Movies

Film Review: La La Land

 Sweeping a whopping seven Golden Globes and tipped for Oscar success, anyone who takes a trip to the cinema in the next few weeks will have high expectations for La La Land. The musical/movie which is set in the “City of Stars” Los Angeles, follows Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, and their struggle to achieve their dreams. Their first encounter is in a traffic jam on an LA freeway, when Sebastian honks his horn and Mia gives him the finger. They have a few more testy encounters before they’re dancing around singing, “I’d never fall for you..” but yes, you guessed it, things don’t stay that way.

While these two dreamers are wasting their artistic abilities (Mia waitressing and Sebastian playing embarrassingly simple Christmas melodies in some old bar to make ends meet) they find each other and become one another’s support systems as they manoeuvre their way through the highs and lows of trying to make it in a creative industry, as well as trying to maintain their romance. There’s plenty of moments that could be branded as cliché and flamboyant, but they’re all a joy to watch in La La Land. The bright, bold colours throughout are invigorating and the moment when Mia and Sebastian quite literally dance among the stars is so beautiful it’s hard to cast it aside as cheesy. The epilogue is particularly well-done (but I won’t spoil that for you).

It’s a simple, clean story – there’s no passionate sex scenes or intense violent encounters – and it doesn’t need them. From the simplicity of the mounting tension as Mia and Sebastian’s hands inch closer and closer to one another in the cinema to a dinner scene in which the conversation turns sour and there’s a moment when there’s a painful silence in which they can either leave it or say something achingly mean… it’s all so real; there’s no need for any blockbuster movie distractions.

Then, there’s the music. Considering Gosling only learned to play the piano over the course of a few months, his piano skills are ridiculously impressive. He doesn’t fail to deliver multiple mesmerizing musical performances throughout the course of the movie. If his piano pieces don’t compel you to listen to the soundtrack the moment you step out of the cinema door (and for days and days after that…) the songs will. They begin buoyant and joyful, “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”, before Gosling and Stone delve into more serious and beautiful pieces, “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”.

However, it’s not perfect. One of La La Land’s issues is that many of the musical-esque songs are crammed in at the start and by the time we get to the last third of the film, it seems as though the crew forgot they were making a musical (bar Mia’s magnificent audition). There’s also the fact that Stone and Gosling don’t have Broadway vocals and they’re certainly no Fred and Ginger. Leaving the cinema, I couldn’t help thinking the film was charming and touching, if a bit overrated. Hollywood might love it so much because it romanticizes that struggle of making it in a city of dreamers (something it’s critics might have experienced themselves) as well as the nostalgic nod to the Golden Age/MGM musicals it offers.

It ways it is attempting to emulate a big-scale Hollywood musical, one where you leave feeling uplifted and joyous. But it’s the twists and turns that deviate from that genre, that make it truly special. In La La Land, director Damien Chazelle challenges you to consider compromise, even in the dreamy world he has crafted here. There’s a moment in the film where Sebastian is attempting to explain his love of jazz to Mia; “it’s conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting” and this seems to be the version of ‘the dream’ Chazelle is presenting to his audience here. It’s a film about being an artist, falling in love, and following your dream, but at its core it’s about the cost of all three.

Rating: 4/5

(Published on Campus.ie)
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Music

Album Review: Not to Disappear by Daughter

{Not To Disappear is number one on my favourite albums of 2016}

Started at the bottom now we’re here… my favourite album of the year; Not to Disappear by Daughter. Elena Tonra & co’s follow up to their stunning debut If You Leave was my most-anticipated album for 2016 and they didn’t disappoint.

This album is dipping your toes in to someone’s darkest, bleakest moments. Infamous for her gloomy, at times nihilistic lyrics, the album explores self- loathing, loneliness, love and loss. It’s mellow and melancholy, and at times so grim it’s hard not to be consumed by it, but there’s also something so inviting, so compelling about Tonra’s gentle vocals, as though she is enticing you into a darker world. The accompaniment of Igor Haefeli on guitar and Remi Aguilella on drums combines to create something truly special and gloriously atmospheric.

The opener, New Ways, is a perfect example of this. It starts off wonderfully calm, with delicate, dreamy vocals from Tonra with a beautiful build up as she sings, “I’ve been trying to stay out / But there’s something in you / I can’t be without / I just need it here” before there’s a wonderful cathartic kind of sonical release. The theme of numbness, or even depersonalisation, that pervaded If You Leave is also evident on the new album. On the chorus of Numbers Tonra sings out “I feel numb in this kingdom..” The frantic, incessant drums match the rising anxiety apparent in the lyrics as she begs for someone to “make [her] better.”

