Music: I’m really loving two new records this week. First is No Age’s Nouns, the follow-up to their much-hyped EP compliation Weirdo Rippers. It’s streamlined noise-pop mastery at its best and manages to rattle through its songs fast enough that any sense of pretension or posing never materialises. The other is the amazing Music Hole by a capella chanteuse Camille which expands on the rough-hewn fun of Le Fil and creates a tangible world for her to exist in.
I managed to get hold of two great Jim O’Rourke soundscaping albums (Bad Timing and I’m Happy, I’m Singing, And a 1,2,3,4) and they are proving fantastic for working. As a general rule of thumb, krautrock and motorik electronica are efficient soundtracks for writing. I’m still obsessed with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago which might be my favourite album of the year so far.
I got to see Sebadoh play Bubble & Scrape live as part of the Don’t Look Back series from ATP and that was some experience. The crowd didn’t quite get the concept fully, constantly requesting during the album portion of the show, but the band were affable and in good spirits so they took it well. For the record, it’s a much better album live.
Elsewhere, the new Scarlett Johannson record has a couple of nice moments but is mostly a slightly misguided folly. Death Cab for Cutie’s follows the trajectory of Plans in being good enough but not really closing in on the brilliance of Photo Album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes and their masterpiece, Transatlanticism.
Portishead are reassuringly brilliant and Wolf Parade are spiky but not fully satisfying. I haven’t absorbed My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges yet but first listen reveals an album falling somewhere between the church-hall grandiosity of the first two and the slinky brilliance of Z.
Film/TV: So Tom and I managed to buck the system and get ourselves a 90-day free trial to LoveFilm, the UK equivalent of NetFlix. It’s been a decent run so far but it’s hotting up now with a couple of cracking rentals from the last couple of weeks.
First up, a small confession, Tom and I are somewhat obsessed with watching really strange Anthony Hopkins performances. We dig The Edge where he becomes surely the first classic British actor to call a bear a ‘motherfucker’. In The Human Stain, the dude’s African American! But the one we took in this week, Bad Company, sees him become an FBI badass!!! It’s a pretty awful film but it’s fun to witness because Hopkins is just phoning in every scene he’s in from long, long distance. He’s barely even present for most of it. He and co-star Chris Rock just don’t really work together at all. But we loved watching Hopkins shoot and fight his way through an improbable and poorly-written movie because we will watch him do anything.
We got hold of Midnight Run for Tom to watch for the first time, the classic 1980s buddy movie starring De Niro and Charles Grodin which manages to be very funny, action-packed and have a deeper, darker side to it. It’s far the superior of films of the era like Last Boy Scout and Lethal Weapon.
The first of my ventures into Eureka’s Masters of Cinema catelogue was Punishment Park, a 1971 psuedo documentary about an America taken to McCarthy-ite extremes of fascism. Any people found to be in anyway advocating overthrow of government or even questioning power is sent to be put on ‘trial’ and given the option of prison or ‘Punishment Park’ which involves a 53-mile run across the California desert for the inmates with guards and army chasing and killing them. It’s about thirty-five years ahead of its time in evoking the spirit of the Patriot Act and the right-wing jingoism which followed 9/11 in America and is therefore something of a minor masterpiece.
We’ve also seen Das Experiment, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s intense evocation of the Stanford Prison Experiment. It’s a modern masterclass in building tension. I also experienced Reds, Warren Beatty’s biopic of communist American journalist John Reed, for the first time and was enthralled if never blown away by its stately aims.
TV-wise, I absolutely LOVE Gossip Girl. The series is so utterly ridiculous but so triumphant at creating characters you want to watch that you can’t help but fall head-over-heels for it. Also, playing Chuck, Brit-actor Ed Westwick has created my favourite character on TV right now, a constantly horny multi-sexual seduction machine outfitted in outlandishly bold clothing and resembling a naughty pixie. I dig that dude.
My other total obsession, more of this in the other section too, is This American Life. Ira Glass’ stories of ordinary everyday people is so completely brilliant that you wonder why other haven’t latched onto its concept. I am rarely so moved by a show as I am by this but my goodness its just total perfection.
The Office trucks on brilliantly as usual but Lost is teetering on its mid-season boredom section which I really hoped would be eliminated by taking the seasons down by a few episodes.
The best show I’ve found is Human Giant, the MTV sketch show that makes me laugh harder and more often than anything else right now. Also a special mention here for the Tim and Eric Awesome show thing on AdultSwim which I think is maybe the worst piece of crap I have ever wasted eleven minutes of my life on. I hated every second and it totally captures everything that’s bad about AdultSwim. Hate it.
Books/Comics: I’m currently plowing through Generation Kill, Evan Wright’s amazing war reporting piece on recon marines in Iraq. It’s pretty harrowing stuff but all told, as you would imagine a marine would tell it, in a matter-of-fact style that brings you inside the world. It is war reporting of the very highest quality. It’s being adapted in a series by David Simon and Ed Burns, the writers of the greatest television show of all-time, The Wire.
I recently finished my second book by Daniel Woodrell, the author of last year’s brilliant snow-and-crank quasi-noir Winter’s Bone. Tomato Red seems widely to be considered his finest book and its certainly some way off Winter’s Bone stylistically. The plot is less focused but it manages to create a sense of existentialist angst that never falls into being overly-pretentious or irratating, even if he can’t quite hold the attention for long enough to really invite you into the unattractive world presented.
Beth has become obsessed, which subsequently means I am now obsessed, with Bryan O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics. The books are indeed utterly brilliant, a completely fresh take on the everday-superhero genre. It’s being made into a film with Michael Cera, a move which represents some might brilliant casting.
Other: Me and my podcasts. I can’t help it. I’m really loving Filmspotting, still my absolute essential podcast of the week. Also This American Life and PRI Selected Shorts, a short fiction podcast on which writers read and discuss their work. PRI also presents Best of Our Knowledge, a beguiling examination of a different topic each week, employing several interviews to discuss a certain theme, kind of like This American Life but with authors or experts. I still dig the Slate Cultural and Political Gabfests and really love KCRW’s Left, Right and Center which seems to become more animated and slightly more filled with bile every week. I’ve also now fallen for Watching the Directors in which the hosts pick a subject every week and explore body of work of this figure. This weeks, on Steven Soderbergh, was excellent.
Elsewhere, I love Grand Theft Auto 4 although it’s likely to see very little play when Rock Band is finally released over here next week. Our bank holiday weekend won’t be filled with sunshine and outdoor fun.
I’d also like to point everyone to a site I link to a lot but it’s really great and does deserve your attention. Daytrotter has sessions everyday now and this week had Castanets and Times New Viking so get on over there and check them out.