Thursday, 29 March 2018

Frankie Cosmos 'Vessel'

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Frankie Cosmos release Vessel on Sub Pop Records on March 30th.

New Yorker four piece is an 18-track opus which serves as a benchmark in the distinctive songwriting of Greta Kline who along with bandmates David Maine (bass/vocals), Lauren Martin (keyboards/vocals) and Luke Pyenson (drums) bring new sensibility to the band.

The album has a real energy running throughout, from the upbeat perkiness of 'Caramelize' to the anger of 'Apathy' to the new single 'Jesse' which is a bit more forlorn but nevertheless engaging.

The album is indicative of the world at the moment and similar to other American offerings of recent months, an uncertainty of their place in the world coupled with a need to find a belonging in this dominant social-media age.

Full of summery hooks and catchy lyrics, there is a real kinship with the music that embraces a relationship between performer and listener - that is far more satisfying than some music that tries too hard.

Whilst Ezra Furman spoke with anger in his music, Frankie Cosmos showcase a lightness of indie-pop across the album that makes you smile and is in fact quite charming.  There are moments of real triumph such as the album opener, they will leave you humming and despite the 18 tracks, the short running time means it does not overstay its welcome.

Vessel is out from Sub-Pop Records on March 20th.

Watch Frankie Cosmos live on Pitchfork TV at 6.00pm GMT

The band can be followed on Twitter @frankiecosmos

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Major Murphy 'No.1'

The debut album from Grand Rapids trio Major Murphys is released from Winspear Records on 30th March.

Winging in from the States on a bed of summer sunshine as snowflakes continue to fall on this side of the Pond, Major Murphy are a band who happily wear their influences on their sleeve as deduced from a recent playlist selected for the For The Rabbits website.

As the album cover shows, it is a blank canvas to start with but little by little a range of influences and people begin to fill a void - ranging from the importance of relationships to a kaleidoscopic love of art and nature.

 credit: Michael Newsted

Their summery production and gorgeous lovely harmonies embrace universal subject matter of love, life and companionship from the opus of 'My C.C. Blues' to the random-ness of 'Radi-Yum'.

Remember when you first heard 'Nanny in Manhattan' by The Lilys; a little pocket of 60s Gold from the 1990s; well this is the latest breed of American 60s/70s rock radio pleasure - full of nods of the head to The Byrds, The Velvet Underground to the singer songwriter mood of Joni Mitchell and up to the present day Kelley Stoltz.

There is something for everyone on this album; something to listen to while on a long-haul flight, a walk around the park with a dog on the lead, a brief commute to work. This is a good album for all seasons and all kinds of weather, and fittingly their hometown of Grand Rapids also brought us Grant Wood's 'American Gothic' this No.1 album in waiting is as American as that picture depicts.

No. 1 is out from Winspear Records on 30th March.

My thanks to One Beat PR for the opportunity to review.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018


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Released on Digital Download from 2nd April and available on DVD and Blu-ray from 9th April, the David Gordon Green directed Stronger starring Jake Gyllenhaal is released from Lionsgate.

Based on the true story of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, Gyllenhaal plays Bauman from the day prior to the attack to the brutal aftermath of the attack which left him with a double amputation of his legs above the knee; the story follows his journey to learn to walk again and the rekindling of a loving relationship with his on and off again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany).

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Bauman has to overcome many physical as well as emotional obstacles to regain the strength in his upper body to enable him to utilise the prosthetic legs available to him on his insurance plan.

Gordon Green has shot many films of independent spirit and about the outsider, and this kinship to the outsider holds him in good stead as we follow Bauman closely - not holding back on the difficulties Jeff has in his two bedroom flat he shares with his Mum, Patty (Miranda Richardson) from going to the toilet to the stairs up to the flat.

The film is shot through a gritty grey lense with little colour shown, Boston only coming to life during major sporting events and when there are big gatherings of people in a sense of community.  When Jeff is away from these large groups and alone with family or Erin, it is a grey lonely world he occupies.

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Gyllenhaal does really well with the role bringing steel to the role with his matinee face being put to the test by extreme close-ups deployed by Green, and he has the expressive range to bring gravitas to the moments such as his breakdown in the elevator during a hockey game.

There are some trite moments that scream of patriotism and there is a bigger story to be told about the whole Boston Strong scenario that grew out of the rubble of the bombings, the symbol of the Red Sox winning the World Series that same year; yet it is the quieter stiller moments of this film that will stay with you such as the clash between Erin and Jeff in their car when she shares some good news.

Gyllenhaal seemed to be a front runner for an Oscar nomination but sadly he got lost, partly due to the weight of the film not being strong enough to support his performance. This, however, should not detract from a very workmanlike film that will keep you entertained nonetheless.

Stronger is released on 2nd April on Digital Download from Lionsgate

Friday, 23 March 2018

Two Tribes

Journalist and Liverpool football fan, Tony Evans, has a new book set for release from Bantam Press. Two Tribes focuses on the 1986 FA Cup final between Liverpool and Everton, the first time the Merseyside clubs met in the showpiece final at Wembley Stadium.

In 1986, the eyes of the world were upon the two Liverpudlian clubs, a year after the Heysel Stadium disaster; a tragedy which had far-reaching impact upon the cultural and sporting landscape for years to come.

Evans has brilliantly constructed a time machine and cultural artefact looking at the cause and effect of the Heysel tragedy and why it might have happened, not blaming Liverpool fans as many tried to but focusing on the political landscape in the United Kingdom where a toxic environment of anti-government resentment led to protests upon the football terraces.

