Archives for May 2012

Blunderbuss” by Jack White, verily a Prince Amongst Men.

Jack WhiteJack White is Bob Dylan’s much younger and much more indus­tri­ous baby broth­er. Incred­i­bly, he very near­ly has the great man’s depth of vision and musi­cal scope, but unbur­dened by the weight of mes­sian­ic adu­la­tion, nice and qui­et­ly he’s liv­ing the musi­cal dream.

Glob­al­ly speak­ing, the White Stripes were lit­tle more than A N Oth­er gui­tar band mak­ing a rea­son­ably good liv­ing doing their thing. With­in the world of music though, they were a phe­nom­e­non. A blind­ing­ly bright light­en­ing bolt that lit up the night skies in a flash of uncom­pro­mis­ing, sear­ing brilliance.

White took that suc­cess and ran with it. He formed a cou­ple of satel­lite bands, The Racon­teurs and The Dead Weath­er, launched his record label Third Man Records, and in 2009 bought a build­ing in Nashville which he trans­formed into a record­ing hub. 

There he’s pro­duced LPs and sin­gles (on vinyl of course) for the likes of Loret­ta Lynn, Wan­da Jack­son, First Aid Kit (reviewed here), Jer­ry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones and Alaba­ma Shakes (reviewed here) as well as duet­ing with Norah Jones for three of the tracks on Dan­ger Mouse’s Rome (reviewed here).

But last year The White Stripes offi­cial­ly called it a day. And then a few months lat­er, White and his wife Karen Olson split up, mark­ing the occa­sion, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, with a divorce par­ty. So this is his first out­ing as a sin­gle man. And there were real­ly only ever two pos­si­ble outcomes. 

Either the Stripes depend­ed for their mag­ic on some intan­gi­ble alchem­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of both Meg and Jack. Or, the most potent force in rock will always be Jack White with who­ev­er it is that he’s hap­pens to have paired him­self up with that par­tic­u­lar morn­ing. Blun­der­buss puts that dilem­ma to bed once and for all.

It’s intrigu­ing, not to say gen­er­ous, of White to insist that it was Meg who wore the trousers in the band, as he does in Josh Eells’ superb inter­view in the NY Times here – sit­ed in Pitch­fork’s gen­er­ous review here, not with­stand­ing their skimpy 7.8.

But it’s blind­ing­ly obvi­ous that it was he who was the band’s engine, its fuel, trans­mis­sion and uphol­ster­er. And Blun­der­buss is an impres­sive amal­ga­ma­tion of all of the musi­cal avenues he’s been explor­ing in all of the many musi­cal projects he’s been involved with to date.

Accord­ing to the inter­view he gave to All Songs Con­sid­ered here, he kept two sep­a­rate back­ing bands on hold, an all-male one and an all-female one. And one of the many plea­sures that the album affords is try­ing to spot which one is which.

I’d have a small wager that the funky groves of I’m Shakin’ bespeak a female troupe, and not just because of the lush, Spec­tor-esque female back­ing vocals, includ­ing, again char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly (of them both) his now ex-wife Olsen. 

Whilst it’s impos­si­ble not to con­clude that the pri­mal propul­sion of the majes­tic sin­gle Six­teen Saltines is the work of undi­lut­ed machis­mo – and quite cor­rect­ly, White posi­tioned this as his track 2. The album would have been quite over­whelmed by it had he begun with it.

This is a prop­er piece of work from a very seri­ous musi­cian indeed. Quite sim­ply, the man’s royalty.

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Avengers Assemble: Superior Blockbuster, Disappointing Joss Whedon Film.

What you think of the new Avengers Assem­ble film will depend on whether you too are a fel­low Joss Whe­don groupie. Whe­don was the brains behind the cult clas­sic Buffy, which ran for 7 series from 1997–2003. Remark­ably, the spin-off fol­low-up Angel was a pret­ty impres­sive stab at repeat­ing the magic.

The lat­ter tend­ed to lose its way when­ev­er it veered off onto oth­er plan­ets, but for the most part Angel was as air­i­ly con­fi­dent and sure-foot­ed as Buffy.

Con­sis­tent­ly com­pelling sto­ries about impec­ca­bly delin­eat­ed char­ac­ters who all spoke in effort­less­ly smart dia­logue, and almost all of whom were giv­en three glo­ri­ous dimen­sions by the near per­fect cast (not with­stand­ing Drusil­la and her accent, which clear­ly came from anoth­er dimen­sion entirely). 