It’s the third track, Doing The Right Thing, that’s one of the most heartbreaking on the album, an album which Tonra herself has described as “a little ball of sad.” The leading single was released prior to the album (accompanied by a heartbreaking video I’ve embedded above for your viewing pleasure…) and inspired by her grandmothers Alzheimers. It describes her eroding mind and the terror she must feel at moments when she is aware, “I’m just fearing one day soon / I’ll lose my mind.” Mothers is equally disconcerting as Tonra attempts to describe motherhood. “You will drain all you need to drain out of me” she sings softly through the synth, as though ‘drain’ is the most common way to describe the relationship between mother and child.

As usual, the English trio also explore love on the record. And as usual, it’s not “happy shit” (Tonra’s words, not mine). How marks the end of a relationship, the line “How come he’s the one / to let me down?” painfully drawn out. On Alone/With You she struggles with both loathing and craving companionship, “I hate sleeping alone” is countered with “I hate sleeping with you.” Meanwhile on To Belong, Tonra seems to ascertain her independence (“I don’t want to belong / to you / to anyone”)  and questions love’s futility, “Don’t you think we’ll be better off / without temptation to regress, to fake tenderness / waiting to see someone we won’t know for long  / in cities we’ll only leave.

So, Not to Disappear may be similar to its predecessor in terms of theme, but sonically it’s more adventurous. No Care is the clear outlier of the LP. It’s a frenzy of percussion, guitar riffs and a steady, banging beat that feels a bit like a headache that just won’t let you go. It’s brash and blunt, “There has only been one time where we fucked / And I felt like a bad memory / Like my spine was a reminder of her / And you said that you felt sick” she sings before repeating over and over “No care, no care / I don’t care, I don’t care anymore / I don’t care / I don’t care,” something she’s clearly trying to convince herself of (and failing).

But they go back to their roots on concluding track Made of Stone, the song perhaps most reminiscent of their earlier releases. It’s simple and beautiful. Tonra’s insecurities are laid out bare here, “What if I am made of stone?” she wonders, noting that “feeling is not a system.” It’s the bleakness that turns many off Daughter, the brutally honest lyrics that recount the most painful moments between family, lovers and often one’s self, but when they do it so well, it’s hard not to fall into their trap. Made of Stone seems destined to be a tragically depressing end to the record, (“Love / it’s just face-painting / Love / it’s just easing the waiting / before dying without company”) but, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, as it ends on a touching moment as Tonra whispers, “You’ll find love kid, it exists.” Although, it is Elena Tonra, so perhaps that’s a warning rather than a reassurance.

Rating: 5/5

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Music

Album Review: Writing of Blues & Yellows by Billie Marten

{Writings of Blues & Yellows is number two on my favourite albums of 2016}

Anyone who follows me on social media will no doubt have heard me harping on about this girl before. Seventeen-year-old Isabelle Tweddle (who goes by the stage name Billie Marten) unveiled her first studio album to the world back in September. It’s a quiet and beautiful affair with ethereal vocals, relaxing acoustics, and remarkably introspective lyrics for someone so young.  It is no doubt one of my favourite albums of the year, but I’ve been procrastinating this review for a few days now simply because I wanted to make sure I did the album justice. Honestly,  I am still not sure I can verbalize how dear I hold this album to me.

Unsurprisingly, one of the reasons is due to how much I can relate to the lyrics. The songs were written when Marten was between the ages of 14 and 17, so it feels a little like listening to someone much wiser and more talented than me make an album out of my diary! At only fifteen years old the young Brit released her first single, Bird, which follows the dreamy opening number La Lune on the LP. It’s a song about “how words can truly affect people,” and instantly transported me back to feelings of loneliness and isolation in the past when I felt distant from friends or entirely alone. Her delicate, breathy vocals matched with a simple piano melody perfectly complimented the innocent and melancholy mood of the lyrics.

