BlackBook Film Spotlight: ‘Isn’t it Romantic’

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Warning: Prepare for rom-com inception with a touch of belly laughs. Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a New York architect who seems invisible at her job and in life was told at a young age that romantic fantasies are just that…fantasy. Living out her life under the oppression of this mentality, the smartly hilarious new film Isn’t It Romantic finds her in her late 20s ignoring all chances of love that come her way.

While her best friend / loyal assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) spends the work day watching Pretty Woman, Say Anything, The Wedding Singer, and every other romantic celluloid paradigm, Natalie runs through a spiel of how real life will never amount to the love-filled illusions that those old movies depict.

After a subway station mugging (ah, remember those?) that leaves her with a concussion, it’s time for Natalie to pay the piper, as she goes down the rabbit hole and into an alternate universe consisting of her worst nightmare – she is now the star of a real-life PG-13 romantic comedy.

 

 

The cuties are winking at her, her not-so-nice NYC apartment is now beautifully revamped and fit for a Hilton sister (complete with a fully stocked closet!), she lands a successful dreamboat (Liam Hemsworth), there’s a slow motion running scene and pre-choreographed karaoke number, her stoner neighbor is now her gay bestie, and all her curse words are bleeped (this alternative universe is PG-13, right?). With all the cliches complete, Natalie must now navigate through this alternate realm until she reaches her end game of finding true love, before returning to reality.

Isn’t it Romantic stars Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, and Priyanka Chopra. See the laugh out loud comedy when it hits theaters this Valentine’s Day Eve.

 

Swedish Dance Mavens Galantis Enlist OneRepublic For Exuberant New Track ‘Bones’

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Image by Katharina Næss

 

The only thing that most people have been feeling in their bones is the ache of winter chill. Add that to the socio-political divisiveness flashing across our screens every day, and a bit of positivity would be more than welcome.

Curiously enough, it comes from Sweden – where it is, of course, particularly dark and cold this time of year. Indeed, Stockholm dance music duo Galantis have conjured a particularly exuberant new track, “Bones” (via Big Beat) an exhilarating new collaboration with American popsters OneRepublic.

“You’re like the opposite of all of my mistakes / You feel like home,” intones singer Ryan Tedder, lyrics that are sure to send a little warmth back through all those chilled and tired bones. Musically, acoustic guitars and piano are layered over a euphoric groove, with lush atmospherics and an absolutely monster chorus.

 

 

“It was an incredible experience working with OneRepublic and Ryan on this song,” enthuse the Galantis boys (Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw). “He has such a legendary voice and we’ve always been big fans of his songwriting – so connecting with him on ‘Bones’ came so naturally to us. This is out first music of 2019 and we can’t wait to show you what else we’ve been working on!”

The duo are coming off a 2017 album, Aviary, which charted in 23 countries. They’ll be kicking off an eight-date North American tour at Story in Miami tonight.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: My Brightest Diamond’s New Album ‘A Million and One’ is a Meditation on Contemporary Detroit

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Shara Nova was born in Arkansas. But by the time she was a teen, she had moved with her family to the obscure factory town of Ypsilanti, Michigan, just outside Detroit. Those were particularly difficult years – late ’80s into early ’90s – for the once great Motor City, which is only now beginning to find a new way forward…in part thanks to local believers like Shinola.

Ms. Nova would eventually land in the loving embrace of New York City, from where she launched a music career as her alter-ego My Brightest Diamond. An extremely well received 2006 debut album, Bring MeThe Workhorse, then set her on path that would ultimately wend her creatively back to Michigan.

To be sure, her fifth album, the remarkably visceral and adventurous A Million and One – released this past November – found her reaching back to her hometown for inspiration. And from the languid anxieties of “A Million Pearls” (shades of Annie Lennox) to the jittery synth grooves of “Champagne” (there’s also a track called “Supernova” – haha) to the artful funk of “It’s Me On the Dance Floor,” these are some of the most laid-bare jewels she’s ever turned out.

