The Good Bits: Top 10 Albums of 2015 Redux

Back when I was doing radio, a few of my fellow DJs would do a show around this time of year where they reflected on their favorite music from the pervious year. They would change around their top albums, include music they’d missed out on, and elaborated on how well their favorites had aged. I nicked this tradition from them while on radio and have decided to do so again on The Good Bits!

Here’s a list original top ten albums of 2015. If you’d like to see my initial thoughts on this list, you can head over to Metal Insider where it was originally posted.

Top 10 Albums of 2015:

10) Panopticon, Autumn Eternal
9) Intronaut, The Direction of Last Things
8) Sigh, Graveward
7) Leprous, The Congregation
6) Clutch, Psychic Warfare
5) Between The Buried And Me, Coma Ecliptic
4) Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls
3) Ghost, Meliora
2) Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase.
1) Ghost Bath, Moonlover

Honorable Mentions:

Enslaved, In Times
TesseracT, Polaris
Mutoid Man, Bleeder

Now, nearly a year later in 2016, I’ve gone over these albums again, noted which ones I’ve returned to the most, discovered ones I missed, and then reassessed my list. It remains mostly the same but with two notable changes, both of which involve a mutual vocalist.

Top 10 Albums of 2015 Redux:

10) Sigh, Graveward

sigh-graveward

Graveward is still ridiculous, yet also still straightforward compared to Sigh’s other releases. If you like your black metal with an 80’s shred tinge, this is still a solid go to.

 

9) TesseracT, Polaris

tesseract

My initial impression of TesseracT’s third LP was that it was good, though not as good its predecessor Altered State. Part of this was due to my preference of vocalist Ashe O’Hara, whose performance dominated Altered State and who was replaced by original singer Daniel Tompkins for this album. But I kept coming back to Polaris this past year thanks to the tight, proggy songwriting and Tompkins’ performance eventually won me over. I was remiss in not including last year, and so it has been bumped up from its spot in the Honorable Mentions.

 

8) Earthside, A Dream In State 

earthside

Cinematic maybe isn’t the first word to come to mind when describing a metal band, but it certainly describes the music put together by the fantastic musicians comprising Earthside. A Dream In Static is a mainly instrumental journey occasionally joined by guest vocalists such as the aforementioned Daniel Tompkins, Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust, and more. The addition of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra on select tracks only adds to the shifting soundscape, full of gorgeous peaks and unique textures that many progressive bands push for but don’t always meet. This album is a treat and Earthside should be on everyone’s watchlist.

 

7) Clutch, Psychic Warfare

clutch

I only really got into Clutch when they put out Earth RockerPsychic Warfare is an excellent follow-up that is on par with its predecessor.

 

6) Leprous, The Congregation

leprous-the-congregation-01

The dark horse of 2015 for me is still holding the original spot I gave it. Leprous are one of the finer progressive metal acts out there.

 

5) Between The Buried And Me, Coma Ecliptic

coma_ecliptic_cover_art_by_between_the_buried_and_me

I saw the band perform the entire album live this year. That only helped solidify my love for this album.

 

4) Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls

iron-maiden-the-book-of-souls-2015

I’m a Maiden fanboy. That’s all I feel the need to say.

3) Ghost, Meliora

meliora

Ghost have gotten better and better with every album. The only thing that would make Meliora better is if “Square Hammer” from the Popestar EP released this year was on it.

 

2) Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase.

steven_wilson_hand_cannot_erase_cover

This is still one of the single most moving, beautifully written albums I’ve ever heard. Steven Wilson is a gift to the musical world.

 

1) Ghost Bath, Moonlover

ghost-bath

Of all the albums on this list, I think I go back and listen to Moonlover the most. Ghost Bath are one of the best new acts out there and this album may very well rank in my personal best of all time.

 

And there you have it; my retrospective on my favorite albums from 2015. I’m sure there are still other albums that got swept under the rug or albums that I didn’t appreciate the first time around, but nothing in the music world is ever static. Stay tuned for my favorite albums for 2016 coming soon!

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The Good Bits: November 2016

November was a tough month for many, so I was thankful for all the movies, music, and literature present on this month’s edition of The Good Bits to remind me that it’s not all bad all the time.

Music:

Metallica, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (Blackened)
Released: November 18th 2016

metallica

Where do you even start with reviewing something as massive as a new Metallica album, let alone a double album? It’s one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year for music in general, not just metalheads. Fans and ex-fans alike rejoiced when they heard “Hardwired” and were blown away by how great it sounded. People who dismissed them for years were suddenly hopeful for a return to form for the band. The result? Hardwired…to Self-Destruct is a great modern Metallica album. And that makes this fan very happy.

If you read my retrospective of 2008’s Death Magnetic, you’ll remember my assessment that the album’s biggest flaw was how it tried to emulate 80’s Metallica just a little too much, from album format to song structure. This is not at all a problem on Hardwired as the band sound way more natural with songs that progress organically and less constructed to fit a template. “Hardwired” kicks everything off with the perfect one-two punch to get you hyped about the rest of the album. The whole first disc is solid, with “Halo On Fire” and “Now That We’re Dead” standing out as favorite. What’s more, you can tell that everyone in the band showed up to kick this album into high gear. The second disc is good too, though some of the songs seem a cut below those of the preceding disc. But then “Murder One” and “Spit Out The Bone” wrap up the album in furious Metallica fashion.

