Johnny Cash ‘At Folsom Prison’ album review – how the record has stood the test of time, and why its legacy will never be diminished.

By Mollie Campbell

 

Whilst the back-catalogue of Johnny Cash is full of endless iconic songs and albums, the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of the Man in Black is the album ‘At Folsom Prison’. Its zestful energy, the courage behind the creation, its indescribable infectious spirit…all results in a 45 minute recording that the musical world will surely never be able to shed. The rambunctious essence of this album will forever live in the minds of people whose worlds were changing, recorded near the end of a revolutionary decade, ‘At Folsom Prison’ was never going to be forgotten.

From the moment you hear that famous deep twang of an introduction ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ followed by thunderous cheers and an old-school riff, you know you are going to be in good hands for the remainder of the record. He begins with ‘Folsom Prison blues’, a timeless example of his growing outlaw image, set in stone with this album. The ease at which Cash writes his introductory song, with such simple yet gritty perspective is just one of the many reasons why he is spoken of with such high praise. What fellow young listeners have to remember is that this song and album was released in a time in which this classic country/outlaw/blues style of song-writing was being disregarded, instead listeners were making room for more extended songs and sounds, The Beatles Sgt Pepper had just been released the year before, the experimental sounds of Pink Floyd were starting to makes waves, and The Jimi Hendrix experience was injecting some energy into a genre that was perceived as old news, having a huge impact on the way musicians wrote their songs. This old-school rock ability style was going out of fashion, yet Cash kept it alive with this very album. Retaining the good old fashioned spirit of what rock, country and the blues were based on… the sheer spirit of humanity and what binds us together as inhabitants on this earth.

The haunting conviction of his voice never falters in terms of energy, despite singing the whole album live, giving us an idea as to why Johnny Cash’s legacy will always be set in that same stone of excellence it has since he burst onto the scene in the 50’s.  But what makes it so special to me is the fact that it isn’t flawless…something that is expected too often in the modern music world. Not everything needs to be flawless, it is music…it is raw, unpredictable, human and even if the notes aren’t perfect at all times, the essence of the music is there, the soul and the meaning, something that seems to be lost in the modern mainstream music industry. The sheer audacity of this album, the courage, the unapologetic defiance of fulfilling his creative vision is what makes it stand out. The mix of covers and his own raw, emotional song-writing made it timeless from the moment of its release. He manages to be political without necessarily intending to be, he shines a spotlight on history, lighting it up for the younger generation to see, he revitalises mythical tales and characters, bringing them back to life, ironically singing of their lives to the very people who have lived through them, the prisoners in front of him. He effortlessly pens a love letter to the blues/country and western genre, shooting blood back into its marble veins, reminding everyone of where this type of music came from, and the honesty of the song-writing that came with it.

Cash made no attempt to soften the blow of the themes he was singing about. He was singing these tales to men who were living through it… he knew that if he tried to diminish anything or cheat them of the truth that they were all painfully aware of, it would be seen as a hoax or a sham. The honesty from cash is clearly greatly appreciated as we hear endless chants from the invigorated prisoners. By singing their truth, while in no means justifying their actions, it connects him with his audience on a spiritual level, they are all being taken away on the same level of energy. This is the special connection that makes the album one-of-a-kind, and despite the listeners not being able to necessarily relate to the lives of the prisoners, we can all relate to the natural sense of human loneliness within the songs, and cash is filling that void, even if just for 45 minutes of our lives.

Overall, this is arguably one of the most famous albums in history; he ended the decade as it began but with a newfound grit.  It is relatable for any generation, Cash reminds us of our human connections, the deep emotions within…our bodies may be fragile but our minds are full of strength. And in reminding us of these qualities that we all share, he helps us escape our own Folsom Prison, one song at a time.

All the Bright Places – Movie review

By Mollie Campbell

Title: All the bright places

Network: Netflix

Genre: Romantic –Drama

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Virginia Gardner

Rating: 8/10

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

Having never heard of the book, when I saw the title for ‘All the bright Places’ on Netflix, I thought I was just signing up for a cliché rom-com. Yet, mere moments into the film, I instantly realised that I had completely judged a book by its cover, because the next two hours were filled with emotional highs and lows that left me thinking deeply, long after the credits rolled.

All the bright places is the story of a teenaged girl ‘Violet’ (Fanning), who is grieving intensely for her sister, and ‘Finch’ (Smith), a fellow student who is instantly portrayed as a multi-faceted character, one in which we spend the whole film trying to decipher.  They are drawn to one another because of the dark places they are clearly in, and are able to find pure love and happiness with one another, seemingly journeying into the light, hand in hand. The first half of the film we watch as Finch tries desperately to safely bring Violet back out of her bubble of grief, he becomes infatuated with the thought of helping her and being with her. There is a focal point on Violet, her pain and how others react to her pain. Having lived through the nightmare rollercoaster of grief myself, I resonated strongly with the way they portrayed her emotions. It felt real, the kind of representation we need to see more of.

