Aussie Rapper Zheani’s New Track ‘I Won’t Sell My Soul’ is an Anthem of Self-Possession

 

 

Zheani has been grabbing the headlines of late – but not actually for the right reasons. Indeed, the Australian rapper/songstress has accused Die Antwoord’s Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones) of intimidation, sexual abuse, and revenge pornography – all of which was documented in her unflinching recent track “The Question.”

But with her fierce new single “I Won’t Sell My Soul,” the focus is squarely on her – though the accompanying video does open with, “Dedicated to my mother, a survivor.” And over a languid groove, against somber, haunted atmospherics (it sounds a bit like Interpol), she recites poignant lyrics of resignation and self-possession: “With blood in your eyes / You can’t see the same, it’s a bleeding shame / We are not the same, I will eat the pain.”

 

 

The song is taken from her eagerly anticipated forthcoming release, The Zheani Sparkes EP, out sometime early next year (via EOne).

“I want to address the dark memories of my past,” she explains, “so I never have to look back into the abyss again. It’s not going to be pretty but it’s what I feel I need to do. A part of me hopes that most people will find it hard to relate to the lyrics, but the sad fact is I know that far too many will [relate] and I’m sorry if you do.”

Brace yourself.

 

After Some ‘Dark Times,’ Nomi Ruiz is Back w/ Sensual New Single ‘Cocaino’

Image by Nadine Fraczkowski 

 

We’ve been riding the Nomi train since the early days of Hercules and Love Affair, and can honestly say she has never let us down. So we are nothing shy of giddily excited that the glorious Ms. Ruiz has a new album, Jet Black, coming in early 2020 – though sadly not in time to find it in our stocking on Christmas morning this year.

But she does have a holiday teaser for us, and its hotter than hot buttered rum. Indeed, “Cocaino” is a sultry, visceral slice of soul noir – and with its slow, bluesy groove, haunted atmospherics and Nomi’s alluringly sensual vocal, it’s almost like Sade or ’90s Madonna as produced by David Lynch.

 

 

Ruiz has been busy as her dance music alter ago Jessica 6 – so Jet Black (to be released by Park Side Records) will be her first actual solo album in six years. She explains that the songs were written during some particularly dark times, so it’s hardly surprising she would want to personalize it.

She also credits producer Michael Moreno, bassist Josh Werner and drummer Gintas Janusonis for giving the music the sonic edge and ideology to match the lyrical intensity.

“They are masters of the sound I’ve been trying to cultivate for so long,” she enthuses. “Working with them was instant magic.”

 

Image by Gabriel Magdaleno

Psyche Rock Fix: New Smoke Fairies Single ‘Disconnect’ Actually Has Awesome Guitar Riffs

 

 

With rock and roll in its death throes, truly awesome guitar riffs are such a rarity that even the cliche-ridden Greta Van Fleet have been mistaken for not being terrible.

But the new Smoke Fairies single “Disconnect” is the real thing, with jagged riffs leading to thundering power-chord choruses, over haunted, psychedelic atmospherics – coming off like some magnificent intersection of Led Zep and The Pixies. The Brit duo of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies have, in just over a decade of existence, toured with Bryan Ferry, released music on Jack White’s Third Man label, and been lavished with praise by everyone from the Guardian to the NY Times.

 

 

They also have a podcast, Smoke Signals, that is more popular than those of Dolly Parton and Robert Plant. Also, a new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, will be coming in late January 2020. And if “Disconnect,” with its stunning harmonies and lyrical exhortations of “Lost in your own world / You’re looking for no one / What the hell’s wrong with you?” is any indication, expect it to be their most visceral work to date.

No word on when they’ll be back in the States, but they’ll play eight dates across the UK in February, including Manchester, Oxford and London. It’s worth the trip.

 

Someone Has Finally Made the Postmodern ‘A Christmas Carol’

 

 

When Baz Luhrmann gave us (an admittedly flawed) post-punk update of Romeo & Juliet in 1996, much like the only Sex Pistols album, it was even more about what it allowed for, than what it was. After all, if you could post-modernize Shakespeare, you could pretty much do it to anything. The floodgates opened, and everyone from Jane Austen to King Arthur was given a contemporary makeover, mostly to questionable effect.

But 23 years later, no one had yet had the nerve to really mess about with A Christmas Carol – until now, that is. And to be sure, we are like a child waiting for Santa in our anticipation of FX’s upcoming adaptation of the holiday staple, which debuts December 19. Guy Pearce takes on the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the tight-fisted misanthrope of the Dickens classic – and we admit the Memento star hasn’t had a role we’ve been this excited about in far too long.

