Archive for 2009|Yearly archive page

Have You Heard Of: Florence + the Machine

In Great Britain on November 25, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I must confess… I have fallen in love with a certain Florence and her Machine. I tried to resist, but it turns out the British press and listening public were correct in their crowning the act (essentially a moniker for Florence Welch) the Next…Big…Thing. Her unique brand of art-pop, equal parts soulful, theatrical, and ethereal, hit the indie world by storm and her debut album Lungs became a bona fide hit overseas (it reached #2 in her native UK and eventually went Platinum). She solidified her success by garnering an impressive number of award recognition, including a Mercury Prize nomination, a BRIT Award, and three Q Award nominations amongst others. It really is no surprise, though, that the album found such a rapturous reception with both professional critics and the average music fan; her songs are swelling gale forces of musical emotion, while simultaneously being extremely catchy and listenable. And her preoccupation with death and pain, her liberal use of Gothic imagery, and willingness to take risks set her apart from both the mainstream pop world and indie community.

Florence herself as said she draws inspiration from artists like Kate Bush, Bjork, and Tom Waits, while also incorporating influences from her childhood like jazz vocalists and opera. According to her official website, “the common thread [amongst her influences] is always the emotion” and it’s not hard to see that reflected in her own music; songs such as “Dog Days are Over”, “Kiss With a Fist”, and “Hurricane Drunk” are bursting at the seams with her passionate vocals and full-blown instrumentation.

Of course, when one is responsible for such a distinct and self-assured first album as Lungs a follow-up that at least matches the quality of its predecessor can often be a tall order. I really don’t think fans should be worried, though.


Nowhere Boy, dir. by Sam Taylor-Wood

In Great Britain on November 19, 2009 at 11:41 am

Nowhere Boy represents British multimedia conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s film directorial debut, and tells the story of a young man in the late ‘50s and his interest in the burgeoning rock scene of the time as well as his relationships with his mother and aunt. Of course this is no ordinary story, as the film’s main characters go by the names of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. 19 year-old actor Aaron Johnson (who is actually engaged to Taylor-Wood, 42 years his senior) portrays Lennon, the “Nowhere Boy” in question, while Thomas Sangster, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Anne-Marie Duff provide support as McCartney, Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, and his mother Julia respectively.

Based on a biography of Lennon’s adolescence by his half-sister Julia Baird, the film has already garnered considerable acclaim in it’s homeland; it was nominated for 6 British Independent Film Awards including Best Film, Best Actor for Johnson, and Best Supporting Actress for both Scott Thomas and Duff (the awards will be handed out December 6th). On a side note, electronica duo Goldfrapp is providing the score for the film. A must-see for every Beatles fan (and, let’s be honest, who isn’t?), the film opens in theaters in the UK on December 25th and will make its way stateside sometime next year.

Have You Heard Of: Disco Drive

In Italy on November 15, 2009 at 8:08 pm

It is no mystery that Italy has never been at the forefront of the modern indie rock scene; while they may be the peoples responsible for the Mona Lisa, gelato, the works of Fellini, and the discovery of the New World, they have yet to produce their own Arctic Monkeys. I know, ‘tis a tragedy of epic proportions. And yet, there may be hope on the horizon in the form of dance rock trio Disco Drive. The band has often been described as the Italian answer to the Klaxons, and their brand of punk funk fusion often brings that British foursome to mind. Disco Drive does have the ability to experiment now-and-again, with songs like the noise-drone “The Giant” (currently streaming on their MySpace) veering away from the majority of their tracks (which have the purpose of getting even the shyest of people on the dance floor).

With just two albums under their belt they’ve already played hundreds of shows throughout Europe (including the UK and Scandinavia) and have a strong fan base in their native country (they were nominated as one of the best live bands of 2005 by MTV Italy for example). Their tourmates include bands like Liars, !!!, Deerhoof, The Long Blondes, Hot Club de Paris, and the aformentioned Klaxons. They are definitely worth a listen, and are hopefully indicative of a growing indie rock force in the long-dormant Italy.

Baaria, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

In Italy on November 10, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Italy’s latest Oscar submission is Baaria, a film by acclaimed director Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso fame). It is a dramedy that examines Tornatore’s own hometown of Bagheria in Sicily by following a couple (played by Francesco Scianna and Margareth Made) from the 1920s until the present day. The film also stars Raoul Bova and Monica Bellucci (two names that should be more familiar to American audiences) and includes Tornatore’s trademark blend of wit, nostalgia, and sentimentality. In addition to being chosen as the national submission to next year’s Academy Awards, the film opened the 66th Venice Film Festival, where also won the Pasinetti Award and was nominated for the Golden Lion (the highest honor the festival bestows).