As the film progresses, Finch and Violet become closer and start a class project together, which involves visiting different locations and attractions around Indiana. This is where their love story blossoms and we get to see some of that classic Netflix romance, full of the cheesiness that we mock yet secretly love, but there is a subconscious shift in the focal point, we start to really see the world through the eyes of Finch, a set of glasses we were convinced were painted in rose, but we begin to see that they were self-made, and that the viewpoint of Finch and his reality is much darker than we thought. He becomes even more hyper and passionate, this extreme emotion can switch in a matter of moments and he becomes more withdrawn, clearly suffering. His issues are foreshadowed right from the start, every time Violet thinks she is on the cusp of gaining an insight into his past, he backs away. This is followed by his complete disappearance, which nobody seems to find weird apart from Violet.

Eventually, he begins to open up more and attends an anonymous counselling session, where he finds out Violet’s seemingly fine on the outside friend Amanda (Gardner) is seeking help. This was one of the main highlight’s of the film for me, not the main characters, but Amanda‘s story, it is simple yet incredibly impactful. We are conditioned to believe that because the two main characters are showing signs of mental health issues that nobody else around them are as well. She wasn’t even on our radar of possibilities, it is so out of the blue and confirms what we are all beginning to learn as a society, the fact that some people who look fine on the outside, are going through an intense and life-changing battle internally. This tie-in really worked well in my opinion; at this point the film really begins to forcefully tackle the wider issues of mental health. This is a real sink or swim moment and instead of using the platform it created, I do feel that the writers built it up and then suddenly cooled it all off…we never get to understand the full extent to Finch’s mind-set before he shockingly takes his own life.

Moreover, of course we can see this type of scenario on its way, whether it was Violet or Finch, but the abruptness of the way they handled Finch’s final scenes were quite distressing. It seemed as if they had just completely brushed over the monumental final decisions the character was making, thus diminishing the complexity of the content. On the other hand, I like the way they handled it due to the sheer unpredictability of people who are suffering such intense mental health issues, there aren’t always massive signs in bright neon lights telling you that someone close to you is about to commit suicide. Not everybody says goodbye, makes any final arrangements or leaves a handwritten note, in reality people that choose to end their lives aren’t living out some final, romanticised moment on a big screen to the delicate notes of a beautiful soundtrack, they are committing suicide…that is the brutal truth. So, despite brushing over the moment, I think this is actually what the scene and movie required to be taken seriously, the abruptness is honestly portraying just how quick and finite it actually is.

The film ends with Violet losing the one person who helped her live again after the death of her sister, whilst this seems harsh; this too is raw and honest, truly portraying just how fragile and cruel life can be. Violet finishes her school project talking about Finch and everything he helped her to do that finally brought her into the bright places, despite him being gone. I really liked the ending, it didn’t diminish the undeniable pain the character is feeling, but it left a flicker of hope, showing us that there are bright places and sometimes it takes the help and perspective of someone else in order to reach them. Overall, even though the film certainly has some issues, the acting was great and the story was meaningful. It really sends a message in terms of how we live our lives, every second is fleeting and we need to cherish the memories we make as we are creating them, because they might never be felt again.

Thanks for reading.

 

Netflix’s ‘I Am Not Okay with This’ – Season 1 review

By Mollie Campbell

Network: Netflix

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Coming-of-age, Horror

Starring: Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Kathleen Rose Perkins

Rating: 8/10

 *Contains Spoilers

A funny, coming-of-age, show reminiscent of Carrie and Stranger Things. As soon as I started this show, and upon realising how short the episodes were, I knew I would devour it all in that entire evening, and it didn’t disappoint.

‘I Am Not Okay with This’ introduces the audience to Sydney (Lillis), a teenage girl who is grieving for her father, juggling the trials and tribulations of high school and most importantly…discovering that she has telekinetic powers. Despite its supernatural elements, the fact that it is a comedy over anything else is evident straight away, you can tell by the sarcastic prolonged babblings we hear from the main protagonist that this show was brought to us by the creators of Channel 4 hit ‘The End Of The F***ing World. Throughout each episode, we see Syd displaying much more frequent and powerful abilities, always align with the strong emotion she is feeling in that moment, this show really takes teenage angst to the next level. Syd’s emotions manifest into life-changing situations, as the show progresses, her ability to control her powers quickly spirals. Every episode contains underlying themes of something more sinister, and the mystery of her father becomes more suspicious by the second.

It is near the end that we see Syd really lose control and that is when we are presented with the timeless image of a young girl at her high school dance, wearing a white dress stained with the bright red blood of her unintentional victim. This time, it is Dina’s ex-boyfriend Bradley who has found Syd’s diary and is threatening to expose her secret to the whole school. Whilst we knew that this scenario was likely from the beginning, it still shocked me when Syd’s anger and embarrassment causes her to accidentally make his head explode. This is the moment that she is taken seriously, the focus shifts into more sinister waters, even from the perspective of the eccentric and upbeat Stanley.