 

 

But the trailer for A Christmas Carol promises all manner of zeitgeisty frothiness. Irishman star Stephen Graham plays Scrooge’s rueful late business partner Jacob Marley, and he recites such contemporized lines as, “What was the purpose of our gross accumulation? We vandalized the world for this?”- a thinly veiled reference to capitalism’s ruthless destruction of the planet. And the overarching class warfare messaging is as 2019 as the athleisure backlash.

Of course, by virtue of the actor chosen to play him, Ebeneezer is no longer just a crotchety, a persnickety old man, but instead, a mean but handsome heartless bastard. And he’s propositioning Mary Cratchit, played with a force of nature by Dr. Who‘s Vinette Robinson (Yes, a black actress is playing Bob Cratchit’s long-suffering wife.)

“What would you do, Mrs. Cratchit, to have me hand you 30 pounds, not as a loan, but as a gift?'”, Scrooge menaces, decisively yanking Dickens into the #MeToo era. And one can’t help but feel a rush of exhilaration, with her fiercely pursed-lipped threat of, “I am a woman, and I have the power to summon such spirits. And I fucking will.”

 

 

So yes, A Christmas Carol gets a bit of a feminist revenge twist, as well. (Was Rose McGowan considered for the role?)

We’re also thrilled for venerable Brit character actor Jason Fleyming’s turn as the Ghost of Christmas Future, always the gruesomest specter of the three. And his ominous “repent or perish” ultimatum could very much be taken here as a metaphor for the climate destruction our consumerist profligacy has wrought upon Mother Earth. Though, if we’re being honest, one shouldn’t hold one’s breath waiting for humanity to have a Scrooge-like moment of revelation.

Certainly, the Hallmark-ization of the very notion of the life-lessoning holiday fable has made this version of A Christmas Carol all the more exigent – and 21st Century television’s boundary pushing has made it all but inevitable. Only this time, Ebeneezer is us.

 

Soundtracking ‘The Crown’: Martin Phipps’ Haunting New Score Intensifies the Emotional Gravitas of ‘Season 3’

 

 

Along with a new actress playing the role of Elizabeth II – we bow to you, Olivia Coleman – a different composer has also taken the, ahem, reigns for Season 3 of Netflix’s critically acclaimed and generally edge-of-seat period drama The Crown. Award-winning virtuoso Martin Phipps (Black Mirror, Peaky Blinders), replaces Rupert Gregson’s previously lush orchestral scores with a darkly haunting soundtrack solidly anchored in emotional depth-plumbing and atmospheric gravitas.

Phipps collaborated with director Peter Morgan to incisively connect the score to the show’s gripping ongoing narrative, placing his focus on the visceral complexity of each of the historical characters – most poignantly, HRH herself.

The soundtrack’s minimal, singular sonics powerfully emphasize the weight the monarchy must carry alongside their ability – or, rather, inability – to cope with their own personal demons. The music is especially stirring and evocative during Episode 3, which recalls the Welsh mining disaster which killed more then a hundred small children.

 

 

From the darkly moody “Black Widow” to the eerily beautiful “Aberfan,” the skillfully constructed 16-track score (released via Sony Music Masterworks) evokes the turbulence of both the times and inner lives of the Windsor family, while remaining eminently listenable on its own.

“The genius of The Crown is its ability to find the human stories inside the heightened world of the monarchy,” Phipps enthuses. “In Season 3 we tried to connect the score less with the grandeur and pomp of our character’s surroundings, and more with the emotion of their personal journeys. I hope we feel the suppressed power of the establishment lurking beneath these more personal melodies.”

The Crown Season 3 Soundtrack is available now via Sony Music Masterworks.

 

Exhilarating New Film ‘Judy & Punch’ is the Ultimate Feminist Revenge Tale

 

 

 

The great irony of Donald Trump claiming to be victimized by endless political “witch-hunts,” is that the popular etymology of the term arguably dates to possibly the greatest instance of 17th Century misogyny, the Salem Witch Trials, which saw hundreds of women wrongly accused of witchery and at least 20 hanged to their death.

In that very same century, just across the Atlantic, were born the characters of Punch and Judy, a Restoration-era puppet duo that eventually became world renowned. The shows were also rife with misogynistic violence, something that carried on mostly unquestioned in updated interpretations, until now the #MeToo zeitgeist has made it ripe for reassessment.

And so it is that the exhilarating new film Judy and Punch (note, intentional reverse billing) turns the story on its head, presenting it as a kind of feminist revenge tale, and doing it, if we might say, exceedingly effectively. Indeed, Mia Wasikowska (of Alice in Wonderland fame) plays a Judy that is beaten up and left for dead by her abusive, alcoholic husband Punch – who has also accidentally killed their baby. But she lives to exact retribution.

