On the bus.
Time is a luxury I do not seem to have much of these days. I long for the days when I can snack on a bucketful of popcorn and while away a few hours of my life to no end without any feelings of guilt whatsoever. Strangely enough, in a dramatic turnaround, I actually stepped foot into a cinema not once but twice (!) this year. Surely this calls for a celebration of some sort. (See also lists for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.)
Mistaken for Strangers
Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, Scott Devendorf // Tom Berninger
Tom: Having Matt as my older brother sucks – because he’s a rock star and I’m not, and it has always been that way.
I approached this with much trepidation, well aware that there was always a chance that the verdict might go to either extremes of the spectrum. What if this reel alternative goes up in smoke and backfires? Would it show another side of the band that we have not been privy to before? Could a mere 90-minute flick forever diminish the magic and mystery of a band that I have taken years to love and admire?
The rock documentary started off innocently enough. With two sets of brothers – the Dessners and Devendorfs – already in The National, band frontman Matt Berninger saw it fit to bring along his filmmaker brother Tom as a roadie during one of the group’s tours, with the aim of getting the latter to create more digital content for their website.
At first, there were the harmless jokes, quirky questions and equally bemused expressions as the band reacted to including metalhead Tom in the typical goings-on of touring rock musicians. But as tensions continue to rise, these soon made way to sibling rivalry, exasperated outbursts and emotional behind-the-scene revelations.
Like a fly on the wall, we hear the most heartfelt of teary confessions, and get more than an exclusive peek into how rock stars actually lead a surprisingly ordinary life, driving around town running errands like normal people do. Then one suddenly gets introduced to New Order’s “Age of Consent” and realises that touring is not as fun it is often made out to be.
This movie claims to be a documentary about the biggest band in indie rock no one has ever heard of – The National. But Mistaken for Strangers is, at its core, a study into the relationships of two brothers and how, together and despite all odds, they continue to support and look out for each other. It is a terrible love, after all.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
On the idiot box front, I somehow managed to invest time into watching more amateur chefs cook up a storm in the kitchen, that is, when they are not busy imagining shoving stalks of celery down their competitors’ throats. It was also a bit of a bittersweet affair having Jack Bauer around for a few more months, but perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie.
Everything else seems to be falling apart – countless rough days both at work and at home, with unfulfilled destinies that seem to remain stubbornly out of reach. If there can only be one thing that remains constant, I will gladly put the best tunes of them all to the test. (See lists for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.)
Wasted without you.
The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
Confidently crowning Lost in the Dream as the year’s best since its release in March certainly speaks volumes; and yet many months on, this revelation fails to let up. Armed with shimmery guitar riffs, gleaming piano chords and the humble sounds of the harmonica, The War on Drugs have created an hour of solid music that never overstays its welcome. The sprawling tracks tell tales of emotional heartbreaks and lost ambitions, with crescendos that emerge into winning stories of triumph. Their soulful lyrics and blue-sy tunes are sure to withstand the test of time, making this elegantly-crafted masterpiece one that you can lose yourself into come rain or shine.
Favourite tracks: “Under the Pressure”, “Red Eyes”, “Suffering”, “Disappearing”
All will be revealed.
It has always been easy to get swept away with Real Estate’s breezy melodies, and their third effort is certainly no exception. Atlas oozes a casual warmth and familiarity, as though the band has beckoned you to join them on a weathered couch by the sea for a moment of wistful reflection. While the tracks still bring you the promise of a thousand summers, they come with more than just the usual spot of rain this time around, as the band takes to masking their fear of solitude and loneliness behind their trademark cheerful harmonies and idyllic guitars. Life may be a journey without a map, but Atlas will make you all the richer for it in any case.
Real Estate plays at The Gathering, Fort Canning Park, Singapore, on 14 February 2015.
Favourite tracks: “Had to Hear”, “Talking Backwards”, “The Bend”, “Crime”
On my own.
Posse’s modest and understated Soft Opening seemed to have popped out of nowhere – one minute they were virtual unknowns, only to become a best kept secret the next. Unlike a colourful jack-in-a-box, however, the Seattle group conveys in true matter-of-fact fashion the embracing of its idiosyncrasies and contradictions, even as the maddeningly slow “Talk” is nonchalantly placed before the decidedly more illustrative guitar jams in “Shut Up”. If this is meant to be just the opening gambit, then we look forward to more to come from this young band.
