Thursday, 29 April 2010
Those familiar with the music of Matthew Houck, aka Phosphorescent, won’t be surprised by the title of his first batch of original songs since 2007’s exemplary Pride. They may, however, be thrown slightly off guard by the opening track; a rollicking, horn-led ode to Alabama. But Houck hasn’t completely forsaken the lazy, introspective Americana that earned him comparisons to Will Oldham and Neil Young. It’s more like he’s got half a cheek slouched on the couch, the other attempting a drunken waltz on his porch – case in point: penultimate track, Heaven Sitting Down.
Here's To Taking It Easy is more buoyant than almost anything Houck’s released before, but the highlights occur when he reverts to type, like on the meditative Hej, Me I’m Light and album highlight and closer, Los Angeles. Ultimately, Here's to Taking it Easy struggles for an identity: unsure whether it should embrace the light or slump down into the melodious murk once again.
Written for The Skinny
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
The National (2001)
Their self-titled debut rippled the consciousness of few, but for those who heard it, boded well for the Cincinnati outfit. It showcases an Americana influence not revisited substantially on any of the band's successive releases. It’s comparably inconsistent and the lyrics don’t visit the same depths of Berninger’s more recent work, though it boasts promise amongst a few notable tracks.
Choice Cut: Theory of the Crows
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003)
This excellent second album was the beginning of their fruitful relationship with producer Peter Katis and the first to rubber-stamp The National’s trademark sound. All at once funny, paranoid and self-deprecating, Sad Songs… is perhaps the most immediate album the band have released to date.
Choice Cut: Fashion Coat
The album that brought The National to our attention, Alligator stands up as one of the most intricate, beautiful and compelling indie releases of our time. Matt Berninger’s abstract yet poetic snippets, sometimes screamed, sometimes crooned, are like daggers through the layered, almost symphonic arrangements of his band.
Choice Cut: Daughters of the Soho Riots
We were worried about how they would follow up Alligator, but there really was no need; more restrained, but arguably more musically sophisticated, Boxer is a lavish, self-contained masterpiece. As with most of their work, this one requires patience, but the rewards are bountiful. Boxer’s critical praise was reflected in its commercial success. Having played Nice 'n' Sleazy when they were last in town, suddenly they were selling out the ABC.
Choice Cut: Fake Empire
High Violet (2010)
It seems criminal to attempt an appraisal of High Violet so early, but even after a month in its company, it’s abundantly clear that this is every bit as brilliant as any of its predecessors. The hooks are stronger, arrangements denser and lyrics as elegantly opaque as ever. Once again, The National have seen our expectations and raised them.
Choice Cut: Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sunday, 25 April 2010
The past month has been a really busy one, with organizing my departure, but I have been working my way through some great music. I've been really enjoying the new album by Three Blind Wolves, the new band of Ross Clark. I loved his debut album with The Scarfs Go Missing but I think he's taken it on to another level with this one. The track I've put on the playlist isn't even on the album and it's brilliant - there's real substance to this guy's talent.
I've not seen the movie The Road but I have been listening to the soundtrack. The opening track on this set is a beautiful number. Cave and Ellis seem to be getting better and more productive with age. The other new(ish) tracks are from Caribou, Ali Farka Touré and Tindersticks, all of which I've been loving. Looking at the rest, I can't help but think I've become a little predictable in my listening. Lots of guys with guitars, Americana and twangy guitars. Maybe the coming year is a chance for me to diversify a little. I'll be sure to give an update.
S&B Spotify Playlist April 2010
1. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Road
2. Gillian Welch - Everything is Free
3. Deer Tick - Ashamed
4. Withered Hand _ No Cigarettes
5. Megafaun - Kaufman's Ballad
6. Three Blind Wolves - Sex is for Losers
7. The Mountain Goats - Wild Sage
8. Sun Kil Moon - Carry Me Ohio
9. Kath Bloom - Is This Called Living
10. Tyler Ramsey - Lost Girls
11. David Bazan - Please, Baby, Please
12. Neutral Milk Hotel - Oh, Comely
13. The Jayhawks - Over My Shoulder
14. Delorean - The Biggest Lie
15. R.E.M. - Laughing
16. Whiskeytown - Dancing With The Women At The Bar
17. Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté - Doudou
18. Lightning Dust - Antonia Jane
19. Tindersticks - Harmony Around My Table
20. Band of Horses - Plans (Grizzly Bear Cover)
21. The Lemonheads - Rudderless
22. Okkervil River - Black
23. Calexico - Victor Jara's Hands
24. Caribou - Odessa
Friday, 23 April 2010
2. Deer Tick - War Elephant
3. Clogs - The Creatures in the Garden Of Lady Walton
4. Galaxie 500 - On Fire
5. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
6. Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy
7. Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
8. Townes Van Zandt - Anthology
9. Horse Feathers - Words Are Dead
10. Real Estate - Real Estate
Okay, this is a pretty strange list. I admit, it's also pretty inaccurate. It's aggregated using Last FM and is based on the tracks scrobbled from each album. Thing is, this year I've been listening to a hell of a lot of music on Spotify, not to mention on my mp3 player. Honestly though, The National's new album is undoubtedly the one I've listened to the most. If it were to include everything else, I think you'd find some Jo Newsom, Kath Bloom and David Thomas Broughton.