Was a double album necessary? Maybe not. It could have just been the whole first disc and then the last two tracks to form a solid eight track album. That said, I don’t think the other songs hurt the album overall and maybe they’ll grow on me more after a few listens. Either way, the bulk of  Hardwired…to Self-Destruct‘s enjoyment stems from simply being a great, exciting new Metallica release. It feels like their natural destination after such a long and storied career. Plus, with everything else that’s happened this year, we deserve something as special as a new Metallica album.

 

 

ONI, Ironshore (Metal Blade)
Released: November 25th, 2016

oni-ironshore

Technical ability can only take you so far nowadays in metal. What good are crazy time signatures and shit hot guitar solos if your band just comes off as boring? It’s a trap many newer bands fall into that ONI managed to avoid on their debut album. You can tell right away on the opener “Barn Burner” that the band has some serious chops, but when you get to “Eternal Recurrence” the sound opens up, revealing a band that sounds less like Meshuggah or The Faceless and more like Dream Theater with harsh vocals. I was surprised to hear more than a few clean, hooky choruses in between guitar wizardry (and bass wizardry too, Chase Bryant is a goddamn madman).

The album keeps it to nine tight tracks that lasts long enough for you to drink your fill of prog metal bedazzlement. The eleven minute “The Science” was over in a flash for me and proves that ONI know how to write long songs with getting top masturbatory. There are many bands that I’ve been saying telling people to watch for on this blog, and these guys are high up on that list. If you need more convincing, this debut album features Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) as a guest vocalist. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.

 

Film:

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams)
Director: Scott Derrickson
Released: November 4th, 2016

doctor_strange_poster

The term franchise fatigue has been thrown around a lot regarding the seemingly never-ending line of superhero movies heading our way. Sure, we’re done with them for the remainder of 2016, but between DC and Marvel we’ve got six movies heading our way in 2017. In the meantime, we’ll be endlessly assaulted with trailers, breakdowns of trailers, trailer stills, you name it. As a result, while I enjoy this superhero film renaissance, it can get a bit tiring. Luckily, Doctor Strange provides a dash of invigoration for the genre, providing a new character with an origin story that goes by-the-numbers in some aspects, but makes plenty of room for new, mind-bending thrills.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is a bit overexposed at this point and his inclusion in the MCU means we’ll be seeing a lot more of him. That said, even my fiancée, who was skeptical of Doctor Strange before viewing, couldn’t deny the charm and gravitas Cumberbatch brought to the role, moving from cocky jerk to ruined surgeon to hero. The supporting cast is great too: Chiwetel Ejiofor has a great turn as Mordo and hints a his character’s morally gray development in the future; Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius manages to be more than just a one-note villain; Tilda Swinton is excellent as The Ancient One, although I understand the casting controversy might make some viewers less enthralled with her performance. The only one who is so-so is Rachel McAdams, but that’s less because of her acting ability and more because it feels like she’s only there to fill the love interest role.

By now, you’ve likely seen and/or heard about this film’s up-and-front use of special affects, and I can assure you they’re nothing short of spectacular. I saw the film in 3D, and while I think the film is great no matter what format it’s viewed in, you get just a little bit more out of the effects when they’re popping out at you. What’s more, the film’s thorough usage of trippy CGI sequences was never too overwhelming, always toying with the viewer just the right amount before backing off. The film also contains one of the best action set pieces of the entire MCU in its finale, ranking up there with the Daredevil hallway scene under the category of “How the hell did they do that?!”

While Doctor Strange does present us with yet another origin story and its familiar beats, the film gets them out of the way quickly and efficiently enough that we get an effective introduction to the Sorcerer Supreme while taking in a new layer added to the MCU that mixes the status quo up a bit, leaving the franchise with fascinating potential. If nothing else, see it for the Cloak of Levitation. Best cloak ever.

 

 

Central Intelligence (Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Released: June 17th 2016

central-intelligence

File this one under “Potentially Dumb Comedy Better Than Expected.” Action-comedy buddy movies are a tried and true formula, but sometimes you can’t help getting that “seen one, seen ’em all” feeling when you spot a new trailer. Then again, not every one of those movies features Dwayne Johnson, whose mere presence in a film boosts its chances of being good by at least 25%, sometimes more depending on how much screen time he has. Combine him with Kevin Hart as the straight man and you get a film that’s somewhat predictable, but the star power yields enough laughs to entertain you on a night in where you have absolutely have no idea what to watch.

The film also touches on the subject of bullying, depicting a teenage version of Johnson’s character Bob Stone as a fat kid who is mercilessly picked on at school but is shown sympathy by star student Calvin (Hart). While comedies aren’t meant to be downers, I wouldn’t have minded if the film tried to touch on bullying just a bit more. But, as it stands, you have a solid pair of actors with good chemistry and a fast paced plot. You know what you’re gonna get before you got in, but you’ll have a good time anyway.

 

Books:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radiance

About this same time a year ago, I’d just finished reading the The Way of Kings, the first in Brandon Sanderson’s series of cinderblock-sized epic fantasy novels dubbed The Stormlight Archive. And I loved it. I wasn’t sure how Sanderson could get better than his Mistborn trilogy, but that first book drew me into a unique world full of endearing characters, fascinating magic, and an endless but intriguing amount of lore. The promise was great, so I opened up the second and latest volume Words of Radiance hoping for some payoff. And boy, did it deliver. Note: I won’t be revealing any big spoilery plot points, but if you’re entertaining the idea of reading this book at some point and want to go in knowing absolutely nothing, read at your own risk.

