On 4th day of Christmas … I listened to Sia’s Everyday is Christmas

(cover image courtesy official Sia Twitter feed)

 

Let’s be honest – when it comes to Christmas albums, and I will be the first to admit that I am a slave to these expectations more often than not, there are two major rules that must be followed.

1. The album must feel Christmassy. Granted this is a wholly intangible idea and falls into the maddeningly obtuse camp of “We’ll know when we feel it” but if an album doesn’t leave you feeling jolly and happy and inclined to dance around the Christmas tree, and hum sundry carols at will, is it really doing its job?

2. There must a spread of carols, modern festive classics, and an original or two so the artist can stamp their own flavour upon the holiday. Yes this is creatively constrictive in one sense but as artists like Annie Lennox and Sarah McLachlan have shown, it is eminently possible to make a real statement even within these parameters.

Australian artist Sia, who have proven brilliantly adept at writing a dizzyingly diverse array for an impressive roster of artists including Rihanna and Beyoncé, is proof positive my friends that you can both adhere to these conventions and blow them, candy canes and Santa hats fully akimbo, out of the eggnog-filled water.

 

 

Everyday is Christmas is an unmitigated joy from start to finish, not so much because the facially-reclusive artist – the person on the album’s cover is longtime video and performance collaborator Maddy Ziegler – has got her Frank Sinatra and imbued her album of wholly original songs with some big band, seasonally warm-and-fuzzy flair (she has and it works beautifully in her own highly-talented way) but because she takes the sounds and feel of the season and makes them work for her.

Helping immensely in this regard is that Sia has always been an insightful artist who understands that there is more to the human condition that the blindingly obvious or that which is set down by ritual or superficial cultural trappings.

Sure Christmas is in many ways a most wonderful time of the year (the song does not lie) and there’s much to love about it, but it can also be a time of emotional turmoil and stress, and also introspective rumination, and Sia neatly balances both of these elements near perfectly in a set of tracks that artfully tread the line between happy Christmas upbeat joy and those quiet moments when quiet gratitude and contentment step into the spotlight.

 

(image courtesy official Sia Twitter feed)

 

Everyday is Christmas kicks things off in giddily jaunty mode with the slightly ironic “Santa’s Coming For Us” which takes the implied benign stalker intent of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and runs with it jingle-jingle-jingling all the way home.

The accompanying clip, which features Kristen Bell is full beatific ’50s housewife mode with real life husband Dax Sherpard as the happy cardigan-wearing husband and Henry Winkler (aka the Fonz) as a dancing guest, goes all retro TV special which fits perfectly with the song’s bouncy vibe.

This track, along with the euphorically-upbeat “Candy Cane Lane” and the delightful “Puppies Are Forever which celebrates miniature canines more than the festive season itself but feels so glossily, giddily happy that you can begrudge a single effervescent lyric.

What makes these songs work, slyly subversive clips aside, is that Sia unashamedly and with the kind of gusto I can totally get behind as an avowed, tinsel-draped Christmas tragic, goes with the treacly sentiments of the season.

And why not? Life is unremittingly gloomy at the moment in many ways and invoking the idea that life can be made better by a puppet, not just at Christmas but all year round, or by consuming candy canes in a brightly-decked lane, is no bad thing.

 

 

But as noted, escapism can only get you so far and so songs like “Snowman” and “Everyday is Christmas” take things down a contemplative notch, not necessarily in a maudlin sense but more one that acknowledges there are elements of reflection to a season more commonly noted for mall-sized frenzy and fabulously gaudy decorations.

The title track is a lovely nod to the idea that Christmas really only comes into its own when that special someone is there with you and while it’s no hyper-powered wishfest along the lines of “All I Want For Christmas is You”, it’s a rich, warm and deeply-appreciative song that lovingly remarks on what life all year round, but especially at Christmas, so very special.

“Snowman” too has its own quirkily devotional aspect, one which centres around true love between snowman and his devoted otehr half who literally is a part of him; sure it’s a metaphor for real human love but what a creative way to express it, parceling it up with some trademark Sia idiosyncrasy.

The album concludes with the gloriously downtempo piano-driven track “Underneath the Christmas Lights” which is exquisitely lovely in ways that wrap you in the cosy idea of Christmas as a precious seasonal idyll, one where real life takes a temporary hike and everything is, just for a moment, well and bright.

