Tuesday, 17 December 2013
1. "Forbidden Love" by Abel Korzeniowski, from the album "Romeo and Juliet"
The greatest love story ever told finally has the soundtrack it deserves thanks to Polish wunderkind Korzeniowski, who, when movie legend James Horner's completed and fully recorded score was inexplicably rejected at the last minute by the film's producers, stepped in and – in just six weeks – wrote this sweeping, indescribably beautiful replacement.
2. "Mou Nakanai to Sora ni Chikatta Hi" ("The Day I Swore by the Heavens That I Would Weep No More") by Gakido, from the album "'s Note"
The now tragically defunct Tokyo band's epic tribute to their late bandmate Piyo, who died in a car crash in 2010, is replete with duelling vocal harmonies, insanely rubbery bass skills and probably the only use ever of the harmonica in a visual kei song.
3. "Music" by Sakanaction, from their self-titled album
Amazing retro-futurist disco-funk epic from one of Japan's best-kept secrets, superstars in their homeland but virtually unknown in the West.
4. "17 Crimes" by AFI, from the album "Burials"
The Californian death-punks blast back with this thrilling anthem to doomed youth, arguably the most immediately accessible track they have ever recorded.
5. "Alone" by Falling in Reverse, from the album "Fashionably Late"
Frontman and band mastermind Ronnie Radke gleefully tears up the rulebook and flushes the pieces down the toilet, calling out his "haters" on this truly unique, utterly original, foulmouthed and frequently hilarious fusion of electro, metalcore and gangsta rap.
6. "Breakaway" by Celine Dion, from the album "Loved Me Back to Life"
The Québecoise pop diva with the voice once described as "like an iron fist in a velvet glove" blasts back with her best song in more than a decade, a heart-wrenching ode to self-doubt and longed-for emancipation.
7. "Alchemist" by Acidman, from the album "Shinsekai"
The enduring Saitama indie rockers turn in this absolutely gorgeous, transcendent anthem inspired by Paulo Coelho's allegorical novel of the same name.
8. "Xanadu" by Screw, from their self-titled album
Major debut single from the dark-hued, hard-rocking visual band who this year were finally and justly rewarded with a ticket to the big time after four underground albums.
9. "Gunshotta" by Machinedrum, from the album "Vapor City"
American-born Berliner Travis Stewart is at the absolute bleeding edge of electronic music with this ultra-futuristic "slowfast" mélange of jungle, ragga and RnB.
10. "Uns Gehört die Nacht" ("The Night Belongs to Us") by Blutengel, from the album "Monument"
The vampire-obsessed Berliners tear up the floor with this almost impossibly epic, 80s-influenced futurepop anthem.
11. "I Wanna Be a Warhol" by Alkaline Trio, from the album "My Shame Is True"
Thrilling return to form from the gothic pop-punk heroes, a yearning paean to obsession with a chorus that unfortunately, and highly amusingly, sounds like "I wanna be a warthog".
12. "First Sight" by The Devil Wears Prada, from the album "8:18"
Ensuring that metalcore remains relevant in the 21st century, the Ohioan quintet show why they are the best band in the scene today with this gut-ripping yet melodic display of aggression.
13. "Passion Theme" by Pino Donaggio, from the album "Passion"
Giallo veteran Donaggio's stunningly gorgeous orchestral score for campmeister Brian de Palma's latest lurid straight-to-video shocker is one of the best things about the movie.
14. "Teeny-Tiny Star" by Baroque, from the album "Non-Fiction"
The seminal oshare band sometimes known as Kannivalism return after a eight-year hiatus with this effervescent, life-affirming nugget guaranteed to plaster a smile on any face.
15. "Seasons" by Div, from the album "Zero One"
The young Tokyo quintet demonstrate why they are the best oshare act in the scene right now with this incredibly lush, openhearted, instant pop-rock classic.
16. "Vanilla" by Haruka to Miyuki, from the album "Cyanotype"
An astonishing, incendiary racket made by two tiny Japanese girls with childlike voices who look about fifteen but who clearly have old, world-weary souls.
