Two new albums to set you fare for summer.

To Where The Wild Things Are.

To Where The Wild Things Are.

To Where The Wild Things Are is the sec­ond album from Death and Vanilla. The Swedish trio con­tinue where The White Stripes left off, apply­ing a rig­or­ous sonic aes­thetic with the kind of inten­sity that only youth can produce.

All the tracks were recorded gath­ered around a vin­tage mic found they claim in a flea mar­ket, and fash­ioned from the authen­ti­cally antique sounds pro­duced from a Moog syn­the­sizer, Mel­lotron, vibra­phone, organ, some sam­pled vin­tage vinyl and a harp­si­chord, into which an ethe­real female vocal is dis­solved. Think the Vel­vets recorded for 4AD in Berlin circa’77.

Death and Vanilla

Death and Vanilla

The result is a grungey vel­vety dreamy synth pop that sounds oh so 60s and yet unmis­tak­ably now. Broad­cast is the usual ref­er­ence point, but you could just as eas­ily point to Massey Star via Nancy Sina­tra. Just how vin­tage are they? They’ve even made one of those beguil­ingly eso­teric and enig­matic videos that only the really seri­ous and seri­ously indie bands used to make. It’s for the sin­gle and stand out track on the album, Cal­i­for­nia Owls. It shim­mers and you can see it here.

Kamasi Washington, The Epic.

Kamasi Wash­ing­ton, The Epic.

Kamasi Wash­ing­ton has spent as much time on the hip hop cir­cuit as he has the jazz, sup­port­ing the likes of Snoop, Lau­ryn Hill, Fly­ing Lotus and most famously, as one of the core musi­cians on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a But­ter­fly.

But you’re just as likely to have seen him in the com­pany of Her­bie Han­cock, Kenny Bur­rell and Wayne Shorter and his heart is clearly in the world of jazz.

So he took his core band into the stu­dio and together they laid down some 45 tracks. Even­tu­ally, they whit­tled these down to a pal­try 17, and the result­ing triple album, The Epic comes in at a brisk 3 hours.

Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane

You can’t really get away with that in pop or rock, but in jazz the extended time­frame gives that very par­tic­u­lar form of expres­sion the space it needs to breathe. Or at least it does when you’re as effort­lessly ver­sa­tile and a musi­cally edu­cated as Wash­ing­ton is.

It’s released on Flylo’s Brain­feeder records, which is very much as it should be as the for­mer is the nephew of Alice Coltrane, and more than any­one else it’s the light of John Coltrane that the album most impres­sively basks in.

Flying Lotus' You're dead!

Fly­ing Lotus’ You’re dead!

Not that this is any way a con­ven­tional throw­back to sounds of the past. Rather it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of clas­si­cal jazz in its many 21st cen­tury forms. There’s fusion obvi­ously, but also lounge, some strings, the occa­sional female vocal, and no end of out­ra­geously com­plex syn­co­pa­tion. Very much in other words the same musi­cal land­scape as Flylo, whose last two albums I reviewed here and here. Only instead of a sin­gle album in the vein of hip hop, it’s a tre­ble album of clas­si­cal jazz. And not a singe sec­ond of it is wasted.

The boys from Pitch­fork gave is a 8.6 here. And you can get a taster here.

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The Jinx”, unmissable and horribly addictive.

"The Jinx"

The Jinx”

First things first, there’ll not be any spoil­ers here what­so­ever. To deprive any­one of the con­stant stream of sur­prises and guilty plea­sures this six part doc­u­men­tary con­tin­u­ally serves up would be a ver­i­ta­ble crime.

If ever any­one asks you, what’s a cliff, all you need say is, episode 5, The Jinx. I had to forcibly refrain from watch­ing all six one after the other, and to some­how con­strain myself to but two episodes in a row, over three weekends.

I won’t talk about any of the actual story, apart from what is revealed in the open­ing 15 min­utes of the first episode.

There, we hear of a dis­mem­bered body that was dis­cov­ered off the coast of Texas, and how, almost within min­utes, one Robert Durst was arrested after he was stopped blithely dri­ving about town with a newly pur­chased hack saw on the back seat of the car. Not in the boot mark you. On the seat.

Capturing The Friedmans.

Cap­tur­ing the Friedmans.