Everyday is Christmas isn’t some cheesy nod to the sentiments of the season with Sia and co-songwriter and producer Greg Kurstin serving up a startlingly good selection of original songs which invoke the traditional sound and feel of the season while still forging some new fun festive tracks.

 

 

Movie review: Just to be Sure (Ôtez-moi d’un Doute)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

It goes without saying, but this being a review it shall be said anyway, that identity is core to who we are as people.

Take it away, or even one or some of its constituent building blocks that have been assembled over a lifetime and  you can be handed, quite unwillingly, an existential crisis of Freudian proportions.

While things don’t get that dire in Just to be Sure (Ôtez-moi d’un Doute), which premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes this year, they come pretty close with forty-something Erwan (Damiens) discovering, on the cusp of his own daughter Juliette (Alice de Lencquesaing) giving birth, that his fisherman dad (Guy Marchand) is not his biological father.

Unsettling in a multitude of ways but more so given that Erwan is about to become a grandfather, raising understandable questions about who he will be once this major life change takes place.

Complicating things still further is that Juliette is not inclined in the slightest to find out the identity of her child’s father, her pregnancy the result of a one night stand at a party; or perhaps she does know and simply doesn’t want him to be a part of the child-rearing.

Either way, the stage is set quite beautifully by writer-director Carine Tardieu (The Dandelions) for a battle of wills between equally strong-willed father and daughter, both of whom have quite set ideas on what should happen next.

Or at least Erwan, a bomb disposal expert who returned home to France and a business recovering leftover World War Two munitions from Normandy soil to raise his daughter when his wife died of lung cancer, thought he did.

But the news from doctor about his muddled paternity casts everything into a new light including a budding romance with Anna (Cecile de France), a doctor, who may or may not be his sister, given she is the daughter of Joseph (Andre Wilms), a kindly old man who a private detective (Brigitte Rouan) has said is his real biological dad.

 

(image courtesy Cultural Services of the French Embassy)

 

Got all that?

Well, you might but poor old Erwan struggles balance to balance everything, torn between loyalty and love for the dad who raised him, curiosity and growing affection for the man who helped bring him into this world, increasing attraction for Anna and the travails of being there for his obstinate daughter.

It’s a quite a farcical cocktail, and while Tardieu doesn’t ramp things up to full manic absurdity, a blessing given the underlying seriousness of the subject material, she does have some fun with the complicated nature of the familial connections.

There is one scene in particular when beautifully illustrates her nuanced, altogether balanced approach to the story.

After a slightly rocky start to their first date, when Erwan knows she could be his sister but fiercely independent Anna remains blissfully unaware, they end up on the beach when Erwan humourously, thanks to the aid of a blown up condom, demonstrates how to defuse a bomb.

It’s a delightful moment of bonding for the two that comes a-cropper when Erwan, his possibility sibling relationship with Anna looming over his budding romance, can’t handle the idea of kissing his new love, quite understandably, and storms off, rather awkwardly it must be said.

Its emblematic of Tardieu’s approach that this scene is neither played for outright laughs or fraught drama, falling somewhere perfectly in the middle, very much mirroring the way life events resist easy categorisation or clean cut emotional divisions.

You suspect, of course, that true love will run its course, and Joseph may not be the father and Anna the sister but any actual evidence is left very late and judiciously into the final act, leaving plenty of time for audience hope to spring eternal  and the characters to stew in their ever-escalating existential stew.

 

(image courtesy Luna Palace Films)

 

While neither dramatically in your face or laugh-out-loud hilarious, despite a trailer than suggests more of the latter than the former, Just to be Sure (Ôtez-moi d’un Doute) is a delight, a deftly-executed romp, and at times that is exactly what it is through the minefield of personal and familial identity.

In so doing it raises some salient questions – what is better? Being raised by biological or adoptive parents? Is there really a difference? And if you discover as late in Erwan does that the two factors are at play, which becomes the ascendant relationship? Is there even one?

In all honesty, the film doesn’t settle on an answer although it becomes readily apparent that, like most things in life, there’s no real straightforward answer.

Just to be Sure (Ôtez-moi d’un Doute) never tries to come up with any obvious outcomes, letting the characters fumbling but well-intentioned and earnest attempts to figure out how to navigate the new familial lay of the land, do all the talking.

It’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into this wholly enjoyable film and that Tardieu has realised early on that, like all good comedies, there must be a lot of substance to given the entire undertaking some emotional resonance.

