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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"The Beat is the Law", Sheffield, not Pulp

The Beat is the Law: Fanfare for the Common People

The extraordinary Beefeater In-Edit, the local music documentary Festival, teamed again with the San Miguel Primavera Sound, offering a highly recommendable offer of rockumentaries as another complementary activity prior to the days at the Parc of Fòrum. And in principle, the movie programmed on Monday couldn't be more engaging: a film, premiere in Barcelona, about Pulp's story? Count me in.
But unfortunately, that wasn't the case. It might be very bad advertising, or perhaps, intentionally, a way to make it more attractive for bigger audiences, but "The Beat is the Law" is not about Pulp, is about Sheffield music scene, from the 80s to middle 90's.
Director Eve Wood starts the documentary tracing a quite ambitious, for a music film, overview of how it was living in the 80s in Sheffield, not precisely the friendliest city in the world. Unemployment and few hopes for youth clashing with the Margaret Thatcher totalitarian regime, explained by the opinions of Sheffield musicians and people related with the music industry/business of the city.

Right. Among the people interviewed you'll find Pulp members Russell Senior, Candida Doyle, Nick Banks and Jarvis Cocker. And of course, you'll be hearing part of their story as a band struggling to survive, virtually not existing while the city deals with a social agony provoked by the governmental policies and then against a vibrant music scene that exclude them, until the circunstances/luck/opportunity change so much they will become the forefront of the britpop movement in the middle 90s. But this is just part of the film.

"The Beat is the Law" is also the (partial) story of Richard Hawley, of the Longpigs, of Chakk, of Rob Gordon and the Warp label, of Clock DVA, of acid house, dance and the club culture. With all that material and the cooperation of so many artists the film could have been amazing. But there's no balance on it. After almost an hour of documentary devoted to politics and the evolution of a music scene in Sheffield during the 80s, giving a lot of the film length to dance and house growing movement, Pulp reappears, almost out of the blue, for a homecoming gig. And then they headline Glastonbury in front of 80.000 people? Wood also allows the Longpigs to explain how they failed in a moment when they seemed capable of "making it" too. But again it fells so short compared with the previous hour of film. There's no real analysis of what/how/why britpop exploded. And after Glasto's performance, the film abruptly ends. So you cannot say this documents Pulp's career.

Overall, "The Beat is the Law" gives you a quite blurred image of these times. Its lack of definition and scope gives the spectactor an undefined picture, with social and historical remarks, artists and band members (some very relevant, some barely known outside UK) sharing their view on the city and music evolution. Many are interesting and engaging, but cannot help the sense it fails as a whole, as a cohesive music documentary.
SCORE: 5,5/10

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Primavera Sound 2012 playlist!

Primavera Sound Festival 2012 is finally here! Music, music and more music, with some additional parallel activities starting today. With the format of a playlist, here's a little sneak of what I'm going (or at least expecting to) to hear during this week. See you around, I'll keep you informed!

1. Hey Jane- Spiritualized
2. Heartbreaker- The Walkmen
3. Turn On the Water- The Afghan Whigs
4. Waiting on a Dream- Lee Ranaldo
5. September Gurls- Big Star
6. Postcards from Italy- Beirut
7. Trellic- Baxter Dury
8. Fade Into You- Mazzy Star
9. Devil's Spoke- Laura Marling
10. Hollywood Forever Cemetey Sings- Father John Misty
11. Eleanor Put Your Boots On- Franz Ferdinand
12. Don't Do Me No Favours- James Hunter
13. Misread- Kings of Convenience
14. It's Real- Real Estate
Primavera Sound 2012 is here! by Raul on Grooveshark15. Don't Fall- The Chameleons
16. Hoop of Love- Dominant Legs
17. Get Myself Into It- The Rapture
18. Love Song- The Cure
19. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea- Jeff Mangum
20. One Day- Sharon Van Etten
21. Starry Eyes- Veronica Falls
22. Hearts- I Break Horses
23. Tonight the Streets are Ours- Richard Hawley
24. Ahora Sabes- Odio París
25. Into the Black- Chromatics
26. Música para Cerrar las Discotecas- Doble Pletina

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spanish Indie 9: suggesting the best national acts

New proposals in this section thanks to a new, fundamental release, and some promising Spanish acts that will perform next week at Primavera Sound. Hope you enjoy!

Los Punsetes. Every music scene needs a group like them. Careless, free, fun and brave enough to say what everyone thinks. But even Los Punsetes needed to move on. The band hasn't lost their ability to write verses that feel like punches in the face (hear "Los Tecnócratas" or "Tráfico de Órganos de Iglesia"), but its indeed a farewell to the lo-fi/humorous spirit. "Una Montaña es Una Montaña", their third album, out now, sounds terrific, urgent, more dense and full, with a heavy presence of guitars lines and drums, in a great production from El Guincho. The drift from punk-pop to space-rock style like Los Planetas fits them incredibly well. Los Punsetes are back. Better than ever.