Apart from this, and whilst I enjoyed the show and happily indulged in it over the course of several hours, there wasn’t anything that particularly stood out. It was written well and the acting was great but the plot just felt too familiar, full of direction but too predictable. There just wasn’t anything too creative that pushed the realm of a genre that is already so heavily saturated out of its comfort zone. It isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, more of a blend or rehash of many different influences. The Carrie influence is hardly surprising given the fact that the two main characters are portrayed by Stephen King movie adaptation veterans, Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff, the Stranger Things vibe was kind of expected, but I was pleasantly surprised at the Breakfast Club parallels. Whilst cheesy, it was great to see a classic tale retold in a modern way. I also really enjoyed the dynamic they portrayed between Sydney and Stanley, the latter being a multi-layered character who I think is definitely a highlight of the whole show and one to watch if this series is renewed for a second season. Oleff portrays him with such a carefree spirit, yet he encompasses such a big heart and quirky habits, it would be difficult to dislike him.

Moreover, the one thing that I think was a real triumph for the show is the way they handled the main character’s sexuality, there are many shows today that are brilliant for representing a wide variety of people, who really focus on a character’s long and complex coming-out storyline. But with this show, they skip all of that and instead of treating the topic as if it is some great big deal, they almost underplay it as a way of it being viewed in young people’s minds as a scenario just as normal as a straight character. Instead, Sydney realises that she loves her best friend Dina and accepts it straight away, which is actually refreshing to see.

At the end of the last episode, we see Syd talking to the mysterious stranger who has been following her surreptitiously, we don’t find out who it is but we know that they are human. This is an interesting idea within a show I thought was incredibly predictable. Instead of following its predecessors and making the force behind Syd’s powers something sci-fi related, they have stuck to the human path. I mean obviously her powers are coming from something that is somehow otherworldly, but it doesn’t shy away from retaining its sense of humanity, which is refreshing in a time in which movies and TV shows are dominated by sci-fi elements. Overall, I enjoyed this show…the pace was quick and easy, they got to the point straight away. The characters (Particularly Sydney and Stan) were interesting, but perhaps not given enough time to flourish in this bite sized season. And the story, whilst familiar and somewhat repetitive, was still captivating and exciting. I was left satisfied yet wanting more….here’s hoping for a season 2!

Thanks for reading:)

Remembering Kobe Bryant, how he shaped a generation and why the mamba mentality will stand the test of time.

By Mollie Campbell

Kobe Bryant, more than just a basketball player.

Kobe, Bean, Mamba, Black Mamba…a King among men. The first thing I picture when I think of Kobe Bryant is a 6’6’’man leaping gracefully into the air, gliding towards the golden ring that shaped his life, battling for the win, like a painting of some ancient God. My favourite Kobe memory, the same for many, is that final game he played for the Lakers on April 13 2016, it was as if he was being electrically charged by every single game of basketball he had ever played, surging through his veins and seeping onto the court. His feet pounded on the glossy Staples Center floor, exuding power, he harnessed his otherworldly ability one last time, finishing the game with an NBA-Season high of 60 points. It was more than just a game, it was poetic…this sums Kobe up, exceeding expectations for an athlete both on and off the court.

Kobe Bryant was like King Arthur, his thunderous spirit acting as a beacon, a guiding light for his knights…carrying them to victory. But even in those quiet years, in the face of adversity, he kept going. Even though at times it felt as though the Lakers fire was turning to ash, he quietly kept the embers warm, until they sparked and roared again. He encompassed everything that could be great about human resilience, reminding us of the power we have. He relished in it, he pushed the boundaries, until his relentless vision of creating history became a reality. We all know Kobe as the superhero he became, but as with every great hero, the backstory is everything.  The people of Los Angeles and the world watched him as his journey began, a 17 year- old kid from Lower Merion high school with a passion in his heart and a fire in his eyes. They watched him grow from a talented, energetic boy, into a seemingly invincible man.  Quoting Kobe himself: ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.’ His journey included 20 loyal seasons with the Lakers, 5 NBA Championships, 18 All-Star games, 2 NBA Finals MVP Awards and 2 Olympic Gold medals. But it was his equally important life off the court that really shaped Kobe into the Mamba the world knows today.

Kobe became such a hero in the world of sport, but it was his infectious smile, resilient attitude and kindness towards others that gained him the title of hero in his personal life as well. He became a voice for the voiceless, a leader for the lost…somebody for people to look up to, without ever feeling like less of a human being in doing that, Kobe made sure of it. This is why he became so famous off the court too, even countries around the world that couldn’t even access Basketball on TV became fans…it was as if he had become some sort of religious figure in the world of sport and in other realms…the fact that he won an Oscar speaks for itself. And that is the reason the whole world felt as though it had tilted off its axis on January 26th 2020, the man who had turned into a fairy-tale figure, was taken away from us. The worst part is the fact that he had so much more to give than he already had, in the words of Barack Obama: ‘Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.’ Kobe’s retirement saw him publicly embrace his role as super-dad, inspire multiple generations with his positive attitude, rise up in terms of charity and giving back, and becoming a patron of basketball AND the arts…proving his mamba mentality stood for so much more than just a game.

