Sunday, 27 December 2009

Favourite Albums of the Decade

Damn this was tough. I decided against putting any albums from my 2009 list on this because I'm sure a couple were good enough to make it. Then I needed to make some really tough decisions, how could it be a best of list without one White Stripes album? But sadly I had to cut the wondrous 'Elephant' from my list. No Gaslight Anthem with their spectacular albums '59 Sound' (honestly go and download that right now). No Wilco (despite the incredibleness of 'Yankee Foxtrot Hotel'). No OutKast. No LCD Soundsystem, no Knife, no Arctic Monkeys, no Libertines, no Animal Collective, no Thrice, no New Pornographers, no Portishead. All of these bands released superb albums decade and I more or less narrowed it down to 10 (give or take 5). So without further ado.... the honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions

Boxer - The National
The National are just an awesome band and whilst some people think Alligator is the better album. At first this album sounds good. But the more you listen, the more you realise the genius behind it. People say it's the perfect 20something album. So I don't know what that says about me (although some albums higher up are definitely more teen orientated), all I know is that Boxer is a superb album and one I would definitely recommend to many people. You might shrug it off as boring at first, but give it time and you'll realise the depth behind one of the best indie-rock albums of the decade. Plus the fact that it sounds like a mini-orchestra with lots of piano definitely helps it on this list

Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins
A few months ago I placed The Shins debut album on this list and whilst that's still a great album, Chutes Too Narrow is just a bit better and perhaps a bit more cohesive. The sound is a lot better and whilst no song can top the l0-fi brilliance of New Slang, one song doesn't help make an album the best by a band. The fact that sound quality and maturity just seems to have come on in leaps and bounds make this a great album. Whilst I'd still say to people that they should listen to New Slang to see whether they like The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow is the album I'd tell people to listen to if they liked New Slang. Whilst a lot a of the lo-fi nature is gone, the infectious melodies and James Mercer's voice still shine through. Natalie Portman said in Garden State that they'd change your life, and whilst they haven't given me an epiphany, this album is certainly one of the best of the decade.

Is This It? - The Strokes
Know people in the UK? Know when they say "Indie music all sounds the same"? They're referring to the sound that this band brought. Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand both are influenced heavily by this bands form of guitar based rock for the 21st century. The Strokes were hailed early on in the decade as the saviours of modern rock. Whilst The White Stripes have proven to be one of the most consistent bands of the decade and The Strokes have steadily released less and less polished albums, The Strokes still win because of this album. Simply a masterful album full of infectious guitars and hooks that will be stuck with you for days after hearing it. You might not like this kind of music, and it certainly isn't the best indie rock album of the decade but the modern music scene owes this album so much and if it can still be this fantastic nearly 9 years on, well then it definitely deserves it way onto this list.

And now for the real list. Of course I'm starting at 11, because honestly I just couldn't narrow this list down enough.

11. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
The king of multi-instrumental indie music. Sufjan has already appeared on this list due to the fact that he played piano on some tracks on Boxer. But here on his own record we have an album of just staggering ambition. So many different styles and tracks on this album (22 different tracks) contain just one of the best albums of the decade. Part of Sufjan's now discarded 50 states project, he showed us what he might be capable of in Michigan, but it was Illinois that really made you sit and take notice. Songs about love and with UFO in the title make you think twice about what sort of album you might be hearing, but in all honesty I'm going to tell you to just listen to the tracks Chicago and Casmir Pulaski Day. If you enjoy both of those (they're his two best tracks) then you OWE it to yourself to go and download this masterwork of the 21st century (at least what little part of it we've experienced so far.

10. a Real Boy - Say Anything
So far all of my albums have been of the indie ilk and whilst this album is too, it falls far more into the realm of scene music. Music that depressed and angry teenagers find themselves listening to. Since I'm still in my teen years I don't feel too bad for putting this album on a list with those great bands I'm going to be putting up higher. Yes this is a pop punk album and yes I'll probably outgrow it. But for where I am in life and just how damn funny and yet awesome the lyrics are. Max Bemis may not have the best voice in the world but his lyrics tell a story. From the holocaust tinged 'Alive With The Glory of Love' or the final rant in the form of 'Admit It!' make it worth it just to hear this album. Plus it's damn catchy and has some pretty damn awesome riffs as well. However it's also probably the sweariest album on my list, but it goes with that emo-teenage angst I must be feeling to put this album on my list.

9. Give Up/Transatlanticism - The Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie
How could I include two albums in one place? Well for simple reasons. They are both by Benjamin Gibbard, both released in the same year and I honestly couldn't decide between the two of them. Give Up is The Postal Service's only album and is electro-pop at is very best. Whilst I know people who aren't into electronic music at all, The Postal Service however are one of the best. The whole album might not be perfect but it is just a great album, all topped by the song Such Great Heights, which is the greatest song that Benjamin Gibbard has ever written. It's also the most positive song he has written about love, as well all know that Death Cab for Cutie and Transatlanticism is known as one of the breakthrough emo albums ever. However it's also just a superb indie rock album. It's got all the right highs and lows and are just bolstered by Gibbard's voice and lyrics. Like Max Bemis of Say Anything, Ben Gibbard is one artists who I just love to listen to the lyrics of.

8. Kill the Moonlight - Spoon
Spoon are the perpetual underdog. Every single album they've released this decade has been superb and it's honestly difficult just selecting one. But I went for their first which is kind of the crystallization of their sound. You're bound to have heard at least one Spoon song in your life, as their sound is just so unique. That beating drum pattern or particular riff of a guitar and you know what you're in for. Spoon play around with space and strip songs down and still manage to maintain what the song is. Just go and listen to The Way We Get By. Again I seem to be recommending the best song by these guys but if you like the songs then you really owe it yourself to listen. Spoon never failed to be great this decade and whilst every year they released an album they were outshone, I'm here to give them a little bit of their dues. Whilst others might say that White Stripes or Radiohead were the most consistent band of the decade (and they were very consistent) I'm going to have to give that award to Spoon who released 4 superb albums and I can't but wait for their new album Transference which will be out in all of two weeks (I haven't even heard it and I know it's going to be great).

7. Kid A - Radiohead
You can't do a best of list for the last two decades without including Radiohead. In the 90s they released The Bends and OK Computer and this decade whilst all four albums were great, it was really Kid A and In Rainbows that stood out. But Kid A just represented this decade. When it came out people were confused. Why had Radiohead completely left their anthemic rock roots behind and gone electronic. Coldplay came along to fill that anthem space that Radiohead had perfected in the 90s whilst Radiohead went on one of the most creative streaks in history. Kid A is the soundtrack of the 21st century. It turns so many people off when you first listen to but give it time and you realise the genius hidden inside this album, it's eccentric, imaginative and incredible. Whilst people thought that Kid A would be the album that would save rock music (a mantel quickly shifted to The White Strips and The Strokes) what Radiohead did was far more important, they almost changed the way that people should look at music, especially if you look at their recent experiments with releasing songs to the public for free.

6. Origin of Symmetry - Muse
Nope Muse have not made my top 5, but they did beat Radiohead to whom many art snobs say that Muse are inferior copy. Overall I'd say that Kid A and Origin of Symmetry but I put Origin of Symmetry in front mostly because Kid A is getting far more press that Origin of Symmetry. Muse are one of the biggest bands in the world and some of the most experimental. Not experimental in that completely extreme way that Radiohead are but in ways that their sound benefits. But Origin remains their biggest triumph. It's not their breakthrough like Absolution is and sadly far too many fans name that album as their best when really it's a bit uneven. But Origin of Symmetry is the sound of a confident band who know the sound they want to achieve. Look at songs like New Born and Plug in Baby, those are two of the best songs of the decade and they come from the same album. Muse are undeniably one of the best rock bands of the decade. Rock is a fundamentally changed genre from what it meant in the 70s and 80s, but as long as bands like Muse stay in the driving seat, I'll be excited to see where they take us.

5. The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New
Brand New used to be an average pop-punk band. There are still fans who clamour for those days. I have trouble understanding that. 70x7 is one of their most requested songs and it just sounds like all those Blink182 and Jimmy Eat World wannabes. Then Deja Entendu happened and Brand New matured. It was still pop-punk but it sounded different. Edgier, rockier. Whilst it wasn't quite the masterpiece that this album it was a move in the right direction. Then TDAGARIM happened and it was one of the best post rock albums ever. They perfected the quiet loud dynamic used by so many different bands with cryptic lyrics (so cryptic that there was an actual outcry from fans that the lyrics weren't included with the CD). Two instrumentals and some absolutely incredible songs. They might be classified as emo, but even if you have distaste for the entire emo movement, there's no denying the expert musicianship found in this album.

4. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
The story for this album will probably go down in history. There was a break up, so James Vernon decided to go away to get over this relationship. Whilst there he may have gone a little insane and starting to write lyrics all over the wall. However the lyrics and music that he wrote are some of the best to come out of this past decade. If you like acoustic folky music with almost an ethereal sound then you need to hear this album. Yes the album is achingly romantic and the back story has been so oft repeated that it loses a lot of its impact, but it's just amazing music. Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) is now one of the biggest forces in indie music, going so far as to feature on the Twilight soundtrack (along with other list makers, Radiohead, Muse and Death Cab for Cutie). It came out of nowhere with it's immense loneliness and near mythic story. But behind all of that lies one of the best albums to ever be recorded. Just listen to Skinny Love and hear for yourself.

3. The Midnight Organ Fight - Frightened Rabbit
Recently voted as one of the best Scottish albums of the decade, Frightened Rabbit provided not just that, but one of the best British albums of the decade. Considering that includes bands like Radiohead and Muse, that's praise indeed. Whilst I'm probably speaking in hyperbole, I don't think I can convey how much I love this album. Again it's another break up album (much like my favourite album of all time is Pinkerton) but that probably speaks more about my mental state through most of the decade (hence the emo albums on this list). But that doesn't degrade how great this album is. Modern Leper kicks of the album in absolute style and we get taken through 14 tracks of these drunk potty mouthed Scotsmen and their awesome music. One of my anticipated albums of 2010 is Frightened Rabbit's third album and if it's anywhere near as good as this triumph then you should be excited as well. It's hard to convey what makes this album work. They're not the most innovative band in the world but their music is just filled with a vigorous amount of heart that just begs to be listened to. So many different styles that just come to together to make that oh so rare cohesive whole, Frightened Rabbit succeded at make a perfect indie rock record which sadly hasn't received as much attention as countless other Scottish bands this decade who in my mind have just made inferior albums. Sadly two other albums from across the pond managed to beat the best British album of the decade, but let it be known us Brits put some incredible music this decade as well.

2. The Red Tree - Moneen
People who know me might be a little surprised by this albums placement and honestly for months it was going to be number 1. Easily my most played album of the decade and despite not being a concept album or progressive rock, it's just one of the most seamless albums of the decade. There are practically no breaks in sound but you know when each new song begins. They just float into each other and create this seamless whole. Brand New may be one of the best quiet/load bands in the business but Moneen have a seemingly God-like ability to make songs sound as brilliant in either an acoustic or full band form. Some bands are better in one or the other but Moneen are one band I could listen to in either form. Just listen to The Red Tree and then Saying Something You Have Already Said Before and you'll understand. They even managed to perfect the perfect song which I was shocked by. They might be emo, they might be loud but they wrote one of the hardest hitting emotional albums of the decade which just sounds incredible. Moneen might not be the best known band in the world but these Canadian rockers are just so well liked within bands in Canada. Even indie purists know these guys have incredible talent. Whilst Canada has put out some incredible albums this decade, two stand head and shoulders above the rest and rank in at numbers 1 and 2 on my list.

1. Funeral - Arcade Fire
It couldn't not be. It's the most critically acclaimed album of the decade and it came out in 2004. It's the best debut of the decade by far and it's influence is just so far stretching. Hell even Coldplay tried to emulate what this album does on their latest and failed at capturing the heart and soul that this album has. Funeral is lightning in a bottle that even Arcade Fire were unable to catch again on Neon Bible. It's a great album, but Funeral is the try success story of the decade. Win Butler may not have the best voice of all time but you can feel his passion behind every word that he sings. It just makes this album sizzle. It might not be in English all of the time as there are occasionally parts where it lapses into French, but when an album can overcome having French on it you know you have a winner. Dual vocals, a menagerie of instruments and some epic songs. There are danceable tunes and whilst it's not all guitars and drums like many music purists would prefer to see, Arcade Fire have created an orchestra of sounds. This album is my most consistently listened to. I'll bring it at least once a week without hesitation and I can actually remember where I was the first time I heard it, which is more than I can say for a lot of these albums no matter how much I love them. Hearing this album for the first time, you might think it sounds good because it sounds different. Even if you only listen to about 15 minutes of it. After that you just know it's special. You'll come back just to listen again and make sure, but it's still got a spark. That spark will keep you coming back for more and more. If the 2000s are remembered for anything let's hope it isn't terrorism, recessions, natural disasters, the reality TV show boom or corrupt politicians. I hope we're remembered for bringing the world the perfection that is Funeral, an album bound to go down as one of the best albums in history.*

*I was going to say the decade should also be remembered for The Wire, but then I realised that corrupt politicians are a big part of that. So instead it gets listed down here in an addendum.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

First Impressions - Doctor Who - The End of Time

This is only a first impressions post because it's the first two parts and in all honestly this will either be the best thing ever or come crashing down on itself next week. So let's get this underway.

What was good? Well first the obvious parts, David Tennant and John Simm proved that they are two of the best British actors currently and practically any scene with one or both of these actors was mesmerizing (particularly those with both). It's going to be a shame when Tennant leaves, whilst I'm sure the writing will be a lot stronger, we'll be losing one the most talented actors in the world. Depending on how next week plays out, John Simm could actually return in the Matt Smith years, but David Tennant would be relegated to the " 'X number' of Doctors" episodes, which they haven't actually done as a whole episode yet, only the short 'Time Crash' (written by Steven Moffat, so who knows).

However yes these two actors just completely dominated this episode. John Simm particularly, playing almost a complete 180 of the Master he portrayed two years ago. However he was still fantastic and next week with him being around a lot more is just even more enticing. Honestly I do hope that someone has the bright idea to create a show with these two as the lead actors. Maybe a showcase idea where they portray different characters and tell a different story every week or if they wanted series. It would be an amazing showcase for writing and these actors. Just an idea, but its something I'd love to see, especially with actors who have such incredible chemistry on screen (much like Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn do on Lost)

We got RTD normal set up here, whilst I wasn't as pumped as I was a year and a half ago at the end of the Stolen Earth, I honestly can't wait till next week. I will say maybe that's a good thing, this ending felt a lot less epic than last years so would apparently take less to wrap up. Yes the Time Lords are back, but this feels a lot more intimate, with only about 5 characters they could focus on next week, it's a lot better than last years massive cast of character each having to have their own beat. Plus the promise we have for next week is that David Tennant is going to die and we ALL know that's going to happen. RTD can't pussy out like with Billie Piper and Catherine Tate so we will see a proper death (as far as any Time Lord death can be 'proper'). However I feel if he were given the choice some crazy plot-hole would mean David Tennant could stick around (hell he could what with the Other Doctor existing in the parallel world).

Alright other good things? Bernard Cribbens was great but sadly didn't get as much to chew on as John Simm despite being the announced Companion for this two-parter. It is odd that John Simm's involvement was quieted for quite a while (at least as quiet as it can get in this age of spoilers) and yet he has such a massive part within these episodes. I'm glad for it, but you'd think they'd have made a bigger deal of it.

Time Lords coming back was the next logical step for RTD so not massively surprising, however turning the whole world into John Simm was. I have no clue how that will get wrapped up but still I'm intrigued. I've seen all the making of footage for this and listened to the commentary and I have to say how much of a bloody good sport John Simm was to go through so many costume changes for his scenes at the end. Plus I'm surprised to say that all the clothes actually suited him, even the women's.

It wasn't the best set up episode RTD has done, but it felt right. He doesn't have as many loose threads as he has in the past so hopefully he can pull it all together. At the moment whether it's going to more like the Series 1 end or the Series 2 end. Whilst both were great goodbyes, Series 2 suffered with the Daleks being wiped out far too easily. So I'm hoping for more of Series 1 ending, even if that was the last time we had a regeneration and I see David Tennant getting one last meaty scene to chew on as he regenerates. But I can't honestly say.

My main complaints are just normal RTDisms. Such as the stupid campy humour, such as the Silver Cloak with obligatory gay member. I'd braced myself for that because they released all those scenes to the public so it wasn't too bad. However I cannot forgive the music playing during the alien scenes. It was completely wrong and I'm upset because it really costed Murray Gold of his normally impeccable scoring. But those are just niggles and the camp bit came with the territory. However I can say John Simm camp humour I can live with, him in dresses h actually pretty cool (his dance in 'Last of the Time Lords' was pushing it though). So I think it mostly just depends on when the camp humour is used (last year taught us to never do it with the Daleks).

However the episode was quite disjointed. It darted all over the place in terms of setup and whilst I enjoyed the performances (for some reason I've found people who disliked John Simm's performance) I can't say the story was the most satisfying. As I said it worked perfectly well as set up but was definitely one of RTD weaker set up storylines. I can't believe I'm actually somewhat defending a man who's probably going to fuck up everything next week, but this episode felt like he had a lot of ideas he wanted to get down on paper in time for the second part and I hope beyond hope it works.

