Sunday, 30 November 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #172: John Grant - "I Wanna Go To Marz"

Admittedly I'm not a big fan of John Grant's largely soulless second solo album, Pale Green Ghosts, but 2010's Queen Of Denmark was a classic. As for "I Wanna Go To Marz", the first piano chords will tell you what expect. Sublime.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Favourite albums: LIL' BEETHOVEN (2002) by Sparks

Where did the groove go?..

That day, I took my girlfriend to see The Master and Margarita staged by a local theatre. This was about eight years ago, maybe a little more. The performance was horrible. Bulgakov was publicly castrated and the acting was so hammy I thought I would be dumped before the intermission. One thing kept me alive: each time the actor playing Behemoth said something (big mistake), I thought of the CD I had bought earlier that day. It was called Lil’ Beethoven (I rather liked the title) and it had a hilarious lyrics sheet that was more or less one phrase repeated over and over again.

Later that day, at around midnight, I pressed play and the record blew me away. It was like the deadliest plague but one you do in fact wish upon yourself. Lil’ Beethoven was intoxicating, and weeks and months later it kept seeping through my system in a way that was both abusive and exhilarating. In the end, it consumed each and every cell of my body. For all the great records ever written, nothing had ever astounded me quite this much.  

Let’s put it this way: Lil’ Beethoven is the closest contemporary popular music has come to some sort of sonic revolution. And while the Mael brothers had already tried this sound before (on 2000’s Balls, for instance), this was the album that put all the right ingredients into place. All those infectious pop melodies piling on top of synthesized classical orchestration on top of smart lyrical repetitions on top of Russel Mael’s layered vocals. 'Unique' would be an understatement.

From the very first seconds of “The Rhythm Thief”, you know this is something else. Several punch lines are repeated again and again over dramatic classical background: 'I am the rhythm thief, say goodbye to the beat', 'Where did the groove go?', 'Lights out, Ibiza', a couple of others. And it never gets boring or tiresome. The sound is charismatic and varied enough to leave you breathless. “How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?” is an old joke given a major, thunderous musical boost. “What Are All These Bands So Angry About?” is a witty attack on certain bands taking themselves way too seriously. The excessively gorgeous “I Married Myself” is heartbreaking optimism at its finest. “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” is an onslaught.

Side two is more of the same, but things are taken to their extreme point. “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” is basically its title repeated over a 100 (hundred) times and the fact that it never becomes grating tells you all about the winning formula as well as the self-confidence and remarkable talent involved. “Your Call’s Very Important To Us. Please Hold.” could be about unhealthy relationships that render certain young men completely useless. The surprisingly heavy and verbose “Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls” employs hard-hitting guitars and is an interesting piece of social commentary. 'It ain’t done with smoke and mirrors'. Finally, there is an uplifting, music-hallish number called "Suburban Homeboy" ('Props to our peeps and please keep your receipts') that is an absolute joy to sing along to.

Nine scintillating works of seduction and self-delusion by the diminutive master of the art and musical overkill. Lil’ Beethoven. Entertainment in extremis. This is what the sleeve says, and it's hard to argue with that. And it’s truly remarkable how this was Sparks’ 19th studio album and how they were prepared to go this far at such a late stage of their career. Two great albums in similar vein followed, but it’s Lil’ Beethoven that remains the etalon. 

And I do say remains. Because my relationship was over. Because they stopped showing The Master and Margarita one month later. Because it was so long ago. And because every time I play Lil’ Beethoven now, eight years later, it all feels so real. 

Monday, 24 November 2014


Проблем очень много. Бесконечное копание в своей нише. Одномерные мелодии. Аранжировки без претензии на интеллект. Упор на тексты (речь не о поп-музыке), многие из которых можно смело издавать сборниками поэзии. Сложно в таких условиях.

5. Янка Дягилева – «На черный день»

Наверное, стоит согласиться с Троицким. Она была талантливей Летова…

Альбом: Продано! (1989)

4. МультFильмы – «Магнитофон»

Britpop в Санкт-Петербурге в 2000 году. Причем Britpop для людей, начисто лишенных цинизма. Это забавно: не просто пародировать Oasis, Pulp и Blur, но и еще и напрямую указывать это в тексте. Где они теперь?

