Saturday, 21 April 2012

record store day/dance-at-sleazys-at-bottle-rocket-day

so it's record store day today, and nice n sleazys is amongst the glasgow venues putting on acts to mark the occassion. adam stafford, holy mountain, phantom band djs, plus a bunch of acoustic acts in the upstairs bar - lovely.  what's more, when that's done, there's a party to be had.  a bottle rocket party to be precise.

next bottle rocket... 

a bottle rocket party at which you dance your socks off to all sorts of awesome.  to new wave, indie, pop, soul, rock n roll and the odd curveball, till you can't dance no more.  see you there*

(*i won't actually - i'm away, but mike and mark will hold the fort in reet style)

Friday, 20 April 2012

graham coxon @ the garage, 17th april

Betatone Distraction look rather pleased with themselves tonight, as well they might: for each stop of his tour, Mr Coxon has sought nominations for support acts and chosen his favourite, meaning their very presence comes with a quite clear-cut seal of approval. “I’ve been listening to him since I was a wee boy!” grins singer Ray Elma as the band gear up for closing number Process Replaces Content, its robust melodies lapped up by a vocal fan club.

In the trailer for his recently-released eighth album, Graham Coxon explains the appeal of live performance as he sees it. However short the set, it’s about having the opportunity “to go berserk, to get your ears blasted, to jump about, to kiss girls, to fall over, to get thrown out..."  The Skinny refrains from all of the above (well, our ears ring a bit...), and in a relatively quiet midweek Garage, the majority of the room behaves likewise.
Yet despite a slightly plodding mid-section, the evening remains a hit. A+E contains some of his finest solo material, and from Advice (loud, abrasive, catchy as hell) through to Running for Your Life’s whirling guitar onslaught, it’s well-represented in the set. Scattered amidst are gnarled pop nuggets from elsewhere in his impressively large and varied discography: Freakin’ Out is an inevitable encore fixture, a grungy I Can’t Look at Your Skin prompts yelps, while Tripping Over douses the pace and demonstrates the delicacy beneath the decibels.

Monday, 16 April 2012

dvd review: corman's world: exploits of a hollywood rebel

It seems ironic that a filmmaker famed for his zero pretence, zero budget exploitation flicks should have such starry disciples, with Jack Nicholson and Ron Howard amongst those paying tribute in the opening minutes of Alex Stapleton’s career-spanning documentary. Corman’s World nimbly traces its subject’s path from lowly script-doctor to one-man studio with hundreds of producing and directing credits – some fondly regarded (The Wild Angels), others less so (the ‘It’ of It Conquered the World takes cheap and cheerful to its limits). Lively and illuminating, Stapleton both plays up to and challenges Corman’s relatively low critical cache, fondly romanticising terrible movies (“Woman was made for man… to hunt!”) while simultaneously encouraging a re-evaluation of anomalously serious works like race-drama The Intruder. Peppering proceedings with nice anecdotal detail (a Blaxploitation Mean Streets?), Corman’s World makes a strong case for a cinematic legacy that extends far beyond drive-thru schlock and Piranhaconda-style TV fare, with rubbery tentacles infiltrating Hollywood at every level.

Out Now

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012

april skinny

The front looks like this...

... and as you can see, there's goodies galore in its 71 pages: interviews with aki kaurismaki, killing joke, feist, seamus fogarty, miaoux miaoux, whit stillman; features on the edinburgh international science festival and record store day; reviews of the cabin in the woods, rufus wainwright and death grips... loads of stuff, eh.

here's a list of the bits written by moi:

- 'holophonic soundscape' - interview with malcolm middleton/human don't be angry (read here!)
- the dirty dozen: april's singles reviewed by martin john henry and the permanent skelfs (read here!)
- father murphy @ nice n sleazy live review (read here!)
- future islands @ captains rest live review (read here!)
- grand duchy - 'let the people speak' album review (read here!)
- lightships - 'electric cables' album review (read here!)
- au - 'both lights' album review (read here!)
- human don't be angry - 'human don't be angry' album review (read here!)
- moonface - 'with siinai: heartbreaking bravery' album review (read here!)
- 'corman's world: exploits of a hollywood rebel' dvd review

Thursday, 12 April 2012

scottish album of the year award: the longlist

the scottish album of the year award announced its long list of nominees earlier today. in a similar vein to the polaris, or a salmond-approved mercury, it will name, through panel chat + public vote the 'bestest album by a scottish act released during 2011' .

