Wednesday, 29 February 2012

GFF 2012: Chinese Take-Away

This will probably be the last of my Glasgow Film Festival film reviews - i saw and wrote about a bunch more stuff, but those reviews will most likely be banked for future cinema/dvd release dates. Twas an awesome festival all in all - Kid with a Bike, This Is Not a Film and Sleeping Sickness were the clear highlights in my eyes, but there were plenty more modest successes amongst the programme as well, including this:

Chinese Take-Away might well boast the oddest opening of the festival: on a serenely beautiful lake, an attempted proposal is interrupted by a cow falling from the sky and landing on the would-be finance. It’s one of several scenes of bizarre death peppered throughout the film, as curmudgeonly shopkeeper Roberto pores over newspaper cuttings for examples of life’s capriciousness. His surly demeanour distances those around him, but he soon experiences chance’s vagaries first-hand with the arrival of non-Spanish-speaking Jun, searching for his family in an unwelcoming Buenos Aires.

Chinese Take-Away’s bottom-line homilies – seize the day! Don’t judge a book by its cover! etc. - may be fortune cookie-deep, but, under cover of quirk, writer/director Sebastián Borensztein smuggles in a profundity as unexpected as it is rewarding. Jun regrettably remains a cypher, but this helps concentrate empathy on Roberto (played with pitch-perfect cantankerousness by Ricardo Darin), whose layers gradually unfurl as this handsomely-shot film edges towards its classy conclusion.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

GFF 2012: Patience (After Sebald)

The literature of W.G. Sebald is an allusive and elusive subject for a documentary, his work consciously difficult to categorise. Early in Patience (After Sebald), publisher Christopher MacLehose recalls the author’s rejection of pigeonholes. “I want fiction, I want biography, I want travel, I want history… don’t put me in a box – I want to be in all the boxes” Sebald reportedly protested, and Grant Gee’s ambitious documentary attempts, with some success, to follow suit.

Patience is at once an art-house essay, a literary documentary, and a set of unconventional ‘reader notes’ for The Rings of Saturn (in which a walking holiday through East Anglia becomes a hub for ruminations on historical and geographical identity). By transmuting Sebald’s literary style into an approximated filmic equivalent, Gee makes clear his admiration for the writer, and while Patience…’s respectfully meandering gait (though both the Suffolk countryside and Rings…’s themes) lacks incisiveness, the combination of layered chiaroscuro photography and source-text readings is memorably evocative.

Monday, 27 February 2012

GFF 2012: The Somnambulists

Inspired emotionally by his anger over the Iraq war, and stylistically by Joanna Kane’s photography exhibition of the same name, Richard Jobson’s The Somnambulists is a sparse, polemical work. In a series of monologues, soldiers step out of darkness to recount their experiences at war, and Jobson strives to imbue each with a distinct voice: the scared squaddie comparing his tour to Call of Duty; the new father struggling to articulate his emotions over a satellite phone; the young medic aspiring to be a doctor. Impressive sound design augments each tale, with battlefield noise and omnipresent hums keeping the audience discomforted - as we should be, when faced with intense suffering in which we are complicit by default. But other directorial embellishments prove distracting, particularly the fractured editing and close-ups of fire-filled eyes; PTSD is one of conflict’s dark legacies, but to universalise it with clumsy symbolism risks stigmatising the very people Jobson seeks to speak on behalf of.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

GFF 2012: Omar Killed Me

It’s obvious Omar Killed Me is based on fact; no fictional equivalent would make its central injustice so glaring. The film presents the murder conviction of Moroccan gardener Omar Rassad as a scandalous combination of falsified reports, xenophobic contempt and judicial malpractice on a terrible scale; corruption and ineptitude conspiring to imprison an innocent man.

Roschdy Zem – star of the Oscar-nominated Days of Glory and 2011 GFF hit Point Blank, amongst others – directs with confidence if not quite flair, the film strongest in an opening third that alternates between Omar’s arrest in 1991, and a writer’s investigation into the case three years later. This dual-thread later gives way to a more prosaic procedural structure, but as is so often the case with films by actors-turned-directors, any formal shortcomings are offset by the quality of the performances. Zem’s frequent co-star Sami Bouajila, in particular, is excellent in the lead role, convincingly internalising complex emotions: defiance, desperation, anger, and defeat.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

GFF 2012: Cry Parrot presets Umberto

There are still tickets available for this apparently - get yerself along if horror's your bag.

