Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

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..


Un Prophète (A Prophet)

In France on September 28, 2009 at 7:15 pm

France’s official submission for the 2010 Academy Awards was recently announced, with the honor going to auteur Jacques Audiard’s sprawling prison drama Un Prophète. The film already won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes, and is coming off of a rapturous critical and audience reception at the Toronto International Film Festival. Featuring a largely non-professional cast, the film follows a young Arab man as he climbs the ranks of the prison system. Critics have deemed it “tough”, “absorbingly intricate” (Variety) and “sensationally directed and quietly compelling” (The Globe and Mail), and it’s already made over $8 million in France (not bad for a film with a 2 and a half hour plus running time). As for it’s US release, the film already has a February 12th date set and is being distributed by Sony Classics, Sony’s specialty branch which also oversaw the releases of films like Rachel Getting Married, Volver, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’ll be interesting to see how a gritty and violent, not to mention lengthy, foreign film will play with American audiences.

Have You Heard: Kings of Convenience

In Norway on September 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

We’re going to stay in Scandinavia this week, with the charming indie pop duo Kings of Convenience. Childhood friends Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe have been creating music together since their teenage years in the band Skog, though they didn’t find success until their debut album as the Kings of Convenience, 2001’s Quiet Is the New Loud. They are set to release their third studio album, Declaration of Dependence, on October 20; it is their first album in five years. The lead single is titled “Boat Behind”, and several songs on the new record feature Canadian indie songstress Leslie Feist on back-up vocals.

The band emphasizes subdued vocals, lush instrumentation, and hyper-literate lyrics. Often described as Norway’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel, the duo blends the aesthetics of early Belle & Sebastian with their own bossa nova influenced folk. Songs range from quiet and introspective (“Homesick”, “Parallel Lines”) to more poppy and upbeat (“I’d Rather Dance With You”, “Love is No Big Truth”). If “Boat Behind” is indicative of the rest of their latest album, they’re not planning on making any new or radical changes to their tried-and-true formula. The acoustic guitars are once again in the foreground, and the elegant harmonies and orchestral flourishes remain firmly intact.

Max Manus

In Norway on September 22, 2009 at 5:04 pm


Continuing with the international selection at the recent Toronto Film Festival, Norway’s answer to WWII action flicks comes in the form of Max Manus. The film, co-directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, tells the true story of one of Norway’s most famous resistance fighters of World War II. It covers Manus’ life from the Winter War in the USSR to peacetime in 1945, with the bulk of the World War II and Nazi occupation of Norway in between.

Though it has yet to see a stateside release, it received glowing reviews in its native country and went on to be nominated for eleven Amanda Awards (the Norwegian Oscars), winning seven including Best Film, Best Actor for Aksel Hennie, and Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Kittelsen. The film was one of the largest productions in Norwegian history, costing NOK 55 million (roughly $9.3 million) and employing nearly four thousand extras and behind the scenes workers. It’s 2008 premiere was a major event, with King Harald V and Gunnar Sønsteby (a resistance fighter portrayed in the film) in attendance. By the end of its theatrical run it had made over $15 million at the box office, beating out such international hits as The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace, and Wall-E (the only film to best it, incidentally, was the ABBA musical Mammia Mia!). The film will likely be Norway’s submission to the 2010 Academy Awards, and should it secure a nomination, will make it into US theaters sometime early next year.

Olafur Eliasson: “Take Your Time” Retrospective

In Denmark on September 19, 2009 at 11:21 pm

The famed Danish artist, whose past works like the New York City Waterfalls and Weather Project have been impressive exercises in space and environment, has put his “Take Your Time” collection on the road. Termed a “survey”, the exhibition covers the past 15 years of Eliasson’s work, and immerses the viewer in a sensory experience unlike any other.

The retrospective can currently be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and was recently shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and MoMA in New York.

Have You Heard of: Frida Hyvönen

In Sweden on September 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

There must be something in the icy Scandinavian air of Sweden; over the past decade the country has produced a staggering amount of both commercially and critically successful indie artists, including Lykke Li, Jens Lekman, and Peter Bjorn & John. Well add songstress Frida Hyvönen to that list. The blonde pixie has already put out two well-regarded albums in her relatively short career, and has toured across Europe, the United States and even China. Her music is based in the confessional singer-songwriter culture of the 70s (she lists Carole King as an influence), though she adds her own distinctly European style to the mix. Debut album Until Death Comes is an intimate set of songs in which Hyvönen’s piano playing takes center stage. The sparse, atmospheric production contributes to the album’s quiet loneliness, making it the perfect soundtrack for dark winter nights. Her follow-up, Silence is Wild, expands upon Until Death Comes by heightening both the sound and the melodrama inherent in her songwriting, and adding swirling strings, synthesizers and percussion.

