Monday, 30 August 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up: Four Lions

Another good bunch of British releases this week is topped off by Chris Morris' Four Lions, a black comedy about four would-be Jihadist terrorists. It's clearly a controversial subject for a film, particularly a comedy, but Chris Morris is no stranger to edgy comedy. Previous sketches on The Day Today and Brass Eye have touched on war, drug use, animal rights and famously, paedophilia, so terrorism was the logical next step.

Morris walks the line very cleverly, creating a funny film, with a serious point about the absurdity of Muslim extremism, which carries the viewer through to its ending, which is genuinely poignant. When Omar and his pals, the gullible Waj (played by Fonejacker Kayvan Novak), Faisal and Barry (a recent, and zealous convert to Islam), set out to bring judgement down upon the decadent West, they soon find out that planning and executing their atrocity isn't as easy as it looks on TV. Whether it's the farce of recording their Jihad video, or considering the possibility of exploding birds as weapons.

Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

Katy Perry is back - and it's about time. Teenage Dream follows what feels like a lifetime without the powerhouse of bubblegum pop that is Katy Perry. So how, when she seems to have been in our lives (and our glossies) forever, is this only the first proper follow-up to One of the Boys?

Either way, with the exception of a couple of 'featuring' special appearances, this is the first proper chance to find out if KP can follow up on her earlier success, or whether it was just beginners' luck. I'm a fan - I won't try to deny it - so my hopes are high for this one. Let's sit back and find out how she's done second time around the block - read on for the highs, the lows, and the final tally.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

John Mellencamp - No Better Than This

John Mellencamp, who turns 59 later this year, has been making this brand of American country-blues-tinged rock music since the mid seventies. In 2008 he was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where he joined some of his major influences, the likes of Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, as well as contemporaries like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. The only question is why did it take them so long to recognise him? Anyway, the point is Mellencamp has pedigree. And he has nothing left to prove.

With that in mind, perhaps, he's released No Better Than This, an album of new material recorded as live, using all vintage gear, and with little or no post-production. The story of the album, then, is as much about its recording as it is its music; the album is a statement (from a lesser man it could be a called gimmick). But don't worry on that front. Mellencamp's songwriting talent shows no absolutely signs of diminishing. The result is an absolutely timeless album. No Better Than This could literally have been recorded at any time in the last 60 years, and in any era it would have been received as a triumph.

Monday, 23 August 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up: Going Postal

I'm finding it hard to pick a release of the week on DVD or Blu-ray this time around. As far as movie releases go it's a very underwhelming week indeed. Lebanon is an interesting indie flick, and Dear John is a half-decent weepy, while Jude Law continues his dodgy choice of roles starring in the sci-fi oddity that is Repo Men. Nothing that stands out though, so I'll have to turn to the TV releases instead.

Plenty to choose from on that front, but, because I like to champion quality British releases, I'll have to plump for the adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, which aired on Sky back in May of this year. As usual with these things there's a cast of familiar faces, rather than superstar names. Richard Coyle takes up the lead role as Moist von Lipwig, a small-time confidence trickster whose unusual punishment is to be made Postmaster of Ankh-Morpork, and charged with reviving the city's defunct Postal Service. There are parts along the way for Great British institutions such as David Suchet, Andrew Sachs and Charles Dance, as well as newer stars like Tamsin Greig and League of Gentlemen's Steve Pemberton.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Little Fish - Baffled And Beat

I've been listening to Little Fish's debut album Baffled And Beat for a little while now, and I'm beginning to lose track of time. I mean, is it 2001 again or what? Little Fish are a two piece, male/female, guitar/drums garage rock duo, I think I've heard this one before. They even seem to have a red and white theme going on on this album.

Little Fish aren't the White Stripes though, and here's how you can tell: they aren't very good. They get nowhere near the musical invention, creativity or sheer scale of their American cousins, and despite their US influences they don't have the same down-home folksy Americana charm either.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden's The Final Frontier hits the ground not only running, but kicking and screaming. Ten tracks of pure adrenaline are simply guaranteed to please fans - and if you've never owned any Maiden, why not start now, so you don't feel out of place among other people who just call them Maiden? Enough people will be talking about this album for some time to come that you could probably blag your way to a status as a 'proper fan' without actually knowing any of Maiden's previous work.

If you do already own everything that's come before, and you're wondering whether this can possibly live up to it - well, you don't get to be one of the world's greatest rock groups by a single half-decent effort. Maiden continue to put the Iron in Metal (see what I did there? You can have that one for the pub...) and are well deserving of support from all comers - new or old. Read on for my personal picks of the best tracks, and the final verdict.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Chali 2na - Fish Market 2

Fish Market 2 is, unsurprisingly, the follow up to 2009's Fish Market, from ex-Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli member Chali 2na. It's the bass-voiced emcee's third solo LP, and Fish Market 2 is a sprawling 22 track tapestry, mixing up club bangers, with some jazzier J5-sounding cuts and even a dancehall track. There's also few skits chucked in for good measure, but (as usual with skits) they don't add much.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Sky Larkin - Kaleide

Leeds trio Sky Larkin's second album builds nicely on the potential they showed on 2009's The Golden Spike. Kaleide is an impressive collection of 12 livewire tracks full of rhythmic, barrelling guitars, raw drums and cymbal crashes. The obligatory comparison here is with Sleater-Kinney's accessible, and intelligent post-punk, and the similarities go beyond Katie Harkin's vocals. Sky Larkin have that same edge to their music that makes it feel both relevant and classic.

