Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Synchronised Swanning and Anish Kapoor

Photograph by YF

   Back in the RA courtyard after observing a bullet of red wax shot out of an air compression cannon  (Shooting into the Corner) at the Anish Kapoor show. The poses struck by myself and YF's lady are close enough to inspire the dreadful punning in the title

   I enjoyed thinking of how high the cleaning bill for removing all the dried wax from the walls and floors at the RA would be, but I especially like what Kapoor does with mirrors, transporting them out of the funhouse and onto the gallery floor. One would think that removing the spooky dark rooms and the disco smoke machines from the equation would take away much of the pleasure of narcissistic image distortion, and actually, in a way, it does. Unless one is one of the many half term-celebrating urchins running unfettered throughout the exhibition, that is

   Also prominent amongst these appealing constructs, Hive (womb symbolism meets the inside of an ocean liner's hull meets an echo chamber) and Yellow (a concave fibreglass and pigment-based work that belies the inverse dome in the centre by appearing solid if stared at long enough) were similarly striking and inviting of momentary scrutiny. I think I want to go again

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Stars - 'Elevator Love Letter' (2003)

   In 2003, I was still a student and because students are stupid and introspective, I began to delve into twee pop. Today, I'm so out of touch with my emotions that I can justifiably claim to have left my feelings in my other trousers. But some things stay with you and this song is one of them

   Stars is a Canadian pop outfit almost unhealthily concerned with love, death, love, isolation, love, major emotions, guitars, love and keyboards. On a side note, founder and male singer, Torquil Campbell, was a walk-on in an episode of "Sex and the City, crowning his achievement with his sole line, directed at Sarah Jessica-Parker: "Is that pleather?" I spent a reasonable amount of time with their first three albums, fell hard and then removed them from my affections almost as quickly. Perhaps it really was a question of feelings in the end. Still, 'Elevator Love Letter' is quite possibly their indelible classic, or at least as close to a signature song as they had developed before releasing 'Ageless Beauty' in 2004

   The thing is, songs that are bleak, wistful and disappointed at the core but dressed up in melodies and beats of earworm-like properties are neither new nor uncommon, but few of them have as delicate and accomplished a happy-sad balance as this does. Although Torquil has a part to play as a cynical, blithe Lothario in the second verse, the song rests much more on the beautiful vocal performance of Amy Millan and her realisation of the equally cynical and emotionally stunted yet yearning, depressed and insecure rich girl whose woes and fragility drive the song. If her story was not so slight, I'd actually like the song less, since Stars already had 11 other emotional situations to navigate through on the song's parent album, Heart, to say nothing of the rest of their output

   'Elevator Love Letter' tells me just enough about its characters, says enough about what a rich girl with a nearly frozen heart really wants out of life and woos me just enough with a fast paced, lightly melodic production and singing that actually affects. And all with a chorus that turns the mundane into something transportive, although it helps when there's various layers of instruments playing in perfect synergy underneath it

   Maybe I've not grown up fast enough - I may still have the albums somewhere

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Outsmarting The Daleks

Photograph by YF. Title inspired by BC on StyleForvm

   Much like EJ and Steve of Style Salvage, I've always had more than an occasional torrid fling with the concept of a personal uniform. I'm certainly living it right now - it's been little other than jacket-and-tie or jacket-and-waistcoat-and-tie for the past month or so - and while it won't approach an apex any time soon, it does start to feel a little constricting (much like my strange penchant for wearing my Junya trench to art shows). I do not plan on creating any full-on streetwear ensembles, but the notion of placing such garments back into my ensemble is a rather tempting one. As I recall, my aesthetic of six years ago was about creating traditionally inspired outfits out of streetwear; possibly the folly of youth, but at least it was an entertaining and challenging idea, and somehow I neatly avoided resembling a member of a seventh tier indie band

   Of course, the flipside is that I usually set out to entertain and enliven myself with my traditional ensembles. Hence the ever-exuberant colour mixing and pattern clashing. And no, I did not wake up that morning intending to match my tie to my umbrella, but fate is funny like that

   I'm standing outside my modern art TARDIS in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, which currently hosts the works of Anish Kapoor. I'm rather looking forward to catching the show, possibly next week at that. Good weekend, all

