16 September 2010

FILM OF THE WEEK: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

STARRING: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Scwartzman, Keiran Culkin, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Ellen Wong
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
RELEASED: 13th August 2010

If ever a film's tagline was accurate, it's "Scott Pilgrim"'s. "An epic tale of epic epicness" is entirely correct, if grammatically awful. The word "epic" is admittedly overused by us young'uns nowadays, but there is no other word I can think of to describe Edgar Wright's third film. Adapted from Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim... follows the story of the titular Scott, a 22 year old Canadian slacker, who plays bass in garage band Sex Bob-omb. They're not very good, but have at least one huge fan in Scott's 17 year old high-school girlfriend, Knives Chau. Unsure of what to his friends and bandmates' disapproval about the relationship, our hero meets another obstacle in the arrival of Ramona Flowers, the girl of Scott's dreams, literally. At a battle of the bands that Sex Bob-omb are playing, Ramona's ex Matthew Patel crashes the gig, challenging Scott to a fight to the death as the first member of The League Of Evil Exes. Only after the League hase been defeated, can Scott and Ramona finally be together.

For anyone over the age of 30, SPvsTW will most likely be a blur of bright colours, noises and meaninglesspop-culture references. But to an audience well-versed in games and indie-rock, it will be, well, epic. Fans of Wright's previous work (Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz) will be familiar with his quick-paced directing style and should help you to notice every little reference buried within the film. Michael Cera once again plays an awkward indie nerd hopelessly in love with a girl, but expands his acting range to include "bit of a docuhebag" this time, since Scott Pilgrim isn't the most likeable guy around for the first hour or so. You never know, Cera might turn into a great actor someday, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Both have played the "awkward/alternative" guy multiple times (Cera in Arrested Development, Nick & Norah, Paper Heart and Youth In Revolt, Gordon-Levitt in 3rd Rock, 10 Things I Hate About You and Mysterious Skin) and Gordon-Levitt is now forging his own place as a very gifted actor, thanks to Inception, Brick and the upcoming Hesher. You've just got to hope Cera doesn't get stuck in an unfortunate rut.

But back to "Scott Pilgrim...". The film is full of computer game references and every single one works; from Scott's "Pee" bar emptying out when visiting the "little boys' room" (a possible nod to The Sims) to the aspect ratio changing as if the action is cutting to a cutscene. It also stays as faithful as possible to the original comic series. Sound effects (such as phones ringing etc) appear on-screen as text, characters get introduced with text boxes and descriptions; in fact the only big change from the series is, well, the second half of the plot. The Scott Pilgrim series was only three volumes long when production started on the film, with the sixth and final volume only being released a few months ago, so there are a fair few disparities between the two. But without some backstory and plot points, the film is actually a bit more enjoyable and coherent than the graphic novels. The ending is certainly a lot easier to wrap your head around, whilst some hardcore fans will inevitably have a few gripes of their favourite lines being cut, the film is hilarious enough without having in-jokes and obvious lines thrown at you every few seconds. All in all, Scott Pilgrim has just the right amount of romance, action, comedy and rocking out to live up to its tagline, and is the perfect rom-com for anyone brought up with Nintendo and Nirvana.

16 August 2010

FILM OF THE WEEK: Shutter Island

STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Max Von Sydow
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes
RELEASED: 19th February 2010

YES. I know this is a music blog I'm writing. If I hand't figured that out by now, I'd have to deaf, dumb and blind (and hopefully good at pinball to compensate). But as much as I am a music obsessive, I'm a film geek in equal measure. Plus film and music are intrinsically entwined; for instance, would any Tarantino movie be quite as cool without the great man himself handpicking the best accompanying soundtracks? Would (500) Days of Summer be so adored by the indie contingent if it weren't for the inclusion of The Smiths, Regina Spektor, Feist and She & Him in the film? The OSTs of Juno, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Watchmen and even Alice In Wonderland are packed with great tracks ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Editors, Mott The Hoople to Cee-Lo Green, Franz Ferdinand to Muse and even Robert Smith. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Edgar Wright's forthcoming comic book adaptation (sure to be amazing, just so you know) will feature Beck, Broken Social Scene, Frank Black, Metric, Blood Red Shoes and The Bluetones, whilst Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich will be providing the score. And if you need any more proof that music helps to create iconic moments in cinema, see the opening to Trainspotting, Reservoir Dogs and Toy Story. Yes, Toy Story. It's quite ironic then that the first film I've chosen for FOTW has no such star-studded soundtrack or classic pop songs augmenting every scene.

