Still Ill
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Amos Barshad of Grantland has written a fitting tribute to Ill Communication upon the occasion of its twentieth anniversary (yes, I feel old). It's a terrific reminder--just in case you needed one--that the Beastie Boys were really, really good.


No World But This One
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I just re-watched 12 Years a Slave for the first time since seeing it in the theatre last year, and was struck by certain commonalities that it shares with The Thin Red Line. First, one key, if necessarily secondary, element of the film is the profound and seemingly irreconcilable contrast between the beauty and serenity of the natural landscape (the brilliant oranges and pinks of the bayou sunsets, as glimpsed through the branches of the willow and poplar trees, are a notably Malickian flourish) and the terrible violence done by man within/against said landscape. This aspect McQueen's film arguably shares with much of Malick's oeuvre, not just The Thin Red Line, but where 12 Years... recalls, in particular, TTRL is in its restrained, purposeful use of movie stars and recognizable up-and-comers. A third, if not more, of 12 Years... elapses before Fassbender and Lupita N'yongo (not a star at the time of the film's production or release, but one now, to be sure) appear onscreen. Benedict Cumberbatch, conversely, figures prominently early, but does not return to the narrative. Paul Giamatti's part seems most comparable to Travolta's early appearance in TTRL, and Brad Pitt (reserved for a couple memorably strong moments near the end of the film) functions similarly here to Clooney's late cameo in TTRL. Rather than distracting from the power of the picture in either case, or reminding the audience that it's "just a movie," these familiar faces making their entrances and exits on cue seems to serve as an appropriate reminder that--as Jonathan Rosenbaum noted of the coda to Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry--it's also a movie, a point that underscores the distinctive, peculiar power of cinema as a narrative medium.


Where the Girls Are
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Tove Lo, "Habits" So, Teresa and I were just talking the other day about the mid-'90's heyday of interesting female rockers--PJ Harvey, Sleater-Kinney, Liz Phair, Hole, Bjork, Bikini Kill, The Breeders, the list goes on and on--and how that moment had passed. Some of these artists maintain careers, and a few still put out strong albums, but ca. 1995 or so, they were able to couple critical praise with a substantial larger-cultural presence in a way that seems unlikely to recur in the YouTube era. Yet, there may be flickers of promise on the radar screen: Marina and the Diamonds, Grimes, Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey, Lorde, veterans-by-this-point Tegan and Sara, and now Tove Lo may be a less varied and less formidable roster than the one mentioned above, but we take what we can get. To call it a "movement" or a "scene" seems inappropriate in these digitally disconnected times, even if some of the above artists have co-Instragram'd on occasion; how about, then, the already Web-appropriated "fad"? Dark Girl Pop? Les Femmes de Urban Outfitters? Let's think on it. For now, let it be known that "Habits" is one of the best products yet of this materializing sound--better than "Royals" was even before we all got sick of it, up on the top shelf with Grimes' "Oblivion," LDR's "Video Games" (still the best thing she's done) and the better half of Marina's Electra Heart. The official remix isn't half bad either.

Shakira feat. Rihanna,"Can't Remember to Forget You" Shakira and Rihanna are, of course, neither one part of any such scene/fad/sound, even if they, at times, borrow pragmatically from its more useful aesthetic tools. Rihanna is as massive as stars come these days, thanks in no small part to the fact that her ascent to fame just slightly predated the total Internet-ization of the now (consequently) profoundly fractured pop landscape. Shakira, meanwhile, was already multi-platino back when Rihanna and Tove Lo were in the early grades of elementary school, somewhere in Barbados and Sweden, respectively. This generational factoid might render the "Can't Remember to Forget You" video a tad bit creepier, but, hey, everyone (including pre-Twitter megastars) needs the hits these days. This one's at 275 million and counting, so mission accomplished. But it didn't mean the song necessarily needed to be any good, and in fact, these megastar duets typically turn out lukewarm--see, e.g., Shakira's collaboration with Beyonce, the merely okay "Beautiful Liar." "Can't Remember To Forget You" would warrant inclusion on either artist's best-of collection, which is not faint praise; it actually kind of rocks, as evinced by the video's least salacious shots: Shakira, alternately, strumming an electric guitar and banging on some drums.

Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, "Fancy" Speaking of memorable videos (see above) and the 90s (see above), here is an affectionate, extended homage to Clueless, a movie that, as Lena Dunham recently attested, was nothing short of definitive for her generation. Iggy and Charli would have only been five and three years-old, respectively, when Amy Heckerling's instant classic was in theatres, but one suspects they inherited well-worn VHS copies from older siblings or friends. In "Fancy," they make for a credible Cher and Tai, prompting one to wish they'd enlisted a third artist--Nicki Minaj perhaps?--to play Dionne. It might've necessitated adding another minute or two to the song, which would be fine, really--it's at least as catchy as it is dumb. Maybe catchier.

Avril Lavigne, "Hello Kitty" Last but not least, the weirdest objet d'art to pop up in some time. It's not that any single element of "Hello Kitty" would be weird on its own: the punky guitars would be pro forma on any number of other Avril tracks, the flirting-with-EDM "drop" is now nearly perfunctory for fading pop stars clawing for continued relevance, and the rabid Japanophilia is Gwen Stefani's one-time bread-and-butter. Put it all together, though, and some considerable oddness ensues. The video is rather too obvious and tired in its cultural appropriation; listen to the song sans visuals, in order to fully appreciate its amiable peculiarity. Without Avril's version of the Harajuku Girls in tow, the song's about-nothingness is more readily apparent and more interesting as such. I quote: "Come, come kitty kitty / You're so pretty, pretty / Don't go kitty / Stay with me [pronounced 'meh'] / ka-ka-kawaii [rough translation: 'cute']." For an artist whose back-catalogue is comprised mainly of pseudo-confessionals about, like, feelings and boys, this is nothing less than a triumph of non-content.