Serg Beret’s 20 Best Songs of 2015 Pt. 2: 10-1

No time to waste as the year is almost out, so to the top ten we go.

10. “Hello”by Adele

Hello, Adele. Adele hasn’t been on the charts or in the media since 2012’s “Skyfall” and winning her OScar for the performance. No one saw her coming back quite yet until a phone ad revealed her single “Hello.” IT is fortunately not a cover of the classic Lionel Richie ballad, but an original song about trying to contact the past to move on. It’s a rich ballad with all the aesthetics we’ve come to love from Adele from dramatic romantic production and the overdubs throughout. She still has heartbreak in her voice and suffering in her performance. It’s beautiful and a bit harsh to muster up the feelings of the past. It’s tearful, but brilliant.

9. “The Hills” by The Weeknd

How this song got on the radio, I will never know, but thank the lords on high that it did because it is pure dark joy. The Weeknd brings his signature R&B style, but creates a dark atmosphere that brings out the intense lyrics. It’s a song about a man in a cheating relationship, constantly addicted to drugs and sex and owning up to the fact the only reality that’s real is when he is high. The composition of the song is prefect with a gorgeous breakdown section that could fit in a dramatic thriller. The Weeknd is a new guy in the mainstream who has been around and we should be glad he hit the big time. He will be sticking around for quite awhile.

8. “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa

How do you make a stupid over-the-top awesome thrill ride like Furious 7 make the audience question the afterlife and their own existence? Simple: add “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth to the end of it and you have tears. On a personal note, I had not heard the song till I saw the film with a friend. When it played at the end (spoilers ahead) as Brian O’Connor, played by the late Paul Walker, rides away from Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, me and my pal nearly started to tear up. The song is very effective in putting a theme to the film’s finale. On it’s own, it’s actually quite good. The chorus and vocal work by Puth, a relative unknown, is very well done and Khalifa, who I’ve never been a big fan of, actually shines on it. Khalifa understands how it is to lose someone in your life, be it a friend or family member, and his verses reflect that. It’s less about trying to compete for radio play and more written for the message it was trying to convey; the loss of a friendship. I’ve been hearing this could be up for an Oscar soon and I would not be surprised if it wins.

7. “Uma Thurman” by Fall Out Boy

Who would have guessed that Fall Out Boy of all bands would have survived the chaotic wave of the Emo era? Well, they did and have progressed into pure pop-rock badasses on “Uma Thurman.” Sampling the classic theme of The Munsters, FOB combines the surf-rock sounds of the theme against the more modern sounds of their own. Patrick Stump shines as bright as ever in his vocal work while the band goes through different waves throughout the tune from loud and bombastic, electronic sounds at the beginning and the Munsters theme. It’s interesting to see a band sample other work to progress, but I digress. These guys really love Uma Thurman with the tongue-in-cheek references to the actress throughout the song. Their album American Beauty/American Psycho is also my favorite album from this year and there are tracks on there that outshine this film, but “Uma Thurman” gives casual listeners a taste of why Fall Out Boy has stood out from the old era they were lumped in with.

6. “Want to Want Me” by Jason DeRulo

DeRulo, you did it. It took about four years, but you made it to the top 10 songs portion and that’s an accomplishment. Last year, I described him as the baseball player that isn’t popular, but can hit a homer. Here, he pushed himself to the moon and is finally respected on this track. This track combines some classic pop vibes along with modern synths along with DeRulo’s signature favorite subject: bangin’. DeRulo has made a career on the formula of singing about sex and love. DeRulo hits all the marks from the highest of high notes, a spectacular breakdown section and that weird “chika-chika-chika-chika” in the final chorus. He is a great act and I’ve always enjoyed his singles. He made it.

5. “The Less I Know Better” by Tame Impala

Before randomly going through Spotify, I had never heard of Tame Impala. None of my friends had ever mentioned them, none of my writing colleagues talked up about them and I was never aware they have been active for close to eight years. “The Less I Know The Better”is a great introduction to them (in my case anyway) by combining a great bass line, smooth chords and psychedelic flair. Singer Kevin Parker lets his one-sided love affair with sadness and anger by questioning what can be done to be with his lover. It’s quite depressing once listeners listen to the lyrics as he constantly loses himself over one woman he will never come to be with. Tame Impala is a hell of a great band with a throwback sound (guess that’s the theme this year) that is surefire. For those reading this, please watch the video above because the video is an acid trip waiting to happen.

