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Nelkin (London, England)

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Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars believe it or not... one of Dylan's most enjoyable albums, 24 Oct 2010
There are, it must be said, basically only two tunes on this album, neither of which is particularly memorable in itself. There's the 'Billy' theme, and the 'Cantina / Knockin' on Heaven's Door' theme. The album really consists of variations on these two themes, some instrumental and some with slight lyric changes. (There's also some frenetic hillbilly nonsense with a banjo and fiddle that lasts for about two minutes in the middle of the album, but we won't let that detain us here.)

Anyhow, while the limitations of the album are hard to deny, I find that when played through from start to finish this is actually a very satisfying work. The simplicity of the music gives it a kind of continuity and coherence that you don't always get with Dylan's albums (I say this as a big fan of the great man, by the way). Actually, so interchangeable are the tracks that you might as well just set your CD player on shuffle when you're listening to this album, because it really doesn't matter in what order you listen.

It has a freshness that I don't normally associate with movie soundtrack albums. A lot of that comes from the fact that it doesn't sound like Dylan spent a lot of time on either composing or recording the album (or rehearsing it, for that matter). Personally, I like Dylan best when he's off the cuff - I think spontaneity is very much his thing. In fact, it reminds me a little of the spirit of the Basement Tapes, though musically it has little in common with that work. I mean by that, it sounds like a guy just making music, the kind of music that he feels like making at a given moment, and making it for no other reason than the enjoyment of making it. I recommend that you listen to it in the same spirit, for no other reason than the sheer enjoyment of listening.

Minima Moralia
Minima Moralia
Price: £15.27

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars minimal melodies and surging drones, 28 Dec 2008
This review is from: Minima Moralia (Audio CD)
This is very tranquil, relaxing, ambient music from the same label (Kranky) that brought us acts like Stars of the Lid and Loscil. The music on this album sounds rather similar to those artists, though I would say that here there is a little more emphasis on melody. Not the kind of melody that demands your attention, of course; rather, wispy splinter-like fragments of tune that drift in and out of the music without ever taking it over.

The contrast between these splinters of melody and the ever-present underlying drone makes for an interesting multi-layered listening experience; this contrast is also underlined by the intelligent use of acoustic instruments throughout. Most of the melodic parts, in fact, are played on an acoustic guitar, and there is even a brief appearance of a saxophone on one track.

It's better not to concentrate too much on individual tracks. Like all good ambient music, this album works best when you don't pay too much attention to it -- just let it blend into a seamless whole in the background of your consciousness.

All in all, a very light and fresh-sounding piece of work. Perfect as a discreet soundtrack for bright sunny afternoons. If you already know you like the artists mentioned above, and others like them, then I'm quite sure you won't regret giving this a try.

Before the Day Breaks
Before the Day Breaks
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.08

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars how to bring a blush to the snow, 9 Dec 2008
This review is from: Before the Day Breaks (Audio CD)
This, for my money, is the album that The Moon and the Melodies never quite managed to be all those years ago. I have always felt that the earlier album was a bit of a missed opportunity to get the best out of these two, very different, masters of ambient aesthetics. Far more could have been achieved if they had simply switched the drum machine off and (whisper it) put Liz Fraser a little further back in the mix.

If you know the excellent Mysterious Skin soundtrack from 2005, you'll know these two have already shown that they can work well together without those distractions. If you're wondering how this album differs from Mysterious Skin, well, I don't suppose it really does differ all that much. I might say the two musicians are a bit better integrated on this album -- they weave their instruments together more effectively, whereas on Mysterious Skin the individual tracks are perhaps more dominated by one or the other instrument, guitar or keyboard. But that might just be a subjective evaluation on my part. Basically, if you like what Guthrie and Budd normally do, then you'll like Before the Day Breaks; if you don't, then you might as well not be reading this.

For those who like what they hear and want more, I should add that they actually recorded and released two different albums at the same time. The other one is called As the Night Falls and is also available here on Amazon. The two albums are much the same in sound and character, and I guess the ideal thing would be to have them both, because they really are companion pieces. But if you only want one, well, this'll do just as well as the other. Depends which cover you like the best, I suppose.

Serene, relaxing, abstract and remote. Perfect for a bright cold winter's afternoon. Or any other time of year, for that matter.


