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Demob Happy "jamesewan" (London / Grenoble)

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Another World
Another World
Price: £9.54

6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A world apart?, 17 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Another World (Audio CD)
Returning from the nu-disco of Hercules and Love Affair, 'Another World' finds Antony & The Johnsons revisiting the themes and cabaret moods of Mercury-winning breakthrough, 'I Am A Bird Now'. Having such a singular singing style is both a gift and a burden: while Hegarty made the transition to the dancefloor with apparent ease, the return to the niche territory of his first two albums may wear the casual listener's patience thin. We are back in Hegarty's emotional universe, an oppressively personal place dominated by interlocking themes of transgenderism and emancipation (emotional and physical). While overcoming repressive gender categorisations could make for quite a universal musical subject matter, 'Another World' is suffused with such a acute sense of melancholy and isolation to sometimes render Hegarty's music rather impenetrable. There is no denying the beauty of the music, but sometimes he seems locked in a certain emotional register that can be repetitive. While technically impressive, the quivering vulnerability of Antony's vocal is so invariable the listener is in danger of becoming immune to its powers.

With a Japanese transvestite performance artist adorning the stark black and white cover artwork, 'Another World''s title is misleading, as it is hard to see this EP as a departure. In the main, the Johnsons brand is ostensibly unchanged: the subtle shadings and embellishments very much backgrounded by Anthony's fragile vocals and piano. Things do, however, get weirder on the skeletal gospel of 'Shake that Devil', which pits Anthony's tremulous singing over stark, ominous drones, a big rockabilly breakbeat and saxophone squeals. Shades of Morphine and Angelo Badalamente suggest new, swampier tangents to come on their next full length. Otherwise it's honestly much of a sameness, and none of the songs here improve upon what Anthony & The Johnsons have done before.
First published at The Line of Best Fit

3.10 To Yuma [DVD]
3.10 To Yuma [DVD]
Dvd ~ Russell Crowe
Price: £3.75

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ten past three, 12 Oct. 2008
This review is from: 3.10 To Yuma [DVD] (DVD)
The release of 3:10 to Yuma, coinciding with that of 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford', got some critics excited about the re-birth of the Western. While two films from Hollywood in one year hardly signifies a renaissance, Ed Harris' 2008 Western 'Appaloosa' certainly suggests there is life left in the genre. Perhaps more significantly, films such as 'No Country For Old Men' and 'There Will Be Blood' - while not belonging archetypally to the genre - hinted at the ways in which the frontier myths could be further explored beyond the cowboy paradigm.

Directed by James Mangold, following his decent Oscar-winning Johnny Cash biopic 'Walk The Line', '3:10 to Yuma' is a glossy, hi-octane Hollywood action flick. Those expecting a subtler revision of the Western genre in the mould of 'Jesse James' or Clint Eastwood's peerless 'Unforgiven' might be disappointed. Both those films explore the notion of myth and deconstruct the traditional glamourisation of violence in the genre, but 3:10 ignores the revisionism of the latter-day Western, ratcheting up the action and the body count. While those films showed the harsh realities of life in the American West, and the debilitating effects of violence on the human body, 3:10 sees characters recover swiftly from bullet wounds to continue their horseback pursuits.

On paper the cast looks like an exciting proposition, but Russel Crowe severely hams it up as the outlaw baddie, and Christian Bale's earnest civil-war-vet-trying-to-do-the-right-thing is sadly dull. 3:10's gun-slinging blood-thirstiness might appeal to fans of Sam Peckinpah more than those of, say, Sergio Leone or John Ford: it is neither grittily realistic nor Golden-age romantic. A remake of a 1957 film of the same name, originally based on 1953 Western short story by Elmore Leonard, there are few surprises in a film that adds little of fresh import or imagination to the genre.

