Monday, March 12, 2007

Under African Skies


Tinariwen and Ali Farka Toure. My musical horizons needed broadening and so a quick trip to amazon provided albums by these two artists.

Tinariwen are a tribe of musicians with no country in Northern Africa, homeless now for 60 years. Their music is a conglomeration of sounds from traditional campfire jams to blues and rock n' roll.

Ali Farka Toure is the recently deceased godfather of African music. One of the magnificent Senegalese musicians of recent times, he's been described by Martin Scorsese as "the DNA of the blues." It is amazing listening to these songs that share so much with a musical form so deeply associated with America. It obviously transcends time and place and gives you a sense of how important music is to heritage and people. It has carried 400 years over thousands of miles of ocean, achings of torment and torture in the slave plantations; and centuries of dilution in a foreign land.

Yet still present in music from Senegal is the familiar twang and vocal style of the Blues greats.

A reminder of music's ability to amaze and emote.

Friday, January 12, 2007

BAFTA Nominations

We're well and truly into award-season madness and the year has only just begun. I have to admit I love this time of the movie calender. You're never stuck for something good to see at the cinema and the buzz, gossip, intrigue and general hysteria are so much fun to partake in and watch.

The BAFTA's are continuing their recent rejuvenation into proper-grown-up awards this year with possibly the most eclectic, diverse and interesting selection of nominees ever seen. Following their decision to become a pre-Oscars ceremony, the BAFTA's have successfully relaunched themselves as an important indicator of critical opinion coming up the big-daddy statuettes themselves.

However, this year we have some more alternative movies making richly deserved appearances on the shortlists. Little Miss Sunshine, United 93, Red Road and Pan's Labyrinth are just some of the films getting their just desserts with nominations.

Elsewhere, it's great to see The Departed getting so many nods and I literally am wetting my pants in anticipation of The Last King Of Scotland. The book is a masterpiece and from all accounts the film lives up to it's high standards. James McAvoy and Forest Whittaker are perfect fits for the lead roles and this promised to one of best films of the year.

Here be the main categories and nominees:

THE ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD for the Outstanding British Film of the Year
THE DAVID LEAN AWARD for Achievement in Direction
BABEL - Alejandro González Iñárritu
THE DEPARTED – Martin Scorsese
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris
THE QUEEN – Stephen Frears
UNITED 93 – Paul Greengrass
BABEL – Guillermo Arriaga
PAN’S LABYRINTH – Guillermo del Toro
THE QUEEN – Peter Morgan
UNITED 93 – Paul Greengrass
CASINO ROYALE – Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/Paul Haggis
THE DEPARTED – William Monahan
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND – Peter Morgan/Jeremy Brock
NOTES ON A SCANDAL – Patrick Marber
DANIEL CRAIG – Casino Royale
FOREST WHITAKER – The Last King of Scotland
JUDI DENCH – Notes on a Scandal
MERYL STREEP – The Devil Wears Prada
KATE WINSLET – Little Children
ALAN ARKIN – Little Miss Sunshine
JAMES MCAVOY – The Last King of Scotland
EMILY BLUNT – The Devil Wears Prada
ABIGAIL BRESLIN – Little Miss Sunshine
TONI COLETTE – Little Miss Sunshine
FRANCES DE LA TOUR – The History Boys

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Top Stuff 2006

Out with the old and in with the new.

Well, almost...

A few things that floated my boat, whetted my whistle and moved my mojo last year.

In the world of movies, it was a bit of a stagnant year. Not unexpectedly, my favourite films of 2006 were new takes on well-worn events. Inside Man elevated the heist genre to new levels of excitement, thrills and humour through a re-invented Spike Lee and charismatically electric performances from Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. Worth seeing alone for the legendary Agent Starling being called "a magnificent cunt" with heart-felt schaudenfraude.

