Wednesday, 27 March 2013

album reviews: loch lomond, dear reader, roddy woomble

                                          Loch Lomond – Dresses 

Loch Lomond - Dresses (****)

Now in its tenth year of existence, Ritchie Young’s Loch Lomond project has grown and receded through many guises, moving from solo beginnings to become a revolving, multi-headed ensemble with a small orchestra of instruments at its disposal. Fourth album Dresses (Loch Lomond’s second for Chemikal Underground) seems to wheel out every one of them, though never gratuitously; rather, this elegant collection elicits emotions through restraint, deploying strings, brass and the like with moderation.

For the most part, Young’s powerful vocals remain forefront, imbuing songs like Virgin Mountain with a persuasive drama. But credit is claimed just as surely by others present – not least longstanding member Jason Leonard, whose ambient lap steel interludes boost the record’s pronounced cinematic beauty. Other highlights include the haunting choral harmonies of atmospheric opener Bells and the closing trumpet calls of Black Dresses, which supply the record with one final lift to the heavens – a fitting residence.
Out 8th April

                                                 Dear Reader – Rivonia

Dear Reader - Rivonia (****)

Dear Reader (the nom-de-plume of South African songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil) has named third album Rivonia after the Johannesburg neighbourhood she grew up in. But the record has more demanding lyrical themes than childhood, with the suburb having played a significant role in the country’s unhappy history of Apartheid: it was there, at a farm called Liliesleaf, that several ANC members were arrested, with the subsequent Rivonia trials leading directly to the imprisonment of numerous key figures (Nelson Mandela included).

It’s an ambitious subject to set down in song, but MacNeil finds effortless ways in, tackling politics askance through (imagined) recollections and oblique poetry. The music to which these tales are set, meanwhile, is vivid and puissant, with 26.04.1994 (the date prior to the elections that took Mandela to the presidency) a silvery, soaring highlight and Man of the Book’s dancing, wheezing melodies affirmation of talents finally finding full voice.
Out 1st April

Roddy Woomble – Listen to Keep 

Roddy Woomble - Listen To Keep (***)

The sleeve for Listen to Keep includes a snap of Roddy Woomble relaxing by a fireplace, shoes off and feet up. The music, meanwhile, evidences Woomble’s continued retreat from erstwhile noisiness, entrenching its maker deeper in the warm and familiar folk territories explored on predecessors My Secret is My Silence andThe Impossible Song & Other Songs. In short, not only does the former Idlewild frontman look comfortable on his third solo release; he sounds comfortable too.

This can be taken two ways. If you were to insist on looking for negatives, it’d be relatively simple to make a claim for the album’s pedestrianism, with smooth easy-listening melodies offering few surprises. But comfort needn’t imply complacency. While the components are often stock, their arrangement is consummately considered throughout, with tracks like The Last One of My Kind possessing a pronounced pop bent and housing some of Woomble’s most striking lyrics to date.
Out now 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

march skinny


The new issue will be out next week, so if you haven't picked up a copy of the lovely specimen above, do so pronto, ok?

The bits I wrote are:

- 'Free Mason' (interview with Steve Mason, aka the cover story... read here!)
- Desaparecidos/ We Are the Physics @ The Arches live review (read here!)
- Aimee Mann/Amelia Curran/Ted Leo @ ABC live review (read here!)
- Conny Ochs - 'Black Happy' album review (read here!)
- Conquering Animal Sound - 'On Floating Bodies' album review (read here!)
- Kid Canaveral - 'Now That You Are Dancer' album review (read here!)
- Steve Mason - 'Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time' album review (read here!)
- Marnie Stern - 'The Chronicles of Marnia' album review (read here!)
- 'Elena' DVD review album review (read here!)

Monday, 25 March 2013

Free Mason: An interview with Steve Mason

With righteous new album Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time setting the world to rights, we sit down with Steve Mason to discuss his politics of dissent [feature written for the March 2013 issue of The Skinny]

A foretaste of Steve Mason’s sharply politicised concept album Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time came at the tail end of last year, with the online release of vanguard track Fight Them Back. A catalytic call-to-arms with a blunt, mantric message (“You get up and fight them back; a fist, a boot, and a baseball bat”), it came coupled to an incendiary promo; a collage in which global protest footage met fragmented symbols of the targeted power systems: scheming politicians, manipulative media, unfettered capitalist greed. A real-life variation on Peter Finch’s beleaguered Network anchorman – mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore – the song’s narrator addresses the listener directly, asking “at what point do you think it’s time to act?” After spending a few hours in Mason’s company, it’s clear this is no idle enquiry. From bank bailouts to David Cameron’s “mission to turn this country into some sort of wasteland,” the Fife-based songwriter holds forth on a number of topics, freewheeling from trade unions to tax dodgers and emphasising throughout the importance of individual responsibility.

