Gilla Band’s new album, Most Normal

Gilla Band, Most Normal

After the tour around their second album, The Talkies, was put on hiatus because of the pandemic, Girl Band found themselves with less to do and a more than usual amount of time to think. 

And they decided that, rather than wait to be picked up by the gender police and hauled in front of the court of public opinion, they’d change their name from Girl to Gilla Band. Discretion being the better part of valour. So this, Most Normal, is the third album from what is now the Gilla Band

Gilla were part of a trio of bands to come out of Dublin in the latter half of the 2010s, the other two being Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital – though the latter are flavoured as much by the River Lee as they are by the Liffey. 

Each produced a visceral, industrialised squall to guttural lyrics that were declaimed rather than sung, angrily decrying despair and urban alienation. Murder Capital and Fontaines found immediate, overnight success, the former to a manageable degree, the latter stratospherically so. But Gilla Band seemed somehow to have got left behind. 

Fontaines D.C. enjoying their success.

First, after being signed to Rough Trade and then releasing their first album, Holding Hands With Jamie, in 2015, the band were forced to take their first hiatus. As their lead singer, Dara Kiely, focused, quite correctly, on the mental health issues that were threatening to overwhelm him.

Then, when they eventually got back together again to release their very good second album, The Talkies, in 2019, Covid once again put them on hold. But this, it turns out, was a blessing in disguise. Because it sent them back into the studio, and the resulting album, Most Normal, is a significant step forward again. And is in fact one of the most exciting albums of the year.

The album’s strength come from two quarters. First, instead of only producing music that can be played live, they focused instead on using everything at their disposal in the studio to produce the noise they were looking for. The result is a sound that’s even more unnerving, and somehow even louder and more grating than the one produced on their previous pair of albums. As distortion gets processed to produce an even more perilous assault on the ears.

What it sounds like at times is that part of the soundtrack on a David Lynch film where the sounds are so distorted and dissonant, and what you hear is so unsettling, that you avert your eyes in fear of what’s about to happen.

As to what the album addresses, if the protagonists from CamusThe Stranger or Sartre’s Nausea were catapulted into the 21st century and locked inside a recording studio, this is very probably what the resulting album would sound like. 

The Murder Capital.

And second, and as facile as this undoubtedly is, it’s impossible not to conclude that the success enjoyed by Fontaines and the Murder Capital has knocked the edges off the songs that they’re now producing. 

Whereas the absence of that success has ensured that Gilla Band continue to be and to sound as angry about being overlooked and ignored by the world they find themselves in as they were five and six years ago. Not the music business world, the world in general. The real world.

It’s the sound of jump leads, one thrust into a brain, the other into the gut. And as such, it’s gloriously unmediated. 

The boys from Pitchfork give it an impressed 8.4 here, and correctly point to The Weirds as the standout track.

You can see the video for Backwash, the lead single, below. Just don’t expect it to chart any time soon.

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2 Things to Watch out for on Irish Television

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, The Laughing Boy

There was a new documentary feature screened recently on TG4, and a 3 part documentary series on RTE, and both were excellent. 

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, or The Laughing Boy tells the unlikely if entirely true story behind Brendan Behan’s most famous song. After hearing about how helpful Michael Collins had been to his mother when she had been pregnant with him, the teenage Behan penned the Laughing Boy, in Irish, in his honour.

Twenty years later, he translated it into English and used it as the centre piece for his play, The Hostage. And when that play was then performed in Paris, a couple of Greek ex-patriots saw it and were determined to stage it in Athens. And they commissioned Mikis Theodorakis, the most celebrated Greek composer of the 20th century, to provide the music for their production.

Theo Dogan, right, on his own personal Greek odyssey.

And, improbably to say the least, that adaptation of Behan’s song then became the unofficial national anthem for Greece, after being taken up as the song Greeks sang to protest the military dictatorship that ruled there between 1967-74. So, literally, every single Greek boy and girl grew up singing it in the 1970s and 80s as a symbol of their resistance. 

Directed by Alan Gilsenan and presented by the poet Theo Dorgan, it’s one of the few films to actually benefit by not being too rigid in its structure or focus. Instead, the film is left free to wander and gently meander, as it embraces its sprawling themes. Fusing music with poetry, film and theatre, to explore history, politics and culture, examined and expressed in Irish, English and Greek.

Impeccably realised, it’s a film that, for once, lives up to its lofty ambitions.

