Sunday, 28 July 2013

reviews: Scott & Charlene's Wedding, Barbarossa, The Civil Wars

                                                  Scott & Charlene's Wedding – Any Port In a Storm

Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Any Port in a Storm (****)

If the opening one-two of Junk Shop and Lesbian Wife didn’t offer enough cues – the former all languid guitar and sneers, the latter breezier despite lyrical loneliness – the third track on Any Port In A Storm lyrically nails Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’s schtick. “I haven’t done much changing in what I love since 1993,” drawls Craig Dermody over a top-of-the-class take on the It’s A Shame About Ray school of slacker-rock, and true to his word the influences are of a comparable vintage throughout, with Dando and Malkmus acting as key spirit guides.

The second foundation of Dermody’s sound isn’t a time but a place, with the relocated Aussie continuing to display love for (and anxieties about) his adopted New York, from Fakin’ NYC's messy pop hooks to Gammy Leg’s grisly postcard home. But despite the borrowed touchstones, Any Port… avoids feeling second-hand thanks to Dermody’s keen conviction and ear for a winning chorus.

Out now

                                                Barbarossa – Bloodlines

Barbarossa - Bloodlines (****)

'We can’t forget where we’re coming from,' sings James Mathé (AKA Barbarossa) on single Pagliaccio, and he’s right: appreciating the new direction shown on Bloodlines requires a bit of context. Five years ago, Fence debut Chemical Campfires offered string squeaks and finger-picked lullabies; now, the acoustics have been (largely) replaced with a battery of electronics, with drum machines, keyboards and synths joining reverb-treated guitar lines.

What seems on paper a comprehensive aesthetic overhaul in reality sounds far more natural, possessing the same intimacy and pop outlook as before, just painted in fresh tones. From Turbine’s crisp funk to the hip-hop-referencing beats of The Load, Bloodlines exudes stylistic freedom, and with lines like 'I would break and shatter every bone to work this out' (from S.I.H.F.F.Y), there’s lyrical intrigue to match the impressively varied arrangements. A marginal slump in the latter half aside, Bloodlines is a slow-burning triumph.

Out 5th August

                                                   The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars (**)

With three Grammys on their mantelpiece, The Civil Wars’ slick output has no shortage of admirers. The secrets of their success are obvious: both Joy Williams and John Paul White have expressive voices that harmonise beautifully, and when their muses align they have an instinctive feel for timeless country-soul songwriting (for instance, tumultuous ballad The One That Got Away – made more interesting in light of the duo’s public fall-out last year, which led to tour cancellations citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences”).

However, for every drop of glossy appeal there’s a gallon of blandness to swallow first – and when they get it wrong (e.g. an insipid cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm), they get it very wrong. Ultimately, for a duo whose professional partnership was already assumed fractured-beyond-repair, it’s the workmanlike-aspects of this state of the union address that prove most damning, suggestive as they are of a musical relationship coasting on fumes.
Out 5th August

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

GFT programme note: Frances Ha

You could do a lot worse than going to see Frances Ha, out on Friday. Here's an article on the film, written for the Glasgow Film Theatre...


Noah Baumbach’s previous film as director, 2010’s Greenberg, dryly detailed the midlife crisis of its eponymous sad-sack protagonist Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) – bitterly disappointed with life and determined to ‘do nothing for a while’. In a rare moment of self-awareness (a break from the self-absorption that otherwise characterises his interactions with others), Greenberg recounts the diagnosis for his acute malaise proffered by one of his many therapists. ‘I have trouble living in the present,’ he repeats, ‘so I linger in the past.’ The titular character of Frances Ha is in most respects the polar opposite of Greenberg’s embittered misanthrope, but this sense of arrested development is carried over, as understudy dancer Frances (Greta Gerwig) navigates the rocky road from free-wheeling post-collegiate life to grown-up responsibility.

Frances is first seen play-fighting with best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), establishing Frances Ha as that relative rarity: a mainstream film about female friendship, in which heterosexual romance is peripheral to character development, not central; not so much a rom-com as a kind of platoni-com, in which Frances’s love for her BFF trumps that shown towards any of her romantic entanglements (actual or potential). ‘We are like a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex any more’ jokes Frances of their closeness, with a montage of their comfortably fun life together – rife with in-jokes and casual intimacy – underscoring their bond. But it soon becomes apparent that this sorority of two – forged on the college campus and continued into their late-twenties – cannot continue at the same intensity for much longer. Life moves on – a fact only one party seems ready to acknowledge.