She and her band will be picking up their 2018 North American tour this February, with dates from Vancouver to LA, Detroit (of course) to Brooklyn. In the meantime, we caught up with her to (mostly) reflect back on what “America’s Comeback City” really means to her.

 

 

A Million and One is about Detroit. What inspired you to at last create a musical tribute to the city?

At the core the album explores the quest of the individual to be more clearly articulated, to have the strength to express yourself – and asking at the same time, how do we belong to one another, not only as our most unique selves, but as a society that must hear one another, and connect to each other.  Is the world shifted by the internal state of the individual or is it changed through external action in the public sphere? Certainly living in Detroit and being confronted daily with extreme poverty makes you ask how you must change things about yourself and then how you can help other people. As a white person moving to Detroit, I also have to ask why the brown people around me have so much more of a struggle than I do. As an artist, I owe a great debt to the music of Motown, and this record was a way for me to reflect my adoration and to feel connected to the lineage I feel a part of – but without the intention of imitating a particular style.

What was Detroit like, when you were young?

I lived an hour west of the city in a car factory town and Detroit radio reached us. I’d moved to Michigan from Oklahoma in 7th grade and my first ride on the school bus I heard Run DMC’s “Tricky” – and my mind went on record mode; I was awestruck. Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross…there were so many amazing singers on the radio and I couldn’t get enough. In school choir, we competed internationally singing Bach and Samuel Barber, and then after school I was on a hearty diet of R&B and rap, with Tupac, Biggie and LL Cool J being on air every day. Nighttime Friday radio shows had the DJs mixing on air, blending techno from one song to the next. I consider myself very lucky to have lived with those radio stations shaping my ears.

Could you perhaps say the sort of baroque flourishes in your music are a response to growing up in such “industrial” surrounds?

I have baroque influences in my music and wrote a baroque opera, “You Us We All,” a couple years ago – but I didn’t intentionally use any baroque influence on A Million And One.  I like that there are so many songs in the baroque era, the pop tunes for the time, [that have} a melancholy and a connectedness to nature. As a composer, I like that one can apply a contemporary context with the baroque-isms and get to a new space, an “I-Don’t-Know-When-This-Music-Was-Composed” zone, hopefully a sense of timelessness that is disorienting.

Detroit seems to have recently been infused with a new creative energy. Do you feel that when you’re there?

I’ve been in the city for almost ten years now, and have had to confront many of my assumptions – one of which being that I believed in trickle down economics. I thought that when the waters rise, all the boats would go up together – and that is simply not true. The old boats get moved out of sight into the stinky canal. Of course, one wants to have a certain economic flow, but what is emphasized by the situation in Detroit is that poor black folks who have been here forever are not benefitted in the way that white folks are by gentrification.

You seem to have gone a little more electronic on this record – was that an homage to Detroit’s history as an incubator of that style?

Yes, definitely went more electronic. Every album has had a guideline for the arranging: the first album band and string quartet; second album expanded to woodwinds; third album I was sick and tired of asking the drummer to play quieter and strings to play louder, so I went acoustic and put my electric guitar away. After that I wanted to do the loudest thing I could think of, and that was marching bands. Then I thought, hey, I’ve never forced myself to just look at the band, to look at song form without all the bells and whistles, so I didn’t allow myself any classical instruments. I also knew I wanted to explore sub frequencies and that meant looking at kick drums. Certainly Detroit techno was an influence there, but it also was because of my sonic curiosity.

 

 

Would it be safe to say that MBD is essentially the creative alter ego of Shara Nova?

MBD is a way for me to frame my pop music.  I’m a composer and I knew that I’d be the kind of person who did lots of different kinds of music, and I needed some way to categorize the work and for people to be able to have a certain expectation associated with that name.

Even still, how much influence did [producer] The Twilite Tone have on the album?

