Category: music


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 Continue reading

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. Continue reading

ERASERHEAD directed by David Lynch (USA,1977)

Seeing Eraserhead in a small arts cinema in Birmingham soon after its UK release was a kind of epiphany. Everything I thought I knew about movies suddenly had to be reimagined.

Here were images that defied logic yet were recognisable as the world I had read in the stories of Franz Kafka or seen in the surrealistic paintings of Max Ernst.

The low-budget horror sequences were at once comical yet hideously grotesque. The creation of mood through Alan Splet’s extraordinary analogue sound design was like nothing I’d heard before.

Watching it again in a brilliantly restored DVD version is a different experience because now there are so many more points of reference. Body horror is a recognized sub-genre and we can refer to images as Lynchian to give a context which was entirely absent in 1977.

Yet even from this more knowing perspective, you will struggle to explain what connects a black planet in space, a man pulling levers in a shack, a singing lady in the radiator, worm-like fetuses or a severed head being turned into pencil erasers?

 With typical perversity David Lynch says Eraserhead is the most spiritual of all his films yet this is a secular, nightmarish world that, for all its absurdity, many will still find sick and horrifying.

It remains totally unique and stands as one of the most terrifying movies in the history of cinema.

BIRDMANBIRDMAN (OR ‘THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE’) directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (USA, 2014)

From the stylish opening credits and free-jazz drumming of Antonio Sanchez’s unorthodox soundtrack, this is a movie that is keen to make an immediate impression.

It is the kind of derring-do which could so easily have backfired and then been dismissed as nothing more than brash arty-fartiness. Yet Birdman postively revels in its showiness and having a excellent supporting cast, that includes Naomi Watts and Edward Norton in prime form, means that all the risks are calculated ones.

The story revolves around Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, one time celluloid superhero who now feels all too human as he approaches the third age. By adapting a Raymond Carver story for a Broadway show he wants revitalise his flagging career and, in the process, demonstrate that 60 is the new 30. Continue reading

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