As an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant, I am devastated along with everybody else. This one hit hard, I stared at the TV for hours, kept refreshing his Wikipedia page, praying it was all an elaborate hoax. He has left a huge gaping hole in basketball, and in the world, this is going to be raw for a while…but we can do this. We can keep moving forwards, harnessing the powerful remnants Kobe left for us, we can all use the mamba mentality, it doesn’t matter which field you are in, strive to be the best you can possibly be, and enjoy the journey. Live every day to the fullest, keep working hard, embrace any failures and let them be what makes you succeed.

I would like to take this time to pay my respects to every life that was lost on that day: Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Gianna Bryant and Kobe Bryant. My thoughts are with every family involved.

 

“Once you know what failure feels like, determination chases success.” – Kobe Bryant.

Doctor Sleep – Movie Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie: Doctor Sleep

Director: Mike Flanagan

Based on the Novel by: Stephen King

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran.

Rating: 6.5/10

*Contains Spoilers*

Doctor Sleep was always going to be a tough one to make, written by Stephen King, and following Stanley Kubrick’s classic envisioning of ‘The Shining’, which has become a horror classic. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. That probably doesn’t sound great to you, but Doctor Sleep had a very rich history to delve into, and every film as an art-form is essentially subjective, this is a great example of that idea because it really does depend on your preference and/or viewpoint. Nonetheless, another trip into the snowy Colorado Mountains is hardly a gruelling task for cinema lovers.

The movie begins with an iconic recap of a young Danny Torrance riding through the Overlook hotel on his red tricycle, an aspect from the original that seems the most prominent in people’s memory. Then we are given a brief yet telling glimpse into his childhood after the horrific events that unfolded, until we eventually land on the doorstep of an adult Danny. Plagued with the same struggles with alcoholism as his father, Dan does everything in his power to ignore the sinister and otherworldly abilities he has. Until eventually, he cleans up his act and finally becomes sober. Whilst this is happening he begins to communicate (telepathically) with a young girl called ‘Abra’ who has the same supernatural capabilities as him, or the same ‘shine’ as they call it.

At the same time, we see a group of inevitable bad guys, a travelling circle of vampire-esque immortals who need the essence of the ‘Shine’ or ‘Shining’ to survive. This aspect of the plot is a necessary threat; a traditional sense of ‘evil’ chasing the good guys, textbook storytelling, but you can’t deny its wackiness. Anyway, they end up on a hunt for Abra due to the power of her shine, and this is how she joins forces with Dan Torrance, an unlikely yet touching duo.  This eventual meeting of our two movie heroes sets a trail for a very predictable final 30 minutes to the film. Instead of excitement, this kind of created a sense of restlessness or impatience as an audience member, because now we are just waiting for Dan’s inevitable return to the Overlook hotel.

Furthermore, it all starts to feel a bit surreal at this point, but not exactly in a good way, bearing in mind that the movie had now clocked up almost 120 minutes running time. It really starts to feel like the film was simply made for nostalgic effect, until Dan and Abra make that trip through the mountains. At this point, any criticisms I had started to dematerialise. It starts venturing back into its origin, the snowy grounds and the dominating shadow of this massive hotel, evil still lingering within its grimy walls, it is thrilling. For me, one of the most memorable yet comical moments that completely satisfied my inner film nerd, was watching Dan get served at the same hotel bar as his father, and the bar-tender is…you guessed it, an anti-ageing Jack Torrance himself, complete with the iconic and eerie red uniform, originally worn by ‘Lloyd’. Now obviously he isn’t portrayed by Jack Nicholson, and the use of something like Martin Scorsese’s ‘Youthification’ really would have turned this film into a cheese-fest, instead they used Henry Thomas, aka Elliot from ‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’.  But this creepy role pays more homage to his recent character in the ‘Haunting of Hill House’ than ET, with him taking on the hefty role of Jack Torrance, a scene which seemed inevitable from the moment this movie was announced.

As the film reaches its end, there is only one immortal left to fight, Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), who they lure to the Overlook Hotel to get rid of once and for all. There are some brilliant parallels to the original film, with Ewan McGregor dressed in similar clothing as Jack Nicholson, walking up that wide iconic staircase, wielding an axe…seriously. It is comical but great, made for fans of the Shining, but also incorporating the same features as other movies from the Director, e.g.  ‘Before I Wake’ and ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’, this is definitely a step up in terms of horror. The Shining is one of my favourite films, and maintains its rightful place in the horror world, but I never saw it as scary, it seemed more like a psychological thriller with sinister qualities. Whereas Doctor Sleep has a bit of everything, the supernatural element is much more intense, with Dan becoming possessed just like his father, but instead of still looking human, his eyes cloud over as if he is in the middle of ‘The Exorcist’, and there is a lot more gore too.

