Friday, 31 January 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- Bombay Bicycle Club’s “Luna”

Bombay Bicycle Club has been around for five years now. Its fourth album So Long, See You Tomorrow releases next week and sees it come on a wave of huge promotion and expectation. It’s hard to think of another young British band signed to a major label that courts the attention of teenage orientated pop radio stations, hipster-driven credible music channels, and even middle-of-the road 40+ music media the way that Bombay Bicycle Club does. It has a lot to do with the band’s ability to construct melodies built around loops, matched with offbeat rhythms that often incorporate soaring strings sonically strung to shine. They know how to make adult pop songs, and that makes them an irresistible British music phenomena.
It’s difficult to think of another indie guitar band that has the backing of a label president the way Island Records’ Darcus Beese has granted Bombay Bicycle Club the freedom to try what they like. Even their manager, Jason Marcus, has been with the band since seeing their first gig in their school assembly hall, and encouraged them to finish college before leaping into the music business full-time. They are a rare example of a modern band that has been nurtured and developed by the British music industry in exactly the way all credible artists should be, but a lot of that direction comes from the intelligence of the band itself. This is a proper act with a long-term vision, not a band that simply exists to provide more of the same. None of their albums sound identical, yet their work never feels dishearteningly unfamiliar. This is why every new Bombay Bicycle Club album is an exciting release.
Featuring lovely vocal contributions of Lancashire lass Rae Morris, Luna is dreamy in all the right ways, though, its synchronised swimming music video will always be a naff idea unless you can hire someone like Spike Jonze to helm, which they obliviously couldn’t.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Woody Harrelson is the Greatest Actor Alive

Radical, eccentric, political, criminal, philanthropic, ethical, family-orientated and vegan; Woody Harrelson, the human being, qualifies as the most complex person alive. But it is his body of work in movies that makes him an acting god.
Woody Harrelson has entered the Gene Hackman phase his career where his agenda becomes about starring alongside the hottest young actors of now and then completely acting them off screen. Hackman did this for about fifteen years, got bored, then decided to retire. Harrelson will hopefully carry on for much longer. Below is the strongest validation of why he should:
Woody is Funny
This is probably stating the obvious considering he started his career playing Woody Boyd in Cheers, but Harrelson is a comedy genius. His turn as Billy Hoyle in White Men Can’t Jump was full of mirth and pathos, a winning formula that was so brilliant they tried, to lesser success, replicating it by teaming him again with Wesley Snipes in Money Train. Harrelson’s has made a career acting alongside bona fide up and comers in comedies like with Matthew McConaughey in EdTv, Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland, Justin Timberlake in Friends with Benefits, and then completely stole all their thunder in each movie. It should never be doubted that Woody Harrelson will always be the funniest man in any comedy he’s featured in.
Woody is Frightening
Gosh, Harrelson’s performance as Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers was so arresting that the film was banned on home video in my country until seven years after its release. Woody’s performance in Coen Bros. No Country for Old Men and Oren Moverman’s Rampart demonstrates his almost effortless knack for stunning audiences with an edginess that practically leaps off the screen. This ability was used to great effect last year in Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace in which Harrelson dwarfed Christian Bale by giving the most menacing performance in years as a redneck gangster called Harlen DeGroat in which he became a living embodiment of evil.
Woody is a Leading Man
Don’t be dismissive of Harrelson’s premature baldness; our Woody has always been a handsome bloke. Never was this better illustrated than in Adrian Lyne’s morality blockbuster Indecent Proposal. Cast alongside then heavyweights like Demi Moore and Robert Redford, Woody Harrelson made the best impression as a struggling architectural academic and aspiring developer who compromises his integrity by succumbing to Redford’s Faustian offer of one million dollars in return for a night with his wife. While the rest of the cast played it one-note, Harrelson adds layers of temptation and vulnerability. It was so impressive that my dad insists this is the most underrated American movie of all time.
Woody gets Oscar Nominations
It is nigh on impossible to make sophisticated audiences empathise with a lowlife pornographer fighting in the Supreme Court for his right to publish pornography, but thanks to Mr. Harrelson’s turn in MiloŇ° Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, he did just that and bagged a Best Actor nomination to boot. He got nominated again for Oren Moverman’s The Messenger in which he played a casualty notification officer sent to inform families of soldiers killed in duty. Harrelson has always been an amazingly compelling dramatic actor in important films like Welcome to Sarajevo, The Hi-Lo Country and The Walker, thus, it’s easy to sometimes forget his magnificent range.
Woody is Haymitch Abernathy in the Hunger Games Franchise

He is the only reason to watch any of this stuff. If anything, Harrelson deserves his own spinoff in which he eventually becomes the Majestic Gamemaker or something. In fact, he deserves better than that.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Slackers Never Die!