“I knew that I wanted do something political," he explains of the album’s origins, “but a human politics, not necessarily party politics." He sighs. "We’ve all just been stamped through this mincing machine to become little capitalist consumers, as if that’s the be all and end all. And personally, I think it’s time for us as a species to change our priorities… What happened to spirituality, and love for fellow human beings? Instead [we have] this idea of living to work, which is a very odd concept. But it’s been sold to us, and we’ve bought it, and it’s terrifying. Capitalism can only ever end in a bad fucking way.”

For Mason, signs of endgame exploitation are everywhere: in reports of office workers made to wear wristbands that monitor their movements; in the on-going horsemeat scandal (“that didn’t surprise me at all – you’re a fool if you think that putting food production and capitalism together isn’t going to end up that way”); and in the recent allegations that online retailer Amazon hired neo-Nazi heavies to police the immigrant workforce of a distribution centre in Germany. “These are the kind of things that I think are very important,” he stresses. “I think as a race we’ve been smashed into submission by a very small group of people, and we need to start fighting back and changing the way we live and think about things. There is another way.”

Despite Fight Them Back’s confrontational polemic, Mason is keen to downplay smash-the-system belligerence as the only valid response. “We have all the power, we just don’t know we’ve got it,” he emphasises, “but there’s plenty we can do. I used to be, I guess, a little bit naïve, and think that one massive act would overthrow the whole system, but the more you look at it the more you realise how global and interlinked it all is. So for me, as I say on the album, it’s more about small conversations, open rebellion and generally not falling into the trap of having an argument when you meet someone who doesn’t agree with you. Have a conversation, because they can learn something from you and you can almost certainly learn something from them.”

He describes a pay-it-forward car mechanic in Portsmouth who’s apparently been cutting the bills of hard-up customers on the proviso they subsequently give the money to a homeless person. “Things like that I find more inspiring than anything else,” he explains. “I think something like that would achieve far more than, you know, 10,000 people protesting on the streets of London. I’ve got to the point now where I don’t even know if there’s any point in protesting... It feels like when you protest, you’re meeting the system head on – you’re playing it at its own game, and it can manipulate that situation however it wants. It’s got people within the protest group kicking things off, and then you’ve got your horrible fucking bully boys within the police, people with no fucking numbers on their uniforms just battering people… I just think protest needs to be rethought completely. Someone like that mechanic is going to achieve far more in the space of a year than a year of protests.”

The album’s narrative, then, is one of gradual political awakening – both his personal journey from his mid-teens to now, and an anticipated public rejection of “false goals” such as extreme wealth or fame-at-all-costs. Whether censuring stage schools (“enormous shit pumps filling our culture with meaningless garbage”) or questioning the acute consumption of bling-laden pop idols (“I think that people will look back at those people and think ‘fuck me, you squandered that didn’t you – you had all that and you were just spunking it all over the place’”), Mason’s social diagnoses are as astute as they are fervidly phrased.

Politics have long informed Mason’s music – from the Gulf War undertones of The Beta Band’s Hot Shots II to the Bush and Blair call-outs in King Biscuit Time cut C I AM 15 – but Monkey Minds… is their most overt airing yet. Does this reflect a shift in personal priorities? “I guess I was never particularly what I would call ‘A Political Person’” he replies. “I knew that the right wing was bad and that the left never seemed to achieve a whole lot, but my political opinions have more been formed by realising that there’s just something intrinsically wrong with society.”

He motions to the street outside. “You’ve only got to look out this window. We’re sitting in this nice, independently-run café in Edinburgh, and you look outside and see these horrible fucking bins, scruffy buildings, horrible pavements – everything’s cheap and throwaway. And it doesn’t need to be like that, not with the amount of revenue that comes in from all our various taxes. People think ‘oh, well Leith is a deprived area,’ but it doesn’t need to be, it really doesn’t. I just think that we’ve fallen into this trap of believing what governments and authority tell us. But what they’re telling you is an enormous lie, in order for the Military-Industrial Complex, the energy companies, and the banks to profit.”

This reference to a pan-institutional plot is neither the first or last time during our conversation that Mason alludes darkly to clandestine networks of power – the sort of talk that’s prone to attracting all sorts of dismissive labels, ‘conspiracy theorist’ chief amongst them. But Mason is nothing if not self-aware. He understands how such grandiose rhetoric could sound to those who don’t share his anti-authoritarian zeal, and is realistic about where his album fits in amongst it all. When I ask whether he has any hopes that Monkey Minds… could help spark an epiphany in even just a single listener, he dismisses the notion. “No, I think that’s an insane idea,” he smiles. “I think that the idea is to start a dialogue – a dialogue like this, a dialogue that somebody might have after they read this interview, whatever. Even if people think that what I’m saying is crazy or naïve or whatever it might be, it’s still some sort of conversation.”

