Reviews for Normal People

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (May 2017) — June 10, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (May 2017)

May’s a big month for a lot of reasons. Coming right at the start of the summer season, any act who wants a fighting chance at the Song of the Summer crown is gonna drop something this month. As a result, a lot of pop tends to drop in May, but it’s also a month where weirder, more niche artists come out of the woodwork. Critic-pleasing releases tend towards the later end of the year, but May is the ideal month to release a single. This time around, it was also a pretty big month for Migos. They’ve been riding that “Bad and Boujee” mainstream wave for quite some time now, and no less than 12 songs on my shortlist for this month featured at least one member of the trap trio. Still, I managed to narrow it down to 20 singles, ranked for your listening convenience. The lower half of this month’s list is pretty hip-hop-heavy, but it gets more varied as it goes on.

20) BIG FISH – Vince Staples

Kicking off this month’s list, we’ve got critically acclaimed rapper Vince Staples. “Big Fish” is the first release off his forthcoming album Big Fish Theory, and it has all the philosophical flexing, nasal Long Beach twang, and fun-yet-unsettling vibes we’ve come to expect from him. Frankly, the beat’s pretty stale, but Vince’s lyrical chops are as prime as ever and Juicy J lends a welcoming club chorus. A lesser Vince Staples track is still worthy of a mention.

19) PAPER OVA HERE – Quavo

In an interesting change of pace, all three members of Migos each released a solo single this past month. Quavo’s is the weirdest, most memorable, and probably best of the three, but the exercise allowed all three of them to showcase what they all bring to the table as artists, lending a little more appreciation to their combined efforts. “Paper Ova Here” shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It’s only two minutes long, sounds like a Napster track from 2006, and it sounds like Quavo and producer OG Parker are fumbling over each other to get the song to function. But somehow, it all comes together. This song probably got stuck in my head more than any other song on this list. I contemplated replacing it with Migos’ “To Hotty,” but there’s something about that hook that just works better than it has any right to.

18) F.B.G.M. – T-Pain feat. Young M.A

The King of Autotune returns with another romantic banger that feels like 2008 all over again. T-Pain sings the praises of an open relationship with an hustling, independent, bisexual woman, The classic “fuck bitches, get money” credo feels as fresh as it ever has, and lesbian gangsta rapper of the hour Young M.A stops by for a really solid guest verse. There’s something about that acoustically-minded ’00s R&B beat that always hooks me.

17) MASK ON – Joyner Lucas

This one’s lower on the list because it’s actually a freestyle over Future’s “Mask Off” and not necessarily a single in its own right, but Joyner fucking snaps as always. Hip hop’s got a lot of different facets and new directions it’s headed in, but I think Joyner’s the next super talented rapper that pretentious white dudes want you to listen to. He’s got an incredible ear for flow, able to spit at a speed that only a handful of rappers can achieve and still maintain unbelievable rhythm. Is it at the expense of content? One could argue that. He definitely does have more to say on his slower tracks. One moment that sticks out on this song, even though he alleges he isn’t calling out anyone with it, is the part where he very clearly and explicitly calls out Logic, another speedy biracial MC that boring white people like. Apparently, Logic took about six months to submit his verse for Tech N9ne’s track “Sriracha” and the verse he did send in was trash. Aside from that chestnut, the song’s mainly notable for technical reasons, but no one handles that better than Joyner.

16) CRYING IN THE CLUB – Camila Cabello

After that whole Machine Gun Kelly fiasco, I sort of tuned out Camila Cabello for a while. I like Fifth Harmony, and she’s partly responsible for arguably the best Shawn Mendes song, but I didn’t see much potential in her as a solo artist. “Crying in the Club” convinced me otherwise. Of course, it later turned out that the first half of the video is actually “Questions,” a totally different and probably better song that she hasn’t released yet, but still. It’s good. Maybe I just really like the title and the image it conjures, but it also feels like a really good song to cry in the club to (you can thank cowriter Sia for that). I am definitely more invested in Camila Cabello’s music than I ever have been before (that new song she did with Major Lazer is good too).

15) RAF – A$AP Mob feat. A$AP Rocky, Quavo, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, and Frank Ocean

From the start, this song has a fair amount going for it. An interesting blend of artists from different realms of hip hop, a mesmerizing, sparse trap beat, a funny enough concept. But as one could probably expect, it’s Frank Ocean’s verse that really pushes it over the edge. We start with Rocky, who’s actually been on fire lately. I really hope he has a project on the way, because all his most recent verses have been great. This one’s no exception, as he pitter-patters about fashion while Playboi Carti delivers ad-libs. Rocky’s verse flows nicely into our old friend Quavo’s. His verse is really solid; Uzi’s is not. Maybe some people would appreciate it, but for me, his appeal doesn’t extend any further than 16 bars. It’s Frank’s disjointed, layered bars that bring the track to new heights. Bars like “Sterling silver lasers / Rubies red, my skin too black to blush / This bitch too rare to bust / Seen her in the iPhone pages” feel like they require a whole dissertation to unspool. All in all, the song comes together really well, even though it hits a lull somewhere around the third verse.

14) GOLD – Brockhampton

Brockhampton is a goofy, grimy hip-hop collective from California, sort of like a more versatile Odd Future. They put out a lot of singles this month, and they’re all really good, but when it came down to it, I went with “Gold” for this list. A big part of that has to do with the infectious chorus: “Keep a gold chain on my neck / Fly as a jet / Boy better treat me with respect.” Everyone brings something unique to the table and it’s a really fun time.

13) WANT YOU BACK – Haim

Pop rock band Haim came back in a major way this month with “Want You Back,” a shimmering, regretful track off their forthcoming album Something to Tell You. What I like about this song is that there’s a novelty to it but it still feels distinctly timeless. It seems like the kind of song I’ll be hearing in movies for years to come. They released a slower acoustic track called “Right Now” back at the end of April and I was kind of disappointed, but this is definitely a song I can get behind.

12) YOUTH IN REVOLT – Brady Watt feat. Michael Christmas

If you’re a fan of “B.O.B.” by OutKast (i.e. a human being), check out “Youth in Revolt.” Brady Watt’s a producer and bass player who’s worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, Curren$y, Jean Grae, and Joey Bada$$, and he definitely brings that frenetic, immersive sound to the table. Boston backpack rapper Michael Christmas is more than happy to take on the lyrical challenge, showing out with his typical dextrous flows and referential, earnestly boastful lyrics. It doesn’t have a strong hook, per se, but it’s an impressive track that gets the blood pumping right from the start.

11) SWISH SWISH – Katy Perry feat. Nicki Minaj

Katy Perry’s been drawing a lot of attention lately, for better or for worse. People have definitely remarked at her onstage antics and bizarre musical direction, and many feel she’s stealing aspects of marginalized cultures without properly crediting/regarding their originators (known in the pop community as a “Madonna move”). But here’s the thing: her music is better than it’s ever been before. She hasn’t had as strong a string of singles as “Chained to the Rhythm,” “Bon Appetit,” and “Swish Swish” in over half a decade. Of all the people I expected to be in the minority rooting for, I was not expecting Katy Perry. Anyway, “Swish Swish” is a fantastic song. It’s a savage diss track that refashions club tropes into an anthem of self-empowerment. Nicki’s verse is great. “Swish swish, bish / Another one in the basket” is a great hook.

