dinesh, who is almost the token Indian nerd; a good programmer who’s still with the ladies leave a bit to be desired. Zach Woods (best known as Gabe from the Office) plays Jarred; a fidgety, weird but smart in his own way kinda’ guy, who handles the business-y elements of Pied Piper. T. J. Miller plays Erlich Bachman, perhaps the funniest character on the show. A self-proclaimed Jesus who is completely up his own arse, but feels like it’s warranted. It’s his arrogance and confidence that provides the show with some the best awkwardness, and it’s a stark contrast to the likes of Richard, who is a lot more timid and modest than he. They play off each other fairly well, as do the rest of the main cast as a whole.

As pointed out, one of the reasons why the show hits the right notes is it’s balance between crude and clever humour. It delivers the sort of jokes about one character being turned on by another’s code and jokes about “how fast you could jerk off all the dicks in the room”, and they are thrown at us at a nice pace, making it entirely possible to leave viewers smiling ear to ear for the duration of an episode, or indeed the season as a whole. It’s pleasantly surprising just how witty the show is, and being produced by HBO gives it the sort of freedom to go places that network sitcoms aren’t allowed to go. It’s worth noting too that the show isn’t strictly a “sitcom”, although it might appear that way on first glance. There’s some drama in there too, albeit ridiculous and larger than life, but it’s there. And the show is heavily serialised too, something which would make it much more difficult for more casual viewers to jump in and out of, but will reward dedicated TV viewers myself who thrive on such serialisation.

The season pans out at a slow-enough pace, with Pied Piper being put to the test on several occasions. There’s plenty of bumps along the way, with name changes, idea changes, coding errors and of course their main competitor, Hooli, who had stumbled across some of Richard’s algorithm code and have decided to rebrand it as their own, making it bigger and better. By the end of the season, both Hooli and Pied Piper are performing at a software competition and after Hooli’s crowd-pleasing presentation proves that their product is superior to Richard’s, he decides to “pivot” his idea into something even more exciting. The season ends right there, setting up plenty of thick plot-fuel for season two. It’s a show with great wit delivered by a good cast of oddballs, and the heavily serialised nature of the show makes it actually quite exciting and definitely addictive, as if it were created to be binge-watched. Silicon Valley is another worthy recent addition to HBO’s increasingly brilliant catalogue of programming, and will hopefully grace our screens for quite a few seasons yet.

How do you solve a problem like Tom Cruise?

The guy is probably is one of the top five movie stars on the planet with a filmography that stretches back to 1981 and arguably one of the most successful box office draws ever. There are, however, two big sticking points for Cruise at this moment in time; firstly, he’s been on something of a dry run for the last few years, either since Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in 2011 or even further back since Mission: Impossible III in 2006, and secondly, we’ve seen him save the world time and time and time again to the point where seeing him as a cowardly novice really breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Both those points combine to leave Edge Of Tomorrow on shaky footing from the beginning, nevermind the derivative Groundhog Day/Quantum Leap/Source Code-esque time-loop plot. It comes as something of a surprise to find that it might be one of the better blockbusters of the summer. It’s also possibly the best video-game movie not based on a video game.

When William Cage (Cruise) - formerly a army PR talking head, hired to big up a failing war effort against the alien force devastating Europe - wakes up on the first day of his demotion down to active duty grunt, he’s basically at the start of his level; his first checkpoint. Eventually, a close encounter on a French beach with an monstrous alien attacker — a tough end-of-level boss — kills Cage and sends him back to the start of the game, forcing him to play the two days again. With each death, he has to learn from his mistakes and discover how to survive to reach the next ‘level’.

Despite being pieced together from those aforementioned time-loop-travel films and shows (as well as elements of Aliens, The Matrix and a pile of other sci-fi/action classics), and despite the repetition of the premise occasionally strangling its momentum, there’s a lot to like about Edge Of Tomorrow (that title - chosen over the source novel’s All You Need Is Kill -  is not one of them). The action sequences are expertly shot by Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith director Doug Liman, in particular the first instance we see of the futurist Normandy landings, which probably stand as the best representation of D-Day on film, after Saving Private Ryan. The supporting cast is great too, with Brendan Gleeson and Noah Taylor continuing to be two of the finest character actors of the moment, and Bill Paxton providing a wonderful hardass of a sergeant. However the highest praise has to go Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, who can now walk into any high-profile action role she wishes after this. Blunt is truly remarkable, casting off any “English rose” tag which some may have placed on her and kicking ass like Ellen Ripley reborn. In fact, the film would’ve been infinitely improved by switching Cruise and Blunt’s roles around, especially since Blunt’s legendary war hero - alternately nicknamed The Angel of Verdun and Full Metal Bitch - is forced by plot contrivance to step aside midway through the film to let Cruise perform his usual running-based heroics.