"Cameron’s mission is to turn this country into some sort of wasteland” - STEVE MASON

Would it disappoint him if people were enthusiastic about the music without engaging with its politics? “Absolutely not, because you can…” he stops and laughs. “I was about to say ‘you can lead a horse to water,’ but that would be an incredibly stupid thing to say... But really I wanted [the album] to be full of melody, emotion and beauty, and I like to think that people can listen to it two different ways – in terms of the things that we’re talking about, or just as an album of recorded music. It’s totally up to you and I really don’t mind. I don’t want to be ramming things down people’s throats – people are having things rammed down their throats 24 hours a day already. And I’m not here to sell any kind of ideology – I’m not coming with any left-wing/right-wing manifesto. So with that in mind,” he smiles, “they can do what they want.”

Next month, Mason plays a trio of UK gigs – an abridged tour that he hopes to expand on later in the year. “Gigs are difficult because ideally you want to…” he clears his throat. “Er, make some money from what you do.” He laughs, evidently aware of the irony. “So it’s very hard. You’ve just got to be so careful how you spend the money you have. The dream at the moment is just being able to finance it and make it break even.”

Considering his anti-corporate stance, do financial pressures put his personal convictions under strain? “Well that’s why I quit the Beta Band,” he replies. “All through the Beta Band we’d been offered a lot of money – and when I say a lot, I mean over a million in licensing deals – and I had to turn them down. And that’s fine, but what I realised – and it sounds very obvious but it took me a while to realise – is that turning down adverts is a luxury. It’s very easy to do when you’ve got money in your bank account, it’s a fucking doddle. Unless you’re a greedy fuck – unless you’re Ant or Dec or somebody like that – it’s a relatively easy decision to make. But it becomes increasingly difficult… I mean, I’m 40 now, and obviously you start thinking about the future. You think, ‘fuck, I’m living hand-to-mouth and I don’t know if in 5 years’ time I’m going to have a record deal, or if anyone’s going to want to buy my music.’ So you do start to worry; you don’t really think like an 18-year-old anymore...” He breaks off. “The thing is, you get these companies phoning you up and they’re like, ‘oh, we’re a clothing brand and we’re cool and we’d like to be associated with you,’ and when you do a bit of investigating you find out they’re owned by JD Sports.”

The example isn’t plucked from thin air, but relates to a genuine recent request. “They wanted to licence Fight Them Back,” Mason recounts, his disbelief still clear. “They wanted to have posters of me in the changing rooms: ‘We’re JD Sports, and we support the fight against the power system, and this guy’s with us all the way!’”

So a subsidiary of a company amongst the most looted during the 2011 riots wanted to use related imagery to flog stock? Exactly!” he exclaims. “It’s like, don’t you understand? But I suppose the frightening thing is maybe, because they’ve been able to buy everything before, it would never cross their mind that someone would turn them down. It would never cross their mind that somebody meant what they were saying, and that they weren’t just going for the protest dollar, as Bill Hicks might say. That’s a frightening concept – that they’re so used to everything being for sale. But it’s not.”

Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time is out now.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

GFT Programme Note: Post Tenebras Lux


It may be provincial inexperience talking, but booing a film screening has always seemed like unusual behaviour – pointless when directed at unresponsive flickers of light and shade, and needlessly spiteful when done with the filmmakers present. Yet every year, reports from Cannes suggest that vociferously bellowing displeasure screen-wards is all the rage amongst festival critics, with putdowns in print apparently only part of their appraisal process. As with most forms of knee-jerk evaluation, such opprobrious jeers rarely translate into lasting negativity, with the list of films to famously elicit boos in the festival’s 67-year history containing a significant number of works now widely (though obviously not unanimously) acknowledged as amongst cinema’s finest: L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960), Gertrud (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1964) and The Tree of Life (Terence Malick, 2011), amongst others. In all three cases, catcalls at premieres were later drowned out, with the first awarded the Jury Prize; the second named one of the films of that year by Cahiers du Cinema critics; and the third scooping Cannes’ top prize the Palme d’Or.

Of last year’s competition, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas’ wilfully challenging fourth feature Post Tenebras Lux reportedly garnered the loudest derision from French cineastes, with Manohla Dargis of The New York Times noting it came in ‘for the harshest reception I’ve heard here since Vincent Gallo’s Brown Bunny in 2003’.[1] While, like L’Avventura et al, the boos by no means reveal all about the film’s Cannes welcome (with a Best Director prize one of several off-setting details), they have been predictive of the film’s subsequent rough treatment by a number of critics: Xan Brooks describes it as ‘a congealed Jungian stew’;[2] Geoff Andrews declared it a ‘frustratingly vague achievement’;[3] while David Jenkins argues that Reygadas ‘has chosen to take his audience spelunking in the surreal depths of his own naval.’[4] Amidst this are, of course, notable voices to the contrary, including Jonathan Romney (who has celebrated the film’s originality in both Screen Daily and Sight and Sound) and Tony Rayns, who praises its ‘sheer sensory impact’.[5] Whether one agrees with its detractors or champions, it’s fair to say that Post Tenebras Lux is not a film to yield meaning easily. Throughout, it is never fully clear whether what we are watching in any particular scene is past, present or future; a character’s reality or their fantasy; a symbolic aside or an integral piece of the puzzle. This balanced obscurity is reflected in the film’s distinctive aesthetic: shot in the square dimensions of Academy ratio using a distorting camera lens that blurs and bends the edge of the frame, thereby presenting the film like a puzzle box, with inscrutable edges masking any potential clarity at its core.

