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Happy New Year

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A Happy New Year to all of you.

2019 starts with a hangover, which was predictable. I also didn’t post anything over Christmas, which was equally as predictable. We went away to rural Suffolk and I wasted away the hours cooking huge amounts of food and taking the dogs for long walks.

So I start 2019 on Astral Penguins mopping up on things I didn’t get finished in 2018. I’m going to post my top 50 songs of 2018 this evening. I actually finished the list just before Christmas, but WordPress wasn’t too keen on such a large post and I ran out of time to sort it. So I’ll post the songs in batches of 10 (and if that doesn’t work, I’ll do it individually).

A few thoughts on the top 50 before I post it. 2018 was a very strong year for music. I’ve found so many interesting and intriguing tracks and songs that I thought were nailed on top 10 candidates earlier in the year barely made the top 30. The list runs very deep this year, and I’d have had to no problem doing a top 70 or 80 and still really loving the songs.

Like my top 5 albums of the year (see below), the top 50 has a lot of female representation. Whether it is my taste, the easier access that Spotify and other platforms allow to all sorts of music that may not previously have been promoted as heavily or the fact that there are so many women producing fantastic music at the moment, it’s good to feel the music industry is becoming a little more balanced.

A couple of genres that I usually expect a strong showing from didn’t do as well in 2018. There wasn’t as much rock music as I was expecting, nor was there a lot of hip hop. I was also a little surprised that there wasn’t more dance music that grabbed me last year. But it was a strong year for pop and indie music, which is certainly reflected in my top 50.

I have made a few New Year’s Resolutions that are related to the blog. I want to make sure I blog at least three times a week, to keep the content going regularly. I have decided to set myself a target of listening to 4,500 tracks, and listening to at least two new albums a week. We’ll see how I get on with those.

Anyway, back to 2018. Outside of the Top 50 songs, here are a few additional winners from 2018.

Favourite lyrics

If you aren’t familiar with IDLES, you should check them out. Never Fight A Man With A Perm was my favourite track on Joy as an act of Resistance, their hugely successful second album. The second verse of the menacing madness has had me laughing out loud several times and I doth my cap to them.

A heathen from Eton, on a bag of Michael Keaton

He thinks he’s suave

You’re not suave ‘cause you watched Get Carter

You are a catalogue, plastic, Sinatra

A try-hard, you should have tried harder

Me, oh me, oh my, Roy

You look like a walking thyroid

You’re not a man, you’re a gland

You’re one big neck with sausage hands

You are a Topshop tyrant

Even your haircut’s violent

You look like you’re from Love Island

You stood and the room went silent

 

Favourite Albums

2018 felt like an unusual year for albums. I found a lot of the albums that received massive critical acclaim (The 1975, Mitski, Travis Scott) underwhelming. Similarly the return albums from certain artists I really admire were (Arctic Monkeys, Father John Misty) were more miss than hit. And yet some of the albums I wasn’t expecting to be up to much really impressed me, notably the Rae Morris and GoGo Penguin records.

Those two albums along with Slaves’s Acts of Fear and Love, IDLES’s Joy as an act of Resistance, Eliza Shaddad’s Future and Tierra Whack’s Whack World all narrowly missed out on my top 5 and therefore fall in the honourable mentions column.

My top five albums of 2018 were all by female artists, all of whom had something interesting to say. Not in any particular order, here are my favourite albums:

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour  

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Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

 

Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

 

Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of My Children

 

Robyn – Honey

Robyn Honey New Album Release date tracklist Missing U

At the Movies: Raw

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For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as “I,” not as “they”…

-Julia Ducournau- Raw’s Director/Writer  

As with all the best horror movies, Raw’s prologue is nebulous and intriguing. It opens with a lone car speeding down a quiescent highway. A figure rushes across the road, forcing the car to make an emergency stop but, failing spectacularly, it hits the figure and crashes off the side of the road. At first it looks as though there are no survivors, but as we watch, the figure lying in the road begins to twitch, stretch its limbs and, standing up, makes its way slowly and purposefully towards the passengers in the car. It is at this moment we realize that the figure is a predator, not a victim, and that the car has driven straight into a trap…

I remember hearing stories about Raw a while back- apparently when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness screening, paramedics had to be called to treat all the audience members who had passed out from the horror and extreme gore! I also heard that sick bags were being handed out at film screenings…

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But despite all of this, the director Julia Ducourna says that her aim was to omit all generic horror clichés and challenge the traditional treatment of women in the genre. She sees it as more of a coming of age movie and described it as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”.

Inevitably, the first thing that’ll come to mind when you talk about Raw will be those few truly horrific moments which weave together cannibalism, horror, sex and violence. Some of the most memorable moments reminded me of other horrors such as Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby and Let the Right One In, whilst others bore zero resemblance to anything I’d ever seen before! But I think the horrific scenes stick in mind not just because they’re axiomatically shocking -Raw should never be compared to a Lars Von Trier Movie- (note- there is no link to any of his work), but because we’re completely submerged within Justine’s nightmare, discovering everything just as she does. There is therefore a sense of innocence, somewhat incongruous in a cannibal movie.

