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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Bright, great music against all odds

The Bright. Sala Sidecar, Barcelona, November 26th

The Bright at Sidecar
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
My second time seeing The Bright live was full of circumstances against this lovely duo of Spanish musicians from León. First, their concert was scheduled at the height of the Primavera Club 2011 week that I've been covering daily (you can check it here, posts on the blog will follow this week), so the risk of being too tired to add another concert was obvious. Second, they didn't bring a full band with them, so the gig could have been too similar to the one that I enjoyed on that rainy day of May at FNAC. And third, part of the audience at Sala Sidecar didn't give a damn for the concert, talking all the time and showing no respect for the artists and the public that were there to hear them. But Myriam Gutiérrez and Aníbal Sánchez were capable of beating all this challenges, offering another needed dose of their bright (sorry for the easy joke again) and warm music.

Myriam at BCN. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
The start wasn't easy. The noisy and disrespectful crowd dominated the small venue, and despite Myriam and Aníbal efforts to offer sure-fire winners from their lovely "Soundtrack for a Winter's Tale" it was clear there was an obvious disconnection with the audience, also from the very first row from where we were. Luckily, the couple had enough munition with them to slowly conquer the public. "Rocking Chair", "Soundtrack", "Your Private Garden", "Waving Flag", the wonderful "Odd Towns" and "Coffee & Wine", etc. In total, nine of the twelve tunes that compose their debut album were played at Sidecar. And as the momentum was growing, they took the occasion to introduce three new tunes, a couple of them sounding astonishingly amazing, easily among their best. And aside the tunes played there's another factor that allows the couple downing all barriers: a natural, unforced attitude and charm. They played with confidence and honesty, being capable of captivating the Barcelona audience in a very similar way that their music does. With serenity and a haunting grace.

The great duo in action
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
There was also time for three versions, from Lucinda Williams, Johnny Cash and Led Zeppelin, the latest being one of the highlights and turning point of the night. Plus, of course, the inclusion on the setlist of the excellent "Cowgirl in the Sand" from Neil Young, that serves as a superb closer of their album, and that they chose to end the gig on a very high note. By that time The Bright had already overcome all the obstacles, and proved they are a duo with genuine talents. Hoping for a new gig soon (with a full band) in which I'll be able to stay longer next time to chat a bit with them and get a picture with the two!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back from Primavera Club 2011's playlist

After PC2011. Stuff & fIRA fEM's setlist
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Back to the blog after being abducted for the last 5 days, thanks to the Primavera Club 2011 (PC2011). I'll be posting quite a few about the Festival in the next days (you can already check the chronicles I already wrote in Spanish) of it , but for now, here's a playlist of songs from the bands I watched during the previous week. Majority of them are the best ones I heard (in my opinion, of course) during their gigs, but Tigercats' tune and Villarroel's and Capitán's additions were the only ones I was able to find on the web. Enjoy!
Primavera Club 2011 by Raul on Grooveshark
  1. Slack Motherfucker- Superchunk
  2. Shredder- JEFF The Brotherhood
  3. Cubata de Fairy- Las Ruinas
  4. Deer- Autumn Comets
  5. Lemonade- Braids
  6. Love Like a River- Girls
  7. Endless Summer- Still Corners
  8. The Party- St.Vincent
  9. Ladies, Claps, (and Gentlemen)- fIRA fEM
  10. She is Beyond Good and Evil- The Pop Group
  11. Konny Huck- Tigercats
  12. Peppermint- Spectrals
  13. Slivers of You- Puro Instinct
  14. Starry Eyes- Veronica Falls
plus Capitán's song "Portugal"
Capitán "Portugal"
and Villarroel's "Pesca de la Langosta"

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Snow Covered", Christmas with The Very Most

Snow Covered

I've decided to start a new section of the blod devoted to EP reviews, so I was looking for a quite special record to start with. The great occasion appeared this week, courtesy of the gentle Jeremy Jensen, leader of blog's favourite The Very Most. The Boise indie-pop masters are back with a very special release, a four-song Christmas EP, out in December 3rd, something quite usual in US, a tradition, but rare to find outside the States.

When Jeremy invited me to hear it, I was a bit reluctant. Hey, unlike him (it's not the first time The Very Most do that sort of seasonal songs), I'm not big on Christmas, even less in Christmas music, which in my opinion tends to be really predictable, shamefully sappy and bland. So I didn't want to hear something I knew I thought I wouldn't like in advance from a band I really love. Silly me, soon I was going to realise I was completely wrong. Four reasons prove it.

