Monday, May 31, 2004

Mmmmmmmm... Refreshing

The city breathing
The people churning
The convesating
The price is -- what?

The conversating
This place is heaven
I put on lipstick
The price is -- what?

Life makes echoes
If you see them
Life makes echoes

Come together
Come together
Come together
Come together

(from 'Echoes', by the Rapture)

Man, I love this song. It's not the best track on the album it shares a name with (that'd be either 'I Need Your Love' or 'Olio' by my reckoning), but it's damn fine all the same. It's like they stole the vocal line from PIL's 'Careering', sped it up a bit, and wrapped it in an urgent but still ass-shaking rock track for good measure. There's something on edge, almost hysterical, about the song (particularly during the frantic "Come together" section), but I still kinda want to dance like a fool to most of the song -- this is an odd combination, but one that I, personally, enjoy the hell out of. Off to re-listen to the song now -- wheeeeeeeee!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Mclusky -- '1965 And All That'

It occurs to me that in my two recent posts about this band I didn't once clarify exactly why I like their lyrics. To state it bluntly, I have a silly and possibly very immature sense of humour, and as such Mclusky are perfect for me. Their best songs have a genuinely witty sort of childish absurdity to them that I find almost irresistible. Sometimes, however, I also think they hit on something a little bit more important than that.

'1965 And All That' is one such example. This is not so much an anti-war song as it is a disgusted, bewildered spit-ball hocked directly at rhetoric with which people attempt to present the mass loss of human life as being somehow acceptable.

"Come on out and count the dead/ I think we've got a scrabble score/ Keep your killing clean my love/ Just keep your killing clean" sneers Andy Falkous over a a wall of stuttering bass and sawing guitar noise. Nuanced critique is not on the menu here, and neither is satire, but that's okay -- in fact, the song is all the better for it. The concept of associating corpses with some sort of banal word game is offensive, but no more so than the idea of viewing the annihilation of human life as a statistic. When the song swings into its wig-out sections there is a flailing, inarticulate quality to the music that matches the sentiment behind the lyrics perfectly; how can you compose an articulate response to this sort of destruction? The humour here is not black so much as it is blackened, and it hits home hard.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Morrissey -- 'The First Of The Gang To Die'

I've always felt a bit odd about Morrissey -- while I do feel very warmly about large chunks of his back catalogue (both solo and with the Smiths), I've never quite become fanatical about it. At the same time, while I can certainly find much that annoys me in his musical output, I've never felt the urge to set him on fire either. Basically then, I like a lot of the man's work, but have been moved to either devotion or hate by him, unlike many others. I don't say this to assert some sort of superiority over people who get more worked up by him, by the way -- I only mention this so that the following comments have some sort of context.

Anyway, while I've only heard about half of his latest album You Are the Quarry, what I have heard has largely failed to impress me so far. The problem is not that songs such as 'America Is Not The World' and 'Irish Blood English Heart' are strained, but rather that such obvious effort fails to yield anything with much bite to it.

'The First Of The Gang To Die' is the one track from the album that I've really wanted to re-listen to as yet, and while it's definitely not subtle stuff, it's most certainly memorable and effective. This is classic Morrissey -- all exaggerated romance and odd humour. And it's not simply a re-treading of old ground either. Here the tragedy and silliness finds a relatively new setting; this song is widely being read as Morrissey's tip of the hat to his apparently massive Hispanic fanbase, and its sunny gang drama feels striking and unusual, like most of Morrissey's best work. The music matches up perfectly with the words here; not quite whimsical, not quite swaggering, it's good pop-rock'n'roll with an atmosphere to match the story. Shame the rest of what I've heard of the new record hasn't been quite this good. Ah well...
Restoring Public Confidence Since 1903

Today I wrote a song. It's called 'Maeve Binchy Is Not The World', and its lyrics are as follows:

Maeve Binchy your head's too big
Because Maeve Binchy, your right hand is too big
And I love you
I just wish you'd stay where you is

Maeve Binchy, the novelist of the free, they said
And of opportunity, in a just and a truthful way
But where the main character is never black, green haired or gay
And until that day
You've got nothing to say to me, to help me believe

Maeve Binchy, she brought you the humbug
Well Maeve Binchy you know where you can shove your humbug
And don't you wonder why in the library they say
"Hey you big humbugging pig
You humbugging pig, you humbugging pig"

Steely Blue eyes with no love in them scan the shelf
And a humourless smile, with no warmth within, greets the reader
And I, I have got nothing, to offer you
Just this heart deep and true
Which you say you don't need

See with your eyes, touch with your hands, please
Write with your pen, know in your soul, please
For haven't you me with you now?
And I love you, I love you, I love you
And I love you, I love you, I love you

Bet you can't wait to hear the music, eh?