Durst it tran­spires is the eldest son and heir of the Durst empire, one of the most pow­er­ful prop­erty dynas­ties in New York. One World Trade Cen­ter is one of numer­ous build­ings the fam­ily have on the island of Man­hat­tan. Nei­ther was he a stranger to con­tro­versy. His wife had mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared 18 years pre­vi­ously, and many of her fam­ily sus­pect his involvement.

When it got to trial, he explained that although he had indeed killed and chopped up his next door neigh­bour, he’d killed him acci­den­tally, in self-defence. And that he’d only chopped him up after­wards as, well, how else do you dis­pose of some­one you’ve acci­den­tally killed, and whose death you could eas­ily find your­self being wrongly blamed for?

The subject confronted; the reveal.

The film maker and sub­ject; the reveal.

Need­less to say, the story made all the papers, not least the New York Times. Mes­merised New York­ers watched as one of their own appeared at the cen­tre of one of those sto­ries that peo­ple like him would nor­mally look down their noses at from an Olympian height.

One of the peo­ple whose atten­tion was grabbed was the film maker Andrew Jarecki, who comes from a sim­i­larly mon­eyed back­ground. And after he had made his star­tling direc­to­r­ial debut, the bril­liant Cap­tur­ing the Fried­mans in 2004, he decided that his next project would be a fic­tion­alised ver­sion of Durst’s tra­vails. But he was deter­mined to do so from an avowedly neu­tral posi­tion. After all, what if he really is inno­cent? Unsur­pris­ingly, the film that resulted, All Good Things was some­thing of a damp squib.

The master.

The mas­ter.

But when then he was asked on the manda­tory pro­mo­tional tour what reac­tion he would like his film to pro­duce, he replied that he’d love to hear what Durst him­self made of it. And sure enough soon after, Durst rings, telling him he really liked the film – as damn­ing an indict­ment as any film could wish for – and would he be inter­ested in inter­view­ing him?

And so Jarecki recorded a gen­uinely exclu­sive inter­view with the man who had hith­erto refused to give his side of the story, to any­one. And from that inter­view – or inter­views – Jarecki began to piece together the two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of his past, that he and his accusers both insist is what really happened.

So from a mix­ture of recorded inter­views, both video and audio, police tran­scripts, some espe­cially art­ful, dra­matic recon­struc­tions and a slew of inter­views with most of the pro­tag­o­nists, the two con­tra­dic­tory ver­sions of his past unfold before our eyes.

"Bitter Lake", the latest film essay from Adam Curtis, this time on Afghanistan.

Bit­ter Lake”, the lat­est eru­dite film essay from Adam Cur­tis, this time on Afghanistan.

A few crit­ics, AA Gill most notably, have com­plained that it’s impos­si­ble for us to trust Jarecki pre­cisely because his film is so art­fully put together.

But that surely makes it even more of a plea­sure, albeit a guilty one. It won­der­fully mir­rors and intrigu­ingly reflects the very sub­ject it charts; truth and lies and the dif­fer­ent ways we all inter­pret the same events, in much the same way that Cap­tur­ing the Fried­mans did.

I men­tioned Orson Welles’ charm­ing film essay F For Fake in my review of Adam Cur­tis’ sim­i­larly visu­ally lit­er­ate All Watched Over by Machines Of Lov­ing Grace here. Like that, The Jinx is a cap­ti­vat­ing com­pan­ion piece to what should have been Welles’ legacy. Except that, crim­i­nally, nobody noticed F For Fake. It some­how man­aged to pass every­body by. No one’s likely to make the same mis­take about The Jinx.

You can see the trailer of Cap­tur­ing The Fried­mans here, and for The Jinx here.

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Former Fleet Fox flames into being as Father John Misty.

I Love You Honeybear, Father John Misty

I Love You Hon­ey­bear, Father John Misty

J. Till­man spent four years as the drum­mer with Fleet Foxes, after join­ing the band in 2008. But by then he’d already pro­duced four or five solo albums. And since leav­ing the band in 2012, he’s added another in the guise of his new per­sona Father John Misty. But noth­ing could have pre­pared us for what he offers up here, with this his sec­ond album under that moniker, I Love You Hon­ey­bear.

