Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Booky Wooks 2009 (Part 2)

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuccheli
Mazzucchelli returns, at last, and he's working on a different plane from 99% of the cartoonists in the comics medium. His book is a character study but it is full of digressions and tangents, and Mazzuccheli is good enough to be able to address two themes simultaneously. While his narrative may be concerned with fate or one of its titular protagonists opinions on life or art, his art is generally interrogating one aspect of the medium or another in his use of colour (his main characters are colour-coded), in the design of his characters, in the flow of his panel-to-panel storytelling. This is a cartoonist who obviously thinks as much about his chosen medium as, say, Scott McCloud does. His story follows Asterios Polyp, an Architect without any buildings to his credit, and flashes back and forth between his present - working in a garage in a small town following a fire that has destroyed his life and possessions, and finding himself once again, to some extent - and his past , in which he met a girl, fell in love and ultimately lost that girl. Asterios is not exactly a sympathetic character, but he is always interesting, and his slow thaw in his newfound smalltown life, while being the corniest, most predictable element of the entire book, is also tremendously effective and satisfying. Mazzuccheli draws him as an unchanging razor-edge design squiggle, almost an abstraction, throughout the book, in what may be a comment on the stubborn, immobile nature of his personality. It works as an epic of sorts, a detailed, artful character study, and a brilliant, frequently inspired piece of high comic art.

An Expensive Education by Nick McDonnell
Forget his youth and the suggestions of nepotism his well-connected family have made unavoidable, across the three novels published since he was 17 - which was only in 2002 - Nick McDonnell has proved himself a writer of great style, vision and ability. His third book is his best yet and shows the exciting maturation of his talent. It traces parallel stories with many links between the two - somewhere in Africa, a satellite-guided missile has just wiped out a village of potential anti-government rebels, leaving a young CIA operative the only witness. Back in America, a Professor working at an Ivy League University finds her work - on the rebel leader - and its sources questioned. McDonnell draws the connections between these two worlds with the lightest touch in scenes depicting the CIA agent and his growing paranoia and awareness of the mysterious forces behind his orders. These scenes are reminiscent of Graham Greene and John LeCarre in their great sense of place and moral confusion. In one brilliantly depicted interlude, the agent is dispatched to a luxury, tiny resort on a tropical island for some R&R and debriefing. This is where he figures out what he has seen and what it means and we can see that his growth of a conscience may come to mean his death. The College scenes - a mix of student romance and academic politicking - read like they are based in a solid reality, like McDonnell has based them on his own experiences, and they positively hum with the complex set of social and hierarchical systems universities run upon. I can't wait for whatever he does next, and for the chance to watch a fascinating career unfold.

Legend of a Suicide by David Vann
Not quite a short story collection but not quite a novel, either, Vann's book turns upon the event which changed his life - his father's suicide when he was a boy. And so he revisits this event, and the events leading up to it, and its consequences, over and over, in a set of tales about family and boyhood, divorce and adult unhappiness, and what forms character. The central piece follows a boy and his father as they go to live on a remote Island in a Cabin together for a year. The father has a slow, agonising breakdown and the boy witnesses it all before one horrible event turns the narrative upside down. In the final story an adult narrator returns to the town where he grew up, searching for memories and explanations of his father's actions.
Vann has a lovely, effortlessly elegant prose style - evident to anybody who has ever read any of his magazine feature work - in which no sentence is too long and each word seems to possess just the right weight in the grander scheme. His characters are well-observed, flawed and painfully aware of it, and his portrayal of Alaska - perhaps the third character in this book - is evocative and exciting, a true wild frontier with it's own tough side which wears down the father and his efforts to make a living in the great outdoors.

Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke
I read this in about 20 minutes, flying through it, then when it was finished I went back and appreciated Cooke's command of the comics medium, his storytelling skill, the sheer beauty of some of his panels, by reading it again, slowly this time, drinking it in. A faithful adaptation of one of Richard Stark's great pulp anti-hero's adventures, Cooke works in a lovely monochrome noir style, and his art is messier and more fluid than it has been on his big DC projects in the past. His script plays perfectly with that art, forming a near flawless reading experience for this type of material - stylish, exciting, witty and self-aware. The majority of the opening chapter is utterly wordless, placing much weight on Cooke's purely visual storytelling. His craft and flow carries that like it was nothing. Stark's books have the nastiness of the best pulp, as does his protagonist, and Cooke captures that quality both in his characterisation and his violent, slashy art. It made me want to read some of the original novels. More than that, it made me want to see Cooke adapt them.

Black Postcards by Dean Wareham
Wareham was the singer and chief songwriter in the influential, semi-legendary and awesome band Galaxie 500, and when he left, he went on to form the just-slightly less awesome but massively underrated Luna. These days he spends his time playing Lee Hazlewood to wife Britta Phillips' Nancy in Dean & Britta, and writing this fascinating, often hilarious memoir of the reality of life in a second tier alternative band in the 1990s. Alongside the vivid descriptions of gigs in seedy clubs in cities you've never heard of and the accounts of writing and recording various songs and the bleak little vignettes of isolation and boredom in sundry anonymous hotel rooms all over the world, Wareham pulls no punches in articulating his own flaws: his infidelities on the road, his pettiness and irritation with bandmates, the affair with Phillips that led to his divorce. But he is always likeable. Witty, self-deprecating and appealingly honest, his voice here makes the book an easy read and encouraged me to listen to nothing but his music for the few days it took to read the book.

The Way Home by George Pelecanos
If any book will ever finally send Pelecanos over into mainstream success, than this is it. He's been angling for that for a few years - ever since Drama City (2005), his first novel since Shoedog (1994) that wasn't part of a series. The Night Gardener (2006) and The Turnaround (2008) are both standalone stories without the Western, music and movie references of his earlier, more violent work. I loved those early books, back when Pelecanos felt like my writer, when nobody liked him and his books weren't reviewed in the broadsheets. But he deserves to be read by a huge audience, because he writes novels with indelible characters and great stories, full of atmosphere and exciting incident, and with funny, authentic-sounding dialogue, and thematic consistency and a righteous social anger. If his colleagues on the writing staff of The Wire; Richard Price and Denis Lehane, write bestsellers and have their books turned into big Hollywood movies, then Pelecanos should too. The Way Home is perhaps his most accessible novel yet, but he has not compromised on the quality of his writing. Washington D.C. is as strong a presence in this book as it has been in all his work, and his characters are just as angry and complex. The story follows a young juvenile delinquent through early incarceration and a subsequent attempt to go straight, which is tested by his discovery of a large bag of cash in a house he is working on. His relationship with his father is precisely dissected, as is the American juvenile detention system, and Pelecanos astutely probes at the forces driving young men toward crime. Also last year Pelecanos wrote the introduction to the NYRB reissue of Don Carpenter's brilliant and hitherto neglected (though not by me) Hard Rain Falling (1966), and I can see the influence of that novel in Pelecanos' book. The cool, dispassionate account of a young man's trials in prison echo Carpenter's lack of judgement, as does the understanding the author extends to his character's shaky efforts to remain clean on the outside. Pelecanos' clean, plain prose is not too far from Carpenter's style, either. The Way Home probably isn't Pelecanos' greatest novel - I would recommend Right As Rain (2001) or King Suckerman (1997) as better starting-points - but its still a great read, something Pelecanos unfailingly provides.

