Monthly Archives: July 2013
Two weeks ago today, myself and several friends were gathered in the sweeping dustbowl of Balado Airfield in deepest Kinross-shire, in attendance of the first day of T in the Park’s 20th anniversary weekend. The ensuing festival was a three-day smorgasbord of musical sumptuousness, ranging from the indie-upstart stylings of Haim and CHVRCHES to Main Stage players such as The Killers and Earth, Wind & Fire.
A wonderful time was had by all, and my attempt at a full-scale review of the weekend has been uploaded to the Music section of The Boar. You can catch that here if you’d like to read a more general overview of the event, but to go alongside that, I’ve arranged a snappy platter of ‘Best Of…’ lists, simply to provide a whistle-stop of the weekend’s assorted highlights. This is partly because I’m currently obsessed with Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, but besides that, lists are just good wholesome fun.
Please remember that these lists are only based on the artists and bands that I personally got to see. This does mean that a couple of big names have been left out, but check out the “Five I Wish I Had Time For” list to see the names I most regret missing out on. Without further ado, then, I give you the (highly unofficial) Quotesponge T20 Awards Ceremony. Here we go:
Best Live Acts
1. Frightened Rabbit
Being on native soil was a huge help in bolstering a ravenous crowd, and the resultant experience was simultaneously communal, euphoric, and incredibly catchy. Scott Hutchison’s crowd interactions felt totally ingenuous and heartfelt, and the music itself was never less than soaring. A mighty, mighty homecoming.
2. Of Monsters And Men
Performing to an overspilling crowd at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Tent, the Icelandic troupe delivered smash after smash in an anthemic set which could have given the likes of The Killers and Foals a run for their money. In fact, in my book, it did. Dirty Paws has never sounded quite so menacingly magnificent.
Given that I’ve only heard Latch and White Noise thus far out of everything from Settle, it speaks volumes about the two-piece’s maniacal live prowess that their set has had such a lasting effect.
They opened with Entertainment. From that moment on, I was lost.
So much more than a dusting-off of the mega-singles they’ve spawned so far. AlunaGeorge‘s set displayed both magnificently glossy musical foundations, as well as a tantalising glimpse at the star potential of Aluna Francis, who owned the Transmissions Tent like a pro.
1. Alt-J‘s a cappella cover of College‘s A Real Hero. Tastefully done!
2. Mumford & Sons‘ treat of Flower Of Scotland, moments before bowing out with The Cave on Friday night.
3. Getting to hear two incarnations of White Noise in a single afternoon: first, AlunaGeorge‘s own rendition in the Transmissions Tent, and then Disclosure‘s towering signature version in King Tut’s.
4. Earth, Wind & Fire breaking out The Beatles‘ Got To Get You Into My Life, with added swaggle.
5. Ostrich burgers are really tasty.
1. Yannis Philippakis’ sour, diva-esque stage antics marring an otherwise solid set from Foals. Smiling never hurt anybody, bro.
2. Absolutely wasted middle-aged women swarming our spot in the crowd during The Killers‘ performance. No, I don’t want more warm Strongbow down my back. Please go away.
3. Sound issues onstage during DIIV‘s set in the T Break Tent. Made Zachary Cole Smith cross, too.
4. The failure to whip The Waves up into a frenzy during Villagers‘ set. No-one in particular is to blame for this; it’s just a shame the final minute didn’t pack the explosion I was hoping for.
5. Fast-melting fro-yo. I WANTED TO SAVOUR YOU. WE COULD HAVE BEEN SO HAPPY.
Best Onstage Banter
1. “How d’you like our giant cross? We have finally disappeared up our own arses… Hopefully by the end of this [set], you will have too.” – Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit)
2. “It’s nice to be back in Scotland, where people understand sarcasm.” – Lauren Mayberry (CHVRCHES)
3. “Some of you are here because you know us. Some of you are here because your parents know us. Some of you were probably conceived to our music, which is why you’re here.” – Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Five I Wish I’d Had Time For
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
OhmyGod they played Skeletons. I want to cry.
2. My Bloody Valentine
I must admit, I’ve still yet to clamp my ears over Loveless. And perhaps their headline slot in the Transmissions Tent would have been a fiery introduction.