4. “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran

This might be a complete cheat as this song came out at the end of last year, but “Thinking Out Loud’s” popularity increased to rousing heights this year by garnering the number two spot of the Billboard Year-End (“Uptown Funk” being number one). Ed Sheeran creates a simple song about being with the one you love forever or at least till one of the parties falls off. Sheeran has an acoustic guitar sound that is honest in the vein of John Mayer and less douchey than Jack Johnson. When one thinks out loud about the one they love, the other party can be there to hear what they want out of them and it’s quite beautiful. The song is starting to become the modern wedding song of choice and it is a gorgeous song simply about wanting to stay intact in a relationship. Compared to the past songs covered about sex and lost romance, it is simply wonderful to have a true love song. Sheeran is a great artists and continues to prove his worth, both in his native land and here in the States.

3. “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding can set my heart on fire anytime she sings and “Love Me Like You Do” is further proof at that statement. This is one of the first songs Goulding performs that she didn’t write, but can still make it her own as it relies on her electro-pop sounds. Those sounds are combined with the bombastic drums and gorgeous overdubs to create a modern “wall of sound” song. Goulding sings of love in both the passionate form and the head over heels way by letting them “Set the pace” because she’s “not thinking straight.” She loves the passion set by the lover, but enjoys the race at the same time. This song became popular due to being a featured song on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. One can say this is a throwback to the days of the soundtrack of the film being better than the film (looking at you, Space Jam). Either way, the song is a standout of this year and a highlight of the romantic songs on the list.

2. “Wet Dreamz” by J. Cole

J. Cole is one hell of a rapper, possibly the best around alongside Kendrick Lamar. My friend introduced me to him and his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album that blew me away for its honest words, great low key samples and beats as well as J. Cole smooth flow and style. “Wet Dreamz” is the stand out of the album, complete with a subtle humorous video, that focuses on Cole’s first time having sex. It does not dramatize the entire situation feeling by being real about the situation. He lied that he had done it before, tried his best to learn how to do it and the end of the song is pure and utter brilliance. The sample feels like a classic Chicago oldie sound, but there is a certain modern sound due to Cole’s hazy voice over them. Cole is a fantastic rapper that isn’t as popular as his competitors which is quite the shame. Hopefully, more people will listen to Cole and his star can rise brighter.

Before we get to number one, here’s a few honorable mentions:
“One Last Time” by Ariana Grande
“Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
“Bassically” by Tei Shi
“Feeling Ok” by Best Coast

And the number one song of the year is…

1. “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd

For the first time in the history of this list, an artist that not only who was just “featuring” last year is number one, but had two songs in the top ten not as a featuring credit, but on their own. “Can’t Feel My Face” is a great song about being addicted to drugs. The “she” is this song is representing his vice of choice and the pain he goes through with it. It’s a back and forth dance between the two in an eloquent balance of the misery between them and the high it causes into him to be numb. It’s a macabre masterpiece, but holy hell, is a great pop song oozing of classic Michael Jackson dance hall sounds. It also takes the modern pop sounds of today, destroy them and builds them up again to a gorgeous drug fueled song that is beyond compare. The backdown of the song also breaks away and is closer to the aforementioned “The Hills” with the hypnotic line of “she told me don’t worry about it.” It’s a song about torture on the inside and probably accepting your fate to the vice. It is a pop song that strays away from the typical and that is why it’s number one.

Serg Beret’s 20 Best Songs of 2015 Pt. 1: 20-11

The  musical year of 2015 can be summed up in one collective word

lisa eh
You said it, Lisa.

2015 was a continuation of last year’s trends of mediocrity with few bright spots. In fact, when researching for this list, most of the songs popular this year being from last year.

The bright spots, though, help set a tone for the next year. Hip-hop and rap have increased in popularity with new artists paving a bright future. Female artists have proven to be dominant in the pop game while males have been making R&B come back with a vengeance. The independent music scene is more vast than ever thanks to music streaming services such as Soundcloud and Spotify with more people going away from the basic radio waves of their cars.

The 20 songs sum up the ones that will stick around after this year is said and done. This list also includes a interesting event that has never happened before in the past years of writing this list. Let’s not waste anymore time. These are, without any doubt, the 20 Best Songs of 2015.

