From Courtney Love to Ariana Grande: Music’s Misogynistic Blame Game

by beth mcleish

If I was born a boy / Would I be mutilated Humiliated, cursed & fated to grind away my time

With my heart on the line…

You would not do this to a boy.

Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love

We all know the story of the most (in)famous rock and roll couple since Sid and Nancy. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were, quite possibly, perfect for each other. But their relationship was rocky, to say the least. Both fronting successful bands, they entered into a whirlwind, drug-fuelled romance, under the watchful and judgemental public eye. They were, according to Vanity Fair, “the closest thing the alternative nation had to a king and queen.” I am a huge fan of both Kurt and Courtney, their relationship has always been something that has fascinated me, and in particular, how hated Courtney Love was. There are even people who still believe she killed her late husband. My question is, why is she demonised for all the things Kurt was praised for?

Front-woman of acclaimed grunge band Hole, Courtney Love is someone that people love to hate. A successful musician, songwriter, poet, and actress, she is best known for being the wife of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Sometimes, she doesn’t even get the credit for that, with there being many conspiracy theories surrounding her involvement in her husband’s death. In 1998, documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield released the controversial film “Kurt and Courtney” which insinuates that Love holds responsibility for her husband’s death, speaking to many “sources” including the private investigator who is convinced that Courtney hired a hit man to kill Kurt. It is extremely biased, filled with anti- Love sentiment. Courtney is painted as a fame hungry, controlling siren, and this is the attitude that the press had towards her throughout the 90s, and to an extent, even now.   

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain

Courtney herself, in the 1992 issue of Vanity Fair, pointed out the double standard she and her husband were held to:

Kurt is able to go into a record label… decide he doesn’t like it halfway through, walk out on the guys mid-sentence, and everyone goes “There goes Kurt. He’s so moody. Nirvana’s great.” But I go in and spend three hours… I’m sorry, I don’t want to be on his label and he calls me a bitch.

Although both 1991 debut “Pretty on the Inside” and 1994’s “Live Through This” were critically acclaimed, there were (and still are) rumours saying that Kurt Cobain wrote a lot of Hole’s best songs, and most of “Live Through This” (arguably their best album, featuring some of Courtney’s best lyrics surrounding motherhood, feminism, body image, and mental health issues). This myth has since been cleaned up. It is extremely unfair and misleading to claim and not to mention sexist to assume that a woman’s success is owed entirely to her husband. In the Guardian, music journalist Everett True writes that “It would be just as accurate to say the Courtney Love wrote most of Nirvana’s third album “In Utero.” For me, “In Utero” is Nirvana’s best album, and I can definitely see the Courtney influences. Kurt’s lyrics are more poetic, and mature and thematically, share ideas with Hole’s “Live Through This.” Courtney finally commented on this dismissive and quite frankly cruel rumour in 1998 saying “(If he had) the songs would have been much better.

For me, this abuse and discredit simply come from a place of misogyny. I think that the music press and the general public were threatened by someone like Courtney. An extremely self-aware, brashly outspoken and confident woman, all legs, dark lipstick, and bleach blonde hair, writing songs about sex, abuse, and suicide? Put simply, she was hated for acting how male rock stars had been acting for decades before her. Her being blamed for her husband’s death not only discredits his mental health struggles (an issue which in itself is deserving of an article) but also perpetuates the damaging idea that women are, largely responsible for their significant others’ wellbeing.

Sadly, even today this is the case. To give a more modern example, American pop singer Ariana Grande was harassed after the untimely death of her ex-boyfriend rapper Mac Miller. Many people on social media criticised her for not staying with him as he struggled with his drug addiction. The scathing comments on her twitter range from “I hope you feel bad,” to “You did this to him”, and “You killed Mac Miller.” This clearly affected Grande as she eventually turned off comments on her Instagram, and went on a Twitter hiatus.

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This behaviour from Mac Miller’s fans and Twitter users in general reflects on the way society treats female celebrities, and women as a whole. The National Organisation for Women (NOW) President Toni Van Pelt told VICE, “First of all, people are responsible for themselves, and men in particular are taught to think of themselves first.” Van Pelt goes on to say that women are always expected to look after or take care of others before themselves, and if they dare to put themselves first, they are seen as selfish. This point was touched upon by Ariana herself, in her statement on Twitter. She said: “how absurd that you minimise female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship because he wrote an album about them… I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be.”  

It is interesting that she mentions motherhood in this statement, as this is another issue that women face throughout their lives. It also ties in with Courtney Love’s struggles. This archaic ideology that a woman’s role is in the home is something that to this day is instilled in us, from a very young age. Ariana also touches upon this saying that “shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his sh*t together is a very major problem.” She’s right, and it needs to stop.

This misogynistic attitude is sadly still so prevalent in today’s culture and is especially ingrained into music. Different genres all share elements of it, such as emo, hip-hop and alternative rock, whether it be in their lyrics or behaviours. I mean, in the ruling era of the “Soft Boy” (def; a man that uses his “sensitive” side to appeal to the emotions of women and subsequently manipulate them), it is surely not surprising.

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For example, Chicago based rapper Juice WRLD pines after an “evil girl” with “the prettiest face” who supposedly wants him dead, on his 2018 track “Lucid Dreams.” It may just seem like a sad love song on the surface, but when you think about it, we don’t hear this girl’s side of the story, and Juice WRLD is fully blaming his sadness on her. He also compares himself to his ex’s new boyfriend saying that he is the “better one.” The whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me, even more so when taking into consideration his preceding single “All Girls Are The Same”.

This is a very common theme in emo too. Think about Panic! At The Disco’s “Lying Is The Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off.” Brendon Urie scorns a lover who cheated on him, blaming her and only her, possibly forgetting that there was another person involved in this infidelity. In the chorus he sings of “testosterone boys and harlequin girls” which suggests that boys are just hormone crazy, enforcing the dreaded “boys will be boys, and that girls are clowns, falling for anyone who is nice to them”. To me, all of this seems to subtly reinforce these attitudes towards women in general. And of course, the whole idea that men are uncontrollable when it comes to sex is just as bad. He is blaming the woman for all of his anger and unhappiness. Now, of course, there will be times where women do abuse their partners, cheat on them, break their hearts, and that is completely valid. But all these songs seem to do is perpetuate the attitude that this is normal, and almost expected of women to do.

In 2003, American rock band Brand New released Deja Entendu, featuring the song “Me vs. Maradona vs, Elvis.” Singer Jesse Lacey sings “I got desperate desires and unadmirable plans” in this thinly veiled song about date rape, claiming “I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do… I swear I’ll tear you apart.” Lacey has said that these lyrics are not autobiographical, but recent allegations against him may beg to differ. Emily Driskill and Nicole Garey both recently shared accounts of their encounters of Lacey whilst they were underage. They say that he manipulated them into sending nude photos, and were groped at various concerts.  Driskill told Pitchfork that she hopes “with this coming out, it opens the door for people really looking out for women in our scene. It’s been talked about for a while but it hasn’t actually been happening.”