And just a few of the many older books I read last year:

We Don't Live Here Anymore: the Novellas by Andre Dubus
I'd read some Dubus before, in the form of his Selected Stories, which I'd dipped into but no more. But I had seen John Curran's terrific We Don't Live Here Anymore (2004), (which narrowly missed out on my Best of the Decade list), adapted by Larry Gross from a couple of Dubus' works (Adultery and We Don't Live Here Aymore). This book was utterly revelatory. Not that Dubus could write - I knew that from the stories I've read, where his prose had that very America ease and elegance. But that his vision was so acute, his ability to nail his characters to the page so faultless. Each of these novellas studies relationships between men and women in absolutely pitiless, unblinking detail. Dubus captures the way people think, the way they lie to themselves and others, and brilliantly; the way they talk. In the title novella, two couples dance around one another, two of them engaged in an affair that will ultimately damage all of them. In another, a young man disguises his obsessive stalking of his ex-wife even from himself, eventually forcing her into desperate action. Dubus charts it all so precisely - love scenes, arguments, internal monolgues...These stories are, variously, moving, painful, and funny. Dubus was a great writer, and he is absolutely ripe for a proper rediscovery of his talent and achievement.

Escape from Five Shadows by Elmore Leonard
I love Leonard's Westerns far more than I do his crime writing. Back when he wrote Westerns, he hadn't yet fallen quite so much in love with dialogue and those books are full of sparse descriptive passages that evoke his classical settings concisely but artfully. One thing that has never changed is his way with characters. He writes great villains - human, complex, with believable motivations and reasons, yet completely and utterly unsympathetic people who a reader wants desperately to see fail. His heroes are of a type - tough, honest, fearless and resourceful men. In other words, his westerns are formulaic in so many respects. And yet, Leonard somehow transcends his formula. His storytelling is great, his plotting like clockwork, and so books like this - to be honest, second rate as Leonard Westerns go - are still gripping, compulsive reading. The plot involves a man sent to a famously hard, impossible-to-escape Desert Prison and his attempts to, you guessed it, escape. And Leonard's account of his attempt is cool and laconic, with a cracking impact to each action scene and a seamlessly integrated love story.
If you want a really top-class Leonard Western, read Hombre or Valdez Is Coming. But I've read those books and I'm running out of other Westerns by Leonard, so I'm trying to ration myself to one a year. Its hard. If only he'd agree to write a few more...

Butchers Crossing by John Williams
My biggest discovery this year came courtesy of the incredible NYRB press. I'd never even heard of John WIlliams before I saw one of his books in a lovely NYRB cover in a bookshop. Reading the back, I discovered he was an American writer with some bold claims made for him. That book was called Stoner, and I bought it. Its a 1965 account of the uneventful life of an English Professor at a Midwestern University - his marriage, rivalries and disappointments. It is masterfully written, almost perfect in the cold poetry of Williams sentences, full of melancholy, and finally of a quite profound sense of the sum of a normal, unexciting, slightly drab life. That book inevitably led me to Butchers Crossing (1960), which is a Western. It follows a young Harvard Student near the turn of the last Century but one as he gives up his studies and travels to the Frontier in order to experience it before it disappears. He funds an expedition to hunt buffalo and he and his comrades spend a Winter in the mountains. When they return to the town of the title, they find that their world has changed utterly. Something of a boys own adventure, Williams' book is also a subtle deconstruction of the myth of the West and the Westerner, has almost an almost ecological agenda, and is a beautiful account of the natural world. I love literary Westerns, and this is one of the best I've ever read. I should thank the NYRB, I suppose, and hope that they get around to publishing Williams' last novel, the National Book Award-winning Augustus (1973), soon.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vintage Trailer of the Week 44

Banned in the UK because of its subject matter, Monte Hellman's adaptation of Charles Willeford's novel is one of the best American films of the greatest decade for American cinema, the 1970s. A beautiful, existential portrait of a troubled man, it benefits from a terrific Willeford script, Hellman's assured direction, and Warren Oates' towering performance in the lead. Hellman and Oates were both on fire in the 70s, so this one just couldn't miss:


Monday, January 18, 2010

My Booky Wooks 2009 (Part 1)

Like I wrote in my introduction to the equivalent post last year, I read a wide range of material. Mostly I read older books, but I do read newly published books too, if they interest me enough. In 2009, quite a few did. So, here are some relatively contemporary novels I read this past year, and why you should read them too. Or not, as the case may be:

2666 by Roberto Bolano
Full disclosure: I haven't finished Bolano's final novel. Its a mammoth book, and one to luxuriate in, and I'm reading it just the same way I read The Savage Detectives - in stages. Since the novel is split into 5 distinct parts, I have been reading them as separate books, with breaks and other reading in between. I only have the final book left to go, where Bolano apparently ties it all up, but I'm already awed by his achievement. This book contains multitudes, the writing is inspired, and Book 4, in particular, called "The Part about the Crimes" is one of the most sustained high-wire literary acts I've ever read. Here Bolano unblinkingly details the emergence of a serial killer (or killers) in his fictional Mexican border town of Santa Teresa (inspired by real events in Ciudad Juarez) and describes the discovery and remains of dozens of his mainly uneducated women victims. It is grim, monumentally powerful stuff, and hard to describe - you just have to read it. But its not an easy book - so surreal and personal and dark that it is often tedious and difficult, you have to commit to it to appreciate its greatness, to juggle its many aspects, its hints and suggestions in your mind. Bolano wrote it with the knowledge of his own imminent death in mind, and that much is obvious in the text. But its never a depressing read, really. Horrific in places yes, but Bolano is too interested and curious about life and its energy for that not to communicate itself through his writing, and his book is instead electric.

Jeff in Venice, Death In Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
Dyer seems incapable of writing a conventionally fictional novel. Each of his books mixes essay with autobiography with travelogue with fiction, and this is no different. Split into two sections, the book firstly follows an Arts journalist to a blazingly hot Venice for the Biennale, where he meets a young American woman and they enjoy a brief but intense affair. The second part follows another man - he may be the same character, but it is never made clear - to Varanasi in India where he hangs around for weeks, not doing very much at all. So: the first book chronicles a man's hedonism and pursuit of his desires, while the second reveals a sort of slow death of the self, as all his wants and desires fall away in the heat an inertia of a place where people go to die. As ever with Dyer, the writing is brilliant - witty, transportive and with an understanding of tone denied to all but a few novelists. He is a great observer, casually mining interactions for comedy and awkwardness while also maintaining the ability to suggest a certain profundity in his work. In other words, while he can make you laugh with a riff about the fecal matter in the air being responsible for his stomach problems in Varanasi, he does it while ruminating on the ties - cultural, personal, social - that bind our senses of self to us and what it might take to loosen them.