the nominees are:

- 6th borough project - one night in the borough
- bill wells and aidan moffat - everything's getting older
- bwani junction - fully cocked
- chris stout's brazilian theory - live in concert
- conquering animal sound - kammerspeil
- found - factory craft
- fudge fingas - now about how
- happy particles - under sleeping waves
- jonny - jonny
- king creosote & jon hopkins - diamond mine
- mogwai - hardcore will never die but you will
- mungo's hifi - forward ever
- muscles of joy - muscles of joy
- remember remember - the quickening
- richard craig - inward
- rustie - glass swords
- steve mason and dennis bovell - ghosts inside
- tommy smith - karma
- twin atlantic - free
- we were promised jetpacks - in the pit of the stomach

good huh? my vote would go, predictably, for aidan and bill, but there's a half dozen others i'd be chuffed to see win. not that i'm actually involved in this in any way (though some other skinny-bods are) - just thought i'd post it here and take the opportunity to re-direct to my reviews/interviews with some relevant folks (a bit like what the skinny did in their announcement).

jetpacks review!

wells and moffat album of the year interview!

conquering animal sound review!

muscles of joy live review!


(you can vote for your favourite from the list over at SAY's website from the 14th may onwards, with the prize eventually handed over in june)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

butcher boy @ cottiers, 6th april

Reverieme open tonight depleted and in mild disarray; guitarist Andrew Lindsay is caught in traffic, and no one knows how to work the tuner on his pedal. Furthermore, the set order is causing befuddlement, and even with the pedal’s mysteries unlocked by the band’s harried latecomer, great chunks of their slot are lost to between-song set-ups. Such awkwardness would wither most acts, but somehow it boosts Louise Connell’s charm, whether playing solo with ukulele, or all in with band, with the attractively dainty Water in My Eyes a highlight.

Long before we’re told it’s John Hunt’s birthday today, Butcher Boy’s set feels like a special occasion. Not in the pomp and circumstance sense – they’re too classily reserved – but rather projecting a homely warmth. Maybe it’s the bank holiday air; perhaps it’s the prettiness of Cottiers’ ex-ecclesiastical surroundings; or maybe it’s the fact that significant numbers of the bands’ friends and family seem to have turned out for the show – whatever the reasons, it amounts to a relaxed and convivial atmosphere.

The setlist reflects this sense of occasion, with The Eighteenth Emergency getting dusted off for what we're told is its first live airing since 2007, while debut album cuts including I Know Who You Could Be are welcomely-received. Elsewhere, Helping Hands exerts an understated magnetism, while The Kiss Will Marry Us is heart-stoppingly tender – all adding up to a very Good Friday indeed.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

michael has a party to invite you to...

i'll be away for the next bottle rocket, but mike will be serving up the usual for your dancing pleasure. here's his blurb:

bottle rocket april

Wahey! By happy coincidence, April's BR falls on the same day as Record Store Day. For any historians in 2030 using these whimsical missives as sources of information about the year 2012, let me explain what record stores are. See all those buildings in the High Street, the ones that say "Poundland" and "Greggs"? Some of them used to be record stores. People used to physically go in and by music in them, rather than thinking about a song and then having it transplanted directly into their brain by the ghost of Steve Jobs. Bloody good so they were.

History lesson over. If you are living in 2012 and want to celebrate Record Store Day by dancing to the likes of the Magnetic Fields, Fleetwood Mac, Pavement, the B-52s, Dexy's and the Boss, why not make Bottle Rocket part of your special day?

* 11:30pm - 3am
* FREE (before 11:30, £3 thereafter)

And if there are any songs you want to hear, stick them on the facebook wall. For the benefit of historians in 2030, "songs" are kinda like ringtones, but a bit longer and are sometimes made by people who haven't appeared in a reality TV show. I recommend them.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Human Don't Be Angry: An Interview with Malcolm Middleton

Last month, i met up with Malcolm Middleton to discuss new guise Human Don't Be Angry, and the soon-to-be-released album of the same name. It appears in this month's print edition of The Skinny (along with a spiffing photo by Eoin Carey, taken in the Glasgow Science Centre after closing), and I've reposted the interview itself here...

Human Don't Be Angry - Human Don't Be Angry

In the early 1900s, German clerk Josef Friedrich Schmidt made a fortune flogging his take on a game best known on these shores as Frustration. He christened his version Mensch ärgere dich nicht – which translates roughly (depending on who you ask/where you Google) as ‘Man, do not get bothered’, ‘Don’t get annoyed, buddy’, or, indeed, ‘Human, don’t be angry’.

