Saturday, 31 December 2016

travelling notes (xv)

They warned me against Alfama. Alfama, they told me, should not be taken lightly. Pickpockets and such. However, the worst thing that could happen to you there is getting lost. Which is never a tragedy. In fact, all the best things happen to you precisely at those moments when you are lost. 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Three Things, etc.

2016, broken down:

BEST BOOK: At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

BEST ALBUM: A Season in Hull by The Wave Pictures

BEST FILM: Frantz by Francois Ozon

And of course:

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Top Ten List (of sorts)

This is going to be a top ten list. But it's not going to be the sort of top ten list where I might praise albums by Luke Haines and PJ Harvey. In fact, I'm not going to mention them at all. I'm not even going to write one word about the three best albums of the year (see here). 

Instead, I'm going to make a top ten list full of albums that I keep seeing on these end-of-year hilarities from Pitchfork and Guardian and Rolling Stone and NME who are all desperately trying to catch up with the times. I'm going to listen to these albums, too. Because fifty million people can't be wrong.


Beyonce - Lemonade

Hyped by the Guardian (and everyone else) to the point where you start thinking they could be taking the piss. And oh she's an artist all right. She also has a thousand songwriters writing songs for her. Which shouldn't really be a problem if the songs are any good, but the problem is - a thousand songwriters don't write songs. They manufacture them. Lemonade lacks substance, and "Hold Up" is all swagger and no guts. Best album of the year, etc. Rating: 3/10

The Avalanches - Wildflower

No, this was not quite as good as Since I Left You, but that's mainly because "Frankie Sinatra" is a million light years behind "Frontier Psychiatrist". Wildflower is another fantastic journey, with the kind of moody creativity I had expected. In retrospect, this was worth the wait. Rating: 8/10

The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep... (whatever)

Christ JESUS this band is awful. Somehow, this album manages to be both obnoxious and bland at the same time. Wow. Rating: 1/10

Anohni - Hopelessness

First off, I can't look at that cover for more than 2 seconds. Secondly, these lyrics are trite, second-rate bullshit. Which leaves us with the voice, which is an acquired taste, and the melodies that are spread so thin you won't see them behind the preachy pretension. I guess this one is for people who underestimate the value of decent songwriting. Rating: 3/10

Frank Ocean - Blonde

Everyone seems to be in love with this guy, but I fail to see why he is better than George Michael. Plastic, slick, 'emotional', well-produced pop for which I have zero patience. Rating: 2/10

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool   

I know I said it was a very good album back in the day, but in retrospect it was just better than The King of Limbs. A decent record, all things considered, and "Burn the Witch" was a single with some much needed urgency, but quite a few of these songs just bore me to tears. Rating: 6/10

Solange - A Seat At The Table

Pitchfork put it at number one! Yes, the publicity is that bad. I played it the other day, and it's... not bad. Rather lovely if you don't want much from life. Rating: 4/10

Bon Iver - 22, A Million

Pathetic. Rating: 0/10

Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

There is something intriguing about a rapper naming his album after a Joy Division song. And I have to say - this album has something to it. I like the sound, the insane vibe, the inventive spirit. Unfortunately, the voice doesn't do it for me. Which - for a hip-hop record - is vital. I can understand the praise though. Rating: none

Angel Olsen - My Woman

Angel Olsen's My Woman is so inescapably 'not great' that I wonder how anyone would dare make it part of a credible end-of-year list. Decent music. Little charisma. Standard fare. Rating: 5/10

So in a word - flabbergasting. It's either critics losing taste or myself hopelessly lagging behind. I'm actually ready to believe it's the latter. I really am.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Up To Me

Young bands - where is your sense of humour?

Now it's true that once in a while I get to hear young bands and their music that is supposed to be on the verge of some eternal fucking breakthrough, and invariably I'm struck with this: utter and complete lack of self-irony. Quite simply, there is no humour and there is no warmth.

Which brings me to Ian Anderson. Who may have had his wild misses (don't get me started), but at the very least you could always rely on his lyrics. Here at home I have a book I'm very fond of. It's called Jethro Tull - Complete Lyrics, and besides giving you what it says in the title (for the record, Under Wraps sounds quite all right without the music) and besides a wonderful picture of Ian Anderson on the motorcycle, with a cigarette dangling from his bearded mouth, the book includes his thoughts on this or that Jethro Tull album as well as a few paragraphs on his throat problems and his love for... wait for it... The Ramones, and then God knows what else. 