If I were to rate the episode so far I'd say about an 8 out of 1o. But as I said it all rests on next Friday's episode. Let's see how the joint villains of John Simm and Timothy Dalton are able to kill everyones favourite Time Lord. Hell even if it sucks I've got Series 5 to look forward to with Steven Moffat taking over as writer.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Favourite Albums/Songs of 2009

Here we go. To all those people who read my blog and might at all be interested in what it is that I've been listening to all year. You might have seen the odd song in my monthly posts which might give some idea (although probably not as I do tend to skip around different years when I'm sat listening to music). But here we are at the end of 2009 and in music, 2010 has officially started (albums are already leaking such as the new Los Campesinos! (damn good btw)). So lets look back upon the last 12 months in music. I definitely felt that 2009 was stronger for more alternative music than for critically acclaimed indie music but it does seem that the two tend to swap between being my favourite genre (the last time this happened was 2006 when ironically both Brand New and Moneen had new albums out, so maybe it's something to do with those bands?).

So without further ado, album number 11

11. Hell or High Water - As Cities Burn
Probably the most underrated album of the year. Whilst they may be (unfairly pegged) as a Christian rock band, As Cities Burn made something excellent on this their last record. It's hard to say what exactly makes this album so good. But it was the first album of 2009 I truly dug, so it's just a shame that so much great music was released this year that it only finds itself at number 11

10. These Four Walls - We Were Promised Jetpacks
Another awesome year for Scottish music. Whilst The Twilight Sad released a great album this year, I felt we should give some respect to the newbies. They not be as polished as The Twilight Sad were on their debut or as superb on Frightened Rabbit's last release (still one of the best of the decade) but this album is just a great little album. It's dripping with the style of it's Scottish brethren and post-punkness. And yes, there is a little bit of the Arctic Monkeys in there.

9. xx - The xx
I haven't been listening to The xx for that long but their debut is just that impressive. By far the most intriguing debut of the year (whilst number 1 is technically a debut it is very much linked to a band that disbanded in 2007). The xx are an entirely unique band with a sound like no other. Already this debut is having words thrown around such as it being the most important debut since Arcade Fire's Funeral (I'd be intrigued by any album if it was compared to that album). Whilst completely differently sonically from Arcade Fire, it's an entirely unique album and really very minimalist. Whilst I'm not sure The xx will be able to sustain this level of greatness (one member of the band left due to exhaustion) this debut seems to have captured lightning in a bottle, which I'm sure I'll be enjoying for months to come.

8. Daisy - Brand New
One of the best bands of the decade released their fourth album this year. Whilst it definitely isn't their best work it still shows signs of their ordinary brilliance. The album starts off in extraordinary fashion with 'Vices', one of the biggest mindfucks of the year. Sadly it tails off with 'Bed' (dreadful, dreadful song) then the "obviously made for single" 'At the Bottom' which ruin the flow of the album. Luckily after the weirdness of 'You Stole' the albums shifts it into high gear and opens up as one of the richest and most dense albums of the year. Whilst it's still polarising to fans (it just isn't as good as 2006's 'TDAGARIM') it still comes out on top proving that even when they only make half an album work, Brand New are just one of the bands making music in the world at the moment.

7. The World I Want To Leave Behind - Moneen
One of my favourite bands in the world came back in 2009 with another awesome album. Whilst it might not be as brilliant as The Red Tree (I seem to be saying that a lot of these albums aren't as good as another album) but it still shows that these guys are one of the most underrated bands in the world. The fact that these guys haven't blown up when they are one of the best 'rock' bands in the world at the moment seems insane to me. This record is a lot more produced and clean than their past releases, and in some cases a lot more straightforward (the level of math rock has definitely decreased) but they have come out with some of the best songs of the year on an amazingly cohesive album. It's just a shame that these guys already recorded the perfect album and that this work, whilst brilliant has to live in The Red Tree's shadow.

6. Beggars - Thrice
You've probably heard of Thrice by now. Whilst not in that pantheon of critically acclaimed artists like Radiohead, they receive a lot of praise from the 'scene' for being one of the most creative bands in the world and always striving for a different sound, which is what they achieved here. Gone are the post hardcore screams and instead we get a slower more refined piece which I would argue is the bands finest effort. Beggars is melodic and if you went back to their first release (which came out some 8 years ago) you'd see just how far this band has progressed. Thrice are by far one of the most captivating bands in the world and you'd be stupid to miss out them, another of those under appreciated 'rock' bands.

5. Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
It's probably sacrilege by this point to not have Animal Collective on the end of 2009 list. These guys are the new critical darlings and whilst of course that brings with it the backlash of people not normally listening to this genre jumping in and proclaiming it shit (it happens with films all the time, see last years Oscar winner 'Slumdog Millionaire' and the year before 'Juno'). Whilst I can see a lot of the problems that these people (normally from the 'scene') have with it, I have to say it's one of the most fun and original indie pop records ever. It might just be noise but the different vocals and styles make for very layered noise. And 'My Girls' is probably one of the most likable songs of the year. Animal Collective have been around for years but it's with Merriweather Post Pavilion that they blew up to be indie poster boys with the likes of Arcade Fire and Spoon.

4. Mean Everything to Nothing - Manchester Orchestra
Best rock album of the year? Yes they were on Gossip Girl but all that music is chosen by a woman with one of the best ears for music in the world. Manchester Orchestra are best friends with Brand New and whilst Brand New might beat them to one of the defining moments of alt-rock this decade, Manchester Orchestra trounced 'Daisy' this with 'Mean Everything to Nothing'. One of those albums that just needs to be listened to from beginning to end. It's emotional, full of awesome hooks, anthems and is just one of the best albums of the year. The lead singer even described it as 'Pinkerton on steroids' and whilst it might not be the epitome of perfection of that album, it still is worthy of that name. In any other year I might have proclaimed this as the best album of the year, but of course we still have three albums to go. Now those have to be outright incredible

3. Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons
A band I only discovered recently. Very much a spur of the moment download, it stems from a friend saying that no band with 'Fuck' in their name was good and from a very regular stream of tweets between directors Edgar Wright ('Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz') who was listening to this band whilst editing his new movie and Jason Reitman ('Juno') whom was in discussion of how good the album was. So I listened and was blown away. I'm a big fan of post-rock. No vocals and just instruments building to a climax and then slowly fading into the next song. So many different styles can be found on one album and bands like Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor corner the market, but Fuck Buttons are unique. Fronted by only two people, one raised on rock, the other electronica, we get a wholly unique creation. The birth child of Mogwai and Aphex Twin. 'Tarot Sport' is more easily accessible than 2008's 'Street Horrsing', whilst they're still loud and aggressive there's a lot more subtly. The songs will frequently be 9 or 10 minutes long and take you on a cinematic journey through sweeping epics. With only two albums under their belt, Fuck Buttons have cemented themselves as one of my absolute favourite British bands and I can't wait to see what 2010 has in store for them, I just hope we got more of the best electronic noise band in the world

2. Aim and Ignite - fun.
fun. didn't come from nowhere. fun. is kind of like a phoenix (not to be confused with French band Phoenix who put out a pretty incredible album this year), it rose from the death of another great band, The Format, the band that lead singer Nate Reuss was part of. Luckily fun. feels like an extension of their original sound. The Format had released the brilliant 'Dog Problems' just before they broke up which showcased a brilliant indie pop sound. fun. takes this sound and begis to go in so many different directions. The songs are vibrant, original, full of energy and ultimately unpredictable. There's so many different elements to all the songs and listing them all seems like a pointless en devour. It might not be as seamless as other albums I would normally proclaim as one of the best of the year, but when your album has songs such as 'Be Calm' (I love that song soooo much) then I can forgive it not being as seamless as my favourite album of the year. fun. wrote a pop album which should be the touchstone of the 'pop' albums we hear in the charts. It's uplifting, enlightening and no one could listen to this album without feeling happy afterward. Nate Reuss is one of the best vocalists in the world (so yes that does mean no auto tune) and I'd be a lot happier with the world if decent 'pop' music like that which fun. makes were topping the charts instead of artists like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. But I'm also a selfish bastard, and finding an unknown band like fun. is the half fun of music, the fact that I get to hear a new and refreshing sound before it gets bastardized by the corporations or (heaven forbid) covered for the X-Factor.

1. Act III: Life and Death - The Dear Hunter
Before I start this I would like to say, don't start with Act III of The Dear Hunter's six part epic, instead it's necessary to start with Act I and Act II, it shows the evolution of one of the most promising bands in the world. Concept albums are becoming startlingly common and whilst a lot of them are quite bad, Dear Hunter injects new life into the concept. All three of their albums are dense and it's almost a requirement to just sit and concentrate upon them. They're also so dense and it's draining to listen to them (although the hour long length doesn't help). The band have had two albums to experiment and now they come about to hone their sound, it still darts across so many influences and genres but it now sounds like The Dear Hunter, due in no part to the tremendous vocals and effort put in by Casey Crescenzo. So many different genres are littered throughout, jazz, ragtime, prog, rock, bluegrass, ballads. There are slow songs and fast songs but all come to together into a cohesive blend (again this an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. If you've been listening to this band since the beginning then you know just how far they've matured, but if you're interested in them you need to start from the beginning and be a part of that journey. But for now we have to long wait for Act IV, whenever that might eventually come out.