10) HEEBIEJEEBIES – Aminé feat. Kehlani

What can I say? I’m a sucker for earnestly corny choruses. Like “Swish Swish,” “Heebiejeebies” is goofy to the core, as is typical for Portland rapper Aminé. On the chorus, he and Kehlani croon “I’ve never seen your type of species / Give me heebie-jeebies.” I like this song because the phrase “heebie-jeebies” hits me in a way that’s really similar to how I process Aminé. It’s always fascinated me, just how honest about its own cheesiness is. It’s sort of mesmerizing. Aminé’s no master wordsmith, but the inclusion of Kehlani’s nasal pipes and that “heebie-jeebies” refrain make this song feel more sincere and heartfelt.

9) STRANGERS – Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui

If you’re looking for a powerful, emotional banger for Pride Month, I highly recommend “Strangers.” The two rising pop stars, both bisexual women, sing from the perspective of two lovers (er, strangers), each unsure about where their relationship stands, each craving something deeper and not knowing if their significant other feels the same way. I’m not a huge Halsey fan, and the song sort of takes on a pretentious tone when you put it into the context of the album’s grand Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but on its own, that wistful ’80s-inspired beat and those hopeless-romantic lyrics really hit you.

8) WHAT THE HELL IS IT THIS TIME? – Sparks

Sparks is an art rock duo started in 1968 that’s been trafficking in weird shit™ pretty consistently ever since. I’m surprised I didn’t get into these guys before; apparently, they’ve been cited as an influence by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Kurt Cobain, Morrissey, Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode, ABBA, and Paul McCartney. Their latest single is “What the Hell Is It This Time?” It lives up to its title. It’s anthemic, timeless, musically- and lyrically-dense, and just absolutely bonkers. I’m gonna have to listen to more of these guys.

7) COMPUTER BOY – Poppy

Is it disrespectful to put an intentionally-vapid bubblegum pop song right ahead of two guys who’ve been on their grind for half a century? Perhaps. But also, “Computer Boy” might be the best song Poppy’s ever made. It’s unbelievably catchy, viscerally enjoyable while also being just creepy enough to drive the point home. This is a song about falling in love with a laptop and you won’t even care. It has all the makings of a pop classic, which makes that menacing film of technology fetishism and demonic undertones all the more tantalizing. It tells so much of a story while leaving so much to the imagination, and I know I’ve said this already but it’s so goddamn catchy.

6) STOP ME – Andreas Moss

This is possibly the most memorable song I’ve heard this month. It has a really unique, sparse electronic beat, and Swedish singer Andreas Moss blends a lot of different genres to breathe a unique life into the song. I’ve heard it described as nu-R&B, and Moss definitely has a voice for nu metal, but there are also elements of pop, electronica, and soul in there. The lyrics are reference-heavy and blunt, and the part where he randomly starts singing in Swedish is delightfully pretentious. Maybe not catchy, per se, but it will definitely stick in your head.

5) FAKE MAGIC – Peking Duk and AlunaGeorge

One group that I don’t feel has gotten the attention they deserve, both on these lists and in the public eye, is AlunaGeorge. Sure, they’re decently big in the UK, and they had that one song with DJ Snake, but they’re so good. Aluna Francis has a really nice voice, they do great production work, and they’re really good songwriters. On “Fake Magic,” they team up with Australian house duo Peking Duk (they’re big in Australia) for an infectious funk track that sort of snuck up on me. I put it on the list when I first heard it, but it took a few days for it to creep into heavy rotation. It’s not the best song on the surface, but it’s the kind of song you never get tired of. And every once in a while, you need a song like that.

4) PHANTOM OF ALEPPOVILLE – Benjamin Clementine

Hey, what the fuck?

3) CHASE ME – Danger Mouse feat. Run the Jewels and Big Boi

I was already excited for Baby Driver, the next film by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright, but “Chase Me” may have pushed me over the edge. The song teams up Danger Mouse, one of the greatest producers alive, with the most acclaimed duo in hip-hop today (Run the Jewels) and a Southern rap icon (Big Boi). The result is quite possibly the coolest song of 2017. The beat is an instant classic, and all three rappers throw down insane verses. What’s not to love?

2) CUT TO THE FEELING – Carly Rae Jepsen

The rightful queen of pop, Carly Rae Jepsen, returns with another pitch-perfect power ballad, one of over 200 outtakes from her 2015 critical darling E•MO•TION. It’s hard to even break into a piece of pop as immaculate as “Cut to the Feeling.” First of all, that titular refrain: “I wanna cut to the feeling.” It’s a sentiment that’s certainly been expressed in pop before, even by Jepsen herself, but the breathless holler with which she delivers it is unforgettable. It’s inspiring, empowering, and downright delightful.

1) QUICK – Tank and the Bangas

I saw Tank and the Bangas’ performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series and instantly fell in love. The New Orleans funk-soul collective is unpredictable, brimming with creativity, and endlessly energetic. They’ve performed “Quick” in a number of settings before, but only released it as an official single this month, and I’m so glad. The frenetic, off-the-wall soap opera of a song is absolutely irresistible. Tank and the Bangas is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite bands if all their songs are as much boundless, mind-bending fun as this one is.

Review: Wonder Woman v. Captain Underpants: Dawn of Summer ’17 — June 6, 2017

Review: Wonder Woman v. Captain Underpants: Dawn of Summer ’17

Technically speaking, the summer movie season kicked off in earnest in late May, following the consecutive releases of Alien: Covenant, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, and Baywatch. However, since all those movies flopped, we’re gonna go ahead and pretend that didn’t happen. So, the summer movie season kicked off last weekend with the release of two long-anticipated superhero flicks: Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman and DreamWorks’ Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. True, these two don’t have much in common, but they both star iconic heroes making their big-screen debut. How do they both hold up, against each other and on their own?

Let’s start with Underpants, the one I saw first. Based on the popular (and phenomenal) children’s novel series by Dav Pilkey, it follows two enterprising school-age funnymen who wind up hypnotizing their mean principal into thinking he’s a superhero from the comics they wrote, and then accidentally giving him actual superpowers. Also, he wears underpants.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain Underpants, even more than I was expecting. It distinguishes itself from much of the DreamWorks crop with really unique character design and animation. Of course, the animation is very tight, fluid, and fun, but it also isn’t afraid to look thoroughly cartoony where mainstream CG animation has recently tended towards realism. The comedy of the movie is a relatively even mix of potty humor and wittier stuff, but they cram as many jokes into this thing as possible, and a good amount of them hit. It also has a surprising amount of heart, and some truly emotional moments.

Next, there’s Wonder Woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins, it was interpreted by many as a last-ditch effort to save the DC Extended Universe, which has been marred by unpopular and underperforming releases thus far. Jenkins is said to have had much more creative control than DC directors Zack Snyder and David Ayer before her, and the film was screened for critics months in advance, although official reviews weren’t allowed to be released until several days before the film’s release.

