Saturday, December 31, 2011

The message is in the movies...

No matter what film historians, movie magazine editors, ordinary Joe's and Jolene's may say about 2011 and its movies, there is a tacitly accepted truism that, every year, about five films are released - usually quietly, often unassumingly - that will stand the test of celluloid time.

2011 is no different.

This year's LA Confidential award goes to Nicholas Winding Refn for his less than subtle re-working (and all the better for it) of 80's Noirishness in 'Drive.' Ryan Gosling, despite some slightly deluded critical comparisons to Steve McQueen, holds the film together nicely.

For those of us more solipsistically inclined, Michel Hazanivicius's 'The Artist,' may well be the film of 2011 - despite it's release date being, um, yesterday... Disney matter. Fans of cinema have been waiting for a film like this for years and, in its unsentimental melodramatic depiction of 1920's Hollywood, the unchecked hubris of its stars and the system they were so in thrall to, the movie compellingly convinces - with an authenticity seldom seen in film-making today.

In terms of sheer spectacle, little came close to startling the senses more than Werner Herzog's 'Cave of forgotten dreams.' It's a film which, quite literally, stops you in your tracks, quietly, yet insistently, caressing your heart with its inspiring message of wonder...

Similarly, from South Korea...

And, from one of the great American movie makers...

Penultimately, another film about the transmigration of the soul...with goats...

In 2011, film fans were also treated to that rarest of things - a television programme about films that was as good as the films that it celebrated. 'The Story of Film,' written and directed by Mark Cousins, was an unbridled joy from start to finish - taking us across time and vividly transacted space, across genres and continents, into the hearts, the minds and the mouths of directors, cinematographers, actors, visionaries.

It is worth spending some of your life watching it.

Here's to 2012...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

502. Bad gateway..

'If it's all the same to you, I'll stay indifferent.'

2011 has seen a return to musical form for artists new and vehemently old. Some of the best new music was cultivated from some old people - over 25 - some, such as the mightily angry Iceage, made Howard Devoto seem a bit Johnny Mathis. Christmas Johnny Mathis.

I listened to more records this year than I have done in many years. All sizes and shapes, it's been a great year for pushing boundaries downstairs, for pressing Play-Doh into pigeon holes and for artists generally fucking about with genres and the levels of expectation associated with them.

Bill Orcutt and About Group showed that the oldies can still (re)mix it with the best of them - making, then breaking, some marvellous music.

Kate Bush. Fuck me.

Without a doubt, '50 Words for Snow,' is the finest record Kate has ever made - and bookends seamlessly, perfectly, with her earlier 2011 offering - the exquisite 'Director's Cut,' where previously released recordings were reworked and made impossibly more beautiful.

In many ways, Kate is the star of 2011...

But she ain't. This woman is...

'Let England shake,' in all its glory, was reviewed earlier this year on this blog. It's magic, will ennoble your soul. Listen to it. Buy it.

More records shone like pissballs in a hallowless sky...hey, hey, hey...

Beach Fossils John Maus
Boston Spaceships Mark McGuire
Chelsea Wolfe St Vincent
Nicolas Jarr Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Leyland Kirby Oneohtrix Point Never
Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells Roots Manuva

Teebs, like Toro Y Moi, Beastie Boys, Frank Ocean, Death Grips, Thundercat, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and The Roots also made wonderful records that took established music forms and injected new throbbing, spilling, life and light into them, creating a zoetrope of sound, revolving beats and spinning energy.

So they did.

And, of course, Jim O'Rourke had a new record out...

Career retrospectives abounded. John Fahey's earlier Fonotone recordings were collected, rather wonderfully, rather idiosyncratically, by those autodidacts at Dust to Digital. The 40th anniversary edition of Can's 'Tago Mago,' was released through Mute and Edsel felched 1985 alloveragain with the sweetest honey in any rock - 'Psychocandy,' by a band from East Killbride...(sick).

However...these were the best archive releases of 2011:

El Rego through Daptone Records, 'El Rego.'

