Album Review: Britney Spear's Glory

Britney Spears new record, Glory, is the kind of album fans have long been waiting for from the pop star. It's as cohesive as her best records (2007's Blackout and 2003's In the Zone) but this album focuses on her considerable (and often forgotten) vocal talents and a breezy aesthetic that make Glory not only the best summer record this year, but the best record of Spear's career.

The album is mostly set in a cozy, luxurious bedroom where Brit plays the sexiest mom-next-door ever. She calls listeners in with the soft "Invitation," and continues the theme with the single "Make Me," the campy "Private Show," "Just Love Me" (her best slow-groove ballad in a decade), the thumping come-on "Clumsy," dance masterpiece "Do You Wanna Come Over?," and the burlesque-ready "Slumber Party." In contrast to previous efforts, these tunes vary in tone from intimate ("Just Love Me") to playful ("Do You Wanna Come Over?") but their productions avoid clutter and focus Spear's enigmatic voice. She can coo, whisper, groan, and warble with more dexterity than ever. There's a reason she's one of the most iconic vocalists of the last 20 years, and Glory allows her to show the many shades of her voice.

She can even belt when she's called to. In "What You Need," Spears goes balls-to-wall delivering a funk-influenced come-on that feels like a lost Duffy gem. At the end of the song, she closes the record saying, "That was fun," and that's the whole point: Britney Spears enjoyed making this music. Glory shines because it is a pleasure to hear Spears having such a good time.

Men and Music Out Now!

Men and Music is out and available for purchase on Amazon. I am stunned with joy. This book was many years in the making, and I cannot quite express my excitement. I'm sure I will have many more things to say about the book in future posts, but for now I want to say I feel blessed and to thank everyone who has supported me along the way.

Here is some praise from great poets about Men and Music:

Isaiah Vianese's love of pop music gives his work a steady, rhythmical beat. And like any good pop song, these poems hook you with their clear-eyed stories of love, loss, displacement and unexpected joy. 

--CollinKelley, author of Render and Better To Travel

Isaiah Vianese’s carefully crafted lyric poems celebrate queer life and love, not just in dark corners of night clubs, where kisses “taste like peach margaritas,” but also in bright kitchens where “dishes pile in the sink and the plants thirst for water.”  All the while, Men and Music pays homage to the soundtrack in the background, songs that carry us from Nebraska to New York, and even to our hands and knees, where we offer ourselves to the labor of our lives.

--CaitlinMcDonnell, author of Looking for Small Animals

Men and Music Cover Reveal

I am very excited to reveal a mock-up of the cover for my forthcoming poetry collection, Men and Music. I've been working closely with my editor/designer at Coyote Creek Books, Jan McCutcheon, and her work is brilliant. She's been very open to my vision for the book, as well as made spot-on suggestions for how to make it the best product possible. Working with her has been a pleasure, and I feel super grateful for the experience.

On a related note: what is about a cover that makes a book feel real? Up to this point, the book has felt like a manuscript, but the cover marks its transition towards a fully realized work. It's an exciting metamorphosis.

I am not sure the exact date the book will be available. It looks like we have a couple more weeks of fine-tuning, but Men and Music should be up for purchase as a print and ebook on Amazon in the near future. As always, stay tuned for more detail. My next post about the collection should be the announcement of its publication!

Thank you for checking in, dear reader. It's great to have your company on this journey. See you again soon!

The Best Horror Movies of 2016 (So Far)

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to talk about horror films that have come out over the past eight months. It's a been a great year for the genre, and as a result I've ventured to the theater a lot more than usual to catch these efforts. For simplicity sake, I have discussed them in order of theatrical release below.

The Boy

This is the first horror film to pique my interest this year, and I was not disappointed. Pitched as a haunted doll pic, The Boy is beautifully shot and Lauren Cohan delivers a stellar performance as a nanny hired by an elderly couple to babysit a doll they treat like a son.Critics were a bit hard on the movie--especially its twist--but I argue the film creates genuine suspense, mixes realism and supernatural elements with success, features a strong action set piece, and is anchored by great acting. The Boy is a high quality, classy horror effort that both mainstream audiences and genre fans can enjoy.

