Posts from November 2017

29
Nov 17

My Pop Year: KELLY CLARKSON – “Love So Soft”

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Writing about Will Young it was hard not to be reminded of Kelly Clarkson, who likewise showed that the first blush of reality TV idols were the best – in terms, at least, of producing stars you can feel vague but huge affection for. I always want Clarkson to do well, and hope her material’s good, despite honestly not knowing a great deal about her. Fortunately the material on her 2017 LP, Meaning Of Life, IS good, almost uniformly strong – this is the track that jumped out for me on first play, and it was the single, but half the record could have been here. Strong in more ways than one, too – Clarkson projects confidence, toughness and wisdom, relishing the role of a soul-pop trouper who’s seen a few things. What comes across in “Love So Soft”‘s chants, squeaks and swagger is a hard-earned, no-nonsense joy in life: a pop music that’s happy in its own skin. Which might not ordinarily impress, but in the year the world’s had, it’s a balm.

28
Nov 17

My Pop Year: SYD – “Know”

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On first listen I liked Syd’s Fin mainly for its Spartan vibe: low-key, late-night R&B synths. Moody and pleasant. My second listen was like my eyes were adjusting to a dark room – songs emerged as ultraviolet blooms. The one that jumped out most was “Know”. How could a track this full of tension and subtle incident have seemed just part of a whole?

23
Nov 17

My Pop Year: MARA BALLS – “Elävä kivi”

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Not the last Finnophone musician I’ll be writing about, Mara Balls is the rock-name of musician and artist Maria Mattila, who’s done stints in a few Finnish hard rock bands and also ran the Yellow House, an underground venue and cultural space in Tampere. As Mara Balls, she makes what I guess would be stoner and desert rock, except I don’t really listen to stoner and desert rock, so I have to find my own reference points: the psychedelic paganism of Julian Cope, maybe. Or more accurately, something Julian Cope would get very excited about.

21
Nov 17

My Pop Year: IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE – “The Chant (Iquo Isang)”

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There seems to be a lot of music around at the moment involving a fusion of more acoustic – I don’t want to say ‘traditional’ – African musics, or African vocal pop traditions, and electronic production. Of course a hell of a lot of contemporary African pop already is hip-deep in ‘electronic production’, if by that you mean hip-hop, EDM, autotune, etc. But that’s not the stuff I’m talking about, which tends to look a few decades back on both sides of the equation, sounding a bit like a collision between a Rough Guide CD and a Warp Records compilation.

20
Nov 17

My Pop Year: KEDR LIVANSKIY – “Ariadna”

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One of the great dangers of listening to music from around the world – as you’ll see, it’s a danger I fall foul of a LOT – is a kind of geographical determinism, At home I’m a tourist, projecting my misty sense of a place I’ve never been onto the music I’m hearing. All I need to know is that Kedr Livanskiy is a young woman from Moscow and bang, I’m off, letting the sound conjure up mountains of snow, roads lined with decaying concrete flats, lives of brittle hedonism and bitter suspicion, and whatever other borrowed images my head’s filled up with since I first saw the video for Elton John’s “Nikita”.

In my defense, the music makes this nonsense a lot easier by being goth as hell. Livanskiy takes rhythms from the 80s and 90s – the dry snap of the drums under “Ariadna” reminds me a lot of vintage electro – and wreaths them in clouds of gloomy synth and a keening, fatalistic sounding multi-tracked vocal. The overall vibe this creates is a kind of hopeless momentum, the drums kicking the song forward as Livansky’s sepulchral vocals swathe them in mourning black. There are lots of ways this could go wrong – beats a little too retro, velvet drapes a bit too smothering, references crossing the line into corny, but mostly her Ariadna LP gets the balance right, and this title track certainly does.

12
Nov 17

WILL YOUNG – “Light My Fire”

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#929, 8th June 2002

will young fire It’s hardly unusual for a reality TV star to try and cement their precarious fame with a cover version. Will Young’s puckish take on “Light My Fire”, a cover of Jose Feliciano’s cover of Jim Morrison’s signature come-on, is particularly well-taken. His verse delivery is enjoyably arch, keeping a distance between himself and the hoary material, but he gives enough of an impression of losing himself in the chorus for it not to be a total mickey-take. The overall impression is of an unusually honest take on contractual obligation – “I know this is how the game is played, and I’m going to play it, but I’m not going to con you, so let’s make this as fun as we can.”

5
Nov 17

gerald’s game, or fewer things in heaven and earth

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(Warning: SPOILERS.)

First: I shd note immediately that I’ve read no Stephen King and only fully watched a few of the films (Carrie of course and lol The Shining; several more half-watched at best). My perhaps ill-informed nugget of knowledge is that he returns, over and over, to the notion that some cartoon monsters are also extremely real and here’s how. In that sense, Gerald’s Game is a very King project, exploring a potentially interesting extra twist. Except sadly the book it’s based on is one most King fans dislike and many never finished.

GeraldsGameartFirst things first: While the initial set-up was nicely fashioned — a sense of place and context, a sense of unease — the main characters we immediately meet, the primary couple, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), weren’t really people I took much pleasure in spending time with. They are spending a weekend in the woods to rekindle their failing marriage, via the questionable medium Gerald’s BDSM games — which Jessie immediately reacts against and wants out of.