3. Frank Ocean
Despite catching a whiff of Super Rich Kids as I crossed the park to my next destination, I sadly had to forego much of the R&B legend’s set.
4. Local Natives
Colombia is one of my favourite songs of the year, and I really did want to hear it live. However, we wanted to bagsy a decent spot for The Killers, so we had to give 80% of the Natives’ set a miss.
5. Everything Everything
If only for MY KZ YR BF, and seeing whether or not it’s even remotely possible to sing along to it in a live environment.
The Weekend’s Playlist
The fifteen tunes which best represent the thrills and trills of T in the Park 2013. Until next summer, this is where the memories will stem from. Thanks for reading, and happy festival season!
1. Entertainment (Phoenix)
2. Mountain Sound (Of Monsters And Men)
3. Forever (Haim)
4. Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Kendrick Lamar)
5. Milk (Theme Park)
6. Heart Of Nowhere (Noah And The Whale)
7. The Woodpile (Frightened Rabbit)
8. Bonkers (Dizzee Rascal)
9. Buffalo (Alt-J)
10. White Noise (ft. AlunaGeorge) (Disclosure)
11. September (Earth, Wind & Fire)
12. Set The Tigers Free (Villagers)
13. Gun (CHRVCHES)
14. The Cave (Mumford & Sons)
15. Mr. Brightside (The Killers)
Never mind the expectations of the wider critical and commercial playing fields. The World’s End has the misfortune to be burdened with a huge personal expectation. Namely, it follows in the mighty footsteps of my favourite comedy film of all time: Shaun Of The Dead. As the apparent closer to the alleged “trilogy” of Cornetto films, a lot was riding on Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (as well as the larger cast and crew, of course) to deliver a resplendent final bite of the ice-cream.
But praise Angel: they’ve managed it. Somehow, The World’s End manages to stand simultaneously as the team’s most mature and most unhinged caper. Beneath the breathless, madcap surface bubbles a striking darkness, exposed in a handful of storytelling twists and revelations. The result is a pleasantly surprising viewing experience; one which isn’t entirely seamless, but crackles with a gleeful energy and a juicy gag-rate nonetheless.
Local “legend” and lunatic Gary King (Simon Pegg) attempts to recapture “the best night of [his] life” 20 years after its passing. Corralling the five adrift members of his school gang, he returns them all to the sleepy suburbia of Newton Haven to try and conquer the legendary Golden Mile pub crawl. Having failed to successfully reach all 12 of the locales two decades ago, Gary is determined to make amends this time by making it all the way to the final, titular establishment – or die trying. Unfortunately, the route is complicated when the group realise that the town is in the grip of a strange and sinister force: one which could well bring doom to the human race – not to mention the conquest of the Golden Mile.
Fittingly for its premise, being back with the creative triumvirate is like being reunited with old friends. Wright-Pegg-Frost films inhabit a beautifully distinguishable sphere, wherein that peculiar strain of British quaintness is both celebrated and lampooned at once. From the tics and quirks of its semblance of characters (tea-making, pub-worshipping, “I ran it under a cold tap”) to chuckling at ‘Village Of The Year’ awards, much of the comedy of this series of films has stemmed from deft, wholesome ribbing, as opposed to cheap gags. And indeed, the quintessential Englishness of its composition is a large factor in making The World’s End so damn enjoyable.
After all, regardless of its sci-fi bent, it’s clear that this is a film made with the impetus to entertain above anything else. And on that front, it takes home the cuddly monkey. The World’s End is an absolute hoot, packing delights in the form of snappy cameos, sumptuous dialogue (“you’re drinking fucking rain!”) and some classic slapstick grace notes. It’s a relief, too, that past favourites don’t become a point of indulgence, with the script kept lean and fresh for the most part, save for a couple of cracking (and well-earned) throwback gags.
A real blessing comes in the form of the ensemble cast, all of whom are absolutely dazzling, easing into their collaborative roles with a chemistry that can’t be faked. Pegg himself has a ball of a time as the perpetual loser Gary, while Frost undergoes a joyous transformation from unflappable buzz-kill to a drunken cocktail of fury. Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan are equally delightful company to be around, with the latter two players stealing more than a few scenes as the deadpan Oliver and soft-spoken Peter respectively.