Raw divulges an unusual fresher’s year. The movie begins as 16 year old Justine arrives at University, ready for her first year at veterinary school. She is wide eyed, studious and, as a staunch vegetarian, firmly grounded in her morals and ethics. But at an initiation ceremony, she is forced to swallow a raw rabbit liver and becomes obsessed with raw meat. Swiftly realizing that her cravings cannot be satiated by animal flesh alone, her morals begin to lax…

Superficially, Raw is about a girl who eats people, but actually, there’s so more to it than this. It’s a rites of passage movie about going to University, growing up, and having the freedom to explore your principles, removed from the shadow of your parents. And inevitably, Justine’s primal urges for food and sex become interlaced, where the former becomes a proxy for the latter.

However, horror and realism are constantly interwoven: after unwittingly and compulsively chewing on her own hair Justine makes herself sick in the university toilets, and in an oddly placed comedic moment, upon hearing her retching, a fellow student in the bathroom gives her some friendly advice on how to make herself sick. This scene gives us a moment to comprehend how absolutely ludicrous this movie is! But it also draws clear parallels between Justine’s lack of control and (what can only be described as a very unusual) eating disorder and more typical eating disorders! The film consistently uses horror to explore the darker sides of growing up.

Raw asks us to consider the consequences of taking any of our beliefs to their logical extreme. At the start of the film, Justine questions why not eat humans if you’re going to eat animals and challenges her fellow students to site the differentiating factors that make one okay and the other not. Its certainly not just a promotion for vegetarianism but it got me thinking about that too….

I really loved Raw. It has a universal parable- esque quality and more than enough gore to satiate you. It’s the best horror movie I’ve seen this year (so far!)

Usually monsters are called “them.” They are creatures from outer space, or zombies, stuff like that. I’ve always found that funny, because we have all felt—and we will, and we sometimes still do feel—like monsters, you know? For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as “I,” not as “they.”

Julia Ducournau

 

At the Movies: Logan

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Oscar season is well and truly drawing to a close and March is beginning to welcome in an entirely new movie epoch. But despite what a lot of people seem to think, this month isn’t just about the big blockbuster releases; I’m particularly looking forward to Ben Wheatley’s new movie, Free Fire, the incendiary revenge rape thriller, Elle and the upcoming horror movie on ‘benevolent racism’, Get Out (So all the cheery ones…!).

However, this March, we are seeing the release of several epic Blockbusters that probably wouldn’t have come out during the more nuanced Oscar run. The new Tom Hiddleston monster franchise, Kong Skull Island came out just last week, and this week we’ve seen the release of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson. Often, movies such as these are accused of as being pre-packaged and formulaic in their attempt to mitigate as much risk as possible and exist simply to make money and act as a pillow for ‘risker’ movies to fall back on. Superhero movies are generally pointed to as being the worst culprits of this, and most recently, Suicide Squad, Batman Versus Superman Dawn of Justice and X-men Apocalypse have been largely viewed with disdain and a degree of cynicism.

Last week, I went to see the superhero movie, Logan. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of the Marvel Comic movies and the tenth instalment in the X-men film series. It marks the 17th year that Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, but the publicity surrounding the movie suggests a sharp tonal shift from its predecessors. Hugh Jackman insists that had the studio vetoed this version of the movie, he would have renounced his involvement in it. I had heard it described as ‘No Country for X-men’ and was immediately intrigued– Why is a superhero movie being compared to the Cohen Brothers’ Nihilistic, minimalist thriller…?!

The dystopian film is set in a version of 2029 far removed from anything we can expect to experience anytime soon (Even post-Brexit…). We are immediately plunged into the dusty decrepit Arizona desert. The heat is intense and overbearing and the cinematography reminded me of that in Mad Max.

Mutants are on the brink of extinction; Wolverine is weakening, and the former leader of the X-Men, Charles (Patrick Stewart) is suffering from a neuro- degenerative disease and slowly losing his mind. Both men have certainly seen better days! I’m not sure I could call them super-heroes- there is nothing ‘super’ about these weary anti-heroes, who are clearly both nearing the end of their lives and the plot unfurls with a sense of foreboding fatalism.

Logan wants nothing more than to stop fighting and go and live out the rest of his life in peace on a boat. This is until he meets a little girl, Laura, whose powers suspiciously resemble his own… He unwittingly becomes a father figure for her and resolves to take her to a safer place, all the while being chased by supervillain Donald Pierce who wants to steal Laura and use her powers for his own evil ends.