Альбом: МультFильмы (2000)

3. Андрей Макаревич – «Паузы»

Несмотря на все то замечательное, что он делает и говорит в последнее время, Макаревич интересует меня один раз из ста. Не хватает музыкального нерва, ни в голосе, ни в мелодиях. И в «Паузах» нет ничего особенного. Но только что за текст.

Альбом: Песни под гитару (1989)

2. Майк Науменко – «Старые раны»

Ну а «Старые раны» Майка Науменко – это один сплошной нерв.  

Альбом: Сладкая N и другие (1980)

1. АукцЫон – «С днем рождения»

В принципе, можно закрыть глаза и выбрать любую песню из этого альбома. Даже стихотворение Гаркуши. Как всегда у АукцЫона: полет чего-то бессознательного, но слишком талантливого. 

Альбом: Птица (1993)

Sunday, 23 November 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #171: Julian Casablancas - "Out Of The Blue"

While I'm still trying to figure out what it is that Casablancas is doing on his new record, here's the brilliant opener from his hugely entertaining debut album Phrazes For The Young (2009). Fantastic lyrics and a vocal hook to kill for. 

And speaking of Oscar Wilde's greatest phrases for the young, here's my favourite: "Those who see any difference between soul and body have neither".

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Album review: JULIAN CASABLANCAS + THE VOIDZ - Tyranny

Highlights: Take Me In Your Army, Crunch Punch, Human Sadness, Dare I Care


What a hilariously absurd album. Hats off to Julian Casablancas.

No, really. I have no idea what is happening half the time. Some goddamn radio jingles a la The Who Sell Out? Classical strings? A fucking bleep coming out of the blue in “Business Dog”? A song called “Xerox”? What is this? Not even Kevin Barnes at his most ridiculous could hope to reach such demented heights.

Tyranny is an album to lose yourself in. Don’t try to understand it – this will either result in cognitive dissonance or complete nervous breakdown. I do of course realise that losing yourself in this madness is not advisable to normal people but since when normal people have any say in the world of art.

And is this art? You fucking bet it is. Adventurous, inventive, inexplicable, bizarre – and, to counter Scott Walker’s latest exploits in the world of musical impenetrability, actually accessible. You realise this is a guy from The Strokes who has previously collaborated with Daft Punk and recorded a witty electropop album as a solo artist. And Casablancas is an artist, in every sense of the word. Tyranny is this expansive, expressionist work of a restless but hugely talented individual who doesn’t sit on his ass but is ready to do something.

Let’s be as relevant as this album and say that Julian Casablancas has a very strange fascination with the letter ‘z’. First, Phrazes For The Young. Now he is playing with a band called The Voidz. Some consistency. Genre-wise this is marked as neo-psychedelia, experimental and noise rock. Seems apt. Now imagine Julian’s sagging vocals that constantly switch to angelic falsetto to husky screams. Imagine the sort of melodies that can never decide whether they want to be catchy or subversive. And the sound: stuffy, pounding, clanking, never for a second striving for clarity. And hereby the dysfunctional world of Tyranny is created. Preposterous and filled with a million little hooks and tricks you will keep discovering for many days and weeks to come. 62 minutes. “Human Sadness” alone going for ten-plus. From the ridiculous to the sublime.

This is my new favourite album of all time.

Shoplifters of the world unite. 

I didn’t really mean one of those.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Film review: 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH

Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard


I remember now. It all came back. Despite the brief conversation with Blixa Bargeld, “Higgs Boson Blues” could have a million verses for all I care. And then Brighton, of course. Seven Sisters. I guess there will always be a part of me that will think Brighton is my favourite British city. The time spent there, in the warm chill of early January, expecting rain and then not expecting it, with Nick Cave’s latest songs playing in my head. “Brighton sky”, says Cave, “is unlike anything I’ve ever seen”. This is something you would have to take for granted.

