The Good Bits: September 2016

There’s so much new music coming out this fall that I only got to listen to a select few albums. The rest will just have to wait until the next good bits. I will add as an aside though that, following my attendance at the Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin, TN, I must say that Beck is amazing and I don’t know why I never got into him beyond his hits before now. When I have more time to sit down with his music, you’ll probably see something about him on here sooner or later.

Music:

Opeth, Sorceress (Nuclear Blast)
Released: September 30th, 2016

opethsorceressfinalcd

Opeth’s 2014 album Pale Communion is one of the finest in their discography in my opinion. Many fans, however, lamented the band’s abandonment of death metal tropes (growling, screaming, etc.) in favor of the old school prog rock the band first embraced on their 2011 release HeritageSorceress continues that trend with another polarizing album where fans who enjoyed its two predecessors will likely embrace it while detractors will continue to hope for a return death metal. As for myself, I found that my admiration for Pale Communion may have gotten in the way a bit, but I was able to get past it.

I’ll be honest when I say my first listen of the album was mixed. I enjoyed a lot of the acoustical bits like “Will O The Wisp” (which has a nice Jethro Tull vibe to it) and really dug the album’s last couple tracks “Strange Brew” and “Era” for the band’s continued experimentation. But the other tracks didn’t stick with me as well, not even the title track, which is arguably the heaviest on the album. Part of this is due to the mix, which is probably my main issue with the album. Now, I’m not much of a production snob and I can overlook mediocre mixing if the material is good, but a few inconsistencies stuck out to me. I never thought I’d say this, but the bass is too high in the mix, especially on the title track. Other times there are quiet parts that are too low, such as the spoken words on the first and last tracks and the piano at the beginning of “Era”. That last one results in the ol’ “turn-up-the-volume-to-hear-then-get-ear-holes-blasted-open” bit that is less than pleasant. The fact that Pale Communion was so well crafted exacerbates some of these flaws, unfortunately.

And yet, I’ve always said an album’s worth is truly measured by how well it ages, and I’ll be damned if Sorceress hasn’t grown on me bit by bit since its release. My view began to soften once I found myself humming “The Wilde Flowers” after not thinking much of it before. I still don’t think it’s quiet as good as Pale Communion, but it doesn’t have to be; it just leans a little more towards Heritage‘s experimentation rather than Pale Communion‘s impeccable craftsmanship, and, having enjoyed said experimentation, I can get behind that approach. So if you find yourself in the middle of the road with this one like me, just give it some time and it just might surprise you.

 

Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (Neurot Recordings)
Released: September 23rd, 2016

neurosis

Honor Found In Decay was my introduction to Neurosis back in 2012, and boy what an intro that was. I went back and looked into the band’s discography, but continued to return to Decay in the years following its release. Four years later, Fire Within Fires snuck up on me and, as you might expect, the band have added another excellent dark and murky journey to their discography of sludgy post metal. One of the most noteworthy details about the album is its length; at five tracks clocking in around 40 minutes total, it’s one of the band’s shortest albums, though it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. Given the slow, dense nature of the album, it feels like just the right length, and I applaud the band for releasing an album slightly shorter than average rather than sticking filler tracks in for the hell of it.

I should clarify that, despite my appreciation for the lack of filler, this isn’t an album toting hit singles. That’s not quite the way Neurosis works. This is an album best taken as one mysterious stroll through your own mind, the kind where you close your eyes and let the music paint the shadowy images for you. That said, there are moments on individual tracks that stand out, such as the melodic wah that starts off “Broken Ground” and the haunting guitars on the 10 minute album closer “Reach”. If you haven’t gotten into Neurosis before and you want to try, here’s a good place to start. If you’re already a fan, enjoy another fine album from them if you haven’t already.

 

Ghost, Popestar (Loma Vista)
Released: September 16th, 2016

ghost

I love Ghost. I love Ghost so much. And I love this EP. “Square Hammer” is one of the best songs yet from the band, which is impressive considering their catalogue already contains many stellar tracks. It’s a song that appeals to a large audience even if you’re not a metal fan or you’re not into their whole persona schtick. The rest of the EP consists of four covers, the most recognizable being “Missionary Man” by Eurythmics. These tracks show off Ghost’s impeccable ability to select covers that, to the uninformed, could easily be mistaken for original works. The last song in particular,”Bible” by Imperiet, is an amazing, melodic retelling of the seven days of creation with a big 80’s flair that the band plays completely straight. I would pay good money just to watch them play only this EP, which is saying a lot for just five tracks.