The opening sequence shows a young girl playing in a flooded field as the sun sets and the weather turns. As the child happily splashes after cows and horses, the light fades further and thunder enters the soundtrack; childish enthusiasm gives way to fear, and soon she is in complete darkness, only visible in silhouette when sheet lightning flashbulbs the sky. And that, in terms of incident, is all that happens; but the way it happens – creating an unstable tone that fluctuates from innocent abandon to quiet dread – is affecting in a way that has little to do with narrative understanding. Which is fortunate, since the scene it segues into proves an early mettle-tester for those sceptical of Reygadas’s experimentalism, boasting what is perhaps the film’s most striking image: a glowing demon entering the home of a sleeping family, for motives unknown. The scenes are linked visually by the lightning’s strobing effect and aurally by cricket song, bridging one hypnotic sequence of ambiguous meaning with another and leaving thin threads of understanding that thicken as the film progresses. Even on second viewing, these threads resist being fully knitted together (particularly when further enigmas in the form of English rugby matches and foreign sex clubs are factored in), but neither is the film as thoroughly resistant to interpretation as cynics would have you believe. Certain scenes may be non-sequiters in terms of plot, but there is always something – a gesture, an echo, a feeling – from which to hang connections. For instance, when the demon scene is later repeated, the shots either side add highly suggestive layers to the monster’s symbolic meaning.

Towards the end, a character sits down at her piano to play a dying man a song. Emotively off-key, her serenade seems to extend comfort not just to its onscreen recipient, but to perplexed sections of the audience. ‘It’s a dream/ only a dream/ and it’s fading now’ she sings, Neil Young’s lyrics seeming to urge the viewer to abandon causal logic and embrace the associational interconnections of dreams. The other option is rejection: to survey the film’s mysteries and proclaim the emperor naked – and while to treat Reygadas such seems unjust, it would, at least, place him in good company. Writing on the aforementioned Gertrud, David Bordwell suggests that dismissive reactions to demanding material can sometimes be indicative ‘of something very important.’ He argues that Gertrud’s initial rejection revealed ‘the panic that can seize us when confronted with a film that unremittingly, almost malevolently, refuses to be cinema of any classifiable kind.’[6] For this reason alone, it seems safe to suggest that a film as vividly idiosyncratic as this one is not to be judged hurriedly.

Christopher Buckle
Researcher and journalist
March 2013

[1] Manohla Dargis (2012), ‘After the Boos: Reviewing the Cannes Film Festival’, The New York Times, accessed 12/03/13 at
[2] Xan Brooks (2012) ‘Cannes 2012: Post Tenebras Lux – review’, The Guardian, accessed 13/03/13 at
[3] Geoff Andrew (2012) ‘Post Tenebras Lux’, Time Out, accessed 13/03/13 at
[4] David Jenkins (2012) ‘Post Tenebras Lux – Cannes Film Festival 2012’, Little White Lies, accessed 13/03/13 at
[5] Tony Rayns (2013) ‘Post Tenebras Lux’, Sight & Sound, April 2013, p. 101
[6] David Bordwell (1981) The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California) p. 171

Friday, 22 March 2013

film review: identity thief

Enjoyment of Identity Thief largely rests on how much goodwill you feel towards its stars’ respective shticks, with both Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy cast to type and coasting on well-worn tics: he plays Sandy, another in a long line of nice guys prone to feeling wearisomely undervalued; she plays Diana – brashly non-decorous but with a good heart deep down. When the latter steals the former’s identity it falls to Sandy to drive her halfway across the country to fess up to her crimes – and what’s more, for tenuously explained reasons, he’s only got a few days to do it! Add gangsters, bounty hunters and snakes to the mix and you’ve got the makings of a zany mismatched buddy flick in the Planes, Trains and Automobiles mould, except, in this case, the formula’s coughed out a dud. The leads’ chemistry can’t disguise the lack of decent gags; ultimately, their cross-country trip feels as arduous for us as it is for them.

Out today

Saturday, 16 March 2013

last night's playlist...

