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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Knockemstiff", the great American white trash book

Knockemstiff- Donald Ray Pollock 

Welcome to Knockemstiff, Ohio. Welcome to a rural nowhere, a black hole that absorbs everyone that survives (I don't dare  to say live) there and, for sure, a place from no-one escapes. Welcome to a human monster's parade, that will puzzle, terrify you as much as it grabs you. There's no redemption or mercy here. There might have been dreams, but misery and desolation easily corrupts them.

Donald Ray Pollock short stories have an structure that resembles the legendary "Winesburg, Ohio" by Sherwood Anderson, where stories and characters are, at times remotely, at times directly related, and where characters can be the centre of the tale, and then become a secondary actor in the next story. So when you reach the end of the book, you have the feeling of having read a novel of a place (and a time) on its own. It's a book about Knockemstiff, a place which may be the closest thing to hell on Earth. Seems the town, the hollow as it is referred on the book, really exists, being the are where the writer was born. But the amazing thing here is that Pollock manages to transcend the autobiography. Knockemstiff could be anywhere, and the reader will think there are many Knockemstiff out there. The Sex Pistols got famous by singing "No future no future for you no future for me" on "God Save the Queen". But in "Knockemstiff" the situation is much depressing. There's no future, because there's zero hope for the present.

The inhabitants of "Knockemstiff" are pure white trash fated for a life of alcohol, drugs, miserable sex, miserable works and the weight of their families, their bad choices and mistakes, their addictions, their inabilities to drive their lives and, of course, the place that surrounds them. They might be damned by the hollow where they live. But for sure, they are doomed. Pollock needs only just one sentence to resume it all.  "My father showed me how to harm people one night of August when I was seven years old". If we were talking about boxing, that would be an absolute knock-out.

Sensitive stomachs could be distressed by the cast of horrible and violent situations and human beings that swarm "Knockemstiff". I would ask you to persevere and going further than the (disgusting, brutal) surface, because this short stories deserve it. Pollock manages to avoid sentimentalisms or affectations, as well as repetitions. I have read in a review that the book is luckily amoral and I completely agree, being one , in my opinion, of the factors that makes his fiction so absorbing. There are no lessons here, just the cruel and raw "reality". Straight and without contemplations. And thanks to that, there are also credible feelings of desolation, frustration and shame in the condemned characters. As Raymond Carver would say, "No heroics, please". Even if the truth hurts. Even if it hurts so much that can turn you into a monster. I guess you realize by now what's going to be my conclusion: read "Knockemstiff". Just a final note. Read the great prologue from Kiko Amat after finishing the book.

SCORE: 8,25/10

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Port of Morrow", The Shins' maturity record?

Port of Morrow

Five years have passed since The Shins' last record, the recommendable "Wincing The Night Away". And despite I loved "Broken Bells", his adventure with Danger Mouse, it was quite obvious we needed another dose of James Mercer, now the remaining member of the original band. Considering this fact, there were concerns about how this "new" The Shins were going to look like (better said, sound).

The mix between uncertainness and great anticipation quickly turned into extremely high expectations after hearing "Simple Song", the first single, premiered in advance of the album. Among the best things Mercer has created, in my opinion, the song is an instant classic, and the best appetizer for the record. But now that we have "Port of Morrow" in our hands, the tune is also a curse for the rest of the album, being its arguably greatest moment.

The "problem" is not at the start of "Port of Morrow", which is terrific. Opener "The Rifle's Spiral is brilliant, full of wonder and a lusher production (many little things going on). Then comes the aforementioned "Simple Song", followed by the first ballad, "It's Only Life", the first divisive song of the album. I admit I adore it, to me is one of the finest moments of "Port of Morrow", but I can understand some criticism that points this is a "docile" tune, not very far from AOR music or mainstream pop. Awesomely done (I like the reference I have read about Crowded House, a band, sniff, sniff,  that introduced me into pop when I was a teenager) for certain, but a bit cheesy.

That "issue", the slight feeling of dissatisfaction with the record worsens with the next trio. "Bait And Switch" and "No Way Down" are the usual beat, fast paced, psychedelic tunes from The Shins without a real punch, while "September" offers the acoustic, pensive side of the band. Don't get me wrong, they are more than ok songs, but for me they are a bit on autopilot mode, considering they are coming from the mind of James Mercer.

"For a Fool", seventh song, is the most worrying of the lot. Its' sad to write this, but this is an AOR ballad destined to become famous by some "emotional moment" on a TV Show, and if we weren't talking about The Shins I bet many "specialised" critics would have "destroyed" its composer. Compared to that, the lighter, happier "Fall Of ´82" sounds almost glorious (I definitely love the chorus and the trumpet solo). And "40 Mark Strasse", that turns from an unpromising number into a compelling tune with a soulful nuance and a powerful chorus (the falsetto part amazes me). Closer "Port of Morrow" is a ghostly, more experimental one, sounding like a Broken Bells tune, which ends the album on a very high and promising note.