Overall, the film was made for fans of The Shining, but the added horror aspects have certainly widened its audience. Although, at times it was confusing, I can only imagine how trippy it would be to watch if you’ve never seen ‘The Shining’, there is a very bitty nature to the film. At first the unstructured vibe seemed refreshing, but then it kind of turned into a bit of a chore to watch. And of course, I just couldn’t really help but compare it to Stanley Kubrick’s method in terms of film-making/story-telling. The narrative in The Shining contains a very clever build up, making the transitioning of Jack Nicholson’s character into something sinister, much more believable. This film becomes far-fetched and at times, silly. For example, Rose’s night-time flight in order to find Abra just screamed Twilight, which isn’t exactly the comparison you would want to draw from a ‘serious’ horror movie. Of course, you can’t really criticise, as this film was based on the follow-up novel by Stephen King, the Godfather of Horror. And if this was his vision for the world created in his mind, I can’t knock that. Especially as this sequel seems to stay true to its origin, something The Shining never did, in fact, after its release it was criticised by King for breaking away from the true essence of the book he had written.

In conclusion, whilst Doctor Sleep definitely has its faults, the film was thrilling, satisfying in terms of horror, and made well. The acting was great, specifically Ewan McGregor, and the 150 minute run time was worth it, even if it was just for an extremely overt use of nostalgia.

 

Bob Dylan’s timeless ‘Tangled up in Blue’.

Bob Dylan’s timeless ‘Tangled up in Blue’.

By Mollie Campbell

Since getting a full time job, I have found it very difficult to find the time to even write blog posts, let alone post them. Now that I have found a good routine in terms of time management, I am hoping to start posting more regularly.

I was trying to write some lengthy, insightful article… but in the end I remembered that sometimes less is more. So for this post, I am going to do something simple. I am uploading my favourite verse from Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled up in Blue’. And when I think about it, this could well be one of my favourite verses of all time. In fact, I don’t even regard it as a verse; it is prose, a stanza in the never-ending chronicle of Bob Dylan’s stream of writing, something that has seeped its way into every pore of the world we know, even now.

 

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
I thought you’d never say hello, she said
You look like the silent type
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And everyone of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

 

I am going to write a deeper analysis/article soon, but for now I will leave you with these words, and hope that they move you as much as they did when I first listened to it.

Vampire Weekend ‘Father of the Bride’ – album review.

Album: Father of the Bride

Band: Vampire Weekend

Members: Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, Chris Baio

Genre: indie-rock

Rating: 8/10

Song Highlights: Harmony Hall, This Life, Bambina, Sympathy

A new album after 6 years was always going to be a hard thing to achieve, making sure it was exactly what the band envisioned musically and artistically, whilst simultaneously maintaining their success and living up to public expectation. Not only have they finally released another record after six years, they have decided to release a double album, ‘Father of the Bride’ contains 18 songs, resulting in 58 minutes of what I can only describe as somewhat experimental. It features many different sounds, innovations, and rich lyrics.

The album begins with an unexpected folky venture in ‘Hold you now’, a collaboration with Danielle Haim.  At first it would be easy to mistake this for a positive love song, but as the song goes on we realise that the lyrics are actually quite dark. This is more of a reflection on the revelation that this couple will not stay together forever, but the immensity of their love is still intact. ‘I can’t carry you forever, but I can hold you now’.  The next song, ‘Harmony Hall’ which was released as a single on January 24th of this year is undoubtedly the anthem of the album. I absolutely love this song; everything about it comes together so naturally. The foundation of the song is the light-hearted and nostalgic piano, and a flamenco style guitar riff, the essence of the song. More instruments are added throughout until they all begin to clash, but in a good way, as if all the components are being drawn to each other. The lyrics are quite dark yet the song is very energetic and infectious. The song is honest, reflective and politically charged.

“Anger wants a voice, voices wanna sing, singers harmonize ’til they can’t hear anything, I thought that I was free from all that questionin’, but every time a problem ends, another one begins”.

“I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.

There are a lot of different thoughts, concepts and emotions battling it out for a place within this song. Koenig’s song writing is very raw and free, it isn’t forced yet it is incredibly important. The lyrics are somewhat dark; they contrast heavily with the upbeat sound.  I think the song is profound and informative without lacking the components it needs to be played on mainstream radio.

Bambina is a 1min 42 second venture into Koenig’s mind, giving us an insight into what drives him, angers him and what kind of message he is trying to portray. The guitar riffs he produces and the way he sings feels quite classic, or timeless, yet he experiments with modern technology and sounds, adding in synthesizers frequently. ‘This Life’ is a refreshing and vintage sounding song, it is similar to Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ but the lyrics are much darker.

“Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain, I just thought it didn’t rain in California”.

 “Baby, I know dreams tend to crumble at extremes, I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer”.

The lyrics are sad yet the music is hopeful, a clever juxtaposition and an enjoyable song. Next up is ‘Big Blue’, definitely not a favourite for me. I understand the intent and the inspiration behind this and I like the concept but I think it is possibly a bit too ambitious; it results in a bit of a boring drawl.