And of course my favourite songs of 2009.

11. Lady Blue - As Cities Burn
My favourite song from of the most underrated albums of the year. Taking pieces from earlier songs on the album and even using a chain (?) as an instrument. Gang chanting make for a great song which was probably heard by far too few people.

10. Vices - Brand New
Chosen for more for the "Holy Fuck!" moment but an awesome way to kick of an album. Whilst all the momentum in this first song is lost by the awful 'Bed' (I really hate that song) it still stands as a glowing moment on the album which sadly finds itself so disconnected from the superb second half of the album

9. Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear
Sunshine-y indie pop music will litter this list but it was fantastic year for that sort of thing and this Beach Boys tinged song is absolutely superb (although the video is a tad creepy)

8. Crystalised - The xx
The very definition of headphone music. Minimalist beats with dual vocals mean not a single second of this song is wasted on extra elements

7. MK Ultra - Muse
The Resistance wasn't the second coming like many people were hoping and whilst it was a great album it doesn't hold a candle to Muse's other efforts but we still need to recognise the awesomeness of 'MK Ultra'. This was the yer that Muse showed they were fans of Battles ('Uprising') and Queen ('United States of Eurasia'). Hell they even wrote a symphony, but MK Ultra is the true centrepiece of The Resistance. Luckily Muse are still the best live band on the planet, so we can forgive them for the misstep that is 'Undisclosed Desires'

6. Doublespeak - Thrice
I could have chosen any song from Beggars but I chose this one mostly because it's cacthy, has a very cool piano and ends up being one of the heavier songs on the album. Plus references to 1984 are always welcome in my book.

5. I've Got Friends - Manchester Orchestra
The biggest anthem from the undeniably best rock album of the year. Whilst it's another one of those albums that lends better to be listened to all the way through, this lead single is an excellent in point for a band that just brought it in 2009.

4. Waterfalls - Moneen
I love all things acoustic and string. Moneen might be a rock band but they can do acoustic music like no other. Whilst this song is less acoustic than the one released on their EP earlier in the year, Moneen just know how to layer music to make already great songs even better.

3. My Girls - Animal Collective
Yes it's the most critically acclaimed song of the year and yes Animal Collective is now bigger than Jesus (in some circles) and now the backlash is coming in waves. So many people hate these guys but I'm not here to slam them, instead sing their praises for writing one of the most ingenious and near unanimously loved songs of the year/decade. Even haters have to admit the genius behind this one.

2. Surf Solar - Fuck Buttons
10 minutes long of just static I've heard this described as. Whilst that description does hold some weight I can't help but love this song and this band. The rises and the slowly layering of different elements. Rock purists might feel this is an electronic wank fest but honestly I couldn't give a fuck, one of the best songs of the year easily

1. Be Calm - fun.
No other song that came out this could touch this masterpiece. So many different elements make this song as awesome as it is. There's the string instruments, trumpets, accordian, Nate Ruess' vocals. Hell there's even a theremin used. A few months ago I was asked what my 'happy' song is. I can now safely say it's this song easily my most played of 2009.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Of Dexter Season 4

Well it's been a year, Dexter has come to an end once again. This really does mark an end to 2009 American television. Whilst Brits have a plethora of Christmas television to get excited all the big American shows are over. Glee ended last week, Mad Men has been of for weeks and we're now counting to the mid-season premieres of shows like Lost, Chuck and Breaking Bad.

Luckily 2009 ended in spectacular fashion for what has been a fantastic year in television. So Dexter Season 4 was a great improvement over Season 3. Whilst Season 3 was great, it larked the spark of Dexter in Season 1 and 2. Even though the show will probably scale to the heights of Season 1 and those tense last few episodes of Season 2, the show is still absolutely fantastic.

If you've followed my blog long enough then I'm sure you know that Michael C. Hall is superb as Dexter. One of those perfect character/actor blends. But I've spoken way to much about how great his performance in my other Dexter blog posts. So instead this year I'm going to focus on two other actors who made Season 4 so great.

Whilst Michael C. Hall takes almost all of the spotlight for the show, especially since he is named in the title, the other characters on the show are often overshadowed. Julie Benz as Rita is decent but comes off as a tad unlikeable. Also whilst LaGuerta and Batista are likable they're aren't the main draw for the show. The show has had tremendous talent such as Erik King's character of Doakes whose death was certainly one of the more annoying things about that second season finale and Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado in Season 3 was absolutely brilliant.

But how was Season 4 going to top Jimmy Smits' performance? Well by hiring John Lithgow of course! John Lithgow was absolutely incredible this past season on the show as the Trinity Killer as one of the most detestable serial killers ever put to screen. He abuses his family and has killed four people a year for the past 30 years. Honestly this performance is a tour de force. He's someone you hate and yet whenever he's on screen you just can't look away. You know he could snap at any minute and whenever he's on screen it just ratchets up the tension a staggering amount. Truly one of the best performances that I've seen all year.

Then there was Jennifer Carpenter as Deborah Morgan. Whilst she might be as incredible as her real life husband Michael C. Hall, she holds her own and has to deal with some extremely tricky pieces of acting through the season. Reacting to her loves death at the hands of Trinity as well as finding out that the Ice Truck Killer (Season 1) was her step-brothers brother. She buoys all her scenes with some great emotional actor and has definitely moved on in leaps and bounds since Season 1.

This season of Dexter was interesting off the bat with the idea of that there was someone out there killing all these people and logically Dexter wanted to stop him, but was balancing this with his family and newborn son. However then the first twist of the season came. Trinity wasn't some loner, instead he was a family man, who went to church and built houses for the homeless. Whilst at first the season stalled after this, all was rectified by the time we got to 'Hungry Man'. An absolutely superb episode where we learned the true nature of Trinity and spun the season on to a truly fantastic final string of episodes.

Whilst in the end we all knew what the outcome would be, it was still so tense. Trinity was matching Dexter, and whilst he may not have been as closer as any of the innumerable killers that Dexter has had to dispatch, this one definitely had the biggest impact. Trinity was evil and had a system which he sadly managed to somewhat carry out in the finale episode of the season.

Many people have commented that ending to Season 4 of Dexter was similar to that of 24 Season 1 but that doesn't take away the impact. The finale was great up until that point including the poignant final scene between Dexter and Trinity but it's when we get to see the true extent of his evil. Trinity did not no other killer had done and killed someone close to Dexter, Rita. Those final few minutes of Dexter finding his wife in a bath tub of her own blood (echoing Trinity's first kill on the show) and his son on the floor, covered in her blood (echoing Dexter's own gateway to become a killer) were almost poetic. Upsetting but poetic but really leave us wanting to know what's going to happen in Season 5.

However this leads me to a final point. Whilst Dexter Season 4 was fantastic, the show NEEDS to announce an end date. Dexter is a show that has finite concept. We can't follow Dexter forever and the show needs to end soon. It also doesn't help that Season 2 felt like a final season and that we knew that Season 4 wouldn't be the last. The moment the show announces an end date the tension is really going to ratchet up to levels not seen since Season 2. Luckily the show managed to do something that changes the show this year but it would be nice for a two season arc, but every single season wraps everything in a bow which is quite grating (paticularly Season 2). So please Dexter, end next year whilst you're still on top. Sadly shows that get record breaking ratings in their fourth season don't go away easily. Ahh well Season 6 maybe?

In conclusion Dexter Season 4 was fantastic. It might not be better than Season 1 or 2 but was definitely better than the glacial Season 3 and actually did something that is going to change the show (hopefully for the better). John Lithgow was absolutely superb and we got the normal brilliance from Michael C. Hal. Now that the show has done something to significantly shake up the status quo going into their fifth season, I can't wait to see what happens next. Sadly we're going till next September to find out what the true impacts of this event were.


Monday, 14 December 2009

Of December 2009

Well it's December. And I do mean December. I'm writing this half way through the month so I apologise for the lateness. I would say I've been busy, which I have been, but honestly not too busy to keep putting off a blog post. However I will be doing a lot more later on in the month and early on in the New Year as part of a wrap up of 09 and the decade.

However first up is the important part. It's almost Christmas! Which brings with it the onslaught of Christmas Television! So lets get it started. First off, American television dies this time of year, so us British people have to rely on the shows that our country produces but luckily the best shows are normally on this time of year so that's a good thing.

First up the Glee premiere tomorrow on E4. I'll speak more about Glee in my Top 10 Shows of 2009 (spoilers) but for now if you want a very funny light show which has a very mean sense of humour whilst being on of the most fun shows on television (as long as you don't have any qualms with the idea of popular hits being played). Think of it as my Pushing Daisies replacement without the impeccable art direction and superb dialogue. (On other UK debuts HIMYM and Big Bang Theory start new seasons this Thursday also on E4)

Then are the current seasons of Gavin and Stacey and Top Gear which will be running throughout the Christmas period will have another Special episodes where they go to Bolivia which is guaranteed to be hilarious and Gavin and Stacey will be airing their last few episodes with the penultimate episode being moved to Christmas Day (two years in a row plus the episode that will be airing will only be set a few months after last years) and New Years Day where the last ever episode will air (*sob*).

