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word nerd (Almaty, Kazakhstan)

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Wild Light
Wild Light
Price: £8.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars so close to masterpiece status ..., 5 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Wild Light (Audio CD)
I'm a big 65 fan, for the simple reason that I think their ambitious approach to songwriting sees them scale heights that other bands rarely dream of. They've crated so many wonderful tracks, and I'm grateful to them for it - I mean, one HAS to be thankful to the people responsible for inserting songs like 'Radio Protector' into one's musical universe. At the same time, though, I do find the band a bit patchy - those wonderful gems are spread over a number of releases that also contain some less stellar moments.

For me, 'Wild Light' largely overcomes this. It's listenable throughout, with a consistent level of intensity which makes it feel like a unified soundscape, somewhat akin to Ulver's 'Perdition City'.

However, there's another problem here. The band have clearly gone for restraint in a lot of their tracks, and while that's generally not a bad thing, these PARTICULAR tracks beg for the huge release at the end of the long build-up.

The single, 'Prisms', is a case in point. From its opening moments, you can just feel a sense of anticipation, and you know this is going somewhere huge. Unlike a few of the others on 'Wild Light', it does actually get there - and the result is about 30 seconds of epic post-rock guitar splendour which even the likes of Sigur Ros and Porcupine Tree would have difficulty surpassing. But that's the thing: it's 15 SECONDS. And you have to wait a full four minutes to get there. This I find a little disappointing; it makes me want to skip the build-up and just go straight to the good bits, which surely defeats 65's purpose. Not saying I don't like what you've done, guys - in fact I F**CKING ADORE IT. Just do it for a bit longer, ok?

Then there are tracks like 'The Undertow', a gorgeous piece that meanders around a piano theme and builds towards several peaks of intensity. The keyword here, though, is "towards". You feel a pay-off coming right through this track, and it looms pretty near on more than one occasion ... but then six minutes later 'The Undertow' ends, and you think "Hey! What happened to that payoff?"

As I said before, I'm all for subtlety and restraint. But 65's deep-layered sound, bristling with so much potential power, just makes me want to hear them unleash that power every so often.

'Sleepwalk City' is the same kind of deal. About three minutes in, when the stunning piano riff first makes its appearance, you think "Oh my god, this is frikkin' unbelievable ... all-time finest moment for the band coming up!". And it's pretty glorious, I have to say - but it just doesn't QUITE go as far as it could.

Having said all of that, I still think this is by far one of the best things I've heard all year, and I can't stop listening to the damn thing. The niggles are there, but far more numerous are those moments when I think to myself "I'm SO happy that 65 exist!". They are great, and unique, and the world needs them.

So make of that what you will.

Spooks - BBC Series 6 (New Packaging) [DVD]
Spooks - BBC Series 6 (New Packaging) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Firth
Offered by EU ELECTRIC
Price: £30.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the most implausible season yet ... but I'm still watching, 18 Sept. 2011
"I loved previous series for intelligent script-writing, the raising of complicated problems with no easy answers, and presenting ethical dilemmas, again with no easy solutions. A lot of this has been lost in the search of thrills."

I'd have to agree there. I can't say that Spooks is BAD nowadays - I mean, I still watch it and enjoy it most of the time. But at the beginning there was more to it, without a doubt. The script writing was so, SO tight, and there was such a true-to-life feel about the whole thing that it was utterly compelling.

Also, I really appreciated what I'll call the 'Le Carre angle'. By this, I mean that early episodes and series painted an intense and sometimes bleak picture of the struggle to maintain a sane personal life among people who 'serve their country' in this way, but did it all in a low-key, non-sensationalised and sometimes gently humorous style. In this series (and the two before that), the same themes have been scaled up to silly, epic proportions, and the result often lands somewhere between Hollywood schmaltz and Brazilian soap.

In fact, to an extent this principle applies to the whole show: the writers have decided to (or been forced to) 'big it up', much to the show's detriment. Now the plots, and some of the action sequences, are assuming a Mission Impossible-esque feeling, and sadly, this replaces a truly unique viewing experience with a merely rather enjoyable one.

Last negative thing I'll say: the scene where Ros basically gets up and walks away from her own casket was one of the most implausible things I've seen on screen for some time, and really beneath the writers. At that point, I nearly gave up on the whole enterprise.