Music critic Jessica Hopper sums it all up in her 2003 essay “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t”. She says that “Girls in emo songs do not have names…We span from coquettish to damned… We leave bruises on boy hearts, but make no other mark… We are mysteries to be unlocked, bodies to be groped…

What Hopper says is so relevant, not just in emo, but in music in general. These damaging attitudes towards women have survived, and are still being sang about today. Women are not therapists, mothers, or simply just bodies to have sex with, and the sooner these ideals are challenged, the better and safer the music world (and the world in general) will be for women and girls.

 

References

Hirschberg, L. (2019). Strange Love: The Story of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. [online] HWD. Available at: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/03/love-story-of-kurt-cobain-courtney-love.

Love, C. (2006). Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love. Faber & Faber.

True, E. (2019). Ten myths about grunge, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/aug/24/grunge-myths-nirvana-kurt-cobain.

Vice. (2019). Ariana Grande, Mac Miller, and Why We Blame Women for Male Substance Abuse. [online] Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/a38g5k/ariana-grande-mac-miller-and-why-we-blame-women-for-male-substance-abuse.

Broadly. (2019). Making Mac Miller’s Death About Ariana Grande Is a Sexist Distraction. [online] Available at: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/bja8xz/mac-miller-death-blame-ariana-grande.

NME. (2019). ‘Live Through This’: Not a Hole lotta Kurt – NME. [online] Available at: https://www.nme.com/news/music/courtney-love-244-1400512

Pitchfork.com. (2019). Two Alleged Victims of Brand New’s Jesse Lacey Detail Years of Sexual Exploitation of Minors | Pitchfork. [online] Available at: https://pitchfork.com/news/two-alleged-victims-of-brand-news-jesse-lacey-detail-years-of-sexual-exploitation-of-minors/

Hopper, J., Shepherd, J., Klein, C., Blegvad, K., Samavai, S. and Casey, P. (2019). Where the Girls Aren’t – Page 2 of 2 – Rookie. [online] Rookie. Available at: https://www.rookiemag.com/2015/07/where-the-girls-arent/2/?fbclid=IwAR0V1bigBafeURSbBAx8uezOqTnGeyste_A5d-CC2DSuMg4Z3ylYz-lRngE [Accessed 3 May 2019].

 

Drenge embrace the weird and uneasy on Strange Creatures

Drenge have made their grand return to the UK rock scene with their latest album Strange Creatures. This latest effort arrives after a relatively quiet few years for the band, whose last full studio album was released back in 2015. After the success of their self-titled debut and its follow-up Undertow, this period of absence has left a very particular itch unscratched for many fans. Known for their dark and blues-inspired grunge sound, the Loveless brothers usually kept their songs concise and direct, delivering memorable riffs and fast-paced action throughout their previous two albums. The usual distorted and heart-racing sound of their prior efforts have been largely left in the past by Drenge, who on this latest album deliver some of their most haunting and intricate work to date.

Some of the longer form and lyric-driven tracks from Undertow are the standout remains of the Drenge that fans had come to love, as their new sound often combines pulsating synthesisers and hyper-realistic lyrics to create an eerie soundscape that is often used by Eoin Loveless to explore deeper lyrical themes than on previous releases. This is not to say that the album has a slow pace overall, as some of the most pop-sounding songs of theirs to date can also be found on Strange Creatures. The two main cases of this are “This Dance” and “Autonomy,” which were both released amongst the flurry of singles that culminated in the build-up to the band’s comeback. The tracks take on more of a New Wave sound, yet still feature a certain edge from Eoin’s songwriting, particularly on “Autonomy,” where he delivers some of his most skeptical and witty commentary on the album. This new approach to writing catchy songs relies on a certain contrast between the upbeat instrumentals and the creeping vocals and backing synths, which make for an excellent addition to the band’s arsenal.

It has to be said that after the album’s introduction from three of the singles, Strange Creatures really does come into its own. “Teenage Love” provides an infectiously stirring track, with flat-out creepy lyrics that fit with the overarching theme of the record. This continues through to “Prom Night,” which is most definitely one of the standout tracks, featuring some of the most visceral and evocative storytelling that Eoin has produced over the course of all three albums. The merging of the classic Drenge guitar sound and some particularly spooky synths has been immaculately pulled off by the Loveless brothers. The shift away from guitar driven songs does not ever feel forced or alien, but more that it was the natural projection for the band’s evolving sound. This can be heard yet again on “No Flesh Road,” which feels alienating and estranged, which are themes that have always been found in Drenge’s own twisted musical stylings.

Without a doubt, the anthem of the album in “Never See The Signs,” which offers all of the aforementioned qualities in one blow. The track has all the catchiness of some of the new-wave elements of the record whilst simultaneously incorporating the dark undertones that give the album an overall eerie feel. The two closing tracks then seem to follow the apparent theme from Drenge’s previous two albums, giving the album a grandiose, almost ballad-like close. “Avalanches” offers a slow and distortion-induced shoegaze trip featuring some reverberated vocals from Eoin that combine with some isolated keys that add to the reflective tone of the track.

This is a nice change of pace that slows down nicely as the album comes to a close on the final song “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” The track definitely stands out as the most ‘out there’ and different from the Drenge of past years. The symphony of chanting vocals, acoustic guitar and prog-type synths is truly different to anything that Drenge fans will be used to, but the experimental sound seems to work for the brothers, with a solid vocal performance yet again, leaving the closing track sounding reminiscent of a Nick Cave song. This could also be said for the new role that Eoin appears to be taking in the band as he takes up the full-time job of a frontman by ditching his guitar during live shows. Although the two may not be correlated, it feels as though this change, or perhaps the maturing of the brothers, has led to a revitalised approach to songwriting, one that sees some of the band’s best written songs to date on the record, along with some of the most captivating vocal performances.

With Strange Creatures, Drenge have created an uncomfortably different yet enthralling soundscape that strays far from their simple two-piece roots. It seems that the band have abandoned the simple guitar and drums grunge combo and have opted for a more complex and moody sound that tends to deliver some haunting moments. It is great to see the Loveless brothers back in action after a four-year absence, and even better to see that they have remained consistent in their delivery of solid records. The disturbing world of Strange Creatures is almost incomparable to their previous studio albums, yet it contains songs of an equally great nature. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 8

Olivia’s 20 Best Films of 2018

Is there anything worth saying for a feature of this nature that hasn’t been said already? You’ll get your critically acclaimed style lists, full of movies you haven’t heard of, and then you’ll get the ones fuelled solely by fun: so, why not have half and half as Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96) takes you down the best films of the year?

20. Venom

Venom was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had both in the cinema and online in 2018. It’s also not a good movie. I made that clear in my review of it earlier in the year. The pacing is all over the place, it’s filled with early 2000’s comic book edginess and Tom Hardy spends the entire film looking like he slept in his car. But I genuinely can’t deny the immense amount of joy Venom brought me this year.

