(a good year for) music:
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Cavern of Anti-Matter – Void Beats/Trex Invocation
Autechre – Elseq 1-5
Aphex Twin – Cheetah
Nitkowski – Effortless Charm
Led Zeppelin – Presence (Deluxe Edition)
Papa M – Highway Songs
落差草原 WWWW / Prairie WWWW – 霧海 / Wu-Hai
Invisible Things – Time As One Axis
Deerhoof – The Magic
David Grubbs – Prismrose
William Tyler – Modern Country
Music of Morocco – Recorded by Paul Bowles
Rangda – The Heretic’s Bargain
Clark – The Last Panthers
MY DISCO – Severe
Doomsday Student – A Self-Help Tragedy
Lovely Little Girls – Glistening Vivid Splash
Octagrape – Aura Obelisk
(a weak year for) movies:
Hard To Be A God
Tale of Tales
(Neon Demon, High Rise, Jungle Book, Anomalisa, Hateful Eight)
Turkeys: Nocturnal Animals, X-Men Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Star Trek Beyond, Hail,Caesar!
Brion Gysin Let The Mice In – Burroughs et al.
Candy – Mian Mian
Playing For Thrills – Wang Shuo
No Sweetness Here – Ama Ata Aidoo
Red Dust – Ma Jian
American Smoke – Iain Sinclair
Nobody Home – Gary Snyder and Julia Martin
Virtual Americas – Paul Giles
Sour Sweet – Timothy Mo
Tripmaster Monkey – Maxine Hong Kingston
15 Storeys High
Man in the High Castle (season 2 – not great)
Moonlight on the Highway/Shaggy Dog/Lay Down Your Arms (Dennis Potter)
Roli – Noise
Roli – Seaboard 5D
Santa Ragioni – Fotonica
Simogo – Device 6
And so my love of sci-fi and Charlie Brooker’s occasionally genius turn of phrase have led me to check out the third season of his Black Mirror anthology series. The shift to Netflix has led to a definite change in many aspects of the show. Most notable is an absence of a coherent feel or style to the series as a whole, as first episode “Nosedive” has HBO level production values (a bright, pastel colour palette), haunting score and a Hollywood A-lister in Bryce Dallas Howard, while “Shut-up and Dance” features that muted, washed-out, Scandi-noir colour palette, gritty UK setting, and UK Z-lister Jerome Flynn (no disrespect, Flynn’s performance is a highlight of the series). This makes it seem like the increased budget was spent in a scattershot way, rather than spread evenly over the series. The other change is the introduction of a more positive, hopeful or vindicating ending to each episode , and certainly less ambiguity, which seems to be an attempt to pander to a wider American audience, making the series feel less like a Black Mirror, and more like a Grey Mirror, or even just Mirror…. This is particularly apt given that some, nay all of the material for this series is drawn from recent actual events and (actual and potential) technological developments, from people rating app ‘peeple’, blackmailing emails, Pokémon Go, the migrant ‘crisis’, Bee extinction, drones, brain computer implants and mind uploading. So no really interesting sci-fi projection in there really, and the sense of obviousness that pervades much of the series is a serious flaw: In “Nosedive,” because the opening of the episode is about the numbers game it is clear that Lacie’s are going to nosedive. In “Playtest” – the test is obviously going to go wrong. There is no way the blackmailers are going to let anyone off the hook in “Shut-up and Dance”. The ‘roaches’ are obviously thinly veiled representations of our current media castigation of Syrian refugees and ‘migrants’, likely a response to Katie Hopkins’ appalling article on the subject,. The inevitable failure of the inept police team in the interminable 90(endless)minute Scandi-noir aping episode “Hated in the Nation” is obvious from the needlessly intercut inquiry scenes.