First, and as the title says, because this EP is a collection of covers. But not the usual ones that have been endlessly covered just for the sake of Christmas. The Beach Boys, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Vashti Bunyan and Twice as Much and The Wombles. Cool line-up of bands, isn't it? Even the fake, furry creatures of the Wombles are lovely.

Second, because these songs feature guest appearances by Duglas T. Stewart of Scottish band BMX Bandits (did I need to say he is a pop genius?) and Mel Whittle (also on Baffin Island) from the great Glaswegian band The Hermit Crabs  (who really have to make a new album soon, we miss them so much) among other names that will make me surf the internet in the next days to know more about. 

Third, of course, because of the music. EP's opener "Wombling Merry Christmas" (original by The Wombles) is, plain simple, a fantastic indie-pop gem. The more I listen it, the more it makes me think on Belle and Sebastian lushness meeting The Very Most gift to create something wonderful. "Little Saint Nick" (The Beach Boys) of course devotes its sound to the legendary band, but despite being the more predictable of the lot, and if you allow me the sacrilege, I prefer this version, thanks to Rachael Jensen's charming voice. The third track, "The Coldest Night of the Year" (Vashti Bunyan and Twice as Much), was already a fine tune (always Vashti's amazing voice), but adapted to the male-female duet acquires a new, refreshing and warm dimension. And finally, "Christmas Eve" (Gorky's Zygotic Mynci), is an enchanting, rich and atmospheric tune, with its constrained epic sound resonating in your ears long after the track has ended.  

Need a four reason? Half of the proceeds of the EP (they collected the funds through a Kickstarter campaign)  goes to the Idaho Foodbank. So, now that you know the reasons, you should be running to grab your copy of "Snow Covered".

Thanks Jeremy! Thanks The Very Most!

SCORE: 7,5/10

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Elbow, the real absolute majority

Elbow (+ Howling Bells). Sala Apolo, Barcelona, November 20th 

Guy Garvey at Apolo, BCN
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Dear Elbow, thanks for an amazing night. And for making us forget, at least for two hours, the depressing Parlamentary elections we were celebrating Sunday. For us, the privileged audience of the Sala Apolo, there was no Mariano Rajoy, Rubalcaba, the unfair electoral system, economic crisis, etc. Just you and your wonderful music. Thanks.

The start of the night was already promising, as Howling Bells was a very interesting support act, with a very recommendable homonym debut album and a praised live presence. Unfortunately, their gig was too short to allow them prove their talents. The voice and presence of Juanita Stein was remarkable, and some guitar-driven passages were stimulating, but we missed some recognisable songs and a longer setlist. I want a second chance to judge them properly.

Howling Bells, Elbow's support act
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
But there wasn't time for complaints. After a pretty spectacular work from the technicians preparing the stage, Elbow showed up and, among a venue full of devoted fans (sadly a majority of foreigners) they started with "The Birds". An instant communion begun, with Guy Garvey as the indisputable high priest. What an extraordinary master of ceremonies. Impeccable singing, talkative, happy and close. Haven't seen many frontmen with that dominion of the stage, without the need of dancing or behaving in a physical way.

The gig was focused on material from "Build a Rocket Boys!" and "The Seldom Seen Kid" with some few exceptions, and had three-four different parts. On the first section, they connected with the public using "heavy fire". The enormous "The Bones of You" and "Grounds for Divorce" (with additional percussion from our man Guy), the beautifully romantic (great lighting for the song) "Mirrorball", the restrained epic of "Neat Little Rows". Who care about elections when you have such a singer/lyricist joined by a bunch of gifted musicians?

Cheers to 20 years of greatness! Photo: Bloodbuzzed
For the second segment of the concert, Elbow decided to settle down. In my opinion, they went a bit too far away with that aim. Too many consecutive  slow songs would ruin any kind of indie-pop/rock gig... but not an Elbow one. "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver", "The Night Will Always Win", "The River" (dedicated to the Llobregat river thanks to the translation of the public), the rescue of "Puncture Repair". Individually, they are delicate, intimate (some of them were played by just Guy and keyboardist Craig Potter) gems of indie pop, and the proof Elbow have become so confident of their attraction and power, but played together they were a considerable risk for the audience.