17. "Taigh an Uillt" ("Taynuilt") by Joy Dunlop, from the album "Faileasan"
This love letter to the Argyllshire town of Taynuilt and its people, complete with Disneyesque interludes of flute and violin, is stirring, stunning, preposterously beautiful – music to stand atop a mountain to, arms outstretched. Were there any justice, this would have been the theme song from "Brave".
Monday, 18 November 2013
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Monday, 19 August 2013
Gotcharocka is the new band of Jui, erstwhile frontman of the sorely lamented Vidoll - one of the best VK bands of the last decade, if not of all time. After a quickly tossed-off contractual-obligation solo album, he's back on an indie (God Child Records, the label run by Asagi of D) and has teamed up with guitarist Jun, formerly of Spiv States, for an album of catchy light rock with both funky and heavy moments. Jui, ever the Casanova, is in full swing here with his usual slightly dirty, pervy lyrics (see "Qtie" and "Virginity"). Thanks in part to his unique voice, and to some similarity in the musical style, this does sound quite a lot like Vidoll, but it's rather more self-consciously classicist; Jun has obviously got a bit of a guitar god thing going on, and there's a distinct classical influence in some of the lead guitar work, with recycled baroque melodies. On the whole it's a really good album with some great riffs and loads of singalongable choruses. Two thumbs up.
Friday, 16 August 2013
Watched Passion the other night, Brian De Palma's lurid new straight-to-video shocker starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as advertising executives whose bitchy rivalry escalates into murder. Based on the recent French film Crime d'Amour, it's absolutely vintage De Palma as he uses every cinematic trick in the book from his 70s and 80s heyday - dream sequences, weird camera angles, funky lighting, even split screen! - to confuse and confound the audience as to what is really going on. The dialogue is terrible, the acting hammy, the plot ludicrous, the ending a confused and muddled mess, and you can see the twist coming from a mile off - I loved it. The two leads are both terrific fun, and Pino Donaggio's haunting, beautiful score is simply the icing on the cake. It doesn't stand up with the best of this great director's work, but should certainly please his fans. One and a half thumbs up.
Went to see Only God Forgives this evening - my goodness, what a film. It's sure not going to be for everyone - the Gosling fangirls in the row in front were baffled - but if you're a lover of the art of film, you will love this, because it's basically an exercise in pure cinema. I can put it no better than The Guardian's film critic, who, giving the film one of its few positive reviews, said "each scene is executed with pure formal brilliance". You could write the plot on the back of a postage stamp, but this is not about the plot. Dark, mysterious, extremely minimalist, incredibly stylized and exceedingly violent, it has the fingerprints of David Lynch all over it. It also reminded me of Blade Runner, for some weird reason. At times, it even feels a bit like a spaghetti western mysteriously transposed to Bangkok. It's almost worth seeing for Kristin Scott Thomas's searing performance alone, as Gosling's monstrous, domineering mother. Vithaya Pansringarm, previously unknown in the West, is also superb as the chillingly impassive antagonist. Naturally, the lighting, design, and cinematography (by Larry Smith, who shot Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut) are all impeccable. Cliff Martinez's roiling electronic score provides the film with a lot of its atmosphere and is also highly to be commended. All in all, love it or hate it, this is not a film you will forget in a hurry. Two bloody thumbs up.
Sunday, 11 August 2013
Mark arrives in New York, naive and full of enthusiasm, to study drama, and falls for Stephanie, a gorgeous waitress wiser than her years, who seems to hide an enigmatic secret. After a shocking incident at the theatre, Mark encounters Stephanie once again and is drawn into a strange and dangerous world of costumed vigilantes with mysterious powers, that will change his life irrevocably. As dread forces converge on the city, will his romance with Stephanie survive - and will he?