On the third track, Lionhearted, she notes that she’s “never been too bold, keeping in the quiet and shade” and wonders what life would be like if she was a little braver, “What would life be like with a lionheart inside? / Instead of mine, give me another…”  It is one of the little reminders of her youth on the record, seeming to reveal a little of that sometimes overbearing insecurity teenage girls are prone to experiencing, and the naive assumption that they are alone in it (“Oh this is lonely territory..”)  Another lovely reminder of Marten’s youth is the story behind Emily. The creaking of a piano stool and intricate guitar picking open up this stunning track , a song inspired by Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Apparently Marten was studying the novel in school and said the song came as a result of “procrastinating.” If only my procrastinating resulted in something quite so beautiful…

Milk and Honey is one of the rare occasions where Billie looks outwards and offers some social commentary.  Greed is the topic of this track in which Marten has a self-confessed rant at the  “ridiculous obsession some people seem to have these days with constantly wanting everything all the time.” The song seems to tell the story of two people who now “dream apart.” The songwriter is “content with time well-spent” while all the subject of the song wants is “milk, more than [they] can drink.” Sonically, it feels slightly more upbeat than many of the other tracks on the album (with the exception of the lovely Unaware), and lyrically it’s probably got a lesson in there for some of us.

One of the most notable tracks on the album has to be the haunting and atmospheric Heavy Weather. The song seems to get heavier and heavier, just like the weather. There’s a beautiful build-up on the bridge as Marten sings “heavy weather, heavy weather, heavy weather…” like a dark cloud filling with rain before it all tumbles down. Hello Sunshine is another one with some particularly nice production. There’s strings, keys, percussion and a rich vocal on this dark track that ultimately ends on a note of hope, “In the end we’ll find our boats and sail them / to this land of isles remote / and bathe in the light, the lemon light / hello sunshine, it’s nice to meet you.”

Not just one of my favourite songs on the album, Live is now one of my favourite songs ever. It’s so very simple and oh so lovely. “I want to go places that I’ve never been..” Billie sings sweetly, “I want to see things that I’ve never seen / Quietly happy, and live by the sea.” However, she seems to be held back by people who warn her “Don’t go out / don’t get lost in the dark / don’t go in too deep / don’t swim out too far” but she yearns to “live a little at last.” It seems to be a song that everyone can relate to, fantasizing about travelling the world and living life to the fullest, to “stay out all night say hello to the dawn” and to “spend time with the ones [you’ve] always adored,” ignoring the shackles we feel life has put on us. The bridge has the young songstress vowing to “make [her] own mistakes” and “let down [her] guard.” The simple guitar picking and gliding glissando in the opening few bars give it a raw, homegrown kind of sound from the get go. It’s the kind of song you can imagine Billie playing casually in her back garden dreaming of travel and adventure.

Teeth is mellow and muted, diving into a period of bad mental health, “I’m writing this in a bad way / no one can hear what my head says.” Over simple, delicate piano chords she whispers “I can’t bear it, I find it hard to breathe” while moments later she notes “if you ask if I’m fine then I’d say yes but I am lying through my teeth.” It’s a painful listen at times, bluntly detailing a period of depression, thrusting you back into that feeling of hopelessness and despair.

It is not one of Marten’s own songs, but an acapella cover of “It’s A Fine Day” by English poet Edward Barton (sung by his girlfriend Jane Lancaster) that wraps up Writings of Blues and Yellows. Personally, I don’t think the cover adds much but Marten has said that it’s a special song to herself and her family, so in that regard, it’s a lovely way to finish off her first full-length musical offering.

For me, the opening line of Unaware (“Soft are your hands on the weight of the world / making your mark with your delicate touch”) perfectly describes Billie Marten’s mark on the musical world. This is an album deserving of your full attention. I’d recommend you sit down with it on a quiet evening when the rain is beating down against the window and you’ve a cup of tea at hand. Alternatively, it’s a soothing sedative for sleepless nights.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

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Life, Random

17 Things to do in 2017

  1. Go to The Happy Pear café.
  2. Go vegan for (at least) 30 days.
  3. Budget.
  4. Develop a schedule for my blog and stick to it.
  5. Cut down on chocolate (sigh).
  6. Counteract every negative thought with a positive one.
  7. Get a summer job.
  8. Read (at least) 30 books.
  9. Exercise more.
  10. Actually read some of the extra readings for class (or at least the required ones).
  11. Start using Headspace again and stick to it.
  12. Develop a thicker skin (translation: stop giving a fuck).
  13. Write down 3 good things about your day, every day.
  14. Switch coffees for smoothies.
  15. Stop comparing yourself to girls on Instagram.
  16. Compliment others more often.
  17. Stay optimistic.
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Life, Personal

16 Things I Learned in 2016

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1. The phrase “it gets better” is actually not a lie.