A blisteringly intense examination of family relations, love and identity this is not; instead Just to be Sure (Ôtez-moi d’un Doute) is a lighthearted but meaningful and poignant look at the way everything we know can change in an instant and how dealing with all the upheaval can alter the trajectory of our lives in ways that initially are wholly dislocating but which ultimately can be a blessing in disguise.

 

Dance! Dreams come magically true in The Supporting Act

(image via YouTube (c) BBC)

 

Christmas isn’t called the most wonderful time of the year for nothing.

There is something inherently magical about the season, a sense, whether justified or not (I’m a Christmas junkie so guess which side of that equation I fall on), that anything can happen.

More importantly that if it does, you’ll have the people you love around you cheering you on to make your dreams comes true.

That’s the idea behind BBC One’s Christmas ad, “The Supporting Act” which tells the poignant story of one determined 10-year-old who spends all her waking hours practising her dance act, and man is she good, for the Christmas talent show.

It doesn’t look like her dad, who’s busy with work and a thousand other things, is paying all that much attention but come the day of the concert, and the unwelcome arrival of stage fright, it appears her dad has been more aware of what she was doing than she thought.

It’s a gorgeous ad, filled to the brim with love, dreams coming true and that magical festive sense that anything is possible.

(source: Mashable)

 

On 3rd day of Christmas … I watched “Scary Christmas” (Be Cool Scooby Doo)

(image courtesy Warner Bros)

 

Be Cool, Scooby-Doo is one those rare franchise-reimagined success stories.

Reinventing the characters, both visually and in their approach, while still gleefully honouring one of Hanna-Barbera’s breakout shows that has been around since 1969, the producers have given the venerable cartoon series a whole new lease of life.

All of their brilliantly-successful tinkering comes home to roost – literally in this case; the villain du jour is a pterodactyl with flying red eyes – in “Scary Christmas” where the gang arrives in Rockwellville, a town obsessed with Christmas.

Every single centimetre of the town’s exterior and interior surfaces is covered with garlands, lights, giant blow up Santas and neon signs wishing one and all “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”.

You want Christmas on hyper-steroids? Rockwellville is the place to be, its giant Christmas tree, which sits in the town square, adorned with presents for all the townsfolk (and even the kids at the Big Sad Eyes Orphanage), and peace, love and goodwill reigning on every snow-covered, tinsel-strewn street.

But of course this is Be Cool, Scooby-Doo and so you know, just like if you have Jessica Fletcher in town, that this festive idyll can’t last and so it is that just as everyone is getting ready to fire up the giant lit star on top of the tree, the pterodactyl swoops in, handing Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy and Scooby when they’re not training for the peak eating season that is Christmas, a giant-sized flying mystery to solve.

So far, so Scooby right?

This is where Be Cool, Scooby-Doo takes the lo-fi absurdity and hilarity of the franchise’s previous incarnations, and ramps them up to a delightfully wacky degree.

Fred, in contrast to his previous iterations as more of a supporting character to Velma, Scooby and Shaggy, takes the lead on this one, determined to go all out for Christmas and find a yuletide-y mystery to solve.

He keeps having these gloriously overblown Christmas epiphanies, helped along in their dramatic impact by a town council worker who is always on hand to light the street lamps just so and play pitch-perfect music. (The one time he isn’t there Fred improvises with a neon Christmas tree that glows right on cue.)

 

 

Velma, of course, is having none of Fred’s festive obsessions.

She sees a pterodactyl flying through the air, seemingly determined on stealing the Mystery Machine, the town’s Christmas tree and all the presents, and anything else it can get its gigantic claws onto and she is going to find out what’s behind it.

Only Fred somehow keeps dragging them back to the orphanage where he is sure a poignant, emotionally-resonant mystery awaits, and where, narrative coincidences be damned, an archeologist is trying to unearth … wait for it! … pterodactyl eggs!

A whole nest of them in fact; curiouser and Jurassically curiouser.

Fred dismisses any and all links to their flying nemesis since there is not one orphan anywhere near the eggs or the pterodactyl but Velma persist convinced it all means something.

And of course it does, but the mystery keeps defeating their ability to solve it, not helped by Daphne, who is way goofier and airheady than her previous iterations, and absolutely determined that her birthday, which falls on Christmas Day, will not be overshadowed by the biggest holiday like it has been every other year of her life.

