Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Top Ten

I’m going as a hypocrite this year. A few days ago I waxed lyrical about how I can’t make lists, but yet here I go compiling one. I thought about making a top ten favourite Halloweenish films, but I decided it would be too hard to think of ten I really loved. I settled on music, and my top ten spooky-songs. I set myself some conditions, though. There would be no horror film themes (buh bye, Exorcist) and absolutely no blindingly obvious selections (see ya, Monster Mash). Finally, Thriller is forbidden. Now, without any further ado, I now present to you…

Top Ten Sp0o0o0o0o0o0oky Songs that Remind Me Of Halloween

10. The North American Halloween Prevention Initiative - “Do They Know It’s Halloween?”
See previous post.

09. Elvira - “The Monster Rap”
My sole cheesy selection. I’m really a sucker for awful raps and you can’t get any more brilliantly awful than the Vogue-style one that we’re treated to halfway. The rhymes are toe-curlingly awful, but they’re delivered with such gusto you can’t help to go along with her. It’s probably overplayed to hell in some places, but not in my circles.

“Baby there's a monster livin' inside of you, and me!
Baby there's a monster livin' inside just dieing to be free!”

08. Bette Davis - “I’ve Written A Letter To Daddy”
I’ve restricted myself on the movie themes, but sticking this one in was too hard to resist. Is it creepy? Hilarious? Depressing? All three,really, which is where the disconcerting feel comes from. “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a favourite horror film of mine (although it’s really not scary at all) and this is the centrepiece. Davis’ creepy ballet-poise, total fervour and terrible warbling voice, with her shadow flickering on the wall, add up to a strange viewing experience. When the camera cuts away to Joan Crawford looking confused and uneasy, we know exactly how she feels.

“I've written a letter to Daddy, his address is heaven above”

07. Sonic Youth - “Death Valley 69”
This whole album could be included on this list. From it’s cover picture of a giant pumpkin to the general Atumnal air, Sonic Youth have never been more season-appropriate. Starts with a howl and a grumbling guitar riff before descending into an art-rawk duet about murdering your girlfriend (or something). It’s a mess, but great to sing along to.

“Deep in the valley
In the trunk of an old car…”

06. DJ Shadow - “Endtroducing…”
I wanted to include David Lynch in here somewhere and thought about including some of the Twin Peaks music. I decided against, though. Instead, I’ve chosen an entire album; the fabulously dreamlike collection of samples by DJ Shadow. It’s an astonishing listen, feels like a messed-up nightmare and ends with The Giant (from Twin Peaks) intoning “It is happening again…it is happening again…”.

05. PJ Harvey & Nick Cave - “Henry Lee”
A little part of Halloween is kind of romantic, don’t ya think? Polly Jean and Nick Cave were probably the strangest/best-suited rock ‘n roll couple ever. Their relationship didn’t last, but it left behind some wonderful music. Solo albums by each detail their love and the subsequent break-up, but it’s hard to get any better than this duet. The harmonies are exquisite, the sense of doomed love palpable (even though the lyrics have nothing to do romance) and in the video, the pair come across as a pair of courting vampires.

“And with a little pen-knife held in her hand
She plugged him through and through
And the wind did roar and the wind did moan”

04. Tori Amos - “’97 Bonnie & Clyde”
Scary. Scary. Scary. Out of all of my selections, this is the one that freaks me out the most. Not just the idea of Tori covering a Eminem song, but the actual song itself is terrifying. She descreses the tempo to a dreadful slowness, wallowing in the domestic violence storyline. Her voice hs never been more full of evil and dread. The Hitchcockian strings in the background, the hint of violence that enters her voice, the keening chorus….*shiver*

“Your dad'll wake her up as soon as we get to the water
Ninety-seven Bonnie and Clyde, me and my daughter”

03. Buck 65 - “463”
Not a conventional choice, perhaps. “463” could be about baseball, could be about small-time life, could be about broken dreams, or could be about nothing at all (which Buck himself has admitted). Still, songs have personal meanings and I immediately associated this with All Hallows Eve. He references Halloween in the first couple of lines and then riffs on a number of topics, but it’s that reference that sticks in my head.

“Why, when I was a kid,
Playing in the ditches
Living in fear of satan and the witches”

02. Talking Heads - “Psycho Killer”
Something a little more funkier, after the last couple of rather depressing choices. Amazingly, this was the first song David Byrne wrote with the rest of the band and it’s one of their most iconic songs. Singing a song from the perspective of a serial killer isn’t anything novel, but it’s Byrne’s pop-eyed delivery and that bass-line that make this song great.