“When I heard that the first time I thought it was a funny name for a board game, and then I thought, ‘it’s as shit as any other band name.’ So I took it,” says Malcolm Middleton of his new moniker. “I was asked to play the Fence Away Game on the isle of Eigg a couple of years ago, and I said I’d do it as long as I was under a different name. I had two months in which I wrote most of the songs that are on the album, in a creative burst of enthusiasm that seemed to come from not having to write ‘Malcolm Middleton’ songs.”

Using a loop pedal, he built up largely instrumental, atmosphere-heavy sprawls, gradually defining Human Don’t Be Angry’s less song-based aesthetic. The Skinny asks if it's important to him that listeners make the distinction between his previous solo albums and this new guise. “Not really. I do think some people will just say it sounds like me but with less words. But I’d still rather some distinction was there, that it’s not just viewed as this miserabilist record by some guy who’s written those sorts of songs in the past. I think this is a lot lighter.” Was he aiming for a lighter mood? “I didn’t consciously think about it, but now I kind of regret that I didn’t make the album completely instrumental. My favourite songs on [the album] are the happier, upbeat ones,” he reflects, “and I’m aware that the ones with lyrics do tend to fall back in line with what I’ve been doing in the past.”

Of those ‘happier, upbeat’ tracks, the playful 1985 stands out, with twinkly glockenspiel and smooth guitar atop Penguin Café Orchestra-style wordless prettiness. “That one was originally called ‘Shit Summer’ – not because it was a shit summer in 1985, just because it reminded me of a summer-time tune, with a bit of a downward slant to it. But then I thought that was too negative a title.” If he was aiming to avoid negativity, how did the album's last track, Getting Better (At Feeling Like Shit), end up with such pessimistic parenthesis? “That’s the big faux-pas of the record,” Middleton sighs. “That kind of gives it away that it’s a Malcolm Middleton album I think. I wish I’d just called it Getting Better… If people still use the ‘miserabilist’ tag for this record, it’s my own fault for calling the song that.”

Middleton has previously described Human Don’t Be Angry as “a facade, a front so I can have fun again musically.” Has it worked – is he having fun? “Yeah, completely,” he enthuses. “I did the first band show for this record a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. There’s a different dynamic being in a band with other people playing along. The policy was not to just rehearse songs; the band can learn the songs, figure out what to do, then change it. I’m not stuck on structures, so I think saying that to people from the start has made them relax and realise that they’re not just session guys. Songs are changing already. It can get a bit noodly, or more dynamic. So yeah, I’m definitely having fun. I enjoy just playing guitar – the less lyrics and singing for me just now, the better.”

Why does he shy away from that? “I’ll be honest: it’s writer’s block. In the background from doing this I’ve got maybe seven or eight songs written for my next solo record which are coming slowly. I’m trying not to force it, because I find that when I do I end up writing a caricature of what I’ve been doing before, and I’m determined not to do that. Of course, I will sometimes, because I can’t change my past experiences and my current personality, so I’m still going to write songs in a certain way, but right now there’s nothing I can say about anything that’s coming out in songs… When they come, they come, but I don’t want to rush it, and I don’t want to repeat myself.” Human Don’t Be Angry, it seems, has been the perfect tonic. “This album was easy to make – it wasn’t a struggle because I didn’t have any expectations,” he says. “I just thought ‘fuck it, I’ll try this’.”

Recorded at Chem19 with studio-boss and ex-Delgado Paul Savage, another familiar friend was also on hand when recording the album. “I did all the music, Paul produced and did all the digital drum programming, and Aidan Moffat did live drums,” Middleton explains. “My original idea was really simple and I thought I’d record it in a week – have it an hour long, almost completely ambient from start to finish with songs bubbling out of noise then fading away. I thought that would be great – I even thought it should be a double album at one point. Then I realised that, personally, I wouldn’t put that on; I’d maybe like to hear it for a short time, but I’d never play the album twice. It wasn’t until Paul started doing the drums and stuff that I realised the album should be shorter and not over-indulgent, which is what it was going to be.”

