Friday recommendations

Good afternoon!

I’m back again with a litany of links to articles, videos, music, interviews, trailers and titbits that I liked this week and would like it if you liked them too. Cool? Ok.

  1. The Cut published this compilation of famous women being bold and assertive and unapologetic and essentially using their platforms as women of influence to progress the feminist agenda. Amen.
  2. You know when you read something and just get such life envy? This couple [named Ivy and Audi, a.k.a. COOL, HIP PEOPLE] are furniture designers and makers in Bloomington, Indiana and their apartment is a treasure trove of minimalist design and interesting trinkets.
  3. I have been terrified by both Patti Levin and Aunt Lydia, so this truncated version of the Vox podcast is a welcome insight into how actress Ann Dowd creates her dark and twisted characters.
  4. TV has long been more forward-thinking than cinema, in part because the risks (and therefore the mistakes) are cheaper to make. Not to be cynical or anything. However the upshot of that risk-taking is that TV is head and shoulders above film in terms of representation and inclusivity. This is being reflected at this year’s Emmys with a host of female creatives being nominated for their behind-the-scenes work.
  5. I have yet to meet a person that needs more books on their ‘to-read list’, however when Vulture’s Autumn Literary Preview includes new works from Jennifer Egan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison and Susan Sontag, as well as icons such as Tom Hanks and Hillary Clinton, then I figured you’d be interested regardless.
  6. HOLY SHIT NEW GRIZZLY BEAR. A lot has happened in the 5 years since I became obsessed with their album ‘Shields’ and its scuzzy, moody, anthemic brand of indie music, but suddenly they’re back on my radar and it feels like they never went away.
  7. Daniel Poppick and Jenny Zhang in conversation.
  8. An artist discusses the expedition that inspired her collages. The ink process is mesmerising and the final results are spectacular.
  9. And if that’s given you wanderlust, this photo story about the Brazilian wilderness will do so even more.
  10. Humans of New York is getting a TV show!

May Culture Round-Up

TV 

I Love Dick, Series 1, Amazon

Arresting and squirm-inducingly intimate, this is a defiant depiction of obsession and desire, in all its forms – ugly, unrequited, unruly. Based on Chris Krauss’ memoir of the same name, Transparent’s Jil Soloway is arguably the perfect helmer for this provocative source material and in her hands it becomes even more cerebral and transgressive.

The art world might be alienating to some audiences, but Kathryn Hahn’s aptitude for awkward charm and Kevin Bacon’s aloof roguishness are enough to keep you enthralled. (If you need more convincing there is a scene where he is shirtless and carries a sheep.) The soundtrack, cinematography and direction are also astonishingly good, with Andrea Arnold taking the ropes in a few episodes, utilising the raw-nerved, hypersensitivity on which she has made a career to sizzling effect.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Series 1, Hulu

Reed Morano has long been a favoured cinematographer of mine. Since seeing her work in Frozen River, Little Birds & For Ellen I have been enchanted by the visceral, vérité-style of her shots and her gorgeous attention to detail. It was exciting news then to hear she’d be given her biggest platform yet directing and executive producing The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu.

A damning and darkly modernised version of Margaret Atwood’s novel, there’s a spiky wit and stylishness which pulsates throughout. Its self-reflexive, pop-cultural nods are put to particularly good use in the soundtrack department, as seen in the first two episodes when Leslie Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ play towards the end. Its spine, however, never loses its morality or for that matter, its chill. Despite the hubristic sense of humour, The Handmaid’s Tale sadly remains a timely tale of female subjugation and exploitation.

The casting is also cunningly brilliant. Elisabeth Moss might just be the hottest property in television right now, what with Mad Men and Top of the Lake also on her CV, and her Offred is another bastion of strength, smarts and vulnerability. Samira Wiley and Madeleine Brewer, of Orange Is The New Black fame, also appear as fellow handmaids, whilst Alexis Bledel as the mutilated Ofglen will make you forget she ever played Rory Gilmore.

This is tense, imaginative and rousing TV. Poignantly performed and executed with exacting technical precision, it’s hard to watch but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.

FILM

Berlin Syndrome (DIR. Cate Shortland, 2017)

Teresa Palmer plays a nervous solo traveller in Cate Shortland’s third and most accessible film yet. As a Berlin-based romance turns sour, and as the title alludes to, escalates into a hostage situation, what begins as moody indie fare turns into something weird, intense and cerebral. The muted performances and consistently menacing, irresistibly mounted cinematography breathe life into a somewhat spare plot. However, predictable this is not. Shortland explores the predator/prey dichotomy with a startling empathy, and eschews the cliché of villain/victim to summon something as sensitive as it can be sickening. As in her debut Somersault, and follow-up Lore, Shortland continues to prove herself a brilliantly tactile and evocative director, weaving a texture at once sensuous and suspenseful. It might be minimalist in design, but the effect is resounding, with the last 30 minutes especially thrilling.

