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I am a weapon of massive consumption. I like to experience things and then talk about them. Here is where I'll do the latter.

Show Review - Lykke Li at First Ave // September 28, 2014

In reviewing her latest LP, I Never Learn, I likened Lykke Li to a wallowing Eeyore at worst but a mighty Maleficent at best. Her record of exhausting power-ballads still had me enamored enough to grab tickets to her show at First Ave on September 28th. There, she commanded the stage like a wild sorceress with enough presence to give Angelina Jolie a run for her money.

Emerging from a cloud of purple and gray smoke, her shadowy silhouette belted straight into the title track from her new album, a poetic cut showcasing Li’s emotional croon until sweeping strings take over in a gorgeous gust of cathartic sentiment. It’s a passionately sad track, but still galvanizing. Li was smart about her setlist; she chose only the most upbeat cuts from her discography so it wasn’t like an Adele show where she’s singing of heartbreak and everyone is swaying and tearing up.

Instead, Li is alive on stage. A shy and tranquil girl in interviews, she transforms into a spirited badass when performing. Even though she’s distanced herself from the happier pop songs from her first album, she still romped around to “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and thrashed about with pounding fists to a rejuvenated version of fan-favorite “Little Bit,” that boasted stormy drums to match the ferocity of her newer material.

The addition of I Never Learn to Lykke Li’s résumé could have weighed her live set down with all its heavy, wearing tear-jerkers. Rather, the singer maintained her impressive energy and brought, in full spirit, a show that could have spurred even the crowd of Lollapalooza to our very own downtown danceteria. 

Caroline Smith at First Ave - September 27, 2014

Caroline Smith at First Ave - September 27, 2014

Album of the Month - September

Let’s face it, fall is essentially a myth at this point. One moment we’re blasting the A/C and the next we’re left grasping at the last traces of temperatures in the low 50’s. Luckily, husband-and-wife indie pop duo Tennis offer a discography of warm, surf-inspired tunes to comfortably usher you into this post-fall, pre-winter zone of unwelcome obscurity. The 3-year-old band from Denver started writing music after the couple sold their belongings and embarked on a seven-month sailing expedition and felt they couldn’t articulate their experiences at sea using only words. As a result, their songwriting reveals an affinity for nature that blooms into poetic lyricism in every song.

To produce their new album, Ritual in Repeat, the couple worked in the studio with Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, Richard Swift of The Shins, and Jim Eno of Spoon. These indie-rock luminaries combined R&B and funk influences with the band’s irresistible 60’s inspired sound resulting in a more mature listening experience. This progression sets the band apart from other summery pop outfits and positions them perfect for autumn listening. Put Ritual In Repeat on repeat and fool yourself into thinking that the air is dry and cold, the leaves still turn pretty colors and crunch beneath your feet, and you can carry that pumpkin-spice latte around without your fingers freezing up. Leave Best Coast at the beach and let Tennis keep you cozy through the cold.

I was just seven when Richard Linklater cast six-year-old Ellar Coltrane as his protagonist, Mason, for this ambitious and game-changing film. For the next twelve years, he would follow Mason — and the rest of his recurring cast — through the boy’s journey across youth and into young adulthood. Each scene is a snapshot of some milestone, small and large, working together to document the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the human experience.

Soundtracked by music relative to whatever period in time we visit Mason on his journey and punctuated by pop culture throwbacks, the film chronicles this fictional narrative with stunning relevance and accuracy. My family, too, has a home video of my sister and me performing a high-energy interpretation of “Oops…I Did It Again”, sung in a spirit nearly identical to Mason’s sister Samantha’s (Lorelei Linklater) rendition at the beginning of the film. 

When Mason reaches grade school, his daily routine mirrors that of my own at that age, getting home from school to tune the television to Cartoon Network for the late afternoon broadcast of Dragon Ball Z, followed by a devoted session of Gameboy DS playtime.

The significant snapshots don’t stop there. Watching Mason get a reluctant haircut in third-grade or attend a midnight release of the sixth Harry Potter book with his friends will surely conjure up similar memories in all young adults.  It’s no coincidence that Mason takes an interest in photography in high-school. The movie and the protagonist share an eye for glimpses of life that stir up colossal feelings of nostalgia and reflection.