However, the nostalgic feeling should not fool you. One of the greatest things about this Nick Cave documentary is that it doesn’t try to be nostalgic. Even if Cave does speak at the very beginning of 20,000 Days On Earth about how much he cares for the past. Past is a way to go forward and sometimes a memory means more than a person who caused it.

We start with Cave waking up in the morning and end with him standing on the beach, night gathering around him and then swallowing the lanky silhouette into the sparse sounds of Cave’s last album. And in between there is a day in the life of an artist. His 20,000th day on Earth. We go through his creative process, his archives (the only time when Mick Harvey is mentioned) and even some of his anxieties. At just a little over 90 minutes, this is like the best sexual experience: unforgettable and seductively brief.

20,000 Days On Earth is a robust, inventive documentary with never a dull moment. We hear Cave say smart, vaguely philosophical things (which, crucially, always make sense); we see him chat with Warren Ellis (fantastic chemistry); we even see him during an unlikely psychiatric session (the story about Cave’s father reading to him Lolita at the age of 19 is particularly priceless). Then there are brief forays into his archives full of rare pictures, locks of female hair bought at some Berlin flea market and more amazing stories about Tracy Pew and some lonely guy Chris who lived in Germany and was mad on erotica. And there is even time for a full take on “Higgs Boson Blues” which sounds raw yet somehow fully realised. Like the documentary itself.

Great presence, great charisma, and a rare chance to look behind the stage flamboyance (Kylie Minogue describes him as a big tree in the storm – which sounds apt and even manages to soften Nick Cave’s perpetual frown). He is concerned about not being able to reach out to that one guy in the last row (come on, Nick). And he is defiant but very much aware of his age. What if the memory goes? What if it all goes?.. And like a 12-year old fanboy he is bedazzled by some Nina Simone performance he once saw. It’s the transformative power of the artist who should always be able to impress and to intimidate. Does he still have it? He feels confident yet the idea is heavily on his mind. 

And then there are parts where Cave just talks about his wife Susie (who barely appears), God and the sacred process of writing songs. Nick Cave is a man with a vision, and in the end it’s this vision that ties the documentary together and makes it not just a film about inspiration but a deeply inspirational experience in its own right. The memories of Brighton are my own powerful testimony to that.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #170: Black Box Recorder - "Goodnight Kiss"

Sincere, cynical (look at the cover) - who cares when you have Sarah Nixey singing a melody so gorgeous the word 'gorgeous' seems vulgar and inappropriate. I swear those backing vocals at the end will move you to tears.  

The night's nearly over 
Get a taxi at five 
I'll cradle your head in my hands
Check that you're still alive

Friday, 14 November 2014

Album review: KING DUDE - Fear

Highlights: Maria, Never Run, Miss September, Watching Over You


I remember this school essay I had to write when I was fourteen. Or rather – I don’t remember the essay itself, I remember what happened afterwards. A young teacher, all enthusiasm and no sense of humour, asked me to stay after class for a talk. Needless to say, I was scared. What the hell did I write in that essay?.. It was an empty 3 o’clock classroom, and the daylight looked especially sad. She told me to sit opposite her and I did. She gave me a really black look that made me expect anything, including expulsion. Then she opened my essay and asked: “How, how could you?” I shrunk to a dangerous point. “This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read. But how could you misspell that word over there?..” I stared at her, I couldn’t believe it.

Now I’m ready to play that young teacher and ask Thomas Jefferson Cowgill: “How, how could you?.. How could you record that repulsive abomination called “Fear Is All You Know” and make it the first song on your brilliant new album?” Because Fear really is brilliant. Everything that is good about dark folk and Gothic rock – it’s all in here, in these 11 songs of tragic beauty and beautiful despair. But then he had to do this tasteless Rammstein send-up that raises hackles and just beggars belief.

