Reviews

'Another Year': A Part of History

Appearing occasionally over the four seasons that structure Mike Leigh's film, Tom and Gerri's friends tend to illustrate the couple's serenity.


Another Year

Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-12-29 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-11-05 (General release)
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Tom (Jim Broadbent) digs holes. He does it for a living, as a geologist and land surveyor, and he does it on his days off, when he and his wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen), work a vegetable garden. It makes for a joke that the family repeats for visitors, as when son Joe (Oliver Maltman) brings his new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez) round for a visit. When she wonders what it can mean that he "digs holes," Tom explains: "I investigate the ground beneath our feet to test the feasibility of various engineering and building projects." When Katie beams, "It sounds amazing!", Tom smiles.

Katie's enthusiasm is a bit too bright -- she uses the word "amazing" a lot -- and that makes her something of an anomaly in Another Year. Most everyone else in Tom and Gerri's small circle of family and friends is low-key, like Joe or Tanya (Michele Austin), a doctor at the National Health Service clinic where Gerri is a counselor, or Tom's brother Ronnie (David Bradley). Appearing occasionally over the four seasons that provide the unsubtle structure for Mike Leigh's film, these folks tend to illustrate the serenity of Tom and Gerri's existence. They drop by for a meal, or, in the case of Ronnie (who shows up in Winter), stay for a few days at the couple's London home. Their interactions are unremarkable, illustrating Tom and Gerri's benevolence, which all assume and no one mentions.

The exception -- apart from the slightly strained, too-happy-seeming Katie -- is Mary (Lesley Manville). A secretary at Gerri's clinic, she's set up as their opposite: desperate and anxious rather than serene. A divorcee without children or -- apparently -- a family of her own, Mary comes by Tom and Gerri's again and again, each time drinking a it too much, talking a bit too loud, and trying a bit too hard to share in their sense of contentment.

In part, Mary helps to reveal the elusiveness of such contentment, how difficult it looks for people who don't have it. For some, including Janet (Imelda Staunton), such a state isn't even imaginable: Another Year opens on her visit to the clinic, in search of relief from an ongoing sleeplessness. As Tanya gently questions her, right shots of Janet's ruddy face show her incomprehension. She's been like this for a long time, she reports, a year maybe. Her husband drinks, her life is hard, and she wants a prescription for sleeping tablets, unwilling even to think about causes or counseling.

Janet never appears again in the film, and you don't know if she comes back to the clinic to speak with Gerri, as Tanya's suggested she do. But her discomfort, her resistance and lack of self-awareness, provide a contrast for Gerri and Tom's utter comfort, not to mention their admirable acceptance of imperfections in others. Though Mary insists that she values her "independence" during a conversation at a bar with Gerri, it's clear that she's also urgently looking for a companion, her eyes darting over Gerri's shoulder at a man who looks to be alone. When she comes by their house one evening, wine bottle in hand, she seeks -- too noisily and drunkenly -- Gerri's approval and confidence. Gerri accepts a blustery embrace and helps her into bed in Joe's old bedroom, then snuggles with Tom: "My goodness, she gets worse," she sighs about her friend. Ah yes, Tom nods. And one day soon they'll all be part of "history." Ah yes.

This note hangs over the film in other scenes, as when Tom's old friend Ken (Peter Wight) comes for a visit during summer, then breaks down in tears as they sit in the backyard. Remembering how reckless they once were -- 1978 at the Isle of Wight -- they agree now that "It's the young person's prerogative to be noisy." Ken laments his current loneliness. "Most of my friends are gone," he observes, suddenly given over to exhaustion and self-reflection. The next day, during a bit of golf with Joe and Tom, the camera stands back from their shadows, long and dark over the bright green course. Again, you're reminded of "history" and life cycles and the quiet persistence of time.

As much as Tom and Gerri accept such cycles, Mary chafes and frets, her acting out like a punctuation for each season on screen. And if the film has a point, this might be it: if Mary's escapades are mundane, she grants Tom and Gerri a visible contrast by which they might reaffirm their own okayness. When she careens into frame, Tom might point out where she's gone wrong (her married lover was a "duplicitous shit") or Gerri might decide not to speak with her for months. In these glimpses of the happy couple's judgments, Another Year suggests they're not quite so all-accepting and "perfect" as they put on. Still, they're please enough with themselves.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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