Archives for March 2015

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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