Like a lot of you, I’m eagerly awaiting whatever it is that New Zealand’s best import who records under the name Lorde has cooked up for us on Melodrama, which won’t hit our shelves until sometime next month. Fortunately for you, Popdust reader, you have the soaring melodrama of Maisy Kay’s latest single, “Out of My Mind,” which we’re premiering here.
Like Lorde, Kay is a precociously talented expat, in her case hailing from the English town of Claverley (population: about 1600). The dream of pop fame brought her and her family to Los Angeles and she was, reportedly, homeschooled in order to have the time and energy to develop her singing and songwriting talents. “What makes Kay different from other artists,” wrote Lucy Binetti in Paste, “is the fact that she recruits an arsenal of songwriters and only performs her own compositions.”
“Out of My Mind” has a special place in Kay’s songwriting narrative: “This was actually one of first songs I wrote when I was just starting out,” she told us. Like Paul McCartney famously sitting on “When I’m Sixty-Four” until he hit the fine age of twenty-five, Kay has been waiting for the right time to help realize her manifesto of creative self-rule. Working with Adam Argyle and Martin Brammer, the latter an Ivor Novello Award-nominated songwriter and producer who has, most recently, worked with a number British pop singer imports like Foxes, Stevie McCrorie and James Bay.
“Out of my Mind also been a mainstay of Kay’s live show: “It’s quite an upbeat song and my guitarist, Juan [Juan Andrés Carreño Ariza, a Berklee-graduate who once opened for Maroon 5] and I have a lot of fun performing it on stage,” she told us. It’s easy to see why: an acoustic guitar line runs through most of the song that brings to mind the more intimate moments of the Paramore discography. Brammer and Argyle bring it to pulsing and popping life with a minimal drumbeat that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Pure Heroine‘s deeper cuts.
The song gives us some insight into the mind of a young creative talent, fresh off impressing the folks with some prodigy pop-writing chops. It’s a song written in the keys of self-doubt and uneasiness, its verses are framed as introspective questions coded in polite metaphors. Is she a small bird in a big cage? Is she a wild horse on a long chain? Really, she wants to know how big of a deal should she be making of herself, should she be playing with her friends over in the green fields of Claverley instead of staring at this piano box and trying to make it sing like Leonard Cohen. It’s a worthy question and one that young singer-songwriters from Alanis Morissette to Michael Jackson to, yes, Lorde have used their music to ask.
Kay’s chorus, coming from a place that’s secure in the studio walls around her, answers her questions with a smirk that would scan as glib if not for the sheer power of the production’s warm and poppy oomph: “It would be wise to swim with the tide/ I would rather be out of my mind.”
Netflix’s breakout original series, House of Cards, has always been strangely out-of-step with American politics. This lack of harmony, of course, depends somewhat on your political perspective. However, whether you’re a left-leaning Democrat (whose party is portrayed as hijacked by scheming political elites) or a loyal conservative (whose in-fiction party is represented as idiotic and wildly ineffectual), you’re very likely unsatisfied with the picture of American politics painted by House of Cards. Even those who might consider themselves outside the traditional political spectrum might find their portrayal offensive (remember that coked-up commie who gives Peter Russo info on the Secretary of State nominee?).
This season showrunner Frank Pugliese told the New York Times that the show would be taking a darker direction in the wake of far-right populism: “We were talking a little bit about a notion of some tyrannical force and some populism and what that would mean.”
As is apparent from this trailer, that could not be more true. But the question is unanswered still: Will Frank and Claire win their election? Will the Underwoods become the first truly presidential couple? Let’s dive into the trailer and see what we can find out.
Somebody’s getting compared to Trump, that’s for sure.
The thing about this trailer and the statement that Pugliese made to the Times is that they make one thing absolutely clear: Sombody’s getting compared to Trump. However, given that Frank’s character is a Democrat and a veteran politician, he seems more of an apt comparison to Hillary Clinton. However, given that Clinton lost the election that seems like a bit of a narrative dead-end (unless, of course, you’re Veep).
Wait, isn’t Conway supposed to the conservative? Why isn’t he the Trump analog?
Well, there’s a decent case to be made for Conway being the show’s own version of Trump. First off, Conway is the Republican candidate. He’s not a politician, but rather a businessman who think he’s can apply those skills to government. He’s also the result of a rising populist tide turning against the political establishment.
There’s also this interesting bit from the trailer, which leaves two key battleground states from the actual 2016 election in-play for the show’s antagonist:
Ohio and Pennsylvania still in play with a 10 vote lead for Underwood.