Some­how, Whe­don had man­aged to casu­al­ly tap into the vein of that all-impor­tant demo­graph­ic, youth cul­ture. Inevitably what fol­lowed was, box office wise, some­thing a of a dis­ap­point­ment. First up was Fire­fly, which was can­celled by Fox before it had even com­plet­ed its first sea­son – though not before he’d man­aged to shoot a fea­ture pre­quel, Seren­i­ty. Then there was Doll­house, which last­ed just two sea­sons before being axed.

So Whe­don was very much of the fall­en vari­ety and on some­thing of a retrieval mis­sion with his lat­est effort. Which cer­tain­ly goes some of the way to explain­ing quite how safe Avengers Assem­ble feels. But the truth of the mat­ter is, the very nature of the project pro­hibits nar­ra­tive ambition.

What we are talk­ing about after all is a film with (at least) six heroes. So on the one hand, you need to give six dif­fer­ent pro­tag­o­nists equal weight and time. And on the oth­er, the fran­chise demands of sequels and mer­chan­dis­ing mean that they all have to sur­vive and live to see anoth­er day. So nec­es­sar­i­ly, there can nev­er be any­thing real­ly at stake. Unlike then Buffy, or indeed Seren­i­ty, where it’s han­dled bril­liant­ly, there can be no death.

If you want to see what Whe­don is capa­ble of when not shack­led by the con­fines of a fran­chise, have a look at the ridicu­lous­ly under-viewed Seren­i­ty.  Seri­ous­ly, watch it. 

The script bril­liant­ly bal­ances the per­son­al and the uni­ver­sal, the big and the small, and the sto­ry pow­ers for­ward with an elec­tri­fy­ing pace (has any­one ever pro­pelled nar­ra­tive using dia­logue with such gay aban­don and dev­as­tat­ing force?). Whilst the care­ful­ly placed fight scenes boast a bal­let­ic inten­si­ty com­plete­ly alien to your run-of-the-mill, bog-stan­dard, sum­mer blockbuster.

And that ulti­mate­ly is all Avengers Assem­ble real­ly is. And as such it could com­fort­ably lose 15 or so of the open­ing and clos­ing 20 min­utes. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, all the reviews have raved about it. And undoubt­ed­ly, in a sea of medi­oc­rity it clear­ly stands out (even more so if you see it in one of those fab­u­lous new Isense cin­e­mas, reviewed here). But there’s no get­ting away from it, as the new Joss Whe­don film, it’s ever so slight­ly dis­ap­point­ing. Let’s hope all those brown­ie points he’s now accu­mu­lat­ed can be used by him for some­thing a bit more personal. 

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The Future of Film at Dublin’s New Odeon Cinema.

Like every oth­er area of the arts and enter­tain­ment world, film and tele­vi­sion’s ini­tial reac­tion to the onslaught of the inter­net and all things dig­i­tal was to assume the tra­di­tion­al rab­bit-in-the-head­lights posi­tion. They froze.

But after a while, they all began to real­ize that dig­i­tal could be used to every­one’s advan­tage. The way you did that was, on the one hand, by warm­ly link­ing up with it. And on the oth­er, by qui­et­ly empha­siz­ing what’s unique about what it is that you do com­pared to what can be done in the dig­i­tal universe. 

The first response prop­er that film and tele­vi­sion pro­duced was 3D.

3D was going to solve every­thing. But we already watch film and tele­vi­sion in 3D. All the new tech­nol­o­gy does is to fur­ther extend that illu­sion from the screen to your eyes. 

When a man threw a knife at you before, it stopped at the sur­face of the screen. Now it comes all the way to the tip of your nose. Which is unde­ni­ably impres­sive for the first three or four min­utes or so, but you quick­ly get used to it. It’s great for ads or trail­ers, but it soon becomes invis­i­ble. And, as ever, you’re left with whether not the film or what­ev­er it is that you’re watch­ing is any good.

What cin­e­ma needs to do if it is to dis­tin­guish itself from A N oth­er video view­ing is to make watch­ing it there a unique expe­ri­ence. And the way you do that is through vision and sound.

The Odeon group has already tak­en over the UCI cin­e­mas in Dublin and the Storm ones through­out the rest of the coun­try, and now they’ve opened a brand new cin­e­ma at the Point Vil­lage in the cen­tre of town. There are five new screens in all but pride of place goes to the isense screen they’ve opened there to go with one they already have in Blanchardstown.