2. Pretty blouses are not worth it if you’re going to have to handwash them.

3. Forcing yourself to hang out with friends when you’re feeling down is the best thing you can do.

4. JustEat is simultaneously the best and worst app ever invented.

5. Trying to make everyone like you is a pointless activity. (Yeah. I know. It took me nineteen years to learn this).

6. The media is more fucked than you thought.

7. The world is more fucked than you thought.

8. You’re capable of more than you think.

9. You don’t have to feel guilty for not being able to solve all of your friends problems.

10. When people tried to tell you, you were going to miss school even though right now it doesn’t feel like it… yeah you were right and they were wrong. You only miss your English teacher and some of your classmates you don’t see anymore.

11. Age is just a number baby.

12. Deciding to stop weighing yourself a couple of months ago was a really good decision.

13. Spar’s coffee is actually really, really good.

14. You’re going to lose friends if you don’t make an effort to keep in contact.

15. Breaking up with Rimmel Cosmetics is harder than you thought it would be.

16. You have no idea where you’re gonna be in 5 years time but that’s ok nobody else does either.

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Music

Album Review: Isn’t it Strange? by Lauren Aquilina

{Isn’t It Strange is number three on my favourite albums of 2016}

Writing about how much I love this album is a little bittersweet as it’s both the first and the last LP from Lauren Aquilina. Only two months after it’s release, the British songstress revealed that she wouldn’t be releasing any more music due to the negative effect the music industry had had on her mental health. As much as I respect and support her decision for being strong enough to put her mental health over a dream she’s been working towards for years, it’s a real shame her musical career has to end here. Isn’t It Strange reminds me of a younger Taylor Swift in it’s lyrics (deeply personal but wholly relatable) and a modern day Swift in terms of musical style (perfect pop with the odd belting ballad).

Midnight Mouths opens the record, a pretty safe pop number that has Aquilina accusing someone of merely wanting her out of loneliness. It’s definitely not my favourite on the album but it has some nice lyrics that are very tweetable (Is that word or did I just make it up?) Example: “It’s just the lonely, just the lonely talking, so don’t you tell me that you’re falling for me now.”  If I’d decided the tracklisting I would have pushed the second track on the album, Wicked Game, up to the number one position. It has a delicious hook that hides the darkness of the lyrics, “I don’t know how to ask for help […] I’ve been thinking about death.. [..] These are dark, dark times.” There’s also a contrast vocally, she bounces back and forth between a low and high register effortlessly,  the highs on the word “wicked” are especially appealing.

Third on the list is the leading single, Kicks, a fun and empowering number (particularly those HEY’s). The opening line “We’ve got mixed emotions and that’s when things get complicated” is probably a good hint that the album you’re delving into is going to be a perfect addition to any millennial girl’s playlist. Hurt Any Less is my motherfucking jam a brilliant pop song (but also a bit house-y???) that details a relationship that was doomed from the start, “this was never love it was chaos” Aquilina sings while asserting that she “knew this was coming from day one.” There’s some lyrics in there you’re probably gonna wanna scream at the top of your lungs (that “why did you have to let me let you in?” line in particular) and the beat is gonna have you dancing around your room in your pj’s.

The record also features a live version of Fools, the first single Aquilina ever released. It’s a touching rendition of the piano ballad where she ponders going from friends to lovers, “What if we ruin it all, and we love like fools? And all we have, we lose?”  The original version was delicate and soft, perfectly representing the vulnerability of it’s writer. But the album version contrasts it’s predecessor ever so slightly, with an underlying electric guitar riff and a more mature sounding vocal. The evolution of the hopeful girl on the Fools EP to the more cynical woman on Isn’t It Strange feels almost palpable here. It’s followed up by Suddenly Strangers, one song that might reveal the reason behind this. The track seems to tell a story of what might happen if you do take that risk in a friendship, and ultimately end up losing it all like she feared on Fools. Within the song Aquilina crafts the story of two people who went “from everything to nothing, just like that.” She wonders out loud if the other person still talks  “about [their] doubts like they were demons” and mourns how they’d stay up late together “just to watch the date change to something new.” It’s just another pop song on the record, but it’s one of the most affecting, “From talking every waking hour to not knowing where you are now, we’re suddenly strangers, isn’t it strange?”

How Would You Like It & Thinking About are the belting ballads that give you a break from the pop, the latter being my favourite. It’s raw and powerful and touching and heartbreaking all at the same time. “I don’t know how emptiness can be this heavy,” Aquilina sings over a beautiful piano melody. The building crescendo of “All I am thinking about is not thinking about you,” in the bridge is probably one of my favourite moments on the album.

