Film

The Flipside #9: 'Blade Runner 2049'

Brice Ezell and Evan Sawdey

A big-budget sequel to a certified cult classic is always a dicey cinematic prospect, but with Denis Villeneuve at the helm, the Flipside fellas just couldn't wait to see what this new work would enhance.


Blade Runner 2049

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
Rated: R
Studio: Warner Bros
Year: 2017
US Date: 2017-10-06
UK Date: 2017-10-05
Website
Trailer

Sawdey: So apparently, in 2017, it is no longer controversial to hold the opinion that Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi epic, is not really a total masterpiece.

Although flush with Vangelis' iconic score and a production design that set the tone for sci-fi films and anime for generations to come, the idea of a futuristic noir has always proved to be a compelling concept, updating and interpreting Isaac Asimov into some gritty modern context and somehow still relating to our current times and philosophical qualms. But as it stands, Blade Runner remains rather ponderous, drawn out, and frankly just too long. (Of course, for this debate, we're talking about the latter-day Scott-tinkered cuts, not the studio-meddled compromised ending that was released into theaters.)

So thus, the only significant selling point for Blade Runner 2049 to me was the man running the show: the great Denis Villeneuve. There are some critics who have swallowed his filmography whole, calling everything he does tantamount to genius, and while no one can deny his ability to craft, films like the Lynch-ian Enemy and even Sicario come off as instantly watchable and occasionally thrilling but also cold, cynical. They reeked of style and dealt with heady concepts far removed from mainstream contemporary cinema, but while we can over-analyze the aliens and sudden appearances of massive spiders like any good film student would for Enemy, it wasn't until 2016's Arrival that it felt like Villeneuve came into his own.

Putting a generous amount of trust in his audience, Arrival was linear until it wasn't anymore, curious until it became heartwarming, romantic until it became tragic. It wasn't a perfect film (the soldiers being indoctrinated by right-wing news outlets honestly felt a bit tacked on), but the wallop it left you with, to say nothing of Jóhann Jóhannsson's revelatory score, made me feel like Villeneuve had mastered every quadrant of his storytelling powers, being forward-thinking in philosophy, groundbreaking in visuals, trusting of his audience, and finally (finally) finding heart.

Thus, even with his name attached to a Blade Runner sequel, I was only moderately excited to see what he was going to come up with. He was flush with cash and had a much bigger sandbox to play, but given this was a sequel to an existing property -- to say nothing of the fact that he wasn't even writing the script -- I had question marks dangling from my head as I entered the IMAX theater. Before I reveal the journey this thing took me on, what, Mr. Brice, were your expectations going into this?

Ezell: Like you, I came to Blade Runner 2049 with two different sets of expectations: one derived from the original Blade Runner itself, and the other from the filmography of Villenueve, who happens to be my favorite working director at the moment. Taken together, these two sources of expectation met in the middle, leaving me with a sense of cautious optimism. As much as I love Blade Runner, a flawed yet brilliant sci-fi classic, I have never felt it needed a sequel, largely because it feels like an idiosyncratic one-off for everyone involved. (The same can be said for a less-remembered Philip K. Dick adaptation, Richard Linklater's gonzo 2006 rotoscope film A Scanner Darkly.) So upon first hearing about Blade Runner 2049 it felt like another iteration of the Nothing Can Ever End syndrome that's infected contemporary filmmaking, in both television and cinema. To pick off some low-hanging fruit as an example, Fuller House got renewed for a second season.

But then there's Villeneuve. The man has proven himself not just as a brilliant director with a sharp eye for shot composition, but also as an adapter of literature to film. Enemy -- my favorite of Villeneuve's pictures to date -- envisions Jose Saramago's novel The Double as a kind of chamber thriller, with the entire city of Toronto turned into a jaundiced landscape in which Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his most underrated turns. Arrival, as you point out, takes a little-known short story and turns it into a high-stakes meditation on language and humanity. No one has ever accused philosophy for too easily lending itself to cinematic success, but Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer made a truly unforgettable film where the fate of humankind hinges on the philosophical questions posed by thinkers like Ludwig Wittgenstein and W.V.O. Quine. Brains and beauty coexist marvelously in Villeneuve's style. If any director could assuage my cynicism about the endless sequelling and franchising of modern-day cinema, it's Villeneuve.

Did he succeed? Well, like you, Evan, I saw Blade Runner 2049 at an IMAX theatre, and I'm glad I did. The images in this movie are astounding, perhaps even the best of Villenueve's career. I could have sat through the entire 163 minutes of Blade Runner 2049 even if there was no audio at all. It's that gorgeous. As Charles Mudede points out in his excellent analysis of Villeneuve's shooting style, the cityscapes of 2049 Los Angeles -- a true absurdity, in that L.A. actually gets snow in this film -- aren't as compelling as Scott's envisioning of L.A. in the original Blade Runner. In contrast to the claustrophobia that defines much of Scott's film, writes Mudede, Villeneuve "cleared a lot of clutter" in conceptualizing the shots of Blade Runner 2049. Mudede, a self-proclaimed "urbanist", takes issue with this "clutter-less" style; to me, that style is precisely what makes Blade Runner 2049 such a visual triumph. Each shot feels like a painting, particularly in the movie's third act, in which K (Ryan Gosling) finds the grizzled ex-Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) living in the seemingly inhospitable remains of a radioactive Las Vegas.