1. hookworms - preservation
2. the history of apple pie - shelf life
3. shearwater - immaculate
4. killing joke - requiem
5. the the -i've been waiting for tomorrow (all my life)
6. marnie stern - the year of the glad
7. the b-52s - rock lobster
8. the talking heads - road to nowhere
9. sinkane - running
10. django django - default
11. bobby womack - across 110th street
12. the knife - pass it on
13. css - hit me like a rock
14. scott and charlene's wedding - gammy leg
15. pavement - two states
16. kid canaveral - breaking up is the new getting married
17. the strokes - the modern age
18. the nerves - hanging on the telephone
19. sparks - number 1 song in heaven
20. robyn - dancing on my own
21. tv on the radio - wolf like me
22. neu - after eight
23. the flaming groovies - paint it black
24. buzzcocks - orgasm addict
25. wire - mannequin
26. tlc - no scrubs
27. mclusky - alan is a cowboy killer
28. the breeders - divine hammer
29. the cars - you might think
30. electric light orchestra - livin' thing
31. fleetwood mac - you make loving fun
32. the pretenders - stop your sobbing
33. santigold - les artistes
34. electronic - getting away with it
35. beastie boys - no sleep till brooklyn
36. jimmy eat world - salt sweat sugar
37. jimi hendrix - crosstown traffic
38. the wedding present - kennedy
39. interpol - pda
40. sebadoh - beauty of the ride
41. devo - space junk
42. spencer davis group - keep on running
43. the isley brothers - nowhere to run
44. the supremes - the happening
45. the jesus and mary chain - head on
46. pixies - gouge away
47. yeah yeah yeahs - gold lion
48. the clash - rock the casbah
49. abba - summer night city
50. michael jackson - don't stop till you get enough
51. tatu - all the things she said
52. prince - i could never take the place of your man
53. david bowie - let's dance
54. blondie - atomic
55. billy idol - mony mony
56. dexy's midnight runners - jackie wilson said
57. the four tops - loco in aculpulco
58. dusty springfield - i only want to be with you
59. rocket from the crypt - on a rope
60. bruce springsteen - born to run
61. chuck berry - rock and roll music

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

album reviews: steve mason, marnie stern, harper simon

                                                    Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time

Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time (****)

In both breadth and depth, Steve Mason’s new opus is a lot to assay. A far-reaching concept album with an ardent heart, it’s driven thematically by fiery dissent and musically by restless exploration. Its 20-track girth helps facilitate this diversity, as Mason interlinks a core set of songs with an array of wing-spreading vignettes: from slivers of moody dub to pointed speech samples; collages of palette-cleansing noise to a piquant guest spot from London MC Mystro, dissecting the London riots to a sturdy backbeat.

The longer offerings display as much inspiration, with A Lot of Love’s blissful introspection, Lonely’s gracious gospel and Fight Them Back’s impassioned rallying cry but three of the many highlights. Sequenced with a raconteur’s exactitude, the narrative that forms has both definition and emotional heft (with closer Come to Me possibly the album’s most affecting five minutes), conveying an uncommon integrity and re-affirming Mason’s invigorating talents.

Out 18th March

                                                         Marnie Stern – Chronicles of Marnia

Marnie Stern - The Chronicles of Marnia (****)

With Marnie Stern’s signature sound long honed to a tee, Chronicles of Marnia sees the voyage of this born shredder take a turn for the less frenetic. Though still rooted in jaw-dropping fretwork, the intensity has shifted down a gear, and the relative lightness is flattering.

A personnel change plays a part in this refreshment, with Zach Hill vacating the kit to focus squarely on Death Grips after three albums by Stern’s side. His replacement is no technical slouch himself (to put it mildly), but Kid Millions’ comparatively reserved contributions suit the album’s clarity, with toned-down polyrhythms affording Stern’s songwriting more space to breathe. Indeed, tracks like Nothing Is Easy are Stern’s poppiest yet - though that doesn’t mean she’s lost her hard edge, as pacey opener Year of the Glad testifies. The cleaner aesthetic may shed a fan or two, but Stern’s set to replace them with a whole heap more.

Out 18th March

                                                      Harper Simon – Division Street

Harper Simon - Division Street (***)

It would be easy to see the calibre of guest musicians on Division Street – including members of The Strokes, Elvis Costello’s Attractions, Wilco and Bright Eyes – and cynically conclude that being the son of a star doesn’t half help grease the wheels. But such an assumption pays Harper ‘son of Paul’ Simon a massive disservice, with his music more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

His vintage rock/country/folk style isn’t overly concerned with originality, but breezily up-tempo tracks like Nothing Gets Through convey an inherited ear for melody and a knack for rendering same-old sounds newly inviting. Crisp production transmits a slick but not misplaced confidence, and while the lack of surprises stunts Division Street’s memorability, it gets in its share of peaks before attentions wane, from the throbbing bassline and garage guitar of Dixie Cleopatra, to quiet closer Leaves of Golden Brown.

Out 25th March

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

this friday...




Monday, 11 March 2013

dvd review: elena

The third feature from Andrey Zvyagintsev is an icy anti-thriller thick with tension and brimming with allegorical undertones. Nadezhda Markina is superb in the title role: a retired nurse from a modest background now married to a rich former patient. Despite occasional tenderness the couple live separate lives, with Elena acting more as housekeeper than matrimonial partner but seemingly accepting of her lot – in all but one regard.

