Album Reviews, Music

Review: Gillian Welch – The Harrow And The Harvest

Some 8 years since her last album, Gillian Welch makes her long awaited return with The Harrow & The Harvest. Partnering up once again with collaborator David Rawlings, the new album is the culmination of all the songwriting frustration that has built up since 2003’s Soul Journey. This extended period has been labelled by Welch as a difficult time where “we made a few tentative steps at trying to record, but inevitably the heart would go out of it when we realised that we simply didn’t like the material enough to go on with it.”

It’s with absolute rejoice then, that The Harrow & The Harvest is easily one of the best pieces of music released this year, and an unconditional artistic success for both Welch and Rawlings. It’s amazing to hear and feel the emotional connection one can have to music primarily composed of an incredible voice, two or so instruments and the knowledge and thirst for traditional and historic American music.

From the beautiful opening of “Scarlet Town” to the gut wrenching introspection of “Tennessee” and the sullen tone of “Down Along The Dixie Line”, The Harrow & The Harvest is a triumph of everything Americana, blues, Appalachian and heartfelt. And as sparse as much of the album is, it has enough resonance to fill the great depths of the Grand Canyon. The twang of the banjo coupled by her drawl in “Hard Times” is a particularly terrific tune- both wry in its lyrical twists and futility- while the closing “The Way The Whole Thing Ends” boasts the beautiful fragility of spending a pretty Sunday morning at a funeral.

A truly rewarding listen from beginning to end, the album traverses the dusty plains of America’s endless landscapes and mountains, weaving in stories of sadness, anger, pain and humor the only way a whiskey-drenched Tennessee night can. The last time I felt this way about an album, it was written by Loretta Lynn. It seems the very best story telling in music comes from the amazing women of America’s southern lands. (Acony Records)

[xrr rating=4/5]

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Album Reviews, Music

Review: Taking Back Sunday – Taking Back Sunday

There is great cynicism towards Taking Back Sunday– easy targets, drama kings- all are part of the conjecture volleyed towards them in the many years since their breakthrough 2002 album Tell All Your Friends. A band burdened by such weight would normally crumble- and it looked like they did when members Shaun Cooper and John Nolan left just a year later. Yet through the albums that followed, most notably the follow up Where You Want To Be and good portions of their major label debut Louder Now, the band proved every bit capable of turning any/all of the drama into the kind of emotionally histrionic songwriting they’re known for.

That is the crux of Taking Back Sunday– jagged edge rock guitars, post-hardcore sensibilities and that flair for the lyrical dramatics found in etched in your high school notebook over and over again. After seemingly hitting the skids with New Again in 2009, the band’s latest (and first with both Nolan and Cooper back in the lineup) fits somewhere in proximity to Louder Now. Its inexactness comes from much of the songs present as being some of the best material they’ve done since 2002/2004 but with the kind of sonic production that came with Louder Now.

A good many of the songs here rely on soaring choruses (the great single “Faith (When I Let You Down)”), biting dramatics (“Who Are You Anyway”?) and the kind of flair they exhibited in great tracks from their past like “This Photograph If Proof (I Know You Know)”. In fact, much of the album is like one “This Photograph” after another, which in the case of Taking Back Sunday, is a really good thing. Taking Back Sunday strips away the narrow scope of New Again and amplifies the core of what made them who they are into 10 (of the 11) succinct tracks. Only the opening “El Paso” seems like a slight stretch; relying instead on a messy, frenzied palette (look guys, you don’t need to show you “rock hard” at this point).

Sounding like a band truly comfortable in their skin once again, Taking Back Sunday is terrific, proof that growing up musically is terribly overrated. It’s great to hear this band old again. (Warner Bros.)

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Film, Trailers

Trailer watch: Jason Statham, Clive Owen in Killer Elite

Filmed about 15 minutes from where I live, Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert DeNiro and local heroine Yvonne Strahovski team up for Killer Elite; a remake of the Sam Peckinpah-directed 1975 thriller that starred Robert Duvall and James Caan.

Bonus points for having an Australian-shot film that doesn’t have an AC/DC song involved in the previews. Klaus Meine is stoked.