He’s not it. It simply cannot be him. First off, he’s clearly the more wholesome of the two. He’s not apparently sexually aggressive (like Frank), obviously ill-motivated (also like Frank), and, most importantly, he’s just not the main character.
This is ultimately a show about the relationship between corruption and power. Does the power corrupt Frank or does Frank corrupt the power? That’s the kind of question most viewers hope the show will explore, not “What would it look like if a very powerful man had to retire and scheme from the inside of a hunting lodge in South Carolina?”
No, just no. I cannot bear to see Frank Underwood have his “Hillary Clinton hiking in the woods on November 9th moment.”
“The American people don’t know what’s best for them, but I do.”
Underwood is, obviously, an icon of fascism. It’s an odd sort of fascism because he’s not an ideologue as much as he is a megalomaniac. Underwood doesn’t really care about any particular philosophy of government, he’s a chameleon who changes shades to blend in with whatever the sniveling children of the populus demand. But in terms of parallels to the contemporary American political scene, does this make Underwood an allusion to Trump?
Final answer: Eh… It’s probably Frank.
Look, most of the show was probably written before the outcome of the election was determined, which means that Hillary was the presumed victor. It’d be a cool, albeit somewhat toxic, parallel to explore what it looks likes when a potentially corrupt, “career politician” like Hillary or Frank is in power. Or something like that. Now, what few hints remain of Trump in the show are probably forced comparisons or broad allusions to the dangers of fascism in general.
Like these signs… “Never Underwood”
So, does that mean the show is broken or that it’s gonna be trash? No, probably not. The show moved last season into less-than-subtle Shondaland territory and I loved it for that. I hope they continue with the same sort of just-above-pulpy goodness this season. It just probably isn’t going to teach us any good lessons about Trump and that’s fine with me.
In a converted, semi-dilapidated loft space nine actors dart about amongst movable scenery. They tell the stories of a disenfranchised generation struggling to find love and meaning in their lives. They are all connected in some way to the modern Russian Jewish experience, and they are all, in some way, lost. Throughout the play they are followed by a strange man who promises the advent of a land of happiness, he videos them on a live camera feed that is projected on one wall. The stories of two divorcees, a limo driver, an unhappy married couple, a lost soul, and a confused daughter are played out, seemingly for the audience’s amusement. By the end, no one is happy, although the strange man with the camera keeps promising it…
In Boris Zilberman’s Old New Year we see a marriage of unusual style and questionable substance. Actors gamely throw themselves into the text, and are able to elicit a reaction from the audience, however the lack of a compelling narrative leaves them with a Sisyphean struggle. The different threads of story that weave themselves together are, taken individually, pedestrian. There seems remarkably little at stake, and little or no reason to root for any of the characters. Put together they are, handily, non-confusing and un-convoluted. However, they lack weight and are structurally weak. These people seem to slog away at a problem in as ineffectual a manner as possible, apparently making no attempts to fix their lives in a meaningful way. It’s hard to get behind any of these people when they are, to a person, apparently, purposefully ineffectual.
From a stylistic point of view this show does ascend higher than average. The gimmick of the wandering live streaming camera is well executed, and provides dynamic visual juxtapositions for the audience that border on cinematic. Gera Sandler’s movement work for the actors moving through the space is definitely interesting, and their use of the structures and props around them borders on modern dance. All of this is fascinating set dressing, and one can only wish that the story it was supporting were stronger and more dynamic.
Lost and Found‘s Old New Year is never able to rise above its status as a thoughtful experiment. It is not a disaster, but neither is it the life-changing, genre-defying work it seems to set out to be. It also feels a lot longer than it needs to. It could benefit greatly from an editor’s shears. Most of all it could benefit from a more satisfying resolution, instead of the idiosyncratic, vaguely Faustian, deus ex machina that it presents instead. Recommended for the die-hard indie-theatre fan, but the conventional theatre goer will likely feel in over their head in this one.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as releasing music with your name attached as the principal act, and not just in the liner notes. Ask Grammy-nominated producer Ricky Reed, whose name you’ll recognize on any number of Meghan Trainor and Jason Derulo tunes, and he’ll tell you there’s a certain level of freedom and release that comes with claiming solo work. His forthcoming new solo record (tentatively expected this fall) has been a long time in the making, surviving through several personal setbacks and various other life-altering moments. But in 2017, there came a new Reed. He’s sampled the LP (so far) with last year’s “Express Myself” empowerment ode and two new cuts: the smooth, indie-rock throwback “Be the 1” and the slow-jam “Joan of Arc”–the latter is a particularly revealing and emotional one for Reed. “The whole concept is about devotion, the perseverance required on both sides in a relationship. In this case, it was dealing with severe depression and pregnancy,” he tells Popdust over a recent phone call. “The Joan of Arc idea is about being bound to somebody, your belief in somebody else and belief in the love you share. Sometimes, that process can be unpleasant, but you stick with it. When you get through that hardship, there’s beauty on the other side.”