Saint Dymphna
Saint Dymphna
Price: £12.09

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gang Gang goes bang (8.5/10), 9 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Saint Dymphna (Audio CD)
Long-time darlings of New York's ultra-hip, art-conscious underground music scene, Gang Gang Dance look braced to make a wider breakthrough with their new album `Saint Dymphna`, released in the UK on Warp. Like their contemporaries Out Hud, Gang Gang Dance makes a hybrid of post-rock and electro, punk and dance. But while Out Hud and particularly their sister act !!! (chk chk chk) often veer towards house and disco, Saint Dymphna is mostly scary, volatile stuff. While there are certainly parallels with LCD Soundsystem, GGD's take on dance-punk has less cross-over appeal and more in common with the darker acts on the DFA roster such as Black Dice and The Juan McLean. Despite the gorgeous Kate Bush-remixed-on-a ZX-Spectrum (if I may) of `House Jam', Saint Dymphna is surprisingly un-dancefloor-friendly - sonically wild and sometimes abrasive. It combines some of the oblique electro sequencing of (fittingly) early Warp acts like Black Dog with a live-sounding spontaneity and ritualistic insistence on rhythm that recalls the Boredoms and ooioo.

With most its tracks segueing together into one passage, Saint Dymphna is a journey of rushing peaks and noodly valleys. Lizzi Bougatsos's vocals - somewhere between Bjork and Yoshimi Pi We - will not be to everybody's taste, her spontaneous yelps and howls riding the vagaries of the music as if driven by tribal fervours. The trancelike quality also recalls math-rock mavericks Battles but there is less insistence on precision and groove, more on Dionyisan abandon. Like ooioo there is also a new-agey, cod-mystical influence that creeps stealthily into their music. One minute you could be listening to Autechre, the next ('Dust' for instance) it's all tablas and cosmic wonder - the transition is so subtle however, and the music abstract enough, that you don't begrudge the pan-global pick'n'mix.

There is a raw, un-trebly aspect to the production that reminds me of Portishead's Third. They have retained the live aspect of the sound, a concert hall reverb (whether real or artificial) tangible in the same fashion as Pit er Pat's recent `High Time`. `Bebey' begins the album with waves of synths and, er, pitter pattering metallic drums. The melodies at the core are unmistakably oriental and gradually this abstracted, global melodic signature insists itself. I'm very much reminded of Black Dog Productions classic `Bytes', and how very blunt, mechanical textures are layered into pseudo-oriental grooves. `First Communion' bleeds out of the opener with sudden orgasmic yelps from Bougatsos and a thrilling assault of synths built around a punk groove: think Crystal Castles jamming with ooioo. It's an exhilarating hit of high-octane noise that ends abruptly on a thrilling high.

`Blue Nile' is bluesy, a dubby post-rock/house hybrid in the Out Hud school while `Vaccum' is synth-driven prog that reminds me vaguely of Boards of Canada disciples Kelpe. `Princes', with its garage beats and unlikely guest MC spot from UK Grime rapper Tinchy Stryder, seems a bit too zeitgeist grabbing - like those dance hip hop collaborations (Roots Manuva and Leftfield, Prodigy and Method Man) that surfaced in the late 90s. But it works better than it should, a full-on sonic mash-up of cavernous bub bass, insane synths and Stryder's abrasive East London raps. The flight-of-stairs-falling-down-a-flight-of-stairs electro of `Inners Pace' is like a carnival (or just a riot) in a Tokyo amusement arcade, while `Afoot' finds the singer making what sounds like some kind of political diatribe over massive landslides of dubbed out effects, cascading walls of echo chamber. Avant-garde electronic music for fans of psych rock, Saint Dymphna should suit fans of both. Cacophonous, adventurous, OTT, sometimes relentless but never ordinary, fans of all forms of experimental music should look no further.
First Published at The Line of Best Fit

Carried To Dust
Carried To Dust
Offered by LIBAUT
Price: £16.20

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enter planet dust (8.5/10), 9 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Carried To Dust (Audio CD)
`Carried to Dust` is Calexico's most mature work to date, arguably the best synthesis of their frontier atmospherics and Latin-inflected country songwriting. The follow-up to 2005's much-dismissed `Garden Ruin', `Carried to Dust' makes the `South-Western noir' tag stick better than any other Calexico album. It's a record of great dusky beauty, varied and unusual musicianship and haunting songs. More understated than their aknowledged masterpiece `Feast of Wire`, `Carried to Dust' may pass that benchmark in time with its flickering, insidious quality. Cinematic but subtle, whispery yet substantial, there are fewer straight-out brooding Enio Morricone instrumentals, only one blatant Tex-Mex jam. The album is largely song-orientated but, unlike Garden Ruin, deftly impressionistic, with ghostly electronic touches that recall Wilco's `Ghost is Born`, Bon Iver's `Emma, Forever Ago`, and the work of long-term collaborator Iron & Wine, aka Samuel Beam, who features here on the sublime `House Of Valparaiso'.