"Port of Morrow" is not a bad album. It contains two masterpieces, "Simple Song", "Rifle's Spiral" and three excellent ones, "It's Only Life", "40 Mark Strasse" and "Port Of Morrow". But the rest of the album is a bit flat, ranging from the ok but unsurprising/unremarkable to the disappointing. Maybe this is the "maturity" record from James Mercer (frightened mode on) or maybe this is the first step, after a long hiatus, from a new band, a new The Shins, that still have a genial composer leading them, as half of the record proves. Welcome back James, next time don't take that long to return!

SCORE: 6,5/10 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Discoverer 33: new indie findings

Our weekend proposals are here!

Dunes. This trio from LA came to life in 2009, from the ashes of defunct punk bands, and while they were roommates. After a self-titled 12' EP, a 7' and a single during 2010-11, "Noctiluca", their debut album is out now. And what a record this is. Sounds as it was created in another world. It's dreamy, lush, atmospheric and expansive. Cocteau Twins meets "Murmur"? Guitars jangle and echo, Stephanie Chan's voice and harmonies highlights the mood, while her lyrics intrigue you. Every element relies, in a beautiful tension, on another, so the LP is an incredibly suggestive whole, a mysterious artefact that has been just revealed.
Vertical Walk
Jukebox Adieu
Tied Together

Alpaca Sports. Our second proposal hails from Gothenburg, Sweden. I was reluctant to include them, as we have only been able to hear two songs from the band, but both are so lovely that I couldn't resist it. This is the new music project of Andreas Jonsson and it has arrived to us in the form of the irresistible single "Just For Fun", out now. Two indie-pop wonders, delicate, lush (marvellous arrangements), catchy and memorable. Awww, Sweden, what would we be without you? Needless to say, we want more music from Alpaca Sports!
Just for fun by Alpaca Sports
I'll never win by Alpaca Sports

The Stammer. And our last proposal today comes from Philadelphia, USA. They recently dropped by the blog inbox, and it was a matter of seconds I realised this wasn't a "average" band. What a stormy and immediate indie-rock. Impressive. First a project by vocalist Brian Brotman, it quickly evolved into a four-piece band, and since February with a self-titled debut EP out. Four songs that serve as an infectious compendium of post-punk, with an amazing talent to combine tones, styles and melodies. Expect droning guitars, synths and buzzing vocals. Expect greatness.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Bridesmaids", bye romantic comedies & weddings


Let's vindicate comedies. And the directors, screenwriters, actors, etc, that without missing the focus of making us laugh during 90-120 minutes, are capable of offering something, if not groundbreaking, at least refreshing, different. "Bridesmaids" might not be "high comedy" (whatever that means) but is an amusing comedy. And a big, much needed, kick in the ass to the abominable chick flick genre.

As the very recommendable and recently reviewed "Young Adult", "Bridesmaids" also subverts the archetype of female role, but now within the format of a comedy. Director Paul Feig (with the king of the new American comedy Judd Apatow behind him as producer) is capable of doing that "playing" in the most adverse of territories: the preparation of a wedding. Hard to imagine a more chick flick-bound scenario, but its hilariously used in its own benefit, providing the film the scenes, the munition to construct several unforgettable gags. Sorry lovers of weddings and traditional romantic comedies. This is not for you. We are closer to a female version of "The Hangover".

Still, that wouldn't make of "Bridesmaids" a recommendable film per se. If  you want to create a good comedy, you need an according script and a bunch of actors that can develop it. Which brings me to Kristen Wiig, unknown in Spain but a comic American icon. She's not only the absolute star of this movie, as the troubled, disastrous Annie Walker. She's also credited as co-writer of the script. What an immense work. At the very least, an Oscar nomination was in order (at the very least).

But Wiig is not alone, as all the secondary actresses are also amusing, with a deserved, very special mention to the explosive performance of Oscar-nominated Melissa McCarthy as Megan, while Rose Byrne is also remarkable as Helen, Annie's nemesis (and the caricature-archetype of the chick flick woman) and Maya Rudolph as Lilian, the bride and Annie's best friend. Male roles are quite marginalised here, being reduced to officer Nathan Rhodes (played by Chris O'Dowd) and Ted (Jon Hamm). Though both roles are nice, ridiculed updates of typical male characters (quite funny to see the Mad Men's star character turned into an evident XXI century asshole).  

The film doesn't have many misfires. Some (few) jokes might cross the line, and I could point an unbalance on its length, that hastens its conclusion to an unnatural extent, killing some secondary parts for the sake of reaching the climax of the film. But this are minor complaints in a film that for almost two hours keeps you laughing, with several scenes to be remembered, with actresses in a state of grace (especially Wiig and McCarthy), enjoying themselves while they dynamite all the romantic comedies clichés. Fun granted.

