2014-10-20

Music Review : Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013)


Music Review : Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013)

American Black Metal has gained respect since a few years and with the exeption of Absu from Texas, few BM acts have been recognized as worth the genre. In the recent years, Nachtmystium has been respected with their revisits of Pink Floyd’s Meddle atmosphere and textures with Assassins : Black Meddle, Part I. Put aside the crap from Blake Judd. There’s also Wolves in the Throne Room that are one of the most interesting BM acts from the US.

Lately, with easier ways to record, a bunch of talented and untalented musicians have formed Black Metal bands and the quantity of BM releases has increased considerably. Amongst this genre many imitators of Darkthrone, Immortal, Satyricon were appearing but few have taken elements of the genre to elevate them in a more personal approach to music and adapt it.

Deafheaven is a brighter star in the sky when it comes to the creativity of their music. They elevated their sound close to the elegance of the early BM releases of Ulver (Nattens Madrigal for example). Not afraid to indulge more than wrath and angerish occult and satanist lyrics. This era of BM is dead and now laughable. The most enduring acts of the genre have let Satanism and treat about humanity, nihilism, mythology, littérature, philosophy, and the darker side of the human mind. With Deafheaven themes are closer to a North American mindset and are introspective, melancholic, and less conventional BM.

Structured with four songs and three interludes, Sunbather is a beautiful yet dark journey into modern BM with elements of shoegazing and psychedelic rock. Unlike many American Black Metal bands Deafheaven is no carbon copy of its influence. Many people can make a BM record but few can master this music and actually make something refreshing and this appealing.

After a few listens it is easy to state that even if I missed this release in 2013, I would defenitely put it on my best of the year 2013 list.

8.9

2014-10-17

La Haine


La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)

After local youth Abdel is beaten unconscious by police, a riot ensues on his estate during which a policeman loses his gun. The gun is found by Vinz who threatens he will kill a cop if Abdel dies.

This major hit from the wunderkind director of the time in France, Mathieu Kassovitz and the now established star Vincent Cassel, La Haine might be one of the most notorious French film of the 1990’s. Almost twenty years later, still actual and even more right on its telling of the racial, social, political context in modern France, this black and white drama is, by far, its director’s best offering.

With a bright black and white cinematography that can relate to some early Jean-Luc Godard films, the mise-en-scène and visual effects calls for a sheer admirer of Martin Scorsese and a bit of Mikhail Kalatozov. Sometimes it is a little annoying when watching a young filmmaker and being able to pin point his influence and homage. They are clear and well executed in La Haine even if they feel a bit forced and like a homework to show that he can too do those tricks.
Surprisingly, I tend to like the first half of films and sometimes I think that the second half never quite delivers from a great original idea. However, with La Haine, Kassovitz throws a better second part than his first half. Once, the camera tricks are out of the way, the plot gets subtler and the characters are getting more and more into it.

In the francophonie, La Haine left a bunch of lines that are as important as some Pulp Fiction lines. For the teens of the time of its release in 1995, it was a groundbreaking movie that was talking to them and about them. It depicted without any filter a reality that too many immigrants and French were living. In France, there’s a long record of police brutality, riots, and racial crimes. It did not solve the problems that are presented in the movie but it reflected a reality that eventhe media were not able to present to the public.

It is a difficult genre because it is hard to not fall into the cliché and also to be too partisan of a side. However, the three lead characters are not really sympathetic and yes we are on their side, we know that they are teenagers who make mistakes and do the best they can with what they have. Kassovitz doesn’t try to make them look like they are saints. At the end, it is anyhow difficult to not have a certain contempt for the French policemen.

After all, Kassovitz was a young and inspired filmmaker on the rise and he probably got the best film he ever did with La Haine. Even if he could have tone it down on the visual trickery and let the strong story resonate with long takes and a subtler mise-en-scène. Still, it is very efficient and will definitely leave a mark in any cinephile’s mind.

2014-10-14

Gone Girl


Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)

With his wife's disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it's suspected that he may not be innocent.

With recent success with The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and most notably the Netflix production House of Cards, David Fincher directs the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s own best-selling novel Gone Girl. Fincher’s previous directing credits in investigations from Seven to Zodiac are more than worth mentioning. They are essential viewings for any film enthusiast.

