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Things Can Only Get Better, Right?

January 20, 2015

You’re back at work, the weather’s dreadful, December’s pay is fast running out and you should probably be at the gym – not to mention those terrorist hyper-c**ts shooting up Paris and Nigeria.

Forget about all that though, because there’s a veritable cornucopia of music, film and telly to look forward over the next 12 months.

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Let’s start with some things to perk up your ears. Already in the first few weeks of the year there have been some big announcements and interesting releases, so where to start?

How about The Prodigy returning with their latest since 2009’s Invaders Must Die, due for release on the 30th March via their own label Take Me to the Hospital. First single Nasty makes it sound like they haven’t moved on that far from the last record to be honest, and collaborations with Sleaford Mods and Flux Pavillion don’t exactly fill me with glee, but we can only hope that there’s a few belters that can be added to their devastating live show, touring the UK in May.

It is still early in the year, so some of the music to look forward is still a bit more speculative at this point. Perhaps most excitingly, Ed Simons of the Chemical Brothers let slip in November that while he’ll be cutting loose from future live shows in favour of “academic pursuits”, a new album is very much in the works, featuring what he pleasingly described as “far-out electronic music”. Talking of Manchester institutions, New Order also announced last year that they’d signed to Mute, and given they’ve been playing new songs at gigs for a while now, the signs are undoubtedly promising on the album front.

Consistently charting high in my end of year lists for the last couple of years has been the wonderfully-named Chazwick Bradley Bundick, AKA Toro Y Moi, AKA Les Sins. Well, he’s at it again under the former moniker, releasing new album What For? on April 6th via Carpark Records. The first track, Empty Nesters, doesn’t actually float my boat as much as his previous work, but as he says in the press release “I’ve done electronic R&B and more traditional recorded type R&B stuff; I just wanted to see what else was out there.”

Various other teasers have been doing the rounds in early January, building the hype for unspecified album launch dates. I rather like the sound of Django Django‘s new one First Light, presumably the prelude to their as-yet-untitled second album, due some point in the Spring.

As for things that are actually out already, super producer Mark Ronson has been corralling people into his studio again, with the result being Uptown Special. He’s dropped the horns of Versions and disbanded the Business Intl from Record Collections, this time favouring a pitch perfect pastiche of US funk and soul. Chances are you will have already heard initial release Uptown Funk – an undeniably catchy pop song – but thankfully just the diving off point for a far deeper voyage into that rich Quincy Jones-esque Motown sound. Have a gander at Mystikal doing his best James Brown impression, or (Tame Impala frontman) Kevin Parker’s angelic vocals setting off the delightful Daffodils.

Back to the vagueness and while the XX’s last album was pretty disappointing, the brains behind the outfit, Jamie Smith, has been consistently producing gorgeous tracks like last year’s Sleep Sound. A recent interview suggested his long-awaited solo album might be imminent on Young Turks, so we can but hope.

In-between Thom Yorke’s surprise solo albums and Jonny Greenwood’s endless stream of soundtrack commissions, Radiohead have somehow made it back into the studio, with the latter informing Radio 1 that the ninth album was underway. Another band apparently on a more electronic bent are Aussie psych-outs Tame Impala, who’s keyboardist Jay Watson hinted in an interview with Faster Louder that their next record is “probably gonna be less rock again and more electronic, even more than the last one”.

Sticking with talented middle class gunthers, more information is to be had on the imminent release of Public Service Broadcasting’s second album The Race For Space. It’s out on February the 23rd and sounds every bit as good as the last one, but this time with the benefit of all the samples being about space travel.

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Even as they were nonchalantly collecting their Mercury Prize last autumn, the three Young Fathers had already started working on Dead’s follow-up. In typically trendy fashion, they decamped to an artist residence in Berlin, recording music, artwork and videos week by week, with people invited to dine with them every week and conduct quality control. Here’s hoping all the pretentiousness hasn’t dissipated the raw power that propelled their debut – and to be fair in-between-y release Soon Come Soon still sounds pretty strong.

