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Demob Happy "jamesewan" (London / Grenoble)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dawn choruses, 30 Jun. 2008
This review is from: AT DAWN (Audio CD)
The first thing you notice when listening to `At Dawn' if, like me, you've approached their back catalogue, er, backwards, is how faithful it is to a kind of alt-country orthodoxy when compared to the more magpie-like tendencies of `It Still Moves' and `Z'. Arguably it is more a consistency of mood than genre, given that it rarely rocks out in the ways that they later afforded themselves, but their sultry Kentucky twangcore does embrace languid Beach Boys harmonies and reggae among other appropriated musical tinges. The tempo is invariably unhurried and spacious, all reverb and humid ambience - there is a palpable sense of Kentucky's electrically-charged summer air - even if the sound is a little more polished than that of its successor.

Once again, `At Dawn' sees Jim James and co. touch upon classic Americana, country and blues; sometimes swampily Southern ('Honest Man'), sometimes gently psychedelic (the title track), and often infused with an aching melancholy ('Death Is The Easy Way', `Bermuda Highway', `It Smashes Down'). Where My Morning Jacket really excel, though, is less in the aural signifiers that evoke their influences than in the timeless quality to their songwriting. Some songs smoulder and slowly develop their own character with repeated listens, others - the poignant Americana of 'Lowdown' and `Bermuda Highway, for instance, or the dream pop of `The Way That He Sings' - already seem strangely familiar in that unique way that classic songs do.

There are several individual moments of sublimity, not least feeling the hairs go up on the back of your neck hearing Jim James sing "Don't let your silly dreams, fall in between ..." ('Bemuda Highway' again), or equally the paradoxically Caribbean-flavoured `X-mas Curtain', which features a steal-drum climax so beautifully off-beat and poignantly out of place against James' tales of poverty and theft. While `At Dawn' goes on a little too long and tails away somewhat towards the end, the fact that MMJ haven't been more broadly recognised is not so much as a mystery but a crime.

Spring Snow (The Sea of Fertility)
Spring Snow (The Sea of Fertility)
by Yukio Mishima
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spring rebirth (9/10), 27 Jun. 2008
Spring Snow is a 1966 novel by Yukio Mishima, the first in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy that concerns itself principally with themes of love, death and reincarnation. It's an evocative and at times philisophical novel, rendered into English with the apparently painstaking care and meticulous spirit in which is written. The translator has done an incredible job delivering Mishima's highly disciplined descriptive style in English, which is deeply rooted in Japanese aesthetic traditions. In reading Spring Snow we are priviledged access to the seemingly impenetratable Japanese spiritual identity - and the unique visual grammar so deeply entwined with it - in a way that a weaker translation might have failed to do. Some of the descriptive passages in particular are so vivid and evocative (and often cinematic) that is hard to believe that we are reading anything but the authentic voice of the author.

While some of the philosophical ruminations, most often delivered as dialogue, leave me cold - it seems too overt when compared to the novel's subtler explorations, especially those in the realm of aesthetics - the principal storyline is devestatingly emotive. While some readers might find Mishima's style a little too self-conscious, too disciplined, others (like myself) may find themselves sucked into the intense seasonal imagery, as richly coloured as it is tactile. The quote on the back of the book compares Mishima's prose to the perfectionism of a Japanese garden, and while this may seem like lazy cultural stereotyping, it is hard to disagree. Mishima's writing is highly stylised, yes, but with a taut symmetry rooted in the cyclical nature of Japanese spiritual and aesthetic traditions.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2009 11:39 PM BST

You You're A History In Rust
You You're A History In Rust
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rustin' Men (8.5/10), 26 Jun. 2008
Apparently recorded in old barns in remote parts of Canada, post-rockers Do Make Say Think's `You You're A History In Rust' should be considered as one of the Great Albums Recorded in a Wooden Outhouse (TM), along with My Morning Jacket's `It Still Moves' (Grain Silo) and Bon Iver's `For Emma, Forever Ago' (Log Cabin). The Toronto band, also known for their contribution to Broken Social Scene's cacophonous indie-rock stew, make jazzy, largely instrumental post-rock, but in a looser and more jam-orientated fashion than some of their contemporaries (i.e., Godspeed!, Explosions in the Sky etc.).