SCORE: 7,25/10

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spanish Indie 8: suggesting the best national acts

Stunning new proposals of Spanish alternative bands for you! Hope you like them!

Pegasvs. One of the best records I have heard this year so far comes from Barcelona. Their authors are Sergio Pérez and Luciana della Villa, veterans of the Spanish alternative/underground, that finally have the attention of the (indie) media as a duo with this homonym debut. And with a reason. Motorik rhythms and hyperbolic, cascading melodies, between Neu! and Stereolab, this is addictive krautrock with pop ambitions, propelling the listener to a unique place. A spot among the national best albums at the end of 2012 lists is granted.
Pegasvs by Pegasvs

Jane Joyd. I warned you. Hailing from A Coruña, Elba Fernández, aka Ms. Jane Joyd, was fated for great things. She only needed an EP on 2010 to become a must-see promise. Then she won the Proyecto Demo 2011, having the chance of showing her talents at festivals like Benicàssim (where I discovered her). Now she presents "Shy Little Jane Presents: The Dramatic Tale of Her Animals", second EP and the debut at Origami Records. Long title for an immense, hazy, rich and rewarding work. Folk, jazz, a haunting voice... and the confirmation that here's a talent that MUST be followed.

Juanita y Los Feos. Shall we (indie) dance? I have found the perfect soundtrack for it. A killing cocktail of punk-pop, new wave, garage, synths, bursts of guitars, surreal lyrics and an immediate feeling of fun. All comprised in 12 doses of 2:30 minutes' tunes, the perfect recipe to keep you moving. Hailing from Madrid, and with a quite a long history behind their backs, the band formed in 2004, published several EPs until "Juanita y Los Feos", their first LP in 2007. More EPs followed before "Pesadilla adulta", at the end of 2011. A second album that you should listen... and dance!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Indie Anthology 8: essential songs

Next song in our anthology, with a wonderful jangle-pop tune. Let's get a bit nostalgic and remember past days of Spring (as we start the season today) of what seems very long time ago now.

Song: Denmark
ArtistThe Ocean Blue
Year: 2000

This band from Hershey, Pennsylvania, started their criminally underrated career by 1987, but I didn't discover them until the release of "Davy Jone's Locker" in 2001. I got myself haunted by "Denmark", with its short, atmospheric intro leaded by the simple drum beat.. and then the entrance of the shimmering guitars. Their bright but melancholic melodies where part of the soundtrack of my last year at university (finishing my degree on Political Science) enjoying the sunny days while catching the train. Restrained epic for a glorious bit of jangle-pop. Seems the band is back. Springtime again?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Discoverer 32: new indie findings

Strawberry Wiplash. Honestly, I discovered this Glaswegian duo in 2008, after releasing their debut EP "Who's in Your Dreams" in the essential label Matinee Recordings. But I admit I had lost track of them since then. Luckily this digital era always give you second chances, so after hearing "Stop, Look and Listen" the hyper-addictive, fuzzed twee-pop pill I'm back following songwriter and guitarist Lawrence McClusky and the charming vocals of Sandra. The single announces the arrival of "Hits in the Car" their first album, out on 27 March 2012. Won't be missed this time!
Stop, Look And Listen by Strawberry Whiplash
In The Blink Of An Eye by Strawberry Whiplash
Strawberry Whiplash - Now I Know It's You by Strawberry Whiplash

Fountains. The most exciting band to reach my inbox lately is this five-piece based in London. Only three songs available (run to their bandcamp, download freely and get the ultra-limited tapes!), but what an impressive debut is this "No Sleep" EP, out since February (review coming soon). The Wild Swans meeting Joy Division? The combination sounds too great to believe it, but this tunes are THAT BIG. They define themselves as shoegazers, but I dare to say this is "just" astonishing indie music. They've told me they are looking for the right label now. If there's hope in this planet they should have their phone collapsed by calls.    

Maple Leaves. Still in Glasgow (with a bit Northern England) for our third proposal. Maple Leaves formed at an open mic night in 2008 by Anna Miles and Julian Corrie, quickly evolving into a trio. They made quite a buzz, receiving the praise of Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian, who selected Miles as a singer on his "God Help the Girl" project. They debuted in 2010 with the EP "Golden Ether", and now as four-piece, they will release "Robots" EP this spring. Skilled but dreamy and compelling indie-pop, infused by a folkie and lush instrumentation (that flute). Lovable band.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Never Thought I'd See the Day", The School is here!