Thanking audience. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
It was obvious the gig needed a change of rhythm, but Elbow decided to do it in its own way. "Dear Friends" sounded amazing and compelling, and then the world stopped with "Lippy Kids". To me one of the peaks of their incredible career, to see/hear a whole audience captivated and giving all they have in their throats and lungs to join Garvey whistling or singing the line "Build a Rocket Boys!" was magic. And from there on, nothing more than greatness. There was time for celebrating Elbow's 20th anniversary as a band, with the audience congratulating them with a deserved "Happy Birthday" that the group thanked with the performance of "Weather to Fly" and to close the concert, before the encore, on a very high note with the spectacular "Open Arms", again with Guy fully involving the audience.

The encore became a section of the gig on its own. It started with "Starlings", with the band armed with trumpets for the fanfare part. I don't really like the song on the record, but I admit I was overblown with its performance live. But the best was yet to come, with a fantastic rendition of "Station Approach" a personal favourite that I wasn't expecting to hear, followed by their biggest single, and perfect closer, "One Day Like This". An outstanding gig from an outstanding band. Rajoy who?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Spanish Elections Results: and the real parliament is...

1. The Congress shall consist of a minimum of three hundred and a maximum of four hundred Members, elected by universal, free, equal, direct and secret suffrage, under the terms to be laid down by the law.
Section 68, Spanish Constitution

... A total fake. Sorry folks, but equal? That's, frustratingly, not true. The results of Sunday's parliamentary elections prove it. The axiom one person, one vote, is false in Spain. On the previous graphic (sorry they are in Spanish, but they are quite clear in my opinion) it is showed how much does a seat "cost" depending on the party. The variations are so disproportionate (thanks to the unacceptable criteria of the circumscription divisions in provinces) that the whole system HAS to be questioned.

This second graphic estimates how would have been the results of Spanish elections with a proportional system. In this case, there wouldn't be a conservative (extreme right if you ask me) absolute majority, and the deserved socialist electoral setback would have been even worse. The system has given Mariano Rajoy's PP their absolute majority, not Spaniards. Never forget that. I'm not saying the electoral system has to be a pure proportional one, but it is clear that what we have now doesn't represent equally the voters-citizens of this country. So where's the political legitimacy then? What a shame. We have to fight to change this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Killing Bono", a music tragicomedy obsessed with U2

Killing Bono

A very original premise for a loser's tale. A real story with elements of dark comedy, tragedy, traumas, obsessions... and U2. What's not to be intrigued for?

"Killing Bono" is the screen adaptation of Neil McCormick's book "Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelgänger". A very peculiar autobiography of a period in his life (he's a very well known music journalist, usually linked with U2 of course) as he tried to climb the long and tough stairway to music success while his school friend Paul Hewson tried to do the same with some other pals that were named The Hype, Feedback... and then U2.

The amazing thing is that the story, mostly, is true. The McCormick brothers, Neil (played by Ben Barnes) and Ivan (Robert Sheehan) attempted to make it into the music industry with several incarnations (including the al-most famous, Shook Up!) and styles while their secondary school friends, which Ivan was close to join at a very early stage, became massive as U2. The clash between their frustrations and the growing success of Bono's band poises the two, especially Neil, and makes the film engaging, and surprising.

Despite its clear it is focused on the McCormick's story, there are many things going on at the same time on "Killing Bono" to keep you amused and attentive. Obviously, it will appeal U2 fans, as we can have a very different perspective of the origins of our beloved band, and because the actor that plays Bono, Martin McCann, is strangely similar to the Irish singer. But also for the ones that just love films about music, cause this is a quite funny insight of the little (and not so little) dramas of wanting to have a group and, of course, be heard. Music industry and many miseries and turbulences appear, but the passion for music never ends. There's also another quite attractive side, more sombre (despite the film doesn't want to be dramatic), on envy and egos, arriving to the point of becoming a seriously unhealthy obsession for Neil, who is on the verge of self-destruction. And finally, but perhaps the less interesting and where Nick Hamm and writers Ian La Fresnais and Dick Clement (who were the responsible of the script of the lovely, unforgettable, "The Commitments") get more conventional, predictable, is the adventuresque part, that I guess that tries to help humorous part of the film.

Sheehan and Barnes acting is good, particularly likeable when they confront each other and tensions arise. There's also the remarkable, and sadly, last appearance of Pete Postlethwaite (he will always be remembered for the role of Giuseppe Conlon in "In the Name of the Father") on a film, and some other secondary roles help you to keep the pace. But if a complaint has to be made is not on rhythm, but on the overall tone of "Killing Bono". The second half of the film is, quite clearly, a more dramatic one. When the truth long-time hidden is revealed and Neil's devils explode, the movie is on the verge of becoming a very dark take on human nature. But director Hamm goes for a more friendly, comic approach, so the film ends in a lightweight manner that doesn't really fit with Neil's complex character and his tribulations. Besides, is quite hard to justify the lack of U2 music in a film where the group is such a pivotal element.

