"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Al Green!

Watership Down
Richard Adams

Astonishingly involving drama about a group of rabbits trying to establish a new warren, Watership Down is a completely stunning piece of modern literature. Written in 1972, Adams' created such a believable world on the Down that it was, deliberately, hard at times to distinguish between the fact that we were reading of the lives of rabbits and not people. Touching on political ideologies and the way they envelop one's life - Capitalism, Communism and Socialism are all depicted - he manages to cleverly avoid having the book becoming a soapbox diatribe leaving one thoroughly touched by the relationships developed. The book has a notoriety of having an incredibly sad ending, however, this reader found it nothing but uplifting. Hazel deserved no less. Exquisite.

Get Him To The Greek
Nicholas Stoller

Given surprising depth by Brand's performance, this is a manic, not totally successful comedic romp about the fickleness of the music industry and life in general. Hill does well with his schtick and Combs is unexpectedly hilarious in a small role but the film belongs to Brand. His turn may now be tired too but the moments of obvious reality - the jonesing scenes - show a willingness to bring a truth to the screen.

Attack On Memory
Cloud Nothings

Development and growth is an interesting thing to consider when looking at any artist’s canon. Obviously when a canon is young that development may not be immediately obvious, however, in the case of Cloud Nothings it’s mind-blowingly immense. From the debut LP to the sophomore effort and now to their third, Dylan Baldi’s baby has gone at a million miles an hour from solo project to fully-fledged rock band, making really great rock music. It doesn’t quite sustain the energy of its opening two tracks but as piece yelling, “Oi!! Take notice,” boy, it does make one do that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, David Letterman!

Jamrach's Menagerie
Carol Birch

Set in Victorian England, this adventure on the high seas is an interesting-enough take on the exploration tale, however, it by its end feels slightly repetitive and slightly off in tone. The ultimate decision made by Tim is a difficult one and Birch doesn't pull any punches in showing the reality of the piece, yet Jaffy's story in the end doesn't feel like it measures up to that ultimate sacrifice. It's definitely better than Miller's Snowdrops but one has to wonder whether the Booker judges really did get it wrong when it came to picking that shortlist. Two significant misses so far.

Red Hill
Patrick Hughes

Tonally interesting and featuring a very good Ryan Kwanten, this confused Australian genre pic falls short in the end due to its predictable storyline and willingness to go the urban legend route without much thought for authenticity. The racial debate is one that should be investigated in Australian cinema more so it is interesting that Hughes has done it in this way but it doesn't quite work for all its efforts.

Further Explorations [Live]
Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian

This live album from the jazz great sees him produce a lively mix of jazz pieces firmly showing his skill at the piano. Structured really nicely and developing an almost storylike quality to the set this is Corea at his best. His 51 Grammy nominations would indicate that this is an artist of formidable talent who covers a formidable scope within the jazz world. Further Explorations, as the title suggests, demonstrates that hunger to widen the scope he has already put to considerable use.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Happy Birthday, Louise Lasser!

The Saffron Kitchen
Yasmin Crowther

Really disappointing, Crowther's novel is completely passionless. Maryam's story should be one of great pain and suffering, however, it leaves one feeling nothing but contempt for her choices. Her suffering should be indicative of that of all Iranian women and yet there is a complete hypocrisy in her holier than thou self righteousness. Ali is presented as the complete antithesis of the stereotypical Iranian male and he comes across as a cardboard cutout goodie-two-shoes. It's written solidly but fails in conveying a sense of truth within the dialogue; it's almost as if the novel has been translated and by its end this reader couldn't relate very much at all. It sadly ends up being a bit of a non-event.

The Social Network
David Fincher

An interesting if overrated film about the social networking phenomenon, Facebook, this David Fincher-helmed vehicle is completely stolen out from under his feet by a superb Jesse Eisenberg. Touching on issues of social awkwardness, greed, sexism, apathy and an overall disregard for human consequence, The Social Network aims high, however, by its end it falls victim to the very vapidness of its subject.


Equal parts Martika, La Roux and Marina And The Diamonds, this American electronic pop duo have popped up with their second LP and it’s a good ‘un. Stringing Caroline Polachek’s lead vocals through the entire gamut of emotions of the upbeat to the downright melancholic they’re not wringing with originality but what they do they do supremely well. Considering its release date (January 24) it’s a very early contender for the top of the pile come year’s end.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Max von Sydow!