Friday, May 21, 2004

And If You Believe/ They Put A Man On The Moon

This is funny and wrong in equal measure. Make of it what you will.
Harsh And Ashamed

I reviewed the first issue Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's excellent new comic book series Seaguy for Insult to Injury today. I also wrote this brief follow-up post, if you're interested. And in this instance you really, really should be -- Seaguy is ace; go buy issue #1 now if you haven't already done so. Now I say!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Dumb -- Dumbest -- Dumbo

Warning: Van Helsing is even dumber than you think it is! I like stupid, entertaining movies, but this movie was quite simply too stupid to be fun for more than about ten minutes.

Weirdly enough, I think Seth's Van Helsing drinking game probably tells you more about the movie than any review/summary I've seen. The only problem with it is that it makes the film sound better than it actually is. Ah well...

That's me for tonight, folks -- take it easy, and I'll see y'all later!
Posted For Hoots And Grins

In case anyone ever wondered what the hell I look like (which you almost certainly didn't, but bear with me here), here's a picture of me looking slightly tired at an ungodly hour in the morning some time last year:

And because I don't feel like that one makes me look quite silly enough, here's one of a very sober me looking slightly sozzled last Halloween:

The point of all this? Well, obviously I'm in a weird, exhibitionist sort of mood right now, but aside from that, I dunno... I guess I'm always just amused when I see what people who I know on the internet look like. Somehow the face never matches up with the text voice, and I, personally, find that fascinating.
The Wonders of Snail-Mail

Put the pen
To the paper
Press the envelope
With my scent
Can't you see
In my handwriting
The curve of my g?
The longing

Who is left that
Writes these days?
You and me
We'll be different
Take the cap
Off your pen
Wet the envelope
Lick and lick it

I need you
The time is running out
Oh baby
Can't you hear me call?

It turns me on
To imagine
Your blue eyes
On my words
Your beautiful pen
Take the cap off
Give me a sign and I'd come running

It's you
I want you

Those are the lyrics to PJ Harvey's 'The Letter', by the way. As a single, I like this song a lot -- it's not the best PJ Harvey tune ever or anything, but it is a good one, and accessible with it. It's also not as immediate as something like 'Good Fortune', but from what I've heard of it, this album is a little less shiny than that one, so it only seems fair that its lead single should reflect this. The central guitar/vocal riff is pretty repetitive, but in a good way -- it's insistent, and it stays with you -- and the song is pretty damned hot too. Writing down the 'oh's like I have above doesn't really convey quite how, y'know, full of "longing" they actually sound -- which is pretty funny given the content of the lyrics! Which brings up the question of whether or not handwritten 'oh's would be any hotter or more urgent? Depends on the handwriting and your relationship with the person it belongs to I guess. Which is what's awesome about the lyrics, in a way: being a commercially released rock song, it's in the public realm, but it's all about private, individual communication. "Who is left that/ Writes these days?/ You and me/ We'll be different" -- this hits on such a wonderfully common feeling of heightened intimacy. Of course we'll be different when we write (or, for that matter, talk) to one and other. Wont everyone? There's a sense of desperation here, both in the music (those 'oh's are as anxious as they are lusty), and in the lyrics. The lines "I need you/ The time is running out/ Oh baby/ Can't you hear me call?", in particular, are tinged with a deep urgency, and it's this (mixed with the aforementioned sexiness) that makes the song so fucking compelling.

All in all then, well... I love the hell out of it! But then, you knew I would, right?

I'm still having trouble finding full versions of most of the songs from the new PJ Harvey album, though. What -- you mean I'm actually going to have to wait till it comes out? What's that all about?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Cult Starts Here

Retraction time: y'know how I finished my last post off by claiming that the song 'Slay!' from Mclusky's new album The Difference Between You And Me Is That I'm Not On Fire isn't very good? Well, I've actually kind of changed my mind on that one. At first I thought the song was just another fairly dull take on the loud/quiet formula (to be honest, I came very close to using the line "blah-blah-Slint-cakes" in my last post), but now... well, I think the band explore the range of this dynamic in a way that is high-contrast enough to make it interesting, and the riff in the verse has revealed itself to be kinda catchy after repeated listens, so fuck it -- I was wrong about this one!

