Saturday, October 14, 2006

Richard Linklater Wants To Scan You Darkly

Ok, not really, but it makes a good title, no?

A Scanner Darkly then. Yes, That Movie About Drugs Where It's Live Action But Then Coloured In.
I finally saw it last week thanks to the ever wonderful Phoenix cinema in Leicester.

And it's been a week and I am still unsure as to how I felt about the movie. I mean it was definitely good, it remains intruiging (but not gripping) throughout and is frequently amusing (but never hilarious). I just don't think I really ENJOYED it very much.

Linklater is brilliant, let us not quibble here. His directing is great as always and you owe it to yourself to go and rent Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Robert Downey Junior is also wonderful and perfectly cast as a paranoid conspiracy-theoriest junkie.
Keanu... is in the film.

Oh that's harsh, I mean he's not terrible. Keanu is Keanu. Some films suit his "style" of "acting". Luckily, I think this is one of them. As our introspective main cha... Did I mention the plot? I best mention the plot hand't I? Man, I am SO out of the Reviewing game.

So Keanu is an undercover narcotics cop, no one he works with knows who he is and vica versa. Thanks to this, he is assigned to his civilan alter ego.

Not much then happens until about 20 minutes before the end. Then lots happens all of a sudden, including two plot twists: one clearly signposted from the start and one clearly signposted from a minute or so before it happens. But for the majority of the film, it's a little slow in terms of plot, but heavy on the dialoge and charachter development.

It's a damn shame Radiohead didn't end up doing the soundtrack, it would've benefited from some Kid A style weirdness instead of the standard orchestral score.

The rotoscoping (Coloured In Live Action, kids) is nice. I mean it looks great most of the time but is never really utilised to it's full potential. You really want somebody to have a bad trip breakdown halucinato-fest and it never happens. The animators never really get to flex their muscles.

I just don't know. It's not a fun movie. It's not a great movie. But it is a good movie and it's certainly interesting. Worth renting or catching at your local arthouse theatre. Not worth buying.

6.5/10 - More marajuana than cocaine. Or... or something. Drugs are bad, stay in school.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Who loves The Long Blondes?

We love The Long Blondes

Two more for the road

Larrikin Love – The Freedom Spark

Given the buzz surrounding Larrikin Love, you’d think they’d colonised Mars and, just to cap it off, beat up the Pope. In fact, they’re a relatively good indie band who’ve just released a relatively well-realised first album. In some ways, it’s a logical step up from the scrawny melodic genius glimpsed at in their demos. ‘Six Queens’ is a case in point – like Dirty Pretty Things moved on from The Libertines, Larrikin Love have made their sound harder, faster and tighter for their first full-length release. The debt Edward Larrikin and co owe to that band is clear, in the Albion-influenced lyrics, fey vocals and ragged guitar shuffles. One main difference is the occasional appearance of Irish folk elements, and at times something that might just be calypso. This musical magpieing works best on ‘Happy As Annie’, where an off-beat skank and jigging fiddles mask a dark lyrical core. In the crammed-in rhymes its easy to miss at first the rather unpleasant tale of rape in a field that leaves Edward ‘choked with fear’. For those familiar with the band there are only three new songs, all not among the best, but definitely growers. But whatever your level of prior knowledge, the uproarious joy in this riverdance-rock ought to be persuasion enough. All hail the new lords of the dance.

Bob Dylan – Modern Times

At the end of the day, who am I to review Bob Dylan? Unlike the greenhorns making up the rest of this section, ‘Modern Times’ marks the 32nd studio album the old crank has released. Think about that for a moment – thirty-two! At 65, he’s also now the oldest person to go straight in at number one of the American charts. And he must be doing something right. Here, it’s a well-worn combination of rollicking roots music, the deft lyricism that sets him above mere musical acclaim, and the age-torn voice that has divided critics for more than forty years. He croaks, snarls, grumbles and mumbles, and sometimes slips into what could kindly be described as a death-rattle. It roughs up the swing ballads and fires up the roaring heart of his blues numbers. In the 30 years since 1966, he’s crashed a bike, split from his wife, found God, sucked in the 80s, and somehow come out of it all with a rough-neck road-dog dignity that’s truly outstanding. ‘Modern Times’ is not ‘Bringing It All Back Home’. It’s not ‘Blood On The Tracks’ either. But it’s the raw distillation of all the living Bob Dylan has done over 65 years and 32 studio albums. Now come on – what have you done with your life?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Re: Sam's Town

It's not very good. At all.

