Suspended Animation (Asking Alexandria, Asking Alexandria review)

It’s evolution baby.

And if you think an old dog can’t perform new tricks, you haven’t seen what a day at home alone and the treat of steak will do as a motivating factor.

If you’re still confused what that means for this weeks Watch Culture review, maybe just ask?

 

 

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

released December 15, 2017
******* 7/10

Asking Alexandria are an English rock band, comprised of lead vocalist Danny Worsnop (returning after a short one album deparature), guitarists Ben Bruce and Cameron Liddell, drummer James Cassells and bassist Sam Bettley.

Initially formed in 2006 by Ben Bruce, the band evolved into a six piece in 2008 and then adjusted their lineup one more time before their debut album in 2009 – Stand Up and Scream. Asking Alexandria released two more full length albums Reckless & Relentless (2011) and From Death to Destiny (2013), before the departure of Worsnop in January 2015. At that time Denis Stoff and the rest of the band released The Black in 2016. But Stoff didn’t last very long and left the band within the year, with Worsnop returning to lead live performances before his official return. And so we arrive at the fifth album and what a doozy it is. It’s self-titled and a very hard turn away from previous efforts, but it feels oh so fresh.

For starters, the self-titled album is much less metalcore and much more melodic hard rock in sound. When you listen to track no. 2 Into the Fire, you’ll immediately notice how they’ve dialed back on the guitars, and tried to fill that void with more electronics. Yes I ignored the track opener, which I’ll get back to in a second, because Into the Fire is the first single, and a signal that these guys have converted to full on arena rock.

Alone in a Room is a hallmark of high end production, multi layered sonics, and thoughtful lyrics, a typical hype machine to get you started with the tone of the rest of the record. Under Denver follows similar notes at the midpoint, and is a welcome pick me up.

The third and fourth songs are a bit of a wash (Hopelessly Hopeful, Where Did It Go?), with Where Did It Go? being particularly self-congratulatory… but when we get past the ego stroking, the next rack, Rise Up, is a sobering moment and way more naturally motivating to listen to.

 

For all of the effort to move away from their original successes, Worsnop and the rest of Asking Alexandria do make a point to nod to their past. When The Lights Come On features a lyrics form Stand Up, and Room 138‘s chorus is the same melody as the bridge from another song on that first record. On top of that, Room 138 is an excellent unofficial closer with lots of emotions packed into 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

 

Pros: Later tracks seem to fit the bill and redeem this tonal shift. Vultures, When the Lights Come On and Room 138 are all very enjoyable to listen to, and Under Denver will also grow on you if you give it some time.

Cons: Eve should have been a demonstration that Asking Alexandria still ‘had it,’ but the vocal work and backing instrumentals don’t stand up (pun not intended) and comes across weakly. Ironic given that it was the first song recorded. And I love combining rap and rock as much as the next guy, but Empire is hokey at best and offensive at worst.

Runtime: 47 minutes

Points of Interest: This is their first album working with producer Matt Good, a staple in the post-hardcore community. And Taylor Larson mixed the record, which is excellent, because because he played with Good in the band From First to Last for a couple of years.

It’s obvious that these guys enjoy making music together, and their creativity is alive and well, even if not all of the new songs gel well together. This is not the renewal of a sound we’ve heard before, and that’s going to upset some purists. But I really enjoyed the anthemic tone set and the risks they’ve taken to make this record, even if it doesn’t all work together perfectly.

theories Summarized

A great album to celebrate the return of Worsnop and an opportunity for them to explore a direction to take in this next chapter, deciding to self-title the album was a symbolic move and I appreciate the thought. I have a theory that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Asking Alexandria. But I won’t tell.

Tim!

Das Ist Gut (Dunkirk review)

Not every story told follows the same narrative path as what preceded it. I mention this because Christopher Nolan has been directing movies since 1989 but it wasn’t until 2008’s The Dark Knight that we began to expect a certain tone from his films.

 

Dunkirk (2017)

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Christopher Nolan
released on blu-ray December 19, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 81%
The Guardian: *****/*****

Christopher Nolan is an English film director, screenwriter and producer extraordinaire. He also has dual citizenship in the United States. If you are unfamiliar with his work, he has also helmed the recent The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, and Following, his directorial feature length debut. There were three films he made before Following, but those were all short films.