Linklater captures these moments in his film with exactitude in every way, from honestly representing tiny details to effectively illustrating the dictating tone and mood. We don’t see Mason attend a homecoming dance or other banalities. Instead, the little moments in between –clips of insightful conversation or instances of pensive reflection –are stitched together to form a brilliant mosaic of the big picture.

Outstanding supporting performances by Patricia Arquette as Mason’s struggling single-mother and Ethan Hawke as his absent but endearing father bring truth and intimacy to the film. They teach us that, despite all the growing up we do, we’re all still trying to figure things out, perhaps even well into adulthood.

In one casual conversation, an art teacher offers Mason a nugget of reflection, advising him that college is where he’d meet “his people”.  Like Mason and the rest of my millennial generation, I spent my childhood evenings and summers with my greatest pal, Harry Potter. If Harry Potter was my companion growing up, Mason is the close friend I identify with in college. 

I Never Learn

I been stung by a star seed honey
He shone love like a lightning honey
I been hit by a star seed honey
His love burns like a lightning honey
I’m right here I’m your star crossed lover
I lie here like a starless lover
I’ll die here as your phantom lover
I never learn
I never learn

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Swedish songstress Lykke Li’s new album is powerful and poetic, but in contrast to her previous releases, I Never Learn offers no thematic variety. From heart-wrenching opener “I Never Learn” to downcast closer “Sleeping Alone,” the album is a thorough examination of the wound suffered from the collapse of a relationship. For that reason, the album, which Li considers the final installment of the trilogy started with 2008’s Youth Novels, is naturally painstaking and emotional and absolutely beautiful.

Its relentless thematic consistency and stubbornness of pace, however, is exhausting. Li’s no longer interested in exploring the power and optimism derived from picking up the pieces or anything. She doesn’t want to take even a glance at the bright side of things anymore. She wallows the whole nine songs, and as sensitive and moving as it is, it begins to translate as maudlin once your auditory tear ducts run dry.

On 2012’s Wounded Rhymes, Li confessed that she would “rather live out a lie than live wonderin’ / how the fire feels while burnin’.” That glimpse of content has all but dissipated, leaving any emotional expression besides self-pity and tragedy virtually stripped away.  Even on her second album’s depressingly titled “Sadness is a Blessing,” Li succeeds at her penchant for glorifying melancholia, but manages to do so without quashing an underlying glimmer of hope (that would come in the form of buoyant drums and zealous keys).

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We’re offered an indication of conviction in the single “Gunshot,” but it’s still a love-torn ballad. That song, along with the stormy “No Rest For The Wicked,” most closely resembles anything we heard on Wounded Rhymes. While I sorely miss the upbeat, minimally optimistic yet still groovy sounds from the past, the title track and the first single, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” effectively sell me on Li’s brand of downhearted musicality. On I Never Learn, I love her because she’s made of stone.

Still, on Wounded Rhymes she howled at the pain of “Unrequited Love” and lamented over the “Rich Kid’s Blues,” but also celebrated that “Youth Knows No Pain” and romanticized “Love out of Lust.” If I Never Learn ran a couple tracks longer and included a few numbers that expanded on the dark but playful themes introduced in her previous works and featured Li’s signature sprawling drums or ear-candy melodies, it would have been her best record yet. Instead, Li jadedly resigns to relish in sorrow and depression, unable to work up the motivation or interest to churn out anything half as galvanizing as “Get Some,” or defiant as “Complaint Department.”

Li has expressed that with this album, she wanted to achieve a respected singer-songwriter status and shed the indie-pop princess reputation her earworm melodies have earned her. This is great. I’m not expecting Li to pen Charli XCX style summer stompers, but I did expect more of the eccentric tunes that made her a name in the first place.

I Never Learn is missing a couple crucial songs, and without their energy, it withdraws into sad shadows instead of commanding her gloomy strength. On Youth Novels she’s a cryptic and cool Wednesday Addams. On Wounded Rhymes she’s a cackling, arcane Maleficent. On I Never Learn she’s Eeyore — pathetic, glum, and lacking conviction, but still, admittedly, lovable. 

