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CARRIE & LOWELL by Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty records, 2015)

It may be a bit early to name an album of the year but Sufjan Stevens’ elegiac seventh album will certainly take some beating.

It is a painfully sad yet breathtaking beautiful record written for and about his late mother, Carrie, who died of stomach cancer in 2012.

In the words of the opening song, Death With Dignity, “I don’t know where to begin”,  but ,suffice to say, I agree with Dave Eggers’s assessment of it as “an emotionally devastating masterpiece”.
Carrie’s death brought a sense of absence even though she was not a constant in her son’s life. She suffered from depression, schizophrenia, had bipolar disorder and was an alcoholic. On top of this, she also did drugs and had other substance abuse problems. It is not surprising that she was a difficult woman to get close to. Yet while the mother-son relationship was fraught and messy, these are songs of forgiveness not bitterness View full article »

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (First published 1992)

 Donna Tartt’s remarkable debut novel begins boldly with a chilling description of the murder of Edmund ‘Bunny’ Corcoran.

We immediately how this young man dies and who kills him. What we don’t know is why he was murdered and what the consequences of this act will be, Book I takes us through the events leading to the crime while Book II deals with the fall out from the killing.

Despite Tartt’s dramatic prologue, I confess there were times initially when I found her claustrophobic narrative style hard going. However, she more than rewards perseverance and once the story kicks in at the beginning of Book II, I was well and truly hooked. View full article »

Piazza d’Unità d’Italia in Trieste

I’m not going to try to bluff my way through Trieste’s historic links to the Habsburg Empire. Still, it is evident even to a historically challenged visitor like myself that the city’s northerly location on the Slovenian border sets it apart from other Italian centres. Travel writer Jan Morris described it as having a “prickly grace”.

The Piazza Unità d’Italia opens onto the seafront and is a splendid centrepiece yet while much of the architecture is similarly impressive and stately, there’s also an unmistakable air of faded glory. Many buildings in the back streets are badly maintained or semi-derelict. Some of the damage is doubtless due to the Bora, a notoriously high wind that regularly blasts through the city at hurricane force. On my last day of a short weekend break it was very blustery although I’m sure locals would classify these as light breezes. View full article »

ZOLA JESUS Live at the Bronson Club, Ravenna, Italy – 27th March 2015

She came, she sang, she conquered. An hour-long set packed with intensity. Nika Roza Danilova is a vision in black with silver jewelry. Beauty and youth. Still only 25. The world at her feet if the world will listen. Bursts of wild dervish dances. Goth soulfulness. Striking poses but wholly natural. Arty but heartfelt. Pounding drums a constant. Moments of calm interspersed with Wagneresque splendor. Most of Taiga is played plus five older songs. Abstract paranoia rendered as upbeat pop. “Set me free” from Nail sang a capella. The audience in the palm of her hand. Power is a voice.

Zola Jesus website

THE UPWARD ART OF ONEIDA

ONEIDA live at the Bronson Club, Ravenna, Italy (19th Match 2015)

ONEIDA - art but not arty

ONEIDA – art but not arty

The support slot for this midweek show belongs to People Of The North (POTN), a case of ‘meet the new band, same as the old band’ since the five members are the same as headliners Oneida (pronounced OH – NEED- ER).

POTN play a meandering 45 minute piece which I assume was improvized. There are noodling lulls here and there but things get interesting when surges of keyboard, drum and guitar interchanges build momentum;  like Krautrock played with New York attitude. View full article »

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