I’ve also been hammering David Thomas Broughton’s album, The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, pretty hard. I see it as a halfway house between Panda Bear and Nick Drake. His subject matter tends to be a tad maudlin, but his voice is overflowing with emotion – as powerful as Antony Hegarty’s. What amazes me is that his debut set was recorded in one take. If you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean. It was recorded in a church, which I think adds a sense of potency or reverence to the sound quality that’s even palpable without knowing where it was laid down. The Complete Guide is five years old now and he’s due to follow it up this year.
I’d never heard of Kath Bloom before this month, when I saw her recommended on a message board, but she’s been releasing records since the 70s. My personal highlight from her new album is here. When I heard this track, I fell in love with her voice. It reminds me of Johnny Cash’s the older he got, in the sense that it’s weary, slightly out of tune at times, but somehow conveys infinite wisdom.
In keeping with the comeback, I’ve included my own highlight from Gil Scott-Heron’s return, the title track from I’m New Here. It’s a cover of a Smog song and when I first heard he was doing that, I was confused and wary: I’m a huge Bill Callahan fan. But it sounds great, and when Gil sings the chorus, his voice doesn’t sound a million miles away from Callahan’s.
Since I’ve spent half the month cut off, I’ve had to make do with the contents of my mp3 player (it’s not very big). I’ve been listening to lots of Electrelane and their first two albums in particular. I think it’s fair to say they got more accessible as they went along. The Valleys, from the Power Out, is the best thing they’ve ever recorded. It’s an operatic choral number that kinda comes out of nowhere. What impresses me most, is how the girls from the band manage to hold their own with the choir. I always thought the vocals on Electrelane tracks were relatively weak. How wrong I was.
There are a few newish tracks here, but most of it is mined from the archives. I wrote about the tragic death of Mark Linkous earlier this month so I won’t do it again. I’ve included a few of my favourite Sparklehorse tracks in the mix too.
1. David Thomas Broughton – Unmarked Grave
2. Sparklehorse – Eyepennies
3. Kath Bloom – Like This
4. Jason Lytle – Yours Truly, The Commuter
5. Tindersticks – The Organist Entertains
6. The Unwinding Hours – Solstice
7. Sam Amidon – 1842
8. J. Tillman – Steel on Steel
9. Sparklehorse – Saturday
10. The National – Fake Empire
11. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
12. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Action
13. The Mountain Goats – This Year
14. Uncle Tupelo – Screen Door
15. Local Natives – Wide Eyes
16. Electrelane – The Valleys
17. Sparklehorse – Wish You Were Here
First published in 1953
First things first: I haven’t seen the Hollywood version and having read the book, have no desire to. Too many “classics” are getting the Beverley Hills treatment and absolutely do not want to see Leonardo Di Caprio massacre a brilliantly created character in Frank Wheeler. Equally, the thought of Keira Knightley’s wooden beak all over the movie adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, one of my favourite books, is enough to make me shudder. In fact, I struggle to think of a film adaptation that’s better than the original. I could say The Shawshank Redemption, of course, but I think the film’s almost unrecognisable from the novella by Stephen King, such is the artistic liberty they were permitted to take.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up Revolutionary Road was an endorsement in the inner sleeve from one of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut calls it “the Great Gatsby of my generation”. Now, it’s been a while since I read Gatsby, but I think I see where he’s coming from. This is a commentary on status in Middle America; people aspiring to something greater; people trying to outdo their peers and neighbours; people thinking they deserve better, because they’re better than those around them. Less keeping up with the Jones’, this book is about shitting all over the Jones’ perfectly coiffed lawn. In that respect, I would also draw a comparison with Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. Whilst there isn’t a character in this as tragic as Willy Loman, Revolutionary Road too exposes the flaws in the very concept of the American Dream.
It’s the story of a young, handsome couple, the Wheelers, and their efforts to escape the banality of plush New England suburbia. It’s about the dynamics of their own relationship and how their dissatisfaction with their own lives really stems from their displeasure with each other. Their relationship is a war of attrition. They fell for each other under a mask of his deceit, which he has kept up throughout their marriage. He is callous, manipulative and calculating. He always thinks one step ahead of his wife, colleagues, neighbours and employers.
As you read on, though, it becomes clear that he is of limited ability and far from the great man he believes himself to be. He has gotten as far as he has on a wing a prayer and a whole load of hot air. He is one of the best characters I have come across in a long time: both pitiable and despicable. Wrapped up in the smug, clean-shaven, suited and booted persona of Frank Wheeler, I see a lot of contemporary politicians. Richard Yates does brilliantly to capture a whole breed in one smarmy character.
But what really struck me about Revolutionary Road is just how much of it I see in my every day life. The Wheelers’ existence is built upon putting on a show, keeping up appearances, as is that of the rest of the characters. People hear what they want to hear. Few are prepared to upset the applecart. In fact, the only person who isn’t afraid to speak his mind is John Givings, a certified lunatic. As I move into my late twenties (eek) I see far too much of this. Teenage abandon is, well, abandoned. People are nice, as a rule. Yates captures the anxiety that comes with getting a little older and getting trapped in a life you don’t want brilliantly. People inhabit a world of trite courtesy and phoniness. It’s not how you are, but how you are perceived to be.
It’s a cliché to say “you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors”, but it rings particularly true here. As a society, we’re obsessed with fly on the wall documentaries and real-life dramas. But few are as effective a reminder as Revolutionary Road that adversity befalls everyone. Everybody has their problems. Appearances can be deceiving. Woven in amongst these observations is a great story: slow paced and methodical. This is a great book and it comes highly recommended.