‘How Long’ really makes me think that this is a much darker album than people will realise, opening with the lyrics:

“Tough choice? Don’t make me laugh, My life’s a joke, your life’s a gas”.

The chorus is depressing, but you can’t criticise how honest his song writing is:

“How long ’til we sink to the bottom of the sea? How long, how long?”.

The next verse is like a Sgt. Pepper inspired sad memory, it is raw and disheartening:

“What’s the point of getting clean? You’ll wear the same old dirty jeans, What’s the point of being seen? Those eyes are cruel, those eyes are mean, What’s the point of human beings? A sharpie face on tangerines, Why’s it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017?”

‘Unbearably White’ is a rather melancholy journey into Koenig’s thought process and despair, whereas ‘Rich Man’ is very interesting musically, with retro, crackly sounds that really give it an aspect of authenticity.

‘Married in a Gold Rush’, another collaboration with Danielle Haim, is more of a lyrical adventure than a musical one. The sound is quite similar to the other songs on the album, but the lyrics are poetic. At this point, the album starts to feel a little stale and repetitive, which is why ‘My Mistake’ is kind of a saviour.  The lyrics are insightful, but the sound is at the forefront. The experimentation used here is quite impressive, it is hard to criticise due to the care that went into the creativity in this song. For anyone in this current, bland music industry to make that much of an effort in terms of creativity and experimentation, is a miracle, and this is the very thing that prevents Vampire Weekend from becoming boring.

‘Sympathy’ is another venture into experimentation; it is actually one of my favourite songs from the album. There are so many different sounds and vibes, I love the country infused verses and the haunted vocals surrounded by reverb, the Spanish guitars that intervene in such a clashy yet soothing way, the loud drums and an array of other sounds. This really reminds me of a modern day Sgt Pepper attempt, a bold move to bring the meaning of music back into the industry, and it has worked as this album has soared straight to the top of the charts all over the world.

‘Sunflower’ isn’t a favourite of mine but it still provides some interesting sounds and idea’s, and a lot of summery riffs, it’s the kind of song that I thought I’d never like but actually end up looking forward to it when listening to the album. ‘Flower Moon’ I find very interesting, at first it makes me want to hate it but as I carry on listening I feel more intrigued. I love the combination of sounds, the lyrics and the way in which the verses are sung. ‘2021’ is more in depth, the lyrics are bare but you can hear the message that Koenig really is touching on throughout the whole album, the passage of time and how something that felt so right years before can and will fade with time, just like the objects we see around us, everything is worn down in time, even love.

‘We Belong Together’, yet another collaboration with Danielle Haim really isn’t a highlight for me. I mean sure, it interjects some hope into this pessimistic vibe that has been carried throughout the album, but it just seems a bit out of place to me. I love ‘Stranger’ because it is simply an honest reflection of his emotion and what he is feeling at this point in his life. Things aren’t the same as they were, everything he knew has changed but the sound of the song gives me the impression that he is taking it with a pinch of salt and just sailing through life complacently. I also love the different instruments and the reverb/echoed vocals.  At this point, ‘Spring Snow’ is the narrator seriously asking himself if all of the pain is worth fighting for, he battles with this but the title makes you think that the seasons will change things for the better. But really he is saying that the seasons won’t change a thing, ultimately, the sun will come out again but it won’t do a thing to help the situation:  ‘But here comes the sun, those old toxic rays’.

‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’ is the ballad/anthem that the album has been alluding to since the opening lines of Harmony Hall. The lyrics highlight the downfall of humanity throughout points in history, a desperate question in how long humanity will be its own worst enemy. And the fact that more and more, humans are just switching off and turning their backs on important issues within society, becoming even more ignorant over time:

‘Our tongues will fall so still, Our teeth will all decay, A minute feels much longer, With nothing left to say’.

‘So let them win the battle, But don’t let them restart, That genocidal feeling, That beats in every heart’.

It is a politically pleasing and metaphorical end to a wild journey of an album, some songs are monotonous, yet some songs are so far out and experimental it makes you question how this made it into the mainstream charts. There are some faults with this album, but those little niggles are just my personal musical opinions. At the end of the day, they have created a very interesting, innovative and different album that really was worth the wait. Ezra Koenig makes song- writing seem like the simplest thing in the world, but my praise lies within the effort the band have made in terms of creativity. After the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, it was thought that music would never be boring again. Fast forward fifty years and in my opinion, the mainstream world of pop has never been more boring, maybe Vampire Weekend have noticed, because this is their Sgt. Pepper.

Mid90s – Movie review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie: Mid90s

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

Rating: 8/10

Written and directed by Jonah Hill, Mid90s is a coming-of-age film following 13 year old Stevie as he befriends an older group of skaters. Set in Los Angeles in the 90’s, the film portrays the experimental, exciting and nonchalant journey of youth but it also shows us a harsher and much more difficult sense of childhood that forces kids to find some sort of outlet, whether it be positive or negative, just as a form of escapism.

