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

Elbert Hubbard

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Vampire Weekend were sued by the woman on the cover of Contra but that element of distaste left nothing in the mouth once the album was heard. Eschewing a real sense of fun and whimsy, the sophomore album nicely balances the use of humour and nostalgia to bring about a sweet, at times non-sensical, journey into the world of Generation Y. From the evocative lyrics of 'Horchata':

In December, drinking horchata
I'd look psychotic in a balaclava
Winter cold is too much to handle
Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals

to the hilarity of 'California English':

Blasted from a disconnected light switch
Through the condo that they'll never finish
Bounced across a Saudi satellite dish
And through your brain to California English

to the softer and seriously tender 'Taxi Cab':

You stand this close to me,
like the future was supposed to be

Vampire Weekend really excel at conveying the contradictions of modern youth. Contra is a welcome confirmation of their breakout debut.

Stepping out from the shadows of her famous previous employer, Tom Waits, Jesca Hoop released a new album in 2010 entitled, Hunting My Dress. Reminiscent of Australian, Sarah Blasko, or English chanteuse, Laura Marling, Hoop uses the melancholy tone to her voice effectively throughout the ten-track album. What she does lack, however, is a consistent sense of melody and whilst the sheer fun of tracks such as, 'Four Dreams', and the intriguing quirk of 'The Kingdom' and 'Feast Of The Heart', ring true and signify someone with something to say, the album as a whole doesn't quite convince. This won't be a break out but it may well send enough ripples through the music-listening world to remember her name for next time.

Dayve Hawk's debut album under the moniker, Memory Tapes, is unlikely to be his break out either, however, like Hoop there is enough here to identify a musician with a significant point of view. The electronic genre has boomed over the past decade and with the likes of MGMT, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and M.I.A. racking up the fans it's not entirely surprising to see some new faces on the scene. Not entirely new, as he was the former frontman of Hail Social and he has released other pseudonymous work, Hawk brings a sense of the mellow to Seek Magic. There are some real moments of sheer beauty in tracks such as, 'Swimming Field', 'Bicycle' and 'Plain Material' that are matched by a willingness to take risk at a potentially significant cost. For example, the odd construction of 'Graphics' creates an illusive quality that markedly hinders the listener from grasping the story being told and the Neil Young sound to 'Green Knight' falls slightly flat, sounding less assured than it should. On the whole though there is enough here, as mentioned, to warrant keeping Memory Tapes in the back of your little black book. Risk pays off sometimes and it's likely that it may indeed do so for Hawk in the future.

Marking a debut as one of the year's best is always difficult, but for King Midas Sound (Roger Robinson and Kevin Martin) it has proven rather simple. Put together a real ambiance with a real lyrical understanding and an intelligent mellowed sound and you have quite an album. From the impassioned 'Earth A Killya':

'My stomach is no graveyard for the dead'

to the pained experience of 'One Ting':

'How can you do this to me?'

to the sheer gentle rhythm of the piece, King Midas Sound have aimed soft but big. Waiting For You... is a triumph.

Endeavouring to create the same sense of melancholy is the Richmond Fontaine LP, We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River. That title probably gives everything away without listening to the album in that there is just too much present. The four-piece band, hailing from Portland, Oregon, is a stalwart of the Pacific Northwest live circuit and success has seen them tour both the UK and Europe and release eight albums. What's missing here though is a real sense of nuance. The simplicity of the title track is when they're at their best:

We came home one night and the door was open,
most our things...broken

but it's a journey within each song that somehow makes a mess of things. For when the honesty of the lyric rings true, as in the above, then Richmond Fontaine sound great. When it doesn't as is the case in 'The Boyfriends':

I don't like that, I don't like that

it sounds bland. The album plays out like a BLOG set to music and the interest level, much like a BLOG, peaks and wanes. It's just that the troughs make it really hard to keep on listening for the possibility of future peaks.


Being Dead by Jim Crace is the reason why this reader reads books. His use of language is beauty wrapped up in words. Even with a grim premise this reader just wanted to read and read and read and read. For those who are lovers of language it is a must. For those who like a good family drama it is a must. For those who like crime scene gore it is a must. It's simply a great book. It may be this reader's favourite book. Ever.

Shortlisted for the Booker a few years back is Rachel Seiffert's debut novel The Dark Room. Essentially three short stories placed together, the novel tells the story of three Germans before, during and after World War II. Beautifully realised the novel barely sets a foot wrong as we learn how the war affected those on the inside of German boundaries. It's an immensely sad and
powerful reading experience and an astonishing debut.

Far from Booker-prize territory is Massimo Carlotto's The Master Of Knots. Slight in size but grimy in nature this crime-novella is a grisly examination of sadomasochism and the Italian underworld. It's fast-paced and interestingly written with a tone not often present in Western writing. Even despite his famed personal history, The Master Of Knots is example enough of why Carlotto is a household name.

Far from literary genius but no less the household name is writer, James Patterson. His novels have been massive hits worldwide for years. This one, Miracle On The 17th Green, which is a collaboration with Peter de Jonge, strays from his crime-laden canon and attempts to tell a tale of a man making good. It's slight and easily read and not wholly unappetising it's just that this fluff is so far from good it makes one wonder how he is as successful as he is.

Far from successful but not unknown is the Australian author Elaine Forrestal. Making her mint in the world of children's literature, Forrestal has garnered a reputation for writing cleverly structured, place-driven narratives. Someone Like Me is a fantastic achievement in her canon, however, The Watching Lake pales in comparison. It's an atmospheric but unconvincing take on the ghost story that tries to incorporate the Indigenous mysticism of the past unsuccessfully. It's a let down knowing the strength of Forrestal's previous work.


A Single Man is singularly a tour de force. It has its detractors who aim their criticism squarely at Tom Ford, however, for this viewer the film remains a sumptuously heartfelt homage to Isherwood's aesthetic and work. Colin Firth is in top form with a wonderful supporting cast of Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, Jon Kortajarena, Paulette Lamori, Ryan Simpkins, Ginnifer Goodwin and Teddy Sears. It's so beautifully realised it will go down as one of the best films released in 2010.

Shocking in its subject matter and unabashedly one-sided, this documentary about the mass slaughter of dolphins in Japan is a sad indictment of a world focused on money and human demand. Well made and featuring some truly painful and striking images, The Cove is a welcome addition to the growing canon of publicly-accepted documentaries.

Also insightful but delving into a wholly different world is the documentary, The September Issue. Following the day-to-day goings on within the Vogue house, the film focuses on two very different but strong women - Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington. Looking at the impact the running of Vogue has on Wintour and her family is interesting but it's Grace's striving for the perfect shot and shoot that really holds the viewer. This is an intriguing insight into the oft-thought vapid world of fashion. As a follow-up to the fictional The Devil Wears Prada, this is a worthy watch.

Far less quiet but no less insightful is the documentation of the last work of Michael Jackson. Looking at the creation of his tour piece, This Is It, the film is constructed incredibly well, using split screens and interviews seamlessly to piece the puzzle together that is the whole. Simply letting the film speak for itself does wonders for the work as the viewer is reliant on their own storytelling voice rather than that of an annoying narrator. Surprising in its depth and as grand as its protagonists claim Jackson to be, Michael Jackson's This Is It is a real film far from the money-grabbing vehicle it was initially suspected of being.