I went into this one with a critical eye, knowing that the general consensus was that it was good and wanting to bring something new to the conversation. But it hooked me, and fast. I came out of it feeling that it was an unambiguously very good movie. It had the style and action I loved in Zack Snyder’s DC movies, but was scores better by virtue of not having its head up its own ass. The characters feel real, the structure is even, and it’s possibly the most cohesive superhero movie of all time. One could argue the romantic subplot was unnecessary (in this rare instance, I disagree), but it just fits into the rest of the movie so seamlessly. It feels like a complete, unilateral vision. It has a few flaws, of course. The origin story is rushed (I know we say we’re tired of origin stories, but we’ve never seen Wonder Woman’s before), Gal Gadot’s performance is a step above Batman v Superman but still at times one-dimensional, and there are serious inconsistencies with the Amazons’ knowledge of the outside world: Wonder Woman reads Socrates and speaks modern English, but has no concept of a gun or a penis or ice cream or fashion. It’s also less philosophical than previous entries in the DCEU, and while this can be seen as a positive (see: Granny’s peach tea), I was annoyed by the extent to which all characters in the movie, regardless of what species they were or what side they were on, was stuck on the idea that fighting and things that fight are inherently bad. And that mentality never changes. Sure, Wonder Woman comes to understand that humans are never simply good or bad, but she’s still laboring under the idea that fighting is some kind of mortal sin, an attitude seemingly shared by the rest of the Amazons, the entire Greek pantheon, and even the humans. Still, none of these took away from the overall experience of the film for me, which I felt was dazzling.

Now, pretty much every action movie in the present day is expected to, on some level, be a parody of itself, so a superhero comedy like Captain Underpants going up against a legitimate, even historically-significant film like Wonder Woman isn’t as much of a disparity as it once was, but it needs to be said that Wonder Woman is not a comedy. It’s more lighthearted than its predecessors, and has a lot of fantastical and heartfelt moments, but if you’re going into this looking for humor, you won’t find much. In fact, the closest classical classification for the film’s genre is actually that it’s a war movie. It takes place during World War I, and portrays some of the horrors of war with stark realism. Where Wonder Woman subverts tropes and roles of the superhero genre, Captain Underpants is an outright parody of it. The titular hero is a delusional man with no powers who’s made to believe he’s a character cooked up in the minds of two immature young artists. Captain Underpants needed to be faithful to the spirit of its source material, and did so beautifully. Wonder Woman needed to take the DC cinematic universe in a bold, strong new direction, and it also did so beautifully.

Both films get high marks across the board from me, though neither is without flaw. I’d give Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie an 86/100 and Wonder Woman a 90. I highly recommend both of them, but definitely see Wonder Woman first (which seems to be what most people did anyway, according to box office numbers). They signal a really solid start to what’ll hopefully be a great summer movie season, and ideally, a new dawn for both DC and DreamWorks.

Review: Who Will Watch the Baywatch? — May 28, 2017

Review: Who Will Watch the Baywatch?

I think it’s safe to say Dwayne Johnson is the biggest star in the world. He hasn’t had a movie flop since 2014’s Hercules, and that thing was impossible to sell. He’s graced the cover of just about any magazine you could name, he’s scientifically the most likable man alive, he’s the highest-paid actor, one of the most influential people, and Muscle and Fitness‘ “Man of the Century” (a bit early on that one, guys). So, if you wanted to make an over-the-top, grotesquely indulgent, action/comedy reboot of Baywatch, who else put Johnson to take the reins?

Of course, Baywatch suffers from a number of flaws straight out the gate. It’s an obvious cash-in, a blatant attempt to ride the wave of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 2012 masterpiece 21 Jump Street. The thing is, Baywatch isn’t really a premise that lends itself to a reboot as well as Jump Street does. Also, Seth Gordon’s a fine director, his documentaries are amazing, but he’s no Lord/Miller. Also, and this is the one that’s tough to swallow: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are much funnier than Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. Sure, Johnson and Efron are hot. They’re really solid character actors. They’ve been in some great comedies. But they can’t carry a comedy themselves, and the film chose to really make them do the heavy lifting by filling out the rest of the cast with unknown and unmemorable actors.

One of the main problems with Baywatch is that it’s over-the-top, but it’s based on a property that was already over-the-top, and doesn’t necessarily go the extra mile. As a result, it’s always hard to tell whether or not it’s being serious. Is the dialogue meant to be this corny? Was that misogyny genuine or ironic? It doesn’t help that there are a handful of jokes in the movie so corny and cringeworthy that they wouldn’t have been out of place in the original show. With Jump Street, it was clear from the very beginning to the very end that the entire film was not meant to be taken seriously, and they stuffed it to the brim with some of the best comedic moments in film history.

So Baywatch is no Jump Street, but does it fly on its own? Eh. There were definitely a handful of genuinely funny moments, the plot was engaging enough, and I’ll say this: Seth Gordon’s strongest suit has always been cinematography. Some of the shots in this movie are incredible. Also, I don’t know who curated the soundtrack, but I want to go to their house party. There are so many great songs in this movie, and most of them fit with their scenes really well (“Everyday” by A$AP Rocky is a hard one to pull off, so I don’t blame them for floundering a little). Other than that, yeah, it’s not very good. They couldn’t even squeeze any good material out of Hannibal Buress.

For all it’s hit-or-miss attempts at humor, suffocating product placement, and tone-deaf delivery, I’m giving Baywatch a 34/100. It’s not hard to sit through, but when you really break it down it reveals itself as a real shit-show. If you were planning on seeing it and you’ve seen everything else, go ahead. But definitely don’t go out of your way for it.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (April 2017) — May 7, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (April 2017)

April is the start of summer song season, so there was a lot of fodder for this month’s list. We got new songs from people like Katy Perry, Harry Styles, Paramore, Charlie Puth, Halsey, Lil Yachty, Sean Paul, and every other shlub with a top ten hit to their name. We also got a lot of great new music from old-timers like Blondie, Roger Waters, and members of Fleetwood Mac. Also, Migos. Lots and lots and lots of Migos. But still, not every song can make the list, and here are my top 20 favorite songs released (either as a single or otherwise in a separate capacity from their album) in the month of April.

20) KRYPTONITE – George Maple

George Maple has been bubbling under the surface for about three years now, making waves for her futuristic electropop sound and sultry hook-tipped vocals. This song is no exception. It has the feel of a classic ’90s R&B jam run through a newfangled bleep-bloop machine. It can be jarring at first, but once you really get into it, it’s catchy as hell.

19) GREED – Kemba

Kemba drew some minor buzz as YC the Cynic at the turn of the decade, but his major claim to fame in his current incarnation was being invited on stage and later commended by the best rapper alive, Kendrick Lamar. He’s lyrically dense with a great eye for imagery, though his lyrics occasionally veer towards Hopsin-level preachiness. Still, he’s much more endearing and hard-hitting than Hop’s ever been, and over this sparse, dramatic beat, it’s not hard to see why Kendrick told us to watch out for him.