My long time drummer Earl Harvin co-wrote many of the songs with me, and I wanted to blend live drums with those sub frequencies from electronic drums. We recorded everything that I had in my head, but the record didn’t feel finished. It didn’t feel pop. I called on several electronic producers, but nothing really stuck. Finally at the 11th hour I was introduced to The Twilite Tone, and the first thing he did was mute a lot of the drums, which really freaked me out, but I wanted to give him space to work and push around the playdough. We reached a compromise in the end that we are both happy with, but it was a challenge. I produced all my albums before so it was a big trust fall. But it’s good to be uncomfortable and go somewhere new.

You have a song, “You Wanna See My Teeth,” about the death of Trayvon Martin – and Detroit has been no stranger to racial strife. Do you feel like we may be going backwards in regards to race relations in America?

I come from a southern, conservative, Evangelical, NRA-card-carrying family; let me just say that upfront. I used to go to the corner store as a teenager – sneaking, because my parents didn’t let us eat much candy – and when Trayvon died, I thought about how many times I went for candy and got home safely. Why him? Why not me? What about my own son? Trayvon could be my son, too; and it makes one ask why the stories of white and brown people have such different narratives. In looking at the history we have as a country, we can’t escape addressing our economics.

Of course…

As a white person it also makes me ask a bunch of questions about my own identity.  What do white folks identify as our culture?  What makes up the story of my family? We have to name and disentangle ourselves from the part of our history that was dehumanizing and oppressive, to own our history and the damage it did to us – and then figure out how to create and align ourselves with a new identity. We keep denying that we have a disease, and justifying oppression.

What will be new about your upcoming live performances?

I finally can dance!! I have been an octopus musician for all these years, playing instruments with every limb, and I finally made the leap to playing to tracks for some songs – so that I can be free to jump, to move, to interact. Also the amazing Deborah Johnson of Candy Stations has done visuals for the show, and they are yummy good candy.

 

Listen: Ellie Goulding + Diplo Track ‘Close to Me’ Gets an Exhilarating Remix by Felix Cartal

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Ellie Goulding‘s surprising collaboration with Diplo, “Close to Me” – featuring Swae Lee – was released last October and shot straight up the charts – and after 200 million streams, it is currently sitting at #8. The accompanying video, shot in Budapest, was perhaps her most visually stunning to date.

But where the original was sly and sultry, a new remix by Felix Cartal revs up it to the level of exhilarating. The hotter than hot Canadian DJ-producer gives it a high-energy house groove, imbuing the lyrics, “I don’t want to be somebody / Without your body close to me / ‘Cause I’m an animal like you,” with a decidedly feral sensuality.

And because one is the loneliest number, another, bouncier remix by NYC’s CID has been released simultaneously.

But it’s not all about the music. Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ms. Goulding met with leading climate scientists at their Arctic Basecamp, promising her support for their crucial climate action.

Mike Garson, Earl Slick Launch Momentous ‘David Bowie Alumni Tour’ On February 6

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Image by Steve Rose

 

He was relevant until the last; and the particularly traumatic death of David Bowie in 2016 entered him into the pantheon of 20th Century cultural icons – though we certainly all wish that was yet to come. Three years later we still miss Ziggy / Aladdin Sane / The Thin White Duke…and even the Bromley Terror – Mick Jagger’s less than complimentary nickname for Bowie – more than ever.

Not that we will ever forget him – but so far it’s been thankfully made impossible, with near constant reminders of his brilliance, in the form of musical tributes, the stunning David Bowie is exhibition, and the subsequent mobile app. But perhaps most special of all, and returning for a second year this week, is A Bowie Celebration: The David Bowie Alumni Tour.

It brings together long-time veterans of Bowie’s close musical circle, most notably keyboardist and band leader Mike Garson, who was with him for his earliest and also his final U.S. shows. Rounding out the lineup are guitarist Earl Slick (certainly runner up for the title of Thin White Duke), and bass player Carmine Rojas, as well as other key Bowie personnel, including Charlie Sexton, Bernard Fowler, and even some special guests, such as actress Evan Rachel Wood.