The imbalance presents itself early, when Frances requests the equivalent of a comforting bed-time story (‘tell me the story of us’). ‘Again?’ replies Sophie, evidently less enthusiastic about the tradition than Frances but nonetheless obliging: in the future, the duo will continue to live together, having achieved their respective professional goals (in themselves indicative of differing degrees of practicality: for Sophie, a career in publishing; for Frances, success as a ballet dancer). Their story is presented not as a ‘what if?’ to pass the time, but a reassurance to Frances that everything will turn out fine; a reassurance heavily invested in their enduring friendship. So when Sophie subsequently announces that she’s moving out, her blithely delivered bombshell carries significantly more weight than the earlier, equivalent breakup scene between Frances and boyfriend Dan (Michael Esper) – a breakup that, notably, stems from a disagreement over whether the couple should move in together. The relevance of ‘home’ (treated as a kind of shorthand indicator of maturity) is integral to Frances Ha’s narrative, which is structured around its protagonist’s shifting living arrangements. As Frances regresses from flat share to couch-hopping to a dorm at her alma mater – each change of address signposted by an intertitle – her propensity to grow down instead of up is abundantly apparent. In one of the film’s comic highlights, her nomadic phase also takes in a stopover in Paris; squeezed into a single weekend, the impulsive trip passes in an anticlimactic blur of jetlag – a neat metaphor for a character who risks letting opportunities pass her by while chasing pipedreams.

But to revisit the Greenberg comparison (incidentally, the film that introduced Baumbach and Gerwig, who have since become a couple), there’s a distinct difference between the respective protagonists’ refusals (or inabilities) to act their ages. What was tragic in Greenberg is more optimistic in Frances Ha; where Greenberg’s behaviour was emphatically self-destructive, Frances is fun and vibrant – prone to bad decisions and beset with mild neuroses, but resilient with it. As a result, Frances Ha is by some margin the softest of Baumbach’s recent films, with the caustic edge of The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Margot at the Wedding (2007) barely perceptible. In this regard, Greta Gerwig’s input as co-writer and lead actor cannot be understated. Frances Ha may bear the hallmarks of its director’s milieu – pin-sharp dialogue; educated, bourgeois characters prone to off-the-cuff literary criticism; an overt admiration for Woody Allen (made clearer than ever by the Manhattan-inspired cinematography) – but Baumbach is not the film’s sole auteur. Amongst other things, a case for Gerwig’s authorial voice might invoke the scene in which Frances returns home for the holidays (shot in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, with her actual parents in the screen roles of ‘Mom’ and ‘Pop’ and family and friends populating the background); or, indeed, the fact that Frances is in many respects an extension of a screen persona found throughout the actress’s filmography.

Not that there has been any sense of competition between the two for an increased share in Frances Ha’s successes: in interviews, both stress the closeness of the collaboration, with Baumbach likening it to a good conversation in which ‘you can’t really remember who started it or who said what’.[1]  Nonetheless, the film’s promotional materials are unequivocal: ‘Greta Gerwig is Frances Ha’. In one amusingly awkward dinner scene, Frances is compelled to apologise to her date, saying ‘I’m so embarrassed – I’m not a real person yet.’ Yet, through Gerwig’s naturalistic performance, the character always feels ‘real’ – quirky, but never in danger of falling into the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope (scathingly summarised by critic Nathan Rabin as ‘that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature’ designed ‘to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life’[2]). It clarifies why she’s been the recipient of effusive praise in recent years, with The New York Times suggesting she ‘may well be the definitive screen actress of her generation’ in a 2010 profile,[3] and Sight and Sound declaring her ‘the most exciting actress in America’ on its current cover. Moreover, it shows up just how desperately underused she is in her occasional studio features – a world Gerwig appears in no great hurry to return to. As well as having a solo directorial effort in the offing, Gerwig’s already completed another (currently untitled) NYC-set collaboration with Baumbach; should it re-capture one ounce of Frances Ha’s lithe spark, a fresh wave of plaudits seems a given.

Christopher BuckleResearcher and journalist
July 2013

[1] Chitra Ramaswamy (2013) ‘Noah Baumbach talks Frances Ha’ The Scotsman, accessed 20/07/13 at
[2] Nathan Rabin (2007) ‘The Bataan Death March of Whimsy Case File #1: Elizabethtown’, The A.V. Club, accessed 20/07/13 at,15577/
[3] A.O. Scott (2010) ‘No Method to her Method’, The New York Times, accessed 20/07/13 at

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

reviews: Sam Thomas, Laki Mera, Surf City

                                                 Sam Thomas – Blind Theatre

Sam Thomas - Blind Theatre (****)

On the cover of Blind Theatre, a young boy fashions spaceships from boxes and bottles while behind, a full-size shuttle blasts itself skywards. It’s not the most nuanced of images, but it’s apt for an album that soars with ambition whilst still conveying a palpable sense of childlike curiosity.

Twenty-five-year-old composer and gifted multi-instrumentalist Sam Thomas weds rocks both post and prog, with epic, goosebump-raising soundscapes rubbing shoulders with flights of flamboyant extravagance. Sometimes, both traits co-exist within a single track, as evidenced by opener Gift’s journey from dappled guitar ripples and sci-fi vocal snippets, through cinematic strings and crunchy, Matt Bellamy-ish distortion, to a grandiose finale straight out of a seventies rock opera – all in the space of three and a half minutes. The rest is less capricious, but no less intriguing, with Lanterns’ mountainous conclusion and Temples’ slow-burn vistas giving a clear picture of Thomas’s potential.