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Review of 2009 will air December 22nd on BBC4 and is a much watch for anyone. The only real shame is that it isn't an entire series but we still get Charlie Brooker's absolutely perfect, biting criticism of the television industry as a whole. It's like Christmas will be coming early.

Then the inevitable elephant in the room, Doctor Who. David Tennat's last ever episodes as the Doctor and of course the BBC's pimping out of David Tennant with his stint as Hamlet airing on Boxing Day and Tennant appearing on shows such as QI and Nevermind the Buzzcocks. Doctor Who is taking over the BBC this year and with good reason. David Tennant was a superb Doctor and it will be sad to see him go, however next year marks the first year with Stephen Moffat in control which will be superb (particularly if rumours of a Neil Gaiman penned episode are true) If you aren't watching Doctor Who this year then something is seriously wrong with you (even if the second episode will probably disappoint).

Outnumbered will be airing a Christmas Special on 27th December but it's airing at 10:30 on BBC1, seems if anything a bit of a kick in the balls for one of the funniest shows on British television airing that late two days after Christmas. Especially when it's one of the few shows which has been able to find endearing and funny child actors (and of the best uses of ad-libbing I've ever seen).

Channel 4 will be airing countdowns of the best songs and TV shows of the decade so I'm curious to see what tops their list. Whilst the song list will probably be dire, the TV show will be forgiven as long as The Wire is at number 1 (or at the very least top 5). Those are both on various points after Christmas Day with the main one being New Year's Eve (however crammed in the middle is "Your Top 20 Celebrity Big Brother moments which thankfully Radio Times have not given their stamp of approval).

Also as the decade ends we get to revisit many brilliant shows with Sky2 spending all of December 30th re-airing Lost Season 5, whilst of course some of it will be censored, if you want to catch up for the inevitably jaw dropping Season 6 in February I'd watch just to remember all the important developments of Season 5. Also More4 from New Year's Eve onwards are doing a Graham Linehan marathon with all of The IT Crowd, Father Ted and Black Books airing for those who love British comedy it's a must see.

Whilst New Year's Day is going to be very busy what with David Tennat's last episode of Doctor Who (plus John Simm is in it and who doesn't love John Simm?) and last ever episode of Gavin and Stacey but Channel 4 are airing their Big Fat Quiz of the Year. Charlie Brooker is one of the contestants (on the same team as David Mitchell) and the only judge I want to see replaced is Claudia Winkelman, for whom I would love to see replaced by Noel Fielding as him and Russell Brand work so well together (even if you hate them). However it's on at the same time as Gavin and Stacey so I'd watch that first and then flip over (I have Sky+ so I can see both)

That should be about it in terms of Christmas television. Look out for my reviews of Doctor Who (they'll be reviewed separately) and Dexter Season 4 and Gavin and Stacey Season 3 (and possibly the show as a whole). Plus a review of Avatar and Where the Wild Things are! (but you probably know I'm lying).

I will also posting my Favourite Albums and Songs of the year/decade and my Top 10 Shows of 2009/decade like last year (without it being spread over 10 days like last year as I've already reviewed most shows on the list properly and it will get very boring to hear me raving repeatedly). I might do a movies list and I'm also looking for recommendations for best songs of the decade as it will be a list of 25 and I want to make sure I include a lot of genres on my list (not just my own personal tastes)

So for now I say goodbye and I wish my small reader base a Merry Christmas!!!

Currently Listening To: Christmas TV - Slow Club
Currently Reading - Blankets
Currently Watching (TV) - Big Bang Theory Season 2 (followed by Damages Season 1

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Of Doctor Who - The Waters of Mars

I'm incredibly sorry for posting this so late, but honestly I've been really very busy, at least too busy to blog. I promised this weeks ago along with my thoughts on Muse. All I'll say about that is that was a fantastic night out, awesome set list (although a bit too much Resistance) and a superb light show. If you do ever get a chance to go see Muse ever, I would heartily recommend you do so as not only are they one of the best bands in the world, but also one of the best live bands in the world.

But anyways, on with my review of The Waters of Mars. Waters of Mars was one of the previously announced Doctor Who specials that we would get in place of a real season of Doctor Who this year. I gave Planet of the Dead a very positive review a few months ago (maybe a little bit too positive, but I really enjoyed it even if no one else did) and I'm going to do the same here. This review is going to be very short and sweet and I'm not going to delve into a lot of areas that I might normally do. If you've read any of my previous Doctor Who reviews then you know that David Tennant is absolutely superb and there's no need to reiterate that here. I will be doing say come new years which might devolve into more of David Tennant memorandum consider it will be his last foray as the Doctor*

So instead this review is going to focus on one thing. Russel T. Davies. I have a love/hate relationship for this man. He has shepherded this new Doctor Who since the beginning and has written some amazing episodes. He picked the actors and has done some incredible character moments. However he's also proven an incredible lack of ability at writing science fiction beats, relying quite frequently on dues ex machina type endings, particularly the finale to Season 4. The man has done a lot to help this series but also harmed with an overabundance of campy, kiddie humour and cop out endings. It's making me incredibly excited to think what Stephen Moffat will do when he takes over next spring, but on some level I will be upset to see RTD leave the show.

This episode was pretty much a showcase for RTD best and worst talents. Luckily the good out weighed the bad by a lot but there still existed a lot of quite annoying points about this episode. Firstly we had the robot. This was probably my biggest complaint about the episode. It was stupid and kiddie. Whilst it was arguably necessary for the conclusion, there was no reason for it to be so goddamn annoying or the weird inter-cutting of the guy controlling it being electrocuted. I should have known it would be bad when it was described as a 'cute robot sidekick, because kids love robots!' It was just stupid. It wasn't cute. TV and movies have done little cute sidekicks frequently before but this robot wasn't interesting at all. It didn't have any personality which was probably its biggest flaw and the scene where it is made to go super fast was awful. However that did save us from the awful running sequences. Whilst we got some funny jokes with the Doctor asking for little fold away bicycles, so much of the time was taken up by running sequences that it go a little tedious. For a time period where we had lasers and a space station on Mars (both of which could be possible by 2059 IaSg14) we for some reason don't have a transportation system between different sectors of the base? Seriously, if you want to make a joke RTD at least ground it in reality and not make the audience have to take massive leaps of faith.

Now the good stuff. It was character based and not really sci-fi based. Just like Season 4's 'Midnight' (also written by RTD) we had something alien causing commotion but the reactions were human and grounded. That's what made Battlestar Galactica work so well and it did so here. Whilst Doctor Who will never touch BSG in terms of darkness just due to when and where it airs, it was nice to see something that whilst not believable was grounded in reality. The situation was significantly harrowing with the crew being whittled down until we didn't know who would survive. There were some nice hero and sacrificial moments (guy in rocket ship which annoying at first was a sufficiently awesome death scene) as well as the emotional points where some of the lesser crew members who we haven't actually spent time with get water on them and we know they're done. It made you feel for them because they had personality, if only a little. Although it was weird to see the two least developed characters ultimately surviving.

Then we have Adelaide played by Lindsay Duncan. She was great and was the main focal point of the story. The fact is that her death is a fixed point in time and if she doesn't die then the universe would completely change as it is her death which brings about contact with the outside universe. This is where we get a really interested moral quandary on the behalf of the Doctor. He knows she must die and wants to stay uninvolved from this in order to keep time under wraps (he is a Time Lord after all) however he comes around and decides to save all of the people he can on the station. Ultimately he saves three, including Adelaide but also tells her that she is meant to die or else all the good things brought by her death won't come about. This leads to one of the most powerful scenes Doctor Who has ever done.

Adelaide confronts the Doctor after he saves her and tells him how no man should wield the power to change time (all of this wonderfully grounded by David Tennant seemingly manic power rush from this event**) and eventually concludes with Adelaide deciding to take this into her own hands. So we get the darkest moment that Doctor Who has ever done and even rivals the superb scene in Torchwood from earlier this year. A companion literally kills herself. It was dark and well done and almost seemed like RTD had learned something from writing Torchwood that sometimes going a little dark is a good thing. It was necessary to sort out the timeline and show how power mad the Doctor had gone and whilst I've read complaints about that scene all I can do is applaud RTD for doing it. It was utterly fantastic and rounded off a great episode of Doctor Who.

Overall, this was a great special. Whilst a silly first 10 minutes drag this episode down a little, the rest is dark and dramatic with real tension and characters we can care for even with very little screen time. Overall this has probably been my favourite special that Doctor Who has done, including David Tennant's first Christmas Special and the dark turn towards the end to wrap up the story was the icing on the cake. I can't wait to see what Christmas will bring and am on tender hooks for Stephen Moffat's run. Lets just hope that RTD doesn't cock David Tennat's swan song.