   P.S. Dear Steven Moffat, if another regeneration is forthcoming, holla at me. Yours, B.O.N.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Pop Culture Thumbs-Up 21/10/2009

   The Quietus interviews Florence Welch of the vacuously flouncy Florence and the Machine. And it is truly refreshing to read an interviewer so unrestrainedly spiking her subject, so much so, that the interview itself comprises 30% of the overall feature. As someone who's only sweet on the outside and considers House, M.D. and its rational, brutally honest title character to be the best creations in modern television, I feel very happy indulging in the vituperative, scathing and insightful snark unleashed on Ms. Welch, who reminds me very much of every other female art student I've ever met in London (Writer's note for art students: put it this way - if we're buds or if I've ever been polite to you, I'm obviously not alluding to you)

  In the comments box, one reader notes, "good singers don't always make good conversationalists. and more often than not, good conversationalists make terrible singers. Two different forms of expression. it doesn't mean that she's stupid." He's not wrong. But leaving aside his obvious fandom, he's wrong to excuse her conversational abilities on the supposed merits of her talent because aside from the fact that her public persona generally belies the metaphorical knots around her tongue, someone who allegedly bursts with ideas should have even the most basic things to intone on regarding their craft, some small details to reveal regarding its intricacies or the work put in or how a particular burst of inspiration took matters to a logical and enjoyable conclusion. And that isn't what I just read, nor will my hopes be approaching the high setting any year soon

   Rumours of the death of America's favourite jackass (straight from the President himself), Kanye West, comprised the top Twitter trend this morning. I'd be interested to know what the fake cause was - "crushed under the weight of his own ego/hubris/chutzpah" seems far too mundane a death for him. Where would the funny be?

   Oh, and I finally sent a new piece in to Men's Flair, regarding the Hong Kong based tailors, W.W. Chan, who will be in residence at the London Park Lane Hilton tomorrow and Friday. I like them because they are far over half the price of your entry level Savile Row two piece and nearly as impressive. And frankly, not many other tailors do such an intuitive job of creating an aesthetic that marries exquisite classicism to natural progression. When I can afford them, I'm pretty sure crazy things will happen

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Don't Look At Me

Photograph by YF

   Autumn is meant to be the favoured season for those with the dressing-up affliction, but I'm only now starting to get into the spirit. No one and nothing to blame; it just seems to be one of those slow times

   I was a little less colour bold as a result, but the nice thing about a slow period is that it doesn't last forever. Be patient; my infamous eye-bleeding combinations shall one day return

Sunday, 18 October 2009

 All photographs © Erno Raitanen

   As's recently mentioned Suspended in Process exhibition comes to an end, I had the pleasure of having this selection of photos from the opening night delivered to my inbox by enterprising young Finnish shutterbugger, Erno Raitanen (another Finnish photographer? My Pokemon collection has been truly superseded). He has quite an eye, I trust you'd all agree:

In conversation with S and Winston

Special thanks to Kat for inviting me and for organising such an interesting evening

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Cornelius and Ryuichi Sakamoto - 'Turn Turn' (2008)

   'Turn Turn' is one of the songs that I listen to precisely because of how it plays with my head. Most folk unlucky enough to be aware of my aural relaxation proclivities would decry this revelation as just another footnote in my ongoing adoration of Cornelius. They're probably right

   A cover of a song by the Japanese band Sketch Show, it was originally written by electropop legend Haruomi Hosono, who is also a core member of the trailblazing Yellow Magic Orchestra (for the kids - J-Lo sampled 'Firecracker' for 'I'm Real'; the version without Ja Rule, that is) with his Sketch Show partner Yukihiro Takahashi. The cover features on the album Tribute to Haruomi Hosono, which leads to the involvement of Academy Award-winning composer (for The Last Emperor) and third of the YMO trio, Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as the pictured international EP by Cornelius. Keigo 'Cornelius' Oyamada? He's merely a longtime fan who got to play guitar on 2007/8's live performances by the trio and has maintained a successful, eclectic and evolving musical career since his start in whimsical pop band Flipper's Guitar in the late 1980s that includes international releases for his last 3 albums and headlining sets at The Budokan

