Wednesday, December 23, 2015
1. No Cities to Love - Sleater Kinney
-It's been 10 years since Washington based 90's riot grrrl powerhouse Sleater Kinney released an album but the trio came through in 2015 with a new full length which is just as relevant and raw as any of their previous releases. Seeing them live was one of my best shows of 2015.
-Definitely the outlier on my list, this ambitious indie electronic album was unlike anything I've ever heard. Using actual audio recordings from both the the US and Russian space programs of the 1960's, the band captures both the era itself and a unique sound all their own. It's hypnotic.
-Universally hailed by fans and critics alike, Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett released what many are calling the best alternative rock record of the year (maybe even the decade). Her intricately crafted lyrics reflect the angst and disillusion of the millennial generation better than most this year. The album is both complex and accessible at the same time making it a top pick for most who hear it.
-Transgender punk band G.L.O.S.S. from Olympia, WA put out one of the most important hardcore releases of the year (maybe THE most important). The albums lyrics are confrontational, brutally honest, and frighteningly important at a time when LGBTQ and Trans rights are at the forefront of the modern progressive movement. Despite all the progress, their songs remind us that we still have a long way to go. Definitely the most goose bump inducing release of the year in my opinion.
-Wisconsin based punk band Tenement has been around for 10 years now but this year saw the release of their most formidable album yet. The records 25 tracks spread across a double LP jump between hardcore thrashers, post punk compositions, and poppy lullaby rock. It's as sonically diverse as it is powerful and has been compared to such iconic double albums as Husker Du's Zen Arcade and The Minutemen's Double Nickles on the Dime for it's complex style and original structure. It's an album for the history books, no question.
-As the band sings on the first track from their second album "Krill, Krill, Krill forever". Unfortunately, that dream came to an end this year as the beloved Boston trio called it quits after 5 incredible years. But that didn't stop them from putting out their best album to date. After garnering extensive praise from both underground and mainstream critics alike, the band packed things in just weeks after the albums release. Listen and be jealous you weren't along for the ride.
-Chastity Belt's second full length is light years ahead of their first album. While the bands initial recordings suited the party rock, collegiate comedy punk they were going for at the time, the quartet got serious in 2015 and put out a decidedly modern, stringently feminist piece of ethereal, rain drenched pop rock.
-Besides the G.L.O.S.S. demo, the other cataclysmic punk release of the year was Downtown Boys debut full length. As the title suggests, the album is staunchly political and confrontational in the best way possible. Lead singer Victoria Ruiz is in your face with every word as she stares down the gaze of the straight white male and declares this the time of the disenfranchised, of the people of color, and of the middle class. Like a jazz fueled battle cry this album is certain to be looked back on as an historic precedent. It reminds us all of what punk can do.
-Screaming Females are probably my favorite band playing music today. When lead singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster became ill at the end of last year, fans waited anxiously to see the band return to their former selves. At times, it seemed as though it might be the end of the furious DIY basement trio. But the band stayed true to their name and came screeching into 2015 with one of their best records to date. The songs take on new lyrical depth without sacrificing an ounce of their signature shredding guitar solos and weighty bass fills. The album is highly confessional and paints a picture of the uncertainty the band dealt with looking towards the future.
-Childbirth's first release It's a Girl made the honorable mention section on my year end list last year and their follow up in 2015 sees the band honing their style and developing beyond the side project they started out as. The members are all actively involved in other fabulous Seattle bands including Chastity Belt, Pony Time and Tacocat but that doesn't slow them down. Each song oozes feminine power and dictates Childbirths view of the modern world while not losing their lighthearted, catchy rhythms. While not as stripped down as their first release, the album is just as raw and intense as anything that came out this year.
-Ought's first album More Than Any Other Day made my list last year so their follow up full length was naturally on my radar in 2015. I picked it up from the band when they came through town this year and played at Great Scott where their post punk fury translated even better in a live setting. The new record doesn't see too much musical growth but that's OK. The bands blend of poetic lyrics, wiry sporadic guitars, and complex song structure create the perfect rock cocktail. Why fix it if it ain't broke.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy - Titus Andronicus
-Anytime someone puts out a record about their mental health and extreme anxiety, you have to question the sincerity. Don't we all get a little depressed and anxious at times? But lead singer Patrick Stickles truly is about as mentally unstable as they come. The result is an album which comes straight from the heart and is a powerful confession from one man to the world. Having been around for 10 years, the bands latest is their most ambitious to date.
Feels Like - Bully
-The alternative rock world fell in love with Bully this year. This young band, still in it's infancy, released a harsh, earnest album which recalls the best elements of 90's indie rock. While many bands seem to want to skirt the "90's revival" tag that gets thrown around a lot these days, Bully seem to embrace it. Their songs are hard enough to head bang to and poppy enough to keep fans of lighter fare bobbing along as well. Critics will no doubt be anxiously awaiting their sophomore effort so jump on their debut train while it's caboose is still at the station.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
I’m a self-proclaimed HUGE fan of period dramas. Being a total history nerd, I love immersing myself in a well filmed, well-acted, well written historical drama and 2014’s Testament of Youth was just that. Based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of the First World War; the film stars Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina, Ex-Machina) as Vera and Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) as her fiancée Roland. Focusing less on the battles and violence and more on the emotional weight of the conflict, the film manages to instill the fear of the unknown in the viewer as the men and women at home in England wait with bated breath for news of their loved ones. Vera’s fiancée, brother, and childhood friends are all sent off to the front which inspires her to abandon her long sought enrollment at Oxford to become a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment at the Front. As she spends time waiting for news of her loved ones Vera helps to heal both allied and German soldiers. This humanizes the conflict and shows how the Great War was not just a war between countries but a war humanity faced against itself. Testament of Youth shows how close we came to the brink of destruction and how despite all the tragedy and suffering endured by those who were there, we still managed to emerge on the other side with hope for the future.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic character that the role is a difficult challenge to take on. Add variables like retirement, extreme old age, and the onset of dementia, and the detective’s dry wit and immeasurable powers of observation become even harder to get across. However, Sir Ian McKellen manages to embody the character; simultaneously capturing his youthful abilities while keeping things in perspective. Mr. Holmes provides a glimpse into the future of a character that the world has come to recognize as the definitive sleuth.
It’s 1947 and Sherlock Holmes, now in his mind 90’s, is living a quiet life having retired from Baker Street after a final devastating case. His old partner Watson, who has since passed away, wrote of his adventures with Sherlock and despite his personal experience embellished the tales to a great extent. As a result, Holmes begins to try desperately to fend off his increasing memory loss long enough to recall the true story of his last case so he can remember why it was he left his beloved profession behind. Flashbacks to 1912 provide glimpses into the reality of that case in which Holmes was hired by a husband to find out why his wife had changed so much since her second miscarriage. These brief snapshots put the viewer in the old man’s shoes as he frustratingly attempts to piece together the story. In the present, Holmes befriends his housekeeper’s son Roger and the two form an unlikely bond as Roger’s curiosity intrigues Sherlock. Roger’s inquisitive nature helps him start to remember the forgotten case as things slowly become clearer.
The film was brilliantly emotional and just complex enough to provide an air of mystery. This is a Sherlock Holmes story isn’t it! Holmes’ relationship with Roger provides a lovely end to the detectives life and presents a perspective he’d often not considered: that love and the personal relationship we form are the most important element of a well lived life and are quite literally ALL that matter as we near the end. As a result, Sherlock is humbled in his twilight hours and is able to reflect on not only his mysterious final case, but his life in its entirety. After struggling for years with regret and guilt, the man is finally able to come to terms with his life and embrace however much of it is left with excitement and hope.