MUSIC

'Well, Hell' is LAUREN RUTH WARD's stunning, versatile debut LP

MUSIC | The band, led by Ward's incredible voice, holds nothing back on nine top quality songs

From L.A. comes a fiery, country-tinted, rock and roll and punk and folk inspired debut that's blazing with energy and amazing vocals.

Well, Hell is Lauren Ruth Ward's first full-length album and a confident step onto the 2018 rock and roll podium. In nine songs clocking in at just over half an hour, Ward and her band swing from ambient, echoing alternative to explosive rock to acoustic folk and more shades in between.

She is so clearly a talented vocalist that it's shocking to discover in her recent past a career as a hair stylist. From track one, "Staff Only"—a cinematic, western-tinged salutation—Ward showcases her powerful, quavering, emotive voice. It's analogue and alternately delicate and fierce. "I am a good woman," she sings, "I talk nice and I mean it . . . Go on and treat me bad." She makes full use of the breathiness of her voice, chopping up notes with whispers and rockabilly hiccups and her rapid vibrato. "Staff Only" is a relatively quiet introduction to the impressive vocals to follow.

Meanwhile, the band burns through songs like "Make Love To Myself," "Blue Collar Sex Kitten" and "Well, Hell".

There is no better word than roaring to describe "Blue Collar Sex Kitten," a funny, fuzzed-out locomotive of a song with hilarious lines like, "You should let me cut your hair / to make you look a little better" and "Be my friend or hate my guts / it doesn't matter, we're all f***ed." Over rumbling drums and a two-chord engine, Ward's vocals touch on a goofiness like Elvis and, in those low runs after the chorus, a punk accent like Spring Awakening.

Moving straight into the country-clean guitar of "Sheet Stains," the band shows off its ability to back up Ward's playful, folk lyrics with polished control as easily as hyper energy. "Did I Offend You?" is a perfect alt-pop song that starts with a melody similar to the style of Sara Bareilles but with the pedal pressed a bit further down.

Put another way, Ward's voice has the incredible versatility to fit every style, mood and movement of the band. She's on the verge of whispering in the melancholy "Travel Man" but sharpens into threatening confidence in "Make Love To Myself."

"Sideways" throws classic three-part harmonies behind Ward's wailing "Ooh-woah-oh-woah-ohhwoahhhhs." The song is full of playful energy and gorgeous transitions. It slows into a spacey, narrative bridge before jumping back into the throwback harmonies—"Do you feel like you want to feel?"—and ending abruptly with a clever, anti-climactic, long-winded "Yeahyeahyeahhhhh." It's incredible.

"Well, Hell," the climactic, breathless title song and album finale, could just as easily have been the album opener and a much different introduction, for new listeners, to Lauren Ruth Ward. Instead, it's a rocking, lyrically dense personal statement. "I walk fast, I talk fast / You better listen fast or get left behind," she declares in the first verse.

Listen fast and you'll catch her three references: quotes from Bowie, Elvis and Sinatra. You'll also fall right into the lovely, swinging tempo changes.

The song's chorus, wailed in the middle and almost whispered at the end, is the perfect footnote to an incredible debut rock and roll album that sounds new and classic at the same time, that introduces Lauren Ruth Ward as a powerful vocalist with lyrical ability to match and that's as exciting on the twentieth listen as it is on the first: "I didn't mean to make your head spin / I have a lot to say / Thank you for listening."

Follow Lauren Ruth Ward on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Listen on Apple Music, Spotify and SoundCloud.


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to The Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.


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New artist GRANDSON is at the front of rock and roll's evolution

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MUSIC

New artist GRANDSON is at the front of rock and roll's evolution

MUSIC | 2017 brought a string of exciting singles from the heavy-hitting, genre-blending rocker

Heavy, blues-inspired riffs mixed with hip hop beats and hard-hitting synths is grandson's idea of the future of rock and roll.

Facebook.

grandson, the stage moniker of 23-year-old Toronto artist Jordan Benjamin, began sharing his idea of rock music with the world in 2016 with the single, "Things Change." He hit his stride on the follow-up single, "Bills," and hasn't slowed down since. A year later, on the verge of releasing another single, grandson is leading the charge towards the future of a genre that wants to reclaim its edge, its relevance and its attitude.

