Synthtastic! New Pet Shop Boys Single ‘Monkey Business’ is Their Best in Years

 

 

Never ever being boring, Pet Shop Boys‘ Neil Tennant declared to The Guardian in a recent interview that “the acoustic guitar should be banned.” This was particularly cheeky, as new track “Burning the Heather” actually uses an acoustic guitar.

The song is taken from their brilliant, rapturously reviewed new album Hotspot, which follows 2013’s Electric and 2016’s Super as a trilogy of sorts—all with producer Stuart Price—returning them to their electronic essence. It was released this past Friday, January 24, and some of the British press are predicting it will be the duo’s first number one in more than two decades.

 

 

And we seriously can’t get enough of new single “Monkey Business,” which seamlessly blends Kraftwerkian blip and bleep synths with lush, disco opulence into an infectious dancefloor stunner. The accompanying video fittingly finds the Boys at a trashy-glamorous nightclub, observing very flamboyantly attired fellow clubgoers tripping the light fantastic in the campiest of all possible ways.

It’s to be followed by a 25-date, European “Greatest Hits” tour, kicking off in Berlin May 1. No word on them bringing it to the States…so it’s the perfect excuse for a spring fling in Hamburg or Vienna.

 

Rarities by Picasso, Miró, Léger to Get Pre-Auction Exhibit at Sotheby’s London

Fernand Léger, Le Buste (1925)

 

When the excitement died down around Sotheby’s New York selling Monet’s Meules for $110.7 million last spring, a little perspective was surely in order. Paul Gaugin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?) had actually sold for more than $200 million in a private exchange in 2015; and yet another Impressionist masterpiece, Cézanne’s The Card Players, was sold privately for about $250 million four years earlier.

But a year previous to the Monet sale, Sotheby’s’ sale of Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) for $157.2 million seemed to be something of a watershed, signaling a fervor for modernism across periods and genres that would likely not ebb any time soon.

The exalted auction house, however, is now presenting a jaw-dropping Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist auction in London on February 4 & 5, which will include some surely highly coveted gems, but at significantly more approachable prices, including a number of genuine rarities.

 

Pablo Picasso, Visage de profil, brush and ink on paper, 1959

 

Firstly, a quartet of early works by Vincent van Gogh will be on offer, which have been out of the public eye since 1995; and a still life with flowers by Chagall, also unseen for 25 years, will be awaiting some lucky collector’s embrace.

Perhaps even more thrillingly, a pair of revolutionary works by Fernand Léger will be making their first ever auction appearance (his industrial age commentary is surely still relevant). And there are fascinating ceramics and works on paper from the collection of Marina Picasso, Pablo’s granddaughter…as well as a recently restituted Pointillist masterpiece—Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu— by Camille Pissarro, and two paintings by Joan Miró, including the stunning  Groupe de personnages (1938).

Generously, all will be exhibited for a week before the auction commences, for those whose budgets are more “lookie” than “ownie.” Still and all, if your checkbook allows, this is a rare opportunity to commune with these artistic legends. Consider it accordingly.

 

Joan Miró, Groupe de personnages (1938)

Art and Media Worlds Gather For Opening of Reka Nyari’s ‘Ink Stories’ at the BlackBook Presents Gallery

Images by Bill Chin

 

Notables from the worlds of art, media, fashion, etc. gathered Thursday evening for the opening of Reka Nyari’s Ink Stories at the BlackBook Presents gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The eminent photographer (she’s shot for the likes of Vogue, Tatler, Vanity Fair) was making her Brooklyn debut, after exhibiting previously from Manhattan to Amsterdam, Toronto to Hong Kong.

Ink Stories is a stunning collection of images of empowered, tattooed women from around the world, each with a riveting back story told in ink, with their bodies as the canvas.

“I like to portray women who are edgy, sexy, and strong,” Nyari says of the exhibition. “I like to be truthful while instigating curiosity for the unknown. I see the world as dark and beautiful and full of interesting stories.”

Tattoo artist Carmen Figueroa was on hand for impromptu inkings, and copies of Nyari’s stunning, 225 page monograph Geisha Ink were on sale at the gallery. Catering for the evening was by Jonathan Weizmann’s Gastronome, while sponsors included T. Edward Wines / Henry Varnay Rosé, SOTO Sake, and Gem & Bolt Mezcal.

