Album Review: The Contortionist – Clairvoyant

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In the music industry, staying relevant can be a challenge. Some bands go around in circles and recycle old ideas, ending up sounding pretty much the same with every subsequent release. Other bands interpret the whole concept of circle of progression as a circle of life for the band – start out relatively experimental or heavy, before eventually selling out and becoming mainstream. For The Contortionist however, they’re playing the circle game quite differently, and they’ve played it well, as evident on their latest release, Clairvoyant.

Following up 2014’s critically-acclaimed Language is no mean feat. The album was the band’s most ambitious up to that point, featuring haunting vocals over angular yet ethereal melodies, almost like being dragged into a never-ending meditative state. Conceptually and sonically, Clairvoyant completes that circle. The lyrics continue the concepts present in Language (Language is basically about one’s love for a mother who is dying, while Clairvoyant deals with the pain of losing that mother). But it’s the sound that is the biggest surprise here.

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The Contortionist has never been a band to do the same thing twice, constantly experimenting and pushing the envelope. The shift towards almost completely clean vocals was expected, but the change in genre towards a more ambient, post-rock sound is a welcome surprise. And they do it very well. From the very first notes of opening track “Monochrome (Passive)” to the piano glimmers of “Godspeed”, it’s a surprise that the same band that produced heavy numbers such as “Sollipsis” can come up with something as driving and as pretty as the tracks on Clairvoyant.

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It’s not just the instrumentation which make the album shine, but also the approach towards every instrument. Despite being deceptively simple at first listen, the bass really grooves and drives songs, especially on songs like “Relapse” and the single “Reimagined”. It’s unexpected coming from their bassist, who used to play in the highly technical instrumental band Scale the Summit, but it’s a warm welcome on Clairvoyant. The keyboard work on this album also shines, as it doesn’t overly dominate the songs and adds the right mood at the right time throughout the song.

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However, this album isn’t without its drawbacks. The mixing isn’t the best, as the guitars are sometimes too bright, and sometimes they sound too muffled that you can’t really hear what’s going on. The other major detractor is how the vocals are mixed and arranged, which is such a pity because the lyrics are simple, yet very powerful. The vocals sound almost like it’s being sung from under a blanket, mix-wise, and they sound restrained. Michael Lessard is a gifted singer, but he doesn’t seem to be exploring his wide range on Clairvoyant.

Despite the drawbacks, Clairvoyant is definitely an enjoyable album, and it’s one that will grow on you. It’s an album that makes its biggest impact when listened to as a whole rather than individually. It’s certainly a big risk to experiment with a brand new sound after establishing a critically-acclaimed one back in 2014, but if the current performance and sales of Clairvoyant were to be an indicator (#6 Billboard Hard Music and #31 Billboard Current Top 200), the effort has certainly paid off.

Rating: 7.5/10

Recommended tracks: “Godspeed”, “Reimagined”, “Clairvoyant” “Relapse”, “Monochrome (Pensive)”

 

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Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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The release of the original Kingsman: The Secret Service back in 2014 was one that certainly turned heads. Despite polarizing opinions and having divided critics, it was a success as it brought unusual, off-beat elements into the otherwise serious spy movie genre. Over-the-top violence and dark humor were the name of the game for the first Kingsman film. Will its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle be able to take the throne this time as well?

In The Golden Circle, perhaps The Secret Service should have just remained a secret, as this film leaves us with black circles around the eyes, wondering what really happened.

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3 Things “The New Mutants” Needs to Do to Mark an X on the Right Spot

 

the-new-mutants-first-trailer-feature-img-v1The letter X is an ambiguous letter. At times, it can be the sign of approval, love and sheer awesomeness. In other situations though, it can be a sign of rejection and dismay, marking that things went wrong. In the case of the X-Men films, it seems to go both ways. Some of the films were really good (X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past come to mind), while some literally tried to bring the apocalypse to the franchise (like X-Men: Apocalpyse).

