2016’s Best TV Shows

With easy access to streaming platforms like Lightbox, TV has begun to consume a bigger part of our lives than ever before. Netflix and chill, amirite? This year we’ve been treated to a fantastical array of shows, each seemingly more exciting and dramatic than their predecessors. No, I haven’t seen every show to come out of 2016 (goodbye, life). I have seen a few, however, so here’s a list of this year’s greatest offerings (or at least the greatest out of those I’ve actually seen).

Published in Issue 24, Craccum Magazine 2016.

Narcos S2

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Oh Narcos, where have you been all my life? Season 1 was a wonderfully wild ride through the cocaine underworld of Colombia and into the life of infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. It ended VERY tensely, leaving viewers bewildered, stressed and irritable (just me?). The announcement of a second season was a very big relief to said anxious fans. Lucky for them, Season 2 is an honourable followup. Much like the first season, this one feels almost as though you are watching a documentary about the real Escobar and the American DEA agents who hunted him. Picking up right where the show left off, we watch as Escobar’s violence escalates and agents Steve and Javier close in. Again, Wagner Moura is polarising as Escobar, changing from the caring, generous hero of Medellin’s poor to a chilling, remorseless murderer and back again in a flash. The action and suspense is 10/10, and you’ll be hooked right up to the final episode. This is a tight unit that won’t disappoint. 

 

Stranger Things

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The motherload. The show with it all. The greatest. Goddangit I love Stranger Things. Predominately because of those serious Twin Peaks vibes I sporadically got while watching, but for several other (very valid) reasons as well. One: the setting. Who doesn’t love the Eighties? That fashion, that music, those hairstyles and those sweet American cars. Need I say more? Even if you weren’t alive in the Eighties, you’ll be getting nostalgia hits just one episode deep. Two: the casting. Those kids, seriously. It wouldn’t be the same without them. They’re amazing actors, 100% convincing and give the show a fresh perspective and wider appeal. David Harbour is great as the local chief, and the rest of the cast are solid too. Three: the music. I literally can’t think of better theme music since Twin Peaks. So simple, yet so creepily supernatural and intriguing. The sound effects also deserve a nod. Thanks for all the fear! In sum: as near-perfect as a TV show can get. Even sci-fi and supernatural haters will love it. 

 

11.22.63

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J.J. Abrams and Stephen King – you can’t go wrong. If you read and loved the novel, you won’t be disappointed with the series. It’s tense, exciting and has that subtle sense of humour that King instills in all his non-horror works. James Franco is surprisingly good as divorced high school teacher Jake Epping, who is sent back to 1963 to prevent the assassination of JFK. The supporting cast are also great, most notably George MacKay as Bill Turcotte. The best part of this show is, like the novel, its suspenseful atmosphere. Running throughout is the “the past doesn’t want to be changed” theme, which adds some scary moments and keeps you wondering how the hell the damn thing is going to pan out. Second to that is the soundtrack and setting. So on point. Being young sheltered Nineties kids, we can’t imagine what life was like during the pivotal Sixties, but the foot-tapping, hand-clapping music and pristine streets of 11.22.63 sure make it look grand.  

 

25 Reasons Everyone Needs to Travel

I’ve been so lucky to work for the lovely team at International Working Holidays over the past year. If you need travel advice or assistance, these guys are the experts and 100% genuine. They’ll sort you out with working holidays and volunteer trips abroad no trouble. Recently the managing director asked me to write a wee blog on why everyone should travel. Check it out below, or view it on their website here.

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Whether you’ve got the travel bug or not, it’s imperative that you spend time overseas (more than once!) during your life. 

Yes, it can be expensive and yes, we all have commitments with work and family – but the fact is, if you never get out there and experience other countries and cultures for yourself, you are missing out on a huge amount of opportunities. 

Here at International Working Holidays we love travel. 

So, we’ve come up with 25 simple reasons why you need to unleash your inner traveller. You’ll thank us after!

