[Music] Katy B – Little Red (review)

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Available to buy from iTunes.

Review: “I just can’t blend in…” Katy B laments as Little Red begins to wind down; a dangerous statement to make considering even her biggest fans would struggle to label the chirpy Brixtonian as an extrovert. One of the most refreshing things about her 2011 debut On a Mission was how she reclaimed partying for the people, breaking down the myriad emotions of a night out over racy house beats in a way that only a quasi-wallflower could. In an interview with The Quietus back in February, Katy explained the fate of “Hot Like Fire” – a sexy, raucous blast of attitude that positions the usually modest singer in a whole new light. But her account rather ironically paints her as disappointingly passive; apparently Geeneus, her producer and co-manager, was “unhappy with his bassline. Or something.” And so a potential game-changer festers on the deluxe edition.

Katy’s loyalty to the Rinse FM honcho is understandable; his continued guidance has yielded a cleaner, more well-oiled machine than her debut. Singles “5 AM” and “Crying for No Reason” showcase the album’s duality of dancefloor-ready bangers and gusty, synth-laden balladry. Katy once again thrives on tracks driven by intimate, often internalised scenarios. Jessie Ware joins her in confronting a DJ boyfriend’s temptress on “Aaliyah”, “5 AM” examines a post-party panic attack, while the clattering anxiety of “All My Lovin’” retraces those final steps towards an all-consuming desire.

The success of “Crying…” has most likely led to a mellower record than originally planned, but in a manner appropriate for a record once plagued by pushbacks and an aborted lead single, Little Red rewards perseverance. Both the greasy, hi-hat-heavy slog of “I Like You” and the aimless clipped beats of “Sapphire Blue” explode in their final stretches. In the latter, Katy takes a potentially banal breakdown (“No more walls / No more doors / No more windows / No more floors”) and sells it with a passion unheard of from her contemporaries. Whatever she may lack in showmanship, Katy more than makes for in her ability to transform what once bordered on filler material into an album highlight. Little Red deserves to be massive.

8.5/10

[Movies] Calvary (review)

Priest (Brendan Gleeson) in Calvary

Director: John Michael McDonagh // Screenplay by: John Michael McDonagh // Distributor: Entertainment One // Release Date: April 11th (UK) // Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, Pat Shortt, Aiden Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson.

Review: It’s rather galling just how inevitable the subject of child abuse has become when discussing priests, with accounts of unspeakable brutality echoing through the minds of a generation at the mere mention of the catholic church. In a move indicative of his film’s often stifling self-awareness, director John Michael McDonagh practically herds the expected elephant into the room with a parade in Calvary’s opening scene, when community cornerstone Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) hears out one man’s childhood trauma during an anonymous confession. With the perverted priest responsible for these acts now dead, his unseen victim vows to kill Father James in a week. Bemused, and with this rendezvous on the periphery of his mind, Father James keeps himself busy aiding the roster of eccentrics that populate his rural Irish town.

The plot holds promise, but Calvary craves a crackling energy in place of the dead air that haunts too many of its scenes. Some of these just about coast by on the charisma of established Irish actors turning in reductive variations of their established schtick, from Pat Shortt’s salty everyman routine to Aiden Gillen’s inky misanthropy. Other supporting players either lack conviction (such as a curiously flat Chris O’Dowd) or are ill-served by portentous characterisation (Dylan Moran’s oily banker seems tailor-made to give viewers left embittered by the recession an excuse to hurl their drinks at the screen.) McDonagh’s script holds some cute observations – most of which pertain to Father James’s interactions with either his dog, or M. Emmet Walsh’s crusty writer – but is largely comprised of turgid pseudo-philosophical babble that goes nowhere. Father James’s visiting daughter (Kelly Reilly), meanwhile, exists only so he can contradict her cynicism with cloying wisdom.