In terms of its stylistics, it’s easy to see where the hyper-kinetics of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World have rubbed off on Wright’s (already-fizzing) flair. Such skills are most visible in a couple of tremendously lucid fight sequences, which supply the same deliriously giddy thrills as the latter half of Hot Fuzz. Wright’s talent has blossomed steadily ever since the Spaced years, and it’s remarkable to witness his approach becoming truly distinguishable and versatile. Tellingly, the only moments where The World’s End doesn’t visually glow are in its CGI-heavy passages, some of which aren’t quite smooth enough to cover the herky-jerkiness of the weaker effects.
This is one of several shortfalls which do hamper the film, and it must also be admitted that The World’s End doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors. It misses the start-to-finish perfection of Shaun Of The Dead, and it lacks the seamless genre-play of Hot Fuzz; perhaps as a consequence of trying to fit too many ideas into 109 minutes of screen-time. Some aspects feel a little undercooked, including a subplot involving a love triangle between Gary, Steven (Considine) and Rosamund Pike’s Sam. In strands such as this one, the emotional tug of The World’s End feels constricted by its busyness elsewhere.
In addition, when the big twists do arrive, several of them are more than a little jarring, to the point that, when some of the extremes are revealed, the whole thing seems utterly ridiculous. Thankfully, the entertainment factor keeps everything in check for the most part, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up (and even stomach) the film’s escalation towards its colossal conclusion. The final half-hour or so is so outrageous and outlandish in tone that some viewers will find themselves completely dislocated from what originally begins as a very straightforward comedy flick.
But ultimately, interior logic has never been crucial to the successes of each Cornetto offering. There’s no point in questioning a zombie apocalypse or a murky Neighbourhood Watch Alliance when the comedy is as ripe as this, and even though The World’s End does push the envelope much, MUCH further than anything previous, its shortcomings gradually fade away in the afterglow of what is essentially a wild, raucous thrill-ride, filled-to-foaming with quotable goodness. There are flaws for plenty to pick over once the credits have rolled and the whole trilogy is fully digested, but the bottom line is this: you’ll be hard-pushed to find a more entertaining slice of cinema this summer.
Drink up, let’s Boo Boo.
The World’s End is a frickin’ hilarious slice of madness, providing a satisfactory conclusion to the much-loved “Cornetto Trilogy”. And even if it’s not quite fried gold, we’ll always have the disableds.
Although it is often more prudent to leave one’s baggage at the door when reviewing new releases, with each passing year it becomes harder and harder to judge the films of Pixar Animation Studios without recalling the company’s prolific track record. However, on this occasion, it feels necessary to consider Monsters University in light of the studio’s current stature in the eyes of fans and critics.
To the chagrin of some of my course-mates, I will defend last year’s Brave to the last gasp. Granted, it is not a masterpiece to stand alongside the likes of Up or the Toy Story series, but it did demonstrate that Pixar were still capable of crafting original products, which are impressive in both ambition and emotional scope. For all its flaws, Brave had a fire in its belly and a strong human resonance beneath its flair, which helped to steady – if not entirely vindicate – the good ship Pixar after the disappointment of 2011’s Cars 2. The latter felt so forced and rote in execution that one couldn’t help but worry that the studio had begun to focus on commercial gain over creative adventure.
Thankfully, Monsters University (the debut full-length of director Dan Scanlon) fares better than Cars 2, not least because of two reasons. For one, the characters (and mythologies) that we are returning to are much more likeable than Lightning McQueen’s universe; and secondly, Monsters University makes itself easier to embrace (and justify) by offering itself as a prequel, rather than a straight-up sequel. Let’s face it, even the most diehard of Cars fans would have to admit that – even before its sequel’s opening credits had rolled – the franchise had already run out of road. Monsters University, on the other hand, rearranges the formula by turning backwards, to enhance the tableaus behind the beloved characters of Mike Wazowski and James ‘Sulley’ Sullivan. It allows for an intriguing exploration of these characters’ histories, and also gives the studio a meaty playground in which to work: the sprawling life of university.