And still. From “Maria” onwards – Fear is perfect, every song a winner. He does acoustic, he does electric, and everything he sings has the sort of melodic menace that was only budding on King Dude’s two previous albums. Truly, the stuff here is catchy as hell where ‘hell’ is more than just a metaphor. “Bloody Mirror” (that timeless hook line I’m sure I know from elsewhere) is like a nursery rhyme for devilish babies. The dark ’n’ bouncy “Lay Down In Bedlam” is as instantly memorable as it gets. When King Dude rocks (“Demon Caller Number 9”) – he does it convincingly, with guts and with great spirit. When he does apocalyptic balladry (“Never Run”) – he can almost break your heart.

Elsewhere, “Miss September” has the best use of ‘remember’/’December’ rhyme since Pavement’s “Gold Soundz”. The 6-minute “Empty House” epic is certainly atmospheric – if slightly watered down. And the closing “Watching Over You” is an old-fashioned singalong where you are watched by the Demon rather than your lover. But don’t you fret. The disarming melody and the soaring violin will make it all worth it. So that you will almost forget how it all began and join in for King Dude’s final chant (I hope you have it in you)

“Come on you Demons and Devils, say it with me…”

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Если на секунду забыть про АукцЫон, то о русской музыке либо нецензурно, либо ничего. Вообще очень легко делать вид, что ее нет. Особенно теперь, когда «Верхом на звезде» Найка Борзова вдруг начинает звучать как что-то очень далекое и безумно талантливое. Это все на самом деле было? И когда? Тот дешевый клип, те мелодии, тот женский вокал? Мне почему-то кажется, что ничего этого не было.

5. Леонид Федоров – «Вьюга»

Федоров – это, конечно, особенный персонаж. Я так часто о нем говорил и писал, что больше ничего добавлять не буду.

Альбом: Лиловый день (2003)

4. Разные люди – «Сен Симилья»

Сенсимилья – это созревшие, но неоплодотворенные соцветия женских растений конопли. О том и песня. Звучание казалось слишком интеллигентным даже в то время, когда до интеллигентности не было никакого дела. Какая-то распевная глубина в мелодии, орган. Как и большинство людей, я впервые услышал «Сен Симилью» в то время, когда у Чигракова была уже другая группа. Но это Разные люди, конец 80-х.

Альбом: Дезертиры любви (1989)

3. Аквариум – «25 к 10»

1981 год, и ничего лучшего он с тех пор не написал. Советская романтика, пронзительная, но уже с привкусом дзэн-буддизма. 

Альбом: Акустика. История Аквариума – Том I (1982)

2. Крематорий – «Мусорный ветер»

Если избавиться от всей русскоязычной музыки и оставить только одну песню, то я выберу «Мусорный ветер». У Крематория миллион сомнительных вещей, но от скрипки до стихов до звуков метели – здесь все здорово.

Альбом: Кома (1988)

1. Настя Полева – «Танец на цыпочках»

У меня нет слов, чтобы описать этот текст. По трогательности, по проникновенности, это совершенно гениально. Причем тот редкий случай, когда Настя написала как слова, так и музыку. Клип – дипломный фильм Алексея Балабанова «Настя и Егор» (1990). 

Альбом: Танец на цыпочках (1994)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #169: Simon Bonney - "Saw You Falling"

Crime & The City Solution frontman, but that's just one part of the story. Simon Bonney released two terrific solo albums in the 90s. One in particular, Forever (1992), is an absolute classic presenting Bonney as some country-fied Leonard Cohen singing for The Triffids. This is sparse, gorgeous stuff.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


Режиссер: Андрей Кончаловский  

Из удачных эпиграфов за последнее время я могу вспомнить разве что цитату из Джойса в недавнем романе Уилла Селфа: A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella. Это забавно, изобретательно. Это вообще не имеет никакого отношения к тому, что будет в книге. Это не лезет в голову и не заставляет думать в определенном направлении. И это книга. Эпиграфы в фильмах – это плохая идея, потому что глазам ты доверяешь гораздо больше, чем воображению. Но цитаты в конце фильмов? Что за мания? Что за дурацкое самолюбование? Что за назидательная порнография? Что за отношение к своему зрителю?