The chorus to "Bills"—"On the day / That I lie still / I still have taxes / And I still have bills"—might get a laugh or a scoff, depending on who's listening (his audience will be in the former group; his targets, the latter). The song's young-versus-old debate ends with little sympathy for either but the sound of the song—and of each single that has followed—sits confidently in the youth's corner, tearing into genre walls with a rare energy.

grandson (all lowercase), a former DJ at events around McGill University, where he went to school for a time, hasn't buried his DJ skills six feet beneath crunching guitars. Instead, he crafts songs in which the two often-incompatible instruments speak to each other fluently. His tracks take inspiration as much from rock and blues as they do from EDM and hip hop. Just listen to the solo in "Bills" that slips right into a classic blues clap rhythm or the synths in the "Blood // Water" choruses. "Best Friends" is peak big-riff blues rock but the song's adrenaline shot is its hip hop beat foundation.

It's Rage Against The Machine thrilling.

The Black Keys have never sounded like this, or anything close for that matter. After Brothers, no one was asking them to. But after El Camino, the band clearly thought it was time for a reinvention and a change of sound. So they turned blue and turned boring. grandson is not a Black Keys knockoff or a Royal Blood knockoff but his sound is nonetheless inspired by both. Some version of "Bury Me Face Down" could have been the Black Keys' game-changing evolutionary next step. Instead, they went with "10 Lovers."

"Bury Me Face Down" is a blues standard. "Oh I got troubles / They won't let me be / But I won't get tired": these are lyrics you'd just as soon hear from Son House but in grandson's track, they're layered on top of popping sub bass and drum machine hi hat flares straight from 2017.

Turn Blue revealed more of Danger Mouse's idea of the Black Keys' sound than it did of the Black Keys' idea of the future of their sound. While Danger Mouse steered the band toward a studio sound that is difficult to produce effectively onstage (example: the tight, bass-heavy, round fuzz of "It's Up to You Now" often sounds too domesticated and weak in a cavernous arena), grandson drives his songs with digital sounds that have been perfected onstage by countless EDM and hip hop DJs over the years.

When I wrote about Human, the excellent debut LP by Rag'n'Bone Man, it was exciting because he had managed to crystallize his version of the blues: an R&B-soaked, hip hop conscious, blues-rock album full of pop hooks and soaring vocals. It's a classic blues album inspired by its times. grandson's singles have announced his own version of rock and roll, a sound raised in the new millennium and fed by the revolutions of this unfinished decade.

In the short bio on his website, he says, "I genuinely believe the world needs honest rock and roll, now more than ever". Part of the honesty of his music is admission that rock and roll is not, and shouldn't be, what it used to be. That would be antithetical to the genre. Honest rock and roll does not pretend, does not serve an audience of the past.

After only six singles, grandson has already earned more confidence in his hopefully-forthcoming debut LP than the Keys have in their next album, whenever that might arrive (Turn Blue is turning four this year). Are the Keys facing a U2 dilemma, stuck in a sound that's been sucked dry and trying to escape it in the wrong direction? Have they forgotten to listen to their contemporaries in the last eight years and missed the inevitable tectonic shifts of musical tastes? grandson's working close to the forge. Can the Keys crawl out the past and compete?


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to The Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.


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'Gerald's Game' is a different kind of horror movie for Halloween

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FILM & TV

FILM | 'Gerald's Game' is a different kind of horror movie for Halloween

The Netflix original adapts Stephen King into a movie that's equal parts escape, monster and psychological horror film

Gerald's Game is a story about the inner horrors of a person trapped by her past.

Stephen King is having a huge Hollywood year. Maybe it didn't start off with the success fans had expected, but after disappointing adaptations of The Mist and Dark Tower, September's It took over the post-summer season and has become the highest-grossing R-rated horror film since 1987's Fatal Attraction. Expectations are high for King's 1922, out on Netflix this month. But it's a different Netflix original that has adapted another King novel into a suspense movie that's scary enough for Halloween and thoughtful enough to pack a powerful message: Gerald's Game.

Quick summary: Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and his wife, Jessie (Carla Gugino), head to their remote lake house for an attempt to reinvigorate their marriage. Gerald's game (and grotesque fantasy) involves handcuffing Jessie's wrists to the bed posts. Quickly, Jessie changes her mind about the role-playing game but Gerald is slow to back down. Suddenly, he clutches his chest. The heart attack drops him on top of Jessie and, trying to move his dead weight, she kicks him off the bed. His head strikes the bottom post and he sprawls on the floor, bleeding.