18) S.H.C. – Foster the People

While Fall Out Boy releases a next-level headscratcher and Imagine Dragons grows increasingly disappointing on an exponential curve, there’s one pop rock act that won’t let us down: Foster the People. The indie rockers who became a phenomenon after the inexplicable success of their 2011 single “Pumped Up Kicks” came back in a major way this month with three new singles, the best of which (in my opinion) is “S.H.C.,” an ethereal funk number about God or a relationship or both. S.H.C. stands for “Sacred Hearts Club,” which doesn’t mean anything. I like all the weird shit going on, the robot choir over the bridge, the three or four different drum patterns on the hook, et cetera. The beat is transcendentally over-the-top, while the vocals are low-key in classic FtP fashion.

17) I’M THE ONE – DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne

This song turned out to be pretty polarizing, as a lot of Khaled’s releases are, but after going back and forth for a bit, I’m fairly confident I like it. I think it expands on the minimal 2014-era DJ Mustard sound, adding in the pitched-up vocals of 2016 and a little Khaled flair. The hook isn’t particularly catchy, but it’s definitely fun. That’s how I’d describe the song as a whole: fun. It’s easy to get into and keeps you into it the whole way through, although it’s hard not to feel like it’s all downhill after Chance’s “Gucci belt” line.  Still, this is essentially what I expected out of a collaboration between these four, and I’m content with it. Everyone does a really solid job except for Wayne, who delivers the longest and most phoned-in verse at the very end.

16) WASTE OF TIME – Snow Tha Product

I’m a big fan of Mexican-American female rapper Snow Tha Product, but I’ve always found her singles hit-or-miss, which is why my appreciation for her is rarely reflected in these lists. Thankfully, “Waste of Time” is gold. It has the feel of a Drake song handled by a somewhat more adept MC. Snow’s flows are great as ever as she tears into the guy she’s currently breaking up with. The beat has a cool urgency to it, and the lyrics are vicious. Snow’s never been a great singer, but the point is more that she is a great rapper.

15) ME ENAMORE – Shakira

I’ve developed a real appreciation for Shakira in the last few weeks. She’s been at it for over 25 years and still manages to churn out great Latin pop on a fairly regular basis. She’s the only act to perform at the World Cup three times, “Hips Don’t Lie” was the most successful single of the decade, and she’s managed to stay relevant all this time and all over the world. “Me Enamore” is a great pop song. It’s got an irresistible hook, cool modern EDM-pop production with a little Latin spice thrown in, and it’s cheesy as all hell. Shakira’s one of the most accomplished musicians alive, and if this song’s any indication, she’s not going anywhere.

14) KILL JILL – Big Boi feat. Killer Mike and Jeezy

There’s this peculiar phenomenon where most rappers worth a damn are weeaboos. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s extremely true. Nicki Minaj nicknamed herself the Harajuku Barbie. Kanye West’s favorite movie is Akira. The Wu-Tang Clan’s entire collective persona is based on kung fu movies. And now Big Boi did a song with Hatsune Miku. Yes, it’s technically a sample, but Miku’s voice is simulated to begin with, so isn’t using a sample of it kind of the same as actually collaborating with her? So yeah, as far as I’m concerned, Big Boi’s working with vocaloids. And so is Killer Mike. And Jeezy. Jeezy only handles the chorus on this song, by the way, which is pretty odd, but since Big Boi and Mike are sort of on a wave here that Jeezy could very easily ruin, I’m good with it. Goddamn, these verses are great. It’s also a really cool beat. It’s interesting how as English speakers, we can filter Japanese vocals into noise and let the English rise to the top, even as two vocalists perform at once. I don’t know. It’s dope.

13) ONLY BROTHER (A SPECIAL REMIX) – Taylor Bennett

Chance the Rapper’s birthday was this month, and his brother got him an incredibly fire remix/tribute. Taylor Bennett seems okay with coming up as Chano’s sibling, but he has a great style all to his own. He’s a little lower, more introspective, with speedier pitter-patter flows. The song is incredibly sappy, aided by a soulful D.R.A.M. hook lifted directly from Acid Rap, and I absolutely love it.

12) WHO WANT IT – David Banner feat. Black Thought and WatchtheDuck

And now for something completely different. David Banner is always a treat, known for his in-your-face attitude and undistilled political raps. Black Thought is one of the best rappers of all time, known for intricate verbal patterns and thoughtful social and political messages. The two come together for a bombastic banger lambasting modern politics (especially Trump) and telling the universe to 1v1 them. If I was the universe, I’d be scared.

11) J-BOY – Phoenix

Phoenix is a French synth-pop band that I’m admittedly ill-acquainted with, but this song slaps. As I understand it, they’ve had a following in France since 2000 and their last album reached #4 on the Billboard 200. Their new track “J-Boy” is infectious and maximal, with great bittersweet lyrics and watery new wave vocals. It’s a song I could see myself coming back to in the future, which isn’t something I can always say about the songs on this list. I love this song a lot and I’m excited to see what else Phoenix has to offer.

10) I BELIEVE – T.I.

“I Believe” was the first track on T.I.’s phenomenal 2016 album Us or Else: Letter to the System (one of my favorites of last year, if you’ll recall) and now it’s out as a single, so I had to save a spot for it. The beat is urgent with a dirty South sound, much like the album itself. It gets you invested, but forces you to confront the powerful, deftly-delivered lyrics about institutional racism in all its forms. It’s the hip hop form of a well-reasoned debate, examining and picking apart arguments against itself and presenting indisputable facts as well as reasonable conjecture leading to its grand thesis. You can break it into a hundred pieces and extrapolate each point out into a research paper. Now that’s conscious rap.

9) TOY BOX – Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) and the Soul Madonnas

Part 2 of season one of The Get Down dropped on Netflix this month, and it is wild. I personally love it, and I think “Gamble Everything” is the best episode of the whole season so far, though fans have pointed out a glaring issue: this is the least ’70s song ever made. Full of electronic honks and songs that sound overly sexual even to some modern listeners, it’s obvious that this was meant to serve symbolic and marketing purposes (they even had Sia write it) more so than to be authentic. But goddamn is it a banger. I love all of it. I love the wispy pillow talk vocals at the beginning, I love the hook, I love the other hook, I love the break, I love how many times she says “games begin,” the whole thing is a sexy club pop masterpiece.

8) YOUNG DUMB & BROKE – Khalid

In an age where so many young songstresses clamor to be the next Lorde, the artist who’s come closest to the essence of her debut album is actually Khalid. He’s got that unique vocal style, the sentimental Marxist cool kid vibe, the slight twinges of ’80s nostalgia, the works. And while we’re comparing, “Young Dumb & Broke” feels a lot like a more pessimistic version of “Team.” Its subject matter is best encapsulated by the title, but it has a really interesting feel to it, equal parts depressing and catchy as hell, with a sparse, gospel-infused beat. It paints such a gloomy picture that it really makes you cherish when the chorus kicks in and you have something fun to sing along/relate to: being young, dumb, and broke. If you’re not there now, you’ve been there before. Khalid appeals to a universal teen experience, allowing him to appeal to both current young’uns and jaded, nostalgic adults. American Teen represents the American teen.