As The Great World Turns by Colum McCann
What is it with Irishmen writing great New York novels? Last year we had Joseph O'Neil's Netherland, and this year Colum McCann has a go, setting his story of interlinking lives in New York on the day of Phillipe Petit's wire-walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre during the 1970s. That act forms a poetic link - a barely glimpsed backdrop which surfaces at a few crucial junctures of the novel, which is otherwise concerned with the lives of an Irish Missionary Priest in the projects, of an aging and imprisoned hooker, of an artist involved in a car accident, of a Mother mourning a son lost to Vietnam, and of a photographer obsessed with the City's graffiti, among others. The only other McCann I have read is his debut, and while it was beautifully written, the sense persisted that it was teh work of an author yet to fully find his own voice. That sense is long gone, it seems. McCann's writing is rapturous, beautifully stylish and compelling, and the book just flows across the pages on its river of voices. The way it all ties in with Petit's walk - and by extension, with the future fate of the Twin Towers - is marvellously, subtly conveyed in a warm and moving final chapter set in the present day. A lovely book, deserving of all its praise and awards.

The Other by David Guterson
Guterson takes a quantum step forward with this novel. His most famous book, Snow Falling On Cedars, is a literary thriller, original, atmospheric, haunting and never less than gripping, and he followed it with East of the Mountains, a more meditative and difficult novel about faith and mortality and then Our Lady of the Forest, an even darker book, concerned with the effects of a series of divine apparitions upon a small community. The Other tells the tale of two young men, friends from their mid-teens, and the separate paths they take into adulthood. The narrator, Neil, falls in love, marries and becomes a teacher in Seattle, content and contemplative. His friend John William, the heir to a fortune, drops out of society and ventures into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest in order to live as a hermit, with only Neil aware of his secret. The story is told in long tangents, Neil's life and daily existence mixed with episodes of his experiences with John William and his investigations into John William's past. He seeks to understand what drives his friend but is always loyal to him, even when baffled and frustrated by his behaviour. As such, Guterson's book is a fine portrait of intense male friendship, its beats and tensions, its strengths and flaws. It is also a superbly textured novel of life in one corner of North America, presenting a vivid view of Seattle and its mountainous environs through Neil's appreciation of it. Neil's voice is a lovely one - gentle, wise and reflective, and it is the novels greatest virtue. The eventual 'explanation' for John William's self-destructive life is perhaps it's weakest point, but Guterson never belabors this point, and you can choose to ignore it and focus on the more ambiguous notes of that characterisation if you wish. Either way, its a great novel, Guterson's finest yet, and highly recommended.

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson
I love when an established literary novelist kicks back and indulges himself with some genre-play. Here, Johnson, one of America's finest living writers, who won the National Book Award for his last novel, the Vietnam Epic Tree of Smoke (which waits for me on a shelf) writes a cool, clean piece of pure pulp, and he does it beautifully. Serialised in Playboy, and written in four parts to a monthly deadline, this tale of a loser on the run in Southern California, the femme fatale he meets, a large sum of money driving it all, and the assorted bad men after them maintains a sensational pace from start to finish. Its also full of witty dialogue, interesting characters, great writing - Johnson's control of atmsphere and setting is just as precise as ever - and a couple of impressive action scenes. Johnson is capable of so much more, but this might be the most fun I've ever had reading a book by him, and fun is never to be sniffed at.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
A collection of fabulous short stories which are written as all great short stories must be - with an exactitude and feel which leaves no room for error. Towers' stories all have a beginning, middle and end, and he deals less in stylish "slice of life" stories than many of his peers. Instead he tells the story of a Viking raid in modern idiom, and makes it moving and funny and horrifying and even very relevant. He drags us through the hilarious, excrutiating trip made by a man, his daughter and his ex-Wife's new Boyfriend together in a car riven by tension and unspoken animus. He lets us into the life of a man unmoored by his father's death and doing some work for an uncle he barely knows while becoming obsessed with his strange new neighbours and their tropical fish. Tower has a particular gift for the undercurrents between people - dislike, attraction, silent grudges, any sort of agenda. But he can also paint a scene with a few lovely sentences and he draws his characters with a telling concision. In short, this is a great collection, and if you don't usually read short stories, I would recommend this book anyway. And anything else Tower might write in the future.

American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio
Mercurio created Bodies for the BBC based upon his debut novel, and the series recently placed in the Guardian's list of the 50 Best TV Drama Ever. But Mercurio has greatly developed as a novelist since then. Ascent, his 2007 character study of the life of a Russian cosmonaut, was a poetic, meditative, brilliantly-modulated novel with a big James Salter influence. American Adulterer is a study of the presidency of John F Kennedy told from a personal perspective. The politics are secondary as Mercurio focuses on JFK's relationship with his wife and children and with the many women he slept with during those years. Some attempt is made to explain the President's compulsive behaviour - he gets headaches when he abstains, as he is reported to have told Harold MacMillan, and he is obsessed with how people see him and is conspicuously comfortable with women in a way his alpha male competitiveness won't allow him to be with men - and this is probably the novel's weakest element. But the way Mercurio balances Kennedy's stress about Cuba and Marilyn Monroe and his relationship with Jackie with his many health problems and the weight of his past is always impressive, and his prose, while not quite as cut-glass perfect as in Ascent, is still stylish and clear.