Ink Stories will be on show at BlackBook Presents through February 20.

 

 

 

Nazi Satire ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Has Nabbed Six Oscar Nominations—You Really do Need to See It

 

 

It would have seemed almost unimaginable just a few years ago that 2019 America would have a…Nazi problem right out in the open. Yet such hatemongers have actually been referred to as “very fine people” by the man who holds the title of The President of the United States of America.

Into this bizarrely unsettling reality came a fittingly surreal film last autumn about a little German boy, Jojo (played by Roman Griffin Davis), who is pretty sure being a Nazi is a pretty great thing. It just nabbed six Oscar nominations, including Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay and, most notably, a Best Supporting Actress nod for Scarlett Johansson, and Best Picture for Taika Waititi.

The story? Well, despite the Axis powers starting to unravel, Jojo is proudly heading off to fascist training camp, like all obedient little boys do. In fact, he’s so devoted to the cause, that his imaginary friend is not a puppy or a bunny (or not even an dreamed up Nazi boy), but Adolf Hitler himself.

 

 

Jojo Rabbit morphs from uncomfortable absurdity (everything about Hitler is uncomfortable) into a magical but tidily packaged, tolerance-teaching morality fable, when Jojo actually meets a young Jewish girl and, much to his astonishment, realizes she’s not a monster – as he had been taught about all Jews. His mother (Scarlett Johansson), you see, is a member of the resistance, and she has hidden the girl away in the attic, without Jojo’s previous knowledge.

Luckily director Taika Waititi (who gets great comic Nazi performances out of Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson) doesn’t play it too maudlin – which also means Jojo Rabbit lacks the emotionally piercing ending of, say, Max, another film that got undue criticism for depicting Hitler outside of his historically documented psychopathy. But as an incisive meditation on the indoctrination of innocent children into horrifying ideologies, it is poignant, thought provoking, and exceedingly relevant to the current zeitgeist of paranoia and fear that always accompanies irrational hatred.

Jojo Rabbit is currently back in theaters (six Oscar noms will do that). Don’t miss it this time.

 

As Beethoven’s 250th Looms, Revisiting Gary Oldman in ‘Immortal Beloved’

 

 

It’s tough being Ludwig Van Beethoven. His fellow exalted contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was a rock star before there were rock stars, sealed his mythology by dying young under mysterious circumstances, and two centuries after his passing, was tributed with not only one of the greatest music films, but one of the greatest films of all time period, in Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. It brilliantly depicted him as the iconoclastic, irrepressible genius that he was – and, well, he got the girls.

Ludwig, fittingly, had the volatile (at the time) Gary Oldman accept the challenge of playing him in Bernard Rose’s 1995 biopic Immortal Beloved. And for accuracy’s sake, the actor was forced to portray him as the pompous, and eventually grumpy virtuoso, who suffered the ultimate anguish of losing his hearing at the height of his creativity. Whereas critics rightly showered Amadeus with praise (it won eight Oscars), they were deeply divided regarding Rose’s film.

 

 

Beethoven will turn 250 this coming December, and there will be many musical tributes, especially in Vienna, where he spent his prime working years (the New York Times has already filed a rhapsodic report on how the composer will be honored in the Austrian capital). But we would suggest that it’s exactly the right time to revisit the film, as well, which just happens to have a 25th anniversary this very month.

The pic actually builds around a brilliantly imagined premise: a real letter was discovered after Beethoven’s death, addressed only to his “immortal beloved.” His confidante Herr Schindler (played with a visceral empathy by Jeroen Krabbe) then embarks on a determined journey of discovery to learn the addressee’s true identity, and thus rightly bestow the composer’s estate and, emotionally, accomplish closure.

 

 

The narrative then bounces between the present and captivating biographical flashbacks, following Ludwig from his amorous youth, to the first recognitions of his giftedness, and on to his tragic decline. Some things never change, early on the rich and powerful want to have him around to show off their “good taste,” while traditionalists (mostly male) scoff at his artistic irreverence and his arrogant hotheadedness.

