'Eclecticism begins at home'
Music... Film...Literature...Culture...And stuff. Catering for good taste etc.
Ask me anythingSubmit
February 27, 2014
I’m one listen into Neneh Cherry’s new album ‘Blank Project’, and it might well be the best thing released this year so far. The title track, as performed live above, is a belter and a furious showcase of a stunningly powerful voice with a whole new lease of life. Her voice always reminded me of a throwback to the heyday of trip hop female vocalists like Shara Nelson or Martina Topley Bird. Maybe that’s a lazy comparison. And one that could subconsciously stem from ‘7 Seconds’ being released in the same mid nineties peak… Although her involvement in the production of Blue Lines can’t be a mere coincidence. She must have fitted the bill. In fairness, this does remind of the blunt force of Tricky’s Black Steel, with Topley Bird so memorably on the vocal duties. But there is more so a feel of some of those more urgent Massive Attack moments too, perhaps in one of the rare occasions they chose to produce music not shrouded in dense cloud of the finest Bristolian Hydroponic. And perhaps if they allowed Cherry’s energy take more of a centre stage when they worked together.
The production here is incredibly sparse, with extremely down tuned dirgey bass, and some rough jazzy drumming allowed to roam freestyle and drive a voice at the peak of its powers in in full passionate flow. Its an intriguing sound, and a record that has instantly etched its own unique identity, akin to the experimental, dark dancey rhythms that could sit comfortably on a Warp release. Either way, I’m only getting started here. Something tells me I could be getting endless reward from each return back.
This is the most bizarre cover premise I’ve heard or come across in a long time. More bizarre is how well it’s executed. On paper, should you have come up with this, you may well have baulked. Then again, strip away all the sonic genius and originality of Animal Collective’s soundscape on ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, and ‘My Girls’ has at it’s core is simply an epic pop tune with a brilliantly anthemic singalong chorus. Which, funnily enough, was exactly what Tears For Fears excelled at so much at their pomp. So a match made in heaven? Clearly so obvious all along! Luckily, they stay extremely faithful to the original, but rather than just aping Noah Lennox(Panda Bear), Curt Smith’s unmistakeable voice lends even that bit more to the melody, and a few revs up on the BPM jolt with them an incredibly bouncy feel. I always thought the sound of Merriweather Post Pavilion was like a blissful, dreamy underwater sequence, but somehow, a bunch of old timers have ironically given it a massive injection of youthful exuberance.
I honestly didn’t know what to think after 1 or 2 listens until I just lost myself in how incredibly upbeat it was. They also probably got a bit too carried away with the dash of Christmas No. 1 ringing bells themselves, but hey, given how much I liked it, what would you expect with a song that just ends up being so much fun.
There’s no question that reaction to this would be utterly divisive. I can clearly see people absolutely hating it. But the whole ‘pleasantly surprised’ factor may be enough to bowl you over on it’s own. Besides, I haven’t seen any other stalwarts from the 80’s golden era who could do an Animal Collective cover with such gusto… Unless Ultravox want to step up to the plate?
Nothing really shocks you anymore when it comes to US Foreign Policy, and in particular, the War on Terror. When September 11thoccurred, it was instantly acknowledged as epoch defining, and a marked watershed in International Relations. A cataclysmic moment casting a dark shadow over what was then just a nascent century, instantly obliterating all optimism. Everyone knew things would change. Drastically. What no one knew, and what the US Administration in place (we no longer pin things solely on the demonic George W.Bush) certainly wouldn’t want you to know, is just how out of control a declared war on terror would spiral. Likewise, they wouldn’t want you to know how untrammelled it has become, and how they have now engineered it towards a status of ‘never ending’. Rather than being a single declared War on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, things have now instead ‘progressed’ towards a global battlefield of indiscriminate enemies.
