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Further Vexations review

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 March 2010 02:18 (A review of Further Vexations)

As the picture below exemplifies quite beautifully, it is IMPOSSIBLE for British electronic musicians to look cool. Think of the greats, Fatboy Slim would look more at home behind an IT help desk, Squarepusher has the look of a creepy uncle you keep your girlfriend away from at family functions, whereas if you ever saw Richard D. James on the street you'd probably call the police immediately, whether he was anywhere near that girls' school or not. If they don't look like they're having trouble fitting comfortably into their skin, then they almost definitely struggle not to look like dads who've picked up a bunch of strange machines that make noises on eBay.



The boom of electronic music in the nineties ensures that anyone who latched onto the genre during its heyday is now at least ten years older than they were when they first shredded the decks in search of pulsating beats. I can't deny the deep-down feeling of confusion I feel when seeing that a wicked electro track has not been composed by some twenty-something, anti-social drug-dropping lunatic in his bedroom, but instead by a refined pair of gentlemen who probably have teenage children by now. Anyway, I digress...

The Black Dog along the way has contained multiple musicians. For their most recent 2009 release, Further Vexations, Ken Downie and the Dust brothers, Martin and Richard are the chief creators. In 1995 two members of The Black Dog left to form Plaid, another worthwhile electronic band, and for some reason the two bands are often confused as being the same thing.

Further Vexations is an excellent electronic album. I usually find that modern electronic music has a tendency to rhythmically pulsate itself into the background too easily, with not much going on for the listener to enjoy. This is not the case, and the album starts with the lively Biomantric L-if-e, which is one of the highlights on the album. Checking the odd press release for the album brought to my attention the fact that this album is supposed to be a protest at the increasing Orwellianisation of Britain. I can't say I really felt anything like whilst listening too it and the album is less eerie than they might think. In parts it is just beautiful, it's not something that would work very well as a Half-Life 2 soundtrack, for example, because of the cheery hopefulness it conveys in many songs.

Other personal highlights on the album include North Electronic Soul [Part III] and Skin Clock, two songs that are instantly appealing to the extent that even my brother wanted to know what they were when walking past my desk. He listens to L'il Wayne...

I went back and listened to some previous Black Dog releases and found them to be enjoyable, but slightly over-complicated and 'intense'. It was much more difficult to pick out the melodies in Radio Scarecrow (often lauded as The Black Dog's greatest work to date) than it is in this beautiful release. Essential listening I'd say, for any fans of the genre.


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Pianist envy

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 March 2010 02:06 (A review of Cendre)

This month I have been mostly listening to Fennesz. The atmospheric glitch maestro has been on my radar for quite some time, but this week I found an album that blew me away. The album is Cendre, and features him teaming up with Japanese pianist Ryuitchi Sakamoto. This combination of musicians literally had me salivating at the mouth in anticipation, such is my appreciation for both artists. Fennesz is associated with droning ambient music comprised of guitar pieces crunched through his laptop. Sakamoto on the other hand produces consistently brilliant, yet depressing piano pieces and has worked on various film soundtracks. This truly was a combination I'd been waiting for my whole life!



Both composers are regarded as minimalists and as such, their work seems to overlap each other effortlessly. I wouldn't be surprised if I'd heard this album as a solo effort from either artist, yet at the same time there are clearly trademarks of both musicians. Although Fennesz discards the more frantic glitch and buzz work, there is still a hefty accompaniment to Sakamoto's sombre piano melodies. It somehow helps it to blend into the background more easily. Sakamoto's piano on its own conjures the perfect soundtrack to a lonely, desolate man's life, but there beauty in how emotional it can make you feel.

The whole album works perfectly as one long composition, though there were individual tracks that I enjoyed more than others. Aware sounds as if it could've been released as part of Sakamoto's soundtrack for Tony Takitani. It feeds into Haru which is another album highlight, albeit a slightly (slightly) more upbeat song. The combination of musical styles results in music that reminds me of work by Eluvium, which is hardly a difficult comparison to make.

