Monday, 18 September 2017

Icarus


There's a young man I will never write about. I do not quite understand why, but there are сlauses you'd rather not trigger. Places you'd rather not go. 

He works in a modern art gallery, like so many of them do, and I see him in places as different as Warsaw and Dublin. His job is to walk around the room with landscapes by Gabriele Münter and to make sure that no one gets too close. Or else his job is to sit on one of those basic chairs and stare blankly at the visitors.

The visitors say something, on occasion, like "her genius was underrated" or "wasn't her ambition a little bit too studied?" Sometimes they would even broach a wider issue and whisper: "Gauguin almost works for me, but doesn't" and "Cezanne almost doesn't work for me, but does". Most often, however, they settle on "My God this is awful". 

And through all of that, he looks bored but intelligent. Aloof yet self-confident. A man of mystery. 

But here's the funny thing: they do not notice the young man. Almost no one does. I try to cut him open with a sideways glance, but my knife is much too blunt. I can't get in, though not for want of trying. He's been here for days, weeks, months, in this tiny room overlooked by red cubes, black squares and disfigured farmers. To him, we are hopeless drifters. I think that in all this time surrounded by Kandinsky and Pollock... well, he must have learnt some underlying mystery, but his eyes give away so little.

There is, however, a chance that he knows no mystery. All these years in the sun are fake years, they taught him nothing beyond the fleeting backs of a million visitors.  

Either way, I can't write about him. For if I do, a story or perhaps a novel, something stretching beyond this brief sketch here, I'm afraid that I could accidentally find him out.


Saturday, 9 September 2017

Monday, 4 September 2017

After that scream?


Imagine being a journalist. Imagine having to write about the Twin Peaks finale and trying to talk yourself into a new TV show that will - oh yes it will - come soon. With a new world crashing into your doorstep. With a new name. With new twists, characters, plot devices. You are so good at talking yourself into things.

Imagine living in a modern world. Switching onto something new every two seconds. Leaving everything behind. Always remembering, always forgetting. Making selfies instead of memories. Preferring orgasm to sex. Clicking every time you are bored. And then, suddenly hijacked into the world of Twin Peaks, imagine hearing that scream.

There must have been something about that time twenty-five years ago that made it possible - to show Twin Peaks populated by giants and dwarves and dancing Audreys. To show Twin Peaks without episode 18. The devastating part is that even David Lynch cannot pull it off, in 2017, a world undisturbed by gruesome reality and that scream

And after that scream? 

God knows. Probably nothing. 


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Album of the Month: EXILE ON THE OUTER RING by EMA


Whenever I think of EMA, it's the glorious piano chords of "California" that pound all over me. Oh what a song it was. It had everything: fucked up beauty, tortured lyricism, raw energy. These days, I'm not too sure I can get as much out of it as I did six years ago, but I will never stop looking for her new albums. The trick was cheap, but I won't care.

The Future's Void was decent but I forgot about it in a week or two as it rarely matched the haunting single "When She Comes". This new one, though, could well be her best. 


video


It's not perfect, nor needs to be (nor can be, frankly, as Erika's talents just don't stretch that far), but I simply can't imagine a better album from her. Exile In The Outer Ring has every base covered. You get hypnotic grooves, you get grungy outbursts, you get those rough glimpses of utter beauty. Most importantly, however, you get an excellent set of the world's simplest melodies. "I Wanna Destroy" will work its way into your brain like sweet poison. As will "7 Years". As will "Blood And Chalk". As will the lead single "Aryan Nation". 

Elsewhere, "Receive Love" is just gorgeous and has the sort of brilliant understatement that is almost a rarity in this day and age. Lovely guitar chords, quiet vocals - it couldn't be farther away from "California". It's not a better song (what is?), but the songwriting leap is undeniable. Or is this maturity, a word you could not pronounce back in 2011. Back when she was 22 and 'did not mind dying'.


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Le Sherry Butt


Talking to bartenders is a forgotten art. The questions you ask, the answers you give. The pauses. It all counts. Because God knows there is nothing more tedious than a boring conversation at the bar counter. The one which centres around John Coltrane or the pros and cons of going to Bordeaux. 

First of all, don't be yourself. The bartender will soon find out that you are just another fucking tourist anyway, and at the end of the day (or, rather, night) you do not want to be lumped with a talkative Scottish student or a gawky Russian. Being yourself at the bar counter is a nuisance, and a waste. Bartenders won't care and you will die an alcoholic. 

Secondly, don't start speaking before the second glass, you won't say anything of note anyway. If, however, the bartender tries to engage you into some dreary chat about your favourite cocktails, say something curt and meaningless, or just grin at him. In other words, do not rush it. Stay cold. Be a mystery.  

And then, when the second glass is staring at you with a glorious abandon, go for it. In a voice smoked by silence and Japanese whisky, ask the bartender if he recognises you from the third season of Twin Peaks... 

Or better still, try to find your way to a bar called Le Sherry Butt off Place de la Bastille in central Paris. The one place where the art of talking to bartenders is a waste. The sheer magic of these cocktails will shed a new light on one of Saul Bellow's brightest quotes: 'the great weight of the unspoken left them little to talk about'. 


Monday, 21 August 2017

Три минуты


В конце августа бывают дни, когда воздух застывает. Ничего не происходит. Сигарета не выдыхает дым, а люди ходят в пустоту. Жаркие, невыносимо жаркие дни. В такие дни наконец понимаешь, о чем писал Набоков на последней странице "Прозрачных вещей". 

И вот мы садимся в пыльный автобус, который трещит по швам и гремит музыкой случайного радио, и я возвращаюсь к старым местам. И выдыхаю, от удивления, но больше от счастья: старые места не меняются. Особенно в эти жаркие дни второй половины августа.