9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars high quality ambient, a thinking person's background music, 30 Jun 2008
This review is from: Cendre (Audio CD)
An album full of strange, quietly unsettling music that contains echoes of many other artists -- some classical, some popular -- but which also has a very distinctive identity reflecting the particular styles of the two artists involved. If you like the scratchy textures of 'glitch', then of course you will like this; Fennesz, after all, is one of the foremost practitioners of that style. If, however, like me, you tend to look more for melodic appeal, then I'm sure you will enjoy the way Sakamoto sprinkles fragments of piano melody on top of the smoky dust left by Fennesz, some of which fragments are cleverly 'borrowed' from elsewhere -- for example, the ghostly referencing of Satie's Gymnopedie on 'Kuni' (track 5). Just a shard or two of that familiar tune emerging from the ashes for a moment or two, before disappearing again almost immediately, leaving you wondering whether exactly you heard it at all or if it was just a dream.

It does, indeed, as somebody else observed in an earlier review on this page, sound rather like Debussy in a thunderstorm (or Satie in a sandstorm, perhaps, if you prefer). Ambient music of the highest quality, then, and a very productive mingling of the talents of two artists with contrasting styles. It is also, I think, a very good reply to those who think of ambient music as soulless background wallpaper that doesn't engage the emotions or the intellect. This is music that can seep into your soul very easily, if you're prepared to allow it.

Between You and I: A Little Book of Bad English
Between You and I: A Little Book of Bad English
by James Cochrane
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a poorly-written, chaotically-organised little smugfest, 1 Jan 2008
There have been quite a few of these grammar guides appearing in recent years, and they seem to fall into two broad categories. There are those that genuinely try to provide a clear and accessible introduction to the art of clear, accessible communication; those books provide a great service for the intelligent layperson who wants to fill in some of the gaps in their knowledge so shamefully left by the UK education system. And then there are books like this one, which appear to exist for rather less worthy reasons. This is a book for intellectual snobs rather than the intellectually curious; it is the type of book people read when they want to settle back in a comfy chair and spend a few hours laughing up their sleeves at other people's perceived stupidity.

Let me give an example to illustrate my point. The first half of an entry explaining why the phrase "between you and I" is grammatically wrong, reads as follows:

"'Between', 'from' and 'to' are prepositions and take the accusative form of the noun. Even the many people who are unaware of this basic grammatical rule would not dream of saying 'The distance between we and that hill' or 'From I to you' or 'To I and my wife'. Yet all too often nowadays we find people saying, or even writing, 'Between you and I' or 'From the wife and I'...[etc]"

The author continues in this vein, harrumphing smugly without trying very hard to help the reader understand precisely *why* it is a mistake to say 'Between you and I'. Mr Cochrane surely must realise that anybody who already understands a term like 'accusative form' does not really require a book like this; conversely, anybody who *does* need help with what the author patronisingly calls 'basic grammatical rules', is quite clearly going to need to have such terms explained when they are introduced into the text. Such a reader will have to go elsewhere for such explanations, because no attempt is made here to give them.

The entry dealing with the correct use of 'who' and 'whom' (another linguistic minefield) is even worse, and is in my opinion virtually indecipherable to the uninitiated. It reads, in fact, like a page of notes jotted down from a half-understood lecture.

The book is presented as an A-Z guide to bad grammar and slipshod English. That might sound like a useful thing to have on your bookshelf, but really the book is so badly organised that it is all but useless as a reference resource. There is an entry under the letter 'N' with the heading "Not enough ands." What on earth could that be about, you may well wonder. Well, it does deal with a genuine problem in contemporary written English -- I see it all the time in serious papers like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, sentences like, "I feel tired, disoriented and have had enough of this abominable book," which should of course read "tired and disoriented" -- but the entry dealing with the problem in this book is so absurdly indexed that I don't think you would ever find it if you didn't already know where it was.

Other entries include the long-windedly avoidant phrase "at this moment in time"; this, bafflingly, is filed under 'M', in the following way: "Moment in time, at this." The strange expressions "sea change" and "step change" are filed, not under the letter 'S' as you might expect, but under 'C' with the following heading: "Change, sea, step." It would, surely, have been better to have grouped the various different types of bad English together in separate, themed, chapters, rather than attempting to cram everything into the A-Z format. The result might just possibly have been a book that people could actually use.