Elsewhere, another pair of reliable directorial hands magiked up another take on gangster life - this time The Departed, itself a remake of the classic Infernal Affairs. Those gnarled hands were Martin Scorsesse's and his pulling power drew in a veritable feast of other expensive Hollywood hands, including: Leo Di Caprio in his most mature and captivating role yet; Matt Damon successfully subverting his all-American Bourne charm into a real malevolent presence; Alec Baldwin chewing scenery with tremendous relish; M
ark Wahlberg with the most gratuitously offensive and hilarious insults known to man; and Martin Sheen doing what he does best - being grand and fatherly.

All of these pale when compared to the blinding fire with which Jack Nicholson lit up the film however. Deranged, violent, sexed-up and coursing with a humour blacker than coal at midnight - this was a virtuoso and scintillating performance.

In contrast to Jack's bombast was Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut - The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada. A reinvention of the modern Western, this was an unexpectedly subtle examination of life on the border, both geographically and emotionally. Jones himself has surely never knowingly underacted in his life prior to this film but his presence here is solid, grave and absolutely spell-binding. Armed with a script from 21 grams and Amores Perros screenwriter Guillermo Arriga, it is less wilfully misleading but equally well and similarly constructed. With torrents of unexpected laugh-out-loud moments and touches of real sadness, this is a film not to have missed.

Other honourable mentions go to: The Wind That Shakes The Barley, United 93, The Proposition and Brick.

What an awesome year for music! There were welcome returns from Elbow and Snow Patrol, maturing and moving on musically in two excellently constructed records. Elbow are a national treasure, with Guy Garvey's wit and graft a palpable presence throughout the album. Yet Elbow remain strangely unvaunted. Compare that to Snow Patrol, who's success knows no bounds. Eyes Open contained more anthems than an entire World Cup - rock rarely gets this good or as precious as the achingly good duet with Martha Wainwright on Set The Fire To The Third Bar.

Debuts by the dozen battered and bruised the Top Ten all year, but none so forcefully and with such cheeky fun as The Fratellis' mixture of rock, pop, stoner stories and psychotic women. Hazily gliding it's way there though were Guillemots and their everything-including-the-kitchen-sink instrumental approach combining with woozy melody and occasional outbursts of stonking hooks to make a strange brew of bewitching pop.

Yeah, there was the Arctic Monkeys, Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley. But take a break from such commercially shrewd hits and luxuriate in the sounds of Jenny Lewis, Josh Ritter and the utterly fantastic Duke Special: a piano-playing Belfast guy with dreadlocks, whose debut LP of meandering rock-a-longs cannot be lavished with enough praise.

2006 was also a year of the best Hip Hop I've heard yet - Plan B and the unshakeable Kanye West. Plan B has slipped almost completely under the radar, too brutal and honest for the charts but challenging, inspiring acoustic-driven rap for the home.

2007 has a lot to live up to.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Born To Run

If you've been wondering (and I know you have) what OK Go have been doing since they last troubled the charts a year or two back with Get Over It , which was one of those songs that sets up shop in your brain and can't be evicted without some strong letters from the Citizens' Advice Bureau, then wrap your eyeballs around this.

OK Go, on treadmills. Does exactly what it says on the conveniently-embedded video.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Vivat Regina

Women In Rock is one of these tedious subjects that keeps getting trotted out by the more waffly music rags and the more earnest Sunday broadsheets - whither the new Kate Bush, whose recent sectionable return should see her squarely packed away to Arkham, or the new Chrissie Hynde, who nowadays seems more concerned with licensing her tracks to groups with the musical nutrition content of a pack of Mini Rolls? There's Goldfrapp, there's Cat Power, there's Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, but these kinds of people tend to put paid to the journos' Who Will Lead Us Now raging histrionics caused by the Cataracts of Righteousness (+2 saving throw against passive-aggression), so they tend not to get mentioned. Hurrah and huzzah, then, for Regina Spektor. Only she can slay these tedious retreads of the same old rants about how the Man is keeping the Woman down in the world of three chords and a cloud of dust.