Beach Beach. The great record label La Castanya has hit the spot again with this group from Mallorca. With "Tasteless Peace", released on March, following their first EP “Leeuwnehoek”, Rau Riutort, Tomeu Mulet, Àngel Garau y Lluís Cabot, are confirming the promise: a great, utterly enjoyable dose of sun-baked lo-fi tunes devoted to the 90s American indie-rock, with echoes of Pavement, hints of punk and an occasional tropical vibe that recalls Vampire Weekend, always with guitars and percussions smelling like summer. A great option to see them live at Primavera Sound this week.

Mujeres. Our third proposal is also going to be playing next week at Primavera Festival. And its an option that should be very carefully considered, as with their second album, "Sof Gems" out since March by Sones (another very good label), the band has perfected their proposal to a knockout garage-rock with traces of surf and classic sounds that makes them being not only at the top of their game, but also on the forefront of the national independent scene. Their music is ridiculously addictive, as all the good music should be.
Mujeres "Soft Gems"

Friday, May 25, 2012

More Primavera Sound als Bars with Partido!

Few days before the Primavera Sound Festival begins! Here's another taste of some the previous gigs coming next week!

Partido. Absenta Bar, Barcelona, May 22nd
Partido at Absenta Bar.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

Among the names listed for the Primavera als Bars, a great parallel activity prior to the start of the Festival, I was looking forward to this gig, as the impression they gave me live at Festival Plaça Odissea last year was terrific. Then I checked what was available in their web and confirmed the feeling of having discovered a "real band", with a solid music proposal in their hands/mind. On Tuesday, Víctor Partido and company reinforced that impression.

Close-up of Victor Partido.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
The Absenta Bar, a very tiny venue for the amount of crowd gathered for the gig (can't imagine the level of discomfort and sweat of the people in the corridor) become something comparable to a sauna. But Partido were capable of making us focus just in the music. Sure, their proposal is not going to shake the foundations of music in terms of originality, but their folk-rock, deeply rooted into the Americana style, is not that frequent in Spain, and most importantly, it is played with an honesty and passion that makes the band stand out from the majority of their peers.

Another pic of the gig.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
The most rewarding for me was realising how much care and work there's on the songs. In particular on melodies, which their new album, "Leaving All Behind", just out now, is plenty. Thanks to that, tunes like "Jesus" or "Not Full of Anger" or the great "Carnival", can mute, evolve, go in many directions, amplifying their folk-rock ground. Traces of Wilco, The Jayhawks, Neil Young, but also from Big Star ("Happy Birthday" is a colossal song) or Mojave3. Great referral names, I know. But the comparisons are deserved. Partido is an excellent band. Go check "Leaving All Behind" as soon as you can. And watch them live if you have the chance. You'll thank me.

Flatstock, gig posters at Primavera Sound

Flatstock. The World of Music Posters
La Virreina Centre de la ImatgeBarcelona, May 15th-June 3rd

Primavera Sound has added a very interesting parallel activity to this year's Festival: Flatstock, a touring show of concert posters, that will take place on the Parc del Fòrum from the 31st May until the 2nd June. The exhibition, the biggest of this type to visit Europe, includes the work of more than 30 artists from Europe and the USA, is organised by the American Poster Institute (API), an NGO dedicated to promote music posters since 2002.
View of the exhibition. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Nice Beirut poster. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
At the entrance.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
The fair is complemented by the free exhibition "Flatstock: the world of music posters" , part of the San Miguel Primavera a la Ciutat La Virreina Centre de la Imatge. The selection of more than 70 works, chosen by Flatstock and The Poster Collective, is a nice warm-up for the forthcoming fair at the Fòrum. Love the idea, as I believe visual arts are a great addition to music (you already know how much I criticize the bands/artists that don't care about their album artworks, for example).

I can't say I was very impressed (my personal opinion, I know this is just a matter of taste) by the selection exposed at La Virreina, with only a couple of posters that I liked. But I'm sure the full fair next week is going to be a fantastic parallel activity... and a serious threat for any budget! Hard to resist the temptation of a great concert poster hanging on your wall!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Indie Anthology 12: essential songs

Back with the Anthology after some weeks, focused on hearing as many bands as possible from the Primavera Sound 2012 line-up. But on the last days a much needed Spanish band has returned: I'm referring to Los Punsetes with "Una Montaña es una Montaña", their third album, so they made me remember their very peculiar hymn. Very appropriate in the current "state of affairs"...

