Archives for December 2013

8 Albums You Might Have Missed in 2013.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra.


8. More Is Than Isn’t, RJD2.

When Deadringer came out in 2002 RJD2 was hailed as the natural partner in crime  to DJ Shadow. He lost his way ever so slightly in the interim, but this his 6th solo effort is a decided return to form.

Borrowed beats and riffs fused with hiphop and RnB, effortlessly balanced and blended. It gets a 7.7 from Pitchfork here.

7. Psychic, Darkside.

Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington teamed up as Darkside for this impressively cinematic slice of indietronica, reviewed by me earlier here. It gets an impressed 9.0 from Pitchfork here.

Daft Punk.

Daft Punk.

 6. Random Access Memories, Daft Punk.

Just in case you somehow missed this, album of the year, reviewed earlier by by me here. Majestic.


5. Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves.
Alt country has yet another improbably young, old before her time star to sit beside the likes of Caitlin Rose, who’s 2010 debut Own Side Now I reviewed earlier here.

Pristine melodies tell tales of woe and wasted lives, and are served up by a voice that would melt and break hearts.

4. AMOK, Atoms For Peace.

The debut album form the indie supergroup melds Tom Yorke’s vocals with Brazilian beats, and sets them against a twitchy indietronica backdrop. Reviewed by my earlier here.

Julianna-Barwick3. Nepenthe, Julianna Barwick.
The second album proper from her after her breakthrough The Magic Place in 2011, reviewed by me earlier here.

Recorded with Alex Somers, the Sigur Ros collaborator and the string quartet Amiina in Iceland, it has the haunting, ethereal feel of peek era 4AD Records, when The Cocteau Twins, TMC and Dead Can Dance fused bliss with grunge. It gets an 8.5 from Pitchfork here.



2. The Jazz Age, The Bryan Ferry Orchestra.

20s jazz cuts of classic Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry tracks, it was reviewed by me earlier here. It will either leave you utterly perplexed, or be the most obviously brilliant idea for an album imaginable.

BEELD21. The Essential Mix 2011, Nicolas Jaar.

Two years old at this stage, but if you’ve yet to download this, do so here and now. Its two hour length means that Jaar has the luxury of, when he wishes, playing the whole track. As he does with the Brothers Four’s 1960 classic “Greenfields”, which melds 50s doo wop with 60s folk, the Latino sounds of Los Angeles’ Negroes’ “Tu y tu Mirar”, or the typically delicate Keith Jarrett track, “Encore”.

In between, you get snatches of the Aphex Twin, snippets of Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood and, best of all, Angelo Badalamenti talking us through the theme tune to Twin Peaks. Sublime.

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8 Best TV Progammes over Christmas.

Bonnie and Clyde.

Bonnie and Clyde.

What with digital top boxes, VOD and the various Players and the general box set culture that has done so much to transform television programming and watching, the Christmas TV schedule isn’t, inevitably, what it was once was. Nevertheless, this year’s offerings seem especially dull.

Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Here are 8 of the very few things on offer to distract you from the annual rows, indulgence and over-stimulation. In chronological order, set the Record for:

1. Sunday Dec 22nd BBC1 5:15pm, Alice In Wonderland. Classic Disney, from a prelapsarian age when cartoons were made with playfulness and wit. Not a lesson in sight.

2. Sunday Dec 22nd BBC2 10pm, Translations. A look at Brian Friel’s most enduring play, and one of the very few interesting to things to emerge from the Irish stage in the last few decades.

3. Sunday Dec 22nd RTE 2 11:50 Bonnie And Clyde (1967), Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn’s famously amoral biopic. The US indie film movement that saw the likes of Coppola, Scorsese, Towne, Schrader, Ashby (see below) et al emerge in the 70s begins here.

Jack Nicholson in "The Last Detail".

Jack Nicholson in “The Last Detail”.

4. Christmas Eve RTE1 9:30pm Irish Pictorial Weekly (reviewed earlier here). Last in series. Not to be missed. Shock horror, an Irish comedy that’s actually funny and is aimed un-apologetically at a triple digit IQ.

5. Sunday Dec 29th BBC4 8pm, Christmas Lectures 2013: Life Fantastic, Allison Woollard gives a talk on Natural Selection.

6. New Year’s Eve BBC4 8pm, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Alec Guinness plays the 8 relatives keeping Dennis Price from what’s rightfully his.

The only must watch on British TV.

The only must watch on British TV.

7. New Year’s Eve, BBC1, 10:15pm, the Graham Norton Show. Still the best way to kick off any New Year’s Eve.

8. Thursday Jan 2nd/Fri Jan 3rd. Film 4 01:30am, The Last Detail (1973), Jack Nicholson (reviewed earlier here) in Hal Ashby’s engrossing and quietly moving low-key drama.

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Reza Aslan’s book on Jesus, that Viral and the Origins of Anti-Semitism.

Reza Aslan on Fox News.

Reza Aslan on Fox News.

The day after Reza Aslan was interviewed by Lauren Green on Fox News last July, Buzzfeed posted the 10 minute clip under the headline, Is this the Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News has ever done? here.  So far it’s got over 4 million hits.

His book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth was already a best seller, and there were some who suggested that Aslan was all too willing to go head to head with the intellectual giants at Fox to further fuel those sales. And that the 35% increase in sales that followed was all part of a carefully contrived plan.