Beatles by Lars Saabye Christensen
This is the biggest -selling Norwegian novel of all time. And if that's not recommendation enough...
First published in Norway in 1984, it is only Christensen's recent raised status as an Internationally successful novelist that gave rise to a UK release for this novel in 2009. It follows four young middle-class Norwegian boys through the 60s and early 70s as they leave School and begin real lives against the turbulence of the cultural changes and political strife of that era. All the way through as they change and grow apart and fall in love and become politically aware and endure mental illness and family problems, their experiences are soundtracked by the music of the band around which the first bonded; the Beatles.
If it sounds generic and over-familiar, well it is, somewhat. But Christensen is such a wise, observant writer, his characters so warm and likeable, his storytelling so effortless, that it is never less than utterly engrossing. It feels universal - I grew up in Dublin in the 80s and 90s and yet I recognised so many of the experiences and people encountered by the characters, and they were so well-rendered, so understood by the author, that I could not help but feel moved. The specific cultural, social and political references just make it feel more authentic, more of a slice of the writer's life. Despite its bagginess and its rambling pace - for life is a baggy, rambling beast, I suspect Christensen believes, life does not do well-ordered narratives - it gripped me like a good thriller and I cared for these people and believed in them more than I do most fictional characters, which is obviously where that powerful emotional charge comes from. That and the sense of melancholy that early on settles over the novel like an Oslo fog, consisting of the sadness of lost youth, decayed friendships and dreams that never quite came true. There is apparently a sequel, as yet untranslated. Yes please.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

David Simon Returns

Alongside Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, George Pelecanos and Blake Lyeh. With a few interesting newcomers too.
Premieres in the US in April. In the UK...? Not soon enough.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2000 - 2010: Playlist

So, some songs I've loved over the last decade, some links to Youtube videos for those songs, and some words on why I love those songs. This list contains nothing I've written about previously on this blog. So, none of the songs from my lists over the last two years. I know this means that many fine songs I love very much aren't here, but I have my reasons. Don't want to repeat myself anymore than I already do, you see....
Enjoy, if you are so inclined:

Elbow - Station Approach
The perfect opening statement for Leaders of the Free World (2005) in the way it builds and builds, layering instruments as it goes. Beautifully, the train journey suggested by the title is subtly echoed by the chugging rhythm, trees and houses clipping by windows. And the lyrics have a rare universality: this is a song about the joy of homecoming, and Guy Garvey's emotional croon sings of the romanticism of anticipation, the knowledge that loved ones and familiarity await your arrival : "Coming home I feel like I/Designed these buildings I walk by/You know you drive me up the wall/I need to see your face thats all/You little sod I love your eyes/Be everything to me tonight". When the song finally explodes in a pounding bass drum beat, it is with the euphoria of reunion. Elbow at their considerable best.

Johnny Boy - Johnny Boy Theme
It starts with a quote from Scorsese's Mean Streets ("You don't make up for you sins in church. You do it in the streets. The rest is bullshit and you know it.") and then turns into a dense, repetitive, sample-heavy pop song with male and female vocal parts alternating over an almost Spector-esque backing track of huge drum sounds and disembodied voices. Johnny Boy followed it with the equally brilliant and more accomplished "You Are the Generation Who Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" before their album disappointed then disappeared. A shame, but what a couple of immortal singles they managed to sneak out before being swallowed by the Music industry.

The Rapture - House of Jealous Lovers
The most obviously canonical song here, but I can't help it, I loved it on first listen, and I love it now, because it is absolutely fucking awesome. For that cowbell, for the cutting, snide guitar, for the elastic bass powering it along, for the vocal riding the wave, for the way it rocks and makes you want to dance like nothing since the Sonics, for the breakdown when the guitar drops out and then they actually do a countdown to the climax. For all that it deserves another cry of Fucking Awesome. Really.

Outkast - The Rooster
What a surprise to me - rockist through and through - to find myself loving a track from Big Boi's Speakerboxx (2003) over anything from Andre's The Love Below (2003). But this is hilarious and funkier than anything on Andre's record (that great horn refrain!) with about four different hooks and a lyric detailing marital difficulties and family separation, Big Boi-style ("The cat got sold, the dog got old, the food got cold"), It should have been Number One for as long as "Hey Ya"...

The Avett Brothers - If Its the Beaches
"If it's the beaches
If it's the beaches' sands you want
Then you will have them
If it's the mountains' bending rivers
Then you will have them
If it's the wish to run away
Then I will grant it
Take whatever you think of
While I go gas up the truck
Pack the old love letters up
We will read them when we forget why we left here."
Just lovely. Fleet Foxes should listen to this and weep bitter salty tears. That first piano chord after two minutes of guitar and fiddle and banjo is devastating.

Stereolab - Captain Easychord
Stereolab's time had passed by the year 2000. They were a 90s band, doomed never to really make it big. But they released three albums in this decade, two of which (Sound-Dust (2001) and Chemical Chords (2008)) rank alongside their finest work. This song is perhaps the key song on Sound-Dust, and its really two songs fused together in the middle. The first is a funky little keyboard and horn-based shuffle with what sounds like Mazzy Star slide guitar reveries as choruses, the second an equally funky bubble of warm pop and a backing vocal that goes "Ba-Ba-Badda-Ba-Ba". Its a great example of what made Sterolab special - nobody else ever sounded quite like them, altough they sounded a little bit like lots of other interesting people. Jim O' Rourke produced , which basically guarantees quality. Whats she singing about? I can never tell. But it always sounds great.

Guillemots - Made Up Love Song No.43
Such a strange and magical love song, with its fluid structure, its exhilarating arrangement, its earnest vocal and that ardent, boyish lyric: "I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do/Now there's majesty, in a burnt out caravan/You got me off the paper round, just sprang out of the air/The best things come from nowhere/I love you, I don't think you care."
I love how it starts off with what sounds like a sample from the Star Wars theme and the way it just runs out of steam like a wind-up toy and the way the backing vocals end by repeating "Yes I believe you" over and over as if in some effort at hypnotism. It does sound entirely improvised, explaining the title, but what an improvisation. It also sounds hopelessly in love, which many love songs don't.

Rhianna - Word Love
No, not Rihanna. Rhianna is from Leeds and she released one album, Get On, in 2002. The first single "Oh Baby" was a hit, but this follow-up; not so much. She's part of a band (Fleurona) now. No matter, this song recalls the kind of stuff Minnie Ripperton did with the Rotary Connection back in the day, with its sinuous rhythm part, wah-wah guitar solo and that cosmic echo on her fantastic vocal. Why wasn't it a hit? Why? Why? In a world of Pop Idol, why? If I ever get to DJ in a club, I will play it. And they will dance. Oh yes.

Brendan Benson - Metarie
The best thing Benson ever wrote, a pitch-perfect piece of power pop with clever, witty lyrics (" Met a girl, introduced myself/I asked her to go with me and no one else/She said: I'd really like to see you everyday/But I'm afraid of what my friends might say") and a triumphantly McCartneyesque quality in its purity of melody and simplicity of construction. It rises to a crunchy muscular chorus, then falls for some sighing verses. He re-recorded it for the single version but the original, on the album Lapalco (2003) is the best version.

Mercury Rev - In A Funny Way
Phil Spector beat, gossamer guitar. The first line is "On a Summer Day", almost whispered. Strings.
Then it takes off. Images of nature and travel, nostalgic lines. A band playing hard to make a song sound light and almost weightless. The vocal acrobatics of the middle eight instead of a guitar solo. Blissful.