An advocate for film preservation, Nolan’s films often explore themes of morality, the passage of time, and identity. He prefers to use practical effects where possible, incorporates wide angle shots to reduce the scale of his characters, and adjusts the narrative landscape through the use of gripping soundtracks (looking at you long-time friend Hans Zimmer) and by messing up the typical sequencing of scenes.

Dunkirk follows that tradition of Nolan’s films, but does so in such a way that the lead character becomes the evacuation itself, with Allied soldiers, Axis planes, and British civilians all helping to fill in for settings and props. I should be clear when I state that this is a war film, but the explosions, cries of pain, and bloodshed are not the focal points – it’s the magnitude of war and how it effects our personal decisions for right or for wrong.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1940, during the fall of France, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers have retreated to Dunkirk. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British private, is the sole survivor of a German ambush. At the beach, he finds thousands of troops awaiting evacuation and meets Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), who is burying a body. After a German dive-bomber attack, they find a wounded man. They rush his stretcher onto a hospital ship hoping to get onboard and escape, but are denied passage themselves. The ship is sunk by dive-bombers; Tommy saves Alex (Harry Styles), another soldier. They leave at night on a destroyer, which is sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat. Gibson saves Tommy and Alex, and they are brought ashore by a rowing boat.

The Royal Navy requisitions civilian vessels that can get close to the beach. In Weymouth, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) set out on his boat Moonstone rather than let the navy take her. Impulsively, their teenage friend George (Barry Keoghan) joins them. At sea, they rescue a shell-shocked officer (Cillian Murphy) from a wrecked ship. When he realises that Dawson is sailing for Dunkirk, the officer demands that they turn back, and tries to wrest control of the boat; in the struggle, George falls and suffers a head injury that renders him blind.

Three Spitfires head towards France. After their leader is shot down, pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) assumes command with a shattered fuel gauge. They save a minesweeper from a German bomber, but the other Spitfire is hit and ditches. Its pilot, Collins (Jack Lowden), is rescued by Moonstone.

Tommy, Alex and Gibson join a group of Scottish soldiers and hide inside a trawler until the tide rises. Her owner, a Dutch mariner, returns. German troops shoot at the boat for target practice; when the tide rises, water enters through the bullet holes. Alex, hoping to lighten the boat’s load, accuses Gibson, who has been silent, of being a spy and demands that he leave. Gibson reveals he is French; he had stolen the identity of the soldier he buried, hoping to evacuate with the British. Alex, Tommy and the Scottish soldiers abandon the fishing boat when it begins to sink. Gibson is entangled in a chain and drowns. Alex and Tommy swim towards a nearby destroyer, but it is sunk by a bomber. Moonstone manoeuvres to take on troops, including Alex and Tommy. Peter realises that George is dead; when asked by the shell-shocked officer, he lies that George will be fine. Farrier shoots down the bomber, which crashes and ignites the oil slick from the sinking destroyer. Peter reveals to Collins that his elder brother was a Hurricane pilot, killed early in the war.

Farrier reaches Dunkirk, his fuel exhausted. Gliding over the beach, he shoots down a dive-bomber to cheers from the troops below. He cranks his landing gear down and lands beyond the Allied perimeter. He sets fire to his plane and is taken prisoner by German soldiers.

At the beach, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) watches the last British soldiers leave. He confirms that 300,000 have been evacuated, ten times more than UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill had hoped for. He remains to oversee the evacuation of the French rearguard. Alex and Tommy cross the English Channel and board a train in Weymouth. Dawson is congratulated for having saved so many men. The shell-shocked officer sees George’s body being carried away. Peter visits the local newspaper with a photograph of George; a front-page article later commends George as a hero. Alex expects public scorn as the train approaches Woking, but they receive a hero’s welcome. Tommy reads out Churchill’s address to the nation from a newspaper.

This is nightmare fuel. Beaches filled with men with nowhere to go watch in terror as German aircraft decimate them from above – the analogy of the boot stomping ants is sickeningly accurate in this case. The movie showcases the blender full of emotions in such a thoughtful way, allowing us to give pause and see faces filled with anger, others with pride, despite not connecting with anyone long enough to root for them. It’s an odd thing, given that Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh are all excellent character actors – Nolan only gives us a taste into each man’s personality knowing full well that war dwarfs our self-importance.

