Sunday, 31 December 2017

Album of the Month: FROM THE TREES by Peter Hammill

Back when progressive rock seemed like something John Lydon could not grasp on a purely intellectual level, I bought H To He Who Am The Only One. It did not quite soundtrack my teenage years the way (say!) Aqualung did, but "House With No Door" was a piece of chilling ecstasy I played ad nauseam. Nothing else on Van Der Graaf Generator's most famed record matched those piano chords and those flutes, but "House With No Door" was such a top prize. 

Eventually, some long-haired guy borrowed the album and never gave it back (possibly thinking that Uriah Heep's compilation he brought me was a worthy substitute - although in its defence, it did keep my kitchen table in balance), and I lost track of Peter Hammill's music until someone, somewhere suggested Nadir's Big Chance.

It would be hard now to describe the shock to the senses that Nadir's Big Chance once was for me, but that fucking album was unique in a most extreme way. It was not the vibe or the voice - it was the way he constructed the songs with melodies that were supposed to be melodies but barely registered as such. Which was Peter Hammill's very special way. It was punk before John Lydon started wearing controversial T-shirts.

From then on, it's been a rough and wild ride that has produced enough subversive classics to keep me looking for more (The Future Now and the more recent Consequences are personal favourites). But From The Trees, released earlier this month, had the kind of urgent intimacy I could hardly expect.

The record is mostly piano and acoustic guitar filtered through Hammill's complex, deeply uncomfortable songwriting. Face it, the moment you hear the irresistible backing vocals in "Torpor" (strangely, they remind me of "Goodbye Blue Sky") you think this is from a wrong album. After all, Rikki Nadir was never supposed to be accessible. And it's not that he is, or tries to be, but the tune in "Charm Alone" is easy to grasp, the piano in "The Descent" is heartbreaking by any standard, etc. And none of it, mind you, distracts from Hammill's trademark style and charisma.  

From The Trees may not be the most appropriate record for New Year's eve, but it clearly is the best album I've heard all month. From The Trees seems like Peter Hammill's most intimate record in years, maybe ever. And, in "Torpor", it has the sort of universally sad melody that hits me as hard as "House With No Door" once did. And that takes some doing.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Speech

Originally, I was planning to post Bing Crosby singing the immortal "Adeste Fideles", but then Morrissey's Christmas speech came along, and how could I resist?..

This is perfect on so many levels. I swear I burst out laughing three times at the very least, and I'm not even sure it was meant to be so. The flu part at the beginning. The well-judged swipes. The black and white poster in the background. The book placed to his left. Hilarious. Irreproachable, too.

And, to reiterate, Low In High School really was the best album of 2017. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Black Mirror

The prime minister had a choice. The guy in "The Waldo Moment" had done his share. Surely you can't sympathise with the "Nosedive" girl. For all the mindless hate in "White Bear", the woman was guilty. In "Shut Up and Dance", your heart stops bleeding for the boy the moment the final twist comes.  

Interestingly, the only innocent soul whose punishment is totally uncalled for is the girl from "Fifteen Million Merits" as the choice she makes is not really a choice. And it leads to an ironic observation regarding this never-ending technological freak show. The universe it has spawned is a universe of corrupted victims.

*Mind, please, that this was written before the "Crocodile" episode. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Drinking Guide to London Parks

London parks are not there for your entertainment. London parks are to be obsessed with. In fact, I pity the poor tourist who walks past the Ecclestone Square Park to gawp at the honestly fucking useless figures of Madam Tussauds, and I look with utter disbelief at that poor soul which has never made an exhausting but ultimately fulfilling trip to the Kew Gardens (having, quite possibly, never heard of them). 

Which is to say, the old adage sticks. If you are tired of London parks, you are tired of life.

They are not straightforward. In fact, there are levels to London parks. There are those which are for lying down and there are those which are for silent walks among the roses and the cheeky squirrels hunting for blood. There are those which are for music in your headphones (I once had a beautiful night out in St. James Park listening to The Ape Of Naples) and those which are for melodramatic conversations with those who you love or else loved or else will love. And then there are those which are to be enjoyed with a glass of absinthe. 

In fact, all of them. It's worth remembering that obsessions do not go easy on you, and hence this drinking guide to London parks. Not all of them, Jesus forbid, these are just a few examples. But never forget: there are no parks in London you should have the effrontery to skip.

Level One. Soho Square.