Owing to it's raw recording methods, `You You're A History In Rust' acquires a textural abstraction that (especially on `In Mind') sees the band acquire some of the blissful dissonance of Christian Fennesz or Keven Shields. For `Rust' you could also easily read `rustic', and it's partly this reverb-thick naturalism that melds the different instrumentation together. While horns, banjo and bubble up stealthily from the mix, there is the natural scrape and clutter of the recording to fill in the gaps. This `found sound' gives the album a refreshingly unpolished and particular ambience, a sense of ontological connection to a certain time and place.

Although there are comparisons to be made with Mogwai circa Rock Action - albeit less baroque and melancholy, less Glaswegian - and to Tortoise's jazzy compositions - but more spontaneous and less mathematically plotted - they deserve to be considered on par with some of these big names in the scene. Unlike some of their post-rock contemporaries, their sound is not characterised by crescendos but by fluid shifts of mood, and a joyous rusticism. The scene has been moving further towards traditional country and rock roots, perhaps inspired by the naturalistic expansiveness of My Morning Jacket, and `You You're A History In Rust' stands as an early example of this paradigm shift. If you like this you should like any of the aforementioned artists or albums, as well as Grizzly Bear's `Yellow House', Broken Social Scene's `You Forgot it in People' and My Morning Jacket's `It Still Moves'.


5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sigur Ros - a layman's view, 24 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Takk... (Audio CD)
Sigur Ros are fast becoming a Popular Experimental Band That I Don't Like, a moniker I have only knowingly bestowed before on Spiritualised. On paper, Sigur Ros are a band that I should love, but it just doesn't really engage me. For all the cliches attached to music from Iceland ("molten magma, omnipotent ice fields and burbling hot springs" to borrow from the Amazon review) Takk doesn't sound like a band who want to distance themselves from this kind of lazy journalistic shorthand. Similar to their countrymen Mum, Sigur Ros make a music rooted in a visual language rooted very much in their country, which is not in itself the problem. The problem is that Takk sounds like a band working for the Icelandic tourist board - all glossy grandeur, enormous landscapes and sudden cutesy cooing and childhood whimsy. Those are the two themes, and they are repeated over and over ad nauseum.

Takk, tellingly Sigur Ros' first for a major label, plays to the stereotype of Iceland as some kind of fairytale wonderland full of playful, innocent but inadvertently sexy people, but is evocative of nothing else. Rather, Takk sounds like a band doing a parody of themselves, adopting a sonic grammar that is so blatantly them to be entirely predictable. Sure there are some impressive moments of sonic abandon, but in a post-post-rock era (if I can coin a phrase) where the likes of Godspeed, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Do Make Say Think etc. etc. have not left us wanting for crushing walls of feedback, Takk sounds a little too pretty, too contrived and too safe to move me. Furthermore, the `quiet bits' as I shall call them - a default mode of squeeling babytalk and glockenspiel - are irritatingly repetitive and uninspiring. Even Mum, who trade in similar atmospheres, have more than two gears, and succeed in provide more varied textures and instrumental passages.

The best moments owe themselves to other bands and are quite easily to live without. `Gong' for instance features a refreshingly ominous bass and discordant strings but borrows heavily from Radiohead's `Where I End and You Begin'. The singer's tendency to overdo the falsetto sometimes sounds frustratingly like a band striving to reach a sublimity that they haven't earnt through the power of the music. In other words, Sigur Ros never know when enough is enough, and new peaks appear when the intensity of the music has already outstayed its welcome. Likewise, the glacial prog of `Saeglopur' features some lovely, stately piano chords, but swells into an identikit guitar maelstrom that could be labelled the `loud bit'. I'm not certainly not averse to this kind of music, but Takk is really the commercial, superficial end of it, and massively overrated.