So as Rockwellville roasts its chestnuts and sugar plum fairies occupy everyone else’s thoughts, Daphne is going all out to convince Scooby to dress as a clown, to blow out the candles on her birthday cake and to decorate the van with balloons and streamers and not tinsel, trees and baubles.

It’s inspired, comically ill-timed lunacy and it adds a whole other level of crazy to proceedings which, let’s face it, are not exactly following any well-established norms, festive or otherwise, up to this point.

 

 

“Scary Christmas” sticks to the standard Scooby-Doo script in so far as it has a bucolic scene rendered nightmarishly awful by a hideous mystery which we all know the gang will solve, and yes once again, they duly do. (How could you doubt them? For shame! No candy canes for you!)

What gives it a whole fabulously nutty edge, indeed the entire series, is that amps the wacky sensibilities that have always percolated through the franchise, and to be fair, Christmas celebrations itself, and goes to light-draped, garland, festooned town with them.

The sight gags are a constant joy – Scooby and Shaggy powering the van along with a treadmill while wearing Santa hats is hilarious as are the appearances of the orphans and Fred’s overly stage-managed epiphanies – the jokes are near-endless and the sense of Christmas-ness somehow manages to shine through too.

If you like Scooby-Doo, and of course you do, and like things pushed a little or a lot off-centre in your festive animated TV viewing, then “Scary Christmas” is a joy, a madcap romp through mystery, mayhem and all kinds of festive silliness, that manages to both deliver and subvert a heartwarming tale, damn near making your Christmas in the process.

 

Weekend movie poster art: Star Wars The Last Jedi

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Rey took her first steps into a larger world in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and will continue her epic journey with Finn, Poe, and Luke Skywalker in the next chapter of the continuing Star Wars saga. The Last Jedi is written and directed by Rian Johnson and produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman and executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Jason McGatlin, and Tom Karnowski. (source: Coming Soon)

Unless you have been living in a wooden hut on the far side of the moon of Endor, you would be aware the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, is mere weeks from serving up another riveting adventure on its many fans.

While details remain very closely-guarded to the point where likely more is known about the North Korean nuclear program than the film that will give us an extended look at Luke Skywalker who, no surprise if you’ve been paying attention (even the director Rian Johnson confirmed it) is the titular Jedi of the film.

Now you may not think the hype could reach any more of a fever pitch level but Disney have managed to ratchet things up just a little further by releasing a series of pop icon posters, featuring some of the highly-recognisable characters and objects from the franchise including the Millennium Falcon and C-3PO, BB-8 and R2-D2, and new characters such as the Porgs and The Caretakers.

They’re bright, they’re colourful and you can read all about them at IGN.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi releases 14 December in Australian and 15 December USA.

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Festively changing it up: The delightfully different tale of Santa’s Husband

(cover image courtesy Harper Collins publishers)

 

Right let’s just get it out there then shall we?

In Santa’s Husband, Daniel Kibblesmith’s delightful take on the person of Santa Claus who, you may recall, is a teeny-tiny bit central to modern celebrations of Christmas – for those of a religious persuasion, please note I’m not sidelining Jesus, simply stating the obvious – good old St Nick is black, gay and married to a sweet, supportive man named David.

The reason I’ve spelt that out straight off the bat is that (a) it’s pretty the book’s main premise and one Kibblesmith, with lovely illustrations by Ap Quach, executes quite nicely and (b) it’s far better to point out the tinsel-draped elephant in the room from the get-go.

That being said, you can imagine that shaking up everyone’s modern idea of Santa Claus, who is fictional by the way and a relatively recent phenomenon, sculpted every bit as much by commercial interests as age-old tales of a kindly but firm man who looks after the poor and downtrodden, is going to be controversial in certain circles.

And, of course, you would be right as this article in VICE, which talks with Kibblesmith about the book and the inevitable furor it engendered, illustrates all too well.

The thing is Santa Claus has always a malleable creation, ever since the fourth-century or so when Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra, inspired the idea of socially-idealistic figure, one so revered he gave rise  to Father Christmas, Sinterklaas and a host of other figures.

His biggest modern boost came courtesy of an 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and the work  of political cartoonist Thomas Nast who, apart from making difficult for the governing elites of nineteenth-century, pretty much came up with the image we now have of Santa Claus, one burnished even further by the likes of Coca-Cola in the twentieth-century.

