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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