Archives for July 2016

3 new albums from The Avalanches, DJ Shadow and Blood Orange.

The Avalanches' Wildflower.

The Avalanch­es’ Wild­flower.

The Avalanch­es released their debut album Since I Left You in 2000, and its kalei­do­scop­ic mix of sun­ny sam­ples mould­ed to infec­tious groves saw it right­ly her­ald­ed as one of the albums of the decade. Wild­flower is their belat­ed sequel. So why has it tak­en 16 years to arrive?

Well for one thing, the even larg­er num­ber of sam­ples they need­ed for their sec­ond record took over 5 years for clear­ance. Then the five Aus­tralian DJs became two, and are now two plus one. Then their record label went bel­ly up, and one of them devel­oped a life threat­en­ing, debil­i­tat­ing illness.

avalanches-since-i-left-you1The good news is, and not with­stand­ing the wait, Wild­flower feels like the com­plete­ly nat­ur­al next step after Since I Left You. As you’d expect, a slew of guest vocal­ists have joined the par­ty now, with Jonathan Don­ahue of Mer­cury Rev, David Berman of Sil­ver Jews, War­ren Ellis and Father John Misty bob­bing up and down in the sea of metic­u­lous­ly lay­ered sounds.

A few peo­ple have grum­bled that it’s too rec­og­niz­ably a new Avalanch­es album, and that they haven’t evolved enough. But that’s always the fate of the avant garde. What begins as weird and aggres­sive­ly off-putting quick­ly becomes accept­able and then the norm. This is even more obvi­ous­ly the case with DJ Shad­ow.

DJ Shadow's The Mountain Will Fall.

DJ Shad­ow’s The Moun­tain Will Fall.

The new album, his fifth, is called The Moun­tain Will Fall, and like the pre­vi­ous cou­ple it’s gone large­ly un-noticed. That’s because the hype that his debut album Endtro­duc­ing gen­er­at­ed in 1996 was bound to be fol­lowed by some­thing of an inevitable back­lash. And once again, as I wrote ear­li­er on his pre­vi­ous albums here, this is most unfair.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, this is a much dark­er and more brood­ing affair than the Avalanch­es’ album, but it suf­fers from the same, unjust crit­i­cism. How can this sound so rec­og­niz­ably like a n oth­er DJ Shad­ow album? Shouldn’t he have moved on?

The point is, what he and then the Avalanch­es were doing was not some sort of pass­ing fad. Effec­tive­ly, they’d mined a new art form.

Beyonce's Lemonade.

Bey­on­ce’s Lemon­ade.

The instru­men­tal hiphop that he pio­neered was man­u­fac­tured by piec­ing togeth­er sam­ples from oth­er records and from all sorts of dis­parate eras and gen­res, and piec­ing them togeth­er to form a glo­ri­ous­ly coher­ent and for­mi­da­ble soundscape.

The trou­ble is, nowa­days that’s how all albums are put togeth­er, from the obscure fringes to the main­stream cen­tre. By min­ing as many diverse sources as pos­si­ble, in every area of an albums cre­ation. There are over 72 writ­ers on Beyoncé’s new album, the excel­lent Lemon­ade, and over 2,000 indi­vid­u­als are cred­it­ed with hav­ing con­tributed to it.

Blood Orange's Freetown Sound.

Blood Orange’s Free­town Sound.

A per­fect exam­ple of which is Free­town Sound, the new album from Blood Orange. In many ways, it’s a rel­a­tive­ly con­ven­tion­al album on the funki­er, RnB side of soul, from a British artist who’s tak­en four or five albums to final­ly find his voice, which he has done here in spades.

But each of the tracks are book­end­ed by sam­ples and film clips that give the album and each of the tracks a decid­ed­ly polit­i­cal edge. So that on the one hand, it has a much more con­tem­po­rary feel to it than either of the above, but on the oth­er, it nev­er could have been made the way that it was, or have end­ed up sound­ing the way that it does, with­out the pio­neer­ing work done by the likes of Shad­ow in days of yore.

Digging for gold, Josh Davies aka Shadow is rumoured to own over 60,000 LPs.

Dig­ging for gold, Josh Davies aka Shad­ow is rumoured to own over 60,000 LPs.

Though not quite as good as some crit­ics would have you believe, Free­town Sound is nonethe­less a seri­ous album, and gets an 8.8 from Pitch­fork here, while The Moun­tain Will Fall gets an unjust­ly skimpy 6.6 here, which isn’t real­ly fair on either count. They more prop­er­ly mer­it about 8.0 each — Wild­flower gets an 8.5 here.