Horrible stuck-in-the-80s Springsteen-goes-synth cliched-lyrics-a-go-go rubbish.

Balanced music journalism: It's what's for breakfast.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Brucie Bonus

The Killers – Sam’s Town

On the opener and title-track of their new album, synths ebb and flow over the subdued prowl of the verses before Brandon Flowers weighs in with an electrifying hook that makes it clear The Killers are no one-disc wonder. Much has been made of their newfound obsession with Americana, and that influence can be found in the gleaming Springsteenian swayalong of ‘When You Were Young’, and indeed throughout the album. The lyrics are littered with references to highways, hurricanes, wild rivers and people named ‘Grandma Dixie’. But it’s all filtered through their irresistible disco switchboard; although this time the synths feel more organic, the rhythms less processed, and (thankfully for some) there’s nothing to compare with the club-slut kitsch of ‘Somebody Told Me’. But the songs are still just as memorable. There’s the robotic love buzz of ‘For Reasons Unknown’, which sees Flowers emoting ‘my lips, they don’t kiss the way they used to anymore’ over washes of keyboard and guitar. Later on, the pendulous thrust of ‘Uncle Johnny’’s riff saves it from the disgrace of its rhymes, and ‘My List’ practically turns your speakers into two giant waving lighters. ‘Bones’ shifts from twinkly stadium rock to lean cymbal-splashing poetry, until the unexpected, gleeful ambush of some kind of circus brass band. And back again. Sadly it’s not a cover of the Dry Ocean classic – but if you got yourself in a hot fuss over their debut, Sam’s Town has rooms for everyone.