  1. You’ll learn things about yourself that only getting out of your comfort zone can reveal. Who knew you could be so independent and intuitive?
  2. You’ll make friends forever and always have a couch to crash on somewhere else in the world #winning
  3. You’ll get to try activities you can’t try at home – camel riding in Egypt? Check. White water rafting in Colorado? Check. Hiking in the Himalayas? Check.
  4. You’ll be able to sleep just about anywhere. Airports, crowded hostels, tents – you name it.
  5. The food. Seriously, this alone is reason enough to go. Real Italian pasta in Florence? Authentic gumbo in New Orleans? Legitimate braai in South Africa? Sign us up.
  6. You’ll learn how to get by with the basics: erratic showers, noisy buses and NO hair straighteners. 
  7. You’ll become really, really good at budgeting. New motto: make it work.
  8. Your knowledge of the world will broaden as you learn new histories, languages and more.
  9. You’ll realise how lucky you are to have a great home and family.
  10. You’ll see exciting new animals. Pandas! Squirrels! Badgers! Just watch out for snakes. 
  11. You’ll be able to visit all of the incredible places you see in the movies – the Swiss Mountains, the streets of Paris, Mexican beaches… the list goes on!
  12. You’re social media accounts will be #legit.
  13. Celebrity spotting! You never know who you’ll see strolling the streets of LA or exploring the alleys of London…
  14. You will have the best stories (ever) when you return.
  15. In the spirit of travel, you’ll do things the stay-at-home you wouldn’t. Swimming with sharks, party buses in Vegas… when in Rome, and all that.
  16. You’ll be the most efficient packer out of everyone you know. New motto: make it fit. 
  17. The shopping. Oh, the shopping. It’s always better overseas, trust us. 
  18. You’ll get to to tick things off your bucket list. Yoga in Yosemite National Park, anyone? 
  19. You’ll learn that comfy clothes are actually the best thing ever. Sneakers all the way. 
  20. You’ll have the chance to see some of the world that might not be around forever.
  21. You’ll appreciate the wonder of a good bed in a private room more than ever before.
  22. You’ll realise how capable you are, which is a really empowering thing. You don’t need nobody but you to survive!
  23. You’ll realise it’s the little things that matter the most. Sunset in the mountains, a meal shared with friends, a quick chat with a stranger. 
  24. You’ll have a reason to start your own blog. Now you can be like that cool hippie chick you follow!
  25. You don’t want to look back on your life and regret not taking that dream holiday or visiting that epic landmark. We only get one life.

Six Must-see Documentaries

1859c3928dea5f54919f565e3c87ca86Published in Issue 23, Craccum Magazine 2016
  1. Blackfish (2013)

If you’re an animal lover, you seriously need to watch Blackfish. It’s transformative. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the film follows the sad life of one of Sea World’s orca’s, Tilikum. Beginning with Tilikum’s capture as a calf, we learn of his history before Sea World, performing in a rundown sea park where he was bullied by the other whales and kept in a tiny enclosure at night. When he was involved in the death of a trainer, Tilikum was sold to Sea World Orlando, where he went on to be involved in two more deaths. Cowperthwaite goes deep to bring to light Sea World’s immoral and inhuman response to the deaths, defending themselves and refusing to admit that Tilikum’s poor treatment was likely the cause of the deaths. Fact: there are NO recorded incidents of orca’s harming humans in the wild. This is a convincing doco which uses found footage and interviews with former Sea World trainers to make its argument against whales in captivity. 

 

  1. Cartel Land (2015)

If you loved Narcos, chances are you’re going to love this. But really, who isn’t interested in the obscene drug world of the Americas? Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards, Cartel Land is a gripping and informative look into the Mexican Drug War. The film mainly focuses on Tim Foley, leader of a group of vigilantes called the Arizona Border Recon who fight against the Mexican cartel presence in America. Below the border, a Mexican physician parallels Foley’s anti-drug war efforts by fuelling a citizen uprising. This is one exciting documentary. Watch it. 

