There are times when suddenly we find ourselves reverting back to older times & trends, sure, and this was a good year to do so, at least for me, in which my pre-teen self would delightfully high-five the present me, equipped with my instant comeback appreciation for pop. When I was about 10 or 11, I declared the divas (the likes of Christina Aguilera) as my clandestine musical heroines. By the time I crossed over to high school territory, however, I would find myself shamefully hiding my Mariah Carey plays in my Last.fm website, and went on to listen to a lot of The Fray, Panic! at the Disco, and Paramore etc. so they could populate my most played artists lists. Looking back, I want to groan so hard for my life decisions. It’s not that I took Britney Spears out of my heart all at once & that quickly — it’s kind of an all-boys Catholic school thing to throw away pop and be peer-pressured into idolizing a rather “manlier” taste in music (Sugarfree and Spongecola and Hale instead, among others). But I’m much older now, and I’m likely more embarrassed to admit that once upon a time I spent my all-saved-up extra school allowance on a Cueshe album, than professing that I have the Me Against the Music cassette tape the very moment it was first released.
By the look of things which unravelled until the year’s end, my 2013 rap-admiring self has expanded to a full-blown 2014 pop-obsessed dancey, singsong-in-the-shower kind of person. Many of this year’s pop giants & savants seemed to have urged me an unhealthy amount of repeated listens, bordering on sickly obsessions. Case in point: Taylor Swift’s 1989, in literally all of its tracks’ addictive glory, and the way Swift has finally embraced the kind of music she should have been making from the very beginning. It’s also worth noting that only Perfume Genius’s brilliant discography is saved in my phone counting a few months now up to this writing, which would be my go-to shuffle playlist during long commute hours in the city I live in, amounting to hours and hours on end.
This year, too, was all about new discoveries (Banks and her feelsy, atmospheric Goddess, and can we just talk about BP Valenzuela’s be/ep?), mighty rediscoveries (Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, St. Vincent’s St. Vincent), surprising comebacks (Damien Rice and his emotionally pompous My Favorite Faded Fantasy), long overdue debuts (Azalea Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste), instant attractions (FKA Twigs’ LP1, Jessie Ware’s Tough Love), and more, which will extend further in the list that follows.
10 ALBUMS I WAS – STILL AM – CRAZY ABOUT:
THE OTHER TEN THAT I LIKED A LOT, TOO:
Lana Del Rey
Broke With Expensive Taste
My Favorite Faded Fantasy
Run The Jewels
Lost In The Dream
The War on Drug
What Is This Heart?
How to Dress Well
FAVORITE TRACKS FROM LAST YEAR:
There are always talks about excess in Xavier Dolan’s cinema. In a way, these excesses, for better or worse, amplify the overwhelming sentimentality innate in his narratives. For his fourth feature, Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm, 2013), Dolan explicates these excesses — even forging newer, fresher stylistic indulgences. In here, Dolan specifies the efforts in which psychological thrillers derive their tense energies: from internal turmoils unfolding onscreen, as they happen frame by terrifying frame. In his ability, then, to overplay the drama which builds the surface of his characters palpable in his previous features, his mash-up dramatic thriller weaves a different animal altogether. In fact, the deathly thrills in Tom à la ferme are ones found inside the linkages brought about by blood ties, exposing the prison-like quality of families in far-off countrysides.
There is a certain queasiness and eeriness in the air when Xavier Dolan’s Tom, played exquisitely to an admirable fault, drives by what it seems the middle of nowhere, with expansive fields able to devour the inherently small and meagre in size. With sprawling, corn-colored hair and city-boy clothes, Tom doesn’t introduce his true relations with the passed-away absent-body (his ex-boyfriend, actually, who he later learns was never out to his family) to the household he visits. In his external presence, though, he easily reveals himself to the brother of the deceased, played viciously, ultimately baring the essence of the stiff, overprotective villain, by Pierre-Yves Cardinal.
