Monday, 19 March 2018

Talk of the Town

You can get so much out of a short New Yorker article about a caviar sandwich. As I was reading one the other day, I realised my life would never be complete without learning of this totally random person eating a caviar sandwich every day before getting on the train. The New Yorker does them so well, these brief sketches with no reason but a lot of rhyme, coming out of nowhere, bristling with casual glimpses of New York. They are published each week in the 'Talk of the Town' section, and to me they are still the best part of the magazine.  

The realisation that came to me at some point into the article (which fired up the imagination a lot more than many of their recent short stories, so adult and so horribly mature), was that in the free age of YouTube and fake Spotify accounts, nothing can be sweeter than paying for things you like. 

Really, you could afford to download a Robert Forster record when there were still things you bought (like books, for instance, because you loved the sound of a fresh book). These days, I shudder at the idea of not investing anything into the brilliant Songs To Play. It's an ethical issue but also aesthetical. It's a chance to endow your life not with a beautiful sleeve but a certain kind of sense. To make it more meaningful, and complete. The same way that the life of a random person was made complete with a caviar sandwich by the train platform, on the way home.

Thus, I subscribed. Having read a short article which, in all damn fairness, is of no consequence at all.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

travelling notes (li)

There is a hopelessly middle-aged Spanish gentleman by the bar counter and he is drinking one glass of red wine after another. The girl pouring the drinks is looking above him, at the German couple by the window speaking a language she does not understand. Each time the empty glass is shoved to her side, the girl utters the barely audible "Si, seƱor" and fills it up. I'm sitting in the corner, quietly observing the scene and wondering when the whole thing will end. And will it ever. Because the German couple have only just finished reading the menu and by the looks of it - they are enjoying themselves.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Bright Yellow Bright Orange

Certain albums are not so much out of time as lost in it. They exist alongside recognised masterpieces and primarily in the minds of admirers. They are great but you would have to listen. The Triffids' In The Pines is one such album, sitting ever so slightly between Born Sandy Devotional and Calenture. The Soft Parade by the Doors is another. They exist, these albums, but barely.

Bright Yellow Bright Orange was the last Go-Betweens LP I ever heard. 

You could not miss the big comeback Friends Of Rachel Worth with tunes as perfect as "He Lives My Life", "Magic In Here" and Forster's inimitable tribute to Patti Smith, "When She Sang About Angels". You could hardly miss the bittersweet (mostly bitter, of course) Oceans Apart which many consider their best. And initially, I walked past whatever happened in between. 

One record slipped past me, although in some perverted way it was all worth it. The pleasure of stumbling upon a 'new' Go-Betweens album, years later, was akin to finding out that David McComb had a solo career.

The album, released is 2003, may not have the immediate power of what came next, or before, but play it to an unsuspecting listener and they would probably tell you that "Caroline & I" is as good an opener as they have ever heard, "Make Her Day" is a perfect pop song and "In Her Diary" may just be the most beautiful thing in the world. And then watch them laugh hysterically during the timeless "Too Much Of One Thing" which has Grant and Robert sharing verses. And then it all ends with a two-minute song called "Unfinished Business".

Bright Yellow Bright Orange is such a modest triumph. For no apparent reason, it even has two of those l's back. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Art of Shopping

I cannot trust people who say they never enjoy shopping. That's just sad, or else it's terribly narrow-minded as these people tend to equate shopping with buying winter clothes and stocking up for the weekend. There's a part missing about people like that, and clearly they have never been to a decent second-hand bookshop. 

There was a moment in Gateshead years ago, when I ran like a barbarian into a record store trying to locate The Who, The Kinks, The Byrds or whatever it was that I listened to at the time. W, K, B! Through the beads of sweat and disheveled heaps of my fringe, however, I could see my friend patiently browsing through letter A. It was a remarkable sight, and rather stunning in its own strange way. Thirty minutes later, he would hand me a record by Honeybus that would be spinned in my CD player (yes, this happened in 1789) for days on end. That day, my friend walked away with a fantastic John Cooper Clarke compilation, and I realised there was art to the whole thing. 

These days, I find that God has created two types of enjoyable shopping: shopping for wine and shopping for vinyl. Both are absolutely essential and both should be enjoyed for the end result and the process. I remember being extremely annoyed at the chap from a vinyl record store in St. Petersburg who kept pestering me about the records I wanted to buy. 'We have thousands of them, and I'm the one who knows where each of them is'. He was offended, too, when I said I would probably be all right doing that myself. 

But I absolutely loved the two middle-aged gentlemen from Valencia who never said a word during my solemn two-hour mission and only expressed their love for The Shirelles which I'd fished out of some well-hidden 60s box. Same with wine - please, don't give me any suggestions because you will just tell me that more expensive wines are better than cheaper wines and, please, don't tell me about the palate because the chances of you remembering the taste of this particular wine are frankly miserable.