Till­man said that for years, he dreamt of gar­ner­ing the kind of hal­lowed praise that the likes of Townes Van Zandt or Gram Par­sons are gar­landed with, and of remain­ing for­ever one of music’s fabled secret finds. But he grad­u­ally came to realise that the audi­ence at his gigs were far more engaged with the relaxed, smart alec per­sona he adopted in between songs, than they were with the some­what po-faced num­bers he was osten­si­bly there to perform.

So he headed off into the desert with enough magic mush­rooms to send a psy­che­delic ele­phant into space and sat down to write a novel. And it was only then that he finally found his song writ­ing voice. This is the result.

Lennon and Nilsson get thrown of The Troubadour.

Lennon and Nils­son get thrown of The Troubadour.

As the boys from Pitch­fork note in their review here, where it gets a suit­ably impressed 8.8, it is, at least ini­tially, a dis­con­cert­ingly slip­pery record to pin down.

Yes there are the sorts of soar­ing har­monies you’d expect from a for­mer Fleet Fox. And sure, the Bea­t­les are indeed an obvi­ous reference.

But it’s the kind of Bea­t­les album you might have heard had John Lennon made it all by him­self five years after they split up. He and Harry Nils­son downed indus­trial sized quan­ti­ties of drugs in L.A. every night, send­ing the for­mer Bea­tle on a roller­coaster of vio­lent mood swings that saw him oscil­late wildly from pro­found self-disgust and doubt, to arro­gant dis­dain and scorn, and back again.

J Tillman, born again as Father John Misty.

J Till­man, born again as Father John Misty.

Even when Till­man puts the vio­lent intro­spec­tion of Lennon aside to momen­tar­ily chan­nel George Har­ri­son in When You’re Smil­ing and Astride Me, there’s a dan­ger­ous edge to the lyrics, not with­stand­ing the hon­eyed sweep of the guitar.

It’s the per­fect pal­lia­tive to the track that pre­cedes it, The Night Josh Till­man Came To Our Apart­ment, where a lat­ter day Fac­tory girl is felled by the kind of undi­luted scorn a young Dylan would have approved of.

She says, like lit­er­ally, music is the air she breathes,

And the mala­props make me want to fuck­ing scream,

I won­der if she even knows what that word means,

Well, it’s lit­er­ally not that.”

And we’ll assume of course that the mis­use of mala­props was done for comic effect. What’s so impres­sive, and so emo­tion­ally engag­ing about the album is that it per­fectly cap­tures the con­fu­sion of youth, but it does so thanks to a lyri­cal and musi­cal sophis­ti­ca­tion that only comes with age.

Just say Yes.

Just say Yes.

Sure it’s hard to know pre­cisely when he’s merely strik­ing a care­fully con­structed pose, and when he’s gen­uinely shed­ding the many masks to reveal the boy beneath. But his glo­ri­ous grasp of melody, and the unre­strained pas­sion that he deliv­ers them in give a strong sense that beneath the sur­face scorn, there’s a lot more of the real him on show than he’d care to read­ily admit.

And it’s that com­bi­na­tion of un-repentant intel­lec­tual con­fi­dence with pro­found emo­tional con­fu­sion, together with the clear sense that this is an album, that has been clearly thought about and metic­u­lously pro­grammed, that makes this such an impres­sive piece of work.

Not just a seri­ous album, this is the record against which all the oth­ers this year will be judged. You can see him per­form one of its songs, Bored in the USA on Let­ter­man here.

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Birdman” doesn’t quite take off. And “Jupiter” sinks.

Michael Keaton in "Birdman".

Michael Keaton in “Birdman”.

Mexico’s Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu burst on to the inter­na­tional film cir­cuit with Amores Per­ros in 2000, one of the most excit­ing and con­fi­dent debuts for many a moon.

Unfor­tu­nately, since then things have gone decid­edly down­hill. We got the pon­der­ous and frankly soapy 21 Grams in ’03, the por­ten­tous and all too pre­cious Babel in ’06 and more of the same with Biu­ti­ful in ‘10.

That’s three dull duds in a row. So the first thing to say is that Bird­man is def­i­nitely some­thing of a return to form, albeit of the qual­i­fied variety.

"Amores Perros".

Amores Per­ros”.

Nom­i­nally, it’s the story of an actor pur­sued by his alter ego, the Bat­man like super­hero he long ago starred as in one of those Hol­ly­wood block­busters that so many actors like to feign embar­rass­ment over. But really, it’s a won­der­fully com­pact and con­tained cham­ber piece set in the suit­ably con­fined space of the theatre.