The shift in approach meant some material was shunted off the tracklist, onto an EP due later in the year. “The album was initially going to be called Midnight Noodles, which was one of the first songs that I wrote; ten minutes long, with three or four guitars and background noises and wanky solos. It initially was on the album but then I let a few people hear it, and they were like, ‘well it’s good but I don’t know…’ And even I was listening to it and thinking, ‘I’m going to skip this song every time that I get to it now.’” You’re not exactly selling the EP… “The EP’s great!” Middleton laughs. “It’s four brilliant songs, plus a long ten minute one at the end. I don’t know, I’m quite impatient with music. I like pop songs, short things…”

Speaking of short things, did Middleton enjoy the all-too-brief Arab Strap reunion? “I loved it, I thought it was great,” he smiles. “I think Aidan talked me into it because I wasn’t that keen at first. We’ve always thought we’d do something else at some point, but neither of us are interested in doing it now. We should wait until we’re ready – or until he gets chucked again…”

A single rehearsal the afternoon before the gig was all it took to reawaken dormant dynamics. “It all came back really easy. I must look different when I’m onstage with Aidan, because I can relax, whereas when I’m onstage myself, playing my own songs, I can’t.” Did it feel peculiar revisiting the old material?Not for me – I don’t know, maybe Aidan was in pain while he was singing about his old girlfriend, but for me it was fine.”

Does the same go for solo shows; is it possible to divorce less-than-cheery songs from the context in which they were written? “It’s weird – you can certainly put a wall up, but then you feel like you’re out singing that song every night and people think that’s what you think now. You just want to go, ‘naw, I’m alright.’”

With the benefit of hindsight, does Middleton ever look back at earlier songs and compare new with old? “Not really,” he shrugs. “In my head, the best thing I’ve ever done was Brighter Beat, but I like Into the Woods because it’s such a funny record. But I don’t listen to those records now and compare them – I’m sure if I did sometimes I’d think ‘oh, I can’t do anything as good as that again.’ But other times,” he adds, in typically self-critical fashion, “I’d think ‘that is shit, was that really released?’” There’s just no pleasing some people.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

reviews: moonface, tom williams & the boat, the cornshed sisters

Moonface - With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery

Moonface - With Sinaii: Heartbreaking Bravery (****)

Initially, Moonface seemed to possess its own niche in Spencer Krug’s ever-proliferating portfolio: single-track debut Dreamland offering up “marimba and shit-drums” in its sub-title and contents, while follow-up Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped was, as hinted, almost wholly keys-based. Neither Ronseal-monikered, nor premised on select instrumentation, the third Moonface release breaks this nascent pattern, though its title nonetheless sets some pretty accurate parameters: lyrically, Heartbreaking Bravery sees Krug in part sorrowful, part defiant moods.

“All the stars are dying” he croons through Yesterday’s Fire’s glum-glam Bowie-isms, while elsewhere darker tales stalk (“There was blood, there was gore… There was some ugly shit in store” goes Headed for the Door). While the lyrics are all Krug’s own, the music is a collaboration with Finnish act Siinai, and their slow-burn style nicely counterpoints their temporary band leader’s more baroque tendencies, resulting in some of Krug’s most satisfyingly direct material to date.

Out 16th April

Tom Williams & The Boat – Teenage Blood

Tom Williams & the Boat - Teenage Blood (***)

Tom Williams & The Boat’s second album was funded by fans via Pledge Music, allowing the Tunbridge Wells-troubadour to retain full artistic control. Not that this freedom has led to any unexpected diversions from the mainstream-friendly aesthetic favoured on debut Too Slow. In fact, Williams is refreshingly honest about his artistic endeavours, naming Tom Petty, Teenage Fanclub and Loaded-era Velvet Underground amongst this record’s key influences, boldly brandishing a passion for classic song-writing craft.

Less exalted comparisons might be drawn with fellow ‘someone-and-the-aquatics’ nu-folkies Noah and the Whale, though there’s a lyrical grit to Williams’ work (“I need a dream and a lie that’ll hit my like a big wave… oh, put me in a neckbrace”) that keeps him a step ahead of their pleasant, but ever-diminishing returns. Teenage Blood proves Williams a gifted student of the radio-ready pop-rock genre, with the title track especially efficient at infiltrating the subconscious.

Out 16th April

The Cornshed Sisters - Tell Tales

The Cornshed Sisters - Tell Tales (***)

Sisters in the sorority rather than sibling sense, Jennie, Cath, Liz and Marie take turns to sing lead on debut album Tell Tales, and though the sparse instrumentation (piano, acoustic guitar, ukes) leaves little room to hide, all four are blessed with equally fine pipes. But then so are Wilson Phillips (you know, them from the end of Bridesmaids); harmonies alone won’t curry favour, no matter how impeccably pitched or honey-sweet.