As for the story? Well, there I'm left a little wanting, especially considering how effectively Blade Runner repurposed the Miltonian creation myth in its cryptic, noir-inflected dialogue and narration. But before getting to that point, I'm wondering if you felt as immersed in Villenueve's visuals as I did.

Sawdey: Let me stop you right there Brice: Fuller House got renewed for a third season. Get your facts straight. Jeez.

And secondly, as stunning as every technical element is, there is a bit of bandwagon writing that needs to happen right now. As we discussed at length in our first episode of PopTalk, there are easily-debatable merits about the Academy Awards and whether getting "Oscar gold" or being snubbed for it even matters in a purely commercial sense, but goddamn: give Roger Deakins his Oscar already. As one of the most commanding modern-day cinematographers to ever live, his name being spoken in the same sacred breaths as Conrad L. Hall, the visual supper presented in 2049 absolutely transported and immersed me. I truly felt like I lived in the world of this film, in grand terms, and while you would be content to see this film without sound, I would've been happy to see this movie had it been twice as long (and it already clocks in at a mighty 2h45m). Rarely do I feel major studio epics justify their length, but after Arrival proved that there are existing audiences for heady and truly challenging material, 2049 never once felt overbearing. Each scene and element (save a few trims) existed because it needed to.

Yet that wasn't even the best feature to this piece of skinjob cinema, no. What I loved about 2049 is how it didn't necessarily subvert expectations at every turn, but found something "new" to do at every turn.

You want a sex scene? How about one where the hologram AI that K has at his apartment, the one that has been developing feelings for him, hires a prostitute to come over that it can "sync" with so he believes the actual physical act is real. To have an overarching villain like Jared Leto's Niander Wallace arc go relatively unresolved by the end of the movie, him and K never actually meeting once? A surprisingly bold move. Then, for K to have his journey, his revelation that he might be "the one," the first-ever naturally-born replicant, only to later have that taken away from him? That was truly a twist I did not see coming. Heck, even in the one rare sequence that 2049 "calls back" to the original film, involving footage and then a flesh revelation of Sean Young's Rachael, is used in pointedly sadistic narrative terms.

However, I'm getting ahead of myself. I know you had issues with the plot (and, in truth, K's visit to a child labor camp went on a bit too long before getting to the necessary memory revelation the plot needed), but I take it you left the film with a favorable smile, much like a real human because you've made a point over the years of insisting you're not actually a replicant?

Ezell: When I left the theatre after Blade Runner 2049, I did feel as if I had left a world and come back to my own. I certainly don't want to live in Villenueve and Deakins' vision of a post-apocalyptic 2049 Los Angeles, but it's a credit to their work that when I was in it, I forgot where I was. Hell, had the camera explored the charred remains of Las Vegas for another five minutes, I'm not sure I would have been bothered at all. For a somewhat languid, almost three-hour film, Blade Runner 2049 sure doesn't feel like one. Between Skyfall and now Blade Runner 2049, Deakins has amassed enough superlative films on his résumé to more than justify an Oscar win, even if the win primarily signifies the Academy's dragging of feet in honoring him.

Yet even as I felt image-drunk after Blade Runner 2049, I also had plenty of nagging questions about the plot. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green deserve some commendations for not making the final act of the movie a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque battle between the replicant rebels and the LAPD, but why do they shoehorn in said rebel army? (The cynic in me suggests, "Pathway to another installment," but I could easily see the army being a vestigial remnant of an early screenplay draft.) Why does Wallace need to take Deckard off-world to torture him for information? What is the relationship between K's employer, the LAPD, and Wallace's replicant corporation?

I would chalk up the vagaries of these questions to the neo-noir style in which Blade Runner 2049 participates. Noir rarely privileges clear, linear plots, preferring labyrinthine paths into increasing uncertainty. The original Blade Runner itself concludes with dozens of unanswered questions in its wake: Is Deckard a replicant? What's the deal with Edward James Olmos' origami? But Villenueve's film differs from Scott's in (at least) one key respect when it comes to screenwriting: Fancher and Green's script willingly indulges a lot of exposition and unsubtle figurative language. Blade Runner cryptically explores the relationship between creator(s) and the created; Blade Runner 2049 features an antagonist, Wallace, blinded like a seer and who speaks of his replicants as "angels". He might as well have come out and said, "I am God." Such unsubtle dialogue mars an early conversation between K and his boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) about whether or not replicants have souls.