It’s a long time since ‘Shock and Awe’, and a decade of being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to a severe desensitisation towards US military activity. And maybe we zone out with endless mentions of drones and strikes. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be illuminated into the innermost ongoings. ‘Dirty Wars’ is the latest documentary to take this role on. Jeremy Scahill, journalist for ‘The Nation magazine, and the man who brought the mercenary work of private security firm ‘Blackwater’ to the public’s attention, assumes his next crusade here, by uncovering and delving deep into the innermost workings of the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command). To put it extremely loosely, and what Scahill heavily implies, is that JSOC is a body has seemingly assumed the mantle of covertly wiping out any remote suspect of anti American sentiment in this constantly proliferating ‘War’. With little to work with, and an ultra low profile, he slowly uncovers much of their dirty deeds (hence the title) until he is stunned to discover that they are proudly beamed across mainstream media as the heroes as soon as Osama Bin Laden is finally ‘nailed’.
Whilst we are fed reports of the US slowly winning the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ and discussions around ultimate withdrawal, Scahill’s revealing truth is that the US have created their own game of global ‘mole hammers’, as opposed to just within the borders of those countries where war has been declared. Numbers of targets are rapidly identified, expanded and then picked off indiscriminately. It is as though an extermination of any potential bad weeds must be ruthless so as not to affect the aesthetic of a global landscape, as fertilized by US Foreign Policy. Whilst probably not surprising for some, being faced with the hard evidence painstaking unearthed by Scahill is still a shock to the system.
However, as is often a criticism with documentaries, it is incredibly one sided. Its production values also cheapen the overall effect. More often than not it’s like watching a ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ or (not that I’ve seen it, but you get the picture) ‘The Lone Survivor’. While his work is clearly admirable and extremely important, these values also tend to make Scahill himself the focal point of this in the context of the film, i.e a one man heroic crusade to bring down the biggest giant of them all. For guidance, just refer to any Errol Morris piece of work to show that it’s best to let the subject matter dominate rather than the maker. However, while the production values are a bit of a gripe, given what’s at stake here, being a tad one sided is probably fair game. As mentioned already, these are the people who dished out ‘shock and awe’ after all. It’s really stuff we ought to know.
In one of the few categories where I still think the Oscars have credibility , Dirty Wars has been been nominated for Best Documentary. It’s highly unlikely that anything will compete alongside the life changing and mind bending ‘Act Of Killing’, but at the very least ‘Dirty Wars’ deserves to give it a good bash. Disturbingly insightful.
Without sounding generally ambivalent or totally heartless towards most celebrity deaths, I can’t say I’ve felt one as sharply as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. Less than a week after hearing the news, there’s still a clearly resonant sadness, total surprise and that awful sense of there being so much more to give. Being totally ignorant about his drug problem ensured that the level of shock numbs even more. There’s no rose tinted glasses now that he’s suddenly gone, and no empty sentiments reeled off merely for the sake of it. Every word in tribute has been deservedly gushing. Without any shadow of a doubt, he was one of the very best, and one of my own personal favourite actors of his generation. He emboldened everything he touched, and gave it a sprinkle of speciality. His partnership with Paul Thomas Anderson was particularly special, and has produced some of my favourite and most cherished pieces of cinema, right through from the hopelessly lonely Scotty J in ‘Boogie Nights’, through to the scene stealing ball of fury and scammer Dean in ‘Punch Drunk Love’, right through to the eerily charismatic Lancaster Dodd in ‘The Master’. Indeed, The Master and Capote will probably come to pass as his oft remembered lead role legacy for most, with The Oscar for Capote being a fitting reward for someone who regularly led the screen actors guild a merry dance. Roles such as Scotty J and Allen in Happiness however, will always be the ones who struck a deeper chord. Allen in particular, was the epitome of one of those classically lonely outcasts who are reviled as perverts, ostracised and shunned from society. Whilst murky and wholly repulsive a character, Hoffman still somehow struck a chord as giving that human touch to what was just a desperately unhappy individual. This kind of role was indicative of a unique and signature talent that could make us see more than meets the eye of such desperate souls. No one else could bring that complexity quite like Hoffman.
