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Demob Happy "jamesewan" (London / Grenoble)

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Serene Velocity - A Stereolab Anthology
Serene Velocity - A Stereolab Anthology

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stereolab - a novice's view (8/10), 5 Jun. 2008
Stereolab are a long-time leftfield favourite that seem to have drifted in and out of critical favour during their prolific recording life. Somewhat derisively referred to as an "art-school" band at stages in their career, they mine a similar, but less abrasive, territory to Broadcast: psychedelic retro pop flavoured with hypnotic medodies and chugging krautrock rhythms. At times it comes across as rather heavy on style and low on substance, the detached vocal style - often in French - recalls the icy conceit of Nico. But while there isn't much to engage with emotionally in their songs, the Stereolab aesthetic is a very particular and beguiling one. It is easy to become lost in their kalaedoscopic lullabye grooves which are redolent of acid trip sequences in forgotten late-60s films. That is not to say that their sound has remained unchanged throughout, but this anthology shows that while the mood has largely stayed intact, they have continued to embrace new sonic concerns, from the shoegaze of the early period to flirtations with acid-jazziness and freak folk whimsy.

As a layman, I'm not qualified to comment on whether this compilation best represents their output, any band with a die-hard following tend to provoke controversy with this type of release. However, if you are looking for a place to start - as the sheer size of Stereolab's back catalogue makes it rather difficult to know where to begin - you can't do much wrong with this. I suspect that Broadcast's more industrial take on this antiquated-keyboard-retro-futurist-pop schtick is a little more purposeful than Stereolab's - the reliance on prettiness can be wearying. But there's no denying Stereolab's enduring influence in modern music, and one can't help admire their resolve to keep refining their vision while fickle musical trends have come and gone. If you like Stereolab, you might also like Broadcast (especially 2003's 'Ha Ha Sound'), Blonde Redhead's '23', Lali Puna or Asobi Seksu.


Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
by Jung Chang
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The stuff of nightmares, 3 Jun. 2008
Jung Chang's autobiographical story of three generations of women living through China's tumultuous 20th century is fascinating and terrifying. Given that it is a subjective account of the key events in modern Chinese history, 'Wild Swans' provides a compelling and informative narrative that brings to life complex socio-historic transformations in ways that a straight historical account could not.

'Wild Swans' is most interesting when it deals with Jung Chang's firsthand experiences during Chairman Mao's cultural revolution, where a climate of paranoia and political denouncement caused society to practically implode. It seems almost beyond comprehension how Mao could have held such God-like power over his people when the very communist principals he espoused seemed to contradict such form of deification as undignified. Even more extraordinary is how he succeeded in maintaining his grip on power without the assistance of a KGB-type secret police, but by turning the people against each other. By making himself a god, he subtly provoked his populace to fight vendettas in his name while remaining aloof and almost mythical. In effect he presided over a kind of controlled civil war, only reigning in the violence when he perceived his own position to be under threat.

While not particularly literary - it doesn't need to be - Jung Chang keeps the style relatively factual for an autobiography. But the facts speak horrifically for themselves, with individuals competing for the largely imagined grace of Mao driven to acts of extreme cruelty and humiliation. While 'Wild Swans' often shows a dispiritingly brutal side of people when put in particular conditions, the acts of bravery, kindness and incredible physical and emotional endurance allow a little faith in human nature to persist. Absolutely essential reading.


Little Miss Sunshine [DVD] [2006]
Little Miss Sunshine [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Abigail Breslin
Offered by UclickWeDeliver
Price: £1.32

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little Mister Disappointed (5/10), 1 Jun. 2008
I missed 'Little Miss Sunshine' when it came out in the cinema and was keen to see what had been billed as one of the indie hits of the last few years. However I was really shocked at how mediocre this really is. The much bandied-about tag 'Sundance-approved' seems to equate to 'quirky, sentimental, and inoffensive'. 'Quirky' is the key word here, with Little Miss Sunshine's characters straight out of the Wes Anderson school of making Really Cute Leftfield Comedies: gay suicidal Proust scholar, angst-ridden Nietzsche-reading teenager on a speech strike, wannabe self-help guru Dad, heroin-snorting granddad, talent-pageant hopeful. The filmmakers have substituted or confused, or both, character with character traits, most of which could have been picked randomly out of a hat marked 'quirky'.