(c) John D. Buchanan 2013
In a future where cybernetic technologies are strictly regulated by the state, The Church of Might is a powerful lobbying group, able to use its privileged status as a religious organization to provide nanotech implants to its congregation. With two of the church's most powerful leaders standing for re-election, a trio of its senior figures - a beautiful heiress, an artistic loner and a reformed career criminal - agree to put aside their enmities, forming an uneasy alliance with the aim of unseating the pair. As a high-stakes, cut-throat game of political power plays, manipulation and double-dealing ensues where nothing - not even murder - is off the cards, the lines are blurred, all bets are off and it's anyone's guess just how far the three will go to achieve their aims - and whether, ultimately, they can even trust one another.
(c) John D. Buchanan 2013
Friday, 9 August 2013
Marcel Fengler is a resident DJ at Berghain, the Berlin club that has come to embody 21st-century techno, and this is his debut album for the club's in-house label Ostgut Ton. Those expecting a monolithic platter of the label's usual nosebleed techno will be disappointed, however. That said, this is a really good album that incorporates all sorts of electronic music styles. Yes, there is techno, but the influence of minimal, house, ambient, dub and even acid are all apparent. It's a much lighter, warmer, more inviting album than we usually get from the label, which in this case is a really good thing. Two thumbs up.
Thursday, 8 August 2013
Went to the Old Vic the other night to see Tennessee Williams' late shocker Sweet Bird of Youth, starring none other than Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall as Alexandra del Lago. I'd never seen this before, though I've seen a couple other of Williams' classics. I'd forgotten just what melodramatic and over-the-top potboilers they are, and this one is no exception - indeed it might even be one of his most extreme. It's really good, though, and very funny, with some superbly caustic one-liners and moments of almost slapstick comedy. The whole thing actually teeters on the edge of farce, but is prevented from going there by the wonderfully dank, humid, Southern Gothic atmosphere that Williams does so well. I'm aware of Kim Cattrall's reputation as an actress but I'm not sure I've ever actually seen her in anything before. Here she is a revelation, brilliantly portraying a used-up, broken woman who's only kept going by the memories of her past glories. Playing opposite her is young American Seth Numrich, who has really divided the critics. I thought he was great. All the principals were good, in fact - this kind of stuff works best if you really ham it up, and they fair chew up the scenery. The production design, music and sound are all excellent too and really help to enhance the atmosphere of the piece. Well worth catching. Two thumbs up.
I was shocked and very saddened to read in the paper this evening about the death of Sussie Ahlburg, a wonderfully talented photographer who inexplicably drowned earlier this week, aged just 50, in the Hampstead Ladies' Pond. Ahlburg was primarily a portrait photographer, and shot many beautiful album covers and promotional images for major-label classical musicians. I first became aware of her work when I saw the stunning and radiant portraits she shot of my friend, the pianist Christina Lawrie. After that, working with classical music, I started to see her work everywhere and became a great admirer of it. Her portraits have a wonderful sense of intrigue, and often wit, with a masterful use of light. Her death at such a relatively young age has robbed the world of photography of a major talent.
After going to the movies I decided to hit the new London branch of American burger chain Shake Shack, which was salivated over by foodies when it opened a month or so ago. After a long queue (I probably waited half an hour in total for my food) I walked into the high-tech serving area where I was assaulted by painfully loud rock music. Once my order was taken I went to find a table, clutching a buzzer with my order number on it, which vibrated and flashed when my food was ready to pick up from the window - quite a cool system. And the food itself? The "Smokeshack" burger, with bacon and chillies, was really delicious - you can tell it's made with proper high-quality beef - and the bun, made partly with potato flour, was wonderfully squidgy. It did feel a bit small though, despite supposedly being a quarter pounder.The crinkle-cut fries were superbly crispy and salty. The pièce de resistance, though, was the shake - they're the company's main thing, hence the name. Basically, imagine drinking about half a pint of partially melted, extremely high quality strawberry ice cream. The only downside, really, is the price - this meal set me back over £13. Overall, I'd say it's very good, if not quite worth what you pay for it. One and a half thumbs up.