“I can’t sleep because my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire.”

01. Siouxsie and the Banshees - “Halloween”
Obviously. It couldn’t be anything else, really. My favourite band with a song that perfectly encapsulates the holiday. The Banshees, despite their name and style of dress, were never the cartoonish shlock-Goths they’re sometimes made out to be. Their music is rarely morose or overtly-introspective (ie: they have nothing nothing nothing to do with Marilyn Manson or My Chemical Romance) but sometimes the season calls for a bit of spooky self-indulging.

"Trick or treat
Trick or treat,
The bitter and sweet..."

Happy Halloween, all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Do They Know It's Halloween?

Two years ago, a motley group of indie musicians, comedians and general layabouts collaborated on a spoof Halloween song, parodying Bob Geldof's awful "Do They Know It's Christmas?" brand. Calling themselves The North American Halloween Prevention Initiative, this group recorded "Do They Know It's Halloween?", a fantastic shambling whoop of a tune which trumps Geldof on a number of points. Firstly, this song is actually great. There's no patronising lyrics or downright insulting bits (um, "Well tonight, thank God it's them instead of you"). Secondly, who would you rather be locked in a room with: Phil Collins, Paul Weller and Boy George, or Beck, Karen O and The Arcade Fire? I rest my case.

Read the full story of how this project came into being here and then watch the video below. It's fun to identify the different voices. I'm pretty sure of Karen O, Buck 65, Malcolm McLaren, the gals from Smoosh and David Cross.

More information and full lyrics can be found here.

On an unrelated, but amusing, note; while researching who exactly was in Band Aid, I came across a quote given by Morrissey on the very subject. I'd read it before, but it bears repeating:

'I'm not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I'll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn't done shyly it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.'

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Three short reviews

It seems as if I’ve been waiting for Ratatouille for years. Okay, a slight exaggeration but it certainly has been a long time coming. Pixar’s latest has only just got an Irish release (well, last week, but I only caught it today). It seems like an odd release date, perhaps timed hopefully to coincide with the up-coming half-term? It’s far from being a kids film, though - a lengthy running time and the absence of Finding Nemo-ish belly laughs take care of that. Indeed, in the cinema packed with kids that I attented, the film’s soundtrack was complemented by a continous stream of chatter from the seats surrounding me. The noise was only a temporary annoyance, though - I was soon well and truly hooked, the delicate aromas of Pixar’s stew drawing me in.

A truly lovely film, with the scenery the best we’ve seen yet. The grimey sewer water through which our snootily loveable protaganist Remy splutters and swims is rendered almost better than the underwater scenes in Finding Nemo; the CGI Paris glitters (okay, it’s hard to make Paris look bad, but they had to create one out of nothing) and there’s an impressive kinesis to it. The chase scenes are beautifully fluid with no Bourne-style jerkiness. Peter O’ Toole gets the best vocal part, having fun as the harsh food critic, Anton Ego (who is the image of Eamon de Valera. No? Anybody see that?). For Pixar devotees, there’s also a cute little self-referential sight gag; Remy straining to grab ahold of his brother’s paw as they hurtle down the river is strongly reminiscent of the ending to Toy Story.

Unfortunately, comparing it to Toy Story doesn’t do Ratatouille any favours. True, ToY Story came out of nowhere to charm and delight, nobody had any expectaions and therefore everyone was bowled over. It was shockingly good, and nobody could accuse Ratatouille of a similar effect - everyone expects it to be great, it’s Pixar! It’s definitely not as funny as it could be, the middle section drags a little and one could possibly accuse Pixar of resting on their laurels (oh goody, yet another anthromorphic buddy/outsider film!). I thought all of these criticisms whilst watching the film, but as the credits rolled I realised I was ready to forgive the film it’s missteps. There’s a scene where hundreds of rats converge on a restaurant kitchen and set to work cooking a meal. It’s a flurry of energy and joie de vivre, a huge undertaking of colour and movement and small significant details that’s carried off with such aplomb and verve that I was completely gob smacked. The teamwork (undertaken by both the rats as they frantically work to create the perfect dish and the animators as they carefully create the scene ) is astounding, and it was that moment that I finally caved in - Ratatouille is in it’s heart a good film and there are moments of brilliance. I’m looking forward to the studio’s next output - let’s hope they raise that bar.