From the endless memes, thirst for the alien sludge tongue (and the immense amounts of porn that name of it), Tom Hardy’s entire performance of just doing weird shit for the sake of it, the way in which it could be easily read as a rom-com between a journalistic human disaster and a sentient pile of alien goo, Venom is the pure definition of just kicking back and having a good-natured riff. What helps is despite the endless story, character and tone problems, there’s very little cynicism to Venom. In being produced by a studio that obviously had no faith in it, there was a real sense of just going for broke and hoping it would survive.

And it worked – in spite of the reviews, Venom turned out to be a surprise hit and most people I’ve seen who like it do so for the same reasons as me. It’s stupid, campy, it has Tom Hardy being the absolute most and it’s strangely endearing in spite of itself. I can’t say it’s on the list as a genuinely good film but I’d be remiss not to give a mention to a film that genuinely brought me joy this year, even for unintended reasons. It may be some turd in the wind trash but it’s my turd in the wind trash.


19. Annihilation 

Believe it or not, I’m actually a huge sci-fi fan. Honestly, I’d put it up there as one of my favourite genres. However, when it comes to the sci-fi that grabs me, I usually find myself much more on the philosophical side of asking questions about the nature of our lives instead of detailed explorations of lore, character or world-building. So, I’m less of a Doctor Who or Star Trek fan and a bigger fan of sci-fi films that ask more questions than they do answer them.

Annihilation was that film this year. Taking a simple concept to explore multiple facets of ecology and human reflection, Annihilation is an intelligent, bold and frustratingly intriguing watch. The ending particularly leaves the viewer thinking long after the credits roll and I hugely respect its restraint in not talking down to its audience by explaining what and how you are supposed to feel at all times. One of the more underrated releases this year but definitely the pick for viewers hungry for some brain food.


18. Halloween (2018)

When it comes to Halloween sequels, Halloween (2018) really didn’t have a high standard to live up to. While some people have a soft spot for Halloween II and III, it’s generally agreed that none of the other films in the franchise touch the subtle magic of the original. Until this sequel, which gave us a genuinely great Halloween movie with Michael Myers and Laurie Strode back on top form. It makes enough call-backs to the original to not seem gimmicky and the visuals are striking with a great comeback performance by Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s the sequel fans were truly waiting for.


17. Deadpool 2 

While it has some writing issues and some things that could’ve been reworked, I thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than the first. Since Deadpool’s origin story is now out of the way, the sequel gives the chance to do more with his interactions with other characters and it succeeds for the most part.

The jokes are funny, the queer-coding has been upped with many of the characters (our prayers of Negasonic Teenage Warhead getting a girlfriend came true. If only she got more screen-time), the new characters are all fun and memorable and the dramatic moments hit closer to home than the first one for me. Add in a great soundtrack and Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly satisfying trip to the movies.


16. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

As I progress in film studies, I learn more and more that trying to define film in technical terms and tropes is not only obnoxious but counterproductive to how we judge what films have merit and which don’t. For as much as film geeks (speaking as one) love to pretend they have refined tastes and their favourite films are a list of “important” Hitchcock and Tarantino films with a special mention to whichever indie director is being racist this month, film is a visual and personal medium and we have no way of knowing what will personally affect us. As Marie Kondo said; if something sparks joy, it has inherent value. Sometimes we don’t need a long, intellectual explanation of whether a film is “objectively” good or not and the reason for liking it can simply be “it makes me happy”.

This is a convoluted way of saying I had a blast with Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again!. I squealed when Cher showed up for no reason, I enjoyed the cheesy covers of lesser-known ABBA songs, I loved the beautiful Greek landscape, I loved Lily James and the sex-positive, female-centric aspect of the story (even if there’s more than enough continuity errors from the first film) and it’s surprisingly heartfelt ending. It’s dumb, cheesy, silly and fun and I was unabashed in my enjoyment of every minute.


15. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

I love films about films. Whether it’s a ‘based on a true story’ adaptation such as Saving Mr. Banks or The Disaster Artist, or documentaries about the life and work of actors/directors working on iconic or infamous films that even they didn’t know would hold such influence, I adore learning about the creative process. My love for film goes beyond what is just on the screen and finding out about the lives and trials of directors and actors throughout is every bit as fun for me as enjoying the art itself.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead explores the bibliography of Orson Welles, argued by many to be one of the greatest directors who ever lived. However, as the title indicates, he was only truly thought of as such following his death. While everyone around him argued Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made (much to his amusement as he didn’t think much of it) Welles maneuvered the world of cinema with a wry humorous cynicism, willing to break the rules and conventions of film-making and producing work that was lambasted at the time and now regarded as some of the finest innovative cinema ever produced. This film is a wonderful look back on one of the true pioneers of the artistic merit of film.


14. Love, Simon

Love, Simon was ground-breaking for a number of reasons and as I revisit it, I find myself appreciating it more and more. While the plot and style of acting are intentionally over the top in accordance with 2010’s teen comedies, the anxiety and isolation felt by Simon as he struggles to come out to both himself and the people around him is treated seriously and sensitively. Some actors are little too over the top (the head teacher in particular tries to be hip with the kids and talks in a way no head teacher has ever spoken), a few scenes are fairly awkward and Logan Miller’s performance of an intentionally annoying character really makes you want to strangle him, which is probably the sign of a job well done but it doesn’t make the character any more pleasant.

But the core of the story about Simon’s relationships and his terror at everything changing once he comes out makes it stand out from other films of the type. The plot of two teens writing to each other having no idea who the other is a concept that can and has been done with heterosexual couples and films targeted towards teens but the film addresses that these experiences of crushes and not knowing the identity of who you’re crushing on takes on a specific fear for LGBTA+ teenagers. Simon has good parents, nice friends (somewhat) and some people would question why he would feel so trapped about his sexuality. But this is a fear that many LGBTA+ people (myself included) face constantly in our relationships: you could have the most progressive, loving parents and friends possible and there will still always be that corner of raw doubt and fear in the back of your mind. There’s a wonderful scene between Simon and his mother once he is at his lowest point and the words she gives him are the exact words any good parent should give their child in the situation.

It may unfortunately not be the reality for many LGBTA+ people but it’s a perfect example of how things should be. It’s an appreciation for the risk Love, Simon truly was as the first teen gay romantic comedy backed by a major studio. For as much as many like to pretend that LGBTA+ people and teenagers are more accepted now than they have been in the past, the fact remains that many films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships are often independent projects, as many big-name studios are unwilling to risk a large investment in films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships due to the risk of financial loss from casual homophobes (who unfortunately are a large demographic). Additionally, when they are made, many will often receive a higher age rating than a film with the same content focusing on a heterosexual couple. For a film about a gay teenager who is struggling with coming out to explore the anxieties related to it, getting a happy ending with a fairy-tale kiss that isn’t censored or implied and being rated as appropriate for the teenagers it’s targeting is ground-breaking and should be seen as such.


