Monday, 18 February 2013

Album Review - "True Hallucinations" by Ex Cops

True Hallucinations (2013)              1/2 

When you think of hallucinations, your mind often conjures images of delusionary psychiatric wards or drug-infused nightmares but there is nothing menacing or frantic about this album. As far as an indie pop record goes, ‘True Hallucinations’ draws inspiration from varied genres to truly encapsulate a dreamy, sentimental sound.

Based in Brooklyn, Ex Cops formed in 2011 of musicians Brian Harding and Amalie Bruun. From home-written songs to recorded harmonies, they are now working as a five-piece touring rock band.

This is an album of well-recorded material ranging from ferocious guitar solos to sweet male-female vocal harmonies infused with a youthful spirit that harnesses both an optimism and lingering sense of resentment. Their sound is fresh but emotionally accessible, a quality ready welcome on a debut.   

It kicks off with a distinct lo-fi sound (we’re on that side of New York), alluring bass and pounding drums. On a strong note, ‘S&HSXX’ then grows back into soothing vocals for ‘Ken’ which characterise the luscious ambience of the songs to come.

The songs are dreamy but energised, riding a steady groove with enough jangling guitar to feel like you truly have plunged into a (safe and sympathetic) hallucination. At first listen, it has The Raveonettes written all over it but can also relay to early The Smiths records (‘You’ve got no future’), Belle & Sebastian (boy-meets-girl musical bliss) or The Cure (addictive riffs).  

‘James’ and ‘Spring Break (Happy Birthday)’ feature playful lyrics and a sunny, upbeat sound. Some of the vocals are lost among the music but it’s a well-structured, compelling listen that is more about the overall sound than lyrical elements. It could be the lost soundtrack to 2004’s Garden State.

Ex Cops don’t stay there, though, ‘The Millionaire’ has a strong synth intro channelling eighties rock, with quirky undertones, surging drums and soft-spoken vocals, measured but melodically memorable.

Whereas ‘Billy Pressly’ and ‘Nico Beast’ navigate through more subdued sounds (a lethargic Velvet Underground?) with heavy bass and smoother song structure – in contrast to the previous pop/rock muted-verse-to-surging-chorus setup.  

Pleasant? Yes. Predictable? No. After a while the songs begin to sound similar. Although it doesn’t quite delve into the urban anxieties of an existential Brooklynite, True Hallucinations is truly delightful. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

New York Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2013-14

New York Fashion Week is versatile and bold in terms of the multitude of designers, models and personalities who make an appearance. This year, for the autumn/winter runway, New York pushed its shows earlier to avoid clashes with its European counterparts.

For the cooler months, there's always the move towards darker palettes and heavier textures but this year there is more of a masculine touch to the outfits alongside garment layering, freer structures and minimalist hair and beauty.

The Vera Wang had a vamp feel with dark lipstick and sleek hair on the models. There was a mixed combination of fabrics from jet black sequins to imperial purples and shoes stuck to the solid ankle strap.

Victoria by Victoria Beckham had a structured, business-like feel to the clothing with a serious grey/black palette and conservative footwear. The range of mini dresses channels a former Posh Spice - although quite popular among the other winter collections - and the accessory of choice: a plush beanie.

One of the more colourful shows this season is from Karen Walker. She featured an oversized red trench, matching pink quilted ensembles and traditionally menswear checks and plaid. A lot of layering on top and Scandinavian-looking shoes.

The Caroline Herrera show presented more feminine silhouettes. The floor-length dresses had an oriental twist, verging into dark pinks and purples and hair was up in a neat, slick bun. The waist was a focus area with tailoring and large belts and shoulders regally pronounced.

One of the more playful shows was uptown-meets-downtown-girl Marc by Marc Jacobs. It doesn't stand out as an autumn/winter collection, apart from a few knits, and the hair was free and flouncy. What drew my attention was the accessories - large round pop-coloured bags and retro sunglasses.

Oscar de la Renta closed with embroidered baroque dresses which stood out among the free tailoring and darker fabrics.

Karlie Kloss closes Oscar de la Renta 2013-14 A/W show.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Film Review - Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)               

It’s not the catchiest title for a Hollywood film, but Silver Linings Playbook is a crowd pleaser. David O. Russell’s rom-com with a dark twist conveys the chaos of close relationships with a playful yet compelling story. There are moments to laugh, there are moments to cry – and if you can’t handle a soppy love story, there are pockets of spiteful witty dialogue slashing through the romance.  

 Silver Linings Playbook follows the rehabilitation of Pat (Bradley Cooper) after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. After his wife has an affair with a fellow teacher at their school, his rage gets out of control. Apart from a few brief flashbacks, the film is primarily set after his release from rehab and is a realistic portrayal of his attempt at healing. 

In his neighbourhood lives Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), another slightly mad character. When she promises to help Pat win back his wife, he finds himself training for a ballroom dance contest in an effort to stay under control. His quest to rehash his marriage leads him to desperate measures and it’s only when the police get involved that things start calming down.

The setting is a calm, picturesque neighbourhood in Philadelphia yet the story is far from homely. It’s not so much an epic plot as a great selection of characters with unpredictable dynamics. Including the moment when Pat catapults Hemmingway’s A Farewell To Arms smashing a full glass window to his parents’ dismay. During the whole film, it seems as though those with a medical diagnosis become saner and the rest of the party delves into madness.

Comic relief and witty dialogue comes from acting veterans Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver (as Pat’s parents) in a frenetic family dialogue with refreshing emotional sincerity. For a romantic comedy, the dialogue is choppy and free-flowing yet each character has their own voice.

The storyline flows naturally through the day-to-day crises of a rehabilitated mental illness patient with an appropriate sensitivity but also a ridiculousness that ensues hilarity. Therapy appointments are informal and frustrating but the bond between Pat and Tiffany is what truly resonates in the film. Her cheeky smile is endearing and his eccentricities steps up the lively dynamics of the script.

Little by little, we discover insecurities about each character which shed light on the complexities of a modern life. Russell brands the protagonists as heroes, although they come across as a little crazy, and shows that we all have our moments of weakness. Silver Linings Playbook is both entertaining and endearing – a great combination of human drama and new-school humour.