Call it Stockholm syndrome if you may, but the impossible love affair which begrudges Tom, assigning him an unhealthy obsession over his captor, is beyond it. In his ouevre, Dolan has always been interested in the dangers of fatal attractions, and it has never been quite displayed in the peak of its resulting suspenseful intimacies, than in this. The film’s outrageous highlight lets us in on a dance number between Tom and his villain, suffocating audiences as they twirl and swirl the farmhouse, begging the necessary questions— Will he kiss him? and then, abruptly, Or will he kill him?
It also begs to be noticed, the way Dolan scrimps the screen whenever he attempts to emphasize suspense in a number of scenes into the widescreen format, and back again, to a 16:9 frame, when we are all ready to breathe from a previous danger. It is a creative decision which demands to raise the issue of, once again, excess – Dolan’s tendency to exceed the inherent, regular form of the medium, which is admirable in its own feat. In Mommy (2014), he makes use of this device to a more startling, breath-sweeping effect; in Tom à la ferme, it neither distracts nor necessarily amount to anything exceptionally supplemental.
My favorite moment in the film, actually, is when the credits start to roll, figuring in what seems like what once was unusable footage of Xavier Dolan’s Tom, driving back to the city with an ambiguous resolve, a Rufus Wainwright song baring the internal flagrancies that is all safely kept, unkempt in his chest. It is a testament again of an excess that brims with the sentimentality of a storyteller that knows no brakes and breaks from an emotional outpouring of his own soul, plastered onto the moving image which he himself created only to express. It’s what I love most about Dolan’s heart-bursting core, his willingness to romanticise pain as if it were something to be drawn toward to, and never have I ever felt so much of it until this last hurrah of Tom, finally arriving back to the city, a place he must have never considered home at all. (4/5, 08/12/2014)
It was the year in which I have outed myself as a frustrated rap-loving asian kid (firstly and mostly because my roommate will never let a day pass by without listening and singing along to her perpetually-cussing idols; and secondly, lastly maybe, because I have found a friend in a very white asian rapper kid, whose debut mixtape Intentions & Inventions is charming as it is badass, for lack of a better word), the year in which I let myself loose in Today x Future when a Lorde track was included in a DJ’s playlist, and the year in which almost all the music I was listening to was music I subtly grooved to during train rides, danced to when I was left alone inside my room, and shouted along to in the concert grounds of my shower.
It was the year of committed listening sessions, an activity first prescribed by my Film Theory professor, which I thought was very much appropriate and needed–and would, say, Laura Marling‘s Once I Was An Eagle be as impressive if not for its packaging as a storybook album? It was the year I listened to so much Best Coast that I ended up constantly stalking Bethany Consentino’s social media accounts. It’s where I came across this particular Sky Ferreira line (“You put my faith back in boys“), in Consentino’s sporadic Twitter account, which led me to my most loved album for 2013.
It was the year where I listened to a lot of female voices and perspectives (what’s new? haha), a year where I saw the comeback of past acts I’ve come to love growing up (New Paramore! New Fall Out Boy! New Arctic Monkeys!), the year I stopped attending gigs (excepting those times I went out to see the cutesy foursome Ourselves the Elves). It was the year of Miley Cyrus alright; and then, at one swift turn by the nearing end of 2013, suddenly becoming the year of Beyoncé and “the visual album”. It was the year I dropped Katy Perry and Lady Gaga from my iTunes, and the year My Bloody Valentine mightily surprised everyone with their brilliant sophomore effort.