Despite its uneven tone, "Killing Bono" is a very interesting and original film. Plus, if you are a U2 fan, you probably won't find what you're looking for, but you'll be inevitably attracted by the film.

SCORE: 6,5/10

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Hangover Part II", wilder, crazier, bigger, bolder...

The Hangover Part II

...But by no means better. Director Todd Phillips and the whole "wolfpack" wanted to repeat the succesful formula of the engaging and fresh first movie, but they do so without really adding anything new (aside from some stunning scenery of Thailand) to the original "The Hangover". But by just repeating it, they loose some part of the charm, and lot of the fun.

The plot is quite simple. Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married in Thailand. So along with Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), Teddy (brother of Stu's fianceé) and, regretfully, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), they enjoy a quiet night previous to awakening in the midst of a catasthropic room remembering nothing. Again.

So, Phil, Stu, and Alan, are back into a run-against-time race, but this time the troubles and adventures of our gang take place in Bangkok, while they try to find Teddy before Stu's weeding. And they more they know about the night, the crazier the situation turns. If you thought the first "Hangover" was wild, you have seen nothing yet.

This hyper-vitaminated and exotic version of "The Hangover", have some hilarious moments (majority of them involving Alan), but they are few compared with its first part. Besides, the movie is never able of escaping from the parameters of its predecesor. Unfortunately, director Todd Philips is not interested in offering anything else except a sequel. But the formula is obviously too stretched towards the middle section of the film, and despite Mr. Chow's bigger role (not really funny as he has a quite short palette of gags) and the apparition of Paul Giamatti, there's not much to offer. Worse, as you are forced to compare, there's not much to laugh about.

Its easy to understand that director, producer and film cast were eager to put a second part on theathers. But although the "The Hangover Part II" is a pleasant and fun ride, now the threat of making a franchise of it (why not? the producers may be asking themselves, Alan is still single, so the premise for a third chapter is easy) is evidently there, and it seriously damages the quality of the final product. Hope they think about it.

SCORE: 5,75/10

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Spanish Election Day Eve: think for a minute!

An imaginary conversation between the only honest politician in our country and a potential voter, today, on the Spanish Election Day Eve.

Politician: You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. No BRICS. No America. There are no third worlds. There is no West. No European Union. No United Nations. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, euros, rubles, pounds, and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!

Am I getting through to you, dear voter?

You get up on your little twenty-one inch TFT HDI screen and howl about Spain and democracy. There is no Spain. There is no democracy. No PP or PSOE. There is only Banco Santander and Inditex and Telefónica and LaCaixa, Endesa, Repsol, and Abertis. Those are the nations of the world today.

What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state - Karl Marx? What do you think Merkel and Sarkozy talk about in their meetings -saving the European welfare state? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do.

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, dear voter. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, dear voter. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And I have chosen you, dear voter, to reveal this truth.

Voter: But why me?

Politician: Because starting tomorrow, you can stop this nonsense. Please, think for a minute before voting. 
(adapted from "Network", 1976)

Friday, November 18, 2011

At Primavera Club 2011: draft timetable

If Sunday is Elbow's day, next week is even more full of music. The press accreditation arrived on Wednesday, so I'm glad to announce Bloodbuzzed will be covering the Primavera Club 2011, from November 23rd to November 27th. I've been checking the bands and timetables, so here's what my schedule looks like right now (this is not final).

Wednesday 23rd
19:45 Tigercats at Sala Apolo
21:00 Little Barrie at Sala Apolo
22:00 Veronica Falls at La [2]

Thursday 24th
19.45 Spectrals at Sala Apolo
21:00 JEFF The Brotherhood at Sala Apolo
22:15 The Pop Group at Sala Apolo

Friday 25th 
19:15 Still Corners at Casino L'Aliança de Poblenou
20:30 St. Vincent at Casino L'Aliança de Poblenou
22:00 Girls at Casino L'Aliança de Poblenou
00:45 Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks at Sala Apolo

Saturday 26th
18:15 Las Ruinas at Moog 
20:00 Braids at Marula Café
23:15 Mazes at Sala Apolo
00:30 Superchunk at Sala Apolo

Sunday 27th 
18.45 Aliment at Marula Café
21:00 Puro Instinct at La [2]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Friends with Benefits", friendship, sex and clichés

Friends with Benefits

Dear film advertisers and people who write the synopsis on pages like imdb. Please stop lying. Allow me to use "Friends with Benefits" as an example.

