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'Fine Forever' establishes indie pop band Varsity’s talent for storytelling

(06/01/20 7:00am)

Varsity, a five-person indie pop band from Chicago, has solidified its place in the genre of indie pop with its new album, “Fine Forever.” Composed of lead singer Stef Smith, guitarists Dylan Weschler and Pat Stanton, bassist Paul Stolz and drummer Jake Stolz, Varsity released “Fine Forever” on May 29 through independent record label Run For Cover Records. While the album’s self-aware lyrics touch on themes such as loneliness and heartbreak, the cheerful instrumentals infuse their songs with an optimistic quality. In “Fine Forever,” Varsity layers complex anecdotes with upbeat indie-pop sounds to stress a message of positivity amid the difficulties of life.



Review: Laura Marling's 'Song for Our Daughter' boasts compelling storytelling, dynamic instrumentation

(05/14/20 6:10am)

In a genre as old as folk, it can be hard for anything to stand out against the large body of work comprising the genre’s canon. Artists like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon cultivated the sound that became associated with folk singer-songwriters in the middle of the 20th century. While the sounds they played were by definition based on earlier American musical styles, these artists sounded novel and each presented a unique brand of folk. In recent years, however, artists like Ed Sheeran have figured out how to soullessly manufacture the singer-songwriter formula by repeating the same tired sound again and again. Faced with a barrage of mediocre music, modern folk singer-songwriters have been forced to innovate in an attempt to stand out.


‘The Half of It’ is a beautifully bold stroke and the love story we’ve been longing for

(05/11/20 7:00am)

On May 1, Netflix released Alice Wu’s “The Half of It,” a film that follows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) as she navigates love and personal identity as an Asian American teenager. “The Half of It” transforms the common teen romance narrative into a funny, relatable and heartwarming work of art by pushing the boundaries of representation in mainstream romantic comedies.


Review: 'What Kinda Music' is a creative triumph

(05/07/20 6:10am)

Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes released their latest project, “What Kinda Music,” through the jazz label Blue Note Records on April 24. Their collaboration is an experimental album combining the upbeat, polished chords and production of Misch with the jazzier, more experimentally inclined sound of the drummer Dayes. “What Kinda Music” is Misch’s first project since his 2018 album “Geography” and is also Dayes’ first album release since 2017. “What Kinda Music” is exactly what the name implies — a genre-defying album, incorporating the best of both Misch and Dayes. It’s a project that’s part electronica, part jazz and part hip-hop. Dayes’ experimental inventiveness melds with Misch’s catchy chords and pitch-perfect voice (and a well-rounded range of featured artists) to create an original UK sound.



Review: 'Sawayama' is musically fascinating, but falls short of greatness

(04/27/20 7:00am)

Every 20 years, like clockwork, American culture repeats itself. This does not mean that the same exact trends are recycled in an endless loop. Rather, after about 20 years, outdated culture becomes “retro,” and nostalgia for past decades shapes new styles and artwork. The 1970s had “Happy Days,” and the 1990s had “That ’70s Show.” In a more abstract sense, the infatuation with the glamorous lifestyles of the fabulously wealthy in the 1980s inspired reality television and “Gossip Girl” in the 2000s. As we enter the 2020s, the music stylings of the early aughts are making a comeback. Artists like Charli XCX and Slayyyter evoke Britney Spears-style pop, while Poppy and Grimes both recently released music that is heavily reminiscent of nu metal.


Review: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' is a slow burn that highlights a sad reality

(04/24/20 6:10am)

As a wave of states introduced abortion restrictions last year, abortion rights have increasingly come under fire. Now, in the age of COVID-19 — with abortions deemed non-essential in some states — the right to choose is especially pertinent. With this in mind, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” a movie that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and can now be purchased on Amazon Prime, is even more timely than it would’ve been just two months ago. 


Fiona Apple returns with complex lyrics and a minimalist style in 'Fetch the Bolt Cutters'

(04/20/20 7:00am)

After eight long years, 1990s teenage pop sensation turned reclusive savant Fiona Apple has released her fifth album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” As longtime fans know, Apple’s album release schedule is erratic; she has only released five albums since her 1996 debut “Tidal,” which she released when she was 18 years old. Apple’s prodigious talents as a writer are apparent even on her first album, but her teenage immaturity and naivete are also obvious. While the 90-word title of her second album, often shortened to “When the Pawn …,” initially annoyed fans and critics when it debuted in 1999, the complex, jazzy instrumentals and tremendous lyrical improvement won over most listeners. A protracted dispute with her label created a six-year gap before the release of Apple’s third album, “Extraordinary Machine,” in 2005, which introduced full orchestration behind her music.


