ALBUM REVIEW. The xx – I See You

Release date: 13 January 2017

Genre: Indie-alternative

Rating: ★★★

Words by: Martina Di Gregorio

The xx have been making headlines the last couple of months by releasing singles from this album, announcing world tours and breaking records for the most dates at a London venue showing how the influence of The xx has not diminished since their last album and the silence that followed.

I See You really hits the right spot with indie guitar pop, R&B, stripped down music with electro-pop influence of Jamie xx that really gives that extra kick to the sound that we all used to love from The xx. There are heavy guitar or bass drops, but the music gets stripped down to the core by making the real protagonists of the albums the vocal chemistry between Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft, as well as adding that extra dance vibe that makes Jamie xx’s solo work a blessing for The xx as he found that magic sound to really give the band a sense of purpose.

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The lyrics all revolve around all those dark emotions and heartbreak that people go through during their life, making this album a very powerful weapon for The xx to really make an impact in a world where poetic and powerful lyrics are very much outshone by catchy beats and a repetitive clichè choruses that make people feel safe.

The album kick-starts with ‘Dangerous’,which tricks the listener into thinking it might be a happy song as the melody starts with trumpets but slowly fades into darkness as Oliver and Romy haunting voices sing about an unsteady relationship that could break apart at any time but their refusal to let go, and their need to fight for something that maybe shouldn’t stay together. Other songs such as the ballad ‘Performance’ really showcase the hard work and thought the band has put into their sounds, with violins being used to give that sense of melancholy as well as absolute silence to really make a statement and show that sometimes less is more: there isn’t always a need for energetic beats to make a song great, sometimes just vocals are enough to show off talent.

Yet, although The xx discovered and played with many styles in this album, they seem to always focus on  their rough vocals, like with ‘Test Me’, which has scattered vocal samples and cryptic, gloomy noises that make it the darkest song of the album.

Overall, I See You really is about The xx growing and working with their sounds, as the vocals sometimes get lost in a sea of electronic noises and beats that take away from their poetic lyrics, which were what really made this band stand up. Although they do tend to go for a minimalistic sound in certain songs, it seems that Jamie xx’s solo work has made a huge impact on their sound and it is not clear whether it was really necessary. It gave the band a sense of purpose and, something that was lacking in their previous work. It was unclear what they wanted their sound to be like, but this change seems to have taken away a bit of the magic that we all loved from The xx. Nonetheless, the album is still able to strike a chord and show off the huge talents of the two vocalists, and although this is not a five star album, it will still live in the hearts of many fans for years to come.


Listen to the latest offering from The xx here
You can also keep up to date with the trio on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

MDG

 

FILM REVIEW. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Release date: 15 December 2016

Genre: Sci-fi adventure/action

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Words by: Dan Luck

 

Going in to seeing Rogue One, the new standalone instalment in the Star Wars franchise, I was sceptical about how any sort of dramatic suspense was going to be built up in the film. The opening crawl for A New Hope back in 1977 tells you that Rebels successfully acquire the plans for the Empire’s Death Star and a lot of the original film is subsequently based around that entire plot point, so even if you have only the most basic amount of Star Wars knowledge possible, you know how Rogue One ends in that regard far before the pre-movie trailers have finished rolling. So for me, what I wanted to see from Rogue One was the following:

  • How the film covers that missing piece of plot between the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy
  • Can the film make me care about the characters involved in the acquisition of the Death Star plans?
  • Who survives such an inevitably dangerous mission?

As it turns out, Rogue One provided me with a film that not only suitably satisfies all three of these burning questions I had going in, but also provided me with a film that I ultimately enjoyed far more than last year’s ‘main storyline’ instalment The Force Awakens. It’s an original story (though one that in some ways is somewhat bound by the fact it HAS to cover certain events in the Star Wars mythos without much room for deviation), I was made to care about the characters even though there wasn’t a huge amount of fleshing out for a majority of the main cast which is an achievement (fluke?) in itself, and there’s a gratuitous amount of fan service. My God, the fan service. But it’s fan service that 9/10 times doesn’t feel shoehorned and only serves to strengthen the story, in my opinion.

 

BIG SPOILERS COMING FROM THIS POINT ONWARDS, FAIR WARNING.

 

Rogue One follows the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) whose father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen, who I’m seeing a LOT of lately; good for him) is the lead engineer and designer of the Galactic Empire’s currently unfinished Death Star superweapon. When Jyn is young, Galen is forced out of hiding and abducted back into work on the weapon by Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), during which Jyn’s mother is killed and Jyn herself is forced into hiding and subsequent rescue and combat training by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker), leader of an extremist faction of the Rebel Alliance. Fifteen years later, an adult Jyn is broken out of an Imperial prison camp convoy by Rebel officer Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his blunt droid companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) to help the Rebel Alliance get back into contact with Gerrera, who has supposedly received a message from Galen from defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) concerning the Death Star. Once Jyn receives the message, in which Galen expresses his love for her and details the fatal flaw he intentionally designed into the Death Star as his revenge on the Empire (which Luke Skywalker will later sink a decisive torpedo into in the Star Wars chronology), a mission ensues to acquire the actual Death Star plans for the Rebel Alliance to exploit later during the events of Episode IV: A New Hope.