But it’s Ocean, the final song on the record, that has that special something. In a perfect end to the album, the production and the lyrics come together to create something truly atmospheric. “So vast, so free…” Aquilina sings amongst a haze of synth, something that feels reminiscent of a tide smashing against the shore. It evokes feelings of repression, a sense of drowning, a time in which she’s “lost [her] head.” Aside from how powerful the song is sonically, I can’t help feeling that lyrically, it’s a particularly fitting song to close the album on – an album which cost the musician sacrifices to her own mental wellbeing in it’s creation. I really hope Lauren Aquilina finds that sense of freedom and peace she seems to be looking for on Ocean. Regardless of whether this really is the last piece of music we’ll ever hear from the young singer-songwriter, I am grateful for this little bit she chose to share with us and I am sure it will soundtrack some of my journey to that place too.

Rating: 4/5

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Music

Album Review: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

{I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It is number four on my favourite albums of 2016}

Next up on the list is what NME dubbed “2016’s most unpredictable record.” Somewhat surprisingly, the 1975’s bizzare sophomore album has rocketed them to the mainstream. Making the Top 20 in the UK and selling out arena shows around the world, the 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, is a 75 minute record containing four instrumental tracks, an acoustic closing track and, crucially, a bunch of perfect pop songs.

What makes this album different to another pop record however is that the 1975 don’t slack on the lyrics. Love Me takes the piss out of our generation; our narcissism, our obsession with fame and looks, “You’ve got a beautiful face but got nothing to say.” Ugh is slightly less flamboyant musically (with some nice bass from MacDonald) but equally as blunt as Healy comments on his cocaine addiction. The most hit worthy of the lot is probably The Sound, it’s perfect pop but again, some clever self-depreciation from the frontman gives it something extra.

There’s the inevitable relationship songs on the record too. A Change of Heart is all synths and softness as Healy mumbles about a relationship breaking down, while on She’s American he seems to be fantasizing about an American girl but warns himself “Don’t fall in love with the moment and think you’re in love with the girl.” Somebody Else is simple and mellow as Healy ascertains that he doesn’t want her body but hates to think about her with somebody else.

Some other notable tunes on the record include The Ballad of Me and My Brain where Healy goes off looking for the brain he “never had” and Loving Someone where Healy switches from singing to rapping accompanied by some cool synth sounds. If I Believe You is one of the most obvious outliers and one of my personal favourites. The songs a bit jarring – Healy sings about his atheism accompanied by a gospel choir and questions whether the pain he feels would dissipate somewhat if he could only have a little faith.

As we get to the end of the album things get  depressing, both lyrically and sonically. On Paris, Healy’s talking about his girlfriend who he’s “starting to cheat on” again and notes that “there was a party that she had to miss, because her friend kept cutting her wrists.” This sets the scene for the following track Nana where Healy addresses his dead grandmother, concluding on a painful note, “I am bereft you see, I think you can tell, I haven’t been doing too well.”  The concluding track, She Lays Down, is an acoustic number that outlines Healy’s mothers post-natal depression. It’s heartbreaking and raw (“She’s appalled by not loving me at all”) and miles from the other heavily produced tracks on the record. When the final chord is strung, there’s a silence before Healy simply says “That’s it” and you can’t help feeling you’ve just listened to something very special.

Their debut album was good, but it wasn’t all that original. In contrast, the sophomore album is sonically experimental and daring in terms of topic. The lyrics can be clever, (“It was you that made my body you probably shouldn’t have made me atheist”), blunt (“You look shit and you smell bit”) and beautiful (“You’re intertwining your soul with somebody else”). Matty Healy feels a bit like the musical version of Russell Brand. His social commentary throughout the album might make him come across as a bit of a self-righteous ass at times, but his sharp digs at himself allow him to get away with it, “I’ll quote On The Road like a twat” (A Change of Heart), “it’s just all about me, a sycophantic, prophetic, socratic junkie wannabe” (The Sound) or the brilliant “I’m the greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques” (Loving Someone). To be honest, even if you think Matthew Healy IS a self righteous asshole who is just another frontman who likes snorting coke, fucking girls and pretending he’s doing something more original than his predecessors – I dare you not to get up and dance when you hear The Sound playing on your next night out.

Rating: 4/5

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