   The original 'Turn Turn' is the kind of song one would expect of modern YMO - it's a touch awkward, a little bonkers, lackadaisically funky and it's so synthesised and - in spite of its light melodic touches - oddly atonal that the result is somewhat alien, albeit trippily so. The cover is even odder for managing to achieve what sounds like a meditation on mild insanity. Many of the present Cornelius techniques are in force, including the 3D-like stereo panning of half the instruments per song that makes his music an audiophile's delight in triplicate (God knows how he does it, but it's a technique so subtle - especially compared to his contemporaries and challengers - that it tends to mesmerise the listener without inducing insanity. Unless it's one of the songs where he's actively trying to drive one insane). And the contemplative mantra of the chorus - "You must come full circle to find the truth/We must come full circle to find the truth" - offers an ideal premise for this thoughtful duo, who employ a bare bones approach of bass, guitar, light-but-whipcracking snares, goofy effects and good old Japanese exoticism. These elements then lightly intersect with each other underneath the synchronised vocals of Oyamada and Sakamoto, who sing with a soothing detachment

   The general mood is of calm until somewhere between a DJ cutting on turntables and a spinning top, there's the crazed tape effect in the breakdown as androids chant a synthesised "Turn" with ever increasing urgency until the effect releases itself across the speakers and a long synth note washes over the rest of the song. Chimes tinkle, a gong rings and the music ends in the exact same way it began: a faded note skipping across stereo channels, signaling a mood of reflection, quiet and strange contemplation

   Yes, it has that kind of effect on me

A live performance of this version of 'Turn Turn', also featuring Takahashi (without the crazed breakdown)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Outfit - Brucey Bonus

   A wonderful snap taken by Jamie in Soho after the shenanigans at Ian's were done. Whilst I'm at it, I'd like to congratulate Ian on another fine showing last night

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Outfit Archive - Ma'ams and Georges Beware

   It's getting a little colder outside. Time to put them layers on

   I'm just sayin'

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Exchange Room of Mr Ian Bruce

All photographs © Jamie Archer **

   10 years ago, back at school, it became apparent to me as I focused intently on  completing second tier painting coursework that Ian Bruce was a disgustingly talented individual who was born to brighten up a canvas. And, to be blunt, he's also far nicer than I am. But we still became friends somehow. Life's that funny

   In the years since I said goodbye to all that, Ian's morphed into something of a dandy, formed a band  named after the best two tone shoes in the world, The Correspondents, and wields a paintbrush or five in a manner of which the creative world of London is growing rather fond, as evidenced by the massive crowd that attended his recent show early last month. Since it's rather likely that the same thing is going to happen in a few days' time, I think it's very much of the moment to give my pal his due here

   This link explains it all, but the Reader's Digest version is that Ian showcased works created by friends and collaborators in exchange for portraits in his distinctive figurative style of those involved, which included particularly excellent "one good turn" portraits of Ian himself by gifted photographers Jess Bonham and Wendy Bevan. The nine-foot portrait of reputedly immoral artist Sebastian Horsley (sporting the same top hatted ensemble that swathed him on Comme des Garcons Homme Plus' catwalk in 2007) was put under the hammer by auction house Lyon & Turnbull over the weekend; the proceeds of which are intended for flying The Exchange Room to New York City at a future juncture

Ian's portrait of Horsley. It definitely adds much character, moral or otherwise

   Since Ian's work is bold and full of life, it stands to reason that his subjects follow suit. Particularly hilarious was Bonham's large scale concept of a nude Ian "chasing" his clothed Correspondent alter ego, while Bevan's nostalgicly misty close-ups are as evocative as usual for her. Katherine May's purses ripped up, rewired and reformed as rather heavy boutonnieres (well, they still contained quite a bit of loose change) were also a genuine delight and I'd love to see more examples of her creative textile manipulation in future

** Except these photographs

   Sartorialists may be most interested in this portrait within a portrait of Ian's father, along with a bespoke suit commissioned by Ian in return for the aforementioned painting. In it, Mr Bruce models the three piece made for his similarly built son by the tailor Jonathan Quearney; the artisan will hang the portrait in his shop. To bring this paragraph full circle, here's an interview with Jonathan, courtesy of The Sartorialist

