Our favorite things this week include Jimmy Cliff's arms, Mas Ysa, and some of the Grammy results.
Hard Arms: Earlier this month, the 1973 film The Harder They Come was restored and re-released on HD. It was made on a B-movie budget and suffers B-movie issues - forgotten storylines, haphazard characterization, erratic acting - but it also has the palpable vitality of a good B-movie as well. Jimmy Cliff is riveting as Ivan, and you root for him even though his character flaws are pretty glaring, and the character’s narrative doesn’t exactly line up with the sentiments expressed in the title song.
Still, the corrupt musical and urban world he lived in made the character understandable, never more so than when he poses for the pictures that inspired the album’s cover art: Ivan just wanted to be somebody. The moment that stays with me is the footage of Cliff in the studio cutting “The Harder They Come.” The camera too often tries to capture the intensity in his face, but the tension in his arms as he feels the riddim belies any notion of the good time, easygoing groove of reggae. This is his chance, and Ivan feels it throughout his body. (Alex Rawls)
What’s Worth Worth?: My expectations were high for Mas Ysa's debut EP Worth after the Brooklyn-based producer, real name Thomas Arsenault, dropped the effervescent "Why" last year. It was energized but smart, packed with raw vocals not commonly paired with dance music. But I soon learned my hope for a helping of self-aware bangers was off when Worth started streaming at Pitchfork. It's more ballad than banger, and it’s hard not to feel a little let down when listening and only getting one other track that matched the vibe of "Why.” But that's my fault based on my expectations. Repeated listens could reveal something just as powerful on Mas Ysa's softer side once I’m open to it.
He Was Robbed: For years now I’ve regarded the Grammys more as a ceremony for the artists who best marketed themselves rather than a legitimate verdict on who released the best music. Still, I can’t help but pay attention to the nominees and root for my favorites. There were plenty of worthy (in my mind) winners Sunday night including Daft Punk, Lorde, Vampire Weekend, Zedd, the Civil Wars and Gary Clark Jr., but some artists who took home the trophy had me shaking my head. Imagine Dragons seemed to be a crowd favorite in 2013, but their lyrics come straight from a how-to manual for corny Christian rock. And like most fans of hip-hop who have since voiced their anger via Twitter, I was viscerally upset to see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat out Kendrick Lamar in multiple categories. This is nothing against Macklemore. I find his story compelling, I appreciate his outspokenness on civil rights issues, and he comes off as a genuinely nice guy (although the decision to Instagram his apology to Lamar makes me suspicious). The fact is Kendrick Lamar is a better rapper and far more influential in the rap community. Both Section.80 and good kid, m.A.A.d city revitalized hip-hop, reintroducing the concept album to the genre and changing the way rappers approach their sound. (Will Halnon)