One of the biggest surprises during the announcements of this year's Oscar nominations was the unforeseen Best Original Screenplay nod that Margin Call managed to snag over the likes of 50/50, Win Win, and Young Adult. Like just about everyone else on the planet, I hadn't seen Margin Call, for some reason assuming that its extremely limited release spoke ill of its level of quality. Boy, was I wrong. First time Writer/Director J.C. Chandor tells one rendition of the economic meltdown, this time from the perspective of the big wigs that sat in tall office buildings and decided our fate. Zachary Quinto stars as Peter Sullivan, a bright young mind from the firm who, with the help of his mentor, discovers an enormous, institution-crippling error in the way that his fellow traders have been operating. Over the next sleepless 24 hours, higher-ups call on other higher-ups, and a stacked cast including Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Stanley Tucci frets about the future of our world. Chandor has a real understanding of tone, MC's nighttime meetings drenched in fear and foreboding, and he manages to coax top-teir performances from everyone involved, the only exception being Irons' extreme over-acting. When a movie is this involving, this stylish, this well stitched together, its easy to forgive a small dose of scenery chewing.
Attack on Memory---Cloud Nothings
The genre tag Pop-Punk usually means a whole lot of pop, and not all that much punk. This could most certainly be said of Cloud Nothings' two previous releases, but Attack on Memory is a decidedly dingier, dirtier, more aggressive statement from the band. Opener No Future No Past erases just about all of the fun and levity that we've come to expect from these guys, moving slowly before erupting into screams and power chords. Screaming is something you'll have to get used to if you want to sink your teeth into this one, and while I'm still adjusting to it myself, it goes down quite a bit easier when the surrounding instruments are absolutely tearing into each and every track. Wasted Days rocks its head off for a full 9 minutes, and even more pop-friendly numbers like Fall In and Stay Useless retain a certain grungy appeal. AoM is only just over a half hour long, which is perfect, because any more would be too much. This is a band chugging forth with reckless abandon, all sound, fury, and sweat, and when it's over, you might have to take a breather.
So, yeah, I kind of love Das Racist. So much so that, last year, I gave their debut LP Relax a B+ before waking up, pulling a near 180, and not even including it on my Top 50 Albums of 2011. 2012 has already seen two releases from these guys, the first of the pair, Kool A.D.'s The Palm-Wine Drinkard, proving just about unlistenable to these ears. Thank god for Nehru Jackets, Himanshu aka Heems' first solo mixtape, which, while not really up to the level of Das Racist's Sit Down, Man, is an enormous step in the right direction. Nehru Jackets is a whole 23 minutes longer than Relax, and while length is by no means a sign of quality, this expanded runtime allows Heems to do what he and Kool A.D. haven't done nearly enough of since exploding onto the scene in 2010: Actual rapping. Sure, silly hooks abound once more, but hearing the guy rip into Alien Gonzalez, Coca Cola Freestyle, and stacked roster jams like You Have to Ride the Wave and Kate Boosh is all kinds of heartening. Here's to hoping that this is a sign of things to come.
Matthew Dear makes darkly tinted, tripped-out electronica with the best of them, his 2010 effort Black City seeing him craft a bold, assured aesthetic out of the sound. Headcage is certainly related to that disc, but the four-track EP comes from a lighter place, as if the sun is only just beginning to peak out over Dear's strange world. Around a Fountain is a loveliness that boarders on the etherial, and Johnny Pierce's guest spot on In The Middle (I Met You There) lends the tune a lightness of touch that Dear's twisted croon could never have accomplished. Even the title track, easily the most dreary in hue, lacks the sense of doom that covered much of Black City, cashing it in for a surreal sort of wiggle. Matthew Dear is a one of a kind talent who more people should know about. So go ahead; Spread the word.