You know why? Because she'll remind these journos of Kate Bush. She's 'kooky', you see. 'Kooky', in this instance, is a teeth-grindingly backward shorthand for someone whose songs are the kind of thing that would have Diane Warren retiring to bed with a mug of milky tea and an air of quiet bafflement. Her calling card, inasmuch as it's the closest thing she has to a radio-friendly unit shifter (it has a video! and everything!), is Us, a playful capturing of love-as-genuine-romance, love-as-excitement, with lyrics seemingly patched together from old cryptic crosswords and a violinist who's well on their way to RSI. If you can't cope with songs with lyrics involving rusting noses (on statues, obv) then you might want to pick up the new album by Katie Melua, or something else which is similarly punchable, instead.

If, however, you like Us, you'll like Spektor's new album, Begin To Hope. Less spiky and rough-edged than her most recent collection, Maryann Meets The Gravediggers And Other Stories, her fourth album proper has Spektor comfortable with a budget without losing any of the charming, touching flavours that run through her music. Spektor's got her full range on display here, from Samson, with its evocation of the heartache and loss that come with knowing that someone you love is now with someone else, through to That Time, a sweet summation of the kind of conversations that come with a long and comfortable relationship.

For someone who's so young (she's only six weeks older than me, and I'll fight anyone who says I'm not still young), Spektor is a remarkably assured songwriter, and Begin To Hope is a great album. Music may be a man's world, but it would be nothing without a woman, and a lyrically sharp Noo Yawk girl with a blisteringly good live show may be just the thing for you if, like the rest of the right-thinking world, you'd like to kick Sandi Thom down the stairs.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

T Break 2006

Unexpectedly, I was a finalist for the T Break 2006 Journalism competition and duly dispatched to review 6 unsigned bands last Friday.

Check out the hastily churned out article here folks.

Fingers crossed that I get that back-stage pass for T In The Park...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Re-Doctorin' The TARDIS

Is there a word for a person who, while being really great, thoroughly likeable and sometimes awe-inspiring is also, well, a bit of a twat? I’m sorry, I don’t have a Profanisaurus to hand so my lexicon is rather limited. It’s just that the thought occurred to me the other day while watching the first episode of the second series of the all-new Doctor Who. Could it be, I thought, that the good Doctor, for all his good intentions, may quite possibly tick that box marked T more easily than we thought?

I mean it’d be really great to hop on the TARDIS and go whizzing through time and all with the Doc and Billie Piper (‘Cause we want to! ‘Cause we want to!), but all that baton relay flirting, off-the-cuff one-liners and smug flippancy of the laws of society and physics – if you were right in the thick of it it’d really get on your nerves after a bit, wouldn’t it? You’d feel a bit useless in there. A bit of third wheel. A gooseberry. You’d start to resent the Doctor a bit. Think he’s a twat. Like I’m sure you’d think about anyone who certainly regards himself as a lot greater than you no matter how humble he appears. Unless you’re Mother Theresa. And she’s dead, and you’re not (her or dead).

You’ve got to think that the reason that Rose’s boyfriend, the hapless Mickey, doesn’t want to travel around the universe with her isn’t because he can’t take the excitement, it’s because he somehow knows he’d be carrying a torch that both Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins held (then dropped, tried to pick up, burnt their fingers and sprang up to bump their head on the underside of a table). But then, the Doctor does that to other men.

Maybe it’s just the show’s focus on the eponymous Who as the centre of attention that his persona shall shine the brightest and dim those who stand in his light. As the man of the hour, and as anyone of a twattish nature shall show, assertion of their gender dominance is paramount to them, and in this case the writing of the show has justified that. Take heed that nearly all of the male characters who popped into the TARDIS during Ecclestone’s run have or developed some kind of negative flaw that let their sex-side down: Mickey, of course who’s a bit fick; Adam who teams up with the duo for one trip before succumbing to greed; even Captain Jack, who despite being the dashing hero stereotype, admits he’d tipped the scales towards number one and tried to fleece them. And he only gets away with it by being bi-metrosexual and thus less of a threat to the Timelord.

