Thursday, December 30, 2010

G.K. Chesterson – The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

"We deny the snobbish English assumption that the uneducated are the dangerous criminals. We remember the Roman Emperors. We remember the great poisoning princes of the Renaissance. We say that the most dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral people, and my heart goes out to them."

There are more than a few ways we might read G.K. Chesterson’s The Man Who Was Thursday. It’s at once a fantastical adventure story, a hard-boiled detective narrative of virtue gone down the rabbit hole, a didactic treatise on the nature of governmental philosophy and a more-than-disconcerting meditation on the terrifying power of the uncanny. Moreover, it’s a novel about unreality, about dreams and visions and politics and rogue hot air balloons. It’s about class, and God, and Europe, and our unknowable human future. It’s about the Devil, and deception, and storytelling, and the death of reason, and it’s about 100 pages long.

If this sounds hyperbolic, that’s because hyperbole is the only sufficient way to discuss a book that’s 20 feet tall. I mean it: this thing shoots fireballs from its twin cannon arms whilst performing stunning pirouettes against the icy moons of Jupiter. It’s deafening, a very gorgeous sort of racket. It’s your beloved, rosy-cheeked Grandpa tucking you in with a Bible story before crushing your windpipe with his bare hands.

More, still: it reads like Lewis Carroll dropping bunk acid with Jorge Luis Borges at church. It’s like a robot that’s a little too lifelike. The Man Who Was Thursday is like an episode of Dragnet where Joe Friday investigates a crime at the jaws of Hell only to realize he’s been at a carnival the entire time. This strange little book – more than the sum of its parts, more than a detective novel or an exercise in philosophical navel-gazing – is a celebration of the nonsensical, and an illumination of the all-too-real. Read it immediately.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Grace Jones - Nightclubbing (1981)

Although mainly considered androgynous, Grace Jones has more machismo than I do or most of my male friends, and maintains an air of unshakable confidence, which is as the forefront of her music and vocal delivery. The queen of underground funk followed up her well-received 4th album, Warm Leatherette, with this post-disco new wave classic in 1981. There’s no cloying sentimentality, just synthy grooves oozing with pop/reggae/afro-beat rhythms. The album is predominately like this aside from the sedated final track, “I’ve Done it Again” which is a nice, soothing closer. Two particular covers, “I’ve Seen That Face Before,” which carries a nice French feel with an accordion (bandoneon perhaps?) accompaniment, and her rendition of Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s Nightclubbing, were some of the more successful hits outside of my favorite track, the vintage futuristic funk jam, “Pull up to the bumper.” Nightclubbing was way ahead of its time and has aged well, still fresh today 30 years later.

Rating: 9/10

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Live for the future, long for the past

I’ve watched this movie twice in the past three days since discovering it. It was one of the only Wong Kar Wai films I hadn’t seen. Both times it has put me in an incredibly wistful mood. It’s a story of unrequited love, which tends to pull at my heart strings. Its hypnotic. It has a certain style. Its wonderfully acted. The cinematography is beautiful ( as expected with Wong Kar Wai). The soundtrack is gorgeous. It may even fall into my top 10 film list, but it takes time to to decide these things. Either way, its one of the most engrossing and engaging films I’ve seen in a while. I highly, highly recommend you watch this movie, especially if you are in a lovelorn mood. It will evoke feelings of lovers come and gone; remind you of things long buried deep within your subconscious. They say they don’t make films like they used to. But occasionally, that misconception is broken, and sometimes contemporary films surpass the classics. This is one such case. 10/10

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Mondays - Pills 'N' Thrills, and Bellyaches (1990)

Although forming in 1980, they didn’t really pick up momentum until ’85 with their freshman 12” forty five EP. John Peel was thoroughly impressed and invited them to do a session and from there on the sky was the limit. The sextet released their first album, Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) (phew) in 1987, to some fairly critical acclaim and reached number 4 on the UK indie charts. The band eventually played a major part in the Madchester scene of the early 90s with their groovy, sexy, debauching moiety of pop and rock and acid house, funk, and northern soul. Produced by trance guru Paul Oakenfold, the classic Pills 'N' Thrills, and Bellyaches is their most well known album and was released in 1990 at the height of their success (going platinum in the UK). Singles “Step On” and “Kinky Afro” were the two biggest singles from this album, but you could have easily chosen from a handful of hits to replace them. Their stay was hardly meteoric, however, as they followed up this with Yes, Please which also was fairly successful and their precursor, Bummed sold decently as well.

All in all, Happy Mondays make for good party music. It has just enough rock to not fall into raver kitsch, and has just enough electronic influences to make them stand out among their peers. I’m sure there’s better music out there to pop a tab of MDMA to (The KLF’s White Room comes immediately to mind), but there’s little doubt that this album was intended for consuming drugs and indulging in mindless youthful perversions - which - is a good thing.

Rating: 9/10


Monday, December 6, 2010

Yoshitaka Amano - Various works

Today I present to you some truly captivating work from my all time favorite artist, Yoshitaka Amano. The outcome of his influences (Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha come to mind, as well as traditional Asian art) produce fey and numinous results. Never failing to fill the canvas or paper with labyrinthine details, his works contain a saturnalia of imagery; kaleidoscopic colors often juxtaposed with nacreous gold pigment to create wondrous, lambent masterpieces. His sometimes nebulous backgrounds propel the ornate characters to the forefront of the page and he was a master of contrast, often applying chiaroscuro to his works. Amano is no stranger to working with different mediums and experimenting with a myriad of different styles, as shown by the voracity of his creative canon. For this, he has become known for his diversity and scenic avant-garde compositions. Without a doubt, he is one of the most prominent and influential contemporary artists alive today.

Orange Juice - Blue Boy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gary Wilson - "Mary Had Brown Hair" (2005)

According to internet lore, a young Gary Wilson once received the following advice from John Cage: “If you aren’t irritating people, then you’re doing something wrong.” Gary apparently took these words to heart and, having since occupied his rightful throne as the dark prince of creep-funk anxiety, has accrued a reputation among those in the know of being one of the strangest and most rewarding players in the obtuse arena of outsider art.

Given that Wilson’s father, an IBM technician by trade, spent nights playing stand-up bass in a local lounge band, and that Gary himself was a proficient multi-instrumentalist by the time he entered primary school, the “outsider” label might seem a bit of a stretch; but a cursory listen to 2005’s Mary Had Brown Hair, Gary’s return from self-imposed obscurity and his first record in over 25 years – a deeply strange, obsessive and oftentimes troubling album filled with nasty hooks and pitched-up schizoid robot voices – reveals that there isn’t much about Gary Wilson’s paranoid brand of basement electro-funk that you might call “traditional.”

This album tends to garner the kind of criticism often hurled at similar weirdo bastions of the avant-garde: it’s alienating, obnoxious, and occasionally unlistenable. I’ll concede that this album isn’t for everybody, but supporting the record’s veneer of abstraction and repulsion is a bedrock of unstoppable groovescapes and sticky pop perfection. In the face of these foiled impulses, Mary Had Brown Hair prompts listeners to ask a very basic question of themselves: “Am I the kind of person this album is meant for?”

And the deduction process is surprisingly simple: If you’ve ever had the desire to move into your mom’s basement, make a dedicated commitment to spurn the daylight and its constant threat of humiliation, pour a bag of flour over your head and aggressively stalk an unresponsive lover while making everyone with whom you come in contact intensely uncomfortable – and, really, who hasn’t? – then, congratulations, this weird shit might just be meant for you.

Rating: 10/10