I told you yesterday... and here it is!, "Never Thought I'd See the Day", the new single from The School. 2:30 minutes of pure indie-pop perfection. Can you find something lovelier than this? Aww, how we missed this band... Remember the single is out this 26 of March, and includes four more songs, two being covers of Jonathan Richman and The Honeydrips. On repeat mode! Great to go back to This School!

"Never Thought I'd See the Day"
And "When He Kisses Me", the Jonathan Richman version (handclapping yes!)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Veronica Falls, The Mynabirds & Beach House are back!

Three new songs from adored bands of this blog, plus the confirmation we'll hear new music from The School very very soon, as they will release "Never Thought I'd See The Day" first single of the forthcoming album, "Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything" on March 26th. Great Friday!

First, Veronica Falls has just premiered "My Heart Beats", backed with another newbie, "Killing Time". Quintessential Veronica Falls sound and style! And with a psychedelic video too!

Veronica Falls - My Heart Beats

Another favourite of this blog, The Mynabirds, is also announcing their sophomore and eagerly awaited comeback, "Generals" for this June. But as Laura Burnhenn knows, three months of wait is too cruel, so she's offering us the free download of its first single. You should do it!

And finally, have you heard "Myth", the first song of "Bloom", the return of Beach House. Then what are you waiting for?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"A Thousand Violins", the love for music

A Thousand Violins (Mil Violines, Spanish original title)- Kiko Amat

A novel? A biography? A compilation of essays? Yes, yes, and yes. But "A Thousand Violins" is much more than that. It is one of the most engaging love letters music has ever received. If, like me, your passion (obsession, an important part of your life) is music, this book is for you. This should be the last line of my review, but I can resist it. Thanks for the book, Kiko Amat.

This is an emotional work, because music is made of emotions, seeks and produces emotions in everyone of us. And because is the most powerful mean of human expression, it helps to define us. It define us. I agree with Amat, beware of the people who are "not interested in music", or the people that are ok with any "kind of music", able to listen everything".

Therefore, "A Thousand Violins" is a romantic book too, as Amat gives music such an important role in life. I completely agree with him, but it is really? The patronised, manufactured, advertised products that the industry sells as "the-next-big-thing", the standardisation of music styles, the importance of image and trends (indie being exploited as well), the pathetic behaviour of the industry in front of the technological changes, only interested in maintaining the bigger piece of the pie... There are too many issues that contradict Amat's wonderful vision of music today. But I repeat, I do agree with him. Music has that potential, and despite all the obstacles it faces, it keeps resisting, and being able of meaning so much for many many people.

Of course, as it is structured and developed, "A Thousand Violins", is also a very personal book. In the vein of Nick Hornby's "31 Songs" but way richer, Amat deconstructs part of his life through music. Through songs and groups. And how they influenced, marked his personal experiences and his memories. It is not a music book, but one of a "writer as a human being in love of his favourite songs". About a "life raised on music". 

And that brings me to the most striking thing of this book. Despite this is Kiko Amat's life and opinions, it profoundly connects with me (and I would dare to bet that he will do also with you). In a way is how it is written, propelled by his immediacy and feeling of proximity. But it is basically a matter of passion. Doesn't matter we don't share the same opinions (male music? uggh) tastes (not a mod fan), or that we strongly (Dylan) disagree in some artists. We are moved (inside, inside) by music. 

I laughed (destroying Queen, Abba, Phil Collins, etc), shed a tear (the R.E.M. chapter), and enjoyed the ride all along for its almost 300 pages. And if that makes sense, I felt encouraged to keep writing about music (this blog, for example). "A Thousand Violins" invites to write your own book. Because we all have one. Inside of us. Thanks again, Kiko Amat. Let's "Talk About the Passion".

SCORE: 8,5/10

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stop awful album covers 3

The epidemic of horrible music artwork continues this year. I felt somewhat forced to compile some of the worst covers of 2012 so far after seeing the last one of the set (be careful if you suffer from cardiac affections). I know, what matters is inside the sleeve, but artists, please respect your music, no more awful artworks like this ones!


The Ting Tings: Sounds from Nowheresville
Look! "Eddie" has a girlfriend! Ugh. The Ting Tings are "reoffenders"

The Chap: We Are Nobody
Why would you like to ruin your album with such an uninspired image? Reoffenders too

The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet
Prog-rock covers would deserve a separate post... umm better keep my mouth shout

Futurecop!: The Movie
Luckily, the "movie" doesn't exist

Toro y Moi: Underneath the Pine
I will never get why some people find eating food attractive for a picture or a video...

Varry Brava: Demasié
Spanish response to The Strokes' "Angles"? But who was demanding it?