Brooker’s trademark inventive profanity is notably and sadly lacking, with the exception of Flynn’s character’s pre-robbery rant and the Lacie’s cathartic exchange at the end of “Nosedive”. Plot-holes are also rampant: how does Lacie manage to convince the quad-bike rider to part with his bike?, how many irritating false-endings does “Playtest” really need, particularly after the interminably dull first half-hour?, why does the cop in “Hated in the Nation” tweet the DeathTo hashtag at the perpetrator, an action of unbelievable stupidity?, similarly in the bathroom scene why does it take the cops so long to consider the bathroom fan as a point of ingress? , how does the roaches’ technology manage to disrupt the MASS in such a precise way that it is both not spotted by the diagnostic software but is also just disruptive enough to stop the augmented reality elements, while whoever the ‘genius’ roach who developed it at great risk is unsure whether A. it will work, B. the soldier will be found to have faulty MASS or, C. the soldier will die from the effect on their combat ability. The prolonged ending of “Hated in the Nation” is also deeply annoying, while also failing to make the case for why Blue has managed to find the perpetrator by herself, despite him not using the internet, or why she texts DCI Parke the message ‘I’ve got him’ despite only having found him, while how she intends to kill/capture him remaining unclear. Also why did she not get the support of a special forces unit to find this genocidal maniac. Finally the biggest flaw has to be the drone bees. Why would a company/government mass produce drone bees capable of killing a human being? Millions of years of evolution have not produced an insect that can kill as efficiently as the drone bees…particularly as they were designed to simply spread pollen, not burrow into human flesh. Also large magnets used near to the hives would have been a simple way to stop them – did no-one think of this after the MRI scene? Ok, I know, suspend disbelief. But there were so many of these…don’t even get me started on the apparent death hallucinations of “Playtest”…
Negatives aside there are positives, particularly the injection of superior production values, slicker filming, editing, score (though the use of the Pixies ‘Something Against You’ for an S&M club scene in “San Junipero” is particularly ill chosen – Throbbing Gristle or Ministry would have made more sense). Acting is in places excellent too – Bryce Howard is fantastic, as are Alex Lawther, Flynn, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis and the always dependable Benedict Wong. Sadly the rest are immediately forgettable and often poor, with Kelly Macdonald standing out as particularly wooden. This issue is possibly due to the scattershot approach to selecting director, with Hollywood alumni Joe Wright (Atonement), James Watkins (The Woman in Black) and Dan Trachtenberg’s (10 Cloverfield Lane) work generally eclipsing that by the other, forgettable TV trained directors.
The best episode is definitely “Shut-up and Dance,” despite the irritating child-abuse twist. We root for main character Kenny, believing his crime was only jerking off to porn, only later do we discover he was viewing child porn. I find this irritating as it is a common ‘creative writing’ trope to use child abuse to add a moral quandary to a piece, and it smacks of lazy writing, despite being a rare moment of surprise. “Nosedive” and “San Junipero” are equal second due to the excellent production and superior acting talents of their main players – the writing of these episodes also contains the best dialogue. “Playtest” is irritating, though looks good, with decent SFX, it is just the main players don’t seem that taken with the material. “Men Against Fire” has its moments but is on the whole both disappointing and flat after its main premise is made so obvious, while “Hated in the Nation” is stultifying, like an episode of A Touch of Cloth without the (supposed) comedy elements (a show I found, to my great disappointment, deeply unfunny).
