The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011’s Best Songs

The end is nigh for a year which has been interesting in every aspect musically. A year of brilliant festivals, the sad passing of Amy Whinehouse and the emergence of brilliant young prospects with brilliant unique music, not that we haven’t heard some great stuff from established artists. These are my 10 favourite tunes of the year, and I’m hoping I haven’t missed out any amazing tracks, such was the vast array of talent on show. Please enjoy…

10.)Battles – Ice Cream. Battles seem to go the hard way around making brilliant music. Separately, every part of ‘Ice Cream’ and also on the album (gloss drop) makes utterly no sense, with bumping sounds and an intro which consists of someone hyperventilating. However, and don’t ask me how, they create wonderful tunes, although it seems to originate from the Steve Jobs school of music.

9.) Miles Kane – Inhaler. He will always be known as ‘Alex Turner’s Mate’, but he has some obvious musical talent of his own. ‘Inhaler’ has roots from classic sixties music where all you need is great riff and wonders can be built upon it. This riff however packs a huge punch and Kane’s howling cries are truly his own creation and intoxicating. 

8.) Dry The River – No Rest. Here is a band I have already mentioned on a couple of different occasions, such is the influence of this brilliant, sharp folk. They are the folk equivalent of The Ramones, the dark, tattooed underbelly of the genre. 2011 has seen big folk artists maintaining their success, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, as well as young talent arriving, Ben Howard, Benjamin Francis Leftwitch, and this band. This song builds intensity like a Hitchcock film, and by the end you are left in awe by the cooing of lead singer Peter Liddle.   

7.) Yuck – Get Away. They weren’t exactly the biggest band of year, but they brought about a brilliant, beautiful ugliness with their fuzzed-up grunge. The bad-haired, denim-wearing weirdos came up trumps with their debut album and particularly with this track. This is the sort of track I wish grunge icons, such as the Smashing Pumpkins, had been able to create with snarling guitars and baffling intensity.

6.) Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I Moved Your Chair. Anyone with a back-catalogue with as many great tracks as the Arctics would have trouble living up to previous material, but no such problem occurs with Alex Turner at the helm. Turner has reprised his role as the orator of such lyrical masterpieces as “Run with scissors through a chip pan firefight… Wear your shellsuit on bonfire night… Go into business with a grizzly bear… but just don’t sit down ’cause I’ve moved your chair”. Clever, clever music.

5.) Howler – I Told You Once. This is reminiscent of a happy incarnation of The Strokes, brought by Rough Trades most recent signings who have brought great, simple indie music out of Minneapolis. ‘I Told You Once’ proves that music does have to be clever or particularly refined in order to be good, and remaining with the ethos of the band, it is buoyant but also nonchalant.

4.) The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness. I wouldn’t call them the best band of year, with ‘Angles’ being a pretty disappointing album, but nonetheless they are still The Strokes and therefore still have the ability to produce great songs (if slightly more sparsely). From the moment it begins it opens with a spine-tingling riff and then Casablancas’ moody groans, complementing each other perfectly in a way only The Strokes know how.

3.) The Black Keys – Gold on the Ceiling. Another example of old-fashioned rock based on a punchy riff that convinces me I accidentally put on a Cream record. Moreover, this isn’t just the earthy blues-rock we’re used to being heralded by The Black Keys, but a sound culminating in replacing The White Stripes as one of the world’s best garage rock bands. 

2.) The Vaccines – Norgaard. The Vaccines gave easily one of the best live performances I saw this year, the highlight of which being ‘Norgaard’ and its inconceivable energy. The song resonates the sanguine vivacity when they are playing live through its bouncy hyperactive riff and sheer pace. Too often good music is a bit dull, and The Vaccines make great music through just having a bit of fun. 

1.) The Horrors – Still Life. I could listen to this over and over and over again, as I say this from past experience, explaining the imprint of a replay button buried into my thumb. Never has such brilliance emerged from the one-handed use of synths and the psychedelia of gnarling guitars, synth and Faris Badwan’s gloomy groans creates a euphoric, smooth sound. At first I thought it was a bit like Echo and the Bunnymen, but it is now clear that this is a completely unique sound to The Horrors, which has been refined and perfected. 