So far, we’ve had two main trilogies (one featuring the “older” cast of Patrick Stewart and co, and another featuring the “newer” cast of James McAvoy and co) and an entire Wolverine spin-off trilogy (which ended with the brilliant Logan). When The New Mutants was initially announced, it certainly raised eyebrows. Apocalypse was a total disaster and nailed the coffin for the franchise, while Logan literally put the franchise’s best character in the coffin. Deadpool on the other hand, pretty much has a life of his own. It really makes one wonder where The New Mutants would fit in the whole equation until very recently, when the first trailer was finally released.

The trailer does show promise, as it does something that has never really been done in a superhero film: horror. A superhero-horror movie? Definitely an X. But is it an X of approval or X or rejection? While the trailer is definitely intriguing, if the film doesn’t pull it off well, it would end up being more like a superhero horror fan-fiction rather than a legit superhero film with horror elements.

What could Fox do to make The New Mutants to mark an X on the right spot? Here are 3 things that could be done to let The New Mutants really leave its mark.

3. No Forced Relationships

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While the X-Men films definitely has great action, let’s face it: when it comes to personal relationships, especially of the romantic kind, Fox kind of fumbles in this department. In the original trilogy, the whole Logan/Phoenix thing comes as obsessive, forced and annoying. In the James McAvoy trilogy, the whole Xavier-Magneto-Mystique love triangle felt so wrong and out of place. In the first two Wolverine films, the relationships were just as horribly done as well. The only things they got right are the grueling Prof X/Magneto relationship (which was very well-done in Days of Future Past) and everything between Logan and X-23 in Logan.

Now, the trailer has already set a very dark, brooding tone for the film. Not to say that romance is unwelcome or unnecessary – it could work in this film. But if Fox doesn’t take a hint from how unwelcome it was in their previous films, forced and relationships need to go. Bad relationships were never supposed to last long in the first place.

2. Up the Action and Horror

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If there’s something that Deadpool and Logan have proven, it’s that their R-rated action has a place among audiences and really add to the feel of their films. In Deadpool, the killer action provided a stark contrast to the otherwise offbeat 4th wall-breaking humor, while in Logan, the intense action really highlights the pain and suffering faced by the titular character. Since The New Mutants seem to be going for the whole horror vibe, imagine some really grotesque torture and pain added to the mix. That could add a whole new dimension never before explored in any superhero film, and it could become The New Mutants‘ secret weapon.

1. Tie All the Loose Knots

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If there’s one problem with the X-Men universe so far, it’s the timeline continuity. There are a lot of loopholes and unexplained events, and with Days of Future Past, the entire timeline got reset and even more messed up. On top of that, it’s still vague how where exactly does Deadpool sit in the timeline, and with Logan ending the entire Wolverine story arc, it’s a wonder where The New Mutants is supposed to be. So naturally, it would be great if this film actually explains what is happening where and when.

Time will tell if The New Mutants will bring something new to the table, or rehash the same old formula, only with different faces. The horror element could make it a standout, though if done badly, it could make The New Mutants seem like fan-fiction. This film needs to get the X on the right spot, and not X off its own existence.

 

 

3 More Things That Will Make Marvel’s “Black Panther” A Success

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In recent years, Marvel Studios have not only made killer superhero flicks for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they’ve also learned how to effectively market their films to both hardcore fans and casual movie-goers alike. The studio took big risks with Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange – all “lesser-known” superheroes to the casual movie-goer – and managed to make them all a success. This in part due to the aggressive marketing and promotion done by Marvel.

Black Panther is another one of those originally “lesser-known” superheroes. A couple of months ago, a teaser trailer was released and caught everyone’s attention like a hungry prey. Now, a full trailer has been released, and there’s definitely a different vibe that can be felt and expected from Black Panther. From the blazing hip-hop soundtrack to the intense heist scenes and even Lion King-ish moments, this trailer seems to posit Black Panther as a gangsta version of Batman.

