Older song discoveries: December








Can’t Find My Way Home by Blind Faith/Steve Winwood (1969)
(Blind Faith were an English supergroup featuring Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech)










Lizzie And The Rain Man by Tanya Tucker (1975)
(Country. I’m no expert, I’ve heard it’s her best known tune. I wonder if is the origin for the movie title Rain Man ?)









You Should All Be Murdered by Another Sunny Day (1992)
(Would not have been out of place on a Morrissey or The Smiths album. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!)










Daydream Believer by The Monkees (1968)
(An iconic song that I somehow overlooked all these years)








Gabrielle by Nips (1980)
(Punk rock. Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan’s first group)











Kiss Me Deadly by Lita Ford (1988)
(Glam metal. A hit for the lead guitarist of The Runaways. I can’t explain why, just makes me happy when I listen)











Time To Pretend by MGMT (2005)
(I think I may have undervalued MGMT because I keep stumbling upon quality stuff by them)












In My Hour Of Darkness by Gram Parsons (1974)
Country rock. Because not every day is a happy one. Emmylou Harris provides backing vocal)









Identity by X-Ray Spex (1978)
(Thanks C. A good introduction to their approach to punk. Certainly an injection of energy. “Germfree Adolescents”. What an album name! )







Send in the Clowns by Judy Collins (1975)
(I heard Frank Sinatra’s version in the Joker end credits. Collin’s version I find more affecting. Thanks Rol)









That’s Life by Frank Sinatra (1966)
(Joker soundtrack)











Willow by Joan Armatrading (1977)
(The song Devendra Banhart wishes he wrote)









Sweet Little Mystery by John Martyn (1980)
(Thanks Aphoristical.  Different to the folk material that Martyn was best known for. An emotionally charged divorce album. “It’s just that sweet little mystery that makes me try”)









If We Make It Through December by Merle Haggard (1973)
(The blogosphere usually provides a few Christmas/Winter song discoveries. Shout out  to Thom Hickey who shared a bunch of posts in December)









In the Bleak Midwinter (Christmas Carol) by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke (1906)
(Was in a crossword clue, an alternative way to discover music. Found the words and sung it when we went round the tree. A beautiful melody. Good times)






What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Retrospective: Favorite songs of the 2010s (#1)






Happy New Year! There’s no denying there are less classics today that everyone knows. Music tastes have diversified and people are less inclined to trust the radio and prefer to make their own playlists. Albums seem to be less important to the masses as new recreational interests fight for our attention. In this new series, I will defend the 2010s and highlight some of its defining hits and underappreciated gems that got lost in the clutter. Three songs at a time. Hope you enjoy.






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Tell Me A Tale by Michael Kiwanuka (2012)

(Kiwanuka still hasn’t topped this track from his debut Home Again. Very 70s and the writing and singing are fantastic)






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I’m New Here by Gil Scott-Heron (2010)

(Gil Scott-Heron (who passed away in 2011) made a welcome late career comeback with wise words and things to say. Known primarily for his 70s and 80s work, I’m New Here was his first studio album in 16 years)








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A Young Girl’s World by Daughn Gibson (2012)
(“He’s drunk in his sadness” is such a powerful lyric.  He sells the melancholy of getting older with the deep baritone vocal. From his first and best album All Hell which also includes the hypnotizing single Lookin’ Back On 99 )










What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: December







Apocalypse Now (1979/2019) (Francis Ford Coppola)
Final Cut screening. The insanity of war, in more ways than one. I’m not giving a 10/10 because, while the picture restoration was stunning, and the enhanced audio impeccable, the sound was turned up uncomfortably loud and my ears were ringing afterwards.
I haven’t watched the original in years so couldn’t pinpoint what the differences are to this new cut. I had forgotten how imposing the score is. Check it out if you can but remember to bring ear plugs. An immersive experience where I felt I was in the helicopter, on the beach, and floating down the river with them. An audio/visual extravaganza.