   Photographs of the attendees follow here:

Guy Hills, one of the two masterminds behind Dashing Tweeds, in an Exploded Houndstooth safari suit of his own design

Your author with Donald of Great British Attire, a man who knows what he's talking about

Our photographer stands on the far left

   Ian's latest presentation is as part of a group ensemble show, Suspended in Process, hosted by Art.In.Flux, taking place at 14 New Quebec Street, London W1H 7RV from the 9th to the 18th of October. And I'm sure you LDN-based readers aren't busy all the time, yes?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Neil & Iraiza - New School (2002)

   For context, please note that this was written prior to the Sugababes review. This is most apparent in the opening paragraphs:

   I started around 7am. The insomnia is working mondo overtime, as I'm so very fond of saying, though it bears pointing out that the saying sits loftily on my monument of "Turns of Phrase I Wish I Had Devised". For as long as my sleep has been disordered, I've wished for it to amount to something - anything - productive instead of procrastination or zombification or trying to roll my eyes into the back of my head (purely experimental)

   Bearing in mind that this started far back around my 14th year, I recalled sometime after 2am this morning that I used to have a wider variety of coping methods beyond fatalism and rubbing my temples in what I hoped was a hypnotic rhythm. Such as music. And there was something "productive" to be followed, for there was a promise I made to myself and, by extension, the 3 people who peruse this journal on a regular basis regarding what used to be on my iPod, as well as what might be on a future model. To specify, little missives about what I consider to be among the best records of the past 9 years

   New School is rather easily one of the top 5

Via Last FM: l-r: Hirohisa Horie ('Iraiza') and Gakuji Matsuda ('Neil'). I'm planning to acquire sunglasses like Horie-san imminently

   This is, as far as anyone's aware, the final long playing collaboration between the abovementioned band members, who have maintained stalwart status in Tokyo's alternative music corners since the dearly departed King of Pop was onto his sixth new face in the mid 1990s. Matsuda, aka DJ Chabe, is best known under his Cubismo Grafico alias, tying together lounge, classical strings, Brazilian pop, French House, reggae, electronic exotica and a dab of Philly disco to almost unimpeachable effect over multiple albums, EPs and singles, all impeccably produced and played. And he sang too

   Horie is even more disgustingly talented - a multi-instrumentalist who flies the world with former Shibuya-kei figurehead and lauded sonic maestro Cornelius as his live bassist (which means that I've seen him in person twice), and has an almost inexhaustible gift for honing psychedelic rock experimentation into unforgettable melodic hooks and uncontrived arrangements, using his cheerfully wistful and whimsical persona to imbue a winning warmth in his writing (he's also a frequent collaborator of pop star Hideki Kaji, whose recent unfortunate assault was reported a few months ago - their 1999 Tokyo Tapes EP as Dots and Borders is worth five LPs put together). Given the close-knit nature of the scene, his list of collaborators is naturally extensive and, up until N&I's first releases, more used to taking center stage

   On the face of it, it's Eclectic Dance Producer meets Ecelectic Indie Pop Lifer, but the common thread between the two men - unabashed FM radio adoration - makes them entirely an entirely natural pairing. Over two EPs and the first album, charmingly titled Johnny Marr?, as well as New School, the division of labour runs thus: the duo split lyricwriting duties, Horie handles anything with a keyboard, leads on vocals and creates the bulk of the guitar work, arrangements and ultimately, the majority of the music. Matsuda handles choruses, secondary vocals and keys, and an array of percussive instruments including the occasional drum. Friends play parts N&I believe to be better served by other talents. And naturally, Horie and Matsuda produce everything

New School's sole (Japanese) single, 'Wasted Times'. It scores highly with me for the callback to early song 'Five Idle Days', amongst other things

   In my own way, the first adjective I use to describe the album is "consummate." There seems to be an utter lack of limit to the deft touches the two artists leave on the 12 songs. Although their earlier work had a certain ramshackle charm that was nevertheless in tandem with the breadth of their skill, the songs of New School are full bodied, tightly arranged and winningly melodic; hook filled enough that English indie label Ochre Records, released tracks 4 and 11, 'This is Not a Love Song' and 'Oracle Noises' as a 7" in 2003 as a way to increase their cult profile. As an international introduction, the single captures the sunny, charming FM pop side of the duo, who create the most perfect country-inspired jangle pop record of the decade in a little over 2 minutes on side A and then delves into their effects-led psychedelic introspections on the flip, thereby providing a snapshot of the entire album

