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Win Tix To See David Sedaris @ The Keswick

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

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Illustration by RANDY GLASS

This is neither the time nor the place for johnny-come-lately arrivistes to learn about the 11 acclaimed and beloved books of caustic elegance David Sedaris has published since failing upwards from his job as a Christmas elf at Macy’s in 1992. Today we are not serving your kind, so try Wikipedia. Sorry to be harsh, but the Keswick show is way sold out, so this one goes out to the lifers, the true believers, or perhaps more aptly, the true non-believers. You and me, pal, we’re the loonies. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t know that. But enough with the Sondheim references already. We have a couple pair of tix to see David Sedaris at the Keswick tomorrow night — and get this, one pair is FRONT ROW! To qualify to win them, you must be signed up for our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us you want to do this. You get first dibs on concert ticket giveaways, breaking news alerts and other assorted be-the-first-on-your-block type shit. After you sign up, send us an email at PHAWKER66@GMAIL.COM saying as much (or that you were already signed up) along with the correct answer to the following trick question: What year did David Sedaris graduate from Princeton? Put the words ME SIT PRETTY SOME DAY (HOPEFULLY AT THE KESWICK) in the subject line, along with your full name as it appears on your photo ID and a mobile number for confirmation (this information will neither be shared nor stored, FYI). Good luck and godspeed!

RELATED: Our Wacky 2006 Q&A With Amy Sedaris

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

Kevin_Hart

 

FRESH AIR: For about 48 hours in December, Kevin Hart was slated to host the 2019 Academy Awards. Then Hart was called out for homophobic jokes and tweets he made in 2010, and the Academy asked him to apologize. Hart insisted that he already had apologized. Finally, after some back and forth, Hart stepped down from hosting, saying he didn’t want to be a distraction.

Now, barely a month later, Hart says he’s “over” the Oscars controversy. Nevertheless, he sat down for a long conversation with Fresh Air in which he reflected on the whirlwind of the past few weeks in the larger context of his comedy career. Hart notes that the jokes in question were made nearly a decade ago and that, at the time, they seemed in line with the risqué comedy he had grown up watching. But he adds he has a different perspective now. “The bad part about being a comedian is that sometimes you just aren’t funny,” he says. “Sometimes to grow as a comedian, you got to go through the stupid part.”

“Ultimately,” Hart says, “I have 10 years of separation in between the time that was brought back up and now, and I think those 10 years acted as a great example of change. And in order for people to evolve, you have to accept their change.” Hart’s new film, The Upside, represents a further evolution of his career. In it he plays Dell, a man who, trying to get his life back on track after serving prison time, gets a job as a caretaker for a wealthy quadriplegic man, played by Bryan Cranston. Hart describes his role as “something a little more serious.”

“You’ve seen me high-energy. You’ve seen me be the guy who’s responsible for the funny,” he says. “In this particular case, it was a little different. It was about me embracing the life of somebody that’s real, and making sure that I gave a performance that made people invest in the relationship between the two characters.” MORE

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Q&A With Holy Holy Bassist And Longtime David Bowie Producer And T. Rex Architect Tony Visconti

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

bowiesconti

Artwork via SHAPERSOFTHE80S.COM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published in January of 2016, three days after David Bowie passed off this mortal coil. We are re-posting it because it’s Philly Loves Bowie Week, duh. Holy Holy kicks off a UK tour in February, click HERE for tour dates.

mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA The DJ Murray The K – the Geator With The Heater of his day — was known as the proverbial ‘Fifth Beatle’ for his tireless Fab Four boosterism during the initial waves of Beatlemania. Legendary producer Tony Visconti is the Fifth Bowie. There are others who, it could be reasonably argued, deserve the Fifth Bowie mantle, namely Brian Eno who collaborated on the vaunted Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes, Lodger) in the late 70s and more recently on 1995’s Outside, and Mick Ronson who from 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World to 1973’s Pin-Ups was “jamming good with Weird and Gilley” and boy could he play guitar. But Visconti is the rosebud in Bowie’s attic, recording 13 albums over the course of the last 47 years with The Thin White Duke. He was there at the very beginning (1969’s David Bowie) the middle (1975’s Young Americans through 1980’s Scary Monsters) and the very end (2013’s The Next Day and the just-released Black Star).

It is well-documented that Bowie habitually traded — some would say discarded — sidemen and collaborators after an album or two, always shape-shifting into someone or some thing different. The fact that Bowie called on Visconti for so many albums over so many years speaks to the depth of his trust and reliance. That alone would be enough to qualify most people for Crucial Person Of The 20th Century status. But in addition to forging all those Bowie classics, Visconti was also the architect of all those classic T. Rex albums, not to mention Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, three Thin Lizzy albums, and countless other credible works stretching back to 1968.

However, the album that brings us here today is Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, which Visconti produced, arranged, and, arguably, co-wrote, despite the fact that the songwriting credits on the album sleeve say otherwise. He also played bass on allholy_holy_o2_tix_1000sq the tracks, along with Ronson and drummer Woody Woodmansey, both of whom would go on to become Ziggy Stardust’s backing band The Spiders From Mars. Long considered one of Bowie’s lesser works, the album was largely forgotten before Nirvana covered the title track. If it sounds more like the time and the place of its making than most Bowie albums, that’s because it is the bridge between the psych-folk dabblings of late 60’s Bowie and the Brechtian glam-rock crunch of his classic early 70’s work and all that would come after. Bowie was too low on funds to promote the album with a proper tour and the album quickly vanished into the hashish mists of the early 70’s.

Holy Holy — a new-ish group featuring Visconti on bass and Woodmansey on drums, and quietly underwritten by Bowie — is on a mission to change all that. They are currently in the midst of an American tour that stopped at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville back in January and touches down at the Tower Theater on Saturday, April 2nd. In the wake of Bowie’s death, the concerts have become, in the words of Billboard, “strange, mad celebrations” of his life. Though the band won’t talk about it, presumably at Bowie’s behest, the tour, along with Black Star and the remarkable, next-level videos that accompany it, are all part of Bowie curating his own death. He was, after all, the man who sold the world. To be clear, the latter is all theoretical, I spoke with Visconti shortly before Christmas, three weeks before Bowie’s passing, when none of these questions were in the air.

PHAWKER: I’m a big fan of the many artists and albums that you’ve produced and it’s a huge honor to speak with you.

TONY VISCONTI: Thank you.

PHAWKER: Okay, very good. Okay so tell me, what is the impetus for doing an extended American tour performing The Man Who Sold The World with Holy Holy?

TONY VISCONTI: Well, a year ago I did four Holy Holy shows on a dare for Woody Woodmansey just to get back up on the stage and do it, and it really made me very excited to even contemplate it. But I had to put in about — I said yes — it took about three months of practicing before it even really even got up to that standard again on my bass playing. And then I went off and did the four shows and it was so exciting. I just want to do this like part of every year I want to work with Woody and his band. So I proved to myself that I still had it in me.

PHAWKER: Initially, there were four shows over in the UK. Are those the ones you’re talking about?