New Build: Yesterday was Lived and Lost
I see a lemon. And huge amounts of drugs "creating" this cover

Sewave Tapes: Sewer Greats Volume IV
Classy, don't you think? But it can get worse. Just look below

Trust: TSRT
___________________ (*)

*(empty space reserved for your opinion, blogger would close down this blog if I give mine)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Indie Anthology 7: essential songs

Seventh song of our very particular anthology, let's go back to the gorgeous Sweden. How many melancholic, pensive, joyful, happy moments we owe you? Zillions of tunes to remember (I'll list my favourites one day). Indie-pop won't be the same without you. Swedish indie music, thank you.

Song: Fiction
ArtistThe Concretes
Year: 2006

It was a matter of time a Nordic band would make a record that became the soundtrack of my year. That a singer would hypnotize me. The band was The Concretes, the album, "In Colour", the year 2006 (crucial for me), and the singer, Victoria Bergsman. A stunning collection of pop wonders, "Chosen One", "On the Radio", "Grey Days", "Sunbeams", "Song for the Songs", and the uplifting, never-ending crescendo of "Fiction", shining recap of the album. The sort of song that can give you the strength to do the unthinkable. Don't underestimate what pop can do for you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Young Adult", unlikely princesses & painful fairy tales

Young Adult

After watching lately some quite hyped movies that didn't meet the expectations, it's nice to see one in which what matters is the story. Finally a film with an engaging script and a director developing it! The exclamation mark is in order. Cinema its getting so depressively empty that we have to celebrate works like "Young Adult". Director Jason Reitman and scriptwriter Diablo Cody are among the most interesting talents in recent years. As a duo, they created the charming, charismatic "Juno", a film that would have been insufferable in different hands. And Reitman alone has an immaculate curriculum including "Thank You for Smoking" and "Up in the Air".

Before going into the film, allow me a little complaint/warning. "Young Adult" has been marketed as a dark comedy. Which is utterly wrong. If people is looking for an adult "Juno", full of acid one-liners with a romantic background, the disappointment is going to be huge. "Young Adult" is, on the surface, a very simple film, with a very simple premise and development: a homecoming. But it is one of this rare films that suggests so much, that hides and retains such a (personal?) history behind and poses many questions and uncertainties for the future. Hell! its even the sort of film that scares a bit. It shows a human being completely lost, adrift. And is frighteningly recognisable.

To me this film works (and sometimes excels) thanks to Diablo Cody's script, in particular with the construction of the main character, Mavis Gary, the fundamental pillar in which the story revolves. Opposite to "Juno", she doesn't need to talk much to reveal how damaged she is, how desperate she is, to the point of creating a fantasy, based on her "glorious past" that she tries (extremely hard) to transform into reality. The amount of scenes in which her personality is exposed by little details (sort of personal "rituals": nails, dresses, tapes, hair) is extraordinary. Taking advantage of the fact/irony Mavis is supposed to be a writer herself, you don't see characters so well penned that often

Of course, such a potentially great character needed and actress capable of carrying it on her shoulders. And Charlize Theron took the challenge wonderfully. If you allow me the easy reference, she creates a real, credible "Monster", without having to transform herself physically (the Oscar's Academy should learn something about it). Along with Theron is Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf, the unexpected college friend, and also very damaged person, that serves as her support/conscience's voice. Without Oswalt's solid performance his role could have been very dangerous for the credibility of the film. 

The bitterness/darkness that prevails during the majority of "Young Adult" length (another fact to praise, against the tendency of making unnecessarily overlong films, this clocks in less than 90 minutes) makes you stuck into your chair, thrilled by the amount of refinements the story acquires in many levels, and waiting for a resolution (admittedly, a bit scared for it as well), and in this sense, when it arrives, its a bit unsatisfactory. It is shocking, even disturbing, but I'm afraid is (partially) based in what it seemed a very crucial scene that surprisingly doesn't have consequences. Related to that, the character of Buddy Slade, performed by Patrick Wilson, needed more development to fully understand his behaviour.  

"Young Adult"'s last chapters and resolution might harm the film as a whole. It's like Reitman tried too hard to condense, and with the laudable will of restrain what could have turn into an awful, cliché-driven drama about moral degradation and coming home (city versus rural, familiar values versus modern values, etc), sacrificing some of the possibilities the story had, in order to lead it into an open conclusion that works fine in terms of Mavis, the character, (what we are seeing contradicting the triumphant off-voice) but is somewhat weak in terms of the film's potential. Or maybe it's just me, cause I thought this disgusting, unlikely heroine was going to overblown me as she did during the majority of the film. Imperfect movie, but highly recommendable. 

SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Bright, third win by knock-out!

The Bright. Music Hall, Barcelona, March 3rd

The Bright at Music Hall.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Being this the third review of a concert from The Bright you should know by now this blog loves them. Saw them twice on 2011, first in the intimacy of a FNAC store, having just discovered their album (I insist, check "Soundtrack for a Winter's Tale", you won't regret it), and left me longing for more. A naturally charming couple, with disarmingly honest and powerful folk-rock. The second show arrived in November, at Sidecar. Despite repeating the duo format, this was a proper gig, proving that besides songs, Myriam and Aníbal have the needed live presence.