*just as a note, I want to know if I should review the Christmas/New Year specials as a whole or two separate reviews. Considering they're a two parter I'm slightly torn and wondering whether I'll have a enough to say to pad out two reviews of what is essentially one story.

**goddamn it, I said I wouldn't do that

Monday, 9 November 2009

Of Mad Men Season 3

Well that marks the end of Mad Men Season 3 and this also marks the beginning of my third and final review of the show this year. Yup you read that right, I've reviewed all three seasons of Mad Men in these short 11 months. All I can really say is that Mad Men is without one of the best, if not the best, show that currently airs on television. Breaking Bad and Lost can both come close to reaching it's consistency but Mad Men just has that something that takes to a higher (and if you watch any of the shows I've just mentioned you know they're at a very high level to begin with).

So without further ado my review of the shows third season. If you have yet to watch the show then all I can really say is that there will be spoilers and that you should probably go out and watch it, it's just amazing.

So first off I want to get the acting out of the way just due to the fact that if you watch the show then you already know the high calibre that they have on the show. Jon Hamm continues to be superb as Don Draper, the character is just magnetic and Hamm just owns the character and his multiple layers and the dark past that he hides underneath all the business suits. January Jones as Betty was again amazing this year, as was Elisabeth Moss as Peggy, who sadly was sidelined a little after two superb episodes kicked off the year. John Slattery continues to steal pretty much every scene he's in as Roger Sterling with the best lines of anyone on the show. Christian Hendricks as Joan and Bryan Batt as Sal both were spectacular but they two sadly were left early on (but for completely understandable reasons). Also I need to mention Vincent Kartheiser as Pete for also being fantastic.*

However those were the main characters who we know are fantastic, this year we had several new characters and one in particular stood out. Jared Harris as Lane Pryce was an utterly superb addition to the cast this year. Jared Harris can be recognised for his work as Mr. Jones last season Fringe (ie the villain) and whilst he was a very good part of Fringe, he really shows off some astounding talent on Mad Men. It does seem like the writers were doing something similar to what the writers of Lost were doing in Season 2 when they introduced the character of Henry Gale. In Lost they were looking for an actor to portray the leader of the Others and went looking for an actor, if that actor worked then he would stay around, if he didn't he'd be killed off and they'd look for someone else. In both cases it worked and Michael Emerson came into play Henry Gale and is currently one of the best things about Lost and is easily one of the best character actors working today. Jared Harris has done a similar thing. Of all the scenes this season, I found myself looking forward to his scenes the most. He was funny and just a joy to watch, and with how the season ended it does look like he may be bumped up to main cast next season.

Now for the main crux of the season. Of course the show is set in the 60s and we've been told we'd see the entire decade in about 5 seasons. However the first surprise of the season was that the season didn't open like last year with a jump of a year but instead only a few short weeks. Meaning we saw a lot of the pregnancy announced at the end of last season. This led to some very trippy scenes which signaled that Mad Men was going to play around with pre-concieved notions of how the show normally is. There were hallucinations, sojourns to Italy, firings of not one but two main characters and unlike most cable shows the major event of the season didn't take place in the second to last episode but in the third to last episode AND the last episode.

Then there was the lawnmower scene. Mad Men doesn't do violence or push the censors much. Of course the show is dark and there's lots of sex and occasional swearing but overall it's done in a tasteful and realistic way. However the lawnmower that runs over someones foot was completely unexpected, in much the same way as the vomit scene in season 1. It comes out of nowhere, or at least whilst it's obvious that something is going to happen, you don't think that THAT would happen. But it does and blood sprays everywhere and it was shocking. It shows that Mad Men isn't playing it safe and wants to mess around with the conventions that it's made for itself.

We of course have to mention that Sal and Joan both left Sterling Cooper this reason. Sal for reasons that amounted to black mail due to the fact that he wouldn't sleep with a male client. Sal is by far one of the most interesting characters. He's the only gay character in the cast and the 60s attitude to homosexuality is something that has only been lightly touched on and I just hope he comes back in Season 4, even if we don't see him get his job back. Then there is Joan who leaves for different reasons in the fact that it's due to the belief that her husband will be able to support them both. He doesn't and we get some awesome moments, particularly due to the fact that this was the guy that raped her in season 2. The best moment being hitting him around the head with a vase and of course the "Hell Yeah!!" moment in the finale when she shows up to help save the day. Whilst this did lead to the false hope Sal might come back to do something similar. Instead Don kicks in the door, which if anything was even awesomer.

Of course this being Mad Men, it isn't really a straightforward story. The show is more a random collection of events in the lives of the people at Sterling Cooper. When you begin a season, you have no clue how or where it will end up. At the beginning each episode will be very loosely connected to what preceded it and it isn't until about episode 7 or 8 that the landscape of the season becomes clear. Mad Men did that this year, adventures based on different characters. There were moments for both Peggy and Pete to shine. Sal's secret came out to Don, the episode where Betty gave birth and Betty's father, Gene dying (which led to Kiernan Shipka make me take back what I've said about child actors been incapable of acting unless they're on The Wire).

However then we saw where it was going.

This season is where it happened. Betty found out about Don's true past. How he stole the real Don Draper's identity. Of course she didn't take it well, although at first it did seem very strange. Divorce papers and photos of a man called Dick Whitman. Then we got the scene where it all comes out. It was played superbly and of course in the background we had the fact that Don was having an affair with his children's teacher who was sat in the car during the entire confrontation who could make this already tense scene blow up even more than it already had. She didn't but it was quite possibly the tensest thing the show has ever done. Betty forgave him after she heard the full least until the next episode where she revealed her plan to divorce Don. Which is where we ended season 3, Don and Betty's marriage has come to end. Whilst it was inevitable due to Don's endless affairs and secrets it does change the landscape of the show significantly.

The other significant event? Nope it wasn't the assassination of JFK which occurred in the second to last episode. Nope it was the shocking turn of events which led to the entire collapse of Sterling Cooper and the formation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. This is the game changer that the show unleashed on us in the finale episode. A pitch perfect episode from start to finish. Whilst it did contain some dark and emotional moments such as Don threatening to beat Betty when she announces the divorce and the reaction of their children to the news, the episode was actually amazing upbeat, hilarious and a hell of a lot of fun. The episode was built like an old fashion caper like Ocean's 11 where we got to see the building of the team over the episode, there was jazzy up beat music and of course some brilliant lines. We had the return of Joan where then she and Roger acted like an old married couple**, Peggy deadpanning a no when asked to coffee. The brilliant reaction of Pryce when he told his bosses how he'd fired everyone, got himself fired and then managed to wish the a merry Christmas. It was superbly well done and of course we got some beautiful moments such as the conversation between Don and Peggy and how he would spend the rest of his life trying to hire her if she didn't say yes to his offer. So by the end we'd lost a large proportion of the cast and I honestly have no clue where we're going in season 4.

Overall Season 3 was fantastic. It took Mad Men to unexpected and unusual places. It played with normal conventions and mixed in the normal fantastic writing and acting we've come to expect. I haven't even mentioned some of the mixing of real life events of the sixties and key figures. There was of course the matter of race where we found out about racially motivated murders, the fact that Conrad Hilton (yes Paris' grandfather) was a key character and then the murder of JFK. Mad Men is essential television. It is the best thing currently on the air, this season showed it doesn't go for the expected conclusion instead throwing frequent curve balls that constantly keep you guessing.

If you aren't watching Mad Men then honestly there is something wrong with you. The fact the show gets very ratings proves that the vast majority of people of idiots. Mad Men is one of the most unique and brilliant shows on the air. I have no clue what is going to happen in Season 4, how long will the time jump be? Will Don stay away from Betty for long? Will SCDP be succesfull? Will we still see all the old characters? When is Don going to have his next affair? All I do know is I can't wait till next August and the return of the best show on television. Especially with the scope of the show now being expanded beyond the confines of the Sterling Cooper offices.


*If the acting quality weren't so high on this show I may have focused a little more on or two specific actors but it is and I love it for that.

**Side note, get those two back together in a relationship!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Of Jennifer's Body

Some few weeks ago I'd organised to go see Frightened Rabbit in concert, sadly the lead singer became ill and our date has re-compensated to a date next year. However this still meant a night out with friends was needed. After a day of texting non-stop to figure out a film, me wanting to go see Fantastic Mr. Fox them wanting to see a horror such as Saw VI and Fourth Kind. In the end we settled on Fourth Kind because Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn't on late enough and I put my foot down about see a Saw. However my friends girlfriend took so long getting ready we missed our movie by about 20 minutes. So looked to see what else was on, this was Jennifer's Body. So we buy our tickets and wait 40 minutes to go in.

What followed a mix between really quite funny and almost tear inducing boredom.

