Monthly Archives: July 2015

Acclaimed Albums – Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 72/250Title: Slanted and Enchanted
Artist: Pavement
Year: 1992
Position: #117

For a group that have two albums in this list it’s not great that I have never actually heard of them before. It’s pretty shameful to be honest… oh wait this is an album that has only sold 150,000 in the 15 years after its release. Okay, I feel a bit better now.

Listening to this album on the first run through I have to say that I think I have heard a lot of this before. There is a touch of Murmur to it and I can see how this could have been one of the touchstones for early Beck albums (there is still a slight shadow in Odelay but I am talking more Mellow Gold here).

In a way, this album feels incredibly influential. The lo-fi indie rock schtick has been done so often since then and I am sure I could cycle through a lot of albums on my iPod where this is a possible influence.

It also feels a lot like I have heard many of these songs before, or at least elements of these songs. Not really possible since Pavement remained pretty much underground and this is not the sort of music that I would normally listen to. I mean, I would not call it emo in any way, but there is some melancholia in a number of the tracks. Then again, there is an equal amount of sheer boundless energy in other tracks, so I am not sure where exactly to place this album. I enjoyed it, which is the main thing.

Advertisements

Good Eatin’: Easter Week 2015

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Good old Easter. A four-day weekend and a lot of cheap chocolate flying off of the shelves. I am not even going to pretend that the Christian part of Easter crossed my mind other than the Bible quotes coming up on my Facebook thread followed by the word ‘boom’. I’m not even going to go there by asking why you would follow a Bible quote with ‘boom’, it’s strange and makes me think way too much of religiously-inspired suicide bombing.

In lighter news, food.

Food item: Orangina, Crêpe Suzette

So in the week leading up to Easter I met up with a friend of mine for a good catch-up and a general chewing the fat for hours (and yet it passes in minutes).  We ducked into a creperie in South Kensington and passed the time with good food and conversation that, at times, bordered on the blue. But hey, when in France…ish.

This was a very orangey dinner if I do say so myself.  Delicious too. I do prefer Orangina when it comes in the bottles as it means I can play with it like a gross snowglobe before I eventually drink it. It’s on the nicer end of the spectrum of orange-flavoured sodas, which you would expect on this list. The crepe itself was really flavourful too (mostly of Grand Marnier) and I really enjoyed the caramelised sauce that smothered it.

Food item: Classic Lamb Chop and Barnsley Chop Food item: Knodel

Okay, so I have had lamb chops a lot growing up and a few times since starting on this food list back in May last year. Therefore, I will be counting them for now, alongside my first ever Barnsley chop.

I have to say, as someone who rates lamb as the lowest of the ‘conventional meats’ the Barnsley chop was something I just started gnawing on to make sure that I got all of the meat off. Hats off to my mum for making this, it was gorgeous. Especially when paired with a German potato dumpling and a generous serving of beans.

Food item: Mee Goreng Food item: Nasi Goreng and Salmon En Croute

Thanks to having a Lidl within a 45 minute walk away I am able to supply the engagement partner with packets of Bami and Nasi Goreng. Yes, I am aware that the list says Mee Goreng and I have Bami Goreng, according to Wikipedia it’s basically the same thing, so who am I to argue.

In the end, what these two foods boil down to is fried noodles and rice done in a South East Asian style. Something that has been appropriated in the Netherlands much like curry has been adopted in the UK. Whenever I cook this I tend to add some kecap manis for extra flavour.

The other great thing about these that whilst they are good as a side, like with the salmon en croute, they are probably even better as a meal on their own. Especially in the big packs that you can buy in Lidl.

Food item: Dry-Fried Beef Noodles Food item: Oatcakes

Saturday meant a catch-up with school friends. The original plan was Korean up in London, but due to extensive train works over the Easter weekend we met up at the local Miso instead.  Normally I get the same thing (char siu with noodles) almost every time. Thanks to the list I branched out and got the beef with ho fun noodles. According to my food book what I had was a Cantonese variation of a Szechuan dish which makes it slightly more greasy and less spicy, something I cold tell in the slight oiliness. I don’t care though it was still able to disappear from my plate really quickly.

The problem with skipping breakfast and then having noodles for lunch? I’m hungry again within a few hours. Luckily I had some oatcakes in the cupboard and was able to have a few of these until my partner was hungry enough for dinner.

Food item: Turkey Stuffed With Birds Food item: Lamb Shank

Easter Sunday rolled around (a lot quicker that we had hoped) which meant it was off to my mum’s place for a special lunch. For the three of us there was enough food for about five people, so I ended up taking the rest of the remaining turducken home with me. It was one of those things that I was always curious about having, and I am glad that I did. My only issue was that it was fairly difficult to taste the duck. Then again, if I want to eat duck it’s better to just buy a duck rather than this piece of decadence.

Now, since my partner does not eat poultry (unless I really force him) we got him a separate meat option in the form of a lamb shank. It was only when I was cycling through the list on my phone I realised it was also on the list (result!). Managed to take a bit for the sake of the blog experience too as it feel off of the bone.