The Island is a 3 part documentary series on RTE and the BBC, and it too delivers on its commendable ambitions. So many of these sorts of things reveal themselves to be little more than thinly veiled commercials for the tourist industry. The Island was, impressively, very much a science-led series. 

Liz Bonnin, on The Island.

This, you feel sure, is down to it being presented by Liz Bonnin, who is chalking up an impressive record in popular science programmes for the BBC. It promised and then duly gave us a 1.8 billion year history of the island of Ireland, with an array of wide-ranging  academics and instructive graphics, which were used to clarify and illuminate without ever over-simplifying.

It still looks ravishing of course. But for once, the images are given a purpose and a context.

What a joy to be treated like an adult for a few stray hours.

You can see The Laughing Boy on the TG4 player here:

https://www.tg4.ie/en/player/play/?pid=6311320763112&title=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&series=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&genre=Faisneis&pcode=622980

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Apple TV’s ‘Severance’ is the real deal

Apple TV’s “Severance”

Things have been quiet of late, in this the much heralded golden age of television. There has been plenty of perfectly watchable, eminently adequate fodder on offer from the various streaming services and their terrestrial brethren. But very little to write home about. 

So it was with a slight sense of wariness that I sat down to watch Severance, notwithstanding all the noise it’s generated. But for once, that hype was entirely justified. Happily, it’s the real deal.

It’s a high concept, Big Idea series. A nefarious and implicitly evil tech corporation has invented a chip that allows you to separate, sever, your work-you from your home-you. So as you work through the mindless chores at the faceless office where you work, you’ve no idea what you do or who you are for the rest of the day when you’re at home. 

The same neck of the woods.

As you descend in the elevator at the end of the day, the chip kicks in, and you step out on to the ground floor as your home-you, or what they call your ‘outie’. And after you get back into the elevator as your outie the following morning, you emerge on the ‘severance’ floor as your ‘innie’. Completely oblivious as what you might have got up to in between. 

Why would anybody want that? Well, Mark has recently lost his wife in a car crash. And, he figures, at least for 8 hours a day he’ll be spared the bottomless grief he’s floored by during the other 16.

It’s avowedly left of field and off kilter, and veers from the surreally mundane to menacing and back, often in the same scene. Think Charlie Kaufman meets David Lynch, where both have had their wings clipped to rein their flights of fancy in. Which is, respectively, both good and bad.

Everything about Severance is impeccably crafted. The art direction is pristine, the directing, by Ben Stiller, is foot perfect and the acting is exceptional across the board. 

All the gang on the Severance floor.

Adam Scott takes the lead as Mark, and is impressively abetted by Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, John Turturro and, improbably, Christopher Walken, all of whom are outstanding as his increasingly rebellious co-workers. But Patricia Arquette manages to somehow steal the show, as the nearest thing to a plausible and genuinely terrifying realisation of the wicked witch of the West. 

And, rather than addressing them head on, it sensibly flirts around the philosophical questions that it raises about the self, purpose, meaning, work-life balance and agency. Most impressively of all, it builds momentum and raises the stakes continually, thanks to the perfectly meted out parcels of story. And the increasingly compelling cliff-hangers that each episode concludes with.

It might not quite be up there with series 1 of Twin Peaks, and I hope it does a better job than that show did of maintaining its momentum into series 2. But it’s comfortably the best show to grace our screens since Bojack pursued and fed his demons (reviewed earlier by me here).

You can see the trailer for Severance here:

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‘Destroyer’, starring Nicole Kidman

Destroyer

I missed Destroyer first time around, when it was released in 2018. Inexplicably, so did everybody else, and it grossed just $5 million, barely half its budget. Which is criminal, as it’s one of the most intelligent and gripping thrillers made in the last decade.

The fifth film by Karyn Kusama, it was written by her husband Phil Hay and his writing partner Matt Manfredi, and is their third collaboration together. 

And although her feature debut, Girlfight (2000), was lauded at Sundance and Cannes, it fared poorly at the box office. As did her next two films, Aeon Flux (‘05) and Jennifer’s Body (’09). So she spent the following 5 or 6 years working as a director for hire on television. 

Kidman’s best performance since To Die For in 1995.

But she went back to the silver screen in 2015 for The Invitation, a well-regarded horror that had only a limited release. But Destroyer takes her work to a whole new level.

Confidently plotted and impeccably scripted, the direction and cinematography are constantly thoughtful and carefully choreographed. Which ought of course to be true for every film, but almost never is. While the twist is low-key, subtle and, cleverly, structural.