Sometimes I’m kind of shocked that some films get made, especially ones as topical as Rendition. It’s title refers to the US governmental practice of transporting terror suspects to offshore locations where shady thugs are given reign to torture and coerce them, with the freedom of ignoring the US constitution. Here, we are presented with the story of Anwar el-Ibrahmi, a handsome and clever Egyptian who has built a comfortable life for himself in the States, happily married to Reese Witherspoon and working as a chemical engineer. On his way home from a conference in South Africa he is bundled onto a plane to an unknown destination and merciliously tortured. The torture scenes are undoubtedly nasty, he is electrofied, beaten, forced to squat naked in a tiny enclosed space for hours and subjected to the especially horrific technique of waterboarding. It’s hardly the most violence we’ve ever been subjected to, but the fact that it’s based in reality causes many a squirm.

There’s a discomforting double standard at play though; Anwar is well-educated, married to a white woman and Americanized and we are clearly on his side, yet Khalid (Mohammed Khouas), the main character in the Islamic subplot, is (naturally) part of a Jihadist group. Why? Well, the filmmakers wanted to siphon in a handy father-daughter relationship theme and needed to show a human side to the lead torturer, of course and Khalid was the perfect sacrifice. It feels slightly wrong footed, attempting to show a reason behind the malice of the torturer by pushing the sympathetic Khalid into a terrorist group.

At the end of the day, the film stumbles on one major point - we are never told if Anwar is guilty or not-guilty. Well, the film makes it fairly clear that he is, but then where did the allegations come from? The main pieces of evidence used against him are records of his phone calls, but these are quickly forgotten about at the film’s close witout giving us any dislosure. If the phonecalls were fabricated by the government, desperate to find a suspect, then why weren’t we told? It’s a final cop-out and I really, really wish they had taken the final plunge and said “Anwar was singled-out purely for the colour of his skin”, if that’s what they were hinting at. The maddeningly even-handed script makes it explicitly clear that the process isn’t a new thing (“It began under Clinton”) but doesn’t once mention Bush by name, the President who intensified it. Rendition could hardly be called a brave film; it highlights torture, but ultimately fails to condemn it.

I didn’t thoroughly dislike it, though. As a thriller, it’s very taut and engaging. With strong performances from liberal-Hollywood types (Streep, Witherspoon, Arkin, brothers-in-law Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard) and relative unknowns (Omar Metwally in particular gives good performance in a rough role that requires him to spend most of the film sweaty and naked, begging for his life), Rendition has a worthy gravitas that ensures that it’s a good watch. Sarsgaard may be the best thing about it, but Gyllenhall is also suitably worried-looking throughout and the final scene caused tears in my eyes. Out of the number of Iraq-themed dramas coming our way, Rendition will be far from the worst; it’s enjoyable and well-crafted, yet that final failing lowers it in my estimation.

I’m finding it very hard to get excited about this film. Solid acting, fine directing, a moving story and it’s lovely to hear Irish spoken on the big screen. Maybe it’s just not emotionally engaging enough, or perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to see it (it’s quite depressing, but not in the flamboyant way I enjoy, more in the Ken Loach way). There really is nothing especially wrong with it, but the fact that it has been chosen as the Irish Oscar submission hasn’t got me holding my breath.


Although something of a music nerd, I was never fully a part of the whole obsessive list-making gig promoted by Nick Hornby and his ilk. Don’t get me wrong, I like reading and debating lists of the top 100 punk albums from 1077, or the worst music videos ever, or whatever. But when it comes to compiling one of my own, I get stuck in a rut and grow bored with my subject matter. List-making is not one of my fortes, it seems inherently both too masculine and too mathematical for me to sink my teeth into. I’m currently mentally assessing the 25 or so films I’ve seen this year and wondering how many will appear on my Best of 2007 list (I hesitate to call it an end-of-year list as there’s no conceivable way I could see all the films I want by January, such a list will probably surface in February, around Oscar-time. That’s how long it’ll take me to catch up on dvds and such.) and I’m dreading the inevitable need to rank one above the other. That’s not to say I never rank things, though - I’ve just found evidence to the contrary.