The grass in Soho Square is so dark green it's almost brown. Which could well be for the simple reason that I only saw it in the evening. Soho Square is the ultimate hedonistic paradise, compact-style, filthy and brilliant. It's there to lie down and soak in the million words yelled and whispered around you. It's actually inspiring, given the right season (April to October) and the right moment (6pm onwards). The right alcohol would be the basic delights of ginger beer like Crabbies.

Level Two. Hyde Park (Diana's Fountain corner).

Hyde Park is overcrowded and, more often than not, quite intimidating. Tread carefully through the dead bodies, empty bottles and depressing Pakistani gentlemen trying to sell you an iPhone adapter, and you might be rewarded with something like Diana's Fountain. This is still precarious, I'll grant you that, as you could stumble upon a perfect British family playing football under the tree you've long picked for yourself. However, when it's calm and the good people are at work, the sun is clean, the air is transparent, the kids are dipping their feet in the water, and this calls for a long, slow glass of champagne

Level Three. Warwick Square.

Overgrown, leafy, with a half-closed gate that might only seem inviting to an old man walking his two giant dogs. Yet walk in, and this could be as special as only an old park can be. London is filled with these. Any conversation here becomes memorable, any face unforgettable. You will come up with your best line, you will write your best short story here. A Warwick Square is natural and dense and powerful and I just wouldn't mind having a small bottle of Scottish whisky in the long pocket of my coat. 

Level Four. St. James Park. 

St. James Park can occasionally come off as a posher take on Hyde Park, but that's if your imagination allows you to queue to the London Eye for a day or two. The grass in St. James Park is slightly less pale, and the air is way healthier as you can probably gather from the multitudes of joggers (although David Lodge said it best: "Running is a sport, jogging is punishment"). St. James Park is mainstream art done well, with guts and imagination, even if its no-nonsense location is closer to the earthy taste of red wine

Level Five. Kew Gardens.

Instagram people won't believe me when I say that life is nothing but a mixture of memories and experiences. It is. One such experience was me walking through the Kew Gardens (where at some point I found myself running after a peacock trying to pull out one of his feathers) on a Wednesday morning and seeing a huge white table laid for some sort of grand dinner celebration. The plates were there, as were the spoons and the forks and the glasses. This was such a perfect scene. One thing missing was 12 e Mezzo /Malvasia del Salento. White wine.  

Level Six. Regent's Park.

In late pre-autumn, on a warm day when the air is so crisp you can almost faint from happiness, Regent's Park is my idea of Heaven. You know how occasionally you have one too many cocktails, and you go and lie down, and suddenly you feel like your head comes crashing down, floating through some goddamn tunnel, and there's a sense that if you succumb to this great fall, you will never wake up from this and you will land deeper than the chasm where Gandalf took on Barlog. Regent's Park is exactly that when you lie down on its grass, with the single exception that it's the fall you are willing to accept. Preferred alcohol is the cocktail of your choice. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Noel vs. Liam

Since I love writing about the Gallagher brothers, and since they keep pushing this rivalry as if anyone cares, and since they've just released their albums in disgusting succession, I'm genuinely interested to see who wins this one out. 

The referee blows the whistle, reluctantly. Game on.

1. "Fort Knox" vs. "Wall Of Glass"

Noel is trying something different here, Liam is going through the motions. Both moderately convincing. A tie. 

Noel 1 Liam 1

2. "Holy Mountain" vs. "Bold"

"Holy Mountain" is annoying but seriously catchy. "Bold" is an acoustic guitar based song that Liam's laptop could write in a minute. 

Noel 2 Liam 1

3. "Keep On Reaching" vs. "Greedy Soul"

"Keep On Reaching" is hilariously overproduced like everything else on the album, but still good. Liam rhymes 'six' with 'crucifix'. 

Noel 3 Liam 1

4. "It's A Beautiful World" vs. "Paper Crown"

Noel's song is vapid and soulless. Liam's song could be a Lennon d-side. 

Noel 3 Liam 2

5. "She Taught Me How To Fly" vs. "For What It's Worth"

Again, I applaud Noel for his attempt to be adventurous, and his song is okay, but denying "For What It's Worth" here would be like denying the entire existence of Oasis. I'm not going that far. 

Noel 3 Liam 3

6. "Be Careful What You Wish For" vs. "When I'm In Need"

Noel is intriguing here, Liam is painfully derivative. 

Noel 4 Liam 3

7. "Black & White Sunshine" vs. "You Better Run"

Both rotten, Liam's slightly less so.

Noel 4 Liam 4

8. "Interlude (Wednesday Part 1)" vs. "I Get By"

That's a lovely interlude actually, but not enough to score. "I Get By" is rubbish. 'Only love can break my heart...' Seriously, Liam?

