Archives for February 2012

Julianna Barwick’s “The Magic Place”, David Lynch’s Soon To Be, Surely, Muse.

It’s hard to avoid using the E word when talk­ing about Julian­na Bar­wick. Her com­bi­na­tion of ethe­re­al, hyp­not­ic vocals with care­ful­ly con­struct­ed lay­ers of metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed sound con­jures up inevitable if unfor­tu­nate visions of Enya.

A more use­ful com­par­i­son might be with Liz Fras­er, and the sort of music that she and her fel­low 4AD sirens were pro­duc­ing with the likes of the Cocteau Twins, This Mor­tal Coil and Dead Can Dance. But there’s none of that angst with Barwick.

The waves of balm that she wraps you up in evoke instead the blissed-up chill-out calm of last year’s With­in And With­out from Washed Out, reviewed here ear­li­er, with the occa­sion­al echo of the qui­eter bits form Pan­da Bear’s Tomboy.

The Mag­ic Place is all of the above, and yet some­how so much more. For despite all that bliss, and calm, and chilled out, yawn, seren­i­ty, it’s an album that man­ages to avoid ever sound­ing in any way monotonous.

Which is remark­able. There are no lyrics to speak of, in the con­ven­tion­al sense. It’s essen­tial­ly a Min­i­mal­ist album, where each piece takes a motif which is then worked on, method­i­cal­ly, almost math­e­mat­i­cal­ly, up to vary­ing degrees of com­pli­ca­tion. And yet, there’s enough vari­a­tion through­out and across each of the nine tracks to draw you in and hold you there. And rather than ever becom­ing bor­ing, the more you lis­ten to it the more beguil­ing become its charms.

Offi­cial­ly, it’s her sec­ond album, but to all extents and pur­pos­es The Mag­ic Place is her first album prop­er and has been out for a year now. It got an impressed 8.5 from the boys from Prav­da If you missed it first time around, treat yourself.

The Lion’s Roar” From First Aid Kit, Sweden’s Answer To Emmylou And Alison Krauss.

first-aid-kit-lions-roarThe Lion’s Roar is the sec­ond album from Swe­den’s First Aid Kit, com­pris­ing of sis­ters Klara and Johan­na Söder­berg, both of whom are bare­ly into their 20s. After their debut The Big Black And The Blue from 2010, they nat­u­ral­ly grav­i­tat­ed to Amer­i­ca to record their sopho­more effort, turn­ing to Mike Mogis to pro­duce it.

As well as being one of the three core mem­bers of Nebraska’s stel­lar Bright Eyes, where he serves as pro­duc­er and mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist, Mogis has also worked on albums by the likes of Jen­ny Lewis and her band Rilo Kiley, and M Ward and his, She And Him.

While there are clear echoes of Jen­ny Lewis through­out The Lion’s Roar, it’s Nashville’s Caitlin Rose that most read­i­ly springs to mind, whose debut Own Side Now I reviewed here earlier.

As with Rose, there’s a world weari­ness to the songs here that some­how man­ages to be cred­i­ble, not with­stand­ing the unlike­li­hood that either of the man­i­fest­ly jejune sib­lings could ever have grav­i­tat­ed beyond mere mis­chief in their brief lives. And if the songs here sound ever so slight­ly less lived-in that those on Own Side Now, that can prob­a­bly be put down to the added dif­fi­cul­ty of hav­ing to pen them in a for­eign language.

What’s so beguil­ing about this album, as with Rose’s, is the alchem­i­cal mar­riage of a time­less musi­cal tra­di­tion, with a vocal deliv­ery that rings of unblem­ished inno­cence and, there’s no oth­er word for it, puri­ty. This potent com­bi­na­tion is then deployed to lament a pre­ma­ture­ly crushed spir­it and a per­ma­nent­ly bro­ken heart. It’s a heady mix.

The boys from Prav­da gave it an impressed 7.6

And the per­cep­tive review there remarked with qui­et sur­prise, that there aren’t too many girls who would try ref­er­enc­ing Emmy­lou Har­ris and Gram Par­sons as the basis for a chat up line, as they do here on the sec­ond track, Emmy­lou. It’s not so much that there aren’t too many who’d get away with it. There aren’t too many who would try it, full stop. But they do, and it’s bewitching.

Sign up right or below for a sub­scrip­tion and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music.

Religion For Atheists”, The Terribly, Alas, English Book By Alain de Botton.

For many years, schol­ars puz­zled over what appeared to be the out­line of a hideous fig­ure, cow­er­ing in the depths of the ninth cycle of Hell in Dan­te’s Infer­no. Who exact­ly was that frozen for­ev­er in the bow­els of the Earth, more low­ly even than Bru­tus, Judas, and even Satan himself?

Of course we now know that what we find there is a veg­e­tar­i­an, caught for­ev­er in the act of eat­ing a veg­gie burg­er. Why would a veg­e­tar­i­an want to eat a burg­er?

Sure­ly the last thing a veg­e­tar­i­an would ever want would to sink their teeth into would be some­thing that embod­ies every­thing they’ve so proud­ly reject­ed? And yet there they are, on every veg­e­tar­i­an menu in the West­ern world. So we should­n’t I sup­pose be too sur­prised about the lat­est offer­ing from Alain de Bot­ton, Reli­gion For Athe­ists which is based on a sim­i­lar­ly non-sen­si­cal idea. But that does­n’t make it any less lamentable.

Though Swiss by birth, there’s some­thing ter­ri­bly Eng­lish about his new book. Reli­gion For Athe­ists reeks of the same spir­it that moves Angli­can vic­ars to so need­less­ly explain and ratio­nal­ize the para­bles in the gospels and the sto­ries in the bible.