If you liked The Darjeeling Ltd then this film is for you - feelgood fun for indie cinema goers. This epitomises everything that is wrong with the Sundance Film Festival, which has long been a barometer for marketability over talent. This is a road movie that stays conspicuously in the middle of the road, light as a feather; a twee, polite comedy that you could take your parents to see. If you enjoy parting with your hard-earneds in front of cringingly poor sub-TV-movie standard 'comedy', then 'Little Miss Sunshine' is for you. If you want to watch a sharply observed, genuinely funny modern road movie, with fully-developed characters, watch 'Sideways'.


For Emma Forever Ago
For Emma Forever Ago
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good winter, forever after, 27 May 2008
This review is from: For Emma Forever Ago (Audio CD)
It would be easy to dismiss the history behind the recording of For Emma, Forever Ago as mere press release hype. Yes, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) recorded this album recovering from some deep personal disappointments in an isolated log cabin over one bitter Wisconsin winter - but what does the music sound like? I'm not really interested in whether a singer-songwriter's music can be framed as `authentic' - only in whether I find it engaging or not. Luckily, For Emma, Forever Ago is every bit as atmospheric, soulful and intimate as the hype would have you believe, but not nearly as bleak as you might expect.

For all it's sparse acoustics - the album was carefully layered by Vernon on a four-track - For Emma, Forever Ago is oddly uplifting, evoking a sense of resurrection or salvation in the beauty of musical expression. Love, loss and loneliness are all lyrical threads, but this is not a dispiriting listen. Some lo-fi sonic embellishment gives Vernon's raw folk a sense space and depth. These subtle, icy electronics - which remind me in texture of some of Godspeed's ambient passages - levitate this beyond conventional singer-songwriter territory. Moreover, the vocals - a soulful falsetto that recalls Lambchop's Kurt Wagner or My Morning Jacket's Jim James - are multi-tracked, giving a sense of ghosly communion rather than isolation. Particularly on the opening two tracks, Vernon's experimentation with layered harmonies acquires a celestial ambience. A wintery beauty, for fans of Micah P Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, Iron & Wine, Lambchop and My Morning Jacket.


Neon Golden
Neon Golden
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars German avant-pop at its finest!, 27 May 2008
This review is from: Neon Golden (Audio CD)
Neon Golden is a leftfield indie-pop album buoyed by constantly imaginative and tight production, largely informed by electronica. `One Step Inside' builds on inauspicious acoustic beginnings and builds into subtle layers of crackling electonic fug, underpinned by a wood-block rhythm. `Pilot' is instantly recognisable, a piece of classic pop charged by a electro rhythm that surges and swoops in all the right places.

Other highlights include the avant-pop of `Trashing Days' and the cut-up violins and breakbeat of `Solitaire'. Always engaging and accessible - each song is carefully crafted with a whole raft of styles and instruments (from flutes to banjos and neo-drum `n' bass rhythmic stylings). The focus tends to rest heavily on the vocals, a kind of Germanic Belle and Sebastien, but The Notwist win over with their ear for melody and pop sensibility. Like this? Also try labelmates and affiliates Lali Puna's `Faking the Books'.


The Devil You and Me
The Devil You and Me
Offered by zoverstocks
Price: £5.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Better the devil you know (8/10), 27 May 2008
This review is from: The Devil You and Me (Audio CD)
If `Neon Golden` was The Notwist in a state of evolution, leaving their hardcore punk roots behind in favour of post-rock flavoured indie-pop and electronica, `You, The Devil + Me` is the sound of a band who have found their, er, sound. `You, The Devil + Me` may lack Neon Golden's shock factor at least for those who have followed The Notwist's 20 year, albeit hardly prolific, recording life. It may also lack an anthem on the scale of that album's `Pilot', but `You, The Devil + Me` is a real grower, a layered and atmospheric slow-burner. Markus Archer's German-accented English is very much the signature of the band's sound, by no means a disadvantage but a singularity that makes them unmistakably The Notwist.

