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Sunday, April 26, 2015

It Follows (Limited Release Date: 3-13-2015)

        After spending a solid decade at the bottom of the film-world totem poll, the horror genre is positively thriving, and regaining cult fans by the handful. Yes, the Ouija's and The Lazarus Effect's of the world are still at large, but so are micro-budget indie darlings (The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) and runaway mainstream hits (The Conjuring, The Paranormal Activity franchise). The battle against 'Torture Porn' or 'Gorno' films like Saw and The Hills Have Eyes has officially been fought and won, debunking the myth that carnage alone can produce terror, and leading to major studio's recent aversion toward the style. But for all the critical love and internet hype these fright-fests have been receiving over the last few years, they share one thing in common with the grisly flicks that now reside in our cultural rearview mirror: they're just not that scary. Perhaps we're all too busy dancing on Hostel's grave to notice, but the annoyingly frequent severed limbs of yesteryear haven't given way to terror, but rather another placeholder all together, one which informs nearly every waking moment of It Follows.

        The sophomore effort of writer/director David Robert Mitchell (following 2010's slept-on The Myth of the American Sleepover) sees the up-and-comer change gears in drastic manner, swapping out the lo-fi nostalgic sweetness of his debut for a chilly thriller straight out of the late 70's or early 80's. In a seemingly parentless, comparatively cozy corner of Detroit, Jay (Maika Monroe) spends a night out with her boyfriend that, following a moment of intimacy, takes a dark, unexpected turn. Suddenly stalked by overwhelming fear and anxiety, sometimes in the literal form of a dead-eyed pursuant, Jay turns to her band of young adult compatriots for support, the group working frantically to relieve our protagonist of her curse before it's too late.

        Only two pictures into what will hopefully be a lengthy filmography, we already know a few things about Mitchell for certain. The auteur is clearly interested in youth, listlessness, the loss of innocence (especially in a sexual context), and finding new ideas within familiar rhetoric. Don't confuse that last bit with boundary-breaking or trail-blazing; Mitchell is far more concerned with exploring the parameters of our established storytelling rules than he is in refuting them. Prior to release, the filmmaker cited George Romero and John Carpenter as influences, the type of proclamation that initially inspired the immortal expression 'needless to say.' Halloween makes up about 75% of the flick's bibliography, from Disasterpeace clearly (and masterfully) aping the score of that film, to the way cinematographer Mike Gioulakis captures the beauty of the suburban dog days of summer with foreboding, paralyzing beauty. Even the assailant's molasses-slow approach feels like a salute to Michael Meyers' stayed bodily movements. Again, this is a guy fixated on working within convention, a focus that makes his involvement in the horror genre that much more perfect.

        His film greets the world at a point where genre deconstruction has completely taken over the scary movie landscape, IF sharing that tendency with all the lauded efforts mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. Seemingly every respected frightener over the last several years has managed to wrangle in a story-behind-the-story, be it metaphorical like The Babadook, or satirical like Cabin in the Woods, a middling success that somehow birthed an entire sub-genre simply by following the blueprint that Scream laid out nearly two decades ago. It Follows fits much more cleanly into the former category, ramming that aforementioned metaphor down your throat in a manner that makes it nearly impossible to miss (I'll opt against calling it by name, and let the film tell you its own story).

        It's a juicy idea in that it employs tried-and-true framing to relay an unfamiliar idea, which is seemingly the only thing we want in our horror movies nowadays. Obviously I prefer this new strategy to the heedless physical trauma of the early 2000's, but I can't help but feel like it's an over-correction. None of these movies stand by themselves; they're all thin veneers for obvious agendas, applying to the viewer's intellect while almost completely forgoing all the cold sweat and raised hair that a horror flick should, to my mind, at least attempt to produce. It Follows might get your wheels turning, and it's certainly made with expert craft, but I'm growing tired of popcorn flicks that only serve up organic kernels without even a hint of butter or salt. Yes, it's clever and thoughtful, but since when is that all we want from a 'scary' night out at the flicks?