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It’s a pretty standard, to-be-expected plot for the film by all accounts. As such, there’s a somewhat formulaic sense of “we need to get to Point X, then Point Y” that bubbles beneath the surface of the film. But the film’s main plot of “We need to get the Death Star plans” draws its strength from the subplots that funnel into it; Jyn wants to see her father again and avenge him, Andor has secret orders to kill Galen upon discovering his whereabouts which strains his relationship with Jyn, Bodhi has to acclimatise to fighting for the other side of the war. Blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his assassin protector Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) have their belief in the Force tested (primarily Imwe) by the mission. The film is very much a sum of its parts, and despite there being little time to focus on fully fleshing out the backstories of the main Rogue One team, the basics are there and somehow it was still enough to get me to care about the team members going in to the third act of the film.

This is the point where we need to talk about the third act of the film. The third act of the film, which depicted the actual battle surrounding the acquisition of the Death Star plans from the Empire’s data bank on Scarif, made me feel like a little kid again in the cinema for the first time in a long time. Throughout the film, a good job is done focusing on the actual war aspect of the Rebel Alliance/Empire fracas that sometimes is lost a little bit during the original trilogy due to the heavier focus on the Jedi mythos and the other main cast members of the originals. The plight of the common Rebel soldiers on the ground is largely background action. As such, Rogue One does a tremendous job of focusing on the actual war on this level, with good guys doing bad things, bad guys doing good things and the third act being a huge culmination of all these things. The Rebels are told to “make ten men seem like a hundred”, which is depicted very well through the tactics deployed to distract and confuse the Imperial Stormtrooper army patrolling and guarding the Scarif data bank. As the third act progresses and the battle intensifies and Jyn, Andor and K-2SO delve deeper into the Imperial archives while the rest of the team and Rebel forces fight rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-official-teaser-trailer-mp4_-00_01_29_22-still003-1200x675out on the beaches, you start to realise that often somehow-forgotten fact about Star Wars in that it IS a war, at the end of the day. The comic relief character in K-2SO heroically and poignantly sacrifices himself holding off an increasingly overwhelming number of Stormtroopers to buy Jyn and Andor more time extracting the Death Star plans from the data bank archives. At this point, I was thinking “Of all the characters in the main team I thought would die, I didn’t think it would be him!” But then the absolute kickass Chirrut Imwe is killed after channelling the Force to avoid fire and reach a vital communications switch, after which he is riddled with blaster bolts. After vitally getting communications through to the Rebel fleet concerning the urgent change of plans to transmit the Death Star blueprints to the fleet instead of physically delivering them, Bodhi is suddenly killed by a grenade. One by one the members of the Rogue One team fall and you realise that the film really couldn’t have ended any other way. But this is a good thing. Too often we’ve seen movies where the good guys face insurmountable odds and all survive even though it doesn’t make sense. ‘Good guys’ die in wars just as much as ‘bad guys’ do. This is a fact. And it’s never a case of black and white; there are always moral shades of grey. And Rogue One reminds you of that in a very fitting, unexpectedly sobering way that only strengthens the story, and in a way even retroactively strengthens the story of A New Hope now you’re truly made aware of the sacrifices made to acquire the Death Star plans in the first place.

 

Of course, seeing as the film is set right before A New Hope, you’re expecting cameos from classic Star Wars characters going in. And Rogue One doesn’t disappoint in that department either. Darth Vader is only in the film for two scenes; firstly during a tense meeting with Krennic where you initially catch a glimpse of Vader’s vulnerable unarmoured state beforehand which is portrayed very effectively. Secondly, he appears in a scene towards the very end of the film which I won’t spoil, but Vader has genuinely never been more terrifying in all his depictions onscreen than he is in that final scene. It’s a scene that had me grinning like a child all the way through and it’s an absolute treat.

There are a handful of other notable appearances from original trilogy characters, one of which being Grand Moff Tarkin, the Imperial Commander played by the now long-dead Peter Cushing in the original film A New Hope. In 2005’s final prequel film Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Tarkin appears towards the end but is mostly shown from behind portrayed by a different actor. When Tarkin first appears in Rogue One, he is shown from behind so I expected a similar trick to be pulled this time around as well, which was understandable. Or so I thought, until Tarkin turns around and is a fully CGI’d Peter Cushing who then appears multiple times throughout the film. This knocked me for a loop; the CGI is genuinely VERY impressive. It’s only by looking closely around the mouth and similar little things that you can see it’s CGI at all. But it was so ‘uncanny valley’ for me that it made me somewhat uncomfortable. Immensely impressed and enjoying it, but simultaneously unsettled by a long-dead man now ‘acting’ onscreen again. It’s something that I’m sure will open a whole new can of worms on the ethics behind generally using dead actors in films in this way in the future, but considering Rogue One specifically centres itself around the plot of the Death Star, there was almost no way that they couldn’t include Cushing’s character in some capacity considering he commands the Death Star in A New Hope, with him butting heads with Krennic for control of the program in this film. Tarkin’s ultimate vanquishing of his rival when he uses the Death Star to completely eradicate the compromised base at the end of the film, with Krennic looking up to the sky to see his own work prepping itself to destroy him along with everything else, is an unexpectedly sympathetic moment for a very unsympathetic character in Krennic.