Favourite tracks: “Afraid”, “Shut Up”, “Jon”
Everybody needs to feel.
Sharon Van Etten
Are We There
Sharon Van Etten has never been one to shy away from confessionals and intimacy brought on by the weight of love, instead choosing to unapologetically sing about self mutilation and stamp them into her lyrics with the passion of a madman. And yet this, coupled with angry guitar licks and booming piano keys, serve as pale comparisons to the powerful and delicate vocal work on full display in Are We There, which she demonstrates with absolute tenacity, exposing the pain and vulnerability underneath. It creates a giant swell of emotions both devastating and beautiful, drowning you in eternal misery and heartbreak. Evidently, Van Etten held nothing back for her fourth album as she announces her arrival and boldly takes her place among one of America’s finest female singer-songwriters today.
Favourite tracks: “Afraid of Nothing”, “Taking Chances”, “Your Love is Killing Me”, “Our Love”
Also listened to:
Jumping the Tracks, +/-
This is All Yours, Alt-J
Morning Phase, Beck
Ghost Stories, Coldplay
The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Elbow
Shields B-Sides, Grizzly Bear
El Pintor, Interpol
Darlings, Kevin Drew
Power, Corruption and Lies, New Order
St Vincent, St Vincent
Present Tense, Wild Beasts
Shriek, Wye Oak
Bah, outdoor music festivals. But I was really only there just for them, and that was all that mattered. Well, that, and finally getting to talk about my version of “Pink Rabbits” with them. A wry grin on my face at fondly reminiscing that secret meeting with the band is imperative.
My review of The National’s outing at The Hostess Club Weekender, Fort Canning Park, Singapore on 22 February 2014 can be accessed here.
It is quite clear by now that my heart belongs to only one band, and I do not think I can ever make enough apologies for this.
We may not be noble knights perched atop mighty steeds, sword and armour always in hand; nor chiselled-jaw soldiers behind enemy lines, brows forever furrowed into knots of grey.
But surely that does not mean that we are any less useful in this modern chessboard of life, where we can either be pawns ruthlessly sacrificed as and when necessary, or be righteous rulers who hold charge of our own destiny and making.
The most important decisions that change the lives of others almost always lie with a stranger: the no-nonsense judge with a well-worn gavel, the professional recruiter who invites you over for a job interview, the strict officer giving a seal of approval to your scholarship application.
I am good, and I am grounded. Take a chance on me, you plead.
But things are never going to be that easy.
Iced lemon tea.
It would seem that I have been inadvertently gifted with more than a couple of lemons lately, all from various sources.
Some may have been scooped out of the sea like a message of doom in a rusty old bottle; others simply fell off the tree and rolled over to my feet nonchalantly, as a cat would when it needed a good, warm rub on its belly.
But it worries me that they are just not being turned into huge pitchers of cool lemonade fast enough.
Then again, of course I do not own a modern juicer with complex multi-purpose functions that can but only serve the eclectic lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Too often have I missed out on the things that truly matter: bright yellow sunshine peeking out from behind cotton-candy clouds; technicolour rainbows forming a secret archway to the great unknown.
So much so that when the spring showers finally begin, I may no longer know which side to choose anymore.
Half a page.
From a band fondly welcomed back to the fold after being lost in the dream, to another that would have gone virtually unknown, save for a chance meeting at a website named after a farming tool…
It must have been a slow year music-wise, for I do not yet know for sure what my favourite album for 2014 will be. Yes, there may already be a few in line for the crown, but at times like these, it seems unthinkable to look so far ahead when the past has yet to be.
There are the ones that simply give you the feels – screaming pure euphoria even for just a moment, as carefree notes and minute staccatos dance lightly upon your skin.
Then there are the ones that pull you deeper into gloom – a gathering storm over the horizon, making more woe of yesterday’s flaws and drowning you further in today’s sorrows.
And there are the ones that you care absolutely nothing for – simply breezing you by, unaware, unnoticed and unloved, as you spend another four minutes of your lifetime functioning on autopilot mode.
No sooner than that and it all begins to fade into nothingness. Like a love song tirelessly played to kingdom come, it numbs and strips all of its intended meaning, leaving you no better than when it first started.