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Comparing your favorite NBA players to Game of Thrones characters, Volume 1

        If you play the game of basketball thrones, you either win, or you wait four months to play basketball again die.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for all who haven't seen Game of Thrones through Season 4, as well as those who've ignored the Professional Basketball Association during the 2014-2015 regular season.

Warning II: Like, Seriously! There are links here that obliterate the very mystery that makes GoT so special... Actually, almost all of them do that very thing (along with being quite grisly; this article is NSFW). Please, if you're not caught up on Thrones, turn back now!

LeBron James is Tyrion Lannister
        You can't really write this article without including the world's biggest player and Westeros' smallest Lannister, but nothing truly fits for either of them. That's why they get each other; both are the main characters of their stories whose personal narratives have shifted enough times to make your head spin. I suppose I could pull together some likening between LeBron's initial Cleveland departure and Tyrion's mad-dash out of King's Landing, but at the end of the day, I mostly just wanted a picture comparing LBJ to Peter Dinklage.

Steph Curry is Daenerys Targaryen
         What if I told you that a level-headed individual could rule the world? Possessing an important bloodline (Daenerys' father serving as king, Curry's pop as a functional NBA rotation player), both saw their seemingly untouchable trajectories toward power grind to a debilitating halt, the Targaryen clan murdered in their near entirety, while Steph was forced to attend Davidson University (which is the worse fate? We may never know...). Curry is a near-lock to win this season's MVP award, just like Daenerys was likely afforded a similar prize for freeing the slaves of Mareen. All this to say, these hard-laboring conquerors have attracted the attention and affection of millions, but winter/the playoffs are coming, and while they've both been successful in the minor leagues, it's time to see just how far they can push their emperorship.

Kevin Durant is Arya Stark
        What once seemed like the brightest of futures has turned dark as night. Both KD and Arya are young talents who came from illustrious backgrounds, the latter as a member of a noble family and offspring of the North's former warden, while Durant was the second overall pick in the draft, and has won multiple scoring titles. Then it all went into the toilet, the Thunder watching many of their troops fall victim to an endless string of maladies, while anyone within arm's reach of Arya has essentially received a death sentence. But watching one of his best teammates be traded for cents on the dollar has had a similar effect on Durant as (not) watching her father's decapitation has had on Arya; these two have nothing to lose, and have allowed their mean streaks to take over. I feel sorry for both, but am admittedly tantalized to discover what each does with hardly anything to latch on to. For both of these fan favorites, the future is a blank check.

Chris Paul is Tywin Lannister
        Moreso then anyone else living in their respective realms, both Paul and Tywin are obsessively concerned with what's best for the family/team. They also tend to alienate people with their complete and utter inability to play nice, Lannister glowering down at those for whom he lacks true respect (see: everyone), while Paul prefers to shout right in their faces. Cerebral as they may be, the end result for both has been disappointing thus far, but at least CP3 was allowed to stand up before the bad news was delivered.

Anthony Davis is Melisandre
        Immensely powerful in ways we don't truly understand, both Davis and Melisandre are about as alien to their respective worlds as you can really get. Is The Brow really that tall, that agile, and equally as capable of swatting your shot into the stratosphere as catching fire on the other end of the court? Why, yes he is! Can the Red Woman manipulate kings, give birth to demonic smoke babies, and start a fire or two of her own? You betchya! And they're both gaining more and more power at an alarming rate. We've ignored Melisandre Davis to the point that it's become dangerous; can anything stop the upward trajectories of these sorcerers?

Damien Lillard is Jon Snow
        Can you say "heartthrob?" Yes, I am a Portland native, and yes, that horribly skews my understanding of Dame in the league at large, but give me a chance. Both display their immense talents in a region largely ignored by the general populous (Oregon=the Wall and beyond), while maintaining a flashy style that creates converts on the regular. Both are at their best when their backs are against the wall, and the point guard's defensive deficiencies mirror Snow's complete inability to protect his family, and utter weakness for redheads. Finally, and perhaps most importantly: Doesn't Dame face look at least a little like Jon Snow face?