 

Ultimately, I loved Rogue One. While main Star Wars storyline film The Force Awakens oftentimes felt like a glitzy new version of A New Hope, Rogue One succeeds in being its own individual entity in the Star Wars mythology. While some of the characters could have used some more fleshing out (particularly Bodhi, Imwe and Malbus), the film did a sufficient job in making me care about the main cast of characters and successfully covered a big plot gap in the main Star Wars story while strengthening the existing films it tied into, which was all I really asked for going in. Rogue One is an excellent addition to the Star Wars universe and has me feeling more optimistic for other planned future ‘side story’ entries into the franchise, such as the upcoming Han Solo standalone film (with Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, which I couldn’t be more excited for if I tried). That’s a stellar result for the galaxy far, far away.


Rogue One is out at a cinema near you now, go treat yourself and see it.

Dan Luck is a relatively nice human who co-hosts a comedy pop-culture podcast Off Piste and can also be followed on Twitter.

 

 

Could this be demolishment of print or the liberation of free media within the music industry?

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1995 NME cover. Source: NME

THEN As people often say, “back in the day” years ago, no matter your age or hometown, you would always count down the days until the new release of your favourite music publication, be it NME, The Rolling Stone, or Q. It would cost from 3-5 quid, and would be worth every penny (so we thought). This would answer all of weekly questions: who’s the coolest artist on the block right now, who’s making music, is it any good, who’s touring and where can I go and see them? Our own personal fix of music news. These established music magazines were the hub of all the up-to-date news and the ultimate trendsetters within the music scene, regardless of taste.

 

 

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2015 NME cover. Source: NME

 

NOW things are slightly different. For the answers to all of these continuously urging questions we go to our phones, our laptops, or our favourite venue. You rarely see people paying for a music magazine at their local shop anymore, and this has been such a drastic drop in demand that one of Britain’s most established publication, NME, has recently had to re-release as a free magazine distributed publicly on the streets and at station, just when it was seemingly going to go on forever at £2.50 a piece.

 

What has cause this dramatic change in the world of music and media? And more importantly is this a positive move forward or something we should fear?

 

As we all know (and if you aren’t just look around you and witness the sea of screens before you), we now live in a world of fast-paced, constantly delivering technology. The demand for information has changed. We want it all, and we want it now (sometimes regardless of quality); so much so that we are more likely to watch 50 8-second, instantly-loading videos of recurring jokes like “what are those?” than watch an hour long documentary about something we actually care about. We also want everything for free, and are becoming increasingly stubborn against paying for services that we use regularly.

 

So as a result, dominating magazines like NME quickly went from being respected sources of media and information, the first to deliver all the latest and greatest, to an antiquated, out-of-fashion magazine. The fact that NME was driven to stop charging for the publication just demonstrates how powerful this shift is. The idea of it is great: have larger, cheaper distributions in order to gain a bigger influence. But have you given it a read lately? It is a sell-out shell of what it once was. From having the majority of the pages filled with mainstream adverts, to covering the latest hot pop-star that they would have previously mocked while boasting about discovering the new underground must-see.

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2016 DIY cover. Source: DIY

NME has disappointingly sold-out its identity in order to simply stay afloat. But this is not the case with everyone.

Lately there has been a rise of brilliant, independent publications such as DIY and Upset that have been built upon the idea that it should be free to join a music community. With their magazines being distributed to local music venues to encourage people to go to gigs, and a prominent passion for discovering a range of fresh talent from across the scene(s), there is a feeling of authenticity and genuineness when reading these magazines, and this honesty has been rewarded with an ever-growing group (with myself included) of committed readers.

 

 

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2016 Upset cover. Source: Upset

There has also been a recent flourish of blogs, and good blogs. Real journalism, honest discussions and uncompromising exposure of artists that editors are actually passionate about. You can also see artists and bands embracing this change on traditions by becoming more creative and resourceful when releasing music, making announcements and doing their promotion campaigns. We need to stop complaining about how things have changed and learn to incorporate the new order of things. Media and music are no longer emerging from the top down, it is coming from every which-way due to the Internet and other innovative ways of distribution, bringing about a new level of diversity within the music industry and levelling the playing field for everyone.

 

 

So while some institutions and organisations have fallen into the trap of the changing market within music consumption, by selling their front-page spreads to the highest bidder, others have embraced this head on. There is now a new generation of artists, journalists and media enthusiasts with fresh ideas and an eager attitude to bring people together into a community of people who just love all kinds of music, regardless of their income.

 


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Baker out.