Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Album of the Month: IN SPADES by The Afghan Whigs


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".


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.