 

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Music, Videos

Video: Explosions In the Sky – Last Known Surroundings

It’s hard to believe that in their 12-year existence, Explosions In the Sky have never released an official music video, until now. Their first, designed and directed by Ptarmak, recently made it’s debut. The visual aspect of it all is just as beautiful as the song itself.

“Last Known Surroundings” is taken from their most recent album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. I hope you already have a copy of this album (or any of their back catalogue), otherwise…

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Sports

Kyrie Irving is Australian…

…according to the Australian media. At least that’s what they want to believe, because here in Australia a big news story about the NBA does not come along too often.

The league and the sport is mostly confined to the back columns of newspapers, while much of the local basketball flair and drama comes from D-grade imports like Corey “Homicide” Williams (I suppose that “Homicide” goes over great here because it’s both very urban and “American”). We here assume that Andrew Bogut is actually a good player (and treat him here like he’s the Outback Shaquille O’Neal) even though anyone who watches the game on a regular basis knows he’s anything but. In fact, I’m pretty sure Luc Longley has never had to pay for a drink wherever he goes in Australia. And while you can look at Andrew Gaze’s incredible college career and stellar international numbers… actually, I am not going to say anything bad about Andrew Gaze in fear of my life.

Nonetheless, on the cusp of this year’s NBA Draft, former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving is making noise in Australia. While he spent the majority of his life playing hoops in America, he was in fact born in Melbourne, Australia where his father (Drederick) played pro hoops for the local Bulleen Bombers in the 1990s. He moved back to the United States when he was 2 and hasn’t been back since, but it hasn’t stopped him from saying positive things about potentially representing Australia on an international level;

“You know, it would be great to play for my country, which is primarily Australia, so, I was born there and I want to represent Australia”

Did you hear that? He WANTS TO PLAY FOR AUSTRALIA! He says it’s his country. As a recent Australian myself, I have to say I’m all for that. Australia would welcome him with arms more open than the Australian outback is vast. Sure, he’d probably only play during the Olympics and World Championships, but who watches international basketball outside of these times anyway?

Australia consistently tops the sporting landscape when it comes to rugby and cricket. The men’s football (soccer) team is on the verge and the women’s team is making waves both in Asia and the world. If there were ever an Australian Rules Football World Championship, team Australia would be kicking goals the way basketball’s Dream Team romped through Barcelona. So with the potential of Irving in the backcourt, the men’s basketball team would really make some serious headway come international competition time. The one big name superstar with the skills and swagger to compliment the more meat and bones game of the Boguts of the team.

The potential hurdles as such would be the fact that Irving has played for the United States at a junior level, and switching allegiances would not be as easy as saying so. There is however, precedent, Charlie Villanueva of the Pistons played for the United States at a junior level but decided to play for the Dominican Republic at senior level (let’s just say he wasn’t going to displace any of the current power forwards playing USA Basketball). The official rules state;

Item 23 – A player who has played in a main official competition of FIBA (see article -1) after having reached his seventeenth (17) birthday may not play for a national team of another country. However, in exceptional circumstances the Secretary General may authorise such a player to play for the national team of his country of origin if he is ineligible to play for such country according to this article -23 and if this is in the interest of the development of basketball in this country.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Yes. Let’s make this happen Australia. Whatever it takes, a nice house on Sydney’s cove, Harry Kewell’s Politix sponsorship, Shane Warne’s black book, a nice Australian farmer girl…. anything. Let’s do this.

Irving has a lot on his plate at the moment. Consensus points to the Cavs picking him at #1, but as the pre-draft games play out, word out says the team aren’t going to say anything until David Stern announces the name. By the time you read this (or not long after), Kyrie Irving will either be holding up a Cavaliers jersey or perhaps, if both Dan Gilbert and David Kahn are truly crazy enough, a Timberwolves jersey.

Either way, Irving will make good on his pro career, but the only jersey I really want him to wear would be the green and gold of Australia’s national team.

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Featured, Television

In Defence of AMC’s The Killing

Disappointment at a television series’ mismanagement is nothing new, this year I’ve invested my time to several that in a palpable existence would have lasted longer than their actual life spans. I was never a fan of any Stargate series until Universe and was bitterly disappointed that for once, a bunch of people jumping through giant stone hoops was both thrilling and engaging- only for it to get axed after it really got going (2 seasons worth). Then there was FOX’s ham fisted treatment of Shawn Ryan’s The Chicago Code (cancelled after 13 episodes), while restrained due to it being on FOX instead of FX, was easily the best procedural police drama on TV this year.