Not since the decade that taste forgot has there been an era which will be as easy to satirise as the times we live in right now. The principal culprits of such style mistakes is the Americans, a culture that successfully exports youth trends in a way no other civilisation can match, hence why the current look of unisex hairstyles in which shaved back and sides while leaving a cowpat on top is the image of inspiration. Throw in some god-awful tattoos and soulless beards; what you have is a recipe for future opinions that will have us asking what an earth were we thinking?

The last time America had a credible youth culture was probably the slacker movement of the late 20th century. Slackers were largely educated but apathetic youngsters who took pride in disengaging from expected norms. They were aimless and unconcerned with status, avoiding all perceptions of selling out. At the time they were actually thought to stand for something, which resulted in popular slacker figures like acclaimed filmmaker Richard Linklater and incendiary playwright Eric Bogosian connecting widely with kids. The minimalist slacker movement was so successful that upstaged 1980s fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier jealously remarked in Vogue that the slacker look was “nothing more than the way we dress when we have no money”. The American slacker was an icon of its time, and its era was perhaps best illustrated by the music it made. Considering how introspective and cerebral the lyrics were, the songs sold globally and its impact can still be felt today.
Kim Deal’s Are you Mine
It’s weird to think that the Queen of Slackers, Kim Deal, is now in her fifties. Her iconoclastic status as member of The Breeders and Pixies pretty much cements her place as one of the most important female figures in music history. If America ever elects a female president then its possibilities can be traced to women like Kim who seriously changed the perceptions of how we think about the roles of girls in traditionally male arenas. Kim matches raw aggression with heightened tenderness, a balance that very few rock stars can pull off. The fact that she still makes interesting music is a testament of how meaningful the slacker movement is.
Kurt Vile’s KV Crimes
Kurt turned 34 this month, which means he was not yet a teenager when slackerism was at its apex of relevance. It must have made such an impact on him that Kurt still channels the spirit of early ‘90s American antipathy like it’s something we can’t do without. Echoing a video that gently mocks Alanis Morissette’s Hand in my Pocket (Alanis was quintessentially a manufactured music industry figure that co-opted the success of slackerism to sell records to mainstream listeners), KV Crimes is a song that sounds every bit as disgruntled as something the other Kurt may have made back in the day.
Courtney Barnett History Eraser
Last year, Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett’s deadpan singing style and straggling lyrics caught the attention of music journalists, especially in America where Rolling Stone and New York Times singled her out as a young musician that made them feel like they were back in their mum’s living room watching MTV’s 120 Minutes again. Though the extreme widescreen aspect ratio isn’t very keeping in vintage slacker 4:3 standard music video style of those times, the song’s conversational rambling qualities will probably massively please slackers of old and new.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Read More Books!

Ruth Rendell, the famous 84-year-old British crime novelist, recently said that the general demise of reading for pleasure in our country “strikes terror” into her heart. Rendell argues that reading has become a “specialist activity” that only a minority of people now engage in rather than something most of us do routinely.
Rendell is on to something here. Though we are arguably reading more now than ever before, it is what we classify as reading material that is causing concern. Whereas fifteen years ago reading in bed was commonplace, it has now been usurped by checking Twitter feeds or cramming in a few episodes on Netflix. There is a worrying trend in our culture where grown adults no longer feel ashamed to admit that they don’t read books. Although the publishing industry will insist that it is in better shape than it was five years ago thanks to the uptake of digital e-readers, the truth is our pleasure in reading literature is haemorrhaging. The consequences of this may manifest in deeply unpleasant ways, and could further downgrade Britain’s already flailing literacy standing.