Carmelo Anthony is Cersei Lannister
        Will anything on god's green earth please you, Carmelo Lannister? Sure, show Allen Iverson the door/Bran Stark the window. Go ahead, force your way out of Denver/demand freedom from betrothal to a gay man. And while you're at it, why not muse over paths you were too short-sighted to take/blame your own blood for crimes they obviously didn't commit? And now you're gonna blame your brother/organization for your endlessly unsatisfying existence? Jesus, pour yourself another glass of wine already. This is getting ridiculous.

Russell Westbrook is Ramsey Bolton
        Simply put, there is no one on this earth as crazy as Ramsey Westbrook. Seriously, just look in those eyes; there's nothing in there besides madness and rage. Both employ tactics that might readily be described as grisly, Rascally Russ completely forgetting that he has four other teammates on a semi-regular basis, while Bastard Bolton gets his willies from doing stuff like this. Both have seen their power bolstered recently, Ramsey taking his father's name while Westbrook takes Kevin Durant's team. For Ramsey Westbrook, the most extreme actions are the only one's worth taking, wether it be leveling Winterfell, or the 76er's transition defense. The results aren't always the best.

Tim Duncan is Maester Aemon
        These guys have seen rivers. The most obvious link between the two is age, Duncan presently serving as the NBA's second oldest player (sorry buddy; Andre Miller's got you by 37 days!), while the actor who plays Aemon might actually be the oldest living human. More importantly, they're both royals who would rather serve the good of the people than lord over them, Aemon Targaryen concealing his status as one of the last living Dragons, while the five-time champ has never minded yielding the reigns to the likes of Tony Parker or Kwahi Leonard. They're a noble pair, and we could all stand to learn a little something from them before they're gone. Which they will be, because wow, they're old!

Paul George is Jamie Lannister
        This one just writes itself. Both George and Jamie had the fortune of being reared under the tutelage of a living legend (Tywin and Larry Bird), and watched their careers flourish as a result. Then, suddenly, everything went to shit: they were both involved in weird sex scandals, endured a pretty rough season or two because of it, and ultimately had one of their most important body parts lopped right off (not gonna link to the Paul George one. Sorry, but even this post has limits). Having walked through the fires of hell, both George and Jamie once again find themselves fan favorites despite misdeeds ranging from bribing women to have abortions to crippling precocious children. Apparently we just like these guys too much to hold them to anything.

Dwyane Wade is Stannis Baratheon
        Raise your hand if you think Stannis Baratheon will ever sit on the Iron Throne... That's what I thought. He certainly had his chance, which is perhaps the greatest dividing factor between Wade and Stannis; the former has experienced real-world success, while the other still toils in waiting. Otherwise, they're not so dissimilar, a pair of aging leaders who have far more faith in their own chances at glory than anyone else does, and will continue to chase it until their death/retirement. Keep plugging away, you guys; you'll need more than a loan from the Iron Bank to ever make it all the way to the top.

James Harden is Roose Bolton
        Harden wasn't satisfied playing under-paid third-banana to Westbrook and KD in Oklahoma City, so what did he do? He made a deal in the shadows and swapped allegiances, forever maiming his previous teammates in the name of gaining lordship in a nearby realm. Is that really so different from what the dastardly Roose Bolton pulled on the Starks? Both employ trickery whenever it advances their cause (Bolton's Red WeddingHarden's flopping), and bore the living bejesus out of everyone who just wanted to watch a good game/episode. Screw you, Roose Harden!

Kyle Korver is Ygritte
        They're both legendary snipers, though neither uses a snipper. What's more? Both constantly look prettier than they have any right to appear given their professions. The Wildling lives in impossible conditions and yet sports a face as fair as a lily, while Korver maintains GQ-level hair despite busting his ass running around screens all day. They both must have amazing make-up artists.