TONY VISCONTI: Yeah that was 2014 and then that was so successful that we went and did last year, no, this year actually, we did about 14 shows in the UK and Scotland and Ireland and then we went to Japan and did four shows so we’ve done 22 shows so far and we know it works and we know the fans love it and also the other thing Jonathan is that The Man Who Sold The World was never performed live when David Bowie was in the group. So we thought we could do it, and I mean it’s a very strong album. A dark, strong album.

PHAWKER: Yeah. Um the band is called Holy Holy which is the name of a song David Bowie recorded around the time of when the album was made, but was not on the album — in retrospect, I think it would have made a good lead-off track — can you explain why? It’s a really good song.

TONY VISCONTI: I think it was an afterthought, and we had already stopped and I was already onto my next project, so Bowie recorded that without me.

PHAWKER: Oh okay, it was recorded after the album tracks.

TONY VISCONTI: Yeah, I was working with a group called T. Rex at the time, and so I had to rush off to my next gig.tony-visconti-1970-haddon-hall-sept-14

PHAWKER: A little band called T. Rex. I’m a huge fan of those records and I wish we had time to get into all of that but let’s stick to Bowie. I hope you don’t mind talking a little bit about the making of The Man Who Sold The World, and the circumstances around that time. That’s cool with you?

TONY VISCONTI: Sure, that would be great, yeah.

PHAWKER: Wikipedia suggests there are competing narratives about the making of the album and the exact provenance of the songs so I just want to read a few things back to you and tell me what you think, if that’s how you recall things or otherwise.

TONY VISCONTI: Okay.
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IMMIGRANT SONG: Q&A W/ Comedian Amir K

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

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HenryPhawkerPortrait-1BY HENRY SAVAGE As an Iranian immigrant, Amir K grew up straddling a language barrier that would later help him craft his outsider wit and deftness with character comedy. With hilarious impressions of his father, people you may find in traffic court, and Mexican St. Patrick’s Day, Amir was able to tackle most topics with a comedic flare. Coming up, Amir K’s worst nightmare was that he would fall short of achieving his dream of becoming a successful stand-up comedian and he’d wind up just being the funny water cooler guy at work, only able to crack jokes during lunch breaks and monotonous meetings. So, after a series of unfortunate events that led to him losing his real estate business, Amir moved to LA with a renewed intent to make his dream a reality. Fast forward 10 years and Amir has landed a supporting role in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo, a season on Mad TV, and appearances on Big Bang Theory, Adam DeVine’s House Party and Comedy Knockout with Damien Lemon. We got him on the horn in advance of his appearances at Punch Line Philly January 10th through 12th.

DISCUSSED: Comedy as a childhood defense mechanism, working on Argo, Iranian-American families, straddling language barriers, learning English, touring and the tender mercy of Ben Affleck.

PHAWKER: What got you interested in comedy?

AMIR K: I was always a class clown type of guy or some shit. And you just develop the wit. For me, I guess it was a defense mechanism. I was always a big kid. So I would just, like, use my words a lot, right? And that was the way I could get the upper hand on somebody, I guess. So, I just became good at roasting people, and coming up with stuff on the fly. Maybe just coming here at an early age too, you know, learning a funny way to get myself to fit in. I don’t know the psychology of it, but it definitely shaped me, because my brother’s totally different, which is weird. He’s a little more reserved, he’s not as quick to like, bust somebody balls, right? I am. I guess being a younger brother, maybe that has something to do with it. But it’s so weird how you find that psychology has to do with a lot of early experiences in your life. The way that you develop your personality in a way.

PHAWKER: How did having to overcome the language barrier impact your comedy?

AMIR K: I do a lot of characters, like different voices. And I think that came for me, learning how to speak English at an early age by mimicking people in my neighborhood. I just started speaking English. How the hell did I pick it up? Because I remember just watching the other kids. I remember their mouths moving and I was like, “What is the shit they’re saying?” Yeah, I remember having that thought as a kid, and then just one day I was talking like them [So that’s probably how] I got that ability to change my voice or adapt to however somebody else’s talking. I think that helped me with the accents and characters. So it’s just weird because I look back on it, my brother was a little older when we moved here, so he got a different experience. I was like five years old. He was like seven. Mentally I think your brain develops at a different rate, right? So I probably was a little more traumatized by the whole experience.

PHAWKER: I always heard that English as a second language is one of the hardest languages to learn because it has like such weird and random rules.

AMIR K: So many rules and exceptions! So I’m glad that I came when I was younger, dude, because it really is a mindfuck when you’re older. When you’re over the threshold of really picking up the language like a sponge, it gets so weird. You hear like weird accents and people not being able to conjugate verbs correctly and all that shit. I’m glad I came when I came.

PHAWKER: Tell me about moving here from Iran.

AMIR K: I was born in Iran, and I came when I was five. You know what’s so crazy, is that it must have been very traumatic as a young kid. Imagine coming from a place where you speak the language, you can understand everybody, and then all of a sudden they just take you and you don’t know what the fuck is going on, you’re a kid. You just come into this other place, and now I’m going to kindergarten with fucking people that I can’t even understand what they’re saying. Like what? And I remember bawling my eyes out the first day. I was just like crying for my mom. It got to the point where my mom had to come and be an assistant there until I got assimilated to being around these other people that I didn’t know. I had separation anxiety. That probably did something to me mentally.
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JAZZIN’ FOR BLUE JEAN: Q&A W/ Donny McCaslin

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

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SVolkBY STEVE VOLK One spring night in 2014, an aging British gentleman walked into Bar 55, a tiny Greenwich Village jazz club, where he listened to a band that honked and squalled in the most beautiful array of colors. The old man was so good at maintaining a low profile that he blended right into the tables and the crowd, and it was only later that people both inside and outside the bar were made aware of this show. David Bowie’s Blackstar, his final album, released just two days before he died in January 2016 was born, many years earlier, when his brother first turned him on to jazz and he bought himself a saxophone—the album representing a lifelong home and destination. But it only became a going thing after Bowie attended that show and reached out to bandleader Donny McCaslin, to ask if he would work with him on his next album.

The rest is a sad and beautiful piece of history—Blackstar serving as a fitting capstone to Bowie’s career because it sounded like, well, like David Bowie, without sounding like anything he’d done before. But this is a living history, which goes on living not only in the usual way we like to frame these things—In our hearts and memories! Or Whenever we play the record! This history is living in the heart of David Bowie’s last bandleader, McCaslin, who already had Grammys up on his shelf when the master came calling, yet found himself careening into entirely new creative territories ever since.

Beyond Now, McCaslin’s first album after Blackstar, served as a kind of summation of the Bowie McCaslinBowie experience—marrying up his unique brand of modern, “stadium jazz” with an art rock sensibility and even a couple of powerfully redone Bowie tracks, including the funereal “Warzawa,” which McCaslin somehow made even more epic. The new record, Blow, however is another thing altogether, and sounds a lot more like Bowie by sounding less like Bowie overall.