Song: Tus Amigos
Artist: Los Punsetes
Year: 2010

You know when you would really like to say things openly, but circumstances, fear, doesn't allow you to do so? Yeah, its better to keep relations in a diplomatic, politically correct way. But how liberating is being able to express your frustration, discomfort with how life is treating you and your partner lately. Many times, a song can help, become the vehicle for letting these sort of feelings go out. Los Punsetes condensed all their proverbial nastiness into a straightforward, crystal clear, and in that sense relieving lyric singing what we all think but we don't dare to say when we are fed up with people/work, and we just want to hide away with our beloved one. Behind an indie-pop tune with crispy guitar lines you'll find lines like "Que le den por culo a tus amigos" or "Tu trabajo me toca las pelotas". Sing it out, loud and clear and give yourself a break.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"The Artist", is recreation an art?

The Artist

And finally, I was able to watch "The Artist", the great success of the 2012's Oscars Ceremony, and outstandingly acclaimed by a majority of critics. Undeservedly, in my opinion.

"The Artist" brings, again, an interesting debate to the table. Is recreation an art? Because that's what this film is. A stunning, really well done and packed one if you want, but still a mere recreation. Its not the first time I'm writing this. "Drive" was an hyper-cool recreation of noir 80s film. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" another one, this time with the 70s spy-films. Cinema is exploiting this to a horrid extent, showing without any shame their despicable lack of ideas. How many remakes have you seen in the last 10 years?

Recreations are not only a matter of cinema, though. Think on music, for example. Garage, soul, r&b, nowadays the 90s' indie, they are/have been on top of the "trend"... How many bands have tried to sound like The Strokes debut? Like Belle and Sebastian? Like Pavement? It's even understandable, simple to understand why. Younger generations "weren't there" when these bands existed or where on their "highest peak", and is always easier to "connect" with a band you can watch or follow while you grow up. Everyone has one to fall for. I openly admit mine is falling, or at least paying attention, to any band that resembles a bit to Joy Division. But let's go back to movies, where the technical advances makes the recreation even more attractive, with new possibilities. No wonder why producers are eager to put their money on a "remake" or a film devoted to recreate a particular style. There's way less financial risk, in their heads at least. But aren't we missing what made movies, or music, relevant? Aren't we missing the content?

"The Artist" is not a bad film. It's wonderfully presented, and in that sense, all the technical awards are more than welcomed. In my opinion, director Michel Hazanavicius did a great job in his attempt of create an engaging "game" of references: "Citizen Kane", "A Star is Born", "Sunset Boulevard", the "Vertigo" score, the "cute" dog like Chaplin's, the musicals... I already said it, the recreation part is superb. As a referential, nostalgic exercise, "The Artist" is outstanding. But as a film in its own, its seriously flawed, a really shallow one. It uses a gimmick, in this case doing a film, entirely, like a silent one, as a excuse for not working on the plot. And a gimmick can't stand being used for almost 100 minutes, not even if you are telling the story of a silent movie star.  

Ok, so "The Artist" cannot be judged within the terms of contemporary movies because its an homage of silent cinema, and its struggle against the apparition of sound. Well, if that's the case, thanks progress from bringing us the sound. How silly was silent cinema if "The Artist" is such an unforgettable rendition of that era. Were silent movies that superficial? Because in here there's a huge lack of depth in the script, in particular with their characters. Something to be blamed for, considering the premise.

This is the story of Gene Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin. He is great as the caricature of a silent movie actor, with constant overly exaggerated facial expressions and "mugs" for the camera to get their point across. But is just that: a caricature. He's not the one to blame for, but he does nothing to save his character from being unidimensional. Its success, unrealized love affair, struggle against progress in cinema, utter desperation, etc, is completely unrealistic, seems Hazanavicius just wanted to include drama, comedy and romance for the sake of it (again, if that's part of the homage, he's doing little favour to the silent cinema era). Just a matter of whether the spectator find this amusing enough to not care about the fact there's no information regarding the plot, zero development regarding characters, and that he/she would be the only responsible to add/include any meaning to the actions of the main actors.

So, if you are looking for a nostalgic but contemporary, lush and technically flawless recreation of the silent cinema era, "The Artist" will please you. Granted. But if you are looking for a sounding, solid film that basically tells an interesting story... look somewhere else. "The Artist" is empty, leaving aside how it looks. And cinema shouldn't be empty, I believe.

SCORE: 5/10

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"A Confederate General from Big Sur", a tale of the pre-hippie America

A Confederate General from Big Sur- Richard Brautigan

Reading Richard Brautigan is such an experience. He is not your average writer, in terms of writing style, structure, storytelling or novel conception. You might have the feeling you don't have any clue where is the novel driving you to, but the ride is so unique and surreal the final destination is completely secondary. Maybe "A Confederate General from Big Sur" is not as explosive as "Trout Fishing in America", but the result is also pure Brautigan, therefore, a joy to read.