Myriam at Music Hall
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
So, after two concerts, was there anything new to offer? Yes sir, a lot more than I could imagine. Finally the duo arrived to Barcelona with a full-band format. The place, Music Hall, proved to be a pretty venue with a good sounding, and the promise of new songs were incentives enough to be excited for. But the start wasn't easy.

You can have a small audience but succeed. But having a small, very cold and distant audience seems too big adversities against any band. And, at least during the first songs, The Bright struggled to battle that sort of apathy among the public. Which is frustrating, because "Rocking Chair" or "Losing Your Way" were amazing in their electric versions, and the new tune "Rotten Crops" is among their best so far.
Playing the haunting "Eyes"
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

But this couple from León have "that something" and they were relentless in their effort to connect the hesitant public, using "Private Garden", "Coffee and Wine", "Waving Flag" and "Soundtrack", that is, heavy-fire, to reach the halfway point of the gig. And to round off this turning point of the gig, they offered a wonderful rendition of a Bob Dylan's song. The audience finally showed up. The Bright "rescued" them.

The setlist of the gig
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
From there on, the concert vibe changed and the Bright offered gem after gem, showing us their diverse but equally brilliant music. From the stunning rendition of Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" (it might sound like an heresy to many, but what a difference is hearing it from Myriam's' voice), to the playful versions of Johnny Cash and Led Zeppelin, the rockiers "Dirty Town" and "They'll Go Away" or the mesmerizing "Eyes", taking benefit of the silence on the venue, to create a moment of haunting beauty.

So, third time, third knock-out win by The Bright!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"As Themselves", absurdly funny celebrities

As Themselves (Ellos Mismos, Spanish original title)- Joaquín Reyes

Making people laugh is a very difficult to achieve. Besides, humour is a very personal thing, so there are (almost) as many opinions on what's funny and what's not as humans on the planet. In Spain, there's a crude, prudish humour, rancid, that has to do more with the ancient regime and those who would not want to move from it. I could name some TV channels or programs, but if you live here, you know which ones I'm referring. But there's also another type of humour, way more recommendable and for the one that is writing, of course, amusing.

One of his most notable exponents of this humour is Joaquín Reyes, author of "As Themselves", that together with his troupe of buddies has offered us refreshing comical TV shows like "La Hora Chanante" or "Muchachada Nui (¡Nui!)", or more recently (and less remarkably) "Museo Coconut". These very recommendable shows (the first two mentioned) had a unique style of humour mixing the absurd (frequently delirious) with childish jokes (those costumes) and demanding a lot of complicity with the audience. To achieve that connection, they created several characters the public easily recognized/sympathised with, and used the imitation of celebrities as a common resource, with hilarious, sometimes unforgettable results. What Joaquín Reyes offers in "As Themselves" is the translation of that celebrity parodies to a cartoon.

This book is a compilation of these cartoons, previously published on nation-wide newspapers El Periódico and El País, creating some new ones as links to give some coherency to the whole product. The structure is pretty simple, the caricatured celebrity introduces himself/herself, and with a disarming and surreal sincerity, show us a mundane, zero-glamour revelation. This sort of "public scrutiny" brings some screamingly funny and completely unexpected situations, with shocking one-liners and/or side notes by the "Cactus" (yes I said Cactus) or the author himself. It's quite amazing to see how Reyes is capable of making the celebrity confess his/her exaggerated defect/current situation, one that easily connects with the reader (as we already knew it, or at least suspected), in such a condensed space. Even the same cartoonist doesn't escape from this scrutiny (so we can empathise with him). 

Some might say not every celebrity is equally accomplished, or, in my opinion, the monkey character that connects the cartoons is not as entertaining as the stories itself. But cartoons like Giménez Losantos, Sánchez-Drago, Lenny Kravitz, Nicolas Cage, David Hasselhoff, Fernando Alonso, Pitita Ridruejo, Matthew McConaughey, Bono, Manu Chao, and a long etc, are reason enough to justify checking "As Themselves". Laughs are granted.

SCORE: 7/10 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"A Dangerous Method", let's talk about sex, doctor

A Dangerous Method

It's probably me, sure. Because with the exception of "Spider", the cinema of David Cronenberg has been pretty insufferable. Sometimes morbid ("Crash"), others just (sorry) stupid ("Eastern Promises", "A History of Violence"), with "A Dangerous Method", I have to use another adjective. I found this movie interesting, with great potential, but the final result is disappointingly flat.