Really, this book is so hopeless that it only deserves one star, but I am prepared to give Mr Cochrane a bonus point, as it were, for at least being on the side of people who care about good English. So, two stars out of five -- still not very impressive. If you want advice on how to write straightforward English, then the Oxford 'Plain English Guide' is far, far more clearly-written than this book, and is very competitively-priced. If you're looking for a more general introduction to the arcane mysteries of English grammar, then I think you will find Marion Field's 'Improve Your Punctuation and Grammar' very concise and accessible. I also enjoyed Graham King's book 'Good Grammar', which again explains the subject in clear, straightforward prose, and is pitched at a level that engages the intelligent layperson without confusing or alienating the uninitiated. There are quite a few other such books on the market, too, these days, that you can choose from, and many of them will serve you well. Just make sure that you don't get lumbered with a book like this, because it may put you off grammar studies for life.

Jean-Luc Godard Box Set - Alphaville/Le Petit Soldat/Une Femme Est Une Femme [DVD]
Jean-Luc Godard Box Set - Alphaville/Le Petit Soldat/Une Femme Est Une Femme [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eddie Constantine

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not three of Godard's best, 20 Aug 2007
First of all, unlike some today, I still think of Godard as a great film-maker. However, for such a great artist, he made a fair number of pretty average films, and some plain awful ones too; picking your way through the rubble in search of greatness is not always the most pleasurable of tasks. If you're new to Godard, I would suggest leaving these three movies until you've watched some of his really outstanding work, such as A Bout de Souffle, Vivre sa Vie, Le Mepris, Bande a Parte, Pierrot le Fou, and (perhaps) Slow Motion. If you like those, then you might think about moving on to some of the second-string material like this.

Le Petit Soldat is a reasonably insightful study of the war between France and Algeria in the late fifties / early sixties. Credit Godard with the courage to suggest that there were wrongs on both sides; credit him also with the ability to make a reasonably suspenseful thriller, an ability he all but abandoned as the sixties wore on. I suppose this film is, as another Amazon reviewer observed, a little stuck in its own time, dealing with events long past. It still bears up to a close viewing, but I think for most people it will be memorable mainly for the strong acting performances from the two leads (Anna Karina and Michel Subor); and also for that very famous -- and rather ludicrous -- soundbite of Godard's, "Photography is truth; cinema is truth 24 frames a second."

Une Femme est Une Femme is (I assume) Godard's attempt at deconstructing the musical comedy form. It's OK if your idea of comedy is a Frenchman in a suit riding around his living room on a bicycle, or attempting to conduct a conversation with a toothbrush in his mouth; it's OK if your idea of deconstructive analysis is a nugget like, "Emile takes Angela at her word because he loves her... Because she loves him, Angela lets herself be caught in the trap... Everything will go wrong for them, because they love each other... They have made the mistake of thinking they can go too far, because their love is both mutual and eternal," emblazoned in white text across the screen while the besuited man (Jean-Claude Brialy) bickers amiably with his girlfriend (Anna Karina) about having a baby. It's very bright and colourful and eccentric -- Karina, of course, looks spectacular at the centre of the film -- but I can't say I find any of it particularly joyous. It all seems a bit forced and contrived to me. Godard was simply too self-conscious to be able to leap with any kind of abandon into the making of a film; and, sure enough, even in this ostensibly light-hearted movie you get the odd half-measure of pseudo-philosophy, just to put a damper on things for anybody who was actually enjoying it.

Alphaville, for its part, is a terrible film, a truly disastrous attempt at sci-fi film noir. Clumsy, clunky, tedious, pretentious, and overbearingly puffed up with its own importance, this was the beginning of the end for Godard as a maker of watchable feature films. I'm afraid I can't bring myself to say any more about it, it's so bad.

The packaging on this product as a whole is rather mediocre, with no extra features on the DVDs. And, yes, the subtitles are 'burned-in', which I think was very ill-advised. Overall, this package offers little for the casually interested, and nothing new for serious fans of Godard's work. I can't really see who they thought would be rushing to buy it, to be honest.