Still, perhaps the most striking thing about shopping for wine and shopping for vinyl is that they are both based on very much the same principles:

- The older, the better, obviously, just beware the sour scratches.

- If you like the cover/label, you absolutely have to buy it. The result will always be special. I've tried some great German Riesling that way. I've heard Bessie Smith doing "St. Louis Blues" because of the unforgettable sleeve.

- Heaviness, be it weight or degrees, is generally a good sign.

- Never go for anything 'sweet'.

- Always remember what Oscar Wilde said: "One is not enough, three is too many".

- Don't buy anything over 30 dollars unless you are dying to get it and there's nothing else in the store that could improve your late night in.

- If you see Tom Waits, take it.

- Enjoy the process. Don't rush it. This is art.

In fact, there's just one crucial difference. On occasion, you can find a two-dollar LP that will blow you away. With wine, however, it's never that simple. With wine, as Christopher Hitchens put it, you have to upgrade yourself, because you are not going to live forever.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Album of the Month: KNICKERBROCKER GLORY by John Moore

About two hundred pages into Phil Baker's The Book of Absinthe, a book that absolutely everyone has to read, I saw the name of John Moore. There was a slight tingle of surprise, and yet strangely the whole thing made sense. In fact, it had me recollect two things: a small club in Munich where I tried absinthe for the first time and the songs from John Moore's Lo-Fi Lullabies that hit me so hard a few years back. "What Do You Want To Talk About", a green glass of Mari Mayans. Suddenly, it made perfect sense. 

Knickerbrocker Glory is John's fourth solo album after the sad demise of Black Box Recorder, and it's much in the same vein as the previous three: narcotic vibes and late-night introspection. This time around, however, the sound is less claustrophobic. "Philosophical Man" (the single), "Controlled Explosions" (indeed) and "Something About You Girl" (new version of an older song) are infectious rock'n'roll hits for non-existent charts, and "Anne Of A Thousand Ways" is an ultra-speedy waltz that features some bizarre opera singing that either works brilliantly or doesn't work at all. I don't believe we are supposed to know.

However, it would just be your average great album without the five remaining ballads. "Rabbit Hole" is of course an instant John Moore classic, the pretty "Near Me" could meander for days for all I care, and then there is the small matter of three closing songs. These I've grown to value as highly as that final four-song stretch on Lo-Fi Lullabies. It's vulnerable lyrics meet confident songwriting, and I defy you to find a stronger conclusion to a 2018 album than "How Do You Turn A Friend Into A Lover?", "The Girl From Reno" and "South Of Heaven".

There's an old interview where Martin Amis spoke about the feeling he had while reading Saul Bellow. He loved those books so much, he felt there was no other person in the world who could possibly get more out of them than he did. That is a rare thing, and I can't shake off the feeling that this is exactly what is happening here. "The Girl From Reno" speaks to me in ways that I would call intimate, which is odd, and all the more rewarding, as I have never really met any. I have tried Mari Mayans, though. 

* In other news, Alela Diane's Cusp is a perfect February album and Lawrence's "When You're Depressed" is a perfect February song (Go-Kart Mozart's Mini-Mart is out, and it's as deranged and intelligent as you could wish). 

Friday, 23 February 2018

travelling notes (l)

The most depressing thing about travelling is watching people and realising that many of them would just stay at home if their cameras didn't work. At least get yourself a Polaroid, for God's sake.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Phantom Thread

What a sizzling work of art. 

I used to think last year's cinema could not get any better than Personal Shopper (awards season as witless as ever), but Phantom Thread may just have too much in the way of blue neck-ties and Johnny Greenwood's strings. I'm not talking about social importance, fuck social importance, I'm just talking about great cinema. 

On the face of it, it's hard to get too excited about a film describing a British fashion designer from the 1950s, but at this point I'm willing to watch anything from Paul Thomas Anderson. The man adapted Thomas Pynchon for screen, wrung blood from Adam Sandler and made one of the greatest films I've ever seen (The Master). He could find his way around needles and threads, easily.

And he did. It's a great director who takes three seconds to let you relax into his film, and Phantom Thread is spellbinding. These days, great cinematography is very faint praise, but those florid streets of London and those rural window-views are an eye-feast. And then you have some of the world's greatest acting (well, you know) and Johnny Greenwood's classical soundtrack (to which this review is written). 

However, to me it's all about Paul Thomas Anderson, and the way he can manipulate you into anything. His grasp is quite impressive, and the genius of the omelette scene is pure cinematic brilliance. And what is even more impressive is that this wonderfully taut act is followed by a few minutes that are borderline hilarious. You smile, you question your own emotions, and then he wraps it up with style and emotional depth you rarely find in modern cinema.

Speaking of cinema, it was three-quarters empty, which is perhaps how it should be with good art. And, incidentally, with a good dress. You don't want too many random people going after the style that is yours.