13. The Shape of Water

One of the things I love about Guillermo del Toro’s work is how he tends to have one foot in cold, harsh reality and the other in pure fairy-tale fantasy when making his films. Pan’s Labyrinth was the clearest example of this, with the Alice in Wonderland inspired story taking place against the brutal backdrop of the Spanish Civil war.

However, while Del Toro showcases both the beautiful and the brutal sides of human nature in The Shape of Water, his unabashed romanticism and love of fairy-tale logic and story-telling combines with his compassion for those outcasted by society, especially in 1950s Cold War-era America. The relationship in the film is a metaphorical statement made literal, showing the love that many outcasts hold in their heart. It takes the harshness of its setting and shows it in all its ugliness, just to completely reject it. It is his most personal film to date and also one of his best.


12. Black Panther 

Two big Marvel movies this year seem to have audiences spilt down the middle; most people I meet seem to like both but seem to love one while thinking the other was just okay. For some, Black Panther is the best Marvel film of the year and Infinity War is just okay; for others, Infinity War was the film they’d always been waiting for and Black Panther was just another good entry into the Marvel hero canon.

I find myself in the former camp; while I do think Infinity War is a good film, I find more things about it that irritate me the more I think about it whereas Black Panther is just as good the next time as it is the first. The characters are well-drawn and some of the most complex and likable in the MCU so far. While dues are rightfully given to Michael B Jorden’s amazing performance as Killmonger, I also think Chadwick Boseman’s performance of T’Challa’s thematic and emotional arc throughout is more interesting than many fans give it credit for. And of course, Shuri is wonderful. Infinity War is undoubtedly the more ambitious film but I also feel it is more flawed by comparison, while Black Panther utilises its isolated conflict to create more a more satisfying and complete film overall.


11. Paddington 2 

Paddington 2 is so unabashed in how genuine and sweet it is, I could swear I felt my teeth falling out at the end. It doesn’t have one hint of cynicism and its simplicity in just making the title character the most likable bear ever seen on screen is enough to melt the stoniest of us. Every actor’s dedication to the quaint and sweet tone the film sets completely sells it. It’s just a lovely film.


10. The Happy Prince

I adore Oscar Wilde and I’ll admit, a lot of reason for this film being on the list is through emotional attachment rather than the logistics or technical aspects of the film. However, I can’t imagine anything that could be truer to his spirit than choosing with your heart rather than your head. Named after his famously sombre fairy tale, The Happy Prince tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s life after the scandal that destroyed his career and eventually his life.

Being his first film as well as playing the title role, this is clearly a personal passion project for Rupert Everett. There are many roles actors can take that can be seen as a blatant Oscar grab, especially if they are a long-respected veteran who haven’t won one yet (Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady are the first to my mind). However, Everett combines the subtle pain with the natural flamboyancy that Wilde was known for as an unabashed and poetic romanticist with a wonderfully forward outlook on life and love, which the world around him cruelly rejected. He was also imperfect. He was selfish, frivolous and frequently took advantage of his friends. But the film consistently highlights that some of his more selfish actions may not have been necessary if he hadn’t lived in the time he did and even respected artists of the time were not immune to the prejudices of his society (if anything, they were heightened due to the public disgrace).

There’s a great line in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (featured above) in which one of the character’s remarks to the Asset “sometimes I think I was born too early or too late for my life”. This line sums up the sheer unfairness of how Oscar Wilde spent his final days and the film highlights the tragedy of Wilde being a prime example of a man born in the wrong time.


9. I Tonya

I’ve always felt Margot Robbie was underrated. Even when the projects she’s in tend to be utter garbage (hello, Suicide Squad), she is usually a bright spot in whatever she stars in and I was waiting for a film that would allow her to show off her range. I, Tonya is that film and I still say she absolutely deserved a best actress nomination for it. There were parts of this film that reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster (2002), in which she loses herself so much in the character you forget you’re watching a performance. The rest of the actors are all great, with main players Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney also giving standout performances.

The film ingeniously uses transcript interviews from the real Tonya Harding and her associates, many of which contradict each other, leaving it up to the viewer who to believe and how much of each character you can believe. Instead of demonising or sympathising with Tonya, the film instead smartly asks you to draw your own conclusions, with a fair bit of dark humour thrown in.


8. Won’t You Be My Neighbour

I didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers as a kid. While I was a devotee of many an American children’s show such as Sesame Street and Arthur, being a UK kid largely meant most of my exposure to Mister Rogers came through the internet. I knew he was a kids show host from the 1960s and was intensely beloved by all who grew up with him. His catchphrase “Won’t you be my neighbour” is the title of this one-and-a-half-hour documentary regarding his legacy as the host of one of the longest running children’s shows on PBS Mister Rogers Neighbourhood.

Like other icons such as Bob Ross or Steve Irwin, it seems radical at the time and nowadays for a single person to be so unflinchingly kind yet stoutly progressive. The film covers an incredible moment in television history in which he not only saved funding for public children’s television in front of the US Senate Subcommittee, his words are so powerful the Committee head doubles the amount of funding being cut. His argument that the ethics of kindness and teaching children that their emotions are valid and important is ingrained into the philosophy of how he lived and taught in his life. It’s hard to believe he was every bit as kind when the cameras were turned off but every acquaintance and friend he made testifies as such.

His concern was that children were emotionally intelligent and observant and deserved to be treated as such and the impression he left on the people he grew up with is undeniable. As someone who didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers, I’m not ashamed to say I sniffed and cried almost all the way through.  


7. Blackkklansman

BlacKKKlansman ties with I, Tonya for being the most well-acted docu-drama of the year. John David Washington and Adam Driver have incredible chemistry in this hard-hitting story that’s so implausible, it’d be impossible to believe if it wasn’t true. Spike Lee has never been one for subtlety but in this day and age, that approach is necessary to convey the parallels of 1970s race relations to modern day, showing how much has changed and how much has not changed while also being engaging as a straight-up great buddy-cop film.

While the film may have comedic moments of just the sheer absurdity of the situation, the story of African-American police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan hits hard in its depiction of true events and real mind-sets with an ending that left the cinema I was in so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.


6. Overlord

Few movies captured the mood of the year better than Overlord. In the year of rising political tensions and fascism back on the rise, the catharsis of this bombastic, insane gore-fest can’t be overstated. Overlord is the prime example of taking an insane B-movie concept of an American soldier squad going up against mutated Nazi superhuman zombies and running to the moon and back with it, resulting in what can only be described as Inglorious Basterds on acid. It’s gross, disturbing and ridiculously fun, with all the Nazi killing you could ever want. What else do you need in a film?


5. Widows

If there was a list for best cast in a film this year, Widows would be at the top. With performances from acting powerhouses at the top of their game such as Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya and Elizabeth Debicki, Widows is a poetically shot and soberingly empowering film with some of the most well-developed and realised protagonists in any film this year.