The biggest payoff of the book is finally seeing the paths of our view point characters converge. It’s entertaining to finally see these characters finally meeting each other and reacting to each other’s quirks. Shallan is kind of the star of the show here; just as Kaladin received backstory chapters in tWoK, Shallan gets her mysterious past explained in WoR. She’s much more engaging in this book than the first, so I didn’t feel like I had to suffer through her chapters if they cut in on someone else’s action. Everyone else gets their time to shine (sometimes literally) as well. Like the first book, there’s a lot of build up and about halfway through you start to see lots of promises fulfilled that make the book feel like a satisfying, savory feast. The most notable event is probably our heroes’ encounter with Szeth, the assassin in white (that’s not a spoiler, it’s on the cover of the book).

The length of the volume can feel like an undertaking, but if you read the first volume and spent a lot of time thinking “Oh god, this is dragging” you might be more pleased with this one’s pace. It’s apparent now that tWoK was meant to get us comfortable with the world of Roshar, to get us invested in the characters, and to promise an extraordinary tale before delivering the goods. As a result, World of Radiance ends up being a triumph, wrapping up one giant arc of the story while setting up the events of the next installment. This is probably my favorite book that I’ve read from Sanderson so far and I’m storming well in it for the long haul.

 

Currently Reading:

Talion: Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole

talion-revenant

Normally I try to space out what I read according to genre, but after coming across this book I decided to continue my fantasy streak. Talion: Revenant is a stand-alone fantasy novel, which isn’t something you see a lot of, so I’m intrigued to see what satisfaction I can get out of it versus starting a new series. I’m about a hundred pages in, and so far so good. This won’t take nearly as long to read as the behemoth mentioned above.

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The Good Bits: October 2016

I’m posting this the morning after Election Day. I don’t intend to go on a political rant on here because you’ll get enough of that today as is. But I hope that if you’re taking the time to read what I’ve put down it distracts you for a little while from whatever else is happening out there. This is The Good Bits, after all.

 

Bon Iver, 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar)
Released: September 30th, 2016

bon-iver

Gambles don’t always pay off for artists who make a dramatic change in musical direction. Sometimes it just flat-out backfires and then all the fans wait for some return to form. This is not the case with Bon Iver’s third album, which makes the transition from indie folk to glitchy folktronica. There’s something so fascinating about this album as it could have failed on every level for mastermind Justin Vernon. Instead,we got a goddamn masterpiece. Granted, not everyone is going to be into switching from acoustic guitars to autotune and other electronic standbys, and I get that. But if you’re hesitant, give “8 (Circle)” a listen, and if you like that, you should dive into the rest of the album. I know I’m mostly a metal guy, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t end up in my overall top 10 of the year.

 

Insomnium, Winter’s Gate (Century Media)
Released: September 23rd, 2016

insomniumwintersgatecdnew

Insomnium made quite an impact with their 2014 release Shadows of the Dying Sun, and I believe their new album is even better. It’s a single song album (split into seven parts for digital release) that runs for forty minutes. The continuous forward movement of the album never gets boring, moving through heavy but melodic passages that help depict the vast, frigid landscapes and seas of the album’s story that revolves around (what else?) vikings. I slept on this band the last time around, but I’m glad I didn’t do that with Winter’s Gate.

 

Thy Catafalque, Meta (Season of Mist)
Released: September 16th, 2016

thy-catafalque

Tamás Kátai, the man behind Thy Catafalque, put out a really weird but intriguing album last year called Sgùrr that utilized electronica, folk, and black metal. It may sound vexing, but I’m not one to shy away from experimentation, and I enjoyed the album enough that I kept an eye out for future doings. Apparently I didn’t do that great a job since he put out another new album in September and I missed it the first time around. Meta is a tad more straightforward than its predecessor, with a larger reliance on heavy guitar passages early on, but there are plenty of other experimental elements on the album that keep things interesting. In refining his sound, Kátai offers an album that is more accessible but is far from generic. I would call it avant-garde black metal, but I’m not sure any one label is going to do this album justice.

 

 

ELEL, Geode (Mom + Pop Music)
Released: October 21st, 2016

elel_geode

The only album on here actually released in October is from a local Nashville band whose album release party I had the pleasure of attending. If you ever get to see these guys live, don’t miss out. If you can’t, there’s always their debut album Geode. Now, most of the music I post about on here is not happy. At all. But ELEL write some of the happiest, most lively indie pop I’ve heard, and it just feels good to listen to. “When She Walks” and “Kiss Kiss” are the two I would try first, but I think you’ll want to sit down with the whole thing to understand why these guys are the real deal. You’ll probably be seeing their name a lot more in future.

 

Film:

The Girl on the Train (Emily Blunt)
Director: Tate Taylor
Released: October 7th, 2016

girl-on-train-movie-poster

I normally like to read a best-selling novel before the film adaptation comes out; I did so with The Martian and Gone Girl. I missed that opportunity with Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, so I wasn’t sure how my experience would be impacted as a result. Luckily, I quite enjoyed the film and, like everyone else, I have to applaud the always formidable Emily Blunt.