DeAndre Jordan is Hodor
       Jordan is not a particularly savvy basketball player, but his strengths (see: strength) are undeniable, and made all that much better when coach Doc Rivers goes into full-on Bran Stark/Warg mode. As though inhabiting the brain space of a lesser being, Coach Glen continues to assert that Jordan is one of the best defenders in the game, sort of like when the crippled heir of Winterfell brought Hodor's combat abilities to a whole new level.

Kwahi Lenard is Varys
        Is being the Master of Whisperers really so different from being the NBA's best on-ball defender? Both are constantly reading the tea leaves and acting accordingly, everyone's favorite eunuch prowling every square inch of King's Landing for answers, while Lenard never fails to sniff out even the trickiest pick and rolls. Conniving in the shadows isn't exactly as sexy as sitting on the Iron Throne, just as leading the league in steals isn't as exciting as leading it in points, which makes the work that these two do just that much more impressive. While everyone is worried about tyrannical kings and aging 7-footers, these two are running the show. We're just not noticing.

Derrick Rose is Oberyn Martell
        They captured our hearts in a hurry, and promptly broke them soon afterward. Born and raised in Chicago, Rose became the NBA's youngest-ever MVP winner back in 2011, was beloved for his breathtaking style of play, and seemed destined to lead his hometown to glory. Martell, the galavanting prince of Dorne, became a fan favorite the second he brought his swagger and voracious sexual appetite to Game of Thrones' fourth season. And then, with the sound of a simple 'pop,' it was all over. Yes, Rose is still a player in the league, but his chances of regaining all of his vaunted explosiveness are only slightly better than the odds the Red Viper avenges his sister's death.

Giannas Antetokounmpo is Gendry Baratheon
        With all due respect to the rest of the NBA's bright young stars, Giannas 'The Greek Freak' Antetokounmpo is by far the player with the league's most unknowable ceiling... just like my man Gendry. The bastard son of Robert Baratheon hasn't been seen since the Onion Knight sent him to sea in the smallest, lousiest ship he could find, but who would be surprised if the boy with king's blood turned out to be the key to George R.R. Martin's entire sprawling narrative? Similarly, Greek Freak might become one of the best ball players in the world, but playing in Milwaukee is akin to working as a blacksmith in Flea Bottom; no one will ever, ever notice you. But I'm here for you, Giannis Baratheon, and as long as you keep doing stuff like this, the sky's the limit (Seriously though, click on that link).

Dirk Nowinski is Brienne of Tarth
        Dirk's loyalty is one of his most pronounced attributes, having spent his entire career in a Mavs uniform, even taking a recent pay cut to allow owner/BFF Mark Cuban to go nightclubbing with mid-20's fashion models shopping for free agents. Brienne operates from a similar if-I'm-with-you-I'm-with-you vantage point, and the same problem has befallen both of these pure-hearted warriors; they might stick around, but the cause for which they're fighting won't stop changing. When the Tower of Tarth was serving Renly Baratheon, the pride of Germany was kicking it with Steve Nash. By the time Dirk moved on to Josh Howard and Jasons Terry and Kidd, Brie was trying to make it work with Catelyn Stark. Then she just started grasping at straws, pledging loyalty to Jamie Lannister while Nowinski hitched his wagon to the impossible backcourt of Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo. These poor saps only want rulers/roll players worth fighting for, perpetually offering up their unconditional services to characters who just aren't really in it for the long.

Rudy Gobert is Tommin Baratheon
        Just when you thought all hope was lost, an entirely unexpected ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds, bringing joy to the hearts of the realm/Utah. Screw the Red Wedding; Joffrey's younger brother turning out to be a gentle, kind-hearted young lad has to be Game of Thrones biggest shocker so far. Being the third child of royalty is kind of like being a late first round draft pick in the NBA; obviously you've got it made, but the expectations are quite a bit lower than those who came before you. Apparently no one told Gobert about this, because the French 7-footer has been a revelation over the last few months, leading a hapless Jazz team to one of the best post-All Star game records in the league with his soul-crushing defense. Perhaps Tommin can do the same for Westeros. Just look at those fresh young faces; don't you want to pinch their cheeks?