In the accompanying visual (below), Reed seeks out the juxtaposition of the natural elements outside and the struggle inside his mind. “A lot of that song focuses on being so close to somebody that it can feel like you’re sharing one brain and then one heart. I wanted to have the video vacillate between the psychedelic world where it looks like you’re just in your own head and swimming in the love you have for someone else,” he explains. “For the nature stuff, I wanted something really honest and stripped back. In my studio and in my life, I spend a lot of my life surrounded by greenery and the outdoors. It’s a very therapeutic and peaceful way to process things. I get outside to find solace. It only made sense to put that in the music video.”
Reed’s upcoming album, which, he says, is nearly half-way done–“I’ve got like seven or eight [songs] that I’m positive that’ll make the album,” he teases–will also see him stretch his musical wings as far as possible. “Right now, there’s a lot of material that’s funky. I grew up listening to all kinds of music. In the Bay Area, I grew up with all the local punk bands, like Green Day and Rancid. At the same time, there was E-40 and Too Short,” he says. “My whole life, I’ve always been interested in all these different shades of music. There’s some stuff on the album that dabbles in more guitar-based shit. Heavy bass. There’s moments that feel easy listening or new age world with 808s. There’s some really freaky shit on it. I’m excited.”
In terms of the rollout, the singer-producer eyes “dolling out each song” for at least the next few months. While there’s exhilaration in that, there comes a plaguing self-doubt price tag. “I spend a lot of time feeling like maybe nobody wants to know what I have to say. I’m having success producing for other people, blah blah blah — so I had to reawaken that part of myself. The second and third song, ‘Be the 1’ and ‘Joan of Arc,’ are for my wife, who changed my life.”
He continues, “It’s really cool create a whole world around a song. I spend a lot of time writing and producing these songs. ‘Joan of Arc’ was about a year and a half-long process. I really wanted to let people dig into the lyric and find their own meaning. There are a lot more songs that I want to make sure have their own moment in the spotlight–before I just drop an album.”
“I do want to wait to express myself,” Reed resolves on “Express Myself,” a slow-burning fist-pumper about taking life by the horns and never letting go. “The truth is, I had tried to work on [this album] somewhat in the past. I couldn’t get anywhere. I had to really shed the experiences from my previous album. I wasn’t ready yet. I had to step fully away from that time in my life and had some personal experiences, both negative and positive,” he details. “These sessions started naturally. ‘Joan of Arc’ has parts that were written with Mark Foster from Foster the People and parts from working with Charli XCX, with James Fauntleroy. I really enjoyed the process of very-natural collaboration, which very earnestly turned into these songs and telling my story.”
Each songwriting session wasn’t pre-determined; he let his moods on the day determine his progress. “If I’m going in with a songwriter or producer friend and I wake up feeling my normal self, I’m able to make whatever we feel like. If I wake up feeling fucked up or excited or bursting with emotions, I’ll be like ‘I have this feeling and we need to do this,'” he says. “We’ll just run with it. That’s the key to songwriting–really letting the day make the call. That’s always going to have good results.”
Through all the ups and downs, Reed has been able to hone his personal abilities, not only in his own material but that of others. “I used to turn parts of my brain on and off, depending on the day and who the session was with. As a service to the artist, I would try to get more in their head and not have too much of my own life influence on it. What’s funny is that I started realizing I was having more success and fun and being more creatively fulfilled by going in the room and being like ‘man, I know this song is for you, but I had this happen in a relationship and it really broke my heart’ or ‘I experienced something similar to that too, and it felt like this or that.’ The more I would actually tune in and put my whole heart into it was when the songs started getting emotionally-rich. Now, I go into these sessions ready to bare it all just as much as the artist. When I do, it really pays off.”
With all the chart success mounting up, his personal life was welcomed with its own pay off. His first-born daughter splashed onto the world last month, and he is still reeling from the high. “It’s a wild ride. It’s beautiful. Tying back to ‘Joan of Arc,’ this is the beauty on the other side. While early parenthood is still a bit of a war zone, it’s so fucking beautiful. It makes my heart want to explode,” he says. Admittedly, he had “never changed a diaper in my life or really been around infants growing up.” He adds, “I had held babies maybe twice in my life.”