The Difference Between You And Me Is That I'm Not On Fire is kind of a grower, I think. It's not as immediate as either of their previous albums, but the monumental sludge of this record is every bit as compelling as their earlier wild flailings once you get into it. Songs like 'Without MSG I Am Nothing' and 'You Should Be Ashamed Seamus' are definite keepers, and there are also a couple of tracks where the band try something a little cleaner to great effect; the wonky indie-pop of 'She Will Only Bring You Happiness' and the cartoon western soundtrack of 'Forget About Him I'm Mint' both sound like nothing else the band has ever done, and are all the better for it. The latter track is even fleshed out by a nicely woozy trumpet part for god's sake!

All in all, another fine collection of off-kilter, high-personality alt-rock then. I think personality might be the key word here -- while Mclusky aren't perfect, there's a very evident sort of character to their music that helps to distinguish them from all the other low budget nosiemakers out there. A lot of this comes down to the distinctively garbled humour that's present in Andy Falkous' singing voice and lyrics, but the music supports this demented feel perfectly throughout. The backing vocals are particularly important to this effect -- see the way they build up the strangeness of the line "Our old singer is a sex criminal" in 'She Will Bring You Only Happiness' for a perfect example of this. That line would sound weird if only one band member was singing it, but the way that it builds to the point where it's looping in and out of itself three time over just pushes it to another level or wrongness!

Anyways, enough of this bollocks -- I'm off to bed. Take care out there folks.

Friday, May 14, 2004

I'm Beginning To Get The Impressions That We've Been Had

Q: Is the refrain "Our old singer is a sex criminal" from McLusky's 'She Will Only Bring You Happiness' the greatest rock lyric of all time?

A: It might well be, in an inexplicable sort of way. The song's damned good too -- classic indie-pop brought to life with an odd sort of mischievous absurdity. The above lyric should give you a fair idea of what to expect on the randomness front.

Q: Is its parent album, the equally well titled The Difference Between Me And You Is That I'm Not On Fire, any good then?

A: Yeah -- like their previous two albums, its uneven, but there are enough tracks full of wailing, rumbling, clanging noise-pop and mean bizarro humour to keep this listener happy, at the very least. My one big problem with the record: there's a song called 'Slay' on there that's just not very good, and that's a shame, because... well, I like it as a name for a nasty rock song. A stupid complaint, I know, but it's the little things that make all the difference in the end.
Two Times

Heh -- here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received this time last week:

"Lightning struck the University yesterday afternoon causing the failure of a number of components across the University. The server holding your data has failed as a result."

There's a lot of lightning doing its thang in Western Scotland right now, eh?
How Many Comebacks?

Graeme wasn't kidding you know -- my internet connection really was scragged by LIGHTNING!!

As a result of this bizarre incident I've been without internet access for almost a week now, and have fallen way behind in terms of e-mails, message board threads and blog posts. I hope you'll all forgive me if I've seemed to have been giving you the silent treatment lately, either publicly or privately -- it wasn't deliberate, honest! Barring any more lightning strikes, things should return to normal shortly. Take care in the meantime!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

"I'm not killing people... my future's in television."

At least one reader has written in to take issue with my claim that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the first Charlie Kaufman script to not be a comedy. The focus of this contention? Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which, while not as dramatic as ESotSM, isn't primarily a comedy either. So what is it then? Good question -- I like to think of it as a really colourful song and dance number by Rockwell and Clooney, with some fun supporting flourishes from the other cast/crew members. I believe that Kaufman isn't too fond of the finished movie (Clooney didn't allow him on set, and re-jigged bits of the script without Kaufman's advice etc), but the things Kaufman complains about (the hollowness of the movie, mostly) are actually what I feel gives it its strength. The whole thing is this big showy routine that always leaves you wondering if there's anything going on underneath, which is just perfect for the story of Chuck Barris as presented here -- talk about form matching content!

Anyway, I think that's me done for today folks -- take care out there, and I'll speak to all of you later.
Stored For Future Reference

I just want to move something I wrote in yesterday's comments out into the main body of the blog in case I want to expand upon it at some later date. It's about PJ Harvey, specifically the albums Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love. I said:

"The songs on both albums are pretty simple, but they're played with such an incredible amount of visceral theatricality that... I dunno, they just end up sounding really vivid and complex somehow."

Which seems, to me at least, to hint vaguely at something, though as I admitted right after that comment, my thinking in this area needs to be refined a little. I have the odd feeling that I'm one or two comments away from declaring that PJ Harvey's music is very "performative", which is about as insightful as pointing out that sticking your hand in a toaster isn't a terribly good idea, but hey!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

A Note on my Critical Style:

I'm in the middle of preparing a piece on Peter Milligan/Mike Allred's excellent X-Statix comic book for Insult to Injury right now, and it's just occured to me that I ascribe a sort of inherantly contradictory nature to at least 50% of the comics/movies/novels I write positive pieces about.