Luckily, The Cornshed Sisters draw inspiration from more respectable sources, with a Colin Meloy-esque turn of phrase (“young man woe betide” and so forth) and a fine line in homespun folk influences. Tragic a-capella tale Tommy balances these constituents just right, whereas Ocelot Song doesn’t: beautiful, but in a cloying ‘Disney heroine crooning to her (ocelot?) sidekick of all the adventures she yearns to have’ way (aye, that old chestnut). Overall, their elegance and sincerity sells it, but only just.

Out 9th April

Saturday, 7 April 2012

dirty dozen: martin john henry & the permanent skelfs

last month, martin john henry (yknow, him aff derosa an' that) popped round my gaff with his permanent skelfs in order to review april's singles for the skinny...

With some of the most generous Dirty Dozen scores dished out in recent memory, it takes a lot to displease Martin John Henry and the Permanent Skelfs...

The OK Social Club – The Shape of Things to Come (Platform Records, 2 Apr)
Paul Mellon: This is like a Scottish Razorlight or something.
Raindeer: It’s very energetic…
Martin: …and young, and I don’t feel either. Er, but it’s quite nice, really poppy.
The Skinny: Marks out of ten?
Paul: Well I doubt that’ll be the best, or the worst.
Martin: I hate it when people review me and here I am… Maybe we should wait till we’re four or five in before we start giving scores?

François and the Atlas Mountains – City Kiss (Domino, 16 Apr)
Raindeer: I saw them play last year and thought they were excellent, but this sounds really different, really polished. I still like it though.
James Woodside: It reminds me of… what’s that fat band?
Paul: The Magic Numbers? That’s the second time this week someone’s mentioned ‘that fat band’ to me. The only reason I know who you mean is because someone said I look like a thinner version of the singer…
Martin: I really like this – it’s a bit on the twee side, but still interesting.

Tom Williams & the Boat – Teenage Blood (Moshi Moshi/Wire Boat Recordings, 9 Apr)
The Skinny: This one was recorded in a working brewery…
Paul: Well that wins it points already. This almost sounds like latter-day Oasis.
James: It’s got some nice wee bits, like that violin part.
Martin: Right, let’s start rating these then.
Paul: I think François and the Atlas Mountains is definitely the best so far – 8.
Martin: In which case, this one is, what – 6?
James: Well in that case the first must be a 5.
Martin: Agreed.

Django Django – Storm (Because, 23 Apr)
Raindeer: My ears have pricked up right away with this one…
Paul: It’s the most immediately interesting song so far. The album’s really good as well actually. You can tell his brother was in the Beta Band, but not in a bad way. I really like them.
Martin: It’s the first song tonight to sound both instrumentally and vocally inventive.
Raindeer: This is the first I’ve heard them, but it definitely makes me want to listen to more.
Martin: I like how it starts that big build, then just goes back to a minimal riff. 8 as well – I wouldn’t go as far as a 9 yet…

Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game (Polydor, 16 Apr)
Raindeer: He hasn’t started singing but I like it already, because I already love his voice. He reminds me of Billy Joel.
Martin: His sense of melody is just amazing. He does that thing where everything is very traditional, but he still manages to put his own imprint on it, which is the hardest thing to do.
Raindeer: I love this. I feel like I’ve known it forever…
Martin: I’m really enjoying it. Let’s give that a 7.
James: He sounds like a big Elton fan. I could listen to that with all sorts of people, you know? Not just you guys, but like my auntie or whatever. It’s inoffensive.

Pulled Apart By Horses – Wolf Hand (Transgressive, 23 Apr)
Paul: I saw these guys in King Tut’s recently and they were great.
James: I’m not sure about this – it’s like it’s either too heavy or not heavy enough…
Martin: If I saw them live I think I’d like it more - this sounds compressed, like it’s playing on an FM radio. I’m going to struggle with scoring that.
Paul: Well I really like them, so what happens here?
Martin: Since it’s my band, I’m going to say 5.
Paul: You’re the boss. I still really like them. I’ve played gigs with them before.
James: Oh well in that case we really like them, especially the production.

