Edge of Tomorrow:
Tom Cruise's latest action spectacle/savior-complex accommodation Edge of Tomorrow is that rarest of things: a big-budget blowout that followed a box office trajectory usually reserved for independent films. While opening weekend receipts weren't exactly anything to brag about ($28 million on a reported budget of 178...), the dual power of Rotten Tomatoes and word-of-mouth made the movie a sleeper hit. An amalgamation of Groundhogs Day, Saving Private Ryan, and any number of sci-fi action romps, Edge tells the story of Major William Cage (Cruise), a PR representative for the ongoing futuristic war against the aliens who would love nothing more than to avoid the battle field altogether. This becomes problematic when an intense extra-terrestrial encounter renders him nearly immortal, his death automatically resulting in a total reset, Cage waking up in the very same place where his day started. Cruise is great in the film, constantly toying with his self-image with at least some degree of intentionality, Emily Blunt serving as the convincingly badass Joan of Arc at his side. Director Doug Limen packs the action sequences with much more gravity and visceral punch than your average summer tent-pole, the randomness and brutality of war evident every time that the bullets starts flying. I'm not exactly the first to make this point, but Edge of Tomorrow might just be the greatest video game movie ever made... even though it's not based on anything you can play with a controller. Exciting, fun, and unnerving in nearly equal measure, Edge stands out as one of Summer 2014's very best.
Brill Bruisers---The New Pornographers:
Before Carl Newman changed his first name to A.C., before Dan Bejar began destroying, and before Neko went solo, there was The New Pornographers. Despite each of their individual successes as solo artists, indie rock luminaries of the early 2000's are back with their best LP in nearly a decade. Brill Bruisers is an 'event album' in every sense, its gathering of buzzy names over-shadowed by arena-rock anthems and ingenious song structures that always save the best for last. This is still power-pop at its most elemental, but the riffs crafted by Newman and Todd Fancey pack infinitely more punch this time around, the undeniable chords of the title track crashing down like the high tide, closer You Tell Me Where smoldering before it finally lights on fire. Even the scaled-back jams work, Neko Case's deceptive anthem Champions of Red Wine riding zippy synths to its heartening climax, Hi-Rise captivating ears with is steady, airy churn. Like Arctic Monkeys, MGMT, and Franz Ferdinand before them, The New Pornographers are a band living far past their purported expiration date of the late 2000's, and on this evidence, they won't be slowing up anytime soon.
Drop the Vowels---Millie and Andrea:
Here's something you won't be hearing on the radio anytime soon. This collaboration between Miles Whittaker (of Demdike Stare fame) and Andy Stott is about as dark, dingy, and dusty as dance music can possibly be, but unlike Stott's 2012 masterwork, Luxury Problems, Drop the Vowels is willing to gun up the RPMs. These tracks aren't exactly party jams, their nebulous construction, and lack of either hooks or non-sampled vocals rendering their sound esoteric, but those with the patience to let these leering, nocturnal tunes sink in will be hard-pressed to keep their toes from tapping. 51 straight minutes of lo-fi hiss and sneaky-deep grooves.
From the first elegant, delicate notes of Palace, you can tell that something has changed. The Antlers have always been something of a down-tempo outfit, but Familiars seeks to take that thesis to a new level, nearly refusing to shift out of first gear. The approach can take a little getting used to, but when given a chance, these slow-burn beauties sink deep into your bones. No song better exemplifies this idea than Intruders, a spacey 5-and-a-half minute piece that wafts slowly through the air like fog or mist, stripped down to the point where every last note and symbol tap makes a lasting impression. The track, like its nine other album-mates, is bolstered by swooning horns that peak and fall with effortless grace.
While not exactly an album you'll be hearing on the dance floor anytime soon, one of Familiars' greatest strengths is the way the consistently stayed pace allows the bigger moments to leap off of the recording. The catharsis brought on by the sweeping trumpets of closer Refuge darts straight to your core, but nothing matches the powerful breakdown that serves as Director's foundation-shaking climax. Band leader Peter Silberman's voice has never been more ghostly or powerful, and in Parade and Hotel, he's penned anthems that stand among the band's best. I never thought The Antlers would make another album on the level of their masterful full-band debut Hospice, but Familiars completely flips the script, opening up a new sonic era for one of America's most under-appreciated outfits. My favorite LP of the year so far.