Старые места тем и любимы, что не меняются. Покрашенный столб? Другая вывеска? Переставленные ворота? Какая глупость. Ерунда. Мелочи. Важно то, что в легких тысячи воспоминаний, которыми надуваешь все вокруг. Пустые качели, высохшую реку, но особенно блеклую, желтоватую киноафишу, на которой уже ни слова.

И так до бесконечности. 

Но все-таки, случайно проходя по улице, что в трех минутах от прежней калитки прежнего дома, понимаешь удивительную вещь. Ты никогда здесь не был. То есть тебе знакомо название, ты слышал об этой улице, но в те времена она казалась другой вселенной. А теперь три минуты. Три.

И тогда глаза перестают слезиться. Все открывается: люди идут по своим делам, а сигаретный дым привычно устремляется вверх. Но только это другие люди, и это новые сигареты. А день самый обычный. Просто август - тот же ноябрь. Только жаркий. 


Sunday, 20 August 2017

travelling notes (xxxviii)


Interesting how I had always been telling everyone about green Munich (green as in colours, green as in trees). Interesting - because I have only discovered this recently. Because previously I had seen it in late January - when it is cold, and snowy, and totally white.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

travelling notes (xxxvii)


You spend a lot of time in Strasbourg trying to figure out whether you are in France or in Germany until the second you try tarte flambée and conclude that you are, in fact, in Alsace.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

travelling notes (xxxvi)


There's nothing more charming than a Frenchman who pretends that he doesn't know English. 


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

travelling notes (xxxv)


In Giverny, you are restless. You are looking for a spot of absolute peace - but it feels elusive. You cannot trace it. Each time you catch it, or think you do, they come again. Sacrilegious steps. Blasphemous banter. Hours later, you leave restless, albeit in a different way. There is a fresh story brewing in your brain, and you wonder if this was it. The untraceable spot in Claude Monet's garden that made it happen. It's not geographical. It's purely a mystery.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

travelling notes (xxxiv)


Whenever I'm in Vilnius, even if it's just for fifteen minutes, I get a short walk and a punishing sense that here is a city which wants to appear present but is stuck between past and future instead.


Monday, 7 August 2017

travelling notes (xxxiii)


Strange how sometimes you know exactly the image that will stay with you afterwards. And I did know, by the closed gate of a Catholic church with the breezy wind running up and down our ankles and the shadows of the trees falling across your face and the neat bunch of holy bibles stacked by the entrance. Many things will go. This never will.


Monday, 31 July 2017

Album of the Month: A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY by John Murry


Obscurity doesn't make you a great artist. Obscurity doesn't make you anything. There are works of art, however, whose greatness is enhanced by it. A Short History Of Decay is one such work of art, and an album as good as anything I've heard all year. 

However, the temptation to go for the latest album by Arcade Fire was almost unbearable. Just to fuck with the system and a bunch of one-dimensional minds - living inside their heads, unable to grasp the tuneful, emotional depth of "We Don't Deserve Love".

John Murry, for his part, looks like a herion addict and sounds like one. 




He is terminally sincere, too, not least because he was a herion addict. The horrible thing nearly killed him, and (in a twist of irony or, rather, black humour) was directly responsible for the songwriting masterpiece that was 2012's The Graceless Age. "Little Colored Balloons". "If I'm To Blame". "Southern Sky". That stuff was tortured, transcendental. 

A Short History Of Decay is almost as good. The mood is certainly similar - fragile and heavy, just like heroin addiction. However (and we have seen countless examples of this), mood alone wouldn't do it. You need the songs. You need the tunes. And Christ does John Murry have them. 

They shine through the dark lyrics dripping with loss and despair, and you won't hear a song more beautiful than "Miss Magdalene" any time soon. He rips it up, too, in a few places, but decay was never supposed to be smooth. It was meant to be desperate. Obscure. And great - but that's provided that you are one of the few to really get it.


Friday, 28 July 2017

Ten things about the new Lana Del Rey album


1. Never trust a man who has dollar signs in his name.

2. There is no reason, no reason at all, why a Lana Del Rey album should go for more than 40 minutes.

3. The singles "Lust For Life", "Summer Bummer" and "Groupie Love" are all rubbish.

4. No one should read anything into her smile because her smile is just as meaningful as her pout.

5. Lana has three types of songs: very good, trash and average (50% of her songs).

6. As if Ultraviolence wasn't good enough, she calls her new album Lust For Life and name drops Tropic Of Cancer in a song called "Tomorrow Never Came".

7. This album has four or five good songs - which is the best she has ever done.

8. The brief moment of magic is her vocal hook in “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”.

9. Lana Del Rey remains one of the easiest targets for a scathing review and she herself is to blame.

10. Never trust a man who has dollar signs in his name.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Скетчи про Минск. Sweet & Sour.


Во всех городах, где я бываю, я захожу в бар и заказываю Old Fashioned. Таких баров может быть несколько, но один должен быть обязательно. И если я не наткнусь на него по дороге на концерт, в галерею или бог знает куда еще, то я открываю карту и начинаю искать... 

Так, я увидел случайную дверь бара у римского Коллизея и намеренно пришел в декадентский Foxtrot вдали от центра Лиссабона. 

Были провалы. В Толедо я просил приготовить Old Fashioned, но каждый бармен предлагал мне Mojito Cocktail. Я настаивал на Old Fashioned, но всякий раз уходил ни с чем. В ирландском пабе я протянул свой телефон молодому человеку за стойкой и попросил написать мне названия баров с лучшими барменами Толедо. Он написал. Я зашел в каждый из них, но лучшие бармены Толедо только растерянно улыбались.