20. “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap

From a guy whose name sounds remarkably close to something you can order at a Greek restaurant, “Trap Queen” is a fun little tune about being in love with a gorgeous woman and staying with them. Fetty Wap has a unique style and flow that is unusual to say the least, but he makes it work against the heavy use of drum machines and synth-pop sounds. If you are wondering what a “trap queen” is, Urban Dictionary (the only dictionary that matters) defines it as “a bomb-ass female” that is “loyal” and “Gives no fucks about bitter, petty bitches.” She is the highest of all the girls before and after. Fetty makes sure to pay tribute to his queen by admiring in every line doing everything from getting high to cooking pies (should be baked, but I disgress). Fetty is in the one hit wonder spot, but he might be saved since he already has a couple of hit on his belt to avoid such a trademark.

19. “Will You Dance?” by the bird and the bee

The small independent duo from Los Angeles the bird and the bee has always been grand with their indie pop vibes including gems such as “Love Letter from Japan,” a cover of “How Deep is Your Love?” and an entire Hall & Oates cover album. Fortunately after five years, the duo came back with the light and fun “Will You Dance?” off their new album Recreational Love. This is more of a selfish and local choice since I’m in the Los Angeles area, but the duo give a simple song about wanting to simply dance with someone with singer Inara George’s sweet voice emphasizing every line. The addition of the chorus of women brings the song to new heights with remarkable vocal work. The breakdown section with the constant “whatchu gonna do?” is quite amazing and, if you saw the video above, leads to a hilarious moment with Patton Oswalt. the bird and the bee are simply wonderful and deserve a mention.

18. “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Dammit, Carly, I missed you. Miss Jepsen had been making a hit on Broadway in Cinderella (or lack thereof depending on who you talk to) away from the pop charts, but luckily she came back with a vengeance with the sugary sweet “I Really Like You.” It’s a simple song about having a crush on someone and everything that comes with it. From the awkwardness of possibly saying more than you should and good ol’ unresolved sexual tension while watching TV. Carly’s voice is always light and breezy with a bit a gravel that gives it an edge to this song. The breakdown is neat, though a tad empty, but that damn chorus will be stuck in your head for days. Sure, it’s no “Call Me Maybe,” but it might even be better than it. Also, the video has Tom Hanks in it and that is reason enough to be on this list.

17. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon

I apologize for thinking this group would never get another hit. Walk the Moon is a pop group back on the 2012 list I put in the “one-hit wonder” position. It may have taken two years, but they came back with the infectious “Shut Up and Dance.” Continuing the trend of the last two songs, it’s poppy as all get out, perfect for friendly radio play and about romance. The best part of this tune is the lead up to the chorus with “She took my arm/I don’t know how it happened” with bombastic chords and the “ooh hoo hoo ooh” in the chourus proper. The vocals of Nicholas Petricca are perfect and suit the song’s tone. Hopefully now, Walk the Moon can continue their success in the pop scene without my idiocy deeming them as lesser.

16. “Way Too Much” by Wavves

Wavves is an awesome as hell band. Anyone who played the darkly humorous crime masterpiece Grand Theft Auto V can attest that fact as the group gave badass tracks to that game. With “Way Too Much,” they combine their loud ass kicking sound to some throwback vibes. Try listening to this song without immediately thinking of “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors. Wavves areone of the last great hopes in rock being alive as the rock scene at the moment is, well, lacking in artists that are not trying to be in the Top 40. Wavves shine bright, kick ass and leave with a real rock sound that takes listeners back to those old glory days.

15. “Talking Body” by Tove Lo

Sexual attraction and having sex is a wonderful thing. What? You thought because Tove Lo sang this song I was going to repeat the same joke from last year? Lo makes a synth-pop sound to talk about sex with her unique voice goes from the traumatized voice of “Habits” to the joyous and excited tone to get ready for some hot action. She wants love, to stay in bed, smoke and if the partner has a perfect body, then they “can fuck for life.” It is a song about having sex plain and simple without sugar coating it. It’s very blunt about the subject and Lo sounds like she craves the hell out of giving pleasure. Lo is a fantastic artist. I’m glad her drug addictions in “Habits” went to a happier sexy song.