Letters from Iwo Jima (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Letters from Iwo Jima (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ken Watanabe
Price: £1.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Letters from Iwo Jima, 19 Jun. 2008
The main obstacle to engaging with Clint Eastwood's admirable `Letters From Iwo Jima` is the saturation of battle imagery in modern cinema. This is a front-line war film which, while dealing with notions of memory, compassion, cowardice and honour, takes place largely on the battlefield. From the misguidedly mawkish 'Saving Private Ryan' to the exploitative "War Porn" of `Black Hawk Down', recent cinema has not been left wanting for well-simulated, sometimes sensationalised scenes of battle. The filmmakers will always tell you that they are trying to show the audience how war is really fought, but there is a gorey voyeurism that also leaves a bad taste in the mouth. `Letters From Iwo Jima` definitely does not fit into that category in spirit, for Eastwood is such a careful director - sometimes too careful - and his interests lie honourably in ruminations on humanity. Save a few unflinching, CGI-enhanced scenes of bloody denouement - for instance, a mass suicide of Japanese soldiers by hand grenade, where something less overt might have sufficed - Eastwood's intentions are clear. But it is regrettably easy to become disengaged with images of war, and this is no fault of the director. From 24 hour news channels to streamed video content and increasingly ferocious cinema, there is no shortage of horror to numb the senses.

A more personal objection I have to Eastwood's filmmaking is that he is a little too on-message, too soft-centred, to deliver the emotional impact his subjects invite. `Million Dollar Baby' was, for me, the epitomie of Academy Approved Serious Cinema - safe, trite and sentimental. His greatest work as director remains `Unforgiven', a film that subverted our expectations and transformed the Western genre permanently. While that film played subtle games with the audience by putting them in awkward positions as spectators of violence, Eastwood's recent films lack a similar edge. Although the themes of `Letters From Iwo Jima` are thoughtful and noble, they are nothing new. And although it is true to say Eastwood should be commended for making a film from the Japanese perspective, the questions of honour, bravery and cowardice are those explored by the majority of war films. Maybe this is exactly Eastwood's point - that armies on either side of the divides that shape major conflict comprise ordinary men with ordinary fears, loves and regrets. However, it doesn't stop `Letters From Iwo Jima` seeming too politely familiar at times.

What is more impressive is the greys and greens of cinematography, that mirror the desolation of Iwo Jima, a bleak volanic island of only strategic importance. This is underlined by the melancholic pacing of the non-battles scenes, which have an oddly calm sense of inevitability. Coupled with the sparse use incidental music, this bleak ambience draws comparison with Yasujiro Ozu's sad, empty formalism. In fact the score, co-written by Eastwood's son Kyle but largely absent after the opening sequences, is lead by the kind of mournful bugle that too readily conjures a mood of wartime rememberance. Again, this is a little too literal, too conventional to really stir the senses. After its retreat though, the general absence of music, with Eastwood's clever pacing, delivers an atmosphere of non-triumphalist futility: both meditative and melancholy in that unique way of Ozu's. Coupled with the fine performances, especially by Ken Watanabe, `Letters From Iwo Jima` is a moving, compassionate picture, but not a great one.

It Still Moves
It Still Moves
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £5.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too long but It Still Moves me (8.5/10), 15 Jun. 2008
This review is from: It Still Moves (Audio CD)
The Louisville, Kentucky band's third full-length is a whopping 75-minute set recorded in a grain silo and positively swimming in reverb. By eschewing modern recording techniques altogether they are taking a big risk on this, their first for a major label, but is with the swagger of a hard-touring band that they silence the doubters. For 'It Still Moves' is an epic take on classic Americana, an unashamed poem to the redemtive power of the guitar solo, sometimes affording some extraordinarily satisfying rocking out. But there are also the swooning ballads in Jim James' heartbreaking falsetto which recalls an alt-country Thom Yorke.