Post-rock is very much the principal theme, the electronics more decorative than propulsive, adding a layer of lushness to the autumnal, sometimes bleak mood. Indeed certain tracks ('On Planet Off') bear resemblance to the pastoral melancholy of Hood, while a little levity is afforded by the Postal Service-esque electro-acoutic balladry of `Gloomy Planets' and the title track. Elsewhere ('Good Lies') lyrical and melodic refrains build over swelling New Order guitars, or on the most overtly electronic tracks ('Where in the World') abrasive textures mingle with baroque yet pro-tooled orchestration.

Like Portishead's `Third` and Bon Iver's `For Emma, Forever Ago` - two other wintery records with UK springtime release dates - the arrival of `You, The Devil + Me` feels somewhat late (or early, depending on how you look at things), its world-weary ambience very much anachronistic. While this bleakness is impounded somewhat by the cover artwork, this is a not difficult record, there is nothing as funereal and oblique as their Anticon collaboration `13 + God`. The Notwist have a canny knack for melody, and despite the apparent expansiveness of mood, the album clocks in at under 45 minutes - ideal for a generation of music listeners who, like me, liked an album to fit one side of a C90. Despite the raves from a committed fan-base, The Notwist may not be the most immediate band, but repeated listens really reward.


The Devil You and Me
The Devil You and Me
Price: £15.88

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better the devil you know (8/10), 27 May 2008
This review is from: The Devil You and Me (Audio CD)
If `Neon Golden` was The Notwist in a state of evolution, leaving their hardcore punk roots behind in favour of post-rock flavoured indie-pop and electronica, `You, The Devil + Me` is the sound of a band who have found their, er, sound. `You, The Devil + Me` may lack Neon Golden's shock factor at least for those who have followed The Notwist's 20 year, albeit hardly prolific, recording life. It may also lack an anthem on the scale of that album's `Pilot', but `You, The Devil + Me` is a real grower, a layered and atmospheric slow-burner. Markus Archer's German-accented English is very much the signature of the band's sound, by no means a disadvantage but a singularity that makes them unmistakably The Notwist.

Post-rock is very much the principal theme, the electronics more decorative than propulsive, adding a layer of lushness to the autumnal, sometimes bleak mood. Indeed certain tracks ('On Planet Off') bear resemblance to the pastoral melancholy of Hood, while a little levity is afforded by the Postal Service-esque electro-acoutic balladry of `Gloomy Planets' and the title track. Elsewhere ('Good Lies') lyrical and melodic refrains build over swelling New Order guitars, or on the most overtly electronic tracks ('Where in the World') abrasive textures mingle with baroque yet pro-tooled orchestration.

Like Portishead's `Third` and Bon Iver's `For Emma, Forever Ago` - two other wintery records with UK springtime release dates - the arrival of `You, The Devil + Me` feels somewhat late (or early, depending on how you look at things), its world-weary ambience very much anachronistic. While this bleakness is impounded somewhat by the cover artwork, this is a not difficult record, there is nothing as funereal and oblique as their Anticon collaboration `13 + God`. The Notwist have a canny knack for melody, and despite the apparent expansiveness of mood, the album clocks in at under 45 minutes - ideal for a generation of music listeners who, like me, liked an album to fit one side of a C90. Despite the raves from a committed fan-base, The Notwist may not be the most immediate band, but repeated listens really reward.


Far From Heaven [DVD] [2003]
Far From Heaven [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Julianne Moore
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: £3.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smoke and mirrors (9/10), 19 May 2008
This review is from: Far From Heaven [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
Todd Haynes' 2002 film was a masterpiece of subtle subversion that paid homage to the richly coloured 1950s film style (and specifically the 'women's pictures' of Douglas Sirk and his contemporaries). What could have been hollow pastiche is in fact a thoughtful and moving examination of US social pretences in the 50s. Such a visually arresting style - the colours are saturated to a degree that exceeds even that of the filmmaking period - is appropriate for a film about keeping up appearances at a time of deep social conservatism. Like the 'smoke and mirrors' Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is teased of employing to maintain her beauty by her closeted gay husband Frank (Dennis Quaid), the film plays with the notion of superficial stylishness.