All things considered a watchable series full of missed opportunities, studio compromises, and a lack of consistency. Let’s hope the next 6 fix those problems, but I have a cemented sense that Brooker is just not the great TV show writer he seems to think he is, with the best episodes of this season being co-written. Perhaps he should get on the phone to Chris Morris and Jesse Armstrong again. A collaboration with Armando Iannucci could be good too… Going cinematic is a nice move, but at its core the series is and should be the blackest comedy, along the lines of Brazil, with the moral, human core of Cold Lazarus. Black Mirror is now not only taking itself too seriously, losing the satirical edge of episodes like “The Waldo Moment”, but it has also lost the sense of the sublime inducing black ending, rendering it an American series like any other, while lacking the recurrent characters and story arc that keeps viewers and make it binge-watching box-set fare…let’s see if it suffers as a result…
Couple of comments about ATP. The wheels started to come off in 2004 when they decided to expand to 2 then 3 festivals a year, run a record label and continue London based gig promoting. Overstretch. Now I’m not an expert in music but when a coked up member of ATP staff tries to convince you that ATP recording’s Sleepy Sun just played an ‘amazing set’ that you just witnessed be anything but, you have to wonder if judgement is also an issue. Timing is an issue too – a reformed Slint in 2005 sold out. If they did it again next year would it sell out? The law of diminishing returns plays out. If Hogan cites poor sales for the Matt Groening fest, and the MBV US ATP it shows poor judgement and an inability to learn from mistakes. The Simpsons are popular, but why would the ATP regulars be wowed by such a festival? MBV are great, but are they a massive draw in the US? I would have loved to see Drive Like Jehu but on paper it just doesn’t look in any way financially viable to do this in the UK. Shame.
AFX: Orphaned Deejay Selek
Sun City Girls: Torch of the Mystics reissue
Chui Wan ST
Octagrape: Major Mayor Maxion Marble
Cove: The Thing
Flying Saucer Attack: Instrumentals
Jim O’Rourke: Simple Songs
Yang Fan: What Happened After 1,001 Nights?
(Battles La di da di, Lightning Bolt: Fantasy Empire, Housewives: Work, Skip Skip Ben Ben: Mirror in Mirror)
Cixin Liu – The Three Body Problem
David Ohle – Age of Sinatra
A. Robert Lee – America
David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
William Burroughs – Nova Trilogy (new editions), Naked Lunch (Chinese)
James Leo Herlihy – All Fall Down, Season of the Witch & Midnight Cowboy
John Barth – The Sot-Weed Factor
Paul Auster – New York Trilogy
It has been two years. Impossible to write something near the time that could represent the schism left in the souls of so many by the loss of a free spirit so natural, so enlightened, so learned and so effortlessly cool. So now I’ll try but will inevitably fail, but somehow that failure matters less now. James could hold and develop a conversation on any subject, however arcane, so when “working” in the library I would often approach him with a subject that had come up in the writing of my thesis, or in checking out some obscure band to check his take on it. Without fail he would either have already heard of the band (and hold a rare vinyl edition of their best record) or have an expanded or alternative view on the subject. For example I was investigating yage and William Burroughs’ voice-over work, and mentioning this to James he tells me 1. He is planning a trip to actually take the substance, and 2. he is going to lend me a DVD of Burroughs narrating a documentary ‘Shamans of the Blind Country’. He told me all about Hakim Bey/Peter Lamborn Wilson, introduced me to Nurse With Wound, John Fahey and Loren Connors, and passed on his story about meeting his hero, J.G. Ballard, in a state so drunk that he made a complete fool of himself, and as an experience for him it “couldn’t have been any worse”. Shards and fragments of meaningful knowledge just gushed out of James, along with a truly genuine human kindness, and his inimitable laugh, part sneer, part body laugh, part guffaw, a laugh that crossed both class and regional boundaries, high and low culture, was particularly infectious and summed up so much about what James was all about. The last time we spoke we discussed pursuing our music project, but he also discussed the drug related incident that was effectively a near death experience that had occurred while I was away. It clearly affected him, and he was certainly a little more distant as a result, and sporting the wizened beard of a wise old man of the mountain. Not more than a week later strange circumstances robbed the world of a man, had he concentrated on fiction, I considered a future literary giant, and an open minded, anarchistic band mate who would have helped take a music project in new and bizarre directions. I also lost a great friend. I miss you James. Your legacy and inspiration will continue.