Out now

                                                  Laki Mera – Turn All Memory to White Noise

Laki Mera - Turn All Memory to White Noise (***)

Laki Mera’s second album (third if you count 2008’s Clutter, which the band apparently doesn’t for whatever reason) emerges in the wake of two significant changes: drummer Tim Harbinson’s decision to quit the band early in the writing process, followed by the dissolution of a nine-year relationship between core members Andrea Gobbi and Laura Donnelly.

Both schisms are felt in the resulting work; the former in the prevalence of processed beats, the latter in Donnelly’s lyrics, which by her own admission are punctuated with oblique references to the split, but neither’s mark is negative, with the band’s pristine aesthetic of electronic lullabies and nocturnal sophisti-pop benefitting, if anything, form a bit of added frisson. The album’s length is a hindrance, however, with a scattering of repetition and the occasional listless stretch. Nonetheless, tracks like Come Alone offer sufficient riches to forgive it its excesses and focus instead on its clarity and poise.

Out now

                                                Product Details

Surf City - We Knew It Was Not Going to Be Like This (***)

Following a fairly lengthy hiatus, New Zealand’s Surf City pick up more or less where they left off on 2010’s Kudos. Luckily, said debut inhabited a rich-enough milieu to warrant a full-length revisit, with We Knew It Was Not Going to be Like This offering nine more confidently assembled slices of chilled-out guitar-pop laced with sprawling nods to psychedelic space-rock.

They’re at their most immediately satisfying when they err towards the simpler end of their spectrum (see: I Want You’s big dumb chorus; It’s A Common Life’s fuzzed-up canter; NYC’s tribute to Pavement), but it’s the less direct pieces that sustain interest on repeat listens. From the sixties-evoking vocal effects and guitar wig-outs of Oceanic Graphs of the Wilderness to the lackadaisical, rolling repetition of closer What Gets Me By, it’s their willingness to kick loose and see where things end up that save them from accusations of throwaway retroism.

Out 19th August

Monday, 22 July 2013

this month's reading material

another month, another edition of The Skinny, which comes in both Scottish, Foalsy-form:

and Northwest, Moneyish-form:

My contributions? Why, thanks for asking!

- The Stone Roses @ Glasgow Green live review (read here!)
- Daughn Gibson - 'Me Moan' album review (read here!)
- Fists - 'Phantasm' album review (read here!)
- Bell X1 - 'Chop Chop' album review (read here!)
- Lust for Youth - 'Perfect View' album review (read here!)
- Laki Mera - 'Turn All Memory to White Noise' album review
- Scott and Charlene's Wedding - 'Any Port in a Storm' album review
- Nadine Shah - 'Love Your Dum and Mad' album review (read here!)
- Icky Blossoms - 'Icky Blossoms' album review (read here!)
- Blancanieves film review (read here!)
- Post Tenebras Lux film review (read here!)
- No film review (read here!)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

one of those posts where i list the songs that we played at the most recent edition of the club night...

1. Yo La Tengo - Little Eyes
2. The Clean - Anything Could Happen
3. Crocodiles - Stoned to Death
4. The Raveonettes - Aly, Walk with Me
5. The Chills - Pink Frost
6. Pavement - Shady Lane
7. Bass Drum of Death - Shatter Me
8. Japanther - Stolen Flowers
9. The Shins - Know Your Onion
10. Buffalo Tom - Soda Jerk
11. Paul Simon - Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
12. Kraftwerk - The Model
13. Daughn Gibson - Kissin' on the Blacktop
14. The Lemonheads - It's All True
15. The National - Lit Up
16. Supergrass - Sun Hits the Sky
17. Teenage Fanclub - I Don't Want Control of You
18. The Chalets - No Style
19. Camera Obscura - Do It Again
20. Beastie Boys - Sabotage
21. Run DMC - It's Tricky
22. Why - Fatalist Palmistry
23. Haim - Don't Save Me
24. Fleetwood Mac - Isn't It Midnight
25. Summer Camp - Better Off Without You
26. Deerhunter - Revival
27. Pet Shop Boys - It's A Sin
28. Duran Duran - Girls on Film
29. Echo and the Bunnymen - The Cutter
30. Phoenix - Liztomania
31. Altered Images - Don't Talk To Me About Love
32. Prince - When Doves Cry
33. The Human League - Don't You Want Me
34. Talking Heads - And She Was
35. The Rubinoos -  I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
36. The Ronettes - Be My Baby
37. Martha Reeves - Heatwave
38. The Cure - Lovecats
39. The Pretenders - Don't Get Me Wrong
40. Brassy - B'cos We Rock
41. ESG - Get Funky
42. R Kelly - Ignition (Remix)
43. Chvrches - Gun
44. Kylie - Better the Devil You Know
45. Phoenix - 1901
46. ELO - Twilight
47. Julian Cope - Trampolene
48. Tears for Fears - Head Over Heels
49. Pat Benatar - Love is a Battlefield
50. Talk Talk - It's My Life
51. Depeche Mode - Just Can't Get Enough
52. Simple Minds - Someone
53. The Smiths - The Boy with the Thorn in his Side
54. Belle and Sebastian - I'm a Cuckoo
55. Electrelane - To the East
56. The Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated
57. Devo - Whip It
58. Spandau Ballet - Chant No. 1
59. Gun - Word Up
60. Orange Juice - Falling and Laughing
61. The Cars - Magic
62. Bruce Springsteen - Dancing in the Dark
63. David Bowie - China Girl
64. TLC - Waterfalls
65. REM - It's the End of the World (and I Feel Fine)
66. Weezer - Hash Pipe
67. Pulp - Do You Remember the First Time
68. Irma Thomas - Time on my Side