Well done for those who have reached the end of this post and I hope you have enjoyed the years musical offerings as much as I. Hopefully next year will provide with as much great music to talk about, regards 🙂

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

I can safely say, this is probably one of my favourite books. It’s cleverly written, has a lucid narrative, but also contrasts an embedded bleakness with many aspects of a thriller. It was through ‘Brighton Rock’ that Graham Greene found major commercial success, written in 1938, and by 1947 had been moved to the silver screen for John Boulting’s adaptation, which was itself brilliant, namely for Richard Attenborough’s ferocity as Pinkie Brown.

Pinkie Brown is the ultimate literary anti-hero, such that his malevolence and anguish still resonates with modern audiences and creates an utter fascination through the entirety of the novel. I am 17. Pinkie Brown is also 17. There is a slight contrast between us, lifestyle, time period, oh and I’m not a sinister power-hungry gangster, desperate to make not only cash, but a name for himself and a menacing reputation. One sentence in and Greene has already instilled the tone of the whole novel; “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”. The novel is structured around Pinkie’s attempts to cover up Hale’s murder, but these are somewhat thwarted by Ida Arnold, whom had met Fred hale in his last hours. Through Pinkie’s efforts to close the case on his gang’s and his own personal connection to the death, his story becomes intertwined with that of a young waitress, Rose. It is Ida’s purpose to stop Rose fulfilling her terrible, ominous fate; Greene shows Ida in complete contrast to Pinkie and Rose as a loud, secularist femme-fatale, allergic to the religious overtones and the images of redemption running parallel to Pinkie and Rose’s tainted relationship. Relationship isn’t the right word, it is more like a prison, or maybe purgatory. The only thing bleaker than Brighton and the gangster culture that inhabits it, is Pinkie and his aggressive, twisted attitude which devours all emotion he bears witness to.

Few people reach the disturbing evil that is enmeshed within Pinkie Brown and gang culture, but it is a story which still resonates, particular with youth culture, with this cultural boom of the 30’s foreshadowing those in the later 20th century, whether it be Mod, Punk or Urban culture. There will always be a dark undercurrent within society, but that makes it all the more interesting to me and, I expect, to those who read this bleak, brilliant novel. A consuming, outstanding read which I would highly recommend. Regards 🙂

Must-see film #4: Moon

Usually in Sci-Fi films, whether it be J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Star Wars or Avatar, outer-space looks like a hive of activity, exoticism and extremities. This high-octane grandiose is completely incomparable to the bleak claustrophobia which Moon seems to brilliantly capture, becoming an emotional spectacle rather than a lavish, big-budget blockbuster. Not only is this far more minimalistic than the average Sci-Fi film, but equally it is at times a dark, one-person drama constantly questioning humanity within the complex futuristic scenario, presenting an image of both space and Earth that is harrowing and wretched.

Duncan Jones (offspring of David Bowie) has used a minimal $5 million budget in creating his first feature, and I think that this is incredibly beneficial to the tone of the film. After an introductory advertisement to explain to the audience Earth’s fuel problems and how these have subsequently been solved through the conversion of fuel through an omnipresent source within lunar soil, we meet Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell). Indeed, we see him in numerous situations, in numerous different examples of his loneliness, jogging, looking after his plants etc., from the first instance Jones has therefore emphasized how remote his existence on the moon has become. He is an extractor of this resource working for the company advertised, but Jones shows this as space-age capitalism, and the exploitation of Sam questions the benefits which would be gained by human inhabitance in outer space. Although Bell is remote in the greatest sense, he does have a companion called Gerty, a robot with the lucid, sardonic tone of Kevin Spacey. Gerty is however aware of the plight which has occurred and will happen to Sam Bell, and without giving too much away, highlights the sad reality of the situation as humans become as valuable, and replaceable, as machines.

Moon is an example of brilliance from many perspectives. Duncan Jones has built a plot which stands it out from any big-budget Starship Troopers schmulz and achieves a feat rarely seen in the science fiction genre; getting the audience emotionally involved within the story, but also gaining an attachment to Bell. Much of this is down to Rockwell’s brilliant performance, successfully pulling off the incredible difficulty of being a one-person cast. For all its brilliance though, the film doesn’t quite gain an inherent depth, atmospherically and philosophically, which may have been limited by its small budget and cold, utilitarian message. All in all, I highly recommend Moon, partly because it’s unlike any other film I’ve seen and this peculiarity left me more intrigued than I would have ever expected from a Sci-Fi film, if not astounded.