Roles such as Allen were clearly an early forte, but probably my most fondly remembered Hoffman role of all is where he totally bucked that trend and flipped it on its head. As care nurse Phil Parma in Magnolia, his character was full of kindness and compassion. Nursing Jason Robards on his deathbed, over the course of the film he becomes less professionally removed, and more engaged in helping Robards come to terms with his past and the life he has led. In a film wrought by a web of lost souls with unravelled lives in LA, he unwittingly becomes the fulcrum of the entire piece. There’s something beautiful and touching about how Parma, as a humble and decent nurse going beyond the call of duty, begins to unwittingly piece all these souls’ lives and connections back together, by kicking off a chain of events that are to rebuild and repair all the chastened relationships that we concurrently see throughout a film that becomes almost operatic. The scene above is almost tearjerking, whereby he memorably makes the last ditch bid at reuniting Robards and his estranged son (Tom Cruise) It is especially touching, and one where he wholly assumes the very much angelic role within the modern day City of Angels. No doubt this is exactly what Anderson had in mind for a remarkable actor, and most likely, person. It is possibly the one I’ll most fondly remember him for.
Tragically, given he was so convincing as the angelic and altruistic Phil Parma, it goes to show how little we knew about just how lost and troubled he was towards his last days. It is the cruellest of ironies that, perhaps he may still be here if there had been a Parma type character in place for him. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass. Even though a stellar career has been cruelly cut short, and there was tragically so much more to give, we can at least cherish the fact that he left behind a stunningly consistent, and almost unparalleled, incredibly rewarding body of work we can always turn to.
Intoxicating? You could say they that. Exhilarating? Entertaining? Elevating? The Wolf of Wall Street is all of these things, in abundance. As a dizzying parachute into a manic world with lavish excess, unhinged debauchery and more cash than you could shake a gold cane at, how else could it not be outrageously entertaining and fantastically escapist? On paper, it would probably be too easy a film to make. Michael Bay might even manage it. However, Scorsese’s expert execution of Rogue Trader Jordan Belfort’s hyper surreal, let mind bogglingly real story made it a deeply immersive thrilling joyride, with just a dash of nuance to keep our conscience clean.
I was supposed to hate this. Whilst I don’t hang out of lampposts denouncing capitalism with effigies of bankers, I do find ridiculous excess a bit discomforting. And I certainly haven’t been queing up to high five Fred Goodwin, Bob Diamond and co since 2008. I also happen to have a petty, irrational dislike to Leonardo DiCaprio that I just can’t shake (see here for some of my prior ire towards him: http://eclecticpicnic.tumblr.com/post/840626996/inception-review) And a further source of irritation has been Scorsese’s refusal to go with anyone else but DiCaprio as the fulcrum throughout his noughties features, serving as the core crutch of some kind of septuagenarian stubbornness. While The Departed ticked plenty of boxes, I could never put Gangs of New York and The Aviator up alongside the revered status of Goodfella’s, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or After Hours. Could I do three hours of this? Surprisingly, I could indeed. I absolutely loved it.
There’s clear parallels to Goodfellas. Most obvious is DiCaprio’s first person narration as Belfort, basically aping Henry Hill. After that, the relentless profanity and unashamed graphic depiction of the high life seem like logical progressions. It would be remiss to compare it any further though. As soon as DiCaprio’s frenetic and wildly ambitious Belfort assumes his place, he completely takes a stranglehold on the entire film. He is beyond electric, and manic in his charisma from start to finish. From starting out in a humble garage, to training up his uneducated minions into slick, besuited scammers and spoofers pitching and pumping sales like a well oiled money printing machine, Belfort quickly had an army preaching his language and pulling in the cash of his dreams. The coin had to be balanced too, by him acting as a circus master orchestrating depraved decadent blowouts in the new plush offices, revelling in one big testosterzone fuelled on coke, hookers and your usual quota of dwarves. It’s so much fun.
Throughout all of this, he is consistently mesmerising to watch in action. At times you have to snap yourself out the magnetic gaze of a continual seduction to that way of life, being so enticed by his burning rage and furious energy. As the camera traverses over and back on the trading floor, his brokers are like an adulating Hitler youth, fighting for him as though they believe every ounce of his propaganda, and working like dogs as they try to fulfil every one of high blood pressure fuelled motivation speeches. I’d never been so in awe of him on screen. Driving the charge like this, the film on the whole moves like lightning. Weaving between coke fuelled party to brashful trading floor, and back again, it has a dizzying intensity. You’re left with the notion that you really are immersed in the lifestyle, if only you could stop for breath.