Both have children from former marriages: on his side, a disdainful daughter; on Elena’s, a feckless son. When a health scare introduces the issue of inheritance, resentments seep through and the sanctity of family is dramatically tested by money's corrupting influence. Throughout, events are staged with masterly precision, with scenes turning on a knife edge and nerves stoked by Philip Glass’s foreboding score. If The Return was Zvyagintsev’s calling card and The Banishment clarified his ambition, Elena is the film where the Russian director affirms himself one of contemporary cinema’s most assured voices.

Out now

Sunday, 10 March 2013

album reviews: kid canaveral, scott and charlene's wedding, conquering animal sound

                                                     Kid Canaveral – Now You Are a Dancer

Kid Canaveral - Now That You Are A Dancer (****)
With Now That You Are a Dancer, Kid Canaveral make the whole ‘difficult second album’ to-do look terribly passé, offering a textbook example of how to build on past successes without diluting them. The finer qualities of assured debut Shouting at Wildlife are nimbly carried over, with the band’s abundant charm and indie-pop antics as appealing as ever.

There’s nary a slither of sophomore slump to clutter proceedings, as tracks like buoyant opener The Wrench and the propellant pace of Breaking Up is the New Getting Married re-establish a personable palette of dynamic guitar lines and crisp wit. But, importantly, inspirations haven’t stood still for the quartet, and there are newfound tweaks to testify to their musical development. From the synth clinch of Skeletons to A Compromise’s cacophonous finale, Kid Canaveral have matured their sound whilst retaining their trademark spryness, confidently extending themselves and thereby hinting at further, yet-untapped promise.

Out now

                                                   Scott & Charlene's Wedding – Two Weeks EP

Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Two Weeks EP (****)

The nuptials between Erinsborough’s number one sweethearts isn’t the crispest of pop culture references, but it befits a project with its head in the past. Craig Dermody’s slacker rock sound first took shape on debut Para Vista Social Club, and this follow-up EP sticks closely to its predecessor’s scuffed blueprint, both in terms of lyrics (biographical) and pedal settings (fuzzy).

This continuity gives Two Weeks the air of a welcome dispatch from a faraway friend (albeit one prone to oversharing in the case of comically nauseating highpoint Gammy Leg), but while full of echoes, this is no pale re-tread. On the contrary, the melodies are sharper and the impact more pronounced, with Dermody’s charmingly unruffled mien conveying ever-increasing appeal.
Out 11th March

                                                     Conquering Animal Sound – On Floating Bodies

Conquering Animal Sound - On Floating Bodies (****)

Entropy and hydrostatics aren’t your average lyrical fodder, but Conquering Animal Sound (aka Anneke Kampman and James Scott) aren’t your average musicians. Their breadth of inspiration – not only scientific and intellectual, but in terms of musical tone and texture – is truly impressive, their sound a glittering, brittle synthesis of agitated machine music and celestial lullabies.

The duo’s second album recalls many of the same touchstones as debut Kammerspeil (Warn Me’s thematic echoes of Hyperballad, for instance, reinstate the Bjork comparisons), but the results feel more assertively individual than before, cultivating a distinctive atmosphere at once warm and disquieting.

From the ominous aura of Ultimate Heat Death of the Universe (as boldly impressive as its end-of-existence title would indicate) to the dark magic of Treehouse, the restrained pulse of A Noise Remains to the future-R&B of tracks like No Dream, On Floating Bodies proves an intoxicatingly unorthodox pop record bursting with ambition.

Out 18th March

Friday, 8 March 2013

film review: arbitrage

With his moneyed exterior and supreme self-assurance, hedge-fund capitalist Robert Miller (Richard Gere) epitomises the maxim that image is everything; that the projection of success is as important as actual success. Director Nicholas Jarecki seemingly operates from a similar principle, his debut feature using a financial-ese title and high-calibre cast to create a semblance of intelligence and depth not supported by the content.

Jarecki’s chief coup is the casting of Gere, whose slick demeanour fits the role like a bespoke Rolex. As Miller’s life unravels due to a mix of misjudgements and bad driving, Gere convincingly conveys the character’s uncowed arrogance, as he scrabbles to salvage a fraudulent merger while evading the attentions of a dogged homicide detective. But given lines like “I’m a patriarch! That’s my role!”, the actor’s composure understandably falters, and with little of consequence to say about the bubbled world it depicts (and a plot that collapses into conveniences), Arbitrage is ultimately left as depleted as its protagonist’s balance sheet.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

frightened rabbit, wintersleep, three blind wolves @ barrowlands, glasgow, 28th february

Tonight’s the final UK date of what Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison will later describe as “one of the best tours we’ve ever had.” Furthermore, it comes a fortnight after fourth album Pedestrian Verse wound up plonked between Rihanna and Calvin Harris in the album chart top ten – a valedictory confirmation of just how broad the band’s appeal has grown.

