Summer 2014 Best Albums:
“Donker Mag” – Die Antwoord
Rap-rave South African group Die Antwoord landed no. 37 on the Billboard 200 chart with its June 3 release, “Donker Mag,” which means “dark power” in the group members’ native language Afrikaans.
High-energy performance powerhouses Yolandi Visser and Ninja deliver taunting, multi-lingual raps over the kinetic beats of DJ Hi-Tek. No topic is off-limits – the songs reference everything from drugs to Instagram to child-rearing to Satanism.
Yolandi delivers lines like “I’m wicked like a mad D-O-G, fresh like a little dark G-O-D” in her signature, chilling voice, which may simultaneously call to mind schoolyard chants and black witchcraft.
“Donker Mag,” while perhaps not as cohesive as previous albums “Ten$ion” and “$O$,” still captures everything that defines Die Antwoord: A charmingly in-your-face attitude, South African pride and an art house weirdness that has attracted the likes of director Harmony Korine and photographer Roger Ballen.
Die Antwoord will perform in Kansas City on September 17 at Crossroads KC.
“ZABA” – Glass Animals
Cerebral British indie rock band Glass Animals released its debut album “ZABA” June 9. Frontman Dave Bayley has a neuroscience degree from London’s King’s College, demonstrated in the highly cultivated, psychedelic soundscape of tracks like “JDNT” and single “Gooey.” Layer upon syrupy layer of kaleidoscopic vocals and beats melt together to create an earthly pulse that seems to be birthed of old-world gods.
Blissful “ZABA” single “Pools” has spent seven weeks on Billboard’s Twitter Emerging Artists chart, peaking at no. 32.
“Ultraviolence” – Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey’s highly anticipated second studio album, “Ultraviolence,” was released June 17, and quickly reached no. 1 on the Billboard 200.
“Ultraviolence” is cinematic and smooth, much like its predecessor “Born to Die,” and features atmospheric noir overtones cut with melancholy and loneliness.
Overall, Del Rey’s sophomoric effort is as polished and coherent as it is beautiful. “Ultraviolence” sold 182,000 copies in its first week, according to billboard.com.
“LP1” – FKA Twigs
A fusion of experimental and trip hop, FKA Twigs’ debut album “LP1” was released August 6. Twigs is an ethereal soundsmith who weaves amorous breaths, celestial vocals and visceral rhythms into a hypnotic tapestry. Her background as a professional dancer gives her an intrinsic sense of rhythm and movement that listeners may find apparent in every track.
The album’s first single, the genre-transcending “Two Weeks,” is a sensuous, hymn of desire, and was selected as Pitchfork’s Best New Track. The album sold 10,370 copies in its first week, according to billboard.com.
Summer 2014 Worst Albums:
“Paula” – Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke’s July 2 release of “Paula,” an album written about his recently estranged wife Paula Patton, was considered a massive flop by music critics across the globe. The album sold a dismal 530 copies in the UK during its first week, according to theguardian.com, and only 25,000 copies in the US.
Thicke reportedly wrote, co-produced, recorded and self-financed “Paula” in only three weeks, but saw less success than last summer’s release of “Blurred Lines,” which sold 177,000 during its first week.
“AKA” – Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez’ “AKA” was released June 13 with lackluster reviews. From the first song, the album sounds like a slapdash mix of popular styles that work for other popular artists, but that Lopez herself cannot seem to execute without assistance. The artists she features are the most interesting parts of the album, which include Iggy Azalea, T.I. and Pitbull.
The songs without featured artists fall flat. Lopez’ vocals are repetitive and lack the necessary assertion to aid the song’s progression. In the title track, “AKA,” Lopez promises, “This is not the girl you used to know,” and she’s correct. “AKA” does not have the energy to measure up to her famed previous releases, such as 2001’s “J.Lo.”
“Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win” – 50 Cent
50 Cent’s “Animal Ambition” was released June 3, but despite its subtitle proclaiming “An Untamed Desire to Win,” his desire proves insufficient to make this album a victory. All tracks have solid beats, but it’s 50 Cent’s relaxed rap style that fails to impress.