Don't get its title confuse you. This is not a novel on the Civil War. But it deals with a more recent period of the USA history: the 60s. With being young and trying to achieve freedom while confronting society and oneself. Brautigan wrote, in his messy and hilarious way, about the pre-hippy era.

But Brautigan never preach, or pontificates. His weapons are surrealism, humour and chaos. No one uses metaphors and similes like he did, and the scenes, while maybe disjointed one from the other, are powerful and enchanting in their own. "A Confederate"'s premise and is simple. Jesse tells us his story/adventure with his pal Lee Mellon, searching for information about Mellon's grandfather, supposedly a general in the Civil War...  But that idea is quickly forgotten, replaced by a tale of the 60s in the Californian landscape. Being Brautigan, the plot and structure is still quite linear. But that doesn't mean he wasn't attempting to subvert the boundaries of literature. So if you were looking for a canonical book, with a defined plot and a satisfying end, this is not for you. Here you will have, more than 100.000 ends. Literally.

It was his first novel, so you can see some confusion, some struggle between his striking lyricism and experimental treatment of fiction and a more traditional prose. But despite its shortcomings, "A Confederate"  offers a rewarding dose of Brautigan's freedom, of Brautigan's reinvention. The reinvention of literature. The reinvention of history, thanks to his "crazy saint" characters, experimenting with free love, drinking, drugs and a sense of rebellion, living and writing their own past and present. The reinvention of humour, used, like Valle-Inclán did, as a factor to deform and question the absurdities of reality. At the end, Brautigan's vision wasn't a happy one, but a very sceptical, even scared look of a world that was becoming more hostile for humanity, thanks to the behaviour of humans. But his books were capable of exposing that contradiction while making us smile.

SCORE: 6,75/10

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Festival Plaça Odissea, music & attitudes

Pegasvs, Klaus & Kinski, Cloud Nothings, Maxïmo Park
Festival Plaça Odissea, Barcelona, May 12th

Back to the Maremagnum for the main day of the free Festival at the Port of Barcelona. The line-up was, in principle, quite eclectic and diverse, so its no surprise the impressions of each gig were so different.

Pegasvs at Plaça Odissea.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
It was our second time seeing Sergio Pérez and Luciana della Villa and we couldn't dispel the doubts we had regarding their live performances. They have a great album, and the songs evolve in a nice, pleasant way live. But nothing more aside to highlight from that. Songs sounding very similar to the LP versions, but  a flat show again: little interaction with the audience, quite a cold and lineal feeling while performing. These factors, and an excessively loud sound, in particular several "effects", didn't help enjoying their gig fully.

Klaus & Kinski
Klaus & Kinski.
Photo: Pablo Rodríguez-Aguilera
I was curious to see Klaus & Kinski, as they are a unique band in Spain, with an extremely diverse palette of styles in their songs. Which Klaus & Kinski would predominate live? I can't clearly say, but the result was a bit indigestible for me. I have read somewhere that they recreate some sort of a "Village Fair" spirit in their gigs. I agree. Hearing various older members of the audience, ages away from the indie stereotype, mentioning "Paquito Chocolatero" or younger ones commenting "this are the sort of tunes that my parents danced" confirms it. But anyway, to me, the dance moments were the worst ones. Sad, because when they embrace a more defined indie-pop path, they show talent, with a very remarkable violinist and guitar section.
Cloud Nothings. Photo: Pablo Rodríguez-Aguilera

Cloud Nothings
After two national acts, it was time for the Ohio band Cloud Nothings, who radically changed the music direction of the day, while the premonitory rain showed up. Blame me for just disliking this sort of music, but their very heavy, dense noise pop tunes, somewhere between post-rock and hardcore, with many neo-grunge tics was just awful for me. 

Mäximo Park
Paul Smith, thunderous frontman
Photo: Pablo Rodríguez-Aguilera
And finally it was time for headliners, the brits Mäximo Park. After years being pushed to a discreet second place, the Newcastle band returns with the new album "The National Health" of which they presented several songs in Barcelona. A couple of them sounded promising, but in all honesty, the whole show was stolen by Paul Smith, restless, hyperactive, even euphoric. He brought his uncontrollable passion to the stage, and with the help of the remarkable presence of compatriots among the audience, the gig was quite a rush of adrenaline, addictive, engaging and indie-rock hits. Again the sound wasn't perfect, but Maxïmo Park was ready for fighting... and winning. What a difference attitude can make...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dad's birthday playlist!

