Syro”, disappointingly safe new album from the Aphex Twin.

Aphex Twin's "Syro".

Aphex Twin’s “Syro”.

Syro is the much awaited new album from the Aphex Twin, and the first offi­cial release from Richard D. James in 13 years. James is to elec­tron­ica what Mar­tin Luther King is to the civil rights move­ment. His is the name that shall not be taken in vain.

And sure enough, the music press fell over itself in its deter­mi­na­tion to wel­come it accord­ingly. The boys from Pitch­fork gave it an 8.7 here. And the doggedly pos­i­tive review that Sasha Frere-Jones gave it in the New Yorker here ended with,

Syro” is Aphex Twin say­ing, “Yes, that was me,” rather than “Here is the new frontier.”

But being asked to lis­ten to an Aphex Twin album devoid of the new is like being invited to lis­ten to a Simon and Gar­funkel album denuded of har­monies. New is what he does.

Richard D. James in, perhaps, slightly less happier times...

Richard D. James in, per­haps, slightly less hap­pier times…

I sup­pose it’s inevitable that a music so inex­orably linked to the tech­nol­ogy that pro­duces it is des­tined to become redun­dant in the blink of an eye. What would you think about being offered a brand new ten year old mobile phone? Nonethe­less, it’s impos­si­ble not to feel mon­u­men­tally under­whelmed by an album that sounds and feels so safe. And con­ven­tional.

When it comes to the act of cre­ation, emo­tional depth and peace of mind are inversely related and can be mapped math­e­mat­i­cally. Art is the prod­uct of pain. So one can only hope that James is as happy and con­tented as this album sug­gests. There’s noth­ing wrong I sup­pose in pro­duc­ing a new album of great­est hits. But if this is your intro­duc­tion to the Aphex Twin, you should prob­a­bly start off with 26 Mixes for Cash from 2003.

In the mean­time, here’s some­thing to put hairs on your chest. It’s the video for the title track to the 1997 ep Come to Daddy, directed by Chris Cun­ning­ham. And here’s a track from his new album Syro.

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The Gatekeepers” an Amazing Window on Israel.

Ami Ayalon, now in the Israeli Knesset.

Ami Ayalon, now in the Israeli Knesset.

In the week when the new Swedish gov­ern­ment announced its inten­tion to rec­og­nize the state of Pales­tine, and after the back bench British MPs made a sim­i­lar show of pub­lic sup­port, last weekend’s screen­ing of the BBC Sto­ryville doc­u­men­tary The Gate­keep­ers made for timely viewing.

This is one of those films that you feel you ought to watch, rather than one you actu­ally want to see. And like so many of those, it turns out to be absolutely riveting.

Directed by the Israeli Dror Moreh, who was inspired by Errol Mor­ris extra­or­di­nar­ily reveal­ing inter­view of Robert S. McNa­mara for The Fog Of War, The Gate­keep­ers is an extended inter­view with the last six heads of the Israeli secret ser­vice, the Shin Bet. Remark­ably, it’s every bit as reveal­ing as the film that inspired it.

The remarkable Rodriguez.

The remark­able Rodriguez.

For the last 35 years, these six men have been in charge of Israel’s inter­nal secu­rity. And watch­ing them grap­ple with their con­sciences whilst bemoan­ing the refusal of lead­ers on either side to seri­ously engage with their oppo­site num­ber was fas­ci­nat­ing, depress­ing and ulti­mately some­how hopeful.

If only, you couldn’t help but feel, it had been some of these men who’d been run­ning the coun­try instead of the ones who were actu­ally elected. One of them has indeed now joined the Knes­set. We can only hope. The mes­sage from all six of them was unan­i­mous. We must engage. We need to talk. You can’t secure the state of Israel with­out acknowl­edg­ing the fate of the Palestinians.

Muscle Shoals.

Mus­cle Shoals.

This is yet another in an ever more impres­sive ros­tra of docs form the Sto­ryville team. If you haven’t already, watch Search­ing for Sugar Man (reviewed ear­lier here), Mus­cle Shoals (here) or the amaz­ing and sober­ing The House I Live In (here). In fact you can pretty much watch any one of their films. It’s the most con­sis­tently impres­sive strand of doc­u­men­tary film mak­ing any­where in the world. You can see the Gate­keep­ers trailer here.

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Perfume Genius’ new album “Too Bright” the real deal.

Perfume Genius' Too Bright.

Per­fume Genius’ Too Bright.

Too Bright is the third album from Mike Hadreas who per­forms as Per­fume Genius. He’s the lat­est to be offi­cially anointed by the grown-ups in the music press, but hap­pily, after the dis­ap­point­ment of the recent and sim­i­larly lauded FKA Twigs album, this time round it’s the real deal.

Hadreas has brought in the Por­tishead gui­tarist Adrian Utley for pro­duc­tion duties, while long time PJ Har­vey col­lab­o­ra­tor John Parish sits in on drums for a num­ber of tracks. Hadreas has said that Har­vey is a major influ­ence, the other being Nina Simone. And that com­bi­na­tion of raw, emo­tional pain and care­fully wrought musi­cal tex­tures with a decided edge are what best describe the feel of the album.

PJ Harvey.

PJ Har­vey.

But there are also qui­eter more lyri­cal moments, as with My Body (T5) where he seems to be chan­nelling Ricky Nelson’s Lone­some Town. And oth­ers where the pres­ence of Antony and the John­sons can clearly be felt.