 

 

By complete coincidence, the story is by Executive Producers Tom and Lucy Punch, brother and sister. The former brought it to Vice – where he was employed – several years ago, as they had just launched a new film division, and seemed to be the right ideological home for their vision.

“We were really interested in the show’s extreme violence for comedic purposes,” explains Lucy, also a successful actress. “I had a Punch and Judy puppet show at my 7th birthday party, and I remember us all giggling and laughing at Punch whacking his wife and throwing his kid around. It’s crazy and horribly inappropriate for children!”

Of course, the 21st Century feminist context meant that in any new version, Punch would surely need to at last meet his comeuppance. And Australian actor Damon Herriman’s portrayal of the mean-spirited puppeteer is so vile as to deserve nothing less. Or as Lucy puts it, “Time’s up, Punch!”

 

 

In fact, the employment of screenwriter-director Mirrah Foulkes – already a Vice veteran – saw to Judy and Punch (which opens in the UK this Friday, November 22) being a distinctly Aussie affair. And Wasikowska’s involvement is certainly crucial to its emotional puissance, as she effortlessly transforms from a dutiful theater partner and wife/mother into a laser focused vessel of vengeance, carefully calculating her husband’s eventual punishment – which is ruthless, but not accomplished without a sense of humor.

The source material is, of course, very British – but as Tom is quick to point out, Aussies and Brits share “a similar cultural and comedic sensibility.” He also observes that UK interpretations of Punch and Judy tend to be “darker and weirder.” Yet what makes the film resonate so resoundingly is the unambiguous message of empowerment – even if current liberal doctrine doesn’t necessarily always openly embrace flat out revenge (though if you don’t find yourself cheering at the ending, you might want to look into a sense-of-justice transplant.)

One could hardly ignore the film’s keen prescience, either – considering they began developing it nearly a decade ago. For instance, when Judy questions Punch on the degree of violence in their puppet shows, he snaps back, “They like it punchy and they like it smashy” – which words surely could have been uttered by President 45 at some point in qualifying the audiences at his own rallies. As well, Judy’s fierce self-determination would seem tailor made for the #MeToo era, though the genesis of the project obviously far predates the movement.

 

 

Tom confirms, “There are lots of relevant allegories within the movie to some of the phenomena that have been sweeping not just America but the whole globe. So it now seems strangely prophetic in that respect.”

One can also readily draw parallels to the current global plight of immigrants and refugees. You see, the battered and broken Judy is discovered in the woods and taken in by a group of “heretics” and outcasts (mostly women), who show her kindness and nurse her into fighting fitness – even as they all risk imprisonment or worse if they are discovered by the townspeople, for suspected sorcery and witchcraft.

Notably, Stefan Duscio’s cinematography perfectly captures that ever-present sense of doomfulness, without ever seeming too crushingly ominous – especially in the hauntingly filmed forest scenes.

“The repeated shots of the swaying trees in silhouette to the night sky,” Lucy observes, “are so beautiful and menacing, creating tension, and a sense of foreboding.”

 

 

But ultimately it is Judy’s potent, inspirational closing speech, where she howls in judgment at the villagers, “What is a witch but someone who lives just outside your blinkered view of the world?,” that acts as a timeless feminist rallying cry, one that could surely reverberate through the ages.

As Lucy puts it, “A witch is a strong, powerful woman who speaks out, speaks up and won’t back down. And that’s scary and threatening for certain people.”

As for what’s next for the pair, Lucy’s acting career could hardly be more brisk at the moment. She recently played Esmé Squalor in A Series of Unfortunate Events, has a recurring role in the series Motherland, and also starred alongside Emma Thompson in the late-summer indie film How to Build a Girl, based on the novel by Caitlin Moran. But she and her brother are both active, very busy producers as well.

“We’ve got a bunch of things in development,” Tom reveals, “including a few new feature films that we hope to be announcing in more detail soon. But next up is a short film and installation piece directed by [British artist] Dinos Chapman, that we will be showcasing at Spring Studios in New York next year.”

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Visceral New Ben Watt Video for ‘Balanced on a Wire’

 

 

With everyone going tirelessly on about “living my best life,” perhaps all anyone would have to do is pick up a copy of Ben Watt‘s 1996 memoir and New York Times Book of the Year Patient, which documents his surviving the rare auto-immune disease Churg-Strauss Syndrome…and then work their way backwards and forwards through the rest of his life for inspiration.

The prolific music legend released his first solo album at just 21 years of age, then went on to rack up nine gold and platinum records with Everything But The Girl, the duo of he and wife Tracey Thorn, between 1984 and 2000. He followed with a career as a wildly popular global DJ and London club owner, and head of his own label Buzzin’ Fly.