Jennifer's Body is aimed at teenage guys. No doubts there. There is literally a scene halfway through where Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox start making out on her bed with closeups. The ironic thing is it's another 30 minutes before Megan Fox informs she goes both ways. Congratulations movie I believe we figured that out when you were attempting to eat the contents of her stomach (an act they both enjoyed I'd like to add).

The plot of the movie is that a band want to make it big so they decide to offer a virgin up to a demon to give them fame, because as the lead singer points out (played by the best thing in the OC and also this movie, Adam Brody) there are just so many indie bands around nowadays it's impossible for any of them to make it. However Jennifer is not a virgin and the spell goes wrong. Now Jennifer is possessed and wants to eat boys to maintain her beauty.

Due to the fact that this is a Diablo Cody we get her patented faux-teen dialogue just like in Juno (which won her an Oscar). Sadly this movie will not win anyone an Oscar unless they create one for Best Lesbian Kiss. When Amanda Seyfried's character, Needy, mutter's "Cheese and Fries" instead of "Jesus Christ" it gets quite grating. Diablo Cody's writing seems to almost perfect for a self concious indie film. Not for a horror comedy. Whilst there is some humour in some scenes, most of the time it falls tremendously flat. Diablo Cody thinks she being so fucking funny and witty but really it does come off like a 30 year old woman trying to hang out with teenage. Trying to forget about the inevitability of menopause and wrinkles. In fact some of the dialogue just kills the movie, when Jennifer starts spouting witticisms when she supposed to be the Alpha Bitch it just doesn't make sense. She's an airhead and completely stupid there is no way she could speak like an indie movie character. Needy we can forgive because she is stereotypical down trodden girl but Jennifer?

Diablo Cody wants this to be some sort of alpha female kind of movie. Sadly she fails at that. Instead of a pro feminist message we just get a girl who fucks people to get what she needs. If you want to see something that gives off good messages to girls about how to take control but give up your dignity by showing your tits to everyone then watch Veronica Mars, Buffy or hell even Diablo Cody's far superior Juno. None of those characters want to fuck everything with a cock because they don't need to assert dominance. There's something about all those characters that makes them good examples for girls. They're strong, independent and know what they want and know how to use they're given talents without having to rely on they're sex to get boys what they want them to do. In Jennifer's Body there is a line about tits being smart bombs, point them at boys and BOOM (at which point the scene from Crank 2 in the strip club came to mind and I giggled).

Speaking of Veronica Mars, Jennifer's Body is a reunion for Veronica Mars actors! Sadly neither of them were major major (both really only appearing in one season each) and if I recall never actually being on screen at the same time throughout the show (however when one of them was murdered in the first episode of the show that's forgiveable. Kyle Gallner (Beaver in Veronica Mars) was another of the few bright spots in the film. He was great in Veronica Mars and has a few very funny scenes in this as well as being the only real victim of Jennifer we get to see kind of onscreen. It also led to one of the best moments of the film if only for my friend's girlfriends reaction when just by climbing through a window he made her jump out of her skin (she's not a big horror movie fan)

Back to the film! It's completed disjointed. It's only about 100 minutes long but it feels like about 200. There at least 4 different closure points that could be had and the place we think we'll have an epic final encounter isn't actually the place of that encounter. Instead that happens about 10 minutes later and is far less cool. After this the film should be over. However no they keep it going for another 10 minutes for no reason whatsoever. What's worse is that the final final encounter takes place during the credits but with pictures an not film. Imagine the credits to Hangover but instead of being a cool little collection of funny picture it's actually something important to the plot which could have been filmed properly and not in this idiotic and doesn't actually make a statement other than apparently the actor cannot direct some kind of action/mass murder scene.

So what was bad about Jennifer's Body? It feels like it stretches on for eternity (and not in a good way like Lord of the Rings), it fails on almost level throughout the story (and not just the third act like Men Who Stare At Goats, but the entire fucking movie), it's not scary at all (unless you're my friends girlfriend), the dialogue just doesn't work, it's way to far up it's own arse trying to be cult classic (which hopefully it'll never get to be). Oh and Megan Fox can't act for shit. Also she's not that hot. Also Transformers 2 is shit. Making Megan Fox's good movies of the year a grand total of none!

What was good? Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm...............

Adam Brody?

That scene where Kyle Gallner got eaten juxtaposed with a sex scene (which has the line "am I too big?" and also some quite funny facial expressions as the guy thinks hes a sex god)

And yeah I guess the Megan Fox/Amanda Seyfried kiss was good. But it was soft core lesbian porn. Also the kiss was like 2 minutes long. You could just tell every guy in the room with his girlfriend was uncomfortable during it. Mostly due to that fact they were probably thinking "god I wish I could get her to do that"

Overall, Megan Fox's body is overly mediocre. Bad dialogue, it's neither overly funny or scary. It's pretty much the quintessential teenage boy movie. Most boys will go in there for Megan Fox, wishing they were the guy who saw her tits or made out with her. Inevitable cum all over themselves during the lesbian scene (or at least have a wet dream about it later) and just forget about all the bad points later. Luckily I didn't because I am critic and I say this film is bad. Not diabolically bad. Just bad, and boring. There's no cohesion to anything, it lacks the buoying talent that Ellen Page was in Juno and fails on all the levels that it was supposed to succeed apart from being a voyeuristic fantasy look at Megan Fox's cleavage.

2009 is going to go down as the year of Megan Fox. After slow motion running in the Transformers 2 and lesbian kissing in Jennifer's Body she's going to be every boys fantasy. However I'm here to say that shes' not that hot, she couldn't act her way out of a wet paper bag and probably did use her tits to get the job. There are far scarier, far funnier and far better feminist movies out there. Skip out on this one if you know whats good for you. However if you're just going for the lesbian kiss knock yourself out, I assure you, there is far better stuff out there.

4/10 (for normal people)

837/10 (people who don't know how to find porn on the internet)

PS. Oooooh I remembered another positive! There's a really catchy song in the movie! Yeah that's it.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

November 2009

November really is the beginning of my favourite period of the year. It's a time where you don't ridiculed for not wanting to go outside because no one really wants to. It means you can stay in and watch films, play games or even if you want to go out its normally to somewhere indoors or something festivey or related to winter sports. It's a time of hibernation which doesn't really let up until February (or in the UK when we have that last freak snow storm). I love it. It means winter is almost upon us and I can actually have a bit of time to think (surprisingly I get more done during the Winter than in summer, my blog is testament to that).

So what do we have planned for the coming November? Well I've seen a few films I wouldn't mind reviewing. Stuff like Moon and Hurt Locker as well as hopefully Let the Right One In (I've had the DVD for months). I'm also going to cinema some point soon, whether the film is review worthy shall be seen.

I've also got two gigs in the coming weeks. First being Frightened Rabbit this Saturday (the awesome Scottish band and forerunners for my favourite band in the UK), which I'm sure will be awesome. I might do a review but only if the loudness has died and I can remember the set list. This is followed by Muse on the 13th which will be epic with their renown for being one of the best live acts on the planet.

November will also result of a review of Mad Men Season 3 going up in the next two weeks (I promise). This season has been awesome, but I really didn't need to tell you that.

Currently Listening To: Surf Solar - Fuck Buttons
Currently Reading - Fables
Currently Watching (TV) - Mad Men Season 3 Episode 12

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Of Weezer's Raditude

Yup I'm doing something musical. I'm not going to call it a review, I might update it a later point when I've listened a bit more but here are some more in depth thoughts than what I've previously aired on Twitter.

First though the perfect quote describing my relationship with Weezer:

"Being a Weezer fan is like having an abusive boyfriend, when you first got together everything was great and you were in love. Then he hits you, you tell yourself you'll never go back to that, but he comes and apologizes, telling you it'll never happen again. So you take him back, because I mean he wrote Pinkerton...then he hits you again and again."

These sentiments are so entirely true. Whilst obviously I wasn't into Weezer back in 1994 (I was 2 for christsakes) but it still stands. Weezer were once amazing and someone I would say I could recommend to anyone, and I still would recommend Blue Album and Pinkerton to everyone. But almost everything post 2000 has been awful apart from one or two great songs which hark back to how great they were in the 90s.

So currently we've hit the third era of Weezer, each separated by their own self titled album (Blue, Green and Red). The first era consisted of the Blue Album and Pinkerton and in all honesty it might have been better if they broke up after it. They could have gone down in history as a great and yet short lived band. Whilst I love enough of their post 2000 songs, I still can't get the taste of songs like "We Are All On Drugs" or even the entirety of Maladroit out of my head. The second era consisted of the Green Album, Maladroit and Make Believe. This was their come back era and it was where they got a lot of newer fans and I guarantee if you ask most teenagers to name a Weezer song (casual fans that is) they will most likely name a song from this era ("Island in the Sun", which I like or "Beverly Hills", which I loathe) and I admittedly did get caught up in this era, but only on the strength of the great songs. Now we have era the third. This is the era of self parody. Look at the album covers to last years Red Album or Raditude and you can tell these guys aren't taking it seriously. There are jumping dogs and faux rap songs.