7) BIKING – Frank Ocean feat. Jay Z and Tyler the Creator

Frank Ocean’s mythos is so grand that it feels like it’s Christmas every time he drops something, even now that we’ve fallen into a regular drop cycle for him. Then again, part of that has to do with the sheer quality of his music. He dropped three new pieces of music this month, and while there’s not a “Chanel” or “Slide” in the bunch, we did get this gem. It’s a viscerally enjoyable, thousand-layered song with the unlikely trio of Frank, Jay, and Tyler discussing, of all things, bicycles. Tyler’s verse is great. Frank’s is. Jay’s… isn’t. Give the old guy a break.

6) FRAGMENTS – Blondie

I’ve expressed a level of fondness for Blondie’s new music a few times now, but holy fuck, dude. This song is shattering. It’s a seven-minute epic of heartbreak and the search for meaning in a void. In researching for this list I discovered it’s a cover of a song by YouTube movie reviewer Adam Johnston (YourMovieSucks), which I had a hard time believing until I heard the original. Needless to say, Blondie improves upon it to a degree, but it sort of blows my mind to think about where this song comes from. It fits the album so well, feels so different and yet so uniquely Blondie. It’s a masterpiece. That’s all I can say.

5) IT’S ALL GOOD – Superorganism

Elusive electronic collective Superorganism garnered attention from Fader earlier this year with their captivating single “something for your M.I.N.D.” Now they’re back with another infectious loosie, just as brilliant and nebulous as ever. The pitch-shifted vocals woven into the tapestry of the production, the stuttering guitars, the tambourine, the alarm clock, the multiple separate ensembles that jump in and out at seemingly-random times, the surprising catchiness of it all; every element of this song is more interesting than the last. You could even say it’s all good.

4) HONOR – DJ Cassidy feat. Grace and Lil Yachty

As much as I admire Lil Yachty’s persona, I never expected him to end up so high on one of these lists. But this is an exceptional month, and “Honor” is an exceptional song. I recommend everyone listen to it; it has an undeniable classic pop feel. It’ll subversively get stuck in your head for days. The way Grace says “Who else is putting up with this?” feels too right to be new. And Yachty’s verse is actually good. It’s really heartfelt and well-written (if it is written, which it seems like it is. The sparse beat feels odd for a song with this much power, but it works a lot better than it should. That’s how I describe this song in general. It works way better than you’d expect.

3) HARD TIMES – Paramore

Another pop rock act who never disappoints: Paramore. For their new album After Laughter, they’re going full ’80s new wave, and I absolutely love it. “Hard Times” is one of those songs that revels in its simplicity, so I won’t have quite as much to say about it, but it’s fantastic. It’s so weird and different and Paramore, yet so classic at the same time. For a song about the worst days of one’s life, this song sure is a musical barrel of monkeys.

2) DNA. – Kendrick Lamar

I know, I’m a stan. I’m hard-line full-stop KenFolk who would sooner listen to Kendrick having sex with my significant other than a rapper of equal talent going HAM and eggs over a beat produced by God himself. But isn’t everyone these days? You can’t walk a meter without hearing a groundbreaking new thinkpiece about how Kendrick might be [gasp] an all-time great. DAMN. has an average critical score of 95%. He’s got two songs in the top 10 right now and at least a dozen more in the Hot 100. But “DNA.” is incredible. The lyrical content, the layers to it, how it functions as a song and in the context of the album, the beat switch. On lyrics alone, it’s some of Kendrick’s finest work. It’s simple and beautiful, irresistible and off-putting. When I listened to it for the first time, I really did say “Damn.” But it’s not #1.

1) SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles

This song dropped in the first week of April and instantly earned its spot on the top of this list. The music-listening community collectively nutted when it came out. Old heads, Directioners, and everyone in between raved about it. It’s a goddamn magnum opus that suddenly shot Harry Styles to the front of every face and the tip of every tongue. It has the timeless feel of a song that will live on for decades. It’s possible that this is the peak; that Harry will never get any higher than this. It’s certainly a tough act to follow, but for this one glimmering moment, Harry Styles became a legend. His newest single, “Sweet Creature,” is kind of trash, but listening to “Sign of the Times,” it still feels like he could ride this wave to the top of the world. Let’s see where he goes.

Review: Tarantino Theater with Brie Larson — April 23, 2017

Review: Tarantino Theater with Brie Larson

Free Fire is a film that asks the question “Remember the climax of Reservoir Dogs? What if just that?” It came out of nowhere with eye-popping promotional material, boasts a number of upper-B-list stars, and has the hottest indie production company on the block behind it, A24 (Moonlight, Green Room, The Lobster, every other movie your film buff friends busted a nut over last year). So, how’d it turn out?

Well, I definitely appreciate its premise. As I said earlier, it’s essentially one big climax: Shots are fired in the first half hour and the gunfight continues until the last minute of the film. It’s a great premise for a bottle film, dropping you into a scene and letting you explore the characters and their stories as you find them stuck in a high-intensity situation in an enclosed space. It also works really well as a general Quentin Tarantino send-up, borrowing elements from Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, and even Hateful Eight.

There’s just one problem: Ben Wheatley is not Quentin Tarantino. A big reason of why those films are all so iconic is because Tarantino is A) a brilliant writer and B) a master of suspense. There are a lot of great laughs in this movie, but the dialogue is just not as captivating as it needs to be to carry a 90-minute film that takes place in a single room. The gunfight too soon becomes a dull hum of gunfire when you don’t even know the characters yet.

Luckily, it gets better from there. This is one of the few action movies I’ve seen where the action wears thin at the beginning and then, very suddenly, becomes captivating. You start to get invested. You root for people. You’re excited by new developments. You laugh, harder and harder each time. One of the bigger surprises of this film is Armie Hammer, who plays by far his most endearing role to date. Brie Larson doesn’t get as much time as she needs, but you still find yourself rooting for her. Sharlto Copley is hilarious as always. It’s really a film that starts out disappointing and only gets better and better. It has perhaps the best ending in film so far this year.

It’s a very mathematical crime movie that also manages to emotionally invest its audience. It’s not perfect, but I still appreciate it a lot. I’ll give it an 87/100. I’m sorry I haven’t been doing as many reviews as I’d like. I have some rather potent thoughts on Power Rangers and Fate of the Furious (they’re both excellent films) but I couldn’t punch them out at the time. Hopefully I’ll be in a more prolific mood some time soon.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (March 2017) — April 7, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (March 2017)

Ah, March. It’s definitely been an eventful month for me, I don’t know about y’all. We’re just starting to see some of the Song of the Summer contenders seeping through, so we’re definitely seeing a lot of comebacks, with new music from the likes of Gorillaz, Lorde, Drake, Charli XCX, Calvin Harris, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Frank Ocean, and plenty more. Even Chuck Berry put out a new single, and that guy died like, yesterday. But of course, some songs are always gonna stand out as the best, and here are my personal favorite tracks from the month of March. Note: I generally tend towards singles for these lists, so every song on here has been released in some capacity outside of an album, if not technically a single.

