Well, it’s been a little while since my last update so there is much to talk about. At work, I find I need to have very specific types of music playing to help my ability to type fast and not be too far taken out of my concentration. With this in mind, two types of music continually find their way onto playlists I make and so are often my working music pieces. The first is hip hop and in the past few weeks, I’ve become partially obsessed with finding good, eccentric and esoteric hip hop albums that sound interesting and manage to avoid much of the posing and faux-gangster braggadocio of much of mainstream rap. Peanut Butter Wolf and Madvillain are both amazing for this with the second’s Madvillainy album now placing itself among my all-time favourites in any genre. Also working for me are Prefuse 73, Flying Lotus, Aesop Rock, Cadence Weapon, J Dilla, Cannibal Ox, Edan, El-P and Sage Francis. All are recommended to those who like to avoid getting too much syrupy R ‘n’ B with their hip hop. Having said that, a man whose purveyance of syrupy R ‘n’ B verges on the R Kelly, T.I., has made the incredible, thrilling ‘Swagger Like Us’ with Lil Wayne (whose ‘A Milli’ is also a total masterpiece), Kanye West and the king of brag-rap, Jay-Z. For all my dislike of that kind of hip hop from lesser minds, this is a truly incredible song.
The other portion that’s working for me right now is long-form electronica and textural compositions. Lindstrom’s new album is wonderful while I would thoroughly boost Tim Hecker and Fennesz for some more challenging and dense electronic work. I’ve also fallen head-over-heels for the sweet, weird little songs from Books, a fine group making slight but hugely enjoyable albums of electronic-inflected indie. Just as a post-note on this, you can also add into the genres I dig for writing krautrock. I love me some really repetitive, motorik sound of Neu and Can, the latter providing some far more out-there, almost hippie moments while the former, and superior, is guitar-based pounding symphonies of rhythm and discipline. Neu would probably rank up as my absolute favourite of all for writing.
Other than these, and outside of work, I’ve become a little over-obsessed with a cover of ODB’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ by White Pony and I really love the uber-heavy reggae dub of The Bug. The Hold Steady continue to float every portion of my boat, Jay Reatard (terrible name) has a singles collection which is filled with dirty garage rock and hooky choruses, the new songs from TV on the Radio are awesome and ‘Nonpareil of Favor’, the new track from Of Montreal, is terrific. Also well done to Elbow for winning the Mercury, even if it should have gone to Burial. Seldom Seen Kid is a fine record, even if they should really have won for their first record. At least, unlike many of the last few winners, they looked genuinely happy to have won the award rather than skulking off and remaining ‘cool’ in the moment.
Busy weeks again on this front. Tom and I completed our 1980s marathon by finding out that Top Gun sucks, as does Arnie’s Red Heat. However, Total Recall holds up far better than it has any right to do and has ushered in an Arnie marathon which has thus far included Terminator (still superb) and Conan the Barbarian (has its moments). More are planned so stay tuned for that.
Better, and way cooler, than any of this though is Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. Following Alain Delon’s Jef Costello, a Parisian hitman, through and existential passage of his life following a hit, it’s maybe the finest example I have ever seen of a hitman movie. Melville’s true skill is the economy of his filmmaking, allowing enigma to exist without providing spoonfed explanations for all that occurs and never over-indulging in dialogue. Alain Delon is likely the coolest human and if you witness this movie and don’t have an immediate urge to go and purchase a trenchcoat and hat, along with at least 500 packs of cigarettes, I don’t know your kind. It’s beautifully filmed, sparely written and acted without any theatrics from anyone involved. All remains at a level of cool detachment that, rather than making this overly-cold or uncomfortable, just makes you try harder to understand and engage with the story, the rewards for which are more than satisfactory. Hyperbole perhaps but I think this goes straight in amongst my all-time favourite films and I cannot recommend highly enough that you seek it out and take it in. I will now be searching out the rest of Melville’s work, including Le Cercle Rouge and Le Doulos.
I also got to see Pineapple Express which I absolutely loved. I’m a big lover and apologist for the Apatow-Rogen team and I really found nothing to hate in the mixture. James Franco is outstanding as Saul, bringing all he has to make sure you completely empathise with their plight and laugh hard while doing so. Rogen isn’t as good but I still feel this quasi-paternal nuturing sensation towards his projects due to my loving his work in Freaks and Geeks all that way back. I loved it and honestly, I think most who haven’t just didn’t drink enough before hand. We had a couple of glasses of wine and this film rocked. As an aside, our housemate also saw it but stone sober and still loved it.