 

(image courtesy Harper Collins publishers)

 

So Santa has never really been a fixed concept which is why Kibblesmith’s sweetly poetic take on the much-loved figure is as natural and normal as you can get.

Santa’s Husband is, in many ways, delightfully conventional.

In the book Santa is married, devoted to his husband who is equally devoted back, helping him cope with the many demands of his intensely seasonal job:

“Santa’s husband helps
Santa with all the
hard work that makes
Christmas happen.”

That means everything from checking lists of naughty and nice kids to feeding the reindeer and much more beside including impersonating his time-poor and geographically-challenged hubbie.

Sounds to me like a pretty caring, supportive partnership, one filled with commitment, love, caring and cosy nights in, and finally after too long a legal delay, a wedding where everyone who’s anyone festively pops in to wish the happy couple well.

The book even tackles the “rewriting history line of attack, making it clear, and they’re right given Santa’s history, that he’s been imagined “hundreds of different ways over the years!”

Sure there are lines about climate change and political correctness, but ultimately what makes Santa’s Husband such a gorgeous book for anyone to read, adult or child, is that reinforces the idea of Santa as a selfless, caring figure who gives up a lot to fulfill his life’s work and who wouldn’t be able to do it without his husband.

If Christmas means anything, it’s love and inclusion and Kibblesmith’s beautiful read has that in spades, reminding us all over again why the season really is the most wonderful time of the year.

On 2nd day of Christmas … I reviewed A Bad Mom’s Christmas

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Hollywood, generally speaking, does not have an expansive palette when it comes to films with a festive flavour.

Movies are either unbearably sentimental, laden with so much holiday sugar that sugar canes look on in envy, or so brusquely raunchy that even the merest whiff of chestnuts roasting and visions of sugar plums dancing fall, unrecognised and unloved, beneath a stampede of crass humour.

That’s not to say that either type of film isn’t worth your time – the Hallmark Channel, for instance, is counting on viewers lapping up their offering of 33 new films this year  – but the narrative notes are limited and not always as diversely festive as Santa ordered.

Bad Moms Christmas, the themed sequel to 2016’s comedy hit Bad Moms, manages, against all expectations given the one note raunchiness of its trailers, to deftly sit between these two extremes, giving us all the warm-and-fuzzy accoutrements of the season while throwing in some raunch and a good deal more emotional resonance than any of the promotion implied.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s subtle in any way.

No, this is cinema with a great big well-telegraphed narrative mallet always at the ready, characters so broadly sketched they could teeter into the tropes abyss and no one would notice, and sentiment laid on so thick reindeer would slip and slide in disarray if they attempted to land a sleigh upon it.

Nuanced it is not; but for all the standard trappings of the season that it hugs close to itself like a stocking full of unopened presents, Bad Mom’s Christmas is surprisingly affecting.

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

It manages this most unexpected of feats by wisely bringing in Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon and Cheryl Hines as the mothers of the three protagonists who collectively make up the trio of less than ideal maternal figures.

That’s not to say that Mila Kunis (Amy), who effectively anchors the film, acting as its narrative voice, Kristen Bell (Kiki) and Kathryn Hahn (Carla) fall down on the job at all; they are as entertaining as ever, every bit as simultaneously enamoured and repulsed by motherhood as they were in Bad Moms.

In fact, it’s their comedic chops, particularly Hahn who is damn near brilliant as the daughter of still-partying, irresponsible rock chick Isis (Sarandon) that give the film much of its jaded, tired of the season but wanting to give their families a special holiday, vibe.

But when all is said and done, and the camel has trampled all over the Christmas tree (yes that actually sort of happens), it’s the three elder mothers who give the film that extra zing.

Baranaski is in the MVP in this regard, bringing her trademark brittle iciness to her role as Ruth, Amy’s über-perfectionistic mother who manages, in her first five minutes in her daughter’s home, to insult her choice of decorations, hairstyle and food preparation.

It’s all effortlessly delivered, with Baranski investing just the right amount of hilarious tartness into each line to make you laugh even as you cringe at the offhandedly cruel way she’s treating her only child.

So comprehensive is Ruth, who’s determined her grandchildren Dylan (Emjay Anthony) and Jane (Oona Laurence) will have the best, most perfect Christmas in the wake of their parents’ recent divorce, annihilation of her daughter that you wonder how it is that Amy hasn’t already stabbed her to death in her sleep after a drug-laced eggnog or two.