Steve McQueen is one of the most uncompromising story-tellers working in directing today and his empathy in which he writes his characters elevates them from a simple heist movie. It’s slick, stylish and a testament to the strength of its cast.


4. Mandy

It’s been a surprisingly good year for Nicholas Cage. From his campy yet dramatic performance in the dark comedy Mom and Dad to the pitch-perfect casting of him as Spider Noir from Into the Spider-Verse, his reputation for saying yes to every script he’s offered finally seems to be turning out some good material and Mandy is arguably his best film in years.

Marrying intense emotion and horror with ridiculous bombast, Mandy gives Cage the perfect bonkers premise to really show off his range. Visually, it was one of the most appealing films of the year for me (I’m a sucker for that surreal neon grindhouse aesthetic) and topping it off with a dueling chainsaw is the perfect formula to have me grinning like an idiot the whole way through.


3. Hereditary 

Hereditary is one big gasp of ‘holy shit!’ all the way through. While an excellent film as a whole, the first half is undeniably stronger than the second. I feel the second half could have kept a few more answers in the dark instead feeling the need to explain nearly everything in a rush, as if afraid the audience would have been angry with a more ambiguous conclusion. But it’s still a good second half coming off of an incredible first half. While the latter half is horrific in a more conventional sense (though no less shocking), the first half of Hereditary is horror characterised as a howl of pure despair.

I’ve rarely been so uncomfortable and so upset simply watching a scene of a family eating dinner in silence, knowing the circumstances surrounding it. Hereditary forces you into a purely empathetic state with its characters, with many of their actions and words that would cast them as irredeemable in any other film coming with an understanding of the raw emotional pain every single character is going through under the circumstances. There’s no escaping the confrontation of what happens to them and the intensity of facing these ugly, horrific thoughts and emotions made for some of the best acting in Toni Collette’s career.

Save for my number one pick, it was probably the rawest and visceral experience I had in the cinema in 2018.


2. Into The Spider-Verse

Hands down the best-animated film of the year. What fascinates me about Into the Spider-Verse film is how little I can find wrong with it. One way to identify a successful film is looking at what it aims to achieve and how it accomplishes what it sets out to do. This doesn’t always mean the film is good or pleasant (the majority of early 2000s gross-out comedies aim to disgust and alienate the audience and they succeed. This doesn’t mean they are good films). But considering Into the Spider-Verse aims to adapt a large amount of characters and their universes through the use of multiple animation techniques to create a layered experience, it’s incredible how well they are adapted.

The film manages to tell the story of Miles Morales, keeping the focus on him and having him as the perfect vessel to explore the concept of multiple universes, each with their own spider superhero. Each spider incarnation is so likeable and charming and the animation corresponds with each of their characteristics perfectly. It’s so bright, creative, colourful and fun and easily the best Spiderman film, which is surprisingly a high bar now considering Tom Holland’s excellent reimagining of the character in Spiderman: Homecoming. But Into the Spider-Verse just gets everything right and accomplishes everything it sets out to do, which qualifies it for one of the best films of the year in my book.


1. Suspiria 

There’s a saying that the mark of an impactful film is one that doesn’t leave your mind long after the credits roll. Notably ‘impactful’ doesn’t always translate to good (I couldn’t stop thinking about The Greatest Showman when I saw it but that was more thinking about every single thing wrong with it and how frustrating it was) but it leaves a deep mark on your brain, an impression in long sea of everything you watched in the year. I have not stopped thinking about Suspiria (2018) since I saw it and I’ll probably continue thinking about it for the rest of my life.

A reimagining of Dario Argento’s horror aesthetic 70’s classic, director Luca Guadagnino stated that he based this film more on the feelings he experienced while watching the original rather than a straight remake. The result is a psychedelic explosion of ideas and concepts that better utilise the premise and complexity than the original. The original is a beautiful film but also very straight-forward – it’s true innovation comes from its atmosphere and aesthetic rather than being a tour de force in story or character.

Tilda Swinton’s triple performance not only testifies to her incredible skill but informs of her role in the philosophy of the story once all three parts are considered, matched by Dakota Johnsons subtle but unnerving performance once all about her is revealed. Guadagnino takes the opportunities that the original presents and goes all the way with what it can do, resulting in a final act that had my jaw on the floor and the need for a post-coital cigarette. There is so much explored through the visual storytelling and revealed nature of the characters, resulting in a film both stunningly beautiful, intrinsically layered and cringingly grotesque.

Top it off with Thom Yorke’s amazing score, which may be one of my favourite film scores of all time, and Suspiria is an uncomfortable, uncompromising, challenging and beautiful watch. It is definitely not for everyone but it is almost certainly for me.

sabrina is not in this chat Are LA’s Freshest And Sharpest Trio

To write about sabrina is not in this chat in terms of influences is a tremendous disservice to their inventiveness and originality. The Los Angeles-based experimental rock trio test the constraints of rock music, pushing against punk rock’s insistence on brevity and experimental music’s formlessness with destructive élan. Sharp, smart, and wholly refreshing, Sabrina quash easy comparisons to their peers or forebears. Yet it’s nearly impossible to think about the group without considering the striations of No Wave, Post Punk, and Math Rock that run prominently across the group’s DNA.

Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Olivia DeBonis, bassist Maddie Calderon, and drummer Siena LaMere, Sabrina have been slowly gaining traction in the West Coast experimental scene and beyond. Last fall the group embarked on a tour of the East Coast. The previous summer, they played a smattering of shows all around California, as documented in a rough, guerilla-style home video. The band’s debut full length album Not Recommended for Sensitive Skin was released January of this year, which has generated critical acclaim and even a co-sign (albeit, an obscure one) from Cherry Glazerr.

I met with Maddie in Pasadena to discuss Sabrina’s history, the future of the group, and the overall experimental scene in California.

Tell us about the band’s history.

Siena and Olivia have actually known each other for around five years. They went to school together and had played in bands together before. I met Olivia through my best friend Julian when they had started hanging out. Siena and Olivia had started a band already and Julian kept going, “You know they need a bassist right?” And I had just picked up my bass and I was still kind of learning and getting a feel for it. I went and jammed with them and it just worked really well. We’ve been doing that for two years now as of February.

Had you been in any bands before that?

No, it was my first. I like to say that I learned how to play bass in Sabrina. It wasn’t their first band, they used to be in a band called Kindergarteners… but this was my first band. I’ve been in other ones since then, but this is my baby!

Did you know about Kindergarteners before meeting them?

Julian had told me about them, but I hadn’t seen them. They’re actually from [North Hollywood and Studio City] so they’re from a little bit different of a scene than I was. I’ve been in Pasadena for the last six years. So there’s a little bit of distance there, but it’s starting to overlap.

How long have you been with Penniback records?