Someone they can look to for inspiration in terms of different methods of music making is ice queen Björk, who has enlisted cutting edge contributors Arca and Haxan Cloak to help her with the new record, entitled Vulnicura and due sometime in March. UPDATE – the kerazee wee lady just bunged it up on iTunes for all the buy and hear.

One with less enticing contributors is the first solo LP in three decades from Giorgio Moroder. Recently revitalised by Daft Punk, the Italian disco don has since remixed his old hits, created a Vegas show and caught the American EDM bug. First single 74 Is the New 24 is frankly dreadful and the outlook doesn’t brighten when you learn that Charli XCX, Sia, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Foxes are all lined up to have a hand in future tracks.

Taking quite the opposite approach, West Cost wunderkid Kendrick Lamar is apparently enforcing a no guest MCs policy for his follow-up to Good Kid M.A.A.D City. Lead single i was out in November and sounded very promising, so we’ll just have to wait and see whether the policy pays off.

A few less mainstream LPs I’m looking forward to come from the cream of the current British crop. On the 9th of March, Hessle Audio will be putting out the self-titled debut album by Pearson Sound, aka label co-head David Kennedy; I’ve heard a promo copy and it’s definitely a grower. Not an an artist album, but again having heard a journo exclusive, I can assure you that sound sculptor Jon Hopkins’ mix for the Late Night Tales series is another fine addition to the cannon. Also well worth £6 of your hard earned is Percussions’ – AKA Four Tet – collection of recent works, available for download at his Bandcamp page. Meanwhile over on Ghostly, one of my favourite DJs in recent years, Fort Romeau is set to display his Insides on March 31st. Have a squatch at the single of the same name below:

Finally, I don’t know why I still do it to myself, but for one glorious afternoon last week I dared to dream that this was the new Avalanches single from their ludicrously long-awaited follow-up to Since I Left You. Once I’d got home from work I found it was in fact a red herring, just like all the other temptations that have gone before. Nice track though.

Movies

Moving on to movies, aside from the seasonal Oscar-bait, some of which may make it into my late roundup of 2014’s films, there are a great many other things to salivate about in 2015.

As I’m not much of a big screen reviewer/previewer, and this blog is already quite long, I’ll power through my recommendations, with the brevity of my words hopefully lessening any embarrassment down the line if I pick a turkey or two.

So, in no particular order, I am thoroughly looking forward to the Alex Garland (he of The Beach and 28 Days Later) scripted and directed Ex Machina, starring Domhnall Gleeson, this time on the other side of the android quandary that Charlie Brooker placed him in during one of my favourite Black Mirror episodes.

On the blockbuster front, there are some obvious candidates for summer supremacy – the much-leaked new James Bond film Spectre, the recently-teased new Star Wars – The Force Awakens, Mad Max, Terminator and Jurassic Park reboots – but I’ve always preferred my action with a bit more quirk and knowing sense of humour.

Therefore, I’d like to suggest Chappie, the return of District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. The trailer starts out looking like a lame Robocop rip, but by the end I’m sold on the ‘fookin prawns‘ South African-accented sentient robot facing a Short Circuit-esque plight.

Also back with a bang this year is the man we all hate to love, Quentin Tarantino, with a full blown western called The Hateful Eight. It appears nothing much has changed, there’s a great deal of blood spattering and the likes Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell are all along for the ride; but then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Looking a bit like one of his films, but without any of the drawn out dialogue, is Everly, which may well be as derivative as the trailer suggests, but then which red blooded man isn’t at least intrigued by Salma Hayek shooting many people.

If all sounds a bit much, then there will also be some more playful, pleasant films aimed at naive children and watched by hungover adults. From the Disney stable comes the intriguing Tomorrowland, which has the potential to be the worst of the studio, but does have George Clooney, mysterious worlds and a slightly darker-edged trailer going for it.

Something which looks more unambiguously brilliant is the Disney animation Inside Out, which finally puts on screen the tiny people that clearly operate everyone’s brain and body. I can see no good reason why this will not be fantastic. I think you’d also be hard pushed to find anyone who doesn’t like the Minions characters from Despicable Me 1 and 2, so much so that they have superceded the original franchise in popularity and gained their own film. It may be a step to far, but from the preview I reckon they may have actually carved out quite an original and amusing separate storyline for the wee yellow chaps.