But his wide-eyed little angel changed everything. “Up until that moment you have your own, you think ‘who’s gonna teach me this or that? What do I do when this happens?’ Then, you are just staring down at them like, ‘shit, no one is going to do this if I don’t do this right now.’ There’s this lyric from a Flaming Lips song on the album ‘Yosimi Battles the Pink Robots’ that I think summarizes fatherhood pretty perfectly. I literally hadn’t thought of it until just now in this interview. It’s one of my favorite lyrics. I didn’t know how appropriate it is.”
“He says ’cause you’re a man now, not a boy, there are things you can’t avoid, you have to face them when you’re not prepared to face them.’ You are in situations, and your little one is staring up at you. You’re like ‘whelp, you just pooped in my hand, and I have no choice but to rinse it off and get this diaper on you before you do it again,'” shares Reed.
Meanwhile, Reed has been hard at work on another pop star’s third studio album. Kesha–who last released a full-length in 2012 with Warrior–continues to soldier ahead, despite a very public legal battle with Dr. Luke, who, allegedly, raped and abused her throughout their tenuous working relationship. Reed couldn’t say much about the new music, but he did offer up this juicy tidbit: “I can’t speak too much on it, but I will say that the spirit of rock ‘n roll is alive in Kesha. She’s making an album that is going to…blindside the music industry and change the world. It’s a fucking crazy record. I’m so honored to be part of it and proud of it.”
The U.S. on Monday officially announced its joint bid, with Mexico and Canada, to host the world’s biggest sporting event, the 2026 World Cup. And now U.S. soccer officials are hoping for a quick decision by FIFA, possibly by the end of 2017, that would finalize the deal.
The proposal is historic: it would be the second time the U.S. hosts the global tournament and the first time an entire continent cohosted. The plan includes sixty games held in the U.S., plus ten each in Canada and Mexico. The later rounds, from the quarterfinal stage to the championship, will take place entirely in the U.S.
1994 World Cup in the U.S. (Twitter)
Not everyone in Mexico is happy with this arrangement. Reports of mixed emotions and much clearer, angrier tweets appeared while the U.S. media celebrated the announcement. But any share of the tournament will make it Mexico’s third time hosting the World Cup, a record. Mexico is one of only five countries to have hosted it twice.
Other reports wondered if the U.S. needed to include cohosts in its bid at all. With the new 48-team tournament format, Mexico’s chances of being stuck with less-than-exciting Group Stage matches are high. The clear winner in the deal is the U.S. (and Canada, who, as hosts, are guaranteed a berth that might otherwise not be possible), while Mexico seems to be a mere cosigner.
Of course, the current political tension between the U.S. and Mexico is a concern but, if anything, this proposed cooperation (for a tournament that is, after all, nine years away) represents hope. Mexican soccer fans are justified in feeling that this is an unfair deal, but it signals willingness on the parts of both countries’ officials to work together for a global event.
The U.S. certainly has the resources to host the 48 teams and with nine years for three countries to prepare, it should shape up to be a spectacular event. The U.S. hosts the International Champions Cup this summer, featuring the best European club teams, including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Last summer, the it hosted the Copa America Centenario, the first Copa America hosted outside of South America. The tournament included 16 CONCACAF teams, with Chile defeating Argentina for the championship at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. And this July, the U.S. will host the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship tournament for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
So the U.S. has a lot of experience hosting international tournaments and a sturdy infrastructure to make it possible. CONCACAF plans to ask FIFA for an accelerated decision when they meet in May. Normally, the bidding process could take until 2020, but the U.S. and CONCACAF want to push for a decision by the end of the year that would allow planning to move forward quickly.
The three-country bid is a strong one and though specific plans will change in the coming years (and in the coming months until the decision is, hopefully, finalized), it looks likely that the U.S. will see a World Cup in the next ten years.
If you’re like us, you’re already missing the characters of the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. But fans got excited last night when Selena Gomez, executive producer of the show (and originally billed to play Hannah Baker), posted a picture of her new tattoo. Gomez and friends Alisha Boe and Tommy Dorfman showed off their new matching tattoos: a semicolon inked on each of their arms.
Gomez shared a photo on her IG story last night and Dorfman posted his own Instagram photo that shows the three actors (Dorfman played Ryan and Boe played Jessica on the show) in the tattoo shop with semicolons on their forearms. Boe posted a closeup later that shows a better view of the ink:
The tiny semicolons were a mystery to some but Boe’s caption explains their inspiration. Project Semicolon is an awareness and fundraising campaign started in 2013 by Amy Bleuel as a tribute to her father, whose suicide inspired her to try to inspire others. The project aims to give hope to people suffering from depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts. The semicolon has become a symbol that declares a new beginning rather than an end.