With the contents of Umberto's special performance still shrouded in mystery, we talk to Cry Parrot's Fielding Hope about their collaboration for GMFF

Last summer, Fielding Hope of Glasgow-based DIY promoters Cry Parrot found himself discussing horror film music with instrumentalist Umberto, over from Kansas City for a sold-out show at the 13th Note. Umberto, real name Matt Hill, is something of an aficionado: both his albums to date, From the Grave and Prophecy of the Dark Widow, slice up and cannibalise the synth-heavy soundtrack stylings of niche icons like Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, to electrifyingly creepy effect. “For some of Umberto's performances in the States he would use cut-up footage of vintage horror flicks,” says Hope, “but when he told me he hadn't actually composed any specific film soundtrack before, I asked him what his feelings were on doing something as part of the Glasgow Music and Film Festival… Personally I think he's got lots of potential doing this sort of thing.”

From there, plans were made to bring the 'don of the dread' back to Glasgow for a very special performance: a newly-composed score for a secret film of his choice, to take place in a no-doubt fog-filled SWG3 (the 13th Note show was apparently “a little damaging on everybody’s lungs, what with the amount of smoke machine abuse that was going on”). The show is one of several horror-related events at this year’s GMFF, and with the festival’s 2011 edition similarly nightmarish thanks to Italian giallo soundtrack titans Goblin, we ask Hope whether he thinks the genre naturally lends itself to music/film crossover events. “There’s no doubt the horror genre can raise some interesting discussions in terms of its connection with music,” agrees Hope. “As part of my dissertation in university I researched the psychological effect of sound, and how certain volumes, frequencies and timbres can have a profound impact on viewers. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why horror works so well in a live environment; its dynamics can keep an audience stimulated, excited and of course, scared!”

While Umberto is uniquely qualified for scoring old-school horror, we ask Hope who else he’d love to hear take on the task. “I think my favourite horror film ever has to be Halloween,” he says, “but personally I wouldn't want to hear a single change to the soundtrack! In a dream-world, if Demdike Stare and Lightning Bolt were somehow able to collaborate, I'd love to hear what they'd come up with for Evil Dead 2.” Even in concept form, the combination is nerve-shredding.

Tonight marks Cry Parrot’s second collaboration with the GMFF, and it’s a partnership Hope is keen to continue, citing the organisers’ open-minded approach, which permits “free reign to be as creative as possible” with programming. “It’s a brilliant platform for interesting smaller acts to attract a completely different audience and to try something refreshing and new,” he says of the festival’s potential for boundary-crossing. “And,” he hints promisingly, “I've still got lots of fairly ambitious ideas for the festival that I’d like to carry through with in the future.” Anyone got Lightning Bolt’s number?

Friday, 24 February 2012

GFF 2012: The Ecstasy of Order (interview with director Adam Cornelius)

The Ecstasy of Order screened at the GFF yesterday, and it was excellent - here's a wee feature written for the cineskinny.

From the earliest PCs to the latest smart-phones, Tetris extends further than most computer games. Its appeal is intuitive and addictive – and, as with any skill-based past-time, some take to it more seriously than others. The Ecstasy of Order focuses on the game’s most ardent players, as they vie for glory in the Tetris World Championships. “I’m not entirely sure this film would appeal to someone who literally has never played video games” reckons director Adam Cornelius. “Luckily for us, there aren’t many people who fit that description anymore. When I started in 2009, I was a little naïve about the massive popularity of Tetris – unbeknownst to me, it’s had a huge comeback as a cell phone game, selling over 100 million downloads worldwide. So it’s arguably the most played game ever at this point. This presented us with a rare opportunity to really explain the game in-depth; how the Tetris Masters perceive the game and play on an elite level.”

Cornelius’s previous documentary People Who Do Noise focused on Portland, Oregon’s experimental music scene, but despite obvious superficial dissimilarities, the director detects parallels between the two subjects. “In both cases you have a situation where human beings have developed almost an emotional or spiritual connection with modern technology,” he suggests. “In the case of Tetris, you hear people talk about the Tetris God, and that sense that it’s always withholding the piece you need. So it takes on a talismanic property; like a way of processing all the bad luck in real life. The masters have found ways to defy bad luck, which must be a very empowering feeling.”

As, er, ‘research’ for this article, we decide to chase that “empowering feeling”, and gauge our pro-player potential against the high scores featured in The Ecstasy of Order – a rather dispiriting comparison. We ask Cornelius how best to boost our relatively puny totals. “The best way to learn is to watch the games of the masters,” he counsels. “Take note of when they place a piece differently than you would have. Their move is almost always the far superior one. Try to figure out why. Repeat.” We heed his advice and, after several hours training, learn that: a) clearing four lines together maximises points; b) planning ahead is crucial; and c) we are never, ever going to make it to Level 14. Sigh.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

GFF 2012: Jan Svankmajer

Today and tomorrow, 85A will be hosting the short films of Jan Svankmajer in a tricked-out Glue Factory. Here are a few words on the event, written for the Cineskinny (which you can read back issues of here).