And yet, having said all that, I probably will keep watching because there's enough good here to balance out the bits that periodically leave me feeling a bit cranky or let-down. Harry's character, for example, has remained more or less consistent throughout, and he's had some great moments in recent times. If they can get rid of Adam (whose character has 'been to the edge' so many times that you can practically set your alarm clock to his next borderline meltdown), and focus back on intelligent storylines rather than 'big' ones, there are still plenty of strengths to build on, thus returning this show to the gripping series it once was. Hope they manage it :-)

Once in Kazakhstan: The Snow Leopard Emerges
Once in Kazakhstan: The Snow Leopard Emerges
by Keith Rosten
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Hopkirk-esque rollick, but a valuable piece of background reading, 21 May 2011
Okay, first the negative point(s). Keith Rosten has the literary abilities of ... er ... well, I'm sorry to say this, but he has the literary talents of a lawyer. Though in fact, that's probably a tiny bit unfair - I mean, Rosten's prose inspires me neither to hot flushes of anger nor to long bouts of sleep, so in that respect that he's actually quite a way ahead of other legal professionals who have attempted to put their non-work-related thoughts into written form. I guess I'm just trying to say this, though: if you're expecting Peter Hopkirk or Christopher Robbins here, you're liable be a tad disappointed.

However, don't let the stylistic blandness put you off. 'Once in Kazakhstan' may be no literary meisterwerk, but it has the one thing that every non-fiction book needs: an endless supply of interesting subject matter. And it has this in spades. Recounted in any fashion, Rosten's on-the-spot account of Kazakhstan's earliest days of nationhood would make fascinating reading. What he witnessed was niothing less than a 'stan in the making, and I give him a lot of credit for jotting down a nice mixture of sweeping nationwide changes and 'small' personal stories in his journal. Together they paint quite a detailed picture, and one which calls into question some of the later attempts to piece together the history of this young nation retrospectively.

As a foreigner currently living in Kazakhstan, and one whose fascination for the culture only grows with time, I've found this book invaluable in terms of 'stage-setting'. It has definitely deepened both my understanding and my appreciation of what I see around me each day in this mad, chaotic, tolerant, hospitable and wonderful republic, and for this I'm thankful. So if you're either a) here and trying to make sense of it all, or b) an interested observer, I recommend buying Rosten's book.

The Incident
The Incident
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £19.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars some callibration needed, but only just short of masterpiece status ..., 30 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Incident (Audio CD)
First thing: there are a lot of customer reviews here already, and I have to say I'm a little surprised by some of them. Personally I find 'Black Dahlia' and 'Remember Me Lover' to be two of the most forgettable things PT have done since some of the fluff that made it onto 'Stupid Dream'. But I guess I'm more or less alone on that one ...

Don't get me wrong: I love this album. Porcupine Tree are one of my favourite bands in the WHOLE WIDE FRIKKIN' WORLD, and I have a lot to thank them for. 'The Incident' doesn't do anything to diminish that. Even so, there are a couple of niggling problems here that first surfaced on 'Fear of A Blank Planet', and seem to have carried over onto the new disc.

The main thing I think Mr. Wilson and his not-especially-merry band of progressive rockers have lost since 'Deadwing' is the ability to know how long a song ought to continue for. Prime examples on this album are 'Flicker' and 'Time Flies'. The former is an absolutely gorgeous tune - so atmospheric and delicate, such warm, resonant guitar sounds, and a great off-kilter vocal melody that had me hooked almost immediately. But WHERE'S THE REST OF IT? It barely reaches the three-and-a-half-minute mark, and since it's a rather slow song, that leaves room for little more than two choruses and a verse. So just as I'm settling in for a really enjoyable meandering PT epic, the music suddenly and abruptly winds down, and I'm left thinking "Yes ... AND?"

'Time Flies' has the opposite problem: a great acoustic riff, crackling chorussed guitar and some stunning drum work really make the 'body' of the song shine, but half-way through, what should be a 30-second breakdown extends out indefinitely with indulgent solos that contribute nothing to the song's overall direction. The band evidently approached this song as they did 'Arriving Somewhere (but not here)'. For those unfamiliar, THAT track is the centrepiece of the 'Deadwing' album - an absolutely mesmerising journey which takes an unexpected turn about five minutes in, and ends up slowly edging its way back to the main road via some incredible metal riffing (only much, MUCH warmer and more emotional than most metal bands ever manage - almost how you'd imagine a Sigur Ros tribute to Metallica might sound). In that case, 12 minutes felt like the natural length of the song, and anything less would've been incomplete. With 'Time Flies', the side trip seems like a wrong turn that could've been avoided by feeling around in the glove box for a minute and locating the street directory. This track really should've been kept taught and focussed at six minutes. Which is exactly what I mean ... it seems to me that PT have lost their instincts for when to stay on the path and when to wander, which tends to compromise my enjoyment of 'The Incident'.