20) LOSE MY COOL – Amber Mark

The elusive Amber Mark has been on the come-up since her mysterious first single “S P A C E” dropped last year and caught the ear of heavyweights like Zane Lowe. Given that her new video seems to be literally comprised of home movies, I’d say her reputation as a recluse is probably an overstatement, but she still brings a unique Aaliyah sort of flavor to her music. “Lose My Cool” is sparse, nostalgic, deep, and enjoyable. She’s definitely got a pop sound, but her uniquely moody blend of popping pianos and tribal drums makes for some very interesting tracks. The kid’s going places. Check her out.

19) LONG TIME – Blondie

I’ve been really digging this new Blondie stuff, man. I haven’t listened to any of their more recent albums– apparently, they’re sort of divisive– but I’m definitely interested in their upcoming one, Pollinator. They’ve released three or four songs from it so far, and they’re all pretty good, but I think “Long Time” is the best one yet. It definitely has a timeless feel to it, and it’s written by the brilliant Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), who’s always a gem. It’s a fun-yet-melancholy track that may not stick with you, but won’t ever get old.

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Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (February 2017) — March 9, 2017

Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (February 2017)

Yes, yes, I know it’s late. There was a lot of music this month, and I’ve been having a busy March. But it’s here now and honestly, do you really care? Here’s your goddamned tunes.

20) GOOD DAY – Yellow Claw feat. DJ Snake and Elliphant

The writing on this song is… not great. It’s full of baffling metaphors and meandering storytelling. Really, this song isn’t on the list because of the contributions of Swedish singer Elliphant. It’s here because of the production. Yellow Claw and DJ Snake have both already proven themselves phenomenal at producing EDM-pop, but there’s something about the way they work together on this track. The build-up at the beginning. The hard-hitting grooves of the verses. The way Yellow Claw’s synths commingle with DJ Snake’s signature vocal samples. And the drop at the end is incredible. So yeah, it’s not a perfect song, but when you take a good look at it, it’s a great piece of EDM.

19) MACHINE – MisterWives

After two long years, MisterWives is gearing up to gift the world with their sophomore LP Connect the Dots. “Machine” is the first song we’ve heard from it, and it’s definitely promising. I’ve always found it hard to pinpoint exactly what MisterWives’ sound is; they’re definitely either power pop or indie rock, but they incorporate a lot of diverse elements into it. This song in particular really makes your head spin with the eclectic instrumentation it’s got going on. It’s also extremely catchy, empowering, and above all else it’s just really cool.

18) LIVING OUT LOUD – Brooke Candy feat. Sia

For a song about “living out loud,” “Living Out Loud” is actually pretty vanilla. Sia and Brooke Candy are both openly-queer female pop stars known for their larger-than-life presences. “Living Out Loud” contains a slight feminist message, but seems to go to great lengths to keep its status as a banger. What we’re left with is, yes, disappointingly plain, but still a banger. I like the urgency of the numbers counting down used in the verses. I just wish it had something to be urgent about.

17) THIEF – Ansel Elgort

If anything, “Thief” proves that a ridiculous, clumsy pop song can still work if you have enough confidence. Ansel Elgort is primarily known as the dough-faced heartthrob of films like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent. Turns out, he’s also a fan of Nick Jonas. He’s got everything from the cool swagger to the cheesy, ridiculous, vaguely-threatening lyrics to the bizarre, unsettling vocal affect. And you know what? I like Nick Jonas. I support more people making Nick Jonas songs. This song is fun.

16) MAKE LOVE – Gucci Mane feat. Nicki Minaj

If I had to complain about one thing about this song, it would be that there’s way too much bass. It’s definitely the hardest song of 2017 so far, but Gucci winds up taking a backseat to Nicki’s methodical, devastating 2-minute verse aimed at Remy Ma and/or Azealia Banks. I could’ve put Remy’s equally hard-hitting 7-minute diss track “ShETHER” on this list, but I feel like that song drags (both kinds of dragging) where “Make Love” stays on topic and lays its disses out gracefully. Point Nicki.

15) GENIE – Busy P feat. Mayer Hawthorne

For the uninitiated, Busy P is the elusive founder of Ed Banger Records, a popular French electronic label home to acts like Justice, Breakbot, and Mr. Oizo. I’m not exactly a fanatic, but this is a phenomenal electro-funk track. It’s got really unique production, combining a classic ’70s sound with little modern flourishes like this cool distorted robot voice effect over the chorus. I previously knew the singer, Mayer Hawthorne, from his work with Jake One as Tuxedo, and while his voice is a pretty generic Ryan Tedder-type, he delivers a solid performance on this song.

14) LONDON – Maty Noyes

If you prefer your ridiculous, clumsy pure-pop tracks with a little international flair, I’ve got just the thing. I love how over-the-top this song is. It starts with this dramatic opener, Maty Noyes doing her best ’50s lounge singer voice, with this rattling piano building up as she does, and then all of a sudden you’re on some Spice Girls shit. That may be unfair, though. This song definitely has a distinct Maty Noyes feel to it, and it’s actually really well-written. It’s got a really fun James Bond feel to it. I highly dig it.

13) OUTLET – Desiigner

Yes, it’s our old buddy Desiigner back again with another pleasantly surprising trap banger. What strikes me most about “Outlet” is that Desiigner can no longer be considered a Future clone. “Panda” and “Tiimmy Turner” were unique tracks, but they still stunk of an artist stuck in Future’s shadow. “Outlet” is a 100% Desiigner original, and it makes the case for Desiigner as one of the most unique voices in the new school. The powerful trumpet beat is fantastic, and Desiigner’s ad-libs are as fun as ever, but more so than any song before it, “Outlet” also makes the case that he may be… a good rapper. At one point, the beat drops out entirely and we’re left with Desiigner by his lonesome, full of raw manic energy, spouting bars on bars on bars. The marble-mouthed maestro remains one to watch.

12) BAGBAK – Vince Staples

“BagBak” doesn’t have the focused concept of a typical Vince Staples song. I think that might be because it was made for a Def Jam compilation and not an actual album of his, but I think it’s still a great track. It’s got this really cool electro-trap Detroit sound to it, courtesy of producer Ray Brady, who’s best known for his myriad work with the Black Eyed Peas. Needless to say, Staples’ lyrics are probably on a higher level than those of the Peas. Even though “BagBak” is ostensibly a club song, he manages to get political and stay there the whole time without losing that banger quality. On the song’s bridge, he tells the one percent, the government, and the president to suck a dick. That’s Vince for ya.

11) CASINO – Daye Jack

Hip-hop/electro-funk hybrids will be the running theme of this month’s list. Rapper/singer Daye Jack delivers a cool suavity to that blending of genres, spitting a brief rapped intro before going full Jamiroquai on a song that’s equal parts hilarious, inspiring, and irresistibly wavy. There’s not very much to say about it. Just listen and feel it in your bones.