However, as good as a trailer can be, they can be misleading. There are many cases where the trailer ends up being far better than the actual film (e.g. Batman VS Superman). Previously, I wrote about the 3 things Marvel needs to do to make Black Panther a success, as a reaction to the original teaser trailer. Now that the first full trailer is out, here are 3 more things that need to be done to ensure the feline’s survival.

3. Stormy Relationships

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Okay, so Storm (from X-Men) probably wouldn’t be Black Panther’s wife in the MCU, due to the whole Fox/Marvel thing going on, but that shouldn’t stop Marvel from making the feline-loving superhero’s love life and personal relationships stormy. Having a lot of personal conflicts can give a lot of character, personality and most importantly, motivation for the otherwise cold and ruthless T’Challa. In the upcoming film, T’Challa’s former lover, Nakia, serves as part of Wakanda’s special forces and sort-of his bodyguard, so some conflict of interest could make things interesting.

Also, he shares a lot in common with Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne – huge wealth of resources, loss of parents, etc – but those two can be somewhat empty emotionally, due to their upbringing. It would be really exciting to see some emotion going on, especially since the lost of T’Challa’s father was rather recent compared to Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne who loss their parents at a young age. Plus, at least T’Challa has a stepmother and half sister still alive!

2. An Intense 3-Way Battle

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Erik Killmonger and Ulysses Klaue serve as the villains in Black Panther, which is quite interesting, because in the comics, Killmonger and Klaw don’t exactly get along well (Klaw is kind of the reason Killmonger and his family was exiled from Wakanda in the comics). Also, the titular hero and the two villains all have different perspectives on Wakanda – T’Challa newly inheriting the throne, Killmonger wanting to “burn everything”, and Klaw eying Wakanda’s supply of vibranium for weapons. What would make things really interesting is if there is some serious backstabbing or even temporary alliances formed during the conflict. Another interesting thing would be if all three of them had points which the audience could relate to, making it a real conflict for the characters as well as the audience to choose sides.

1. A Killer Plot

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It goes without saying a that a good plot can really drive a film. It’s possible to have the best cast and director, but if the plot is lacking, it can really drag the entire film down. Black Panther has the heavy task of pulling off two things with its plot – to be stellar as a standalone film, and to be important in the whole Infinity War saga. There needs to be a solid story to tie things in place. Why is Black Panther important in Infinity War? Why does Killmonger want to take over Wakanda so badly? If these two questions can be addressed well in Black Panther, there is no doubt the film will be nothing short of stellar.

Review: Marvel’s Inhumans

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Today, Marvel is a powerhouse. Be it the many superhero films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or their insanely good miniseries on Netflix such as Daredevil and The Defenders, Marvel has always been about people with superhuman abilities and gifts dealing with super difficult situations. Then, we have the Inhumans, which seems to have received rather inhumane treatment compared to other Marvel releases.

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Movie Review: Dunkirk

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It used to be a fact that historical war films aren’t exactly appealing. They are often plagued by the same set of problems: historical facts which are not exactly accurate, and the addition of unnecessary romance which never existed in real life which almost always feels like a way to attract viewers to what would otherwise be a dull, boring history lesson. So, when it was announced that Christopher Nolan would write, co-produce and direct Dunkirk, it definitely raised many eyebrows. Christopher Nolan is no featherweight, having directed possibly the best version of Batman (The Dark Knight trilogy), and he certainly doesn’t shy away from experimenting with crazy ideas, like in the literally mind-blowing Inception. With such an impressive resume to boot, will he be able to make a historical war film shine in a time when superhero flicks and rom-coms rule the silver screen?

Dunkirk, fortunately or unfortunately, isn’t the film you’d expect it to be. That’s because it isn’t a film. It’s an experience, one that feels so real, though you might not totally understand what’s going on.

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Teacher Teacher: Tenses

This article was originally featured as part of Englishjer‘s “Teacher Teacher” column.

Hello world! As promised last time, we’ll be looking at something which might have made us tense for a long time: tenses!