The music project James initiated was released today on Cruel Nature Recordings:
So I moved from Bristol to Cork in January 2013, after a 6 month layover in Bristol to complete the formalities for my Library job. Switching back to life in Bristol after Switzerland was strange and difficult enough, given how great I found life in Schwiess, but this was compounded by the death of a close friend shortly after my return, and the departure of my daughter and her mother to Ireland three months before I could join them. I found myself lost, confused, alone and in Bristol I found other people to be feeling much the same, looking for connections with people, but unable to commit, express themselves honestly or let themselves go. I met some absolute diamonds there but the place itself, like the UK as a whole (check here first) is far too full of its own importance and ‘coolness’. It has lost all of the self-effacing, self-critical modesty that gave it its charm in the 60s and 70s, add in a complete sense of nihilism and hopelessness in the face of the impossibility of being able to change a system that is out of control and appears to be spiraling towards an appalling aristocratic surveillance police state. I keep half expecting a major revolt, while knowing it will never happen. Historically rebellions have been quashed all to easily by a powerful state: I am from Somerset, the site of the quashing of the last popular rebellion that happened in 1685. Given that everything from power, railways, healthcare, airports, education and supermarkets have gone SO wrong I am amazed anyone would want to live there, let alone move there. So moving to a country that has good reason to hate the British seemed to be a good fit for a deeply disillusioned idealist like myself. True, there is a sense of friendliness espoused by many Irish people you meet in Cork, and it often appears genuine, though this is countered by many of the same problems as the UK, such as huge wealth disparity creating ghetto-like areas of working class ‘skangers‘ who mostly fit the stereotype of tracksuit wearing, attack dog owning, smoking, drinking, swearing, anti-social and uneducated people that of course exist almost everywhere in the world, but they are conspicuous in some areas of Ireland, where rural areas experience terrible unemployment and poverty issues. See THIS. Despite this there also seems to be a remarkable similarity between the UK that now fails to draw attention to its own shortcomings and the Ireland that papers over the cracks of its problems, the worst of which are the Governmental and institutional issues that caused the banking crisis and disastrous recession. The people of Ireland have had to bail out the state through direct tax levies on their pay, and the banks through massive increases on banking charges, to a massive extent, without much dissent about it: the attitude appears to be to moan a little about the obviously corrupt system, shrugging, then doing nothing except giving that money away. The level of apathy is staggering. This is possibly due to the Catholic nature of the country, where a sense of guilt (washing away sins) is assuaged by charity giving (which is big business here) or will be paid for in the afterlife. Problems such as historical child abuse by priests, nuns disposing of dead children in septic tanks are glossed over, they are seemingly too painful to face up to, so they are simply not looked at, or decried as a hoax. Abortion seems to be a more emotive issue, though that seems led by American lobby groups that poured huge amounts into a campaign to prevent the law on legal abortion to be changed so the procedure could be carried out when there is a considerable risk of the death of the mother. Graphic posters were EVERYWHERE. Marches occurred with kids, too young to understand the real issues, holding emotive placards. A strange and perverse state of affairs. Thankfully good sense prevailed and the rich pro-life lobbyists failed, but the situation underlined the real problem of wealth, power and religion here. It really is a beautiful country too, though this remains an untapped resource due to a lack of solid infrastructure, not enough rail links, poorly maintained and inadequate roads, that leads to many visitors going home unimpressed. Certain friends of mine have variously referred to Cork as a ‘shithole’, and saying that their trip to Ireland was marred by constant rain and boredom. Given the relative wealth and GDP per capita of the country these problems should be solved. Another case in point is dogs. Not only are there many strays around, a problem exacerbated by the illegal trade in dogs with the UK, but there is dog poo EVERYWHERE. My partner and I have become quite distressed about the problem because it is particularly