In cinemas now.

BOOKS

The Girls – Emma Cline

I finally got around to reading the wunderkind Emma Cline’s literary sensation The Girls. A novel so talked about its pages were practically curling under the weight of expectation. And sadly, I wasn’t wowed.

The narrative concerns 13-year-old Evie Boyd and her fleeting, though formative experience of a Charles Manson-esque cult, where a ragtag group of women worship their mysterious leader Russell. Cline is especially good at evoking the sun-drenched and soporific landscape of 60s California, as well as the bewildered internal landscape of adolescence that tempt Evie into this world. However, as a reader we’re always kept at a frustrating distance. Evie’s perspective is curbed by her half-hearted initiation into the group. She experiences some, but not all of their deviant activities and in firmly sticking with Evie’s viewpoint, Cline rather limits her own ability to delve deeper into the savagery and sadomasochism of the cult.

As The New York Times so succinctly put it:

What results is a historical novel that goes halfway down the rabbit hole and exquisitely reports back. Then it pulls out, eschewing the terrifying, fascinating human murk…Still, it’s a spellbinding story.

 

First Love – Gwendoline Riley

At a lithe 147 pages, Riley’s thoroughly British novel(la) is all the more intriguing when you consider its being shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction and that other such novels to have been nominated include Hanya Yangihara’s behemoth A Little Life and Donna Tartt’s equally weighty The Goldfinch. It says a lot about the particularity and potency of Riley’s writing that she’s considered among them. And not wrongly so. This lovely, if mordantly sad book, concerns Neve and her strained marriage to the ailing Edwyn. In vibrant brushstrokes Riley depicts quite how she ended up there and in doing so, proves herself an absolute fiend for tight, lucid prose. Take the following:

Back in the summer she’d had a birthday M&S voucher she said she wouldn’t use: did I want it? I did. She’d started her turn then as we crossed the floor to Hosiery: surrounded, as we were, by strange statuary. My mother blenched extravagantly at the gussied-up torsos, blinking hard like someone had flashed a torch in her eyes, saying she couldn’t understand why anyone would buy, wear, matching underwear.

For her sheer powers of observation and her ability to locate humour, tenderness and melancholy in the gut-wrenchingly ordinary, Riley must be commended. It’s perhaps a bit on the scant and under-sketched side for my taste, but it’s easy to relate to her exploration of muddied relationships – whether parental, platonic or romantic.

THEATRE

Woyzeck at The Old Vic

I saw this Jack Thorne penned revival of Georg Büchner’s classic on its first night of previews, which means I had the advantage of being completely unswayed by public opinion, but the disadvantage of seeing quite a nervy and fluctuant production. John Boyega takes on the titular role of a hard-up soldier, struggling with past traumas and drug-induced paranoia, though the setting has been relocated to 1980s Cold War Berlin. He’s a charismatic actor and can more than carry himself on stage, and here he delivers a committed, if somewhat gauche performance. Surpassing Boyega in subtlety and charm is his Irish Catholic girlfriend Marie, played by Sarah Greene (Poldark’s former squeeze apparently!), whose got the tough job of being the stable axis around which Boyega erratically rattles. The supporting actors likewise, bring presence to their occasionally stereotypical characters.

Ultimately this is a fierce and robust play about poverty, masculinity and mental-health, and the set design, music and direction all do well to limn the claustrophobic environment and its increasingly malevolent protagonist. However it struggles to reach the levels of gravitas its so desperately striving for.

ART

The American Dream: Pop to Present at The British Museum

Warhol, Liechtenstein, Pollock – the greats are all on display in this exhibition that claims to chart ‘The American Dream’ in all its monolithic, prevailing and consumerist glory. And certainly its scope is extensive, and impressive: there are more than 200 works from 70 artists working between 1960 and 2014 on displays and art movements including abstract, minimalism, photorealism and portraiture are all touched upon. Ed Ruscha’s pleasingly geometric gas station prints and the orange glow of the California room were particular highlights.There are political allusions – AIDs, gender equality, civil rights, the Vietnam War – but the exhibition as a whole felt too hurried and surface to be exploratory or penetrating.

On reflection, I don’t think pop art is my thing.