Whilst going through some old files, I came across a personal list of my top ten albums of all time, circa 2004. There was no real point in compiling a list like this, but I’m glad I took the time to write it back then. It offers up some interesting thoughts. Here’s what it looks like:

1. Jennifer Warnes - Famous Blue Raincoat

2. David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World

3. Nirvana - Unplugged in New York

4. Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes

5. Radiohead - Kid A

6. Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Armed Forces

7. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Peepshow

8. The Smiths - The Smiths

9. Velvet Underground - VU and Nico

10. PJ Harvey - Stories from the city, Stories from the Sea

Reading over it, I come to two conclusions: despite what I think, my musical taste hasn’t evolved that much in three years, and damn- I listen to an awful lot of white music. There’s not one hip-hop, jazz or soul record on that list, which would definitely change if I were making an equivalent list today. There’s nothing classical, either. At least it’s fairly evenly split between male & female and it’s not confined to just one decade, which is a plus. I’ve got to remember that back then, I had only heard a fraction of the music I’ve heard today. I was in the process of discovering new bands to obsess on and I was in my early stages of worship. The Smiths are still a band I’d swear by, but their self-titled debut isn’t their best album, their most influential one, or even my favourite one. I can barely stand listening to it nowadays, although there are a handful of classic songs, the production is so tinny and poor that it renders them almost unlistenable. I suspect that, at the time of writing, their debut was the only Smiths album I owned; but I was still able to sense that they would go on to create great things. Right now, it’d be a toss up between Meat is Murder or Strangeways for a current placing.

As I don’t distinctly remember making this list, I have no idea whether it’s meant to be in any kind of order. I severely doubt it, as that would mean I put a covers album as my number one album of all time. Famous Blue Raincoat is a great covers record though; and it certainly appealed to the my seriouser-than-thou adolescent self. Having it at number one makes a lot more sense than my number 6 placing; I don’t even own that album and I can’t remember ever liking it that much. It seems inconceivable that I’d rank it higher than Peepshow, an album which would still easily creep into my current top ten. Putting a Bowie album, let alone a fairly mediocre one, at number 2 is just plain ridiculous. David Bowie has never been an artist who I’ve gone ape-shit over - but this list begs to differ. It’s slightly disconcerting - there was once a Catherine who admired Bowie enough to place him at number two in an All-Time-Great list? Whaaa? It’s a feeling akin to meeting my long-lost twin and realising she has 20/20 vision. What a headfuck.

Okay, getting down to the business of making a similar list today, I can see three of those albums holding on (Little Earthquakes, Kid A, Peepshow). Tori Amos has probably never topped her mainstream debut (what a disheartening thought for an artist), Peepshow still gives me the shivers and Kid A is Radiohead’s triumph (stfu about OK Computer). Seven coveted spaces are left and if I wasn’t thinking about it too hard, they’d be filled with Ys, Music for 18 Musicians, Reachin‘, When the Pawn Hits…, If You’re Feeling Sinister, Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony and Rain Dogs.

Excellent. Brilliant. Completed. What's next?

But wait.

I’m still not entirely happy with that (why have I once again neglected jazz? Where is Poses?! No McGarrigles, Paul Simon or George Winston - my childhood staples? Where are Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, PJ Harvey, Bjork and The Smiths?) Even after a few minutes contemplation, even the original three seem wrong; I think Boys For Pele is a superior Tori album, I just haven’t had as much time to grow into it. I've always defended Amnesiac over Kid A. Is Peepshow really my favourite Banshees album?

I’ve never been able to fully commit to a list; my taste is ever changing and too fluid to really pin down (this could be a positive or a negative thing). Even a quick attempt at this kind of thing proves too much of a headache for a Sunday night. Even as I’ve abandoned it, disembodied voices keep bouncing off my skull, telling me I’ve forgotten them (please shut up, Buck 65). If anyone out there has a top ten list they’re perfectly happy with, feel free to share. I’ll read, comment and debate it - just don’t expect me to share mine.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rufus Wainwright 10/10/07

When I was 14, Kate & Anna McGarrigle were due to play a small show in Dublin, accompanied by Kate’s son Rufus. I was all set to go, but the date coincided with my school’s night-time award ceremony, to which I had been invited. Looking back on it, I probably wouldn’t have been let into the venue anyway, but at the time I sat and fumed throughout the entire ceremony. Finally, almost four years later, I get another chance to see Rufus live. My, it was worth the wait.

Words like “spectacular” and “experience” are carelessly thrown around as regards concert reviews, but Rufus Wainwright justifies them. His stage act is a carefully honed performance, one moment crooning love-lorn piano ballads with the audience in the palm of his hand, the next strutting across the stage in a pair of Lederhosen. The real magic comes when a crack appears in the show, as it did last night during Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk. Half-way through, he forgets to change chords on the piano and stares blankly at his hands, the audience giggling. “Guess I’ll start that again,” he grins. “I was getting cocky”. The song begins again and he plays it through perfectly, elicting whoops from the crowd. It’s a funny little incident, and the night is filled with these kinds of moments, intimate, amusing, human slip-ups, banter and jokes.

