Mister Sinister (alt-J, Relaxer review)

A short poem.

Lifeless he crept upon her,
Daytime was not his friend,

Melancholy was her only friend,
What if the taste lingered for a time,

It is eerie outside at this time,
Too many sounds, too many noises,
It’s all rather eccentric.

We all need to own our weirdness, and alt-J could go in a million different directions at any given time, and they’ve proven that on their previous two albums, but what do I think of their third release? Let’s find out!

 

alt-J – After Laughter

released Jun 2, 2017
****** 6/10

alt-J are an English indie rock group featuring the talents of vocalist and guitar player Joe Newman, Cameron Knight on lead guitar and bass, Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and backing vocals, and Thom Sonny Green on drums. Formed a decade ago, back in 2007, alt-J have now released three studio-length albums, An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, and today’s special, Relaxer.

alt-J are the kind of music for Millenials like what pop punk and 90’s r&b were for Generation Y. The voice of a generation – oft confused by physical albums and the thought of saving for a rainy day, but still a voice. Wicked generalization timotheories. Dick.

The thing is, alt-J have been compared to Radiohead a lot, and that is such a tired comparison to make, especially given that while their albums don’t come out with as much regularity anymore, Radiohead are still relevant. This is interesting music, for sure, but it’s not as courageous as those first two albums that alt-J put out.

I could spend a lot of time dissecting this album and pointing out all the places to you where it sounds amazing (read: In Cold Blood, Dead Crush, and Last Year), like the band that created Breeze Blocks and Left Hand Free, but someway and somehow we’ve been treated to a snoozefest for the most part and so many people are singing it’s praising without any reservation. It doesn’t make much sense to me, with a spectacularly weird and awful track in Hit Me Like That Snare. What a flaming pile of garbage that song feels like every time I listen to it.

And as much as I hate that song. This is actually a good thing.

Because it means that alt-J aren’t settling into a pattern of record making. They are willing to explore, to try new things and take some risks when it comes to their sound. Building a unique identity is difficult after all, and all of the comparisons to greats like Arcade Fire, Bastille and Arctic Monkeys would start to get on my nerves too.

This isn’t your mom and dad’s album, and it’s not mine either. But damn it if it doesn’t have the makings of something wonderful for alt-J to grow into in their middle age. They are working on making the content more meaningful, where they already set the standard in pared down simplicity.

Pros: As far as audio engineering and labour goes, nobody has alt-J beat. These gentlemen are more than capable of making arrangements interesting, and using ambience to tell narratives.

Cons: When they add in nuanced lyrics or play with formats, they struggle. It doesn’t always sound good, and Hit Me Like That Snare feels completely out of place with the rest of this record. I wish the experimentation didn’t feature throughout the entire album.

Runtime: 39 minutes

Points of InterestIn case you didn’t already know this, the band’s symbol is the capital letter delta (∆), a triangle. This can be accessed on an Apple Mac computer with the shortcut of alt+J. The first single is 3WW, the second is In Cold Blood, which features lyrics that state 00110011 01110111 01110111, which in binary translates to 3WW.

Adding poetry to covers of songs like House of the Rising Sun is a little bit odd, and a bit too clever, but it’s that sinister sound behind that curtain that has us coming back for seconds. Or should I say 01110011 01100101 01100011 01101111 01101110 01100100 01110011?

theories Summarized

We need to give artists like alt-J the space and time to grow, because we got two really excellent debut and sophomore efforts from them. That doesn’t mean that this album automatically gets a pass, but it does have some high points, and some points you can relax to.

Tim!

The Cult of Apple (Steve Jobs review)

Great men and women are always to fascinating to the world. It’s almost as if people expect that by analyzing them, they’ll get insight into how to achieve their level of success and become them, without doing any real work.

Almost cult-like behaviour.

How fitting, given this week’s movie review topic.