This heightened buzz is reflected in tonight’s turnout. The fact the gig sold out well in advance was to be expected, but less anticipated is how quickly the room fills on the night, with the ballroom bustling well ahead of the headliners. Maybe it’s pure anticipation that brings folk out so early. Or maybe they just caught wind of how good first support Three Blind Wolves are sounding these days, with sprawling new single In Here Somewhere building nicely and boding well for their future. Wintersleep fare less well – proficient, but mostly ignored by the now-heaving Barrowlands (save for the straightforward folk stomp of Weighty Ghost, which prompts the odd whoop). For the pockets paying attention, however, they hit their marks, with expansive closer Nerves Normal, Breath Normal making the most distinct impact.

Frightened Rabbit know a thing or two about impact, with the scream that greets their arrival deafening and shrill. They explode out the traps with Holy and The Modern Leper, and though the latter’s dampened by temporarily poor sound, any cracks are patched by the crowd’s amplified enthusiasm. Highlights of albums 2-4 (it seems Sing the Greys has been resigned to history, unfortunately) are plentiful: My Backwards Walk is more majestic than ever; Nothing Like You rattles along at an invigorating clip; while a hypnotic Acts of Man rounds out the main set. As is customary, Scott delivers Poke solo and sparks a bellowing sing-along – a favourite set-trick that seems to trigger an even more pronounced response than usual. Scott looks genuinely moved, even teary. “You’re fucking wonderful” he says with a slightly breaking voice as the room takes over – right back at you, Frabbits.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

film review: hansel and gretel: witch hunters

Let’s not mince words: Hansel and Gretel is not a good movie. But with its shoddiness so clearly telegraphed – from its premise (fit for a gag or two but already overstretched before the end of the opening credits) to the pushed back release date (ostensibly an attempt to capitalise on Jeremy Renner’s rising status, but nevertheless rarely a sign of studio confidence) – anyone leaving the cinema disappointed by the ludicrous and unwieldy results really only has themselves to blame.

As the sorceress-slaying siblings, Renner and Gemma Arterton struggle valiantly with a script that mostly involves cracking hag-heads while cracking wise. With so little to work with their talents are largely wasted, but at least they seem to be having fun, and this self-awareness (rubbish, but proudly rubbish) proves the film’s saving grace. Hints of a sequel are, however, a step too far: to borrow a (tiresome) quote from the film itself: “you gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

 Feeling a little short on blurb inspiration this month, we searched the World Wide Web for a template we could use for the March bottle rocket invitation…

To Whom It May Concern:

I, [BOTTLE ROCKET], would like to invite [YOU LOT AND ANYONE ELSE WHO'S ABOUT] to [HAVE A DANCE] at [NICE N SLEAZY]. As one of our longtime valued customers, we hope you will join us for what is sure to be a [DECENT ENOUGH] event.

The [BOTTLE ROCKET] will take place on the [15th MARCH] from [11:30PM] until around [3AM]. Limited free parking is available at [I DON’T KNOW OF ANY PARKING I DON’T THINK THIS BIT APPLIES].

In addition to the [MUSIC FOR DANCING] there will be [DUNNO, DRINKS?], so don’t miss out on the fun!

Everyone here at [BOTTLE ROCKET] looks forward to meeting you and sharing our [MUSIC FOR DANCING] with you at this special [MONTHLY] event.

Yours faithfully,

(bottle rocket, nice n sleazy, friday 15th march, 11:30pm-3am, indienewwavepoprocknrollsoulpostpunketc – requests on the facebook wall as per usual!)

Monday, 4 March 2013

reviews: caitlin rose, conny ochs, julia kent

Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In 

Caitlin Rose - The Stand In (****)

Tiptoeing the divide between showiness and subtlety, Caitlin Rose has a voice all-but guaranteed to melt hearts. Velvet-soft and effortlessly emotive, the 25-year-old Nashville native clearly has the capacity to belt out the high notes, but the good sense to know she doesn’t always have to, her tender restraint infinitely more affecting than any big-lunged talent show warbler. But while arguably the star attraction, there’s more to recommend The Stand In than just a pretty voice.

As on debut Own Side Now, Rose’s hometown heritage shapes her sound significantly; if anything, The Stand In’s fuller arrangements at times move Rose closer to her more mainstream modern country contemporaries, not further. But throughout, the songwriting remains distinguished and immaculately pitched, whether it’s walking a melancholic waltz (Pink Champagne) or an upbeat strut (Waitin’). Her mastery of melody yields soulful results that are proud of their roots yet gratifyingly unbeholden to them.

Out now
                                                  Conny Ochs – Black Happy

Conny Ochs - Black Happy (**)

Best known for his collaboration with doom merchant Wino, German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs returns to a simple solo set-up with second album Black Happy. Though a seasoned performer with many years of music-making under his belt, Ochs’ preferred lyrical topics – pain, sadness, disenchantment – have a tendency to evoke overdone adolescent angst rather than the more profound weltschmerz they presumably shoot for; less like a soul laid bare and more like a teenager glowering that no one understands them.