14. “So Good” by Tuxedo

In 2013, the throwback song was in full position. Heck, Daft Punk was number one because of it. Tuxedo must have been reading because they came into 2015 ready to satisfy the need for some sexy late 70’s – early 80’s funk style. Honestly, I forgot the name of the song when I was researching, but Tuxedo stuck out. The keyboard synth sounds are simply wonderful combined with singer Mayer Hawthorne’s smooth vocals. IT’s perfection for a sweet throwback I have craved in the past years. The chorus is another one that will be stuck in for days with “It’s so good, it’s so good, feels so good to me.” Tuxedo is just one of the many outfits, pun intended, Hawthorne is in that carry an old school vibe. Tuxedo is a perfect fit.

13. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

Another throwback song tha, unlike the previous one, was everywhere to the point we all got sick and tired of hearing it. Yet, in due time and after many weddings in the future, “Uptown Funk” will be known as a classic for the ages. It’s a funk based throwback that Mars conquered on Unorthodox Jukebox and waste no time showing that he has the pipes to give listeners a trip back to the days of Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire. Crowds can sing along to it, the party gets moving and the young teens who can’t stand it will actually groove to it. Too bad the overplay of the song hurts it from being in the top 10, but it’s still an instant classic.

12. “Elastic Heart” by Sia

Sia came out swinging last year for an artist that has been around since the 90’s with “Chandelier.” This year her other single, “Elastic Heart,” also came out swinging with a nice upbeat tone and a controversial video (at the start of the year no less). Sia sings about a dramatic break-up in vivid imagery. Describing her heart as “elastic” and how she will always come back until she snaps, Sia brings the honest and earnest reasoning of why she can move on from her traumatic experiences. There’s some references to more than verbal abuse that can trigger some listeners. The song is a eclectic mix of modern drums and bass and a classic piano ballad. Sia is still magnificent as last year by continuing to prove she isn’t just a “featuring” artist. As for that video, it’s artsy and beautiful. Whoever saw more into it is just looking for attention.

11. “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber

You should have left and never came back. You should not have busted a Justin Timberlake and grown into yourself to become better than yourself. Justin Bieber did exactly that on “What Do You Mean?” growing up into his own, not coming off as cheesy and being genuine as hell. It’s poppy in a Calvin Harris-esque way with Bieber having matured into his voice. Two years ago, I put “As Long As You Love Me” on the list because of Bieber slowly becoming what he needs to be. On this track, he finally went from boy to man full stop. It’s no longer a joke to like Justin Bieber’s music and that’s a good thing.

Part I Here

Serg Beret Reviews: ‘Ant-Man’ (2015)

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QUICK SUMMARY: Ant-Man combines comic thrills and creative concepts in a goofy and silly film and that is a good thing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to bring unexpected heroes to the screen with ‘Ant-Man.’ Directed by Peyton Reed and starring Paul Rudd as the titular hero, Ant-Man plays to the softer side of the Marvel Universe.

Scott Lang, played by Rudd, is a thief fresh out of the clink and ready to begin life anew in hopes of seeing his daughter. That is until Lang gets another heist job from his friend Luis, played by Michael Pena, to break into the home of the original Ant-Man Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. It is here he comes upon the Ant-Man suit which can shrink him down to the size of, well, an ant. What follows is a caper with Pym, his daughter Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, and havin g to deal with the villainous Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll.

‘Ant-Man’ wears the goofy premise of Ant-Man on its sleeve. It isn’t dark or brooding like ‘Age of Ultron’ before it, but is instead closer to being fun in the same vein as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ It indulges in being a fun movie by plating with tropes from other miniscule world ideas. From an elaborate training sequence, the destruction of a model city and a fight scene in the climax that is nothing short of outstanding, it creates a bigger sense of adventure even if it just at five inch nothing.

Further more are the performances. Everyone seems to be having fun. Rudd is always his charming self except now with super powers. He plays well off of the stern grumpy old Douglas who knows what it takes to be km the suit. Their dynamic is the classic mentor/student story, but it does not come off as cheap or hokey. Corey Stoll as Cross and later Yellowjacket is menancing. He is a bastard that has the same charm as Rudd, but more worried about advancing his technology than the well-being of others. He is a perfect foil for Lang and Lang’s personality that when it comes time to go toe-to-toe, the audience is excited to watch these two come to blows.

The humor is quite funny, but can be a bit grating at points. The three comic reliefs including Luis are a bit hit-and-miss, especially Peña at points. He is not as bad as Kat Dennings in ‘Thor: The Dark World’ as he is grounded in reality and not as much of an annoyance. Some lines and quips hit the mark such as the lovely descriptions of where he got the heist info that include wine tasting and neo-cubism art. Others fall flat into groan territory, but Peña seems to be having fun. The other two are useless and serve no purpose including T.I. who is just there to collect some Marvel money.

