True Detective review: A detective story

True Detective Finale - Form and Void

It must have been strange to be True Detective writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto for the last few weeks, as True Reddit Detectives combed frame-by-frame through his show, dug through old comic books, brushed up on their Lovecraft and drew up high-minded theories about its central mystery and what that mystery represented. The phenomenon seemed to hit its peak around “Who Goes There”‘s Grand Theft Auto side-mission and “The Secret Fate of All Life”‘s undeniable, narrative-shifting high point. There seemed to be a convoluted explanation that could point to anyone being the Yellow King, or the (lol) “Spaghetti Monster;” there was suggestions that the story would turn supernatural, or even offer no true resolution to the Dora Lange murder at all. 

Meanwhile, writer/showrunner Pizzolatto had a finished product on his hands. We weren’t privy to the fate of Marty Hart’s flip phone-sexting partners and Rust Cohle’s beer-can nativity scene or whether this was all a dream in a locked room or a gateway to the seventh circle of hell where an insanity-inducing play was being performed… But he was. He knew what he had on his hands.

He had an incredibly-stylish, mostly* well-acted, ghost-free serial-killer miniseries about a mismatched pair of damaged dudes chasing a nasty boogeyman.

*(Yes, McConaughey and Harrelson were fantastic, but there were actually other actors on this show, as easy as it was to forget that. Let’s be generous and say they found varying levels of success, while feeling sorry for poor Michelle Monaghan and her extra-dirty martinis.) Continue reading

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1. Volcano Choir – Repave

repave31 of ’13

1. Volcano ChoirRepave

Justin Vernon has never seemed comfortable being in (or just being) Bon Iver. It is/was an identity, a moniker – one of several he’s assumed. Or maybe he’s just afraid of how success can box in an artist. Win a Grammy and suddenly you’re Grammy-winning recording artist Bon Iver and expected to make Bon Iver records.

Maybe that’s why there’s only been two-and-a-half of them in nearly seven years. Maybe that’s why there’s more so-called Bon Iver side projects than there are Bon Iver recordings. Maybe that’s why there may never be another one. Justin Vernon is one of the most gifted composers and singers alive, but he seems concerned with ensuring that no great responsibility comes from that great power.

Which, I should add, is absolutely his right. He is under no obligation to work at a particular pace, make a certain type of music, be a certain type of artist. We, as an audience, are certainly free to pine for a third Bon Iver album, given that they’re both legitimate modern classics, but he can chase down whatever artistic whim strikes him. Doesn’t matter if that means disappearing into a collective of Midwesterners doing late-night 80s soft rock, fronting a blues-rock bar band, or being a primary collaborator on the best hip-hop album of 2013. He’s good at all of those things.

But what he’s best at? He’s best at doing this kind of shit. Continue reading

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2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

vampireweekend31 of ’13

2. Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City

A large part of Vampire Weekend’s initial appeal, at least I thought, was their spunkiness. Their playful Graceland-inspired arrangements and clever wordplay was approachable, immediate and weightless. Looking past the privileged-white-kid grad school-isms (you should), Vampire Weekend and Contra were largely just impeccably-made, fun indie rock records made by a bunch of young pop culture aficionados.

So the idea of a band so great at being weightless, cheeky and ironic making their “mature” record and filling it with musings on death, God and the inexorable forward motion of time did not get me excited. But I guess we all have to grow up eventually.

What I didn’t expect was that Vampire Weekend would channel their quarter-life crisis into music more endearing, diverse and singular than anything they’d previously been capable of. I also didn’t realize that they could make music that’s utterly beautiful.

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3. Los Campesinos! – No Blues

noblues31 of ’13

3. Los Campesinos!No Blues

It’s hard to believe that rambunctious, verbose Welsh indie rockers Los Campesinos! already have five(!) albums. “You! Me! Dancing!” only started making the rounds in 2006; they released two stellar albums in 2008, had their fractured, transitional phase with 2010’s Romance Is Boring, regrouped with 2011’s Hello Sadness and now released their best record.