 

  1. Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

Fan of Apocalypse Now? Then this is the documentary for you. Depicting the making of the 1979 Vietnam War film, Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse uses behind the scene footage and interviews with the cast to reveal the many difficulties the crew faced. Opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War grew throughout the Sixties, and it came to be known as the Immoral War. This is an interesting look at an American-made film, created just a few years after the war’s end. Whether you’ve seen Apocalypse Now or not, this is a film worth watching. Even if just for those Martin Sheen moments.

 

  1. Virunga (2014)

If you’re looking for something to inspire you and also pull at the old heart strings, Virunga is it. This British documentary follows the brave conservation efforts of a group of rangers battling to protect Virunga National Park. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the park is home to the last mountain gorillas in the world, and must be protected from poaching, civil war and oil explorers. What this documentary does best is capture in time a rare and beautiful place which might not be around in the near future because of human involvement. It’s also a great look at the economic and political issues that poaching, war and oil exploration raise.

 

  1. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Michael Moore is pretty well known in in the film world, and Bowling for Columbine is a good example of why. It’s confrontational, its informative and it does the best thing a documentary or film can do: make its audience think (and I mean really think) about the topic it explores. Moore uses the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School as a platform to interrogate the growing issue of gun violence in America. Rather than focussing on the actual shooting as such, he examines the possible factors which could have led to the shooting – the culture of violence in the United States, the lack of laws surrounding firearms and the culture of fear he asserts has been generated by the government. A powerful, though-provoking and increasingly relevant documentary.

 

  1. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution (2015)

Anyone interested in the youth and civil rights movements of the Sixties, or American history, will enjoy this. It’s a polished piece of work with a lot of emotional impact. Consisting largely of found footage and secondary interviews with Sixties activists, the documentary traces the rise and fall of the revolutionary African American organisation, The Black Panther Party. Covering the group’s grassroots organisation, awareness of legal rights, and use of the black power ideology, the film raises questions around racial inequality, assimilation and black nationalism. Taking seven years to make, the film provides a comprehensive look into the life and times of ones of America’s most controversial and transformative social change organisations.

A Cult Classic Remade: The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead (2013)

the-evil-dead-posterPublished in issue 22, Craccum Magazine, 2016

A lot of classic horror films have been remade over the years, usually to the despair of diehard fans. Nine times out of ten, the remakes are shite. Better quality, sure; better special effects, definitely. But a better film? No sir. You can’t beat a classic, even with a bigger production budget. So when I found out that Sam Ramie’s 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead was being remade, naturally I was not happy. When I later found out that Raimi and the original’s lead actor Bruce Campbell were producing the remake, I felt slightly better. Okay, they were on board – so it couldn’t be that bad, right?

The 1981 version was great (still is) because it was original. There had been nothing like it up until that point (or so my dad, who was actually alive when it came out, tells me). He saw it in the cinema and said that there was a mixture of “nervous laughter and screams.” That pretty much sums up my first experience with The Evil Dead. It’s funny, because from a 21st century point of view it is just terribly terrible – the awesomely dreadful acting (sorry Campbell), the horrendous script (“she’s your girlfriend, you take care of her” – seriously?) and the fake blood and guts (creamed corn, apparently). But these are also what make it so entertaining, unique and just great. You’ll be laughing (nervously) and then that jarring, eerie music will start playing and just like that, you’re scared. The film mixes (unintentional?) humour with good old-fashioned tension and frights that don’t rely on special effects to be…effective. The Evil Dead also has some of the most creepy moments in horror film history, such as the basement scene – that broken record player and the lightbulb filling up with blood still gives me shivers. Plus, lets not forget dear Sheryl and her wonderful rhyme. Now’s the time to look that up on Youtube if you haven’t seen it. 

On top of all its weirdness, The Evil Dead is also just a great 80s horror flick. It’s got all the stereotypes down-pat: a group of teenagers, an old cabin in the woods, a storm which destroys the only bridge out, a scary looking book and a recorded message warning not to read said book… What. A. Classic. 