MUSIC

Angel Olsen at Camden Roundhouse

Angel Olsen knows how to make an entrance. As the woozy backbeat of ‘Heart Shaped Face’ is kickstarted by her suited-and-booted band, she appears, a few bars in and lets her soaring vibrato fill the room. It’s almost better to have not listened to her latest album in a while; to have forgotten how good Angel Olsen is, because her live performance more than reminds you. The show as a whole is muted and magical, with the volume turned way down low on theatrics or distractions, and the focus solely on Olsen’s enthralling, transporting vocals. ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’ and ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ provided energetic interjections, but ultimately this show was an extension of her album: subdued, smouldering and sublime.


March Culture Round-Up

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WATCHING

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a couch potato kind of month.

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The Night Manager – A suave, and savvy rendering of John Le Carre’s political thriller as Olivia Colman’s Angela Burr is forced to use backwater channels and sly tactics to bring down the villain of the piece, played with debonair wit and a sinister fickleness by Hugh Laurie. Susanne Bier and the BBC brought out the fireworks for all but the finale, which was a little too polished for my liking. Still, when you’re treated to six concurrent weeks of taut, titillating drama with the added benefit of an oft-shirtless Tom Hiddleston, then I’d say that’s a production budget well-spent.

Girls, Season 5 – Girls is back and on top form. Aside from THAT wedding episode, their narratives have been much more disparate of late and it’s a storytelling technique I’m very much enjoying. With the news that this will be the penultimate season the writing has appeared to possess a renewed sense of purpose and certainly the characters feel less aimless (aside from Shoshanna whose taken to working in a Japanese cat cafe) and more as if they’re finally learning from their mistakes rather than accumulating a string of ridiculous anecdotes. The maturation of these four women (and the men who populate their lives) has provided as much awkwardness as it has entertainment, but one’s investments in their unravellings has finally started to feel like its paying off.

House of Cards, Season 4 – As the Underwoods reign appears to unravel, the 4th instalment of this wickedly smart Netflix series feels like a resurrection of sorts. The show had become a little dense, and dare I say it, boorish. This time around, whilst retaining the tongue-and-cheek wit for which the show has become renowned, it sheds flabby sub-plots and political minutiae in favour of character development and sees Claire come into her own. With the added benefit of new cast regulars (Neve Campbell as a campaign manager, Joel Kinnaman as a Republican rival and Ellen Burstyn as Claire’s mother), there’s plenty to get your teeth into. Perhaps the highlight is the show recognising that it truly soars when the Underwoods are allowed to do what they do best; scheme.

 

READING

wheelemenWheelmen – Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell

If you’ve ever founded yourself lacking in knowledge on the topic of Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal, this is the book for you. Comprehensive doesn’t quite cover the level of detail and context that journalists Albergotti and O’Connell (of The Wall Street Journal) provide in outlining the endemic culture of cheating that plagued cycling in the late 90s and 00s – and the profit that was to be made as a result.

The tone is sometimes wistful, sometimes stern and shows a deep-seated admiration for Armstrong as an athlete, regardless of his Machiavellian reign and devilish manipulation of cycling authorities and public opinion. But with the facts, stats and science laid bare Wheelmen offers invaluable insight into the story, no matter how much you think you’ve heard before.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/

I also read this brilliantly insightful report; ‘The Obama Doctrine’ in The Atlantic, whereby Jeffrey Goldberg examines the current President’s handling of foreign policy since his election. It contains excerpts of conversations had with Obama himself, but never feels like its airbrushing or acting as a mouthpiece. There’s a refreshing frankness to its exploration of Obama’s reticence when it comes to military intervention. And if nothing else, you came away with the keen sense that for all his perceived failings, Obama is a measured and intelligent pragmatist, and regardless of whom replaces him the US will be a lesser country without his guidance.

 

LISTENING TO

MEGMAC EP

MEGMAC-EPI caught wind of this Australian songstress after the song ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ from her eponymous EP appeared in an episode of Girls. If Lena Dunham’s paying attention, then I figured ought to be too.

The five-song-strong EP is deliciously anthemic and optimistic. Exactly the kind of music you’d want to soundtrack a strut down a busy street; sultry, stomping and soulful, with the empowering vocals of Macy Gray and the earnestness of Laura Marling. Mesmerising.

EATING

Madeleine Shaw’s Raw Chocolate Tart.