Aslan's brilliant "Zealot: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth".

Aslan’s brilliant “Zealot: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth”.

All of which is to miss the point. It’s a brilliant book. The extensive and all-encompassing research that Aslan has done has all been distilled into a wonderfully accessible, page-turning narrative. We follow the people of Judea decade by decade, as they pass through a series of insurrections which produce a steady succession of Messiahs, all bent on wresting the promised land from greedy Roman hands.

The story he tells gets especially interesting when the Christian faction of Judaism splits after Jesus’ death.

On the one hand, there was Paul who sought to open up Christianity to allow gentiles join by insisting that faith was all you needed to be a follower of Christ. You were not in other words required to follow Jewish law.

And on the other there was Jesus’ brother James, who was head of the Jewish Christians based around the all important Temple in Jerusalem. They (continued to) define themselves by their strict adherence to the Law.

Paul’s indifference to Jewish Law quickly developed into outright hostility, and eventually he was summoned to Jerusalem and forced to humiliatingly recant. And that would have been that.

Except that it was precisely at this moment in time that the Romans finally tired of their constant insurrections, and the newly crowned emperor Vespasian sent his son, the future emperor Titus, to quash the Judeans once and for all.

The looted Menorah displayed in the Roman Forum.

The looted Menorah displayed in the Roman Forum.

Father and son were determined to make an example of the Judeans, and understood all too well that the Judeans and their peculiar, singular religion were one and the same. By the time their campaign was over in 74AD, the people and their religion were in tatters. And suddenly, Paul’s Hellenistic brand of Christianity became the only Jewish game in town.

Hence, as the gospels came to be written over the next few decades, Mark in 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 90s and John between 100-120AD,  the blame for Christ’s death shifted from the Romans to the Jewish priests of the temple.

As understandably, Christians tried to distance themselves from any suggestion of Jewishness, which could easily be met with execution. And equally, the people that Paul and his followers were now trying to convert, in their very un-Jewish way, were of course the Romans.

So for the next few centuries, Jews and Christians defined themselves in terms of the Other. The few Jews who had survived were living in exile in Babylon. And they defined themselves as those who continued to rigorously obey the (Jewish) Law. Whilst all around them, throughout the rest of the Roman Empire, Christians defined themselves as they who did not have to obey the Law. But could worship through faith alone.

So being Christian was expressed in your anti-Jewishness. And being Jewish, by your anti-Christian-ness.

Over time, they each came to denounce one another with increasing vitriol. And that very probably would have been that. But something extraordinary happened.

In 312 Constantine converted to Christianity. Incredibly, within barely a few decades, the whole of the Roman Empire had followed suit. It’s worth remembering that when Akhenaten tried something similar in 14th century BC Egypt, the priests there very nearly succeeded in erasing his name or any evidence of his existence from memory within a few years of his death.

Not only did the Roman Empire convert to Christianity almost over night (the Council of Nicea took place after all in 325), but the rest of the Western world to the North and East of the Roman Empire also converted. And so  the whole of Christendom, that is the whole of the Western world, were practicing a religion that had begun by being defined by its anti-Jewishness.

When Islam then rose up in the East, it was all too easy for the West to lump the few Jews that there were with the new Other, and to continue vilifying them accordingly.

All of which, as Aslan’s book so brilliantly illustrates, begins with that split in the very early church, between the Hellenistic followers of Christ under Paul, and the Jewish branch under James, in the soon to be sacked Jerusalem.

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Irish Pictorial Weekly, Shock Horror, an Irish Comedy that’s Actually Funny.

Irish Pictorial Weekly.

Irish Pictorial Weekly.

Comedy programmes on Irish television have a long and shameful past. There have been many, many of them, each one, mesmerically, even more unfunny than the one before. From Upwardly Mobile, the Big Bow Wow – which I think was a comedy… – right up to the current, execrable Republic Of Telly.

Paths to Freedom was a rare and lonely beacon of light – you can see Rats and his brother in alms in Belfast here. But even they stumbled when trying to deal with the middle classes instead of sticking to Rats and his drinking class buddies.

So it’s something of a culture shock, to say the least, to see a programme on RTE that’s genuinely funny. I was trying to think of a simile. But it’s actually a simile in its own right. When next confronted with something that’s grotesque and unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented, you’ll be able to say that whatever it is is rather like finding a comedy on RTE that’s actually funny.

What they were up against.

What they were up against.

Irish Pictorial Weekly is made by Blinder Films and written and performed by, amongst others, Barry Murphy, Gary Cooke, Eleanor Tiernan, John Colleary, Paul Howard, Alan Shortt, Colum McDonnell, and Tara Flynn. It manages to foreground sharp political satire against a succession of wonderfully surreal backdrops in a mixture of doctored clips and sketches. The results are both reliably consistent and brilliantly funny. And as such, it’s something of a revelation.

Poor Swift can at last stop spinning in that grave of his. We can it seems produce satire aimed at viewers with a triple digit IQ. Our talents do stretch beyond The Phoenix after all.

It’s on RTE1 on Thursdays at 22:15. Here are a couple of clips. A Gerry Adams clip here. An Eamon Gilmore clip here. A Pat Rabbitte clip here.

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