Getting lonely

You haven’t heard of The Mountain Goats. This is a bona fide certainty. If you have, and you didn’t hear about them from me, you just made my list of heroes. But for the rest, consider this an introduction.
Everyone has their own little personal music obsession, and The Mountain Goats are mine. I started with one song, then one album, then three albums. Then all of them. Every album, single, and EP. Most of these aren’t available to buy in the UK. For most of the 1990s, they weren’t even available on CD. All I can say by way of explanation is ‘God bless the Internet’.
The Mountain Goats are essentially John Darnielle, and John Darnielle is The Mountain Goats. An ex-psychiatric nurse and associate of meth addicts, he grew up in Southern California and sometimes in the early 1990s decided to set a few songs down on tape. The primary recording device was a department-store boombox. In the years since the band’s inception, they have recorded over 400, and all but the most recent 50 or so have been recorded on the boombox, and most of these released by one-man-and-his-dog indie record labels on good old fashioned cassette tape. The clarity of the recording in these cases is literally dependent on how close to the microphone Darnielle is standing. His voice often struggles to break through layers of tinny tape fuzz. And if you weren’t put off enough already, there’s the question of his voice. High and nasal, it holds desperately on to notes it barely has the breath to produce, and bleats in your ears like a sheep being kicked as he plays jarring chords on an acoustic guitar that nearly always sounds like its strings are about to break.
But I love it. And why? Because I don’t see these as faults. In every strained, stirring syllable, every frenzied, claw-fingered chord, there is an honesty, an integrity, a passion so desperately lacking in so much of modern music. John Darnielle is a human being, not an industry robot, and he does not play by any rule that Sony ever wrote. No promotion, no money, and not even a studio to record in until the last four years or so. But somehow he has built up a solid internet fanbase, and 27,000 people quietly came to one recent London show. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them, but I wish I was; I would love to stand in a crowded room, sweat dripping from my brow, singing every lyric back to the stage at the top of my hoarse little lungs.
This, more than anything, is what inspired people so much about his music. Darnielle has been called ‘the best non-hip-hop lyricist writing in America today’. To my mind that would make him simply ‘the best lyricist writing in America today’ – but that’s another story. His poetic flair, imagery and often jaw-dropping rhyme often feel like, in his own words, ‘the last best thing I got going’. While always spirited, his backdrop of acoustic indie-folk is almost inconsequential. That’s right, folk. And I don’t really even listen to folk. The only other folk singer in my regular listening is none other than Bob Dylan, and to my mind the comparison speaks for itself. Darnielle is a Dylan for modern times; the best reference point I can find for his literate lyrical urgency. And they said he couldn’t sing, either.
His 2005 studio release, ‘The Sunset Tree’, is one of my favourite albums ever written. Nearly every song contains a phrase scored indelibly in my mind. ‘This Year’ is a rousing sing-a-long of escape from your problems, through love, alcohol, or whatever comes to hand. It moves from deadbeat romance – “I played video games in a drunken haze, I was seventeen years young; hurt my knuckles punching the machines, the taste of scotch rich on my tongue” – to the dark threat of domestic violence: “I downshifted as I pulled into the driveway. The motor screaming out stuck in second gear.
The scene ends badly as you might imagine, in a cavalcade of anger and fear.”
The perpetrator, Darnielle’s step-father, rears his ugly head again on ‘Lion’s Teeth’, an unflinching confrontation powered by simmering strings and a martial drumbeat. They brawl in his car as the words spill uncontrollably from Darnielle’s lips: “Nobody in this house wants to own up to the truth. I crawl in shotgun, and reach into his mouth, and grab hold of one long, sharp tooth and hold on, for dear life.”
Then there’s the nervous, gasoline-fuelled death-dance of ‘Dilaudid’, the violent transcendence of ‘Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod’ and the sheer, giddy joy in the eye of the tornado that whirls through ‘Dance Music’.
Despite all my raving, most of you probably still won’t like it, and if you did, you probably can’t buy it in the shops. What you can buy is the next album, ‘Get Lonely’, which is something of a departure. On first listen, I felt let down. No fast songs, no manic strumming, and Darnielle’s voice a soft whisper neutered by its polish. Or so I thought for a few more listens. But in a dark room, over headphones, staring at the ceiling, the sad strings and gentle, unostentatious turns of phrase speak volumes. The lyrics aren’t as dense; but they are as strong, given time and space. So if you see it, it isn’t my most highly recommended – but it’s a start, if only for the lines:
“I will get lonely, and gasp for air, and send your name up from my lips, like a signal flare.”
This pointillistic heartbreak, made starker by its juxtaposition with desperate observations about the weather and the state of the concrete, sits like a stone in the centre of all twelve songs. I listened to my favourite, flawed singer with only the dark for company, and I got lonely. Will you?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

What did you just do and what are you going to do now?

I just saw a film, now I'm going to review it. See? The system really works.

Children of Men is a near future sci-fi thriller in which Clive Owen attempts to save a pregnant mother in a world where no children have been born for 18 years. Much violence ensues.

And I mean, much. Loud bangs and shocks apleanty. Not for the highly strung.

To cut to the chase: It's quite good. I'd probably recommend renting it on DVD and perhaps even seeing it at the Cinema if you want to see something at the moment. One might call it "harrowing" and "thouight provoking" but I think I'll stick to "quite good". Clive Owen does a good job of looking reluctantly-heroic.

The directing is competant throughout, the plot twists are genuinely unexpected (well, some of them) and there's a rather brilliant almost-first-person sequence where the blood spattered camera chases Owen through a war torn city in the midst of a gun battle.

7/10 - It's near future not-quite-the-end-of-the-world-o-riffic!

Other films I saw this weekend: The Weather Man. In which Nicolas Cage is a fortysomething local TV weatherman. It's a rather bleak little drama/comedy and I liked it quite alot. Not very laugh-out-loud hilarious but amusing and entertaining. Worth renting, certainly. Nicely weird electronica score too. If.. you care about such things.

8/10 - It's funny-but-also-sad-but-good-o-riffic!

Next week: Almost certainly A Scanner Darkly and quite possibly Another Film