The Witch: A New-England Folk Tale

As both a period piece and a witch narrative, this film fires on all cylinders. Some fans may find it a bit slow at the outset or have trouble with the 17th century dialogue, but once you get into picture, it is an engrossing, terrifying work of psychological horror. I don't want to reveal much about the plot, but I will say that I did enjoy the questions Witch raises about religion, family, gender, and truth. Is there really a witch in the woods? Where is the line between religious devotion and disastrous zealotry? Does patriarchy generate evil in women by alienating and manipulating them? It's a fascinating film.

Green Room

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room is a siege narrative about a punk band held hostage in a back stage room after witnessing a horrific crime. It is the most difficult to watch film I've seen this year. There is lots of body horror, and the late Anton Yelchin delivers a career-making performance as the unlikely hero in the pic. I was also lucky to have Saulnier at the screening I attended. In his Q and A, he talked about his punk rock past and how that informed the film. He knows about this world, and his love for these characters and their lifestyle shows on screen.

The Conjuring 2

It's really saying something that The Conjuring 2 is my least favorite of the five films I'm writing about today because it is a successful piece of supernatural horror and I (mostly) enjoyed watching it. My stumbling blocks for the pic are the use of a character that too closely resembles the monster in The Babadook and my growing distaste for the Warrens as pop culture figures. The Warrens are difficult people to fictionalize. In real life, they seemed to have earnest belief in their work as paranormal investigators, but they also seemed--according to reports--as interested in celebrity as helping people. The Conjuring films cast an empathetic light on the couple, but I'm having a hard time swallowing that idea. The way The Conjuring 2 draws more attention to their marriage and their alleged generosity doesn't sit well with me. Many people claim to have been hurt by the Warrens as their pseudo-science left collateral damage on their road to fame. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that these concerns hurt my enjoyment of the picture. That said, if you like the first film, you will likely enjoy the second.

Lights Out

Based on a great short film, this full length feature succeeds at meeting fan expectations. It expands on the premise in an enjoyable way, while also adding depth to the concept and some commentary on mental illness. When I first saw the film, I tweeted that if you liked The Grudge or The Babadook, you would enjoy Lights Out. I stand by that opinion. The film has good scares and strong performances, which help you care about the cast. Even the doofy boyfriend character has more depth than your average horror pic. If the film has a problem, it's the ending, which may have an unfortunate message on suicide depending on how you read it. (For more on the film's conclusion and its intentions, check out this great interview with the director.)

As usual, thank you for stopping by, dear reader. I promise to have more updates on my forthcoming poetry collection, Men and Music, very soon. I am working with the publisher to get everything ready for the presses, and the book should be out in September. Needless to say, I am very excited! Stay tuned for more information.

My Top 10 Horror Films

In the latest issue of The Black Napkin, I have a poem called "Horror Movie." The piece uses horror film tropes to discuss youth and romance, but writing the poem also had me think about why I love watching horror movies. I'm a big horror fan, and I've enjoyed watching scary movies since I was a kid. To celebrate the publication of the poem, I thought it would be fun to discuss my Top 10 Horror Films.

10. Last  House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven's directorial debut fascinates me. It bravely mixes comedy and brutal violence, telling the story of two girls who are kidnapped and assaulted by a band of degenerates. The film is bloody and bold, but it can also be funny, sweet, sad, and smart. As a retelling of Bergman's The Virgin Spring mixed with counter-culture anxiety, it grips me with every viewing.

9. The Fog (1980) 
John Carpenter took the film industry by storm with Halloween--arguably the most iconic scary movie of all time--but I always prefer to watch The Fog, his exquisite and under-appreciated follow-up. It features wonderful performances by Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Adrienne Barbeau, as they run from vengeful ghosts emerging out of a mysterious fog. The film features Carpenter's exquisite visual style, and the practical effects foreshadow how his genius would expand with later films.