McCaslin has incorporated the Bowie colors into his palette, in other words, and is forging ahead. McCaslin, still inspired by the recording of Blackstar, and listening to alternative music at a voracious clip (he emailed me a list of the artists he was diving into most deeply) wanted that sense of collaboration again, so he enlisted a series of vocalists to make this new album, with no worries, he says (as you’ll see below), about what genre the music fits. The result is music as bracing and immediate as a killer pop song but hits the jazz pedal, hard, and winds up defying all categorization. The Donny McCaslin Group performs at The Foundry at Fillmore Philly on Saturday January 12th as part of Philly Loves Bowie Week.

PHAWKER: I have to confess this first question comes from just by being a dad, I’ve got 6-year old fraternal twin boys, but what was it like growing up in a musical family? Having that opportunity to play music with your father on stage?

DONNY MCCASLIN: I grew up in a household of divorce, so I lived with my mother and I would see my father one day a week, usually on Sunday. From the beginning, my father would drive to my mother’s house during the week with his Wurlitzer Piano. I lived kind of in the country so he would carry it from the house up this dirt path around a circle of redwood trees up to a barn, and set up the Wurlitzer piano and then we would jam.

I was temperamental, sometimes we would play for five minutes and I’d get really frustrated, and we’d call it off. He never complained, he’d just take his piano back down the driveway. Other times we would play for hours, so he was really supportive from the beginning. He included me in his group when I was far too inexperienced to have any business playing with those guys. He was always supportive, even when I really struggled. It meant alot to me, it was a tremendous gift he gave to me and it’s one that I try to give to my children too.

PHAWKER: As you were coming up, were you listening to equal parts, rock and jazz? What were your interests and tastes?

DONNY MCCASLIN: I mean to go really deep, my first thing was John Philip Sousa, then it was Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, ACDC, and then it was jazz. Even when I was first getting started and getting enamored by jazz, I always listened to rock music and other things too. I was lucky that Santa Cruz was a small town but there’s a lot of culture happening there. So I was exposed to alot of reggae music growing up. I heard Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, The Mighty Diamonds…all those bands. My father’s band, they played a little bit of R&B/Funk, and then I used to hear Tower OF Power, and I’d go hear them live. So I was always interested in a broad thing, my sister was super into Aretha and The Motowns, I used to listen to McCaslin_Blowthat alot.

PHAWKER: I’m going to ask you about a couple specific songs, and I’ll start with one that you wrote, “Bright Abyss.” It’s such a wonderful track and I’m going to get into a mystical and sort of oddball question. That song for me it so correlates with a particular emotional experience. I’m curious to what degree you feel like you find these songs or they find you?

DONNY MCCASLIN: Music is emotion first, and as I listen to a song and I fall in love with it, it’s the emotion that hits me first. It’s not like this interval, or this chord, or sequence is what does it, it’s always emotion for me. So I think that’s something that when I’m working on writing a tune, and when things start to come together, it’s usually based around an emotional experience. Maybe an experience that I thought about that directly influenced the process, or it happens while I’m in the middle of it. Music is always emotional for me and it’s something that I try to exude in the music I put out there because it means so much to me.
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CINEMA: Matt Shaver’s Top 10 Films Of 2018

Friday, January 4th, 2019

Isle Of Dogs
 
ISLE OF DOGS (Directed by Wes Anderson, 101 minutes, USA, 2018)
Is it too much to ask for creators to occasionally make films that can be enjoyed for their simplicity? Wes Anderson thinks it is not. Isle of Dogs offers up adult themes in a good natured, perfectly executed package. Coupled with spectacular stop motion animation, Anderson and his army of voice actors bring alive a dystopian k-9 journey that is wrapped in very human emotions. It is an enjoyable journey populated by likable characters, each with their own unique set of mannerisms that make each dog more human than the humans, and the humans a little more than the sum of their parts.

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Before We Vanish
 
BEFORE WE VANISH (Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 129 minutes, Japan, 2017)
Celebrated filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurowsawa takes us on a dive in to the deep end of what it means to be human (at least through the lens of Japanese culture).  As aliens invade and take over a number of human bodies, characters in the film become unwilling tour guides to our would-be harbingers of doom, watching helplessly as they rob people of their humanity in an attempt to understand it.  It’s a philosophical exploration of our inner workings wrapped nicely in layers of science fiction that compliment its story telling intentions

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The Endless
 
THE ENDLESS (Dir. by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 11 min., USA, 2018)
American horror cinema has been in a really great place the last few years, and 2018 is no exception.  While there are triple-A titles on everyones list for the year, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been quietly building a superbly imagined world of their own over the last couple of years.  While loosely attached to previous films, The Endless stands on its own as a creepy, low budget mind-f*ck.  It tells the story of two brothers who return to the cult they left years earlier, only to find that the shady cast of characters may have been on to something the whole time.  Mulder and Scully move over!

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Mirai
 
MIRAI (Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, 98 minutes, Japan, 2018)
Mamoru Hosoda’s upward trajectory is an unstoppable juggernaut in the world of animated films.  Ever since The Girl Who Leapt Through Time he has made one classic film after another.  Mirai is no different – choosing to tell a very human story with fantasy running through it’s veins – it tells the timeless tale of a boy who can’t quite cope with the new family member (his sister) and the journey of discovery he takes when he comes across a magical time portal that introduces him to his family members at various ages.  Visually stunning and full of over the top characters and real-life feelings, it’s the kind of movie that will appeal to children of all ages.

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Annihilation
 
ANNIHILATION (Directed by Alex Garland, 115 minutes, USA, 2018)
Atmospheric, gorgeously shot, and creepy as hell, Annihilation is the epitome of what intelligent contemporary science fiction cinema should aim to be.  Where movies like Prometheus/Alien Covenant meandered on heavy handed lectures on weighty themes, Alex Garland offers no easy answers, and leaves much to the imagination.  The stunning visuals backed by terrifying creature design, and punctuated by short moments of intense violence, complete the world building, but much like the real world, the viewer must find their own way.

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You Were Never Really Here
 
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Dir. by Lynne Ramsay, 99 minutes, USA, 2017)
Lynn Ramsay brings her unique lens to the dark, lonely world of a man with nothing to lose, but who choses to spend his somber existence rescuing others from theirs.  It’s this sense of purpose that gives meaning to the quiet film.  Unlike similarly themed films (such as Taken and Spartan), Ramsay isn’t interested in lingering scenes blunt violence or harsh dialogue (there is little of either), but the watchful eye of absolution, and trying to stay afloat in a world seemingly intent on making one sink.

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Leave No Trace
 
LEAVE NO  TRACE (Directed by Deborah Granik, 109 minutes, USA, 2018)
Debra Granik has a gift for telling stories in parts of America that are invisible to most.  With Leave No Trace she focuses her finely crafted lens on the Pacific Northwest, and a father and daughter live a nomadic existence in a state park, living off the land.  However, when their peaceful existence is discovered, they must struggle against the encroaching society they have shunned to find a place to call home.  With a watchful observers eye for society, and excellent performances by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace is an excellent treatise on the American family.