What all three albums rep­re­sent is the fruits of a life­time of hard work from seri­ous musi­cians for whom music is not so much a choice as it is a com­pul­sion. And for whom, and thanks to whom, mak­ing an album the old way sim­ply isn’t an option any more.

You can see the video for DJ Shad­ow’s The Moun­tain Will Fall here, the lead sin­gle Augus­tine from Blood Orange here, and you can hear The Avalanch­es’ Colours here- the video for the sin­gle Frankie Sina­tra is pants, which is a shame, as the song itself is impos­si­bly catchy.

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

A trip down the Amazon with “Embrace of the Serpent”.

Embrace of the Serpent.

Embrace of the Ser­pent.

This is the third film from Columbian film mak­er Ciro Guer­ra and it won the main prize in the Direc­tors’ Fort­night at Cannes last year. But it real­ly ought to have been invit­ed to be screened there in the com­pe­ti­tion prop­er. And it only lost out on the Oscar for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film to Hungary’s Son of Saul – which was so har­row­ing (cor­rect­ly so giv­en its sub­ject) that it was almost unwatchable.

Embrace of the Ser­pent is a fic­tion­al­ized mar­ry­ing of the twin jour­neys into the heart of Ama­zo­nia that were embarked upon in the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. The first was made by the Ger­man eth­nol­o­gist Theodor Koch-Grun­berg in 1909, and the sec­ond, in 1940, by the Amer­i­can Richard Evans Schultes, who is con­sid­ered to be the father of eth­nob­otany, the study of the rela­tion­ship between peo­ples and their plants.

We begin with the Ger­man, who turns in des­per­a­tion to a shaman, the haughty Kara­makate, to relieve him of the delir­i­um he is dan­ger of slip­ping into.

the-new-film-embrace-of-the-serpent-conjures-a-forgotten-indigenous-vision-of-the-amazon-1452186262-crop_mobileBut Kara­makate has seen his land destroyed and his peo­ple dec­i­mat­ed by the white man and his insa­tiable appetite for rub­ber, and for what­ev­er else he can the rape the for­est of. And he only very reluc­tant­ly agrees to be their guide.

Thir­ty years lat­er, and the Amer­i­can Schultes is retrac­ing the German’s steps in search of a won­der plant the lat­ter is sup­posed to have dis­cov­ered in the course of that first trip.

Shot rav­ish­ing­ly in black and white, the film has been described by many as hal­lu­cino­genic, but dream-like would be a more accu­rate descrip­tion of the mood and atmos­phere it evokes. Every­thing that hap­pens is con­nect­ed to what hap­pened before and to what hap­pens after, and there are rea­sons for the things that hap­pen, and yet some­how events don’t unfold in the way that you would expect them to.

2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s as if clas­si­cal, New­ton­ian causal­i­ty had been sus­pend­ed and been replaced by a high­er log­ic that we’ve yet to have explained to us. You know it must all make sense, you’re just not quite sure how.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why peo­ple might resort to describ­ing it as hal­lu­cino­genic. Very briefly and for bare­ly a minute, the film bursts into colour in a bad­ly mis­judged attempt to imag­ine what the trip Schultes has gone on might look and feel like after imbib­ing of a local con­coc­tion – Schultes would lat­er go on to write a famous book on LSD in 1979 with Albert Hof­mann, the man who dis­cov­ered it in 1938.

The fourth and final section of 2001 takes flight.

The fourth and final sec­tion of 2001 takes flight.

But it’s impos­si­ble to watch these exper­i­ments in colour and not think of what Kubrick did in much the same way for 22 glo­ri­ous min­utes in the final and gen­uine­ly psy­che­del­ic sec­tion of 2001: A Space Odyssey – which I reviewed ear­li­er here.

That brief mis-step apart, Embrace of the Ser­pent is at times a majes­tic, at oth­ers an eeri­ly haunt­ing film that cov­ers much the same ter­ri­to­ry as Conrad’s Heart of Dark­ness, but from the oth­er end of the bar­rel of the gun. The con­clu­sion is the same, but the jour­ney get­ting there is a more iso­lat­ed and there­fore a more con­tem­pla­tive experience.

And the cacoph­o­ny of chaos that that jour­ney reveals is pro­duced not by the machines of war, but by a jun­gle team­ing with a life that’s being casu­al­ly butchered by the white men man­ning the guns, and approach­ing from beyond the trees.

You can see the trail­er for Embrace of the Ser­pent here.

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