Today I have to make a break between the posts I'm preparing on books, concerts and the Primavera Sound Festival for one very special reason: it's my dad's birthday. You should know how much I love my parents by now. They are amazing. I'm very grateful for being able of sharing many things with them. In particular, my father gave me the most incredible gift: he gave me the music (and literature). This is a little homage to him, a playlist with some of "his" songs, the ones I grew with. Thanks dad. Happy birthday!

1. Where the Streets Have No Name- U2
The band that passed from father to son.
2. Fortunate Son- Creedence Clearwater Revival 
My father looked like John Fogerty when he was young.
3. Me’n Vaig a Peu- Joan Manel Serrat 
My favourite song from his favourite singer-songwriter.
4. Sultans of Swing- Dire Straits 
The most played song at home, at the loudest volume.
5. Moondance- Van Morrison 
6. I Heard It Through the Grapevine- Marvin Gaye
7. Wonderful Life- Black
8. Angie- The Rolling Stones
9. Insurrección- El Último de la Fila
His favourite Spanish band with Triana.
10. Living in America- James Brown
What a great song to be played while driving fast on a car.
11. For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's that Sound)- Buffalo Springfield
Yes, my father is part of "Forrest Gump's" Soundtrack generation.
12. Hurricane- Bob Dylan
Another one that his eldest son took from his collection.
13. Abre la Puerta- Triana
14. Take the Long Way Home- Supertramp
15. A Whiter Shade of Pale- Procol Harum
16. Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd
17. Soul Man- Sam & Dave
18. Tears in Heaven- Eric Clapton
19. Pájaros de Barro- Manolo Garcia
20. Nights in White Satin- The Moody Blues
21. (Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay- Otis Redding 
What a song, what an incredible song...
22. Going Home (Theme from Local Hero)- Mark Knopfler

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Primavera Sound 2012: a timetable's drama

The long awaited (and quite troubled) Primavera Sound 2012 timetables are here. Being honest, I expected some tough overlaps, but not to this extent. What a drama. Still pending on a couple of things, like the Primavera als Parcs or the Apolo bands on Wednesday night, but for the first attempt, this is what my PS 2012 looks like:

Wednesday, May 30th, Arc de Triomf
19:00 Jeremy Jay
20:00 The Wedding Present plays Seamonsters
21:20 The Walkmen
22.40 Black Lips
Pending on when will the shows at Apolo start, because I would like to see Chairlift. But very happy The Walkmen has been added to the line-up!

Thursday, May 31st, Parc del Fòrum
17:00 Doble Pletina (Vice stage)
18:20 Baxter Dury (San Miguel stage)
20:40 The Afghan Whigs (San Miguel)
21:50 Mazzy Star (Ray-Ban stage)
23:15 Beirut (Mini stage)
01:45 Franz Ferdinand (San Miguel stage)
First chapter of the "drama". Before The Afghan Whigs I don't have any "mandatory" band but then the headaches begin.Will have time to see the full show of The Afghan and be also on the first row for Mazzy Star? Wilco and Dominant Legs (maybe partially) will be sacrificed for Beirut, and I'm afraid I won't be able to watch Spiritualized because of Franz Ferdinand either...

Friday, June 1st, Parc del Fòrum
16:00 Nick Garrie (Auditori)
17:15 Laura Marling (Auditori)
18:50 The Chameleons (Ray-Ban)
20:30 I Break Horses (All Tomorrow's Parties)
21:45 Big Star's Third (Auditori)
02:00 The Rapture (San Miguel)
After Laura Marling, I won't have time for Jeff Mangum as I will go for The Chameleons, then I will have to decide between I Break Horses and Lower Dens (exactly the same hour). And then, major disaster: Christina Rosenvinge, The War on Drugs and half the show of The Cure will have to be sacrificed for Big Star's Third (can miss seeing R.E.M.'s Mike Mills again). Before The Rapture gig, I guess I will decide between M83 or Codeine.

Saturday, June 2nd, Parc del Fòrum
18.10 Sharon Van Etten (San Miguel)
20:30 Kings of Convenience (San Miguel)
22:00 Real Estate (Pitchfork)
23:15 Chromatics (Pitchfork)
00:45 Yo La Tengo (Mini)
I highly doubt I will be able to make for Jeff Mangum at 19:00 at the Auditorium, which would be the desired options, I guess I'll end watching Veronica Falls (which I was hoping to see at the Primavera al Parc). But the frustration will be nothing compared with the tragedy that follows: Real Estate or Beach House?

Sunday, June 3rd, Arc de Triomf
20:00 Nacho Vegas
21:10 Yann Tiersen
22:30 Richard Hawley
Probably be there before, but the fact I would rather die instead of hearing Joe Crepúsculo again makes me very very careful about it.