   I adore every single cut, but aside from the delights of the aforementioned selections, there are many great tricks performed successfully here. Take 'Human Dust Bin' - silly title, sillier risk in leading with beats, keys and sax that resemble mid-1980s synth soul and r'n'b (or Simply Red, if you're feeling mean) and in a possible moment of self consciousness, Horie even sings "Out of my head, that makes no sense, you know" in the middle, but it's an undeniably charming concoction of songwriting and melody that soon papers over the desire to sneer and might even move one to reconsider the source genre. 'Our Housing' is another excercise in such near-3D thought - if the reference to Madness in the title isn't immediately obvious, then the opening soon reveals the extent to which 'Our House' influences the song - the bassline, the horns, the famous guitar lines and the chorus harmony are all present and correct, but it's nevertheless a different entity in rhythm, arrangement,and lyrics, dipping through all the wistfulness and emotion that accompanies nostalgic reflections on a childhood home and providing a strong example of inspiration made good where other efforts are cynical and poor (Christina Aguilera's 'Make Over' of Sugababes' 'Overload') or simply accidental (The Flaming Lips' 'Fight Test' and Cat Stevens' 'Father and Son')

   'Wednesday' is a spirited dash of Kinksian whimsy that manages to seem original through the strength of the melodies and playing, the unexpected soft pop/light reggae collision of 'Hello Young Lovers' is soothing and oddly moving (blame it on Horie's cooing choral lead-out), while the energetic instrumental (save for a whistled lead tune), 'Fez', gallops through lighthearted 60s freakbeat and 70s keyboard wizardry but avoids total antiquity through the  detail and clarity of its production

   Special mention goes to 'Supreme Day', a superficially simplistic drum-pounding jaunt, upon which all manner of instruments and hooks surmount, most prominently a recorder. And then there's 'Mall Rats', possibly my favourite contender for rock'n'roll song of the decade. It's exuberant, confident and practically viral in its memorableness, from its opening riff to its cute, child's-view-of-consumerism-and-defiance lyrics to its slightly dizzying, percussively danceable finish. Best part? It's the second song on the album, and, therefore, the strongest assurance that the record to follow will be one that remains in the memory

   It pulls off the best trick of much of Shibuya-Kei - making the past sound like the present and/or the future - but the childish whims and viewpoints of many of their peers are made more adult  and refined in the hands of Horie and Matsuda. And as an album from the final days of "old" Shibuya-Kei, New School is very much the capstone that the movement deserved

Friday, 2 October 2009

Shibuya-Kei: A Brief Primer

 Whilst finishing off my next 2000s musical review - technically the first until real world events dictated otherwise - I noticed that a genre overview might be needed for those who lack my particular proclivities for musical geekery. So the following is extracted from said review, a classic from Japan's old alternative pop scene, Shibuya-Kei:

The now-dead - and resurrected - scene they contributed prolifically to, Shibuya-kei, deserves its own article or, better still, a link to a better overview and dissection than I could hope to manage, lack of rest or no. Suffice to say, it centred around an auspiciously fashionable and lively area of Tokyo - the titular Shibuya - and its harmonic proponents became known for recombinant, idiosyncratic, heavily detailed and often exuberant and kitschy forms of Western pop history. It was the 1990s incarnation of the DIY spirit of punk and golden age hip hop, yet almost everything had a whispy voiced Japanese femme on vocals and it all sounded like it was created on an unlimited budget, even when it wasn't

   And those links are the preserve and insights of Japanese-but-actually-American alternative/blender pop artist, journalist and cultural disinterrer Marxy, as detailed in six parts. The Legacy of Shibuya-Kei is a vital and excellent read, examining and championing well over a decade of a landscape changed by reinterpreting and reshaping Western music into something familiar but utterly new. And sometimes far more interesting:

   Give Marxy's songs a try. I'll be returning to his output in the near or distant future