Along with Cendre, I also gave Venice another well deserved spin. This one is a solo effort from Fennesz, and my favourite of his releases. It's a perfect soundtrack to lull you off to sleep and along with Cendre it's one I'd recommend listening to with headphones late at night in the pitch black darkness. Music as thought-provoking and simple as this is what I'm all about. It's not often I appreciate something that is so sad - and not sad in an 'Oh no, the apocalypse' kind of way. When hunting for a picture of these audio craftsmen, I was surprised to see how old Fennesz was. The picture above makes me want to tip my hat to the suspiciously similar looking men of genius.


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Japanic

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 March 2010 01:45 (A review of Dreams End Come True)

World’s End Girlfriend is the solo-project of some Japanese dude (Katsuhiko Maeda) who makes music that is thoroughly uncategorisable. He composes songs that sound like the work of a 10 year old’s brain trapped in the body of an exquisitely gifted classical composer. I’ve been playing Dreams End Come True as part of a quest acquire the entire WEG discography, and it contains some unbelievable tracks. It only contains four four songs, but they provide fifty solid minutes of listening and certain tracks you simply don’t want to end.

His music contains electronic and psychedelic styles, as well as an obvious classical music influence. Most of the ’similar artists’ recommended by last.fm are completely dissimilar to World’s End Girlfriend, and off the top of my head I can’t think of any acts that sounds remotely similar. In the past he’s teamed up with post-rock misery merchants, Mono, and so they’re incorrectly classed as a similar artist (It’s not a collaboration I’d write home about by the way), but there’s absolutely nothing remotely droning or post-rock about him. Imagine listening to a malfunctioning carnival and you’ve got something close to the sound of World’s End Girlfriend.



The highlight of Dreams End Come True is unquestionably Caroling Hellwalker. The song more than lives up to such an exquisite name and begins by sounding like cheap arcade game before going on to combine all the sounds of a glitching children’s carousel with a soaring yet sorrowful melody. I don’t think I’m overstating it by saying that it’s a novel listening experience in itself; what a tune. And it’s only just better than the first song on the album.

Dreams End is probably my favourite World’s End album because of its consistency. There are really quite brilliant songs strewn across his other albums, that if all compiled together would probably comprise one of my favourite albums of all time. Sadly they also contain songs or song segments that are a bit to intense for my listening tastes, and samples of computerised children don’t really work for me. Still, these tracks are easily skipped and I’m still glad to have the albums in my collection.

More recently, WEG has composed the score for an animé film, Air Doll, which marks his first full length since 2007. If you believe the wikipedia article, he has composed over 600 songs in his lifetime, so I’d love to see a higher output than that! The fact that he’s involved with that film makes me want to watch it, despite a premise that suggests a more feminine appeal and I think that’s a pretty strong endorsement.

An incredibly gifted and creative musician.


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Ecophony Rinne review

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 March 2010 01:41 (A review of Ecophony Rinne)

My love affair with this band started in a small indie cinema, somewhere in Leeds during the year 2006. I was sat amongst very close peers, experiencing the tremendous Akira for the first time. The scenario was almost a completely new experience for me in many different ways. The small, cheap (!), independent cinema as opposed to the extortionate corporate picture house, the fact that I was watching an animated foreign language film instead of a generic Hollywood blockbuster, the bonus of cultivating a solid friendship group to spend my time with, instead of soul-less alcoholics who blighted my first two years at university… everything was just geared towards being a great night! I digress…

One of the most overwhelming positive aspects of Akira for me, was the soundtrack. Almost every song contributed to the atmosphere perfectly and it had a uniqueness that I couldn’t ever have claimed to have heard anywhere ever before. The soundtrack was performed by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a Japanese collective of musicians who claim to hail from all walks of life. I don’t like studying from wikipedia, but their article claims the Yamashirogumi have had hundreds of musicians over the years, and I guess that’s not surprising considering they’ve been making music for over thirty years.