Then there’s Fedi Alvarez’s 2013 remake. It actually isn’t bad. In fact, I liked it. If you can step back and separate it from the original, watching it simply as a horror film and not a remake of a horror film, then yeah, it’s enjoyable. Comparison-wise, it’s basically a strictly-scary version of the original. No humour this time, kids, just straight scary. The story follows pretty much exactly the same structure as the 1981 film, and includes all of its predecessor’s most notable moments: the Book of the Dead reading; the finding and using of the famous chainsaw, and of course the “there’s something in the woods” scene. It also uses the same groundbreaking filming techniques that Raimi established in his version, mimicking the camera-chases-actor effect that was so chilling.

As far as remakes go, this is a good one. While it isn’t as great as the 1981 version, it doesn’t tarnish its memory either. If you haven’t seen The Evil Dead then this is just an enjoyable horror movie, and if you have, you can appreciate Alvarez’s nod to Evil Dead’s father film. Maybe, hopefully, this remake will inspire a few more people to go and watch the original. You know you want to.

Westerns: Why They’re (Still) Great

NErKzv3gsrtruw_1_a.jpgPublished in Issue 21 Craccum Magazine, 2016

We’ve all, I hope, seen a Western or two in our time. The classic American tale of guns and glory, freedom and vengeance, cowboys and outlaws. All set on the open plains and in the dirty streets of the wild (wild) west, of course. Who could ask for more? There’s something about the rawness of the Western that makes it so appealing. These were never intended to be Oscar-worthy films (though many actually were); they were just meant to tell a good tale, show some great action and remind us of a time when things were a whole lot simpler – if a whole lot madder, too. I love Westerns for this reason. They don’t try to be anything other than a good old gun slingin’, horse ridin’, whip crackin’ adventure. And even though the golden age of the Western has long since passed, re-watch these old beauties and you’ll find they’re actually still just as great. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few gems.

The Magnificent Seven

So you’ve probably heard of this one because there’s a remake coming out this month starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and other big names. And while it actually looks pretty good for a remake, the original 1960 film is an absolute classic which everyone needs to watch. It’s got everything a good Western should have: contrasting character’s with their own unique back story, a theme of redemption, lots of shooting and one seriously great musical score. The film is mostly set in a poor Mexican village which hires seven gunmen to protect it from a violent group of bandits. The gunmen, gathered by Chris Edams (Yul Brynner), are all from different walks of life and have never met. Their banter alone makes the film worth watching.

Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s last Western, Unforgiven, follows retired outlaw-come-gun-for-hire William (Eastwood) as he takes on one final job. With the help of his old partner Ned (Morgan Freeman), William rides to Big Whiskey, Wyoming where corrupt sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) rules the roost. It’s grimmer than the usual Western, exploring the violence and lawlessness of the time, but with a solid storyline and strong performances from the lead actors it’s no less entertaining. Still not convinced? The film won four Oscars at the 1992 Academy Awards, and was added to the United States National Film Registry in 2004 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

True Grit

One can’t talk about Westerns without mentioning John Wayne. Often viewed as the genre’s Godfather, 83 of the 142 films Wayne starred in throughout his career were Westerns. The 1969 film True Grit, for which Wayne won his only Academy Award, is one of them. Wayne plays aging, grumpy Marshal Rooster Cogburn, who is hired by teenager Mattie to find and kill her father’s murderer (another classic revenge story). The relationship between these two protagonists gives the film a humorous element, and we become invested in their story. The film was remade by the Coen brothers in 2010, and it’s a remake which does the original justice. If you can, see both.

3:10 to Yuma

My absolute favourite Western, ever. 3:10 to Yuma originally screened in 1957, and was later remade in 2007. While the original is definitely a great movie, its actually the more recent version I prefer – possibly because it has Christian Bale in the lead role, who I love dearly. The film follows poor farmer Dan (Bale), a Civil War veteran who lost his leg during the battles and now struggles to survive in the West. Desperate to prevent his land and livelihood from being claimed, Dan makes a deal to get infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russel Crowe) to the town of Contention and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. Joined by several other men, the group begin the journey to Yuma, closely followed by Wade’s gang. This film is just one tight unit. It’s got strong, definitive characters all played powerfully by the actors, a very clever score, a gripping storyline and is shot beautifully. The changing relationship between Dan and Wade is a highlight, culminating in the final shootout.