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Black Panther
 
BLACK PANTHER (Directed by Ryan Coogler, 134 minutes, USA, 2018)
Oh holy hell am I tired of New York being the epicenter of all things super hero related.  Well, NY or some alternatively named rip-off.  *Cue Black Panther music*. Smashing in to the MCU like the Hulk riding on Thor’s lightening, Black Panther is a refreshing, globe-trotting romp that elevates super hero cinema to the next level at a time that it’s all starting to feel like a bit much.  Throwing a much needed bandaid on the cinematic bubble, Ryan Coogler and team have not only added a crucial cultural component to the franchise, they made a film that is undeniably fun from start to finish, which is what every hero should be (and it never once steps foot in NYC).

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The Night Comes For Us
 
THE NIGHT COMES FOR US (Dir. by Timo Tjahjanto, 121 min., USA, 2018)
I would not be surprised in the least if the presenter at the Academy Awards were to unfurl that envelope, raise an eyebrow in astonishment, then calmly state “The award for Best Actor in a motion picture goes to…… Blood”. Blood is a character in The Night Comes For Us – a masterpiece of balletic violence, and treatise on the lengths to which men (and women) will go to find redemption, or prevent others from obtaining it.  Bring a strong stomach and steely emotions, this one will drain you, but it is a highly kinetic, finely tuned piece of genre filmmaking.

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MI Fallout
 
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT (Dir. by Christopher McQuarrie, 147 min., USA, 2018)
Breathlessly paced, funny, sexy, stylish, modern – the list of adjectives goes on.  After years of watching Tom Cruise being beaten and battered as Ethan Hunt, the non-stop Fallout still manages to squeeze in new ideas to the characters sense of purpose, and give him an incredible amount of closure, while still giving the franchise room to continue, if Tom and company wishes to do so.  Not since Bad Boys II has an American action movie been this gleefully fun.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew Shaver is a mobile security expert by day, and music journalist at night, having spent the last decade as a concert photographer up and down the east coast. When his toddler allows it, Matt is an avid cinephile and gamer.

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Fleet Foxes Tease Demo Excerpts From New Album

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019
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Forward ! (Very very demos happy new year)

A post shared by Robin Noel Pecknold (@robinpecknold) on

KEXP: Robin Pecknold kicked off the new year by sharing a series of Fleet Foxes demos on his Instagram account. The snippets likely come from the band’s forthcoming fourth album, which was promised to drop “within 24 months of LP3 according to contract.” LP3, Crack Up, was released in June of 2017 so if everything remains on schedule, the new record should drop this summer. MORE

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THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Our Favorite Albums Of 2018

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

Beatles_FINAL
Artwork by JOHN PATRICK BYRNE

Upon returning to England in the spring of 1968 after a disillusioning pilgrimage to India to study Transcendental Meditation at the feet of the guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles set about working on music for their follow-up to Magical Mystery Tour, a slapped-together compendium of psychedelic odds and ends and orphaned singles like “Strawberry Fields” and “All You Need Is Love,” released in November of 1967, and Sgt Pepper, the landmark, kaleidoscopic ur-text of the Summer of Love, released the previous May. Having forsaken druggy fantasia in favor of meditation in the wake of their newfound fascination with Eastern spiritual exploration, the Beatles eschewed the now-fading dayglo trappings and incense-and-peppermint tropes of psychedelia that they had been evangelizing about since the spring of 1965, when Lennon and Harrison, along with their wives, were unknowingly dosed by a dentist at a fancy dinner party, resulting in a mind-melting four-way nervous breakdown of paranoia and hallucination. (At the tail end of an American tour in August of 1965, a follow-up acid trip, which included McCartney and Starr, ended with Fab Four, accompanied by Peter Fonda and David Crosby, lounging in the empty bathtub at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s rented mansion in Bel Air, zonked out of their heads. It was then that Fonda uttered the infamous line “I know what it’s like to be dead,” memorialized in Lennon’s “She Said She Said” released on Revolver in August of 1966.)

This turning away from the florid psychotropicalia of the previous three years was symbolized in Lennon and original_614Harrison’s decision to sandpaper away the trippy sunburst paint job on their guitars, to let the wood “breathe” in the pursuit of achieving a purer tone. This reversion to naturalism would extend to the sound and the tenor of the songs they had been writing on acoustic guitars in India during downtime between marathon lectures and mediation sessions at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh. In May of 1968, the four Beatles decamped to George’s bungalow in Esher, Surrey, and in the course of a day and a night, recorded stripped down acoustic demos of the bulk of the songs which would eventually wind up on The Beatles, aka The White Album, which was reissued in Super Deluxe form in 2018: a remastered version of original double-album; a revelatory new mix of the album overseen by Giles Martin, scion of longtime Beatles producer George Martin; the aforementioned Esher Demos, along with a vast compendium of outtakes and alternate takes, along with embryonic versions of now-iconic tracks like “Hey Jude,” “Lady Madonna” and “Across The Universe” that would trickle out on later albums.

Upon its release in 1968, The Beatles quickly became known as The White Album for the snow white blankness of its cover, which, like the sanded down guitars, was emblematic of stripping away the suffocating layers of psychedelia from the Beatles’ music and mind sets. Still, while the electric satin Sgt. Pepper uniforms where left back at Strawberry Fields, this was hardly a return to the four lovable moptops “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”-ing of early ‘60s Beatlemania. The Beatles continued to paint with the wildly eclectic brush of surrealism, albeit in darker hues of a world growing more dire by the hour. Nineteen sixty-eight was the annus horribilis of the swinging ’60s, and if you listen closely you can hear the horrors of Vietnam, assassination and riots in between the notes. The album opens with the sonic whoosh of an Aeroflot jet morphing into fairly blazing Chuck Berry/Beach Boys pastiche/semi-ironic ode to the collectivist joys of communist Russia (“Back in the USSR”), which was a pretty radical artistic statement to make at the height of the Cold War when such sentiments spoken aloud could still get you shot in certain parts of America, and put on an FBI watchlist in the other parts. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Bungalow Bill” spoofs the gun crazies, “Revolution” shoots out the legs of radical chic and “Helter Skelter” augurs doomsday. Even though it’s a song ostensibly about going down a playground sliding board, you can hear why crazies like Charles Manson heard it as an invitation to slaughter the squares. His criminal mind doused daily with messianic doses of mild-altering substances in the vast Biblical isolation of Death Valley, Manson pored over the tracks on The White Album the way Talmudic scholars hunch over the Dead Sea Scrolls. Try and imagine what a psyche-shattering track like “Revolution 9” — still terrifying and utterly mind-fucking a half a century later — sounded like to Manson in 1968. According to his deeply warped reading, the album was a roadmap to an apocalyptic race war that triggered some of the most infamous murders of the 20th century. That darkness will forever be entwined in mythos of The White Album — there will always be blood on the tracks.