The film’s pace is a tad slower than its thriller contemporaries, and while many reviews have cited this as a negative, I enjoyed the time the film took to fill us in on the different character perspectives. Rachel Watson (Blunt) is the star of the show of course, and Blunt’s performance is highly captivating as we the audience wrestle with our sympathy for her. But seeing the perspectives of Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Megan (Haley Bennett) fleshed out their characters to the story’s benefit. I can’t speak to how it compares to the book, but it’s still impressive for a film adaptation that clocks in under two hours.

Of course, a mystery thriller can fall apart depending on its twist, but The Girl on the Train sidesteps that particular pothole. The twist is as it should be: natural, able to be figured out by context clues, not contrived. It helps tie the movie into a nice package rather than going off the rails like many mystery thriller twists do. If you missed this one because of the mixed reviews, I’d give it a chance if for no other reason than to watch Blunt’s performance.

 

Halloween Watchlist:

Devil’s Advocate (Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron)
Director: Taylor Hackford
Released: October 17th, 1997

devils-advocate

Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite horror movies, and I was told The Devil’s Advocate is similar. That and it’s considered essential Al Pacino viewing. This is some of the best acting I’ve seen from Reeves and he has great chemistry with Theron. Pacino is, of course, incredible, saving the real fireworks for the final minutes of the film. It’s a great mix of genre that might be a tad overlong, but certainly delivers a satisfying tale.

 

Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder)
Director: Tim Burton
Released: December 14th, 1990

edwardscissorhandsposter

File this one under movies that fellow 90’s kids can’t believe I’ve never seen. Look, I like a lot of Tim Burton’s movies, I just had other priorities when I was a kid, alright? Anyway, the movie is great of course, with an overly colorful 1950’s suburbia clashing with the doom and gloom now chiefly associated with Hot Topic. It reminds you why Burton, Depp, and Ryder became such stars in the first place.

 

The Sixth Sense (Bruce Willis, Hayley Joel Osment)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Released: August 9th, 1999

the_sixth_sense

File another one under movies that I’m insane for not having seen. Of course, I went into this movie knowing the twist, but I feel like that actually enhanced the experience for me. I looked for tells by watching certain scenes while thinking “Okay, if I didn’t know the twist, what here would tip me off?” It’s also interesting to watch this moving knowing that director M. Night Shyamalan would go on to be mocked for essentially making self-parody movies.

 

The Village (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jaoquin Phoenix, William Hurt)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Released: July 30th 2004

the-village

Okay, in this one I didn’t know the twist, but I’m not sure it would’ve made a difference if I did. I’m kind of split on this movie because I liked the concept and it boasts a great cast, but I feel like the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a monster horror movie? A psychological thriller? A failed utopia? True, it’s possible for a movie to be all of these things and be stellar, but not for one that wants to pad itself out with boring stuff until it can reveal the twist.

 

Maggie (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin)
Director: Henry Hobson
Released: May 8th 2015

maggieposter

Here’s an under the radar film that I’d recommend if you’re not tired of zombies yet. In the film, Arnold’s daughter (Breslin) has been bitten by a zombie and is set to transition into one herself over the course of eight weeks. This is not the kind of movie you’d expect to find Arnold in, but you’re going to be genuinely surprised when you see his acting alongside Breslin. It’s a quiet, beautifully shot movie that adds its own noteworthy touch to the overtired zombie genre.

 

Currently Reading:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radiance

Not much left to go on this one (page 1124). Expect to hear my final thoughts on it next month.

 

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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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The Good Bits: August 2016

August was pretty stuffed, so much so that I opted not to include a few things in this edition of The Good Bits simply because 1) I’m lazy, and 2) you probably don’t have that kind of time. I might be a little late in sharing my thoughts on hot topic debates like Suicide Squad but screw it; one more opinion couldn’t hurt, right?

Music:

Harakiri for the Sky, III: Trauma (Art of Propaganda)
Released: July 22nd, 2016

harakiri-for-the-sky-iii-trauma

One of my favorite bands, Agalloch, sadly broke up a few months ago, so until the former members form new groups, I needed to find a similar band to hold me over. Luckily, Harakiri for the Sky just dropped their third album and after a few glowing endorsements I gave it a listen. I was happy to find that it scratched the Agalloch itch without the band sounding just like them. HFTS has the atmospheric black metal touch of Agalloch, but with a bigger post-rock emphasis and vocals more reminiscent of bands like Gojira. The only nitpick some may have with the album is that it’s a bit longer than you’d typically expect as all the songs range from 8-11 minutes, clocking in a total listening time of 75 minutes. “Funeral Dreams” is a favorite of mine in particular, so give that a listen if you want to test the waters.

 

Black Crown Initiate, Selves We Cannot Forgive (eOne)
Released: July 22nd 2016

blackcrowninitiateselves

Black Crown Initiate rose to prominence fairly quickly, bursting onto the metal scene with their EP Song of the Crippled Bull, which I still favored even after the release of their solid debut album. Sophomore slump is a very real danger when bands have a great debut, but Black Crown Initiate side step it with a second album that delves a little more into the progressive side of their progressive death metal sound yet stays in line with the style they’ve become known for. The technical wizardry is still there, but it shares the space with more melody than the band has used before, which prevents the band from falling into the borefest trap technical bands fall into as they constantly try to top how heavy and fast they can play. Instead, we get more clean vocals and even some piano, giving the songs more texture than on the band’s debut album. “Matriarch” is a great example of the band’s direction on this album.