Starting with a novel of more than five hundred pages and reducing it to more or less two hundred, author and screenwriter Flynn has done a tremendous job in skimming an unique plot and keeping the essential and the most interesting parts of her novel. While the novel has many ups and some downs or lesser parts, in the motion picture we are in the presence of the most interesting facets of the investigation. It is difficult to summarize the plot line because many elements are potential spoilers. However, the author of the novel had to pin point the plot aspects that were helping the story to evolve at a nice pace without compromising her idea and the whole situation it describes. Having read the novel weeks before I saw Gone Girl, I can state that it is one of the best adaptations that is true to the original material and could elevate its better parts to filmic bliss.

Talking of filmic hability, Fincher manages to once again throw a directing job with great mastery at a subtle level of execution. Everything is in the fact that we are leaded by a talented storyteller that doesn’t need any special trick or subterfuge to enjoy this story.

In front of the camera we have now respected as a director but still an actor Ben Affleck with a role that is almost written for him and his apathic presence of good family boy and his weird I want to make you feel okay smile. One thing that Fincher in fact wanted the most from Affleck. When reading the novel, imagining Affleck playing Nick Dunne feels right.
With Amy or Amazing Amy, Rosamund Pike gives a revealing performance of holding back but also complete control over the very meaty part she has to carry.
There are many interesting supporting parts of Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), Margo (Carrie Coon) Nick’s sister, Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), and Tanner Bolt surprisingly portrayed and mastered by Tyler Perry.

Then you have the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score that follows their previous collaborations with David Fincher on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Its texture and composition have been trademarks of Fincher excellence but also subtle or very present ambiant music that blends imagery and sound to a unique place. This might be one of the best score from Reznor and Ross just for the fact that it is present without overly taking too much space.

Gone Girl is another demonstration that the thriller genre can still be thrilling and gets into unexpected twists and turns. Genre novels and films need more Gillian Flynn and David Fincher to bring original stories alive and continue to get people’s attention. To be surprise and entertained is more and more difficult since everything is a product from a product that is a copy-paste of the original. Playing with the rules of a genre doesn’t hurt and Fincher seems to really enjoy himself playing into them and stepping on them just enough to get us a new way of seeing it without making a complete mess that would not appeal to a larger public. Not that I don’t like a mess once in a while but I each time I watch a Fincher film it reminds me how much I admire his films.

2014-10-13

Music Review : St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014)


 
Music Review : St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014)

I only knew this artist by name and it was one of the many Indie titles I’d have to get to sometime. However, since her passage on SNL in season finale of 2013-2014, I was intrigued by her new album and its cover art directly inspired by one of her favorite film; Alejandro Jodorowski’s The Holy Mountain.
This self titled release of Indie, Art Rock, Pop and baroque music from Annie Clark alias St. Vincent will leave a mark for sure. Her guitar skills and atmosphere are well used and she have a nice voice that can create nice textures for the kind of pop and chamber rock she offers. Even if the artwork is more mysterious than the music itself, St. Vincent feels like an album that is complete and deeply thought. It is the kind of album that can reach a broad audience while being very visceral and attractive.

Definitely, since I haven’t listened to her other albums, I can’t make no comparisons and rank it. But as the album is what it is I think that she will be an artist worth following for everything she does. Her contribution to the music of today, which is now just a business of selling, will help younger inspired artists to find their voice and get out of the sellout paths. Probably one of the best pop albums for 2014.

8.5

2014-10-08

Music Review : Voivod – Target Earth (2013)


 
Music Review : Voivod – Target Earth (2013)

In french there’s a saying that : Nul n’est prophète en son pays. It could be translated to nobody is a prophet in his own country. Exactly the case for Voivod that has its origins in the Province of Québec. They always had more recognition outside of their native land. Probot, Dave Grohl’s project of a song with many artists he admired in the Metal genre included a song with Snake (vocals) of Voivod and the cover art was designed by Away (drums). Then, bands like Enslaved, Darkthrone, Propagandhi were wearing their old Voivod shirts. Back in 2005 when Piggy (Denis D’Amour) died, the band released two albums (Katorz, Infini) with the latest tracks he left on his computer and recorded knowing his end was near. But the future of the band was more than uncertain even with the regain of attention and success.

However, with the replacement of Piggy by Chewy (Dan Mongrain), Voivod wrote Target Earth, a more progressive Metal oriented album that would satisfy the early fans of the band as much as the new ones. Nicely produced while keeping the original sound of the band, Target Earth is another excellent album from Voivod and continues to demonstrate that the band is still right on when it comes to continuity and in keeping a high standard of song writing.