Все началось с Минска. Все началось с бара под названием Sweet & Sour. И еще с того момента, как Дон Дрейпер посмотрел на пустой стакан в начале первого эпизода Mad Men. Но это уже не так важно. Как не важно то, что затем Дон попросил повторить заказ.

Sweet & Sour. Мимо заполненного, пустого Cafe de Paris. Мимо извечной пушки, на которой мы сидели во время школьных экскурсий. Мимо однообразных террас. В серую, полуоткрытую дверь. 

Вне зависимости от альбома Сонни Роллинза или черно-белой роли Майкла Кейна, от моего настроения или количества Old Fashioned (хотя стоит помнить фразу Хитченса про напитки с джином: "одного бокала мало, а трех слишком много"). Вне зависимости от того, кто из четырех барменов делает твой коктейль (одного из которых я полюбил еще больше после того, как он признался в безразличии к Breaking Bad). Здесь хорошо писать, говорить, быть одному. Здесь бесконечное число историй. Сюда хорошо возвращаться.

Если я навсегда уеду из Минска, мне будет не хватать этого места. Недавно я особенно ясно это понял во львовском speakeasy баре Libraria. Здесь хорошо. Здесь книжный интерьер в стиле первой половины прошлого века, здесь вечерами играют живой джаз, а какой-нибудь потерянный шотландец долго листает меню в поисках нужного коктейля и затем неуверенным пальцем указывает на Breakfast with Sophie. 

Но это все не то. Этого мало. И дело не в скучном, пресном Old Fashioned, который тут делают с чопорной медлительностью. И не в бездушном втором этаже. Дело в том, что... это просто бар. Для туристов. Для всех.

Назовите любой бар, любой ресторан Минска - все это есть в Мельбурне или Праге, только лучше. Но ни в Мельбурне, ни в Праге нет Sweet & Sour. Это не клуб Diogenes из рассказов Конан Дойля, но все же это больше, чем бокал Aperol Spritz в шортах (в которых сюда обычно не пускают). Случайные люди бывают здесь только раз в жизни. Или не бывают никогда. Думаю, это единственное место в Минске, чью атмосферу я больше никогда и нигде не встречал. 

В Sweet & Sour не делают лучший в мире Old Fashioned, и если бы мне пришлось выбирать, я выбрал бы тот, что делают в баре 1862 в Мадриде... Но если я спрошу себя, зачем устроил все это. Зачем в полночь захожу в Opium Bar в Бате, зачем пытаюсь отыскать полторы комнаты Иосифа Бродского в дождливом Петербурге. Зачем. Я всякий раз говорю себе, что пытаюсь найти вкус. Тот самый, который впервые нашел в минском баре Sweet & Sour


Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Return


Back when I first watched Twin Peaks, about ten years ago, I got the sense that the world Lynch created was absurd, zany, slightly demented. That was the world of Twin Peaks. The world of log ladies and countless doughnuts.

The sense that I'm getting now is that the world outside Twin Peaks is totally insane. And Twin Peaks is okay. It has survived. Twin Peaks appears to be an island of comfortable illusion that is the one place in the world where you want to find yourself. Never mind Good Coop.

Things have changed, apparently.


Saturday, 15 July 2017

travelling notes (xxxii)


It could be one of this world's great wonders - walking into an art gallery where you don't recognise a single artist. It's not that you come by an obscure picture by Francisco Goya. It's not the routinely immaculate grapes from a Dutch still life. Rather, it's St. Jerome's expression on some long-forgotten Spanish painting from the 17th century that looks more meaningful than it has ever done. Unburdened by tourists, unburdened by Gods. 


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

travelling notes (xxxi)


Lviv is a beautiful mess. It's striking but it's held back by the Soviet past whose ghosts are haunting the faces and the signs. Lviv is like the stomach of a cultured pigeon. Jumbled, unscrupulous, fascinating. A place that doesn't quite show you the beauty but, instead, chooses to throw it up, in ridiculous quantities, all over your travelling shoes.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Personal Shopper


I don't think I will see a much better film this year. 

The script is beautifully nuanced. The pacing is perfect. Kristen Stewart has come good. Paris looks intense. And, most importantly, Personal Shopper has two endings. 

One is right. One, however, is good.  

When Maureen is still in Paris, there is a conversation in the garden that segues into that inevitable mystery scene. Maureen is confronted by the ghost of her dead brother. She, however, does not see him, and perceives the broken pieces as nothing more than, well, a bunch of broken pieces. She does not recognise them as a sign she'd been waiting for all this time... Following the conversation in the garden, this should do it. She got over it. She has her life back. 

This makes sense. This is the right ending. It ticks the box you expect to be ticked. 

Thankfully, Personal Shopper doesn't end there. Instead, Maureen travels to Oman to see her boyfriend. Here, she is yet again confronted by the supernatural, and this time it's a glass hanging in the air. Conjuring up the old practice of table-turning, she asks questions about her brother (the invisible entity could well be him) and the ghost gives her answers that do not necessarily add up. Which is when Maureen is reduced to asking "Is it just me?" A brief pause follows. Then a single knock.    

This may not be the right ending and it may fail to tick your personal box, but Christ it's good. And in life as well as in art, you should always take what is good over what is right. 


Friday, 7 July 2017

travelling notes (xxx)


A film watched for the first time in the dim light of your hotel room is a film you will never forget. 


Friday, 30 June 2017

Album of the Month: HOW THE WEST WAS WON by Peter Perrett


...and where it got us. 

I kept hearing Michael Stipe's voice in a good REM song from a mediocre REM album. Where indeed? Then, many years later, Peter Perrett's new single came out and I thought... well, if it got us here - who fucking cares.   