Here’s the full trailer, which actually shows a real cow being killed. It’s a split-second image, but it has apparently caused quite a stir in Italy over the unethical treatment of animals. Tornatore has made a statement saying that what was filmed was just an typical occurrence at the slaughterhouse in which they were shooting.

Have You Heard Of: La Melodia

In Netherlands on October 27, 2009 at 10:05 am

I know I just recently covered the Netherlands, but I’ve decided to make a return visit to highlight up-and-coming rap duo La Melodia. I saw them live at a global hip-hop showcase this past week at CMJ in New York City and loved their blend of old-school hip-hop, bossa nova, and soul. It was especially nice to see such a self-assured and spunky rapper in the form of MC Melodee since there seems to be a dearth of female rappers in the mainstream American rap scene.

Melodee and DJ/producer INT met and first started collaborating in the Dutch city of Eindhoven; they began by opening their own record store and taking a DIY approach to their musical career (this included making their own sound systems). After landing a European tour with Oh No, Wildchild and Percee P, they released their debut album Vibing High, first in Japan and eventually across Europe and the United States. Today they reside in the capital of Amsterdam and are currently working on completing their sophomore album which they hope to release by the end of the year.

After their performance at 92Y in TriBeCa, in which their setlist included both older songs and new, as-of-yet unreleased material, I decided to purchase Vibing High. I was definitely not disappointed; featuring 20 songs of warm, retro hip-hop it offers up a refreshing change of pace from the generic ringtone rap that tends to dominate stateside. Sonically it is far closer to Little Jackie than, say, Soulja Boy or DMX. With their laid-back rhymes and soulful beats, this is music for cruising through a city on a hot summer afternoon. I can’t recommend it enough, especially to fans of retro hip-hop.

Have You Heard Of: The Mondrians

In Switzerland on October 13, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Incorporating elements of garage rock, psychedelia, power pop, and good ol’ fashioned rock’n’roll, Swiss indie band The Mondrians first hit the music scene back in 2005 with the release of a set of homemade demo recordings called Pearl of the Lake. They followed this up with several more demos throughout the next couple of years and began their assault on mainland Europe, playing shows in Switzerland and France, before trekking across the English Channel to attempt to impress the notoriously tough British music press and audience. After doing just that the band journeyed to Spain in 2008 to begin work on their debut album with producer Gordon Raphael (The Strokes, Regina Spektor, Skin). After a little over a year of working on it, self-titled album was finally released to iTunes on September 30, 2009 and will be physically released in Europe on November 5.

Quirky album opener “Jesse James (the Gentle Borial of a Hero)” sounds like The Beatles circa The White Album, though with a modern twist. Other songs, such as “Reason to Live”, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, “So What for Candide”, are sonic soulmates to The Strokes. Still, they aren’t afraid to slow things down and go introspective; look to “Out of Bananas” and the eight-minute long album closer “Christmas On Your Windows” as evidence. Their debut clearly marks them as a band who knows exactly what sound they want and exactly what they’re doing. It’ll be interesting to see them evolve in the coming years, especially if they are able to find a fair amount of critical or commercial success either stateside of overseas.

Home, dir. by Ursula Meier

In Switzerland on October 13, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Home, Switzerland’s 2010 Oscar submission, tells the interesting story of one family whose unique way of life is threatened by the opening of a previously unused freeway by their house. The film stars legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert as the family matriarch, and Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet as her husband. The two characters preside over a seemingly idyllic and happy family of five, but the introduction of the freeway brings about cracks in the family structure in strange and unique ways. Reactions from those who have seen the film at various festivals, such as those at Cannes, San Francisco, and London, have largely been positive (it’s currently at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes); critics have noted its strong performances (particularly from Huppert), originality, and thematic ambition. It has also been deemed “a deeply disconcerting provocation about the future of civilization” (Empire), “as unsettling as it is sensual” (Daily Telegraph), “a nightmare metaphor for the horrors of the modern world” (Observer), and “one of the strangest horror films of recent years” (Sky Movies). It played the art house circuit in the US back in May, but as of yet does not have a DVD release date.