Whilst not neccessarily marketed as a comedy, it is relentlessly funny. It was easily the most amount of fun I’ve had in a cinema in a long time. But the comedy had real purpose. The absurdly surreal existence Belfort et al carved out for themselves is actually a bizarre reality that has to be seen to be believed, and the comic effect highlights this ridiculousness impeccably. It is a true story after all. That fine line between being in disbelief or in stitches laughing was one that Scorsese judged to perfection. While DiCaprio is the undoubted lynchpin, it would be unfair to ignore Jonah Hill as his sidekick, who nearly hogs all the comedy, and excels and having an even more ravenous appetite for cash and excess than Belfort himself. Not to mention Matthew McConaughey’s sterling cameo as Mark Hanna, who in a brilliant 10 minute scene enlightening a young Belfort, made Gordon Gekko look like Christopher McCandless.
It’s all about the Benjamins
Even at 180 minutes length, it didn’t seem too indulgent for running time. Restlessness never came into the equation. The length was certainly justified in parts, with some drawn out individual scenes allowing DiCaprio to at times to scratch beneath the surface of his character and illuminate that ‘addicted to money’ outlook. While never remorseful for the untrammelled rogue trading, he firmly believed money makes people better, and applauds his own hypocritical altruism towards his workers, justifying his own actions furiously. Through long speeches on the trading floor, it was fascinating to watch aspirational subordinates (who had come from nothing) fawn over his charisma, and fully believe his motivational shtick about how filthy amounts of lucre could better you and lead to a life of untold fulifilment. Likewise, Belfort’s air of invincibility begins to crackle in a fascinating lengthy scene on his yacht. When faced with a showdown with Kyle Chandler’s FBI Agent Dunham, unfazed by the jibes of how little money he makes and his pathetic commute on the Metro, this essentially represents us and our rational world, which we begin to see gradually nip ever closer at his heels. It’s a subtle shift from the relentless highs we’ve enjoyed throughout, to a potential catastrophic comedown that lurks so much closer than we or Belfort conceivably imagined.
Indeed amidst the depravity and never ending thirst for millions, that voice of reason is delicately chipped in from others. Namely his first wife, questioning who loses out on the penny stocks, and his father (in a consistently scene stealing Rob Reiner) warning him of the ‘chicken’s coming home to roost’. Likewise, Belfort early on alludes to the obsession of money being almost on a par with the cocaine and Quaaludes he devilishly fiends on in order to thrillseek. That comparison never really leaves us. The high that wealth provides and the manner in which he has built it makes is just as brittle and fraught with catastrophe as a similar high built on copious amounts of drugs. A house of cards. So what though, he’s having too much fun to notice, almost like us.
The frantic rush of this lifestyle is without question the film’s most bombastically enjoyable aspect. It may be strange to look for such a brashful and decadent view, as if we wanted to rub our own faces in it, but bizarrely, it was almost as though we actually need to be dipped right in it to understand just how exhilarating and seductive it can be. As if it was a vicious reminder of two utterly different worlds, (lazily labelled) the bankers, and non bankers. Scorsese probably best illustrated it in the final scene when Belfort, now as a motivational speaker, looks out upon rows of impossibly ordinary folk desperately seeking a jolt of inspiration, whose drab faces only serve to show that they could never live that zany, high octane ride of insane riches and fantasy. Perhaps those people are us, the ordinary and humble. And as we realised so spectacularly for the previous three hours, we can look, but can’t touch. A scene like that was symptomatic of some of those trademark Scorsese nuances. Subtlety from which we could read between the lines, where having had so much fun, he raised us back out from the cauldron of Belfort and Wall Street’s ridiculousness, to give us just enough perspective.