In fact, I can't imagine an easier choice for an album of the month. And that's despite the fact that if I tried to conjure up a Peter Perrett album in June 2017, it would sound exactly like this. Confident yet vulnerable, beautiful songwriting all around. Just like it ever was.

Try telling me this record is worse than the Only Ones' famed debut (although maybe the timing was better) or Perrett's wildly underappreciated, criminally obscure solo album Woke Up Sticky from 1996 (I will argue that "Falling" is just as good as "Another Girl, Another Planet" if it kills you).





How The West Was Won is the sort of album I would love to be number one in France. From the black and white cover and down to the classic three-word chorus of "Take Me Home", this is pure art, style and intelligence. And, a few extended and masterful guitar solos aside (his two sons help him out there, instrumentally), the record is about songwriting.

God knows there was enough bitterness in Peter Perrett (money and glory, mostly) to make it bleed with a vengeance. The title song is powerful understated rock'n'roll. "Epic Story" is a beautifully honed love song with a timeless chorus. "Hard To Say No" is a striking nod to Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black". I haven't heard songs this good in quite a while. 

Getting back to Michael Stipe for a second. It was never a question about where, was it? All along, it was a question about how. And 'God knows I love America' is the best answer I've heard.  


Sunday, 25 June 2017

Скетчи про Минск. Улица З.


Португальский бизнесмен с надеждой посмотрел на меня и сказал, что улица выглядит неплохо. Я пожал плечами: может быть. 


Улица З. На самом деле, такой улицы нет. Но я был бы счастлив, если бы она была. Я бы ходил по ней каждую пятницу и каждую субботу и с удовольствием говорил всем, что снова был на улице З. и прекрасно провел время. Но нет. Я говорю про совершенно другую улицу. У этой улицы есть свое название. И на этой улице я был всего три раза.

В первый раз я приехал туда с португальским бизнесменом. Была поздняя осень, и мы долго не хотели расстегивать пальто в теплом здании пивного бара. Молодой парень, вероятно, управляющий, рассказывал про японский сидр и датское пиво за 35 евро. Мартин криво улыбался. На самом деле, ему было наплевать. Он искренне полагал, что в мире нет ничего лучше, чем Super Bock (в начале декабря, в промозглой таверне Лиссабона, я почти поверил ему). 

Номер один в Португалии, всякий раз повторял он. Номер один во Франции. 

Затем мы зашли в отдельный зал, и Мартин начал готовить свою презентацию. Зал был мягко приглушен тусклым светом, и я наконец снял пальто. Молодой человек сел напротив и протянул нам по визитной карточке. Я сверил блик света с номером телефона. Неплохо. Думаю, Патрик Бэйтмен смог бы оценить. 

Тем временем, Мартин сказал, что готов. Молодой человек подал знак, и в следующий момент из невидимой колонки раздалась музыка. Популярный джаз, не очень громкий и не слишком навязчивый, специально для нас и для этого случая. Мартин страдальчески посмотрел на меня: "Так дешево!" Я понял, что здесь у нас ничего не получится. 

Во второй раз я был на улице З. два или три месяца назад. Здесь открылся новый ресторан с самым большим в городе выбором вина. Это было интересно. Интересным было и то, что хозяева ресторана всячески настаивали на этой проклятой винной карте так, словно это какая-то добродетель.

Мы пришли в четверг, потому что абсурдно приходить сюда в пятницу, и потому что в четверг здесь играет пианист. Пианист был первым, кого я увидел - в незнакомом месте глаз всегда тянется к тому, что ожидаешь увидеть. Молодому человеку было лет семнадцать. Ноты были сложены ровной стопкой на краю фортепиано. Музыка была академической, но приятной. Мы сели в центре полупустого зала, заказали белое вино и оливки, и я обратил внимание на интерьер.

На самом деле, нет. Какой смысл писать об этом. Об откровенной порнографии интерьера (который разрезал комнату на три бесконечно разных участка), о шести или семи оливках (в самом бездарном испанском баре эти самые оливки подаются бесплатно и в гораздо большем количестве) и о внушительной винной карте (в которой несомненно много хорошего). 

Все это забудется. Мне кажется, я буду помнить только тот короткий эпизод, когда девушка в черном платье подошла к пианисту и шепнула ему на ухо, что ему пора уходить. Кажется, было десять часов. Кажется, в этот момент в ресторане погасли даже те свечи, что не были зажжены.

Мы заказали по бокалу красного вина, чтобы попробовать что-то новое и чтобы как-то отвлечься. Возможно, большая винная карта - это все-таки добродетель.

В третий раз я был на улице З. на ярмарке виниловых пластинок. Приятно найти то, чего совершенно не ждешь, в глубинах богом забытой коллекции. Я шел без особых ожиданий. Я не шел за новым альбомом Робина Хичкока.

Виниловые проигрыватели, запах благовоний, ящики с пластинками и хипстеры в поисках Чака Берри (почему?!?). Все происходит в баре, который только что открылся на улице З., и который выглядит как совершенно любой другой бар на улице З. Все довольно забавно. Я пролистываю коллекцию человека, который в советское время наверняка прятал синглы Дэвида Боуи в длинных волосах и рукавах пальто. У него много пластинок, но в голове застряли знаменитые слова Остапа Бендера: "Интересует, но меньше".

На втором этаже еще одна узкая комната, и парень говорит мне, что у них только электронная музыка. Я еще ничего не спросил, но мне приятно. Как бы ни выглядели поклонники электронной музыки, я бы не попросил этого для себя.