As I said, this is just a dramatic draft version. Allow me  to heal the wounds with "We Can't Be Beat", another mesmerizing tune from "Heaven", the forthcoming album of The Walkmen. Goosebumps.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

May is the month of music!

I haven't been posting that much lately due to work and, more pleasantly... several activities, the majority of them including music. Because May is the month of the music! With the Primavera Sound Festival (a post on the dramatic timetable is imminent, once I figure out what to do with the overlaps) about the arriving in less than three weeks, Barcelona celebrates spring with several free gigs throughout the city centre.
Promo poster.
Lemons not included.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed

Steven Munar & The Miracle Band
Sifó Bar, Barcelona, May 10th 

Among the most remarkable parallel activities that Primavera Sound offers there's the San Miguel Primavera als Bars, basically a series of free shows, from May 8th to the 26th, at several pubs around the city centre. Basically a nice way to warm the atmosphere before PS arrives, and also an attractive way to discover new bands and new places to enjoy live music while having a drink.

Steven Munar & Band at Sigó Bar.
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
In our first Primavera als Bars gig we listened Steven Munar & The Miracle Band, a local band with a curious combination of folk and pop, sometimes sounding like a less metaphoric Leonard Cohen, others like a very restful version of The Go-Betweens. They started the gig in an acoustic format, opening with a version of "Where the Wild Roses Grow" from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, another name that easily comes to mind when you hear Munar and Co.

Although pleasant, the acoustic songs started to look a bit repetitive. But luckily, Munar welcomed his full band to the pub stage and the gig evolved into something more rewarding. Echoes from a Mediterranian Dylan or The Byrds without Rickenbackers, with the very nice addition of the saxophone and some great guitar parts. Still a bit too folkie if compared with their album sound ("Break the Rules" is pretty recommendable), they aren't groundbreaking, but definitely an enjoyable band, with a solid performance live.

Manos de Topo. Festival Plaça Odissea, Barcelona, May 11th

Branca, in-between "howlings".
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
And yesterday night, we headed to the Maremagnum, the Barcelona Port area, where the shopping and leisure mall celebrates the 6th edition of its free and open-air (next to the sea) music festival. An oddity in principle, if you consider the equation of good indie bands and a shopping mall, but a surprisingly positive reality.

After the dispensable The Last Dandies, a photocopy of many many photocopies pretending to sound like the The Strokes (yes, still in 2012), it was time for Manos de Topo. "If you hear this song in reverse, you'll hear instructions to drop 300 bombs into an European Central Bank meeting, but if you play then in a normal way, it is just a love song" said a more-bearded-than-ever Miguel Ángel Branca (making him look even crazier than usual). They are that sort of band: love them or hate them. We choose the first option, of course.

Because despite the sound wasn't spectacular, in particular affecting his vocal performance (too much noise) they are not only an eccentric/funny band, with a very peculiar lead voice (euphemism to define the singer)  looks and lyrics. They are an eccentric band with a very peculiar lead vocal, looks and lyrics with amazing songs, like "Mentirosa", "Tus Siete Diferencias", "Haz Tu Magia", or the immense "Es Feo". And live, the number of songs that excels increases, like "Lógico que Salga Mal" or "Tragedia en el Servicio de Señoras". That's why we love them.

More music tonight!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Company K", the horror of war

Company K- William March

War-books are quite a recurrent kind on American literature, a few of them being unmissable masterpieces that should be in every good bookshelf. Some personal favourites, together with the stories of Tobias Wolff, are Joseph Heller's "Catch-22", Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five", Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Death" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried". And from now on, I have to add "Company K" by William March. 

"Company K" works impressively as a piece of WWI literature (seems it was very far from achieving recognition when it was published in 1933), but it cannot be constrained to a period of time. Because William March, an author who was also a veteran of the Great War, offers an outstanding, devastating semi-fictionalized account of a military unit's experiences. 

This incredible, merciless summary of war horrors also surprises in terms of structure, being a complex yet refreshing mechanism. From deployment to years after the war ended, the book is a fragmented collection of personal stories from each member of the unit (before being published as a novel, it was originally serialized in the Forum Magazine). Written in the first person, there are 113 "chapters" in which each soldier of the company tells his own story, from their very different perspectives. They are snippets, a very brief slice of their life, in their very lowest moment. But the sum of voices, together, by accumulation, creates a mesmerizing account of what means being at war

And the meaning is clear. War means horror. In this collection of war stories there's chaos, utter panic, desolation, stupidity, atrocities, cruelty, sadness, depression, frustration, rage, insanity. Forget about heroism, honour, patriotism or idealism. All can be summarized in the staggering final sentence of "Soldier Charles Gordon": "Everything they taught me to believe in regards to mercy, justice and virtue is a lie... But "God is Love". That's the worst lie ever invented by humans without any doubt". "Company K" shows that war is fuelled by our darkest instincts. "Each war is the destruction of the human spirit" we read appropriately from Henry Miller's quote at the very end of the book.