But since his critically acclaimed 2014 solo album Hendra, he’s settled into the role of elegantly soul-baring song craftsman, which has decisively opened up his more contemplative side. His fourth solo long player, the tellingly titled Storm Damage, is due out in early 2020. But as a preview of what’s to come, BlackBook premieres here the video for affective new track “Balanced on a Wire.”

 

 

With its distinctly Lennon-esque choruses, gliding piano and Watt’s poignant lyrics about overcoming self-doubt and taking chances that lead into unknown territory – “Do you risk it all right here / You have a fear of being discarded / But the unguarded are the ones they say find love” – it is one of the most visceral pieces of music he’s ever recorded.

“My kids were teenagers leaving home for the first time when I wrote this song,” he reveals. “I was moved by their mixture of anxiety and determination. It reminded me of being nineteen myself, standing on the edge of something new, how you cope, how you need to open up when the other half of you is screaming no. It also chimed with how I feel even now, in my fifties, still trying to create. I tried to capture that tension in the cold opening and the hybrid production – half insistent electronics, half piano trio.”

Needless to say, he was boundlessly successful in that endeavor.

(N.B. Ben Watt will tour the UK, Europe, North America and Japan from February through April of 2020, click here for specific dates.)

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Visceral New Video for the ROZES + Mat Kearney Collab ‘Walls’

Image by Delaney Royer

 

Philadelphia songstress ROZES came crashing into the public consciousness in 2015 as the voice and co-writer of the Chainsmokers hit “Roses” – followed by the 2016 release of her tellingly titled debut album Burn Wild. But she was elevated to heroic status earlier this year, when her song “Halfway There” was chosen as the official anthem of the 2019 Women’s March.

Now she’s teamed up with platinum-selling Nashville-by-way-of-Oregon stalwart Mat Kearney for the equally anthemic single “Walls,” about two people who can’t scale the emotional divides they’ve constructed between them. “You don’t even hear the sounds of all my cannons raging / Behind your walls,” ROZES howls in lament during the song’s massive choruses.

 

 

“‘It’s about the emotional space between two people who seem to each stand stubborn in their views,” she explains. “It feels so current in today’s world, whether it’s romance, friendship, or family, sometimes we stand on the opposite side of those we love.”

The accompanying video shows them indeed standing on opposite sides of a glass barrier, unable to reach through to one another. It perfectly captures the desperation of the lyrics, as well as the socio-political tenor of our times.

“‘Walls’ came about very organically the day ROZES and I met,” Kearney recalls. “I had written the title and some of the chorus awhile back. When I played it for her, she pointed out how we could write it about a relationship, as well as something much bigger. Walls are something we put up to the ones closest to us, as well as the people we know the least.”

 

 

BlackBook Film Spotlight: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans Star in Peculiar Whodunit ‘Knives Out’

 

 

International Geekdom very much knows Rian Johnson as the writer/director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But for those of us who couldn’t give a toss about X-Wing pilots and Leia Organa, it’s all about his scandalously overlooked 2008 masterpiece The Brothers Bloom – in which Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody played the hippest con men literally in the history of cinema.

And with the new film Knives Out (in theaters November 27), the iconoclastic filmmaker again gets a shot at doing what he does best: getting unforgettable performances out of a brilliant ensemble cast, reading a script that tilts the English language just sideways enough to come off as artfully oddball. To be sure, like Hal Hartley and Wes Anderson before him, Johnson’s characters speak in a calculatedly stylized dialect, with a slightly off-kilter cadence and rhythm that wouldn’t be in the least recognizable to your average (is there any other kind?) linguistic literalist.

It’s also wickedly smart, with just the right amount of winking self-awareness.

 

 

For it, Johnson manages to gather Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta), Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), even Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Plummer on the same screen for a genuinely peculiar crime drama that makes Clue look like Law & Order. Curiously, the victim, Harlan Thrombey (Plummer), is a very successful writer of mysteries (how meta) – until he becomes one on his 85th birthday.

Stanfield and Noah Segan play cops who come to the creepy old mansion – Thrombey’s home – where the birthday celebration was taking place, and encounter a familiar cast of damaged and narcissistic characters, including the victim’s son and daughter (Shannon and Curtis), and the latter’s self-absorbed son (a deliciously snide Evans). Eventually, Craig arrives to steal the show as detective Benoit Blanc, who is somewhere between Twin Peaks and Agatha Christie, but with a very pronounced southern accent – making him a truly original creation – it would be a shame, in fact, if this were his only film appearance.

It’s laced with social commentary and insightful meditations on class, almost all delivered with a kind of wry, kooky wit (shades of the Coen brothers). The house itself is just as much a character, an ominous country pile that’s weirdly decorated and eerily lit. But in the end, Knives Out is very much Rian Johnson’s film, with a style, dialogue and acting performances that could have surely only been conjured by him.