У меня явное ощущение случайности всего происходящего. Теперь это обычное ощущение, и оно только усиливается от вида другого парня, который выставил свои пластинки на подоконнике. В этот момент я готов купить все, что угодно, потому что обидно прийти сюда впустую. И тогда я вижу первый альбом Dexys Midnight Runners. У меня есть их ранние синглы, но это явное искушение. Я осматриваю пластинку, я задумчиво кладу ее обратно. А дальше происходит странная вещь. Парень тут же выхватывает свою собственную пластинку, достает телефон и начинает читать про Dexys Midnight Runners на сайте Википедии. В этот момент чувство случайности начинает раздражать.

На улице, у выхода из бара, стоит пожилой мужчина в черных колготках и жадно курит сигарету. Так курят только после секса. Я понимаю: здесь прохладно. Там жарко и нечем дышать. Но есть одна вещь: для секса там слишком мало страсти. 


Это улица без страсти и без воображения. Не думаю, что я появлюсь там снова. И еще. Мне кто-то сказал недавно, что на улице З. открывается бар с репродукциями картин Ван Гога. Но я не знал, что ответить. И только пожал плечами: может быть.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Sangria


Other than straw hats, Comet Gain, wild strawberries and bare feet in the white sand, the best thing about summer is Sangria. To make the perfect one, you will need:

1 litre of dry red wine (in my experience, Merlot works perfectly)
1,5 cups of orange juice
1 cup of pomegranate juice
0,5 cup of cognac
1,5 cups of club soda (nothing wrong with a colourless soft drink like Sprite)
0,25 cup of sugar
+ slices of peaches and apples and oranges or whatever else you will find at hand

And music, of course. "I'm Not Worrying" by Clarence Williams & His Kings would be a good start:




Monday, 19 June 2017

travelling notes (xxix)


The day you tell yourself you won't travel somewhere because some sexually unsatisfied Muslim loser will crash a lorry into you - well, that is the day you should stop travelling all together. 


Thursday, 15 June 2017

THE SAME ONLY WORSE by Little Love and the Friendly Vibes


At this point in time it isn't easy to praise music for good songwriting. Harder still is to do it justice. Contemporary art needs a gimmick or at the very least some sort of mass appeal (ironically, modern mass appeal could be nothing more than a gimmick). So - how do you make a case for, say, Little Love and the Friendly Vibes?

I got to this band via the Plimptons and GUMS! - two Scottish bands whose back (there's nothing but 'back' at this point) catalogue is well worth exploring. By turns tuneful and rowdy (and twee - mostly in the case of GUMS!), they were the perfect proof that the amount of good music you will never hear is depressingly huge.

So then. Little Love and the Friendly Vibes (link here).




To paraphrase the excellent album title, it's more of the same - but different. The punk edge is obvious, otherwise it's great melodies drenched in that unmistakably playful attitude you get in the better parts of Scotland. The high points are, indeed, very high, and the insanely catchy 'hits' like "Jealous" and "Talk To Me" will not leave your head for days.

I'm not crazy about the Sex Pistols-lite singing which gets blatantly excessive in a few places (the overly simplistic "Team Leader" comes to mind), but as long as they can write a beauty like "After Hours" or the title song - I'm all right.  Even if that does highlight the fact that this is a bloody talented group of people in search of identity.

In the meantime, you won't convince me that "More Than You Can Stand" has a stronger tune than classic Comet Gain (and I love Comet Gain). Little Love and the Friendly Vibes, however, are more fun than wistful. And try as I might, I can't hold that against them.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Beauty of a Blue Jersey


Sitting on the fence is the worst kind of crime. It's not simply that you fail to express yourself and, consequently, make something of your life. It's much worse than that: it's unimaginative. And, as Christopher Hitchens wrote in the great Hitch-22, the biggest sin in the world is to be boring.

I've always been bothered by people who claim they don't care who wins the game. It has always felt like a waste of time, of spirit, of human effort. I'm moved to ask, time and time again: so why do it in the first place? Why watch the game? Why beat the purpose in the dullest of ways? 

Take a side. Express an opinion, for Christ's sake, don't hide behind something as shallow as 'well, I'm doing it for the beauty of the game'. The beauty of the game is its competition. The beauty of the game is someone's victory and someone's loss. And if you lose, well, in the long run you will at least be able to say that you gave it all. Which in itself is a top prize. 

Support is a responsibility. Not even to who you support and, perhaps, not even to yourself. Rather, it's a responsibility to yourself as a tiny little kid who entered the room in the middle of a match and decided, for no particular reason at all, that he would support the team in blue jerseys. 

...And cried afterwards, cried beautifully, when the team in blue jerseys lost. 


Sunday, 4 June 2017

travelling notes (xxviii)


Waking up in a new place is a lot like raising your head after a short midday rest on the grass. For a second or two, the world looks either unfamiliar or strikingly serene. You can lose sanity or you can write The Wasteland during that gap. You can do both. It's a moment of divine intervention for those willing to notice. 


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Album of the Month: IN SPADES by The Afghan Whigs


May. 

It's incredible what passes for good music these days. People are ready to trick you into anything. Some claim Mac DeMarco is a talent of laidback, introspective sort. He isn't. Some say Perfume Genius hasn't committed a career suicide having evolved beyond the raw, piano-based debut. He has. Some bring up Amanda Palmer. Don't. 

May (no pun intended) has been a poor month overall. Slowdive cannot survive on nostalgic memories alone and there's just something lacking about Paul Weller's post-80s songwriting. Some vital chord. Something effortless. Greg Dulli, on the other hand, has that chord tight between his teeth and is writing some of his best songs in these post-reunion days of the 21st century.

Following a whole month of active listening, I would say that In Spades is a better record than 2014's already excellent Do To The Beast. I'm continuously intrigued by the sheer songwriting depth. Raw yet elaborate. Bruised one second, delicate the next, intermittently powerful. You simply cannot deny the wounded ecstasy of "Toy Automatic" or the strings propelling "The Spell" or the understated glory of the piano in "I Got Lost". "Birdland", too, is something else. 