While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan and Jamie soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications. IMDB

That's simply a huge, ridiculous lie. "Friends with Benefits" has many weaknesses, but if I had to name just one, it would be precisely how predictable and unoriginal this is. To the point of being a pretty boring film, in particular in its second half.

Let's say it clear: sorry, but a movie with the premise of can men and women just be friends? is very far from being new. And that's what we have here. Two young persons, Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis), tired of disappointing relations, that start building a friendship. Then one day they start to have sex. Just sex (don't really get the buzz about the sex scenes) + plus friendship, they try to convince themselves. But, of course, that complicates everything. New? Umm... Well, no.

At least, for a while, although predictable or unsurprising, the film was easygoing and dynamic, with a lightweight, modern pace that could have been appealing if maintained longer. Being a romantic comedy, I would say that won't make you laugh that much, but at least it can entertain you. The problem is that pleasant part only lasts for a bit more than 30 minutes. The remaining hour and a half is just boring, no matter the "bundle" designed by director Will Gluck looks pretty or cool.

Despite the zero depth, there's nothing wrong to say to the actors, because in my opinion they are ok considering how lame is the material they have. There's chemistry between them, and when their dialogues are not forced, the movie flows, even with some charm (that happens in the aforementioned first 30 minutes of the film). But unfortunately, Timberlake and Kunis don't go further than their shallow roles. What really annoys me is the existence of characters so unfortunate as Dylan's father. Are the writers adding an illness just to have a serious, dramatic note on the film? It doesn't make sense. Not to mention how awful is misusing such a great actor as Richard Jenkins (same can be said about Patricia Clarkson). He is just an example of how badly used are the secondary roles, between blatant clichés (Dylan's sister, played by Jenna Elfman, his eccentric friend played by Woody Harrelson) and the plain silly (Bryan Greenberg's role).

Sure, "Friends with Benefits" is not awful or offensive. But is mediocre and unremarkable.

SCORE: 4/10

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Remember Me", an unforgettably disastrous film

Remember Me

Sometimes reviewing a film shouldn't take long. In five words: "Remember Me" is a disaster. As a person who works with human rights daily, I defend that no one, with independence of his/her crimes, should be punished watching this. I have many arguments to justify my "thesis".

"Remember Me" fails in every category you can imagine. First and foremost, the script. From the very beginning when Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson, also executive producer of the film) meets Ally (Lost' actress Emilie de Ravin) the movie is just a blatant collection of clichés and nonsense that results in an obvious and very serious problem of balance and condemns the characters to an erratic and incoherent behaviour. There are some one-liners that go directly to the "twilight zone" category. Here's my top three: 1.At a very fancy restaurant, where the couple have lunch with Tyler's father (Pierce Brosnan), said by Ally regarding her mother's death; 2. Ally again, at their first proper date, about why she orders ice-cream first; and 3. A very profound dialogue (Pattinson with that permanent appalled infinite-looking pose) between the two lovers that goes like this (Tyler): "I'm undecided". (Ally) “About what?".(Tyler) "Everything". Honestly, what the hell was (Will Fetters) the writer thinking? And it goes worse, much worse, at the end.

As a direct consequence of that, the acting is weak, with specially huge question marks on the starring couple: it is just the script or Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin are such bad actors? I incline myself for the first option, but seeing the "vampire" move from pose to pose is annoying (sorry Rob, you're not precisely James Dean) makes me doubt. It is not a problem of leading characters. Pierce Brosnan is a corporate-ceo caricature and even a very good actor like Chris Cooper looks pretty silly on his role.

Oh wait! Maybe it is not the script or/and the acting. Maybe is just the editing process of the film what fails, because you'll have the feeling, regularly, that scenes are brutally sequenced, disconnected. That makes the film rythm awkward and its development highly uncredible. Everything looks artificial, constructed, so there's zero emotional impact as a result. And considering the heavy subjects of this romantic drama, death, romance, family relations, bullying, divorce, disconnection with the world, and particularly the way it ends, that's an unforgivable mistake.

And finally, did I mention the end is bad? Sorry to insist, but it is. Atrociously bad. No matter what they say, it's an unnecessary twist. Worse, it's a tricky twist, one that wants to be compelling using a real tragedy.

My obvious recommendation, and taking advantage of director's Allen's Coulter ("The Sopranos", "Boardwalk Empire", "Hollywoodland") too evident message with this film, let's live the (precious) moment. Choose something else to do instead of watching this.