Just as his character is a guiding light to a town full of misfits, Gleeson remains the film’s one true saving grace. Earthy and affable, he navigates the film’s episodic structure and tonal inconsistencies with a strong screen presence. The universal praise he’s been receiving for his performance will ensure vehicles more proportional to his talent are a distinct possibility, but for the almost thankless task of carrying Calvary, he will forever be in our prayers.

3.5/10

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[Music] Kelis – FOOD (review)

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Available to buy from April 21st on Ninja Tune Records.

Of all the noughties R&B divas to pre-empt every misogynist’s favourite punchline and get back in the kitchen, Kelis Rogers seemed the most unlikely. Alas, fifteen years on from her debut single “Caught Out There” becoming a neo-feminist anthem, FOOD sees Kelis don the persona of a soulful hausfrau. On “Floyd”, a shoegazer in the spirit of The Dark Side of the Moon’s more downtempo moments, we find her at her most co-dependent: “Sure I’m self-sufficient / Blah blah, independent / Truthfully I got some space I want that man fillin’.” More than a renouncement of her autonomy, Kelis’s sixth record is instead a celebration of our most carnal instincts, which she kindly boils down to fucking and dining over the course of thirteen tracks.

The record kicks off with a triptych of sunny, well-meaning mashes of soul-driven funk – including last year’s “Jerk Ribs”, which still shimmers like a lost Jackson 5 classic – but these are almost a clearing of the throat. The album’s latter half treks far more interesting terrain: “Change” mixes “White Rabbit”-esque brooding with James Bond-theme theatrics, the tidy piano riff of “Biscuits’n’Gravy” is interrupted by a rousing horn section, while “Rumble”’s one-line chorus (“I’m so glad you gave back my keys”) and balmy atmosphere demonstrates a serious progression from the senseless post-break-up rage of “Caught Out There”.

Dave Sitek’s warm, honeyed (if occasionally identikit) production fits Kelis’s voice like an oven-mitt. She’s offered far more room to experiment than on her 2010 dance album Flesh Tone, particularly on “Cobbler”, where the usually demure singer breaks into an impassioned operatic falsetto. And while the encompassing food theme does seem a bit arbitrary, big-band showstoppers “Cobbler” and “Fish Fry” both pop like hot oil.

7/10

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[Movies] Eraserhead (review)

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Director: David Lynch // Screenplay by: David Lynch // Distributor: Libra Films International // Release Date: March 19th, 1977 // Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, and Jeanne Bates. 

Review: Early in Eraserhead, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) holds a mirror to the audience’s inevitable bemusement. As he tells his boorish father-in-law, Henry, rather like the viewer, “doesn’t know much of anything” – but that’s OK. Knowledge rarely equals power in the world of David Lynch.

His first feature-length picture comes with a fresh-out-film-school verve that is at once immersive and uncomfortable, with its black and white aesthetic serving as a perversely cosy frame for some nightmarish images of DIY body-horror. The imagery is so blatantly sexual that a Freudian analysis would almost be as redundant as an elaboration of the plot. Henry’s arc revolves around his mounting obsession with a swollen-cheeked chanteuse credited as the Lady in the Radiator, who offers him reprieve from his malformed child; a sperm-shaped humanoid with snake-like qualities that may very well have been a prototype of the chestburster from Alien.

Much of the film’s horror is derived from its hideously bleak set design, with the gloomy cinematography and paranoid soundscapes colliding for a sombre viewing experience. But Eraserhead is more than just a mood piece. The intermittent presence of Henry’s darkly seductive neighbour lends the film a noirish feel, while Henry’s shocking response to the duties he’s been burdened with is a highly unnerving set-piece.

Lynch found mainstream success with slightly more conventional works since, but the taciturn Eraserhead is still essential viewing. If the plot seems underfed on paper, then open your mind, press play and let it devour you.