Vicar Street is perfectly suited to an act like Rufus, small enough to ensure a perfect view of th stage from any location. He seems to like it too. “I played here when it first opened,” he informs us, squinting out into the dark. “It was smaller then, right? They made it bigger… cause I’m playing.” He’s chatty, milking the crowd for all it’s worth. Unlike many acts who play Dublin, he actually knows Ireland (the McGarrigle side is originally from NI, I believe) and there is none of the customary “Oh, I’m so glad to be here, I always wanted to visit Ireland, I hear it’s such a lovely country” schtick that we’re often subjected to. Instead, a haunting Machusla performed sans microphone, standing alone in a single spotlight in the style of Irish opera singer John McCormac.

The setlist is a pleasing mixture of old and new, to my immense relief. I’m not the greatest fan of “Release the Stars” but the songs translate well in the live setting and the employment of huge disco balls add to the effect. Highlights of the first act include a glitterring Tulsa and a beautiful rendition of The Art Teacher. Every time the band left the stage leaving him on stage by himself I muttered a silent prayer for Poses, yet when the interval came I was still Poses-less. The second half brought a costume change, whilst before there was a striped suit laden with brooches, now we were treated to the infamous Lederhosen. His third clothing choice is a fluffy white bathrobe, when he triumphantly returns to the stage for an extended encore. This was by far my favourite part of the night - you can probably guess why, as he sat at the piano and began those first few notes…

Hearing Poses live was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a concert. It was up there with Radiohead’s How To Dissapear Completely and Joanna Newsom’s Comia. Poses is from his best (in my opinion) album, and it was the first song of his that I ever fell in love with. If he hadn’t played it, I would have gone away enthralled anyway, but with a teeny touch of disapointment lodged in my brain. As it was, I was walking on air. It was transcendent:

“Now I’m drunk and wearing flip-flops on fifth avenue…”

Everything about that line does it for me. Has their ever been a single lyric that so perfectly summed up it’s singer? The phrasing, setting, melody, flamboyance and subtle melancholy are all pure Rufus. It was the highlight of the week.

I didn’t think anything could top that - and truth be told, nothing really did - but he certainly tried his very best to win me over again. The next two songs were also his last, a drag version of Judy Garland’s Get Happy and a hushed, reverent Gay Messiah. This holy trinity of songs couldn’t have been better chosen - the crowd went bezerk.

He’s currently playing a second date in Dublin. Right now he’s probably telling a cheeky anecdote or making the audience cry. I’d sell a limb to be there…

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rufus Wainwright

In about 6 hours, I'll be listening to Rufus Wainwright sing live.

Here's a a rough outline of what he played in Berlin last week:

Release the Stars
Going To A Town
Rules and Regulations
Do I Dissapoint You
Nobody’s Off the Hook
The Art Teacher
Beautiful Child
Between My Legs
14th Street
Leaving for Paris
The Consort
Foggy Day
If Love Were All
Not Ready To Love
Danny Boy
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
Get Happy
Gay Messiah

Looks pretty good, I can't wait to see him pull a Judy on "Get Happy". I can't find the setlist for last night's Belfast concert but it appears that he played "Poses", my favourite of his songs.
If he played "Poses", I might just keel over in happiness.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Ugly Betty Season Two, Episode One

Ugly Betty sneaked up on me last year to become my favourite new show of 2006. The first couple of episodes did nothing for me, the characters were too broadly drawn, the cartoonish style grating, the humour too weak. It's premiere collided unfavourably with the hype surrounding The Devil Wears Prada and I initially dismissed it as another well-intentioned, but unfunny satire of the fashion industry. The very fact that I've been eagerly awaiting this season premiere all summer should alert you to two facts; that I'm as fickle as a pickle and that you shouldn't judge a series by it's season opening (unless it's that rare beast, a first episode that's simultaneously enormously entertaining and indictitive of the series to follow, step forward the pilot episodes of Arrested Development and The West Wing). That's why I'm not too worried that the first Ugly Betty episode of the new season wasn't quite up to the usual standard - things can only get better.