There’s also a wonderful vein of comedy running throughout, a branch of what Tyler Durden termed “flashback humour” - expertly placed gags and Gilligan cuts help prevent things from slipping into too much of a grim lull, and laughs are certainly needed amongst the bloodshed and explosions - whilst the score and creature design are both far more interesting than any summer schedule-filler has any right to be

But in spite these elements worthy of praise, the core of Edge is far from sturdy. There are numerous plot holes, as is always the case when messing with time, which would take a lot more words than I’m willing to write to explain, and everything just kind of sputters and slows out around an hour in when Cage and Vrataski become isolated on an abandoned farm for the requisite sexual tension filler. Perhaps I was spoiled by Pacific Rim not cramming a giant square peg of romance into a triangular hole, but there’s really no need for that sort of thing just because you have a male and female lead in your movie. Yeah, it makes narrative sense for Cage to eventually develop feelings for Vrataski after spending what could be years for him in her company, but in the prime timeline, she’s known him for all of a week at the very most, which we’re pretty sure is the dictionary definition of far too long to be around any incarnation of Tom Cruise. There’s also an uncomfortable theme of “war is character building” running throughout, which kinda borders on offensive, depending on your sensibilities.

Perhaps despite its uneven structure and glaring weak points, Edge Of Tomorrow can find a prolonged second life as a slightly silly cult classic, in the vein of Independence Day or Starship Troopers (it certainly shares a lot of similarities with the latter, albeit without its biting and oft misunderstood satirical element). It’s certainly entertaining enough and has just about the right amount of brains. And if it doesn’t, hey, it can just die and come back and try again.

A struggling stand-up comedian gets dumped, fired, and then, after a drunken one night stand, pregnant. Then she has an abortion on Valentine’s Day.

It’s incredibly difficult to describe the plot of Obvious Child in the context of how hilarious and sweet it is without sounding like a complete sociopath. But, in her first feature-length film, writer-director Gillian Robespierre manages to find the humanity in one of the most dire situations.

The struggling stand-up in question is Donna Stern, a 27 year old native Brooklynite played by comedian-actress-writer and former SNL cast member Jenny Slate in her first starring role. The story was developed as a short film in 2009 before evolving into the feature that premiered at Sundance this year. Slate’s resume has gained quite a bit of bulk in the five year interim, including roles on Parks & RecBob’s Burgers and Kroll Show. As brilliant as Mona Lisa Saperstein, Tammy Larson and Liz B. are on those respective shows, it’s so much more rewarding to see Slate as a complex lead rather than just a wacky peripheral character. 

Obvious Child features some of the most authentic, well-developed characters—particularly Donna—in recent rom-com history, maybe even since the standard-bearer Annie Hall. Slate discussed the representation of women in romantic comedies in an interview with The Dissolve, stating “They put a lot of funny women in [romantic comedies] that are not funny, and then say they’re funny because they’re ‘quirky’, because they fall down or their shirts are on inside out. If that’s the amount of flaw you are willing to accept in a woman, I don’t know, I just don’t like that”. Female characters in romantic comedies have generally been diluted to basic caricatures of “relatability” and are meant to be lovable for how klutzy or awkward or scatter-brained they are. But Donna’s flaws are not cute. She drunkenly calls her ex to warn him that his new girlfriend has HPV and that when she dies of ovarian cancer he’ll “be stuck with the bill”. In the grand comedic tradition, she’s closed off emotionally and uses her smartass sense of humor to deflect any uncomfortable situation. Donna is lovable in spite of these flaws—she may be a total fucking mess, but underneath her sloppy exterior it’s apparent that she has a good, clean heart. 

This is thanks mostly to Slate’s hilarious performance, but also in part to her undeniable chemistry with seemingly everyone she works with. Donna’s vulnerability manifests through her reliance on her friends, Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) and Joey (Gabe Liedman, Slate’s real life comedy partner), and her complicated but ultimately loving relationship with her mother (Polly Draper). The three act as her main support network in her decision to get an abortion,  a decision that required less deliberation on her part than it did comfort from her friends and family.

There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about how Donna’s choice to get an abortion is handled; the film has been praised by pro-choice activists since the premiere of the original short, and now, with the feature’s wide release in North America, pro-lifers are finally catching up with their inevitable criticism. It’s easy to pigeonhole Obvious Child as an Abortion Movie—looking at movies like Knocked Up and Juno, it’s basically an unprecedented way of a character handling an unexpected pregnancy—but that almost cheapens how incredible it is as a whole. Donna’s story isn’t exceptional. In fact, it’s one that millions of women have lived. The story isn’t meant to shock anyone, but, instead, to normalize the situation and hopefully take a step toward removing the stigma that abortion carries. Politics aside, Slate and Robespierre have created possibly one of the most hilarious and human romantic comedies in history.