Alice Smith - Dream
What a voice she has. Smooth and powerful and effortlessly gliding over octaves, she makes singing this song sound stupidly easy. But this starts with just a piano, bass, high hat and her soft, sensual voice, then builds and shifts as horns and strings and guitars float in and out, and seeming choirs of backing singers try to compete and it ends up sounding like something off Broadway. But she holds it together and at the end when she gets to unleash some power after teasing for a few lines, its a goosebumps moment. I first heard this over the closing credits of an episode of Entourage, of all places, and within 30 seconds I knew I had to have it. Its criminal she isn't a Superstar.

The Black Keys - Til I Get My Way
This perpetually underrated duo can really rock when they want to, and this knocks spots off anything the White Stripes did this decade. Starting with a squall of dirty feedback it is built around a fuzzy riff and bluesy vocal - as most of their songs are - but here the melody is compulsive and the rhythm just drives the song onward, reflecting the frustrated desire and determination of the lyric. They eventually resorted to hiring Dangermouse as a producer in an attempt to cross over and lost something of their danger and energy in the process. But their first few records have an honesty and rawness which is really appealing.

The Bees - Left Foot Stepdown
They come from the Isle of Wight and in America they're called "A Band of Bees", unfortunately. And they've released three albums of superior dadrock this decade. Superior because their influences are obviously far more eclectic than most of their peers - they inject small doses of rock, country, music hall, reggae, funk, mariachi, chill out, glam and folk into their music, and they write ace songs. I've definitely missed out a genre or two there, by the way. They're like Supergrass crossed with the Beta Band. This song - off their best record, Octopus (2007) combines a ska off-beat, swirling psychedlic hammond organ, Tennesse-sounding horns, CSN&Y harmonies and a simple little tune to fine effect.

Jamie T -Calm Down Dearest
Beyond his annoying schtick at the time of this record's release, Jamie T. came up with a couple of great songs. Here, the often baffling verses with their thickly accented street slang and personal references give way to a lovely, soulfully consoling chorus over a simple backing track.

Mull Historical Society - Barcode Bypass
An elegiac epic about (I think) the effect upon the elderly of the demise of local communities forced by globalisation and modern Supermarkets, Colin MacIntyre's beautiful song centres around his falsetto chorus and a chiming keyboard figure like something from a nursery rhyme. That is before it powers up around the five minute mark and offers a darker coda, all ominous wordless vocals, melancholic melodies and crashing cymbals.

My Morning Jacket - Where to Begin
I knew I had to include My Morning Jacket, one of my favourite bands, in this playlist somewhere. And when I listened to some of their stuff, it was this cut, from the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's awful Elizabethtown, that really struck me. That singular slide guitar sound, absolutely haunting the song. Jim James' keening yet delicate, and perfect vocal. The band performance, so subtle and sympathetic. That middle eight of purest prettiness: "How can I await the day?/And last the night I'm here to see?/How do I await the mother lode?/It's the art of feeling naked in your clothes." The lyric about self-discovery, persistence, the joys and troubles of life: what more is there to say?

Desert Sessions - Crawl Home
The kind of dirty, bass-rich riff Josh Homme specialises in, with PJ Harvey hollering over the top? If you've read my albums List you know that this combination ticks a few of my boxes straightaway. Homme's frantic high-pitched voice on the chorus doesn't hurt either. The end, when Harvey lets loose a series of orgasmic howls, seals the deal. This is fabulous.

Common - Come Close
So, yeah, I'm not a big hip hop fan, as this list makes quite evident. But I do like some stuff. I only became interested in Common because he used Laetitia Sadlier from Stereolab as a guest vocalist on Electric Circus (2002), the album from which this track originates. Its a fascinating, flawed record - very eclectic, and psychedelic in an awkward, contrived way. But it contains a few stunning songs, of which this utterly beguiling love letter is the best. A simple handclaps, drums, bass and organ backing track is beefed up by the mighty Mary J. Blige singing each chorus. Common's verses are unashamedly romantic: "I wanna build a tribe with you/ Protect and provide for you/Truth is, I can't hide from you/ The pimp in me, may have to die with you" and his flow is Luther Vandross-smooth. Or as he puts it over the stuttering intro: "Its just a fly love song."

Super Furry Animals - Juxtaposed With U
SFA do a sort of Philly-soul pastiche with a vocoder on the verses and some ridiculously lush strings, and they make it work. More than that, its probably their best single, aside from "The Man Don't Give a Fuck". It has lyrics dealing with social injustice, changing methods of communication, and was originally conceived as a duet with Brian Harvey or Bobby Brown in the vein of "Ebony & Ivory". Its meant as a plea for tolerance: "You've got to tolerate all those people that you hate/I'm not in love with you but I won't hold that against you" runs the chorus. I love them for their crazy ambition and their ability to pull it all off.

Gemma Hayes - Back On My Hand
Her best pop song, from her first, Mercury Prize nominated album, has a windswept, desolate feel. She sounds on the edge of tears throughout, especially on lines like : "Well we never really said goodbye/Kinda left it in the air/And as the train pulled off I knew you loved her more," and the lyric is a hopeless, brave farewell to a departed lover, backed by a sad guitar melody, some ambient feedback rising through the mix, and quite a tough band performance.

Wilco - Spiders (Kidsmoke)
I love Wilco. They're one of my favourite bands still working, and I loved each of the three albums (plus one live album) they released this decade. But I didn't love any of them enough to include it on my albums list, even the much praised Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. For me their best records remain the one-two punch of Being There and Summerteeth in the late 90s, when they found high gear and joined a classic rock pantheon. Everything since then has been great, but not quite as great. But their albums each contain at least 5 absolute corkers. This is the corker-in-chief on A Ghost Is Born. That obvious motorik Krautrock beat that clicks away throughout anchors the whole song - all Tweedy's surreal cut-up poetry, all the meandering guitar lines, and then gives way to that almighty guitar breakdown that stands in place of a chorus, and raises the whole thing to the sky, triumphantly, propulsively, euphorically. I want to live in that moment.

Tindersticks - People Keep Comin Around
I like that Tindersticks got a little funkier this decade. They branched out, doing more soundtracks, solo work etc, and they refined their trademark sound. But they also got a little more deep soul on us, without losing any of what made them so great in the first place. The way this starts - a surprised burst of horn which fades down until the lazy groove locks in - is brilliant, as is the decision to hold back Stuart Staples' distinctive croon until the second verse. It gives the whole song an air of improvised peril. Anything can happen here. Instruments wander in, backing vocals and call-and-response passages shimmer into life and die away, all of it against that groove and an infectious chorus. The jagged strings and the bursts of bluesey electric guitar are the cherry on top...