Thursday, 18 July 2013

T in the Park review

Last Friday I spent the day at T, and wrote the following based on things seen, heard and felt that day. Read on (if you want)...

Staying dry has always been more of a bonus than an expectation at T in the Park, making this year’s scorching weather a jackpot coup for the festival’s 20th edition, where the only things redder than the T logo are the scorched hides of the crowd’s taps aff quotient. The heat makes the now traditional ‘Fancy Dress Friday’ a real feat of human endurance, as power rangers, supermen and at least two full sets of Pixar toys visibly welt beneath makeup and lycra – presumably praying for a little cloud cover and making a mental note to dress as something more airy in 2014.

Between acts, vox-pops on the stage-side screens remind everyone just how much T has grown in its double-decade lifespan, from svelte Strathclyde debut to the 85,000-a-day colossus that now bestrides Balado. Inevitably, its four-fold expansion has not been without growing pains, with recent chart-plucked line-ups attracting vocal deriders even as they pack in the crowds. But despite being top heavy with budget-swallowing big guns (not to mention riddled with TV talent show dregs further down the bill), this year’s anniversary event seems comfortable in its modern, pop-oriented skin, delivering on scale whilst still accommodating token nods to tastes outside the Radio 1 playlist.

So, while the back-patting slogans printed across every plastic pint glass proved a tad hyperbolic (“the happiest place in Scotland!”; “the best crowd in the world watching the best bands in the world!”), T20’s respectable haul of highlights allows it to walk away once more with its sun-crisped coupon held high.


Tasked with inaugurating this year’s T Break roster, Deer Lake have the misfortune of starting their set with populists par excellence The Proclaimers still midst-500 Miles a few hundred yards away on the main stage. Where the Reid brothers’ alt-national anthem whips spirits higher and higher, Deer Lake’s earnest emoti-rock keeps enthusiasm on a lower pegging – a contrast that regrettably translates into an occasional languor. But as the tent’s population swells so does the band’s stature, with the eyes-closed alt-pop of Japanese Lucky Cat and sky-scraping single Like Ghosts demonstrating pronounced promise. To paraphrase another of the Reids’ hits, they’re on their way.


Showcasing an impeccable line in Deal-icious fuzz-pop, Honeyblood’s two-piece guitar/drums setup packs real punch. Sweetening brawny garage rock with bright vocal melodies, the components of their sound are well worn yet worn well, with Super Rat’s lyrical snarl and the sun-kissed pep of Killer Bangs encapsulating the duo’s vibrant appeal. It’s no wonder they seem confident (struggles with set order aside), with between-song chat endearing them to all in earshot and a too-close-for-comfort pint lob taken comfortably in their stride. When Honeyblood express disappointment that their slot clashed with Haim, there’s a feeling that it’s the Californians who missed out more.


James Skelly and the Intenders are no strangers to T, with both frontman and backing band having previously notched up a fistful of appearances as The Coral. With said act on hiatus, Skelly’s underwhelming solo album Love Undercover is ostensibly the order of the day, and though the likes of mod stomp You’ve Got It All and pouting blues-rock number Do It Again find advocates amidst the modest crowd, it’s only when the set introduces picks from The Coral’s back catalogue that the spark catches amongst the majority; when Dreaming of You’s familiar bass-line bounces forth, the nostalgia hit is particularly potent.


From the bright lights of the fairground rides to the relentless breakbeats being laid down by Chase and Status over on the main stage, Friday’s dusk is filled with restlessness and commotion. Placed amidst it all, the title of Steve Mason’s recent album Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time (an allusion to the easily distracted) acquires fresh resonance, but there’s little risk of losing focus in the company of so engaging a performer. Highlights include Lost and Found’s subtle majesty and the gently soaring A Lot of Love, with the latter blossoming into an intimate anthem as voices from the crowd join Mason for the chorus.