March's prose is straightforward, bare, visual, sometimes sardonic (and making me recall Yossarian and Snowden from "Catch-22") and always vivid. He has no time to loose in refinements or sentimentalisms, because he has so much to say, so many soldiers, humans to offer their perspective to the reader, to show how they suffered and how he acted. I'm still petrified with the unparalleled talent of March of saying so much in just a couple, three pages. And when he exceeds that length, it is just to "hit us" even harder. The "Manuel Burt" episode (which seems based in March's own terrible experience), the "Unknown Soldier", or the "Leo Brogan" ones are superb examples of writing precision as well as bold anti-war statements, so powerful and disarming as they come from the anonymous minds and throats of the ones who were there.

"Company K" is a masterpiece. A terrible one, but a masterpiece. Thanks to Libros del Silencio for "rescuing" the novel.

SCORE: 9/10

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And now Bankia... #Rescateciudadano now!

Enough should be enough. Until when our Spanish government is going to keep the financial spoliation? While our ruling conservative party keeps the drastic cuts on health services and education they prepare an estimate 7-10 billions state bail-out of the disastrous corporation Bankia. The rescue of the trouble lender is another reversal of policy, as the government previously announced there were no intentions of additional rescues to clean the country's banking sector, and the best practical example we, Spanish citizens, are being used, exploited to save their political friends, unsurprisingly, the big fortunes of this corrupt and miserable country.

By the way, if you didn't know, Rodrigo Rato, the executive chairman of Bankia has just resigned from the bank (with a compensation of 1,2 million euros, not band for being such a robber). You'll probably know him, he was the "very intelligent, economic expert" that leaded the International Monetary Fund just before the financial crisis started. Did you know what he do then? Resign, of course, he ran before the ship sunk. Oh, and just a "minor" date for your records: the government has already spent €18bn cleaning up the country's financial sector.

First the drastic measures destroying our welfare state, then the first injection of money for the banks, later the "amnesty" for the fraudsters fortunes evading taxes. Police violence on the streets, even against kids demanding better conditions at their schools. Spreading corruption everywhere. And now this....Our government doesn't represent us, citizens. They are just the puppets of the market. That's enough. We need a citizen rescue from the villains that have kidnapped our democracy. See you this weekend in the streets!

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.… where the State places those who are not with her, but against her,– the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.… Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight [...] If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. 
Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (Resistance to Civil Government)


Monday, May 7, 2012

"West of Rome", the dog of John Fante

West of Rome- John Fante

I know that I will end reading everything published by John Fante and his son Dan. It's just a matter of time. So here's another one. John Fante's "West of Rome" is composed of two novellas, "My Dog Stupid" and "The Orgy". Both are excellent pieces of Fante's prodigious, straightforward, stormy prose, but they don't fit together. The book was a posthumous release, so I guess the idea, from an editorial point of view, was offering something longer (and then more expensive) than just one short book with less than 150 pages. What a sad decision from a literary perspective.  

Because "My Dog Stupid", the first and longer story is a wonderful piece of literature. Urgent, passionate and cathartic as his best novels, but adding an humorous and heart-warming edge that is refreshing and compelling. It is not that age mellowed Fante, the bitterness and drama-fated is there, but the older writer is capable of laughing about himself.

Make no mistake, reading this tale of Fante's new alter-ego Henry Molise battling against his children and sons in laws, the neighbourhood and their big dogs, Hollywood parasites and growing old while he dreams to escape to Rome is like reading another chapter of Arturo Bandini's story. The frustration and anger is intact, but our weary and tired anti-hero is also wiser, ready to look life in the eye, from time to time, and laugh about it. With the help of Stupid, his very peculiar and amusing dog, that is. What an excellent novella. 

With "My Dog Stupid" rating so high, "The Orgy" is quite a let-down by comparison. It is just a short tale that grabs you like a hurricane with a terrific start "His name was Frank Gagliano, and he did not believe in God. He was that most singular...", but never delivers. Only the immediacy of Fante's prose and the inevitable sense of danger along its pages saves it from being a conventional story about the lost of innocence of a kid. 

Anyway, "West of Rome" is a must read thanks to its first novella, where you will find all what makes reading John Fante essential: an uncontrollable passion channelled through words, a unique voice forged by toughness and a hunger for living that is bigger than life itself. Meet the dog of John Fante, you won't regret it. 