 

Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1 (Self-Released)
Released: August 12, 2016

howling-giant

Finally, a Nashville metal band I can write about! Howling Giant are just starting out, but they’re already in my good graces with their EP Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1. Apart from being an awesome title with equally awesome album art, Howling Giant sit comfortably in the stoner rock/metal genre, but they’re far from being a Sabbath worship rehash. They’ve got fuzzy, groovy riffs and catchy songwriting that keeps things fun. I’m eager to see where they go from here and to catch them at a show sometime. Give “Mothership” a listen if you want to give the band a try.

 

Film:

Suicide Squad (Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margo Robbie)
Director: David Ayer
Released: August 1st, 2016

suicidesquad-poster-team-xeyes

Of all the ways the DCEU could have proceeded after Batman V. Superman: Dawn of JusticeSuicide Squad was certainly an odd direction. If you don’t know, the Suicide Squad is made up of a bunch of different villains (mostly Batman related) and put together by the government because they’re bad and therefore expendable. Basically, imagine if Marvel had gone for Guardians of the Galaxy in their first phase before making a Captain America or Thor film and that’s the level of bizarre we’re starting on. But hey, GotG was great, right? And doing a Suicide Squad movie would certainly shake things up and show that Warner Bros. weren’t concerned with following the Marvel template. Plus, Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn? Yes please and thank you. So how did this gamble pan out? Well, if you ask most people (namely film critics), it went as badly as BvS (assuming you thought it was bad), and continues the DCEU’s streak of bad films. Me on the other hand? I had a blast!

Alright, I’ll be the first to tell you that not everything in this movie works. The first act is weak and disjointed and the plot set up is rushed so we can get Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn, and the rest of the squad into a city on fire to shoot at things. Also, Jared Leto’s Joker gets maybe ten minutes of screen time, so I’m still undecided on what I think of him because we didn’t get nearly as much of him as the trailers promised. But apart from that? This is the most fun I’ve had watching Will Smith in years and Margo Robbie is pitch perfect as Harley, pulling off the crazy yet giving a subtle portrayal of her tragic loyalty to Mr. J. Also, Viola Davis is a badass bitch as Amanda Waller. She was probably my favorite part of the movie overall. Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) makes a unique villain too, even if her origin and motivations are rushed.

It’s not a perfect movie, and the rumor is that (yet again) lots of footage was cut from the film that could have made it better. I would love to see an extended cut that likely improves over the original. Maybe then, between that and the BvS extended cut (more on that below), Warner Bros. will let the directors who know what they’re doing have more control over their own films. But, as it stands, it’s far from the colossal turd everyone makes it out to be. I give the same advice as I did with BvS: see it and don’t write it off before you’ve even set foot in the theater.

 

Sausage Party (Seth Rogan, Kirsten Wiig)
Directors: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Released: August 12th, 2016

sausage-party

Sausage Party is raunchy, offensive, and occasionally tasteless. So it’s hilarious. The computer animated film about sentient grocery store foods featuring the voices of Seth Rogan and the usual suspects (Jonah Hill, James Franco, etc.) pretty much hits all the check points when it comes to jokes about sex, race, and all the other taboos. It’s an equal opportunity offender kind of comedy, and that probably won’t gel with everyone (there are holocaust jokes in the movie). But I understand how horrible some of these jokes are, so I enjoyed whispering “Oh, god” every time the film upped the ante because, well, sometimes you have to let yourself be a terrible person and laugh at shit that normally isn’t funny. The movie does offer a sound if not obvious commentary on religion and addressing other people’s perspectives on the world, but it’s not overly preachy. It mainly focuses on a plot of food figuring out their purpose in life (sentience?) is to be consumed, which makes a fun little riff on movies like Toy Story. By the way, the end of this film has one of the most ludicrous, so-awful-but-I-can’t-look-away scenes ever put on the screen. If you’re a fan of Rogan and company, you’ll feel right at home.

 

The Gift (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton)
Director: Joel Edgerton
Released: August 7th 2015

the_gift_2015_film_poster1

I’ve sang the praises of quite a few horror films on here, but The Gift is a little different. We’re on the psychological thriller side now, and at first it doesn’t look like there’s anything special. Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) move into a new home and the former inadvertently reconnects with Edgerton’s character Gordon, a former classmate from high school. He’s…a little awkward, and apparently came by the moniker “Gordo the Weirdo” in school. So when Simon tries to break off Gordon’s bid for friendship, things start getting weird and creepy.

There’s some things you can call right out of the gate, such as Simon and Gordon having a history that may or may not have involved bullying, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The film leads you by the nose in one direction but tinkers with the plot and characters behind the scenes, and you won’t figure stuff out until just before they happen, making for a very unnerving but satisfying experience. And when I say unnerving, I mean this movie does horror better than some actual horror movies. I’d put Edgerton’s Gordo in a similar league as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction in terms of how on edge their characters keep you. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers, but damn, this one is an under the radar hit.

