Sights and Sounds for the Holidays

2017 Alternative Holiday Gift Guide

Posted In: Culture, Poetry, Fiction, Biography,   From Issue 853   By: Kristi Kates

16th November, 2017     0

Stumped for gift-giving this year? Let the entertainment world (and Review) be your guide! Here are our top picks from this year of things to listen to, read, and watch, all just perfect for wrapping up in a big, festive red bow.

MELODIC MUSIC

Lorde – Melodrama
With production by the wildly crafty Jack Antonoff (of the band fun.), Lorde stretches her quirky skills even farther than before on this sophomore set, a carefully-constructed collection of tunes that wind her spiky, pointed lyrics and thoughtful musings around house beats and ‘80s synths one minute, heavy dancefloor bass and droning vocal melody lines the next. It’s not always immediately listenable, but that’s what’s great about it; once these tracks grow on you, you’ll find new depth with each listen.


Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Taking the form of one of Chance’s self-produced mixtapes, Coloring Book zoomed outside of the lines and proved to be a real turning point for the positive, faith-heavy Chicago rapper. Not only were his tracks a boon for these troubled times, but they’re also simply great listening. Sure, Kanye West and Justin Bieber make appearances, and that’s cool too; but this one’s all about Chance, as his hip-hop skills take firm control of the spotlight on tunes like the effusive “All We Got,” the mix of regret and newly-found self-confidence on “Blessings,” and the R&B gem “Juke Jams.”

Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Considering Styles’ recent past as one cog in the giant pop wheel that was One Direction, you wouldn’t expect him to come up with this pliant set of ‘70s soft-rock inspired tunes. And that’s probably the point. Much of this is pure West Coast bedroom pop, the kind made by ex-surfer kids looking to capture something new on those dull, flat-water days; whether he’s leaning on Harry Nilsson (“Meet Me in the Hallway”) or Dan Fogelberg (“Carolina”) for added inspiration, the set shows that Styles can be more than his boy band past.

LCD  Soundsystem – American Dream
They’re breaking up, they’re not breaking up, hey, look, they’re back. And if that instability brings in an album like this, then all the media confusion was well worth it. Chock full of veiled, often bitter commentary on our country and the world’s current confused state of affairs, LCD’s tunes here utilize metaphor in the form of break-ups of a wide range of types, including hero worship (“Tonite”), romance (“How Do You Sleep?), friends (“Change Yr Mind”), and yes, that grandly-titled American dream.

Rag N’ Bone Man – Human
Rag N’ Bone Man, aka English singer-songwriter Rory Graham, first started making some rumbles on radio and streaming services way back in late 2016 with the preview title track from this set, an instantly noticeable, soulful anthem that showed off his deep, controlled modern-blues vocals. And the roots-pop didn’t stop there; Human also offers up tracks like the Elvis-echoing “Grace,” the stingingly emotive “Bitter End,” and the faintly folky “Be the Man.”

BEST BOOKS

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Better known for his fantastical literary treks into places like Wall (Stardust), Rock City (American Gods), and Other World (Coraline), this time around Gaiman digs into classic Norse mythology, which gets an authentic yet still quirky interpretation here. You’ll re-meet Thor, Odin, Frey, and more in a brand new way, with plenty of detail and descriptive exploits given new life through Gaiman’s retelling.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Another actor turned author? Sure, if it’s someone with the gentle wit and observational skill of Tom Hanks, who’s equally devoted to the endangered art of short-form storytelling. In his debut short story collection, he cruises across a wide range of characters and topics, from two pals who put together a rocket ship in their yard, to aspiring actor Rory, who panics when he’s suddenly thrown under the bright lights of success.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
As much as Exit West is a book about immigration, family, and exile, it’s also a book with a faint touch of magic, via a surprising plot device that in one way serves to infuse the story with a hint of fantasy, and in another helps represent how different each person’s own “ideal lifestyle” might be. It’s introspective and at times alarming; but in the end, it both gives you insight into the author, and a new appreciation for your own story.

Joni: The Anthology by Barney Hoskyns
A detailed dig back into the past of folk singer Joni Mitchell, this tome is definitely thorough, if a little repetitive at times, but you won’t lack for information about the quiet and poetic artist, from her origins in the Canadian prairie to the downtown clubs of New York City and her accomplishments in folk and jazz music. It’s a solid mix of interviews, reviews, quotes, and insight, great for both the already-dedicated or the brand new fan.

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
Penned by one of the most revered book writers in the Star Wars universe, this story is a bio of sorts of Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Empire villain, with the point(s) of view arriving from several secondary characters as Zahn delves further into what makes Thrawn tick and what makes him a bad guy. It’s a satisfying mix of sci-fi, political trickery, and military matters that resides nicely alongside the new Star Wars films and character revival.

MUST-SEE MOVIES

The Lost City of Z – featuring Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller

This underrated Amazon epic showcases Hunnam’s surprisingly deft acting skills as real-life English explorer Percy Fawcett, who treks into the Amazon and away from his wife (Miller) in the early 20th century to chase wild hints of a mysterious civilization. This solid action-adventure also displays some unexpected depth via some of the soul-searching Hunnam’s character does; also watch carefully for a virtually unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (Twilight) as Hunnam’s right-hand man.

Wonder Woman – featuring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
It’s tough to find anything new to say about the excellent translation of the longstanding Wonder Woman character into this modern superhero movie with its likeable characters, well-told backstory, and heroine (and hero) with a heart of gold. It’s all done so well, especially balancing the fantastical storyline with the war conflict and Wonder Woman’s own inner turmoil as she learns to deal with the “real” world. The equally excellent Pine as Wonder Woman’s first romance and a fierce Robin Wright as her mentor just makes this one even better.

The Lego Batman Movie – featuring… well, Lego Batman, of course
The latest entry in the Lego series of movies follows the same formula as its prior big-screen colleagues, with an equal amount of giggles for the youthful set, and smart, wry zingers for the adults. The colors practically leap out of the screen, and the carefully-rendered animation is top-notch, as are the voice talents, most notably Will Arnett with his purposefully dramatic Batman voice; Ralph Fiennes as the patient butler Alfred; and Rosario Dawson as Batgirl.

Hidden Figures – featuring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe
Bringing three unsung heroes into the spotlight – namely three exceptionally skilled NASA higher-ups who also happen to be African-American women – this is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a pivotal moment in the Space Race and for the American roster of astronauts and the support structure behind them. Henson, Spencer, and singer-turned-actress Monáe are perfect fits for both the brainy characters and the film’s 1960s setting.

The Dark Tower – featuring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey
Based on the fan-favorite novels by Stephen King, this adaptation pits Elba’s character, The Last Gunslinger, against the Man in Black (portrayed by a suitably oily McConaughey) as they battle for control of a device that holds the universe together. While fans of the book gave the film mixed reviews, you can’t deny that the gritty epic is certainly entertaining and thought-provoking, perhaps more so for those not familiar with the source material.

 

 

 

 

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