Be it rock and roll or 'twangcore', My Morning Jacket are not simply fetishising musical moods that probably pre-date the band members' birth, for in Jim James they have a songwriter with exceptional gifts. The likes of 'Golden', 'Just One Thing' and 'Steam Engine' could grace an classic American rock record, and deserve to be granted the same status. Shades of country, folk, rock - and on 'Mahgeeta', Brian Wilson's wide-eyed psychedelic pop - all bubble up in It Still Moves' sonic stew. The humid Kentucky air is almost palpable in the reverb-thick ambience on the record, untampered by post-production trickery in the way that marks their subsequent album 'Z' as a departure. The recording quality hampers the record at the times ('Dancefloor') the band try to embrace Stax soul where the honking brass sounds wrong in less polished recording conditions. On a couple of tracks like this it's as if we're listening to a concert as opposed to a studio album, and in a way we are.

It is the widescreen emotionalism of the 'I Will Sing You Songs' and 'One In The Same' that disarm the listener most, the plaintitive singing pitched somewhere between Neil Young, Wayne Coyne and the aforementioned Radiohead frontman. The former of these two songs does outstay its welcome somewhat, clocking in at over eight minutes and including a dubby, prog-rock finale that suggests a place for Pink Floyd somewhere in James's record collection. The excessive song lengths make 'It Still Moves' a bit heavy for one sitting, and a little editing might have taken this to another level. It's never a dull listen though, with the likes of 'Run Thru' providing all the guiltily pleasurable guitar solos you could ever want. Another near-classic from one of the great modern bands.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 16, 2014 5:39 PM GMT

A ghost is born (2-CD Special Tour Edition / Europe)
A ghost is born (2-CD Special Tour Edition / Europe)
Price: £12.74

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ghost in the machine (8/10), 13 Jun. 2008
All the acrimony surrounding the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in which Wilco left Warner/Reprise to resist attempts to make the record more commericially viable, seems bizarre now. For despite its moments of sonic chaos YHF is a great, Beatles-esque, countryfied pop masterpiece with great hooks and immediately indentifiable melodies. `A Ghost is Born', however, is a more genuinely uncompromising prospect, with Sonic Youth member and producer-in-chief Jim O'Rourke adding some of his other band's willfully deconstructive approach to the recording. Where YFH had the air of an album heavily - pleasingly to my ears - embellished with a wide arsenal of sonic trickery, `A Ghost is Born' has a more back-to-basics approach to experimentalism. The album unfurls in an unhurried and arguably more organic manner, with the guitar the main weapon of both dischordance and melody. On tracks like the opener `At Least that's What you Said' hushed acoustic moments and Jef Tweedy's mournful whisper give way to intense squalls of guitar that send shockwaves through the listener. It's a rawer, more expansive set that suggests a band dynamic in ways that its predecessor did not. However, lapses into ghostly near-silence, impounded by the whiter-than-white cover artwork, make it an uneasy listen. There is a blankness, a kind of textural abstraction that makes the album a little hard to grasp. It takes a few listens for the ideas and mood to make themselves apparent where a loose formlessness initially irk.

The songs themselves are not nearly is poppy as those of their predecessor, and some are so willfully obscure as to test the listeners engagement. Two long, largely instrumental passages do not really justify their length - the first `Spiders (Kidsmoke)' drifts by for ten-minutes on a largely unaltered Krautrock rhythm. The little storms improvised-sounding guitar do not sustain the attention and one wonders why such a jam should make it on the final cut of the album. Likewise, the 15-minute (!) `Less than You Think', may be an in-joke, as most of it is a shimmering drone that would test fans of John Cage. Neither of these tracks warrant their inclusion and marr an otherwise absorbing and atmospheric record.