Point being: Blade Runner 2049 doesn't try to be as opaque as Blade Runner, meaning that plot holes and discrepancies feel less like noirish obscurantism but rather patchwork screenwriting. The plot never got so bad that I got distracted from the quality of the acting (uniformly great) or the filmmaking (superlative), although the sex scene you mention is essentially a visually striking recapitulation of the proxy sex scene in Spike Jonze's Her. But I do feel that Blade Runner 2049 falls short of being a true masterpiece because no matter how much the images compel, the script doesn't do the same heavy lifting.

Sawdey: And therein lies our disagreement, Mr. Ezell. Unlike certain recent films where production was so rushed they didn't even get to film 15% of the script, the choices made here are deliberate, careful. Wallace's little hovering droids and his snap-in neck installation pieces? Speculative. The fact that Sylvia Hoeks' Luv can fire off pinpoint missile attacks on scavengers set on attacking K while getting her nails done? An omnipotent moment that feels strangely, unnervingly lived-in. The uprising aspects you talk about don't bother me one bit: the fact that we're left wondering if Deckard is a replicant himself remains an eternal movie mystery; the fact that we're introduced to K as a replicant, and it's he who has to wonder if he's human as he has his own memories examined, again, tries to provide a twist on a cliche. Meeting the resistance army and finding out he's not alone in thinking that he was convinced he was "the one"? How many other movies lead you down to that level of hope only to dash it in the end?

Truth be told, the one thing that was fitting but left me feeling a bit hollow was, in fact, the ending, with K hiding his wound for an astounding amount of time, only dying on the steps of Ana Stelline's memory-manufacturing institute. While K's sacrifice is noble, Deckard asking him what he's doing it all for was a good question. As with most films that casually end with action sequences (and make no mistake, the damp fight between K and Luv at the end is ridiculous and satisfying all at once), part of the film's real joy was in its constant state of discovery, with K's dogged detective work, sometimes aided by his virtual live-in girlfriend, kept us hooked. The wrong guesses were as fascinating as the right ones, and small little twists like the tracking device dropped into K's coat kept us in a constant state of apprehension, wondering when that payoff would spell dire consequences for all involved. It's fairly standard plotting, but presented with enough clarity and verve that it actually felt refreshing.

Honestly, Gosling has had more than a few stare-ahead steely-eyed roles where he's been able to fill in the gaps in the script with his sheer personality (think Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 effort Drive), but here, him taking on the role of K (a name that itself lends to the Kafkaesque journey his character goes on), everything is intensified. 2049 doesn't fetishize pupils in to the degree that the original Blade Runner did, but the more you spend time looking into Gosling's, the more you saw his world tremble and quake, making us think that for all his manufactured memories, maybe there was a soul in there afterall.

Personally, it feels like Harrison Ford phoned it in his paycheck -- pardon -- star turn a bit (he gave his turn on Han Solo a bit more oomph), but such quibbles are minor. At the end of the day, Blade Runner 2049 felt like a defiant mainstream masterpiece, and one I cannot wait to revisit again soon, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's Vangelis-indebted score leading me down the plot's many neon-accented corridors. Brice, will you too live in crowded Los Angeles hallway with me, existing only to antagonize the people going to and from their futuristic space apartments?

Ezell: I mean, give LA maybe... three more years? Five? It'll be there.

Blade Runner 2049 certainly dashes whatever expectations one might have for a major blockbuster. Villeneuve knew he couldn't hope to re-create the cult classic vibe that's now all but surrounded the original, and for that reason, he leaned into all the advantages his $150-plus million budget afforded him. Still, he and the screenwriters, as you say, avoid the easy plot devices. No, there's no climactic battle: Gosling dies, snow coating his body like cast ashes, and Deckard reaches out to his daughter right as the film cuts to credits. Just as Villeneuve kept the focus of Arrival on Amy Adams' character, Dr. Louise Banks, and the aliens with whom she conversed (affectionately named Abbot & Costello), he chooses to anchor Blade Runner 2049 on the intimate family relationship that K discovers at the beginning of the movie. I suppose I might have come into the film expecting the big-picture stuff to be emphasized. Human cloning! Environmental catastrophe! L.A. looking even worse than it already does! Looking back on Blade Runner 2049 in light of our conversation here, my feeling is that I'll need to watch it again in order to form my feelings about the screenplay fully. Admittedly, the gobsmackingly obvious God complex of Wallace might be caused more by Jared Leto's insufferable method acting than the script. And if in the end what I feel about Blade Runner 2049 is that it's a visually rhapsodic motion picture that invites immediate second (and perhaps even third) viewings, even as it runs nearly three hours, then it's safe to say that Villeneuve's cinematic success streak continues.

Sawdey: Can't wait for us to discuss the new sequel in 35 years time.

Ezell: Hopefully we'll both pass the Voight-Kampff test when that happens.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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10

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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