Reviews

Brainy is the New Sexy: 'Sherlock Season Two'

Irene Adler aptly deduces that “Brainy is the new sexy.” Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes and the second season of Sherlock are just that--as well as increasingly popular around the world.


Sherlock

Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Network: PBS
Release date: 2012-05-22
PBS website
BBC website
Amazon

The Woman. The Hound. The Professor. Co-creator Steven Moffat named these three canon characters as crucial to an understanding of Sherlock Holmes. Each becomes the focal point of a second season Sherlock episode, and a catalyst for changing the title character (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) from the man we met in season one. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will recognize details from “A Scandal in Bohemia”, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Final Problem”. In Sherlock, these tales are translated into “A Scandal in Belgravia”, “The Hounds of Baskerville” and “The Reichenbach Fall” -- all clever modernizations of not only the titles, but also key elements of some of the most familiar stories in the canon.

“A Scandal in Belgravia” retains a blackmail scandal of royal proportions. This time, however, The Woman—Irene Adler (Lara Pulver)—is a dominatrix determined to whip the government into submission. “The Hounds of Baskerville” is an innovative take on probably the best known of the Holmes stories, but the hound resides less often on the moors and more in the minds of manipulative men. “The Reichenbach Fall” is a reference to Conan Doyle’s setting of Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls for the ultimate battle between Holmes and Moriarty. This episode muses on the power of the press and the nature of celebrity. It also separates Sherlock from his partner in crime solving, John Watson (Martin Freeman), and reunites the consulting detective with the consulting criminal, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), who is not a professor but a bored, terrifyingly demanding CEO of his own empire.

The first season of Sherlock was brilliantly written and beautifully acted, which made the second season a greater challenge to returning writers, cast, and crew. Between the ending of the first year’s filming and the beginning of location shoots on the second, Sherlock had become an international darling. It was a mainstream hit in the UK and, much to BBC Worldwide’s delight, a top seller overseas. The series propelled Cumberbatch and Freeman into the firmament of television and film stardom. Cumberbatch’s roles in War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and next summer’s Star Trek have kept the actor busy when he isn’t starring as Sherlock, and Freeman has spent Sherlock hiatuses in New Zealand, playing the lead role in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films.

Along the way, Sherlock garnered plenty of awards, including the BAFTA, Edinburgh International Television Festival, Royal Television Society (RTS), and South Bank Sky awards as best television drama, Banff Television “Rockie” Award as best continuing series, and (US) Peabody Award for Entertainment. Freeman won a BAFTA in 2011 for playing Watson and is nominated again this year (alongside “Moriarty”) as best supporting actor. For his part, Cumberbatch was nominated but did not win the BAFTA in 2011; he has another opportunity to be named Best Actor this year. He consoled himself in the past year with other awards, including an Olivier for best actor in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein at the National Theatre.

But audiences don’t need to know all that in order to enjoy this DVD set of three 90-minute episodes. Despite the pressure to produce an equally enjoyable second season, everyone involved succeeded admirably. Co-creator Mark Gatiss (who also plays the drolly menacing Mycroft Holmes) insists these stories are films, not television episodes. Each 90-minute story is a self-contained unit. However, the most recent series of three chronicles Sherlock’s growing public acclaim, which leads to a spectacular fall from glory. Always lurking in the periphery and biding his time is Moriarty. “A Scandal in Belgravia” begins exactly where “The Great Game” left off, at that now-famous swimming pool during a standoff between Sherlock and Moriarty. “The Reichenbach Fall” is the logical (but also quite emotional) culmination of their gamesmanship and rivalry.

Although the plots are deadly serious, the episodes are surprisingly humorous, especially in scenes when John and Sherlock get the giggles over the absurdity of their lives. In “Scandal”, the pair find themselves awaiting a client at Buckingham Palace. Sherlock is clad only in a sheet. John casually glances over at his flatmate, who had arrived earlier. “Are you wearing pants?” he matter-of-factly asks. Sherlock admits he is not. The two wait a beat before bursting into laughter.