SCORE: 1,25/10

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Playlist: the Best of Elbow

Counting down the days to see Elbow live in Barcelona! A long awaited concert for me (Benicàssim Festival wasn't enough, I want a proper, full gig). To celebrate the day is almost here, and because I'm so eager to see Guy Garvey and co., here's a playlist of, in my opinion, their best tunes. What a wonderful concert would be with a setlist like that, that but what a great gig is going to be this Sunday anyway. Enjoy!

    Best of Elbow by Raul on Grooveshark
  1. Station Approach
  2. Neat Little Rows
  3. Fallen Angel
  4. The Bones of You
  5. Forget Myself
  6. Grounds for Divorce
  7. Fugitive Motel
  8. Mirrorball
  9. The Birds
  10. Switching Off
  11. Leaders of the Free World
  12. Running to Stand Still (U2 cover made for a War Child benefit album)
  13. Red
  14. Mexican Standoff
  15. Not a Job
  16. The Everthere
  17. Newborn
  18. Open Arms
  19. Asleep in the Back
  20. Lippy Kids

Monday, November 14, 2011

"A Happy Marriage", love, death and everything else

A Happy Marriage- Rafael Yglesias
This is an example of a novel with the potential of being a masterpiece... that I couldn't really like. Author Rafael Yglesias exposes all, a brave and risky decision that has to be valued, and tell us the story of a marriage (not the most original thing to write about) in a quite refreshing way. But, at least to me, the book never takes off from being a very personal, intimate and sometimes even a bit morbid, take on a particular couple.

In what regards to style and structure, "A Happy Marriage" is an excellent work. Yglesias' prose flows with grace but without any pomposity, sounding real. The book combines two timelines, the first being how Enrique and Margaret meet and started their relationship, and the second, the last days of Margaret's life, as she is dying from cancer. That dual structure shocks at first, and I'm a bit undecided whether I like the brutal contrasts on the tone, from a more lightweight, with hints of comic situations during their first encounters to the depressing (and in my opinion, a bit too detailed) final days of his wife, but then becomes a very interesting and original approach for telling the story of a marriage from its start to the end.

But it is clear the book is more an autobiography of Yglesias' life (he was too hailed as a young masterful writer with his early novels, had success with Hollywood scripts and with a long marriage that ended with the death of his wife in 2004, due to cancer) than just a fiction novel, and to me, that takes its toll on the book. First, because this is, exclusively, the husband's point of view. Enrique Sabas is a pretty well defined character, and Yglesias must be praised to present his alter-ego as a flesh and bone person, with many defects and obsessions. But I can't say the same about the rest of characters. Margaret, the couple kids, her parents, friends, aren't very far from being sketches.

Second, and something that made me question even to continue reading the book a couple of times is the need of detailing everything. Do we really need to know everything about how Margaret’s deals with her terminal illness? Does it add something to the novel? Why is that relevant? Is not pure morbid curiosity? Sure, that's just my opinion, but I don't see the point of carefully writing about the colour of the food that can be seen through the tubes that Margaret is connected with. In that sense, a few passages of "A Happy Marriage" seemed to me "masturbatory". Sorry if it seems an angry criticism, but to me the whole point of such a personal book is to reach emotional impact through the identification of the reader with the characters and their situations. Cancer, love, disappointment, betrayal, loss... Familiar topics for many, but with "A Happy Marriage" I couldn't empathize with the characters, in particular with Enrique. And that builds a distance between the book and the reader. A distance that, like in relations, ruins the final result.

SCORE: 5,25/10

"My Grandfather Came Skiing", fun and surreal take on Finnish history

My Grandfather Came Skiing 
(Kun Isoisä Suomeen Hiihti, Finnish original title)- Daniel Katz

Let me introduce you to Benno, the narrator's grandfather of this novel, and a fantastic creation that makes the first work ever translated to Spanish from Finnish (thanks to Libros del Asteroide) writer Daniel Katz, a discovering to celebrate.

Katz, who debuted in 1969 with this work that goes beyond the concept of a novel, having more in common with the storytelling oral tradition of Finland, achieves something pretty remarkable. He explains a lot from his country's history and Europe in a few pages. He goes through many wars, the Russo-Japanese in 1905, the First World War, against the Soviet Union and then the Second World War, but without any drama. On the contrary, Katz will provoke us many laughs and smiles. And he tells us the story of his family, without making it a realistic personal biography, but a very entertaining collection of adventures.