It’s all a set-up for the central battle in the film – between the bad moms who simply want a trimmed-down, chilled Christmas with Chinese takeaway on the big night and wound-down family time on the day, and the expectation that mothers don’t enjoy Christmas and must always suffer for the happiness of others.

None of this conflict is delivered with even a skerrick of delicacy but then this is a big ballsy, give Santa a lap chance while smashed off your face film so you’re hardly going to get Oscar-level obliqueness here.

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Somehow for all its hamfistness, both narratively and character-wise – Sarandon is an archetypal woman-child mess while Hines’ Sandy is way too involved in her daughter’s life, right down to watching her initiate sex with her husband Kent (Lye Brocato) – and the rather obvious conflicts that arise, Bad Moms Christmas ends up having a bigger-than-expected heart.

And not, in that gushy Hallmark Channel kind of way.

True it edges close at times such as the near-to-climactic scene where Amy and Ruth have a relationship-redefining heart-to-heart in midnight mass, or Isis’s miraculous appearance at Christmas lunch, but the descent into overwhelming levels of saccharinenss is averted by deft use of over the top silliness.

Take Carla meeting and falling in love with beyond hunky male exotic dancer Ty Swindle (Justin Hartley) in the last couple of days leading up to Christmas; it’s ridiculously corny in one sense, but manages to also be sweetly affecting against all odds thanks to the film’s wholehearted embrace of the wackiness of it all.

Kunis and Baranski also make a great double act, one a beleagured daughter, the other an imperious mum, who battle mightily, upping the levels of tinsel-trimmed festive brinkmanship ’til you wonder if anyone will emerge alive before ending up as the mother-daughter act Amy, and secretly Ruth, always wanted.

Sure A Bad Mom’s Christmas is cliched, trope-heavy (though visually that works a treat with lush decorations all around) and sentimental but it’s also damn funny, unexpectedly emotionally resonant in way that often lifts itself above treacly sentiment to be bearable and even, at times, affecting, and raunchily hilarious, proof that you can have your warm-and-fuzzy Christmas and still be a little naught and counter-traditional too.

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Now this is music: Festive chill – SYML, JW Ridley, Liyv, Hundred Waters, Shells

 

The “Silly Season”, as it’s fondly known in Australia, is well underway, and with it, the swirl of festive fun that is Christmas.

Now even if you love the most wonderful time of the year, you’ll have to admit that it can be stressful, busy and bereft of any opportunity to sit back and contemplate life in any way, shape or form.

So it’s up to you to create those precious spaces for yourself.

One way to do that is to take a batch of chilled songs,  written by thoughtful artists with their fingers on the contrary pulse of life, and let them play and take you to all kinds of blissfully ruminative places.

It may not help you find that gift you need for fussy Aunt Jean but you will feel better afterwards, with all the idea of all that falala-ing and decking of halls feeling far less onerous than it once did.

 

“Fear of the Water” by SYML

 

SYML (photo by Shervin Lainez / courtesy official SYML Facebook page)

 

There’s a stark, arresting, achingly-melancholic quality to “Fear of the Water” from Barcelona frontman Brian Fennell who records under the name SYML in his recording studio in Issaquah, WA outside Seattle.

Reflecting, says Fennell, “the complex feelings that come from unknown lineage” – the artist discovered he is descended from Welsh forebears, a discovery that led him to adopt SYML, meaning “simple” in Welsh as his recording name – this song and others such as “Where’s My Love” which is the name of his January/February 2018 tour, are evocative explorations into what it feels to grapple with dislocation and a sense of being unmoored.

The soft, gently-percussive melody is given intensely-exquisite amplification by Fennell’s resonant voice which seems to encompass all the pain, longing, insight and thoughfulness in the world.

“Fear of the Water” cuts to the bone but in the most reassuring of ways – yes there are moments when we feel utterly adrift but there are places, and most importantly, people, who can make us feel solidly tethered again, with the song a glitteringly lovely invocation to choose closeness and belonging over a lost sense of being.

 

 

“Somewhere Else” by JW Ridley

 

JW Ridley (image via official JW Ridley Facebook page)

 

One of the loveliest things about slow, more contemplative songs is the rare-in-this-hyperactive-digital-age chance they give you to completely lose yourself in a gently swirling three minute idyll of melody and lyric.

Londoner JW Ridley, one-time arts school graduate and lately purveyor of sublimely ruminative pop, is a master of creating these blissfully escapist moments, catching you up in a reverie of langorous thought that is good for the soul.