From the Manchester Velodrome to the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, recent UK visits from Teutonic technopop forefathers Kraftwerk have tended towards esoteric, special event status, making their presence atop today’s King Tut’s bill as incongruous as it is welcome. In the countdown to launch, a test screen projected on the rear of the stage gives the audience a chance to break in their 3D glasses – a novel stereoscopic spectacle that seems to have attracted people in and of itself. But while it’s the technetronic backdrop that (literally) stands out most, it's the music that earns them a roaring ovation. Iconic yet anonymous in wireframe jumpsuits, the near-motionless men-machines cycle through ever-fresh futurist odes to circuit-boards and space-labs, with the hypnotic precision of tracks like Numbers making clearer than ever the debt owed by just about anyone to wield a moog or program a sequencer since. In a word: wunderbar! 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

DVD review: Post Tenebras Lux

                                            Post Tenebras Lux

Many interpreted Silent Lights Dreyer-referencing classicism as indicative of a shift in Carlos Reygadas’ methods; a shake-up that would temper the Mexican director’s more arcane tendencies by moving towards a comparatively conventional form of art-cinema. Post Tenebras Lux takes that assumption and shreds it, offering a bewildering array of arresting imagery - glowing devils, self-decapitation, joyless sex clubs and public school rugby matches - that seems to confrontationally resist reconciliation.

There’s no obvious eureka moment amidst these curios, no key clue which allows all pieces to slide together. But unpicking its glut of metaphors proves supremely satisfying in and of itself, and with close attention a coherence (of sorts) emerges. Reygadas’ ability to imbue ostensibly simple moments with deeply affecting undercurrents is expressed in a number of scenes (most vividly the elemental opening, in which a child plays alone as storm clouds amass), which possess such acute sensory impact that any narrative meaning seems almost moot.
Out 22nd July

Monday, 15 July 2013

reviews: Fists, Lust for Youth, Nadine Shah

                                                         Fists – Phantasm

Fists - Phantasm (***)
Phantasm won’t be lauded for its originality, channelling as it does a scrappy fuzz-pop sound that’s grown endlessly familiar: a garage-rock lip curl here, a whammy-barred guitar twang there, with insouciance across the board and brusque distortion wall to wall. But there are plenty other reasons to salute Nottingham quintet Fists, who pack their debut with enough scuffed melodies and energy that initial feelings of déjà vu soon subside.

Producer Rory Brattwell (aka former Test Icicle/current Warm Brains bloke Rory Attwell) helps bring out their best side, keeping the edges rough on bluesy opener Go but ensuring the compact hooks of tracks like Solvent (a sort of Britpopped Bleached) or Big Wave (a Fever to Tell-type rock number) aren’t swallowed by the lo-fi clamour. It does the trick: by the time breezy closer Try comes around, Phantasm has comfortably transcended its chosen limitations and delivered something decidedly satisfying.

Out now

                                                          Lust for Youth – Perfect View

 Lust for Youth - Perfect View (***)

Perfect View is Swedish producer Hannes Norrvide’s second album as Lust for Youth, following hot on the heels of last year’s Growing Seeds. Actually, make that cold on the heels, for there’s little warmth to be found amidst this record’s bewitching beats and frosty synths, despite a definite dialling-down of its predecessor’s confrontational distortion.

There’s a pop core to these compositions - for example, the muffled New Order-ish intro to Another Day, or bonus track I Found Love in a Different Place’s tight hooks - but it’s damaged and resolutely twisted, with a presiding claustrophobia neutralising any dance-floor urges. Narcotic synth lines, haunted shouts and metonymic thuds provide the three corners of its un-shifting aesthetic, and while it's effectively hypnotic, it also feels overly exposed. With its noir heart permanently shrouded, Perfect View proves to be a record to detachedly admire, rather than lust after or fall for.
Out today

                                                          Nadine Shah – Love Your Dum and Mad

Nadine Shah - Love Your Dum and Mad (****)

With its gently tremulous textures and smoky intensity, Nadine Shah’s voice is a revelation on Love Your Dum and Mad, her first full-length album following a brace of acclaimed EPs. The title’s spoonerism is a red herring: across these eleven tracks, Shah selects and delivers her words with precision, affording every syllable space to register atop a crepuscular bed of despondent, predominantly piano-based arrangements.

From the propulsive and dramatic Runaway to the richly gothic Dreary Town (remarkably, the first song the Whitburn-born chanteuse ever wrote), Shah evidences her compositional flair time and time again - even if the singularly lugubrious tone can at times feel arduous. Thankfully, said weight is largely alleviated through moments of crisp beauty such as the brass swells of Used it All and the final refrain of closer Winter Reigns, the latter imparting a lingering air of fragility and finesse. All in all, pretty gucking food.
Out 22nd July

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Film review: Blancanieves

Last year, Hollywood coughed up two takes on Snow White: one camp, one dark, neither much cop. Director Pablo Berger’s free interpretation of the Grimm tale offers another angle, both camp and dark, and the result comfortably tops its bigger-budgeted contemporaries by every possible measure: more fun, more stylish and decidedly more memorable.