 

Image by Steve Rose

 

“This is a dream band,” Garson enthuses, “with each member at the top of their game. Add to that the world’s best fans singing and dancing along with us, and the power of David’s music stays alive with the same intent as when we played it with him.”

Indeed, The David Bowie Alumni Tour promises to deliver the most authentic interpretations possible of Bowie’s work, shy of a divine resurrection – which is not something we’re dismissing entirely. Kicking off this Wednesday, February 6 at the Mesa Arts Center, and concluding 33 shows later in Dallas on March 22, the shows will of course be part celebration and part memorial – and for those who never got to see Bowie in his prime, a master-class in rock songwriting and performance.

“People will be reminded of how prolific David’s music was,” says Rojas. “It’s truly a spiritual event, and I can’t wait to continue the Celebration.”

(Tickets can be purchased here.)

 

Image by Steve Rose

 

The New ‘Be Loud’ Video From Copenhagen’s Mr. Koifish is a Trippy Dippy Mind Warp

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Last year whilst visiting the Hearst Tower in New York, we were privileged to be taken to a private 50th anniversary exhibition on the animation in The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. And while it’s clear how its influence has continued to resonate, it was also a transporting experience, a peek into a 1960s decade of unfettered psychedelic mind expansion.

Wouldn’t you know, we felt nearly that exact same way upon viewing the video for Mr. Koifish‘s spacey new single “Be Loud.” The former bass player for Copenhagen’s Turboweekend, Morten Køie adopted the, um, fishy nom de guerre just in time to release debut track “The End” last summer.

 

 

But “Be Loud,” with its groovalicious bass line, trippy, widescreen atmospherics and weirdly affected vocals is something of a new kraut-psyche-rock paradigm. And to be honest, the hippy-dippy lyrical professions of, “Let’s be live, in high / Zero, you know,” sound like a really attractive alternative to dealing with the real world.

“The psychedelic pictures painted tell a story about letting go and feeling care free,” he explains, “seeing the world from far above, floating in that perfect place.”

Free your mind…

 

 

Voyeuristic New ‘Rock Stars at Home’ Book Shows Freddie, Debbie, Keith in Thrilling Domestication

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Terence Spencer/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

 

Those kids selling maps to movie stars’ homes in LA didn’t come upon that business model out of the blue. It’s been proven a subset of human nature to want to peek behind the curtains of the lives of our idols, something that a whole new generation of ethically-challenged social and entertainment media have only been too willing to exploit.

But it’s not all just shameless titillation. Indeed, Rock Stars at Home, a new book (from Apollo Publishers) that documents exactly what you would expect from the title, surfs the culture of vicariousness in a more reverential way – giving us a view of the distinctly not humble abodes of 30-odd million-selling rockers, and chronicling their lives during the time they lived in them.

Most of the book’s subjects are from the golden age of rock and roll, the ’70s and ’80s – and so we get a more personal look at the lives of Led Zeppelin, Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ozzy, Guns N’ Roses, even Elvis. At 51, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher is the youngest of the bunch, proving our oft repeated point that real rock stars are a dwindling breed. (One dreads the insufferable boringness of a possible Part II, starring Coldplay, Imagine Dragons and Greta Van Fleet).

 

UNITED KINGDOM – MARCH 1986: Musician Ozzy Osbourne (R) at home with (L-R) son Jack, wife Sharon, daughters Kelly & Aimee. (Photo by Terry Smith/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

 

Penned by a small coterie of noted music writers, including Bryan Reesman and Simon Spence, the book moves chronologically on from Frank Sinatra (actually not really a rock star, as he once referred to the burgeoning genre as “the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear”), and divides its subjects into two distinct camps; those with fancy houses, and those whose habitats at the time coincided with a significant period in their lives.