8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
I was a 90s kid, so the post-Scream resurgence of teen slashers shaped my horror tastes. Though most would claim Scream is a better film, I always preferred to watch Kevin Williamson's adaptation of Lois Duncan's beloved novel. This movie--a conventional slasher about teen guilt--works because of the charming, good looking, and talented cast. My favorite is Sarah Michelle Gellar (a horror icon who makes another appearance on this list), but Ryan Phillippe, Freddy Prinze Jr, and final girl Jennifer Love Hewitt also carry this film with skill.

7. Halloween H20 (1998)
Another post-Scream slasher, this is my favorite of the Halloween franchise for one big reason: Jamie Lee Curtis kicks slasher-butt as an older, wiser, and (eventually) stronger Laurie Strode. There's a great moment in this film when she's had it and decides to stop running, going after Michael Myers to end her nightmare.

6. Creepshow 2 (1987)
It was hard picking an anthology film for this list, but Creepshow 2 is the one that kept coming back to mind. The follow-up to George Romero and Stephen King's hugely successful first anthology film, it features three live-action tales bound together by animated narrative about a comic book fan escaping bullies. I especially enjoy "Old Chief Wood'nhead" and "The Raft" as the best of the three tales, but my favorite part of the film is the animated interludes, which are great representations of late 80s/early 90s animation.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
As this is Wes Craven's second entry as a writer/director on my list, I should note that he is my favorite horror auteur. This film is among his best, capitalizing on our fear of nightmares while creating one of the greatest horror villains of all time: Freddy Krueger (peerlessly played by Robert Englund). It's a smarter film than most slashers, and it doesn't hurt that it features an adorable Johnny Depp in his film debut.

4. Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
I find it impossible to separate these films, so I'm not going to. Both helmed by horror-comedy master Joe Dante, Gremlins and Gremlins 2  masterfully mix scares and humor. The first film works as a legit horror film about the terrors of the Christmas season (just watch that awful scene of the Gremlin in the Christmas tree, or listen to Phoebe Cate's infamous monologue), while the sequel flips the bill as a slapstick satire on corporate culture with horror overtones. Both are a delight.

3. Poltergeist (1982), Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), and Poltergeist III (1988)
Again, I'm going to cheat a bit and talk about these films as one unit. Yes, they decrease in quality as the films progress. However, I enjoy watching the trilogy as a whole because I am interested in how it explores hauntings, worries about 80s corporate culture, and family. Also: Zelda Rubinstein's Tangina is my favorite horror character, and Tangina's arc would not be complete without the third installment.

Let me take a minute to defend  Poltergeist III (the first two films need little defense): the script is clumsy, but the film is so lovingly made. It features impressive practical effects--especially with mirrors--and some sharp direction. Also, I adore that Tangina becomes the hero of the franchise by the end of the final film. The smallest, oldest female character ends up having the most power. If that's not a pro-feminist anti-ageist message, I don't know what is.

2. The Grudge (2004)
This Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle about an American dealing with the culture shock of moving to Japan (and ghosts) is the first horror film I remember watching in the theater. I was a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and I was excited to see her in another horror property. I was not the only one, because the movie became a surprise hit.

It works for a variety of reasons. First (unlike the Japanese original on which its based) it focuses on Americans moving to Japan and working through their relocation anxiety; is there anything more terrifying than moving some place where you cannot speak the language or read the alphabet? It is also beautifully shot with great creature effects, and Gellar carries us through the film. She's likable, strong, and caring. We want to see her succeed, and we are willing to get scared along the way. I would argue that this is the most terrifying film on the list.