Set in 1920s Seville, the fairy tale’s key components are given bold makeovers, as the orphaned daughter of a matador father and flamenco star mother joins a travelling troupe of (six) bull-fighting dwarves, with a bandana-wearing rooster named Pepe as her confidant and a wicked stepmother (played with deranged glamour by Maribel Verdú) plotting her demise. Both silent and monochromatic, Berger evokes the filmmaking fashions of the period in which Blancanieves is set, with iris-in wipes and title cards building a cinephile-pleasing pastiche. But like its iconic apple, there’s poison under Blancanieves’ skin, with happy endings replaced by a desperately sad conclusion of which the hardened Grimms would doubtlessly have approved.

On select release now

Saturday, 13 July 2013

reviews: Daughn Gibson, Bell X1, Strangers Family Band

                                                    Daughn Gibson – Me Moan

Daughn Gibson - Me Moan (****)

On All Hell, Daughn Gibson triple-filters country ballads through crackles, loops and warped samples, teasing out an atmospheric production closer to the likes of Vatican Shadow or Demdike Stare than the acts to whom his stage name pays homage (namely 50s/60s cowboy crooner Don Gibson and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn). Me Moan confidently elaborates upon this already impressive vision, with opener The Sound of Law seizing focus with gritty lyrics (opening line: “my daddy was a beast”) and a colossal, propulsive chorus.

Elsewhere, Mad Ocean revels in a voodoo vibe built from bagpipe wails and Gibson’s oaken baritone, while The Pisgee Nest – based on a real-life tale of sexual exploitation – takes another step into the shadows, with distorted slide guitar wriggling under the skin. But it’s not all so unsettling, with Kissin on the Blacktop’s Footloose-string bends and Won’t You Climb’s romantic shimmer providing the dawn after the darkness.

Out now

                                                     Strangers Family Band – Strangers Family Band

Strangers Family Band - Strangers Family Band (**)

Back in 2010, Floridian psychedelic rock quartet Strangers Family Band promised their debut would be a sixteen track concept album in the Sgt Peppers/Village Green Preservation Society mould. For whatever reason, in the years since they’ve slashed those plans down to a comparatively concise seven tracks, and it’s a good move: even at 42 minutes, Strangers Family Band feels like too much odyssey and not enough oracle.

The track titles alone - Starship to the Sun, Cosmic Wine, Moonberry Jelly Jam - indicate their propensity towards retro cliché, with the madcap worlds of Syd Barratt, Ray Davies and their ilk freely picked apart and re-offered. Indulgences aside, the band are tight and highly proficient, jamming through heady grooves stuffed with exploratory guitar lines and solid bass backbones. But to play the overdone ‘girl/drug’ lyrical conceit not once but twice (Elle S. Dee, Mary Jane) only emphasises their lack of fresh ideas.
Out 15th July

                                                    Bell X1 – Chop Chop

Bell X1 - Chop Chop (**)

For their sixth album, Bell X1 shelve the Talking Heads-aping pop strut and glitchy electronics that flavoured predecessors Blue Lights on the Highway and Bloodless Coup, as part of a deliberate effort to strip their songwriting back to its simplest expression. It’s an understandable urge for the trio but a dangerous one, for Bell X1 aren’t a particularly dynamic troupe (on record at least), and removing layers only draws attention to the fact.

Nonetheless, Chop Chop achieves several moments of elegance, with warm horns elevating Diorama’s easy-listening melodies and The End Is Nigh ticking the ‘anthemic finale’ box ably. But even here Bell X1 betray a lack of distinct personality, with the latter’s strings-hoisted passions glancing where they should pierce, and a shimmering guitar line straight out of Where the Streets Have No Name suggesting they’re still keeping tabs on those other inhabitants of the ‘Dublin-born chart-toppers named after military aircraft’ wiki-stub.

Out now

Friday, 12 July 2013

EIFF 2013: The Complex (Kuroyuri danchi)

Once a feted pioneer of the horror genre (thanks primarily to Ringu’s ground-breaking success), a series of missteps has since seen Hideo Nakata’s stock tumble. Whether Americanising his own canon (The Ring Two) or laying spooks aside for thrills of a more psychological nature (Chatroom, The Incite Mill), the Japanese director has floundered more often than he’s flourished over the last decade, so it’s a relief to see him back in comfortable territory with The Complex.