`Muzzle of Bees' swells from breezy alt-country decorated with a lovely piano refrain into a cacophonous finale with a gorgeous spasm of guitar. `Hummingbird' is a more conventionally Wilco take on Beatles-esque pop, nicely embellished with some jaunty viola at the end. 'Handshake Drugs' slowly works its way out of a plodding non-descript start by building layers of feedback that menace and finally subsume the song in a fog of dissonance. All these tracks seem quite harmless, even bland, on first (even second) listens, but subsequently start to reveal subtle sonic shifts and careful detailing.

If a Ghost is Born is a concept album then, it is the way Wilco subvert the superficial prettiness of their songs with darker atmospheric shades, but with such a stealth to make it initially unnoticeable or ghost-like. This concept is hinted at in the cover artwork, where simple forms like eggshells and screwed-up paper resemble photos but reveal themselves on closer inspection to be very cleverly shaded drawings. The implication seems to be simple that `A Ghost is Born' is melodic pop on the surface, but there is a subtle artistry beneath. Where YFH employed similar strategies with static and radio-interference, A Ghost is Born is more restrained, and sometimes a little too subtle. Arguably Tweedy's songwriting is not on par with the earlier album, and the singing a little too innocuous where sometimes something more muscular is required.

The standout track for me is `Company in My Back', with cryptic lyrics and bittersweet musicianship. The song begins and ends with a halting loop, and the sinister undertones are reflected in the rougher edge of the Tweedy's vocals. While `I'm a Wheel' is a bog-standard rocker, `Theologians' - the de facto title track - is the kind of bluesy, Costello-esque pop, underpinned by thumping piano. The limited edition version of this album includes a handful of live tracks, which might interest completists, and two bonus tracks. One of the latter, Panthers, is easily the equal of the album tracks and probably should have been included over, say, 'Less than You Think'. The kind of spacious indie-pop augmented with simple electronics perfected by Spoon, it's better than the usual fare served up on these CDs but is the only item of interest on disc 2 for me.

THX 1138 - The Director's Cut [DVD] [1971]
THX 1138 - The Director's Cut [DVD] [1971]
Dvd ~ Robert Duvall
Price: £8.47

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Can you hear me? Stay calm. Everything will be all right.", 10 Jun. 2008
Bar a few exceptions (Bladerunner being the obvious one) I find the notion of the director's cut a highly suspicious enterprise, especially from a director whose post-70s output has been so poor. I also hate the extraneous use of CGI effects, which I think are lazy and poor in comparison to the stylish model work of films from the period. Setting aside any on the use of CGI, here it is largely sparing, adding colour and detail but rarely superfluous. As I am not familar with the original film, it wasn't always jarringly obvious what was added and what has just been cleaned up in the remastering. Yes, there are some pointless CGI creatures thrown in for good measure - Lucas probably couldn't resist - but the spirit of the 70s remains.

What is most striking about THX 1138 is the sound. Lalo Schifrin's score has apparently been digitally scrubbed up and is paramount to the mood and intensity of the film. A continual bleed of dislocated voices, radio chatter, metallic echoes and other abrasive, industrial sonic ephemera, you can see why the film had such a powerful influence on leftfield musicians from DJ Shadow to Radiohead. The latter's 'Fitter, Happier' could have been lifted directly out of the film, in which robot voices calmly reassure us that 'for more enjoyment and greater efficiency, consumption is being standardized.'All this adds to the film's maddeningly dislocated atmosphere, its themes of dehumanisation and automisation.

For a new viewer to the film, THX 1138 is shockingly avant-garde, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to any of Lucas' subsequent work. It has a loose, drifting narrative, a main character in Duval who is hardly lucid and is driven by non-articulated instincts to escape the nightmarish Orwellian society he is trapped in. Although indebted to 1984 and Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and to a lesser extent Brave New World and the works of Philip K Dick, it is important not to understate the key role this film has played in the history of Sci-Fi. It has clearly had a profound influence on countless films from Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' and '12 Monkeys', to 'Gattaca'. Despite the science-fiction tag, this is very much a contemporaneous piece born from a climate of paranoia about surveillance that surfaced under Nixon and was manifest in films like The Conversation by Francis Ford Coppola, who was tellingly the producer here. It has its own singular visual identity, all starched whites, bald heads and surgical gowns, and there are some extraordinarily expressionistic scenes that rank among the genre's finest.

