Monthly Archives: April 2014

Thoughts on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

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When I finished this book, I turned back and read the final 20 pages again. It’s irreverent, post-modern and cocksure. Eggers writes with a breakneck verbosity that can, on occasion, seem glib. I wasn’t sure I liked him at all, until I finished the book and felt like crying. Because behind the bluster and the literary arsenal here is a very human story indeed, one with which anyone who has loved and lost can relate.

I first encountered Eggers through the foreword to ‘Infinite Jest’, a book to which this bears some comparison. Both are liberal with their sentence structure. Both pay little heed to traditional prose, much less the covenants of received pronunciation. Both are smart and incredibly self-aware. And, more than anything, both understand the flaws of humanity and how ridiculous it is that such flawed beings become creatures of habit and convention. If we’re all so fucked, then who’s to say what’s right and wrong? 

“Sometimes a book isn’t a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Sometimes it’s the only story you knew how to tell.”

Tahereh Mafi 

This book is written with a sense of freedom and whim that will be the envy of anyone who has sat struggling to put pen to paper. It moves arrhythmically: fast then slow, slow then fast, forwards and sideways; jagged and ragged. The pace changes, on occasion, leave your head a-spin, confused. At times you wonder whether Eggers is too clever for his own good, finding yourself wondering where you last met the character he drops back in, after 100 pages of neglecting them. 

But that feeling of despair you get when Eggers is stood on the end of a pier, facing his past and facing the deaths that have defined his life so squarely in the face packs such a cumulative emotional punch that you can’t help but love his intelligence and applaud the balls with which he attacks this book and by virtue, life itself. 

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British Sea Power – KOKO, London 10/04/14

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Photo by Jason Williamson

FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE LINE OF BEST FIT

It ends not so much on an oily stage, but a crowded one. By the time British Sea Power complete their encore in KOKO, they are legion: flanked to the right by a cocksure, 10 foot grizzly bear, to the left by a bashful, tentative polar; embedded in a twist of leaves and foliage; drowning in the whoops of a crowd that wants more. Iconoclasts to the last, trackies-tucked into socks to a man (only violinist Abi Fry is exempt from the garb), they could’ve played all night. Make no mistake, this was some performance – a festival of abandonment off stage and on.

British Sea Power’s career trajectory has always made for fascinating listening and viewing. Last year’s excellent Machineries of Joy was a return to form after the minor mis-step that was Valhalla Dancefloor. The two instrumental soundtrack albums which they’ve recorded and toured live showcased the high level of craftmanship within the band, which often lived in the shadow of their oddball subject matter and stage props. Tonight, the three coalesce magnificently.

The band selects wisely from their back catalogue. A whirring organ-led “Heavenly Waters” segues beautifully into “Fear of Drowning”, both from that most blistering of debut albums The Decline of… (anyone else struggle to believe it’s been 11 years?). The brass-led “Monsters of Sunderland”, a highlight of last year’s record, bombs straight into “It Ended on an Oily Stage”, from Open Season. “We Are Sound” and “Once More Now”, from Valhalla Dancefloor, sound much fresher in such illustrious company than they ever did on record.

It’s a tribal bunch that follows (because some of them surely do) BSP about. The standing area is a sea of booze bedraggled 30-somethings, ebbing and flowing, threatening to sweep everyone around them away. “Remember Me” and “Waving Flags” both inspire attempted crowd surfs, while the gorgeous instrumental “Great Skua”, played to a backdrop of crashing iceshelves and migrating birds, brings a lump to the throat. Frontman Jan attempts a handstand during the encore (“Spirit of St Louis” and “No Lucifer”), and the band depart: bears dancing, crowd frenzied, ceiling quite possibly crumbling.

Joey Barton’s faux-nietzschean patter. The ineptitude of the Metropolitan Police. The chord progression in a Noel Gallagher song. The quality of a British Sea Power gig. It’s nice to know that in 2014, with all our polar vortexes, floods up to *here* and disappearing jetplanes, there are some things in life that can still be relied on.

 

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Erlend Øye – Islington Assembly Hall, London 03/04/14

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FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE LINE OF BEST FIT 

The de rigueur hipster beards and black rim specs are present and correct, but there’s a more eclectic bunch than usual gathered in Islington to welcome Norwegian kook-master Erlend Øye: lagered up 20-somethings, doting white-haired couples and, perhaps the highlight, a svelte and be-lycra’d cyclist, helmet under arm, glass of juice in hand. The mix is testament to Øye’s broad-based appeal. Through his work with the Kings of Convenience and the Whitest Boy Alive he has garnered a reputation as a songwriter par excellence and a performer of repute. And while most will have come tonight on the strength of previous records, it’s rare to see such an enthusiastic response for a set composed mainly of new, unheard songs.

Øye has come to perform tracks from his forthcoming record Legao, his first solo outing in more than a decade. He’s joined by the Icelandic Ziggy on guitar and keys, and Victor, a Finn who plays woodwind. The stripped-back accompaniment lends an earthy feel to proceedings. The flute whirls whimsically around in the foreground of Øye’s vocals, riffing and melodious. The sound is light and the songs are simple. In short, it’s not a million miles away from a Kings of Convenience record, which is pleasing for most.

The breezy sound of the early tracks is in danger of being swallowed up by the cavernous, sold-out venue, revellers at the back content to chatter their way through the opening gambits, much to the consternation of those around them (says one loudly, as a flute solo takes off: “I used to play the flute at school.” Response, from a few rows back: “Nobody cares, shut the fuck up!”). But as the show goes on, Øye’s wit wins through. His patter, as with his lyrics, can be dorky and clunky but incredibly disarming. “Who do you report to?” he sings, on the Jens Lekman-esque track of the same name. “It’s warm up here too… thank god I’m standing next to some cool people,” he says, between songs.

The new material is broken up by a couple of reggae tracks sung by Ziggy (it’s fascinating to hear a genre often associated with monosyllabic choruses tackled in the sesquipedalian Icelandic tongue) and a couple of covers – a gorgeous, finger-picked rendition of Big Star’s “Thirteen” and “New For You” by “unknown” California band the Moore Brothers – before Øye takes the mic to hold court with a Q&A. “Ask me about life: I know a lot, I’m 38,” he says before fielding questions on Italian cheese and his advice on a happy life (live in Italy).

The pace picks up towards the end: the crowd is nods in unison to The Whitest Boy Alive cuts “Upside Down” and “Golden Cage”, while the chorus of “La Prima Estate” is bellowed back at him. The abiding impression is, though, that the music is just an element of an Erlend Øye gig. With his dad dancing, effervescent smile, self-governing barnet and oddball sense of humour, tonight is as much about the spectacle as anything else.

Photo by Sara Amroussi-Gilissen.

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