Theo van Gogh (1957-2004)

In Netherlands on October 6, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I’m going to take a slight detour from the norm this week and discuss the work of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, rather than a single upcoming film. And to answer your question, yes he is in fact related to famed painter Vincent (or as Theo would have called him, great-great-great uncle). With that out of the way, Van Gogh gained popularity in his native country through a series of unique, and oft-controversial, actor-driven films like 06 (1994), Blind Date (1996), and Interview (2003). The latter two have both been recently remade for American audiences, with actor Stanley Tucci both helming and starring in 2009’s Blind Date and Steve Buscemi doing the same for a 2007 version of Interview.

Van Gogh began a career as a newspaper columnist in the ‘80s, gaining prominence for his controversial attacks on actors, politicians, writers and others he associated with power and “the establishment”. A fierce atheist, he also turned his attention towards critiquing modern religion. In the ‘90s he began to focus on Islam, culminating in the 2004 short film Submission which was broadcast on Dutch public television. In the film four Muslim women deliver monologues that call attention to the misogyny and violent treatment of women found in various passages in the Qur’an (these are also written in ink all over their bodies). Though many applauded the film for asking tough questions about Islam and women’s rights, it caused outrage amongst the Muslim population. Both Van Gogh and screenwriter Ayaan Hirsi Ali faced numerous death threats following the film’s airing, and on November 2, 2004 he was brutally murdered in public by Mohammed Bouyer, a member of the Dutch terrorist cell the Hofstad Network. The aftermath of this tragedy was marked by attacks on mosques and Muslim schools, and further counterattacks on Christian churches. In the end, eleven other men were arrested for the conspiracy to also assassinate Hirsi Ali.

Whether or not you agree with Van Gogh’s politics or views, his tragic death should stand as a reminder of the affront of free speech and civil liberties that is still rampant in this supposedly modern world. Such acts should never stand, and it appears that Hirsi Ali (who still faces repeated death threats) plans on going through with Submission: Part II because otherwise she “I would only be helping terrorists believe that if they use violence, they’re rewarded with what they want”*.

Have You Heard: Bonne Aparte

In Netherlands on October 6, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Dutch noise-rock outfit Bonne Aparte hit the music scene back in 2006 and released their self-titled debut album in Spring 2008. Occupying a musical land somewhere between Jesus & the Mary Chain and Nine Inch Nails, the six-person group throws together a mish-mash of instrumentation (clashing drums, guitar, keyboard, and synth) with intense vocals (courtesy of Gerrit van der Scheer) and a wall of dissonance. Tracks like “Taste of Snow” and “Come to Rest” typify this post-punk style, while the minute-long instrumental “….” shows off their flair for the experimental with little more than ambient noise and light instrumentation. With a running time of a little over 20 minutes for 11 tracks, the album moves along at a brisk pace and the songs never overstay their welcome. The band sings primarily in English, so its easily accessible to an American audience (especially fans of experimental noise rock).

Have You Heard Of: Camille

In France on September 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Quirky French pop chanteuse (and occasional Nouvelle Vague vocalist) Camille has often drawn comparisons to Iceland’s Björk due to her idiosyncratic, and oftentimes outlandish, singing style and the vast range of genres her music draws inspiration from (traditional chanson, electropop, and even opera are all represented). Since her 2002 debut album, Le Sac des Filles, Camille has been a musical superstar in her native country, with nearly half a million albums sold and counting. She has also won numerous awards, including the Prix Constantin (the French answer to the Mercury Prize) for her second album, Le Fil, and multiple prizes at the Victoires de la Musique.

She has also found a surprisingly large amount of commercial success for an artist so experimental in nature. For example, Le Fil was recorded with a low drone in the background throughout the entire record (it’s a B note, in case you were wondering), and substitutes Camille’s avant-garde vocal explorations for traditional instrumentation. And yet, amazingly, this record went Gold in France. Her latest album, 2008’s Music Hole, proves to be no less innovative. Her voice ranges from quiet and almost childlike, to primal screeching, to bombastic diva stylings worthy of Mariah Carey herself. And though she has included more songs in English than in her previous two albums, she still brings a distinctly French flair for the theatrical to the proceedings (witness the nearly wordless, and 7-minute long, “The Monk” or “Cats and Dogs”, which begins with Camille making animal noises). But just when you think you have her pigeon-holed as the second-coming of Björk, Camille surprises with the enchanting “Le Festin” for the soundtrack to Disney’s Ratatouille. If only more American pop stars would be so bold..