So now you've had your history album how is the album? I think I like it? I'm still not entirely sure. I sing along in parts, so obviously it's catchy but still it's forgettable. It's an odd paradox. It's not an album I'm going to go running through the streets telling people to buy. God no. But I might put it on occasionally if I want a pick me up.

It stands so much at odds with Pinkerton. Pinkerton is self produced with so much feedback and introspective lyrics. Raditude is poppy and catchy with some many rap producers a tongue in cheek feeling and some of the most party centric lyrics (the obvious "Can't Stop Partying" comes to mind) and it just feels right and wrong at the same time. It feels right for where the band is at the moment but just so wrong considering how large a fan I am of their 90s stuff.

I could quite easily live without this album as most people seem to. In fact this album seems to be so polarizing. I've seen people who get that it's all a bit of fun (like me to a certain extent) and others who think it's just flat out terrible and has no merit whatsoever (again a point I can see to some extent). Some of the songs on this album are just flat out offensively bad (seriously "Girl Got Hot" and "I'm Your Daddy"?!?! and yet I find them both irresistibly catchy) and others I actually quite enjoy (whilst it's not as good as the demo I have enjoyed "Can't Stop Partying" to a certain extent as well as "Run Over By A Truck" which is probably my favourite song on the album).

There are other songs, such as the Indian influenced "Love Is The Answer" as well songs I've heard before on Rivers' demo albums such as "The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World" and "I Don't Want to Let You Go" or even the riff heavy "Get Me Some" (which even has a fucking solo! (well almost)).

Then there are just some plain bad and creppy lyrics. Stuff like "I'm Your Daddy" just doesn't sound good coming from Rivers' now he's 39 or lines like. Lines like " Your mom cooked meat loaf, even though I don’t eat meat. I dug you so much, I took some for the team " just don't seem right. So cheesy (even though I admittedly like the song they came from). Rivers used to write some of the most personal lyrics of all time (seriously go and listen to "Across the Sea", he's just pining to fuck a girl he doesn't even know and just sent him a letter! He's so frustrated and you can feel it in the song and lyrics which is why it's so good) he now seems like he isn't writing from the heart at all. I just wish he was, he was a forerunner of the emo movement and now he's a guy who is writing about partying and having 'Lil Wayne rap on his songs.

Catchiness and self parody don't make this album good, they make it bearable and a new guilty of pleasure of mine. Pinkerton and Blue Album will forever hold a spot in my heart as all time great albums. Nothing post 2000 gets that kind of response from me with Weezer, but I have a soft spot for everything they do, even if it's bad. I can listen to pretty much every song they've ever recorded with no qualms. But it's only Pinkerton and Blue Album that have me coming back that much more, and I don't see that changing with Raditude.

I'll probably listen to a bit more (I'm currently listening to it as I write this) but compared to the amount of quite frankly amazing albums this year, Raditude falls someway short. It isn't the best album ever but it certainly isn't the worse, as long as you get what they're aiming for. Weezer aren't taking it seriously anymore. Rivers is writing songs for himself now, not fans. He doesn't give a shit about fans anymore. His mantra is if you like it fine, if you don't, who cares?

He's never going to write Pinkerton Part 2 but as long as what he's doing right now makes him happy, I can applaud that. I just wish he'd find the time to write a truly great album again and knock down all that haters.

Several times recently he's shown great promise, songs like "The Spider", "Pig", "Miss Sweeney" and "Island in the Sun" or even demos released like "Longtime Sunshine" or "Lovers in the Snow" show how talented he can be. Bottle that and put it on an album and prove you can still do it, not just writing for you're own little bubble and ignoring everything else.

Raditude is fun, catchy and poppy. Sadly it also isn't overly good or memorable. I might put it on occasionally but it won't stay in my rotation like the great albums of this like fun.'s 'Aim and Ignite', Thrice's 'Beggars' or Dear Hunter's 'Act III: Life and Death'. Weezer have reinvented themselves for a second time this decade and sadly it wasn't the reinvention that fans wanted to see. Maybe the 2010s will hold something better for Weezer fans?*

Overall I'd say skip it, dig out Blue Album or Pinkerton (or another album you truly love) than listen to Raditude. You might like it, but more likely you'll hate it, wish you'd never done and want to go listen to some good music, so I'm just getting rid of the middle step.

*Probably not, especially following the first album with Weezer swearing in a song (although this was admittedly done by Lil Wayne)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Of Dollhouse - "Belonging"

This will hopefully be the start of something a lot more frequent where I take an individual episode of a show and rave (or rant) about it. I will probably still be avoiding comedies just because of the difficulty I find in ranking individual episodes (other than very occasionally where the results are amazing, see 30 Rock "Season 4"). So it'll mostly be drama series, such as Dollhouse, Mad Men and Lost. So here we go why I absolutely adored the latest episode of Dollhouse.

So if you read this blog a lot you might know that Dollhouse is very a flawed show. It fluctuates between absolutely brilliance and absolute awfulness. Luckily this season has had a lot more good episodes but also stuff that just doesn't work (the episode where Echo is a mother is a good example) but luckily we haven't hit the absolute shite that we had hit in Season 1 by this point (pick pretty much any episode from 2-5). Luckily the show does have those occasional moments of sheer brilliance, episode 6, 8, 9, 11 and 13 from Season 1 spring to mind and now episode 4 from Season 2.

This episode did pretty much everything right. It advanced the plot more towards what we saw in last season's equally sublime "Epitaph One" and managed to minimize the effect that Eliza Dushku's lack of overall acting does to the show. Sadly she just can't handle being the lead character of Dollhouse due to the fact that it just feels like she's playing the same character more often than not. This shows in that most episodes which are brilliant definitely have her in a more subdued presence. This is what happens in this episode. This episode mostly follows around Sierra (played to stunning perfection by Dichen Lachman) as we find more about the circumstance that led to her becoming a Doll. Dichen Lachman just exudes a chemistry and natural talent that Eliza Dushku just doesn't and it's episodes like this that make me wish that she wasn't the lead or at the very least the show was far more of an ensemble with Dushku taking far more frequent trips to the back of the group

This is some of the most compelling stuff that the show has pulled off and at first I wasn't too interested in what we were going to find out but when the quality of what we saw was this brilliant I have no complaints. We get introduced to quite possibly the most evil man ever (and he's not supervillain evil or just messed in the head evil, he's just so in love with this person*) and we tell a tale of drugs, rape, brainwashing and true love. At times touching and at others genuinely pretty heavy for a network television. We follow through a series of flashbacks interspersed with various different parts of the present day, advancement of the overarching and Dichen Lachman playing not one but THREE different versions of the same character, all of whom are played astonishingly well. Of course the circumstances of her becoming a Doll are exceedingly shocking, all played behind the seedy backdrop of the Dollhouse, and whilst some might think that they've got the best interests of the Doll's in mind, you can't help but feel these people have seriously compromised morals.

The hour is just packed with twists and just some of the most disturbing stuff to come from television in a while, Dollhouse is very dark and it's subject matter is very touchy, luckily episodes like this just make it work. Anything that deals with slavery and rape is obviously going to have to be done in a certain way and this episode plays it to perfection, luckily buoyed by the brilliant Dichen Lachman (honestly I don't think I'll be able to stop raving about how great she was in this episode)

Of course we get other great performances this episode, Topher (Fran Kranz) moves more and more towards what we saw him like in "Epitaph One" adding far more layers to his character beyond the computer geek without morals (his story this season has definitely been the most compelling, especially his scenes with Amy Acker in the premiere). Harry Lenix gets to go all badass as Boyd in something I've only really seen done on Breaking Bad and Enver Gjokaj buts on an ever amazing performance as Victor. However if you know Joss Whedon something bad is coming because of the sweet nativity that exists in him, seriously Joss Whedon is a complete dick when it comes to happiness (see pretty much everything he's ever done)

Then we have the behind the scenes personnel. This episode was written by Maurissa Tncharoen and Jed Whedon who also last seasons "Epitaph One"(and also "Stage Fright" so it's not all gold) and was directed by Jonathan Frakes who played Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation (he also directed Thunderbirds, so again it's not all gold). The combination of this director, writer and these actors make the show just flow so well that it comes off without a hitch.

Whilst Dollhouse might still be in for bumpy ride (particularly with being taken off the air till December and cancellation looming) as long as they can continue to put out great episodes like this, I'll be more than happy (although the double dose of Summer Glau we'll get on December 4th will have a similar effect). If you haven't watched Dollhouse just know that after a bumpy first few episodes it gets very good, occasionally brilliant. If you've fallen off the band wagon, just know that this show is a brilliant sign of things to come and if you've already seen "Belonging" then you know just brilliant and awe inspiring this episode was.


*if I can I'm so using this in my English. Guy continually rents the same empty husk of a human being to have sex with who hates every second of the time she spends with him? Sounds like Love Through the Ages to Me