HAL - What a Lovely Dance
Remember the Thrills? No, I didn't think so. They had that one album with three hit singles, they seemed to be everywhere with their Eagles/Bacharach/Beach Boys karaoke stylings, but they screwed the pooch with their second record, and more or less buried it too with their third. Pop is fickle. By then, Hal had come along. Fellow South Dublin Posh-Boys with similar fixations on the more melodic side of 60s pop, they were instantly granted more cool and hipster cred by virtue of signing with Rough Trade. But crucially they wrote better songs than the Thrills, and sang and played them better too. Not that it helped them commercially - their eponymous record didn't match the instant success of the Thrills' debut. But this single is fantastic - a slightly countryish slice of honeyed MOR with honkytonk piano and hammond organ and what sounds like moog for the majority of the song, with the usual Hal harmonies and hooks ("Feels like I lost my gloves/And my hat has blown away"), before a bell (literally) rings and the coda is even better: heavenly backing vocals against a sort of piano-led jive. It is, in fact, a quite lovely dance.
They've basically disappeared since, presumably working on a second record.

Ryan Adams - English Girls Approximately
This was meant to be Ryan Adams' decade, wasn't it? He released Heartbreaker in 2000 (I only realised that after looking it up, otherwise it would certainly have been on my list of albums) and followed it with the sprawling plea for pantheon entry that was Gold (2001), with its echoes of the Stones and Springsteen and Dylan and all sorts of other people. And then he messed it up. He had disputes with his label, public tantrums, crazy onstage accidents, released sub-par albums, changed styles a few times (80s rock, alt-Country, quasi-bluegrass), retired, won and lost several famous girlfriends, published two volumes of poetry and generally sold his obvious and remarkable talent short. In all, he released 11 albums in the 00s, or 12 if you count the two volumes of Love Is Hell (2004) as separate records. Thats a hell of a lot of songs. And theres more - Adams has several records worth of unreleased demos and there are hundreds of bootlegs online of unreleased songs hes performed live. That he manages any quality control at all is miraculous. But he does to such an extent that not one of those many records is a complete disaster. Adams always sneaks in a few great songs, a folky ballad here, a U2-esque rocker there. If Heartbreaker remains his finest album, you could put togther four albums of equal quality from all the records hes released since, which is more than most artists have managed this decade.
This song is a beautiful mid-tempo account of losing an English girl (Beth Orton, in fact), with stately piano and beautifully crisp guitar and some of his best ever lyrics and Marianne Faithfull on backing vocals and a devastating climax as a guitar moans and Adams sings: "Kiss me on the lips when my heart just laughed it off/Words may move, but there never moving fast enough/Celebrate the differences, I celebrate the songs you sing/ Just three words, my love: you meant everything".
Maybe the teens will be Adams' decade...

Primal Scream - Kill All Hippies
Screamadelica (1991) seems like a long long time ago when you listen to the awesome Xtrmtr (2000), with its politics front-and-centre, its obvious anger replacing the hedonism of the earlier record, its aggressive production, its stylistic eclecticism even broader than the band had managed years before. This piece of sleazy funk features one of Mani's greatest bass parts, a falsetto Gillsepie vocal, lots of Kevin Shields-esque feedback, and samples from Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue (1980). Its better than anything on Screamadelica.

David Holmes - 69 Police
This absolutely lovely instrumental is the highlight of Holmes' uneven Bow Down to the Exit Sign (2000) but more famously used, perhaps, over the close of Oceans 11 (2001) where it proves both elegiac and feelgood. Its built around a sample from the Italian psychedelic band Le Orme (Holmes would further promote European psychedelic rock with his Oceans 12 soundtrack) and its got a sort of fairground warmth to it, an almost childish feeling of light and colour, while also bustling along to a tight, sweet little groove. Its a great way to end a movie or a playlist.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

No More Moral Tales, No More Proverbs

One particular idea of French Cinema owes a great deal to the sublime work of Eric Rohmer: the pretentious bourgeois drama, filled with beautiful women and endless talk. Only such a limiting description does not begin to do Rohmer justice, for here was one of Cinema's great humanists, one of Cinema's great writers of dialogue, and most importantly one of Cinema's most consistent and intelligent Directors.

His films are generally bourgeois dramas (altough there are some excellent period excursions in his oeuvre, too), but there is not an ounce of pretension to the films themselves. Rohmer tells simple stories centred resolutely around people, and he loves his people and feels endless curiosity about them. They might be pretentious, shallow, facile or selfish but Rohmer's investigations into them never are. Instead he is sympathetic, and often amused by them and their romantic entanglements, the way they justify themselves, their moral and philosophical struggles. All of this portrayed with perfect and unostentatious elegance; Rohmer's camera never intrusive as it observes his characters flirting and debating and consoling. And yet, like Ozu and Howard Hawks, even, his camera placement always feels just right - he puts it in the perfect place. His editing is equally faultless. All of this done on consistently modest budgets and never reaping any great popular success. Rohmer has been an inspiration to individual artistic filmmakers the world over because he showed a viable model. He made his deeply personal, totally distinctive films for five decades without ever selling his soul, without ever doing "one for them", to borrow Graham Greene's phrase.

He is also one of the great Feminists in modern Cinema. Considering that one of his key and repeated themes is the urge to wander felt by men in long-term relationships, Rohmer has created some stunningly well-rounded women in his work. His women are real people, with quirks, complexities and flaws - always individuals, always utterly believable. From Delphine in The Green Ray (1986) who refuses to allow her awkward habits and beliefs to halt her bid to end her solitude but also refuses to play by the conventional rules, to Laura, sister of the title character in Claire's Knee (1970), battered by her love for an older man yet articulate and funny and blazingly passionate about that love. Rohmer's men, meanwhile, are often deluded and self-serving, searching for easy ways out, for permission to cheat on their wives, for instance.

The best example of this in Rohmer's Cinema, and my favourite of his films, is Love In the Afternoon (1972). Perhaps Rohmer's funniest film, it is also moving and clear-eyed in its view of relationships as it tells the story of Frederic, a happily married young Executive who obsesses over his desire for other women until the reappearance of an old flame, the beautiful, slightly unbalanced Chloe, in his life gives him an opportunity to act upon his desire. Alongside the traditional pleasures associated with Rohmer - that great dialogue, fine performances - this is the Rohmer film to show to anyone who questions how "cinematic" his work is. The lovely cinematography is courtesy of the legendary Nestor Almendros, and this is a fine and fluid portrait of Paris and its vivacity, especially in its long passage of Frederic's wandering among the beautiful women he sees everywhere in the boulevards of the city.
He was, quite simply, irreplaceable. RIP.

ERIC ROHMER 1920 - 2010

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Some Albums of the 00s

I like lists. Not just writing them - thats just an excuse to mention as much stuff I love in one post as I can - but reading them. End of year lists are compulsive, whether you agree with their contents or not. End of Decade lists even more so. But all the music lists I read over the last few weeks I more or less hated. Such conformity, so little originality! Every list mentioning the same stuff, over and over - the Strokes, Radiohead, the White Stripes, Outkast, Kanye West, LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Wilco, Daft Punk, the Arctic Monkeys, Jay-Z, the Streets, etc etc blah blah blah. I understand that with cinema, where there is less material released, less stylistic variety, and a critical consensus is often quick to form. And I have almost all of these albums and like them all, I'm not saying they aren't good records. But music seems the most subjective of artforms, to me. I have friends who I more or less see eye-to-eye with about cinema and fiction, tv and comics. But music is always where there is a disconnect. All of my friends who are a few years younger than me have radically different taste to me. As it should be, I think. And they would probably be as horrified by the uniformity of the best album lists I'm talking about as I am.