The Tiger's Wife
Tea Obreht

Astonishing in its clarity and verve, this debut by the twenty-six-year-old Obreht presents an assured world of the former Yugoslavia. Magic realism is a tricky hand to play with as the reality needs to be real enough to allow for the magical elements to work. Praised works like Marquez's 100 Years... left this reader bewildered and confused, wondering what the fuss was about yet somehow this wunderkind of modern American literature seems to get it just right. It's not a perfect novel - there is a repetition used and a lack of focus in the continuity of the piece towards its end - but through the eyes of Natalia, a young volunteer doctor, we see a past, a present and a future for this part of the world tinged with the right amount of contempt, cynicism and hope. Energetic writing is always exciting to read. It's even more exciting when it has something interesting to say. Obreht's novel is a welcome confirmation of the hype surrounding her.

Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore

Once again Moore finds a really interesting topic that all should be thinking about and milks it for all its worth. Once again, however, he fails to hit it out of the park because his egocentric antics get in the way. Bowling For Columbine was a shining gem within the world of documentaries and whilst he has continued to document the current world with vigor and insight none of his subsequent work has amounted to the power of that film. Here he returns to the grounds of his Roger And Me and investigates how quickly the whole of the USA is following in the footsteps of Flint, Michigan. Greed is highlighted in all of its forms, perhaps most abhorently in business life insurance policies to profit on the deaths of employees. Capitalism: A Love Story ends up being a powerful film lessened ever so slightly by its provocateur's insistence on including himself in his work.

Keep Your Dreams

This inconsistent but at times brilliantly evocative piece from the Australian duo shows a completely bizarre lack of continuity idea-wise but a steady sense of tying it altogether with a nice understanding of production. There are absolute corkers on here in the likes of ‘Tonight’ and some truly odd saxophone solos – it sounds as if the 80s have been ‘snapshotted’ and firmly implanted within their LP. It won’t be for everyone’s tastes and there will be those who write it off as poor man’s M83 but as a whole there is enough here to get excited about.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jazmine Sullivan!

Ian McEwan

Compellingly written and satisfyingly demanding of its audience, McEwan's much-lauded novel will probably go down as one of the classics of the 2000s. It's a fine mix of tension and passion and uses the always present guilt anyone feels when having wronged another to within an inch of its life to create three-dimensional characters who quite painfully emerge fully formed from the pages. Modern romances tend to fall victim to the saccharine yet Atonement is the very antithesis of this. Without presenting its narrative in a cynical or finger-pointing way at the general public's desire for a happy ending he manages to evoke an incredibly strong sense of remorse and pain and in Briony he produces a woman so effectively flawed she becomes almost more human because of it. It's a very fine novel.

District 9
Neill Blomkamp

This is quite simply how one makes a genre film - ground it in a sense of reality. Sure the film in itself is lacking very much in reality but what is real is the concept of humanity being presented within the folds of the story. Using a post-Apartheid South African backdrop Blomkamp bring a real energy to the screen with a keen sense of how to move a story along whilst making a point. This isn't science-fiction for the sake of science-fiction it is a story about what is within, using the structure of a science-fiction story. Sure, the subtext is a little heavy-handed at times but he recovers nicely with his willingness to go to the hard places - Wikus leaving Christopher upstairs to be killed is a prime example of the ugly side of humanity that Blomkamp does not shy away from. Technically outstanding, District 9 has to be one of the surprises of its year. A corker of a film.

Bill Ryder-Jones

This cinematic journey made as an imaginary soundtrack album is a fine example of successful conceptual music. He knows where his strengths are as a composer and he handles the quiet moments well. It's an episode in gorgeousness and does indeed make one wish for the accompanying film to see how the sound and image would meld.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robin Wright!

The Windup Girl
Paolo Bacigalupi

At the centre of the novel is an idea so brilliant in conception that even with the sound writing skills on display one can't help but be a smidge disappointed with the execution. It's tense and energetic and appropriately cynical and above all frighteningly realistic with that realism being at times scarily bleak. Characterisaton is adequate for the most part with some of the men of the piece becoming slightly indistinguishable from each other, however, the women are all drawn with considerable depth and interest. A really good read that in the hands of a great writer could have been a masterpiece.