Food item: Prosecco Food item: Pavlova

Since it was a holiday meal there was Prosecco to be had. I had some in a small glass so I felt like a giant (more so). My thoughts on it are the same as with all other alcohols, there is a taste I just can not get passed. Nor do I feel the need to do so. It was sweet and I can see how if you are used to the taste of alcohol that it would be nice. Just not for me.

The meal was finished off with a pavlova. As someone whose first recipe they knew by heart was the Delia Smith one for meringue it is surprising that I had never had a pavlova before. Not much to say about a dessert of raspberries, meringue and cream apart from that it was able to tempt me with seconds despite being uncomfortably full.

Progress: 502/933

XL Popcorn: Once Upon A Time In The West

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 436/1007Title: C’era una volta il West (Once Upon A Time In The West)
Director: Sergio Leone
Year: 1968
Country: Italy/USA

It was my own fault for being disappointed by this film. Two years ago I would have probably liked this a lot more. Back before I started finding westerns that I really enjoyed. Back before I started reading about the best westerns out there. Back before I had even heard of this film or been recommended it by my mum.

Once Upon A Time In The West, a film widely regarded as one of the best westerns of all time (with The Searchers taking the number one slot on most polls) managed to leave me feeling like I had missed something.

I enjoyed so many of the elements of this. The huge and prolonged tension that leads to a sudden explosion of violence (something I have seen employed in a lot of Japanese cinema). The amazing music with themes for every major character, and the rich back stories that informed how it would sound. The entire storyline and pay-off for Charles Bronson’s character was amazing, especially the ending!

Now, to put this into context. I say I am disappointed and yet I am being positive. In fact, in my ratings on IMDB I gave it an 8 out of 10. I just guess that for a film that had such great word of mouth it should have done better in my opinions.

Maybe the way that the sole female main character was written did not help in this, she is strong and yet very bendable to the whims of the surrounding sexism. I guess it’s how you survived in such a time… but she really vacillated between extreme strength and weakness, which did not sit right with me.

And that the whole thing of it in summation. Despite so much greatness there were enough things left niggling at the back of my mind that meant I could not enjoy this as much as I wanted to. Maybe it will be worth a re-watch in the future.

Acclaimed Albums – I’m Done With Dylan (For Now)

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 71/250

Title: Blonde on Blonde
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1966
Position: #9
Title: Blood on the Tracks
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1975
Position: #20

I tried, no one can tell me that I have not tried. I have listened to seven different Bob Dylan albums over the last few years and, for now, this will be the last I will be listening to him. I would have thought that having listened to all of these albums that I would be able to have some definite opinion about him and his music, but to be honest I still listen and shrug wonder what will be coming next.

I guess I am just the type of person that finds it hard to deal with music that is discordant and where the vocal styling is so incredibly rife for parody. It is for reasons such as this that I could not get on with Blonde on Blonde. It just felt, at times, I was listening to someone doing an impression of a hippie. It did not help that on one of the songs there was the refrain telling everyone to get stoned.

Blonde on Blonde also contained ‘I Want You’, a song I have known a long time from Sophie B. Hawkins’ album Tongues and Tails. It is always interesting to hear the difference between the interpretations of  the same song, although I know which one I prefer…

So this leads me onto Blood On The Tracks, the final Bob Dylan album in the Top 250 (as of writing in April before the upcoming update in the early summer). After Blonde on Blonde I was rejoicing because I was thinking ‘good riddance’ after just one more album. I mean, this is why they are here in a double-bill. Here’s the thing though, Blood On The Tracks is easily the best Bob Dylan I have ever heard. In fact, after a few more listens I think I could grow to really like it. Something I should have expected when I noticed that ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ was the first track.

In the end, I’m just going to have to accept that Bob Dylan is one of those singers where I can not just lay down the blanket and say that I like or dislike him. He’s difficult and, yes, at times his albums can make me laugh at the sheer oddness of his delivery or cringe at the notes he can’t reach. However, about a third of the time he is able to strike a chord with me, so there is no way I can just write him off. This conclusion, as you can probably guess, frustrates me somewhat.

Let’s Get Literal: Charlotte’s Web

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 20/100Title: Charlotte’s Web
Author: E.B. White
Year: 1952
Country: USA

Truly from the sublime to the ridiculous here. Three books in a row that count as some of the longest on the list (all pale in comparison to Clarissa and War and Peace which I am going to have to psych myself up to start reading) and now I have finished the shortest over the course of three evenings leisurely reading.

Charlotte’s Web is an example of why I wanted to find a site like A List of Books instead of going for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I don’t accept that the latter list completely discounts books marketed at children. His Dark Materials is one of the best series of books I have read and yet I find it excluded due to the audience.

What amazed me about this book is how, in so few pages, such complex themes such as justice, friendship, morality and mortality can all be expressed so brilliantly. I know that should I ever become softened to the idea of children, this will be a book that I make sure they read before they grow up. I know I’ll probably have to comfort them at the end, but boy will they have learnt a lot about life from a rat, a spider and a pig.