There are also some issues with how the tracks are organised on the CD. I mean, why start with something as difficult and lugubrious as 'Blind House' when you've got sparkling gems like 'Drawing The Line' up your sleeve? Personally I skip the first three or four tracks and head straight for the meat, and I can't imagine that I'm the only one.

Having said all of that, there are quite a few moments to savour on 'The Incident'. I agree with what several other reviewers have said - that it pleasingly combines elements of the old and the new. Sometimes you feel that you could be hearing an unreleased follow-up to the warmth and (relative) simplicity of 'In Absentia', while at other times 'The Incident' evokes the dark, twisting garden paths of 'Fear of A Blank Planet' and 'Nil Recurring'. There are even a few 'Deadwing' moments here - happily for me, since it's probably my favourite CD of the last ten years.

One last thing: if you like PT and you haven't bought this yet, do it for 'Bonnie The Cat' (featured on the second disc, which contains tracks that didn't fit into the 'concept' of disc one). It's dark, enigmatic, wiry and unsettling, powered by a bass riff that hits you at chest-height ... and it's a new step for the band. I hope they can produce more like this (or else go the NEXT step), because these five minutes of sublime intensity are enough to make you forget the CD's other shortcomings.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2010 3:24 PM GMT

Shadows of the Sun
Shadows of the Sun

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars another u-turn ... this time into melancholy, 29 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Shadows of the Sun (Audio CD)
Ulver are something of an acquired taste, especially as they keep changing their sound faster than new genre names can be coined to account for their highly individualistic musical output. On 'Shadows of The Sun', they're almost unrecognisable as the same bunch of tricksters who delivered the marvellous lo-fi electro soundscape of 'Perdition City' in 2000, who were in turn unrecognisable as the band responsible for black metal works like 'Bergtatt' five years earlier. It seems these guys are just eternally restless, looking to add another dimension to their back catalogue with each release.

And yet, all of these works have some kind of stamp on them that says 'Ulver' (and it isn't just the band font). The new offering is certainly a surprise, in that it's essentially a little under 40 minutes' worth of introspective, almost funereal songs, with scarcely a hint of the bluster that characterised Ulver's previous release 'Blood Inside'. Every single track on 'Shadows of The Sun' - even the brilliant Black Sabbath cover - does its part to immerse the listener in a cathartic mood of melancholy, with just a hint of threat and foreboding lurking around the edges. This is worlds away from anything we've heard them do before. Still ... after a couple of listens, you know it really couldn't be anyone but Ulver behind this cohesive, enveloping work.

Although the songs seem designed to flow together in an almost soundscape-like fashion, other musicians have been brought in to provide more varied hues where necessary. On several tracks, for example, the Oslo Session String Quartet add touches of beauty to the big, droning electronic sounds, delicate piano lines and layered, alte musik backing vocals. Elsewhere you'll hear theremin wailing mournfully in the darkness (as in the strikingly sorrowful opening piece 'Eos'), or trumpet providing a strange rambling jazz flavour in places where you'd think it would be completely incongruous. And in the first-beautiful-then-desolate 'Vigil', the quartet's elegant contributions collide with a wash of wretchedly dicordant noise, partly designed by sound artist Christian Fennesz.

(Fennesz is a leading light of the Touch Music label, and hence this was a meeting of minds that had to happen sooner or later, given Touch's penchant for soundscapists from Ulver's own neck of the Scandinavian woods. I just hope the association is long-lived - an Ulver/Biosphere collaboration would be a truly wonderful thing to hear.)

All of these contributions help to achieve this CD's cleverest trick: namely, its ability to take you on an unbroken journey in a single direction, but treat your ears to a varied palate of sound along the way.

One other thing I have to mention: a stumbling block for a lot of people with prior Ulver releases has been Kristoffer Rygg's vocals. Here he gives his most mature vocal performance yet i.m.o., shearing off many of the edges that some non-fans have found jarring in the past. Rygg delivers many of the new tracks in intimate, semi-whispered tones, and elsewhere manages quite a rich baritone.

This CD is an important addition to Ulver's impressive body of work, a must for fans and a worthwhile listen for anyone who occasionally craves music that can go with them to the 'dark places' of despair, perplexity and loss. 'Shadows of The Sun' does sparkle here and there with a faintly exotic allure, attempting to show that there is a kind of beauty in melancholy. Overall, though, it lies on the grim side of things, as an ideal accompaniment to your most acute moments of doubt and sadness. More people should take advantage of the fact that music like this exists.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 5, 2014 9:47 AM BST

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