Waking Life [DVD] [2002]
Waking Life [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Ethan Hawke
Offered by The Happy Zombie
Price: £4.09

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not quite as clever as it wants to be, but clever all the same, 12 Aug 2007
This review is from: Waking Life [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
If nothing else, I'm sure that you'll never have seen a film quite like Waking Life before. Whether or not you'll *want* to watch another film like it is another matter; but never mind, at least it scores high on originality. It's a series of disconnected philosophical discussions between animated characters, none of whom seem able to decide whether or not they are living in a dream. Some are happy about this, others less so; some are simply looking to take whatever they can get from the experience of 'lucid dreaming'. The structure of the film is supposed to mirror the surreal, disconnected experience of dreamtime. There is no narrative to hold things together, and not really anything in the way of coherent characterisation. You just have to do the best you can to hang on to the dialogue as it whizzes past on its way to obscurity, and console yourself by enjoying the highly imaginative visual aspect of the film.

The animation is very clever indeed and superbly executed. The artwork is superimposed on top of real film footage -- I believe the technique is called 'rotoscoping'. The fact that it's animated means, of course, that visually there's a far freer rein to slip into 'surreal' mode -- but always there's the underpinning of the real-life film footage underneath it. So it's an interesting blend and it blurs reality in a way that fits very well with the general idea in the film that you can never quite know what reality is, whether or not you're awake, whether or not you even exist.

As far as the philosophy goes, I must say, there's not much here that would trouble anyone who's taken a few introductory evening classes in the subject. It's the kind of stuff teenagers come out with when they get high for the first time and start thinking they're a genius. There's a fair bit of guff about 'true creativity', 'infinite possibilities', 'reaching our real potential', and so forth; a lot of it sounds closer to a Sunday supplement lifestyle pullout than anything out of a philosophy seminar. Still, though, it got my mind working a little, and I'm always happy to watch a film that can do that.

I think of this film as a kind of 'prelude' to Linklater's recent A Scanner Darkly, another animated movie that also deals with similar 'reality / unreality' issues, but does so in a rather more engaging way in the form of a proper story with more well-rounded, believable characters. I give Waking Life four out of five for being a film that tries something different, and manages it quite well, even though it comes out looking a bit pretentious at times. No extra features whatsoever on the DVD means another star gets knocked off, so only 3 out of 5 in the end. Still worth a look, though.

Price: £7.87

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What a drag it is to see you, Mr Ferry, 27 July 2007
This review is from: Dylanesque (Audio CD)
The only songs that really work on this album are the ballads. Bryan Ferry isn't a particularly accomplished or emotive singer, but he can croon to a serviceable standard on songs like 'Make You Feel My Love' and 'If Not For You'. It's no coincidence those are the songs that most closely resemble the kind of '30s / '40s material that he performed on 'As Time Goes By': rather trite, lyrically banal items that say little and offend no one. Ferry can do that kind of stuff okay; it suits his cool, languorous, demeanour quite nicely.

Give him something more weighty, however, and he just misses the point. Dylan's songs present an altogether different challenge to an album full of Cole Porter-type numbers -- they come from a grittier, more down-to-earth tradition, are often rooted in folk or blues mythologies, and can be lyrically rather difficult to interpret. Ferry shows no appreciation of that challenge at all. He misses the bilious wit of 'Positively Fourth Street' completely. He fails to catch the skip-rope tongue-twisting rhyming patterns of 'Simple Twist of Fate', and the bitter-sweet melancholy that was at the heart of Dylan's version of the song. When he sings 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues', one of Dylan's bleakest songs, I can almost see that old white tuxedo swaying gently in front of me... but the song isn't about *that* kind of world-weariness, the 'sophisticated gentleman by the pool with a champagne glass' kind. It's about an altogether more savage kind of angst, the 'lost in a seedy bar with nothing in the world to hope for' kind. There is a difference, Bryan.

It's great that people are still interested in adapting Dylan's material for a contemporary age -- there'll be life in those songs for many years to come, I'm sure. But that isn't what Ferry has done here. He offers no new insights into these songs, he makes no attempt to interpret them for our modern times; instead, what he has produced is a passionless, pointless, nostalgia trip that serves only his own ego and bank balance. It's over twenty years since Ferry produced anything that was truly worth listening to (the excellent and under-rated 'Boys and Girls' album); this, I'm afraid, is his lowest artistic point yet.