The young women, naturally, swoon before his talent (Isabella Rossellini is positively radiant as the Countess Anna Maria Erdödy, as is Valeria Golino as Giulietta Guicciardi). Yet unlike the riotous, free-spirited Wolfie, Beethoven is just so much vitriol, being always a difficult lover, and snarling at all the philistines around him who are surely too culturally infantile to understand his obviously epochal work.

 

 

But it’s actually posited that a single incident perhaps pivoted his life into bitterness: a rendezvous with a lover gone wrong—gorgeously shot at the fabled Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic—which sees him in his rage throw an expensive chair out a hotel window. That single act reveals so much about the inner Beethoven, that Rose afterwards allows the camera an extended, and very affecting pause on his despondent, defeated countenance.

Oldman really does give a tour de force performance in Immortal Beloved—but perhaps Beethoven’s insolence just didn’t play as well as Mozart’s wild free-spiritedness. Still and all, on the occasion of Ludwig’s 250th, we vigorously recommend taking the time to see one of the greatest actors of his generation, play one of the greatest composers of all time. You won’t be sorry.

 

New Survey Ranks the World’s Most Beautiful Cities – Paris, of Course

Montmartre, Paris

 

 

Living in a massive city (New York) full of towering skyscrapers is consistently overwhelming, in a sensory sort of way. So when making travel decisions, we often find ourselves veering towards destinations of decidedly more human scale, like Amsterdam or Cape Town…which also happen to be two of the most good looking places we’ve ever visited.

But beauty, surely, is in the eye of the beholder. And a new survey by Toronto based Flight Network names the 50 most beautiful cities in the world – leaving us genuinely surprised by a few of the choices.

 

 

Lisbon

 

Surveyed were more than a thousand travel writers, bloggers and agencies, so one could hardly claim bias. But New York City and London came in at #2 and #3 respectively, even as both have undertaken horrendous over-development, turning their cityscapes into a blight of cranes and unfinished construction. It’s sometimes just hard to look at, without wishing you could just beam yourself over to Florence or Provence.

We certainly would not disagree, however, with Paris coming in at #1. And Venice, Vancouver and Lisbon at #’s 4, 5 and 6 and surely indisputable. At #26 and #28, Bruges and Havana are also particular favorites of ours. While Jerusalem (#30) and Edinburgh (#31) score points for historical gravitas, while still offering a distinctly cosmopolitan experience.

 

Jerusalem

 

As for Latin America, we absolutely would have moved Cartagena far up the list from #44 – and would enthusiastically make it our top recommendation for the South American continent in the coming year. But it’s also nice to see underdogs like Ecuador’s Quito (#32) and Peru’s Cusco (#34) make the list.

Of course, wherever your travel plans take you in 2020, do try to make sure a bit of pretty comes with the package.

 

Cartagena

As We Enter a Harrowing Election Year, BBC One’s ‘Years and Years’ Appears Shockingly Prophetic

 

 

One of 2019’s most controversial (and intriguing) cultural debates was whether The Handmaid’s Tale contained the seeds of genuine prophecy. Those rightly sensing the creep of fascism – as well as religious encroachment on women’s rights – put forth the slightly panicky assertion that America was on its way towards becoming the real-world Gilead. Cooler heads insisted that was all a bit…hysterical.

But those looking for short-term prophesying on the small screen could have definitely found it in Years and Years, the chillingly Ballardian BBC One mini-series, which aired on HBO in the States this past summer. In it, Emma Thompson is nothing shy of ghastly as Vivienne Rook, a high-profile businesswoman who invades British politics peddling right-wing paranoia on a lunatic level. Her success mirrors the real-life rise of far-right populism in the West.

 

 

The series actually revolves around a fictional middle class Manchester family, the Lyons, as a changing political climate and worrying technological creep begin to send shockwaves through their otherwise seemingly average lives. Yet what surely makes the show so vividly frightening, is that it crosses into reality. Indeed, the story starts at the end of Donald Trump’s second term (it’s hard to even write that), with the despicable American president having just fired a nuclear missile at the fictional Chinese island Hong Sha Dao – near to where sister Edith Lyons has recently traveled. She survives, but returns to England suffering from terminal cancer due to the nuclear fallout.