8.5/10

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[Music] Veruca Salt – Resolver (review)

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Review: Fellow followers of current pop music-related events will have inevitably stumbled upon the term “shade” at least once throughout their travels in cyberspace – either through Rihanna’s Twitter page or an ill-advised visit to minimum security insane asylum ATRL – but for any neophytes out there, it essentially refers to sly insults delivered by useless people in the public eye, such as X-Factor judges or Perez Hilton. Fans of both pop music and heavily contrived drama can take pleasure in picking apart interviews with their ‘faves’, all the time believing that talk of an ex-bandmate’s handwriting and a diverted hand placement could the spell the end for a girl group (as was very much the case for this band).

Even when there is behind-the-scenes tension, it is rarely as explicit as we would like it to be, putting even more pressure on fans to read into every lyric, tweet, and hashtag until they can be certain that pretty much everyone in pop hates each other. Those tired of reading between the lines may find much to enjoy in Veruca Salt’s third record. With all but one of it’s thirteen tracks dedicated to either the fall-out between singer/guitarists Louise Post and Nina Gordon or the former’s split from Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Resolver is positively brimming with rage and, yes, unadulterated, unexpurgated ‘shade’.

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Veruca Salt crush it on debut American Thighs

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When you lead an album with a single as attention-grabbing as 90s alt-rock gem “Seether”, it’s only fair to have something to match it down the line. In reality, Veruca Salt’s debut American Thighs holds only three additional rock-outs.

Thanks to singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post, the frenetic “Seether” is packed with garage-rock grit and lyrical titillation (it was supposedly about a woman’s monthly gift). If the band’s later efforts demonstrated an attraction to heavy metal, then “All Hail Me” stands as a warning. Sonically, it’s the weightiest track on the record, full of chilling wails and galloping guitars.

Number One Blind” sounds like a crossover hit, but for a different band. Nonetheless, the slightly cheesy melody blends surprisingly well with the rest of the record. “Victrola” boasts the same raucous charm as “Seether”, but at barely two minutes in length, it’s a bit throwaway.

So that leaves us with what Rolling Stone described as “flat balladry”. The triptych of “Spiderman ‘79“, “Forsythia” and “Wolf” is an awkward one. All three drag, but only the second fails to reach a bombastic conclusion. “Forsythia” has a cute sashaying riff, but it nosedives into a faceless instrumental when its chorus deserves a poppier structure.

Celebrate You” brings stubborn teenage melodrama and contains the album’s campest lyric: “I tip my glass and toast to you; / the blood spills on the carpet / at your celebration.” Fuzzy power ballad “Twinstar” is lyrically simple (“You wanna lift me up / but you don’t know / I’m stuck in my ways”), but when singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Post belt that chorus out, it’s a lighter-in-the-air moment.

Ideally, the album should have ended here, but of course there’s an ‘epic’ to slog through. The amateurish “25” is disappointing, although the whispered kiss-off “Sleeping Where I Want To” goes some way towards making amends.

There was something admirable about Veruca Salt’s lack of ambition. What their debut lacks in meaning and experimentation it makes up for with killer hooks melded with a pleasingly hazy atmosphere. While their personal troubles ensured they would never again make quite such an innocent record, American Thighs remains an oddly bewitching relic from a simpler time.

8/10

[Movies] This Is The End (review)

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Director: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogan // Distributor: Sony Pictures // Release Date: June 28th // Starring: Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogan, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill. // Plot: A group of celebrities and their entourages flock to James Franco’s house for a massive party, only to the face the arrival of the apocalypse.

Review: Let it be known that This Is The End is a great film. Eventually. The messy first half of this Rogan/Goldberg comedy alternates between genuine hilarity and pitiful self-indulgence. But when it finds its feet, there’s a lot to enjoy. Security was tight at the screening I attended, obviously in the aim of preventing the film’s many surprises from hitting the net. And we’re not just talking about celebrity cameos – although there are plenty of those to go around – but nerve-shredding sequences, solid scares and some brilliantly realised monsters.

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