And as We Are: The Guard notes, good for the ears as well:

“‘Somewhere Else’ a dreamy, otherworldly swirl of 80s-indebted post-punk, with crisp electronic drums meeting guitars steeped in canyons of reverb, all the while Ridley’s spacey, detached vocals preside over the whole thing like some washed-out Instagram filter.”

 

 

“Maybe I Won’t” by Liyv

 

Liyv (image courtesy official Liyv Facebook page)

 

Styling herself as an artist who “songs for sad people who like bright colors”, Oregonian Liyv is not a woman to be trifled with.

Her song “Maybe I Won’t”, from her EP “It Me” is all about dispeling woefully incorrect expectations of herself while simultaneously disabusing someone who has made all kinds of wild assumption, again erroneously, about who she is and what she’ll do.

It’s a lyrical truthful song wrapped in a superlatively lush bed of gorgeous slow-moving pop that together is a finely thought-out and articulated shakedown of someone who hasn’t really thought things through.

Home truths aren’t always easy to handle but delivered this beautifully they echo Mary Poppins sage advice about the way a spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down.

 

 

“Fingers” by Hundred Waters

 

Hundred Waters (image courtesy official Hundred Waters Facebook page)

 

First things first, Nicole Minglis, lead singer of band Hundred Waters is WAAAAY too comfortable having creepy crawlies all over her body.

It’s a brave artistic statement yes, and pulled off with suitably-composed aplomb but makes my skin crawl (12,000 different ways; yep that’s how many creatures were on her.)

The song, “Fingers” is everything luxuriously and airily lush, drawing on “the sound of muted pianos and jazz-indebted rhythms” (We Are: The Guard) that artfully discusses, with Minglis’s ethereally rustic voice articulating it with breathtakingly lovely emotional resonance, the day-to-day contrariness and inconsistencies of loving someone else.

It’s a magnificently beautiful song that immerses you completely in its ruminative, gracious wonder, letting you muse on the nature of love in a way that doesn’t necessarily all the answers (do they even exist to find, I wonder?) but give you ample to try and find them.

 

 

“Jailbird” by SHELLS

 

SHELLS (image courtesy official SHELLS Facebook page)

 

Capturimg dark lyrical matter in a gloriously beautifully fey melody is a thing of incredibly skill and artistry.

But SHELLS, the stage name of British singer-songwriter Sarah Lillie Sheldrake, manages it with ease, folding in a seismic decision to leave a toxic relationship into a song that We Are: The Guard observes marries “[SHELL’s] billowing voice meeting synthesizer droplets and organic rhythms”.

The song is ineffably lovely but comes with some lyrical barbs in its glossily delivered melody:

“I’m burning down the walls to light up the front door/Tearing down the holes to see the light once more/Jailbird, not gonna be a jailbird anymore.”

It’s serious stuff but delivered with such gently-articulated passion and voice that you are given time to come to appreciate what a momentous step forward this is for the young woman in the song.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Who are the most fun family you know?

The Addams Family of course and in this fantastic 2015 video by filmmaker Gabriel Magallon, the spookiest, coolest family around get down to the Ramones’ iconic song “Blitzkrieg Bop”.

(Source: Laughing Squid)

 

On 1st day of Christmas … I decorated my tree with 5 new pop culture ornaments

 

When you’re a pop culture tragic such as myself – “Hi, my name is Andrew and I’m a pop culture addict”, it tends to infiltrate every part of your life.

Your T-shirts display your favourite characters. Your book shelves are lined with books on your favourite TV shows and movies, with Pop Funko ornaments, collector cards and figurines filling any leftover available space.

And come Christmas, your tree is filled with nothing but pop culture ornaments.

Many, many, pop culture ornaments.

In fact, baubles, lights and tinsels aside, they’re the only type of ornaments that go onto my Christmas tree, save for a few treasured keepsakes such as the ornaments I bought back in 1992 when I started decorating a tree for the first time as an adult.

As a pop culture addict of course, and a ceaseless consumer of new things, I feel compelled and take great delight in adding new ornaments every year. You’d think I’d pick a few choice pieces, and goodness knows my boyfriend probably wishes I would, but every year, and this year is no exception, I ended up with a lot of new ornaments.

Picking five was challenging but I managed it with the following characters carrying all kinds of meaning for me and having some pretty ornaments to get me and them into the festive spirit.