Noel 4 Liam 4

9. "If Love Is The Law" vs. "Chinatown"

"Chinatown" is half-decent, "If Love Is The Law" is not.

Noel 4 Liam 5

10. "The Man Who Built The Moon" vs. "Come Back To Me"

Whenever I listen to Noel, I get the feeling that there's a good songwriter there trying to break through every rock cliche known to humanity. He pulls it off here, barely. "Come Back To Me" is not a good song.

Noel 5 Liam 5

11. "End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)" vs. "Universal Gleam"

No points.

Noel 5 Liam 5

12. "Dead In The Water" (bonus) vs. "All I've Need"

It's a brittle acoustic piece from Noel, and it's no great shakes, but Liam has literally nothing to say here.

Noel 6 Liam 5

Noel edges it. Having said that, Who Built The Moon?* is one of the worst album titles ever, so perhaps I should have disqualified it from the start and not wasted sixty-five minutes of my life listening to these two hopelessly mediocre albums.  

*It's been pointed out to me that Noel's album is, in fact, called not Who Invented The Moon? but Who Built The Moon? Which, I'm sorry to say, does not change anything. Still woeful. The album name has now been fixed, finally.

Monday, 4 December 2017

travelling notes (xliv)

In a Portuguese city, I once saw a black black guy who was selling umbrellas just as the sun was about to come out. The rain was relentless, and people kept looking up at the sky, then at the black guy, then up again, trying to figure out who was cheating them. 

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Album of the Month: LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL by Morrissey

There's nothing esoteric about writing music reviews. There's no mystery. If anything, the idea is downright ugly in its simplicity: you have to be able to distinguish a good song from a bad song. To which you could, of course, say that everything is relative and there is nothing more relative than taste. To which I would say that yes, dear, certainly, but that's no excuse for saying Liam Gallagher is a songwriter. 

In other words, when I see NME (why oh why did I do this to myself?) call the first five songs on Morrissey's new album 'passable', I don't want to hear one word about relativity. Because this, at best, is a fucking joke. 

But then it's not about music, now, is it. It's Morrissey saying this, Morrissey saying that. It's Morrissey being for Brexit (I almost spilt a good cup of flat white when I opened the latest Uncut and saw the lyrical 'interpretation' of "Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage"). It's Morrissey saying something positive about Nigel Farage. It's Morrissey writing a bad novel. It's Morrissey not dissecting the rotting corpse of Harvey Weinstein.  

By now, I honestly feel like my body is covered with a billion tiny snowflakes, and I'm not even on Twitter.

And not even because I care all that much, about Morrissey's views or any of it, but simply because Low In High School is one of his best albums. It's imaginative, well-written, provocatively bold. What more could you possibly wish from Morrissey? An album of Smiths' covers?

"Israel" has one hell of a vocal performance (also, I feel this is the right moment to say that Nick Cave got even higher in my esteem having agreed to play a concert in Israel despite any number of humourless people). "I Bury The Living" is both monstrous and monumental, and a great deal more inventive than most of people's entire careers. "Home Is A Question Mark" is powerful and heartfelt. "Spent The Day In Bed" just gets better with each new listen. "Who Will Protect Us From The Police?" has one of this year's greatest vocal hooks. The aforementioned "Jacky" is a stone cold Morrissey classic. 

I love the sense of urgency, I love the feeling of an artist having something to say. And I mean musically. God knows I mean musically, above all else. And also, just in case I did not make myself clear enough, I want Morrissey to keep inhabiting the world unpopulated by people who can't tell a good song from a Twitter feed.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Axes out

I'm just wondering... These people who dismiss the new album by Morrissey with such self-important vigour - are they the very same ones who call you sick if you say Kevin Spacey is a great actor?

Because I think they are.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

travelling notes (xliii)

There's a lot to be said for Riga. The wine in the record store. The hidden corners of the river. The Soviet past, lovingly assimilated. Etc. And yet - forget about the trivia. In actual fact, it's all about The Left Door Bar and its Alchemical cocktail. Without a shadow of a doubt - the single most perfect drink I've had in my life.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Four-Letter Word

Just how did it happen, exactly? And why?

Ten years ago, when you used the word 'hype' (and you rarely did, because it's one of the most tasteless words in existence), you meant bullshit. You meant crap. You meant overrated rubbish. 

These days, every poor soul with seven followers to their name puts the word in pointless caps, adds a million exclamation marks and, crucially, means something totally opposite. 

This offends me. Nothing screams louder about the sheer insincerity of our times than this four-letter word. 

