This article was originally published in OPENWIDE back in 2015, and was written by Robin Radomski
Better Call Saul
It’s been more than a year since Walter White cooked his last batch of blue crystal meth. Since then, fans have been aching for the return of Vince Gilligan’s thought provoking storylines, complex characters, and vivid cinematography. With the announcement of a prequel, fans were giddy with excitement yet weary; how can a prequel top the monumental status Breaking Bad achieved? Better Call Saul tells the story of lawyer Jimmy McGill before he meets Pinkman and White. The first episode was knuckle biting as shocking revelations kicked in. Though only halfway through the first season, the show has jostled itself into high gear, just as Breaking Bad did as the meth began to cook. The show promises to be a highly addicting maze of puzzling moral quandaries that which Gilligan’s enigmatic characters are faced with, as fans like you and I voyeuristically watch from the edges of their seats. Not to mention, Bob Odenkirk is flawless in his portrayal of Jimmy McGill.
The Affair tells the torrid story of a lustful and complex affair of Noah, a Brooklyn teacher, novelist and father of four who becomes infatuated with Alison, a grief stricken waitress. Let’s be frank, a man who narrates his affair can only be interesting for about five minutes. However, the show does something unique that pulls viewers in. The show tells the exact same plot but switches perspectives halfway through. The saying it takes two to tango rings true in this instance. The show highlights the subjective nature of “truth” and how it destroys relationships. While Noah’s memory is basically a romanticized view of an affair that teems on cinematic porn, Allison is the frail doe-eyed victim in her eyes. Not to mention, there is an injection of a third layer – we know that both Noah and Alison are telling their account of their affair in an interrogation room. We know someone is dead but whom?
James Bay – The Chaos and the Calm
Ever since hearing Bay cover Four Five Seconds (stop, drop and go listen!) I’ve been hooked, and so has the world. Following four EPs and grabbing the Brit Award for Critic’s Choice, The Chaos and the Calm is Bay’s full-length debut. It’s hard not to be hypnotized by Bay’s throaty voice over top his acoustic guitar. The melodies throughout the album, despite some songs being about heartbreak and loss, have uplifting qualities, giving an optimistic vibe. Being raised on a staple diet of classic rock, Bay effortlessly changes gear on tracks like Collide, When We Were On Fire, and Best Fake Smile. What will truly listeners get excited is the mix between storytelling, casual grittiness and intense emotion. James Bay is simply an awesome musician. He is a troubadour of his craft and pulls influence from the soulful blues to rugged soft rock, and back to twangy folk music. If you’re ever going to do your ears a favor, listen to this album.
If you’re going to listen to one song: Scars. It took him two years to finish. The song tells the whole story, with the melodies mimicking the ups and downs of a relationship. He claims it’s a heartfelt plea to make a relationship work.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Scrawled in handwriting beneath the photograph of Kendrick Lamar’s previous album Good Kid M.A.A.D City were the words “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar.” While Good Kid M.A.A.D City, a sprawling album about escaping the violence of Compton, may have been Lamar’s short film, his latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly is surely his feature film. Running an expansive 79 minutes, Lamar’s staggeringly ambitious sophomore album explores race, black culture, sexuality, and success through jazz infused hip-hop. Upon first listen, the album may sound overwhelming, and that’s because, quite simply, it is. Each song is layered with dense jazz instrumentation, spoken interludes, speeches, and the sounds of live crowds. There are triumphant highs, as Lamar raps and croons about self love to a live audience on “I”, and harrowing lows, with Lamar’s voice crackling to the sounds of a saxophone as he contemplates suicide in a hotel room on “U”. The songs are honest, and bare, with Lamar often holding a mirror up to his self, reflecting on his own successes and failures. A criticism of the album may be that it’s too dense. It is certainly a collection of songs that were not made for easy listening, or for being played in the background. To Pimp a Butterfly demands attention, and some may be reluctant to provide that full attention. But for those who listen to music for its nuances, intricacies, and artistry, To Pimp a Butterfly is not only rewarding, but arguably one of the most interesting and refreshing albums in years.
If you’re going to listen to one song: You have to listen to the contrast between the songs U and I. And Mortal Man and Wesley’s Theory. Just listen to the whole thing, start to finish.