Anyway, my list is personal. Its the albums I have loved, the ones that have stayed with me through this decade, the ones that have meant most and that I still listen to. Most of them got nowhere near the lists. So hopefully I can do some justice here. Here are ten records, in no order of preference:

Kings of Convenience - Riot on an Empty Street (2004)
Does anybody I know like Kings of Convenience? I bought their first album when it came out based on reviews, I think, and thought it rather average, with a few really good songs. But when I came to load up my iMac with songs with which to fill my very first iPod, I listened to a lot of my cds all the way through for the first time in ages. I had to pick and choose because that iPod had a limited capacity and only the finest albums went on complete. I was surprised by how many songs off that first album made the cut. Then came the (even better) second album. The third, released this year, is of the same high standard.
Something about that distinctive KoC mood is compulsive, addictive, even. Those sometime-whispered lyrics, the close, quiet harmonies, the perfect guitar sound, both melody and rhythm at once in chopped hard chords or finger-picked arpeggios, always acoustic, and the frequently inspired arrangements all combine to make some lovely, sensitively poetic music. Some of it sounds loungey, with touches of bossa nova here and there, and there are obvious alternative influences. But the real key is the songwriting - tuneful, melancholic and full of subtle beauty. The lyrics are generally mournful, articulate dissections of love and relationships, full of acute detail. I think these songs speak to the lovelorn, self-dramatizing teenager in me. "Know-How", from this album, featuring a breathtaking moment when the guest vocal from Feist kicks in about halfway through, is a great example of what they do and one of my favourite songs of the decade.

Pernice Brothers - Yours Mine & Ours (2003)
I love Joe Pernice as a songwriter. He writes beautiful pop songs and then arranges them as chiming guitar-rock jewels, full of hooks and thrilling, if never revolutionary, musical detail. He writes everyday poetry of failed love and struggling relationships, of nostalgic recollection and quiet passion, and has an ear for an arresting line, always refusing cliche ("I'm lonely as the Irish sea") but finding the right line to emotion. He coos these words over his own often lush melodies. He makes me love pop music. This album, his band's third, is full of great songs, the right words put together in surprising order, and often lovely arrangements. It breaks my heart that he has never received the acclaim he deserves. He should be at least as well-regarded and successful as Elliott Smith was and his band should be as big as the Shins. Songs like "Baby In Two", "Judy", "Number Two" ("Little power monger, sleep tonight/The city lights up like a dirty dime/I hope that this letter finds you crying/It would feel so good to see you cry") and "Sometimes I Remember" should be immortal. But they're not, unfortunately. Such is life and the music business.

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003)
I've written about this incredible record before. I think its the best thing Mark Kozelek has ever done, and it's probably my favourite album of the last decade. I never grow tired of it. I love its density and variety, from the fragile folk of "Floating" and "Glenn Tipton" to the riff-rock of "Salvador Sanchez" and "Lily and Parrots". I love Kozelek's defiantly personal, sometimes baffling lyrics, wrestling with time and loss and ageing and his pop culture obsessions (boxing and Judas Priest). I love the new dimensions to his musical palette - the mandolins and mariachi guitars and the strings. What remains, as always, are his songwriting and that deep soulful voice. He can write a devastating 14 minute psych-rock Epic like nobody else and make it sad and euphoric and lovely ("Duk Koo Kim"), but then many of his songs are sad and euphoric and lovely and this record is full of such little miracles.

Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (2000)
Their next record, Songs for the Deaf, was probably their most acclaimed of the decade, but this remains my favourite. And it was a decade owned in part by Josh Homme, who seemed to be everywhere, either with this band or in his Desert Sessions side-project or Them Crooked Vultures or the Eagles of Death Metal or producing for the Arctic Monkeys. It rocks, obviously, and Homme has a way of making his guitars sound that I love - they are loud and crunchy but also, crucially, fuzzy and occasionally mellow, snake-hipped and always bringing the funk. Lots of bass, little treble. This band is awesomely tight, too, storming through these songs so that the record feels shorter than its 42 minutes. There is wit - Feelgood Hit of the Summer and Quick and to the Pointless - and lots of nous with a pop tune, but Homme generally deals in a sort of bruised widescreen desert romanticism and an Epic groove rock, one step removed from his work with Kyuss, always borne upon those big guitars, and this album soars when it does what he does best, as in the awesome Better Living Through Chemistry.

The Avalanches - Since I Left You (2000)
This one made some lists, and well it might, containing as it does what I reckon is the greatest single of the decade - the purist aural sunshine of that title track. But the whole album bristles with wit and invention, and there is a hook - sampled from another song and looped, of course - along every ten seconds or so. Its also funny ("Frontier Psychiatrist") and exciting and hyperactive. If you heard it without any knowledge of the band whatsoever, you would know they were from somewhere sunny. Its just an optimistic record, a blissed out record. It sounds like it doesn't know Winter even exists. It is also fantastic from beginning to end.

Radiohead - Hail to the Thief (2003)
I know, I know - Kid A is more important, In Rainbows is poppier and more accessible, but I fell for Radiohead back when they were basically an Indie-Arena rock Band, and I like them best either with Guitars, Guitars, dammit, making a racket, or on those massive swooning string-based ballads Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood turn out every so often ("Harry Patch" or "Pyramid Song", say). Hail to the Thief is the last true Rock record they made, and probably, based on what they've said, the last they'll ever make. It was a struggle which nearly broke the band, and you can almost hear that in the music - its an angry, bitter record. But I love it's textures - from the fluffed moment of feedback that kicks off "2 + 2 = 5" ("Thats a good start, Jonny" says Yorke) through all the spiky arpeggios and ragged riffs of "Go To Sleep", and the epic conclusion of "There There" (these songs recall Pablo Honey and The Bends more than their later records) to the electro-queasiness of "Backdrifts" and "The Gloaming" and the lovely forlorn keening of "Sail to the Moon" and "I Will" to the jittery shufflings of "Myxamatosis" and "Wolf at the Door". My favourite though is the slow, piano-based groove of "Punchup at a Wedding" which goes nowhere rather beautifully.