Despite working with a number of guest singers and musicians (also including Canadian singer Pieta Brown and Amparanoia's Amparo Sanchez) Joey Burns and John Convertino have been successful in qwelling the magpie-ish tendencies of previous albums, sustaining a coherent mood over a (thankfully) more concise 45 minutes. While it may not have the epic scope and more various thrills of `Feast of Wire', `Carried to Dust' is a more focused album - the sound of a band comfortable with their, um, sound, and the possibilities it presents. As much as I loved the border country schtick that made them famous, I always felt that band were doomed to pigeonholing and it is great to hear them pull off an album of songs without compromising their South-Western soul. Better still, `Carried to Dust''s moods are rarely prosaic - less readily associated with the default American landcapes of earlier albums.

Aside from the wonderful `House of Valparaiso', other album highlights include the glimmering oriental harps of `Two Silver Trees' or the polished, Chris Isaak noir of `Man Made Lake' - fuzzy guitars and minor key glockespiel conspiring towards a blissful dissonance. The seafarer's poem `The News About William' recalls Fleet Foxes' romantic folk, but what Joey Burns lacks as a singer compared to Robin Pecknold, Calexico compensate with a musical tapestry richer than that of their contemporaries. `Writer's Minor Holliday', with its backing vocal sighs from Adrienne DeNIke and swaggering rhythm section, echoes James Jackson Toth's fine solo debut `Waiting In Vain`. While `Slowness' is a hazy country duet between Burns and Pieta - with all the gorgeous steel pedal twang you could ever hope for - `Inspiracion' is skeletal Latin folk, Tom Waits at a Dia De Los Muertos procession. Enjoy!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 29, 2008 5:58 PM GMT

Dear Science
Dear Science
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.30

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exact science (8.5/10), 4 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Dear Science (Audio CD)
In 'Dear Science' TV On The Radio have finally delivered on the early promise of their EP 'Young Liars' with the dazzling art-rock album they've long threatened but somehow neglected to deliver. Although 'Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes' and 'Return To Cookie Mountain' had some great individual songs, overall I found them frustratingly dense records, overproduced and overwrought. 'Dear Science', however, finds the band in fine, funky fettle. The songs, in themselves of a higher quality, have been freed from producer Dave Sitek's sometimes stifling more-is-more approach. Despite being a record of much bitter anger (political or otherwise) and grief, conversely they have also delivered their most open album with a lightness of touch not always previously apparent.

'Halfway Home' seems an odd choice as opening number, being one of the album's darker, more melodramatic tracks. Building slowly over heavily reverbed guitars, burbling barbershop harmonies and droning synths, the falsetto chorus melodies send shivering sparks through the listener. By contrast 'Crying' is funky art-pop which adds increasing layers of sonic ephemera - guitar, glockenspiel, synthesised slap bass, oriental-sounding synths and finally brass - to brutalist, Massive Attack-esque percussion. 'Dancing Choose', which flips between angry half-raps and blissfully catchy choruses, feels fresh and effortless in a way that their previous albums couldn't sustain.

'Stork & Owl' begins as broken soul in the mould of Cookie Mountain's 'I Was A Lover', before orchestral elements gradually impose themselves, turning the fractured drones into a warped chamber pop ballad with a hint of Bowie. The spectre of David Bowie - a former collaborator - hangs over much of the album: Red Dress, for example, is like the Thin White Duke fronting for Herbie Hancock. On this track and others I found myself wondering when TVOTR became such a tight jazz-funk act. Or is there a certain amount of smoke and studio mirrors involved? In any case Golden Age is a perfect amalgam of Timbaland's digital funk (or even Michael Jackson) and Scary Monsters-era Bowie, the chorus of which could easily be a long-lost track by the great man.