 

Don’t Think Twice (Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Kay)
Director: Mike Birbiglia
Released: July 22, 2016

dont_think_twice_film

When comedy films also try to deliver heartfelt moments, it sometimes derails everything and screws with the tone completely (looking at you Click). However, Don’t Think Twice manages to hit all the right beats in this film about an improv comedy trope in NYC. When one of the troupe members ends up moving into the big leagues of comedy thus leaving his friends to flounder, the film explores a question often discussed in today’s society: how can you pursue your passion while also making a living? Each of the characters feels very human with clearly established strengths and weaknesses that are naturally introduced and eventually come to a head when things get heated towards the end. It’s pretty damn funny to boot, especially when the characters are just bantering with each other in a manner that feels spontaneous (which, I guess, is pretty appropriate in a movie about improv). You might not have heard about this one or seen the preview in theaters, but if you can find a theater playing it (or you just wait until it’s on Netflix), you’ll be in for a fun evening.

(Side note: another local Nashville band, ELEL, makes an appearance in the film! Woo hoo!)

 

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition)(Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot)
(Director: Zack Snyder)
Released: July 19, 2016

bvs

I know I’ve reviewed this film already, but  I felt the need to talk about it again to establish my addition thoughts on the film after watching the complete 3 hour extended cut. You might remember that I enjoyed the movie when it was first released and defended the harsh criticisms leveled against it. Six months later, my opinion hasn’t changed. In fact, I love the film more now than I did initially. The Ultimate Edition doesn’t necessarily add any mind-blowing new scenes, but rather fills in the blanks of the theatrical cut, resulting in better pacing and fixing one or two plot holes. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this version. If you saw the original and didn’t like it, this version probably won’t change your mind. But make no mistake: this is the definitive version and the one that should have been released in theaters even with an R rating (which it really only earns because of one or two F-bombs). Maybe after the success of DVD sales Warner Bros. will do the same with Suicide Squad and take notes on trusting directors and letting them keep their vision.

 

Currently Reading:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radiance

I’m about 400 pages into this 1300 page tome, which is a much faster reading pace compared to the first volume now that I’m familiar with the world and characters. Sanderson really has something exciting here, even more so than his Mistborn trilogy that I so often praise. I’m sure I’ll still be reading this for another month or so, but that’s just fine with me.

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Old Is New Review: “Death Magnetic” by Metallica

Metallica_-_Death_Magnetic_coverThis November, Metallica will release Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, their tenth LP and first release in eight years. “Hardwire”, the first track from the album, has kicked the hype machine into high gear as fans everywhere rejoice over the track’s quick one-two punch that recalls the band’s sound on their debut record Kill ‘Em All. Just like that, the often divisive and mocked Metallica is turning heads again even among the most elite and of the metalsphere. All this buzz spurred me to revisit the band’s previous album (not Lulu) that, from what I can tell, no one really seems to talk about much: Death Magnetic.

The usual pitch you’ll hear regarding Metallica’s discography is that their first four albums are amazing and then The Black Album is where they started to go downhill (because fuck the mainstream, amirite?). Then Load, Reload, and St. Anger are all lobbed into the general category of utter shit, the last of these being considered particularly utter shit. They also did a kickass covers album, but I’ll skip that one since it’s not an original LP. I’m also not talking about Lulu, so don’t ask. Now, I’m not quite as harsh on Metallica and have admittedly gone to lengths to defend them.True, I also think the first tour albums are superior like most people, but I enjoy the The Black Album just fine, and there are a number of songs from Load and Reload like “Hero of the Day” or “The Memory Remains” that I enjoy spinning. As for St. Anger, while I can’t say I like the album (I can’t do the snare drum, Lars, I just can’t), it’s not the worst album I’ve ever heard. And yet, I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone about where Death Magnetic places in the band’s discography. At the time of release in 2008, many hailed it as a return to form, my seventeen-year-old self included. But how does it stack up today?

Right out of the gate you can tell that Metallica went through a lot of effort to emulate their 80’s selves just by returning to standard E tuning as opposed to the E flat they started playing in when Load came out. There’s also the matter of the first four tracks; on the albums Ride The LightningMaster of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, the first four tracks on each follow this pattern:

Track 1: Quiet intro, possible acoustic/clean guitar, builds into a thrashy opening track

Track 2: Slightly slower, hard-hitting track, title track

Track 3: Slower, heavier track

Track 4: Depressing subject matter, first half of the song is slow and clean, then gets fast and heavy

Death Magnetic follows this pattern pretty closely, the only exception being that the second track is not the title track. This does work in the album’s favor, as the opener “That Was Just Your Life” stokes the fires of nostalgia and presents the album as something familiar but new. “The End of the Line” is a solid followup track and “Broken, Beat, and Scarred” is pretty catchy. “The Day That Never Comes” is an okay track, but falls prey to being compared to “One” in terms of structure, especially with the thrashy, double bass drum part at the end.

Then comes “All Nightmare Long”, which I consider the best song on the album. It’s in D, which is different for Metallica, but is fast and catchy like you’d expect. The lyrics evoke a good aesthetic as well, making you feel like you have to outrun some unseen terror right behind you (which, incidentally, makes this a great running song). Next is “Cyanide”, the first track revealed from the album after the band played it live at Ozzfest ’08. It’s got some good punchy riffs and a nice bass groove. So all in all, the albums doing pretty well up to this point.