The Akira soundtrack itself is a masterpiece. A mixture of haunting vocal work, gamelan instruments and minimalist compositions, I remember reading somewhere that it was composed by the group before they’d even seen the film. How it fits so well then and became the most endearing aspect of the whole feature is an immense achievement in my eyes. For all it’s splendour though, there are certain tracks which are a little less accessible than others; tracks that might halt you in your tracks from presenting it to a friend and hoping that they might get into it at least half as much as you (they never ever do)!

Ecophony Rinne. This album is merely four songs, weighing in at just over thirty minutes, which constitute a listening experience of pure aural bliss. I am kind of angry at myself that it took a whole three years to seek out more stuff from the Yamashirogumi, but I blame the fact that the Akira soundtrack listed ‘OST’ as the composing artist, instead of the incomprehensible real name of the collective. Ecophony Rinne was released before the anime soundtrack, and was allegedly what persuaded the producers to hire the band to score the film. The musical style is very similar, the same unusual vocal work and spiritual chantings accompany relaxing string melodies. You can translate some sections of music from ER almost exactly to some of the songs eventually used in the film soundtrack, but this album holds the upper hand in that it is completely accessible from beginning to end.

I think I will make it my life’s mission to track down and listen to other works by Geinoh Yamashirogumi. They boast world folk music albums amongst their output and are accredited for using pioneering synthesizer styles to aid in their melody making; and reading their profiles on various music sites is almost as satisfying as listening to their music itself. If only their discography actually existed in England in an affordable hard copy format; let alone I had the technical ability to track their music down online. Ecophony Rinne was one of the greatest albums I listened to in 2009, and I'm not sure if I've bettered it with sheer novelty since then.


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28 mistakes later...

Posted : 7 years, 5 months ago on 25 January 2010 06:38 (A review of 28 Weeks Later)

28 Weeks Later doesn't embarrass itself or the franchise as the sequel to Danny Boyle's 2002 acclaimed zombie masterpiece, 28 Days Later, but it doesn't have the depth or ingenuity to compare with the original either. It suffers mainly from the fact that you know what is going to happen as soon as you've seen the trailer to the film, and you can predict entirely the outcome of the film at almost every point.

The film opens with a batch of survivors, still living in 28 days later era England, holed up in an idyllic cottage in the countryside. Their serenity is short-lived and the brutality of the zombie plague soon destroys their stronghold with Robert Carlyle emerging as the only, understandably traumatised, survivor of the attack. This scene recreates the panic and horror of 28 days later perfectly and is probably when the zombies are at their most fearful.

Time propels forwards to 28 weeks after the initial outbreak of rage virus. The American army is trying to repopulate and decontaminate London after every zombie afflicted with the virus has died of starvation. Carlyle is still alive and is reunited with his two children, but any sense of relief is overshadowed by an even bigger sense of foreboding as from this point on we know full well what is going to happen, and the film suffers somewhat from a series of inexplicable failures in human logic.

Why it is America repopulating the UK is never revealed, but what is more glaringly and agonisingly unexplained is why families are being relocated back to Britain at all, particularly when the decontamination procedure is occurring at the same time. Questionable human judgement is on display again when two people exfiltrate the military perimeter in order to go home and pick up a photo of their mother.

Before long the rage virus reappears within the quarantine zone and all hell breaks lose. Human reasoning was absent again as the repatriated survivors were dumped in a car park with zero security protocols (or doors) in place to protect them from an escaped zombie. Instead of pulling out of England and waiting for the infected to die again, the military attempt to wipe everyone out instead. After a brief romp across London, the inexcusable and mortifying decision is made to transport two survivors to France, with predictable, terminable consequences.

Apart from shooting holes in the logic and feeling a bit on the short side, 28 Weeks Later was still worth a watch and it's always good to see London as desolate and barren as this. I suppose it was never going to beat the original, but it's better than you imagine it might be.


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Business: Slang term for dog shit.