Ten Books Every Good Human Should Have on Their Shelf

booksPublished in Issue 18, Craccum Magazine 2016.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Call me cliché, but there’s a reason this novel has sold over 30 million copies worldwide: it’s really, really good. Good story, good characters, good message. Told from the perspective of six year old Scout Finch, this book will have you feeling all nostalgic for your own childhood while also get you thinking about some very real-life issues. The Museum, Library and Archives Council (MLA) in England put it at the top of their “books every adult must read before they die” list. Now, it’s a book every adult must own before they die.
Wool – Hugh Howey
The first in Howey’s Silo Series, Wool is seriously a great read. As someone who isn’t usually into science fiction novels, I can fully say that this won me over. You know a book is good when you actually look forward to going home and reading… yup, that’s right. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity survives underground in an enormous silo, the story follows a handful of characters who take a stand against the silo’s dictatorship and begin to uncover its (very grim) secrets. This is one fast-paced, can’t-put-it-down read which you will definitely not regret buying.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
How does one describe A Clockwork Orange to one who hasn’t read it? Dark? Fascinating? Genius? All of the above, I suppose. Set in dystopian England, the story follows complex teen Alex as he embarks on a stream of rather violent activities. After being sent to prison he becomes subject to an immoral form of aversion therapy in an effort to reform him. I would go so far as to call this book a masterpiece. It raises a lot of big questions about society and humanity, which makes for some darn good thinkin’. Plus, Alex narrates the story in Burgess’ invented argot, ‘Nadsat,’ which only makes things more intriguing. Moloko plus errday.
The Beautiful and the Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you call yourself a reader, there has to be at least one Fitzgerald on your shelf. Maybe you’re more of a Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night fan – that’s cool. I like The Beautiful and the Damned for its portrayal of life both before and after World War I. Fitzgerald captures the Jazz Age and sense of post-war disillusionment in New York with this complicated love story, creating a work that we can now use as a kind of historical window into the lifestyle and attitudes of the time. Not the easiest read, but a good one nonetheless.

11.22.63 – Stephen King
I would argue that King’s best works are those that stray from the horror genre he is so often categorised in: The Body, Under the Dome, Joyland and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption to name a few. 11.22.63 also sits outside of the horror genre, and it is truly great. The story follows high school teacher Jake Epping as he travels back to 1958 and works to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is gripping, funny and also incredibly tense. Like many of King’s novels, it’s a hefty volume – but don’t let that put you off – it’s very quick reading. Whether you’re a King fan or not, this book deserves a read.

Half-Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan
In late 1930s Berlin, African American jazz musicians Sid and Chip and their African-German friend Hiero are banned from playing live music by the Nazis. When war is declared they flee to Paris where Hiero, a Nazi target because of his mixed race, is arrested and presumed dead. The story, narrated by Sid in a witty African American vernacular, moves back and forth between the war years and 1992, where Sid and Chip reunite and uncover some secrets and betrayals to do with their not-so-dead friend Hiero. A unique and captivating novel that looks at things in a fresh perspective.
Tortilla Flat – John Steinbeck
What’s your favourite book? Ugh. That’s one of those annoying questions where you then have to mentally sift through everything you ever read and attempt to select one extremely notable novel. I can’t answer that question, but I can rate Tortilla Flat as a definite top five. I may be a bit Steinbeck-biased (only because everything he writes is great), but one can’t help but like his very normal writing style and the realist aspect of his stories. Tortilla Flat is one of Steinbeck’s more comic novels, focussing on a group of paisanos (countrymen) drinking wine and having a good time in the aftermath of World War I. The detail Steinbeck puts into his characters and setting are what make Tortilla Flat such an enjoyable read, a characteristic which likewise defines his many famous novels to come.
Montana 1948 – Larry Watson
Like Steinbeck, Watson has a knack for detail and places great significance on setting. Montana 1948, technically a novella rather than a novel, is your classic coming of age tale. Our narrator David Hayden looks back at his childhood in the small town of Bentrock, Montana and the events which irrevocably changed his life. David’s father Wesley is the town sheriff and his uncle Frank the doctor, so when Frank does some not-very-nice things to the local American Indian women Wesley’s response throws into question young David’s ideas of justice. There’s some serious tension in this book. Bonus: you can finish it in about two hours.
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s third novel, Americanah centres around two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze. As teenagers in Lagos the two fall in love, only to be separated when Ifemelu emigrates to America after winning a university scholarship. With Nigeria under military dictatorship, Ifemelu views America as a sort of promised land – only to find herself living in a racist culture very different to her home. As an adult, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and her relationship with Obinze, now a married father, is thrown into question. Adichie’s novel is unique and fresh, compelling and probably unlike anything else you’ve read. Give it a go.
The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Yeah, another stereotypical classic. Some people hate this book, some people love it. Regardless of what end of the stick you’re on, I think it can be agreed that this is an important book, if not an enjoyable one. Yes, Holden’s narration is unreliable and at times annoying. That’s the point. He’s a kid going through all that angst and confusion and lostness that comes with being a teen. We’re just along for the ride. So maybe it’s just me, but I find wee Holden’s disillusionment pulls at the old heartstrings just a little.

