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Daft Punk (#110 of 19)

Single Review: Gwen Stefani, "Spark the Fire"

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Single Review: Gwen Stefani, “Spark the Fire”
Single Review: Gwen Stefani, “Spark the Fire”

After “Baby Don’t Lie,” the first single from Gwen Stefani’s long-awaited third solo album, flamed out, the No Doubt frontwoman is falling back on old tricks, teaming up with longtime collaborator Pharrell Williams for the follow-up, “Spark the Fire.” Not to put too fine a point on it, she half-raps, “OMG, OMG, I’m back again…Finally remembering what is me/That is what happens when I get with P[harrell],” and sings about “losing focus” during the bridge. Williams has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance the last couple of years, racking up accolades for Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and his own ubiquitous, Oscar-nominated “Happy.” And he was, of course, responsible for Stefani’s biggest single, 2004’s “Hollaback Girl,” among others. Unfortunately, “Spark the Fire,” which includes a nod to the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud,” seems more like an attempt to repeat those past hits than update the singer’s sound for “2015.” The track eschews Williams’s recent neo-disco shtick for the paint-can bongo beats, triangle, schoolyard chants that marked much of his earlier work. Still, “Spark the Fire,” not to be confused with No Doubt’s “Start the Fire,” has a better shot at reigniting Stefani’s solo career than its rather bland predecessor did. Now let’s just hope the music video is a step up too.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Eden, Rosewater, & Jauja

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Eden, Rosewater, & Jauja
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Eden, Rosewater, & Jauja

Filled with retro house cuts, Eden insists upon a good time whenever Paul (Félix de Givry) or his DJ peers spin in various house parties and clubs, yet the prevailing atmosphere of Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is melancholic. One of the more sensitive contemporary directors of youth, Hansen-Løve flips the dynamic of Goodbye, First Love, a film in which the passage of time is keenly felt in the protagonist’s maturation and regression occurs from the reintroduction of outside elements. In this film, it’s everything around Paul that changes and outpaces him while he remains resolutely, depressingly, the same person at 34 that he was at 20.

Berlinale 2014 Boyhood

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Berlinale 2014: Boyhood
Berlinale 2014: Boyhood

Boyhood proves Richard Linklater the nonpareil of carving out small moments of resounding truth in behaviors that are, for lack of any better phrase, made up. As in an early scene where a brother and sister’s quarrelling in the back seats of a car moves beautifully from bickering animus to snickering affection. Or when a mom makes the little “toot, toot” gesture with her thumb and forefinger to ask her teenage son if he’d been smoking weed. Or the father who consoles his kid with the harsh truth that his girlfriend “traded up.”

The film captures the young life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from first grade through his move-in day at the University of Texas at Austin. Shot over the course of 12 years with a cast of mostly unprofessional or semi-professional actors, as well as Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, this remarkably powerful film seems like a stunt only on paper. The span of Linklater’s story, if it can even be called that, allows him the latitude to leisurely explore Mason’s relationships to his mother (Arquette), sometimes-deadbeat dad (Hawke), sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), and a rotating cast of friends, girlfriends, and step-siblings.

Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Album of the Year

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Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Album of the Year
Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Album of the Year

Last year I made the mistake of second-guessing the Academy’s recent trend of awarding the biggest selling album in this category, giving the edge to the Black Keys’ El Camino, which had been outsold by Mumford & Sons’ Babel by only half a million copies. Mumford’s (both initially and in retrospect, obvious) win, however, makes predicting this year’s victor all the trickier. Justin Timberlake, whose The 20/20 Experience was 2013’s top seller (even before the second volume’s scanned an additional 800K copies), failed to snag a nomination here, which leaves Taylor Swift’s Red as the category’s big kahuna. Trouble is, it’s unlikely NARAS will be so quick to award the country-pop ingénue with the top prize twice in four years. The last artist to pull off a double win was Paul Simon way back in 1987, and he had to wait more than a decade for the honor. [NOTE: As “lazarus” points out in the comments below, the last act to win two Album of the Year awards was actually U2 in 2006, and the gap was even longer than Simon’s.]

Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Record of the Year

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Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Record of the Year
Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Record of the Year

NARAS’s manifesto says the Academy will choose Record of the Year based on artistry alone, “without regard to sales or chart position.” This promise gets easier to keep as the Grammys get older: This year, all five contenders are commercial smashes, and, perhaps equally important, all five singles are equally at home on pop radio and hipster-party playlists. Predicting this category with any certainty would be simply insincere, especially if, say, voters decide to award Daft Punk’s banner year here and not in Album of the Year. Bruno Mars has the Super Bowl halftime show, Robin Thicke still has that suit with the slimming vertical pinstripes, and Pharrell—nominated twice here, for his work with Thicke and Daft Punk—has already enjoyed a hell of a Grammy season while the rest of us were still putting our socks on.

Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions

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Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions
Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions

Starting tomorrow, we’ll predict the winners in all four General Field categories of the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, airing Sunday night on CBS. To kick things off, though, here are our thoughts on some of the smaller categories:

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: If this category is indeed meant to honor performance and collaboration, it’s hard to argue with the crossover synergy of Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines,” whereby Pharrell supplies the Marvin Gaye sample (plus those all-important head-bobs), while Thicke brings the yelps, grunts, and falsetto blue-eyed R&B flourishes that critics have admired for a full decade, even as Thicke failed to drop a #1 single. That single is here, and we suspect it means Thicke will be taking home at least one tchotchke on Grammy night. Ted Scheinman

Listen to Slant‘s 25 Best Singles of 2013

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Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2013
Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2013

Last year’s biggest hits heralded the return of good times unto perpetuity, eternal youth and the enduring pleasure of receiving your first phone call from the set of washboard abs next door. Perhaps taking a cue from Britney Spears’s prescriptive “Till the World Ends,” maybe just drunk on borrowed time, 2013’s biggest singles took the pleasure principle to reckless new, solipsistic heights. It was the sort of year when the real-life counterpart to Mike Seaver could slick his thick hair up and let the devil horns sprout, betting the farm that nothing unlocks a good girl faster than “agreeing” with her with a wink in your eye that lets you both know you’re lying. Still, the year’s best tracks invariably stared down the lies of the moment and opted instead for sincerity and honesty. And the truth often hurts. This embittered sincerity gave listeners a whole new set of hashtags to test out in the hope that, next year, everybody will be dancing and be doin’ it right.