Occasionally it verges on overproduced. Dulli's emotional thrust, however, inflicts the necessary restraint. Quite simply, In Spades is rock music with a tortured edge. 

The Afghan Whigs. There has always been something deeply uncomfortable about that name. The two words are bad enough on their own yet putting them together makes it a fucking mess. Not that Greg Dulli would mind. That or the cheap artwork, blatantly inconsistent with the music. But who would care, or dare to remember, when this is some of the most intriguing songwriting you will hear all year.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Crazy Clown Time


Strange is not science. Or if it is, it would take more time to handle than the Tower of Hanoi that some tireless priest is still trying to solve. 

It takes finesse. And when it's fake, you know it's fake. Sometimes it comes with blood and robots and bells and whistles, but it's shallow and has to be explained. Westworld wouldn't work if it didn't have to be explained. 

Strange is disappearing because no one wants to be unsettled anymore. Strange has to be based on artistic vision, it has to be compelling, it has to come from deep down and what do you have to offer if deep down you simply do not have it?.. You can't just do it and hope for the best.

Lynch understands what most people (who would probably never get lost in a film like Inland Empire without a wish to get out) cannot allow themselves to understand: if you go strange, you have to go beyond strange. That way, you would at least get a glimpse.

It's crazy clown time, again, one where the clown is also one hell of an artist. I would give a lot for a whole new season of that. It's a miracle I didn't have to. 


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Хоппер и Магритт


Что делать в музее?

Ты думал так часто, а тебе так часто говорили. "Выбери одну или две, забудь про все остальные". Но вот ты снова выходишь из зала с чувством, что не понял или упустил. Они остались там, Хоппер с Магриттом, а ты растерянно и немного пристыженно смотришь на входящих и думаешь, что эпифания была где-то рядом.

"Бери блокнот и записывай имена и названия". Но ты знаешь, как это глупо. Блокнот затеряется на дне сумки, а сумка будет выброшена в реку. Если однажды ты вновь увидишь имена и названия, небрежно написанные твоей рукой (или..?) в Дрезденской галерее или Метрополитене, то связи с моментом больше не будет. Эпифании не случится. Ты уже не тот человек, и это был совсем другой мир. 

"Фотографии?" Те самые фотографии, которые в любом альбоме и на любой открытке будут выглядеть в миллионы раз лучше?.. И потому ты снова упустил возможность и едва ли чем-то отличаешься от беспокойного ребенка, обежавшего галерею за двадцать три минуты и восемь секунд. Ты тот, кто снимает концерт на камеру вместо того, чтобы слушать музыку, о которой мечтал полжизни. 

Что еще? "Картины лечат". Но ты уже спускаешься по ступенькам, а насморк все не проходит.

Остается одно. Чтобы запомнить рассказ, роман, книгу, нужно представить, что читаешь его глазами другого человека. Так, чтобы понять картину или хотя бы создать эту иллюзию, нужно не пользоваться ею глазами три секунды или три часа, но смотреть глазами прохожего, матери, друга, случайной дамы из конца 19 века. Хоппера или Магритта, ни один из которых, конечно, не увидел бы в ней того, что увидишь ты.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Friday, 12 May 2017

Living Signs


London. A guy from Pakistan in a slapdash, cheap-looking shirt did not even look at me as he inspected my ticket. My heart was uneasy and kept bouncing up and down my chest and I was fully expecting him to find a fatal flaw and tell me in a faux-polite manner that 'sorry, sir, but you got this ticket illegally and I cannot let you in'. Which would have been fair as this was exactly what happened when I realised the Belle & Sebastian summer concert had been sold out ages ago. 

The Pakistani barely made a sound. He applied the ticket to a sensor and instead of a green beep we heard a shrill sound of red that basically said 'bugger off'. Now clearly this was it. I would have to go back to the nearest Cafe Nero and scribble a depressing short story drinking a depressing cup of black coffee. I would not hear "A Century Of Fakers", not in this lifetime.  

In the meantime, the queue behind me was getting annoyed rather than annoying, and I could see the struggle inside the mind of my ticket guy at the entrance. He kept pressing the ticket to the sensor and it came off red each time. Then he raised his head, looked straight into my eyes (virtually through me), tore the ticket in half and said: 'Never mind, come on in'. 

Thirty minutes later, I would listen to the opening "Nobody's Empire" and wonder just how lucky I was that day. 

But more than anything else, perhaps, it's all about that guy from Pakistan who was either negligent or extremely generous. For at every concert you visit, there is always one person that gets stuck in your memory. He or she becomes integral part of the experience, the instrument that isn't played by anyone in the band, the proverbial sixth player in a basketball team. 

At the Nick Cave concert in Moscow, it was a very psyched-up office worker who freaked out when he saw Warren Ellis enter the stage: 'No! It simply can't be!' (At that point, Cave himself was still nowhere to be seen.) 

At the Cold Specks concert in Munich, it was the hippie-styled man who passed me the small green glass of absinthe together with a lump of sugar and a look of amused concern (completely justified as at some point during "Living Signs" the band's saxophone player started to look like a pornographer shooting videos for Andy Warhol).




At the Menzingers concert in Dublin, it was an Irish teenager with guts made of steel who kept downing Guinnesses one after another (I lost count) and jumping to the ceiling and singing along to the chorus of "The Obituaries". 

At the Buena Vista Social Club concert in Rome, it was the wrinkled old lady of 90 (no less) who smoked the most seductive cigarette I have ever seen and who danced with such beautiful abandon to "De Camino a La Vereda".

Etc.