Tav Falco's Panther Burns reissued through Stag-O-Lee records, 'Behind the Magnolia Curtain.'

and, Mickey Newbury's marvellous 'American Trilogy album reissued through Saint Cecelia Knows records.

An incredible year. More records?

Richmond Fontaine Richard Swift
Twin Sister Tim Hecker
Willy Tea Taylor The Spaceape
Bon Iver Carbon Based Lifeforms
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Colin Stetson
Girls M83
I D A H O Tom Waits

The list, I'm sure you're all beginning to think, is bloody endless. But, it isn't. Good years and shit years spew forth the same number of records as each other. Artists, writers, painters, poets, film makers, cinematographers, photographers, pornographers - all work their collective arses to the nub of the bone to make this world a better place, a more gnarly place, certainly more bitter and twisted, calculating, sometimes, cynical, more full of love, loveliness and lovelessness.

Thank fuck for them all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Books of 2011 - Part 1 (yes, really...)

2011 has been, in many ways, a seminal year for books. It's been a tougher than the rest year - full of shouts of disquiet, increasingly loud and discombobulated grumblings about the futures of book-selling, and the remnants of the publishing industry, amid protestations about writing, new and old, being shit and shiteful.

None of this is true - 2011 has seen some marvellous books published.

I've been a fan of Jeanette Winterson since the publication of her semi-autobiographical debut novel 'Oranges are not the only fruit.' A truly terrifying tale of religious fanaticism and emotional sublimation, its horrifyingly personal exigencies are examined and explained further in Winterson's actual recently published autobiography 'Why be happy when you could be normal?'

The mighty Dalkey Archive published the most criminally unsung novel of the year. 'The faster I walk, the smaller I am,' by Kjersti Skomsvold, translated by Kerri A Pierce, is a beautifully unforced gem - 140 pages of unrelenting misery, loneliness and despair. Of course I loved it. (Nothing, in 2011, came barely close - although Patrick DeWitt's glorious, and gorily anarchic, 'The Sisters Brothers,' almost, tantalisingly, very near stole this particular show).

There has been some remarkable fiction published this year - much of it by writers who continue NOT to know better...

Alice Munro continues not to know better. Her recent collection of selected short stories, published by Chatto and Windus, confirms her as a short story practitioner of the first rank - forget about the often and reedy comparisons to Chekhov.

Alice Munro is Alice Munro. Read everything she has written.

Others, whether alive or dead, also continued not to know better....Saramago, DeLillo, Nabokov, Murakami, Foster Wallace and, gloriously so, as per the re-issue of his western themed novella, the young(er) Denis Johnson, in his 'Train dreams;' a wonderful, and wonderfully human, elegy to an America unrecognisable today.

Lynne Tillman's new collection is available to read in its entirety here - 'Someday this will be funny.' It's her first new writing in ages and belies her reputation as a dour and rather rigid post-modernist. It is funny. And it's funny now.

There are three more fiction titles that have destroyed the heart this year...

Yannick Murphy's, 'The Call,' is a magical story. In many ways reminiscent of the 1990's TV show, 'Northern Exposure,' Murphy's novel of ordinary characters drawn into intoxicatingly extraordinary situations, is a readily readable treat.

Donald Ray Pollock's first novel continues the same themes as those contained in his 2008 short story collection, 'Knockemstiff.' 'The Devil all the time,' is very much in the five minute hard boiled bracket of crime fiction - populated by outsiders, freaks and the mightily disposessed...eager to introduce a whole new world of suffering with a shrug and a twisted smile.

This twisted smile becomes an all too profound grimace in the hands of one of the great writers working today. Daniel Woodrell's latest collection of short stories 'The Outlaw Album,' is, at turns, a conflicting and confounding read. Containing all the hallmarks associated with his stark, intense prose, each of the stories jars incessantly, confusingly, with the other, the pieces don't seem to fit. Or fit together. It is this apparent disjointedness, apparent desire for disunity, that makes each of these blazing stories; in all their height and breadth and depth and languorousness of soul, a separate sweet entity in themselves.

And what makes all these books a profound pleasure to read.

Part 2 to come...