shocking when coming from the UK, where the problem has been, on the whole, reigned in by successful campaigns, the toxocariasis issue, fencing of children’s play areas, dog bins, dog wardens, and information films. It is common to see people picking up after their dog in the UK and it is culturally unacceptable to let your dog poop where-ever. The opposite is true in Ireland, and as it is a more rural country dog ownership is high. Dog bins and children’s play area fencing are rare. There are streets on the way to the University where it is clear students have stood in crap, not realised (or cared?) and walked on regardless, with others walking in the smears, so it is impossible to walk on the pavement without stepping in something. Writing to local councils and even the President has proved ineffective. Cork council said it did not have resources to do more – it puts up flimsy signs saying ‘dog mess is litter too and subject to a fine’, and can only afford one warden (ONE! For a city of 200,000 people! – see 2013 spreadsheet here). I regularly see poo under those signs. The issue hit the news recently as police in Wales called an anti-dog fouling operation ‘Operation Irish’. Youghal (a nice coastal resort) is a place popular with dog walkers, so has a particularly acute problem. The councilor who responded to our letter was as irritated and exasperated with the problem as we were, but said it was impossible to get the council to agree to any action as they fail to see the seriousness of the issue and don’t have funds to pay for additional bins/wardens. Surely that can’t cost much, and the post bail-out government can now afford actions that will aid tourist revenue? The point is that shit breeds contempt in your population and from visitors in particular – a beautiful landmark is instantly marred by one large turd – what are you going to remember? Then you begin to think ‘what kind of country is this? Friendly people who happily wallow in shit? What do you think of when you look at a pint of Guinness? My friend was right, it literally is a ‘shithole’. ‘No wonder Beckett and Joyce left.'(Though, to be fair even Paris does have a similar poo problem, albeit with a much larger population...)
Whore Paint – Swallow My Bones LP Sexiest hard rock album of the year. Rebecca Mitchell’s (ex of hopelessly underrated Made In Mexico) voice raises hell.
Melt Banana – Fetch LP Still got it.
Chrome – Half Machine from the Sun LP We are so lucky.
Girls Against Boys – The Ghost List EP Could have been bad. Wasn’t.
Polvo – Siberia LP Ditto
Sax Ruins – EP Yoshida brings it again. With sax.
Tatsuya Nakatani & Shane Perlowin – Anatomy of a Moment LP Ahleuchatistas guitarist and uber purcussionist. Sublime improv.
Nirvana – In Utero LP I know, corporate whoring of the worst kind. But those Albini mixes…
Zevious – Passing Through the Wall LP Progressive brutality. Just great. Like being trapped in a tiny metal box with an insane dwarf.
Wire – Change Becomes Us LP My favourite Wire record is Document and Eyewitness. This is almost as good.
Ventura – Ultima Necat LP God Machine-esque. Best LP cover of the year
Rodan – Fifteen Quiet Years LP Oh to finally, physically have these songs. ‘Before The Train’ is perfection.
Nisennenmondai – N LP How good to have some more Japanese hypnosis.
My Bloody Valentine – mbv LP Obviously. Simultaneously disappointing and exalting, new and old in wonderfully nuanced and multifarious ways.
Boards of Canada – Tomorrows Harvest LP Darker, stranger and more obtuse. Simultaneously disappointing and exalting, new and old in wonderfully nuanced and multifarious ways.
Man or Astroman – Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 LP Still got it. With a new lady guitarist too.
Sebadoh – Defend Yourself LP In a year of lazarus records this is one of the best.
Cove – Projected EP Reinvention as hard psyche-rock band works.
Octagrape – Emotional Oil EP Ex-Trumans Water members get lo-fi psychedelic. Life affirming.
birdbath/trumans water – split 7″ How could I miss this one.
birdbath – black my light CD Or this.
COWMAN – Artificial Dissemination DL Or this.
Film: Not seen many due to responsibilities, but anyway I managed to get to see:
Hirokazu Koreeda – Like Father, Like Son Great performances, perfect pitch tone for a cliche film that shouldn’t work but does. Koreeda gives it just what it needs to make it great.
Other than that its all been Film Noir and trash. Looking out for Kill Your Darlings and Big Sur. Interested to see The Grandmaster.
A few books: The Boy who Started the Fire – Mohammed Mrabet, Love with a Few Hairs -Mohammed Mrabet, I Spit on your Graves – Boris Vian, The Plague – Albert Camus, Points in Time – Paul Bowles, Writing Degree Zero – Roland Barthes, The Soft Machine (First Edition) – William S. Burroughs