The remastered version of the original mix is bright and clean, like an antique polished to a high shine. The real revelations here are the Esher Demos, which serve as both a window on the Beatles’ creative process and a collection of one of the most iconic, sonically-diverse albums of the Fab Four canon writ as coffeehouse folk music. And the endless outtakes, alternate takes and ultimately abandoned song sketches serve as both sweet manna for completists and historians and incontrovertible evidence that nothing the Beatles ever released was borne of immaculate conception. Despite the prevailing cultural perception to the contrary, the Beatles were in fact mortals capable of shit ideas every now and then. But the reason why The Beatles Super Deluxe gets my vote for album of the year is Giles Martin’s astonishing 2018 re-mix of the individual tracks drawn from the master tapes. Freed up from the claustrophobic confines of then-state of the art four-track recording, scraped clean of the acoustic muck and sonic barnacles accrued over the course of 50 years in the Abbey Road Studios vault and/or your parents/grandparents’ record collections, this collection of songs sound both raw and elegant, louder than bombs and smoother than silk, endlessly bewitching and beguiling, and thoroughly modern. And a strong argument can be mounted that it is the Rosetta Stone of everything white that came after: hard rock, soft rock, heavy metal and punk rock. Today, just as it was in the beginning, it remains the soundtrack of the worst years of our lives. Long may we let it be. – JONATHAN VALANIA

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JANELLE MONAE_large
JANELLE MONAE
Dirty Computer
(Bad Boy Records)
Dirty Computer may be less kaleidoscopic, less dizzying and less futuristic than Janelle Monae’s previous android-obsessed albums. But it’s also more immediate, more pointed and more fun. Monae updates Prince’s party-through-the-apocalypse credo for our own end times, most blatantly on “Make Me Feel,” which joyfully turns The Purple One’s “Kiss” inside out. On “Screwed” she sings, “We’re so screwed / Let’s get screwed,” joined by Zoe Kravitz, before noting “The devil met with Russia and they just made a deal / we was marching through the street, they were blocking every bill.” High profile guests drop in (Brian Wilson, Pharrell Williams, Grimes, Stevie Wonder) as do sly musical allusions to Rihanna, M.I.A. and Chic. But this is Monae’s show, celebrating a nonbinary, nonwhite vision of inclusivity. “I am not America’s nightmare / I am the American dream,” she sings in “Crazy, Classic, Life” on this crazy, classic, life-affirming album. – STEVE KLINGE

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CAR SEAT HEADREST

CAR SEAT HEADREST
Twin Fantasy
(Matador)
Will Toledo originally wrote Twin Fantasy when he was 19, and the album’s narrative is suitably laced with all of the fretful uncertainty and churning anxiety that comes with being 19. I was in the middle of a breakup when the album dropped in February and remember walking Broad Street, body hunched against freezing rain, “Bodys” wailing on loop. I was drawn into the dark humor, self-deprecating monologues and manic-depressive mood swings of Toledo’s mind. As listeners, we are locked into the narrator’s consciousness, eavesdropping on his deepest desires and insecurities, reliving his memories and fantasies. There are verses about feeling trapped in your own body, about turning to destructive forms of escapism, about being afraid of death, about trying to sort out your sexuality. He is full of obsessive, directionless romance, he wants to feel so close to someone that they merge together into one person. Toledo’s flat, droning voice falls into murmuring spoken word like he’s having conversations with himself. The instrumentals are sharp, sprawling, unpredictable. The whole thing is driven by the existential notion that the world is falling apart and we’re all slowly dying day by day: “Don’t you realize our bodies could fall apart any second? / I am terrified, your body could fall apart at any second.” — MARIAH HALL

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SNAIL MAIL
Lush
(Matador)
On one of those too-hot-to-move days this past summer, I found myself home alone with nothing to do and nowhere to go that justified sweating through the immense heat. So with a glass of homemade iced tea and some noise-cancelling headphones, I decided to spend the day sprawled across two chairs on my porch, catching up with all of the new music I’d missed. Snail Mail’s Lush was first on my list, and it became all that I listened to that day. The twinkling guitar work and wise-beyond-her-years lyrics of the band’s frontwoman Lindsey Jordan became the soundtrack of my summer, the rhythms of tracks like “Pristine” and “Golden Dream” following me on morning walks to work, late-night Sangria-fueled discussions, and eventually even my own dreams. Now with Lush topping best album lists for nearly every music publication, I can’t help but revisit the lazily warm memories it punctuated for me this year, and ache for traces of them to return to my life again. – SOPHIE BURKHOLDER

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The Hermit And The Recluse_Orpheus Vs The Sirens

HERMIT AND THE RECLUSE
Orpheus vs. The Sirens
(Obol For Charon Record)
Beneath the rap radar of Twitter beefs and Presidential posturing, Ka, a 46 year old firefighter from NY and Animoss, a prolific, but deeply underground West Coast beat maker, quietly put together a masterpiece of form and function. Working under the name Hermit and The Recluse, Ka and Animoss pieced together Orpheus Vs. The Sirens, a deeply philosophical album full of quiet introspection and a prophetic outlook on the ills that plague mankind on all levels of modern society. Ka has a quiet, purposeful flow, while Animoss’ production is devoid of gimmicks. Almost beat-less, with an ear for sampling that would have been right at home in ’95, this is an album that demands patient listening. The duo, much like the titular character from Greek mythology, dives deep into the underworld, only to emerge unscathed only to be defeated by an army of listeners deaf to their sounds. So listen up. – MATT SHAVER

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DEAFHEAVEN

DEAFHEAVEN
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
(Anti)
Deafheaven are a big part of a small, but important fusion of post-rock and emo that has been on a slow rise in the past twenty-or-so years. They take it a step further with vocal styles that swing between angelic harmonies and pure black metal. Their post-rock instrumentation reaches shoegaze-level washes of sonic domination, and so they have become a must-hear among blackgaze bands (yes, blackgaze is a thing). What makes Ordinary Corrupt Human Love special is its use of diverse musical influences in giving it both character and accessibility. On “Glint,” I hear Explosions in the Sky. On “Night People,” I hear Depeche Mode. Throughout the album’s climaxes, I hear rock & roll guitar riffs that remind me of Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez. And somehow, these influences are woven flawlessly into the explosive percussion riding atop waves of atmospheric tremolo-picked guitar and George Clarke’s screeching. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a bridge that can unite fans of post-rock, shoegaze, black metal, and emo. Deafheaven is bringing America together four genres at a time. — KYLE WEINSTEIN

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KENDRICK LAMAR
Black Panther Soundtrack
(Interscope Records)
When Marvel Studios decided to go with Kendrick Lamar as the producer of the soundtrack for their newest superhero blockbuster, Black Panther, audiences and critics alike were surprised yet thrilled at the same time. The pairing paid off immensely as evidenced by the edginess, eloquence, and freshness of creative direction delivered by this Lamar produced joint. How do you create the cultural sounds of the fictional modernized African country of Wakanda? Infuse American hip-hop and African-based soundscapes with African, English, and Californian-based artists/producers to create an ominously futuristic score to a film audiences had never experienced before. The Black Panther Soundtrack gives you that feeling from the scene of The Matrix Reloaded when the entirety of Zion is raving to primal house beats. The production is raw, the love ballads are sincere and painful, and the hip-hop bangers are heavy-hitters that even topped some billboard charts. No matter if you are a trap/hip-hop, The Weeknd & Jorja Smith, or a modern electronic music fan, the Black Panther Soundtrack encapsulated an entire culture of not only Wakanda but 2018 America, as well. – HENRY SAVAGE