I’ve personally been working for Penniback for a long time. I met Julian—he’s the co-founder—in high school. And at the end of our senior year was when we started hanging out and we’d ditch at lunch and go get fish tacos… and he said, “You should come to a show,” and the first show I ever went to was a Penniback show and it was at The Smell. The Buttertones and the Meow Twins were playing. I was like, “Woah, this shit still happens?!”… That’s our community. That’s where we got our start.

We [Penniback] have always been booking shows as a promotional group and we recently got a website where we could showcase what’s going on and anything new with our artists. But we’ve always been a record label, just I think our media outlets are changing, but not by much.

Has everything Sabrina’s released been through Penniback? No self-releases or other labels?

No, our first two were through Penniback. We’re probably the most independent band on that label as far as functioning on our own and getting stuff done, which is cool. We took care of all of our recording stuff and they helped with the PR.

Some of the songs on Not Recommended have been released previously as singles or on EPs.

Yeah, we have around three new tracks on the album and we took the last two EPs, and they were kind of like demo recordings, and we got serious about recording everything. We wanted it really nice, so we met up with Andrew Oswald, who recorded everything for us, and he’s recorded so many of our favourite bands and we just love what he does. So it was cool to be able to work with him. We were actually supposed to go up to San Francisco to record it, and his studio got shut down or it had to be moved, and he was in between spaces so he was like, “Fuck it, I’ll just come to Anaheim, I’ll just come to you to record!” And we packed all three of us, all of Siena’s drum kit, my bass amp, Olivia’s guitar, and day packs in my little Honda Fit. And we made it to Anaheim.

Did you always have the intention to put the songs on a full length album?

We knew that eventually we were going to want to rerecord and make them nice. I think the initial point of when we first released the first two EPs was like, “OK, let’s get our stuff out so we can be heard as fast as it can be,” and then towards the end we thought, “We have some new stuff and we want to get a little more serious and clean things up a little bit more.” It was intentional, but I don’t think we knew when we first releasing the EPs that we were going to rerecord all of it. But I’m really glad we did.

Do you feel like you’ve gotten more attention since putting everything out on an LP?

Definitely. It was definitely more costly, so we were like, “Let’s really push it!” The album art—I made the actual set and we got together and fucked with the lighting and the toys to find out what works. It was definitely a long process.

Can you talk about the writing process for the album?

I feel like the writing process has never really changed from our dynamic, which I kind of love. Hyena and Clean are the first songs that were ever written, and that was before I joined the band, actually. And then everything from there—either I’ll bring a bass riff or Olivia will bring a guitar riff and we’ll jam on it. There’s so many recordings, 45-minute recordings on my phone where we were trying to record some songs for a demo and we accidentally jammed for 45 minutes, and we’re like, “Oh shit, that was so tight, I’m so glad we were recording!” [Laughs]. A lot of our stuff has come from that, which is really cool.

The last two songs that were added to the album were This Innocent Fish and Relief. Both of those are pretty insane, they’re definitely the craziest songs we’ve written. They’re very abrasive, but more technical. I feel like Relief is kind of a cult classic; I feel like a lot of people aren’t going to get that one. This Innocent Fish… I didn’t think too much of that song when we released it, but our friend Alex was like, “When are you gonna play that one again?

I came across an interview you did with Urban Outfitters.

[Laughs] It’s so old! That was our second or third show we did, the Play Like a Girl show. That’s what we did the interview for. I can’t even remember… they set up a photo shoot for us at the park. It’s really old. That was a weird show!

Was it all right? Did it go well?

I think our first five shows were pretty rough, but good in the right aspects. Everyone was still able to kind of understand what we were doing even if weren’t able to articulate it well enough. People were like, “That shit’s weird, I’m down!” Cool, glad you get it!

Our first show was a house show and it was crazy, it was almost a joke. We had barely practiced, my bass broke and I was trying to tune it with pliers… and it was kind of intimidating to me at the time. Olivia got wiped out by some kids moshing, she was tossed over her amp and the drum kit. It was crazy, we’ve come a long way. But I truly love house shows. I think I can speak on behalf of all of us that they’re the most intimate setting you can have.

Do you play more house shows than bars or other venues?

It’s pretty even, actually. For the last few months we were getting ready for tours so we slapped a guarantee on some stuff and we saved up to go out, so as of recently it’s been more venues than house shows, but we usually have a pretty even cut. Bars are always super frustrating because I’m the oldest and I just turned 21, so we usually get told, “All right, sit outside until your set, get back out there when you’re done,” or, “You have to stay in that corner and you can’t leave!” [Laughs] They don’t care!

You said earlier that your sound is very abrasive. How do live shows typically go, are people generally receptive to that kind of style?

Most of the time, I think we’re pretty fortunate. We play to a lot of musicians, so I feel like the response from that is kind of different from someone who doesn’t play music. But even from someone who just listens to music, we get good responses. I [recently] met this girl who just came up to me and was like, “Your band is sick,” and I’m always baffled when someone is like, “Yo, that’s cool.” I just wonder, “Really? You think so? I’m just getting shit out!

But, people are pretty receptive, and if not, there’s always at least one person that’s really down with it. We played a house show in D.C. and people were sitting down and they started leaving, but there were two people who were like, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” They bought us drinks later and we hung out. That one person is really all I need. But usually it’s pretty good.

Tell me about the tour you did on the East Coast last fall.

The last time we did a tour we did South by Southwest and then we went on a West Coast tour, but this was the longest we’d ever been on the East Coast and we did a lot of damage. We went to a lot of places. We crashed our friend’s van the first night of the tour in the snow. It was so bad, we were driving to Skidmore for a show we almost cancelled… It took us five hours, and thirty minutes from our destination, we were going twenty miles per hour, and it was the calmest collision. We were there for two hours, but we got the car back the next day in perfect condition (aside from cosmetically damaging it). My homie ended up actually buying it off him and drove it back over here. But we did the whole tour in that van.

We went to Philadelphia, Boston, and I swear to god, we met someone way more eccentric than the night before. The weirdest people and situations just kept happening and it was very surreal. We ended at The Glove in New York. It was amazing, we played with Godcaster… that whole night was so surreal but it was a great way to end it. It was emotional: it was cold, it was long, there were tears, there were laughs… lots of bagels, lots of bread [laughs].

How does the East Coast compare to shows back here in California?

It depends on where you’re at. Philadelphia was kind of difficult, one our shows in Philly dropped and the other one—we had fun, but it was weird. So much had come down at that point and we were just a little bit delirious. I actually just screamed through the entire set for no reason, and it was honestly one of the most fun sets we’ve ever played. There were five people and this big ass dude who said, “Quantity or quality?” and Olivia said, “How do you measure quality?” and he was like, “I SELL PURE COCAINE!” What’s happening?! Where are we?!

But we’ve played some really crazy LA shows, so I haven’t really noticed a significant difference. I feel like New York is more receptive to experimental stuff, so we definitely get a lot of feedback when we’re there, which is cool.