5 Seconds Of Summer are a group of four Australian lads with voices and smiles which will probably induce puberty in a number of their pre-teen fan base, who were discovered after posting acoustic covers of pop and pop-punk songs a few years back. They’ve supported One Direction on a handful of tours and seem primed to ascend to second-in-command behind Zayn & co. They’re cheerful and inoffensive enough to be the theme music for various Disney or Nickelodeon kids shows and following in Iggy Azalea’s fresh footprints as an Aussie pop act adopting pointless nasal American accents. This must be what old punk-rockers heard when they first listened to Green Day and Blink 182; those moody kids in school with baggy Offspring hoodies and chains on their jeans would gag on their tongue studs to see that their beloved pop-punk genre had been co-opted so heavily to a mainstream pop sound.

Writing credits across 5SOS’s self titled debut include the four band members, the Madden brothers of Good Charlotte, the Irish one from One Direction, whatsisface from All Time Low, thingy from Scouting For Girls and such pop svengalis as Sam Watters, RAS, Lindy Robbins, and Biffco, so it’s clear this album is intended as a pop juggernaut and a franchise launcher, like a musical equivalent of Iron Man kicking off Marvel’s cinematic universe. The thing is, for the veritable Murderhorn of pop hooks and slick production crammed into the 39 minutes of 5 Seconds Of Summer, it’s such an anodyne attempt at pop-punk or punk pop or however you want to term it, that the genuinely decent moments and the catchy choruses count for shite all

“Good Girls” features the most hilariously earnest “doo do-doo” you’ll ever hear, “She Looks So Perfect” actually mentions American Apparel underwear in its chorus, and the rest of the record is reductive “yeah, girl” sentiment pop (although nowhere near as problematic in their messages as 1D’s “What Makes You Beautiful”)

I probably shouldn’t even be allowing myself to get frustrated or annoyed by this. Bands with a sound like 5SOS are never intended for the consumption of beardy 20-something dudes, they’re for kids, usually specifically girls, who are just entering that period when they have disposable income and enough awareness of music to invest in cute, unthreatening boys with instruments. But even when I was of that demographic, and such guitar-wielding boy bands - namely, McFly and Busted - were the Antichrist to my Kerrang! clogged mind, they had some slight edge or verve or charm to make their music palatable. There’s not even an anti-authority/"Parents Just Don’t Understand"-type track on here, which was once the load-bearing pillar of every pop-punk career. Outside of the genuinely golden pop nugget “Long Way Home” and the vaguely new wavy “English Love Affair”, 5 Seconds Of Summer have all the charisma and appeal of a pair of wet socks. 

Jungle exploded into life. The London duo went from virtual anonymity over a year ago to releasing their incredible single”The Heat” just about 10 months ago to now releasing a massively-anticipated record. “The Heat” is a quintessential summer banger, with falsetto vocals and an instrumental to rival Foals’ “Miami” in terms of bombast and texture. It opens up Jungle’s self-titled debut, soulful in places and funky in others, and instrumentally more imaginative than a lot of alternative pop acts now. Their closest relative in the UK music scene is the terrific former Mercury Prize nominees The Invisible, whose jazz-infused pop is perforated with electronics and math-rock inclinations. 

Jungle’s sonic landscape is spectacular throughout, and it’s hard not to highlight a moment on every track that encapsulates the ingenuity that they use effortlessly. There’s no set rack of instruments or full backing band behind the duo but they certainly make the album feel like it was performed by an entire orchestra of instruments, both electronic and analog. Though there are moments that fail to match the highs of certain tracks - “Accelerate” and “Drops” are the two highlights - they shine through regardless thanks to the overall quality of the music. While “Platoon”, the pair’s opening statement released a year or so ago, is a little less layered than some of the fuller-sounding songs, it was a success back then for a reason; it just doesn’t feel as complete as some of the other tracks. 

Jungle are amorphous in genre - sometimes funk, sometimes pop, sometimes pure and simple dance music (the wonderful “Julia”), soul (the second half of “Time” is a certified banger) and buck certain popular trends in alternative music with total aplomb. They avoid the ever popular throwbacks to ’80s synth-pop as a wholesale method and instead channel less voguish bands like Roxy Music just enough to construct parts of songs. Sometimes the falsetto vocals border on Bon Iver and the instrumentation feels MGMT-esque, all in one refined package. The influences are clear and sometimes unclear to see, and what has emerged is a truly unique pop record.