I did it when I was writing about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind earlier this week, for example. The phrase "it's both/and, not either/or" wasn't mine, but it was a neat summination of a lot of the reasons that I loved the movie. I'm going to do it again in that post about X-Statix, where I'm going to claim that it's both an ironic take on this whole superhero malarky and a really excellent superhero comic. This seems to be my main trick: I take two seemingly contradictory statements, and claim that they're not only both true, but that the fact that the work in question balances these two positions is its strength. This realization has got me wondering -- is this merely a sign of my laziness as a writer, or does this say something about about my taste in art? Or, on a slightly different note, is it indicative about what I want to see in the art I do like? I'd say that it's a mix of these three ideas, and probably a couple of others, but I'm not sure... I need to think this through a bit more. I may write more about this later, if I think of something particularly interesting to say on the matter, but this observation will do for now. It's a start, anyway.
Blowing Kisses

If anyone's interested, I just posted a short review of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve #9 on Insult to Injury a couple of minutes ago. It's a damned fine comics, and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it yet.
Meet Ze Monsta

Good news everyone -- there's a new PJ Harvey album on the way!! And it's out soon. Real soon -- as in the 31st of May!

I saw PJ Harvey play at last summer's gig on the green, and god were they ever good! Sure, there were a lot of dumb bastards shouting stuff like "get your tits out" in the crowd (which was really fucking annoying, I can tell you), but Polly Jean and the band ripped through a good chunk of the Rid of Me album and it was just... perfect, really. Raw, rhythmic blues on a sun-scorched afternoon -- that's what summer's really all about, isn't it?

Right, with that burst of enthusiasm out of the way, I'm off to see if I can find any songs from the new album on slsk.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Short Version

One last thing about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- for now, anyway! My friend Scott McAllister came out with the following paragraph in an e-mail exchange about the movie:

"In some ways, I can't help shake the feeling that they've managed a brilliant job of making everyone think it's this sweet, romantic movie, and it's actually this terrifying psychological horror movie. Job's a good un!"

Which certainly hits on a lot of what the movie achieves, except that, as Seth has been saying in this Barbelith thread, it's both/and, not either/or!

That Barbelith thread is well worth checking out by the way. There are some good posts in there by Seth, Suedehead and others, and the whole thread's definitely worth a read if you're interested in reading other people's opinions of the movie. I know I am!

Monday, May 03, 2004

A Word Of Warning

The mammoth post I just wrote about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may be a little rough for two reasons: (1) I only just saw the movie this weekend, and (2) I'm a bit out of practice when it comes to writing about films.

Despite this fact, I hope you all enjoy it, *SPOILERS* and all, because it does represent, at the very least, a genuine attempt to figure out what the hell I made of the film!

Anyways, I'm through with being apologetic for tonight -- take care out there, and I'll speak to y'all later!
You Watched It -- You Can't Un-Watch it!

Forget what you've heard -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a pretty simple movie after all! Sure, the labyrinthine rush through memory that makes up the film's middle section is wonderfully disorienting, but when it comes down to it this is a movie that deals with one or two simple themes in a wonderfully complex way.

The movie's central conceit is a pretty straightforward one, really: Joel Barish (Carrey) finds out that Clementine (Winslet) has had their relationship erased from her memory and, devastated, he decides to do the same. What separates this from your average Philip K. Dick adaptation is (surprise suprise!) the execution. Carey and Winslet are simply, but effectively, employed against type (he's introverted, she's a big bundle of energy, yadda yadda yadda), and both actors put in stunning performances, walking the movie's well observed tightrope of circular bleakness and hopeful romance with skill that shouldn't surprise anyone who has really paid attention to their previous work. Director Michele Gondry achieves the perfect balance between visual fancy and emotional realism, and writer Charlie Kaufman turns one of his most ingeniously structured scripts yet. Ah, the structure... it really is almost perfect you know, but we'll come back to all of this a minute.

First I've got a gripe about some of the reviews people have written for this film: one of the most common comments seems to be that, unlike Kaufman's other work, this story had heart rather than just cool ideas and a complex structure. This, by the way, is rubbish: in Kaufman's writing, the gimmicks serve the characters, not vice versa. The portal in Being John Malkovich becomes as a focal point for the fucked-up disappointments and desires of the three main characters; the meta trickery of Adaptation wasn't a joke at the expense of Hollywood so much as a genuine attempt to cross-pollinate the worldviews of both Kaufman brothers; and so on.