This film does not need to serve as a moral compass on how immoral and vicious banking is, that has been well worn for much of the past decade. We’ve become tired of that. And besides, there’s always ‘The Inside Job’ for that. Instead, maybe we wanted a different perspective by now, where we could all just have a laugh. And we got it. It was infinitely better to see it dished up like this. A worthy 4 and a half stars.
I’m not prone to taking musical tips from MP’s. Look no further than the barrage of abuse David Cameron gets everytime he claims he’s a diehard Smiths fan, from Johnny Marr ‘banning’ him from being so on Twitter, to Mancunian constituents rushing to prevent him getting a much cherished photo opportunity outside the Salford Lads Club. And fair enough. Gordon Brown’s desperately weak attempt at snaggling the youth vote by claiming the Arctic Monkeys are good to ‘get out of bed’ was cringeworthy in the extreme. He and Tony Blair’s New Labour dancing into power on the back of D:Ream’s ‘Things can only get better’ was infintely more befitting of what the politicians would groove to in their downtime.
So when Labour MP Tom Watson, probably best known for giving Rupert Murdoch a mild grilling pre Leveson inquiry, resigned in an open letter to Ed Miliband, he bizarrely implored: ‘So: be that great Labour leader that you can be, but try to have a real life too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge.” By not taking those musical cues from this suddenly erstwhile politician, I’ve now found to my cost that I should have, because I’ve been snoozing on a potential livewire renaissance of guitar music.
The Political Idealist humble Tom Watson probably is, was quite possibly wittingly or unwittingly alluding to revolution. Truth is, Drenge are the sort of thing we we need right now. If you love a brutal riff as much as me, that is. It’s difficult to place such high hopes on two young brothers from a village in Derbyshire, but their revitalisation of this fantastic and incendiary grungey blues sound is so invigorating, you just want them to lead a fresh charge to something similar we saw in the early 90’s.
Grunge, as a word, let alone a movement or genre, has essentially been extinct for just under those 20 years, a movement and sound that unfortunately dissipated into thin air along with the smoke of Kurt Cobain’s shotgun. Now, with these tyros who were in nappies when In Utero was topping the billboard charts, they’re taking it upon themselves to revitalise it singlehandedly. A two piece cranking up the amps and rocking out is nothing new. The White Stripes were poster boy and girl and critical darlings of the garage rock/blues rock movement with just a downtuned guitar and remedial drumming, while the Black Keys have cheapened the formula to a stadium rock setting to massive success. But Grunge was rawer than that, scuzzy, filthy rich downtuned power chords, with sludgy riffs, big drums and a shitload of distortion. It married the best parts of metal, punk and rock and despite stripping the function of guitar to its base level, didn’t lose an ounce of the energy of all those genres that contributed to it.
Drenge have earned their stripes not because their name has one syllable and ends in ‘ge’, but because of Eoin Loveless’s fantastic guitar sound, almost psychobilly-ish vocals and the outrageous power they can whack out live for just the two of them. This Guardian session of ‘How I Wrote’ for their standout track ‘Bloodsports’ showcases their talents live, and the raw energy of that blistering marriage of grunge and blues. So simple, yet so effective. And unsurprisingly built for repeat viewing. I haven’t been this energised by rocking out since finding out what a fuzz box pedal was. it may be asking a bit too much for a full scale revival, but god knows we need guitars like this back in our lives, at least on a level such as this. Count me in for the revolution. I’ve got to listen to those Labour MP’s more often.
One thing is for sure, it’s definitely the best song I’ve heard about the difficulties of having a wide tongue in a long long time.
I’m Impossibly excited about Beck’s teaser for his forthcoming new album, ‘Morning Phase’. One of the few people out there who continually matches reinvention with consistently brilliant releases, he’s pretty much touched on every direction and genre possible in a stellar recording career.
