Cultural Consumption, April-May 2017

The usual deluge of end-of-academic-year coursework deadlines and exams meant this wasn’t the best of periods for me on a cultural front. The only film I went to see was Get Out (which was, to be fair, absolutely brilliant) and I didn’t make it to any gigs or exhibitions or plays or anything else (read: I didn’t get out much…). Which is a bit disappointing. Still managed to get through some decent music and books, though.

 

Music

Three albums were consistently with me throughout the period. The first of those was Palmistry’s Pagan – all melancholy, stripped back, dancehall-infused pop – on Mixpak. The latest weird and wonderful offerings from Clark and Arca were the other two. Both are typically immersive, with the former more playful, and the latter more intense – but probably my favourite Arca material yet.

I ended up listening to a lot of guitar music, too, which worked well while cross-training through injury. EPs from Sløtface and Estrons were the excellent starting point, but I also got really into albums from IDLES (quite hilarious, quite punk) and VANT (more predictable, but with some catchy tunes).

Luke Abbott’s latest EP, and first as Earlham Mystics, is also stunning (“Truth” is on the playlist below, but I actually think “Stolen Hearts” might be better). Oh, and I rediscovered all my vinyl from years gone by – I end the usual YouTube playlist with a single by Dartz! from yeeeaaaarrrs ago.

(Playlist embedding isn’t working, for some reason. Link here.)

 

Books

David Lodge’s Nice Work seemed very relevant post-Brexit. A story about overcoming barriers in a divided Britain, it preceded the recent fuss by nearly 30 years.  More contemporary yet was Peter Pomerantsev‘s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, which shone a consistently entertaining light on the farce that is Russian politics.

On a Japan tip, Haruki Murakami’s Underground is an insightful series of interviews and reflections collected in the wake of the terror attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995. Not exactly fast-paced, but it did get very interesting towards the end. Zen in the Art of Archery is a short classic I was recommended before going to Japan a couple of years ago, and the sort of read that makes you rethink your approach to life.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, perhaps the most famous of Philip K Dick’s novels, was another book I’d been sat on for a while. And I thought it was wicked, offering a welcome escape from hours of work. Former soldier Harry Parker’s Anatomy of a Soldier was harder going, and I had to return to it after exams (and after the easier and pretty OK Shame, by Melanie Finn). When I did, though, I found it excellent. Supremely moving and evenhanded in its presentation of modern warfare and its personal impact.

Cultural Consumption, March 2017

I’ve been sat on this for ages, not sure why. Better late than never, etc.

Music:

First things first: I’m not sure where I’d have been this month without Visible Cloaks’ Reassemblage. I mentioned it as a highlight in my February post, but in March it came into its own. The musical equivalent of a secluded room, cut off from the noisy computer lab, I weathered a number of coursework storms in its peaceful embrace.

Noveller’s expansive A Pink Sunset for No One was my belated introduction to the work of a wicked cool artist, and the thoughtful-but-accessible pop of Lowly’s Heba was perfect for tired ears at the end of the lengthening days. Both served as alternative havens – along with the Disasterpeace (possibly my favourite producer moniker ever) soundtrack to last year’s Hyper Light Drifter.

Perhaps my favourite discovery of the month, though, was K À R Y Y N. ‘Aleppo’ and ‘Binary’, the two parts to her double A-side single dubbed Quanta 1, both hit me hard. And my biggest banger was this Celestial Trax / Orlando Volcano-produced tune that I’ve come across about 6 months late…well, that and last year’s Floorplan album, which seemed perfect to catch up on when the sun came out at the end of the month.

My one live outing was to see Cloud Nothings at The Haunt in Brighton. And it was probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Much more raucous than I’d anticipated, and all the better for it. It prompted the realisation that their songs, however good on record, are made to be played live. Was also impressed with Nature Channel – the first of the warm up acts. Thought they were very tight.

The usual scrapbook documents whatever of the above I could find on Youtube along with some other bits and pieces there isn’t really space to write about. Enjoy.