The premise was intriguing. An insight on psychoanalysis, from the perspective of their fathers, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, with Sabina Spielrein completing the triangle. An intellectual and emotional, sentimental conflict that gave shape to their theories but also determined their lives. On paper, this could be original and absorbing matters to deal with. Even the fact Cronenberg was directing it was intriguing, due to his personal record as the body horror or venereal horror genre master's, considering sex was supposed to be a major factor on the discussions of both psychoanalysts. But the film doesn't live to its expectations.

In my opinion, what makes the movie shallow is the lack of character development. Contrary to the usual pattern in cinema, I believe "A Dangerous Method" would need a longer length to engage the spectator, to make the film compelling or to introduce real depth on it. As it has been edited, the film starts with a a quite vibrant pace, but once the (potentially absorbing) conflicts are exposed, it becomes clearly unbalanced towards the turbulent relation between Spielrein and Jung, leaving an insufficient amount of scenes for the development of the relationship, then clash between Freud and Jung, and skimming over events that should matter for the development of the film, which is a bit frustrating (the near-the-end reading letters part it is indeed very annoying). Maybe Cronenberg wanted to explain the ideas of the two psychologists/psychoanalysts with the physical relationship between Spielrein and Jung, but if that what's the purpose, the result is a big failure.

With that structure, the film acquires an unexpected inertia, even apathy. I do think Michael Fassbender makes the film worth watching as he creates a powerful, troubled Carl Jung, while Vincent Cassel is also exciting as relevant secondary character Otto Gross. But on the other hand, Viggo Mortensen portrays a caricature of a very affected Freud. His character demanded more scenes to be developed and confronted to Jung. Finally Keira Knightley is a disturbing, controversial Spielrein. Her extreme shifts from hysteria to be the one capable of confronting such a personal drama is hard to believe, at least to me. As I said, an unbalanced, quite lifeless film.

SCORE: 5/10

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"End of the Century", punk, miseries & The Ramones

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones

Almost two days after, I'm still shocked by this rockumentary. Honestly, it is hard to see a band so exposed, even more considering half of the band and core members (Joey and Dee Dee Ramone) died during the making of the film. But there's no hagiography here. On the contrary, what it shows, is a raw, very unpleasant picture of a mythical, very influential band.

"End of the Century" is a twisted story, helped by the an excellent work from directors Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia, tracing the punk-rockers evolution with a mix between priceless archive footage and insight interviews with the band members and more occasional opinions of their contemporaries (Blondie, Joe Strummer) and later in time, fan musicians (John Frusciante, Rob Zombie, Kirk Hammett, to name a few). That could work for a very interesting yet conventional music documentary. But this film is much more. Precisely, what confirms is that The Ramones were not a conventional band at all.

"End of the Century" charts the course of The Ramones career. And it doesn't take a lot of time for the viewer to see the members of the band were very young kids when they formed The Ramones... and they never grew up. We start on the early '70s in the uncool Queens, moving quickly to the rise of the New York City music scene. They seem to be leading that rise, and that success is just around the corner, but here's the first clash. For a band of unpretentious bad musicians (as they openly admit), with a strong punk ethic, the lack of chart success deeply frustrates them. There are two poisoned remarks from Johnny Ramone, one against Blondie, the other on The Clash first album that reflects the inner pain. Their triumphs in South-America and London (where punk, that they arguably invented, collapsed the music scene) only make their return to the States harder.

As records go and cult status is solidly built but never reaching the desired commercial breakthrough, the problems arise. "End of the Century" doesn't hide them a bit. While the issue with legendary producer Phil Spector is bound to make you laugh (a great tale of rock's wild times) the internal conflicts are gripping, painful yet at the same time absorbing to watch. The personal interviews reveals each Ramone as a very complex character, and one wonders how it was possible the band did not explode much earlier. Ideological and personal confrontations, drug abuse, roles and powers within the band... One wonders why they decided to keep going for so long with so much s**t on them. How the hell they could maintain the interest on playing together while they hated each other so much? It's puzzling to me to wonder how Joey and Johnny (scary person) could get along for so long. Did it become a daily work, or a (obviously dysfunctional) family? Secondary/temporary members of the band like Tommy, Marky or C.J only add more pain to the whole picture. The Ramones, as a band were obviously greater than the very flawed (in some case disastrous) individuals. As the end of the documentary approaches (there's an obvious unbalance on the amount of film length the latter years of the band have, one of the few complaints I have on the film) even when the deserved world recognition finally arrives (Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction) there's a unavoidable feeling of sadness. Did they, at least, enjoyed their careers? I doubt it.

Any fan of the band must see "End of the Century". Any music fan too. And any cinema lover, interested in human stories, with their conflicts and contradictions, should know they have an unmissable film to watch here.

SCORE: 8/10

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"The Help", Oscars bound Disney's tale on racism

The Help
The problem with movies like "The Help" is that time has taken a toll on them. Luckily. Thanks mainly to the actors performances, its a recommendable film to watch, wtih a few elements worth to highlight. But it wants to please everyone so desperately it almost looses the point, that is, the story. Which was, as we all know, very far from this Hollywoodesque tale.