'Morning Phase' is his first release since 2008's Danger Mouse produced 'Modern Guilt', but if this first track, 'Blue Moon' is anything to go by, he may be veering back towards the mood of 2002's 'Seachange', in my opinion, one of the best albums of the noughties, or certainly one of the best acoustic/folk orientated albums of that decade. If 'Seachange' was the ultimate heartbreak album, the lyrics on 'Blue Moon' seem to suggest that Beck himself is still alone, although getting 'tired of it' at this stage. Therefore, musically, it seems to be revisiting that sound, although to match said lyrics, Blue Moon suggests there will a slightly more up tempo approach and feel to the album as a whole. The track sounds great, and he's also issued a glimpse of the artwork, below:
Given that its been a 6 year wait, (and that Seachange edges out as my favourite Beck record of all) the personal excitement levels for the release of ‘Morning Phase’ by the end of February will have me at Fever Pitch. In the meantime, Blue Moon is strong enough to keep me going until then.
Despite all this though, I will never get over the fact that he’s a Scientologist…
Even though I outlined a shortlist of megahyped releases in a post below in these January/February weeks, the one film I’ve been looking forward to most this year is getting its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in the coming days. Given it’s tentative launch in such devoutly indie environs, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that any levels of hype are nowhere near the howls of award season. Instead, ‘Frank’ brings with it increasing murmurings of intrigue.
For those unaware, ‘Frank’ is the loosely based adaptation of the story of ‘Frank Sidebottom’, the legendary leftfield Mancunian musician cum comic, who was famed for adopting the character by donning a signature large papier mache head. The head was the essence of Frank , and a method approach was applied to staying in character religiously. Quintessentially Northern, and bafflingly quirky, Frank became a staple in alternative comedy, riding along the crest of the Madchester wave in the late 80’s before making frequent appearances on TV throughout the early to mid 90’s. While Frank garnered a devoted cult following that would grow in reverence in the coming years, the man behind the head and the character of Frank was one Chris Sievey. Sievey had an infinitely lower profile, was a simple family man and only had a small circle of those who knew him, and essentially remained reclusive due to majority of the time insistently spent in character as Frank. Tellingly, while Frank dwindled in appearances and prominence throughout the noughties, it was inevitable that we knew even less about Sievey than we did at the character’s peak. Unfortunately, Sievey died of throat cancer in 2010, broke, and seemingly without any of his close circle prepared, let alone fans of Frank. This duly sparked a spike in posthumous appreciation for all things Frank Sidebottom, and for his cult to rise again. In turn, this triggered the impetus for Lenny Abrahamson’s exciting new feature, now about to be screened at Sundance.
Abrahamson, with three critical smashes to his name has, according to The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, risen to the status of one of Europe’s premier emerging directors. Adam and Paul, Garage and What Richard Did were all overwhelmingly compelling, with an uncanny knack of resonating with the viewer over and over again long after the credits rolled. While deviating from one polar opposite in society from Adam and Paul (Two hapless junkies) to What Richard Did (Leafy South Dublin privilege), the subject matter was relentlessly searching and thoroughly engrossing. However, rather than emboldening a trademark style further, Abrahamson looks like he is boldly jumping towards a brave new departure with his approach on ‘Frank’.
Even more compellingly, ‘Frank’ the film will star one of cinema’s most currently bankable faces in Michael Fassbender, only for it to be shrouded in the papier mache head. Sceptics are already wondering if this is a complete and utter waste of acting talent. Similar doubts are also being cast about the similarities between Frank’s original papier mache head and the one we’ve seen in pictures. It just goes to show how Frank Sidebottom devotee’s will have to realise the film is more a loose adaptation than a biopic.While I think these are groundless and inane doubts to have, it nevertheless raises the levels of intrigue about what we’re going to get.
'This the band, is it?' Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in Frank.
Thankfully, we now have our first snippet in the Vimeo link above, which only serves to show we could be in for an even quirkier and idiosyncratic ride than imagined. Personally, I think it promises to be a flourishing gem of endearing oddity. The premise seems to be that Gleeson’s character jumps on board a band fronted by the Frank character, as they immerse themselves in a bizarre creative process driven by their enigmatic leader.
I’ve now promised to stop asking any further questions. Seeing the clip only serves to heighten my excitement. With Abrahamson’s proven talent, a screenplay written in close homage to it’s original inspiration, and Fassbender’s unpredictability as Frank backed up by Domhnall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhall, this looks like it’s in capable hands across the board. Can’t wait to see the full thing.