In Alice, Jan Svankmajer’s 1988 feature length adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the titular narrator instructs the audience to close their eyes “or they won’t see anything.” She demands we close off reality and enter a dream-like world of Svankmajer’s creation, where sawdust-stuffed rabbits break free from their display cases, and pin cushions and socks transform into hedgehogs and caterpillars. The Prague-born filmmaker has occupied this oneiric realm throughout his career, from his debut short The Last Trick in 1964, in which marionette-like magicians perform outlandish tricks by multiplying their bodies and bringing furniture to life, through to the psychoanalytic dreamscapes of 2010’s Surviving Life (Theory and Practice).

Whether live action, animation, or, most often, a combination of the two, Svankmajer’s work celebrates the power of imagination in all its facets: absurd, fantastical, allegorical, and often unsettling. Svankmajer takes mundane reality and sculpts something uncanny: pebbles dance in formation in A Game with Stones (1965); steaks embrace in Meat Love (1989); diagrams step free from the page in Historia Naturae, Suita (1967). His stop-motion clay work makes corporeal forms fluid and erratic – see the grotesque assembly of Darkness, Light, Darkness (1990), or the melting busts in Dimensions of Dialogue (1983). His Food trilogy (1993), meanwhile – featuring human vending machines, Swiftian pica and self-destructive gluttony – still has the ability to put viewers off their dinner, as do the meaty, disembodied tongues that crop up throughout his filmography.

This year, art collective 85A have transformed The Glue Factory into a 'kunstkammer', or cabinet of curiosities, of which Svankmajer himself would surely approve. The exact film selection is not yet known, but the evening’s poster contains multiple clues – for starters, we spy Punch from 1968’s Punch and Judy, and the spiked typewriter from 1969’s A Quiet Week in the House amongst the miscellany. Each individual film will be screened in its own specially-constructed theatre, with costumed performers promising to “[coax] his surreal imagery off the screen and into life before you!” By smudging the line between onscreen and off-screen worlds, 85A promise an unusual, unique take on the Svankmajer canon, and whether you’re an existing acolyte or a curious newcomer, this surreal voyage is not to be missed.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

GFF 2012: Backyard

In deciding to host an open-air concert in his garden, Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson cites modest intentions: “we just wanted to record some group of friends in a simple way,” he shrugs. Director Árni Sveinsson unfussily documents the resulting mini-festival from set-up to hot-tub wind-down, as the toast of Reykjavik’s music scene (local giants Bjork and Sigur Ros excepting) thrill an ever-growing crowd.

As you’d expect from so small a city, there’s a genuine sense of community amongst the participants, which makes the domestic nature of the venue (Hlöðversson’s flat is given over to coffee stations) rather apt. Musically, there’s plenty to enjoy, both familiar (Múm’s If I Were a Fish makes for a spellbinding centrepiece) and less well-known (Retro Stefson’s disco-rap and Reykjavik!’s hardcore screams deliver welcome variety). Both gig and film culminate with Hlöðversson’s band FM Belfast performing signature track Underwear, the ennui of its refrain “nothing ever happens here” firmly contradicted by the buzzing atmosphere they’ve helped create.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

GFF 2012: The Mexican Suitcase

In the mid-nineties, three suitcases were unearthed in a closet in Mexico, containing negatives long-assumed lost: snaps taken during the Spanish Civil War by Gerda Taro, David ‘Chim’ Seymour, and Robert Capa. While the trio’s iconic photography is front and centre of The Mexican Suitcase, documentarian Trisha Ziff frames this fortuitous discovery as a catalyst for wider analysis of the war’s legacy, mapping the journey made by the suitcases to that of refugees who chose exile to Mexico over life under Franco. Interviews with historians and émigrés offer an array of insights (recollections of French refugee camps are particularly upsetting), while present-day Spanish youth air their frustration at the infrequency of such open national discussion. Capa’s oft-quoted dictum “if a photo doesn’t work then you’re not close enough” is invoked by one interviewee, but Ziff’s film impresses by adopting multiple distances, from the close-up excavation of mass graves to comparatively disassociated art exhibitions, all augmented by co-producer Michael Nyman’s evocative score.

Monday, 20 February 2012

saturday's playlist!