Shutter Island (adapted from Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel) pretty much cements Leonardo DiCaprio's place as Martin Scorsese's new muse, for lack of a better word, replacing Robert DeNiro. Their fourth film working together (after Gangs Of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006)), DiCaprio plays US Marshal Teddy Daniels, sent to investigate the Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. Along with partner Chuck (Mark Rufallo), Daniels is on the case of the missing patient Rachel Solando, who apparently escaped from her locked cell. Suspecting a conspiracy, Daniels keeps digging deeper in to the workings of the hospital, interviewing patients and staff alike working his way closer and closer to something he doesn't want to know.

Whilst not a timeless classic of a film, Shutter Island makes it four hits in a row for the Scorsese/DiCaprio partnership (it's Scorsese's highest-grossing film worldwide) and not without good reason. The plot and twist are rather Hitchcock-esque and as always Scorsese directs the events fantastically, a one-take, dolly-cam shot of Teddy Daniels' military past being a particular highlight. The superb supporting cast don't hurt either, with Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Max von Sydow and Jackie Earle Haley (of Watchmen fame, particularly pleasing to this fanboy) all giving memorable turns. If reports are to be believed and "Leo and Marty" have two more films in the works, then the future looks pretty bright.

The Cribs - Housewife

Returning after their fourth album (last year's lacklustre "Ignore The Ignorant"), The Cribs have released "Housewife" as a stand-alone single. At least I hope it's a stand-alone single, as an entire album with this sound would certainly mark a dip in form for the Wakefield/Manc band. Already splitting opinion betweens fans and outsiders alike, "Housewife" is the first Cribs song to use a synth, to my knowledge anyway, and whilst lo-fi indie-punk is what the band do best, yet another single cut from that same cloth wouldn't have left much cloth to cut from in future...if that makes any sense. Some supposed fans are blaming Johnny Marr's involvement for taking away some of the bite of the first three Cribs albums, and there is some truth in that (it's a common opinion that when played live, pre-Marr songs are ruined due to his rhythm playing being added). But whilst this change in sound is refreshing, I'm not too sure it works. All the pieces are in place; Marr's rhythm guitar adds to the song, the synth riff is actually catchy and Gary Jarman's basslines drive the song along (although Ryan Jarman still can't hold a tune in a bucket with the lid on), but it doesn't seem to gel on the first few listens. Of course, it'll be sung back in unison by the time it's played at Reading & Leeds, so I doubt The Cribs will have too many worries about a backlash just yet.

"Housewife" is out on iTunes now or slightly less legal means here.
The Cribs play the Reading & Leeds festivals on Saturday 28th and Friday 27th of August respectively

14 August 2010

Everything Everything - Man Alive

Everything Everything; the great white hope for Manchester music...except they're not actually from there. With members hailing from Newcastle and Kent, their tag as the latest part of the grand Manc-rock lineage (which, even as a Scouser, I am rather envious of) is a tad misleading. But since they actually formed in Mancunia, I'll let it slide.

To describe EE's and "Man Alive"'s sound without painting in brushstrokes broader than the defecit would be pretty tough. It has been called "indie R&B" which is quite accurate on superb singles "MY KZ, YR BF" and "Schoolin'". The latter could well be sold as a single (or at least a remix) from Jason Derulo or NeYo or whoever and you would happily believe that. At times the band sound something like Radiohead getting their funk on, if only because of frontman Jonathan Everything's (the band have all adopted the surname "Everything" a la The Ramones and to a lesser extent, The Fratellis) falsetto vocals, which could be a sticking point for some delicate-eared listeners.

Another 'Marmite' aspect is sure to be the often-undecipherable lyrics. I for one am looking forward to getting my hands on the CD booklet to work out what the hell they're going about. For example; "You’ve become a smithereen!/(I’m watching that!) Foxhound frolic on the abattoir floor, up in heaven it’s symmetrical oh/ Airbrush! What have you done with my father?/Why does he look like a carving?/How do I live in the present?/I make my own density?" from "Photoshop Handsome". "Suffragette Suffragette"'s refrain of "Who is gonna sit on your face when I'm not there?" will probably gain a mixed reaction from any WI members who happen to be listening, but its Biffy Clyro-esque structure and riffs should be enough to make them discard any outrage that may build.
Whilst the slick jerky pop may be the most common view of EE seen, "Final Form" and "Two For Nero" showcase a softer, if equally complex side. "NASA Is On Your Side" is the highlight of "Man Alive", hinting at Muse when they were still weird and good; all reverbed guitars, bouncing bass and an epic chorus all spread across five minutes and seven seconds of dreamlike alt.pop.