While the sombre, piano-led balladry of 'Family Tree' seems suspiciously sentimental at first, a closer look at the lyrics suggest otherwise. 'Love Dog' revisits this downcast mood but to better effect: pirouetting vocals, violins, horns and electronics bleeding blissfully together over a sputtering, locomotive beat. There is more to talk about of course, but while I don't think it's unfair to suggest that the second half of the album fails to live up to that of their first, it is almost certainly their best yet, and a strong contender for end-of-year lists.

Snowflake Midnight
Snowflake Midnight
Price: £9.90

12 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Second poor album in a row for once-great psych rockers, 26 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Snowflake Midnight (Audio CD)
`Snowflake Midnight` is a departure from previous Mercury Rev records in that it is almost entirely dominated by electronics and glacial synths. A digital wonderland as sonically rich as Flaming Lips' `Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots`, Mercury Rev's latest sees them trying to graft their faux-naive nature imagery onto dazzling artificial production. Shifting and morphing with the dynamism of a symphony, Dave Fridmann's Bladerunner soundscapes are so grand they often dwarf the songs. If, like me, in `glacial' you read `emotionally chilly' this is not the record for you. No-one can suggest that Snowflake Midnight is understated; others will suggest that they have severely over-egged the pudding.

Like `Secret Migration`, Snowflake is guilty of such a glassy, glossy sheen that the individual elements are hard to pin down. Technically dazzling but somehow remote, it soars up and down, sucking the listener in and spitting them out, and at the end you're not quite sure where you've been or why. While the album is at times discordant and cacophonous, like their previous album the slick polish suggests a more commercial direction. Donahue doesn't sound nearly as subversive, or unsettlingly narcotic, as on earlier releases, but the wide-eyed fairytale conceit remains.

`Snowflake Midnight' begins with a strong trio of tracks which retain an infectious pop sensibility despite some rather overloaded production. `Snowflake in a Hot World' is typical Mercury Rev whimsy: its allegorical conceit that no two snowflakes, like humans, are alike, frankly a little trite: "Don't let them get to you, don't let them tell you you're all the same". Beginning with shimmering electronics and stabs of synthesized bass, it builds into a veritable maelstrom of digital effects. At first the electronic detailing - the pro-tooled clicks, whirls and whooshes - create a meaningful fission with Jonathan Donahue's rather facile nature imagery in ways that it fails to do later in the album. The fluttering `Butterfly Wings', for instance, is a blissful meld of the natural and the artificial. But as much as I want to share Donahue's enthusiasm for this natural imagery I mostly find his posturing too contrived and a touch prosaic, despite the hyper-vivid sonic conceit of the music. By contrast, the exhilarating neo-rave of `Senses On Fire' recalls Deserter's Songs` `Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp' - all Chemical Brothers bombast and rushes of sonic bedlam.

After track three the album grows sillier as it grows in scale and ambition, becoming more portentous with each passing track. I feel that Mercury Rev have rather lost their lightness of touch at a time when contemporaries such as Radiohead have found theirs. `People Are So Unpredictable', with its Wizard of Oz refrain "There's No Place Like Home", is particularly guilty of overdramatic posturing, with enormous anti-climaxes and lost-at-sea `quiet bits' that seem better suited to incidental music. I could imagine the thunderous drums and doom-mongering choirs soundtracking some Oz derivative like `Labyrinth' - think David Bowie's big-haired glam-rocking baddie trying to be really scary to Jennifer Connolley. While such conceptual silliness is impossible to take seriously, `October Sunshine' is a couple of minutes of very serviceable Vangelis-esque ambience.