But that’s not to write Black Happy off entirely, with a scattering of successes present amongst the glum humdrum – an unexpectedly well-turned phrase here, an impassioned delivery there. No Sleep Tonight is an example of the latter quality, with its considerable clichés transcended by a convincing vigour, while the fingerpicked calm of Stable Chaos demonstrates a rarely-used grace – a simplicity that possesses far more appeal than the overwrought emotions plied elsewhere.

Out today

                                                         Julia Kent – Character

Julia Kent - Character (***)
Cellist Julia Kent describes third solo album Character in evocatively conceptual terms, its ten instrumental pieces a musical musing on life’s unpredictability, particularly the lack of control each of us have in our own futures. It’s a suitably grand theme for an album that has a pronounced transportive power, its affecting serenity capable of sparking the same kind of meditative introspection in the listener as that which reportedly drove its creation.

Using loops and beds of found sound, Kent bows palliating melodies with low key exactitude, and it’s initially a profoundly immersive listening experience. But Kent’s talents can’t keep Character’s quality up for its full duration; after a while, the textures blur and the willing sense of absorption fades into distraction, with tracks too similar in sound for all to possess their own distinct tenor. While it lasts, however, the spell cast is strongly felt, and therefore worth seeking exposure too.

 Out today

Saturday, 2 March 2013

GFF 2013: Glasgow Kizz

Glasgow Film Festival 2013's closing gala party features a tribute to Big Star, with DJ sets from Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and the good folks at Monorail. We take a look at some of the ways Big Star and Glasgow have connected over the years...

Over 4000 miles of Dixie and ocean separate Memphis, Tennessee from Glasgow, Scotland, but influence travels far without fatigue. As tonight’s closing gala tribute will underscore, the music of Big Star has had a pronounced impact on many of our city’s musicians, with the mercurial Alex Chilton particularly cherished thanks to time spent here and friendships made before his sad passing in 2010, aged just 59. Through a handful of songs, we consider some of the ways in which Glasgow has shown Big Star love over the years, and been shown it back.

Teenage Fanclub – Ret Liv Dead
The Fannies have never been shy about showing their indebtedness to Chilton and co, going as far as to name fourth album Thirteen after #1 Record’s wistful paean to adolescent romance. While Thirteen occupies a relatively lowly position in the band’s radiant discography, the fuzzy beauty of Ret Liv Dead pins down the influence: blissful melodies, vibrant guitar lines and a frequent, almost tangible melancholia.

V-Twin – Derailed
V-Twin’s Jason McPhail was a close friend of Chilton’s, putting him up on his visits to Glasgow and spearheading the Mono tribute concert held in mid-2010. This gently abrasive ballad combines a simple vocal-plus-guitar melody with creaking strings and pockets of feedback – a rough-with-the-smooth aesthetic suggestive of Big Star’s opus work Third/Sister Lovers.

Primal Scream – Star
According to Bobby Gillespie, Big Star influenced Primal Scream in ways “too many to mention” (with Chilton’s early tutelage of The Cramps also notably formative). We’ve singled out Vanishing Point’s oasis of calm Star –not because its title constitutes 50% of the act in question, but because its woozy lullaby reportedly found a fan in Chilton himself.

1990s – Take Me Home and Make Me Like It
V-Twin’s other core member Michael McGaughrin went on to drum with zesty rock and rollers 1990s, who have been known to perform this ramshackle slice of honky-tonk sleaze-pop live. First appearing on Chilton’s Bach’s Bottom LP, the track constitutes one of the more accessible moments in a sprawling solo career known to split Big Star devotees down the middle.

Teenage Fanclub & Alex Chilton – I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)
A second Teenage Fanclub appearance brings this mini mix-tape full circle. The Belshill band collaborated with their idol-cum-cohort on several occasions, with this soulful take on I’ve Never Found a Girl – recorded for mid-nineties Scottish arts show Don’t Look Down – particularly worth tracking down on your online video sharing site of choice.

Friday, 1 March 2013

GFF 2013: Kuma

Kuma opens with a traditional Turkish wedding, but as events will subsequently underscore, appearances are deceiving. Though ostensibly marrying the young and handsome Hasan (Murathan Muslu), Ayse (Begüm Akkaya) is in fact a second wife (or ‘kuma’) for Hasan’s father, with the whole family proceeding to live under one roof in a flat in Vienna.

This opening is one of several instances in which director Umut Dag conspires to create false readings, but the sleight of hand has purpose, the script’s sly structure keeping secrets from the audience just as the characters keep secrets from society. Unfortunately, the film grows over-saturated with big dramatic themes: domestic abuse, cancer, hidden homosexuality, even talk of honour killings. This surfeit of plots and issues threatens to give this otherwise fascinatingly complex family drama the air of a cheap soap opera, but it succeeds nonetheless in part due to the strength of its performances, with Akkaya’s nuanced blend of timidity and independence particularly memorable.