Lightships – Sweetness in Her Spark (Geographic, 26 Apr)
Martin: It’s quite Teenage Fanclubby isn’t it?
Paul: That’s because it’s Gerry from the Fanclub, it’s his solo thing. It’s not doing anything new…
Martin: …but then they never have.
Paul: Aye, you know what you’re getting, but they’re so great at it. I think this is really pretty. It does just sound like Teenage Fanclub though.
Raindeer: It’s nice – how about 7?

Ane Brun ft. Jose Gonzalez – Worship (Balloon Ranger Records, 2 Apr)
Raindeer: This is great. I have to keep reminding myself that these are singles though – this feels more like an album track.
Martin: I kind of don’t care about Jose Gonzalez’s part – I mean, it’s a nice male vocal, but her voice just has so much personality. This is really lush sounding.
Raindeer: I like the way it builds without you realising. It catches you off guard. If you start to zone out, there’s another sound to keep you interested.
Martin, warming to the reviewer role: Another 8? We could keep scoring stuff all night…
Paul: Get a few beers in, and we’ll score every record you’ve got in the whole house.

Taffy – So Long (Club AC30, 21 Apr)
Paul: This sounds very 90s, sort of Britpop. They’re from Tokyo? That’s surprising – they sound like, what’s that band called…
Martin: Kenickie? No, wait, this is Japanese Echobelly!
Paul: I’ll have that: the Japanese Echobelly. A bit Weezery as well.
Martin: It’s retro music from another culture, which makes it hard to critique. It’s more like a tribute act than something that draws from the past and uses it in its own way, so 4.

Marina and the Diamonds – Primadonna (679/Atlantic, 16 Apr)
Martin: I think this is… [pause] total guff. Turn it off, we’ve heard enough. I’ll give it a 3, but only because my wife quite likes her.

Spiritualized – Hey Jane (Double Six/Spaceman Recordings, 16 Apr)
Paul: I’m going to see Spiritualized tomorrow… This is quite lo-fi, which is unusual for them. It’s almost more towards what he did with Spaceman 3, a bit more garagey sounding.
Martin: I like the ‘don’t-give-a-shit’ vocals. This isn’t really what I was expecting.
Paul: That cacophony at the end is good; he gives good cacophony. Definitely 7.
Raindeer: Hmmm, I’d go with 6.
Paul: Nah, I’m sticking to my guns with this one. [Reindeer continues to hum the guitar part as we load the final promo] Listen, you’re still singing the riff! Come on, it’s the only one you’re going to go away remembering.
James: Isn’t that just because it only just finished?
Paul: Aye, but it’s still catchy – I haven’t heard anyone sing any of the others…

Single of the month: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Third Swan (Domino, 21 Apr)
Martin: This is lovely - he has the most beautiful singing voice.
James: Seeing him play acoustic in a church hall was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
Paul: His lyrics are great too. It always sounds really effortless – it’s very traditional, in some respects, but there’s a kind of spacey sound to it as well.
Martin: 9 – definitely single of the month.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

GFT programme note: Le Havre

Out tomorrow, Le Havre is rather good indeed...


‘The European cinema has not much addressed the continuously worsening financial, political, and above all, moral crisis that has led to the ever-unsolved question of refugees,’ writes Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki in Le Havre’s press kit, identifying the key impetus behind the film’s plot: a young African immigrant, hiding from the authorities in the titular port town. ‘I have no answer to this problem,’ Kaurismäki continues, ‘but I still wanted to deal with the matter, in this anyhow unrealistic film.’[1] While there are some notable, refugee-focussed narratives to be found amongst recent festival fare – for example, Low Life (Nicholas Klotz, 2011), well-received in London last year; or Terraferma (Emanuele Crialese, 2011), which screened at the GFF in February – Kaurismäki’s charge that European filmmakers have under-represented the issues attendant to global migration seems a fair one. He evidently considers it fertile subject matter: according to several recent interviews (never, it must be said, an entirely reliable source of information given his well-documented tendency to disdainfully and self-deprecatingly dance around questions, but interesting nonetheless), Le Havre will ultimately become the first in a ‘Harbour Town Trilogy’, with the Galician town of Vigo to host the second entry, and an unconfirmed location in Germany the third.[2] Le Havre’s title is interesting in this regard, both specific (situating events in the Normandy-region city of the same name), but also abstractly evocative of the story’s themes (the city’s name literally translates as ‘the harbour’).

