Archives for June 2014

First Aid Kit’s lush, plush new album “Stay Gold”.

First Aid Kit's Stay Gold.

First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.

Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara’s third album as First Aid Kit is as warm and sunny as its title Stay Gold would suggest. But it’s the gold of the sunset. There’s that sense of subtle transformation as the bright certainties of youth become tinged by the possibility of future disappointment and disillusion.

As they did with their second album The Lion’s Roar, reviewed earlier here, they’ve travelled to Omaha to hook up once more with Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes who takes up production duties again. But there’s a bigger, more expansive sound to the album this time around.

The bench mark for the two sisters is still the plaintive harmonies of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. But like Parsons before them, they’ve moved on from the sounds of Nashville to embrace a wider, unashamedly American panorama. As with Sharon Van Etten (reviewed earlier here) we’re back with Fleetwood Mac. But again, on the best of the latter’s very best days.

Johanna and Klara

Johanna and Klara Soderberg.

The boys from Pitchfork give Stay Gold an approving 7.3 here. You can get a taster with the video from the opening track from the album My Silver Lining here.

But best of all, if you want to understand, or at least eavesdrop on the sorts of harmonies produced by that sixth sense unique to siblings, then have a look at the acoustic version of Fleet FoxesTiger Mountain Peasant Song that they recorded in a wood here. It’s from all the way back in 2008 when the pair were about, oh, I’d say around seven years old.

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New Jack White Album “Lazaretto” Kicks.

Jack White's "Lazaretto".

Jack White’s “Lazaretto”.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Jack White’s second solo album. True, the White Stripes only officially disbanded in 2011, but their last album, Icky Thump was way back in 2007.

It’s hard to believe because in the interim he seems to have become a one man music making machine.

There was The Raconteurs, the band he formed with Brendan Benson and co. The Dead Weather, the one he put together with Alison Mosshart from the Kills and Dean Fertita from Queens of The Stone Age. The wonderfully atmospheric album Rome, produced by the similarly ubiquitous Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi (reviewed earlier here). Plus the small matter of Third Man Records, the record label he formed and runs seemingly entirely on his own.

So far his Nashville studio has played host to Wanda Jackson, Laura Marling, Loretta Lynn, First Aid Kit (reviewed earlier here), Drive By Truckers and Beck as well as producing reissues of Charlie Patton, Blind Willie McTell and Rufus Thomas. Oh, and his cracking first solo effort, Blunderbuss from 2012, reviewed earlier here.

The White Stripes in all their pomp with "Elephant".

The White Stripes in all their pomp with “Elephant”.

Lazaretto his second is, in the best possible sense, a greatest hits compilation of the many different musical moods and genres that he’s drawn to.

There’s the austerity and rigour of the White Stripes, the more expansive and relaxed country rock of the Raconteurs, and that constant pursuit and exploration of the roots and rhythms of his American musical heritage that’s becoming increasingly central to everything he does.

In this, and in his constant restlessness, that sense of being forever driven to gaze ever further afield, and ever more deeper within, we finally have a musician genuinely capable of picking up the mantle of his friend and musical mentor Bob Dylan.

White’s the real deal. And Lazaretto, as you’d expect, is gold.

You can see the title track’s video Lazaretto here.

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“Omar” a Return to Form for Star Palestinian Film Maker.

Hany Abu-Assad's "Omar".

Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar”.

Hany Abu-Assad’s third film Paradise Now (’06) was one of the films of the last decade. Detailing the lives of a pair of suicide bombers from Nablus as they prepare for their mission on Tel Aviv, it managed to be impassioned and yet somehow relatively impartial.

Or at the very least, as impartial as it can ever be for a Palestinian film maker born in Israel to make a film about what life is like for those condemned to live in the Levant.

He was lured to the States for The Courier in 2012, which went straight to video, but he is back on home ground for this his fifth film, Omar.

Adam Bakri and Leem Lubani in Omar.

Adam Bakri and Leem Lubani in Omar.