“The Unforgiven” is one of Metallica’s staples from The Black Album. “The Unforgiven II” is fine if not unnecessary sequel. As such, more than a few fans likely groaned when they saw “The Unforgiven III” on the track listing for Death Magnetic, and then groaned even more when they finally heard the track and it started with piano. Those of us who aren’t bothered by keys on metal albums sat through the rest of the song and basically shrugged; it doesn’t really connect to its predecessors in terms of sound. Really, it’s only connection is the use of the word “forgive” in the chorus. It’s not a bad song, but I wasn’t upset they didn’t play it live when I saw them.

“The Judas Kiss” is another fun track with some more solid riffs and a catchy chorus. Next comes the nearly ten-minute instrumental “Suicide & Redemption”, which I’m mixed on. Another classic Metallica albums staple was including an instrumental, usually composed by late bassist Cliff Burton, and those songs are held in the highest regard. On Death Magnetic, it seems a bit unnecessary. It’s not bad and I even like lots of the riffs towards the middle of the track, but it could have just been a bonus track.

Finally, we arrive at the final and shortest track on the album “My Apocalypse”, and I feel kind of weird about this one. In terms of rhythm and lyrics, it’s almost true-blue 80’s thrash and everybody is killing it from Lar’s drumming to James’vocals. But the riff…I don’t know why but the main riff doesn’t completely gel with me; those two notes at the end of it just sound a bit weird and it keeps me enjoyment off balance. Other than that, it’s an decent song that fits the role of a thrashy conclusion to the album.

That’s the track-by-track walkthrough, but there are two general criticisms about the album I thought I’d briefly address. The first is that the production is bad because the music is overly compressed in an effort to make the songs sound louder (see also: loudness war). The second is that the songs are too long. In regards to the first critique, I do notice the overt loudness a bit on certain songs, but nothing that ever bothered me much. As for the second, I point to the albums Master of Puppets and Justice, both of which feature tracks ranging from 5 to 8 1/2 minutes, nearly ten on the latter. If people are bored by it, I can only shrug. Didn’t bother me.

So what do I think of Death Magnetic eight years after its release? Honestly, I enjoyed revisiting it. It’s not an amazing album but it didn’t need to be. It just needed to show that Metallica can still kick ass, and they prove that on this album. They emerged five years after St. Anger to give fans what they wanted, and they did. You can really tell they put a lot of effort into this album to try and evoke that classic Metallica feel, and while it may feel a tad forced in some ways, I still appreciate it. This was never going to be as good as the old days, but for some reason people still sign them off because their new music isn’t as good, which you could pretty much say about most artists who have been around for 35 years. It’s just another classic case of going with the crowd and hating what’s cool to hate. As for me, I’m glad I listened to this album again because now I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for a new Metallica album.

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The Good Bits July 2016

Music:

Astralia, Atlas (Aloud Music)
Released: May 13th, 2014

astralia

As I’ve likely stated before, atmospheric instrumental post-rock is one of my favorite subgenres to throw on when I’m hunkering down to write. However, it’s not always easy to find a such band that ticks all the right boxes, and that’s usually less because of the band’s musical ability or style and more because my ears are just searching for a specific sound. Enter Astralia, who picked up the thread of my post-rock kick started by If These Trees Could Talk. Astralia nail the number one aspect of the genre that I look for: to be soothing and keep a loose grip on your attention, making them perfect for sitting down to focus or taking a long, scenic drive. Some bits can get a bit heavy like in “Io”, but the bulk of the music is full of calming texture (“Sans Soliel”). I know most of the rock music I like leans to the (really) heavy side of things, but Astralia are worth giving a listen the next time you want meaningful but not overly challenging music to keep you company at your desk or in your car.

 

Ben Prunty, Color Sky (Self-Released)
Released: December 8th, 2014

ben prunty

FTL is an excellent indie video game I have a tough time recommending to anyone who doesn’t like their space adventures mixed with endless bouts of rage. Luckily, you don’t have to play the game to experience the wonderful soundtrack provided by Ben Prunty. I racked up my play count for that album by letting it lull me to sleep every night for nearly a year. So I’m baffled at myself for not taking the time to look into Prunty’s other compositions until this past month when I sifted through his Bandcamp page and picked up Color Sky. Much of Prunty’s material is essentially video game music in the retro style of chiptunes, but that’s an egregious oversimplification on my part. The real pull of Prunty’s music is how it teases nostalgia but sounds fresh, how it creates an atmospheric world of sounds to lose yourself in but without aggressively seeking your attention. It’s not really where I can cherry pick a track for you to start with; just hit play on the opener “Dusty Road” and see for yourself why this guy is one of the best composers in the video game industry.

 

Earthside, A Dream In Static (Bushwhack LLC)
Released: October 23rd, 2015

earthside

Thanks to my weekly column over at Metal Insider, I’m usually pretty up-to-date in terms of new releases in music. So when I type up my yearly “Best of” posts, I have a wide array of albums to choose from. But I’m not aware of everything, and very often I’ll uncover some hidden gem from the previous yet that makes me consider revising my yearly top 10. Earthside’s A Dream In Static is one such album, full of fantastic compositions that succeed in delivering the band’s cinematic approach to songwriting. Prog metal fans will certainly enjoy it, but the addition of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra is was really seals the deal in the second track “Mob Mentality”. The group is instrumentally focused as they don’t sport a permanent vocalist, but certain tracks feature the talents of guests such as Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), all of whom provide fluid vocals that fit perfectly with the tone of the album.

