1991’s criminally under-appreciated Impromptu, and Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning Gosford Park surely hinted at it. But 2018’s The Favourite—which nabbed ten Oscar noms and one win—decisively proved that comedy and poncey period costumes could be strange but ultimately riotous bedfellows.
Now follows the original Hulu period-comedy series The Great, in which Elle Fanning stars as the most exalted Russian ruler ever, Catherine the Great (thus, the title), with what promises to be a deliciously dry sense of humor. Nicholas Hoult plays her bumbling, feeble-minded husband Peter III, one of Russia’s most well-documented imperial embarrassments. He reigned for just six months, before Catherine staged a coup, and was then free to take the throne, and storm the pages of history.
Curiously, it follows quickly on the heels of HBO’s also pithily titled Catherine The Great, in which Helen Mirren played the empress later in life, and with a much more pronounced sense of gravitas (as well as a more caustic wit). But in the first trailer for Hulu’s latest entry in the historical romp sweeps, Hoult’s Peter is seen Trumpishly claiming, “I am the most beloved ruler in all of Russian history…don’t worry about the bodies.”
Fanning’s Catherine rightly counters, “I’m a prisoner here, married to an idiot.” Sound familiar?
Episode 1 of The Great is scheduled to debut May 15 on Hulu.
We live in a worsening culture of oversharing and “just be your authentic self-ness” that is enough to make the committed relativist reach for the nearest time machine.
Into this irksome reality comes the enigmatic French trio Carré (incidentally, the French word for “square”), armed with enough postmodern signifiers and puzzles to keep you busy for hours. First off, their debut single (which BlackBook premieres here) bears the amusingly self-aware title “This is not a band”…from their upcoming debut EP CARRÉ, out in May. And for all we can tell, they’re probably not a band. Maybe we’d even prefer to think of them as an “occurrence”?
And over a thundering electro soundscape—think Nitzer Ebb, Meat Beat Manifesto, Cold Cave—they (Julien Boyé, Jules de Gasperis, Keveen Baudouin) collectively shout, “This is not happening!” Perhaps it isn’t then.
In the accompanying video, they are seen wearing hyper-flashing “video boxes” on their heads, and the psychedelic dayglo backdrop only adds to the dizzying overall sensory effect.
“There’s something about not getting attached to the form,” Carré tell us, “when you step back and disengage yourself from the form, you become in touch with something more pure and spiritual, while remaining in the square.”
Inspiration can take many forms; but often it’s hardship and instability that are the catalysts for the best art.
For Claire Cuny of Brooklyn-based avant-garde rockers Reliant Tom, the unexpected passing of her father in 2018—on the day of their debut album release no less—provided ample inspiration of the more somber sort, which she has since tapped into for the making of their follow up Play & Rewind. “Nevermind The Garbage” (which BlackBook premieres here) is the first single from the album, and is released this Friday, March 27.
“The song is about trying to return to a semi-normal routine,” Cuny explains, “by learning to manage the grief and anxiety that overcame me after the sudden loss of my father.”
Building from moody ballad, to Cobain-worthy midsection (it’s impossible not to think of him when the word “nevermind” is brought up), and ending in a sparse trance of harmonics, the track viscerally captures the rise and fall of emotions that came with the death. Of course, Cuny’s longing for a return to normality is something exceedingly relatable right now, as the coronavirus outbreak has left us with anything but.
We haven’t heard from our beloved Interpol since 2018’s excellent Marauder…but frontman Paul Banks has proven nothing if not reliably prolific since the New York quartet exploded onto the scene with 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights—even cultivating a worthy solo career on the side.
But his latest project Muzz is actually rather surprising: a trio with Matt Barrick of The Walkmen / Fleet Foxes, and Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman / Day of the Dead. And though there’s no word of a full album yet, they’ve just released this hauntingly pensive new single “Broken Tambourine,” which, if we might say, seems to call upon the ghosts of Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley for spiritual inspiration…while aesthetically harkening back to Peter Gabriel era Genesis.
The accompanying video is an ethereal meditation on the vastness and weightlessness of space—especially welcome at a time when most of us are feeling the anxious crush of reality, stuck for however long between the limits of our four walls.
It’s like nothing we’d ever expected from these three—but then, Banks’ far-reaching talents have never been in question, really. We eagerly look forward to more.
The opening credits for HBO’s The New Pope (gloriously starring John Malkovich as the Pope) is arguably one of the most brilliantly provocative uses of music in film or television—as Sofi Tukker’s hyper-sensual “Good Time Girl” plays against the backdrop of a blinking cross…the latter itself surely laden with metaphor.