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Frankie Cosmos

FRANKIE COSMOS
Vessel
(Sub Pop Records)
Greta Kline has become something of a poet laureate of the New York DIY scene. Her lyrics are blunt and poignant, and have a way of making the smallest, most insignificant moments feel profound. Vessel is compact, and at times formless. The album maintains that twinkling, dreamy indie-pop sound, but a full band gives the minimal instrumentals more weight. The shortest song, “My Phone,” is 30 seconds about a phone dying. “Ur Up” asks that nagging question with Kline laughing sweetly when her fingers fumble on piano keys. These brief vignettes build a larger story about being vulnerable, making human connections, and finding meaning in those nothing-moments. – MARIAH HALL

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SLEEP

SLEEP
The Sciences
(Third Man)
Ending the four-year of silence since the 2014 single “The Clarity,” Sleep, doom metal’s most blissed out trio, finally bestowed upon us its fourth LP dubbed The Sciences. Appropriately released on April 20th (FOUR-TWENTY, DUDE!), The Sciences follows the band’s gargantuan single-track LP, Dopesmoker, thankfully keeping up with an expected level of decibel purveyance and marijuana-concerned treatises (“Marijuanaut’s Theme,” “The Botanist”). On the band’s first LP with touring drummer Jason Roeder, Al Cisneros (singer/bassist) and Matt Pike (guitars) retain (and maybe surpass at times) the established might and riff-dominant purity of their sound: beautifully elongated serpentines of bass tone charged by Pike’s masterful fretwork. The long-standing track “Sonic Titan” (which appeared as a live bonus on the Tee Pee Records issue of Dopesmoker) introduces a three-song block of ten-plus minutes of excellence that includes the muck-riddled crawl of “Antarcticans Thawed” and the perfectly titled “Giza Butler.” – SEAN CALDWELL

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EARL SWEATSHIRT
Some Rap Songs
(Tan Cressida/Columbia)
It sure seems like Earl Sweatshirt (real name Thebe Neruda Kgositsile) has finally achieved the elevated level of consciousness he has been climbing towards since the end of his gloriously misspent youth. Some Rap Songs is the culmination of Sweatshirt’s innovative rhyme schemes and drowsy, hypnotic voice that carries us through a narrative of a changed man who grew up seeing the world, navigating fame at a young age, and dealing with losses. Throughout the album of heavily sampled soulful jazz with production assistance from producers like Sage Elsesser and a feature from Brooklyn’s Standing By the Corner, Earl Sweatshirt gives us more prophetic wisdom about life, relationships, human existence and real hardships over his hazy, lo-fi mystical beats we’ve come to love. – HENRY SAVAGE

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Beach House 7

BEACH HOUSE
7
(Sub Pop)
Unlike most of my friends, I never listened much to Beach House until this year, and hadn’t even heard of Bloom or Teen Dream at all while in high school (a crime I was repeatedly reprimanded for). I listened to songs from 7 on the radio when they played, but never sat down seriously with this band’s discography until about two weeks before their stop at the Tower Theater back in July. But it was my first attempt to focus in on the abstraction of shoegaze-y music, and my mind let the haunting echoes fall into the background. That is, until it was forced to confront them at a bewitchingly psychedelic show of light and sound that changed Beach House’s music for me forever. The beauty in that same abstraction suddenly felt tangible, and the live rendition of lead singer Victoria Legrand’s contralto melodies lifted me to some kind of epiphany of infatuation. The grounding rhythms behind tracks like “Pay No Mind” or “Woo” infuse hints of the Smiths and My Bloody Valentine into 21st Century production while also providing a modern take on the hypnotic and spirit-cleansing circularity of Gregorian chant. Now, 7 holds a comfort for me that I return to in every liminal space I confront – whether they be these dwindling days before the new year or anxious late nights in need of a guide across waking and dreaming. – SOPHIE BURKHOLDER

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JON HOPKINS

JON HOPKINS
Singularity
(Domino Recording Company)
It’s one thing to have the ability to make “good” music, and, another entirely to have control over sound. Jon Hopkins has both. He maintains an uncanny ability to bend sound to his will, blending the ideas behind many genres in to one, undeniably listenable vision of what music can be. Classically trained musicians operating in the techno space is nothing new, but what Hopkins accomplishes is light years ahead of his contemporaries. His command over traditional instruments, and his ability to weave them in to the fabric of samples and synthesis, is infused with magic. Listen to the way that “Emerald Rush” slowly builds from fluttering plucks and bleeps in to a pulsating dance rhythm of cinematic quality, or the way that “Feel First Life” shimmering piano transitions in to Zen-like chanting, stopping all space and time around it. A beautiful reminder to stop and smell the roses. – MATT SHAVER

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LITHICS

LITHICS
Mating Surfaces
(Kill Rock Stars)
A smartly succinct and evocative collection of songs from this Portland post-punk four-piece, Mating Surfaces embraces Minutemen’s “jam econo” ethos while referencing both the anti-melody idiom of No Wave (“Boyce,” ”Cheryl”) and the stabbing guitar textures and low end prominence of bands like Glaxo Babies or Gang Of Four (“When Will I Die,” “Specs,” “Be Nice Alone”). While the music is often sharp and up tempo, vocalist Aubrey Horner adds contrast to the performances, her stanzas more or less spoken with an outward calm that somehow fits even the band’s most immediate offerings. A modern and compact interpretation of the highly inventive post-punk era, Mating Surfaces is an exuberant listen, from its gratifying and lively opener “Excuse Generator” to the fumbling outro of “Dancing Guy.”  – SEAN CALDWELL

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MGMT

MGMT
Little Dark Age
(Columbia Records)
You never know what to expect when a band releases a single five years after their last studio album, so I was a little apprehensive when I clicked on “Little Dark Age,” the new album’s title track and lead-off single. What I heard was something I’d never quite heard out of MGMT before – a sonically darker side, somewhere in the realm of neo-goth pop – and I immediately knew the album to come would not disappoint. It didn’t. While Little Dark Age is less of a psychedelic trip than their previous endeavors, it embodies a new groove for MGMT. Lyrical content ranges from self-loathing about being out of shape to suicidal ideation to “time spent looking at my phone.” Which lead me to go back through their discography and come to realize that their lyrics have been pretty dark all along, but were being softened by colorful waves of shapeshifting sounds. Little Dark Age brings lyrics to the forefront backed by ‘80s synth-pop revivalism. It’s one of those highly sought after examples of a positive evolution in a band’s career. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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ROLLING-BLACKOUTS

ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER
Hope Downs
(Sub Pop)
Guitar rock may be a niche market now, but it can still be a vibrant source of indelible joys. And if you’re a record geek who’s old enough, or geeky enough, to remember the venerable indie labels Flying Nun and Postcard, young bands such as the Courtneys, the Beths and, especially, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever will remind you of the power and pleasure of layers of interlocking guitars. The five guys in Rolling Blackouts hail from Melbourne, Australia, and seem to share an appreciation of Orange Juice, The Verlaines and fellow Aussies The Go-Betweens. On Hope Downs, their debut album following two excellent EPs, the guitars strum and jangle, with some surfy reverb and judicious feedback, and unless you’re paying close attention, you don’t notice the lead vocals shifting among the three singer-songwriter-guitarists (part of the fun of the great show they did at Johnny Brenda’s this fall was seeing who did which vocal or guitar part). This is stately, state of the art guitar pop for now people — STEVE KLINGE

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neko-case-hell-on

NEKO CASE
Hell-On
(ANTI-)
Forty-two years after the words “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” entered pop culture via the movie Network, Neko Case has remade Howard Beales’ grand statement of end-of-your-rope exasperation with the state of modern life with Hell-On. She’s had enough of this shit and the weariness has produced a beautifully realized set of songs that are her most eclectic yet. While there is an roster of collaborators, the signature stamp on the declaration of FFS is 100% Case.  The songs gently swell, the voice is sometimes sullen, but always uniquely Neko. “Lion Of Albion” explores our human interests in conquering things, and the toll it takes on the world, while “Halls Of Sarah” is an epic of the #metoo era, but guaranteed to outlast even the most popular of hashtags.  Neko is a proxy here for people from all walks, and one would be wise to listen up – her message might just deliver us all from ourselves. – MATT SHAVER

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SEASON’S GREETINGS: Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

Happy_New_Year

 

Remember, this too shall pass.

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BEING THERE: Kurt Vile @ The Met Philadelphia

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

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Photo by MATT SHAVER

My friend Virginia insists that the only downside of marijuana is that it makes Kurt Vile songs go on too long. That’s simply not true. It also makes you cough and it’s very expensive. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Kurt Vile as much as the next stoner beardo of a certain age. And there’s a lot to like about him: wizardly finger picker, gorgeous Jag tone, droll Kensington hillbilly drawl, Joey Ramones’ legs, and, as of this writing, best hair in rock n’ roll. He has proven adept at mounting Burrito Brother jingle and Byrds-ian jangle onto aftermarket Petty-esque pop/rock chassis and downshifting into the ether before parking it down by the old mainstream and waiting for the fish to come to him, as they always do — with nothing more than a piece of corn and a hook. Which, in part, explains how a furry forklift operator from Lansdowne can, one decade and 13 LPs into an accidental career, pack out the gloriously restored/newly reopened Met Philadelphia on North Broad, as was the case last night.

Yes Virginia (psst…his name isn’t really Virginia), there was a lot of high plains drifting and some songs overstayed their welcome. “Wakin’ On A Pretty Day” and “Skinny Mini” clocked in just shy of the 10 minute mark and, unless I was tripping, which I can neither confirm nor deny, “Mutinies” went on for a quarter hour. Not that anyone complained. The acoustics at The Met are fairly impeccable, as was the sound man’s mix, and Vile was in fine form: relaxed and joking, dressed in crisp flannel and painted-on denim, no split ends and clearly jazzed to be here. Backed by a crack trio who traded off instruments like it wasn’t their first day at the swap meet, Vile ran down 17 choice nugs of drowsy slacker-pop with effortless efficacy and often mesmerizing results. Curiously, he did not play “One Trick Ponies” which the 44th president of the United States of America listed as one of his most favoritest songs of 2018. But, ever the empathic Bodhisattva duderino he has become in the wake of his remarkable success, Vile no doubt thought ‘why rub it in and make opening acts The Feelies and Snail Mail feel bad for not making the list?’ What a guy.

Legendary six-string mystics The Feelies, as always, looked like five aging liberal arts majors, still not sure what they are gonna major in. Strumming autumnal, they drew liberally from 1986’s Peter Buck-produced The Good Earth, which for my money remains their finest hour. The highlight being a whisper-to-a-scream reading of “Slipping (Into Something)” wherein the raga-like Velvets-y outro went full-on Sonic Youth scree circa “Expressway To Yr. Skull.”  First heard in dearly-departed Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, starring an impossibly young Jeff Daniels (who is mothereffing TERRIFYING in Godless, FYI) as an uptight NYC suit about to get his bell rung by Melanie Griffith, it felt like a benediction-in-noise. And hours later, as we went gently into the bracing December night, I couldn’t have been the only one who was thinking: Good night Mr. Demme, wherever you are. – JONATHAN VALANIA

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The Feelies @ Met Philly by MATT SHAVER

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REVIEW: Black Mirror/Bandersnatch

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

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BY MARIAH HALL By now the lingering haze of post-holiday goodwill has probably been ruined at the hands of Charlie Brooker and the all-consuming technological hell that is Black Mirror. In case you’ve somehow missed the internet hype, I’ll fill you in: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a choose-your-own-adventure special, where viewers are presented with two options at poignant points in the movie, each choice branching off into a completely different chain of events. Set in 1984, the story follows Stefan Butler, a programmer designing an interactive video game, an adaptation of a fantasy novel called Bandersnatch, by a writer who eventually went insane and murdered his wife.

Bandersnatch gives the illusion of god-like power. The initial choices seem inconsequential— you decide what brand of cereal he eats for breakfast and what music he listens to. The first life-altering choice is whether to accept an offer to work for a major gaming company. Further down the timeline, you’re given the option to reveal to Stefan that he’s being controlled by someone watching Netflix in the 21st century, a classically metaphysical touch. The story proposes the potential of parallel realities existing at once, much in the vein of Donnie Darko— there’s even a scene where Stefan crawls through the bathroom mirror to alter a past childhood memory.

The “goal” for us players is for Stefan to create a successful game and win a five-star review from a nerdy television critic. However, you’re only doomed to get stuck in loops of reversals and do-overs, until it becomes impossible to keep track of a linear plotline. You get sucked in, unable to resist the urge to jump back in and try again after that “gameover” moment. But there is no way to win, only an elaborate tangle of bad endings. Some of them feel cliché: after a paranoid LSD trip in which he watches his friend jump from a balcony to his death, Stefan wakes up from a dream; in another scenario, the camera zooms out to find that he’s been acting in a movie all along.

After exploring multiple plots and throwing the remote in frustration, it’s hard not to feel like this is just Netflix playing a practical joke, as if someone asked, “How can we get people to never stop watching TV?” and this was the answer. Or it feels like a social experiment, your choices being used to survey the kind of person you are— will you “Kill Dad” or “Back Off,” fight your therapist to the death or escape through a window? Will you do everything in your power to help the protagonist, or make his life increasingly more difficult until he descends into insanity for your own entertainment?

As it always does, Black Mirror forces us to reflect on our own lives through examining the ways technology and human nature intersect. The nightmarish realities it proposes feel like an inevitably nihilistic (not-so-distant) future. This jaunt into the past leaves your head spinning with questions: Is time a construct? Are multiple realities possible? Do we actually have autonomy over our decisions, or is everything just fate? Bandersnatch suggests multitudes of possibilities with no definite answer. Just like the real life.