The background of the Project Semicolon website is full of pictures of people who have tattooed the semicolon on their arms as messages of support to themselves and to others. The 13 Reasons Why cast members’ decision to get their own tattoos has another reason: their tattoos are tributes to Bleuel, who died by suicide last month but whose project continues its mission of awareness and support.
The series is a personal mission for Gomez, too, after she entered rehab last year for depression stemming from her battle with lupus. Gomez said that her Disney fame amplified her own high school experiences, helping her emphasize with Hannah Baker’s story. She spent ninety days receiving professional help for her depression and talks about it in the short documentary, “Beyond the Reasons,” on Netflix. In it, the cast also discusses the most important and difficult issues addressed in the show.
Just a few weeks after its release, 13 Reasons Why has definitely begun important discussions about suicide, mental health and bullying. Its thirteen episodes graphically and honestly illustrate the struggles of a person suffering from depression, a victim of bullying who struggles with loneliness. The show, based on Jay Asher’s bestselling novel, deserves praise for its dedication to the goal of showing what it’s like to feel depressed, to have suicidal thoughts and to search for help.
Now Asher has hinted at the possibility of a second season—or, at least, said he’d be happy to see one. “I’d just like a continuation of all those characters,” he said in an interview. He said he’d gotten as far as brainstorming a sequel book at one point but decided against writing it. But with all the bonus material added for the Netflix series and the many loose ends left after the last episode fades out, he’s not the only one hoping for more (Warning: spoilers below).
The show only reveals a few clips from the depositions, where some characters finally decide to tell the truth and others continue to hold up their lies. Tyler spills the secret about the tapes but some of the others still aren’t willing to admit that they know anything about them. Even Mrs. Baker remains silent during the depositions as she holds the USB drive in her hands. What happens when the lawyers finally play the tapes?
And then there’s the terrifying glimpse into an ambulance rushing to the hospital with a seventeen-year-old boy who suffered a gunshot wound to the head, and the principal’s devastating words in the last episode: “Alex Standall shot himself in the head last night.” Does he survive? Does Bryce receive the punishment he deserves and where does Justin go with the liquor and the gun? Tyler looks like he’s putting his own stockpile of weapons away for good, but is he (don’t forget the ominous shot of Alex seeming to organize his revenge targets in the darkroom, only removing Alex after Alex stand up to a bully for him)? And what happens to Clay, the only name on the tapes whom Hannah didn’t blame directly but who nevertheless failed her? Clay and Tony will still be involved in the lawsuit when (if) the tapes are revealed.
These are major plot points that the show intentionally (and wisely) leaves unanswered in its finale. 13 Reasons Why is a series about Hannah Baker and the months leading up to her suicide. Now that her tapes have ended and her story—the story she wanted to tell and the very reason she made the tapes—is finished, the show should be, too. Hannah’s story is the reason for and the driving force behind the novel/series. The finale, with all of its unaddressed questions, is more satisfying than a second season of explaining would be.
Nothing is certain in the characters’ futures but the show uses this uncertainty to continue the many dialogues started by the show’s difficult subject material. Talking about Bryce’s actions and the potential punishments mean having conversations about rape. Wondering if Tyler is going to shoot people at school means talking about gun violence. These are necessary conversations and the show’s finale helps to start them.
The author clearly made a decision not to write a sequel novel, even after brainstorming it. Though he sounds open to the idea, that doesn’t make it a good one. As much as we would all love to see what happens to each of the characters after a finale full of cliffhangers, the show, as it stands, deserves to remain its own work of art without the pressure of a second season having to live up to the first. Selena Gomez has called it her “passion project,” and hopefully her influence will be enough to keep it out of the hands of greedy studio execs.
Do you want a second season of 13 Reasons Why? Let us know why in the comments and share your opinion with your friends.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
This week, UK-based tropi-pop band Crystal Fighters have headlined two shows at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Because it’s New York, there’s an expectation that the night always has to be better than the one before – and they delivered.
I was lucky enough to attend the first night and was immediately drawn in by their stage presence. They opened with an electrifying rendition of “Follow”, proceeded by “LA Calling” and “In Your Arms.” The crowd was more than receptive and eagerly responded to every single beat made by the band, something I quickly took notice of. I don’t know what it is about the Music Hall of Williamsburg, but every show I’ve attended there as of late has crowds entirely made up not of casual listeners, but fans – the most important part of the industry, I’d say, and probably the ones who know how to have the most fun too.