 

 

Steve Jobs (2015)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Director: Danny Boyle
released on blu-ray February 16, 2016
******** 8/10

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IMDB: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Audience Score 76%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Danny Boyle is an English stage and film director, producer, and screenwriter, with a spiritual atheist belief system. Raised in an Irish-Catholic home and in line for the priesthood until he was 14, Boyle was persuaded by a priest to consider a different path.

He decided to enter into drama and I think we are the better for it.

Boyle has directed Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, among others. His belief in the connection between theatre and spiritual expression has likely influenced his project choices, but let’s dig into the plot a bit to see what I mean.

The movie starts in 1984 California with a young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), discussing the failure the Macintosh computer demo is currently facing. Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is also there and tells them it cannot say hello because they need special tools to open up the computer.

Joanna wants Steve to stay calm and lower his voice because a GQ journalist is present and could get them bad press. Steve not only wants the computer to say hello, he wants total darkness in the theatre to focus the audience attention, which is not allowed due to safety reasons with the exit signs. Joanna suggests delaying, but Steve says that a tech company MUST start on time.

Joanna and Steve go backstage. She tries again to convince him to leave out the voice command, but Steve needs it to show the world that computers are not scary, even though Hollywood says that they are. Joanna is also upset about the price tag and limited memory but Steve explains that the computer is intuitive and innovative. While discussing this, Steve finds boxes of TIME magazine, and is upset because he should have been Man of the Year, but the journalist didn’t like him. Joanna is more concerned about the fact the article mentioned Steve has an illegitimate daughter which reminds her that his ex Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss) are there – He should go talk to them and calm Chrisann down.

Backstage, Chrisann and Steve start to fight and Joanna leads Lisa out of the room. Chrisann is upset that Steve implied she is a slut and slept with 28% of the population but Steve corrects her and say he is only 94% likely the father which means 28% of the population could be as likely. Lisa knows that Steve named one of the computers after her, but Steve tells her its coincidence. Chrisann knows Apple stock is up 441 million and yet she and Lisa are on welfare.

Enter cofounder Steve Woz Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who is wants recognition for the Apple II team in the speech, which Steve also brushes off later.

Steve wants someone to find a white shirt with a pocket so he can pull out a floppy disk. Joanna asks “why white?”, but Steve has an answer ready. He knows that the white will offset the beige of the computer casing. Andy comes back and tells Steve he still can’t fix the voice feature. Steve threatens Andy by telling him he will list of the the team of developers and each off their roles in the creation, and he will be the one team member with a feature that didn’t work.

What a good place to stop, just as the first act is about to end.

Pros: Much like the real life Steve Jobs, the film flows with genius and visually constructs the setting to showcase Fassbender in this role. Also like Fassbender the pace and the builder have you wondering if it’s going to work out, but it does.

Cons: We can tell that Steve Jobs was flawed, but we don’t get to see much more than that. It feels a little stiff and structured at times.

Runtime: 148 minutes

Points of Interest: Each of the acts were shot slightly differently. 1984 in 16mm. 1988 in 35mm, and finally digital to symbolize the development of Apple technology and focus of Jobs over the 16 year period. The shareholder meeting and product launch from 1984 was recreated at the original location of the Flint Center of De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California.

The movie features an excellent ensemble cast which is directed quite well by Boyle, but it might just be writer Aaron Sorkin who is organizing the details of the film. The film is structured in three acts, features a lot of standing and walking between actors, and elements of satire. This is what pulls you in and engages you with characterized Steve Jobs. It’s fun, thoughtful, and interesting, to say the least.

I wouldn’t ever accuse someone of belonging to the cult of Steve Jobs. I would accuse them of over-indulging in his personal philosophies and believing that the brand he built with Apple is capable of being peanut-buttered over anything. But that is often how it is with genius. We want to reach out and grab it, and hope that it will rub off on us.

Maybe a good lead-in for some wisdom tomorrow? I do have some theories after all.

Tim!