Much of the outcry from Britain’s writing fraternity vis-√†-vis the demise of book reading has been fuelled by the success of John Williams’ novel Stoner, a book that was written almost half century ago but only became a bestseller last year. Williams was an American writer and wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a Midwestern agricultural student called William Stoner who enters a Missouri university to better his rural knowledge but has an epiphany when he reads Shakespeare’s 73rd sonnet. The sonnet brings into sharp focus Stoner’s ignorance of literary works. This realisation forces Stoner to confront his limitations of the written word and sends him on a quest to salvage his own intellectual deficiencies by reading as many literary classics as he can accommodate.
Stoner realises that through reading literature we develop a greater awareness of everything that surrounds us as it imbues one with an impeccable comprehension of the human condition. The actuality that Stoner, a novel that was a huge flop on its publication in 1965, acquired bestseller status only last year after sustained word of mouth recommendations and celebrity endorsements, is perhaps a great signifier of where we are at as a society. Reading books for pleasure has become almost alien to us, and Stoner’s success is an indication that we want clarity for where we are going wrong as a culture.

Author Philip Heshner, whose past novel A Northern Clemency was nominated for the Man Booker, said it best when he stated “you can genuinely tell when you meet a person if they never read a novel: that there is something missing there”. He went on to say that “people who do read a lot perhaps are starting to think of themselves as undertaking a particular activity that is worthy of celebrating the way Stoner (the character) was rather than the way it was even twenty years ago, as something that everybody did in a routine way”.
Literary ignorance in western culture is debatably more to do with what people choose to read rather than them not reading at all. G.M. Trevelyan, the British historian, once said: “[Education] has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.” There may be some truth to that but we need to recalibrate our expectations of peoples’ erudition.
One of the biggest debates we’ve had in Britain recently has to do with education policy makers (who all benefitted from expensive classical educations themselves) proclaiming that our nation’s schools are rife with uncultured teachers that have infiltrated a general malaise of literary laziness. Our Sectary of State of Education, Michael Gove, caused furore last year when he insinuated that it was teachers failing children by encouraging the reading of lowbrow books like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight over certifiable highbrow classics like George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Gove’s idea is that those who read Middlemarch as teenagers will be more successful in later life than those reading undemanding YA bestsellers. He may be right, but it takes a pretty smart teenager to fully appreciate the complexities of something like Middlemarch.
Middlemarch was a book that we were forced to read at school when I was seventeen. It was a million miles away from the largely working-class, ethnic minority existences that made up our classroom. Eliot’s grand vocabulary, and her characters’ dilemmas of loveless marriages and political chicanery, went over our classically untrained minds. I reread Middlemarch last year and it worked much more for me because one understood it better. My own emotional and intellectual development as an adult enabled me to better navigate Eliot’s masterful literary crafting. I wasn’t ready for it as a teenager but went back when I felt I can do it justice.
As a teenager, the rapper Tupac Shakur probably meant more to my generation than what George Eliot ever did, but Tupac was also, according to rumours, a voracious reader of books. This titbit made it cool for us to read as much as he did, or at least try our hand at Machiavelli’s The Prince.
If we can create a love of reading during adolescence then as grownups we will venture on to more challenging works, sometimes even returning to things we didn’t fully grasp first time round. The problem in Britain isn’t that we are reading the wrong books, it’s we aren’t reading enough books to start with. The key is to read books in the first place because once that routine manifests then it will always be a part of us. Reading, thus, becomes a nourishing staple of what we are all about. As Alvin Toffler, an American futurist, said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn,” which means that a love of reading in one’s youth will eventually produce an adult who is both book smart and also able to give things another go when they feel they’ve earned the opportunity to do so.

If your role models are intelligent, like Tupac was for us, then that may make all the difference. It means that as adults we may then connect better with likeminded peers and relate more keenly with figures, both in everyday life and in politics, that share our own levels of erudition. The point is that reading books must never become a specialist activity. The key is to read books all the time and incorporate as many varieties as one can fit into a lifetime. That, my friends, will make for better human beings and, subsequently, a philosophically enriched society.