The band performed the Feed Me cover “Love Is All I Got”, displaying a variety of skills as long-term performers. Lead vocalist Sebastian Pringle had an impressive display of energy and stage presence, hyping up the crowd even more at every chance he got (which I didn’t know was possible!)
Crystal Fighters on stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, 4/6
A fun and diverse setlist followed, including gems like “Good Girls”, “Jumping For Joy”, and “You & I.” The band seemed gracious and excited to be in New York City, stopping between tunes to thank the crowd for listening. An energizing encore followed with “Xtatic Truth” and “Plage”, before they departed the stage, leaving us all in a daze.
While Crystal Fighters’ sound definitely isn’t for everyone, it’s important to acknowledge the amount of effort and detail that goes into being an artist in today’s world. Keyboards and mic stands adorned with plants, neon prints and eclectic lighting made the stage a whole new world to escape to for ninety minutes – and sometimes that’s worth everything.
Check out their upcoming European tour dates below:
4/16 – PAASPOP 2017 – Schijndel, Netherlands
5/6 – Motor Circus 2017 – Baza, Spain 6/2 – Rock AM Ring & Rock IM Park – Nürburg, Germany 6/3 – Pinkpop Festival 2017 – Landgraaf, The Netherlands 6/15 – Festineuch 2017 – Neuchatel, Switzerland 7/1 – Rock Werchter 2017 – Werchter, Belgium 7/13 – Festival Internacional de Benicassim – Benicassim, Spain 7/21 – Secret Garden Party 2017 – Abbots Ripton, United Kingdom 7/22 – Hippodrome de Longchamp – Paris, France 7/24 – Blue Balls 2017 – Luzern, Switzerland 8/4 – Sudoeste Festival – Zamburjeira, Portugal 8/12 – Sziget Festival – Budapest, Hungary 10/28 – Alexandra Palace – London, United Kingdom
“It’s not fair. If she keeps getting hurt, we have to protect her, right?”.
On the final episode of HBO’s limited series, Big Little Lies, Monterey mom, Jane (Shailene Woodley), asks her son a final time who is hurting the little girl he was accused of strangling the first day of school. Even after knowing that her son was being mistreated by some kids at the bequest of their parents and hitting Renata (Laura Dern), the mom of the bullied girl in a defiant act of frustration, Jane was relentless in the pursuit of truth in discovering who is abusing her son’s classmate. This wasn’t just to clear her son’s name, or to protect the little girl, though both are valid and primary reasons. No, Jane had to assure herself that her kind, meek, honest son who was a product of rape would let nurture win and not nature. Jane moved to that beautiful, catty, affluent town to start over and escape her fears. Constantly moving from city to city at the first sign of trouble for her son, we weren’t sure if Jane was going to stay long enough to find what she was searching for–answers, peace, and stability.
“He’s ill, but you’re ill too.”
We are introduced to the ladies in all of their imperfectness and are immediately ready for the judgement and drama that comes with moms, husbands, affairs, divorces, and dreams unfulfilled. In all of the drama, it’s easy to ignore the overarching theme of the series, women protecting women. This isn’t a story of petty drama, it’s the story of the uniting strength of women. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is introduced as an obnoxiously perfect, over bearing wife and mother who can control everything but herself, and still, nothing at all. She trips and Jane, an new mom in town, stops to help with a little bit of prodding by her son. It’s obvious then that living right for her son and being a good example is paramount for her. From there we meet stay at home mom Celeste (Nicole Kidman). She’s smart,pretty, and thought to be in a perfect marriage as a kept wife to a handsome, successful and charming husband. The perceived passion between her and her husband is brought up several times in the detectives’ witness interrogations, which is even more shocking when we find out that the witnesses know that Perry died after violently abusing his wife and “tripping” down the steps. Renata’s passions are described as being solely in the boardroom by her neighbors, though her passion for her career and her family leaves her feeling judged by stay at home mothers, and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) is the young, attractive step-mom who is married to Madeline’s ex and is into a holistic lifestyle and active kindness. With a lineup like this, you know the drama is coming, and the six episodes before last night lead to the perfect ending.