But don’t mistake her elegant compositions and vocals for timidity; Hyvönen writes with both a wit and raw emotion that many listeners might miss. Her mix of the fictional and realistic, combined with her surprisingly sexual frankness, create a striking dichotomy of “naughty” and “nice”. And though she hasn’t hit as big stateside as some Scandinavian contemporaries, like Iceland’s Bjork, she is infinitely more accessible. She could easily strike a chord with the Regina Spektor/A Fine Frenzy set, especially those in the mood for something a little more avant-garde.


In Sweden on September 13, 2009 at 2:38 pm

In the tradition of animated films meant for adults (pioneered by the Japanese, and furthered by the French and Americans – see the recent 9), Swedish director, and former graffiti artist, Tarik Saleh has created a unique, dystopian vision of a future Europe. The story revolves around Stockholm-native Roger, who begins to hear strange voices in his head when he nears the subway system (which has been connected to every underground in Europe). With the continent facing depleting oil reserves, Roger then unwittingly gets caught up in a major conspiracy.

The filmmakers created the distinct look of the film by photoshopping and stylizing actual photographs before animating them. The impressive voice cast includes Swedish stars like Vincent Gallo, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgaard (of Pirates fame) and Alexander Skarsgaard (star of HBO’s “True Blood”), as well as American actress/rocker Juliette Leiws. The film was recently featured at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and is set for a November 6 release in its native Sweden. Whether or not the film, which was filmed in English, will secure a stateside theatrical release is still up in the air. Figures crossed though; we can never get enough darker, more imaginative animated films, especially when nonsensical films like Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (dinosaurs were long extinct by the time of the wooly mammoths) make over $850 million worldwide.

George Grosz

In Germany on September 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm

The Berlin-born Grosz was a major player in the Weimar art scene, and is renowned today for his biting caricatures of German life in the 1920s and 30s. A member of the Communist Party, and fiercely anti-Nazi, he emigrated to the United States in 1932 just before Hitler’s rise to power.

His artwork can be seen at MoMA in New York City, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and many others.

“An Education” at TIFF

In Great Britain on September 7, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Based on a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber, and directed by Danish auteur Lone Scherfig, An Education tells a distinctly British coming-of-age-tale in which a teenage schoolgirl (played by up-and-comer Carey Mulligan) begins a whirlwind romance with a man nearly twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard), and subsquently faces an identity crises as she transforms from an innocent youth to a sophisticated woman.  Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper, Sally Hawkins, and Emma Thompson round out the cast.

The film, which premiered at Sundance this year, has been the target of Oscar buzz for months. It is currently being featured in the Toronto Film Festival, largely regarded as the launching ground for awards bait (this is the place where the then-unknown Slumdog Millionaire began its march towards the Kodak Theater, after all). This is the first major film role for Mulligan (who got her start alongside Keira Knightley in 2005‘s Pride & Prejudice), and, combined with her roles in high-profile films like Public Enemies and the upcoming Brothers, could very well signal the arrival of a new star. Those who have seen the film say that she is a revelation, and many prognosticators have had her name pencilled in for Best Actress since early summer. Whether or not awards are in the film’s future, though, is ultimate irrelevant; what matters is great filmmaking, and it would appear that Scherfig, Mulligan, et al have delivered just that.

Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.

Jamie T to Release Sophomore Album

In Great Britain on September 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Jamie T (born Jamie Alexander Treays) is on the verge. The singer-songwriter, who has drawn comparisons to the Arctic Monkeys, the Streets, and Lily Allen for his blistering observations on modern British youth culture, released his sophomore album Kings & Queens in the UK on September 7th to critical acclaim (The Guardian called it a “43-minute, all-killer, no-filler set of stunners”).  His debut album, 2007’s Panic Prevention, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize, spawned three top 20 hits in the UK, and was ultimately certified Gold. Yet he has found nowhere near the level of cross-over success in the United States that contemporaries, such as the aforementioned Allen and Arctic Monkeys have.  Could 2009 be his break-out year?

With a collection of songs as varied and multi-layered as those found on Kings & Queens, the Wimbledon-native couldn’t be more deserving. He goes from Dylanesque folk musings to aggressive hip-hop stylings to “pull-out-your-lighter” sing-along rock with the flick of a switch. For many artists, such genre-hopping comes across as disingenuous and desperate. For Jamie T it is nothing less than a natural expression of his various musical influences.  In addition to dabbling in a wide range of musical styles, his 11-track set covers a number of political and social issues of concern to urban 20-somethings. Government surveillance, binge drinking, alienation, and adulterous affairs are all represented in ways both melancholy and visceral; what Jamie T does so well though is to wrap these deep issues in walls of sound and deliriously catchy beats so that it never comes across as plodding or overtly socially conscious. If there is any justice, Mr. T. will make significantly more than just a splash on this side of the pond.