Also, it’s the first year I could easily come up with a list like this, so it must be a special year for my music-listening self. So anyway, here they are, the stuff I listened to in 2013 worth mentioning:
ALBUMS I VERY MUCH LOVED:
Night Time, My Time
It’ll Be Alright
Ourselves the Elves
Trouble Will Find Me
Autre Ne Veut
My Bloody Valentine
The Bones of What You Believe
ALBUMS I ALSO LIKED:
TRACKS I VERY MUCH LOVED:
1. “Ribs” Lorde
The drink you spilled all over me / Lover’s Spit left on repeat
2. “Instant Crush (Feat. Julian Casablancas)” Daft Punk
I got this picture of us kids in my head / And all I hear is the last thing that you said
3. “Pink Rabbits” The National
You didn’t see me I was falling apart / I was the television version of a person with a broken heart
4. “I Don’t Know How” Best Coast
I’ve been in trouble / I’ve been let down / But please tell me now / You’re sticking around
5. “XO” Beyonce
In the darkest night hour / I’ll search through the crowd / Your face is all that I see / I’ll give you everything / Baby love me lights out
6. “New Slaves” Kanye West
You see there’s leaders and there’s followers / But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower
7. “I Wanna Be Yours” Arctic Monkeys
Secrets I have held in my heart / Are harder to hide than I thought / Maybe I just wanna be yours
8. “Latch (Feat. Sam Smith)” Disclosure
Now I got you in my space / I won’t let go of you
9. “Hold On, We’re Going Home (Feat. Majid Jordan)” Drake
I’ve got my eyes on you / You’re everything that I see / I want your hot love and emotion endlessly
10. “You Don’t Love Me, It’s Okay” Juan Miguel Severo
You don’t love me / Sometimes it’s not okay / But I love you, I love you / So I love you anyway
11. “Mirrors” Justin Timberlake
The vacancy that sat in my heart / Is a space that now you hold
12. “Adore You” Miley Cyrus
Wondering where you’ve been all my life / I just started living
13. “Closer” Tegan and Sara
It’s not just all physical / I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical / So let’s make things physical / I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical
14. “Open Eye Signal” Jon Hopkins
15. “Chloroform” Phoenix
I don’t like it if you miss me / Why would I long for you?
TRACKS I ALSO LIKED:
1. Pitik-Bulag, dir. by Chad de Guzman
There is a resonance of pure terror from the calculated tactic of Chad de Guzman’s storytelling in Pitik-Bulag, simple as it is complex in its one-long-take succinctness. It is able to let its dire set-up unbreathe until its last fuse lets its smoky steam spark up fire on that final image of a smile–at once both a relief and a source of genuine fear.
Everything else works noticingly. The correlated choreography of both camera and performance, all too natural for it to never feel a slight budge, or an accidental slip perhaps, from the overall gnawing tension the film exudes. It owes much to the performances of Ross Pesigan, who elicits the momentous sidestep of innocence, suddenly lost in him, in that single nuance of a gesture; and Jun Quintana, most especially, for not having just worn a mask to excellently portray the lecturing brother, but altogether sheds skin and blood to stitch a new face to his own, and how the transformation is apparent. (4/5)
2. Oras ng Paglisan, dir. by Ian Bondoc
How to translate into image the dirty mechanics of separation? You’d somehow remember Asgar Farhadi’s A Separation, a loud-mouthed film it begins, and yet goes on only to possess quite a restraint that manages to subdue emotions, trickle them down until they dissipate suddenly into your own, as if being hit by a piece of stone unaware. Ian Bondoc’s Oras ng Paglisan is entirely another story, but adheres to the same intentions–what result, what consequence, after this separation?
Thus, it begins: annulment papers approached by the camera with a closeness as to speculate, but not enough to fully comprehend. And it goes on: pure speculation, never enough comprehension. The subtle camerawork distancing itself to let the geography of this otherworldly terrain speak for itself–as if this journey towards separation demands the spiritual excess inhabited in the most silent of gestures exchanged and received. The breathing space of each character–between husband & wife, and between parent & son–allows us to penetrate further, but again only at a level of subjectivity rather than the exacting preciseness of ‘what is’.