The boys from Pitch­fork give it an impressed 8.5 here. And you can see the video for Grid here, and for Queen here. And you can read Sasha Frere-Jones piece on him in the New Yorker here.

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Cronenberg’s new Film “Maps To The Stars” is a Poison Pen Letter to Hollywood.

Maps To The Stars.

Maps To The Stars.

David Cro­nen­berg’s new film Maps To The Stars arrives here from this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val where it was screened in May. Most of the famous satires on Hol­ly­wood are secretly in awe of the place. The Player, The Bad and the Beau­ti­ful, even Sun­set Boule­vard (all reviewed ear­lier here) have an under­ly­ing warmth and exhibit a shy love love view of Hol­ly­wood. Not this one.

Julianne Moore plays an actress who’s seen bet­ter days and has never really come to terms with the death of the mother who brought her up so dis­as­trously. She takes on Mia Wasikowska as her per­sonal assis­tant. Her estranged mother and father are a famous power cou­ple over­see­ing the mete­oric career of her 13 year old brother.

James Spader in Crash.

James Spader in Crash.

There’s a strong sense of impend­ing doom and Greek tragedy to the film, sug­gest­ing the Oresteia. And the air of neme­sis, hubris and inevitable ret­ri­bu­tion hang heavy through­out. All the cast are excel­lent, and it’s easy to see how Moore won the Best Actress Award at Cannes. But it’s equally easy to see why the film failed to win any of the main prizes.

Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon return from Cosmopolis for Cronenberg's new film.

Robert Pat­tin­son and Sarah Gadon return from Cos­mopo­lis for Cronenberg’s new film.

Yes it’s extra­or­di­nar­ily caus­tic, and unremit­tingly bleak (and often very funny) about the sorts of lives that those who inhabit Hol­ly­wood live. And, it has to be said, all too believ­ably so. But more than that, there’s a clin­i­cal cold­ness to the film’s final quar­ter. Unlike Crash, which gives an equally dystopian overview of the mod­ern world, Maps To The Stars sinks to its con­clu­sion instead of ris­ing to an emo­tional crescendo. Its spirit is Apol­lon­ian rather than Dionysian, and it ends up being a film that you greatly admire instead of being one that you’re dev­as­tated by.

Nonethe­less, together with the recent Cos­mopo­lis (reviewed ear­lier here) it’s another impres­sive addi­tion to Cronenberg’s august back cat­a­logue. And he con­tin­ues to be one the very few seri­ous film mak­ers around. You can see the trailer to Maps To The Stars here.

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Magic In The Moonlight”, another New Film from Woody Allen. Yeah…

Magic in the moonlight.

Magic in the moonlight.

The lead sin­gle off the sec­ond, best and alas last album from Girls Father, Son and Holy Ghost was called “Vomit” (reviewed ear­lier here). The title refers to a Bible story where a thief’s need to return to the scene of his crime is com­pared to a dog’s com­pul­sion to exam­ine its own vomit.

This seems to be the only pos­si­ble expla­na­tion as to why it is that Woody Allen keeps going back to make yet another film. It would all make sense if the rea­son he were in such a hurry to pro­duce a new film every year was because the last few had been so disappointing.

That’s what made his last film, Blue Jas­mine (reviewed ear­lier here) so refresh­ing. It sug­gested the begin­ning of a new phase. His lat­est, Magic in the Moon­light is sadly more of the same, and we’re back where we were.

Vicky Christine Barcelona.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Since his last gen­uinely funny com­edy, Bul­lets Over Broad­way in 1994 Allen has made 20 films. That’s one a year. And the only two that mer­ited watch­ing all the way through were Sweet and Low­down in 1999 and Match Point in 2005 – Vicky Cristina Barcelona (’08) doesn’t count. You could film Javier Bar­dem, Scar­lett Johans­son and Pene­lope Cruz pair­ing their toe­nails and it would still be electrifying.

What you think of his lat­est film will depend on whether you’re old enough to remem­ber how excit­ing the prospect of a new Woody Allen film used to be.

Annie Hall (’77), Man­hat­tan (‘79), Zelig (’83), The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo (’85) and Crimes and Mis­de­meanors (’89) are all seri­ous, sub­stan­tial, sig­nif­i­cant films. And they’re funny. The last time I laughed dur­ing a Woody Allen film was Bul­lets Over Broad­way.

It’s not as if they’ve become more seri­ous. On the con­trary, they’re ever lighter and more and more insub­stan­tial. And they’re less funny. All of the themes that were once explored, painfully, are now breezily ticked off, as if on some sort of exis­ten­tial shop­ping list.

Poor old Colin Firth and Emma Stone doing their best.

Poor old Colin Firth and Emma Stone in “Magic in the Moon­light” doing their best.

Iron­i­cally, the only thing that make his films watch­able these days are the cast he still man­ages to attract. Every­body used to fall over them­selves to be in the new Woody Allen film because the scripts were so good. They still do. But the scripts are so slop­pily cob­bled together these days that were it not for their stel­lar casts, they’d be unwatchable.

None of which will bother you if all you are look­ing for is a poor man’s Down­town to watch on your new iPhone, as you keep your eye on Strictly leaf­ing through the Sun­day papers as you check your mes­sages. As ever the cast are all exem­plary, con­sid­er­ing. But for the rest of us, Magic in the Moon­light makes for decid­edly depress­ing viewing.

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