After a fateful school visit to Monsters, Inc., wide-eyed youngster Mike makes it his life mission to become a professional “scarer”. Applying himself through his education, he bags a place at the prestigious Monsters University, wherein he enrols in the Scare Program. Naturally-gifted hotshot Sulley becomes a quick rival to the bookish cyclops, and the clashes between the two come to a dramatic head, resulting in them both being removed from the course. The film then follows the ol’ team-up routine as the pair join forces to reclaim their positions.
As per usual, the animation itself is delightful. The film’s cartoonish, rainbow-coloured palette sparkles with vivacity, augmented nicely with some top-notch voice work. The chemistry of John Goodman and Billy Crystal allows the central bond of Mike and Sulley to shine once again, and many of the new characters are invested with such panache that they become easily enjoyable company. Particular plaudits go to Helen Mirren (as the acid-tongued Dean Hardscrabble) and Charlie Day (playing the shady student Art), both of whom have great fun bringing some fresh blood to the table.
In addition, the film’s light, loose tone offers some great comedic potential: an area which is perhaps where Monsters University finds its strongest rhythm. A particular early highlight is found in the origin of Randall Boggs’ antagonistic squint, and the trials of the “Scare Games” offer a rich vein of slapstick and animated quirks which imbue the film with a kinetic excitement.
However, such pleasant fun can’t distract from the fact that, when it comes to emotional breadth, Monsters University feels very stunted. Not because its message is invalid, but because it is delivered in a manner both heavy-handed and predictable. In the crucial moments where Monsters University should flower into something rich and touching, it stalls, failing to draw any kind of rewarding connection with its audience. And consequently, for all its merits elsewhere, it is this sub-par emotional arc which reduces Monsters University to something which feels superfluous. Without anything substantial on which to hang its gags, once the film’s tale is told, there is little to entice a second viewing.
Entertaining but lightweight, Monsters University fails to capitalise on Brave’s progressive trajectory for Pixar Animation Studios. Hopefully next year’s The Good Dinosaur will prove that the animation titans still have something fresh and relevant to say, but with Finding Dory and talks of further sequels in the pipeline, one can’t help but fret that these once-invincible players are reaching a point of creative crisis.
Monsters University is certainly enjoyable, and as follow-ups go, it easily surpasses Cars 2. However, several years ago, it would seem unthinkable to regard a Pixar creation as little more than fluff, and Monsters University edges dangerously close to that line.
This year, Queens of the Stone Age‘s self-titled debut turns 15. Such a thought may be hard to swallow at first, but consider the impact Josh Homme and his assorted cohorts have had on rock music in the past decade-and-a-half. Their influences certainly aren’t immeasurable, but QotSA have always been key players behind the resurgence of hard rock as commercially (and critically) palatable.
Homme and his Queens have always peddled hedonism in their music, from the rumbling erotica of their debut through to the sleazy sludge of 2007’s Era Vulgaris. However, while the group’s music has never dipped below entertaining, it’s perhaps undeniable that no album has gripped listeners as thoroughly as 2000’s electric Rated R. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, along the way, such supercharged debauchery has become a little too detached from the pangs of reality. Rated R succeeded so brilliantly because, for all its headspinning bravura, the comedowns were always just around the corner: brutal, bitter reflections which let some much-needed light into the dingy caverns plumbed by the group.
To wit, consider 2005’s Lullabies To Paralyze and 2010’s side-project from Them Crooked Vultures. Both are undoubtedly fun listens, though exhausting in places, with such unbridled masculinity allowing with no space to breathe amongst all the riffery. Perhaps in response to such hefty records, a remarkable sense of restraint pervades … Like Clockwork. Weighing in at ten tracks and entirely devoid of filler, it’s a lean and instantaneous rock record, which plays to the band’s muscular strengths while spicing proceedings with enough intimacy to ensure an emotional relevance lingers behind the noise.