However, one thought in particular has always stuck with me. Anderson often judges his music by two - some would say arbitrary - aspects: humour and warmth. Warmth and humour. Like Stand Up had it and Minstrel In The Gallery did not. Which might be a rather easy observation to make, particularly for the musician who wrote all the songs. But equally - that's a brilliant observation as it perfectly captures the quality of the music. Stand Up is a classic and Minstrel In The Gallery is not. And that's hardly a coincidence as Ian brings up this point time and time again.

Sense of humour may be the most overrated virtue (am I quoting The Oliver Twist Manifesto here?), but it's a sorry band that either doesn't have it or can't translate it into chords. And if you're a young band - that's no excuse really. What I mean to say is, this is pure musical genius, I think we can all agree on that:

And if I laughed a bit too fast.
Well it was up to me.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Любимые книжные магазины, ч.3

You just never know, do you?

Минск. Сон Гоголя напротив Художественного музея. Я собирался написать об этом месте еще до того, как нашел "Книгу непокоя" Фернандо Пессоа, и мы ходили смотреть кино с тапером (об этом ниже). Можно сказать, что я собирался написать об этом месте еще до того, как зашел туда в первый раз. Наверное, это случилось поздним вечером, когда любое окно начинает казаться теплым. А тут пианино. И книги.

Нет в мире ничего более хрупкого, более неуверенного в себе, чем новые идеи. Они ломкие, и при малейшем сопротивлении другого мнения они крошатся в ладонях. То же с новыми местами. В них не только опасно ходить (одно неловкое движение - и черт с вами), о них даже страшно писать. Во-первых, ты и сам не до конца понимаешь, о чем пишешь. Во-вторых, набегут сомнительные персонажи, и, как сказал однажды профессор Преображенский, "все, пропал дом". 

Я могу рассказать, почему полюбил это место. Причем полюбил в тот самый первый раз, когда побывал здесь. И дело не в книгах (которые явно выбраны не случайным образом, и в которых достаточно вкуса и разнообразия), и не в виниловом проигрывателе (музыка хорошая, причем они сами это прекрасно знают), и не в кофе (он есть; не белое вино, но есть), и не в пианино (которое действительно играет), и даже не в знаменитой фотографии Артюра Рембо (как можно не полюбить эту фотографию?). 

Дело вот в чем. 

В тот самый первый раз, когда я пришел в книжный магазин Сон Гоголя, я в какой-то момент обернулся, чтобы услышать вкрадчивый шепот. На кушетке сидели женщина и ребенок. Совершенно незаметно для полупустого магазина она достала с полки с детскими книгами коллекцию сказок, и теперь читала их своему сыну. Или дочери. В тот момент я подумал, наверное, о миллионе вещей, но в первую очередь я подумал о том, что именно за эту сцену готов полюбить Сон Гоголя. Нет - не за сам факт. Не за "о господи, в Минске". Я просто полюбил эту сцену, в одном книжном магазине города. Этот шепот. Склоненную спину ребенка. Этот момент. Деталь. 

Так, как в июле, в Толедо, я полюбил музей Эль Греко не за уникальные предметы быта или картины (хотя и за них, конечно), но скорее за семью из восточной Африки, которая была там в то же время, что и я. В какой-то момент мы сели на ступеньках перед экраном, где показывали документальный фильм про Эль Греко. Мать сидела на нижней ступеньке, а дочь сидела на ступеньке выше. И все время, что длился фильм (не менее получаса), девочка сплетала и расплетала эти густые светлые локоны, в которых, кажется, был весь воздух Эфиопии. Мне кажется, временами я совершенно переставал смотреть на экран, впиваясь глазами в руки девочки, которые копошились в бесконечных завитках волос матери. 

Детали создают места и воспоминания. И дело тут в том, что не каждое место позволит этим деталям выскользнуть на поверхность. Туда, где их случайно можно заметить.