Lift To The Scaffold [1958] [DVD]
Lift To The Scaffold [1958] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jeanne Moreau

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars classy French film noir, 23 July 2007
An enjoyable black-and-white French thriller from the late fifties, featuring all the usual themes of the film noir genre: love and betrayal, murder, fatalism, seedy glamour, unlikely plot twists, and so forth. It was Louis Malle's directorial debut and Jeanne Moreau's first leading role in a feature film, and was a big commercial success at the time -- neither of them looked back after this. It was also distinguished by an excellent soundtrack, composed by Miles Davis in his usual ad-hoc manner using a pick-up band of musicians he was barely even on first-name terms with. Nowadays the connection between jazz and film noir seems obvious -- a cliche, even -- but that has a lot to do with the success of this film, and the excellent marriage of music and action achieved by Miles Davis and his musicians.

For a film nearly fifty years old, I must say it has aged well, even if some of the plot devices are a bit clunky. Visually it's a treat, with very stylish camera work. I particularly like the night shots of Paris early in the film, with Jeanne Moreau wandering blindly around in the rain looking for her lover; I also enjoyed the (highly stylised) interrogation sequence near the end, which I'm sure has little resemblance to real interrogation but which captures superbly the isolation and disorientation of the male protagonist. Some people lump this film in with the Nouvelle Vague scene that became fashionable a few years later, and maybe in some respects there is a bit of a family resemblance; Malle, though, always resisted attempts to classify him as part of the Nouvelle Vague movement.

I should add that the extra features are a bit meagre compared with what we're accustomed to on DVD releases these days. There are just a couple of short interviews, one with Louis Malle's brother -- Malle himself died in 1995 -- and also one with Rene Urtreger, the pianist who played on the soundtrack. If not for the lack of bonus material, I would probably have given it five out of five, because on the whole it's quite a nice package. In short: good film, good music, well worth a viewing if you haven't seen it before.

Price: £9.91

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "wend, endlessly, towards seashores unmapped", 22 July 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
I admired Joanna Newsom's first album 'The Milk-Eyed Mender' for its blend of arty originality and folksy timelessness, but I had a hard time getting through the whole thing in one sitting because of that deranged-sounding little-girl voice. I was impressed, though, by her penchant for unusual, multi-part song structures, with the music seeming to evolve organically as the working through of a particular emotion rather than as required by convention.

This, her second album, shows considerable development along similar lines, except that rather than limiting herself to four or five-minute songs she has chosen to open out and develop her ideas across songs approaching ten minutes long and more. Initially, the music appears rather formless, and it's a little difficult catch the songs' structure; persevere, though, and amid the meandering you'll begin to hear a peculiar, inspired elegance quite unlike anything else you'll have heard. The only real comparison I can think of in popular music is with the songs The Incredible String Band were recording at their late '60s peak, around the time of 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' and 'Wee Tam'. Kate Bush, I guess, is another possible reference point. But saying that doesn't really do justice to the uniqueness, and strangeness, of Joanna Newsom's vision. Really, I think the complex structuring of her music puts her as close to the traditions of classical music as anything in the fields of pop and folk.

She also shows considerable craft as a lyricist, particularly in her skill at internal rhyming and rhythmic variation; apart from a recurring strain of twee fantasy (dialogues between monkeys and bears, and so forth), I think there is genuine emotional and intellectual depth in the words to these songs. Better still, her singing has improved a great deal, having become smoother and more controlled. There are less of the wild high-low swings of her earlier work on this album, and in general her voice -- while I'm still not a fan of it, particularly -- grates a lot less here than on her first album. I can even manage to get through the whole thing in one listen.

I've noticed that people -- even the ones who like her music -- tend to characterise Ms Newsom as a bit of a nutcase, albeit a rather endearing one. Personally, I think she's a lot more sane and rational than she's generally given credit for; these songs, while they meander a great deal, are coherent in structure and execution, and I get the impression she knows pretty much exactly what she's doing. People just think she's weird because they don't know how to categorise her. I'm looking forward to hearing what she gets up to next.

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