`Runaway Raindrop' starts with some `Felt Mountain' type atmospherics before being interrupted by spectacularly ugly acid-house basslines and then collapsing into a spoken-word near rap by Donahue. "A Wolf Never Waits," Donahue warns in a song that is equal parts The Fifth Element and Underworld. Sometimes you get the feeling Donahue and Fridmann have been given license to indulge their worst individual excesses unchecked and are not really singing from the same songsheet: Donahue with his twee, over-earnest lyrical concerns, and Fridmann with his "this one goes to 11' ratcheting up of the special effects. `Dream Of A Young Girl as A Flower' is also suspect, frequently disintegrating into meaningful pauses but entirely lacking the very gravitas it rather desperately strives for. However, its hyper-active spasms of electronic noise and quasi-drum and bass freak outs are interrupted by a lovely stately piano moment with Donahue intoning "You're the one everyone leans on, you're the one who can't lose control". This brief moment of lucidity is so suddenly, unexpectedly moving that you wonder what a less-is-more approach to `Snowflake Midnight' could have yielded.

For all the emoting and thundering earnestness, Snowflake is sometimes enveloping, sometimes an impenetratable mess. It is like 100th Window-era Massive Attack remixed by Sigur Ros, Xiu Xiu and Trent Reznor. `Far out' at times, yes, but too far out for anyone to care. Replete with squalls of big angry synths howling and raging as if scoring some unseen drama, the result is often opque: more style than substance. There are some lovely moments, granted, but like a CGI-saturated movie it suggests a band hiding a paucity of ideas with an arsenal of special effects. While `A squirrel and I' - electronic chamber pop bedecked with synthesised sax squeals - is much better than any song with that title and those lyrics deserves to be, it is almost impossible to take seriously. If Flaming Lips could get away with writing songs about Japanese girls fighting giant pink robots then `Snowflake Midnight' must be missing some key ingredients. Too sonically busy, but never dull, Snowflake's ultimate drawback is that it seems like a pose, an affectation, and thus emotionally distant and rather silly.
First published at The Line of Best Fit
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2008 2:44 PM BST

The Mighty Ship
The Mighty Ship
Offered by westworld-
Price: £6.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thrill Jockey release low on thrills, 21 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Mighty Ship (Audio CD)
Angela Desveaux's second solo album is agreeable but very much old time country in the mould of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, mildly infused with Californian rock. Despite her Montreal and Nova Scotia background, Desveaux's musical origins are very much south of the Mason-Dixon Line. While she was championed on her first album (2006's Wandering Eyes) by the likes of Arcade Fire's Howard Bilerman, listeners expecting a more impressionistic (i.e., alt) take on country might find this a little too close to the middle of the road.

The ship imagery of 'The Mighty Ship' might hint at Win Butler's 'great black wave' or other menacing deep sea symbolism, but the sonic signifiers here are very much open highways, scorched asphalt, tumbleweeds, motels and diners - the shoreline palpably absent. This little paradox between Desveaux's oceanic thematic threads and the steel-pedal twang could have created an unusual fission but 'The Mighty Ship' mostly fizzles rather than sparks. The title track comes closest, its mythic balladry and sea shanty undertones intermingling with Americana in gently surprising ways. Desveaux has a classic country lilt to her singing, but lacks the power and emotional resonance of Neco Case or the sassy charm of, say, Lucinda Williams.

There are some individual moments of great beauty, mostly added-value guitar work sent to rescue otherwise ordinary songs. The brooding 'Worried Mind', for instance, has a long-slung solo deep in the mix, while the heartbreakingly despondent 'Joining Another' has some spine-tinglingly gorgeous guitar work. However, these moments are too few and far between in a record that is, while accomplished, rather innocuous. She sounds rather defeated on many songs while recounting tales of women caught in unhealthy relationships, but neither the words nor the delivery are quite clever or cutting enough.

First published at The Line of Best Fit.