With Mechanical Mind, they extend their music to epic scape and Warchaic just links with heavy drumming and a deep song that is more than just simple bashing all around.

A rare thing is also present, a song sang in French; Corps Etranger that sounds quite well. One of the many examples of the fast songs that are on this album. It is in fact a faster tempo for Target Earth when compared to the two previous records.

Many labels have been given to their music, avant-garde, progressive Metal, Speed Metal, but only the Voivod name can define what kind of music Voivod is making.

For the occasional listener, Voivod might sound like a formulaic band that digs into a sound and keep walking into the same path over and over again. It is true that you have to appreciate the texture and the structure to fully get this group. Voivod is Voivod and they make the records that represent this name. A sincere effort from the good old classic Voivod band that like good wine still taste great with time and can become even better with aging.

7.6

 

2014-10-07

Kes


 
 Kes (Ken Loach, 1969)

A young, English working-class boy spends his free time caring for and training his pet falcon.

Billy (David Bradley) is a fifteen years old boy abused by his half brother and ignored by his mother. He has no expectations of life, doesn’t like school and no real friends until he develops an interest in falconry. The story has been told many times in Cinema, just look at François Truffaut’s 400 Blows or Claude Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine.

What makes Ken Loach’s film standout is the British angle of the film with the reality of England. He is a child facing abandon, a difficult life, and he has a sentiment of being alone. Until he finds a passion and become interested in something that makes sense in his life. Something that makes him interesting for his English teacher and makes him feel worth something.

Loach documentary style of filmmaking involves the viewer in this child’s life. Filmed with a eye for observation but also an introspect vision of the daily life of the young Billy. The dark tones of the film, the greys, the browns, and the natural lighting give a visual that is not that appealing but the sequences with the falcon are lighted with natural sunshine juxtaposed with a joyous tune of flute that reveals a subtle sensibility in this quite sad film.

A recurrent comment of Kes is the Yorkshire accent of the actors. Sometimes, it was presented with subtitles to help American viewers understand. As it is for me, my mother language is French and English is my second language and I didn’t had much problem understanding the accent. At first, it took me a minute or two to adjust my ear but I didn’t missed much. So I suggest that you don’t let this little detail retain you from watching this English classic. Especially, if you liked and enjoyed Cannes’ Palme d’or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley also from director Ken Loach. The later is a succinct and efficient sociologist that can dress a clear portrait of realities of his mainland.

With the latest years, Kes has become more and more recognized with a Criterion Collection treatment and a very obvious homage in The Royal Tenenbaums. As it climbs rankings in many lists, Kes is a great film but not a masterpiece even if it let a clear staple. A nice gem.
 

2014-10-06

Music Review : Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (2013)


Music Review : Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (2013)

Being a fan of Darkthrone since their release of Soulside Journey, I dropped the ball when they changed genre after Sardonic Wrath. I was not ready to listen to crust-punk from a band that was crying out loud Unholy Black Metal. The two piece group of Nocturno Culto (vocals, bass, guitar) and Fenriz (vocals, drums) managed to star as a Death Metal band (Soulside Journey), a second wave of Norwegian Black Metal (A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Transylvanian Hunger, Under a Funeral Moon, Panzerfaust),  a return to Black Metal (Hate Them, Sardonic Wrath), crust-punk (The Cult is Alive, F.O.A.D., Circle the Wagons, Dark Thrones and Black Flags) and with The Underground Resistance a hint of punk, and heavy metal.

As Fenriz is a fan of obscure music since his early years, the musical interests of Darkthrone are vast and could not be contained only in the Black Metal genre. Even if their name relates to the genre that Norway defined in the early 1990’s, Darkthrone is the dedication of underground music lovers that makes music they like to listen. Just like any aging musician, they don’t have to prove to the world anything and they make the records they want to make.

Surprisingly, this a very accessible record and many fans of heavy metal of the 1980’s could easily relate to many of the songs on The Underground Resistance. Even if its title reminds of the crust punk explorations, it is an album that calls Voivod for sure, Iron Maiden (early), Judas Priest (vocals on Leave No Cross Unturned), and maybe a bit of Bad Brains. The better term would be a crossover heavy metal album.

8.1
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