The album growls to life with the lumbering, heavy-headed Keep Your Eyes Peeled. As openers go, it’s a solid choice, if not brimming with the magnetism one would hope for in the wake of a six-year hiatus. Thankfully, the album doesn’t take long to find its pulse, and it soon flows seamlessly, following an organic pace which still offers variation. Homme himself is on fine form throughout, displaying an impressive range of vocal acrobatics which load … Like Clockwork with more character and panache than the average hard-rock opus. Yet what makes the album truly great is its expressive range. Homme has never sounded as honest or vulnerable as he does on … Like Clockwork‘s title track, in which the icon’s weary falsetto is accompanied by nothing but forlorn descants of piano for two minutes. Rest assured, despite the impressive cast list, this is Homme’s album through-and-through. All cameos are subtle; carefully arranged to flesh out the album’s textures, rather than sweep the stage completely.
Stylistically, … Like Clockwork paints its tapestries with pulpy strokes of the Gothic, from the album’s cover art to occasional references to the likes of Hell, gods, and vampyres. Such topics align with QotSA‘s token musicianship to fuel some consistently thrilling cuts. If I Had A Tail struts somewhere between The Rolling Stones‘ Gimme Shelter and TCV‘s Caligulove, breaking from flashy verses into a monstrous juggernaut of a chorus, laden with growls and groans. Similar flourishes are found in Fairweather Friends – which opens with a gleefully theatrical choral hook – and Kalopsia, which takes a similar road to Interlude With Ludes, but in a much more melodic fashion. Its sumptuous verses flutter woozily around soft guitar licks, before erupting into Bowiean refrains of “what have you done?!”
This occult sheen is perfectly suited to Homme’s more sober musings on love and loneliness, but even though … Like Clockwork does exhibit a more mature, more sober QotSA, it’s a relief that they haven’t left their playfulness by the wayside. The strangled guitar riff of the magnificent I Sat By The Ocean positively gyrates against its seesawing rhythms, and the monster groove of Smooth Sailing is possibly the most potent the band have yet mined. Matching up to the mighty jam of Misfit Love with a stomping, hip-swinging ease, it just drips beads of cool, even packing in some of the year’s daftest, coolest lyrics: “I got bruises and hickies, stitches and scars / Got my own theme music: plays wherever I are.”
Having returned to the fore with a more considered and thematically cohesive record, it’s refreshing to hear that Queens of the Stone Age have allowed themselves the time – and space – to evolve and ripen as a group. In the simplest terms, it’s the strongest Homme project in a good few years, one of the strongest offerings of this year so far, and easily the best Queens album since Rated R. Such plaudits may sound hyperbolic, but listening to … Like Clockwork offers a potent reminder of just how much we’ve missed hearing Homme and co. at work. All hail the Queens.
“Oh, visions of collisions, fuckin’ bon voyage.”
Nothing more needs to be said regarding Laura Marling’s maturity “beyond her years”. For just over half-a-decade, each project of hers has showcased her considerable evolution, in terms of both her lyrical nous and musical abilities. At the heart of it all has been Marling’s own fierce determination, which eclipses that of many other singer-songwriters working today. Her trajectory has demonstrated a clear, no-nonsense vision of herself as an artist, and now, these ambitions have brought her to Once I Was An Eagle: her fourth studio album, which could well prove to be the apex of her career.
At first, it is intimidating to consider that this album features little musical augmentation beyond vocals, guitars, dashes of percussion, the bass of Rex Horan, and Ruth de Turbeville’s cello arrangements. However, such a refined template makes the experience all the more intimate and captivating: Marling’s vocals have never sounded more direct, and her philosophies ring through with a newfound clarity as a result. There’s a direct honesty to songs such as You Know, whose sympathy for “mothers who do all they can / Just to take their faults out of the line” conveys a compassion which sounds thoroughly genuine.
Throughout her existing discography, Marling has already proved herself to be a master storyteller, but here, she also displays an extraordinary talent for weaving dramatic tableaus. Perhaps fittingly, the release of Once I Was An Eagle has coincided with the staging of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It, the orchestration of which was helmed by Marling herself. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider that Once I Was An Eagle resembles a theatrical play as much as it does a traditional studio album. Indeed, it unfolds in a fluid suite of sound and sentiment, featuring an interlude, an opening medley, and a gently progressive musical canvas. Yet there is no light spectacular or crowning set-piece on offer here: instead, this is a murky, shadowy play of power, which goes on to radiate a cathartic warmth, if not a resounding resolution.