Ten years ago, you appealed to the content, and thus decried everything that may have looked presentable and well-advertised but had a huge hole inside. Like those albums by Razorlight that were on every wall in London in the summer of 2006 (people actually gave a damn about Razorlight, at some point). These days, you appeal to the shell. Presentation is all that matters and so hype is good since the actual content pales in comparison with the blandest of Razorlight records. 

As Ian McEwan puts it in his latest novel Nutshell, "These are new times. Perhaps they are ancient". The phrasing here is phenomenal. Because 'ancient' doesn't mean 'old'. It means 'primitive'. 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Album of the Month: KEN by Destroyer

Meanwhile, in a world of unicorns and tooth fairies... 

Things are like people. You have to live with them first to have an idea of what they are worth. Otherwise, you could either miss out or make a fool of yourself. Maybe both. Which is why I have always viewed it as tragic - how quickly people are losing the art of living with a record. 

Dan Bejar is a man who doesn't bother with immediacy. He dropped the notion back in 2011, amid the jazzy, narcotic heights of Kaputt, and hasn't looked back ever since. By my count, only the 'old-school', infectious "Cover From The Sun" could find its way onto Streethawk: A Seduction or, whisper it, a New Pornographers album.

Everything else doesn't care if you like it or not (a rare quality in this day and age), but reveals itself anew with each listen. Take your time, give it a glass of wine, and God knows what free-form lyrical delights ken will throw up. Melodic swirls, too. Moody undertones. Even "Sky's Grey" will grow on you, which is some feat for a song that is perfect to begin with. 

Also, I loved it that Dan Bejar was inspired by Suede's "The Wild Ones" to record this album. Apparently, the original title for one of England's greatest ballads (Bejar's words, and who would argue) was "Ken". Inspiration works in mysterious ways, but as long as the 'working on the new Oliver Twist I've been' line is so deliriously majestic... It's a line to live with, not simply to pass by.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

travelling notes (xlii)

I look at Chinese tourists with bemusement. Wherever they go, they drag their Chinese bubble with them, and stay inside, and never leave it. They eat their noodles in the wine-smelling streets of Toledo. They queue to Metropolitan, then click before looking. They never walk alone and they always walk through you. They are ghosts - I like to think that so as not to get completely bored by them. 

Friday, 20 October 2017


These days, it doesn't happen too often that a song strikes me as perfect. Good? Yes. Great? Maybe. Perfect? Don't delude yourself. In the whole of 2017, only Jarvis Cocker's "The Other Side", Peter Perrett's "Hard To Say No" and Destroyer's "Sky's Grey" would qualify. 

And Morrissey:

"Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage" is perfect, which is all the more impressive because the sound quality is understandably poor (in fact, it pains me to imagine how good it will sound in late November).

The song itself is vicious pop music, with Morrissey relishing every moment. There is no mystery as to who Jacky is, and if you have any doubts, the final chant will leave no room for imagination. Frankly, it doesn't get much better than this.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Скетчи про Минск. Комплексы.

Есть города, которым наплевать на то, что вы о них думаете. Париж, например. Лиссабон. Вы можете любить их, вы можете их ненавидеть, но каждое лицо из вагона метро и каждый фонарный столб на пути в отель будут говорить: "Ну, это ваше дело". 

Помню одну русскую пару, которую зачем-то встретил в Версале (русские пары всегда встречаются "зачем-то"). Они кисло ходили по дворцу и кисло повторяли: "У нас, в Петергофе, лучше". Было забавно. Как забавно то, что многие всерьез воспринимают вопрос французского бармена о том, понравился ли им фирменный коктейль. На самом деле, он знает, что понравился. Он знает, что сделал его хорошо. Или ему просто все равно. 

Минск - другое дело. Этот город не уверен в себе и страшно закомплексован. Ему не наплевать на то, что вы о нем думаете. Он как мнительный музыкант - приходит домой, бросает флейту под стол и нервно читает рецензии на себя. 

Но слушая живого Кшиштофа Пендерецкого на прошлой неделе, я вдруг понимаю, что ничего подобного не услышал бы ни в одном другом городе мира. Безумный авангард его Концерта для фортепиано с оркестром бьется о стенки скромного зала и валторнами вырывается наружу. Париж проглотил бы все это в один вечер, с красным вином или без него. 

А тут...