Review: 'Pandemic' provides an informative but unfocused account of combating deadly viruses

(04/16/20 2:57pm)

The Netflix docuseries “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak” offers six episodes to binge-watch during self-isolation. If you have already seen the drama of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” and Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” or are searching for a documentary perspective, “Pandemic” may be the show for you. Following the lives of doctors in the U.S., Asia and Africa as they combat flu viruses, the show reveals the challenges of preventing a deadly outbreak of influenza. Although “Pandemic” is flawed in its false advertising and dwells too long on its depiction of doctors’ personal lives, it still presents an overall interesting and accurate account of influenza epidemics and pandemics.



Review: 'Better Call Saul' remains a masterclass in dramatic storytelling

(04/09/20 6:10am)

It’s been so long since the explosive conclusion of “Breaking Bad” in 2013 that “Better Call Saul” — the 2015 prequel spinoff created by “Breaking Bad” masterminds Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould — feels like its own show. And I’ll admit, I was wary of its ability to stand out from its predecessor, most of all because Saul Goodman, the smooth-talking, comb-over-sporting strip mall lawyer played with electricity and heart by Bob Odenkirk, was largely a one-note side piece in the original show. A skeevy lawyer who helps criminals hide their money and avoid jail time — end of story. It didn’t seem substantive enough for its own show, and it seemed like “Better Call Saul” would be doomed to the spin-off junk pile in the wasteland of failed TV shows. But I had faith in Gilligan and Gould, so I approached “Better Call Saul” with tepid hope. Now, five years and almost five complete seasons later — the fifth season is currently underway — part of me loves “Saul” even more than “Breaking Bad.”


Review: Dua Lipa's "Future Nostalgia" is a cohesive and catchy second album

(04/02/20 6:10am)

On March 27, English pop artist Dua Lipa released her sophomore album “Future Nostalgia” one week early, in the midst of the global pandemic. With millions around the world quarantined in their homes and looking for a way to pass the hours, the timing couldn’t be better. The album’s upbeat sound is exactly what the world needs in this time of uncertainty and confusion.


Review: 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness' is an expose on eccentricity

(03/30/20 7:00am)

“Tiger King'' is one of the wildest true-crime stories Netflix has given us so far — so much so that its larger-than-life characters eclipse the documentary series’ initial mission of shining light on animal rights issues. The show follows the eccentric Joe Exotic (whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage), a self-described “gay, gun-carrying-redneck with a mullet” who created one of the biggest wildlife preservation centers for exotic cats, along with his menagerie of exotic animal owner colleagues who prove even wilder than their pets. The directors of “Tiger King,” Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, untangle the complicated and at times surreal world of Exotic to deliver a must-see story of a zookeeper who lands himself in jail for a murder-for-hire plot targeting his long-time rival, big cat activist Carole Baskin, who is shrouded in her own felonious controversies. Despite its mild attempt to address ethical questions about animal rights, “Tiger King” is, at heart, a true crime documentary that spotlights outsized personalities.



‘The Sweet Science of Bruising’ features literal fight for equality

(02/28/20 7:00am)

“The Sweet Science of Bruising” had its American premiere in Moore Theater last Friday. Written by Joy Wilkinson, the play is set in 1869 London. It tells the story of four women from a variety of backgrounds who find their way into the boxing ring to literally fight for their right to freedom and gender equality.  


Review: ‘Miss Anthropocene’ blends Grimes’ new and old styles

(02/27/20 7:00am)

For Claire Boucher, the last few years have marked a massive change in popularity. Between the critical and commercial success of her 2015 album “Art Angels” and her high-profile relationship with billionaire Elon Musk, Boucher, better known as Grimes, has become a genuine celebrity. Her prodigious rise to stardom probably comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with her work since the beginning — which was full of obscured vocals and avant-garde goth-punk — especially since it took four albums for her to become a household name.


Review: Tame Impala's 'The Slow Rush' explores temporal themes

(02/20/20 5:00am)

Over the last decade, Kevin Parker has used his solo project Tame Impala to create incredible anthems of loneliness and isolation. Ever since his 2010 single “Solitude is Bliss,” Parker has pushed himself further and further away from society, using his lyrics to present himself as an outsider looking in. Even the album cover of Tame Impala’s 2012 album “Lonerism” depicts people picnicking on the other side of a fence, just out of reach. During the production of his next album “Currents” in 2015, Parker withdrew even further, working meticulously on each track. And while these songs dealt more with interpersonal relationships than any of his previous works, the lyrics made it clear that Parker felt more alone than ever. 






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