Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Couple of Tracks

So thought I'd share what I've been listening to this week. Not that I'll be doing this every week mind. Just y'know, when I can be bothered.

The first is an absolutely pounding slice of hip-hop courtesy of Childish Gambino. I'm pretty behind on what the heck is going on these days since I've been touring Africa. That and I'm a loser. This track is absolutely great though. And even if it wasn't, anybody who finds their rap-name in a Wu-Tang name generator and also enjoys a successful career as a writer for 30 Rock and as a stand-up comic gets my nod of approval.

Freaks and Geeks- Childish Gambino

On a completely different level, weren't you totally just sitting on your butt today wishing that Hard-Rockin Gospel music was the new electro? ... Oh. Right. Well screw you, I'm going to be recommending this anyway. They're basically a bunch of kids who really love Tom Waits, The White Stripes and John Steinbeck books. Naturally I think that they are incredible. Oh, and they're from Bath.

Pray On Me- Kill It Kid

Good Winter

Bon Iver 'Bon Iver' Review

I haven't done any reviewing in a little while, but as anybody who knows me will tell you, I am something of a Justin Vernon fanatic. 

Justin Vernon returns with an album that is both a natural progression from his debut 'For Emma Forever Ago' and its musical counterpoint. Just as 'For Emma's' defining theme was loneliness, 'Bon Iver' revels in its sense of multitude. Where before there was sparseness, 'Bon Iver' is densely layered.

Album closer Beth/Rest is the logical conclusion of Bon Iver's experimentation.  Overblown and swaggering to the level of Axl Rose it lies in stark contrast to the beautiful Re:Stacks of yesteryear. With 'Bon Iver', Vernon completes the transformation from isolated soul to textured multi-instrumentalist that we heard in 'Blood Bank'. Songs like Holcene and Walsh make use of distinct rhythmic sections and retro samples as well as autotune and dense layers of reverb.

Ultimately, the problem with 'Bon Iver' is that Vernon has released an album in a new destination, but seems confused as to where he has arrived at. It is not so much that 'Bon Iver' is a change of direction. More that it could have been released by almost any other artist this year. Stand-out songs like Perth have all the hall marks of classic Bon Iver, reverb-drenched vocals, delicate melodies and cute harmonies yet these traits are also those of Grizzy Bear, Cults and whoever the hell Brooklyn decides to churn out this week. And they would have done it a little better too.

Sure 'Bon Iver' is a pretty album. It paints lovely pictures of various parts of North America, but the tracks struggle to resonate with the subject matter. Instead Bon Iver plumps for nice sounding but nonsensical soundbites like 'Solar peace/ Well it whirls and sweeps/ You just set it'  (Hinnom TX). Lovely, but it doesn't mean a whole lot. Perhaps another comparison should be made. Where 'For Emma' was heartfelt, 'Bon Iver' is vague.

'Bon Iver' is not without interesting ideas. Holocene is sublime and Beth/Rest makes fantastic use of overdrive but tracks like Lisbon are pure filler. Luckily we have Michicant to remind us of Vernon's undoubted talent as a song writer. It is an ode to boyhood, bicycle bell and all. It is simple, playfully rhythmic and reverberates with a sense of loss and nostalgia.

'Bon Iver' is absolutely worth listening to, preferably several times. But after you have done that, listen to Re: Stacks and remember what came before.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Assante Sana

The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-o-tunya, The Smoke That Thunders. As with every major attraction in Africa, it is immortalised in a million post cards, sculptures, paintings and even its own beer ‘Mosi’ to the point that before arrival the traveller might well think that he has already been. These tiny snapshots daubed on card and relentlessly advertised across Zambia are, like everything I saw in Africa, nothing when compared to the mighty vision that greeted me on arrival.

Over 6 million years old, the Victoria Falls plunge down a face of basalt rock. The waters were high when we arrived, sending spray that could be seen from 30 kilometers distant. Imagine a giant garden sprinkler launching sheets of water (there is nothing so dainty of droplets here) hundreds of feet into the air. A quick walk along Victoria Gorge was wetter than most baths I have taken.

I have chosen to first (inadequately) describe Victoria Falls because it is iconic. I could have chosen almost anywhere. The sheer beauty of South-Eastern Africa is daunting. The open planes of the Serengheti, miles of flatness punctured by protrusions of rock. In the distance you can see entire storms brewing, unleashing and dispersing. The Ngorogoro crater: the red soil of Africa drags lush vegetation from the ground and feeds herds far as the eye can see. The Sahara as seen from the air, a scabbed skin stretched across the earth, smoothing itself into the cloudline and dotted with sidewinder-like dunes.

“It is a good place,” the man next to me on my flight to Nairobi assured me. Quite.

I am not one for nature. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I bore easily, that I am often hyperactive and find it hard to sit still. I have never before been able to while away hours simply looking at things. On the Great Rift Valley, no amount of time was too much.

Africa’s wildlife is on a par with her natural beauty. In these limited photographs I have tried to convey a small sense of what I saw. It is futile to say that these things must be experienced. We all know that.

In this case I have tried to convey a sense of my excitement. A distant shot of animals, partially obscured. The regularity and diversity of wildlife forced me to revise my photo-taking philosophy. That and I am a shit photographer. Pretty soon the only pictures to make the cut are this.

And this.

Elephants move absolutely silently. Their weight is dispersed over four solidly muscular legs giving them a lilting gait. Like ghosts they appear slowly, melting into being as they emerge from the undergrowth until they are suddenly so utterly there. Solid, powerful and slow they stare, registering every movement. Their movements are confident and relaxed. They know that nothing on this earth compares to them.

I have taken a fair few photographs of these. You can never have too many.

Oh an by the way, here is a male lion. They sleep for 20 hours a day. The females do the hunting. As far as I can tell they spend most of their time looking like utter heroes. I could absolutely get into that lifestyle.

I am keeping this blog-post concise since even with more description all I can honestly do is give but a vague impression of my visit. To anybody who is listening, I like to say that I have been to Africa. This is an understatement at best, and at worst an insult. This is not for some luvvie attempt to portray myself as having a social conscience. It is simply the truth. What I visited was a small part of the south-east of an unimaginably vast continent. I did not even begin to touch the west: Cape Town, Ghana, Angola or the North: Egypt and though when on a map they seem tantalisingly close, I know that even were I to spend a lifetime on the continent I would visit less than a single percentage of the sights worth seeing and meet even less than that of the people worth meeting.

Here are a couple of my favourite shots.

Oh alright alright. I admit it. I watched the Lion King when I returned.

By the way "Asante Sana! Squash banana! We we nuga! Mi mi apana!". That’s a real saying. It means, “You’re a baboon. I am not.”

Oh, and here is the greatest song of all time.