As can only be expected, "How Betty Got Her Grieve Back" primarily deals with bringing us up to date on the characters. Betty is trying to forget about Henry by taking on an even greater workload, resulting in her becoming super-stressed and even getting, um, high blood pressure. What is it with this show and stupid medical-related problems? Ignacio's heart condition was boring enough - if I wanted hospital action I'd be watching Grey's Anatomy. We discover that Bradford is Amanda's father which I think is supposed to be a major plot point, but which didn't elicit an "Oh my God!" such as an "Oh...yeah. Duh?" response. Bradford really bores me, I wish the guy would get a facial expression or two.

The Awesome Claire Meade is living with prison break-out buddy Yoga in what looks like a beach house of some description; Daniel is recovering in hospital from the car-crash that has left his sister Alexis in a coma (!), Wilhemina is still scheming to get her hands on Mode Magazine, Marc is...doing not much and Christina is still Scotish. I wonder if they'll develop her "I left a husband back in Scotland" storyline; I kind of hope not, unless they draft someone amazing in to play Mr McKinney. Somebody, say, Scottish and dark and...Timelordesque?

As usual, Mark and Amanda provide the giggles. Even fairly clich├ęd phrases are laden with extra humour and snark when they drip from this pair's laconic tongues.

So, this is where you grew up?
This is it. The house of lies. [shouting upstairs] Mother! If that is your real name...

We also get a nice, if slightly awkward looking, Mark dressed up as Wilhemina. His Wili-outfit looks suspiciously like his Middle-Ages outfit from Secretary's Day. One tacky wig fits all, I guess.

Alexis wakes up from her coma, feeling thirsty. The twist? She wonders why her brother is calling her Alexis. "It's me, Alex" she croaks. I've never been in a coma, but I would hope that when I awoke I'd be able to tell what sex I was. Maybe that's just wishful thinking...

Finally, the crux of the episode - Santos' departure. The episode tries to lull us into a false sense of security by having Santos "alive" throughout the entire episode but c'mon people, after that season ending how could they leave him alive? It was slightly manipulative to have Hilda be with Santos for the entire episode just to reveal the truth at the end, but I admit I wallowed in it. When Betty opened the door to the darkened room with Hilda hunched alone in her bed...yep, I cried.

But, no fear because happiness is (hopefully) soon at hand - the glorious return of Senor Grubstick to the Big Apple! Yahoo!

Let's hope Charlie's gone for good. I like Jayma Mays who plays her but the character was such an unnerving mix of cloying sweetness and pyschopathism that she was impossible to like (Mays similar but superior character, also named Charlie, on Heroes was cruelly murdered in her first episode - this actress just can't get a break).

One question - what the hell is up with the timeline of this episode? I only watched it once, so maybe somebody mentioned how much time has passed since the last episode, but if they did I missed it and so am a little confused. Daniel is recovering in hospital but is still fairly beat up (and still poppin' those pills, good old Danny) and Alexis is in firmly in a coma which would lead to me believe only a shortish time has passed; Justin's at summer-camp and seeming quite perky despite his obvious cause for being miserable (having your dad bumped off just as you two were getting along, him showing you how to snap your fingers and all, must be a bit of a downer, no?) so I'm inclined to think a decent amount of time has passed. Conflicting thoughts! Agh. This show should not require brain power. Plus, how long did it take Amanda to confront her parents about their true identity?

Overall, it was a decent episode with some laughs, some tears and, yes, a couple of cringe-worthy moments. There was no Wowzer moments, but that can hardly be expected in a expositionary episode.

Best Line:

Claire Meade: "I’ll be dressed as a nun ... or a cat. I haven't decided yet."

(Have I mentioned that Claire Meade is awesome? That punch she administrated to Wili was dead on, much better than the lame one Bree gave to to Orson's ex-wife that I can't remember what she was called in the last season of Desperate Housewives.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

In Rainbows

It came out of nowhere. Four days ago, on Monday, a short announcement appeared on Radiohead's blog, Dead Air Space. Seemingly apropos of nothing, it signalled the arrival of a new Radiohead album in the most incongruous way possible.

Hello everyone.
Well, the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days;

We've called it
In Rainbows.
Love from us all.


This low-key announcement is at odds with the buzz this is sure to generate. Radiohead's last album, Hail To The Thief, was released in 2003 - it's been a long wait for Radiohead fans. This new album has been supposedly knocking around for years, with the band looking for a label to release it on. Finally they seem to have struck on a solution - to distribute the album themselves. Therefore, In Dreams probably won't be available in the shops.