1. Elvira Mistress of the Dark (1988)
Okay, okay. So maybe this film tips more towards comedy than horror, but it features great creature effects, funny gags, and macabre icon Elvira. It follows the horror hostess to a conservative town where she has inherited her aunt's rundown house. Along the way, she discovers a spell book, faces a devil-worshipping uncle, and almost gets burned at the stake. It's a campy delight and I watch it every Halloween because it has respect for horror conventions, but also sees the absurdities in the genre.


Good News, Summer Poems, and Kelly Clarkson

Dear reader: I have exciting news. My new poetry collection, Men and Music, will be released this year by Coyote Creek Books. I'm very excited to partner with the press and bring these poems--work that has spanned my 20s--out into the world. Stay tuned for more news on this front, and I will have updates about the collection as I work with the press.

I'm also happy to share two new poems, which were published in the recent LGBTQ issue of The Black Napkin. Both poems are wistful--part sadness, hope, and nostalgia.

And that brings me to Kelly Clarkson's 2016 dance record, Piece by Piece Remixed. The album is composed of a stripped down version of "Piece by Piece" (which broke into the top 10 on the Hot 100), eight remixed versions of tracks from her 2015 studio record, and a live recording of "Tightrope." Remixed is a superior album to its mother record because it's less flabby, more carefully produced, and more fun. Like every good diva, Clarkson revels in melodrama, and this album plays with those out-sized emotions while correcting her previous album's wrongs. The acoustic "Piece by Piece" feels personal than the original--just as it should--and the live track shows Clarkson's husky voice still has a multitude of shades and textures. Yet, the record's best tunes are remixes: the bro-pop EDM take on "Heartbeat Song," the 80s dance-pop inspired "Nostalgic," and the glitchy reworking of the Sia co-penned "Invincible" are my favorites. Even if her original recordings did not pique your interest, check out Piece by Piece Remixed and dance your way through August.

It's Britney, B... And Me Too

The blog has been quiet all summer, as I am sure you have noticed, dear reader. In the wake of the so much tragedy in the news and New York heating up like a skillet, I've been distracted with other things, but those those things have included  new writing, pop music, and travel.  So, let me catch you up-- and don't worry, we'll talk about Britney too.

The shooting at Pulse Night Club had a profound effect on me, more than many tragedies I read about in the news. Terrorism targeted at the LGBTQ population struck a chord, and that chord motivated me to write and put all of my feelings some place. While writing may not be the only response to tragedy, it is a response and this summer I've been thinking about how important it is write about our lives--especially LGBTQIA people. Writing makes us visible, and forces culture to see our lives as valuable. Over the past two months, I've drafted a lot of new poems (some of which I have finished and am sending out to journals). I also finished a poetry manuscript I've been working on for the past 8 years; I'm excited to move on to the next stage and find the best way to get that poetry collection to readers. I want to celebrate my life as a gay man, and I want to celebrate the lives of other gay people. We deserve to be seen.

My summer reading can be summed up in one name: Kim Addonizio. Her two new books, Bukowski in a Sundress and Mortal Trash: Poems, have rocked my world. I completed an essay about her new work for Lambda Literary, which should be published in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Speaking of staying tuned: let's talk about music. The summer has unearthed its usual riches of pop gems, like Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" and the single version of Sia's stellar "Cheap Thrills." We also have a new Katy Perry track (which I find underwhelming at best) and the superior Adele single of her 25 era.

However, the track I want to talk about is Britney Spear's brilliant "Make Me" featuring G-Eazy. The song offers Britney at her best. It's less muscular than previous hit, "Work Bitch," and that works to her advantage. B9 (as fans have dubbed her upcoming record) era Spears is more laid-back, and "Make Me" exudes a cozy sexiness. The pop star coos over a midtempo dance beat, asking her lover to "make me oooo." She doesn't demand, because Britney doesn't need to command or beg these days. She's never been sexier, and she's dropped the best baby-making track of 2016. I'm highly anticipating B9.

Because poetry returned with a vengeance this summer, I wanted to leave you with a brand new poem. In fact, this piece is an ars poetica of sorts about poetry barreling back to me; the music came back, as it were.