Seven Pounds
Gabriele Muccino

It's not a good thing when one falls asleep three times during a film and can still pick the ending about forty minutes from the end. It's also a bad sign when the film takes an interminable time to get there. Smith, outstanding in the unfairly maligned I Am Legend, fails to show anything more than hammish tempestuousness here and he's failed miserably by his director, Muccino, who brings nothing of any substance to the table.

Lights Out
Big Deal

While the sex-soaked intimacy of their live sets is slightly watered-down in this debut LP from the London-based duo of Alice Costelloe and KC Underwood there is still enough present to be kind of swept up in the edgy angst being divulged. Lyrically, the album soars on tracks like 'Chair' and Costelloe's willingness to bring into question her take on relationship and love - she's only eighteen - is brave rather than earnest. The fact that she's an equal playing partner to Underwood, some eleven years her senior, is also reinforcement to the fact that this is a duo with far greater substance than their simple sound of acoustic and electric guitar might suggest.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Birthday, Stan Winston! (RIP)

Close Range: Wyoming Stories
Annie Proulx

As a collection of short stories it has a real cohesion with Proulx's ability to use Wyoming as the linking character between the different stories quite impressive. Some of the stories are more resonant than others and the best known, 'Brokeback Mountain', probably the most affecting. It's a fine example of work by an author who has a real understanding of place.

Brothers Strause

Appallingly conceived and written, this alien invasion wannabe epic falls miserably short on just about every front. With some reasonable visual effects, the film cannot shake the fact that it has no idea how to tell a story convincingly. With perhaps the most ludicrously hilarious ending ever - that hand gesture has to be deliberately funny surely - Skyline is awful.

Go Fly A Kite
Ben Kweller

At his best Kweller is a lovely sing-a-long pop/light rock/folk/country sweetheart. This may not be anywhere near his best but as the collection progresses it becomes clear he is having fun. There are tinges of lots of others in this - at times there is a striking resemblance to some of Brendan Benson's work - but what shines through is Kweller's playfulness and whimsy. It's a nice little set not setting its sights any higher than Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy Birthday, Georg Holm!

The Passage
Justin Cronin

This post-apocalyptic vampire tale is the first in a projected trilogy about the outbreak of a virus developed during tests to prolong human life. Centred around the tale of a young girl, Amy, and her role in the fight for human survival, this convoluted but mostly enjoyable romp is a long - 963 pages long - but, for the most part, snappy read.

The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon Papers
Judith Ehrlich & Rick Goldsmith

Despite painting him as the perfect and definitive whistleblower, which is arguably correct in some cases, the film escapes a sense of pandering by trying desperately hard to get to the bottom of what was going on during this incredibly tumultuous political and social time in the United States. Questions abound as to the level of information the public needs and should know and they're all brought around to the simple point that they need to know the truth without any sense of manipulation or miscalculation of what they can and cannot understand. It's really effectively put together and even with some slightly unnecessary animated sequences - they jar, considerably - the film highlights a point in American and world history that many younger generations will not know about. It's, again at risk of damning praise, an important film.

Which Side Are You On?
Ani DiFranco

Typically political, unashamedly so in fact, and buoyed by an earnestness that stays just the right side of self-righteous, this collection from the prodigious offerer that is Ani DiFranco ends up being towards the better half of her now seventeen albums. It doesn’t entirely work but when she’s on in the likes of 'Life Boat', she’s really on. It’s another interesting addition to her already interesting canon.

Happy Birthday, Elodie Bouchez!

Then We Came To The End
Joshua Ferris

It takes a little while to get into the rhythm of it but, when one does, the book turns into a rollicking indictment of Western boredom and fear. It doesn't completely work - the near-ending's farce of Tom's storyline is a little underwhelming - but there is enough here to see how Ferris has built up a growing following. Having read The Unnamed, before this, there are similar problems in his structure, however, he's a no-fuss writer who writes about seemingly mundane things in an interesting way. It'll be interesting to see where he ventures next.

Phillip Noyce

Intelligently directed by Noyce this is the perfect example of a genre pic not taking itself too seriously and in the end getting close to very good for it. Its ending lets it down considerably but with an in-form Jolie - she's never bad even with all the naysayers - and a non-stop sense of action, Salt in the end meets its purpose in spades. Good, action-packed fun.