But in my modest opinion, all the achievements of the novel are mainly thanks to Benno's powerful character. His attitudes, brutal sarcasm, the hilarious dialectical fights with his wife Wera, his constant flirtation with absurd obviously brings to memory the memorable "The Good Soldier Svejk and His Adventures During the World War" by Jaroslav Hasek, converting the book into a refreshing take of how ridicule, and therefore parodic, is the patriotic compromise. Of course, while you are reading, and frankly being amused by it, you are also being introduced into a compelling familiar story. But thanks to the particular humour, the characters are not dramatic, sappy figures, but remarkably active actors of the World History of the twentieth century.

My complaint with "My Grandfather Came Skiing" is its last part. The Arje and finally Andrei chapters have a completely different tone, more somber and depressing, the opposite from the lightweight, surreal and sarcastic we were having until then. I can understand the reason, but nevertheless, it makes you end the book with a very strange, unsatisfying feeling. Sad, because Katz's novel is highly recommendable.

SCORE: 6,25/10

Saturday, November 12, 2011

New songs from Motorama, Tennis and R.E.M.

I bring you some wonderful music today. To start with, great news from faraway Russia. Our beloved Motorama have a new EP! The follow-up of the great single "One Moment", is called "Empty Bed". A two-songs release (don't miss "Far Away From the City") it's, again, fantastic. The mystery and magic touch of the band remains intact. Check the video and download, as its the usual policy of the group, their new work for free here, on their website. Dying to watch them live!

Tennis is another highly anticipated comeback. Their sophomore album, entitled "Young and Old", will be out on February 14th (yes, Valentine's Day). The first taste of the record is "Origins", single to be released on December 6th. Produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, the tune is as promising and charming as we expected from the lovely couple, Alaina and Patrick. Hear the song below.

Kirsten Dunst + R.E.M. is an already very promising mix. But if that's the video of the band's final single, it all acquires a different dimension. "We All Go Back to Where We Belong", is a superb (but not enough, there couldn't be any song good enough to close such an amazing career) farewell song, included, with two other unreleased tracks on the questionable (because it arrives too soon after the split announcement, and of course for the tracklist itself) retrospective compilation "Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011", out next week.

The sweetness of the tune, with its Burt Bacharach-esque arrangements, the placid mood, Michael's passionate voice as the ends approaches, the meaningful lyrics now the band has called it a day, all fits surprisingly well with Kirsten's beautiful face and sincere expressions. Without drama, even with a smile. Compelling and overwhelming. A song (and video) that heals.

Friday, November 11, 2011

First confirmations for Primavera Sound Festival 2012

The 2012 Festival's rumble has officially started. Benicàssim Festival shot first with The Stone Roses, and today the Primavera Sound organization confirmed the first seven line-up names for the twelfth edition of the Festival in Barcelona, from the 30th May until 3rd June, and first in Porto, the following week.

Honestly, for me this initial round has been a bit disappointing, especially if compared with last year. No offence, the seven names are great indie proposals, some cult artists indeed, but Björk and Neon Indian are not my taste, Codeine's slowcore is not very appealing in principle, and with Yo La Tengo I have never been capable to maintain my interest further than a few songs. On the good side, I'm intrigued with Guided By Voices, that I'll hear thoroughly and Other Lives, on my Discoverer radar the last months. Sure, I should be excited by the confirmation of Jeff Mangum, but as it has been announced in the PS forum, he will play at the auditorium twice, like Sufjan Stevens did on May. So having the chance to see him seems unlikely... I was hoping for Mazzy Star, Feist or Beirut. Umm my PS12 sweepstake hasn't started in a very promising way. Well, no worries, so many names have to be announced... it will get better! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Counterculture Through the Ages", fun & wild trip to the "other side"

COUNTERCULTURE THROUGH THE AGES. From Abraham to Acid House - Ken Goffman (aka R.U. Sirius) and Dan Joy

"Outsiders" of the world, get together! That's what this peculiar book says to the reader. Authors Ken Goffman and Dan Joy had an amazing premise, but also a titanic goal to accomplish. Define counterculture while showing us that, all through history, there have been people and collectives that didn't fit into mainstream culture, therefore  fighting and rebelling against the majority of society, and conforming groups and subcultures that leaves a mark on it. Quoting the LSD and counterculture enfant terrible Timothy Leary, author of the book's preface: “The mark of counterculture is not a particular social form or structure, but rather the evanescence of forms and structures, the dazzling rapidity and flexibility with which they appear, mutate, and morph into one and another and disappear.” Intrigued? You should.