 

Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop, Love Letter For Fire (Sub Pop)
Released: April 15, 2016

love letter for fire

I’ve listened to this a few times since it came out in April, but I was mostly fixed on one particular track, so I wanted to wait until I bought the album and listened to it a few times so I could comment on the album as a whole. Simply put, if you’re an Iron & Wine fan there’s no reason you won’t enjoy this album, especially if you’re a fan of his earlier work. This is very much stripped down compared to Beam’s newer material and usually just features his and Jesca Hoop’s gentle voices accompanied by acoustic guitar and/or piano. It’s a soothing, quiet listen sporting one of my new favorites from Beam: “Sailor To Siren”. If you give that song a listen and you like it, you’ll definitely enjoy the rest of the album as well.

 

 

Film:

Finding Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Released: June 17th, 2016

FINDING_DORY_-_Key_Art

The Toy Story trilogy is fantastic, Monsters University was a fun prequel, and Cars 2 was…well, I’ve never seen either of the Cars movies so I’ll just take everyone’s word that it was a rare misfire for Pixar. So where does Finding Dory fall in Pixar’s esteemed pedigree? Honestly, I loved it as much as the original, maybe even a bit more. Visually, the movie dazzles, but that’s a given with Pixar nowadays. The story is nothing short of endearing, exploring Dory’s backstory and then allowing her to swim off on her own adventure with plenty of laughs and tear-jerker moments. The latter is particularly prevalent towards the end of the movie when you catch onto Pixar’s subtle portrayal of people (or fish) who are handicapped or disabled and having them make their own way through life.  And, of course, there are a few nods to the original movie, but they’re all quick and don’t feel shoehorned in at all. You’ll love it, I’m sure. Also, Becky is the best. Just so you know in advanced.

 

Stranger Than Fiction (Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Director: Marc Foster
Released: November 10th 2006

stranger than fiction

I’ve had many instances of “Gasp! You’ve never seen *movie title* before?”, but usually the film is some bonafide classic, a cult favorite, or even an animated feature I ended up giving a miss in my childhood. But then my fianćee informed me of Stranger Than Fiction being one of her favorite movies, which initially had me scratching my head. I vaguely remember hearing about the movie some ten years ago, but never actually talked to anyone who’d seen it. So I sat down to watch and, sure enough, it really is a great under the radar film. The whole meta book writing plot is something I’ve always wanted to try and I loved how the worked it in here. You know how when some leading male comedians give drama a try it’s usually met with lukewarm results? Will Ferrell avoids that completely. The movie gets pretty dark and all the way through you can see the cloud of depression hanging over him. Maybe its mostly amazing compared to the guy he normally plays, but he still does a damn good job in such a human role. The rest of the cast is great too, especially Emma Thompson. If you missed out on this like I did, I highly recommend giving it a watch.

 

Books:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

hitchhiker's guide

It’s been a while since I sat down with a nice, quick read, and even longer since I read something specifically designed to give me a good laugh. There’s such a comfort to THGTTG that is hard to describe. Maybe its because the whole world ended in the blink of an eye and yet things still seemed to turn out okay. Not perfect, but okay. Space is fucking cool and the idea that such a small book can make you consider the wonders of the universe (not unlike Monty Python’s “Galaxy Song”) while still retaining fantastic lunacy is nothing short of genius. I know I’m late to the party, but I’m eager to continue it in Adam’s further sequels.

 

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeer

Whereas the above book was a short, humorous read, the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy is a short, horrific read. Imagine if Lovecraft wrote The Hunger Games. That’s the best basic description I can give, but you’ll discover it’s much more than that when you experience it. We follow the account of woman only known as the biologist, part of a four member expedition team sent to investigate Area X, an overgrown abandoned area the Sourthern Reach agency wants to research and possibly reclaim. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, and when things start going downhill (as they so often do) our narrator slow begins to peel away layer after layer of mystery and misinformation. It’s a slow burn kind of horror where you’ll be endlessly fascinated the Area X’s many mysteries as well as the biologist’s character. And when you reach the ominous ending, you’ll be both relieved and trepidatious that there are two more books.

 

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts

So, zombies. They experienced a resurgence of popularity some ten years ago and they’re still popping up everywhere, so naturally most people are bored of them. So if you’re trying to come up with a story involving zombies, you really have to strike gold on a premise that draws in the reader while also following the unwritten rule that we can’t call zombies zombies anymore (see also: walkers, creepers, etc.). Luckily, M.R. Carey gives us a glimpse into a world seldom explored: zombie children. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Melanie, the main character of The Girl With All The Gifts, is a ten-year-old zombie (called “hungries” in this iteration) child. Yet, she’s capable of coherent thought, speech, and high intellect. How’s this possible? That’s something her captors are working hard to find out. This is a great story with great characters that focuses on the line between human and monster, a line that is often blurred when you’re living in a zombie apocalypse.

 

Currently Reading:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radiance

I read the first book of Sanderson’s ongoing The Stormlight Archives series a year ago. Now I’m finally jumping into the massive second volume. I’ll probably be on this one a while, and I’m so okay with that.

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