While the idea of citizens being debased to drug-induced, barcoded consumers is not wholly new - see Aldous Huxley - 'THX 1138' still seems to pre-empt alot of the more contemporaenous suspicion towards consumer culture among musicians, filmmakers and writers. In structure and atmosphere, it is nightmarish stuff that requires an audience prepared to accept ambiguity and near absence of meaningful structure or dialogue. However, such a dislocated mood is vital for a film which deals with a society of automatons whose human desires and thoughts are being ruthlessly subjugated and managed. Let yourself get sucked in!

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Two-Disc Special Edition)[DVD] (2006)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Two-Disc Special Edition)[DVD] (2006)
Dvd ~ Cillian Murphy
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.99

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shaken, not stirred (6/10), 8 Jun. 2008
Most of the debate surrounding Ken Loach's 2006 Palme D'Or winner seems to be concerning the historical accuracy of the plot. Whereas I wouldn't suggest that these arguments are not important, it seems most critics forgot to evaluate the actual film craft: the style, acting, use of music and camera work etc. I'm not qualified to talk about how truthful 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' is, except to say that it hardly seems as overly biased or unbalanced as some reviewers have pointed out. However, no one apparently has deigned to point out how utterly ordinary this film is. Propanganda or not, cinema can be a powerfully emotive tool but this is quite uninspired.

While 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' is shot with relative lushness, Loach retains many of the economical prinicples of his filmmaking. The use of non-professional actors and semi-improvised dialogue, for instance, feels a little lacking when grafted onto a historical context, especially where melodrama takes over. In dealing with a small-scale guerilla unit and thereby localising the history to a human drama, we needed a script and actors who can deliver. Unfortunately, the characters are not greatly fleshed out beyond the kind of shouty sloganeering that we would expect from the political meetings that they are seen to attend.

That is the nagging paradox in the `Wind that Shakes the Barley, a film that is richly photographed but amateurishly dramatised. More of a fully realised sense of time and place, of the Ireland the guerillas were fighting for, of their cultural and spiritual difference to the British, would have made this a more engaging piece. As what we end with is a history lesson told as hectoring theatre - a little too didactic, too wooden, and not cinematic enough. While by no means a bad film, it's Palme D'Or win smacks a little of too much politics and not enough of filmmaking talent.

Haha Sound
Haha Sound
Price: £19.71

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love that haha sound, 7 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Haha Sound (Audio CD)
I was initially wary of this band and its art school contemporaries (see Stereolab) but this really is something special. Out of the often-abrasive acoustics and kaleidoscopic aural sludge evolves melodies that are sweet and eerie in equal parts. Combining live-instrumentation with fairly glitch-free but sometimes punishing and industrial soundscapes, Broadcast's album provides an unlikely missing link between the Doris' forgotten `Did You Give the World Some Love Baby', Add N to X and the Cocteau Twins.

Opener `Colour Me In' is all distorted retro, like playing Nico-era Velvet Underground underwater on an old 78rpm turntable. `Pendulum' is an electroclash stomper sang in deadpan, faux-naÔve vocals, a trick winningly repeated on the rollicking, shimmering `Man is Not a Bird'. `Before we Begin' is dream pop akin to the Cocteau Twins (but sung in a real language), buoyed by massive reverb effects on the live drumming. Another highlight is `Ominous Clouds', a doo-wop melody to rival any other set over surprisingly effective metalic buzzes and hums and a shuffling rhythm. The album tails away somewhat towards the end with some slightly more meandering material, but the overall effect of the album is one of great achievement - one of the finest of 2003.

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