Young Man In America
Anais Mitchell

Imagine Joanna Newsom with more heft to her voice and a lot less pretension with her lyrics and you've pretty got much the perfect folk artist in Mitchell. With an astonishingly well-written set of country-folk songs melding together with that buttery warble of hers, Young Man In America may very well be the surprise album of 2012. It's without doubt one of the best albums of 2012 and marks a voice that has been around for a while but who may just be about to get her due.

Monday, December 26, 2011

THE MUSIC OF 2011...10-1

'The SMiLE Sessions'
The Beach Boys
When an album can be listened to and its influence on modern music can still be heard some forty years after it was created, it’s an astonishing thing. For new listeners to The Beach Boys at their best, this is an insight into where that combination of happy hooks, psychedelia of the 60s and 70s and sheer genius song construction were put into place. The sessions behind the creation of the SMiLE album, which was never released on its completion, are amazingly fluent and for lovers of Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian, Kings Of Convenience, Fleet Foxes or Megafaun a possible inlet into what came before them. Perhaps the only masterpiece of 2011, and in fairness it’s from 1967 so it doesn’t really count, it sounds as relevant today as it perhaps ever has.

'Ritual Union'
Little Dragon

There’s something so right about Little Dragon, something so modern it almost hurts. From the sexy bordering disinterested vocal deliveries of Yukimi Nagano to the minimalist melodies it’s as if the time has been captured and recorded within almost pitch perfectly. Harvey may have written the best album protesting the predominance of ambivalence. Little Dragon gives the best rendition of it and that very ambivalence somehow pays off in spades.

'Let England Shake'
PJ Harvey

Polly Jean grew up in a way that escaped self-righteousness but yet managed to get her point across nonetheless. An astounding collection of protest songs that go beyond protest and land firmly, at the risk of damning praise, in the realm of importance.

'Burst Apart'
The Antlers

The Antlers’ ‘Burst Apart’ takes everything great about modern music and creates what is ultimately a massive finger to the mainstream. There is nothing popular about this collection of moody mixed-up messes of songs that scream both a sense of the quiet and in your face at the same time. It’s a gorgeously confident set that should have had them break through a little more than they have.

'Breaks In The Armor'
Crooked Fingers

Eric Bachmann had a big year with the rerelease of Archers Of Loaf’s Icky Mettle and this sixth LP from his solo venture, Crooked Fingers. Working with Matt Yelton and Liz Durrett, Bachmann created a beautifully subtle rock record. It’s proof that content still far outweighs gimmickry and production. Stellar.

'James Blake'
James Blake

James Blake is a crooner of the blues variety so beyond his years this collection of mood pieces is the perfect accompaniment to mindless wandering through cold, wet London streets and an example of how age means little when the storyteller gene is inherent within the one desiring to go beyond the surface of any emotion.

'Anna Calvi'
Anna Calvi

She’s a belter. She’s a mean instrumentalist. She’s a throwback to the Robert Palmer music video girls. And despite all of these things she’s able to somehow still come across as soft. Her diminutive size hinders in no way the fact that she arrived in 2011 and she arrived with a considerable thud through the music door.

'We're New Here'
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx

Scott-Heron left a significant hole in the music world with his passing earlier in the year. What a triumph then that his I’m New Here from late last year and the Jamie xx remixed version, We’re New Here from this year ended his career on a huge high. It’s the perfect realisation of his immense writing skills being made more accessible through the work of Jamie Smith whose work as a part of The xx bears an at times beautiful echo of Scott-Heron’s work. A greater meeting of minds did not take place in 2011.

Mara Carlyle

She’s the outcome of a sedated Björk or a somewhat chemically enhanced k.d. Lang. There’s a greater accessibility to her music and a gravitas and tone to her voice that even with her idiosyncratic charm Björk can’t come close to and a modern willingness that leaves Lang for dead. Carlyle should be a far greater name than she is. In fact, that she’s a practical unknown is beyond a musical travesty.

'Born This Way'
Lady Gaga

Everything about this album in its excess should spell disaster but as a whole it envelops everything that is glam about her and wraps it up in a perfectly grubby but entirely glossy set of electronic pop. There is an amount of filler on the album but its filler with purpose as she wails, scratches and bulldozes her way to that final edge she so brazenly tiptoes towards. Fantastically fun.