Marriage Story (2019) (Noah Baumbach)
There’s no denying the dialogue is well written and shows the complexity of a relationship and emotional effect a break-up has on a family. Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern deliver top-tier performances. Divorce and custody battles I have no personal experience with though many have to go through it. The most original sequence is the opening when we get to know the quirks of the two leads. The battle between Nora and Jay in the court and the escalating argument between Nicole and Charlie at home back-to-back are both very well acted scenes even if feel a bit Oscar baity. Nora’s speech in defense of women is powerful. You can google Alan Alda’s half-finished joke as he revealed the rest in a Q and A. A good watch and I loved how fully fleshed out these main characters are but I don’t see myself remembering this one in a few months. To me a film you are invested in while it lasts and could provoke a conversation afterwards. You step into the life of two strangers during a very difficult time. As others have said, the two stars make it hard to take sides. But siding is not really the point as the family want each other to be happy. There’s a lot of dialogue and details so you may find Marriage Story to be a bit gruelling in one sitting. Because of the detail would be easy to rewatch. It’s Noah Baumbach’s most mature film though I personally prefer his earlier work Frances Ha (2013), a lighter film which still had plenty of humanity and insight.






Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) (J.J. Abrams)
Brief non-spoiler review. Rotten Tomatoes is right, the movie lacks imagination. With so many stories that they could have told, JJ Abrams frustratingly took the safe option, and while it’s watchable and there are a couple of secrets revealed, it rarely rises above average and character development is almost zero for the majority of the cast. Still, the comic relief makes it at least entertaining and I especially enjoyed C3PO’s arc. However much of the story feels like a rushed fan service checklist, a no risk blockbuster in response to the fan backlash over Rian Johnson’s divisive Last Jedi. Too many unanswered questions in a concluding film.









Parasite (2019) (Bong Joon-ho)
Winner of the 2019 Palme D’or at Cannes. Best to go in blind as the film can be spoiled by reviews. An extremely well told story about class aspirationalism, with drama, black comedy, and surprises. There are some stereotypical, two-dimensional, simplistic depictions of class. We don’t know their ambitions. Money can help you lead a good life but it’s not the only important thing. Not all rich people are happy and not every poor person is unhappy. The film does show love crosses all boundaries, the ugly truth of loan sharks, and Mr. Park’s patronizing treatment of servants as second rate people with a “poor man’s smell”. But does the film tell me anything new? No. Still, Parasite is a compelling yarn, humanizing South Korean inequality. Barely believable, but just about. I’m not sure if the message is ironic about the American dream, in that the characters think money will save them but maybe they were ok to begin with. The vulture review asked “Who are the real parasites? The poor who attach themselves to the rich or the rich who suck the marrow of the poor?”
Bong Joon-ho seems to cynically believe the divide between the classes is never going away.








The Art of Self-Defense (2019) (Riley Stearns)
Has been described as “Karate Kid for adults”. A loner accountant (Jesse Eisenberg in a typical role for him) becomes attached to a karate school. Sort of a companion film to The Double (2013), also with Eisenberg. The most entertaining moments are when Casey gets in touch with his macho side and the story satirizes masculinity. Gripping, mixing violence with deadpan comedy. Although the ending was too heavy-handed and preachy. The best thing about it is the unpredictableness, I didn’t know what would happen next. Visually the movie is well done, with the use of camera angles, colors, etc. I liked the original song in the end credits, Can You Hear Me Now? by Donald McMichael.









Toy Story 4 (2019) (Josh Cooley)
Perhaps I’m becoming older and slower or films are becoming faster and harder to keep up with. Toy Story 4 moves at a frantic pace and if you blink you miss things. Very cute and a welcome return to that universe. Of the new characters, Keanu Reeves is funny as Duke Caboom. The movie has a good message which I won’t go into as it’s spoilery. You could argue the sequel is designed to sell merchandise yet that didn’t go through my mind for one second while watching. The animation looks great and hard to hate a film as sweet as this.






Kraftidioten (aka In Order of Disappearance) (2014) (Hans Petter Moland)
The Liam Neeson thriller Cold Pursuit (2019) is a remake by the same director. Norwegian black comedy action film. The humor was very dark, making fun of suicide and cancer, laughing together with a person you just beat up, bodies thrown over a cliff. Partly spoofs “Nordic Noir” and the criminal underworld although a drawback is the story relies on gangster clichés. There are Pulp Fiction-like discussions by the criminals, about the welfare state in colder countries compared to warmer climates, and the luxury prisons. These conversations were the best thing about it and sadly were in short supply. The jokes would work better with a packed audience and for me was simply too bleak to be funny. Overall, not as original as genre highlights Headhunters, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Insomnia.






Solaris (2002) (Steven Soderbergh)
The pacing is better than the 1972 film but Soderbergh’s script is too explanatory and dumbed down. I prefer Tarkovsky’s ambiguous adaptation which is more beautiful and multifaceted.