 

Books:

Read quite a mix of different things. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust was emotive and strikingly poetic. A little too flowery for me, at first, but I got used to it. A friend lent me Mina Loy’s Insel for my next read, which was also pretty poetic but much more surreal. Not quite like anything I’ve read before, in fact. A woozy and discombobulating character study of a mad German artist in 1930s Paris, that sweeps you up in his uncanny wake.

Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time was an elegant series of vignettes, offering a fictionalised insight into the troubled reflections of Dmitri Shostakovich. Left me thinking a lot about the relationship between music, or art generally, and politics. (See also this podcast wrt electronic music and political protest.)

To round off the month, I finally read Ivan Illich’s short but illuminating Energy and Equity. A guy doing a PhD in Development Studies had recommended it to me months ago, and it was really excellent. Made most seemingly radical politics look positively conservative. I’ve been meaning to put some notes on it up, but haven’t got round to it. In the meantime, just go and read it yourself – it’s pretty short, and you can access the whole text here.

 

Films:

Hidden Figures was good, with a cool message, but far too dumbed-down Hollywood for my liking. All seemed a bit too nice, a bit too before-the-watershed. Interesting that automation came up again, considering I was thinking so much about it last month.

Got round to watching The Big Short, which was very entertaining, and went to see The Salesman. The latter I thought was outstanding – very real despite its improbability, with a brilliant moral conundrum framing the closing scenes.

I also listened to a load of podcasts – Exponential View, Talking Politics, Line Noise, Trackside – but am just writing a load of rubbish now so will leave it. Ciao.

Cultural consumption, Feb 2017

Music:

My listening was dominated in the opening weeks of the month by the latest Japandroids and Cloud Nothings albums. The former are the kings of anthemic, rousing choruses that make you feel sort of invincible. Good to listen to before machine learning lectures. The latter are less earnest and more quirky, with janglier guitars. Still very catchy, and great company for walks to and from campus. Both are also playing Brighton in the coming months – more on that in due course.

On a different hype, I got pretty into Stefflon Don’s Real Ting mixtape (although calling it that doesn’t really do it justice…it’s essentially a fully-fledged album), which actually came out late last year. Also noticed that Suicideyear had been back in action, in collaboration with outthepound; their excellent new EP, Brothers, is a collection of utopian trap instrumentals (cf. vapourwave) and available for free download.

There were two real standouts, though. The first was Shackleton’s return to the fold, accompanied by Vengeance Tenfold, with a typically complex and immersive album. Don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like Sferic Ghost Transmits: ‘the warped digital hymnal for a lost civilisation’ would be my attempt to describe it. That and Visible Cloak’s Reassemblage – a stunning assortment of synthesised ambient textures and reflections – actually swung me back onto a massive experimental / electronic music hype over the last week or so of the month. I even got back on Logic to do some production myself…

The usual 17-track YouTube scrapbook tries to capture some of that, along with some other bits and pieces that I’d write about if time and space were no object.

The last track on that playlist is a 360° video made in advance of the one live show I went to. That was Still Be Here, a performance piece that lay somewhere between concert, animated film and documentary, celebrating and picking apart the appeal of the virtual Japanese pop star, Hatsune Miku. It was at the Barbican, and the whole experience was pretty bizarre on a number of counts – but I should probably write about it separately. A darn cool work of art, though.

 

Books:

I read one work of non-fiction: Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots. It prompted many thoughts, and I put together a short Medium piece outlining some of my objections, accompanied by a blog post with a few related reflections. So enough on that for now.

The fiction I read jumped from rural Estonia – Sofi Oksanen’s Purge – to provincial 1950s Japan – Shūsaku Endō’s Volcano – and then to the Scottish Highlands – His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet. All 3 were excellent, and unsettling to different degrees. The links are to the OurStories recommendations I wrote for each, have a look if you’re interested – they’re only short!

 

Films:

The Ides of March made for entertaining viewing, particularly off the back of a year during which current events have had me thinking about political campaigning (the good, the bad, and the ugly) more than ever.

Although I only made one trip to the cinema, it was a good one. It was to see Moonlight, which was exceptional. Left me feeling melancholy for a good couple of days. But no doubt you’ve already heard a million things about it, so I’ll leave things there.