I also don’t do much contemporaneous reading. I return to authors I enjoy and read books recommended by others. These are rarely the latest bestsellers and rarely anything published in the recent past. That’s not to say I purposely seek out unheard of tomes: quite the contrary. Many of the books I read are considered classics, and thus, it may be tough to shed any fresh light on them. I’ll just write what I’ve taken from the book. If it’s good, I’ll recommend it. If it’s not I won’t.
That’s about it. The first one will be coming soon.
Fortunately, I bit the bullet with Foals. As with Silent Alarm, it took me a while for me to get around to Antidotes, but upon arriving, I was rewarded with an excellent album (although not quite as good as Bloc Party’s debut). So, even the NME’s championing of the video for their comeback single Spanish Sahara wasn’t enough to deter me.
It’s a slower burner than much of Antidotes… reflective, pensive, patient. Not words at all associated with Foals previously. But it’s rich in texture, exquisitely constructed and an absolute grower. Eventually it works up a head of steam, culminating in a triumphant crescendo. Again, using Bloc Party as a reference point, it reminds me of the change they underwent on A Weekend In The City, which also turned out to be a grower.
The video is beautifully shot too. I don’t remember Yannis Phillipakkis’ beard looking so full… perhaps representative of a new, more mature sound? Probably not… but enjoy this video.
But CMG regularly release Fantasy Covers Podcasts, on which (I guess pretty obviously) they ask some of their favourite artists to cover some of their favourite tracks. Last month, they released Part One of a decade spanning mixtape / podcast paying homage to the 2000s, entitled Decalogue. It features covers of tracks by some of my favourite artists, including The Microphones, Songs: Ohia and The xx.
I know most people are pretty fed up of the amount of coverage the turn of the decade received, but this is well worth a listen, even if you never listen past the unmissable mash-up intro.
You can download Part One of Decalogue here and I’ll post the other part when it becomes available.
Here’s the tracklisting:
. The Hood Internet :: “Decalogue”
:: (0:01 – 6:19)
:: featuring, in order: 2000 – Dr. Dre vs Radiohead; 2001 – Missy Elliott vs Daft Punk; 2002 – Ludacris vs The New Pornographers; 2003 – Kelis vs The Rapture; 2004 – Twista f/ Kanye West vs Arcade Fire; 2005 – Three Six Mafia vs Sufjan Stevens; 2006 – T.I. vs Peter Bjorn and John; 2007 – Rich Boy vs LCD Soundsystem; 2008 – Lil Wayne vs Hot Chip; 2009 – Jay Sean vs Phoenix
2. Rich Aucoin :: “Human After All”
:: (6:20 – 8:59)
:: originally by Daft Punk, from Human After All (Virgin; 2005)
3. Ned Collette & Wirewalker :: “Come On Let’s Go”
:: (9:00 – 12:43)
:: originally by Broadcast, from The Noise Made By People (Warp; 2000)
4. Yellow Ostrich :: “Cannibal Resource”
:: (12:44 – 16:04)
:: originally by the Dirty Projectors, from Bitte Orca (Dead Oceans; 2009)
5. Touching Earth Made of Steel :: “Party in the Spirit World”
:: (16:05 – 20:05)
:: originally by Miley Cyrus (“Party in the USA”) and Daniel Johnston (“Spirit World Rising”), from The Time of Our Lives (Hollywood; 2009) and 1990 (Eternal Yip Eye Music; 1990
6. The Luyas :: “Motion Picture Soundtrack”
:: (20:06 – 22:56)
:: originally by Radiohead, from Kid A (Capitol; 2000)
7. Mesita :: “Winter on Victoria Street”
:: (22:57 – 26:09)
:: originally by the Clientele, from God Save the Clientele (Merge; 2007)
8. Boats :: “The Glow, Pt. 2”
:: (26:10 – 31:25)
:: originally by the Microphones, from The Glow, Pt. 2 (K; 2001)
9. João Orecchia :: “Two Blue Lights”
:: (31:26 – 35:04)
:: originally by Songs: Ohia, from Didn’t It Rain (Secretly Canadian; 2002)
10. Neil Haverty (of Bruce Peninsula) :: “Teeth in the Grass”
:: (34:59 – 37:30)
:: originally by Iron & Wine, from Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop; 2004)
11. Lackthereof :: “Biblical Sense (White Wine mix)”
:: (37:31 – 43:04)
:: originally by All Smiles, from the Biblical Sense EP
12. Dog Day :: “Ponytail”
:: (43:05 – 44:55)
:: originally by Panda Bear, from Person Pitch (Paw Tracks; 2007)
13. Dirt Dress :: “Healer”
:: (44:56 – 48:59)
:: originally by Chromatics, from Night Drive (Italians Do It Better; 2007)
14. Vitaminsforyou :: “Shelter”
:: (49:00 – 55:20)
:: originally by the xx, from The xx (Rough Trade; 2009)
If they were actually dedicated to uncovering unique talents, unreplicated and unlikely to be, then it may be more interesting. I might actually watch from time to time. This clip baffles me. I can’t decide where I stand on it – whether this girl should be catapulted into superstardom, given space at the Tate, or plonked down at Trafalgar Square in a sandbox to earn a crust. But she’s definitely unique.
Kseniya Simonova is a sand animator from the Ukraine. She only started doing her thing properly after her business collapsed in the financial crisis of 2008. Last year, she won the final of Ukraine’s Got Talent after spending 8 minutes creating a series of sand drawings depicting the life in the USSR during the Great Patriotic War against Hitler’s Third Reich in WWII. The video below is breathtaking.
Not only is the girl scarily gifted, but she attempts to do something absolutely unheard of on the British equivalents. She invokes a sense of history, courts areas of controversy and races from cultural and historical touchstone to touchstone, bringing members of the audience to tears.
How can anyone still be content with being subjected to Jedward or one of Simon Cowell’s latest protegees after watching the clip below? And to think, we got Rolf Harris…