Purity Ring – Shrines

Canadian duo Purity Ring’s highly anticipated new album is out tomorrow and it’s well worth seeking out. At first listen it’s all shimmering, dreamy electropop with some strong melodies, nice effects and singer Megan James’s highly distinctive voice cutting through the beats. Nice certainly but unremarkable. Listen closer however and what appears to be disarmingly innocent is anything but – the lyrics reveal a world of menace, of darkness nestling at the heart of this music. As the video that accompanies one of the album’s best tracks testifies…

You can buy a copy of the album here

Bon Iver at AIR Studios (4AD/Jagjaguwar Session)

This set, recorded at Air Studios by the band’s label, is Bon Iver stripped to the bare essentials:  two voices (Justin Vernon and his collaborator Sean Carey) and two grand pianos.  The result is 25-minutes of beautiful, fragile and gentle renditions of songs that have previously featured on Bon Iver’s albums and EPs. I found it absolutely captivating. I hope you do too.

For those with an eye on the detail, here’s the set list:
1. Hinnom, TX
2. Wash.
3. I Can’t Make You Love Me
4. Babys
5. Beth/Rest

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

So this week saw the release of Lana Del Rey’s debut album.  The haters continue to hate but frankly it’s a brilliant album. And here’s the bonkers video for the title song Born to Die. It’s ludicrously brilliant and very kitsch. But I think that might be the point. Buy the album – she’s definitely earned the moniker of a “Gangster Nancy Sinatra”. It’s a decadent slice of pop.

Buy it from amazon here

Lana Del Rey – Video Games

Lana Del Rey – quite a buzz has been generated about her online already with an inevitable backlash (is she a manufactured starlet rather than the “gangster Nancy Sinatra” her PR people are touting, are her lips surgically enhanced, does the fact that she’s the daughter of a millionaire mean she’s somehow less relevant, less “authentic” etc etc etc). And all before she’s even released her debut single. There’s bound to be a backlash against the backlash because the song, Video Games is utterly brilliant. As you can hear (and see) here:

Video Games is released on 16th October on Stranger Records

Sigur Rós – INNI: Festival

The band’s forthcoming live DVD and double album is now available to pre-order from the official website. There are about 4 different versions (of course) including the obligatory Limited Edition. As a taster of what’s to come a clip from the film (of the song, Festival) has been put out, which I’ve embedded below.

I’ve ordered my set. All that remains is for you to decide which one you’re going for because this looks like an essential release…

The Tyranny of Choice

One of my favourite books of last year was Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I was in a bookshop yesterday and saw the paperback and it brought to mind the central theme of the book, which is beautifully encapsulated in a review by Philips Delves Broughton:

‘…This is the key theme of the book, and the reason for the title. We pampered creatures of the 21st century are ruined by our own freedom. Instead of bringing us happiness, it brings us only uncertainty. Having eschewed the certainties and disciplines of earlier generations, we find ourselves lost and adrift, propelled by the lingering emotions of childhood into futile searches for meaning.’

Questioning choice
Questioning freedom has become quite fashionable of late. But it’s the questioning of choice that interests me: the freedom and number of choices that we have, how we make them and the impact they have upon us. Can you have too much choice? Of course you can. More and more research is illustrating that, far from bringing us happiness and satisfaction, too much choice, too many options, can bring us deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction. It can depress us and even paralyse us. Faced with too many choices – we make none. Or in a panic to make what we think is the “right” one our mind becomes clouded and we choose poorly. When it comes to a spot of retail therapy poor choices no longer have the consequences they once did – you can pretty much return anything you want and make another choice or you can get a refund. The risk is negated. But there are many, many choices that we make in life for which there is no return policy. The paths we take, even though they may seem insignificant at the time, can have an indelible impact upon who we are and what we might become. Pretty obvious stuff really.

We tell ourselves stories
But what part does the culture in which we are brought up play in the choices we make? Or even how we come to approach and view them? Can examining how different cultures and people make their own and collective choices bring us greater wisdom and understanding? Well, yes – of course.

In her essay, The White Album, Joan Didion writes:

‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ideas with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience’.

This passage forms a core part of a TED talk given by Pyscho-economist, Sheena Lyengar called: The Art of Choosing. It’s an outstanding and insightful  talk about the choices we make – both the trivial and the deeply profound and how we feel about them. Toward the end of the talk she says:

“No matter where we’re from and what your narrative is, we all have a responsibility to open ourselves up to a wider array of what choice can do, and what it can represent. And this does not lead to a paralyzing moral relativism. Rather, it teaches us when and how to act. It brings us that much closer to realizing the full potential of choice, to inspiring the hope and achieving the freedom that choice promises but doesn’t always deliver…”

Unreal expectations
As expectations of ourselves, each other and the world around us get ever higher – often reaching levels that are simply unachievable and unattainable, which leads only to disappointment, disillusion and, in the case of many relationships, to dissolution – it’s worth remembering that the freedom of choice can become a tyranny. Sometimes less really is more…

Sun’s Gone Dim and The Sky’s Turned Black

Here is the original video for the music I found whilst watching a trailer for a trashy Hollywood movie earlier this week. I’ll be posting about the album from which it’s taken soon.

The song is called, Sun’s Gone Dim and The Sky’s Turned Black. Director, Nikolai Galitzin was commissioned to make the video. Instead of creating a singular vision he asked four of his filmmaker friends to journey to Iceland and shoot five different stories, one story for each filmmaker. The five films were then combined into one, in a variation of the game of Cadavre Exquis.