Despite the opening quotation’s polemical edge, the appended caveat is important: for all its supposed social-realist roots, Le Havre is a deliberate, confessed fantasy. Early on, when police open a shipping container in which dozens of men, women and children have been hiding during their lengthy passage to Europe, the contents are less grim than might be expected. ‘There’s a serious problem with immigrants suffering in forgotten containers,’ notes Kaurismäki in interview with Indiewire. ‘They can die there. [But] I didn’t want to face that problem because I was making an uplifting film.’[3] He echoes the point in discussion with Film Comment, where he further explains the decision to present the stowaways in a stoic, rather than pitiful or tragic light, concluding ‘to hell with realism.’[4] This defiance informs the film through to its final moments, in which not one, but two happy endings are delivered in quick succession, with increasing disregard for the laws of probability. ‘The whole refugee business is a miserable thing with too many sad endings in real life,’ Kaurismäki argues. ‘So a fiction film dealing with that needs a minimum of two happy endings to make some kind of balance.’[5] The ‘ever-unsolved question of refugees’ is thereby offered a solution, albeit a highly implausible one.

To return again to the opening statement, while Kaurismäki’s language frames immigration in very contemporary terms (‘continuously-worsening’, ‘ever-unsolved’), Le Havre is old-fashioned in more ways than one. Smoking bans have yet to intrude upon the cafés and bars of Kaurismäki’s France, while the central neighbourhood, populated by grocers and shoe-shines, is stylishly timeless. The name of central character Marcel (André Wilms, reprising a role first played in 1992’s La Vie de Bohème) self-consciously references director Carné, while that of Arletty (Kati Outinen) echoes Carné’s regular star of the same name. Towards the end, ‘a trendy charity concert’ features prominently (itself a decidedly dated form of Western redress to third-world problems), headlined by veteran rock act Little Bob; elsewhere, the soundtrack features Blind Willie McTell (played on crackly vinyl, no less) and sixties act The Renegades, whose Ventures-style surf-rock opens and closes the film. The latter’s music has featured in a number of other Kaurismäki films, most notably Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana (1994), but their prominence in this context is interesting in another sense: though the members were all originally from the UK, The Renegades formed and found success in their adopted home of Finland, making them, too, immigrants of a multicultural Europe. Incidentally, the same might be said of Kaurismäki himself – in addition to filming Le Havre in France and plotting continuations elsewhere in the continent, the Finn has called Portugal home for six months of every year since the late eighties.

Leaving biography aside, Le Havre evidences many of Kaurismäki’s long-ingrained stylistic trademarks: dialogue is droll and deadpan (‘Luckily he had time to pay’ shrugs Marcel when a man is gunned down, off-screen, moments after receiving a shoe-shine); characters are often frozen in elegantly drab tableaux, while the lightly comic tone is offset by moments of melodrama. Its consistency extends to familiar cast members (Outinen in her ninth role for the director; Wilms in his fourth), and even a canine acting dynasty, with Laika the fifth generation of Kaurismäki family dog to appear on-screen (where her relative Tähti’s turn in The Man without a Past won 2002’s Palm Dog, Laika had to make do with a special Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes, after The Artist’s Uggie scooped the top accolade). True to its director’s word, Le Havre offers no answers to the complicated issues that inform its plot, but it is arguably cinema itself – particularly his own, but that of others also – that inspires and informs Kaurismäki’s imagination, more so than politics. While aforementioned influence Marcel Carné previously used Le Havre as a setting for 1938’s Le Quai des Brumes, in Kaurismaki’s hands, this ‘port of shadows’ becomes a colourful stage, where neither geopolitics nor medical science encroach upon its inherent, flagrantly unrealistic, optimism.

Dr Christopher Buckle
Researcher and Journalist
March 2012

[1] Aki Kaurismaki, ‘Director’s Words’, accessed 3 April 2012 at

[2] Kevin Jagernauth, ‘Aki Kaurismaki’s ‘Le Havre’ the First of a Trilogy, Director Plans Future Entries in Spain and Germany’, accessed

[3] Eric Kohn, ‘Le Havre Director Aki Kaurismäki: “I’m not interested in the upper class”’, accessed 3 April, 2012 at

[4] Peter von Bagh, ‘Aki Kaurismäki: The Uncut Interview’, accessed 3 April 2012,

[5] Damon Smith, ‘Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre’, accessed 16 March, 2012,

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

feist @ glasgow royal concert hall, 27th march

With nothing but an acoustic guitar and a voice of honey and dust, M. Ward saunters onstage alone. As he solemnly paces the boards, it’s easy to appreciate why the evening’s headliner later confesses to feeling intimidated in the presence of such talent. Judging by the handful of new tracks offered up tonight, forthcoming seventh album A Wasteland Companion sees him at the height of his story-telling prowess, with Primitive Girl especially characterful.