It’s just one more reason to love the perpetually groovy international electro duo, who we’ve been exalting since they first popped up on the scene in 2014. And now we have another. The duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern who make up Sofi Tukker have taken to doing home DJ sets every day, surely one of the most inventive responses to the mass quarantining we’ve see yet.
The sets take place at 1pm daily on their Facebook and Instagram pages, a good excuse to skip lunch and instead just dance all the worry away.
“I was working out and Tuck was DJing and Squid started live streaming it,” Hawley-Weld recalls. “It felt really right to be sharing more of ourselves and sharing what we love, so we kept doing it. We’ve got to keep our bodies moving and our spirits alive during this time. It’s an opportunity for togetherness, even while we are all stuck at home.”
And Halpern promises, “We’re playing bangers. We’re playing music you will want to get down to!”
As well, the duo have just released a new Dillon Francis remix of “Purple Hat”, which is also guaranteed to get you on your feet.
The new Netflix film Lost Girls is a harrowing but eye-opening tale of a mother desperate to find her missing daughter. Oscar nominee nominee Amy Ryan plays Mari Gilbert, whose determined investigation shockingly reveals the murders of more than a dozen young sex workers, shining a light on the failures of the media, as well as law enforcement’s inability to protect them.
It’s directed by two-time Oscar nominee Liz Garbus—previously known for The Fourth Estate and What Happened, Miss Simone?—who not only cast Mozart in the Jungle star Lola Kirke in the film, but also enlisted her musical talents. And so her stunning cover of “Beautiful Dreamer” soundtracks the film’s opening credits. The Stephen Foster classic was most famously recorded by Bing Crosby in 1940, and The Beatles in 1963; but Kirke gives it a haunted, melancholy quality that seems to completely reimagine its essence.
“Liz was using a different version of the song during editing,” recalls Kirke, whose latest EP Friends, Foes and Friends Again was released in September. “She remembered that I sing, and asked if I’d be interested in recording it. I loved the idea because of the way the song is woven in the story of the film and the role I play. I was honored to be asked.”
Lost Girls also stars Gabriel Byrne, Thomasin McKenzie and Dean Winters, and is currently streaming on Netflix.
Impressive as Keith Richards “endurance” has been, Richard Wagner outdoes him by remaining unfailingly popular 137 years after his passing. To wit, his exalted opera Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) is having another successful run at New York’s Metropolitan Opera this month, March 2 – 27. And in a special “gift” to those not living within reasonable geographical proximity to Lincoln Center, the Saturday, March 14 performance will be live broadcast to more than 2200 theaters in 70 countries around the globe.
Directed by François Girard—whose 2013 production of Parsifal was a genuine sensation, confirming him as a dab hand at staging Wagner—the haunted tale of a captain cursed to sail the sea for all eternity is made newly epic (Wagner was nothing, if not epic). Indeed, John Macfarlane’s sets are strikingly painterly, and German soprano Anja Kampe’s Met debut as Senta—aside bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin as the Dutchman—is a landmark event for opera lovers.
But surely a singular treat is the solo opening dance by Alison Clancy, with choreography by Carolyn Choa. Specially created for this production, the ethereal dancer appears as a kind of spiritual representation of Senta. Downtown music denizens may actually recognize Clancy from singing and playing guitar at some or other LES indie haunt, as she is known to do between operas. But she has been performing at The Met for about a decade now—and this turn as “the soul of Senta” will surely go down as one of her most unforgettable roles.
“Senta dreams of stopping the stars,” she explains, “changing fate, of being the one true love who can save Holländer from his curse. I hope to embody her as the archetype of fiercely gentle
feminine love, a woman dreaming of a poetic life and navigating her own contradictions:
fragility/strength, restlessness/patience. It’s me dancing with epic projections and the sweeping music played by one of the most amazing orchestras in the world. For these few distilled moments in time, I try with all my heart to honor the alchemical possibilities.”
Leah Capelle‘s new single “I Keep Her,” which BlackBook premieres here, opens with the stark confession: “I take too much and leave nothing for her / I don’t why I do it, and I don’t know how to stop.”
It’s this kind of emotional honesty that has propelled the young LA songstress steadily into the greater spotlight since her 2014 debut EP. And on this track, with the kind of visceral intensity of a Vanessa Carlton or Lykke Li, she conveys longing and vulnerability in equal measure, over thundering drums, and against an opulent, haunting sweep of strings.
She admits to a deep, emotional connection with women, something which created an understandable measure of confusion when she was younger. But she’s since learned to be more honest with herself, and accepting of her real feelings.