Beck - Sea Change (2002)
I'd always liked Beck but never loved him until this record. His previous stuff - with the exception of some of the early country blues and one or two moments on Mutations ("Nobody's Fault But My Own" in particular) - had been funny and inventive and clever, but it always left me a little cold. No emotion or feeling in it, and just the suggestion that beneath all those brains there was nothing at all to say. But then his longtime, live-in girlfriend dumped him for somebody else, and suddenly Beck had something to say, and more importantly some pain to impart.
Sea Change may just be the greatest break-up record of the decade. It cribs arrangements and even hints of melody from Serge Gainsbourg and Nick Drake, but Beck uses what he steals just beautifully with a series of tremendous songs of heartbreak and emotional desolation with very telling titles: "Lost Cause", "End of the Day", "Already Dead" and "Guess I'm Doing Fine". His voice seems altered by grief and the instrumentation is often lush and even overwrought, but it all adds up to a rare emotional intensity: he means it, maan. That girl really screwed our boy up. This record makes that experience seem worthwhile, for listeners at least. "Lonesome Tears" is, for me, its mesmeric highlight.

Elliott Smith - Figure 8 (2000)
It's a slight step down from Smith's two preceding records, Either/Or (1997) and XO (1998), but that just means that instead of being breathtakingly incredible, its just amazingly brilliant. And it is - a great demonstration of the breadth of his talent as a songwriter, arranger, musician and singer. It contains a smattering of Beatlesque pop-rock songs ("Son of Sam", "Pretty Mary K", "LA") and a couple of folky numbers as good as any he wrote ("I Better Be Quiet Now", "Everything Reminds Me of Her") plus some songs which suggested he might be moving off in other directions ("Stupidity Tries", "Everything Means Nothing To Me"). As ever with his records, its the unusual, nagging, melancholic melodies and the layered, inventive production which really impresses. Topped off with Smith's dense, often dark, sometimes embittered lyrics. The record released after his death isn't a patch on it, and I saw him when he toured it. He was awesome that night, but then, he was just awesome.

PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
Winning the Mercury Music prize seemed to seal this record's fate, critically-speaking, at least. It is Harvey's most commercially successful album, and for me its easily her best - a classic rock record full of big, bold songs and anthemic arrangements, singalong choruses and streamlined guitars. Its the most accessible, mainstream record of her career, and that has obviously led to some sort of snobbish re-evaluation of its merits in the decade since its release. But no such re-evaluation is needed - its a great album, made all the greater by the sense that it was written by a woman clearly falling in love. So many of her songs - often glum and dark - are here rocket-fuelled by a passion for a man, and an interlinked passion for New York City. She embraces her populist side, something she hasn't done since, and reveals an ability to write pop songs. Hard to pick a favourite track, though the nicely-judged duet with Thom Yorke ("This Mess We're In") is just shaded by "We Float", "This Is Love" and "Good Fortune."

Explosions In the Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003)
Post Rock is a pretty meaningless label, especially when its applied to music as beautiful as this. Explosions In the Sky- which may be the greatest name any band has ever had, since it usefully describes their sound - craft immense, crystalline, thunderous mega-symphonies in which the dominate sound is that of electric guitars. Their songs build to emotionally charged climaxes that generally make Mogwai seem restrained. They have been put to great use in Friday Night Lights - both film and TV series - but are best experienced loud, over big speakers.
This album is just about perfect, composed of five long songs (the shortest, the awesome, epic "Your Hand In Mine" runs 8:17) which flow together to make for one long tremendously moving experience.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Some Films From That 00s Decade

First, a Top 10:
1. The New World
2. Miami Vice
3. Before Sunset
4. In the Mood For Love
5. Yi Yi
6. Zodiac
7. There Will Be Blood
8. The Incredibles
9. Three Times
10. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

That was painfully whittled down from the 45 - yes, 45 - films below. It would probably be different if I whittled again tomorrow, though the top 5 are pretty unshakeable. I know I must have forgotten things but these are all movies I've loved or movies which have moved me, which is obviously what everybody sane looks for in a film. Some I saw and liked but over time they improved as they lived on inside my head. Some I loved on a second viewing after only liking them the first time.
The list:

Adam & Paul (Leonard Abrahamson, 2004)

"And to be lucky."

AI: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)

"I love you, Mommy. I hope you never die. Never."

Ali (Michael Mann, 2001)

"Is that all you got?"

All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green, 2003)

"I'll miss your face."

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)

"He considered himself a Southern loyalist and guerrilla in a Civil War that never ended."

The Aura (Fabian Bielinsky, 2005)

"Everything tightens up, gets narrower, and you surrender yourself."

The Beat that My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard, 2005)

“It’s not about making money. It’s about art.”

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)

"I feel like if someone were to touch me, I'd dissolve into molecules."

Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)

"I never really liked Sean"

The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, 2002)

"Look at what they make you give."

Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000)

"Wilson, I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Wilson!"

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

"I just don't think about it."

City of God (Fernando Mereilles & Katia Lund, 2002)

"Honesty doesn't pay, sucker."

City of Life & Death (Lu Chuan, 2009)

"We'll be fine. We work for the Germans."

The Consequences of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, 2004)

"That's true. I've never been very intelligent"

Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002)

"What did you see?"

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

"Hide me in your humiliation!"

Femme Fatale (Brian DePalma, 2002)

"I'm a bad girl, Nicholas."

Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming Liang, 2003)

"I haven't seen a movie in a long time."

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)

"If I'm gonna die, I want to die comfortable."

The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)

"No school like the old school."

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)

"I thought I was in control."

The Intruder (Clare Denis, 2004)

"Your worst enemies are hiding inside."

Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003)

"So now we know."

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)

"He fights like you, Jack."

Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)

"But him - I don't like how he looks."

The New World (Terence Malick, 2005)

"There is only this - all else is unreal."

Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2004)

"She's not coming home today."

The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003)

"Where did he come from?"

Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)

"I could tell you what's happening, but I don't know if it would really tell you what's happening."

Spartan (David Mamet, 2004)

"You need to set your motherfucker to "receive"."

The Squid & the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)

"Mom and me versus you and Dad."

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Park Chan Wook, 2002)

"You know why I have to kill you."

Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)

"I promise...I will never die."

Three Times (Hou Hsiao Hsien, 2005)

"No past, no present, only a hungry future."

Touching the Void (Kevin McDonald, 2003)

"I'm going to die to Boney M."

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

"One night, I'm gonna come to you, inside of your house, wherever you're sleeping, and I'm going to cut your throat."

United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)

"Open the cockpit and nobody will be hurt."

Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke, 2002)

"The Monkey King has it easy."

Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

"Time for lunch - in a cup!"

The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)

“I don’t know if the story I’m about to tell is entirely true.”

Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)

"I live a blank."

You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)

"I could use a tranquilizer."

Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)

"Hey Bullitt, it's been a year, you gonna catch this fucking guy or not?"

25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)

"Let an earthquake crumble it, let the fires rage, let it burn to fucking ash and then let the waters rise and submerge this whole rat-infested place."

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