Roy Hibbert is The Mountain
        Roy Hibbert is an NBA all-star who's not actually that good at basketball (dear everyone who just took umbrage with that statement: homie's 7'2'', shoots 44.5% from the field, and averages 7 rebounds...). The Mountain is a legendary warrior who's not actually that good at fighting (again, things are going pretty poorly for The Mountain until the dreaded 4:48 mark). Both are cumbersome, and lack a true feel for their respective crafts. You know what else they are? Freaking Huge, and unless that changes, we should expect to have both around for a while.

Zach Randolph is Khal Drogo
        Remember when Drogo and the Dothraki were doing their thing on Thrones? That eerie feeling that, if you were even vaguely in the vicinity of the nomadic clan of horsemen, a grisly fate might suddenly befall you? That's how every NBA player feels whenever Z-Bo rumbles onto the court. Seriously, a google search for 'Zach Randolph tackle' yields multiple results, and you best believe that if he could give Blake Griffin a Crown for a King, he'd jump at the opportunity (sadly, this is as close as he'll ever get... or is it this... or this?). Word to the wise; stay the hell away from Z-Bo Drogo. They're barbarians.

Pau Gasol is Sansa Stark
        I'm sure that when Gasol heard he was ditching Memphis for the Los Angeles Lakers, he was just as happy as Sansa was at the prospect of leaving life at Winterfell for the glamour of King's Landing. The lesson here: don't take what you have for granted. While Sansa turned into the tortured plaything of the sadistic Joffery Baratheon, Pau suffered a similar fate at the hands of one Kobe Bryant, who found a new pair of shoulders to carefully place all the blame upon. It took both of them a while, but eventually Sansa Gasol became disillusioned, and decided to just up and leave. Good for you, Sansa Gasol: the world is a sprawling place filled with endless possibilities, wherein most people won't be so giddy to show you your father's severed head/tell you to put your 'big boy pants' on.

Dwight Howard is Joffery Baratheon
        What does an enormous greek god of a man have to do with a scrawny trust-fund king going through the worst puberty in the history of man? Everyone. Hates. Them. I suppose Dwight did treat his former teammates and the good people of Orlando as though they were Sansa Stark or a drunken court jester, but the nature of this comparison is much simpler than all that: Joffery is the one GoT's character no one likes, and Howard fulfills a similar roll in the Association (granted, I still like him because he embodies the last few years of Laker ineptitude, but that's neither here nor there).

Kobe Bryant is Robb Stark
        Is there anything more obnoxious than a leader hard-set on assigning the blame to everyone other than themselves? Unless I'm mistaken (being the Blazer homer that I am), Kobe has run every trust-worthy ally out of town as soon as he's had the chance, a move straight out of Robb Stark's book. Theon was his Pau, a punching bag who eventually grew tired of all the punches. Dwight Howard became his Rickard Karstark, a valuable asset whom inspired enough bile to receive an unfortunate fate. And Shaq was his Walder Fray, an individual with whom he struck an early deal that could have earned him the whole damn kingdom had he not strayed from his word. Since then, Bryant has been victim to a variety of health concerns, while Robb's one true injury was plenty. Metaphorically speaking, I expect Kobe's career to conclude in a similar manner.

DeMarcus Cousins is Theon Greyjoy
        How much sympathy can you give to a guy who dug his own grave? In the case of both Theon and Boggie Cousins, my answer is 'a lot.' DeMarcus was selected with a high lottery pick in much the same fashion as Theon, who was taken under the wing of the Stark family. Both toiled away until acting out in a fashion that has turned many fans against them. but their subsequent punishments have more than befit their crimes. Boogie may be a maniac, but did he really deserve to be subject to a revolving door of coaches, point guards, and owners? Theon may have cooked some kids, which is... yeah... pretty unforgivable, but holy god, did he pay the price. It's past the point of wondering wether these two deserve mercy; now we just want the world to take it easy on them for our own sakes. How much torture is enough torture?