You have some songs like This Innocent Fish, which are very tightly structured and seem difficult to improvise over, but there are also songs like Intermission and Sabrina the Nut that are more meandering and maybe easier to improv with.

Sabrina the Nut is just an iPhone recording jam. We don’t perform that, it was just something we started doing and we were like, “What’s happening? I don’t know, just keep doing it!” And Intermission is a completely improvised jam that we did at the end of recording. We really wanted to do a completely fresh jam. They’re not songs we play live and they’re just completely improvised.

Do you do improv on stage?

Sometimes, we definitely have to be feeling it, but we’ve done some pretty cool improv. We’re very much a jam band in that aspect, we’re really good at feeding off each other’s energy and knowing what’s to come or how to counteract what’s to come. It’s nice.

A lot of these songs shift abruptly into new sections that don’t really sound like anything that’s come before. When you write these songs are they cobbled together from different ideas that have been floating around or do you deliberately set out to write pieces with all these disparate parts?

Sometimes it’s very deliberate and other times it’s like, “Yo, that other thing we were jamming on a week ago would be really sick on this.Sabrina was pretty deliberate; a lot what ends up in the song… it made us laugh. At first when we were recording it, two of our homies were like, “Are they serious?!” But it’s very playful and jokey, but the bass is more sinister. That is intentional. I feel like there’s a good mix of intention and appreciating free form and going with some kind of flow, but intentionally so.

I’ve read that you describe your songwriting style as “choppy.” Do you still stand by that?

I do! I think I was talking about my lyrical style being choppy, but also musically I’m kind of choppy too. I’m writing in an emo band now and so I’ve got to be better at transitions. But vocally and lyrically… I practice writing without stopping. Sometimes it’s not always coherent, but if I keep going, what I want to come out or what I feel needs to come out, does.

But it’s not a full sentence, it’s just statements or words. But my brain’s kind of like that too; I have a very hard time organizing my thoughts, so it’s easier for me and I feel like it’s more honest. But I also love Built to Spill, and that motherfucker—just paragraphs and paragraphs [laughs]! It’s whatever is sincere and honest to you.

It seems like [Los Angeles club] The Smell has been a big part of the band’s history, can you talk about your experience with that?

I feel like it’s a big part of our entire community’s history. The first show I ever went to in LA was at The Smell. I grew up in a tiny, tiny town, and when I moved here I didn’t get out of Pasadena, and my dumb ass thought Pasadena was LA and I was like, “This is kinda whack!” And I went to the show and was like, “Woah, this shit happens?! This is real?!” And I wouldn’t be playing my bass today if it wasn’t for The Smell.

I probably wouldn’t be in Sabrina, I wouldn’t have met Olivia. Where I met Olivia was at The Smell. That’s like a huge, fundamental part of our community. Joe Smith is our dad, he provides us with a safe space to grow what we’re doing and expose others, and we’re forever grateful.

What do you think it is about the LA experimental community that draws so many people in?

The LA experimental scene, I don’t think it’s that big. I think we’re coming out of… I missed the whole Burger Records wave, I came right as that was dying out. I came when a lot of bands were trying to rip off those bands, trying to ride off that wave, and it was like, you missed it!

As of recently, there’s definitely been some weirder stuff popping up. It’s almost getting more math-ey, but not in a commercial way, in a less obnoxious way. I love math rock, but there’s definitely a lot of people who are like, “I can’t listen to this! There’s too much going on!” But I feel that [style] being implemented more. I definitely think that it’s up and coming and that we’re inspiring each other to make new weird stuff and challenge the next thing. It’s growing for sure. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

FIDLAR Are Sillier Than Ever On “Almost Free”

FIDLAR first properly entered the public consciousness in 2013 with their self-titled debut album. An energetic garage punk affair with lyrics focusing around themes of drug use, depression and general debauchery, FIDLAR’s lyrics have always been on the cringey side but their debut had a level of charm and strong, simple songwriting which made it the soundtrack for angsty teens experimenting with drugs and skateboarding everywhere.

Almost Free has FIDLAR flex their versatility as a band. The group plays with a varied palette of sounds with the band dipping their toes in hip-hop, blues, and even gouse music, amongst other styles. The album also boasts a warm and full production style that contrasts nicely with their earlier lo-fi leaning endeavours.

This album also stands out as FIDLAR’s most hilarious album to date. When the listener puts on Almost Free they are immediately hit with the group trying to do a cool hip-hop track complete with aggressive, yet cringey vocal delivery and cool dad-rock worthy blues licks. A truly strong start for the band if they were aiming to make their funniest album yet. The problem here is that it’s unlikely the band were trying to make funny music (with the exception of By Myself but we’ll get to that). However, the blend of sounds the band has adopted over the years mixed with the still cringe-ridden lyrics makes a lot of Almost Free just unintentionally funny.

Too Real features lead vocalist Zac Carper giving out hot takes about current American politics and society today with an attitude that can only be described as too woke. The bridge section sees Zac spitting venom about flaws in both left and right leaning politics in a progressively angry tone. After some awkward ranting the chorus hook enters “Was that too fucking real?!” the listener is left thinking No. Not Really.

By Myself, arguably the silliest track on the album starts with Carper on acoustic guitar singing the song’s chorus, solo: “I’m cracking one open with boys, by myself”. Now ignoring the glaring fact that the boys in FIDLAR have based the hook of their song around a long dead meme there seems to be a level of irony built around the track that’s a bit refreshing. By Myself proves that FIDLAR are able to laugh at themselves from time to time and also shows a level of self awareness they’ve never shown before (Carper can even be heard laughing at his own bad joke). However, when the song launches into the verse section and adopts a cheesy house beat the self awareness disappears and we can be treated to FIDLAR running a dead meme song into the ground for just under four minutes.

This is all quite unfortunate as a level self awareness would greatly benefit FIDLAR’s music at this stage in their career because in some ways they seem to have developed into an unironic parody of themselves over the years.

When this album isn’t being edgy it tends to just be downright bland. Tracks such as Can’t You See and Flake have very generic indie aesthetics especially with the former which sounds like a track written by any local Arctic Monkeys influenced band ever.

Almost Free is far from terrible with songs such as Alcohol and Called You Twice been stand out tracks. The band are obviously competent songwriters and skilled musicians but it’s the band’s blend of cliched ‘cool’ blues riffs, generic indie stylings, bad integration of hip-hop and the all round cringefest that is FIDLAR lyricism that really makes Almost Free stand out as FIDLAR’s most unintentionally funny album yet. – Liam Toner (@tonerliam)

Talking About New-Age Hip-Hop with LaLion

Everyone has something to say about the ‘new’ wave of rappers, most of it being unfairly slated by old school hip-hop heads afraid to see the genre evolve or change. Rid yourself of this apprehension and you’re sure to find a bunch of extremely talented individuals (e.g Lou The Human) out there that have somehow flown under the mainstream radar, Seattle based rapper LaLion being just that. With his fast delivery, clever bars, and hard beats he’s slowly gaining the attention he deserves. With 2 albums already released, he’s targeting the big time.