Wednesday, 7 August 2013
So I went to see Breathe In yesterday evening and I really loved it. It's the latest feature by Drake Doremus, who made Like Crazy, a fan favourite that starred Felicity Jones, who also appears in this film. Some people who loved that film have taken issue with this one; I haven't seen it, so I went into this with no real preconceptions. I thought it was a very well-made film indeed - ostensibly a slow-burning indie drama, it becomes so much more, really ratcheting up the tension into melodrama without ever becoming ridiculous. Some people have complained that it's a film where nothing really happens; personally, I felt this was one of its major strengths. In fact, one of the best things about it is how real it seems; all of the characters, their actions and their motivations feel really authentic. Most of all, though, it's a love letter to music and to the creative impulse. If you're a musician - especially a failed one - you'll love this movie. Dustin O'Halloran's score is simply gorgeous and complements the action wonderfully. Shot in lots of muted hues of blue, it's also a stunningly beautiful film to look at, albeit with a slight over-reliance on shakycam. The whole cast is great - it's a subtle film that requires them to do a lot of acting with just their eyes, and they do it very well. The two leads are especially good. I've seen Guy Pearce in a couple of other things before, but I haven't seen Felicity Jones in anything else. Beautiful and talented, she's surely a young lady with a very bright future ahead of her, and I'll wager you'll see the director's name in lights before too long as well. Two thumbs up.
Tuesday, 6 August 2013
If you had told me only a month ago that not only would I go to a musical theatre production, but would enjoy it so much that I would actually consider going again, I would have laughed in your face - but that's exactly what happened when I went to see Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" the other week. My only previous experience with musical theatre was the execrable "Starlight Express", the nadir of Andrew Lloyd Webber's career, which understandably put me off for years, but I'm so glad I was persuaded to go and see this. "Merrily" is the story of successful movie producer Frank, who seemingly has everything but who hates his life because he's sacrificed his integrity and his friendships to get to the top. It starts at the end and moves backwards through time, revealing the decisions that have got him where he is today, ending at the beginning with him naive and full of enthusiasm. The result is almost unbearably poignant. Make no mistake, this is an absolutely superb work of proper grown-up adult entertainment. It's everything that musical theatre should be and so often, sadly, is not. There are no glib clichés, no trite nonsense, no green witches or singing lions - just a wonderfully well-conceived story with fantastic music that actually drives the plot along. It all feels heartbreakingly real, which I think is just about the highest compliment you can pay a musical. Two gigantic thumbs up.
Friday, 26 July 2013
Went to Yori on Panton Street the other night, a funky Korean barbecue place which also does Japanese. We started with some edamame, which could have been saltier, and some gyoza-esque dumplings which were really nice. Then we had kimchee rice with fried egg, which was pronounced very good, if rather subtle (apparently common in Korean food), and a spicy seafood noodle soup which was also enjoyed. My tempura prawn noodle soup was lovely, a simple, clear, quite fishy stock with nice fat noodles. The prawns were delicious, although there were only two (they were quite large, but another couple would have been welcome), and being in the soup made the batter go squishy. We were going to the theatre so only had about 45 minutes, so decided to skip the barbecue, where they bring you raw meat and you cook it yourself on a hotplate built into your table, but it looks really interesting so I definitely want to come back and try it - not least because, with our Taste Card,the whole lot, including service, came in at only 35 quid. Two thumbs up.
Tried the new McDonald's Mediterranean Chicken burger today. It comes in a herby focaccia bun with lettuce, American cheese, roasted peppers and a spicy tomato sauce. The burger itself is nice - it's the same burger they use in the BCO (Bacon, Chicken & Onion), nice breast meat in really crunchy crumb - but it's let down quite badly by the sauce, of which there is far too much, and which is bright orange with a faintly artificial, slightly acrid flavour. It reminded me of nothing so much as Homepride pasta bake sauce. Also, I don't feel there's any room for roasted peppers in a burger. Overall, a not unpleasant experience, but somewhat disappointingly less than the sum of its parts. One thumb up.
I deactivated my Facebook account earlier this week and am now going to share my thoughts on the stuff I like with everyone, not just my friends! I'm going to focus primarily on the entertainment I experience - music, movies, theatre, TV shows, books, food - and I want to try and cover as much as possible, so posts are going to be short, sweet and to the point, and I'm going to rate things using Siskel & Ebert's famous "two thumbs up" system. Get prepared for a barrage of posts about cool stuff.