Smile Like You Mean It, Dammit!

The-Killers       Published in Issue 16, Craccum Magazine 2016.
Every good human has seen rom com The Holiday. Meaning every good human has witnessed Cameron Diaz singing (extremely out of tune) to indie rock band The Killers hit Mr Brightside. A classic movie, a classic song – and a classic band.
Lately I’ve been re-listening to my old Killers albums. Just ’cause. And as I’ve been doing this re-listening, I’ve re-remembered why they’re so rad. So rad, in fact, that I’m calling for a Killers comeback. This gem of a band really has it all – fab lyrics, a mighty fine frontman (Brandon Flowers amiright?) and music that you can dance to, sing/scream to and feel nostalgic to.
For a trip down memory lane, start your Killers journey with their first album, Hot Fuss (2004). So many bangers. This is where previously mentioned tune Mr Brightside originated from, which, undoubtedly, we’ve all lost it to at some point. Other notable songs include Change Your Mind and my personal fave, Smile Like You Mean It. The latter seems more relevant than ever, Brandon wisely telling us to “change your ways while you’re young.” Then there’s the absolute anthem Somebody told Me (you had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend, that I had in February of last year), and of course All These Things That I Have Done. As fellow Craccum contributor Catriona Britton points out, “‘I got soul but I’m not a soldier’ is one of the most underrated lyrics of all time.”
Two years on from Hot Fuss, The Killers blessed us with more goodness in the form of Sam’s Town. Again, SO MANY BANGERS. For me, this album is just a straight reminder of those awkward – but great – teenage years. While Bones may be considered the most well-known hit from Sam’s Town, there really isn’t a bad song on the whole album. When You Were Young is insanely feel-good, while For Reasons Unknown and Uncle Jonny are just straight classics. One can’t overlook This River Is Wild, though. What a rager. There’s something about this album that made it so great in the noughties and makes it still so great now. Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of it – I really can’t think of another band that sounds the way The Killers sound in Sam’s Town. Definite ten out of ten.
I’m going to ignore The Killers most recent album because I believe their older work is the best, but Day and Age (2008) does deserve recognition. I remember seeing The Killers play at Vector Arena in 2009, when I was sixteen. I was so close to the stage that I could see sweat dripping off Brandon’s face. It was magical. Many a-song from Day and Age were played, including that absolute tune Human. Other gems include Losing Touch and Spaceman.
As I’ve said, however, it’s the oldschool Killers that we need to bring back. Bring them back, and bring them back now. Great music doesn’t die, it’s the listeners that change. But as listeners we also have the power to re-discover musical genius from the past (or 2004. Really not that long ago). So, in sum: dust off your Killers CD, or if you no longer have a CD player and aren’t okay with sitting in your car having a music party like some of us losers, get onto iTunes and buy that shit.