Once I Was An Eagle opens softly, but even from the delicate outset of Take The Night Off, there is an electricity permeating the fibres of this record. Although Marling’s vocals begin feather-light and sweetly melodic, there is a steeliness to her performance; one which gradually makes itself more apparent as Take The Night Off grows and grows, the curtain rising to expose strings, acoustic percussion, and ever-expanding washes of sound.
The first four songs flow from one to the next, composing a single, undulating passage, before everything becomes swept up in the biting, rollicking Master Hunter. The primal urgency of the latter’s sharp, snapping arrangements is matched by some deliciously dark snarls, as Marling dresses herself in war-paint with the refrain of “I cured my skin / Now nothing gets in.” This couplet epitomises (and also concludes) the independent tone of the album’s first ‘act’, which sees the narrator empowering herself as the predator in love’s game. Early on, Marling makes the firm assertion that “I will not be a victim of romance”, yet as her journey progresses, such self-confidence is eroded to the point where her outlook shifts to one of remorseful yearning. It’s this very flaw, this vulnerability belying Marling’s outwards assurance, that makes Once I Was An Eagle so disarming. No simple answers or conclusions are unearthed across the whole span of the record, with the balance of power constantly in flux.
Nestled at the album’s dark heart is the coupling of Little Love Caster and Devil’s Resting Place: two compositions which combine to form a deeply troubling centrepiece. The former utilises flamenco-like guitar motifs alongside oaken swells of cello, and the latter hurries along ominously, soon breaking into a warning that “water won’t clean you”. Both sound dangerous, despairing, and yet they exercise a steady restraint, with Devil’s Resting Place submerging Marling’s vocals beneath an understated flourish of keys. The pain is at its most pronounced here, with the poise of Master Hunter suddenly lost to a newfound sense of doubt and regret.
However, in the later stages of the record, warmth and light finally begin to shine through such calloused canopies. The spookily nimble Undine is followed by Where Can I Go?, which transforms Marling’s loneliness into a thing of exquisite beauty. “It’s a curse of mine to be sad at night” she sings softly, before the rousing instrumentation rallies around her as if in a moment of uplifting revelation.
The final passage of the album works just as beautifully as its organic opening. Not a note is wasted on the sumptuous jangle of When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been), which fades away into the remarkably candid Love Be Brave. “Here comes a change over me” Marling muses; “something strange takes over me / I am brave and love is sweet / And silence speaks for him and me.” It builds perfectly towards the skewed closure of Saved These Words, in which Marling’s voice takes flight at last, with the help of a musical reprise from the album’s early moments. “You weren’t my curse,” she gasps in amazement. “Thank you, naiveté, for failing me again / He was my next verse.” Where such a notion leaves the narrator is left ambiguous, but for the purposes of the album, it’s a breathtaking conclusion indeed, merging the euphoric with the bittersweet in a fitting climax to a record of such tangled emotions.
Taken in its entirety, Once I Was An Eagle is Laura Marling‘s most accomplished work to date. Never once – even across its 63-minute timespan – does its hypnotic spell break, with its strengths stemming from its thematic and structural symmetries. More so than any of Marling’s other releases, Once I Was An Eagle must be listened to in its entirety to be fully appreciated, but miraculously, this undertaking is in no way a chore. Thanks to its crisp production and sparklingly memorable melodies, it sweeps the listener away into a rich, fulfilling world all of its own. It is of course true that Marling is not without her influences, many of whom can be heard via the scale and ambition of this release. But even though some of these nods are noticeable, they never once distract from what is essentially Marling’s own account on such time-honoured topics.
Having just pipped the halfway point, 2013 has already established itself as a golden year for music, and it has now delivered a fully-fledged masterpiece. As a marriage of blossoming musicianship, keen intellect and an assured theatricality, it is honestly hard to foresee the arrival of a more rewarding listening experience in the near future.
“You should be gone, beast / Be gone from me.”