 

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BEING THERE: Margo Price @ World Cafe Live

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

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Photo by JUSTIN PATRICK OAKES

It must suck being a roadie for Margo Price.  I mean, isn’t it humiliating enough to hump one drum set?  But there they were:  two full kits upon the World Cafe Live stage at Margo Price’s sold-out show on Friday night.  What could this be? Were Mickey and Bill in the house?  (Price has shared a stage with Phil Lesh in the past). Allman Bros. boogie-woogie to come? But I’ll be damned if little ole Margo — resplendent in full length dress, shit kickers, and one on the way — didn’t hop behind the second kit and pound the skins on several songs.  Weird and arguably of little musical import but cool nonetheless.

Price — who has been nominated for Best New Artist at the upcoming Grammy Awards despite having released her debut in 2016 and currently promoting her sophomore effort All American Made — proved a nimble instrumentalist. Backed by a crackerjack six-piece band (including her husband and co-writer Jeremy Ivey), she moved from acoustic to electric guitar; from piano to tambourine, and, yes, to her own kit.  Now, Margo, you do know that you’re not exactly achieving the Waylon aesthetic here? The line goes, “I’ve seen the world with a five piece band looking at the backside of me.”  I don’t think Hank done it this way, indeed.

To be sure, Price’s best instrument is her voice.  She is some kind of country singer who can sustain notes with the best of them and whose Tammy meets Dolly timbre cut through a typically Milquetoast mix at the WCL. The issue, however, is what kind of country Price will or should inhabit.  Last night’s show suggests — particularly on “Do Right By Me” and “A Little Pain” both from “All American Made” — that a Dusty In Memphis country soul path is the one to pursue.  Less successful as songs were those derived from the Willie and Waylon template of simple melodies set to a basic root note thump.  Price can make anything sound compelling — although “Cocaine Cowboys,” also from the new album, was slight even for a genre not exactly known for its profundity — but soul-based material with its greater harmonic possibilities really lets that big voice shine.

The encores neatly encapsulated the two diverging paths:  Price began with a medley which included both Willie’s “Whiskey River” as well as Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” Cute for sure, but, again, seemed to under-utilize Price’s pipes.  She then concluded the evening with a soulful take on “Proud Mary” that recalled Tina Turner’s sass but somehow added something to what could have been the ultimate cliche. Alas, these boxes will not contain an artist of Price’s current and surely future stature.  Sitting alone at the piano, midset, she crooned the title track from her current release.  Try this line on for size:  “1987 and I didn’t know it then // Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran.”  Not the sort of fare that will win Price any fans at the CMAs but one that will earn her continued sold out shows, best “new” artist or not.–JON HOULON

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CINEMA: Dan Tabor’s Top 10 Films Of 2018

Friday, December 28th, 2018

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SUSPIRIA (Directed by Luca Guadagino, 152 minutes, USA, 2018)
What can I say about Luca Guadagnino’s mesmerizing and profoundly unsettling re-make of Italian horror master Dario Argento’s Suspiria that I haven’t said already? This film about a young girl recruited by a dance school run by a coven of witches still has me firmly under its spell even looking back on it all these months later. It mirrors Guadagnino’s previous film Call Me By Your Name in that both are a coming of age and a love story that leaves you speechless and completely enraptured in its final moments.

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YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Dir. by Lynn Ramsay, 89 minutes, USA, 2018)
I honestly think director Lynne Ramsay’s film didn’t get the accolades it deserved because it was so bleak and unrelentingly nihilistic. Joaquin Phoenix turns in a transfixing performance as a former Marine and ex–FBI agent who specializes in rescuing young women from sex traffickers. It’s a visually stunning journey that features Phoenix wrestling with the duality of tenderness and brutality, making his monstrosity of a character as unsettling as the film’s distrubing subject matter.

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TULLY (Directed by Jason Reitman, 95 minutes, USA, 2018)
Tully was a victim of too many shit-talking think pieces written by people who never even saw the film. Diablo Cody does something really interesting here with her story of a pregnant mother who is gifted a night nanny for her newborn that I think got left behind in all the drama — not to mention all the attention Bale got for his transformative take on Chaney. Charlize Theron not only packed on the requisite pounds, she turns in one of the most sublime performances of her career bringing to life a complex script that tells an authentic and melancholy story.

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HEREDITARY (Directed by Ari Aster, 129 minutes, USA, 2018)
2018 was a great year for horror fans and Hereditary was the just another example this new breed of intellectual horror, that was as heavy on the scares as it is on story and character development. Front-loaded with terror and gore, Hereditary also works as an engaging drama about a family in mourning. The cast, led by Toni Collette, turn in some, um, killer performances that make this easily one of the best horror films in the last five years.

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CLIMAX (Directed by Gaspar Noe, 95 minutes, USA, 2018)
Easily the most terrifying film of the year, Climax is a descent into hell as a holiday party for a troupe of dancers spirals out of control when someone spikes the sangria with liquid LSD. The fear and paranoia is further amplified by the claustrophobia of a snowstorm.  Director Gaspar Noé delivers a film that is as visceral as they come that leaves you with this overriding question: when is Sofia Boutella is going to get the mainstream success and leading roles she deserves? When, Lord?

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SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Directed by Boots Riley, 111 minutes, USA, 2018)
While many rallied behind Black Panther, Sorry To Bother You is in fact a much more biting and relevant commentary on race, class and the world we live in. Not to mention that third act that left me simply speechless. Needless to say after a debut like this, Boots Riley has my full attention for anything else he decides to direct.

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VOX LUX (Directed by Brady Corbet, 114 minutes, USA, 2018)
Natalie Portman is an aging, debaucherous pop goddess who proves the doomed rock star archetype isn’t just for the boys. Vox Lux is an engrossing character study of a young girl who survives a school shooting and then goes on to conquer the world with her music but pays a terrible price for her fame.

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FIRST REFORMED (Directed by Paul Schrader, 113 minutes, USA, 2018)
The film’s premise — Ethan Hawke plays a troubled pastor doubting his faith — isn’t anything new, but Paul Schrader’s indelible script and the plethora of interpretations it invites  elevates this to one of the most thought provoking films of the year.

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THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (Dir. by Lars von Trier, 152 minutes, USA, 2018)
It’s easily the funniest film about a serial killer you will see all year. Love him or loathe him, Lars Von Trier proves once again he is the bad boy of the art house with this scathingly meta deconstruction of the creative process that explores the many uncomfortable parallels between filmmaking and serial killing.

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ANNIHILATION (Directed by Alex Garland, 115 minutes, USA, 2018)
Annihilation opens with a team of lady scientists sent to investigate a phenomena known as The Shimmer that has blanketed a coastal town and is growing larger by the day. I don’t know if it was the nearly all-female cast or the script’s dense sci-fi storylines that didn’t fit neatly in a tag line that scared Paramount enough that they dumped the film on Netflix to die. Luckily it has since gained a loyal following, myself included, as it continues to inspire the kind of healthy cinematic debate you rarely see today.

 

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