But the entire film revolves around the vortex that is Nicole Kidman. The gravitational pull of her self-destruction seems to drag the whole of Los Angeles down into the hole she’s hell-bent in burrowing for the grave she’s determined to dig for herself.

Kidman’s a funny one. Her choices are actually almost always both challenging and impressively intelligent. But the few duds are so glaring, they can be momentarily blinding. But really, it’s only The Stepford Wives (’04), Bewitched (’05) and Australia (08) that baffle. Birth (’04), Margot at the Wedding (’07) and Nine (’09), for instance, might not work as films, but they were all choices and risks worth taking.

This though is comfortably her best performance, and is the answer she’ll give when St Peter asks her to point to the one thing that could move him to open the pearly gates for her.

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.

As for Kusama, she presumably finds herself once more at a crossroads. Having had her fingers burnt trying to produce commercial fodder for the Hollywood bean-counters, she was once again offered the chance to get her hands on a sizable budget, for a re-make of Dracula, only to have the project cancelled. So which way does she go now, to the left or to the right?

Does she follow the path of Kathryn Bigelow, and trade in her intelligence for dollar bills, or that of Lynne Ramsay (whose You Were Never Really Here I reviewed here) and Debra Granick, into the undergrowth and uncertainty of the independent world?

I hope somebody sits her down and forces her to watch repeated viewings of Zero Dark Thirty (’12). There but for the grace of God…

You can see the trailer for Destroyer below:

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‘Elvis’, the trailer, plus a film about music made by a grown up

Elvis

What a joy to be able to see the world as Baz Luhrmann does, through the eyes of a 9 year old boy. Many 9 and 10 year olds note what pleasure they get from eating the icing on a cake. And they have the brilliant idea of asking for one made of nothing else. 

But they note their parent’s weary dismissal of that idea, and they spend a few years investigating gastronomy, learning about appetite and acquiring taste. And they come to appreciate that pleasure without pain, light without darkness and euphoric highs without the depths of despair simply cannot be. They are mutually dependent.

The Velvet Underground, Nica and Andy Warhol

But Lurhmann has said, sod that. I’m staying just as I am. And he’s spotted how much we all enjoy watching music videos and movie trailers, and he’s had the brilliant idea of making feature length versions of them. 

So we got Romeo + Juliette, which manages to defang Shakespeare’s play of its tragedy, and turn it into a poptastic costume fest. Then there was Moulin Rouge, which was a 2 hour music video, pure and simple. Likewise The Great Gatsby

Which, I have to confess, I’ve not been able to actually sit through. So it’s perfectly possible that it’s a carefully considered and thoughtful meditation on doomed youth and fin de siècle disillusionment. But I’m going out on a limb, and presuming that it’s just A N Other 2 hour plus music video.

The Velvet Underground and Nico

And now we have 2 ¾ hour movie trailer about Elvis. So, as with any trailer, you get told immediately who the goodies and baddies are. And every line of dialogue is on the nose and means exactly what it says – just like this sentence. And every frame is stuffed full of information, because you’ve only got two minutes to tell the audience about all the different elements in your story. 

Only it doesn’t go on for two minutes. This is kept up for nearly three hours. There’s stuff stuffed into every frame and on every corner of the soundtrack. It’s like watching a teenage boy who’s just been shown what all the buttons do in his editing software. And so pleased is he with all the effects they can produce, that he can’t stop pressing them, repeatedly. And he’s completely oblivious to the reaction of his parents when he shows them what he’s done.

It’s relentless in its blind bombardment of the senses, and the tedium that results is incessant and mind-numbing.

The Velvet Underground

I always admire though rarely warm to the films of Todd Haynes. But his eponymous documentary on The Velvet Underground is an unqualified joy from start to finish. Serious music from an extraordinary collective who came together at a fascinating moment in time. 

Structured in an appropriately left of field way, it’s a quietly intelligent and thoughtful film about a uniquely influential band. Their first album is one of the great works of art of the 20th century. And remarkably, this film does them justice. 

Watching it after sitting through Elvis is like dropping your child off at a birthday party, only to be greeted there by the excited stare of the birthday boy, as he offers you a slice of his solid icing cake. When suddenly, you’re taken by the elbow and gently led out into the back garden, where you’re handed an ice cold beer and a glass of Jameson. And you sit down together and lean back to contemplate the stars.

You can see the trailer for The Velvet Underground below:

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