John later confides that he is tempted to steal an ashtray as a souvenir. After all, how many times will he be summoned to the palace? On their way home to 221B Baker, Sherlock presents a pilfered ashtray to John. These lighthearted character moments underscore the bond between Sherlock and John as well as appropriately varying the episode’s intensity and pace.

Unfortunately, the ashtray scene was cut from the PBS broadcast in early May. However, the complete films, as shown on the BBC, are in this DVD collection. Hartswood Films and Sherlock producer Sue Vertue mourns the loss of the eight minutes she must cut from each PBS episode in order for it to fit the time constraints of Masterpiece Mystery!. During an early screening in New York City, Cumberbatch was “Scandal”ized when he noticed edits and later emphasized that everyone should see the complete version. This DVD set provides just that.

Season two stories illustrate just how much the lead characters have become a well-balanced team in the six months following “The Great Game”, the final episode of season one. Such unity is necessary for the well-known friendship to survive the stresses presented in the most recent stories. “A Scandal in Belgravia” presents Sherlock with the dilemma of love in the memorable figure of Irene Adler. In many ways, Adler is Sherlock’s “evil twin” who can match wits with him but is not reined in by a companion’s conscience. Irene, or even Moriarty, indicates what Sherlock could become without John’s influence.

Just as “Scandal” confounds Sherlock with the often messy nature of love, “The Hounds of Baskerville” has him confront terror and question what he sees. “The Reichenbach Fall” requires him to decide whether to act heroically, a far cry from the very first episode, when Sherlock assures John that he is not a hero. In fact, season two could be considered the humanization of Holmes. The new episodes allow us, as well as Sherlock, to explore his emotions and vulnerability, now that we’re familiar with his intellect.

The acting is superb. Cumberbatch and Freeman set a very high bar, but regular cast and guest actors clear it with ease. Una Stubbs’ Mrs. Hudson is a surrogate mother with a spine of steel. Rupert Graves’ Lestrade should receive more screen time; even his briefest action or reaction in a scene signals the depth and complexity of his relationship with Sherlock and John. As Molly Hooper becomes more important to the season’s story arc, Louise Brealey proves that her character is far more insightful and compassionate than Sherlock gives her credit for.

Music composed by David Arnold and Michael Price, including Sherlock’s haunting violin solo for Irene Adler, establishes the characters and creates a soundtrack worth hearing on its own. Creative camera work, often coupled with on-screen text summarizing Sherlock’s deductions, brings us into the story. The set dressing in 221B is a Conan Doyle lover’s dream, but even viewers unfamiliar with the canon can appreciate the many unique touches to this excellent television series. Wall decorations include the periodic table, a skull print, and a moose wearing headphones, and cigarettes might be hidden in a decorative Persian slipper on the hearth or under a human skull on the mantel.

If there are complaints about season two, other than it being too short for many fans’ liking, it's that, as with the first season, the middle episode (“Hounds”) is weaker than the others, but it's still very good. Those who didn’t care for the modernization of Moriarty (first introduced as fawning “Jim from IT”) probably won’t like him in manic mode this time around. Some viewers may not like the “Fall”, but the final scenes will give everyone plenty to analyze online.

The DVD extras, while interesting, are minimal additions to the set. We are invited to “uncover Sherlock” and Cumberbatch, Freeman, Moffat, and Gatiss, among others, explain character developments and special effects. Commentaries, each featuring Moffat, Gatiss, and Vertue, accompany only the first two episodes. The first also provides Pulver’s and Cumberbatch’s insights into filming “Scandal” and, in the second, guest actor Russell Tovey (probably best known to US audiences as the lead werewolf in the BBC’s Being Human) discusses his role in the “Hounds” episode. As they should be, the real stars of the DVDs are the uncut episodes.

Irene Adler aptly deduces that “Brainy is the new sexy.” Sherlock is both. “The Reichenbach Fall” leaves us with a cliffhanger of a conclusion to ponder until the series returns sometime in 2013. Until then, fans can scrutinize the DVDs to unravel the thoroughly entertaining Masterpiece Mystery! that is Sherlock.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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