7/10

Favs: I Never Learn, Gunshot, Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone

"West Coast" Finally Washes Ashore

Despite announcing a massive national tour (that sold out in just minutes) and teasing her second full-length LP, Lana Del Rey has kept all of her new material under tight lock and key. Fans haven’t seen more than an album title (electrically pegged Ultraviolence) and a few rumored leaks that show feeble promise for what is to come (given the singer’s ridiculously large copia of unreleased recordings). That is all until she released the slow-burning first single from the new album: “West Coast.”

Del Rey announced in February that she’d be working with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to produce her new album. “West Coast,” our first taste of this collaboration, has the band’s signature blend of subtle funk and angst written all over it. Tense plucks on guitar strings are balanced by drawn out synth reverberations. It sounds like the song is slowly being washed ashore by the tide.

I imagine listening to the song while relaxing on a swaying beachside hammock that looks like it’s under the Kelvin Instagram filter. It’s beautiful, for sure, but something doesn’t sit right. The verses are tighter, yet more unsettling than the lush, dark sounds found on Born to Die. This time, instead of “Dancing in the Pale Moonlight,” she sings, “I can see my baby swinging, his parliament is on fire and his hands are up.” I get the feeling she brought Auerbach something like “Off to the Races” and he worked his gritty Black Keys magic to create this scorching ballad. West Coast will fit right into Del Rey’s arsenal of signature haunting ballads while simultaneously putting a new spin on her now iconic style. It satisfies fans but offers a taste of what’s to come when the enigmatic Ultraviolence finally steps out into the sun.

“An artist is only creative for ten years,” says the famous Italian aircraft engineer Giovanni Caproni to the protagonist, Jiro, of 73-year-old Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature-length animated film “The Wind Rises”.

With 40 years of experience under his belt, it’s impossible to avoid the interpretation that Miyazaki is expressing some self-reflection here. “Live your ten years to the full,” Caproni advises in another pang of self-deprecating resignation through dialogue, but there’s an elephant in the room, a sense of unspoken irony. Having brought the world the delightful “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” along with the adventurous “Spirited Away,” the magical “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and the charming “Ponyo,” among others, Miyazaki himself boldly defies Caproni’s suggestion.

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The list of his excellent achievements goes on, too, and “The Wind Rises” is no exception. While it is probably not his magnum opus (see: Spirited Away), “Rises” takes Miyazaki’s trademark gorgeous animation to new heights.

There are glimpses of stunning beauty scattered throughout the film. Gentle snow drifts slowly onto an expansive field, shooting stars twinkle for sibling spectators relaxing on a roof, a sparkling sea surface rumbles and undulates under a warship. In a few montages, muted crowds unload from a train arriving at a station, perhaps returning to a pinnacle of early cinema: the Lumière brother’s “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station.” Miyazaki breathes life into this piece of classic cinema — innovating film and proving its magic lasts — over a century after this similar scene was shown in early theatres.

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Unlike most of his previous work, this film is aimed at adults. It’s based on the true story of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, chronicling events of his life, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, The Great Depression, Japan’s role in the war, his invention of Japanese fighter planes for WWII, and emotional events of his personal life. The film pays homage to the “little things” by showcasing the gorgeousness of a very big thing: nature. This is reflected in Jiro’s ambitions and vision. He admires Germany’s massive, war-purpose-serving metal planes, but can’t shake his affinity for Japan’s dated technology that works with the natural: wood and canvas. He’d clearly rather design airplanes that carry people around the world and help them experience the wonder of our planet than ones that act as aggressive bomb-toting war machines.

The outrageously quirky characters and snappy jokes that sprinkle Miyazaki’s other masterpieces are replaced with subtle running jokes and understated character development that cater to an adult audience, whose fine-tuned attention to detail should facilitate appreciation for these smaller-scale quips of amusement. Howl’s Moving Castle’s fiery Calcifer is swapped with a grumpy, strict engineer boss. There is no peculiar delivery-service-running witch like Kiki or enchanted flower-shop employee Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, there is instead a very real boy with a very real aspiration.image

“Rises” is a love story. It’s a depiction of an important period of Japanese and world history. It’s a tale of actualizing dreams and a testament to the gravity and capability of the individual. If you want the instant, entertaining, kiddie version of the retelling of this thematic lesson, buy a ticket to The Lego Movie instead. If you’re interested in a mellowed, pleasant, delightful, capstone animation feature, a product of a long career of incredible home-runs, look no further than “The Wind Rises.” 