MP Rook rises to infamy in a moment, causing a furor by saying she “doesn’t give a fuck” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on an evening British talk show. And from there, the Lyons’ are subject to a series of very personal horrors, with Rook’s political ascent as the nightmare backdrop. To wit, a harrowing refugee situation leads to a horrible death in the family; and a “technological” cosmetic surgery procedure goes shockingly wrong, a perfect metaphor for tech’s slow dismantling of our essential humanity. Betrayals abound, as fascist death camps are assembled.

 

 

 

In the 6th and final episode, Grandmother Muriel hands down the blanket condemnation: “I saw it all going wrong when it began in the supermarkets, when they replaced all the women on the till with those automated checkouts. Yes. But you didn’t do anything, did you? Twenty years ago when they first popped up, did you walk out? Did you write letters of complaint? Did you shop elsewhere? No!”

It must be said, for all of its abominations, The Handmaid’s Tale at least has had a clearly identifiable enemy. But Years and Years is surely all the more unsettling for reminding that the enemy, in fact, might just be us.

 

 

 

Design Legend Vaughan Oliver Has Died: These Are Six of His Greatest Album Artworks + Playlist

 

 

Surely no record label in history has defined an absolute, ideologically driven aesthetic – and thus helped to define those drawn to said aesthetic – as sublimely as 4AD. Still difficult to properly explicate, it was some kind of ethereal, existential joining point for French Surrealism, German Expressionism and Mitteleuropa gothic, all carried out with a very English sort of post-punk postmodernism.

Founder Ivo-Watts Russell, of course, painstakingly selected those who would be welcomed into the 4AD artist “society.” But the man who gave it such an ineffable visual expression was one Vaughan Oliver, who along with Peter Saville and Ralph Steadman, are indisputably the most important cover art designers in contemporary pop music history. Oliver tragically passed away yesterday, aged just 62 – no cause of death was given.

Considering the exaltation with which we regard Oliver’s work, we consider it essentially futile to put that work into words. So rather, we offer up six of his most astonishing album artworks themselves – not all of which, of course, were done for 4AD – and the songs that best exemplified each of those albums.

 

The Pixies, Doolittle (top image)

4AD-Elektra, 1989
Key track: “Monkey Gone to Heaven”

 

Modern English, After the Snow

4AD, 1982
Key track: “I Melt With You”

 

 

David Sylvian, Secrets of the Beehive

Virgin Records, 1987
Key track: “Forbidden Colours”

 

 

Xymox, Twist of Shadows

Wing, 1989
Key track: “Obsession”

 

 

Cocteau Twins, Treasure

4AD, 1984
Key track: “Lorelei”

 

 

This Mortal Coil, It’ll End in Tears

4AD, 1984
Key track: “Song to the Siren”

 

 

Holiday Hope: Abisha’s Stunning New Single + Video ‘Love Like This’ Stands up for LGBTQIA+ Acceptance

 

 

At the conclusion of one of the most divisive years ever in British and American politics, it’s particularly important to remember that the issues being debated involve real consequences for real, everyday people, every day.

Which is why we find ourselves applauding Brit songstress Abisha for rushing the pre-Christmas release (while everyone is so distracted with the holidays) of the video for her poignant new single “Love Like This,” which celebrates the beauty of young love, while also standing up for LGBTQIA+ acceptance. And if there is anything we need more of right now, it is most certainly acceptance and tolerance.

Filmed at locations around NYC by Louis Browne and Sam Leviton, there is so much unabashed joy on the screen, that it can only be taken as a message of hope – especially at this time of year when so many so intensely feel the sting of societal rejection.

 

 

“Growing up black and gay in a place that’s largely white,” Abisha explains, “and where I didn’t know of anyone else who was queer, I had this feeling of being different for most of my life.”

But just as queer artists from Boy George to Janelle Monae have acted as guiding lights for those in need of someone to look up to, so does Abisha hope to do the same.

“For a long time I wanted so badly to be what I thought was normal,” she recalls. “Now that I’m discovering who I am as an artist, I’m also discovering who I am as a person, and I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’m happy to stand out and express myself every way I can.”

And what greater gift?