10) IT TAKES TWO – Mike WiLL Made-It feat. Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen

This song would probably be a few notches higher on the list if it weren’t technically A) a cover and B) a Target commercial. It’s the latest triumphant step in Mike WiLL Made-It’s redemption arc, taking an already-great pop rap classic and turning it into a fresh, fun remake that you can’t help but smile at. I feel like I appreciate Lil Yachty more and more with every new song he puts out. And of course, Carly’s as great as she always is. There’s about half a minute of great content left out of the music video, and you know it’s a great song when half a minute can be such a glaring loss.

9) IT’S NOT DESIGN – Lupe Fiasco feat. Salim

“It’s Not Design” isn’t a single, and therefore shouldn’t technically be on this list. But I felt a need to include it because it’s the best song on DROGAS Light, which is an album I may never get the chance to talk about again. Lupe tends to stumble a bit when trying to maintain his lyrical air without actually saying anything, but I think there are some moments on this song when he really pulls it off. It’s another hip-hop/electrofunk track, and one of the better ones I’ve ever heard, thanks in no small part to the mysterious Salim’s Charlie Wilson-esque crooning on the chorus. I have no idea what this song’s about and it’s probably better that way.

8) COOL YOUR HEART – Dirty Projectors feat. D∆WN

Dirty Projectors’ latest album can get pretty heavy, so it’s great that we have a song like “Cool Your Heart” in the mix. The beat is an incredible avant garde mix of tribal drum rhythms and futuristic bleep-bloops, but it somehow manages to still function perfectly well as a pop song. I’m a big fan of Dawn Richard, and increasingly, I realize, a big fan of Dave Longstreth, so this was really a no-brainer to include on the list.

7) WHITE MAN – Macy Gray

I am a 100% Macy Gray stan. Her voice (both her lyrical one and her actual one) is so powerful, so unique, so weathered and resilient and interesting. “White Man” is probably the poppiest song she’s put out in a while, but it’s still breathtakingly unique. It combines traditional African chants and drums with marks of the soul music she’s most known for, then throws in some EDM for good measure. Her message is bold and singular, not only preaching unity, but unity or else. It’s an urgent and fierce neo-soul masterpiece that proves we all need to stop sleeping on Macy Gray.

6) CHAINED TO THE RHYTHM – Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

This… hmm. Look, I’m no fan of Katy Perry. I’ve liked maybe three or four of her songs, none of which have come out in the past four years. But this isn’t even like the other Katy Perry songs I like. It’s different. It’s got an unavoidable (if vague) political message to it, and it’s so clever and subtle in how it’s conveyed. It practically chastises you for listening to its lyrics, doubling down on Katy Perry cliches whenever it starts to get political until it finally wakes up the lions during Skip Marley’s verse. It has this really interesting disco/reggae/vaporwave sound, but it could be that Perry’s music is so homogeneous you can apply just about any label to it. It’s like the Katy Perry version of “Hey Ya.” Or something.

5) GROWN UP FAIRY TALES – Taylor Bennett feat. Chance the Rapper and Jeremih

Coloring Book is great, but if you miss the wavy, stream-of-consciousness, lyrically-dense style of Acid Rap, check out “Grown Up Fairy Tales.” Chance and his brother Taylor both deliver fascinating, incredible, beautifully-written bars about growing up. Jeremih handles the chorus, and does an admirable if forgettable job. Really, the headliner on this song is Taylor, who shows up almost two-thirds of the way through to deliver an incredible verse, taking his brother’s style and incorporating his own flair. The genes in this family, I swear.

4) JOHN WAYNE – Lady Gaga

Here’s a hot take for ya: “John Wayne” might be the best song on Joanne. On an album full of dramatic, overdone country flourishes, it delivers what we really wanted from the album all along: Fame Monster-era zany antics with a country twist. I love the intro. I love the verses. I love that little thing on the hook where they make her voice sound like a guitar. The production is fantastic in general. It’s just an immensely enjoyable, pure-Gaga track that I never get tired of.

3) THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars

When Bruno Mars is brought up as an all-time great, a common strike against him is his ostensible lack of originality. “He hasn’t released an original single since 2013,” they’ll shout. Ignoring the fact that true originality doesn’t exist, if you were worried Bruno doesn’t have fresh cuts anymore, look no further than “That’s What I Like,” one of the more impressive songs on Mars’ latest masterpiece, 24K Magic. It has the same swag-dripping vibes of the rest of the tracks on that album, and even resurrects the character of “Julio” from “Uptown Funk!,” but in terms of music, concept, and all-around feel, it’s as original as they come. And it’s also just an excellent track. It perfectly balances the cheesy ’80s playa aesthetic of his newer tracks with the sappy romantic he played on his first album-and-a-half. It’s more purely, viscerally fun than any other single so far this year.

2) BAMBI – Jidenna

This song, on the other hand, is devastating. We’ve got Jidenna once again finding brand new genres to perfect (trap-calypso), as well as really poignant and interesting new things to sing about. In this one, Jidenna laments about how the womanizing nature of his family and the community that raised him prevents him from staying with the love of his life. Have you ever heard a song about that before? It’s also a really clever title, because there’s a running metaphor about how liars and cheaters (lions and cheetahs) run the jungle and she needs to leave to not be ensnared in it but he really loves her and can’t prove that he’s not the same as the rest of them because, on some level, he is. The reason for the name becomes explicitly clear in the outro, as a downtrodden Jidenna croons “I just wanna see my baby, that’s my Bambi, that’s my dear.” It’s a brilliant song that I just had to give props, even if there is one other track that comes out on top.

1) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Really, it was no contest. Before this song even came out, I knew it was gonna be indomitable. From the lush pianos and high-pitched Frank Ocean glamour we get in the first couple seconds to the downright phenomenal Offset verse on the back end, it’s just non-stop excellence. I’d say without much hesitation that this is the best song Calvin Harris has ever made. I hope this is song of the summer. I hope it lands in early April and never leaves. I love every second of it. I see you, Calvin Harris. I see you.

Review: No Country For Old Mutants — March 5, 2017

Review: No Country For Old Mutants

The X-Men franchise is going through an interesting phase. On the one hand, their classic, monolithic main-series franchise is taking a morning dive into Shit Lagoon, with X-Men: Apocalypse performing underwhelmingly among critics, fans, and at the box office, along with no clear trajectory for the future. On the other hand, their solo films are all the rage, with Deadpool and now Logan making Disney-level money bins and already being considered among the best superhero films of all time. Deadpool has aged well so far, but is Logan up to snuff?

Well, it’s hard to say. It’s definitely an excellent film– in a filmic sense, it may be the greatest superhero movie of all time– but it also definitely has its flaws. It’s very long, and there are certain moments that could have been made a lot shorter without losing anything. The action, for all its intensity, gets reduced to lame slicing-and-dicing at times, an issue that also plagued the other two Wolverine movies. And even if she figured out how to drive, Laura’s eight years old. How can she reach the pedals?