1. errors - tusk
2. azealia banks - slow hands
3. college - a real hero
4. of montreal - dour percentage
5. talking heads - road to nowhere
6. cults - abducted
7. best coast - bratty b
8. la sera - break my heart
9. sleater kinney - combat rock
10. bikini kill - double dare ya
11. pavement - gold soundz
12. john cale - all my friends
13. crocodiles - stoned to death
14. the cars - let's go
15. broken social scene - art house director
16. echo and the bunnymen - heads will roll
17. flatmates - don't say it
18. martha and the muffins - monotone
19. david bowie - let's dance
20. blancmange - livin on the ceiling
21. the b-52s - lava
22. the magnetic fields - i don't believe you
23. wu tang clan - gravel pit
24. tom tom club - wordy rappinghood
25. the cure - friday i'm in love
26. why - fatalist palmistry
27. the only ones - another girl, another planet
28. the longpigs - she said
29. the strokes - 12:51
30. pixies - head on
31. bratmobile - gimme brains
32. the smiths - the queen is dead
33. the kills - future starts slow
34. belle and sebastian - you're just a baby
35. the velvet underground - i can't stand it
36. jonathan richman - government centre
37. fleetwood mac - go your own way
38. otis redding - love man
39. the charlemaignes - eternally
40. charlie feathers - bottle to the baby
41. joyce green - black cadillac
42. blondie - hanging on the telephone
43. hall and oates - maneater
44. whitney houston - i wanna dance with somebody
45. yeah yeah yeahs - heads will roll
46. sparks - tips for teens
47. neutral milk hotel - holland 1945
48. kiyoshiro imawano - remember you
49. bruce springsteen - dancing in the dark
50. the replacements - i will dare
51. abba - lay all your love on me
52. ike and tina turner - nutbush city limits
53. the sonics - psycho
54. dexy's midnight runners - breaking down the walls of heartache
55. the style council - walls come tumbing down
56. the blenders - don't fuck around with love

Sunday, 19 February 2012

GFF 2012: Three Sides to Every Story

here's a wee piece i wrote about the dreileben trilogy, screening today and tomorrow at the glasgow film festival. voila.

In 2006, filmmakers Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf and Christoph Hochhausler sent each other a series of frank emails analysing German cinema’s “completely atrophied discourse,” missives that were subsequently published in film journal Revolver. As well as proving intellectually provocative, their tête-à-tête(-à-tête) planted the seeds of an ambitious collaboration: a trio of films jointly conceived but independently produced. The directors proposed “three stories, three films, from three authors who share a place, a crime, and a time”a set of separate, yet discursive works, in which the filmmakers "wave from film to film, each as if on a ship moving away from the others."

Dreileben’s core story involves an escaped criminal and an ensuing investigation, but each prepares its ingredients differently. Petzold’s Beats Being Dead is an unorthodox romance; Graf’s Don’t Follow Me Around takes the more expected police procedural track; while Hochhausler’s One Minute of Darkness switches focus from pursuer to pursued, as the fugitive takes shelter in the town’s surrounding countryside. As three individual but intimately connected tales, Dreileben is a relatively unorthodox viewing experience - though not a wholly unique one. The component films of Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy, for instance, similarly shared the same cast and characters, while only a fortnight ago, rising stars Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton agreed to star in Ned Benson’s dual-film love story The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which will purportedly split its narrative into ‘his’ and ‘hers’ viewpoints.

Dreileben differs from these examples, however, in its promise to present not only multiple character perspectives, but multiple directorial voices. That it originated on German television is suggestive of a multi-director precursor from closer to home: Channel 4’s Red Riding trilogy, which played in cinemas outside the UK. After squeezing David Peace’s source novels into three screenplays, Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker filmed a segment each, with overlaps and cross-references building into a richly-textured whole. Another (partially) domestic example is the Advance Party project, a conceptual trilogy of Danish/Scottish co-productions that also uses shared characters in wildly divergent ways (Andrea Arnold’s Red Road and Morag McKinnon’s Donkeys still await their final piece).

Each of these examples challenges conventional cinematic parameters, presenting alternatives influenced in part by television’s serial structures, but with potential further parallels to, for instance, franchises filmed back-to-back. But such boundary-testing isn’t without its drawbacks: with all three Dreileben instalments screening in quick succession, you might want to bring a cushion.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

bottle rocket tonight!!!



11:30PM - 3:00AM

100% NICE

Thursday, 16 February 2012

GFF 2012: This Is Not A Film

told you there'd be more... here's a review of Jafar Panahi's outstanding This is Not a Film, which i can't recommend highly enought - it's on tomorrow and saturday, tickets available here.