In essence, the plot is pretty simple and follows a classic a cat/mouse chase structure in which the ‘baddies’ are very bad: our evil super-villain comes complete with a robotic hand and some bad ass sunglasses that he sporadically removes and replaces for dramatic effect.

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In an unusually peaceful scene in the film, Laura tries to listen to a young boy’s music. As she inches closer and closer to his iPod, the villain’s inch closer and closer to our heroes and we hear Raury’s lyrics’ blaring out of the headphones ‘you better run, run from the devil!’. Clearly, subtlety is beside the point and these sorts of moments simply add another loop to this roller coaster- the movie is a lot of fun!

And actually, the predictability of the plot and the straightforward good/evil dichotomy allows us the opportunity to really focus on the three main characters who make for a very strange assortment! Logan must learn, not only how to be a father, but also how to care for his mutant 8-year-old daughter who is unaccustomed to the real world and uninhibited in her abilities to wreak total havoc. Laura’s strength and effervescence sharply contrasts with Logan’s waning determination. It makes sense that the film is called ‘Logan’ rather than Wolverine as it focuses on the weaknesses of the man rather than the strengths of the superhero. This is especially evident in the scene in which Charles has a seizure causing everything to freeze. It takes Logan all his energy to dragoon his body up the stairs and into the hotel room. However, by the end of the scene, Laura is still full of energy and rage and able to scream as she fires a shot. She has the energy that her father now lacks; she is the new superhero of the movie!

Logan is far more reflective than most superhero movies. Although it is visceral and grim, it is about regret and the consequences of violence. Hugh Jackman describes it as ‘about the soldier who returns home from war and has to find peace’. The film’s director, James Mangold, called it a Western and you can see similarities to a Western throughout the film, this is overtly pointed in a scene in a hotel room in which the movie Shane plays on a television screen.

Shane and Logan

So, although quite a few recent superhero movies have been formulaic and predictable, Logan is not one of them. This is more of a post-super hero movie (I’m so sorry for using that phrase!) than a superhero movie; more of a western than an action. It is genre bending in a similar way to Deadpool. In my opinion, this is proof that any genre can surprise you and be innovative and inventive. I look forward to more superhero movies like this one!

 

Lend Me Your Ears

Lend Me Your Ears

White Lies 1
Harry McVeigh

Winter is taking ages

This talking never helped the pain when the wave hits

Darling, I can’t explain it

This city hits a low when it’s raining.

– Don’t Want To Feel It All

 

As White Lies walked onto the stage of the Troxy, I felt a familiar nervousness in my stomach. Touring for their fourth album, Friends, they had reinvented their sound yet again – would they retain the energy that had always made them so entertaining to see live? My initial apprehension quickly vanished, however, as band settled into the distinctive rhythm of Take It Out On Me, a recent release that provides a fresh take on the classic sound of the early albums.

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White Lies’ sound is complex and resists straightforward explanation. It is at once dark, intense, serious…and yet euphoric and uplifting. Shunning virtuoso guitar solos, they build up intricate layers of textured sound that keep growing throughout a song, to be released in a climactic final chorus. Harry McVeigh’s haunting voice soars over the top, a singer who achieves the rare feat of combining emotional power with technical excellence. He sings about misunderstanding, loss, romance gone wrong – but his words are full of a bittersweet resignation that come across as more reflective than anguished. The band has always made heavy use of minor chords to suit the sombre lyrics, but with Friends, they have taken a further step away from the ‘indie’ sound of their first album and towards a more ‘alternative’ vibe. Crashing guitar chords in the choruses have been replaced with wistful synths as their style mellows with age. Nevertheless, the unapologetically melancholic lyrics and the emotionally intensity they have retained makes for music that remains totally immersive.

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Charles Cave

As performers, White Lies are serious and professional, rather than showy, and they let the music do most of the talking. Well suited for festivals and large crowds, the raw power of their shows makes them highly engaging for newcomers and veterans alike. On this night, old fans were spoiled rotten as the band made judicious selection from their magnificent back catalogue as well as their most recent album. I even had the pleasure of hearing Unfinished Business, a classic from the first album that I had never heard live before! But overall, we were treated to a Best Of, crowd-pleasing set, including festival favourites ‘To Lose My Life, ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ and ‘Bigger Than Us’. I must say that despite my nostalgia for these blasts from the past, some of my favourite moments of the night were singing along to two of their new tracks, ‘Hold Back Your Love’ and ‘Don’t Want to Feel It All’. They really have pulled off the unlikely feat of changing style whilst retaining the essence of what thrust them into the limelight in the first place.

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As I belted out track after track, arms around my oldest friends, memories flooded back to me of an earlier time – of moments of my life that I will always look back fondly on. Being able to enjoy the music with my brother Rob, the man who originally showed me White Lies back in the day, made it all the more unforgettable an occasion. I left the gig like the music I’d just heard – sad, but in a good way.