On first viewing the result doesn’t quite seem to work – the disparate strands seem…well, just a little too disparate. But watch again and you start to see the connecting threads emerge. Whether you get the visuals or not, the music is undoubtedly powerful and the project as a whole brilliantly original. Take a look and see what you think…

Is the Internet Killing Culture?

A new book has been published recently called, Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. It’s by Robert Levine who used to work for Billboard magazine, so he should know a bit about cultural content. And I am certain he does – but his book is flawed.

Bashing the internet
Internet bashing has become the latest fashion – it’s killing culture, changing the way our brains work by feeding us content in little bite-size chunks rather than in enormous and suitably weighty tomes, or it’s  constricting our horizons (rather than expanding them) thanks to our experiences on the net becoming more and more tailored to our individual likes and dislikes.

Books like Levine’s have provocative titles and make compelling, emotive arguments but they’re actually pretty conservative, as this brilliant review of the book by the Observer highlights. Now I’m not advocating piracy by any means (I am totally against it) but one of the things I love about the internet is the amazing discoveries you can make – especially when it comes to content. Levine is wrong – the internet isn’t stifling creativity at all. It’s providing a platform to millions of people to unleash their creativity in ways that only a few years ago would have been unimaginable.

The delivery of art and culture 
Forms of art and culture have grown and morphed and adapted over thousands of years – from paintings in caves to sunflowers to concertos to beds and tents and neon signs. But the way they have been delivered to audiences has completely ossified. Stagnated. Typically housed or played behind closed doors in galleries, opera houses, concert halls with all of the barriers to entry and potential inconveniences one could think of – expense, parking, transport, opening and closing hours, not to mention that what you are seeing is usually curated, directed and programmed by someone else. Essentially meaning that they have selected, organised and decided what is of value for you to see and how you do so. This can be a valuable thing of course – expertise in any field is to be admired and respected and can teach us a great deal. And there is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a Van Gogh in the flesh (so to speak) or hearing a live concert surrounded by the buzz of a live audience or seeing the glint of an actor’s eye as they command a stage. But it is not the only way, it is not even the best way. It is simply – a way.

The deomcratisation of the arts
There are so many inherent barriers to entry in how the arts have traditionally been delivered to audiences that it is little wonder that art and culture can be seen as being for the privileged few. But the internet has completely changed all that. It has decimated and destroyed many of those barriers. It has completely democratised not only the tools of artistic creation (think of all the things you can do now with apps with even the most rudimentary skills) but more importantly it has also democratised the tools of distribution. That’s where the real power lies. And a LOT of people don’t like that. Personally – I love it.

Of course there are those who abuse and take and steal – it is a sad fact of human nature. We covet and prefer to take what we cannot afford to buy. Is this a malaise of the internet or a reflection of the shifting values of our society and culture. I think the latter. The internet is, simply, a platform. One for all sorts of people – both with good and questionable motives. But not everyone steals culture and content. Despite what the doom-mongers would have us believe. The fact is that, as Evgeny Morozov points out in his review of Levine’s book, a 2010 report found that:

“films that could be purchased and legally viewed online are pirated far less often [than those that are not]”

Get off the soapbox
So, where am I going with this argument? Well, originally I wanted to share a video and an album that I’d found today via a site called Bandcamp. And then I got on my soapbox.

So let me get down from that box for a moment…

I like Bandcamp a lot. It’s a brilliant site on which bands and musicians share their music – you can listen to it for free (not just 90 seconds of each track but all of it).  However, if you want to take what you hear with you then some bands ask you to pay a set price for it, others allow you to set your own, some even let you have it for free – they only ask that you show your support by going to see their live gigs. It is a completely democratic and quite brilliant system. It allows people to find and stumble across music they otherwise might never have found. It creates new fans, new communities, new musicians and artists who, inspired by what they see and hear and discover, decide to make their own music. And it provides a platform for artists. I love it.

I don’t think sites like Bandcamp should replace record labels – that would be horrendous. Or that the internet should replace concert halls or theatres or galleries.You need curated content, you need exhibitions, and labels and editors and so on. But sometimes discovering things for yourself or coming together with others who share a similar passion (even in a virtual environment like this one) and sharing what you’ve found can be hugely satisfying and deeply rewarding. Why stifle that? Why fear it? Why posit that there is only one way:the traditional way where what we see and hear and experience is controlled by the few?

What art and culture is meant to do
Art and culture – however it is delivered – is meant to enhance our lives. To enrich our experience of the world and to make us look at our fellow human beings with generosity and curiosity.

The internet is a platform that surely only enhances our curiosity and understanding. The internet is a place of discovery, a place where I have found so much (music in particular) that I love that has enriched my life in many ways. And it has led me to buy a lot of that music – to put my money where my mouth is. I am sure it leads a lot of others to do the same…

Ah hell. Let’s watch a video. The aforementioned one that I originally wanted to share. It was made by a company called Onesize to accompany a song that they too had stumbled upon by a band called, The American Dollar. They weren’t asked to create the video or commissioned by the band. They just heard something they loved and were inspired by it. And then they put up what they created for free and said, “we loved this so much, we made this. And we want to share it with you – so here it is. Enjoy it”.

What could be better than that? And the result is really quite lovely. See for yourself…