In 2009, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested for supporting anti-Ahmadinejad protests; in 2010, he was arrested a second time, sentenced to six years imprisonment, and banned from making films for twenty years. This Is Not a Film documents a day of house arrest during an ultimately unsuccessful appeals process: Panahi eats breakfast, discusses the case with his lawyer, and reads extracts from the film that might have been. “Perhaps by reading and explaining, I might create an image for it…” he proposes, but finds the compromise troubling. “If we could tell a film," he despondently asks, “then why make a film?”

This Is Not a Film is a bold artistic statement, a guided career retrospective, a political act, and a mediation on the very nature of cinema – all at once, with neither self-pity or intellectual elitism to muddy the waters. While Panahi’s plight is deplorably sad, his uncowed defiance delivers an inventive and eloquent exposition of injustice.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

GFF 2012: Terri

In the first of many Glasgow Film Festival reviews to come, i share my thoughts on the Youth Film Festival's opening gala choice, Terri...

Like its eponymous protagonist, Terri sits awkwardly outside mainstream expectations, but is all the more appealing for it. The film opens with fifteen year old Terri (Jacob Wysocki) squeezed into a bathtub, his hefty frame barely contained. He doesn’t quite fit in at high school either: ostracised by the cool kids and roped into weekly progress meetings with the vice principal, Terri’s lot is not a happy one.

The tone and set-up may initially feel tediously familiar – misfit-populated indie dramedies are ten a penny – but director Azazel Jacobs mostly eschews cliché, with unexpectedly poignant results. Wysocki is excellent in his first starring role, though he’s inevitably overshadowed by a top-form John C. Reilly as high-fiving VP and confidant ‘Fitzy’, who not only gets the funniest lines, but the most sincere ones. “Life’s a mess dude,” he assures a despondent Terri, “but we’re all just doing the best we can,” – a simple but honest message, for a simple but honest film.

Friday, 10 February 2012

do it for elm farm ollie

michael has a history lesson for y'all.

18 February is a hugely significant day in the calendar. As we all know, it was on this date 82 years ago that Elm Farm Ollie became the first cow to fly in a fixed wing aircraft. She is also the first cow to be milked in flight.

Come join us to celebrate this anniversary. Have a white russian, get your moooooves out and dance to some udder belters at Bottle Rocket. No bull - just 100% indiepoppostpunknewwavepoptastic sounds. But enough milking it:

11:30PM - 3AM!

Anything you wanna hear? Let us know via the medium of facebook wall. Or just come and yell at us on the night, whatevs.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

mull historical society @ ABC, 3rd february

Tonight is Washington Irving’s second visit to ABC as part of Celtic Connections 2012. The first occupied the smaller ABC2, but the band seems undaunted by the main venue’s substantially larger dimensions, with a robust run through single Abbey Gallop a memorable highlight. Elsewhere, an as-yet-unrecorded instrumental offers a tantalising glimpse of their in-the-works debut.

Colin MacIntyre’s freshly-sparked commitment to the Mull Historical Society label is affirmed tonight by a setlist selected almost exclusively from his first three albums, plus new release City Awakenings. Only Samuel Dempster R.I.P makes the cut from the brace released under his own name, though as an ode to his great grandfather, it fits with the evening’s ‘This Is Your Life’-style reflective tone: Public Service Announcement is accompanied by dispatches from MacIntyre's directory enquiries days; later, The Lights is introduced with a story of a childhood visit to Glasgow (he found the metropolis overwhelming, only to be told they’d only reached Oban).

MacIntyre’s friendly enthusiasm loosens up an appreciative but starchy crowd, as do plentiful Loss-period highlights, from a solo, acoustic I Tried to the evergreen perkiness of Watching Xanadu. Unfortunately, the room never quite generates the atmosphere his performance deserves, but as he pushes hard against the curfew, MacIntyre chalks up a modest victory regardless.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

errors: stop making sense

if you've picked up a copy of this month's skinny you'll have noticed errors gracing the cover - here's my interview feature with the band!

Before Errors storm the land with their cosmic third LP, we sit down with the Glasgow trio to talk good fortune, aborted album titles and the joys of making a bedroom record.

Since their formation in 2004, Errors have forged twin reputations: first, as pigeonhole-shirking ‘post-electro’ soundsmiths; second, as reliable pun-providers. From How Clean Is Your Acid House? to remix LP Celebrity Come Down with Me, they’ve long exercised a penchant for baptising serious music with firmly non-serious labels.

