reviews

My 20 favorite albums of 2017

1. American Dream – LCD Soundsystem

From the first time I heard it (when it was released Sept. 1) to the last time (about 10 minutes before writing this), American Dream was my favorite album of the year. It’s rare I like something that much on first listen without getting sick of it, and coming from LCD Soundsystem, who’s albums and songs typically go on for a bit too long, this is easily their most concise and accessible. From the opener “oh baby”, a classic LCD Soundsystem slow-build track, through “tonight,” a classic dance-punk anthem, and the pulp-inspired single ‘call the police,” to the 12 minute electronic ballad that closes the album out, there isn’t a sour moment.

2. A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs

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“Creed,” Surprisingly, has a Deft Touch

by Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

I’m as surprised to be writing this as you all are to be reading it, but, here goes: the umpteenth iteration of the “Rocky” series, in theaters now, is actually, (gulp), good, and–wait for it–Sylvester Stallone may be worthy of an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

Is this bizarro world? No, Ryan Coogler, director, Stallone, as an aged Rocky Balboa, naturally, Michael B. Jordan, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson Creed, and Tessa Thompson, Bianca, combine to make “Creed” a sincere, compelling drama.

Jordan’s Creed is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who battled Balboa so memorably in the original “Rocky” films, and, though he wants to make it on his own in boxing without using his father’s name, he does travel from California to Philadelphia to coax Balboa into training him. Balboa, wasting away in his restaurant, has been out of the fight game for years, but he feels compelled to assist the young lad when he discovers he’s Apollo Creed’s son. He goes about building a raw, angry, and talented young Creed into a legitimate contender, while the training pugilist falls in love with a neighbor, Bianca, a musician with progressive hearing loss.

The main characters are three-dimensional, and Coogler takes his time with the film, so their relationships develop organically according to their natures, not to serve plot contrivances.
I haven’t seen a performance this good and human from Stallone since his emotional role in 1997’s “Cop Land,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him nominated for an acting Oscar for only the second time in his career–the original “Rocky” was the other. Let’s face it, he’s mostly been an overgrown cartoon meathead in most of his films; one could certainly argue Stallone’s only legitimately good acting performances are in “Rocky,” “Cop Land,” and “Creed.” But, while Mark Twain told us politicians, prostitutes, and old buildings become respectable with age, we now may need to add Stallone to that list–he’s downright venerable in “Creed.” He underplays with aplomb, embodying heart, grief, and guilt. (more…)

Silverman Proves She’s No Clown in “I Smile Back”

by Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

With “I Smile Back,” Sarah Silverman joins the likes of Robin Williams and other standup comics who proved their alacrity with serious material in movies.

Laney (Silverman) is a despicable, self-loathing housewife who engages in repeated acts of debasement to punish herself for wrongdoing. Despite a devoted, loving husband, Bruce (Josh Charles), and two sweet children, Laney follows a spiral of self-destruction aided and abetted by drugs, alcohol, and adultery after she stops taking her prescribed Lithium.

The movie itself is a grim, harrowing tale of addiction and upper-middle class ennui, and it provides no real illumination. We’re led to believe Laney’s problems may stem at least in part from her father abandoning the family when she was nine; in the final act, she goes to see him for the first time since he left, discovering he has a wife and a young daughter. (more…)

Best Albums of 2014

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

your dead

Flying Lotus’ electronic-jazz-rap fusion album You’re Dead! is not your typical top album. It doesn’t have singles, catchy hooks, or even discernible lyrics. Instead, You’re Dead! creates an atmosphere. Most of the nineteen tracks are well under three minutes in length and run together, making the album more like one, long jazz odyssey instead of a bunch of different tunes.  There are some trippy moments here and there, a lot of funky sound effects and flashes of absolute beauty, like the best track “Never Catch Me.” Flying Lotus’ production matches up with Kendrick Lamar’s style and lyrics flawlessly and Lamar’s smooth, yet decisive flow alone is as captivating as the intricate drumming behind him.  You normally don’t get a build from start to finish that’s as dramatic and ever changing on a hip-hop record.

run the jewels 2
The second installment from the duo of Killer Mike and El-P was the best hip-hop album of 2014, and it really wasn’t even close.  Both guys have great chemistry.  Listening to them play off each-other rhymes is like watching a chess match between two good friend that know the other’s next move.  The verses constantly get more creative, the references more obscure and the content more vulgar. Run The Jewels 2 is more brash and relentless than their first album, and although it does lack some diversity, it’s fun, concise and loud enough to keep your attention with ease. (more…)

“The Night Before” Supplies Impudent Laughs Before Lapsing into Traditional Christmas Sentiment

by Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

“The Night Before,” now in theaters, is very funny for much of its running time before undercutting its own subversiveness with a traditional, cliched, happy ending.

But, before reaching its treacly conclusion, “The Night Before” threatens to join dark, irreverent holiday classics like “Bad Santa.”

The parents of Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) both are killed in a car accident when he’s a teenager, but his best friends, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), ride to his rescue by taking him out for an evening of debauchery to take his mind off the tragedy and prevent Christmas from being ruined for him. Naturally, it becomes a tradition, as the three venture out in New York City every Christmas Eve for misrule that would make Caligula blush.

Alas, 14 years after their first Christmas Eve of merriment, the tradition is set to end, as two of the three grow into adulthood and responsibility. Isaac and his wife are about to have a baby, and Chris has become a major football star (with the aid of steroids). They no longer wish to engage in the risque ritual, even though Ethan remains in a state of arrested development–he’s just lost the love of his life because he refused to meet her parents, he’s a penniless singer/songwriter who makes music no one ever hears, and Chris and Isaac remain his only real family.

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