Мне бы хотелось видеть там меньше Мураками. Больше белорусских книг и книг на английском языке. Но отчего-то мне кажется, что все это будет. Более того, я знаю. В конце концов, я несколько лет писал работы по Беккету. Прочитал, наверное, каждое слово, написанное им. Перевел некоторые из его новелл. Рассказывал про него на конференциях и еще бог знает где. Но именно здесь, в этом маленьком и незаметном книжном магазине, я впервые увидел его фильм 1965 года. В этом показе было что-то особенное, хотя такова судьба любого первого показа. Невидимая девушка играла что-то вдумчиво нервное. На экране - персонаж из любой книги Беккета. Последняя роль Бастера Китона.

И еще два слова. Здесь, во Сне Гоголя, хочется покупать книги. Это не так банально, как может показаться. Я был в очень многих книжных магазинах. Был в таких, где совершенно не хочется покупать книг (об одном таком книжном из города Порто я скоро напишу отдельно). Вовсе не потому, что там нет чего-то безумного, что ты всю жизнь собирался прочесть. Просто... хочется оставить все так, как есть. Во Сне Гоголя не так, и я беру наконец с полки эту проклятую "Книгу непокоя". Просто оттого, что эта книга - то самое безумное, что я всю жизнь собирался прочесть.

Friday, 9 December 2016

travelling notes (xiv)

A couple of evening walks, and in the streets of Portugal you'll be offered:

Mary Jane - 5 times
Cocaine - 2 times
Hashish - 1 time
Unidentified substance - 2 times (maybe more) 

With one question looming: is it you or is it them?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Hamburg Variations

Before we get into the fact that Peter Doherty has wasted his talent (he has, to an extent) and the fact that he will never write another "What A Waster" (he won't, and I hate to admit that), let's address the elephant in the room: almost all of these songs were written ages ago. Some go as far back as The Libertines years (those Libertines years), which makes them about a hundred years old. If that doesn't make you drink your brain off, nothing else will.

Hamburg Demonstrations should be seen as a Doherty retrospective. A lovely, ragged odds and ends compilation, one desperately crying for a song-by-song analysis. Made easier by the fact that I've just drunk half a bottle of Portuguese green wine at a cheap cafe outside the Campanha train station in Porto.

"Kolly Kibber". We are off to a good start that is typical underachieving Peter Doherty. Could be a classic in the old days. A serviceable opener circa 2016. Interesting middle-eight. 8/10

"Down For The Outing". The beat is lazy but the melody retains the ramshackle charm of old. I docked a point for the Russian word. Or added one. Who cares. 7/10 

"Birdcage". The beginning is neither here nor there, but it hits the stride soon enough. I've actually grown to appreciate the female vocals even if they would have been far more effective in case of a much less capable singer. To match Doherty's sad drunk wailing. 8/10

"Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven". Written in 2015, no less. A jolly old number with Doherty proving his torn and frayed songwriting chops. 8/10

"Flags From The Old Regime". One of those lovely (lazy? underwhelming? boring?) songs he's always liked to write. Pretty, if nothing else. 7/10

"I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone) V2". Christ knows why he needed two versions of this song on one album, but since I've agreed to judge this collection by what's actually on it - a good song is a good song. Decent orchestration, but a point off all the same. For confusion. 8/10

"A Spy In The House Of Love". This one's just unfocused. Has a very promising start, but suddenly veers off into tuneless mumbling and moaning. 6/10

"Oily Boker". The ending to the album is undeniably strong. No rabble-rousing classic anywhere in sight, but "Oily Boker" is the closest we get. The bridge is outstanding. 9/10

"I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone)". I see why Luke Haines said he wanted to put forks into his eyeballs the moment the marching beat kicked in, but I'm not British - and besides, the lyrical hook is bloody brilliant. 9/10

"The Whole World Is Our Playground". Another near-classic that, again, was written back in the 18th century. The melody is the reason why I still consider Peter Doherty such a rare talent. 9/10 

"She Is Far". The tune is no great shakes, but what a perfect closer. 8/10

In the end, I'm more than happy to have Hamburg Demonstrations in late 2016. As a piece of nostalgia. As a reminder. As a testimony. Just get that wild spark back, Pete.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

travelling notes (xiii)

Porto with its autumnal spring... Not the strawberries you buy on the busy street. Not Livraria Lello whose staircase really is quite wonderful. Not Francesinha breaking every rule of what is irresistible and what is not. It's something else. God knows what it is, but this was the first city in my life which moved me to tears the moment I got off the train.