The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean
The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean
by Paul Theroux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Herculean, 14 Sept. 2008
Paul Theroux's 'Grand Tour of the Mediterranean' is typical Theroux in many ways, the vagaries of his mood often colouring his perception of the places he visits, but he plays on his reputation as a misanthrop and cumugeon throughout this travelogue. After a comment on the opening page about 'runty shunted trees and ugly houses', he adds in paranthesis, 'The person who just muttered, "Oh, there he goes again!" must read no further'. In fact, bar a few exceptions - Greece gets a particularly damningand short thrift, Israel not much better, the Costa Del Sol of course - 'The Pillars of Hercules' is largely full of humanity and fresh perspective. When you expect him to buck convention and go on the attack - I was braced for a brutal slaying of Venice - it doesn't materialise. His writing on Corsica and Sardinia is particularly rewarding because it seems so little is known of these islands, relative to your Gibraltas and Cyrpruses, that it feels as if he is talking about another continent altogether.

Given that Theroux is not a political writer (or even a political person, as he says several times) it is also interesting to see how he handlesareas of enormous political sensitivity such as the Balkans and the middle East. Written in 1995, Israel was on the cusp of another Palestinian intifada while the Kosovan conflict (and NATO intervention) was yet to take place. Visiting Algeria was simply out of the question. Generally he approaches his travel through historical and literary anecdotes; mostly the latter, making small literary pilgrimages and looking up a number of living writers. Therefore his overview of Israel, for instance, orpost-Tito former Yugoslavia, are not examined with a need to take a balanced and informed view. His interest is more in taking a personal snapshot of a place at a particular moment in time. Thus his writing on ravaged post-communist Albania, for exampe, is vivid and awful because it is so subjectivised, told in his precise and provocative turn of phrase.

Theroux has a great comic eye for character, and he enlivens his travelogues with the strange, sometimes adrift, people he meets en route. The Pillars Of Hercules may be a more erudite (certainly on matters of literature) than his earlier travel books, but it is no less compelling. Funny, vivid and engaging to the last (500 plus pages), it's another great read from a master of the genre.

High Time
High Time
Price: £8.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High and mighty? (7/10), 13 Sept. 2008
This review is from: High Time (Audio CD)
Chicago post-rockers Pit er Pat's latest for Thrill Jockey was largely recorded live in the studio, with raw production embellished by an arsenal of exotic instruments including a bobo balaphone (!), Burmese temple gong and a vibraslap - to cite a few favourites from the press release. In the slinky opener lilting guitars groove over increasingly cacophanous percussion and a scratchy male voice saying "one, two, two, one", as if over a transister radio. Redolent of Can's spacious psych rock, with the German originators' jam-session looseness, it also has more than a passing resemblance to Primal Scream's Trainspotting theme.

Synth fragments and little electronic pulses and whirls begin the pitter-pattering `Evacuation Days' before a little reggae riff introduces a shimmying skank. Garden variety psych rock with a somewhat generic swirling climax, the track is let down by the rather lacklustre little-girl-lost vocals. `Omen' peeps and creeps ominously, augmented by the welcome addition of horns but is again marred by flat singing and iffy lyrics: "Take off all your clothes, cut open your chest" (hmm, no thanks). Funereal organs start the Can-ish `My Darkers', one of many unconventional orchestral touches apparently employed to `expore elements of spirituality'. While certainly not unpleasant, calling Pit er Pat's music 'spiritual' is a leap of faith - padon the pun - too far.

The high point of `High Time' - I sincerely hope that is not the bad stoner pun I think it it is - comes mid-album. `Copper Pennies' is sung in slightly deranged near-falsetto over a mildly Arabian (i.e., really mystical) retro pysch rock. The vocals - which remind me curiously of The Specials's `Ghost Town' - probably because of the track's haunted house aesthetic - may be a little silly, but at least they are not indifferent. `The Cairo Shuffle' - I title which confirms the Arabesque influence - also featuring cat-on-heat vocals, wheezes along on some pleasingly wonky antinquated keyboards. The vintage electronics and analogue pop sensibility reminds me vaguely of Broadcast's retro futurist schtick. These tracks have a slightly hokey, deliberate lightness of touch which is refreshing after the more ponderous atmospherics of the earlier tracks.

