Thursday, July 19, 2012

Record Review: Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Let me reiterate one very important thing straightaway: this album is called Celebration Rock. Not that you, the listener, were approaching this thing expecting any sort of intellectual epiphanies. After all, this is a band whose debut's thesis was, essentially, “Let’s get to France/So we can French kiss some French girls”—or, rather, that’s exactly what it was. Vancouver drums-and-guitar duo Japandroids exploded unexpectedly from the Great White North a few years back with an album of absolutely zero pretension and of a single-minded goal: to get fists pumping and bodies perspiring. Obviously, it was called Post-Nothing. As awesome as the results were, however, it’s not exactly a formula built for the long haul. Which is why Celebration Rock feels like such a triumph: Here’s a band doing exactly what they love and, thankfully, what they do best for 35 straight minutes—and all without apology.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Record Review: Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves

For a while it seemed like Sun Kil Moon would turn out to be either a one-off, a side project, or perhaps just another moniker for which Mark Kozelek to turn out some slowly accumulating eulogies whenever enough piled-up. After all, it took Kozelek five years (if you don’t count the still-curious Modest Mouse covers collection Tiny Cities [2005]) to properly follow-up Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003), Sun Kil Moon’s wonderful debut, with the stark, heartrending April (2008). Since then, though, he’s nearly doubled Sun Kil Moon’s catalogue, to the point where with the release of his expansive new double-album, Among the Leaves, he’s now quietly and very nearly equaled his total output as leader of the seminal 1990s sadcore outfit Red House Painters. Not only does Among the Leaves represent the quickest turnaround for Kozelek under the SKM guise, it’s also, paradoxically, his longest duration-wise since his ‘90s heyday. None of which matters much if the product is of a similar quality to his longer gestating works; what we’ve seen, however, is a somewhat predictable drift into familiarity—and this when Sun Kil Moon didn’t exactly represent a drastic shift in approach from Red House Painters anyway.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time In Anatolia

As director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's narratives have become more diffuse and structurally ambitious over the course of his six films, so too has his thematic and aesthetic ambition expanded into new territory, a place paradoxically reverent to his inspirations and yet unique to his own creative evolution. The narrative distance between his 1997 debut, Kasaba, and this year's towering Once Upon a Time in Anatolia may initially seem rather short. After all, the former outlines its plot over the course of a single day, while the latter takes place over the course of about 12 hours. There's something altogether more audacious transpiring within Anatolia's framework, however—and not simply that it's almost an hour longer than anything else Ceylan has done to date. No, what we're witnessing here is one director's transition from modest, if expertly skilled, technician and storyteller to a filmmaker on par with the greatest of all modern artists. Anatolia is evidence of a gifted voice finding a singular tune, a promising talent meeting a newly prodigious vision head-on, and a nascent industriousness flowering into something rare and singular to behold.

Spectrum Culture Feature: Best Albums of 2012 [so far]

As part of the Spectrum Culture staff I was recently asked to vote in the site's half-year best albums poll. Head here to read the results. And below find my contribution to the feature, a capsule review of Beach House's new record, Bloom.

Beach House - Bloom (Sub Pop)

On the page, Beach House’s artistic evolution can read as incremental, even imperceptible—there’s only so many ways one can verbally dress up a rather elemental mix of slide guitar sustain, keyboard ambiance, and skipping, mostly synthetic percussion. In execution, however, the amount of ground the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have covered over the last half-decade is vast, the hazy, earthbound horizon’s conjured by their self-titled debut seemingly galaxies away from the robust, celestial starbursts emanating from the tactile surfaces of Bloom, their fourth and best album thus far. It isn’t simply a matter of increased production value—though the widescreen expanse of Bloom does swallow the homemade dioramas of their early work whole—but also in confidence and songwriting acumen. Legrand and Scally have always possessed an uncanny ability to summon organic, sepia-toned hues by simply engaging in an instrumental dialog, but they’ve grown increasingly assured in their melodic and thematic engagement in the process, resulting in three dimensional landscapes of a sort most dream-pop bands never directly traverse, their heads either lost in the clouds or their eyes so firmly fixed on their shoes to ever notice the opportunity. Overflowing with richly textured detail—from the hypnotizing opening keyboard volley of “Myth” to majestic wordless refrain of “Lazuli” to the locked groove climax of “Irene”—Bloom captures Beach House at their creative peak, perfecting a formula that is once and for all without peer. [SC]

Monday, July 2, 2012

2012.5 - The Best Films of the Year (so far...)

Note: Films must have received a U.S. theatrical release between January 1st and June 30th, 2012 in order to be considered for these lists.

Honorable Mentions:

Bernie / Richard Linklater
Damsels in Distress / Whit Stillman
Elena / Andrei Zvyagintsev
The Forgotten Space / Allan Sekula and Noël Burch
The Hunter / Rafi Pitts
I Wish / Hirokazu Koreeda
Magic Mike / Steven Soderbergh
Moonrise Kingdom / Wes Anderson
Oki’s Movie / Hong Sangsoo 
A Simple Life / Ann Hui

The Best Films of 2012 (so far...#1 in red):

4:44 Last Day on Earth / Abel Ferrara
Attenberg / Athina Rachel Tsangari
A Burning Hot Summer / Philippe Garrel
The Color Wheel / Alex Ross Perry
Crazy Horse / Frederick Wiseman
The Day He Arrives / Hong Sangsoo
The Deep Blue Sea / Terence Davies
Goodbye First Love / Mia Hansen-Løve
The Kid with a Bike / Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia / Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Oslo, August 31st / Joachim Trier
Post Mortem / Pablo Larraín
The Turin Horse / Bela Tarr
This is Not a Film / Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Whore’s Glory / Michael Glawogger