Tuesday 10 December 2019

Music, DVD, and game releases: the best of this week's entertainment hot list

SBTRKT, Wonder Where We Land
SBTRKT, Wonder Where We Land
SBTRKT
Mercury Rev, Deserter's Songs
Gerard Way, Hesitant Alien
The Vaselines, V For Vaselines

RICHIE McCORMACK

SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land (four stars)

The masked avenger has returned. Aaron Jerome's first album gained him a solid underground reputation, aided by collaborations with the likes of Jessie Ware and Sampha. The title of his second album hints at the possibilities to come. Jerome has called upon the same troops that brought him to this frontier, with Sampha again featuring heavily, while Ware returns on the loping and confessional 'Problem Solved'.

One of Jerome's gifts as a producer is to never crowd his collaborators. The spotlight is firmly fixed on Sampha for the romantically-transient title track, where he's accented as much by his own vocal effects as he is the bleeps and bloops. Jerome's production adds a light-headed, woozy partner to A$AP Ferg's druggy 'Voices In My Head'.

For all the light, there is accompanying shade too. Raury's rapid-fire rhymes on 'Higher' add an intriguing dark note to the album as he rails against an absent father, with the following interlude a snapshot of what sounds like a New Orleans funeral procession. Chairlift's Caroline Polachek adds skewed and sweet vocals to the twitchy 'Look Away', a track that builds and builds until its wave breaks to become 'Osea'.

There are moments that leave us wanting more - for instance, 'Lantern' definitely needs a second act. But the undoubted highlight comes on 'New Dorp New York', on which Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig spits an almost Azealia Banks-esque vocal over a throbbing groove. As plays for the mainstream go, it's as subtle as they come with few, if any, compromises made and new ground laid for later journeys.

Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs

Someone recently put it to this writer that Deserter's Songs went viral before 'going viral' was a thing. This was Mercury Rev's fourth album, and up to that point they'd failed to set the world ablaze. In fact, the jig appeared to be up for them, but a blend of the romantic, wistful and psychedelic struck a chord. Fairytale imagery of a kaleidoscopic nature is woven throughout, from the "angry jealous spies with telephones for eyes" of 'Holes' and beyond.

There are also some huge songs here. 'Opus 40', with its star-bursting crescendos, is designed to make the spine tingle, the cinematic 'Funny Bird' shines a light on Grasshopper's Neil Young-inspired soloing, while 'Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp' ends the record on a surprisingly danceable note.

In between, 'Silent Night' is evoked via 'Endlessly' and even tracks that may seem throwaway on other albums ('I Collect Coins', 'Pick Up If You're There') add some dark, disconcerting shade to the Pollock-esque colour splashes.

 

At a glance

Gerard Way: Hesitant Alien (two stars)

Freed from his My Chemical Romance shackles and throwing Bowie shapes on the cover, it appears as if Gerard Way wants to make his own statement, that he is maturing. And while the driving indie-pop of 'Millions' and the Pumpkins-esque 'Zero Zero' hint at evolving musical preferences, the same bratty voice that was the scourge of so much MCR remains.

By the time we get to the glam stomp of closing track, 'Maya The Psychic', Way appears to have gone full circle and come back to his MCR past. As first solo statements go, it's not saying much due to an over-riding sense that Way is still playing dress-up in adults clothes.

The Vaselines: V For Vaselines (four stars)

Now on their third post-reformation album, the Edinburgh duo remain brilliantly adept at making catchy, fuzzy guitar-pop. The 'b-b-b-bah bahs' of 'Hight Tide Low Tide' set out their stall from the off. Even now, it's clear why Nirvana and Teenage Fanclub were such big fans of McKee & Kelly's songwriting.

'Single Spies' proves they can still do delicate, with it's soft shimmering guitar and sweet harmonies. Those familiar with the group's fruitier lyrical output will identify with "when I die it won't take me to heaven" on the insanely catchy 'One Lost Year'. Veteran bands can sometimes over-reach to sound relevant, The Vaselines show how effortless it should be.

 

Video game reviews by Ben Keenan

Shadowrun - Dragonfall: Director's Cut - PC / Mac / Linux: €14.99, steampowered.com (four stars)

An extended, polished standalone version of an expansion made available for last year's Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall is more than just a rehash of existing content.

Set in a fantasy/sci-fi Berlin, the well-written adventure exemplifies the best things about its predecessor, while also smoothing out some of the less polished aspects. A modern take on an old-fashioned isometric RPG, the game runs mostly in real time, switching to turn-based mode for combat, requiring quite a bit of planning and tactical thinking to succeed.

Wasteland 2 - PC / Mac / Linux: €54.99, gog.com (three stars)

A sequel to the seminal role-playing game Wasteland released in 1988, this newest instalment has a lot to live up to - the original inspiring the classic Fallout series. Luckily, it more or less lives up to those expectations, being both old-fashioned and polished, but still showing some disappointingly-rough edges. Terrifically well-written and voice-acted, the roughness is mostly visual, some areas are gorgeously rendered but then the engine will inexplicably slow down and show ugly visual bugs in the interface. Worth noting that the difficulty may scare off non-fans.

DVD reviews by Ben Keenan

 

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE 15A (four stars)

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive musician holed up in a house in Detroit, producing incredibly popular music in isolation, until his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) is spurred to return from her sojourn in Tangiers. What follows is a languid amble through a love story, fascinating and heartwarming, in its own, twisted way.

Scooping the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Jim Jarmusch's (Broken Flowers) arthouse vampire film isn't so much slow as gentle; atmospheric and comfortable in its own skin, the film is worth watching for Hiddleston's and Swinton's terrific chemistry alone.

BLENDED12A (One star)

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler made beautiful music together in 1998's charming romantic comedy The Wedding Singer. Directed by Frank Coraci, it confirmed Barrymore's status as America's favourite sweetheart, and bought Adam Sandler a lot of credit with audiences who endured so many of his braindead comedies. After their dubious reteaming in 50 First Dates, they're back with Coraci for Blended, and the bad news is that it's entirely charmless, both crass and cloying, and not at all funny.

Irish Independent

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