Pros: The action moves up and down, like a wave crashing on a beach. The sparse storytelling and tone of failure barely concealed by dumb luck work damn strong to force a response. It’s technically brilliant.

Cons: A lack of an emotional core, might be difficult to swallow. Tom Hardy’s Farrier could have been given a slightly larger role – showing his end at the hands of Nazi soldiers even. A lot of unanswered questions.

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

Points of Interest: Thirty or so Dunkirk veterans attended the Long premiere – they appreciated the accuracy of the story, but felt the soundtrack was louder then the actual bombardment. Nolan cast young and unknown actors based on accounts of how inexperienced the real soldiers of Dunkirk were.

As far as a military effort, the Battle of Dunkirk was an epic disaster on a global scale. But the evacuation of almost 300,000 soldiers and the moral victory of the British is considered by many historians as the lynchpin in the Allied story of fighting against tyranny. By giving the soldiers and citizens an equal footing, Winston Churchill was able to foster a spirit of resistance within this nation, and turn a tragedy into a triumph, which is echoed in the final moments of the film by Alex as he is welcomed home in Woking.

theories Summarized

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this film as a I watched it, if I am being completely honest. Mysticque and I watched it together, and she was not a fan of it by any means. I try not to let other opinions effect my own interpretation of a film, but rather to enhance it. In this case it was invaluable, because Dunkirk is a film of competing emotions, many personal narratives drowned out by a larger message. I think you should see this film, especially given that stories like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbour exist. A film like Dunkirk will help to expand your worldview and introduce a greater perspective on World War II, a time that that provided such cognitive dissonance for humanity, theories and all.

Tim!

Fly Like An Eagle (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Who Built the Moon review)

If you love something, you should let it go, and if it returns it was meant to be.

A fitting line for this new album by the infamous Noel Gallagher, and his High Flying Birds, and consequently my return to the high-paced world of popular culture and social media. What have I been up to, you ask?Well dear readers, it wouldn’t be right to derail this album review with tales of my personal life, thusly we’ll just have to save that for a later post this week, perhaps something in the realm of a Timely Thursday?

 

 

 

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built the Moon?

released November 24, 2017
******* 7/10

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (NGHFB) are an English alt rock band comprised of… surprise, surprise, Noel Gallagher, and… a bunch of other people. It’s actually kind of confusing to list off the members of NGHFB. After reading the liner notes of this album and then looking into the history of the group, it seems the dominant figures of the recording sessions were Noel Gallagher on vocals and guitar, Jason Falkner on bass, Jeremy Stacey on drums, and Keefus Cianda on keyboards.

But it turns out that NGHFB is mostly about Noel Gallagher and a response to the breakup of legendary britpop supergroup Oasis. So while Who Built The Moon is the fourth studio album for Noel and his birds, if we are being perfectly honest with ourselves, then it’s mostly a Noel show, featuring guests.

Like Jesus!

And Santa! 

Just kidding folks. But that Christmas pun was so perfectly placed, I couldn’t help myself.

Much like the timing of this album release and brother Liam’s As You Were – I can’t believe it was just over a month ago. Though it remains to be seen which record is better (Liam has gone to number one on the UK charts), I’m putting my money on Noel, as he has taken his sound further and built off of the success of Oasis post- (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? Who Built The Moon is a test to see if we can remember how great the 90s were for pop music, and remarkably it gets a passing grade.

Fort Knox, Holy Mountain and Black & White Sunshine all call back to rock bands of history like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Of course, Noel has always been quite capable of channeling these voices, and while the group Metric once asked the eternal question of who was cooler, Noel has proven, it’s your decision on who you want to be.

This biting cynicism shows up in various places, Be Careful What You Wish For comes to mind, but we also get postive vibes on Keep On Reaching and The Man Who Built the Moon, the eponymous answer to the album’s question. Spoiler alert, it’s not what you think!

Pros: I cannot get over how much It’s A Beautiful World reminds me of a fleeting moment, albeit an anger-fueled one. And Dead in the Water will make an auditorium of 30-something males cry.

Cons: There are moments when it all feels like a spin cycle of rhyme; She Taught Me How To Fly embraces this wholeheartedly. And while some reviewers can’t seem to get enough of the instrumental tracks about Wednesday, I found them to be mostly fill.