Posted : 7 years, 5 months ago on 25 January 2010 04:26 (A review of The Business)

The best way to describe The Business is thus: 'a lot... about nothing'. The Business feels just as long as every one of its 97 minutes as Danny Dyer dicks his way through what feels like three hours worth of shitty over-the-top accents, unconvincing gangsters and angry swearing.

The plot could be summed up in about a sentence as thus: 'Danny Dyer goes to Spain, meets a muggish Kebab-shop-owning looking mother fucker (Hassan), plays his hand at the drugs trade and then swims in shit for a while. If that sounds like your idea of a thrilling and stimulating plot line then you're in luck! Dyer plays a mug who joins up with the aforementioned Hassan and gives him such a boner that he keeps him around as his rent boy/driver. A few people get called a bitch, others get called slags, and suddenly Hassan is doing a roaring trade selling weed across the Costa-del-Sol, leaving everyone so happy that they dress like Miami Vice rejects.

Nick Love's ingenious film making talents then shine through as he documents the overnight fall of the gang's drug empire, after they switch from importing cannabis to cocaine and piss off the local corrupt mayor in the process. This fall from grace is made evident because suddenly Dyer has to start dressing like an Italian football hooligan instead of a tennis player, and he can't afford hair gel any more. The relationship between Hassan and Dyer becomes so strained that they start calling each other slags and mugs instead of other people, as no-trick-pony Love delves deep into his book of 'Sarf Landan' dialogue in search of winning put-downs (he fails).

All of a sudden, the duo parts ways, but like in most other Dyer roles, he doesn't learn his lesson and glamorises being a complete dick as he rides off into the sunset with a kilo of cannabis and some cash he robbed off of a woman. What a cock. Hilariously, this film has been compared (probably by Nick Love) to other gangster epics, such as Goodfellas and Scarface, but just look at the cast, this film is ridiculous and it's utterly impossible to take it seriously.


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Unsalvageable

Posted : 7 years, 5 months ago on 25 January 2010 03:38 (A review of Terminator Salvation)

With such a respectable cast-list and promises from Christian Bale himself that Salvation would bring credibility back to the Terminator franchise, I was more than hopeful that this film would restore my faith in the series. The original two Terminator films are two of my favourites of all time, and after watching Terminator 3 defecate over the original, intricate story-lines in the name of cheap box-office profit, I was almost clinically depressed. Sadly, Terminator: Salvation doesn't hold a candle to either of the original two terminator films and lacks the substance or quality required to reaffirm my faith in the series.

The film begins in 2003, with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) enlisting in a Cyberdyne research programme whilst on death row, offering to donate his body to the company after his execution. Fast-forward 15 years and John Connor (Christian Bale) with a squad of rebels is infiltrating a strangely derelict and unguarded Skynet research facility. They're here to gather intelligence on the machines, but in a twist of disaster, Connor is the only survivor after the entire compound succumbs to an underground nuclear explosion. Connor scrambles his way to safety, but who should arise from the ashes soon after? It's Wright, confused and oblivious to why the world is now a nuclear wasteland, he wanders in search of humanity.

The film then focuses principally on Wright and his brief journey with Kyle Reese, his capture by the resistance and his role in the final assault on one of many Skynet headquarters. Connor on the other hand is demoted to the role of a mopey general, who despite having his own base, his own platoon, the respect of just about every resistance fighter left alive and an intricate knowledge of Skynet machinery and protocol, is still somehow not in charge of the human resistance movement. Connor has lost all of his charisma and street-smarts that were abundant in the previous films and instead he is melancholic and serious. In no way does he convince as the leader of men, even with a generic action man 'rent-a-speech' radio broadcast to his troops.

Only Anton Yelchin brings a smattering of charisma to the film as Kyle Reese. Perhaps the only human left in the film who still acts as one, he had a massive character to live up to and I was pleasantly surprised by his performance. Bryce Dallas Howard needs to be plugged in or something, whilst Sam Worthington convinces as the all-action tough guy, but such heroes are often men of few words.