So now we come to AMC’s The Killing, whose season finale (or as we all thought, the series finale) came to its rather unfruitful conclusion this past Sunday. One of its most vocal critics, ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons, has written a lengthy piece about its “hackery”, its broken promises and unserved dinners. He’s not wrong; I too was rather dumbfounded by the way it unraveled. After so much promise and poise through the season, we neared a much-needed resolve to the murder of Rosie Larsen, but all we got was trickery and overplayed season-ending cliff hangers (the creators of Dallas will forever be blamed) that bordered on justifiably throwing your remote through the television.

Bordered on, but not quite. As frustrating as it was, I’m here to defend The Killing and the way it ended, not so much the contents of the ending itself, but that the potential for the show and all the good things AMC did with it, warrants a second chance.

For those uninitiated, The Killing is AMC’s adaptation of the Danish series Forbrydelsen, a crime drama that took an entire season (20 episodes) to solve its one case. Much of the plot is kept the same; a young girl is murdered to the backdrop of a hotly contested Mayoral race as audiences get a harrowing look at the emotional and physical turmoil the events cause to the family of the victim, the suspects, and the law enforcement officers meant to solve the case.

– SPOILERS AHEAD –

Did this guy kill Rosie Larsen? Maybe, maybe not…

It is a slow moving drama, punctuated by shady characters, ambiguous morals, and some heartbreaking pain- like a good BBC slog through the rainy streets and woodlands of Seattle. We are peppered all through the season with suspects- ranging from obvious to more obscure. I had money on candidate Darren Richmond, his sniveling campaign adviser (both of them), the teacher Bennet Ahmed, a potential terrorist that Ahmed was involved with, Belko and even detective (Sarah) Linden’s fiance who spent all his time trying to get her to move down the coast. All were potential killers- at least that’s the way the plot unfolded- often giving you hints that this particular character had an uncovered layer that led you to believe he or she was capable of such a crime.

By the penultimate episode, we are dropped the bombshell that the killer is evidently future Seattle mayor Darren Richmond. And we expected the final episode to see him finally put to rest as this long winding road finally came to a halt. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As Simmons points out in this piece, the series was recently picked up for a second season, and with this in mind, the brain trust at AMC must have decided to hell with the viewers, let’s stretch this thing out beyond what we initially planned for reasons that most definitely have nothing to do with the artistic integrity of the original series. So came the plot twists and new facts conveniently seeing the light of day as time expires derailing the show’s last hour. It’s like if a band were to re-record Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and leave off “Jungleland”, or if they remade it as a, God forbid, dance/electronic number. They’ve done everything well up to this point, how could they possibly conduct the conclusion with the panache of a DJ horrendously remixing a really great song? Everything had been done the way terrific European television would for the majority of the series, but the show’s American producers decided to end it the way a trust fund kid would torpedo his/her father’s Fortune 500 Company. Sometimes you just have to end your journey the same way you began it. The Killing did not, and they’re getting their just criticism for it.

– END OF SPOILERS –

However, to write off the show and what it did up to the last episode would be unfair (mostly to people like myself who refuse to end it on a note like this) because of all the good they did do. So what’s left? A chance for television redemption. What if AMC took a cue from short run English dramas like Luther and structured the proposed second season as no more than 4-6 episodes? What if they wrap it up and give audiences the ending they hoped for within this short run, a riveting, gritty but concise ending? It’ll prove that AMC still care about the integrity of quality television and aren’t just another television studio playing the ratings game. I think it worked for The Walking Dead, why wouldn’t it work for The Killing Redux? Let’s not drag this case out longer than a few more episodes. Please.

So don’t write off The Killing just yet, and don’t write off AMC. The show is still leaps and bounds better than what any CSI or Criminal Minds can offer. And after watching the first episode of Game Of Thrones, I can stay that at least The Killing is not so uncomfortably ostentatious (medieval breasts are immediately nullified by gratuitous incest). AMC and the show runners made a mistake, but one they can fix if they get what happens next right.

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