SCORE: 7/10

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"No Distance Left to Run", Blur's popscene

No Distance Left to Run. A Film About Blur

Where were you while we we're getting high? Rhetorically asked the distinct's voice of Liam Gallagher in the Oasis' classic "Champagne Supernova", Blur's archenemy on the era of britpop. Those were my teenage years, and that's was also "my battle of the bands". "No Distance Left to Run" is a music documentary on the group's latest reunion to date, back in 2009, for a series of very special concerts, in a very emotional comeback for the four-piece members of Blur.

Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace follow the band on the road, at rehearsals and during gigs, mixing it with extensive footage about Blur's history. Live shots are spectacular and the level of intimacy is particularly revealing in the internal dynamics of the band, without hiding their problems.

Very soon "No Distance Left to Run" shifts the focus to the relation between the singer and britpop icon Damon Albarn's and lead guitarist Graham Coxon, which in my opinion is the real highlight of the documentary. Yes, we also have a recap from their early days as a band and how they reached their superstardom status, being one of the main references of the britpop years... of craziness (but love to watch a deeper documentary on the issue). That success and popularity affected the band very seriously, in particular to the aforementioned two, to the point of putting Blur in limbo soon after Coxon left the group, due to his problems with alcohol and personal instability.  

But the music part looks more like a "Behind the Music" program, a bit too polished/friendly with the band to be really engaging (it misses some known "issues" as Albarn's politicisation or drug abuse). What intrigued me were the personal remarks of the band members. Blur's rebirth after seven years of hiatus really seemed to me an attempt of four persons trying to reconnect with their friendsAlex James and Dave Rowntree cannot hide their pain when they comment how Coxon left/was fired from the band. Albarn and Coxon show real emotion when they remember how they restored their heavily damaged communication.  That part is compelling and makes the whole documentary really recommendable. Its unclear whether is an active band anymore, but judging from "No Distance Left to Run" at least seems that their four members restored their friendship.

SCORE: 7/10

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Shame", sex, guilt and aesthetics

Again, that feeling I had with "Drive" of being in front of a style exercise and not a real movie, with a huge hole in what regards to storytelling, so big that the conjunction of a very interesting subject together with a great actor can't save "Shame" from being a "fashionable", modern-looking but really cold and several times, tedious film.

Sexual addiction is still a topic that must be addressed with care in American cinema (look at the different movie posters, for example), but director Steve McQueen is not really interested in showing us what's being a sexual addict, but to portray us the unfeeling, numb existence of Brandon, a young man that reveals himself a person struggling with guilt and shame. What an absorbing premise this was.

McQueen depiction of Brandon's life is framed. In a sort of a voyeuristic position, we view a series of shots of his daily routine, awakenings, work, going out, dating, sex... The mood wants (too hard sometimes in my opinion) to remain politely neutral (aseptic) while also sombre (so not that neutral after all?) as our "hero" quickly reveals as someone with a problem that is consuming him.... Oh wait, is he?

Well, it depends on what you, viewer, decide, because Brandon's guilt is not shown way until the last part of the film. Before that, he goes out daily, has frequent sex (sometimes paid) with no aim of having a serious relation, and he consumes a lot of porn. Is that so shockingly unusual? Really? Anyway, let's agree on that's the director's choice, of course, but in terms of plot development, it all goes back to the spectator. If you enjoy watching daily work-offices, NYC flats designed by a magazine, high-class clubs and long shots of the Big City "Shame" might be for you. But if you care for a good, engaging story, the film could easily turn into a tedious one.

Can we at least trust in the actors? Michael Fassbender proves again he is up for any challenge... and I could say he would have done a mesmerizing job, but even his magnetic presence and his ability of being "in the scene" with so little, is capable of saving the flow of the film. He is also trapped into a sequence of scenes with an unfocused path. But Carey Mulligan, who plays Brandon's sister role, is even much more abandoned by director McQueen. She arrives to Brandon's flat, invading his much needed intimacy due to his addiction,  then she is not used to explore that path, then she annoys his brother (no spoiling) then that path is forgotten until the a climax scene between the two near the end, then her final action on the film action reveals that our "monstrous", superficial Brandon can actually care for someone, but then... oh well... Plus, Carey is the absolute star of the most annoying, completely pointless (the way it has been filmed) scene of "Shame". Yes, the singing one.

Having said all the aforementioned, "Shame" seemed to move towards a moody, anti-climatic end, but there's a dramatic change in their final part. A downward spiral of events, violent and desperate, follow very quickly, revealing the nature of his addiction, and finally, guilt and affections. In my opinion, it took too long to the film in showing that abyss of desolation, harming its credibility. Same goes for the somewhat predictable final scene, that leaves "Shame" open-ended, waiting for your interpretation. Leaving the judgements on the shoulders of spectators is usually the bravest and most rewarding option, but sometimes is just a resource in order to justify the plot holes. A trick that can make the film work. But for me at least, it didn't.      

SCORE: 4,5/10