Kollektivet (aka The Commune) (2016) (Thomas Vinterberg)
Vinterberg has made some great films and some lesser films. The Commune (2016) falls into the latter category. There’s just not enough characterization or reason to care. A clichéd, by-the-numbers look at Denmark in the 1970s. Trine Dyrholm’s performance is terrific and elevates the stronger second half. Together (Tillsammans) (2000) is a better film about a 70s commune.









Coco (2017) (Lee Unkrich)
Despite the focus on the deceased and Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, a heartwarming, fun, and visually dazzling animation. A story about how achievement is not without its stumbling blocks.










Elf (2003) (Jon Favreau)
A sweet and imaginative Christmas movie which I could imagine rewatching. I’m not a huge fan of Will Ferrell yet he’s funny as the Elf man-child. The only issue I had was the age difference between him and Zooey Deschanel.








Kindergarten Cop (1990) (Ivan Reitman)
Watched as it’s leaving Netflix. A Schwarzenegger comedy where the actor subverts his action stereotype by taking on a job as a kindergarten teacher. Good to watch as harmless escapism. The kids have some funny lines when they talk about who is your daddy and what does he do, and when Dominic says everyone he knows is better than Kimble.
There is also ridiculous stuff like the jarring tonal shifts between violent cop thriller and kid’s movie, ferret bite, headteacher not aware a potentially dangerous criminal is heading to the school, and not firing Kimble when he beats someone up in front of the children.








What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Top 10 songs of 2019




Nowadays, it’s difficult to find new songs that I’d want to keep hearing beyond the year of release. These ones I don’t see myself getting tired of anytime soon. Obviously by limiting the list to ten a number of artists missed out who hopefully got their due in my top 10 albums post which you can read here






True Blue (featuring Angel Olsen) by Mark Ronson
The passionate vocal performance won me over. Distorted vocals can be hit or miss but the experiment works here. My song of the summer.







Seventeen by Sharon Van Etten
A strong melody and relatable lyrics about looking back to when you were young and free.










LPs by Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage
If you are a music enthusiast, you need to hear this. A tongue-in-cheek tribute to vinyl collecting. The lyrics and music video are so fun!







Listen to the Hummingbird by Leonard Cohen
The chill-inducing lead single Happens to the Heart got the most attention from his posthumous album. I’m going to highlight Listen to the Hummingbird, the final track on his final album, which radiates mystery and, despite very short, ends his discography on a high note. Perhaps Cohen is saying be in touch with nature, the present, and what you love, and don’t get distracted by other voices.






Spinning Song by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The emotional outro “peace will come” gets me every time, could be interpreted as an ode to Cave’s late son who tragically died aged 15. Despite the specificness of loss and healing, there’s an ambiguity on the album, and anyone can immerse themselves in the poetry.








Unbearably White by Vampire Weekend
Relationships are tough but easier if you have this album. Not the most popular track but I think the best written.






Dawn Chorus by Thom Yorke
From the Radiohead frontman’s solo album. The most affecting on ANIMA with lyrics about regrets. The piano version on YouTube is different to the album version.







Red Bull & Hennessy by Jenny Lewis
I like the rock sound, thumping drums, piano, and closing guitar solo. The live version is even better. Her vocal has been compared to Carole King and Stevie Nicks. Suitable for a road trip playlist.











Stand Up (from Harriet) by Cynthia Erivo
Hand them the Oscar statue already. Very powerful.









I Got You by The O’Jays
An unexpected comeback by a group I thought had retired! A catchy single and an empathetic message for our times. If you missed it, Buddy’s Business is also brilliant from the end credits of Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017).


Honorable Mentions:


Still Space by Satoshi Ashikawa (1982/2019)
Exactly the kind of slow, calming, unobtrusive ambient I go for. From new compilation Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980–1990 (2019)







Summon The Fire by The Comet Is Coming
(Euphoric jazz instrumental. Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is on fire. Ought to be used in a movie and I think the group have a future in soundtracks.







Town Centre by Squid 
A late discovery thanks to Anthony Fantano’s year-end lists. British post-punk band who released a 23 minute EP featuring a very interesting sound with krautrock and jazz influences. I hope Squid keep making music.







Lately by Celeste
From her promising 5-song soul jazz EP. British-Jamaican Celeste Waite won the BBC Sound of 2020. In a YouTube comment she was described as Adele + Amy Winehouse = CELESTE







Starcourt by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein (Stranger Things 3 score)
Nostalgic, hopeful, with a hint of 80s classic When In Rome by The Promise. Used in the mall shopping scene.







What do you think? What are your favorites of the year? As always, comments are welcome