We’re not meant to be able to ratio­nal­ly com­pre­hend the mys­ter­ies in the bible, hence the name we use to describe them. Their truths are beyond mere human under­stand­ing. Ours, famous­ly, is not to rea­son why. That’s why no one is ever pun­ished for behav­ing bad­ly or reward­ed for behav­ing well in the Bible. The only thing you’re ever pun­ished for in the Bible is for act­ing of your own volition.

The one thing that’s demand­ed of you through­out the Bible, and it’s repeat­ed over and over again, is that you sub­mit your will to the high­er and unknow­able will of God. That’s what Muham­mad under­stood hav­ing absorbed the worlds of Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, and why he summed up his mes­sage with the sin­gle word Islam; “sub­mit”.

Your beliefs demand that you make a pro­found sac­ri­fice. That sac­ri­fice is that you aban­don your mere human log­ic and rea­son, and sub­mit your will to a high­er and unknow­able authority.

All you suc­ceed in doing by try­ing to explain and ratio­nal­ize the mys­ter­ies that under­pin that author­i­ty is to hope­less­ly weak­en the bonds that bind you and it togeth­er. Your beliefs are only as strong as the sac­ri­fices they demand of you.

That’s why Angli­can­ism is con­stant­ly under threat from the twin pil­lars of Catholi­cism and Protes­tantism, and why in con­trast to the for­mer, Islam goes from strength to strength.

The sac­ri­fice demand­ed of athe­ism, which, some argue, is just a par­tic­u­lar strand of belief, is the fore­go­ing of the insti­tu­tion­al shel­ter and com­mu­nal suc­cour that organ­ised reli­gion so vital­ly offers.

In its efforts to restore to athe­ists pre­cise­ly that which they’ve sac­ri­ficed, de Bot­ton’s book demon­strates a fail­ure to under­stand what belief is for and how it oper­ates, either for athe­ists or believ­ers. He’s try­ing to sac­ri­fice sac­ri­fice.

He seems like an affa­ble sort of chap, and when he sticks to arcane cor­ners of archi­tec­ture, or lay­men’s phi­los­o­phy he can be an engag­ing if slight­ly over-eager guide. But his Reli­gion For Athe­ists bears all the mark­ings of a man with more mon­ey than sense, and one who has far too much – and yet not enough – time on his hands.

Breaking Bad” – AMC.

The gold­en age of Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion con­tin­ues, and an august lin­eage that began with The Sopra­nos, The Wire and Mad Men con­tin­ues apace with Break­ing Bad. Series 4 of the AMC show went out in the US last autumn, and the fifth and final sea­son is due to be aired there lat­er on this year. But it’s yet to sur­face on ter­res­tri­al tele­vi­sion here, and many peo­ple on this side of the Atlantic will only be com­ing to it now.

All the best tele­vi­sion depends on a series build­ing a care­ful­ly con­struct­ed micro-world that you com­plete­ly trust in because they know every square inch of it, and into which you’re invit­ed for an hour once a week. What’s unusu­al about each of the above, is that they each focus on two com­plete­ly dis­parate worlds, both of which you believe in and cru­cial­ly, both of which are giv­en equal weight when they inevitably come into collision.

The con­flict cre­at­ed in The Sopra­nos aris­es when the mun­dane domes­tic­i­ty of fam­i­ly life comes into con­tact with the world of orga­nized crime. But both worlds are giv­en equal impor­tance, and each of their char­ac­ters are equal­ly deserv­ing of our sympathies.

Sim­i­lar­ly The Wire has the good guys – the cops, the unions, a school and a news­pa­per – and the bad guys – the street gangs – but refus­es to take sides. Instead, both sides are shown to be equal­ly taint­ed by pet­ty per­son­al pol­i­tics and con­flict­ed loy­al­ties which makes both sets of char­ac­ters all the more fascinating.

Mad Men is a bit more com­pli­cat­ed. The two worlds that come into con­flict here are, on the one hand the black and white cer­tain­ties of the late 1950s, which is what the show looks and sounds like, and on the oth­er the pitch black and oh so con­tem­po­rary cyn­i­cism of the show’s sto­ry­lines and its char­ac­ters, which is what the show feels like.

Break­ing Bad takes this tem­plate and reduces it to its purest form. The two worlds here are the whiter than white col­lar world of an ele­men­tary school teacher and the bleached blond vanil­la world that he and his fam­i­ly live in, and the dank and dark, grim and grimy realm of under­world drugs. When the school teacher (Bryan Cranston) is diag­nosed with ter­mi­nal lung can­cer, he decides to pro­vide for his fam­i­ly by man­u­fac­tur­ing crys­tal meth, and two worlds that ought nev­er to have come into con­tact collide.

What’s so cap­ti­vat­ing about the show is that once that deci­sion has been made, they treat every­thing he has to do, drug wise, as seri­ous­ly as they do fam­i­ly wise. So for instance, when he has to dis­pose of a dead body, they real­ly take you through, step by step, exact­ly what you’d have to do if you real­ly were faced with hav­ing to get rid of a corpse.

Sim­i­lar­ly, when he and his side­kick decide to offer their pristine­ly pro­duced crys­tal meth (he is after all a Chem­istry teacher) to one of the under­world’s main dis­trib­u­tors, and sug­gest that per­haps he might con­sid­er using them instead of his usu­al pro­duc­er to sup­ply him with all his chem­i­cal needs, all Hell breaks loose, just as you’d have expect­ed it to, should such an unlike­ly event have ever occurred in the real world.

All the advance reports on Break­ing Bad were wor­ry­ing­ly rev­er­en­tial. For once, they were entire­ly justified.