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Evans' notes that hooliganism had been ripe in the football stands for many years not just in English stands but European ones when teams visited.  He notes that two weeks before Heysel, Everton played in the Cup Winners' Cup final in Rotterdam without any incident.  The contrast between the two was vast, partly because Liverpool was the best club side in the world at that moment, more of a spotlight was thrown on them and their fans.

Ultimately, the tragedy at Heysel was blamed on English supporters, with a blanket club ban on English sides in European competition for five years. This led to teams missing out on being in the best club tournaments, mainly Everton who won the league twice and could not play against the continental best.  This led to certain players moving to Continental Europe - Gary Lineker, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle - to extend their careers.

Another reason led to things changing was the advent of a new money windfall as the 'Big Five' attempted to get more live football on television screens; broadcast companies would not feature live football apart from cup finals and major international tournaments for fear of broadcasting fights on the terrace rather than the beautiful game.

Tony Evans

Evans makes good points on this influx of money and how it would change football and those who play it; the drinking culture is incorporated into a chapter on Frank McAvennie who helped West Ham to third in the first division when Liverpool won the double.

But for all the money, there is still a feeling that the clubs love their fans but are negligent to their safety as Heysel and the fire at Bradford were eerie harbingers to the ultimate tragedy of Hillsborough which was three years away.

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It is important Evans states that football mirrors society at vital times in history; football during the mid-1980s was a place away from government where people seeked freedom from the monotony of social angst. 

Today we live in a world of isolationism, breaking away from Europe and selfishness; on our football fields we think our league is better than everyone else's yet our teams struggle in Europe and players are paid fortunes whilst fans are asked to pay more and more for a product that rarely delivers. 

Yet there remains in football a tribalistic mentality - us v them - that underscores many who watch the game, and seen at the London Stadium two weeks ago when West Ham fans made their bitterness known to the owners of West Ham United barraging them with chants from below as they sat in exulted seats.

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Through the microcosm of one momentous year in English league football - from drunken footballers periously sitting astride the tenants of amateurism and professionalism; the Full Members' Cup in the absence of European competition - culminating in the coronation of one of England's greatest club sides, Evans has crafted a wonderful book that is part keepsake, part social comment, part football lore but fully brilliant.

Two Tribes is out from Bantam Press in Hardback from Thursday 22nd March.

My thanks to Thomas Hill at Transworld Books for the opportunity to review.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Islands and the Whales

Scottish documentarian Mike Day's film about the Faroe Islands tells an evocative tale about the connection between the islanders and the need to live off the sea around them; the whales are a source of nourishment as well as income and livelihood.

Yet in recent years this relationship is coming under strain due to a depletion in numbers of whales being caught but the toxicity of the whales putting the well-being of the islanders at risk due to the high poisonous levels within them.

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The film has brilliant access to the community showing how closely connected to the sea and to nature the people are embedded in terms of tradition, and how the news of toxicity is putting a conflict into many people especially in mind for the children and future generations.

The film has some wonderful landscape cinematography which coupled with an amenable eye on the community makes for a brilliant combination. It has been a labour of love for director Day, who has taken 5 years of covering the native Faroese to making this winning documentary.

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Mike Day - Director

It reminded me of another film in the same vein Village at the End of the World (Sarah Gavron, Denmark/UK, 2012) which also showed the relationship between a village reliant upon the sea but the sea that bites back.  A tale for our times in light of recent news about the polluting of our worldwide seaways, and how we have to take greater care of our world and its creatures.

There is a special screening with Q&A taking place at Picturehouse Central with Mike Day and Channel 4's Jon Snow on March 29th in readiness for the cinematic release.

THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES is released in UK cinemas on 29th March

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


The highly anticipated sequel to Ragdoll by Daniel Cole, has a lot to live up to.  When we finished Ragdoll, the hero Wolf had fled the scene following his colleague Baxter's decision to let him leave the crime scene.  Wolf has gone underground and no-one has seen him, we find Baxter now two years after the end of the Ragdoll murders and the numerous copy cats.  Now there is a new mass murderer who is taking bodies and having them hang from great heights with the word 'BAIT' scored into the torso of the mainly male bodies.

Baxter and her team, including the returning Edmunds have to work with new friends including the ex-pat Rouche, a man born in England but working for the CIA in America who is as disruptive as Wolf was but just as conflicted.

The book has the feel of the writer spreading his wings, but whereas the first book had the social context of fear and panic of unknown attackers on the streets of London, with the media spinning people into a frenzy for their health and safety; this novel though has the feel of being a lost love child of Dan Brown.  Extensive plotting with twists aplenty, by the book characters with little in the way of emotional connection and elaborate set-pieces of action and gore being given precedence over telegraphed dialogue.

This reader feels that following the high-octane, gasping intensity of Ragdoll this is a step backwards although the (very) late introduction of someone means that another book is in the offing and this return to the mean may hopefully incite a return to form.

Cole is a writer who clearly likes to take risks with his writing, compounded intentions and expectations of his readership but for this reader it seems to have come up short to the level of what Ragdoll was, my hope is that the expected third book is a return to that thrilling form.

Hangman is released by Trapeze Books on 22nd March

Friday, 9 March 2018

Holy Motors 'Slow Sundown'

Estonian band Holy Motors's debut is an amalgamation of songs that are part-Gothic part-slow music incorporating an array of influences from the theme of Twin Peaks to other ambient electronic music.

Certainly not to the liking of everyone who will listen to it, there are pleasing moments of levity and contemplation.

This is music for the soul of the soulful, night music played between strangers, a soundtrack to nocturnal music.

The eight tracks can be construed as mournful and euphoric depending upon the ear of the listener; mood music for the lonely.

The best track Valley though serves as a good balance of ambience and optimism

Slow Sundown is out from Wharf Cat Records now