I always had a problem with Sleater-Kinney though, they were forgettable. I always enjoyed listening to them, but in between listens I would completely forget they existed. It's not their fault, it's my mental block, but I just hope the same doesn't happen with Sky Larkin because on this showing they are a band worth remembering.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Larsen B - Musketeer

Larsen B are named after an Antarctic ice sheet - and that just about sums up the style of their music. We're talking properly chilled out, laid back tunes. Tambourines. It should all be horribly outdated - it's of a genre that belongs, truly, to the millenial years of 1999-2002. But it's somehow not dated. There's something fresh there that I can't quite put my finger on.

While its official release date may have been early July, I think Musketeer has a good chance of going mass-market with its new release on Amazon this week. If you prefer digital downloads, it's also available on iTunes. Personally I'm always a fan of having the thing to hold - and the album art looks pretty sweet, too. However, there are a couple of tracks worth mentioning on their own...

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up - The Infidel

The Infidel is top of the pile this week, a light-hearted and enjoyable British comedy written by David Baddiel. It stars Omid Djalili as Mahmud Nasir a semi-observant British Muslim of Pakistani least that’s what he believes himself to be as the action gets under way. He soon discovers that he was adopted as a child though, and intrigued to discover his true parentage, he toddles off to the town hall to find out. After a heated encounter with the ubiquitous Miranda Hart, Mahmud is told that he was born to Jewish parents. What ensues is really, a comedy of manners, as Mahmud struggles to live up to both his Jewish heritage, and the Muslim life he has been living.

The subject matter could easily have been controversial, indeed it could have been played deliberately to reach for controversy, but that isn’t Baddiel’s style. Instead, we are taken through a knockabout romp, which never feels forced and doesn’t rely (too much) on one-deminsional stereotypes. Djalili is an endearing screen presence, and the cameos from various other British comedy stars are pleasing.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Wavves - King of the Beach

After my review of Best Coast's Crazy For You earlier in the week, it only seems fair that I give Wavves' new release a chance as well. Wavves, aka Nathan Williams and Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino are the indie sweethearts of 2010, enjoying a very public, and very loved up, relationship. They also both had albums released this week, going head-to-head in the charts. And as I mentioned in the last review, Crazy For You is winning that little contest with ease.

I've never been one to place much importance on record sales though, selling a million records is hardly a reliable measure of an album's value after all. So Wavves' King Of The Beach gets a fair crack of the whip from me, and a chance to get one over on the missus by beating her Popsiculture score of 60%. Yeah, that will make up for disappointing sales, right?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Best Coast - Crazy For You

Best Coast are an indie-pop girl group who make the kind of sun-drenched, hook-laden pop music that could only come from California. Lead singer Bethany Cosentino is also the current squeeze of Wavves' Nathan Williams, whose second album King Of The Beach is going head to head with Best Coast's debut Crazy For You as both were released this week. According to all the charts I've seen up til now, Bethany is outselling him indoors by some distance, which I like to imagine is adding some frisson to that relationship.

So what can I say about Crazy For You? The music is all fuzzy, jangling guitars and bright melodies, but the star of the show is Cosentino's vocal performance. Always featured high in the mix, Bethany sings in an innocent, girlish style repeating the simplest of mantras over and over ("I wish he was my boyfriend", "I want you so much" etc.) like a spoiled Veruca Salt type who won't stop until she gets what she wants.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

John Fogerty - Centerfield - 25th Anniversary

With all the 25th anniversary releases out this summer, it's tempting to look back on 1985 as the pinnacle of good music. Which is somewhat at odds with the reputation the 80s has most of the time. Here, John Fogerty's Centerfield is dusted off and given a two-track boost to create a new release which, but for the last two songs, is the same as the original - but then, that's the point.

This is good old-fashioned country blues from the Creedence Clearwater Revival singer, songwriter and guitarist. Drums and steel-stringed guitar, sax and vocals, recorded in such a way that you can almost picture the band sat on a stage, rather than in a recording studio. It's pretty close to live music, in many ways.

Monday, 2 August 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up - Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island grabs the coveted POPSICULTURE DVD and Blu-ray Release of the Week(TM) this week. It's okay Marty, you don't have to come over to pick up the award. The thriller starring Leo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo divided opinion at the time of its cinema release, seen by some as a glorified B-movie unworthy of its director, and by others as a chilling psychological masterpiece.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. Shutter Island a slow-slow-fast movie, full of lingering suspenseful scenes, interspersed with the occasional burst of action to keep you on your toes. DiCaprio and Ruffalo play charmingly named US Marshals, Teddy and Chuck, who are sent to the eponymous island to investigate mysterious goings on at a hospital for the criminally insane. It’s hard to get away from the B-movie connotations in that plot, but there are enough twists and turns throughout the two-hour running time to hold our attention. Suffice to say nothing, and no one, on the island is what it seems.