“I had a nap on every one of those chairs this afternoon,” claims Feist early in her generously-proportioned set. “There may even be drool on some”. While our seats are undoubtedly comfortable (and, incidentally, drool-less), kip is unthinkable from the moment a radically re-worked Mushaboom opens proceedings, its perkiness culled by group chants and bold percussion.

It’s not the only track to diverge dramatically from its recorded version tonight, with special mention to I Feel It All, morphed into a lively power-anthem. But it’s Metals that naturally dominates, with Undiscovered First’s colossal conclusion, A Commotion’s quiet-LOUD dynamics, and the haunting Comfort Me all validating the record’s excellence.

That said, some tracks might need to sink in a while longer, with an attempt to throw The Circle Married the Line’s refrain over to the audience met with awkward silence (“I guess no one’s going to take that one!” Feist gamely shrugs). But there’s no such knowledge gap afflicting the closing Intuition, her solo rendition met with quietly-building echoes from the stalls. As one enthusiastic cry succinctly puts it, “beautiful!”

Monday, 2 April 2012

reviews: human don't be angry, au, grand duchy

Human Don't Be Angry - Human Don't Be Angry

Human Don't Be Angry - Human Don't Be Angry (****)

Working with a pseudonym borrowed from a German board game, Human Don’t Be Angry sees Malcolm Middleton in an appropriately playful mood. Opener The Missing Plutonium lounges like Don Henley’s Boys of Summer given a retro-futurist reshuffle, while H.D.B.A. Theme further clarifies the album’s combination of guitar-based vistas and looped cores. Both tracks impress by blowing open expectations, pushing Middleton into new, but intuitively grasped, territories.

In early HDBA live shows, Middleton struggled to fully embrace this altered direction, saying: “I’d always, after two or three instrumentals, think ‘shit, I need to give them a song!” The album, deliberately or otherwise, is similarly structured, with vocals henceforth used intermittently: sometimes incorporated in fairly unorthodox ways (First Person Singular, Present Tense’s searching mantra); other times towards more straightforward ends (epically eighties-esque ballad Asklipiio). Regardless, HDBA’s tabula rasa has done a fine job of both revitalising Middleton’s palette and nourishing his muse.

Out 16th April

AU - Both Lights

AU - Both Lights

AU’s latest album is typically arcane, yet it crackles with access points. As always, a casual cadre of guests expand upon Luke Wyland’s intricate compositions, with frequently exceptional results: punchy opener Epic is an explosion of rapidly-tapped guitars, with a gradually-building sax undertow courtesy of Colin Stetson; Get Alive switches track by entwining Wyland’s baleful croon with Holland Andrews’ airier counter-vocals, over playful AnCo-friendly psych-pop; while Solid Gold again benefits from Stetson’s bestowment, a vigorous jazz solo enlivening the track’s closing minutes.

Throughout, Both Lights radiates at unpredictable tangents, but always naturally; this doesn’t feel like experimentation for the sake of it, more like the fruits of a musical mind instinctively following its synapses wherever they fire, without stopping to question either methods or results. To be privy to such explorations is a treat, albeit an occasionally long-winded one that could only benefit in future from tighter editorial reins.

Out today

Grand Duchy - Let the People Speak

Grand Duchy - Let the People Speak (**)

Every marriage has its ups and downs; Let the People Speak is mostly the latter. Husband and wife Frank Black and Violet Clark follow up Grand Duchy’s 2009 debut Petit Fours with another eclectic collection of divergent genre dabblings, but it’s hardly the stuff on which iconic reputations are built, nor maintained. The record begins inauspiciously, with See-Thru You a hi-NRG beat and a dye-job away from Republica, while The Lopsided World of L is the first of several skits – each more teeth-grindingly irritating than the last.

Amidst the dross is a smattering of decent tracks, and even one or two rough diamonds: the escalating Dark Sparkles and the Beat showcases Clark’s affective vocal style well, while Shady features an enjoyably eccentric performance from Black, full of playfully arcane lyrics. But even these high watermarks are fathoms below his best work, rendering the enterprise intermittently diverting, but skippable.

Out 9th April