As vivid as a William Eggleston photograph, 'Far From Heaven' could have easily been high on lovingly recreated (and rather esoteric) cinematography but low on substance. However, Todd Haynes has pulled off a double coup here, by creating a romantic melodrama to melt the most cynical of hearts while subverting the genre with ruminations of the hypocrasies at the heart of 1950s America. Thus we have a film that seduces and sedates its audience with a winsome, nostalgic atmosphere, but then confronts it with stark questions of civil rights, sex and family life. By making the viewer uncomfortable, 'Far From Heaven' succeeds in exposing the hypocracies, not just of 1950s, but also of society today - which, like the title suggests, is far from perfect.


Walls
Walls
Price: £12.33

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Without walls, 15 May 2008
This review is from: Walls (Audio CD)
Despite his reputation as arch studio boffin, producer Sascha Ring - aka Apparat - makes unapologetically beautiful music. Unlike some of his IDM peers, Ring is not interested so much in abrasion or near-mathematical deconstruction, but with music that swells and soars with classical grandeur. Among current producers, he bears a resemblance in tone to Ulrich Schnauss (although the production is more technically impressive), or a less cluttered Chris Clark. Moreover, some of Walls` latter tracks build on Bladerunner-style futurism into the sonic blur of shoegaze, recalling Slowdive or, most of all, M83's brilliant `Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts`. Like these latter acts, Apparat embues the vivid, fractal soundscapes with a pop sensibility, using vocals on roughly half the tracks - largely successfully.

`Not A Number' opens `Walls` with the unashamably trippy flourescent swirl of the album cover, embellished with some vaguely orientatal strings. `Hailing From the Edge' is more contrived, one of the vocal tracks that seeks a Timbaland electro sleaziness - with the apparent intention of sounding like an edgier Junior Boys - but coming off like a Justin Timberlake album out-take. `Useless Information' picks up where the opener left off, with traditional orchestrations underpinning the cloudburts of acid effects and nebulous synths.

`Limelight' is more sonically adventurous, with fractured shards of vocal peppering between cavernous beats and other thunderous percussive effects, redolent of Kelpe's `Sea Inside Body`. `Hold On' is a closer to the R&B pretensions of `Hailin' from the Edge' but less conventionally so, built over a mutant booty shaker that is too warped to dance to. Better still is the two-piece suite of `Fractales', a psychedlic mash up of speeded up synths and ephereal textures.

But in fact it is the final third of `Walls` that works best, starting with the slow-mo digital pop of `Birds', part-Postal Service, part-Junior Boys, but more abstract than either of those acts. `Arcadia' too builds a vast, spacious neon world around a Thom Yorke-esque falsetto, in an future pop masterpiece worthy of the Flaming Lips' `Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots`. `You Don't Know Me' returns to the Vangelis-inspired cinematics of M83 while `Headup', another highlight, builds into a breathless shoegaze crescendo worthy of Slowdive or Blonde Redhead.

Despite a few misses, `Walls` is a fine album bucks a trend in which electronica seems increasingly entrenched in a creative cul-de-sac. If you like this, check out some of the aforementioned artists and albums, especially M83's `Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts` (but not their disappointing follow-up `Before the Dawn Heals Us`, or perhaps (Chris) Clarke's `Body Riddle`.


Visiter
Visiter

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alive and kicking, 10 May 2008
This review is from: Visiter (Audio CD)
The Dodos are an exciting new band that blend freak folk with latin influences and blues. Their debut `Visiter` sees the duo create often cacophanous and frenetic songs mostly from acoustic (sometimes slide) guitars, banjo, pounding percussion and occasional horns. It is a raw template that recalls, by turns, The White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, Animal Collective (circa `Sung Tongs`) and, more recently, The Ruby Suns. While texturally minimalistic, the songs are structurally expansive, shifting in and out of delicate balladry to rollicking jams.

The sing-song, nursery-rhyme melodies contrast with The Dodos' wild percussive energy which is at the distinctive core of almost all their tracks. 'Visiter` is rendered with an air of live spontaneity, a rawness and volatility emphasised by crazed backing vocals yelped from the back of the mix. The style stretches a little thin over the course of 14 tracks; momentum is notably lost on more throwaway efforts and inconsequential one minute doodles. But the rawness belies a more formalistic approach to songcraft that recalls the song-within-a-song dynamics of Grizzly Bear. A substantial debut then from an exciting new band with much to admire and enjoy; if you like this check out aforementioned artists, especially Grizzly Bear's `Yellow House` and The Ruby Suns' `Sea Lion`.


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