“As I got older, I started to realize that I had been lying to myself for a long time,” she confesses. “I was not as ‘straight’ as I had always claimed to be—and I was terrified of what that really meant. I carefully and cautiously started coming coming out as bisexual, and after my partner and I broke up, I was devastated; but I finally had complete freedom to be wholly and utterly myself.”
And then concludes, “In truth, this song isn’t just for one person—it’s for all the women I’ve loved thus far and for the women still searching, wondering…”
The song is taken from her new album triptych, due out April 3 via The Orchard / Little Cabin Entertainment.
Philadelphia R&B songstress Orion Sun is something of a romantic. Her lyrics are soft-spoken and heartbreakingly nostalgic—her music occasionally suggests someone who is primed for the return of happier times, but who also might be apprehensive because of their impermanence.
Lo-fi, DIY beats aestheticize this feeling. Her first project, Voice Memos, was thoughtfully and intimately produced in her bedroom on a hundred-dollar mic and Apple’s pre-installed recording software. It’s not a polished pop album screaming, “I want you back”—it’s a journal entry that letters, in a delicate hand, “I made this for you.”
“I feel like I try to keep to myself, because I do wear my heart on my sleeve,” Orion (whose real name is Tiffany Majette) confesses to BlackBook. “The friends I do have know that I’m very sensitive; but when it comes to music, I’ll tell music things that I couldn’t even tell my closest friends, let alone myself—until after I’m done writing. Music is the most vulnerable place for me. When I go out into public, there are walls up.”
She has a new album, Hold Space For Me, which will be released March 27 via New York indie label Mom + Pop Music. Intriguingly, her recent video for “Coffee For Dinner” follows a stranded astronaut as she urgently searches through a post-apocalyptic, urban landscape. It’s not immediately apparent what she’s looking for…but what is clear is that she can’t seem to find it.
The video, it turns out, takes inspiration from The Twilight Zone. “It’s one of those things that I used to watch every New Year’s with my mom,” she recalls. “I wanted to do an homage to the pilot episode, which is called ‘Where Is Everybody?’”
After re-watching it in her early 20s, she felt a distinct connection with what the main character himself is seeking to find.
“In the episode,” she says, “he’s practicing for the isolation he’s going to face when he goes to space. And I feel like a large portion of the last five years was preparation for the isolation I would feel from my peers, my family, and in society. I went through a rough patch in my life where I didn’t have someone who knew what I was going through.”
Indeed, while her peers were out doing what 21-year-olds do for fun, she was working two jobs. But it turns out the social isolation took her to where she needed to go, artistically.
She explains, “I wanted to paint a picture of me kind of losing it for a minute and just feeling like, ‘Where am I? What’s happening? Why am I feeling so alone?’ But then breaking through and coming out on the other side and realizing that everything had to happen to lead you to where you are. Your destiny, really.”
It seems as though Orion is always looking behind herself, even as she marches steadily forward. “I fall heavy into nostalgia in my darkest times,” she says. “My family and I used to be really close, and we’re working on it now, and it feels really good. But for the past five to six years, I didn’t really talk to them. I just helped out financially. We were not as close as we were. And so, during that time, it felt really good, but also really bad, to reminisce on childhood days. I hold nostalgia close to me. I’m definitely that kind of person that keeps my concert tickets. I’m just so scared of forgetting.”
Her self-produced, photo-collaged music video for her single, “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me),” captures this sentiment as it pertains to matters of the heart. The opening lyrics, “Swear you came down like a comet / You be all in my dreams like I’m f*ckin’ haunted / But it’s beautiful,” evoke a pleasurably tortured love—for contrasting the feeling of being swept up by romance in the present tense is the haunting sense that it might just leave one day. Perhaps it’s a quiet admission about the fleetingness of happy moments; the present is always at risk of fading into nostalgia; but just the same, for Orion, the future offers new possibilities.
Five, ten years down the line, she sees herself as a collaborator and benefactor: “I’m a little shy—but hopefully as time moves on and I get more comfortable, I could produce for other people, song-write for other people. I definitely want to start some sort of grant here in Philly, just to support artists, because I was struggling a lot, and I’m really glad that things are moving how they are. I want to give back in that way…I just want to make a lot of stuff before I go.”
For now, she’ll be heading out on a 12 date North American tour to promote the record, including a stop at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere on April 23, then wrapping up at the Moroccan Lounge in LA on May 13. She’s also trying her best to maintain a reasonably philosophical viewpoint on it all.
“When you lose everything,” Orion concludes, “it just changes your perspective. You start to realize material things, honestly don’t matter. But I won’t be the type of person to say that money doesn’t. Because money helps out a lot, unfortunately.”