The caretakers and maintenance crew have all been given the long weekend off. Jessie's friends won't arrive until the next weekend. Right away, the movie becomes a terrifying, no-escape situation as sickening to think about as All is Lost or Gravity.

(Warning: spoilers below.)

Speaking of sickening, it doesn't take long for the stray dog, whom Jessie so lovingly fed Kobe beef outside the lake house, to wander into the house through the open front door and start snacking on Gerald's arm. It's no surprise that, forced to watch the dog chew contentedly on her husband's flesh, Jessie starts hallucinating.

The movie playfully physicalizes the visions: Gerald and another Jessie walk around the room and talk to each other and to the real Jessie as if it were three actors in the scene. Since most of the movie consists of Jessie cuffed to a bed, the movements of the hallucinated actors make the cameras move and let the audience stretch its legs a bit. Gugino's acting while mostly incapacitated is admirable but it would be a much less exciting (and probably more art-house ready) movie without the others moving. Her performance is fantastic as both herself and her imagined duplicate.

From the sick joke that is the dog she'd cared for eating her husband in front of her to the simple cleverness of the situation, director Mike Flanagan shoots with careful framing and expressive colors. The deep red of the eclipse scenes is as ominous as the shadow outlined in the corner of the bedroom.

There is the other… thing lurking in the room. And this is where it becomes complicated. There are really three stories in Gerald's Game: the game gone wrong and Jessie's escape; the mysterious shadow-figure that might or might not be a hallucination; and the return of a deeply repressed memory that is definitely not a hallucination.

The game is the suspense story, a frantic, creative escape from the handcuffs on the bed and from the lake house. With motivation from her imaginary self and undead Gerald's provocations, Jessie slowly works out the way to freedom. But not before she unearths the long-repressed memory that has locked her into handcuffs heavier than those around her wrists.

What at first seem like cheap flashbacks that the director can use as an excuse to leave the room and film in other locations eventually start to reveal a horrifying experience in Jessie's childhood that has affected her entire life. A solar eclipse is washing the country in shadow and Jessie stays with her father at their house while the rest of her family takes the boat out to watch from the water. On a bench on the shore, Jessie's father's disgusting actions with Jessie on his lap and his manipulation of Jessie's fear of her parents divorce lock her into a prison of secrecy.

This is the psychological horror of the film that raises the stakes of her escape. Gerald's Game goes full horror-movie when night falls at the lake house and a tall, malicious figure looms from the dark corner of the room. The dog has fled and Jessie watches the terrifying presence until her fear puts her to sleep. In the morning, wanting to believe it was another hallucination, she is haunted by a smudged footprint near the bed.

This is King's expertise: blending psychological horrors and traumas from the past with questions about how real the monsters are. In The Shining, Danny's imaginary friend was imaginary and Jack's encounter with the evil hedge animals was hallucinatory until Danny returns from Room 237 with bruises on his neck and Jack leaves the hotel bar smelling of gin. In Gerald's Game, it is the footprint and Jessie's missing wedding ring.

The end of the film reveals the deepest level of the escape story. Not simply an escape from the bed, Jessie has escaped from the psychological handcuffs of her husband and of her father. Her letter to her childhood self explains her freedom from her father—"that his shackles were silence"—and from Gerald—"and his were comfort." The hallucinatory battle with herself and her memory was the real escape, finally grasping freedom after decades of repression and fear.

The end also reveals the monster, fully real and in all of the newspapers: "Moonlight Man" (Carel Struycken), as he's called, the necrophile who had begun his criminal career by defiling corpses and had then moved onto murder. Confronting him is her final step to freedom, her final victory over the bonds of fear and complacency. Not all of King's characters make it out alive, but Jessie breaks the chains of secrecy in which her father had locked her and the chains of comfort in which her husband had done the same.

Though, in the first third, it seems about to take on too much weight, the film successfully wraps its stories together and achieves a meaningful and powerful catharsis. Unlike the barely-scraped-through survival of a character in a Halloween movie, where mere survival is enough for a happy ending, Gerald's Game is a horror film with emotional dedication and remarkable importance in its character's victory.

Watch Gerald's Game on Netflix now.


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.


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