Michael Keaton – you know, the guy that used to be Bat­man – is the washed-up has-been try­ing to give his career the sheen of respectabil­ity by adapt­ing a Ray­mond Carver short story for the Broad­way stage.

Stand­ing in his way are his girl­friend, Andrea Rise­bor­ough, his daugh­ter, Emma Stone, the method-obsessed star actor, the method-obsessed Edward Nor­ton and his love inter­est in the play, Naomi Watts.

And for 75 min­utes or so, we get a won­der­fully bitchy, impres­sively nuanced, grip­ping drama in which each char­ac­ter reveals them­selves to be at least as messed up as Keaton. Nor­ton is par­tic­u­larly impres­sive giv­ing warmth and depth to what could have been a one dimen­sional sleaze, and sug­gest­ing that con­trary to appear­ances, he does have a sense of humour. And Keaton obvi­ously is hugely impressive.

'All About Eve", now that's how you sneer.

All About Eve”, now that’s how you sneer.

But there’s a reveal­ing scene at around the 70 minute mark when the actor con­fronts the feared critic, played by Lind­say Dun­can.

This you felt is what the film had been build­ing up to all along. Here was the moment for Iñár­ritu to stamp his author­ity much as Godard did in One Plus One, with “The critic is as close to the artist as the his­to­rian is to the man of action”, or as Bren­dan Behan had with his famous “Crit­ics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it them­selves.” But the film fluffs its lines, and instead of a with­er­ing put down all the scene deliv­ers is hol­low blus­ter in the form of empty huff­ing and puffing.

From here on in, the film qui­etly loses its direc­tion, as it mis­tak­enly attempts to take flight. And for the last 20 min­utes or so, that por­ten­tous­ness returns, as the film makes a con­scious effort to become cin­e­matic. And all that won­der­fully claus­tro­pho­bic ten­sion is allowed to dis­si­pate, dis­ap­pear­ing into thin air. What had promised to be a con­tem­po­rary take on All About Eve and an impres­sive com­pan­ion piece to Sex, Lies and Video­tape becomes, yawn,  just another Oscar vehicle.

"Jupiter Ascending".

Jupiter Ascend­ing”.

What a pity. Bird­man des­per­ately wants to be cin­ema, but all it ends up being is theatre.

So, Jupiter Ascend­ing, is it really as bad as every­one says it is? Well, for one thing, as thin and incon­se­quen­tial as the script is, it’s not Star Wars bad. And yes, bereft of a story that any­one other than a 5 year old would own up to, watch­ing some­thing that’s so entirely depen­dent on CGI is like hav­ing to watch a video game you’re not allowed to actu­ally play. But in fair­ness, it’s 7 hours shorter than Lord Of the Rings was (16 if you include the sequel), and no one seemed ter­ri­bly both­ered about being asked to sit through that.

Truth be told, it’s very dis­ap­point­ing. Espe­cially after the sim­i­larly but wrongly ignored Cloud Atlas, Andy and (now) Lana Wachowski’s pre­vi­ous film.

As I men­tioned in my review here, the rel­a­tively restrained use of CGI there was put entirely at the ser­vice of the story and the char­ac­ters who inhab­ited them.

"Cloud Atlas", just as visually arresting, but with a story.

Cloud Atlas”, just as visu­ally arrest­ing, but with a story.

Jupiter Ascend­ing is like see­ing what you’d thought was a reformed alco­holic falling spec­tac­u­larly off the wagon, going off on an almighty ben­der to make up for lost time. It’s all CGI here. And what­ever story there might have been once upon a time has been irre­triev­ably buried. Instead, the cup over­floweth with unremit­ting tedium.

All we can do is hope that this was a one off. And that now, they’ll have got it out of their sys­tem once and for all.

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Bowie as ever bucks the trend.

David Bowie "Nothing Has Changed".

Double-vinyle edi­tion.

Like Reader’s Digest and tinned spaghetti, great­est hits albums are a cul­tural affront. By tak­ing the orig­i­nal out of its con­text, and reduc­ing and re-packaging it with such shame­less cynicism, you hope­lessly devalue it whilst insult­ing the intel­li­gence of those you are try­ing to appeal to.