“I hate everyone but Jane, believe it or not”
By last night’s episode we identified everyone’s secrets and the pettiness has taken back seat to the realities that the dark pasts and presents of our characters have illuminated. Madeline is cheating on her husband and feels like she is losing her teenage daughter, Jane was raped and wants to confront her unknown rapist who is also the father of her child, Renata is struggling between the corporate and family worlds and hasn’t found the unrealistic balance of perfection she set up for herself as a success metric, and Bonnie, well she’s actively nice but alludes to a troubled past. She goes out of her way to live in love and peace, with a quiet strength and beauty that is, admittedly, envy inducing. She lives on the other end of the spectrum of what happens to hurt people. She doesn’t hurt others, she saves them–teaching self defense classes, encouraging therapy, and battling social injustices. One thing all of the women have in common is desiring qualities or aspects of life that another mom possesses, finding perfection in the very things that cause misery. As secrets are exposed, the bonds become tighter and the theme of protecting women is intensified in all of the wrong ways. Madeline’s daughter wants to auction her virginity for Amnesty International, Ed, Madeline’s husband, warns Bonnie not to offend Madeline by being,well, perfect and helpful, Renata’s husband confronts Jane for hitting his wife in a school spat and Tom kicks him out of his establishment, Perry is concerned with Celeste’s stress levels (but not the bruises he leaves her with), and Celeste is one beating closer to death, though we see her making plans for an escape, but not with the urgency it requires.
“Can you just help me, help myself”
The final installment of the miniseries ends just like it begins, with Madeline being distressed and Jane running to her rescue. This time, the problems are bigger than the petty trifles that Madeline have made the center of her world instead of confronting her real issues. Everyone’s secrets are coming out full force at a school function, of all places. While men are dressed up as one of American symbols of cool, Elvis Presley, and women are dressed up as one of the symbols of prim and proper, Audrey Hepburn, people are confronting their deepest issues. Celeste is finally understanding the severity of her abusive husband and that it also is affecting her kids. Each secret being exposed is like a dose of kryptonite to the facade of her marriage. You see her husband Perry weakening with each show of brute “strength” to the point that in his final moments he is kicking Celeste outside of his son’s school while the woman he raped, her best friend, and the mother of the child his son is abusing because of what he hears at home, are fending him off until sweet Bonnie runs behind him and pushes him to his death. Confession time, other than Stringer Bell in The Wire, I have never been so happy to see someone die (sorry Idris Bae, you just played spineless and conniving user so well). As wrong as that is, doing the best thing and the right thing aren’t always the same. Domestic violence and rape are serious issues that are way too common in the world, but particularly for a country that uses moral high ground to justify actions and inaction.
“I should have left you a long time ago…and now I have to leave.”
Women have a habit of protecting others at all expenses. As much as the supporting characters like to pit the women against each other in their police interrogations, the solidarity exemplified for each other even while combating their own demons is unmatched. Renata sees Celeste in pain even after discovering that Celeste’s son is abusing her daughter and places that to the side and in what is without a doubt the most well acted scene in the series, all of the ladies place their feelings and safety aside when Jane is paralyzed with fear and the connection is made that Perry is her rapist. How ironic is it that the costume party is when all of the masks come off. Contrary to what the show initially has you believing, each woman is more than willing to run to the aid of another woman in pain. They are not family, but they are a tribe. They chose each other and at the weakest hour, combined to be an impenetrable force. Secrets were slowly draining these women. They were able to put on a good face, be who they thought people need them to be, but they weren’t fulfilled. They weren’t completely happy until they started telling their truths, relying on each other, and standing up for right. It took the death of Perry to serve as a reminder that even though someone can be hurting you, sometimes you still need an extra push to remind you that you need to use that strength to protect your most important asset, yourself. The ending is perfect and although we would love to see the girls come back for another season, it ends perfectly, with Ituna singing sweetly, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.”
“They found our city under the water … gotta get my hands on something new.”
Those are the opening lines to Comedown Machine, the fifth album in The Strokes already extensive discography that was released four years ago to the day. The eleven-track LP is their last full-fledged release to date, if you don’t count last year’s EP Future Present Past. With an impressive array of styles and approaches, the Strokes managed to get their hands on something new – a rebirth for a band who’s only ever praised for their debut.
So what exactly do we talk about when it comes to The Strokes, anyway? If you’re an avid Pitchfork reader, you’ve probably come to assume that anything past 2001’s Is This It carries no weight. There is always some sort of conversation circulating around the band themselves more than anything else – whether or not their dedication to not caring makes them cool or uncool, how many leather jackets vocalist Julian Casablancas must own, and so on and so forth. This “thing” about The Strokes has followed them around since day one, often being louder than the talk surrounding their music.
So it came as no surprise that this time around, the conversation was put to a stop. The band went on their very own media blackout, barring the press from any information surrounding their newest release. There was no promotion whatsoever – interviews, photos, appearances, shows – and no sign of what was to come. Aside from a single premiering on Zane Lowe, the album was to receive no commercial attention at all. Within the sales charts, it showed – the album became the band’s first not to debut within the top three UK Albums Chart and sold only 41,000 copies in it’s first week overall.