LaMarcus Aldridge is Eddard Stark
        True noblemen of the North, LaMarcus Stark is a relic of older times, and suffers accordingly. While Eddard teaches his children about both justice on honor, the warden of Portland leads by example with his confident, gritty play. A torn ligament in your left hand? No problem! A spear through the leg? No biggie. Both play on despite their pains, fighting in the name of 'the old ways' (see: long 2-point shots, mortal justice). That type of paradigm didn't suit Ned Stark well in the long run; we'll see how it works out for Aldridge against the Lannisters Grizzlies.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Leftovers: Winter 2015

        There's really no two ways about it; 2015 has been a spectacular year for music so far. Multiple albums released in the first quarter of the year would have slotted in my top ten of 2014, and we're still barely over 100 days into this thing! Incase I didn't shout quite loudly enough the other day, I kiiinda dig the new Kendrick Lamar, but To Pimp a Butterfly isn't the only must-listen LP we've been treated to so far. If the following 6 records aren't already in your itunes, allow me to nudge you in the right direction:

Carrie and Lowell---Sufjan Stevens
        Despite releasing his debut LP a whopping 15 years ago, we're only just now meeting the real Sufjan Stevens. Over the course of his first 6 studio albums, the eclectic singer/songwriter released records consisting of stripped-down folk, grandstanding electronica, elaborate orchestral pop, and faith-based hymns, not to mention over four-and-a-half hours of Christmas music (and yes, you read that right). What he hasn't done, however, is put his own personal experiences and emotions on wax... until now. Carrie and Lowell, named after Stevens' recently-deceased mother and still-supportive step-father, is by far the most autobiographical work of his career so far, the troubadour even describing his 11-track wonder as "... Artless, which is a good thing. This is not my art project; this is my life." Sonically, the disc most closely resembles Seven Swans' stripped-down, hushed loveliness, but the lyrics are what set it apart, the album teeming with tales of Sufjan's youth, and the visits he made to Oregon under the care of his less-than-competent mother. Though their relationship is presented as thorny and complicated, Stevens mostly saves the blame for himself, self-loathing and unconditional forgiveness constantly clashing in one of the most emotional musical offerings in recent memory.

I Love You, Honeybear---Father John Misty
        When Josh Tillman decided to quit his gig as drummer for the Fleet Foxes in early 2012, it looked at least something like career suicide; a little over three years later, nothing could be further from the truth. While the indie darlings haven't released an album since 2011, Tillman, who now records as Father John Misty, has given us two. There was plenty to admire about 2012's Fear Fun, but that deliberately varied disc played like a musician still in search of his true voice, a claim that couldn't possibly be leveled against a single second of I Love You, Honeybear. Consisting just about entirely of ballads whose beauty thinly veils their piss-and-vinegar, the LP is resplendently textured and magnanimously comely, sprinkling tales of debauchery and detachment with enough gorgeous gloss to make the bitter pills go down smoothly if the listener so desires. Numbers like the gorgeous Bored in the U.S.A. walk an impossibly thin line between jaded sarcasm and desperate longing, while The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment commits to the former, and Strange Encounter the latter. Even the disc's most rosy cut, Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins), a tale of two lovers uniting in their bitterness (among other things) is a monument to mixed emotions. Though I Love You, Honeybear's sincerity is constantly in question, its level of accomplishment never is.