Welcome iconoclasts, rebels, transgressors, the ones proposing alternatives."Counterculture Through the Ages" traces an unexpected and absorbing storyline of the "other side". Because one has to have a lot of braveness and self-confidence in their theory in order to qualify Abraham as the first (with Prometheus) countercultural icon. But once you read that chapter, you'll probably will find that link as amusing (in a much needed subversive way) as plausible. And from there, Mr. R.U. Sirius (his countercultural techno-ciberpunk name), builds the book through Sufis to Zen Buddhists, to the Enlightment classic references to (my beloved) beatniks, hippies, black panthers, weathermens, acid house visionaries and digital culture addicts of modern times. Hundreds of references and names to a book that invites you, provokes you to an almost infinite list of further readings.

Sure, the task of documenting every counterculture the world has seen is impossible, and to me there were chapters that I found way more attractive than others. But I believe the purpose of this book, in its choices, is trying to show a common, recognisable path throughout history, where influences can be easily (sometimes) identified. These attempt to offer an insightful and comprehensive study, in principle, could sound boring and pedantic. Luckily, Goffman doesn't take himself that seriously, making the book an insightful work as well as a rewarding entertainment. An irresistible combination.

From the Bob Dylan fan to the social networker, from the radical environmentalist to an open-minded Christian, to the indie music lover to a computer freak, "Counterculture" could appeal you. To the ones, as Sam Shepard said, who consider that "the place to be is just in the middle of the contradiction", this book is definitely a must read. And to anyone interested in social change, something urgently needed today, this is a wonderful recommendation.

Revolution starts in the mind

SCORE: 8,25/10

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Arctic Monkeys Top Ten songs (and a best-of playlist)

A quick one today. NME gave its latest magazine cover to Arctic Monkeys, so they decided to rank up their top ten songs. As I don't agree with many of their choices, and to celebrate we've recently got the tickets for their forthcoming gig in Barcelona, here's mine. Plus a more elaborated personal best-of playlist with 21 tunes (expect a lot of "Suck It and See", of course), more or less what I would love to hear at Palau Sant Jordi this January. Enjoy!

My top ten
10. Do Me a Favour
9. That's Where You're Wrong
8. From the Ritz to the Rubble
7. Crying Lightning
6. Mardy Bum
5. Fluorescent Adolescent
4. When the Sun Goes Down
3. Suck it and See
2. Reckless Serenade
1. A Certain Romance

Friday, November 4, 2011

"High Flying Birds", narrow victory of Noel versus Liam

High Fliying Birds

Noel or Liam? Sure, one cannot blame oneself to answer these obvious question when the Gallagher brothers have been presenting their Oasis' split and comeback albums as a childish fight on how's better. Now that we have heard "High Flying Birds" the verdict is quite clear. The firstborn wins.

Maybe is not the knock-out triumph we expected. If you allow me the football comparison, is like Barça winning Viktoria Plzën by just a 2-0. It's ok, but you were expecting for more. Because there wasn't much of a competition, as Beady Eye's debut has been, in my opinion, pretty weak. "High Flying Birds" won't shake music foundations either. If you are looking for something surprising, or a radical change of style, a more experimental, adventurous, sound, try another place. You'll find Noel Gallagher's solo record disappointing. But if you are up for an unpretentious but very enjoyable album, these 10 songs will do.

My biggest complain is the overall feeling that "High Flying Birds" definitely lacks ambition. The start is quite promising, "Everybody's On the Run", "Dream On" and the pretty loveable "If I Had a Gun" are a nice trio that sets the listener on a comfortable, familiar zone, that also sounds quite fresh and remarkable. But you won't go further than this, with the glimpse of new sounds here, like the fanfare on single "The Death of You and Me", a trademark whistling melody here on "Aka... Broken Arrow" or a pleasant piano on "Stop the Clocks".

Believe me, there's nothing wrong with the album. Not a single song to despise or be ashamed of. But the whole affair is slightly mellower than expected (and damn it if I don't miss Liam's in-your-face voice on "(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine") and, like Beady Eye, a bit too classic (sadly not classy like the great "Mucky Fingers"). When thinking on what Noel could achieve on his solo work, I was hoping for either his more adventurous side, on the vein of "Falling Down" or "Let Forever Be", or like the underrated "Part of the Queue". Not to mention his previous humming and powerful Oasis' slow numbers-ballads. Do I have to remember this guy is responsible of "Talk Tonight", "The Masterplan", and a long etc? No, "High Flying Birds" is not a bad album, but coming from Noel Gallagher, I think its fair we must ask for a lot more.

SCORE: 6,25/10