By comparison, their third album’s title seems disarmingly direct, surprisingly free from irreverence. Should the lack of reference to Channel 4’s daytime listings be taken as a sign that the comedy of Errors is on the wane? “I think there was just less terrible chat when we were making this record,” suggests Simon Ward, discussing Have Some Faith in Magic just days ahead of its release. Not for the first time during our conversation, Stephen 'Steev' Livingstone respectfully disagrees. “I don’t know about that,” he laughs, “we just didn’t write as much of it down. One alternative I do remember we considered was ‘You Know Where the Bin Is’. We imagined someone giving a demo to a band, and the band just saying that in response. Not us, like, another band…” he hastens to add, preserving their upstanding reputations in the nick of time.

It seems their collective sense of humour remains intact, an observation borne out by the memorably eccentric promo for latest single Pleasure Palaces, which translates the track’s shiny, shimmering charms into garish, gif-inspired graphics and some silky dance moves (from a bubble-headed Steev in particular). Never mind placing faith in magic – they presumably had to invest a fair chunk of confidence in director Rachel MacLean [who also kindly designed the cover of this very magazine] not to make them look like eejits. “I was thinking about it this morning and I wouldn’t even know where to begin with doing something like that, just the amount of layers,” marvels a de-bubbled Steev. “It made me think that what we do is really primitive in comparison.”

Maintaining such modesty can’t be easy of late, what with Have Some Faith in Magic already rubber-stamped within these pages (and beyond) as the band’s finest work to this point in its seven year lifespan. “The reviews have all been pretty encouraging so far, and I think that helps you a wee bit ahead of going on tour, the fact that at least a few people think it’s good,” says Steev, before considering the potential brainwashing effects of such positive press. “Hopefully that will pollute other people’s minds, make them think it’s good before they’ve actually heard it.”

Are reviews, positive or otherwise, something they pay much attention to? “I try not to,” says Simon, “I think they can change your opinion, change what you thought of your own music in some ways – which I find quite worrying, that I’m so easily swayed.” For Steev, this has its advantages. “You’re not always really aware of what it is you’ve done and it can take other people to tell you,” he suggests. “I’ve noticed that a lot with response to the titles and the artwork, stuff that we didn’t really think about.” Simon agrees: “It’s amazing some of the interpretations that people come up with,” he smiles. “It makes us seem really smart, like we’ve thought about these things, but most of it is just by accident pretty much…”

Errors insist that such “happy accidents” are rife, yet ultimately they place great faith in their own instincts. “With past records, I’ve always kind of looked back, to go, ‘well, on the last record there was this tune, so we need to have a version of that for this one,’” says Steev. “But this time it was just about looking forward and not thinking about what came before.” The results are, in the band’s own words, their “biggest change of direction” thus far, though they’re keen to stress that any developments were wholly organic. “It was a natural thing,” suggests Steev. “We didn’t sit down and plan out how the album would differ from the others.”

The only exception was the decision to use vocals more extensively than ever before. “That was one of the few conversations that we had before we started writing the record,” starts Steev, but Simon looks puzzled. “Do you think it was as deliberate as that?” he asks. “Because I just said the opposite to someone else yesterday… I mean, I know we talked about it, but I think it came more through experimentation.”

Such dalliances have certainly produced unorthodox results, influenced by Panda Bear, Atlas Sound and, most tellingly, Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. “I quite like the process she goes through,” says Steev. “Like, she goes through dictionaries, takes words from different languages, and puts them together. So it’s more like a collage, but it’s still emotional and powerful even though what she’s saying doesn’t make any sense. I think that’s quite a unique talent to have – to be able to say something, but not mean anything.”

If that was their intention, it’s a lesson successfully absorbed; the lyrics are so masked in digital effects that it’s impossible to tell whether they’re profound or gibberish. “It is gibberish,” deadpans Steev. “It’s mostly just a stream-of-consciousness, just whatever is in my head at that time. It’s more about the sounds that the words make rather than what the words are.”

With their prior comments regarding peculiar misinterpretations of song titles in mind, I wonder how they feel about the prospect of lyric websites trying to elucidate said gibberish? “I don’t really want people to know what the actual lyrics are,” says Steev, “because it’s not important, but people will try and figure out what they are regardless.”

Elsewhere in this issue’s takeover, Errors have interviewed a range of artists about the different spaces in which they work, investigating how environment influences expression. It’s perhaps an inevitable talking point for the band, what with Have Some Faith in Magic having been written and recorded predominantly in Simon’s flat after their studio’s roof collapsed. “It probably changed the actual sound of the record a bit,” reckons Steev of their forced relocation, “because it was obviously a more relaxed space, and we could take our time. We could take plenty of breaks if we needed to; before, you kind of felt that if you weren’t getting anything done, then you were just best to go home, where at least at Simon’s, you were at home already."