The 21-year-old started rapping at the age of 11 and, much like the running theme of new age rappers, took inspiration from genres other than hip-hop. While he grew up listening to notable big shots like Biggie, 2Pac, and Kendrick, LaLion states “I spent most of my teen years playing in bands and practicing guitar. So, a lot of my inspiration comes from rock bands like Linkin Park, The Strokes, and Nirvana“.

A rock influence is nothing new for a lot of rappers nowadays but it has certainly helped the likes of LaLion to pave a new chapter for the genre they hold dear. Kurt Cobain went on to inspire a plethora of kids with guitars but he’s even gone as far to heavily influence hip hop long after his death, with his bleak and gloomy outlook becoming the foundations for others to build upon. Denzel Curry may just be the bluntest about this, naming a song ‘Clout Cobain’ which revolved around the consequences of fame while dealing with paranoia and suicidal thoughts. The late Lil Peep could have arguably been heralded as carrying the Nirvana’s star flame into the surge of SoundCloud rap.

LaLion has ensured that this gloomy aesthetic isn’t merely just that, his adamance about his music being more than just a look being truly palatable. “My music is made to cater to the person who is struggling through something in their life.  My music style reflects anger towards the modern normality’s that are causing kids to kill themselves. If we are talking stylistically my music is a mix between Bone-Thugs and Linkin Park.”

His childhood and surroundings have also played a part in his lyrical content too. “Seattle is a dark and depressing place. Growing up in the Seattle area has made an impact on my music.  We have grey clouds nine out of the twelve months and homeless people on every block.

Image result for lalion

While he has his hopes set high, LaLion is a firm believer in staying humble and hopes to make that firm for any young rappers with lofty goals but don’t make time for their craft. “It is the most important thing you could do.  I see a lot of young artists with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, but they release one song every three months.  And that song ends up not sounding very good. But it depends on the type of artist you want to be. If you want to be the best, you need to work more than the rest.

The rapper also thinks it’s vital for youngsters to understand history of hip hop. “You need to understand who built the foundation for where you are standing”. With the conversation about culture vultures and appropriation in music still ongoing, it’s definitely a perspective worth bearing in mind.

Talking of the ‘new wave’, artists like Lil Pump, LiL Uzi Vert and Juice Wrld have faced criticism for their style of hip hop because of their so called ‘lazy lyrics’ and ‘auto-tuned effects’. However, there’s a place for every sound and most criticism these artists have faced can seem almost venomous. LaLion agrees and thinks there’s room for all types of hip hop. “The ‘new school’ rappers as you put, are club artists. So, if I’m in a club or a party, sure, put that shit on.” But he also believes it is extremely important to stay unique. “That’s probably why all these kids are getting face tattoos. They want to be impossible to copy with their image. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to the music and they end up sounding like the last guy.

But where does LaLion see himself in the coming years? His dream one day is to “Be the best in the game. Grammy’s. Most streamed. The best.” Just like his idol and favourite rapper of all time Eminem.

I wouldn’t say that I am recognised even now. But when I started this, yes.  I came into it with the thought I will be the best in the game without a doubt.  Confidence is key.” – Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs)

Deerhunter Never Lose Sight of Their Identity on “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?”

Atlanta indie veterans Deerhunter have kicked off  2019 with their much-anticipated comeback album after a relatively quiet few years by their prolific standards. The band, led by cult figure Bradford Cox, amassed a large underground following after a consistent string of stellar releases ever since their 2007 full-length studio debut Cryptograms. From there, the band went on to pioneer many new sounds during the height of the indie revival, introducing noise, art and psychedelic sounds that drew on the sprawling soundtracks of the 60s and some of the more experimental releases of the 90s. During this experimentation, Deerhunter produced some of the finest indie rock albums since the boom of new releases in the early 2000s, including both Halcyon Digest and Microcastle, both of which garnered critical acclaim and established a loyal following.

During the band’s hiatus, there was no lack of side projects and other artistic endeavours from the members, but with the turn of 2019 approaching, it was very quickly looking like it could be a four year wait for new music, leaving fans pondering the next release. Just as hope may have been diminishing for any new Deerhunter music in 2018, the band released singles “Death in Midsummer” and “Element” whilst also announcing a new album to be released in early 2019, much to the joy of the indie community and their fans. The singles did have that signature quality present across all of the bands work, the combination of beautifully atmospheric soundscapes and winding and sedate vocals from Cox, yet did seem to possess more of a softer pop feel than some of the more experimental work in their discography.

Upon the release of Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already?, it was clear that this new sound was to be carried across the entire album. The themes and inspirations for the new release seem to be more focused on synth pop and ambient sounds, rather than some of the rougher garage cuts that would maybe be expected from the Deerhunter of last decade. This could be seen as a move away from the past sounds that could leave the band drowning in a pool of nostalgia, and also as a conscious effort to move forward in their careers and continue to revamp sounds of the past with their own Deerhunter touch that brings each album into the future. On this latest release, looking forward seems to be a recurring theme, which flows effortlessly in the dream like atmosphere of the songs. Tracks such as “Futurism” and “What Happens to People?” really highlight this theme and give a glimpse into the mind of Bradford Cox, who always seems to be setting trends in his own weird and wonderful world. These tracks are also the finest examples of this new sound finding the perfect balance between the future and past from the perspective of a fan. Stylistically, these tracks are reaching into the realm of pop with catchy melodies and light, upbeat jingles feathered throughout, but maintaining the poetic nature of Cox’s lyrics and his unique and unflinching delivery that soars with the backing instrumentals.

Some of the more experimental and artsy takes on the album such as “Détournement” are definitely a step in a new direction, although the futuristic prose delivery does feel like a cut from a sci-fi dystopian movie and drags on a bit in the already short album run-time. It would be nice to hear more interesting sounds like those present on “Tarnung” and “Greenpoint Gothic,” which feature a very dense and layered soundtrack that could really bring the album to the next level if developed and interwoven. This is not to say, however, that the album ever feels disjointed, in fact there is a solid flow back and forth from these synth-heavy soundscapes and indie pop choruses and versus that make for very easy listening.

On the whole, Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already? feels like a step away from the overbearing madness of modern life, and a look back at the simpler things that hold beauty. The ever-poetic Bradford Cox is back on winning form with another collection of abstract lyrics that are carried by some of the most interesting and detailed instrumental accompaniments heard from Deerhunter in some time. It’s great to see the Atlanta idols deliver yet again, particularly after the death of long-time bassist Josh Fauver, who passed away in November of last year. Despite a change in sound, Deerhunter remain sharp and on-point, constantly on the edge of their own innovation, in their own world and detached from the rest of indie rock. The band never compromise themselves or go for the conventional or easy routes. In doing so, they have delivered yet another unique and deeply interesting album that will no doubt capture the attention and hearts of their cult following, whose wait for new music is finally over. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

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