The real difference between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Kaufman's other works is this: it is the first of his scripts to not to be first and foremost a comedy. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the dialogue: gone is the highly stylized verbiage of BJM or the witty back and forth of Adaptation -- the more dramatic moments of the later movie are allowed to bloom fully here into something strange and interesting. This isn't to say that the movie is without humour, though. Gondry brings all of the dreamy lo-fi inventiveness of his pop-promo work to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and in doing so he conjures up moments of visual illusionism both rib-tickling and emotionally loaded. The scenes where Joel revisits his childhood memories provide the most obviously hilarious moments in the movie, but the inspired visual lunacy that characterizes these scenes is present throughout the film; it's just that Carrey gets to ham it up more in these scenes than anywhere else that makes them seem more overtly comical, really.

Anyways, lets get back to the structure for a second, yeah? Rather fittingly, I want to talk about the film's astonishing middle section first, okay? This, I guess, is where most of the complexity of the movie lies. But at the same time, I can't help but feel that any difficulty experienced by the viewer here is utterly essential. That initial burst of disorientation is exactly right for what Joel is feeling as the process begins. This is just one area of the film that the structure is utterly essential to -- it works perfectly to keep the viewer with Joel from start to end. The other big part played by the movie's intricate design is connected to this, but also feeds back into the movie's handling of memory, particularly as it relates to other people.

Since the movie's middle section takes place in Joel's head, it is important to note that the picture of the relationship between Joel and Clementine that we see during this section of the movie is Joel's version of events, just as all of the other memories in this scene (including Clemantine's childhood recollection) are his versions of these events. This doesn't make them less interesting or necessary; quite the opposite. Memories are not important but essential precisely because of their constructed nature; they're a part of one of the primary bridges we have between our own private existences and the outside world! This is something that bounces nicely off of Clementine's "I'm not a concept" speech, one of the finest bits of dramatic writing in the movie. If this bit of dialogue sounds a little forced then that's because it is! It's clearly a little monologue Clementine has prepared for herself, but for all that it still does a very good job of pointing out how... solopsistic our perception of people we are close to can be. We make up our version of the world up even as we interact with it, and this is something that Kaufman, Gondry and co nail wonderfully in this movie. Furthermore, they do it in a pretty neat way: here, the very complexity of the film's construction becomes a part of its inherent simplicity. There's no need for lengthy monologues about the nature of memory here -- the movie dramatises this process (or at least, a version of it) in a way that is every bit as direct and powerful as you could hope for it to be.

In his review of the movie David Fiore talked a lot about predistination and acceptance, and this is where the start and the end of the movie come into play thematically, alongside the "real time" subplot that runs through the mid-section*.

Said Mr Fiore:

"As I see it, what's really at stake is this: can you accept the fact that the people we are drawn to romantically are destined never to give us the things we think we want from them? The "spots" on the mind aren't "bad experiences"--they represent bitterness and love recanted..."

To which I can only say, eeexactly! This is what the events that frame the erasing process explore so well. When, after the memory erasure process, we rush through the start of the film again, we do so with, for the first time, a head-start on Joel -- but this doesn't last long! The final section of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is nothing short of spectacular. It's a headlong rush of uncomfortable awareness for the two main characters, and, in an odd way, what it reminds me of more than anything else is Donnie Darko. Now, before anyone shouts "what the fuck", let me unpack that one a little. While I know that stylistically and thematically there's a lot separating the two movies, what it seems to me that Donnie Darko captured so well was a feeling of confusion that gradually transformed into some sort of weird mixture of knowledge and acceptance in the face of overwhelmingly deterministic forces. Something similar happens at the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with Joel and Clementine facing up to the reality of how their relationship is likely to work out, and deciding to go with it anyway.

It occurs to me that the garbled theories I've just spent several paragraphs constructing may not immediately seem like the best argument in favor of the idea that this is, above all, a simple movie. But... well, lets just put it this way; the ability every one of us has to accept the distance between what we feel we need and what we know that we will end up getting from any given person is both sad and wonderful, and I can think of no more eloquent and poetic expression of this than the final looping segment of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Thank you, and good night!

*This subplot, which focuses on the technicians behind the procedure, has been picked out by some critics as being a bit weak, but I'm with David Fiore here -- I think it's essential to the movie, highlighting some of the effects of the process very nicely while setting up the devastating finale. It's also played much more for laughs than the rest of the movie, to begin with at least, but I don't think this runs contrary to my aforementioned theory that this is less of a comedy than Kaufman's other scripts. It is a subplot, after all!

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