Most of the action takes place in the desert where there are plenty of abandoned shacks to destroy and empty space to detonate. Some of the action is quite good, though it really doesn't compare to the intensity or the urgency of any scene in the original two terminator films. The characters are never truly in peril, and that's partly because we know that Hollywood would rather milk a franchise with sequels than worry about original/interesting plot twists killing off our main characters, but also partly because the Terminators are completely dumbed down. Terminators should be one of the most fearful things on the planet, they 'absolutely will not stop until you are dead'. By virtue of its name, it is designed and built to kill you, so why oh why would it rather throw John Connor around than kill him, considering the effort expended by Skynet to destroy him in the past?

Likewise, Kyle Reese is termination target number one in this film, but despite having him captive in a Terminator stronghold, they'd rather keep him in a cell than execute him. Utterly inexcusable, the terminators (complete with their selective vulnerability to various bullets), must've been programmed as bar-brawlers rather than killers. They're not scary any more.

In all, the film could've been much more intelligent in its execution. As a general viewer of the series looking in, I could've easily tallied up the moments that were ill-conceived or just anachronistic to the franchise, so why didn't the writers try executing some quality control themselves? With all the potential the Terminator world has, this has to be regarded as a disappointment.


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Origin of fan base

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 23 December 2009 11:10 (A review of Origin of Symmetry)

Origin of Symmetry undoubtedly sees Muse at their creative best and when you listen to the album, you do so safe in the knowledge that they have never bettered it and never will. Origin contains all of their best songs, songs that you don't have to be embarrassed to enjoy because the band hadn't yet pushed the 'death-by-bombast' self-destruct button.

Breakthrough track New Born is a highlight and Bliss, Plug In Baby and Feeling Good will be both recognisable and enjoyable by most casual music fans. I'm not entirely sure if Hyper Music or Citizen Erased were released as singles or not, but they are a further two examples of brilliance, which define Muse's talent for writing interesting rock songs, before they began employing an opera singer and inducing her to seizure at a piano - the method of song writing used by the band ever since.

The album finishes on a much weaker note than it begins, but they've already done the business before then. They've got you hooked, and from then on they intend to make you suffer with every new record they release.


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Alarming!

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 23 December 2009 10:56 (A review of Silent Alarm)

This album was an unexpected hit of 2005 for me. I followed the band loosely for a couple of years before their debut release, watching them release Banquet several times and making appearances way down on the billing list at Reading Festival. It was clear that they enjoyed a live performance and were capable of synthesising a catchy tune, so I snapped up Silent Alarm on the day it came out.

It was very much an unregrettable action as the record is packed full of hits. The aforementioned Banquet remains one of my favourite songs, but they've also got So Here We Are, Pioneers, Helicopter, and This Modern Life as instantly recognisable (and top quality) tracks, whilst there isn't really a lull in proceedings until track 9.

The end of the album does not finish as strongly as it starts, but with a special edition doing the rounds that contains the superb Four Tet remix of So Here We Are, amongst others, the finale is spruced up a bit allowing the record to end on the high it deserves. I'm not really into the pop-indie scene at all, but this album is well worth a listen.


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Loathed

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 22 December 2009 03:42 (A review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

Fear and Loathing is undoubtedly the most disappointing film I've watched this year. I approached the film with the same level of cautious optimism I afford to any film regarded as a 'cult classic', but once the opening scene had rolled on by I had a good idea of what predictable drug-culture bullshit awaited me for the next ninety minutes.

Johnny Depp plays a journalist who road trips to Las Vegas with his lawyer. All semblance of plot ends here, as the two vagrants simply take it in turns to embark on radical drug trips and alternate between who looks after the other as they trash themselves in various hotel rooms across the city. Depp mumbles his way through the performance, whilst Del Toro just portrays an unhinged loon from beginning to end and the pair rarely conjure any terrifically comic moments.

I can only assume that the film was awarded cult status because of the legion of loyal stoners who watch this when smashed off of their face in their dorm rooms. I prefer a film to inspire me when I watch it, though it seems to get any enjoyment out of this one you need a handful of narcotics to provide the genius.


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