It becomes difficult, then, to determine the essence of an album when the band who made it don’t disclose it themselves. One could argue that at the end of the day, that sort of inference on our part is what makes music what it is anyway – what good is it if we sit there and only hear what the artist hears? The Strokes wanted the conversation to revolve around their own artistic merit instead of that “thing” we have come to know them for – the chucks, the celebrity girlfriends, and most especially whether or not anyone gets along.
So, with Comedown Machine, the band successfully fulfilled their long-term contract with RCA (the record deal that for some unfathomable reason still makes people piss themselves in anger and jealousy – remember the headlines upon headlines of how Casablancas’ father bought their way in?). With that, the path to freedom had been paved, a sort of reincarnation for a band breaking free from the mold Is This It cut out for them. It symbolized both an end and a beginning – it’s no coincidence the album artwork reflects the same Colin Lane photographs featured in Is This It, as well as the cover’s resemblance to an old RCA tape reel box.
artwork by Brett Kilroe
At 39:55 minutes, Comedown Machine works harder to prove itself in it’s lifetime than it’s given credit for. The aforementioned opener “Tap Out” is, perhaps, one of the best written Strokes songs to date, with guitar and vocal textures reminiscent of the sound only they know how to do. “All the Time”, in comparison, seems like a sluggish and tired step backwards in the same direction – it’s nothing new that we haven’t heard before, and one of the album’s least impressive tracks. Not that it matters, because “80’s Comedown Machine” (which, in an interesting note, is the title and only track written by all five members) and “Slow Animals” more than make up for it with intricate synths and despairing lyrics of lost youth.
Throughout all eleven tracks, Casablancas’ impressive vocal ability is on full display, with “One Way Trigger” being our first introduction to his falsetto. Many loved it, many hated it, but it doesn’t change the fact that even as a baritone he’s able to hit these notes with little to no vocal training. The songs manage to blend together near perfectly, a cohesiveness that I considered long gone after 2011’s Angles (which felt much more like a mixtape or collection of demos than an actual album). The writing credits are much more varied this time around, with rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. being seemingly responsible for most of the album’s wistfulness and romance.
In what I consider to be the highlight of the album, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is the Strokes song you never thought you needed. I won’t ever forget the first time I heard it – it was on a flight, the very same place I’m writing this now – and it was so blazingly honest and hopeful and unexpected that I cried for quite a bit afterwards, something I’m not embarrassed to admit here because you probably did too. Penned by Casablancas, Hammond Jr. and lead guitarist Nick Valensi, it is a bossa nova-infused dream with words that hint at following one’s love into the afterlife.
Compared to Angles, which had the band recording separately and Casablancas emailing vocals back and forth, the process behind Comedown Machine was a much smoother one – and it shows. To consider the album as a cashed-in check or yet another Casablancas solo project is lazy and reckless. For the first time, we were able to hear the full extent of each member’s writing potential, and just how important each one is for the survival of The Strokes. It’s rare that a band’s parts feel greater than it’s sum, a testament of their innovative and effortless merging of talent. Maybe that’s why we lose our shit a little bit at the slightest hint of the band not getting along, and maybe it explains that “thing” about The Strokes that still has people talking about them fifteen years on.
Perhaps Comedown Machine wasn’t the Strokes album you wanted or expected, but it was needed in order for them to grow past what’s been expected of them. It was needed because it captures the gripping realities of growing older and just a little bit wiser. It was needed because we still need The Strokes – there is a void in the world that only they can fill, no matter how long they hide from it.
Comedown Machine is available for streaming and purchase from The Strokes global store.
“Long Time”, a four-minute long pop dream, is the latest taste of Blondie’s upcoming release Pollinator. The track is penned by none other than Blood Orange’s Devonte Hynes and is, no doubt, a partial homage to “Heart of Glass.” It is a modern take that still pays tribute to the enduring icon status of Blondie.
Pollinator is set to be host for some pretty exciting guests, including Laurie Anderson, Joan Jett, the Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Sia, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi. The previous singles include “My Monster” featuring Marr and Sitek collaboration “Fun.”
For a band’s 11th addition to their already extensive discography, these songs are just as jam-packed with classic riffs as any Blondie song ever. Last year, Chris Stein told Consequence of Sound about their old-school approach to Pollinator: “The last two records before this were a little more electronic and computer-based, but this one is more organic and very much band-based, a little more old-school.”
Blondie are set to tour with Garbage this year – catch tickets to their NYC show on August 1 at Beacon Theatre here.
Pollinator is out May 5. You can pre-order it here.