I’ve managed to set a new rule with my LoveFilm account, only keeping DVDs for two weeks at a time, after which, if not watched, they go back regardless. I’ve recently taken in Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know which was too quirky for its own good but still quite enjoyable. I watched Pierce Brosnan in The Matador which I was close to loving and I checked out The Saddest Music in the World, Guy Maddin’s least-insane film about a contest set up by Isabella Rossellini in which people are invited to come and play the saddest music in the world at her club and win a prize if there is truly the most sad. It was somewhere between an overly-arty minefield of quirk and a complete, emotionally shattering masterpiece and I don’t know if I ever know which one it is. Next up is Jacques Tati’s M Hulot’s Holiday. From there, it could be another Tati, some Tarkovsky, Point Break, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia or Living in Oblivion.
I this week completed Generation Kill, the mini-series on HBO from David Simon and Ed Burns that I wrote about a little while ago. I really loved it by the end, but purely on a level of filmmaking and acting. This is some distance from being enjoyable TV, so relentlessly depressing is its depiction of top brass in the US military and the parallel realisation that the whole thing is based on a true story. But Simon doesn’t ever judge and he depicts without any really heavy-handed preaching and with a sense that you understand what happened, what’s going on and why the mess is there. Also, Alexander Skarsgaard as Brad Colbert might be my televisual performance of the year.
Tom and I checked out the pilot of Fringe which was only okay and could possibly get interesting but is likely to suffer due to its slightly-less-than-brilliant cast. My liking of Joshua Jackson unfortunately comes from Dawson’s Creek and before that The Mighty Ducks, both pieces of not-well-aging nostalgia pieces that I’m unlikely to ever watch again. The other pilot we checked out was Alan Ball’s True Blood, the vampire love story thing set in the deep South of the US in which vampires are just another race of people facing the same prejudices as any other. At current, having watched the first two, I want to like it more than I do but Alan Ball, the creator of Six Feet Under and writer of American Beauty, has earned my trust so I’ll give him the first season to make things work before I lay into him.
Other than those, Gossip Girl returned brilliantly and is just the most ridiculously enjoyable show on TV right now. Mad Men is not as soapy and ridiculous but is probably the best show on TV right now in its own right, given that Jon Hamm’s performance remains so shockingly good and they are building out the rest of the cast with aplomb. The reimagined 90210 is okay but could prove an annoyance in the long-run while this month sees the return of Heroes, The Office and then a chunk of other bits and bobs to be getting on with.
I read Remainder, the winner of The Believer Book Award, by Tom McCarthy which was really strange but kind of great. It follows a man who suffer a psychological shift following a major physical trauma. He wins a massive amount of money through a settlement and embarks on a project to build his own world which continues to escalate until it becomes truly dangerous. I don’t want to say too much about it because really, the best way to experience this, is coming in with little or no knowledge of it. In short: recommended.
Better than this was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a complete masterpiece from Dominican writer Junot Diaz about an overweight geeky kid and his misadventures in life and love while living in a dictatorial country. It taught me a huge amount about the Dominican Republic’s history without ever losing a flow and portraying a cast of fully-drawn character, none of whom were given short shrift. I loved every second of this book and I would advise anyone to seek it out and just sink into its perfect storytelling and sense of language. Nearly perfection.
I’m currently on The Master and the Margharita, a truly classic allegorical novel from Mikail Bulgakov that I’m not even remotely qualified to talk about. Suffice to say, I flipping love it so far but I’ll report back more soon.
I’m currently getting addicted to shirts for the first time since a brief period when I was younger than saw me purchase a number of Hawaiian-style shirts but graduating to padded lumberjack pieces in the winter. Not a good time. Uniqlo is proving the best for all this right now as its cheap, the clothes are good quality and its stores in London don’t have the cattle market chav feel of a Topman or H&M. The latter is still worth a look though. My current ones to hit are Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, H&M, American Apparel and then maybe some vintage shopping again once the corporatising of Camden is completed.
I’m also really enjoying the political race right now. I’ll probably write a piece on it again in the next week or two but the entry of Palin as produced a fascinating new figure that seems to be entirely outshining John McCain. If she’s bringing in women, she’s got to be pushing out those who were worried McCain was too old. More on that soon.