Stevie is the son of a single mother is often working, meaning that his older brother Ian is given complete freedom to beat him up as much as he likes. The scenes in which he physically abuses his little brother are very disturbing; I think Jonah Hill did an incredible job with the sheer rawness and honesty of these scenes. There is total silence apart from the loud sounds of a child being beaten up, it is hard not to feel affected when watching something like that. But it all serves its purpose. The film was perceived to be some kind of light-hearted stoner comedy, but it actually turns into a source of education, it is very informative and involves serious issues, not to be taken lightly.

Apart from the complexity of the issues within the film, there are also some very upbeat and funny moments, it kind of feels like a classic before you have even finished watching it. Think of a hybrid between Dazed and Confused and Freaks & Geeks, throw in shades of Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady bird’, and the result is Mid90s. The most important factor in all of these movies is the classic nostalgic time machine that instantly takes us back to a time we perceive as being simpler. Mid90s provided every ounce of nostalgic fulfilment that I was expecting and more, the brands, the locations, the music, the attitude.  And if it wasn’t retro enough, it was shot in an old school style filter, so the whole time we are watching it feels as though we are just looking at our old home movies. There were definitely some moments in which the pace slows down a bit, but the whole point of the movie is merely a commentary on teen life, it shows how much things have changed in the past 20 years, and what things have stayed the same.

It is very funny and easy to watch but it also focuses heavily on the lives we are forced to fit into when we are children, if we are born into a certain life, we have no control or choice as to whether we live in it or not. This is something that many children are faced with, so the film really highlights the bad home lives of some children and how something as simple as skating can stop them from going insane. We see a kid whose family can barely afford to feed him, a boy whose little brother died, someone whose brother relentlessly beats him, and the general sense of loneliness and isolation you can feel within your teen years. The film shows us how children go through their teens, find themselves and how they grow into different versions of their childhood self, it also gives some explanations as to why some people behave in the way they do. It certainly doesn’t glorify or justify the behaviours in regard to certain people like Stevie’s brother, but it does give us an insight.

Overall, whilst it does have some clear faults, the intentions behind this film were good, and for a directorial debut, Jonah Hill has really pulled it out the bag. He mixes complexity with nonchalance, innocence with morality, and highlights the pain within the happiness. It sounds conflicting, but Hill managed to incorporate all of these emotions with ease and simplicity, resulting in a fun, fresh yet familiar tale.

Netflix’s ‘On My Block’ – Season 1 & 2 Review.

By Mollie Campbell

Network: Netflix

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Coming-of-age, Crime

Starring: Sierra Capri, Jason Genao, Brett Gray, Diego Tinoco

Rating: 9/10

 

Released in March 2018, On My Block is a coming of age comedy set in Los Angeles. The plot centres around four children who have grown up in a poor and crime-ridden neighbourhood, and the struggles they face whilst growing up in these surroundings. Monse, the only girl within the friendship group, is a strong-willed and opinionated girl whose Father is often away working, and whose Mother left her when she was a child. Then there is Rueben ‘Ruby’, a confident math whizz. Jamal, the ‘nerd’ of the group, and Cesar, whose brother has just been released from prison, thrusting him into gang life despite his strong ambition to do something better with his life. Having just released a second season, Netflix is really onto something with this show, it is a very important depiction of poorer neighbourhoods, gang life, and the ‘normal’ trials and tribulations of friendships and navigating your way through high school.

The storylines are often simple yet important and the bigger aspects of the plots are truthful, accurate and incredibly impactful. It is also very educational and informative and prompts people to break through the misconceptions of stereotypes. The acting is natural and very honest; we truly start to believe in these characters, we really feel for them and the type of world that they have been forced to live in. There may be a bit of a grey overcast on their lives, they are always looking over their shoulders or trying to protect Cesar, but there are some truly heart-warming and hilarious moments too, portraying normal teenage life and interactions, and the freedom they have to really find out who they are. Whilst the comedy is the main focal point, this isn’t your usual ‘comedy’; the jokes never deter us or distract us from the issue at hand in each episode, or the arc of the season. And the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters and the severity of the situations they find themselves in are never diminished or tarnished by some other contradicting narrative.

The writers clearly understand the importance of the position they are in and they don’t take this responsibility lightly. We are given an insight into this world that most of us have never been a part of, therefore we don’t truly know the ins and outs of this kind of neighbourhood. Honestly, I think there are so many misconceptions about the people who live in these suburbs, just because a gang decided to stay put in their town, doesn’t mean that they are affiliated with it in any way. This show really highlights that, without stepping too far out of the coming-of-age narrative confinements. But that’s just the thing, there are no confinements or limits with this show, the writers haven’t painted themselves into a corner, instead they have pushed the boundaries in terms of genre and storyline. They have included so many varied storyline and situations, and they have all been set up and delivered in a different context, e.g. comedy, drama, action, crime etc.