"The Help" is a curious mixture of tones and styles. It tries to add a new take on a subject already seen, but some combinations seems odd and too forced. Visually, and initially shocking, it all looks like a 50's Douglas Sirk movie. Very soon we realize, its not a matter of aesthetics, director Tate Taylor is not only trying to recreate a very particular Jackson, Mississipi, but uses the same treatment for characters. At least for "white" characters. An army of barbie-dolls, with the extreme caricature of Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly. The evil witch of Disney's movies, materialised into the self-proclaimed leader of a flesh and blood bunch of housewives. This might be an original perspective for a very sensitive material, but I'm afraid Taylor uses only to approach racism in a very lightweight way. Something that seriously harms the film.

Because the mixture between comedy and social drama doesn't always work. I know, not every film has to be as plaintive and sharp (and absorbing) as Spike Lee's "Bamboozled", or violence doesn't have the main issue, as "Mississipi Burning", but "The Help" decides to hide almost hide it, and when the threat, in the sense of a domestic threat between housewife and maid has to explode, it is done in a comic way. Wasting an actress like Sissy Spacek for a couple of fun scenes is a shame. It also doesn't help this is a female movie. Male characters are just sketches (some of them are not even on screen), which is an ok decision... except for the fact this film intends to portray Southern societies in a time of changes, so it is an obviously incomplete picture.
Fortunately, as I said, there are elements to enjoy and praise on "The Help". Acting gives the film a much needed impulse in order to not become an indigestible TVMovie. Viola Davis is strikingly good in her role as Aibileen Clark. She is almost the only depth character in the film, and she does wonders with it, sometimes condensed in just a facial expression. She represents the difficult, slow change/then rebellion against an unacceptable system. Linked to her is of course Skeeter's character, also convincingly portrayed by Emma Stone. I praise director Taylor for shifting the focus from the usual white, compassionate, heroic "WASP"  it seemed to be, replacing it for a credible, confused young woman unhappy with her Southern environment, becoming the vehicle of expression of the real, meaning character. The awakening of a collective, finally making their voice heard. Of course, a worthy mention has to be made about also to Oscar winner's Octavia Spencer in her role as Minny, funny counterpoint, that shines every second she's on screen. Allison Janney and Jessica Chastain ("The Tree of Life"), as Skeeter's mother (although in my opinion she's grossly "saved" to line up along the "good ones") and Celia Foote, deserves some recognition for their work. 

"The Help" has too many issues to be even considered an unforgettable movie. On purpose, everything is settled to remain in the mild margins of the real story. It's entertaining, and thanks to the acting, mostly enjoyable (luckily there's no Whoopi Goldberg here), but tries too hard not to offend anybody, finally becoming inoffensive.

SCORE: 6/10

Friday, March 2, 2012

Playlisting: cover suggestions for The Very Most

Our dear friends from The Very Most were asking for song proposals to cover in their facebook on Tuesday. It took me a little while, 'cause I can imagine many tunes Jeremy and Co. could do wonders with, but here's a little playlist with my ideas. The band has already decided for a song from The Feelings (good choice as always) but anyway, is a good excuse for hearing great music!
1. Throw Aggi Off the Bride- Black Tambourine
2. Times Table- The Hi-Life Companion (wouldn't be great a cover between blog favourites?)
3. Suspended From Class- Camera Obscura
4. Me and the Farmer- The Housemartins
5. My Wandering Days Are Over- Belle and Sebastian
6. Catapult- R.E.M. (would die to hear TVM doing an early R.E.M. song, hard to choose one)
7. Ain't That Enough- Teenage Fanclub (or "Sparky's Dream", or "I Need Direction")
8. Black Cab- Jens Lekman
9. Let Mother Nature Be Your Guide- BMX Bandits
10. Sing Me Spanish Techno- The New Pornographers
11. If It's Not You- Language of Flowers
12. Some Kind of Angel- Mojave 3

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    The Indie Anthology 6: essential songs

    For our sixth anthologic song, one of my favourite voices in music.

    Song: Sweep Down Early
    Artist: The Innocence Mission
    Year: 2003

    Some music has a healing, curative power. The sort of music you don't hear on a daily basis, but you know its there for you, waiting to comfort you when you need it. I discovered The Innocence Mission around 2004, thanks to an indie magazine saluting "Befriended", as another fine example of the gorgeous folk-pop of the band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was haunted immediately for the combination of vibrating guitars, delicate strings and pianos, the space created in every chord, the jazzy and breezy melodies and of course, the incredible voice of Karen Peris. I could name a dozen songs that could fit here. They are synonym of evocative, moving, disarmingly beautiful music.