Monday, 11 March 2013
1. Isobel Ann Martin – "Làmh a’ Bhuachaille" ("The Herdsman’s Hand"), from the album "Duslach is Òr"
An exquisitely beautiful love song from one of Gaelic music's brightest young stars, who won the coveted gold medal at the Royal National Mòd on her very first attempt aged just 18, and whose voice is (whisper it) arguably as beautiful as Julie Fowlis's.
2. The Cranberries – "Tomorrow", from the album "Roses"
After more than a decade in the wilderness, the Irish indie-pop legends blast back with their best album in years and one of their greatest ever songs in the shape of this stunning slab of prime 90s-style college rock.
3. L’Âme Immortelle – "Absolution", from the album "Momente"
Austrian electro-industrial Vordenker Thomas Rainer returns to the cult band in which he made his name, bringing with him some of the club-ready darkness of his side-project Nachtmahr.
4. Shed – "I Come by Night", from the album "The Killer"
Awesome track from Berlin techno maven Rene Pawlowitz, which builds up slowly from a tribal shuffle to an out-and-out club smasher replete with blaring "foghorn" synth stabs. Play LOUD for maximum dancefloor devastation!
5. Piko – "Online", from the album "2Piko"
Stunningly gorgeous and romantic electro-pop from the lad with the astonishing three-and-a-half octave range (yes, that is a man singing, believe it or not).
6. TK – "Haze", from the album "Flowering"
This anthemic, tumbling rock number from Toru Kitajima, helium-voiced frontman of cult Japanese math-rockers Ling Tosite Sigure, is somehow simultaneously melancholic and uplifting.
7. Dolly – "Koushoku no Kanaria" ("Rainbow Canary"), from the album "Träumerei"
Dance your cares away under the disco ball to this fantastically catchy, propulsive oshare hit.
8. Delain – "Hit Me with Your Best Shot", from the album "We Are the Others"
From in front of 80s-inspired Dutch gothic metal band Delain, flame-haired siren Lotte Wessels calls out her haters with this sardonic missive.
9. The Ghost Inside – "White Light", from the album "Get What You Give"
Frontman Jonathan Vigil literally roars his heart out on this spine-chilling tribute to his fallen brother, which features one of hardcore’s most sing-along-able choruses ever.
10. Plastic Tree – "Joumyaku" ("Vein"), from the album "Ink"
Celebrating their 15th anniversary, the best band in the world whom you've never heard of turn in this staggering chunk of rough-hewn alt-rock goodness.
11. Grendel – "Timewave: Zero", from the album of the same name
Absolutely colossal, apocalyptic industro-trance from the Dutch dark electro soldiers, still filling dancefloors after nearly a decade in the game.
12. Cali Gari – "Anchuu Roman" ("Covert Romance"), from the album "11"
Crack out your dancing shoes for this superb homage to the 80s from the originators of "erotic grotesque".
13. Mix Speaker's, Inc. – "Promise", from the album "Hoshifuru Yuuenchi"
A beautiful, epic power ballad from the crazily costumed concept band, from their best and most serious album to date.
14. Heimataerde – "Allein" ("Alone"), from the album "Gottgleich"
Take a trip to the dark heart of mediaeval Europe with Ashlar von Megalon and his undead Templar knights, who here turn in the best thing they have committed to tape since their unsurpassable masterpiece "Vater".
15. Hans Zimmer – "Rise", from the album "The Dark Knight Rises"
Zimmer outdoes himself with this stunning musical conclusion to Christopher Nolan's brilliant Batman trilogy, simultaneously epic, awe-inspiring and profoundly moving.
16. Simone Dinnerstein – "Impromptu No.3 in G Flat Minor, Op.90" by Franz Schubert, from the album "Something Almost Being Said"
Its transcendent, aching beauty undimmed by almost two centuries, this late piece from the Austrian maestro is here lovingly unfurled by American Simone Dinnerstein, who launched herself to stardom with a self-financed album of Bach’s "Goldberg Variations".