In terms of dialogue, there are so many important scenes that the writers have clearly worked hard on in order to make it as truthful and impactful as possible. But it never feels forced, the important issues are at the core of the scenes but it is never false, it feels natural, as if the characters are people we are watching from across the street. At times it can be a bit predictable but at other times it is completely unpredictable, almost volatile, the writers catch us off guard and add so many plot devices, and never for affect, simply because it is important and needs to be told. There are also times in which they could have extended the scenes into something more action packed in order to create more of a surge in ratings, or to widen their demographic, instead they keep them short and simple, never taking advantage of the positions they are in, a position in which they have the power to inform young people and create something that actually feels real, and incredibly important.

Lastly, I love the creation of these four characters, they are all so different from each other and they go through a lot together but it only brings them closer. Each character has their own quirks and traits which we as an audience have grown to love so quickly, I should also mention their classmate and almost-friend Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia), who is without a doubt the funniest character in the show. The writers have done a brilliant job with these characters, the diversity between them only ignites a stronger sense of unity within the group, which is really important.

On My Block is a brilliant show, the storylines are very important and covers some very serious issues, but it never gets too heavy, it never steps away from its light-hearted core. This is one of the best shows I have seen in a long time, and I can’t wait until season 3!

Netflix’s ‘Dead to Me’ – Season 1 Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Show: Dead to Me

Network: Netflix

Genre: Dark comedy, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Christine Applegate, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden.

Rating: 9/10

 

This show seems like such a coincidence to me, because it has been released during a time in which I am really delving into the concept of grief, its effects, the differences between how each person grieves, and public reaction etc.

I have recently written articles about grief and how the grieving process is different for everyone; I have also touched upon the weird things people say to you when you are grieving and the different situations we find ourselves in. One thing I forgot to mention in my articles, is the fact that grief, for me anyway, has given me a rather dark sense of humour. I suppose it is how I deal with the pain sometimes.  Ironically, people who haven’t grieved find this sense of humour shocking, it is only ever other people who have been through grief that really understand this viewpoint. ‘Dead to Me’ really contains a lot of this dark humour that grief forces you to have, Christina Applegate’s character uses phrases that are very dark, blunt and cynical because this is how she is coping. But they have also introduced Linda Cardellini’s character; this is one of the reasons why I think the show is brilliant. Straight away, they have introduced two different characters both grieving, but on opposite ends of the grief spectrum. Judy is very positive, open to many possibilities and is very warm and affectionate. The way they have done this instantly gives me the impression that the writers/producers truly understand grief because already they are trying to make the audience aware that no two people grieve in the same way, instantly tearing down this idea of the ‘Five stages of Grief’, something that bothers me massively.

The show perfectly balances the dialogue and genre between drama and dark comedy, it also has thriller/mystery undertones. There are some very funny moments, there are also times of uncertainty and suspense but then there are these incredibly raw, honest and accurate scenes in which the characters are seen as being in such dire pain, the overwhelming feeling that grief gives us is encapsulated very well within this show. The comedy never undermines the importance of the issues at hand, and the dialogue never feels fake.  When I saw the cast list for this show a few months ago, I didn’t really know if the Christina Applegate/Linda Cardellini combo would work, I am a fan of both of their work and whilst the genres of their filmography’s are quite similar, I just couldn’t really envision it working. But as soon as the characters are first introduced, I felt this immense chemistry between the two actresses, the show makes you cherish their friendship even more than the characters themselves.

The first section of my review is what I wrote after the first few episodes, then, the story took an unexpected turn. I won’t spoil what happens but I was a bit miffed that they decided to go with this storyline, because it seems to diminish the importance of the concept of grief. But, the twist is unfortunately what some people have discovered after their spouse has passed away, and we see how much more of a spiral Jen goes into after this, by the end of the show we really start to feel even more sorry for this character, how many more things can this poor woman take? Anyway, I soon realised that this twist didn’t make the writers instantly forget the grief storyline; it actually became even more prominent by the end, despite the other crazy events that unfold. And as someone who lost a parent as a child, I really felt like they did a good job with representing the grief of children. We watch as Jen’s two sons Charlie and Henry, navigate through the dark and messy waters of grief, it portrays how surprisingly mature children can act in times of pain, especially when they have been catapulted into it themselves, and also shows just how much a child feels that pain. As I have discussed in my previous articles, people often stereotype children and presume that they couldn’t possibly have felt the full extent of their grief as a child, when in fact, they feel it all. This show really portrays that well which is what really impressed me the most.

Overall, the writers have done a very good job, some of the twists seem farfetched and silly but it never makes you want to stop watching it. Some of the things that are revealed about Judy are ridiculous and actually very unforgivable but we still root for the Jen/Judy friendship. So whilst the show does have some faults, they have built a very strong foundation in terms of their friendship, and have created a world that instantly feels familiar, I love all of the different characters already. I should also point out that I don’t binge watch many Netflix shows, at least not in a day anyway, but I watched 9 out of the 10 episodes of Dead to Me in one day, that says a lot.

Dead to Me is gripping, dark yet humorous and infectious; I don’t even know if Netflix will renew it yet, but I am already trying to figure out how I am going to wait a whole year for another season. Let  me know what you thought of the show!