For a band that arrived with quite a bit of hype, they’ve followed a strange career path. They didn’t fail to launch like their peers in Black Kids, but certainly didn’t take off like Arcade Fire. They developed a fervent, if limited, fanbase and stuck to their jangly guitars, gang vocals, xylophones, tied-up-too-tight energy, soccer references and the morbid self-loathing of frontman Gareth (no longer going by Gareth Campesinos!). Without ever ever flirting with the mainstream, save for one inescapable Budweiser campaign that helped pay the bills for a band whose membership rarely dips below six, they’ve carved out a nice little career and an impressive back catalogue that would make for a hell of a greatest hits.*

*Of course, these guys would rather you made your own best-of playlist, carefully curating each song based on the message you’re trying to send, then transferred it to cassette tape and gave it to a crush you totally blew it with along with a note detailing – at length – the futility of wooing someone with an obsolete media format god you’re such an idiot what were you thinking oh well we’re all going to be dead soon anyways.

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4. Savages – Silence Yourself

silenceyourself31 of ’13

4. SavagesSilence Yourself

There’s few riskier positions a new rock band can assume than capital-S Seriousness. Machismo will always find an audience; so can vulnerability. Be disaffected and funny and no one will accuse you of trying too hard. Or just try to make people dance; who’s going to fault you for that?

But styling yourselves and interminably serious, humourless and important? That’s just off-putting. I mean, chill out; it’s only rock’n’roll, right?

So, um, about Savages. They have MANIFESTOS. Really. There’s six of them, heavy on capitalization, written on their website. The page title is “Manifestos.” (With the period.) My personal favourite, because it does the job I’m supposed to do with this piece:

“SAVAGES is not trying to give you something you didn’t have already, it is calling within yourself something you buried ages ago, it is an attempt to reveal and reconnect your PHYSICAL and EMOTIONAL self and give you the urge to experience your life differently, your girlfriends, your husbands, your jobs, your erotic life and the place music occupies in your life. Because we must teach ourselves new ways of POSITIVE MANIPULATIONS, music and words are aiming to strike like lightning, like a punch in the face, a determination to understand the WILL and DESIRES of the self.

This album is to be played loud in the foreground.”

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5. Kanye West – Yeezus

yeezus31 of ’13

5. Kanye WestYeezus

Almost invariably, when you talk to someone who doesn’t like Kanye West, their primary justification is that “he’s an asshole,” and they’re basically correct. He’s an egomaniacal, moody narcissist with a persecution complex and a tendency to make the case for Kim Kardashian’s place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Oh and he gave an album a title comparing himself to Jesus.

I used to make that complaint all the time. I thought he was an obnoxious, mediocre lyricist and a clunky rapper. His productions were sweeping, dramatic and ambitious, but there was a disconnect between the grand music and his grating presence within it. I respected My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy more than I enjoyed it. I was Yeezy agnostic.

But I straight-up worship Yeezus. It’s the best heel turn since The Rock joined The Corporation, which is totally a cool reference, Attitude-era WWF was awesome, I’m not lame you’re lame shut up. Continue reading

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6. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

cupiddeluxe31 of ’13

6. Blood OrangeCupid Deluxe

Dev Hynes has had a strange career. He started out in British spaz-punks Test Icicles in the mid-’00s, dissolved that band, went to Omaha and recorded a couple of Bright Eyes orchestral-folk albums as Lightspeed Champion, then rechristened himself as a sultry electro-R&B crooner under the Blood Orange moniker and became a Brooklynite.

Until now, he’d never been a fully-convincing chameleon. Test Icicles’s sound and fury signified nothing and the seams often showed in Lightspeed Champion’s overeager Oberst-isms. The first Blood Orange record, which I initially overlooked, seemed a slightly better fit, but I figured it was just another momentary stop on Hynes’s weird walkabout through popular music trends.

But then, in 2012, he produced Solange Knowles’ lush, melancholy EP “True” and Sky Ferreira’s remarkable one-off single “Everything is Embarrassing”. He was no longer trying on different artist’s sounds; he was imprinting his own on them. There were shades of Prince, early-90s R&B, and insular bedroom-pop. The songs were hip, cosmopolitan and impeccably smooth without being over-produced or impenetrable, the hooks simultaneously hushed and totally memorable.

If you were disappointed that Ferreira’s debut was nothing like “Everything is Embarrassing” – you absolutely shouldn’t be, it’s awesome – then Cupid Deluxe is for you, because it’s basically the platonic ideal of what Dev Hynes does. Continue reading

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