The mere mention of the word “tenses” can send shivers down one’s spine. Even those who speak good English would turn pale when you ask them to describe what tense is being used in a sentence. But there’s one question that often gets asked in any tense discussion of tenses (pun intended): why? Why do we use this tense and not the other tense? And why does English have so many subcategories for each time context?

We won’t really discuss the time context for tenses in this column. The past, present and future tenses are not that difficult for us to grasp. After all, Bahasa Malaysia does have them, with words like sudah, telah, sedang, tengah, and akan. And in Malay, it’s so easy: Just add a tense word to a sentence, and voila, you’ve changed the time context of an entire sentence! It’s almost as easy as adding hot water to instant noodles!

E.g. Dia makan (no tense)

Dia sudah makan (past tense)

Dia sedang makan (present tense)

Dia akan makan (future tense)

Rather, it’s the variation of each tense which seems really daunting. Simple tense? Continuous tense? Perfect tense? So many subcategories! And to make matters more confusing, it becomes challenging to explain and understand when you attempt to translate the English tenses into Malay. Ever tried translating “He ate nasi lemak?” and “He had eaten nasi lemak?”? You’d be scratching your head figuring out what’s the actual difference between the two and when to use each tense. Seems like English tenses are complicated, right?

However, the reality is that it’s not as complicated as it may seem at all! It’s actually pretty simple. Terms may seem scary at first, but every term is given that name for a reason. When we know what the name really means, everything suddenly falls into place. Just like that moment when you discover the name of someone you’ve been really admiring for a long time.

The simple tense is used when we’re simply talking about things. Why have such a tense? Notice when we’re engaged in a conversation (especially when you’re gossiping about your favorite celebrity or trying to brainstorm for ideas), we mention a lot of things in passing and never really do anything about it? That’s what the simple tense is all about. So when we say “He ate nasi lemak at the warung”, we’re just simply mentioning it, without actually having any concern about the lucky chap we mentioned in our conversation. Whoever he-who-must-not-be-named is, we simply don’t care, and we’re simply just talking about things!

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The continuous tense on the other hand is used when there’s an expectation for the listener to do something about what you’ve just said. Maybe that lucky chap you were talking about is actually David Beckham, who was eating nasi lemak at that warung behind your school, so you told your friend who happens to be his die-hard fan that “David Beckham was eating chicken rendang at the warung”. When the action of eating chicken rendang is still on-going (perhaps because he took too much gravy and needs time to adjust to the heat!), you’d be crazy not to at least want to rush to the place to witness him eating chicken rendang, no?

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Next, the perfect tense is used when things are done and nothing can be done about it. We use it to give a sense of closure, or to be a bit dramatic, to say there is no more hope. Let’s say Chris Evans ate at that warung before David Beckham was there, and you were too late to tell your friend about his presence in your neighborhood, but either had to tell your friend about it or you don’t want your friend rushing to the warung, you would say “Chris Evans had eaten kuih bingka at that warung”. That way, you get to save your friend from any disappointments or potential heartbreak from not seeing Chris Evans. 😉

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Finally, the perfect continuous tense is used to explain observations. From these observations, we then try to find conclusion. Perhaps, you wonder why a certain person likes to whisper a lot, then you observed the person or asked around and discovered a certain habit. You would then say “He had been eating dates ever since he was a kid”. Now, that explains a lot!

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So there we have it, the secret behind understanding tenses! All that really matters is for us to actually understand any given term or category before deciding if it’s difficult. Once you know why something was named that way, it really becomes easy, no?

Hope that has shed some light on the topic, and hopefully that would guide you to use the right tense without actually feeling tense! In our next column, we’re going to get a little cheesy without needing to order any wedges – we’ll be dipping into the wonderful flavors of rojak, I mean, Malaysian English and Manglish! Until next time!

Disclaimer: The author has no connection whatsoever with (in order of appearance in this article) Lord Voldemort, any instant noodle brand, David Beckham, Chris Evans, and Yusuf Taiyoob.