Fans can get ahold of the album in two ways:

1. Order a digital copy, paying whatever you want and recieving a link to a downloadable file on Wednesday 10th October.

2. Order a "discbox". From the site itself:




I'm of two minds about this. Part of me is slightly put out by the fact that the album won't be available in the shops. There's a certain thrill in heading into town on a designated day to pick up a new album from one of your favourite bands. I distinctly remember waiting outside Tower Records in town the day Hail To The Thief was released, totally hyped about bringing it home and listening. It added a physical element to the purchase. The fact that my first listen of this will be online saddens me somewhat. Then again, part of me is totally dumbstricken in a good way, awed at this marketing tool. In allowing fans to purchase a totally free download of the album, Radiohead are almost sure of losing money. Say what you will about their music or their politics, but you have to hand it to them; this sure is a novel idea.

Which leads me onto my own confession: I opted to pay nothing for the download. My reasons for this are manifold:

1. I've supported Radiohead for roughly 6 years now. I've bought all their albums, several EPs, a couple of shirts and I've seen them live twice. It's fair to say I've spent a considerable amount of money on them.
2. The very fact that the option to pay nothing exists means we don't have to feel guilty. Radiohead expect some people to pay nothing.
3. There is no guarantee that I will actually enjoy this album. Okay, the chances that I won't are slim, but they do exist.
4. The discbox. I've yet to place an order and I pretend to be deliberating over it in my head but if I'm being honest I know I will end up shelling out the 57 euro (or whatever it is) for it.

Even though I would have been dizzy with excitement if this happened two years ago, I'm still curious to see what this will turn out like. Expect a full review sometime next week.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ha...ha...happ...happy....happy b....happy birth...

Back in January I hosted a birthday bash for Phillip Glass, but today is infinitely more special as today is the birthday of my personal favourite modern composer. October 3rd, 2007 is when Steve Reich turns 71! Reich is a personal hero of mine, ever since I went to see some of his work played in the National Concert Hall last year. Here's what I thought of that performance (bear in mind this was written just after the concert and I was still on a high, so please excuse the hyperbole)

Ladies & Gentlemen, may I please introduce one of the most influential musicians of our time.

Mr Steve Reich.

This weekend just passed marked the 3rd annual Living Music Festival, sponsored by RTE. A three day festival encompassing performances, interviews and other events all based around the theme of contemporary classical music. This year, along with performances of Phillip Glass, Arvo Paart, John Adams and others of the genre, a lot of emphasis was based on Steve Reich. Being his 70th birthday year, RTE took the opportunity to dedicate the entire festival to him. There were concerts, a seminar, a live interview and a “marathon concert” day.

On Sunday 19th February, I along with my dad, was going to hear two Reich pieces preformed live by Ensemble Modern and Synergy Vocals. Excited? What do you think?

We arrived at the National Concert Hall at about 19:00 to collect our tickets. Milling about in the foyer I got a chance to crowd-watch. They were a diverse group; middle aged couples with opera spectacles, young men in Moog t-shirts, new-age hippies, the very elderly and the relatively young. At about 19:40 the doors were opened and we were let in to the hall. No seats were reserved so we could choose where we sat. Now, I’ve been at the NCH before a number of times and in my experience, the best place to sit is up on the balcony overlooking the musicians to their left. From this vantage point you can see every member of the orchestra and exactly what they’re doing. It’s also the closest you can get to the stage. We took our seats and waited patiently. On the stage there were a number of chairs, four grand pianos and a double bass leaning on its side. There was a funny little incident when a youngish guy in a crumpled orange shirt tried to take a seat a few places away from where I was. An usherette promptly told him he wasn’t allowed to sit there. The man protested that he was part of the orchestra, but she wasn’t having any of it and he was ejected.

The musicians came on shortly after that, to great applause. I was half hoping Reich would conduct, but to my slight disappointment the conductor was female. (Sian Edwards, apparently.) The first piece they played was called “Variations (You Are)”. This piece uses 2 flutes, an oboe, an English horn, 3 b-flat clarinets, 4 pianos, 2 marimbas, 2 vibraphones, 3 violins, a double bass, a cello and 6 voices (3 soprano, 2 tenors, 1 alto). It lasts about 26 minutes. It was very interesting to watch as well as listen to, looking at all the different musicians. You could see the different personalities of them, like one of the pianists who was doing most of the playing was very intense. He would finish every chord sequence with an extravegent flourish of his hands and a nod to nobody in particular. The first violinist on the other hand was extremely relaxed and kept grinning at the cellist. One of the pianists looked like Truman Capote and a soprano was the image of Cheryl from Curb Your Enthusiasm!