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A few more odds and sods that look worthy of a mention, but as-yet without trailers, are: Sacha Baron Cohen’s pleb-baiting comedy Grimsby, in which he plays an idiotic football hooligan with a black-ops spy brother (played by Mark Strong); there’s also Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in the Chemical Brothers sound-tracked crime thriller Trespass Against Us; we’ve got Matt Damon seemingly reprising his Interstellar role, this time getting stuck on mars and being directed by Ridley Scott; another interesting western appears to be coming in the form of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy amongst others; and finally Beasts of No Nation, an African civil war/child soldier drama helmed by Idris Elba.

Also, thank christ this was a hoax.

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If that wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for entertainment, there’s also several things hitting the small screen over the coming months that may well be worth your time.

First up, something that’s already started – Friday the 16th on a channel I don’t have called Syfy – it’s probably all kinds of whack, but then I predicted that for the TV remake of Fargo and it turned out to be rather good. I’m waffling on about the US ‘re-imagining’ of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, which from the trailer does appear to have stripped away most of the gritty weirdness that made the original such a treat, but might be worth a punt if you’ve got nothing better on.

Whilst we’re in the disaster zone that is American re-makes, my disappointment that Channel 4 had decided not to commission a third series of the bold and brilliant Utopia, was tempered slightly by the news that HBO have got the combo that did such a good job of the Gone Girl adaption – David Fincher and Gillian Flynn – in charge of working out a US version.

Coming to Netflix at the end of February is the third series of House of Cards, the fourth wall-breaking, Kevin Spacey-starring, White House drama that started this whole on-demand telly thing rolling a few years ago. From the teaser it looks like more of the same, with the dastardly Frank Underwood having eventually knived his way to the top job, but now being at risk of his many closeted skeletons bringing it all crashing down.

I’m also pretty pumped that France’s riposte to the recent Danish drama dominance, Les Revenants (or The Returned if you didn’t do standard grade French), is returning this autumn for a second season. All of the original cast are back for eight new episodes, to be picked up by Channel 4 again on this side of the channel.

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The second half of the last season of Mad Men is due to start on the 5th of April and over seven final episodes Matthew Weiner has the monumental task of satisfyingly tying up the many strands of his epic marketing melodrama. I bloody love this show, so I’m fascinated to see how things end up; I mean how to you conclude a character as complex as Don Draper?

Out of the ashes of AMC’s other masterpiece, Breaking Bad, comes Better Call Saul, the rapidly expanding origins story of Jesse and Walter’s less-than-reputable lawyer. It’s still got Vince Gilligan steering, so for now I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Yet another reboot everyone’s willing to greatness is the surprise return of Twin Peaks, 25 years after David Lynch ended the enigmatic soap opera. To be fair, this one isn’t expected until mid-2016, so we should probably all just settle down really, although there doesn’t seem much chance of that, given just how close this clip came to breaking the internet.

One final remake that has potential comes in the form of Westworld, the before-my-time Michael Crichton film featuring Yul Brynner as a gun-slinging robot run amok in a theme park. HBO have roped in safe pair of Hollywood hands JJ Abrams and solid scriptwriting man Jonah Nolan (brother of Christopher), with the modern update promising: “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin”.

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Working our way back across the Atlantic, we have a UK/US co-production called Fortitude, due on Sky Atlantic at the end of this month. Created by the man behind Low Winter Sun and boasting a cast that includes Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston and that wifey from The Killing, the plot surrounds a British detective’s arrival in a remote Arctic town turned upside down by a brutal murder.

Back to the Beeb, but clearly considered too long and abstract for television viewers, Adam Curtis’ latest documentary Bitter Lake will be available on the iPlayer from this Sunday. Those of you watching Charlie Brooker’s year-end Screenwipe will have been treated to a few minutes of the piece, which takes Afghanistan as the centre point of a journey into the chaotic and confusing world of modern politics and media coverage.

That’ll do for now, don’t come crying to me if it all turns out to be rubbish.

 

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