“Irregular Hearbeat” featuring Jadakiss and Kidd Kidd is the only song that works well with 50 Cent’s casual delivery due to its simplistic rhythms.
Though video clips were strategically leaked up until its release date, “Animal Ambition” only sold 47,000 copies in its first week, which falls flat compared to his last release “Before I Self Destruct,” which sold 160,000 units.
“Maleficent” – Directed by Robert Stromberg
Robert Stromberg’s “Maleficent,” released May 30, is a reimagining of Disney’s animated classic film “Sleeping Beauty,” featuring live actors and breathtaking computer-generated imagery.
Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent, a powerful fairy who finds herself unlucky in love when a human named Stefan takes advantage of her in attempt to become a king. Maleficent seeks vengeance by cursing Stefan’s only daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning), though later discovers the young girl is the key to peace in the land.
Jolie is eloquent and poised, bringing depth to her character and evoking empathy for a creature once considered one of Disney’s most sinister villains. Fanning and Jolie’s onscreen chemistry creates both humor and genuinely touching moments, leaving audiences to ponder the true nature of good and evil.
“Maleficent” is currently being shown at AMC Town Center 20.
“Boyhood” – Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” released July 18, is an experiment in film that the world of cinema has never experienced. Filmed over a span of twelve years, the movie’s main focus is growing up.
Ellar Coltrane, who plays the main character Mason, literally ages as his character does. This happens to each cast member: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater all age in accordance with their respective characters. Each year, Linklater would gather the actors and film a handful of scenes.
The result is a stunning coming-of-age portrait that meticulously examines how lives grow, change and shape an individual. As a girl Mason meets during the duration of the film says, “You know how everyone’s always saying ‘seize the moment?’ I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, like the moment seizes us.”
“Boyhood” is showing in many theaters in Kansas City, including Tivoli Cinemas and AMC BarryWoods 24.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” – Directed by James Gunn
Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” met wide acclaim after its Aug. 1 release, scoring an impressive 92 percent rating from rottentomatoes.com.
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista and other notable actors, the comic book adventure follows the adventurer Peter Quill, who becomes the target of an intergalactic bounty hunt when he steals a powerful orb sought by the universe-threatening villain, Ronan. He is forced to make an alliance with a team of idiosyncratic space outlaws: Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Gamora and Drax.
The movie is quirky, humorous and capable of enrapturing die-hard Marvel fans and newcomers alike, grossing a record-shattering $94.3 million in the U.S., according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is currently showing at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza.
“Lucy” – Directed by Luc Besson
“Lucy,” released July 25, features a star-studded cast that includes Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, but fell flat with an underdeveloped plotline and mediocre dialogue.
The action thriller flick is based on the scientific claim that humans only utilize 10 percent of their total brain power, and surpassing that percentage could allow nearly anything to happen.
Lucy (Johansson) unintentionally consumes a drug that slowly allows her total access to her brain power, which transforms her into a superhuman with answers to all of life’s biggest questions.
Though the action scenes are well-executed and aesthetically pleasing, the film ends abruptly and without any real explanation for the events leading up to its conclusion.
The basic plot for “Lucy” enters a realm of untapped potential for sci-fi films of the future, but leaves too many unanswered questions.
“Lucy” is currently showing at the Regal Cinemas Kansas City Stadium 18, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Cinemark 20.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” – Directed by Michael Bay
“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” hit theaters June 27, and marks the fourth installment of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise.
The film picks up five years after “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” left off. The American government has formed specialized CIA unit to hunt the Decepticons left on Earth after the Battle of Chicago, but is secretly hunting Autobots as well. The unit’s leader, Harold Attinger, played by Kelsey Grammar, is unconvinced that any Transformers have humanity’s best interests in mind. Little does Attinger know, Optimus Prime is in hiding under care of an inventor named Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg.
In the end, as in all “Transformers” films, a massive battle ensues.
Ultimately, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is for individuals sated by nothing more than sweeping special effects and constant action. Viewers who seek something deeper are likely to leave disappointed.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is currently showing at the Regal Cinemas Kansas City Stadium 18 and Cinetopia Overland Park 18.