 

RATATOUILLE

 

 

Apart from the Cars series which did absolutely nothing for me – to be fair actual cars do nothing for me so it stands to reason that their animated cousins would fare just as poorly – I am an avid Pixar fan. Picking a favourite is damn near impossible since all their films are so beautifully made but Ratatouille, the delightfully sweet, emotionally-resonant tale of a Parisian rat who dreams of a career as one of France’s famous gourmand chefs, would have to rank well into the top 10. So adding the central character Ratatouille to my tree’s ornament is an absolute no-brainer. Now if only he could whip up some fruit mince pieces and a delicious roast turkey dinner …

 

 


WILLY WONKA

 

 

It’s true that Willy Wonka, one of Roald Dahl’s darker, more capricious characters, can be a little unsettling. The owner of the magical chocolate factory featured in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and of course, the wondrously technicolour film starring Gene Wilder (the Johnny Depp version not so much), Willy Wonka is a man of oddness and weirdness but also great integrity and honesty and you can’t help but like him for being true to himself. One other reason I added him to the tree this year is that Wilder and my father were the same age when they died last year and I distinctly remember watching the film with my beautiful dad. So a lot of nostalgia at play but also love of a beautifully-crafted, one-of-a-kind personality.

 

 

STAR WARS STORMTROOPER

 

 

When I first saw Star Wars back in 1977 – 40 years ago can you believe it?! – I was very much on the side of Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the gang. Unlike many fans who found Darth Vader, the stormtroopers and the Emperor a little bit naughty and kinda sexy, I was no fan of the Dark Side nor its servants which possibly accounts for why stormtroopers have taken so long to make it onto my tree (that and Hallmark didn’t make one until this year). But a few years back when Hallmark created a talking Darth Vader, wearing a Santa hat and carrying a pressie, I knew I had to tilt Christmas a little to the other side of the force. Not too much mind but hey can you resist a stormtrooper carrying a giant candy cane? Ha! See … think of all the sugar and not so much the evil clone heart.

 

 

STRANGER THINGS

 

 

As a pop culture addict who did my growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, my love for Stranger Things, which draws on all kinds of TV shows and movies from that period, knows no bounds. Sure there’s a horror element but it’s so well wrapped into a story of a bunch of young kids brave enough to try and save the world, with real heart and the ability to be its own thing even with all those influences, that I can’t help but love it. The good news this year’s second season matched the boldness and thrills of the first, save for the loss of the novelty factor, and so it makes sense that they’d join the tree this year. Let’s hope the demogorgon doesn’t come along with …

 

 

GOOFY (AS JACOB MARLEY)

 

 

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until this year that I finally got around to reading Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Christmas Carol from start to finish (the review appears later on in the month in the 12 Days of Christmas series). So widespread as a festive touchstone is the book however that I feel like I have an intimate knowledge of its characters, its narrative and its message, having enjoyed it in a great many and highly imaginative forms … and yes, the purists may blanch but one of my favourite iterations of this timeless morality tale is one produced by Disney which, appropriately enough, features Scrooge McDuck as the protagonist. Quite happily, it also has Goofy in it as Marley, Scrooge’s partner who ushers in his night of redemptive contemplation, and given how Goofy is my favourite Disney character period (yeah, sorry, Mickey), adding an ornament in where he’s dressed as Marley makes perfect sense. Quite how I missed in 2011 when it first came out I don’t know but glad it’s finally found its sage home with me and my tree.

 

Fun festive animation: Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ ever closer to Santa

(image (c) Rollin’ Wild)

 

It’s a question worth pondering, perhaps over a glass of eggnog or while chowing down on some chestnuts, fresh from roasting on an open fire:

“If all animals became round overnight, would their daily life still run that smoothly?”

And the answer is … not so well and damn it would be hilarious to watch.

So funny in fact that what started out as four clips created in 2012 at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg film school in Germany by Kyra Buschor and Constantin Paeplow have grown into all kinds of laugh out loud clips, known as Rollin’ Wild that include these quite festive ones below.

Clips in which Santa’s spherical reindeers get into all kinds of guffawing trouble trying to stay on the roof or as angelic sheep is less than impressed with his circular role in a nativity play.

The good news is you can watch these mirth-full clips all year around at Rollin’ Wild‘s YouTube channel where animals find that being round is thigh-slappingly funny.

Well we do, ho ho ho! Them? Not so much …