Critical Circuit #7 – October 26, 2021

Dune

I am proud to announce that Dune was officially my return to an IMAX theater since the pandemic, an option I recommend to anyone who has convenient access to one. I know this is available to watch on HBO Max but theatrical experience really enhanced my enjoyment of this story. Or, this part of the story. The movie opens with a title card that reads “Dune: Part One” and, man, does this feel like half of a movie. This is not a complaint, if anything I am begging you to see this to make sure we do get a second part because what Denis Villeneuve has set up with this film has the potential to be one of the best sci-fi franchises of my lifetime. Every piece of this story is set up meticulously, from the characters to the different worlds, all the classic components of a great sci-fi story are here and then some. The massive cast are all great, with my personal standouts being Rebecca Ferguson and Jason Momoa who both breathe life and personality into this slow-paced story. While the action is limited, every instance of it is utilized fully, taking advantage of the film’s vast landscapes to make every sandworm encounter or spaceship dogfight feel large in scope. This is a special movie, one that truly feels momentous, and I am beyond excited to see where Villeneuve will take it, assuming we are lucky enough to get another installment in this franchise. (Update: they greenlit the sequel, good job everyone we did it!)

Coldplay – Music of the Spheres

Now onto a real space epic. I understand that Coldplay has become a joke to many, and I’ll admit there were a few rough moments when I revisited their discography recently. But in 2021 there is only so much we should be expecting from this band. Just looking at the tracklist and seeing emoji songs and collaborations with Selena Gomez and BTS, you should know this is going to be full of pop concessions. And it absolutely is but for what I wanted from this album, I got everything I wanted and more. For one, if you’re going for pop, getting Max Martin onboard is the right first step and singles like “Higher Power” and “My Universe” are absolutely bangers because of him. And despite how safe much of this project feels, Coldplay does play around a little with songs like “People of the Pride,” that almost reminded me that these guys were once considered a rock band, and the 10 minute closer “Coloratura” which is legitimately one of the greatest moments of the band’s later career. It legitimately feels like the best parts of all their difference eras melded into one epic track that is more ambitious than I would have expected from Coldplay at this time without feeling out of place with what they have been putting out recently. The Coldplay haters can complain all they want, this album is simple fun and that is really all I can ask of these guys at this point in their careers.

Finneas – Optimist

While the success of Billie Eilish has been incredibly well documented over the last couple years, what occasionally is overlooked is how her brother/co-writer/producer Finneas has seemingly become a star in his own right. It seems that it has become accepted that his contributions to the last two Billie Eilish albums are just as, if not more, valuable than her own and considering just how much I’ve enjoyed their work together I am thrilled to see him become a household name on his own. That being said, solo releases are always a risky gamble and despite some great moments I think this album does prove that Finneas has plenty of room for growth. For one, while the production throughout is clean, the risks are few and far between, which surprised me from someone who has never been afraid to go bold before. The writing here also leaves much to be desired. There are too many moments that feel rehashed from other recent songs, for example “The Kids Are All Dying” feels like an attempt at The 1975’s “Love It If We Made It” without any of the real bite, “The 90s” is a flimsier version of Charli XCX’s “1999” and even “Love is Pain” sounds like another pass at “Everyone Dies” off of Billie’s last album. This is not to say Optimist does not have plenty of moments that do work. The opener “A Concert Six Months From Now” is truly great, painting a vivid image of a complex relationship, swelling in intensity as the emotions become more powerful, it is easily the strongest moment here. And moments like “Hurt Locker” and “Medieval” are both sticky and show Finneas’ decent vocal range. Fans of Eilish’s work should absolutely check this out and there is more than enough on here to give me hope that Finneas will eventually have great projects in his own discography soon enough.

Teddy Grey – The Great Failed Romances of the Twentieth Century

Finally, I am excited to talk about one of my most anticipated albums of 2021. I understand that my platform is small, but I still feel like I should be using it to highlight exciting, original records like this. Full transparency, Teddy is a great friend of mine so this is less of a formal review and more of a glowing endorsement of his hard work. For those unfamiliar with Teddy Grey’s music, which would be a tragedy to say the least, I would describe what he does as theatrical rock. Whether looking at his previous mixtape Rock N Roll McDonalds or the soundtrack to his feature-length film Garfeld: The Musical, you will find a fun mix of genres blended with plenty of humor and natural charisma. The Great Failed Romances of the Twentieth Century feels like a natural progression after these, an ambitious 30 song collection inspired by, believe it or not, the biggest failed relationships of the twentieth century. Ranging from Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Vanilla Ice and Madonna, the famous figures at the center of this album are as varied as the songs themselves. Each track attempts to fully embody its characters, giving Teddy, and his long list of collaborators, plenty to play with while also genuinely paying homage to these figures. Even as someone who is deeply invested in pop culture, there were tracks on here that had me wanting to do a deeper dive into the love lives of dead people. The nearly 90 minute length might seem daunting, but I can assure you there is not a dull moment on here and there is something to be said for someone who can keep my attention for an album this long. It might be my own personal bias, but Teddy has improved with each release and this is easily the best produced material of his short career.  

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