 

Alcest, Kodama (Prophecy)
Released: September 30th, 2016

alcestkodama

Alcest are a band I know should love but haven’t listened to as much of their material as I’d like. Up until the release of Kodama, the only album I owned was Les Voyages de l’Âme, a gorgeous album considered the picture-perfect blend of the band’s unique style of blackgaze (or black metal fused with shoegaze and post rock). The announcement of Kodama spurred me to listen to the rest of their discography, which was a good way of getting an idea of the band’s progression of sound throughout their career. Like Opeth, Alcest are a band lauded in the metal scene but who eschewed most of their heavy side on their previous release Shelter (a.k.a. no more growling). But, luckily for those fans, Alcest have returned to the heavier side of things on this new album while still weaving in their perfected dreamy, atmospheric aura.

Neige has stated that Kodama (or “tree spirit”) was greatly inspired by the Miyazaki film Princess Mononoke, which is cool but wasn’t super apparent during my initial listen. It does, however, offer a nice visual starting point, especially with that awesome album art. Kodama balances its two flavors well, with tracks like the title track blending the heavy tone with melodic overlay and Neige’s soft, clean vocals. I can’t say where exactly this falls compared to the rest of their discography given my level of experience, but I do know this is one of the stronger releases to come out this year and that it’ll be getting its fair share of replays.

 

Film:

Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson)
Director: Amma Asante
Released: May 4th, 2014 (United States)

belle

Belle is, simply put, a wonderful film that I sat on way too long. It gained a lot of well-earned buzz upon release, but I never got around to it because, truth be told, I assumed that it depicted yet another story about slavery involving explicit rape and violence and so shelved it. To be clear, I’m not one to stray from graphic violence and I of course understand the importance of never forgetting one of humanities worst atrocities. Nor do I look down on any black actors/actresses/filmmakers that chose to bring those stories to life. But there are so many films like that and I’m not always in the mood to watch something that’s so damn heavy. So imagine how surprised I was to discover that Belle was nothing like that at all, but was still every bit as powerful.

The film, inspired by true events, is set in late 18th century and focuses on the events leading up to the abolition of slavery in Britain. At the center of these events is Dido Elizabeth Belle (Mbatha-Raw), the mixed-race illegitimate daughter of an enslaved black woman and a Royal Navy officer. The latter puts Dido in the care of his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice (Wilkinson), and she grows up in high British society, though not without some issues regarding her parentage. What follows is a beautiful movie strong not only in themes of female solidarity, but in an issue that is still very much prevalent today: the flawed idea of being “colorblind” when it comes to race. Dido constantly struggles with family members and suitors that ignore her black heritage or insist that they can look past it, i.e. pretend that she’s white. The way the film tackles these issues while also presenting well-rounded and memorable characters in a captivating story is accomplished with masterful filmmaking. Belle is an exemplary film, and one that is more than worthy of your attention.

 

Deepwater Horizon (Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell)
Director: Peter Berg
Released: September 30th, 2016

deepwater_horizon_film

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. Disaster movies based on true events sometimes feel like you’re just waiting for the thing to happen, which overshadows everything else in the film. It’s like a horror movie where you’re just waiting for people to die, and given that the events of the film were only six years ago, it sometimes rubs me the wrong way the same way an upcoming film about the Boston bombings (also fronted by Wahlberg and Berg) rubs me the wrong way. But Deepwater Horizon managed to surpass my expectations and delivered a film that is both informative and thought-provoking. If nothing else, this movie is going to make you leave the theater absolutely loathing BP.

The film is refreshingly upfront about all not being well on the oil rig as Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and Mr. Jimmy (Russell) tangle with the BP executives over safety, working equipment, and things that generally keep the place from going boom. As I said before, this film is not kind to BP, and that’s what makes it work. I remember when the spill happened in 2010, but apart from the initial news stories I didn’t know much about what exactly happened (I was also 18 and in college but that’s beside the point). The film brings new details to light and I was inspired to look up details about the disaster afterwards, which only made me more angry about what happened. I’m aware that the film, like others before it, may have been a little more liberal in parts including the loathsome nature of the BP execs, but I recommend you see the film for yourself in order to get the full impact of being pissed off anyway. Instead of being just another disaster spectacle, Deepwater Horizons instead offers a disturbing look into a travesty that you might not have known all the details about in the first place and makes sure you won’t forget them.
Currently Reading:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radiance

I’m about 700 pages in but it feels like there’s so much more to go (and there is, about 600 more). Still great though.

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