The close quarters helped foster a fairly regimented routine. “We just got on with it,” Simon recalls. “I think it was a good set of circumstances in the end. It didn’t really affect the way we worked too much, in terms of just getting stuff done.” By Steev’s reckoning, “we did more or less seven days a week for three or four months – it was pretty intense, but in a good way.”

Does that make going out on tour less of an adjustment then – if you’ve already spent all that time living in each other’s laps, what strain could a few weeks on the road add? “I think we’ve kind of gotten used to that in a lot of ways, particularly with the American tour [by Mogwai's side last spring], which was five weeks in a car together. Not a van,” Simon stresses, “a car.” Coping mechanisms were swiftly improvised. “I think we did pretty well considering the lack of space,” says Steev. “We all just put our headphones on and ignored each other for a month.”

2011 culminated with a show at the Barrowlands, again supporting their label bosses. “We tried a couple of the new tracks there, and they seemed to go down pretty well,” says Steev. “But the thing that made me feel quite comfortable about the whole show was getting up, and looking out, and realising I knew loads of people in the first few rows. I was shitting myself up until that point.” Simon takes somewhat less comfort from performing to friends and family, stating a preference for “a faceless mass,” to Steev’s amusement. “Really, you’d prefer just loads of bald Mogwai fans looking back at you, aye?” he mocks, but Simon’s steadfast. “Oh definitely – just loads of bald guys, like the cover of Being John Malkovich.”

This month they’ll set out on a headline tour of their own, placing Have Some Faith in Magic squarely in the spotlight for the first time – a daunting prospect, all things considered. “With this record, we didn’t think about how we were going to recreate it live,” says Steev. “Since it was more of a bedroom record, we didn’t jam in the studio – there wasn’t even a drum kit set up.”

Complicating rehearsals further is the band’s recent line-up change, with four becoming three following the amicable departure of guitarist Greg Paterson to pursue a career in dentistry. “We just carried on, not really thinking about how we would deal with it, in terms of our live set-up,” says Simon. “It was just a case of ‘finish the record, and worry about that sort of stuff afterwards’.” The band's downsizing affects new material and old alike, but they’re confident they’ve got all bases covered. “We’re keen not to just have Greg’s parts running off a laptop,” says Steev. “We want to cover as much of that as possible with what we do, but obviously that’s difficult when there’s just three of us, and only two of us playing keyboards and guitars. But I think we’ve worked out a way of doing it.”

Ignoring their previous warnings against reading too much into their album’s title, I ask whether they feel lucky to be doing what they’re doing. “There is a big chunk of luck, definitely,” reckons Steev, pondering the break that led to their signing with Rock Action. “I mean, if certain people hadn’t been at early shows, who knows what would have happened…” He pauses before joking. “Maybe there would have been a guy from a better label, who knows. I guess it’s best not to think about these things…” Faithful? Perhaps not entirely. Magic? Oh aye.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

reviews: icarus, matthew bourne, the law

Icarus - Fake Fish Distribution

Icarus - Fake Fish Distribution (***)

Icarus’ ninth album presents something of a conundrum for reviewers. Fake Fish Distribution reconfigures the notion of limited edition physical releases for a digital environment, restricting its purchase to 1000 ‘unique downloads.’ The latter phrase is not as oxymoronic as you might expect: through algorithms and “parametric techniques” we won’t pretend to understand, each downloader will receive a singular, structured variation of the music, with no two versions of the album alike.

As a concept, it’s academically provocative, raising myriad questions pertaining to digital ownership and artistic expression. As an album of music, it’s… well, that’s harder to call. Juddering, syncopated beats and a dense, sometimes atonal atmosphere make for a challenging listen, though nothing so demanding as, say, Autechre at their most impenetrable. But while the album’s inventive, electric storm is repeatedly rewarding, our enthusiasm must be measured: after all, your version could be guff for all we know.

Out Now

Matthew Bourne - Montauk Variations

Matthew Bourne - Montauk Variations (****)

There’s much to admire about Matthew Bourne – the good grace with which he takes being regularly confused with the ballet choreographer of the same name, for instance, or his maverick inter-genre curiosity (in addition to these solo piano/cello pieces, Bourne’s “Scott Walker + Meshuggah” outfit Bilbao Syndrome promise a full-length in 2012). Then there’s his sharp sense of humour, demonstrated by sleeve notes which follow a paragraph of self-analysis pondering the inspirational qualities of “personal unquietness, solitude and heartbreak” with the summation that “this idea was bullshit.”