Which brings me to this. There was but a single concert in my life where that one person did not make an appearance. It happened in Siena a few years ago where three girls stopped me in the middle of a fairly busy street. They did that without saying a word. They were playing instrumental music on their violins and at that moment they were already besieged by a silent crowd of locals and tourists. Or maybe they were ghosts. Maybe there was no one else there in the street and in fact I was alone listening to them play a dozen classics in that intimate, subdued, totally magical way. I was alone. Or was I.


Friday, 5 May 2017

travelling notes (xxvi)


Things happen. You see things. You hear things. You smell them. At some point, though, it will all blend together and form a collective memory which only you will share. One brief sight, however, will never leave you, and it's that of a middle-aged nun running across the bumpy hills alongside the ruins of an ancient castle. Green valley. A few drops of sun. Polish language in the distance. And a black-robed nun rushing to the white walls of a cathedral. 


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Album of the Month: SELF-TITLED by Robyn Hitchcock


While I can hardly improve on my review of Hitchcock's previous record, while I was fully expecting this to not be the best album of April - what can I possibly do when "Sayonara Judge" starts playing? Having that timeless, "N.Y. Doll"-sized melody that literally sucks your soul into infinity? 

What can I possibly do when "Raymond And The Wires" is as pretty and disarmingly surreal as classic Robyn Hitchcock?





The trick is simple enough. Years ago, there was a corny music programme on the national television. A guy with a haircut and no imagination was interviewing artists and bands and playing snippets of their most famous songs. The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, R.E.M., Live (yes, fucking Live)... The whole thing was shallow and painfully irrelevant. 

However, there are things which stick, especially when you are impressionable and fourteen. Once, Sheryl Crow ("Leaving Las Vegas" is still a bloody good song) mentioned that when she and her friends heard a really exciting record back when she was a teenager, all they wanted to do was jump into a car and drive somewhere. Anywhere. Which they did. 

And all these years later, I still believe this to be the measure of all music. The opening bars of "Detective Mindhorn" do that with great abandon - pumping as they do through your veins and whatever endless road lies ahead. 

At some point you do of course realise that these are some of his best tunes since Olé! Tarantula. Caterpillars, autumn sunglasses, Virginia Woolf. The usual. "My eyes have seen a trolleybus in 1964...". There is no shame in knowing where your strengths lie.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Jonathan Demme


I haven't thought about Jonathan Demme in days, maybe years. But all the same - he died today. 

This unsettled me. The way someone whispered it: "The director of The Silence Of The Lambs has just died". Unnerving. Which is odd, because I haven't thought about Jonathan Demme in days, maybe years. I believe part of it is the childish idea that people we rarely think about are in some way immortal. They do not die. 

Part of it is Jonathan Demme himself. 

The man has always unsettled me, in a profound way. His films have, and The Silence Of The Lambs is in the bottom half of the list. More of the way David Byrne played "Psycho Killer" on the acoustic guitar in Demme's legendary Stop Making Sense




Or the way Robyn Hitchcock appeared in Rachel Getting Married, completely out of nowhere, to perform "America" in that faux intimate setting of a dysfunctional wedding. The dishwasher scene. More of that whole film, really, with Anne Hathaway doing something mentally devastating, something you never thought she would be capable of.

To me, Jonathan Demme was all about naked wires. He took the pure essence of people and things, stripped them of their sheen and made them bleed onscreen. Beautifully. Like a true artist. One of the all-time best. The scenes must have stayed with me, for that's what I thought when somebody whispered the news.

And now that I think of it, Tom Petty's "American Girl" has never sounded the same again... RIP. 

  

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

travelling notes (xxv)


In a roadside cafe a local family will serve you the best dinner of your life. You will pay a few coins and walk to the station wondering how it could possibly be this cheap. By this point, however, the green wine will have taken its effect, and getting on the train, you will not remember much beyond the rough hands of the woman and the language you could not understand.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Favourite Bookstores, p.4


There are books so rare they basically do not exist.

However, before I get to this idea - something about Livraria Lello. In a word, overrated. Because after paying three euros (for entering a bookshop, no less), you will be struck by the huge back of a giant Turk making a selfie at the entrance. Your blood will be up already, but wait until you see the screaming multitudes of Harry Potter fans blocking the staircase. Which is an impressive staircase, and would be even more impressive if you were here alone. The book selection is all right I guess, but it's not about books, is it?..

Ironically, my new favourite bookshop is not about books either. Or maybe it is, but I wouldn't be too sure. The place is called Alfarrabista Chamine da Mota and it's in Rua das Flores, Porto. I do not even know if I'm describing a particular spot or a series of similar-looking places (I've seen a couple of bookshops like that in Portugal).

When you enter the place, you feel the dust and the sheer age of things on display. Old maps, globes, postcards, gramophones, things you can't even name. It's a fairy-tale sight, and you are allowed to view it from within. The shopkeeper? The shopkeeper won't care as he is a man from the past inspecting a leather-bound ledger in the far corner of the giant room. He looks like a sleepy insect who will not be disturbed by any noise, never mind a visitor. His hair is silver by default and he is wearing a corduroy jacket abandoned by every moth possessing a vestige of self-respect. 

Soon, however, you focus on the centuries-old bookshelves soundlessly cracking under the weight of centuries-old books. You come closer to inspect the green, yellow, brown covers, but there's a catch. The book selection is vague to the point where you start wondering if these writers ever existed in the first place. For years you read English and American literature, you think you know it all, but you are left licking your wounds in the face of such mind-numbing obscurity. 

Inevitably, you open one of these books written by an author whose name sounds vaguely familiar (it is not familiar, you are deluding yourself), and you see a barrage of words you know well and you almost have to scream in bewilderment: "How in God's name?..." After which you close the book without buying it because buying books here will seem like an act of sabotage totally uncalled for.