Isense oper­ates using imm sound, as in immer­sive, and broad­ly speak­ing the way that works is as fol­lows. Con­ven­tion­al 5.1 sur­round sound has three speak­ers up front (cen­tre, left and right), and two on either side behind (the .1 is for the Sub­woofer). All of the core sto­ry sound comes out from the front, mov­ing left and right. The back two speak­ers are only used for sec­ondary sound like extras in a bar, or the sound of a car arriving.

When you go to 7.1 (or 9, or 11.1), all you are doing is adding two more of the back speak­ers for that sec­ondary sound, to com­pli­ment the three prin­ci­ple ones you have up front. In oth­er words, you’re only ever using just the two basic chan­nels. Prin­ci­ple, core sto­ry sounds come out of the three up front, and (all) the oth­er speak­ers are kept for back­ground sounds.

What imm sound does is to take what­ev­er film it is that they are show­ing and effec­tive­ly remix it using their 24 chan­nels. So that, as near as pos­si­ble, what you see is matched by what you hear. 

When for instance we see our ter­ri­fied hero­ine look­ing up in fear at the ceil­ing, we can hear the progress of the foot­steps in the attic above her as they move, almost one by one, from front to back and from left to right. 

What’s more, all of this can be heard through the 50 or 60 speak­ers that Odeon drown the walls of their isense cin­e­mas in to go with the glo­ri­ous­ly large screens they reserve for the films they show there (and thanks by the way to the Point’s Dig­i­tal Oper­a­tions Man­ag­er Tony Colton who explained all of this to me so patient­ly.). For more details on where you can find imm sound cin­e­mas through­out the rest of Europe and how they work go here

At 11.50 the tick­ets are ever so slight­ly above aver­age. And it’s still not going to suc­ceed in giv­ing a turkey wings. But make no mis­take, this is the future for film, and you can see it here in the cen­tre of Dublin. Enjoy.

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Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” Soars.

Jason Pearce formed Spir­i­tu­al­ized in 1990, but it was their third album that sent their rock ’n’ roll stock soar­ing into the stratos­phere in 1997. Ladies And Gen­tle­men, We Are Float­ing In Space seemed to flat­ly con­tra­dict every­thing we’d been told about what hap­pens when you live a life of heed­less hedonism.

Pearce seemed to be spend­ing his every wak­ing hour imbib­ing and ingest­ing any­thing and every­thing he could get his hands on. The result, shock­ing­ly, was an album of majes­tic cohe­sion and soar­ing, unfor­giv­ing grace.

As ever though, the Gods had mere­ly been toy­ing with him. After two decid­ed­ly under­whelm­ing fol­low-up albums, in 2005 he was felled with a par­tic­u­lar­ly vir­u­lent case of pneu­mo­nia. He very near­ly died and was hos­pi­tal­ized for the guts of a year. The next album Songs In A&E had, unsur­pris­ing­ly, some­thing of a ten­ta­tive feel to it.

But a year lat­er in ’09 he start­ed tour­ing Ladies And Gen­tle­men in its entire­ty, as was the fash­ion of the day. And the expe­ri­ence seems to have reju­ve­nat­ed him. The result is this, their 7th stu­dio album.

Once again Pearce has defied the odds by pro­duc­ing an impres­sive­ly coher­ent album, despite being felled yet again by serous ill­ness. This time it was his liv­er, and the cock­tail of, irony of ironies, drugs he was pre­scribed meant that it took him eight months to fin­ish mix­ing it. Hence the sub­ti­tle, Huh? which he explains here on Pitch­fork, and the boys from Prav­da gave it an impressed 8.8 here.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light is both a crys­tal­liza­tion and a sum­ma­tion of every­thing he and Spir­i­tu­al­ized have been work­ing on to date. It has every­thing they do best, and some of the best exam­ples of what they do.

From the open­ing track prop­er, the even-more-Reed-than-Reed Hey Jane (more V U returned with thanks) to the Dr John col­lab­o­ra­tion, I Am What I Am, which is what David Chase would have used for The Sopra­nos if they’d been mak­ing it today. And the whole thing is giv­en son­ic depth and poise by the Ice­landic string quar­tet Ami­ina, long-time col­lab­o­ra­tors with com­pa­tri­ots Sig­ur Ros.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, it has slight­ly less of the grandeur that Ladies And Gen­tle­men boasts. And instead of the defi­ance and tri­umphant despair of the for­mer, you’re being gen­tly invit­ed in here to break bread and per­chance for a sup of wine.

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