But with a full house of familiar tropes on show (creepy kids, mysterious neighbours, bumps in the night and a dilapidated old building to put them all in), it quickly starts to seem a little too comfortable. While the central yarn delivers the right mix of pathos and frights, it also feels derivative of past works – in particular Dark Water’s similarly-themed tale of guilt, grief and vengeful child-spirits. An intense finale, however, confirms Nakata’s still a skilled nerve-shredder, with its hysterical, hellish visions proving neatly effective.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

EIFF 2013: Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari

Bizarre doesn’t begin to cover Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari’s collection of wild and weird vignettes, filmed on location with the Mari people of remote Northern Russia by Silent Souls director Aleksey Fedorchenko. Each self-contained segment introduces a different female protagonist, and collectively the tales offer considerable variety: sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, but often some indescribable (and frequently discomforting) middle ground.

Sex and magic act as twin totems, with the Mari’s Pagan folklore parlayed into a series of vivid dramas filled with hexes and ritual: prayers are made to trees; corpses are reanimated to avenge spurned love; and in one exceptionally offbeat offering, a live bird takes up residence in a woman’s vagina after a run-in with a forest giant. At its best, the results capture something of Swedish auteur Roy Andersson’s deadpan sketches, though the comparison is perhaps over-flattering to Fedorchenko, who lacks the equivalent pathos. Instead we get bawdy oddness in spades, which ensures you won’t easily forget time spent in its company.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

next friday!

Thanks to all who came along to our debut shindig at the Duck last month - it was nice to see so many familiar faces! But that, my friends, was a mere warm-up. On the 19th July, Bottle Rocket 2: The Flying Duck Era kicks off proper, in our new regular slot of the 3rd Friday of every month. Which, conveniently enough, is the same as the old slot, so no need to Tipp-Ex those diaries!

And that’s not the only bit of continuity: expect the usual blend of indiepop, new wave, post punk, soul, rock n roll and probably a moment or two that’ll make you wince (with PLEASURE). By which we mean stuff like Prince, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Camera Obscura, David Bowie, Otis Redding, XTC, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Talk Talk, LCD Soundsystem and all their ilks. Plus any requests you want to fling on the facebook wall.

BOTTLE ROCKET @ THE FLYING DUCK ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
FRIDAY 19th JULY ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
11PM – 3AM ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
£5/4 (OR FREE IF YOU GET DOWN BEFORE 11PM) ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
TOAST ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

EIFF 2013: Consequence (Gegenwart)

Despite its English title, a sense of consequence – indeed, causality of any kind – is absent from German director Thomas Heise’s subtle documentary, which detachedly observes the minutiae of a small town crematorium’s daily operations. Its original German title Gegenwart – ‘present’ – seems more apt, not only because of the film’s day-in-the-life structure, but for the way it ironically undercuts the typical connotations – absence, loss, finality – associated with such a workplace.

Heise concentrates his camera on the building’s nuts-and-bolts underbelly – a cold, perfunctory space in which floors must be mopped, surfaces wiped down and furnaces maintained. Amid this, the dead are just another chore, dealt with in a matter-of-fact fashion by employees and filmmaker alike, both of whom treat the abundance of (identical, plain, stackable) coffins with an unemotional sense of routine. While this chilly distance keeps Consequence’s insights slight and somewhat aloof, it also provides a clear point of fascination, with its sober depiction of death (and the people who encounter it daily) neither macabre nor morose.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

EIFF 2013: Hawking

“Imagine coming to the end of questions” expresses Mary Hawking – younger sister of cosmologist Stephen – towards the end of this eponymous documentary. She’s referring to her brother’s restless curiosity; an inquisitiveness that helped the Oxford-born physicist overcome severe health problems to become one of science’s most celebrated thinkers. For Stephen to stop contemplating the universe in all its mystery and glory is, she suggests, impossible; there’s simply too much he hungers to know. Unfortunately, viewers may share this feeling of unanswered questions come Hawking’s end credits: for all its wealth of detail, Stephen Hawking the man remains somewhat unknown.

Co-written and narrated by Hawking himself, this elusiveness is possibly traceable to its subject’s conflicted relationship with his own celebrity: having been stung by false press and dogged by concerns that his public profile is as much a consequence of his disability as his academic genius, a reluctance to open up emotionally is understandable. To director Stephen Finnigan’s credit, however, this absence doesn’t damage the film’s overall appeal, with Hawking’s sharp wit foregrounded and his accomplishments vividly catalogued.

Friday, 5 July 2013

EIFF 2013: When Night Falls (Wo Hai You Hua Yao Shuo)

A stanch exposé of real-life injustice, When Night Falls dramatises the plight of Wang Jimnei, whose son Yang Jia was convicted of killing seven police officers following an earlier arrest for a petty misdemeanour. During his trial (and subsequent appeals), Yang’s mother was committed to a mental hospital under false pretences, preventing her from offering emotional or judicial support; by the time she was freed, Yang’s execution was a fait accompli.