One issue is Evangeline Lily as Hope. She’s tough girl bland, complains most of the time and is only going with the plan to prove her father wrong. Lily is a fine actress, but the role seems to be one any actress can pull off. Hopefully in the sequel they expand upon her character because a scene gives a hint for what is next for her to tackle and it would be fun to see Lily get into her role more.

‘Ant-Man’ is a nice breather from the ever-growing plot threads of the other films. It knows what it wants to be as a silly film and stands on its own because of it. Despite some moments that miss, its a fun watch to tide any fan over, big or small.

Serg’s Rating: *** out of *****

‘Ant-Man’ is rated PG -13 for sci-fi violence.

Serg Beret Reviews: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” brings nostalgia and a simple story, albeit predictable elements

The classic space opera franchise is back with director J.J. Abrams at the helm to give a new generation of ‘Star Wars’ a return to the galaxy far, far away. ‘The Force Awakens’ is set thirty years after the events of “Return of the Jedi” as the First Order, a reborn empire, looms throughout the galaxy led by Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, at war with the Resistance, a defense force keeping the galaxy at peace.

Meanwhile on the planet Jakku lives Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, a scavenger longing for more than her current state. She finds a Droid named BB-8 sent out by Resistance fighter named Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Issac, with important information for the resistance. Rey also happens to cross path with First Order Stormtrooper Finn, played by John Boyega, who is looking for a purpose and famed rogue smuggler Han Solo, a role reprised by Harrison Ford. What follows is an adventure crossing planets, systems and connecting the past and present.

Without going into those dreaded spoilers that run amok, ‘The Force Awakens’ returns to what made the franchise work. The story does not dive into political talks and poorly delivered dialogue, but rather a simplistic story and naturally flowing dialogue. The direction of Abrams helps guide the story with a sense of reality without the artificial vibe created in Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy a decade ago. It’s vibrant when it needs to be, it’s dark when it calls for it and retains the old aesthetics of the Original Trilogy. It feels like ‘Star Wars’ and not a boring pale imitation of the series. There’s also fresh moments including an escape from the clutches of the First Order in a TIE fighter, a strong powerful lightsaber fight in a snowy forest and a tremendous flashback sequence less from ‘Star Wars’ and more from a drug trip. The alien character designs are classic Jim Henson Creature Shop style being created from the ground up. The Droids have creativity in the form of BB-8 being not only adorable, but adding charm and real expression to the classic Droid models.

The performances are also stellar with Ridley and Boyega are dynamite as they breathe life into Lawrence Kasdan’s script work while Issac, though use sparsely, gives a smug and witty personality in his delivery. Ford sells the older, wiser Han Solo even when he reminds the audience he is still the Han they love. Yet, the film does have problems to be address.

Driver as the villainous Ren is a bit weak at points and always in the shadow of Darth Vader. His character struggles with not being better, stronger and as powerful as Vader, but he proves he is not with every scene and does leave a lasting impression including one major despicable act and a temper tantrum that show his emotions in clear view. Other actors in smaller roles act well, but leave no weight or impact including Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, Hux, played by Domhall Glesson, and Max Kanata, played by Luptia N’yongo. They serves as either filler or to be expanded in a later entry in the new trilogy.

Another key problem with the film is a positive mentioned earlier and it is the reliance on nostalgia. It is fun to see the old characters return even if some feel forced including the likes of C-3PO, played by Anthony Daniels and Admiral Ackbar, but a return of plot threads from the original trilogy give the story too much predictably. There are moments that can be completely called from the beginning and other moments that can leave those watching slightly annoyed for following too closely to the past.

A minor problem is the score. The score by John Williams is a nice return to the galaxy we loved, but there is not a lot of room for originality in the score. It recalls the classic scores of the Original trilogy, but does not create a new piece a la the classic “Duel of the Fates” from ‘The Phantom Menace’ and “Battle of the Heroes” from ‘Revenge of the Sith’ that stands out. It’s a tad bland and not as appealing as past scores.

‘The Force Awakens’ is a return to the former glory of the series while introducing new and fresh ideas to the series, yet the over reliance on the past harms it from being a classic.

Serg’s Rating: ***½ Stars out of 5

‘The Force Awakens’ is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.