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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