Runtime: 48 minutes

Points of Interest: I found it really interesting that the standout track of the album, the acoustic number Dead in the Water, was a bonus track. A seeming after thought, but the intimacy of it and raw power is a delight to hear after the experimentations of earlier songs. The album really showcases how far this Gallagher has come from the good ol’ days of Oasis and Blur battles, and the heartbreaking never-ending story of Gallagher VS Gallagher. And bonus points to Noel for recruiting David Holmes as a producer on this record.

If the 90s are finally making a comeback, it only makes sense that britpop gets a taste of the limelight, and so we shall fly on the wings of these eagles. Hopefully no one gets burnt when we coast past the sun.

theories Summarized

We probably won’t see an Oasis reunion in the near future, but it is nice to see that both Gallagher brothers are churning out thoughtful albums, I only wonder if it’s all been a blur and we’ve already gotten the best we can from chaps like Noel. One of many theories.

Tim!

Two Piece Band (Royal Blood, How Did We Get So Dark? review)

It’s important to make music that you care about dear readers. And it’s essential to listen to music that fires you up inside. And man does this music ever do that for me.

 

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

released Jun 16, 2017
******** 8/10

Royal Blood are an English rock and roll duo, comprised of vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. They have been making music since 2013 – they hit the ground running when they released their first single, Out of the Black later that year. But they first truly got my attention in 2014 when the fourth single Figure It Out debuted.

Holy Moses was that a good experience.

Most definitely my favourite song of that summer. It had the raw quality needed to start a personal process of healing for me. And that release was almost three years ago, so it says a lot about their rock and roll power, because a great deal has happened for these blokes in the time past. Royal Blood saw a huge spike in popularity in a short time, winning several awards including Best British Group for 2015.

When it comes to describing their sound, Kerr has stated that one of his biggest influencers is Steven Hamblin from Graces Collide, which is all well and good, but if you’re new to Royal Blood, then you’re probably wondering what these guys sound like comparatively and I’m happy to oblige. The White Stripes, Black Keys, Death From Above 1979, and Japandroids are probably the best ones I can think of straight away, so take the time and look ’em up.

This is one of those albums that faces the ever-popular challenge of the sophomore follow-up. Tread the course or swim out into deeper waters and hope you don’t drown. Luckily for us, Royal Blood are strong enough swimmers fully capable of doing both; sometimes we hear songs like Where Are You Now? and Look Like You Know which stick to the sounds that what we know, but then we get excellence in the form of album closer Sleep, allowing everything that happens in between songs one to ten to vibrate at level far more grand then on the first album.

Yes. There is a big block of cheese to go with the album’s third single and eighth track, Hook, Line & Sinker, but it’s definitely still a fun song, and considering the tempo of the rest of this record, that’s a far better excuse to be forgiven of then some of my previous album reviews. Also She’s Creeping is kinda bland, angular, and annoys me, but I read another review on Ultimate Guitar which specifically stated a resemblance to Nirvana on this song (who some might say I inexplicably hate), so I’ll just leave it alone.

For my final thoughts… The use of extra vocals and overdubs on the second and third tracks Lights Out and I Only Lie When I Love You make them incredibly catchy, with all of the rawness that made Royal Blood popular to begin with, but making better use of Kerr’s voice and layering in more instrumentation to boot.

Pros: If you’re willing to listen to this a few times over, you might be surprised to learn that one of the best tracks is the title one – How Did We Get So Dark mixes in the new and old sounds quite well. And it deserves to be a single. Also Lights Out and Sleep. It’s a short album with a lot of buzz and well paced.

Cons: Sometimes the production runs a little slick and I think that’s where we end up with songs like She’s Creeping and Hook, Line & Sinker, which unfortunately feel a little phoned in for me. Also, I wish that some the themes were either more epic or more intimate, less middling, please and thank you.

Runtime: 35 minutes

Points of Interest: Royal Blood share the same management as Arctic Monkeys. And months before they released their debut album back in 2013, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders sported a Royal Blood t-shirt in support of them.

If you haven’t been convinced to check this album out just yet, then I’m a sad theorist, but I think you should check out these tracks (1) (2) (3) and make up your mind for yourself.

theories Summarized

Royal Blood may or may not be a great band of our generation, but either way they rock out with the best of them. I have high hopes for future years and sincerely someone figures out how to turn the lights on, if not, I’ll just jam along in the dark with them.

Tim!

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!