Но это действительно случилось в конце нового фильма Андрея Кончаловского. Точнее - две вещи. C одной стороны, цитата из шекспировской Бури, с другой - ракета, взлетающая над маленькой, изодранной деревней на севере России. Когда мне с упоением рассказывали об этой сцене, еще до просмотра фильма, я думал, что нет. Не стоит. Нельзя. Мы можем молчать полжизни, но не умеем при этом не сказать слишком много. После тихого, размеренного повествования нужно непременно ткнуть лицом в символ – пусть и хороший, пусть так точно характеризующий современную страну.

И все-таки Кончаловский меня уговорил. Белые ночи почтальона Алексея Тряпицына – это муторный, но крайне притягательный фильм. За свои полтора часа, то ли художественных, то ли документальных, он просто показывает жизнь главного героя, почтальона Алексея Тряпицына (все имена в фильме настоящие, потому что все персонажи в фильме настоящие). Который два года не пьет; который включает телевизор и даже не смотрит на экран; который в кого-то, наверное, влюблен; который умеет терпеть и делать свою работу (но больше терпеть); который просыпается ночью от вида серого и непонятно откуда взявшегося кота. Это все (кроме, пожалуй, кота) самые обычные сцены из самой обычной жизни. Но от них невозможно оторваться.

Наверное, все дело в этом огромном разрыве, который случился между этой жизнью и твоей жизнью. И теперь все это кажется причудливой экзотикой. Сырое, неиспорченное чувство Алексея Тряпицына. Он вдруг улыбается или смеется. Нет, не оттого, что смешно. Просто он не знает, как по-другому отреагировать. 

Еще мне понравилась многословность названия. Сразу подумалось об Истории Аси Клячиной, которая любила, да не вышла замуж. Как будто после американского периода и всех этих жутких щелкунчиков и курочек ряб и глянца, он вернулся к тому, что у него получается лучше всего. Русская деревня, почти недосказанная, почти без претензий. Вообще это не слишком просто, отыскать страну в 2014 году. Такое ощущение, что Кончаловскому удалось. Так что черт с ним с «Оскаром». Белые ночи почтальона Алексея Тряпицына – это почти великий фильм. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Album review: HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT - Urge For Offal

Highlights: This One’s For Now, My Outstretched Arms, Stuck Up A Hornbeam, The Unfortunate Gwatkin


Thank God for Half Man Half Biscuit.

As soon as I did the right thing and acquired this album (in fact, every human being with a shred of taste should do likewise), I then acted irresponsibly and gave these thirteen new songs a quick ten-second run-through. And while what I heard certainly gave the impression of being what it really was, there was one particular track which was so good it stopped me in my silly little undertaking.

The name of this track was “The Unfortunate Gwatkin”. Indeed, some of the more knowledgeable and experienced of us might find certain similarities between this song and Danny & Dusty’s classic “Song For The Dreamers” from 1985, but that would be extremely short-sighted of them. This unfortunate paradox may initially seem rather frustrating, but wait till you hear the tragic yet somehow humorous story of the unfortunate Gwatkin narrated here with such brutal intelligence and thuggish aplomb.

The groove itself is engaging in a way that is perhaps a little too much for the average listener raised in times being what they are. Each verse is stoically delivered and then followed by a swift jangle; after which the witty onslaught continues by way of such impressive lyrical jewels as ‘Pessimist Festival in Mollington’ and the like. The final verse, with its cleverly built up climax that is perhaps a little unexpected in that classic twist-in-the-tail fashion, is quickly dispensed with to give way to a change of the rhythmic pattern unleashing the deeply passionate chant that may frustrate housewives and children under thirteen but will surely provide lots of pleasure for the better representatives of the human race. 

Chaos ensues. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #168: Nina Nastasia - "Bird Of Cuzco"

John Peel may have been many things (not necessarily good), but it's through him that I found out about Nina Nastasia. Back in 2006, when she released the terrific, Steve Albini-produced On Leaving. But they are all good.

Stellar songwriting. I don't think I can listen to anything/anyone else these days.