Like so many great movies, Logan is hard to pin down. Wolverine being a superhero makes it easier, but he does a lot of things throughout the film that aren’t very heroic. He’s more of a Rooster Cogburn figure: ruthless, grizzled, and inscrutable. His Mattie Ross comes in the form of Laura, played brilliantly by newcomer Dafne Keen. So, is Logan a Western? Well, you can’t really say that either. It lifts a whole monologue from the Alan Ladd classic Shane, but it takes place in the future and spends as much time in the woods or the city as it does in the Western deserts. Is it dystopian sci-fi? Well, in a District 9 sense, perhaps. But its dystopian qualities and its sci-fi qualities are very subtle, spending much more times on the characters, their pasts, their futures, and their relationships than anything else. And to top it all off, it’s also a family drama, a road movie, a chase movie, and a neo-noir.

At the end of the day, the most true and poignant thing you can say about Logan is that it’s a film. In an age where so many action movies feel like properties, devoid of a beginning or end, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, the lesson we can learn from Deadpool and Logan and even Lego Batman is that a movie can take place in a grander universe, but it’s still best that they exist as self-contained stories. In this movie, there’s hope. There’s room for things to take place before and after it. But there’s no love interest, no resurrections and reintroductions, no winks or nudges, no reassuring “Spider-Man will return” to let the kids know their precious golden calfs are going to be okay. You never really know where it’s going to go because the next five movies haven’t been laid out for you in an itinerary. That’s what makes it great.

Overall, I’d give Logan a 98/100. It’s brilliantly written, performed, shot, directed, lit, and so many other things. Aside from a few scattered flaws, it’s practically perfect. I highly recommend you see it, even if you don’t like superhero movies.

Top 50 Best Albums of 2016 — February 26, 2017

Top 50 Best Albums of 2016

Yes, I’m a little bit behind on this one. I’m sorry that one person with school and extracurricular obligations can’t get an album of the year list out quite as fast as a staff of 50 people who do it for a living. Mine’s probably more thorough than Pitchfork’s anyway. I won’t do too much introduction since you already know what’s coming, but since this album is a reflection of my own music tastes, expect more pop and hip-hop than anything else. If you’re not into all that, maybe don’t bother.

50) DO WHAT THOU WILT. – Ab-Soul

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Kicking off the list, we’ve got the latest album from your current favorite rapper’s current favorite rapper, Ab-Soul. It has a bizarre, jumbled, pseudo-feminist message, but brings plenty of Soulo’s trademark lyrical gymnastics and kooky one-liners. It’s far from perfect, and might not even be good, but I still appreciated it.

Best tracks: “RAW (backwards)” feat. Zacari, “Huey Knew THEN” feat. Da$H, “INvocation ” feat. Kokane, “The Law” feat. Mac Miller and Rapsody

Worst track: “Womanogamy”

49) ANYTHING BUT WORDS – Banks & Steelz

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On the surface, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and Paul Banks from Interpol don’t exactly seem like an ideal match. And yeah, they kinda aren’t. But there’s still a lot of things I admire about this album. I really like the amount of sonic variety they were able to include while still keeping true to the marriage of their styles. This album covers everything from ’70s mafia movie soundtrack to Florence + the Machine over the course of its twelve tracks. And both artists are as talented as ever, even if their styles don’t always mesh.

Best: “Giant,” “Sword in the Stone” feat. Kool Keith, “Love + War” feat. Ghostface Killah, “Gonna Make It”

Worst: “Point of View” feat. Method Man and Masta Killa (this shouldn’t have been that hard, guys) Continue reading

Review: Every Important Movie Starts with a Black Screen — February 12, 2017

Review: Every Important Movie Starts with a Black Screen

The question has already started to come up: Is The Lego Batman Movie better than The Lego Movie? Obviously, we can’t find an answer until the former has had at least a few months to digest. By the time The Ninjago Movie comes out in September, we should have a pretty clear picture of which is superior (only to have it further complicated by throwing a third one into the fray). If I had to give my opinion right now, I’d say the original Lego Movie still reigns supreme, but I think there’s a more interesting question to start asking: Is The Lego Batman Movie the best Batman movie?

To be perfectly clear, I’m not trying to say Lego Batman is a better film than The Dark Knight or Batman Returns. Those two are among the best movies of all time and Lego Batman literally came out yesterday. But I really do think this movie is the best Batman movie: it handles the character and universe of Batman better than any of his other movies have.

See, superhero movies have a tendency to present their main characters, rather than looking at them. As a result, the heroes are hard to really see as people. They’re not characters, they’re brands. Icons. Silhouettes. What we see on-screen is closer to the Bat-Signal than Batman. And this issue is especially prevalent in Batman films, which is a shame because there’s so much to unpack with him.

Batman has probably been analyzed more than any other character in comics. His character and background make him the perfect candidate for psychoanalysis, feminist theory, queer theory, Marxist theory, you name it. And if you look into it, you’ll find thousands of articles on any of these lenses. So how come, in his films, does his psyche never get more complicated than “he hates crime because his parents are dead?”

The Lego Batman Movie tried to remedy this issue, and it succeeded so hard. Batman becomes so unlikeable in this movie that the computer running the Phantom Zone actually calls him a villain. He’s egotistical, a loner, a beacon of hypermasculinity who relies on the incompetence of the powers-that-be to let him live his heroic fantasy. But he’s still Batman. He still saves Gotham City constantly, he’s still incredibly strong and smart, and the film doesn’t fail to remind us of that. He’s a deeply imperfect character, and despite his arc, really only gets over one of his many obvious flaws by the end of the movie, but he’s still a hero.

Batman movies often dance with the question of “Which is really the alter ego?” This film doesn’t ask, but boldly insists that Batman is the real him and Bruce Wayne is 100% an alter ego. See, in this film, Batman represents the character, but also the franchise, and also also the audience. For him and, by extension, us, Batman  is an escape. He allows us to live out our basic, egotistical desires. We can save the day and still be loner shut-ins who take no responsibilities and eat lobster for every meal.

Look at Superman, voiced brilliantly by Channing Tatum. He’s everyone’s friend, always works in public and on behalf of the public, and effectively stops crime. It’s no coincidence that, even though the movie practically shoves in your face that Zod is in the Phantom Zone, when the Joker opens up the Zone during the climax and sets everyone free, there’s no sign of Zod anywhere. It’s to say that Superman, unlike Batman, is an effective crime fighter. And like Batman, we can’t stand that douchebag. We want Batman, the antihero, who revels in extreme, unhealthy, stoic masculinity and shirks all responsibility. Even at the very end of the movie, when he’s supposedly learned his lesson, he lets people change around him so he himself can get all the credit.

Of course, there’s a lot more to love about Lego Batman. It’s absolutely hilarious, the pacing is incredible, the animation is great (sometimes distractingly different from The Lego Movie, but from what I can tell this film is meant to take place in a different kid’s imagination, so I’ll excuse it). In addition to Batman, it brilliantly skewers the superhero movie in general. The other characters besides Batman (Joker, Barbara, Robin, Alfred) are also really in-depth and well-done. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I give it a 97/100.