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper---Panda Bear
        Noah Lennox has set the bar awfully high for himself, releasing one classic after another with Animal Collective, and contributing knock-out solo work under the moniker Panda Bear all the while. Grim Reaper is perhaps lesser than the man's previous pair of efforts (widely-lauded Person Pitch, and wholly-underrated Tomboy), but its intricate, knotty sound-world is just as easy to get lost in. Tropic of Cancer and Lonely Wanderer waft beautifully into and out of existence, while the centerpiece back-to-back of lead single Boys Latin and delightfully grimy Come to Your Senses are headphone fodder of the very highest caliber. On-ear headsets were practically designed to showcase this material, the density of Lennox's work with producer Sonic Boom proving downright enveloping to all who allow it the time and space to fully unfurl. Groovier and dingier than we're used to from the Brian Wilson super-fan, Grim Reaper is simply another chapter in the career of one of the most interesting artists of this millennium.

Policy---Will Butler
        11 years and 4 LP's into their storied career, Arcade Fire has established an identity as this generation's defining arena act, an eight-piece with out-sized sound, and even more enormous emotion and importance. Will Butler wants nothing to do with all that. The debut record of AF frontman Win Butler's little brother, Policy is a rip-roaring 27 minutes that's jam-packed with energy, excitement, humor, and, above all, nifty songwriting. Only one track dares to go on past the 4 minute mark, each caffeinated, delicious morsel ripping through its existence in the name of pure pleasure-center bliss. While Policy is mostly comprised of lo-fi, excitable anthems (Take My Side, Witness), it also finds space for McCartney-esque balladry (Finish What I Started, Sing to Me), and 80's tributes that would find themselves wholly at home on any LCD Soundsystem album (Anna, Something's Coming). A modest offering that stresses fun over literally all else, Policy is a promise of yet more enticing music from the Arcade Fire camp.

Natalie Prass---Natalie Prass
        It's kind of funny to see Natalie Prass' debut LP listed as a wintertime triumph when everything about the disc screams of Spring. The Richmond, Virginia-based singer-songwriter's soulful country renditions feel immediately well-worn, like a trusty pair of shoes. There's precious-little boundary-breaking on display here, but in its place one finds relentless loveliness, each note wafting out of speakers like a breeze gently ruffling the leaves of a tree. Enwrapped in contented horns and pleading strings, Prass' voice drips with emotion and sincerity, forgoing bombastic high notes in favor of a crackle and hush so intimate, she might as well be sitting next to you. This isn't to say the 28-year-old up-and-comer doesn't show some range: opener My Baby Don't Understand Me is a grandstanding number that sees the vocalist through emotional peaks and valleys, while Your Fool and its companion track Reprise opt for a tone that's almost conversational. Prass' lineage will be obvious to anyone with a taste for the genre, though the songsmith doesn't seem to mind; why else pen and croon Christy, a cut that, for my money, is a direct reference to Dolly Pardon's Jolene. Floating in a sun-soaked middle ground between recent offerings from Rhye and First Aid Kit, Natalie Prass is a confident, lustrious introduction to a voice that will hopefully stick around for a while.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit---Courtney Barnett
         When it comes to Courtney Barnett, inhibition is the thing. How else could you explain the swirling blender of Sometimes I Sit, an album that, in some previously unthinkable way, seems to split the difference between Nirvana and Sheryl Crow? At every turn, Barnett has her cake and eats it too, sing/speaking stream-of-consciousness narratives involving perceived suicide attempts, lazy days spent indoors, home shopping, sexy swim instructors, and seals who have lost the will to go on. The breadth and randomness of her tales would be off-putting if she was any less talented, or any more concerned with conveying a message: the house-hunters of radiant album standout Depreston consider the life of the deceased former tenant only to subsequently muse on what it would cost to knock the place down, while the Barnett of Kim's Caravan spends as much time relaying the details of her convenience mart snacks as she does that aforementioned beached mammal. Of course, none of this would matter if this manic storyteller weren't so spellbinding on guitar, as at home in up-tempo ditties (Elevator Operator, Nobody Really Care if You Don't Go to the Party), as she is with muscly power-chord monsters (Pedestrian at Best, Small Poppies) and steady delights (An Illustration of Loneliness, Boxing Day Blues). Who needs to land on a distinct style or sound when you've got as many tricks up your sleeve as Courtney Barnett?