But the bulk of praise should be levelled at his boundless talent, both technical and compositional; his improvisational skills are already renowned in jazz circles, and these pieces sound precise and consummate without exception. Whether mellow and romantic (Juliet) or tumultuously erratic (Étude Psychotique), Bourne’s work is ceaselessly inventive and always absorbing, with a wistful cover of Chaplin’s Smile at the close to seal the deal.

The Law - Trigger

The Law - Trigger (**)

You can see why much of The Law’s reputation has come from their live shows: I’d hazard their music sounds best when you’re a few jars down and feeding off the energy of a core crowd of died-in-the-wool enthusiasts. Without such stimulants to hand, their second album sounds tired and conservative, a handful of moments aside – see first single Holiday’s breezy lure, or 7th Avenue, which underscores its title’s Springsteen echo with a nicely-judged saxophone.

Otherwise, Trigger demonstrates little in the way of originality, with repeats both specific (the verse of The Moon Is All owes a debt to Marillion’s soft-rock paragon Kayleigh) and more general: on Paraglide, vocalist Stuart Purvey’s accent journeys south to chum with Burgess and co, while Time By a Side suggests Marchin’ Already’s a well-worn tour-van favourite. There’s a punishing lack of ambition – actual ambition, not just swaggering self-assurance – that means Trigger ultimately fires blanks.

Out Now

Friday, 3 February 2012

GFF 2012: Sound and Vision

As with last year, i wrote a brief preview/overview of the Glasgow Music and Film Festival for the Skinny. While the actual GMFF mostly coincides with the main festival run, some of the additional recommendations at the bottom begin a little earlier, as part of the preceding short film fest. Check out the full programme for a complete listings.

For its 2012 retrospective, the Glasgow Film Festival toasts inimitable hot-stepper Gene Kelly by screening a selection of his most celebrated celluloid. But for those with music tastes beyond Gershwin and Bernstein, the festival’s most intriguing syntheses of sound and vision lie elsewhere in the programme.

Back for a fourth time, the Arches and GFT-curated Music and Film Festival offers up every combination of its titular arts that you could hope for: films about music, music about film, and plenty of more tricky-to-classify listings besides.

In the first category are a diverse selection of documentaries, spanning Icelandic block parties (Backyard, which sees Reykjavik’s finest play a show in FM Belfast’s Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson’s garden) and hip hop reunions (Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, which follows the New York trailblazers on their 2008 tour, with contributions from the likes of Mos Def and De La Soul). Then there’s The Other F Word, which quizzes members of Rancid, Pennywise and Black Flag, amongst others, on the subject of fatherhood; as Fat Mike of NOFX points out in the trailer, explaining away prominent dominatrix tattoos to a four year-old ain't easy.

While the film selection holds definite promise, it’s the innovative live events that have made the GMFF such a compelling fixture of the main festival, and this year’s line-up looks set to maintain the high standard. Particularly exciting is a rare visit from Simeon Coxe III of influential electronic-rock pioneers Silver Apples: in addition to performing live at Mono, Simeon will attend the world premiere of Silver Apples: Play Twice Before Listening, taking part in a Q&A alongside the film’s director Barak Soval.

Elsewhere, much of the schedule lurks in the shade: as well as Umberto’s horror-synth stylings, classic Universal monster movie The Phantom of the Opera will screen with live Wurlitzer accompaniment, while the enigmatic The Psychocinematic Ritual promises an occult celebration of 'the disturbing power of music and cinema', with members of Desalvo, Sons and Daughters and The Unwinding Hours joining forces for a dark mass at the Old Hairdressers. Meanwhile, those with less sinister appetites can look forward to the return of aquatics/acoustics amalgam Wet Sounds, its singular pool-based performance certain to send shivers of a different kind down swim-suited punters’ spines.

+ Three more recommended music/film events scattered throughout the rest of the strands…

  1. Douglas Hart Music Videos (Short Film Festival // 11 Feb, 9pm, CCA) – Ex-Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Hart introduces a selection of his work
  2. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Weimarvellous // 18 Feb, 3pm, CCA) – Renowned 1927 documentary, featuring an improvised jazz score by Trio AAB
  3. This Must Be the Place (Gala // 20 Feb, 8.30pm, Cineworld and 21 Feb, 1.15pm, Cineworld) – Sean Penn dons Robert Smith-esque goth-rock get-up in Il Divo director Paolo Sorrentino’s Cannes-winning drama