8/10

Minnesota native and former University of Minnesota student Caroline Smith returned to campus Thursday night backed by a full band with an impressive R&B album to perform.

Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps released their third album, Half About Being A Woman, in September, after playing an exciting First Ave show. The record marks a transition from indie-folk sounds to smooth, bass-backed R&B sounds borne from a one-month stay in New York for Caroline.

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The aptly titled new album features strong and welcome feminist undertones, so it’s no surprise that she brought that attitude to the stage. Her confidence and sassiness were certainly received with adoration and it was clear that she’d won over the audience early on.

The young songstress swapped her curly locks for a fresh, crisp blonde bob. She is sexy, clever, and talented – and she knows it. Her relaxed attitude paired with a few steamy, boldly-feminist opening songs translated initially as humbleness, but she had a way of making her audience feel possibly a little bit “less than.” 

There was no doubt of her appreciation for the turn-out and support– she stepped onto the stage with a wide grin and ended the show with a bow after introducing each of her band mates. Some of her remarks, however, seemed to translate as “holier-than-thou.” 

“Did you guys have a good day at school, yeah?” she asked the crowd of students. “You pass all your tests?”

Come on Caroline, you were here once too. You can shake your hips and be proud of your womanhood without toting a sense of superiority. 

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It seemed those moments were unintentional after all, though, and by the show’s end it was undeniable that Caroline was a sweetheart. She chuckled about a busted drum pad, asked the audience to help out with clapping, and the vulnerability she showed to perform the title track of the new album worked to combat her slight offense. Caroline Smith’s honest lyrics and saccharine vocals are a testament to her good character and talent.

“So that last song was for the ladies, but this next one is for the fellas,” Smith teased, before launching into “Buy Me Something,” “because sometimes they need to be told how to behave.”

That’s obviously more of a lighthearted joke than a feminist statement, and even if it wasn’t, does it really matter? After proving her capacity to get down, she’s earned her passage to diva status. 

6.5/10

Before Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware, or Disclosure emerged from Britain’s musical club-oriented underground, Katy B cut them a straight path to the top of the charts with her 2011 debut album On a Mission.  This effort ditched the recently popularized Auto-Tune and introduced solid powerhouse vocals to borderline dub-step production, resulting in rave-worthy, diva driven, excellent pop music.

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Her 2012 follow up EP Danger was a solid extension of this sound, and an optimistic glimpse of the evolution that was to come. Even more exciting, though, were the recent blips of vocal home-runs Katy’s been batting our way. She flexed the prowess of her pipes in a cover of One Directions “Story of My Life” and answered that with an awesome cover of Arctic Monkey’s “One for the Road”.  It was hard not to be stoked for February’s release of her sophomore effort, Little Red.

Instead of making like her vocals and soaring, however, Katy B’s Little Red glides comfortably along, plateauing at bass-centered banality. That is not to say that the album is not fun; it’s certainly got some heavyweight thumpers that belong on the dancefloor. Like “Aaliyah,” a golden entrancing collaboration with Jessie Ware (that actually was just carried over from Danger), or glimmering single “5 AM.”

It’s the prioritization of production over Katy’s exquisite voice that leads to the big disappointment. Sure, most of these songs are pretty great, and the intrusive production does serve a purpose (evident in it’s effectiveness on “Crying for No Reason,” “Sapphire Blue,” and “All My Lovin’,”) but it often just acts as a barrier from the emotion Katy tries to tap into on this album.

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On “5 AM,” Katy proclaims “I need somebody to calm me down / a little lovin’ like Valium.” Perhaps all Katy B needs is a cup of coffee and a good brainstorming session to beget ideas for her next foray, where hopefully her voice will take the stage and send overproduction to the back seat. 

Still, as much as I yearn for a jazzy, soul influenced album from Katy B, Little Red sits proudly at around 50 plays on my iTunes. There’s something about these club beats that transcend typical dub step rip-off status. Almost every song takes me somewhere, and in the end I empathize and relate to Katy. Most importantly, I like the music. Little Red is a solid effort and easily one of my favorite records of 2014 thus far. 

8.5/10

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