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.
Outdoor music festivals. Hot and sweaty gig goers danced together, twirling clumsily under the bright moonlight. Miserable music lovers drenched to the skin, huddling under tiny umbrellas in their oversized yellow boots. Empty water bottles littered in the aftermath, creating a sea of trash that is bound to propel tempers through the stratosphere.
It can be quite a sight, I am sure, but now that I have actually been to one, I think I can brave through them all again just for one band.
When news was confirmed that The National will be playing at the Hostess Club Weekender at Fort Canning Park, Singapore, on 22nd February 2014, I did not know what to make of it. While I really wanted to experience for myself selected live versions of the tracks off the band’s latest album Trouble Will Find Me, I was not particularly enthusiastic at the thought of having to literally rub shoulders with complete strangers and impatiently sit out a few other acts until the festival headliner’s set later that night.
But as always, beggars cannot be choosers.
The highlight of it all was actually getting to meet and talk to the band members – charming frontman Matt Berninger, and identical twin guitarists, Aaron and Bryce Dessner – during a signing session. Of course, “talk” is an understatement: I only managed to mutter unintelligible nothings and thanked them for coming, before making a quick getaway lest I end up embarrassing myself further in front of my favourite band.
Yes, I finally knew the meaning of starstruck.
I think I had that sheepish look plastered on my face for the next hour or so, at least until The National finally made their way onstage at 10pm, when it was swiftly replaced by a passionate sing-along session that would last the entire night.
As expected, their set was heavy with tracks from new album Trouble Will Find Me. The temperature was raised way up high from the start thanks to energetic opener “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, which later prompted Matt to casually shrug off his suit jacket (or it could be that he had simply surrendered to the heat of the tropics in this part of the world).
“This is the Last Time” turned into a mesmerising ballad, with “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” destined to become forces to be reckoned with thanks in part to Bryan Devendorf’s intense drumming and the Dessners’ blazing guitars, which probably led Matt to keep knocking his head against the microphone and at times coolly shove away the microphone stand.
The setlist was also peppered with goodies from their older albums, but sounded fairly reminiscent to their previous outing in Singapore in 2011. There were the usual staples ranging from crowd favourite “Mistaken for Strangers” and powerful “Squalor Victoria” (from Boxer), to the forlorn “Sorrow” and instant classic “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (High Violet).
This time around, however, stage banter was kept to a minimum; Matt seemed subdued and kept his thoughts to his own, only introducing their additional touring members and pointing out that bassist Logan Coale was temporarily filling in for Scott Devendorf, who was away on paternity duties.
It was also on this night that I finally got to hear my longtime favourite “About Today” played live; the crowd was eerily quiet as they took in the emotional rendition of the song made of heartbreak and pure magic.
The encore set offered nothing new as well: as usual, Matt dove into the crowd for “Mr November” and made his precarious walkabout during “Terrible Love”; at one point he was evidently distracted, singing the wrong lines to the latter while his other band members played on with as much nonchalance as they could muster. (This was also when I nearly got squashed in the process as everyone tried to get a piece of Matt whenever he hovered nearby.)
But I doubt I would ever get tired of adding my voice to the chorus of thousands in the massive sing-along to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, thus capping yet another solid triumph for the night.
So others may have been fortunate enough to score miscellaneous souvenirs, freely discarded for them to remember the concert by: guitar picks, crumpled setlists and even Matt’s lime green bucket, which was used to keep his bottle of wine chilled.
But I am glad that I got to show to Matt, Aaron and Bryce my “Pink Rabbits” t-shirt during the signing session (“This can be a kid’s t-shirt!”, Aaron had suggested), and this brief but close encounter with band members of The National will be mine alone to cherish forever.
The setlist – Hostess Club Weekender, Fort Canning Park, Singapore / 22nd February 2014:
- Don’t Swallow the Cap
- I Should Live in Salt
- Mistaken for Strangers
- Bloodbuzz Ohio
- Sea of Love
- Afraid of Everyone
- Squalor Victoria
- I Need My Girl
- This is the Last Time
- Slow Show
- Pink Rabbits
- About Today
- Fake Empire
- Mr. November
- Terrible Love
- Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
More pictures from my Flickr set are available here.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is yet another sadly mediocre list that practically begs to be flushed down the Niagara Falls. And to add salt to the wound, I cannot even remember the last time I set foot into a cinema. (No, this is not an open invitation for a movie date.) (See also lists for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.)
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone // Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cal: I have loved her, even when I hated her.
I make no apologies for being a fan of romantic comedies, and the appeal of Crazy, Stupid, Love. simply reinforces that fact. Sure, the movie explores the painful realities faced by relationships in our world today, but it also comes with a good deal of heart: we readily drown our sorrows with the very average Cal, whose wife requested a divorce right out of the blue; and emphatise with the charming Jacob who, despite being very much a ladies’ man, encounters trouble and resistance trying to settle down with the girl of his dreams. The movie’s star-studded cast, made up of the who’s who in the industry today, has impeccable comedic timing, amazing chemistry and delivers their lines with such glee (“Seriously, it’s like you’re photoshopped!”), it makes the movie shine even brighter, especially when they all come together like jigsaw puzzle pieces in the end. Maybe this is how love really feels like?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt // Rian Johnson
Sara: You’re going to kill this guy, your own self?
The good guys in Looper have such admirable bullet-dodging skills, they often get off with nary a scratch despite being constantly shot at with a guzzling machine gun. But this hardly troubled me as much as the ending, which I thought was so predictable, I saw it coming from a mile away. The story follows a hired gun and his attempts to alter the future by pursuing his future self, who has been conveniently marked for assassination. Despite those minor flaws, I cannot shake off some of the time travel intrigue and mind-bending what-if questions this movie has left in me already.
The Dark Knight Rises
The Life of Pi
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Silver Linings Playbook
Most of my favourite TV series seemed to have already ended their runs in the previous years, which led me far too removed to actually consider investing any of my time on the idiot box for 2013. On the other hand, I can never seem to explain this fascination that I get at watching amateur chefs frantically dicing vegetables of all colours imaginable, and shedding bucketsful of blood, sweat and tears in a bid to produce the most perfect sunny-side-up egg in the universe.
But above all, this year I have been hit with an acute pang of nostalgia more times than I can remember. I do not think I could ever fully fathom how a particular noodle-baking trilogy of movies can now be more than ten years old.
A quick glance at the list is enough to send me fleeing to the mountains in absolute despair. The number of reads barely added up to an average of one book a month, which is a reflection of a very, very sorry state of affairs.
I was so consumed by work that I even missed out on a book sale held annually by one particularly friendly lupine. In fact, I have quite a number of books purchased last year (and the years before) still unread and sitting forlornly in their boxes, stashed away in a far corner of the room, quietly waiting to be picked up and flipped through. Why, believe me: I wish I could, too.
Also, it hardly helped that the books I read this year actually had rather depressing and unhappy plotlines. From one particular dark elf’s endless suffering of the loss of one and all he once held dear, to the disturbing suicides and emotional confusion experienced by bright teenagers – all this made me want to pack up and run away with curious Japanese-talking cats, never to return.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Philip K. Dick
Ubik, Philip K. Dick
Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel
Ghostwritten, David Mitchell
Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow, Haruki Murakami
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
Midnight Children, Salman Rushdie
Transitions Trilogy, RA Salvatore
The Orc King
The Pirate King
The Ghost King
Warehouse sales attended:
MPH Warehouse Sale, 24 May 2013
(See previous years’ lists: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.)