`Creation Stepper' is a dubby jam of plinkity-plonk bells and chimes which begins its trip in Burma but heads off to the outler limits (man) after a hazy stop-over in Jamaica (High Time indeed). Not dissimilar to some ooioo and Boredoms stuff, it ends in lunatic childish singing and hand-claps and sounds like it was recorded in a big empty hall with alot of happy people. Similarly, the kitchen-sink carnival of `Trod-A-Lond' recalls Konono No.1's scrap-yard raves, while closer `The Good Morning Song' revolves around a kaleidocopic steel drum loop and dreamy vocal harmonies. Pit er Pat are better when they are in a sunny mood, the portentious psychedelics of the first part of the album simply don't suit them. A bit of a grower this one, and given one of the band members is called `Butchy Fuego' (love this name!), they can't be that bad can they? Fans of Stereolab and Broadcast may apply.

First published at The Line of Best Fit

Happy-Go-Lucky [DVD] [2008]
Happy-Go-Lucky [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Sally Hawkins
Price: £3.75

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucky charm, 13 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Happy-Go-Lucky [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I have to admit my hopes for Happy-Go-Lucky were not particularly high, so unmoved was I by Mike Leigh's portentious 2004 period piece `Vera Drake'. And for the first twenty minutes or so I felt vindicated, as the jokes come thick and fast and very very flat. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a wacky, mildy boho primary school teacher with garish, hippy chick dress sense and garish hippy chick friends to match. With a toothy smile and a grating, relentless optimisim even in the face of abject misery or aggression, some viewers may find empathising with Poppy a leap of faith too far. There is a fine line of course between bubbly and annoying, a line that Poppy straddles cheerily throughout the film. I had to remind myself that almost all of Leigh's characters (Vera Drake excepting) have a cartoonish, almost burlesque vulgarity to them despite the neo-realist grounding in everyday life. There is something fanciful and parodic about this characterisation that I started to warm to surprisingly late in the film. Despite some amazingly clunky dialogue - mostly between Poppy and her sisters or friends - the film was rescued for me by the arrival of Poppy's malevolent driving instructer Scott. A conspiracy theorist, racist and loner, Scott is both laughable and frightening in a way that reminds me of Shane Meadows' anti-heros. I could believe there is something of Scott in many driving instructors (sorry Ken, if you're reading!) which makes this role somehow horribly believable and pathetic.

The film is also enhanced by a non-contextualised, impressionistic sequence where Poppy is seen wandering into a derelict building where she encounters a mad Irish tramp. The tramp, who rambles incoherently, seems momentarily to see a connection in her, and vice versa. "You know?" he jibbers, rehetorically, and staring into his eyes she replies, "yes, I do". The scene is out of joint with the film's focus on Poppy as the chipper Primary school teacher, friend and sister, bent on supporting others, and is suggestive of some private universe that is not made explicit. On one level it adds to the portrayal of her charitable, empathetic nature, but on another it suggests a darker, sadder place that she refuses to ackowledge in front of the loved ones who depend on her.

Modern multicultural London is captured with an eye for its visual grammar that is - refreshingly - both credible and aesthetic. Leigh has lovingly framed the city's archetectural mish-mash of old and new without idealising it, saturating the reds of the London buses without pandering to foreign audiences. The romantic orchestral score adds to the film's winsome atmosphere, in part a homage to the so-called 1950s women's films of Douglas Sirk. Unlike Todd Hayne's brilliant `Far From Heaven`, which lovingly recreated the genre while choosing to cleverly subvert it, Happy-Go-Lucky touches upon the genre lightly - adding a glowing cheeriness to Leigh's often bleak black comedy. The final shot, the camera rising up to take in the lovely scene of the Regent's Park boating lake on a summer evening, just like the ending of `Far From Heaven', is a whistful, almost sentimental homage to 50s filmmaking, but works perfectly. Neither offering resolution or any particular ambiguity, it evokes a change of season both literally and in the lives of its characters.

There are echos from other Leigh films. Poppy's surly, blokeish younger sister is identical to Brenda Blethyn's equally monosyllabic teenage daughter in `Secrets and Lies'. Scott's conspiratorial rants recall those of David Thewlis' pre-millennial diatribes in `Naked'. Those echoes suggest - rather than thematic regurgitation - a return to terra firma for Leigh and also, in my opinion, to form.

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