In the first camp we have George Harrison, whose three-story, 25-bedroom former school on a 62-acre English estate vies with Barry Gibb’s sprawling Miami compound and Elton John’s Old Windsor mansion, which was once owned by King George III. In the latter category there’s Deborah Harry and Chris Stein’s grotty 2-bedroom on the Bowery, where the seeds of Blondie first sprouted, as well as the communal LA practice/storage/living space where Axl and Slash pounded out the chords that would make GNR a household (dirty) name.

Monsieur Mercury’s tale is particularly poignant, in the fact that his charming but ordinary two-story house (granted, on a quarter-acre garden in the center of London’s posh Kensington) was willed to his life-long friend Mary Austin on his death from AIDS in 1991 (not covered in the recent biopic Bohemian Rhapsody). Bowie’s bourgeois flat in Berlin was equally unremarkable, except for the fact that it’s where he kicked cocaine and wrote “Heroes.”

Rock Stars at Home won’t make you like Axl if you’ve always hated him; but it will probably elevate your already towering love for Debbie, David and the rest. Though perhaps best of all, it will decisively cure any irrational impulse to take Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up even slightly seriously.

 

UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: WOODSTOCK Photo of Bob DYLAN, playing piano at his Byrdcliff home (Photo by Elliott Landy/Redferns)

BlackBook Film Spotlight: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

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If Night at the Museum turned into a murder scene, you may have Netflix’s newest “buzz” generator Velvet Buzzsaw.

Having premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27th, it’s a satirical thriller set in the contemporary art world of Los Angeles – where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when creative integrity collides with cold-blooded commerce.

After a series of paintings by an unknown artist are discovered, a supernatural force enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of the “virtues” of art. This is when the story really takes off. Josephine (Zawe Ashton) stumbles upon the works of said artist – who had actually died in her building. What she found was utterly mesmerizing and, shortly to be discovered, quite haunting. The paintings come alive, and exact their toll on a multitude of superficial characters.

 

 

The film has a pretty stellar cast, if we do say so ourselves. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an incisive critic with the power to make or break new talent. His over-the-top co-stars include Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, and Stranger Things fave Natalia Dyer. And while we see a missed opportunity to have titled the film, “Jake Gyllenhaal and the Cursed Painting,” we cannot emphasize enough what essential viewing this is for anyone who has ever struggled with the balancing act of creativity vs. cash.

Velvet Buzzsaw is directed and written by Dan Gilroy (Roman J. Israel, Esq.). It’s available February 1st on Netflix and in select theaters.

 

Portishead’s Beth Gibbons’ Performance With the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Will Finally See Release

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It actually doesn’t seem like 25 years ago – but with the release of Portishead‘s landmark 1994 debut album Dummy, they essentially clinched “trip-hop” as its own zeitgeist-storming genre. Within a few years, literally dozens of bands popped up (Remember Mono? Esthero?) attempting to capitalize on the dark, sensual new sound.

Now fellow Bristolians Massive Attack are setting out on a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their exalted Mezzanine album; and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons has resurfaced to blow our minds in a whole amazing new way. Indeed, her last project found her linking up with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, as conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki, for Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). Which certainly is hardly a surprise – considering Portishead’s well-documented mastery of musical melancholy and lamentation.

 

 

Oddly enough, the performance actually took place November 29, 2014 at Warsaw’s National Opera Grand Theatre – and four-plus years later, Domino is at last making both the audio and video recordings available, with a release date for DVD, CD and vinyl (as well as deluxe editions for the latter two) set for March 29.

Gibbons nobly overcame a couple of significant challenges to be a part of the momentous performance. First, the part was actually written for a soprano, and Beth’s voice would best be classified as contralto. Second, and most importantly, as a Brit, she obviously did not speak Polish – and so took on the monumental task of learning the part in the abstruse Slavic language.

There’s a terrific interactive website, to keep fans entertained until the springtime release. As for Portishead – within which Gibbons shares membership with Geoff Barrow – in typically enigmatic fashion, little is known about their possible plans for 2019.