                                                       ***    

Portugal is filled with bookshops. In fact, I haven't seen another country that would compare. 'Livraria' is the word you will see as often as someone will say 'obrigado' to you. You will see it under bridges, by liquor stores, in dead-ends, at places where bookshops do not belong. And you will walk in (unless you are dead inside), you will look around and you will see a million books that either do or do not exist.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

How I Learned to Love Edith Piaf


In art as well as in life, you can only achieve greatness through obsession. Things you do not obsess over are bland and easily forgotten. In the final moments, on your deathbed, alone or else surrounded by people, you will not remember them. Not a flash. Not a fucking flicker. 

Filmmakers who do not obsess over their characters simply waste your time, as do poets who drive cars and musicians who write to order. They have no sense of passion, loss or true enjoyment of what they are doing. Like anyone who falls in love with an idea of getting married, they have no grasp of the process and will only look for the result.  

So I bought a vinyl player. 




God knows when the sense of obsession will hit you. But it will, and not necessarily the moment that "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" starts crackling softly but distinctly around your apartment. Could be Mark E. Smith snidely intoning 'Oh! Little brother! We are in a mess!' Could be at any point during "Town With No Cheer".  

The thrills are not cheap, and there is nothing materialistic about the needle plunging into narcotic depths of The Delines' Colfax (still one of the greatest albums of this century). And once, lying on the floor after a great day at the gallery, you and I, we fall in love with the voice of Edith Piaf like never before. 

It is the voice of Paris as it used to be, slightly muddied by the time and the dust. It is time-travelling, and it will not be forgotten. Because you know what I think? A trip is not a trip if it's not a journey. 


Monday, 3 April 2017

travelling notes (xxiv)


There is always a scene from an unwritten book taking place in a certain part of a city. A local citizen wouldn't know, stuck as he is on his way to work or behind the familiar spot of a bar counter. You, however, are right in the midst of it. With your clumsy ways and your travellers' handbag, you came out of nowhere. Like a character from an unwritten book. 


Friday, 31 March 2017

Album of the Month: DISAPPEARED BEHIND THE SUN by Angles 9


In a month when Jarvis Cocker released an album of such great beauty and style. When Stephin Merritt released 316,456 songs out of which 29,459 are really bloody good. When Aimee Mann released another great Aimee Mann album. When The Jesus And Mary Chain released a comeback that was in all honesty as good as it could ever be. When Johnny Flynn released his best album since A Larum.  

In a month like that... best new thing I heard was an album of Scandinavian free jazz released in January. 

Angles 9 are the sort of band you discover by chance, by way of some random, left-field list on which a good 90% of featured artists are pure nonsense. In fact, I was fully expecting to write them off twenty seconds into their second album (Injuries, their first, was released in 2014), but then all of a sudden it started to make perfect sense. 




Disappeared Behind The Sun is free jazz with lots of conviction and little-to-no subtlety. Most of the songs are born out of chaos. Then a rhythm is formed. Then you hear a perfectly realised groove of such intensity that any free musical expression added to it seems to work. The result is a rush of blood to your head as well as to every cell of your body. The moments of calm and beauty are relative and all the more worthwhile for that.

There's nothing bland and wishy-washy about Angles 9. They seem to know their business and they do it well. Disappeared Behind The Sun is to be swallowed in one gulp. This album is what Ornette Coleman would do in a world where punk rock was the only music allowed.    

* My only excuse (if I needed any) is that the vinyl version of this record was, indeed, released in March. 


Friday, 24 March 2017

My Big Midweek


I only tend to remember this once a year, when Mark E. Smith has a new album out, but The Fall really are the greatest music I've ever heard. 




There's an episode in Steve Hanley's autobiography My Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall where Craig Scanlon, The Fall's longest running guitarist, comes up with this verbal perversity:

'The worse the atmosphere in the band, the better music they make'.

You may think this is absurd, or else a bad joke, but no: it really is what he thought at that point in the 90s when the group ('the band is what plays in Blackpool') was still going strong. I specifically wanted to single out these words, albeit quoted from memory, because they give you a rough idea of the fucked-up mindset of someone institutionalised in The Fall. 

Steve Hanley joined The Fall as a young man back when Mark E. Smith was still singing "Repetition". For a Manchester lad with the grim prospect of a life in a parents' bakery... I mean, what more could you possibly wish? Then came the rest. The rest unfolds here like some fucking thriller.

Mark E. Smith's dysfunctional brilliance is not in doubt, and don't pretend you knew nothing about the bullying and the backstabbing. However, My Big Midweek is unique in the sense that it describes The Fall institution from the inside. Hanley is right. You don't need to be a fan to love this book. You don't even need to like music (though in that case you would miss a million priceless references with varying degrees of snide and affection).

For once, it's beautifully written. With true, unfading passion - but then with love, too, so that your eyebrows are barely raised when Hanley thanks Smith in the acknowledgements. 'For the opportunity and unique life lessons'.

It was 19 years, too.

Hanley has a lot to get off his chest. He has every right to feel embittered, being one of the greatest bass guitarists of his generation and the single most crucial member of The Fall whose name is not Mark E. Smith. What follows is a perfect snapshot of the band during one of their last tours together: 'a feral rogue and his rival, whose soul he's sucking dry, a reluctant guitarist who hasn't faced the audience for five years, a deconstructed dance-head whose bouncy edges are still being sanded-down, a claustrophobic snug-dwelling diva and me, a big, bald, grudgeful idiot from Ireland'. Beat that.

You know by the end of this book (which will leave you battered, though not as much as an average member of The Fall) that, against all common sense, Steve Hanley would never have chosen a different life. Because he fucking cared.

But equally there's a perverted sense of joy in the way he finishes the book: 

'I'm not going to play bass with The Fall again'.