By Aaron Calvin, Bryan Menegus, and Matt Ern
Joyce Manor - Joyce Manor
Make no mistake, this California four piece plays pop punk, but only in the loosest sense. Don't expect any influences from Green Day and Screeching Weasel, or any similarities with contemporaries The Dopamines either. Joyce Manor is about urgency, energy and a fair dose of abrasion, editing their song structures down to the noisiest minimum requirements of a pop tune. Heartfelt lyrics and everyman vocals will have you singing along to this self-titled full length, and their deceptively strong musicianship will keep you coming back for more.
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
Ishmael Butler AKA Butterfly was a hot commodity of alternative hip hop in the 90's as a result of his de facto leadership role in Digable Planets. Since that group succumbed to infighting, Butler has kept busy: his solo effort under the masthead of Shabazz Palaces lifts the spirit of his work in Digable Planets and recontextualizes it in shocking and innovative ways. Jazz samples have been replaced by a cosmic and atonal sound palette which Butler pains with deftly. Black Up is spacey, obtuse, idiosyncratic, and easily the best hip hop release this summer. Chew on that, Lil' Wayne.
Bomb the Music Industry! - Vacation
There are benefits and drawbacks to following a band through their career. On the one hand, you feel a part of something—you are the audience. You're invested; on the other hand, any band is liable to take a sharp turn, inevitably flinging some fans to the wayside. On Vacations, BTMI finally take that turn, sloughing off most of their ska influences and embracing garage rock and their healthy appreciation for the Beach Boys. Lyrically it may be their best record yet, and although it requires some acclimation from long-time fans, Vacations may well be their magnum opus.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – It's A Corporate World
This was the kind of summer record that sort of sneaks up on you and you don't even realize it. The easygoing vocals are pleasant, but the jittery keyboards and full drums keep it from getting boring. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. pulls out all the stops, making a fresh faced and earnest debut album. From the upbeat "Nothing But Our Love" to the soft spoken "Skeletons" to the rollicking closer "We Almost Lost Detroit," the album keeps on delivering. Each song blends together to create a sunny melancholy perfect for summer.
Poison Control Center – Stranger Ballet
Every summer needs a good old-fashioned guitar album. This band has slowly worked to perfect its sound of powerful four piece sound that isn't afraid to prove to it's audience how much effort they put into their music. And unlike so many indie rock bands that come and go, this band has staying power. Their songwriting shows itself to be carefully cultivated, but easily accessible. This Midwestern band delivers everything you could want in that department, churning out infectious and passionate songs one after another, perfect for driving around with the windows down.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
The highly anticipated album as the follow up for an artist best known for a crooning falsetto and a fondness for melancholy, Bon Iver did not disappoint. Incorporating instruments varying from drum corps to saxophone to harmony sections. It's rare in today's culture of over hype and self-awareness to find something this unabashedly indulgent while simultaneously critically successful. This album took the folk of For Emma, Forever Ago and drenched in orchestration, adding an element of bombast that will keep you listening long after the leaves start to fall.
Midnight In Paris
This movie showed a real return to form for Woody Allen. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a man who yearns to have seen the Paris of the 1920s, a time when famous literary and artistic figures filled the cafes and bars of the city. Gil gets his wish and spends evenings with hilarious caricatures of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali and many more. The movie shows Gil's progression from a man with nostalgia for a past he had never seen to a man with a better appreciation for the present while keeping Allen's trademark wit and writing.
Tree of Life
The elusive director Terrence Malick's most recent movie sharply divided critics. At the Cannes Festival where it premiered, it received the Palme , the festivals highest honor while other critics panned it. The movie explores the relationship of a young boy and his flawed patriarch father set in the Texan suburbs during the fifties. While the main story unfolds, images from the dawn of time and prehestoric Earth come to reinforce Malick's tapestry of the natural world and humanity. The movie is shot beautifully and warrants your own viewing to decide its quality for yourself.
Seemingly one of the only summer blockbusters that actually delivered, Super 8 follows the story a young boy and his friends as their homemade movie turns into a documentary of an alien invasion of their small town. The movie combines a ‘70s aesthetic with a story played out with a tone that is heartfelt without crossing the line into sentimentality. Directed by JJ Abrams, what seems initially to be a movie in homage to Steven Spielberg becomes a thrilling and well-made movie.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Season 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm has been less unified than its predecessors, lacking a running story such as last season's Sienfeld reunion. But it has included an interesting change in setting as Larry leaves for New York during the second half of the season.
After he's is caught in a lie about going to New York for three months to work on a new show in order to avoid a field day for special needs children, Larry is forced to leave for the summer, taking the main action out of LA for the first time.
So far this season Larry has squared off with Ricky Gervais, spoken out against "pig parking" and "chat and cutters" as well as tried to invest in a car periscope.
Garvais' cameo was a highlight of the season; he plays an exaggerated, cheap version of himself, a staple of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The idea of celebrities playing outrageous charicitures of themselves was something made popular by Gervais in his own series Extras.
While the season has lacked a central storyline it has included plenty of stand out episodes, and next week's season finale
This season Breaking Bad has offered plenty of reminders as to why so many critics have named it the best show on television. Show runner Vice Gilligan takes us further into dark, criminal world of high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook Walter White.
The writers have done a remarkable job of turning the most sympathetic character on television (a struggling chemistry teacher who gets diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer) into a murderous criminal.
Unlike other shows with anti-heroes such as Dexter where the protagonist is presented as a monster from the outset, Walter White has been transformed over the course of the show into a true villain, yet the viewer is still compelled to root for him.
This season things have spiraled out of control for Walter after the events of last season's finale. His relationship with his partner is strained and his brother-in-law who works for the Drug Enforcement Agency is unwittingly closing in on him.
Last week's episode offered long awaited back story to Gus Fring, Walt's employer and the series' main antagonist. Gus, the kingpin of the largest drug empire in the southwest, is on the verge of a war with the Mexican cartel, and Walter is caught in the middle of it.
The last half of the season promises to be a thrilling ride as Walt, Gus, and the cartel come head to head.
Now in its second season, Louie continues to break every rule, and remains the most daring show on basic cable, comedy or otherwise. Its entire bent is honesty, and the often interwoven elements of spirit-smothering tragedy with situational comedy. Shot as a series of vignettes (each episode containing one or two such short dilemmas), often intercut with poignant samples of his stand-up material, most of which have no traditional "resolution" to speak of, Louie succeeds through its overflowing of empathy for its characters (including Dane Cook, who somehow comes across as a pretty OK guy) and lack of bias towards its protagonist. Like CK himself, the show is more curious than judgmental, and always seeking a revelation which may never come. Few shows have the capacity to—without being heavy-handed—address unrequited love, the death of a family member, or the inevitable suicide of an old friend. In an extraordinarily clever way, most of the comedy in Louie is made to feel accidental, occuring at the point when the characters are so distraught that there's no option but to laugh as a means of coping. In any number of ways, Louie continues to prove itself to be fresh, inventive, and startlingly funny.