Omar is one of a trio of young men, friends since childhood, whose sole aim is their opposition to Israel. But they do what they do un-thinkingly, automatically, in much the same way that monks attend to their daily prayers. It’s just what they do. And in between, they live their lives as anybody else does.

Except of course, that what they do radically colours and irrevocably transforms every other element of those lives that they are trying to live. Family, careers, planning for the future and most of all love, are all given a hopelessly dramatic edge because of the backdrop against which they must all be enacted.

Omar is a less political and a much more personal drama than Paradise Now was. But it is every bit as powerful. And what it does demonstrate, is that Abu-Assad has learnt to parcel out his dramatic twists and turns almost as impressively as the modern master of personal drama, Iran’s Asghar Farhadi (reviewed earlier here). The ways in which Omar’s life, both his private and his public ones, unravel is painful to behold.

The Levant is a wonderful corner of the world to have to go digging for drama in. But it’s almost inconceivable that that drama should be found on the surface of real people’s actual lives. And not in the fiendishly depraved depths of an unholily imagined Hell.

You can see the Omar trailer here. And the Paradise Now trailer here.

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Tom Cruise in the Superior “Edge Of Tomorrow”.

Cruise control.

Cruise control.

Tom Cruise, in a one day to save the universe, alien invasion, CGI saturated, 3D extravaganza blockbuster. I was really looking forward to stamping all over this, and kicking it unceremoniously about the place. But lo and behold, it’s actually rather good.

When we first meet Cruise as William Cage, he’s nominally a Major in the US army. In reality though, he’s just their spin doctor. A soulless PR guru who takes great pride in his ability to judge a book by its cover without ever having to actually read it.

That Cruise should make his character so initially unlikable is, as the saying goes, a smart move. And whilst you’re never in any doubt that by the end of the film, he’ll have been transformed into the kind of hero that saving the universe demands, it’s a clever way to begin a conventional blockbuster.

Basically, the less you know about this in advance, the more you’re likely to enjoy it. So you should probably try to avoid watching the trailer, as, as usual, practically all of the plot is given away in it.

Emily Blunt on the edge.

Emily Blunt in “Edge Of Tomorrow”.

Edge Of Tomorrow is essentially Groundhog Day meets Jurassic Park via Alien. But in a good way. Like all half decent science fiction, it is less concerned with the future than it is with the present. And Einstein’s famous line, that while he didn’t know about world war 3, but world war 4 would be fought with sticks and stones very much hangs over the film. So most of its battle sequences take place on Normandy Beach, so pivotal in the 2nd WW, and Emily Blunt plays the heroic Angel of Verdun, a key battle in the 1st.

Blunt by the way, who is every bit as impressive as her illustrious co-star, told the Daily Telegraph in 2005 that she’d rather spend her life doing poorly paid theatre than end up playing a spear carrier opposite Tom Cruise! Ah, God bless the Internet.

This is a surprisingly smart, consistently thrilling ride. It’s a long way from being in any way terribly memorable, never mind good. But compared to the kind of brainless dross peopled by one dimensional cardboard cut-outs that passes for most conventional blockbusters, this is positively a breath of fresh air. And there are a couple of nice touches too.

Brendan Gleeson.

Brendan Gleeson.

At one point, Brendan Gleeson has the line “Russian and Chinese troops are making their way across Europe, unopposed.” The joke is, he says it not in fear, but with huge relief! Though quite how the joke will play if you’re watching the film in, say Ukraine, or Poland I’m not so sure.

The whole thing hinges on a) how seriously its stars are prepared to take a story like this. After all, if nobody on screen treats the threat as credible, why should we? And b) whether or not there’s any on-screen chemistry between the two leads. Happily, Cruise and Blunt deliver on both counts. And the director Doug Liman provides the sort of energy that gave the Bourne films such vitality, directing the first, and producing two and three.

Not a masterpiece then by any stretch of the imagination. But a decidedly superior way to enjoy an oversized bag of popcorn.

You can see the trailer (if you insist) here.

This review also appears on state.ie here, which you should read almost as avidly as you do this.

Sign up for a subscription right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst i Film, Television and Music!

Subscribe here for regular updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chapters of my book, A Brief History Of Man.