One of the best albums so far this year, "Man Alive" is a debut that had more than a bit of pre-release expectation on it, but that expectation has been met and surpassed, without a doubt. Tipped for great things in the deluge of industry shortlists released at the start of the year, Everything Everything have two possible career trajectories, based on "Man Alive". Either they'll head to the upper echelons of the charts, ushering in an era of intelligent, genre bending pop. Or more likely they'll become a bafflingly huge cult band, making intelligent genre-bending pop. Whichever path they end up on, they're sure to keep creating music that sounds more fresh and original than pretty much everything out there.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "MY KZ, YR BF", "QWERTY Finger", "Schoolin'", "Photoshop Handsome", "Two For Nero", "NASA Is On Your Side" FOR FANS OF: Radiohead, Muse, most bands classified as dance-punk

13 August 2010

Manic Street Preachers: New b-side and other news

Just over a year on from Journal For Plague Lovers, the Manics are back with tenth album "Postcards From A Young Man". Whereas JFPL was seen as a companion piece to 1994's "The Holy Bible", PFAYM is a return to the bombast and anthemic sound of "Everything Must Go". Described by band mouthpiece Nicky Wire as "one last shot at mass communication", it features appearances from Ian McCulloch, John Cale and Guns 'N' Roses' Duff McKagan. And as if that doesn't sound good enough the artwork features Tim Roth of Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction/Lie To Me fame.

The band have made one of the six b-sides (six!) to first single "(It's Not War) Just the End of Love" available for free download. Wonderfully named, "I'm Leaving You For Solitude" sounds like a lost John Lennon solo track and surprisingly lacks a typical stadium-sized James Dean Bradfield solo, but sounds all the more refreshing for it.

The tracklisting for "Postcards For A Young Man" is as follows:
  1. (It's Not War) Just the End of Love
  2. Postcards from a Young Man
  3. Some Kind of Nothingness (featuring Ian McCulloch)
  4. The Descent – (Pages 1 & 2)
  5. Hazleton Avenue
  6. Auto-Intoxication
  7. Golden Platitudes
  8. I Think I've Found It
  9. A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun
  10. All We Make Is Entertainment
  11. The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever
  12. Don't Be Evil
In case you haven't got quite enough of the Manics yet, there'll be a documentary this Sunday at 12pm on BBC 6 Music. The band will be revealing the pivotal moments and songs that shaped their lives and their careers. It'll also be the first chance to hear new tracks "Auto Intoxication" and "A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun".

"Postcards From A Young Man" is released on the 27th of September
"(It's Not War) Just The End Of Love" is released on the 13th of September
Manic Street Preachers kick off their tour in support of the album on the 29th of September in Glasgow.

10 August 2010

VIDEO - Grinderman - Heathen Child

Taken from Grinderman's second eponymous album, "Heathen Child" is exactly the kind of primal garage rock that we've come to expect from Nick Cave's busman's holiday band. Wailing guitars and an irresistible groove provide a backing for Cave's howls of "I don't care about Allah, don't care about Buddah, don't care about Krishna", sounding ever more like his old self in The Birthday Party. The video features a fair amount of nudity, the floating head from Hot Chip's "I Feel Better" video, wolves, wolfmen and the band dressed as Roman centurions. I hope my mid-life crisis is as brilliant and mental as Nick Cave's seems to be.

"Grinderman 2" is released on the 13th of September
"Heathen Child" is released on the 6th of September (but you can download it here)
Grinderman kick off their UK tour on the 25th of September in Nottingham

11 July 2010

INCOMING: Los Campesinos! - All's Well That Ends EP

LC! are surely the most featured band on Hitsville U.K., but not without good reason. Last week the band posted an mp3 of the ‘Princess Version’ of the title track of their most recent album "Romance Is Boring". It has just been announced that the track makes up part of a new ‘reworkings’ EP titled "All’s Well That Ends". The EP is made up of four alternate versions of tracks from "Romance Is Boring". The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Romance Is Boring (Princess Version)
2. Letters From Me To Charlotte (RSVP)
3. Straight In At 101/It’s Never Enough
4. (All’s Well That Ends) In Medias Res

Ellen, the band's bassist, filmed the recordings of the EP.

Untitled from Los Campesinos! on Vimeo.

The EP will first be available to buy at Los Campesinos! Wichiten show at London’s Garage on Thursday 15th July, and will then be available in limited number from independent record shops from July 19th.
You can pre-order the 10″ EP from Wichita, here: http://www.wichita-recordings.com/shop/webb258t.html