Music

Stina Nordenstam - "Another Story Girl"

Stina Nordenstam's chilly examination of soured love evokes the austerity and drama of an Ingmar Bergman film on "Another Story Girl", a cut from her underappreciated debut, Memories of a Color.

Stina Nordenstam was never going to be a household name. But the highly reclusive Swedish songstress carved a niche for herself so distinctive, she made an art out of art-pop-obscurity. Much of Nordenstam’s power lies not in what is revealed through her music, but what she keeps private, highly guarded and ultimately hidden from the listener. Memories of a Color was a highly notable debut when the album was released in the singer’s homeland of Sweden, but it failed to make a dent or impression at the time in the North American market. Nordenstam has since dismissed the album as being misrepresentative of her art and, therefore, inessential. But Color managed to capture the sweeping mythology of the cold Swedish winters of despair. An album that explored the psychological desolation of a young woman teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, it soon gained a following once Nordenstam hit paydirt with her follow-up, And She Closed Her Eyes, a far more realized effort that pared back the grander arrangements of her debut for a purely minimalist approach. Color, however, offered up some of the Swede’s most cinematic and unusual studies in pop music, sketching out chamber dramas of dismal love-stories worthy of Bergman and Sjöman.

One of Nordenstam's greatest achievements is “Another Story Girl”, a sepia-toned examination of a disintegrating love affair that takes place in – where else? – an art gallery, a characteristically European backdrop for all anguished loves. Dispensing with an equal amount of dispassion and glamour, the singer documents the veiled desires that have come to strip the faith and dignity of all occupants in a dangerous love-triangle. Ending on a note of quietly murderous envy, the song trails off into a space of troubled acquiescence, and its protagonist, from a detached and observational distance, watches helplessly as three lives recede into distant memory and song…

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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Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

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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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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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