These details are imparted early, in a detached but inventive opening sequence consisting of a photograph montage and matter-of-fact voiceover. The core drama then picks up Wang’s story the day she is discharged from hospital, with writer/director Ying Liang adopting a realist, docudrama aesthetic of naturally-lit, fixed-angle shots, with few edits to interrupt the raw emotions. Throughout, our perspective on events is carefully restricted (we don’t know why Yang did what he did precisely because, tragically, Wang doesn’t either – and indeed, never will), while Nai An is superb in the central role, conveying a grief compounded by impotence and – like the film itself – exuding a muted dignity despite the anger simmering inside.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

EIFF 2013: Emperor Visits the Hell

Sixteenth century Chinese novel Journey to the West has been adapted dozens of times in dozens of ways, from cult Japanese television show Monkey to Damon Albarn’s opera of the same name. But it’s safe to presume that Emperor Visits the Hell is a fairly unique take on the material: a tale of shape-shifters, ghosts and celestial executioners rendered emphatically ordinary through use of drably contemporary settings and deadpan performances from a non-professional cast.

In juxtaposing the fantastical and the quotidian, director Li Lou contrives a dry, satirical humour, with the titular underworld little more than an administrative headache, and the machinations of the powerful (ostensibly gods and kings, but visually closer to bureaucrats and other public officials) depicted as comically listless. But as its jarring conclusion foregrounds, there’s anger at work here too, with a final scene – in which the principal actor delivers an out-of-character drunken diatribe – skewing the spotlight away from ancient voyages and towards the political travails of the present.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

EIFF 2013: A Story of Children and Film

As its mimetic title might indicate, A Story of Children and Film plays more like an appendix to Mark Cousins’ encyclopaedic The Story of Film than a fresh project. It’s a welcome added chapter, shrugging off historiography in order to thematically dart from country to country, decade to decade, examining cinema’s many depictions of childhood with characteristically contemplative insight.

Neither confined to nor wary of obvious or mainstream examples, Cousins shuffles his cine-deck to find the connections between, for instance, US blockbusters and 30s Japanese cinema (E.T. and Children in the Wind, respectively), or the ways in which Tom and Jerry cartoons and the early work of Lynne Ramsay both use the frame to block out the adult world. With excerpts from 53 films squeezed into 104 curatorial minutes, some readings inevitably cry out for further elaboration (particularly when discussing more obscure or harder-to-obtain selections), but such frustrations are rare; for the most part, this side-odyssey is a stimulating and perspective-broadening experience.

Monday, 1 July 2013

flying duck debut playlist!

Thanks to all who came down for our flying duck debut - here's what we played!

1. scott and charlene's wedding - fakin' nyc
2. paws - homecoming
3. the lemonheads - if i could talk i'd tell you
4. surfer blood - weird shapes
5. jens lekman - an argument with myself
6. the damned - alone again or
7. wolf parade - language city
8. don henley - boys of summer
9. the rolling stones - start me up
10. mc5 - shakin' street
11. pixies - bagboy
12. the clean - tally ho!
13. austra - painful like
14. saint etienne - you're in a bad way
15. christie laume - pas de nouvelles
16. siouxie and the banshees - stargazer
17. sparks - happy hunting ground
18. television - friction
19. the joy formidable - whirring
20. gang of four - return the gift
21. arcade fire - keep the car running
22. edwin starr - 25 miles
23. the score - please please me
24. the kinks - powerman
25. thelma houston - jumping jack flash
26. the kills - cheap and cheerful
27. ladytron - seventeen
28. robyn - in my eyes
29. chvrches - the mother we share
30. vampire weekend - diane young
31. bruce springsteen - thunder road
32. manfred mann - blinded by the light
33. jefferson airplane - somebody to love
34. les surfs - tu seras mi baby
35. chuck berry - no particular place to go
36. the four tops - i can't help myself
37. the replacements - i will dare
38. the stooges - down on the street
39. michael jackson - the way you make me feel
40. mcalmont and butler - yes
41. kirsty maccoll - they don't know
42. cake - the distance
43. transvision vamp - i want your love
44. the sonics - money
45. le tigre - deceptecon
46. buzzcocks -
47. blur - girls and boys
48. the smiths - these things take time
49. the primitives - crash
50. martha reeves - dancing in the street
51. the pipettes - pull shapes
52. talulah gosh - talulah gosh
53. elvis costello - what's so funny (bout peace love and understanding)
54. david bowie - modern love
55. the knack - my sharona
56. queens of the stone age - no one knows
57. manic street preachers - velocity girl
58. idlewild - film for the future
59. the ramones - let's dance
60. elvis - burning love
61. the isley brothers - twist and shout
62. electric light orchestra - don't bring me down
63. prince - i wanna be your lover
64. b-52s - rock lobster
65. pulp - common people
66. magnetic fields - chicken with its head cut off
67. pet shop boys - opportunities
68. fleetwood mac - everywhere
69. huey lewis and the news - hip to be square
70. the clovers - rotten cocksucker's ball