The recipe can be founScreen Shot 2016-04-03 at 14.33.15d here.  I altered the ingredients slightly, adding dates and banana to the chocolate cream centre instead of in the base and forgo-ing cashews. The result was insanely good. The two textures compliment one another beautifully, with enough crunch in the base and smoothness in the centre to differentiate the layers. It was both sweet and rich enough to satiate dessert cravings, but without the sickliness of some chocolate recipes that prevent you go back for seconds. Or thirds. I even ate a slice for breakfast because it was there, and it has banana in it and well, who gives a fuck.

 

DOING

Curtain Call at Queen of Hoxton.

Sponsored by DIY Magazine and located in Shoreditch, this undeniably hipster band night gives the up-and-coming Kodaline’s and Wolf Alice’s of the world a chance to show a bearded and Vans-wearing crowd what they’re made of. The bands in question this time were Cut Ribbons (think Two Door Cinema Club or Of Monsters & Men) and headliners Tall Ships.

Cut Ribbons kicked proceedings off with ‘We Want To Watch Something We Loved Burn’ which made up for the lack of catchiness in its title with a soaring, synth-laden hook. The set continued to showcase their talent for energetic, electric songwriting, even if their performance demanded slightly more of these qualities. Still, it’s always a good sign for a band to leave the stage with the crowd wanting more. New to the circuit they may be, but this Welsh quintet sure as hell know what they’re doing.

Tall Ships came to the stage with the tall order of doubling-down on the effervescence that preceded them. And like all good men, they followed through. Their tunes are more meditative and sway, than crowd-surf, inducing. The set continued in polished, percussive fashion and the Cornish four-piece showed a serious capacity for delicate dynamism.

BUYING

Vichy Skincare

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Writing about skincare is overwhelmingly banal. The fact that Beauty Editors make an industry out of it is incredibly admirable (what else do you write other than moisturisers smooth your skin and facial wash cleans it?) But this month I decided to grow-up and invest in some beauty products other than the Simple range, so here I am writing about skincare.

Confession – I am one of those people that will ‘borrow’ expensive ointments and treatments but never purchase them myself. Whenever I go home I delight in using my mother’s Body Shop Vitamin E facial wash and luxuriously rich anti-ageing creams (I like to tell myself it’s the reason I still get ID’d) and it excites me no end to use the expensive hand-creams that are oft a feature of fancy establishments. But to part with £50 for the sake of using them regularly? Out of the question!

But recently, my usually reliable complexion has been a bit erratic, so I decided to splash out. Armed with very little knowledge and limited time, I dallied in the expensive aisle before settling on Vichy for no other reason than it looked nice. I bought the Normaderm cleanser, the Idealia Life serum and Aqualia Thermal Rich Day Cream because they promised to hydrate and revitalise and repair stressed skin and basically they sounded like little miracles in little bottles and it was too early for any other kind of de-stressing fluid that comes in a bottle so I chose them.

It claimed that it was good for both sensitive and dry skin, which translated to win-win from my ignorant perspective. And since trying them? So far so good. The products are all very fancy. They feel expensive and indulgent, and lo-and-behold they leave my skin feeling clean and soft. I have no idea whether it’ll impact the inconsistencies in my complexion, but damn do I want to keep touching my cheeks. 

Ps. If you happen to be using my bathroom in the next couple months, hands off.

The Playlist: What I’ve Been Listening To

Lera Lynn – Lately

Arguably the breakout star of True Detective‘s underwhelming series was not an actor, but the crooning, country singer echoing from the back of the bar. That voice belongs to Lera Lynn, a Nashville-based songstress whose moody, melancholic vibes and soulful twang earned her the attention of legendary musician T Bone Burnett. My favourite track from those she penned for the second instalment of HBO’s noir-ish hit, is Lately. Stripped back and haunting, the melody has a gothic edge, whilst the almost guttural timbre of her voice reverberates with nostalgia. Lately is an utterly mesmeric lullaby and by the far the most captivating element of the show.

Jess Glynne – Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

Best known for her distinctive vocals on Clean Bandit’s No.1 Rather Be, the copper-haired hit maker has just released her debut album I Cry When I Laugh, and its standout song for me, is the feel good anthem Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself.  This is the kind of sassy pop that will get you in the mood for a Saturday night.

Mac Demarco – Another One

Another One is Demarco’s self-recorded 8 track mini album that continues in the twangy, zany vein of Salad Days. He’s perfect the art of mellow melodies and whimsical vocals that make for something watery, reflective and joyfully simplistic. My favourite track is the upbeat, guitar-laced I’ve Been Waiting For Her.

Everything Everything – Regret

Slightly older, but no less magical than the other entries, this track from the band’s third album is pop perfection. With it’s effervescent percussion, throbbing drum beat and frenetic falsetto, Everything Everything have delivered something as dazzling as it is dizzying.