It would be interesting to hear what other people have been listening to the most?
Thursday, 22 April 2010
Written for The Skinny
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
Average English folksy type fail to capitalise on potential.
I Have Not Slept One Wink is as quintessentially English as pork pies, cricket and red post boxes. It’s quaint, cutesy and whimsical, taking influence from Revolver era Beatles and Bowie circa Hunky Dory. There’s a Dickensian quality to it that Oregonian Anglophiles The Decemberists spent a few years perfecting. The trouble is, The Peryls don’t do it half as well. Of the seven tracks here, four are disposable. It’s a frustrating statistic, as when they get it right, like on the melodious She Cried All Night Long, they reveal bags of potential. Too often, though, they are as tame and forgettable as afternoon tea.
Written for The Skinny
Sunday, 18 April 2010
Thursday, 15 April 2010
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Most of it can be used homogenously, across genres. Some points I'm particularly keen on are:
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing
Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle
from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series.
By ELMORE LEONARD
These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.
1. Never open a book with weather.
If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's ''Sweet Thursday,'' but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ''I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.''
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ''she asseverated,'' and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ''suddenly'' tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ''Close Range.''
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's ''Hills Like White Elephants'' what do the ''American and the girl with him'' look like? ''She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.'' That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)
If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character -- the one whose view best brings the scene to life -- I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.
What Steinbeck did in ''Sweet Thursday'' was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. ''Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts'' is one, ''Lousy Wednesday'' another. The third chapter is titled ''Hooptedoodle 1'' and the 38th chapter ''Hooptedoodle 2'' as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: ''Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.''
''Sweet Thursday'' came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.
Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.
Monday, 12 April 2010
I haven't posted one of these in a while, then again, I haven't posted anything in a while. I've been pretty busy traveling cross-country and sorting stuff out for my move. This one is a movie-themed music quiz... if you reckon you're good enough - email the answers to firstname.lastname@example.org
Who produced the soundtrack to the movie Natural Born Killers?
Brian Eno and eighties rockers Toto produced the soundtrack to which David Lynch movie?
Hakuna Matata, a song from the Lion King soundtrack, is a Swahili phrase that means what in English?
Which 2003 movie soundtrack features songs from My Bloody Valentine, Squarepusher, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Bill Murray?
Which French duo scored the film soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides?
Which former member of Pop Will Eat Itself scored the soundtrack to Requiem For A Dream and The Hole?
Which film features appearances from both Jools Holland and Meatloaf?
Starsky and Hutch, The Basketball Diaries and Kalifornia are all part of which female front woman's filmography?
Which of the following did not appear on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack:
Kool and the Gang
KC and the Sunshine Band?
Portuguese singer Seu Jorge covered the songs of whom for a large part of the movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou?
Which hip hop star was one of the producers of the soundtrack to Kill Bill: Volume One?
Which movie currently holds the Academy Award for Best Original Score?
And which song is the current holder of the Best Original Song Oscar?
Which Tyneside musician has appeared in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and, um, Ally McBeal?
Dracula, Mystery Men and Wristcutters: A Love Story all feature appearances from which veteran music man?
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, It Was A Very Good Year and Mr Tambourine Man were all covered by which much maligned actor cum singer on his 1968 album The Transformed Man?
Which Italian American composer has collaborated with David Lynch on Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mullholland Drive?
Which American actor appeared in the video to Fatboy Slim's 2001 hit Weapon Of Choice?
Hollywood legends James Dean, Martin Sheen and Steve McQueen are name checked in which REM song, from the New Adventures In Hi-Fi album?
Which fictional band, taken from a Roddy Doyle novel, featured Deco Cuffe as lead vocalist, Outspan Foster on guitar and were managed by Jimmy Rabbitte?