Invari­ably, they’re some­thing the record label releases behind your back, and as such, most artists want noth­ing to do with them. As ever and as usual, David Bowie appears to be the excep­tion to this.

Some­thing about the man seems to give every­thing he does an irre­sistible sheen. And of late, he’s pulled off the remark­able feat of mak­ing even his money mak­ing schemes look chic. After he issued his Bowie Bonds in 1997 for a cool 55 mil­lion pounds Ster­ling, and when­ever another ad appears propped up by one more of his (albeit re-mastered) tracks, we all applaud, impressed.

The triple cd and the one to get.

The triple cd and the one to get.

Instead of lament­ing that one of the giants has joined the great unwashed to spend what remains of his pre­cious time in point­lessly dredg­ing through his back cat­a­logue to need­lessly gen­er­ate yet more un-necessary money. We con­grat­u­late him on treat­ing the mon­e­ti­za­tion of his back cat­a­logue with as much imag­i­na­tion as he would the cre­ation of a new album.

And now he’s pulled off the same feat with (another) great­est hits col­lec­tion, Noth­ing Has Changed.

Per­haps it’s just that when an artist does take a per­sonal inter­est in a great­est hits album, we’re so unused to it that it feels like they’ve called around to our house to talk us through it personally.

The fact of the mat­ter is, the tweaks that he has made to this one prob­a­bly amounted to no more than a one line email dic­tated to one of his assistants.

Yet there’s no get­ting away from it. Noth­ing Has Changed feels like Bowie has per­son­ally over­seen it. And as such, it feels so much more sub­stan­tial than a con­ven­tional col­lec­tion. Once again, and as ever, we’re impressed.

The 2-cd edition.

The 2-cd edition.

There are three dif­fer­ent ver­sions, each (again) with their own bespoke cover art. And, as noted by the boys from Pitch­fork who give it an 8.8 here, you can ignore the two more con­ven­tional dou­ble albums, and go straight for the impres­sively dynamic triple cd ver­sion.

It sounds like only a small thing, but going through his career as it does in reverse order is inspired. Instead of wear­ing out the first cd, return­ing to the sec­ond, and only occa­sion­ally dip­ping into the third, you lis­ten with rapt atten­tion to all three as it builds and builds.

It’s not that there’s been noth­ing of worth since 1990. But truth be told, the gems have got­ten fewer and fur­ther between. So the fact that a num­ber of the more recent tracks have been given a re-mix helps to bol­ster the ear­lier (ie chrono­log­i­cally later) tracks.

But even here, you sense his per­sonal pres­ence. When James Mur­phy ref­er­ences Ashes to Ashes in his Love is Lost, and then the Pet Shop Boys give Space Odd­ity a nod on their Hello Space­boy it’s impos­si­ble not to imag­ine the great man stand­ing behind them at the mix­ing desk, over­see­ing matters.

In the midst of those 5 extraordinary years.

In the midst of those 5 extra­or­di­nary years.

But what really makes the whole thing so cap­ti­vat­ing is the con­fir­ma­tion that Bowie has a Mozart-esqe abil­ity to churn out impos­si­bly mem­o­rable melodies at the drop of one of his many hats. What this means is, that he is at once an albums artist, and a sin­gles artist.

On the one hand, there’s the Bowie who made, arguably, the most impres­sive and out­ra­geously diverse 6 albums ever pro­duced, over a six year period between 1975 and 1980, begin­ning with Young Amer­i­cans and cul­mi­nat­ing with Scary Mon­sters.

From total immer­sion in Philly soul, to the fore­front of the elec­tronic avant-garde, and on into the sec­ond wave of punk. And all just two years after being the newly crowned king of glam rock.

And yet at the same time and dur­ing all of which, he can pro­duce a never-ending string of out­ra­geously hum­ma­ble tunes that pull unashamedly at the heart strings. From Life On Mars and Drive-in Sat­ur­day in the early 70s to Every­one Says Hi in 2002 and Where Are We Now? from last year’s oth­er­wise (whis­per it) hugely dis­ap­point­ing The Next Day.

It’s this com­bi­na­tion of artis­tic ambi­tion, and an ear for the per­fect melody that makes Bowie so beguil­ing, and keeps us all so con­sis­tently impressed. And that’s what raises this col­lec­tion up so thrillingly.

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