That a prominent force such as the Doctor has to force that authority and magnitude of personality via the conduit of Ecclestone’s cheeky-chappiness, inevitably results in this chipping away at his 'good' competitors for his benefit, blatantly or not. For all his own flaws, he's as critical of others'. Especially, when this particular incarnation of the series tips the wink at the Doctor glossing over the greater responsibilities and ethics of genocide and murder when he himself decides the end justifies the means. He has a great habit of pulling those carriages of doubt quickly back onto his own track of thinking before anyone, particularly Rose, can question his motivations. He’s the guy with his name on the canopy, that’s all we need to know, so why should his limelight be stolen?

Now then, why say all this about the last incarnation when we should be talking about Tennant’s relay run? The answer’s because it looks like not much has changed for series two. I can’t talk as a leading authority on Doctor Who, having not seen as much of last century’s output as I managed beyond the gaze of a child (yes, I literally did hide behind cushions during some episodes, no word of a lie), but I presume that each incarnation of the Doctor plays on a distinct variation of a main theme. That is, they may all be time-travelling aliens, but they each have room to manoeuvre in what they say and how they act. You’d have to agree that a Tom Baker is on an altogether different spectrum than a William Hartnell or a Sylvester McCoy.

Tennant, on the other hand, doesn’t have that; he’s far too much like Ecclestone to make that differentiation. Their personalities are interchangeable. That is, the one of the cheeky-chappy, charming, funny, arrogant, smug, really great guy. And a bit of a twat.

Two arguments: one, that it’s only the first episode (and a Christmas special), so he’s not had the opportunity to get into his own groove. Time will tell, yet at the moment he’s just a face to a name as opposed to a character of his own. He may be slightly better-looking, but he’s nothing more than a different ink ribbon for the same typewriter.

And two, the plots are more important than the characters. Which is plainly ridiculous as nearly all the humour and drama comes from that interaction between Rose and the Doctor, and their reaction to others. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I believe a more conscious effort to write to type and find that ‘click’ for Tennant is necessary if they want to avoid getting stale. Particularly since this new era of DW depends a lot on recurring characters and themes to provide its entertainment. That means a constant requirement to inject fresh elements into the show and making sure they stay fresh. And surely nothing would be fresher than a new Doctor with a new way of doing things.

It’s all in the bag now, so we shall see how it develops, and maybe such a criticism shall be insignificant beyond this week. If you’re after criticism of the actual episode, though, well I’ve heard talk of people saying it’s pretty weak, and, yes, while it’s alright, it’s a little too much of a repeat on season one. Maybe if there’s eventual evidence of a series arc that doesn’t dead-end in quite the way the ‘Bad Wolf’ did, it’ll get more exciting. If one thing, this episode wasn’t an indication of a dip in quality quite yet, just a bit of a re-tread. I await this Saturday’s supposed scariest episode yet with anticipation. Until then, Tennant, Ecclestone, whoever, they’re all the same to me.

The two-hearted twats.

Oh, is that the time?

I thought I had slightly longer than that. I was going to cram in another post, perhaps. Even as a 24 hour blogger, I am a failure.

So long.

Rube Goldberg round-up

I swear to God, I'm going to get at least one comment before I've finished this thing (3 and a half hours remaining, probably imaginary readership).

Everybody loves deliberately over-elaborate machinery created to execute a very simple function in the most convuluted way possible, right? Lets hope so, because here are two videos involving Rube Goldberg machines.

First, some clips apparently culled from a Japanese television show. They've got everything: neurotically complex workings, inspired use of household objects, ingenuity to spare, and even a horribly catchy jingle. Neat!

And secondly, a computer-animated short film featuring cute robots, surprising sadness, noise words and plenty Rube Goldberg devices.