MAGDALENE — FKA twigs
It had been four years since FKA twigs’ last project — her EP M3LL155X. Since then, twigs went through a public breakup, had tumors removed and took up pole dancing. Her music had always been inspired by avant-garde visuals and messages that incorporate risque or taboo elements, but in MAGDALENE she focused her common themes of gender, sexuality and judgment into a cohesive, concept-based album. MAGDALENE is twigs’ best project so far. The historical figure, Mary Magdalene, has been stirring religious controversy for centuries merely for her presence in Jesus’s life. FKA twigs connects the turbulence of her personal life and physical illness to the rumors of the Magdalene that have been persisting throughout history. The album starts with “thousand eyes” which features twigs’ recognizable soprano and an electronic-distorted chorus. The combination of liturgical music, pop and electronic sounds is nothing new for twigs, but her genre-bending is perfected on this album. MAGDALENE does not deliver a peaceful resolution to these conflicts, yet it is a testament to inner-strength through being openly vulnerable. — Molly Carmichael
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” — Ocean Vuong
In my opinion, one of the best books of 2019 is “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong. This novel is written in the form of a letter from a young Vietnamese-American to his illiterate mother. It grapples with themes such as immigration, homosexuality and inequality. The main character, nicknamed Little Dog, is loosely based on Vuong himself, who is a Vietnamese immigrant and openly gay man. The novel centers around the life of Little Dog, his mother Rose and grandmother Lan, as they struggle to adapt as refugees in America. Vuong — an established poet and essayist — creates a work that is both a coming-of-age memoir and a poem. Utilizing his amazing command of language and his natural gift for story-telling, Ocean Vuong creates a novel that is heart-wrenching, beautiful and incredibly human. — Raynee Hamilton
ZUU — Denzel Curry
In just 29 fiery minutes, Denzel Curry blasts through the 12 tracks of ZUU with high energy, succinct bars and a surprising amount of depth. Curry shows off his Miami roots, sporting a Marlins jersey on the cover and paying homage to fellow Florida musicians, including a Rick Ross feature and several lyrics honoring the late XXXTentacion. His subject matter and sound is limited compared to other projects like last year’s TA13OO or 2016’s Imperial, but what he lacks in depth he makes up for in sheer talent and replay value. The tracks boom and clap with the Miami bass sound that first rose to prominence in the 90’s, from “CAROLMART” to “BIRDZ” as he raps about his life in Florida both in the past and the present: “Come take a look at my city and its culture/City full of vultures, city full of Zoes/City full of gangsters that's stickin' to the code.” — CJ Zabat
Writer-director Bong Joon-ho’s latest is an absolute triumph of breathtaking tension. “Parasite” begins as a story about a family struggling to make ends meet, but sweeps you off your feet as an articulated journey of class and capitalism. Balancing frankness and complexity, Joon-ho’s script, written with Han Jin-won, is wholly engrossing, and the committed cast matches the script’s simultaneous realism and absurdity. The score, from composer Jeong Jae-il, is haunting and soothing, boasting more breadth than most drama or comedy films, alternating between a piano, a chorus and a string ensemble. “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year, and it will hopefully reach more audiences as the awards circuit begins to unfold; if it doesn’t, do yourself a favor see this as soon as you can, because “Parasite” will linger with you long after it ends. — CJ Zabat
Social Cues — Cage the Elephant
By far my favorite since they came out with Melophobia in 2013, Cage the Elephant brought robust bops, lyrical beauty and genre variety without straying too far from their mellow rock vibe with Social Cues. “Broken Boy” sneaks in a much-needed punk fix, the album namesake is just straight up fun, “Black Madonna” is soothing but squeezes in the grit that Cage is known for, and “Night Running” with Beck is uniquely off-brand, offering a funky refuge from soft rock. Oh, and that’s just the first one-third of the album. They may have earned Grammys in both 2015 and 2017, but I stand my ground that Cage deserves far more recognition than currently given in their genre niche. — Sam Jones
The culmination of 11 years of films and a multitude of storylines, “Endgame” didn’t disappoint. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, it quickly broke box office records around the world. The film heavily focuses on Captain America/Steve Rogers and Iron Man/Tony Stark, played by Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. respectively in what looks to be their final MCU appearances. With scene-stealing performances by Paul Rudd as Ant-Man/Scott Lang and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, “Endgame” provides a great deal of laughs as we, the audience, are taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Featuring one of the great battle sequences in film history as well as a triumphantly heroic score by composer Alan Silvestri, “Endgame” stands alone as the most anticipated and successful superhero film of all time. It will certainly garner Oscar consideration, including Best Picture, and should not be overlooked. “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” — an action-fantasy film — dominated nearly every category it was nominated for in 2004. — John Everman
Rachael & Vilray — Rachael & Vilray
When first hearing Rachael & Vilray’s self titled debut album, the listener has to do a double-take to be sure they didn’t accidentally turn on a jazz album from the 1940s. Released October 4 from Nonesuch Records, Rachael & Vilray draws from influences of decades past, evoking a sense of calm rarely found in albums released in today’s music industry. The duo consists of Vilray, a Brooklyn-based composer and performer, and Rachael Price, the lead singer of funk-soul-rock band Lake Street Dive. The pair’s close harmonies and Vilray’s nostalgic songwriting allow the album to be the perfect soundtrack for a cold night with a roaring fireplace, or a tranquil evening drive. As Vilray joked at the twosome’s performance at Madison’s Majestic Theatre Nov. 2, he writes the songs for famed jazz singer Peggy Lee, but has had to “settle” for the incredibly captivating voice of Price. Her tone perfectly complements Vilray’s guitar accompaniment, while leaving space for artists like saxophonist/clarinetist Jacob Zimmerman and piano players Akie Bermiss and Jon Batiste to exhibit their talents. In a world dominated by current events, this album provides a blast from the past with original music, and some covers, seemingly picked straight from the radio waves of the 1930s and 40s. — Matthew van Bastelaer
Raynee Hamilton is a literature columnist for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.
Carl "CJ" Zabat is a music columnist for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.
Molly Carmichael is a music columnist for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.
Sam Jones is an opinion editor for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.
John Everman is an arts editor for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.