When they finished and I was clapping away, my dad nudged me to alert my attention to something at the back of the hall. There, in the soundbooth was an elderly man in a baseball cap, standing up and cheering loudly. He was giving thumbs up and blowing kisses to the musicians on the stage. Steve Reich was in the building.

This was the interval and I went to stretch my legs and get a drink. As I was sipping my coke I was thinking about the next piece I was going to hear, the one I really came for, “Music for 18 Musicians”. I couldn’t wait, but I was also nervous. What if it wasn’t enjoyable, what if it didn’t transfer live, what if, what it? We returned to our seats shortly and noticed that the instruments had changed. I’m not taking about shifting a few cellos, the four grand pianos had completely changed position and there was the addition of a metallophone (a vibraphone without a motor) and a xylophone. I also noticed the lack of a conductor’s platform.

From where I was sitting I could clearly view one of the side doors through which the musicians would enter. A small group of them were huddled in the doorway, giggling and nudging each other. They seemed unsure of when to go onstage and kept jostling one other and joking around. At one point they seemed to be communicating with the musicians presumably huddled in the doorway opposite, underneath my seat. It was funny seeing these classically trained musicians acting like school kids. At one point the violinist gave the “wanker” sign to another musician, then burst out laughing. Finally, they decided to enter.The crowd cheered like mad.

“Music for 18 Musicians” is Reich’s seminal work, written between 1974 and 1976. Based on an 11 chord cycle, each individual chord is expanded into a longer piece, which finally returns to the original cycle to finish. Contrary to what the title implies, more than 18 musicians are often needed, as there is a lot of doubling-up required. At this performance there were 19 musicians on the stage. Not all of them were playing all the way through and at certain points people would swap their instruments, a tricky manoeuvre seeing as a continous sound flow was required. One of the musicians was, I was pleased to note, Mr Orange Shirt from before.

Without a conductor to set them off, the musicians had to just give each other a quick nod to start them. At once you’re plunged into this rhythmic, pulsating hum of a sound. In a word, magnificent. Hypnotic, soothing but at times uneasy. The actual musicians were fabulous, moving around the stage, playing various instruments, smiling and laughing at each other and never once loosing their place. At some points you’d hear a noise and it’d take a few minutes for you to figure out what instrument was possibly producing that sound. It lasts about 55 minutes, but that flew by incredibly quickly. It doesn’t end on any great crescendo or anything, so when they suddenly stopped playing there was a sort of bewildered silence. Nobody knew whether to clap or not. Suddenly, a deep, loud, clear voice said “Bravo.” At this, Reich’s helpful instruction that it was indeed over, the place went mental. A fervour unlike anything I’ve seen at a classical concert swept the audience off their feet and into a standing ovation as the man himself made his way up onto the stage. He didn’t say anything, only hugged every musician on the stage and smiled sheepishly at the audience. At this point he was about 3 feet below me. I wanted to yell, “Hey Steve!” or something, but thought better of it. I should have though, damn! After taking a few bows and with a final wave, he left.

It was fabulous, all in all. One of the best concerts I’ve been to in my life.

Part of my 17th birthday present was the Steve Reich boxset, Phases which includes all his major works, from Music For 18 Musicians, Different Trains and Come Out. I'll be listening to some of it before I drop off to sleep tonight, that's for sure. Last year when he turned 70, online music journal Pitchfork hosted a lengthy interview with him, which you can read here. I love reading interviews with Reich, he always seems to be completely down-to-earth and refreshingly unpretentious. Take, for example, his take on whether people need to understand the theory behind his work in order to enjoy it:
"I don't care how much people understand what it is that I'm doing, except if they're players in my ensemble or other ensembles [Laughs]. I just want people to be moved by the music. If you're not moved by the music, then everything else falls away. You're not interested in the text, you're not interested in how it was done, and you're not interested in interviewing the composer and all the rest of it. We're speaking together because you found something interesting that moved you emotionally, is my guess. Or we wouldn't be having this conversation. It's the part of music that's the hardest to talk about, and I don't spend much time talking about it. But it is the bottom line."

Finally, here's a quick video of Reich talking about his music and ethos, from earlier this year. Apparently he won the Polaris Music Prize? Who knew?

Happy birthday, Reich-man!