Это мимолетное чувство, и совсем скоро оно забудется. Из-за моста появится иностранец и по-английски спросит, куда пойти в этом городе, и ты не будешь знать ответа. Пендерецкий больше не приедет в Минск. Любое лицо в вагоне метро будет расплываться немым вопросом: "Ну как? Ну как? Ну как?" Любой фонарный столб будет краснеть от смущения. Это мимолетное чувство, но мне кажется, что оно было.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Manhattan Short

Fuck it we are boring. We are no fun. God is dead. 

No, seriously, what has become of us? This year's Manhattan Short Film Festival was supposed to celebrate its 20th anniversary, yet what we got instead was a sea of mediocrity and one moment of Georgian magic. The one film in the entire programme which gave you art in its pristine, most powerful form.

The problem is, art is losing its purity (do not confuse it with innocence). These days, art has to go with a social issue. With a topical item on Euronews. With your fucking Facebook feed. So what you get in the end is an Italian entry which is technically brilliant and important but totally one-dimensional as a piece of art. Same with Syria. 

No, thank you. I don't want my art to be important. I want my art to be art.

If Manhattan Short Film Festival is indicative (and I believe it is), then 2017 is flashy and vapid. American film was trite beyond words, with an idea that only a caveman could find inspired. As was the second Spanish entry (the first one was at least, well, scary). Latvia was not art, and neither, frankly, was New Zealand. Britain was tense and well-acted, but the explanation at the end was somehow diminishing. But important, yes.  

It's ironic that Georgia was the one moment of light in those two long hours. Ironic, because the piece talks about the dying moments of the sun. It was heartfelt, and funny, and imaginative, and witty, and had more to say in those eight minutes than any boring, self-important director incapable of allegory and lacking that wonderful ability to make you surprised. 

When you are far away and looking at the moon.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

travelling notes (xli)

"You are not taking that with you, are you?" One of the most sincere laughs I've ever heard came from an airport lady as she watched me place a bottle of water in a separate plastic container. Took me three seconds to realise, after which I joined her in her laugh. Oh what a world this has become. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Tom Petty (1950-2017)

Eddie Vedder was humourless. Neil Young tried too hard. Lou Reed didn't want to be there. Sinead O'Connor got booed off stage. The host was about to fall asleep. 

Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert of 1993 ruined most of my teenage expectations back when I finally bought the DVD. Two of those performances, however, more than made up for the overall mess and the general sense of embarrassment. One was Ron Wood's electrifying take on "Seven Days". And the other.... oh the other. 

The other performance was "License To Kill" by Tom Petty. 

The reedy stare, the golden locks, the poignant vocals, the body language, even the sneakers - it was the first time I saw him, and it was pure wonder. Christ knows how many times I rewatched that performance back in the day (because nothing beats teenage obsession), but in the years to come I would go the whole way, from 1976 onwards.

It wasn't all perfect, nor was meant to be. Tom Petty was the classic American songwriter in its genuine, brilliant, flawed sense. He invested too much in being tasteful. He often let the singles overshadow albums. He sometimes relied on good melodies at the expense of great ones. But who cares? 'Cause when he shone - well, you couldn't look away.  

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Album of the Month: HIPPOPOTAMUS by Sparks

Any argument about "Luciferian Towers" being the best album of the month stands no chance. It's a wonderful record no doubt, Godspeed's best since Yanqui U.X.O., but there's just no way those wily Canadians could come up with a song title as brilliant as "So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?"  

I have to say - I didn't like the way it started. "Hippopotamus" was an ill-advised choice for the first single, the cover picture was no Passionoia, and 15 songs seemed far-fetched. But I needn't have worried. "Hippopotamus" works amazingly well in the context of the album. There's a real menace in the eyes of the beast. And, most crucially, I can't find one song here I would wish to cut out. 

Well, let's see. "Missionary Position" may be no Christopher Hitchens' book of the same name, but it's as good as anything on Kimono My House (the lyrics are phenomenal, of course). "Scandinavian Design" is "Norwegian Wood" for 2017. "Giddy Giddy" is both annoying and terrific and is one hell of an improvement over "Here Kitty". "Bummer" starts like "Perfume" and never lets go. "I Wish You Were Fun" is lightweight Sparks perfection. "When You're French Director" is a playful duet with Leos Carax

It's all fucking wonderful. Seriously, with the possible exception of the slightly underwhelming "Unaware", this is good, clean, deranged fun. Almost an hour of that. Hippopotamus has the best set of melodies you will hear all year (unless you count the Luke Haines solo anthology that has just been released). And you don't need more, do you?

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

travelling notes (xl)

In travelling as well as in life you should stick to memories, not pictures.

Monday, 18 September 2017


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. 

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.