Chvrches – Never Ending Circles

The Glaswegian synth-pop trio return to fray with a glossy, whirlwind track from their upcoming sophomore album, Every Open Eye. It’s not a particularly noticeable departure from their debut material, and perhaps lacks the edge of Lies or Recover, but it’s beautifully produced and gets better with every listen.

Live Review: Kaiser Chiefs at Sandown

Kaiser Chiefs and horse-racing might seem like an obscure combination, but it made for an adrenalin-fuelled and energetic night of entertainment.

The Chiefs predominantly stuck to their roster of classics, belting out tunes such as Modern Way, Everyday I Love You Less and Less, and Ruby with the same vigour and enthusiasm as when they first graced the airwaves.

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Newer material was also trialled out – a particular favourite of mine being their recently unveiled single ‘Falling Awake’, a teaser for their forthcoming album. And the titular song from their LP Education, Education and War also made an appearance, though the slightly older crowd seemed less receptive to this than the golden oldies.

Still, the Kaiser Chiefs proved – not like they have to – the enduring popularity and allure of their music. They’re a down-to-earth man-band of passionate musicians and theirs is brand of music characterised by accessibility, catchiness and political undercurrents. Like a lovechild of The Jam, Pulp and The Specials; they take all the good bits and make it their own. A special, pulpy jam that is chiefly the Kaisers if you will.

Indeed, their stage presence or more precisely, frontman Ricky Wilson’s is what really sets them apart. Wilson bounds around the stage like a puppy on steroids and knows how to entertain a crowd. Sure the band play the anthems, but it’s Wilson who gets you singing and clapping along.

In fact the jubilance with which he prances around and jumps on the sound equipment belies the bittersweet and brutally frank lyrics.

With swagger and satire they continue to march to the beat of their indie-rock drum, and do so somewhat under the radar.

They’re a sly band the Kaiser Chiefs. It’s easy to forget just how good they are.

Album Review: The Bones Of What You Believe, Chvrches

Having “discovered” Chvrches back in January 2013 (when they placed fifth in the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2013’ poll, alongside a cluster of similarly talented breakthrough artists such as Haim and AlunaGeorge), trust me when I proclaim that the trio’s debut album has been long-awaited and much anticipated.

shareImageTeasing listeners with such vibrant releases as ‘The Mother We Share’ and ‘Recover’, Chvrches promised electro-pop at its finest: arousing, zingy and multi-faceted. And boy, have they made good on that promise: The Bones of What You Believe is alarmingly assured for a debut album. ’80s synth lines and infectious hooks are laced with the darker undertones of lyrics such as “I will be a gun / and it’s you I’ll come for”. Equally, frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s voice perfectly accompanies this dichotomy: at once childlike and playful, yet hauntingly ethereal.

Each track defies and transcends one’s expectations, beginning as if building to a frenetic climax, before U-turning into something more restrained and introspective. Particularly notable in this regard is ‘Tether’, which swells and dips in volume and refrain in such dramatic fashion that one virtually has to check that the track is still playing. Similarly trance-like and pensive is ‘Night Sky’, which effervesces with a quiet intensity.

This makes for an interestingly diverse and re-playable album that suits a variety of moods and tones. I could just as easily find myself jumping up and down to ‘Lies’ at a festival or club, as I could let the atmospheric  and hypnotic ‘Under the Tide’ – in which Martin Doherty takes to the mike – nurture me through an essay.

Chvrches manage to pack a punch with a nuanced and textured listening experience, which could happily belong in any one of the past four decades.

There is a menace and emotional turmoil fuelling the appeal of each song: tapping into adolescent anxiety, but superseding some of the empty, effusive pop that the group’s peers have been guilty of. Reminiscent of Kate BushDepeche Mode, and – more recently – Purity RingChvrches manage to pack a punch with a nuanced and textured listening experience, which could happily belong in any one of the past four decades. And yet, there is something equally futuristic and forward-thinking about its aural appeal.

There’s room for development for the band to really mould or consolidate the slightly more experimental flavours at their disposal. ‘Science/Visions’ hints at a weak spot to rest on the laurels of the other songs, repeating some of the hooks previously heard and slightly less polished than its predecessors. But that’s a blip in an otherwise phenomenally phantasmagorical and accomplished album. Believe in these bones, because I suspect they’re something special.

Similar To: Purity Ring, Depeche Mode

MP3: ‘Lies’, ‘Gun’, ‘Recover’