What is, then? Where Farhadi’s A Separation begins does Ian Bondoc’s Oras ng Paglisan ends–at once, the seeming final confrontation, but in real terms, only what begins the difficult trek towards the peak of the permanent severance of ties. (4/5)
3. Sanguine, dir. by Koji Arboleda
When to decide that the formula of plot becomes immaterial, and the power which the image holds, its grand substitute? In Koji Arboleda’s dark fairytales, such as his current one aptly entitled Sanguine (perhaps to mean bloody rather than hopeful, optimistic), the female form once again takes the shape of sadness and becomes it, and only it. The image that opens the film is that of a forest queen, perhaps its immaculate spirit caretaker, a fairy in disguise, in use of a human cloak. And her, in frustrated anguish, committing the act of murder.
Such powerful imagery that begins it, then follows through every scene unfailingly, until it turns full circle, comes around explaining the reason behind such savagery from the beautiful tropical enchantress. The overuse of cut-to-blacks becomes a device–here are flashes of moments after moments, as if a series of still photographs are suddenly enchanted the power to be in motion. The forest here is a dreary landscape, even a tad bit reminiscent of Bela Tarr’s dark universes.
The strength here is the power of the image. As we follow the twists and turns of a young traveller who finds his way to his imminent end, there exists the perfect rhythm of image and black, image and black, as if enclosed in them the impending doom that leads nowhere but to flashes of pitch black nothingness. (4/5)
4. Project Weekling, dir. by JM Jamisola
JM Jamisola’s Project Weekling tells about a weakling’s weakling heart, and how suddenly the weakling has some sort of a eureka moment, that in a week he tries to become a weakling no more by wooing the girl of his dreams. The girl whose pictures are scattered like a humongous scrapbook page on his bedside wall. The girl who is offered an altar inside his closet, complete with lighted red candles. That girl, we all have that girl–or better yet, that person.
Project Weekling is amazing because in its ordinariness and how it seems like an already supposed to be overridden cliche that it captures the essence of what it decides to tell, with of course the perfect wit and heart for its achy, hearty narrative. And in that final sequence, with that touch of pure silence and all ordinary (and yet, suddenly all too extraordinary) imagery of what it means to be delighted by the simplest of gestures–that you suddenly get it. That JM Jamisola gets it, and gets it pretty well. (3.5/5)
5. Dalaga Na Si Audrey, dir. by Baschia Mariano
Here is another narrative which pries on the youth who discovers love (maybe even for the first time), and rediscovers its idea only to misunderstand her whole notion of it in the end. A straightforward charm Baschia Mariano’s Dalaga Na Si Audrey has, with a fairly memorable lead character to boot.
The title implies–or rather, announces–that Audrey has blossomed into a full grown woman, and how? That it deals with the necessities of heartbreak that we get a clue as to how Audrey comes of age. Full of it is Audrey facing the consequences of her silly misconceptions, and thus, the need for that realization. Working on the conventions of romantic comedies, the film exudes the confidence of a work that is fully realized from every bit of dialogue down to the precise detail of a guitar strum note. Which helps it pull itself up and differentiate it a bit from the usual romantic flick–funnily enough, it owns moments that are disjoints of whatever formula is known to exist. In a way. (3/5)
6. Umami, dir. by Robert Sarmiento
Hyperlink cinema is tied up, most usually, to existentialist cinema; in Robi Sarmiento’s Umami, the tied-up lives are a bunch of messes, but both an ironic and hilarious bunch they could happen to be. The three main characters the film delves into can all be familiar caricatures: 1) the probinsiyano in Manila; 2) the transexual byukon queen; 3) the poor kid snatcher. But what is admirable in Umami is its attempt to inject depth on these character moulds, and turn them into real people with real lives and real problems.
Real people with real lives and real problems they become, and how their unknowing interactions create such a mystical insight on our interconnectedness as human beings. The mighty do fall, and sometimes, the mighty all fall together. In this case, they all sit down and have a break at life with a delicious bowl of kanto mami. (3/5)