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Monday, September 21, 2015

Leftovers: Summer 2015

Leftover Movies (now Available at Redbox):
Kingsman: The Secret Service:
        Back in the summer of 2011, director Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class was met with glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike, and has since managed to reboot the whole mutant-based film property. We've spent the last four years wondering how the helmer would follow his runaway success, and now we finally know: by basically making the same movie all over again. Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a troubled youth growing up in London who is recruited by a dapper, stoic English gentleman (Colin Firth) to join The Kingsman, an organization of super agents tasked with protecting the world. Yes, another gifted 20-something being adopted by a larger group who sees his immense potential isn't exactly a brand new concept, but the charm of Kingsman is in its familiarity, not its originality; the film delights in toying with your preconceived notions of what a spy epic is all about, somehow managing to defy your expectations while simultaneously playing straight into them. Exciting action scenes abound, utter ridiculousness awaits behind every corner, and a specific scene involving Mr. Firth could justify the price of admission all by itself. You'll never look at the Oscar winner the same way again.

Leftover Music:
Another One---Mac DeMarco:
        Less than a year and a half after releasing what many consider his best record to date in 2014's Salad Days, Mac DeMarco is back with Another One. As its title might suggest, this collection of eight songs feels more like a gathering of Salad Days B-sides than a proper album, lasting all of 24 minutes from front to back, and delighting all the while. The back half of Just to Put Me Down plays out like a throwback to DeMarco's earlier work, which emphasized intricate guitar picking over the woozy reverb he's favored of late, while the title track offers a darkness to his sound that feels completely new, adorned with lyrics full of anxiety and disillusionment. Most of the time, however, the guy's all about having a laid-back good time; opener The Way You'd Love Her uses its groovy ax-line to shoot rays of sunshine onto your back, both A Heart Like Hers and Without Me rocking listeners back and forth like they're in a hammock. Summer's almost over, and you should give this one a spin before she's gone.

Ego Death---The Internet:
        Before encountering Ego Death, all I knew about The Internet was that they (or was it he? She?) were a part of the Odd Future collective. And while this may be true, finding a more misleading context for their music would be a tall task. Led by vocalist Syd tha Kyd, The Internet craft sultry R&B that's lightyears removed from the wanton aggression of OF's most famous output, Ego Death consisting of one smooth, pleasure-positive winner after another. The group enlists fellow 'alternative R&B' star Janelle Monae for breezy highlight Gabby, but requires no assistance on Just Sayin'/I Tried, one of the album's only moments of true aggression, wherein Syd scolds a former lover with a calm the belies fire. It's a rare moment of tension in an album deeply defined by its sexy saunter and mellowed-out worldview, so much so that when Tyler, the Creator shows up on two-part closer Palace/Curse, he not only sings instead of raps, but acts as a jovial MC to an imaginary dance party. If Ego Death can get that guy to calm down and have a good time, imagine what it can do for you.

La Di Da Di---Battles:
        Either you're in on Battles or you're out, and I'm all the way in. Now nearly a decade into their reign of deceivingly methodical mania, the New York-based three-piece is back with their first album since 2011, and if anything, they've only gotten crazier. Now two discs removed from the departure of Tyondai Braxton, La Di Da Di finally sees the band omit vocals entirely, focusing on the speed and wicked interplay of keyboards, basses, electronics, guitars, and that tasmanian devil of drummers known as John Stanier. The three previous items on this list all stressed comfort, relaxation, and familiarity, all of which are concepts Battles have yet to encounter. This is a taught, muscular, 50-minute listen, from the sprinting, swirling momentum of FF Bada, to the leering, bombastic Non-Violence. Even a song with a title like Summer Shimmer can't help but induce stress, its plucky rhythm seemingly chocked by the wheezing strings that lean in from the track's periphery, forever threatening to take over. It's not exactly a walk in the park, but if you're looking to go on a run, let Battles be your guide.

No No No---Beirut:
        Beirut's latest hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire when it comes to critical reception, and while I disagree with the overall shoulder shrug its been shown so far, it's not exactly hard to see why. Zach Condon's lush, elaborate work as Beirut has often seemed to contain worlds, defined by the myriad of varied instrumentation occupying its every nook and cranny. No No No is largely stripped-down by comparison, most tracks consisting of little more than a percussion line, a singular instrument for melody, and Condon's lovely croon. One thing that hasn't changed is Condon's impeccable ear, that simple weaving of bongos and keyboard chords slapping smiles on faces during opener Gibraltar, as Perth sways its way into a late-summer's contented bliss. The reduced instrumentation also affords Condon's singing the spotlight, and while his intonations have always proved comely and inviting, songs like Fener and the gorgeous earworm of a title track make a convincing case that his voice is among the best working in independent music today. No No No proves that minimal doesn't have to be minimizing.

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