Let’s Get Literal: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 19/100Bleakhouse_serial_coverTitle: Bleak House
Author: Charles Dickens
Year: 1852-3
Country: UK

The BBC adaptation of Bleak House from 2005 stands as one of the best television miniseries that I have ever seen. Therefore, it made sense to me that if I were read my first Dickens novel that this would be the place to start. After all, I know the story and already have a pretty vivid image of all the characters. The fact that this would be the third behemoth of a novel in a row (after Gone With The Wind and Moby Dick) did not put me off from Dicken’s longest novel (by page number but not by word count… strangely).

Having taken the last month to read it I have to say that it was worth making my way through. Sure, there are parts of it that I could have done without but on the whole it’s a novel that I have already found myself talking a lot about during and afterwards.

_40950416_annanew

The novel itself is a sprawling, living, breathing world of characters and sub-plots. It is, at times, hard to keep up with the sheer number of names. He has an entire section where there are a lot of people whose names end with -oodle, slightly confusing until I realised that actually these are people with no effect on the stories I cared about so I was able to glide over them.

In fact, during this novel there are four characters that managed to grip me whenever they appeared upon the page. Luckily for me one of them was Esther, the character who provides a first person narrative for about half the book. Many people, including my mum, have criticised her for being a bit too modest and a bit of a goody-goody. I guess what helped me was that during my entire read I had the image of Anna Maxwell Martin in my brain. Sure, at times Esther is too good to be true, but she gets put through the ringer and manages to touch so many lives through just being a good person. Sometimes we just need characters like that.

This brings me neatly onto John Jarndyce, who I have developed a fictional crush on. He is someone in the realms of Melanie from Gone With The Wind, a character of such goodness that remains strong in the face of everything even if it means their own unhappiness. Sure, he comes from money which means he is able to engage in his acts of philanthropy, but unlike characters such as Mrs Jellyby he does not forget the fellow men and women in his immediate surroundings. Maybe he acts this way through guilt from what the central chancery case has done to many that came before him, but also maybe he is just a great man.

I am also a big lover of any scene with Inspector Bucket. There is a knowing wink to a lot of his dialogue as he manoeuvres through all the worlds of Bleak House. He is clearly very smart, but also honest and remarkably friendly to nearly everyone he comes across. Even those who he has just arrested for murder.

The main character that got to me, however, was Lady Dedlock. In a way she is the pivot that most of the interesting things in Bleak House happens around. Nearly all the threads intersect the tragic story of her undoing, and it is sometimes just gut-punching to read. Gillian Anderson truly embodies the role in the television adaptation and it is hard to separate the two as you read, such was the brilliance of her portrayal.

In the end, this book also made me long to re-watch the miniseries (which I started the night I finished it). It was brilliant, if very very long. There were bits I skimmed because they involved characters I cared little for or because the story was one of little consequence to the main threads… but on the whole it was great.

XL Popcorn: Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 435/1007Title: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Year: 1988
Country: Spain

Just going to start out with a bit of honesty here, this is easily the best film that I have seen in a long time. It probably helps that Pedro Almodóvar is one of my favourite directors (Hayao Miyazaki holds the number one slot) since I enjoy the amazing characters that he is able to write for women. I am not sure where it stacks up next to Talk To Her, Volver and All About My Mother when it comes to all time rankings (I’ll find that out when I next make a favourite film list) but it’s a difficult one when I think about.

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown again exemplifies how well Almodóvar is able to create a movie where the main cast is made almost entirely of women and it isn’t a thing that the main cast is made almost entirely of women. It’s one of those strange things where you watch it and realize just how easy it should be for every film to pass the Bechdel Test (okay for most of the movie the actions of the women are influenced by the men in their life, but they are so much more than that).

It’s hard to know how to describe this film other than an amazingly smart black comedy farce that crams a hell of a lot into 88 minutes. Carmen Maura is utterly amazing in the lead role of Pepa, a woman coping (somewhat badly) with a recent break-up. Maura’s comic timing and her ability to break your heart means she just captures you attention for the entire run of the film.

Similar too are the three appearances of Guillermo Montesinos as the owner of a ‘Mambo Cab’ which is decked out with it’s own kiosk and, on the third visit, eyedrops. It’s a bizarre change of pace on all three occasions although it never feels jarring. Also, it is so strange to see Antonio Banderas in such an awkward when pretty much every English-language role I have seen him in he is suave and sexy.

This film works only because the crazy and smart script it backed up by amazing performances. If you had actors with less confidence in some of these roles they would feel broad instead of nuanced. I mean, how many people could pull off a mass-barbiturate drugging through gazpacho soup. Also, more importantly, how is this a scene that comes to mind? Well worth the watch, even if something bordering on farce is not your idea of a good movie.

Good Eatin’: No More KFC

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

It’s weird how things work out. As I am writing this post rounding up all the foods from the last week (which is a lot) the most recent post on the blog is about the ‘slow down‘. Then again, when a visit to KFC can get you an item then it’s no wonder I could do nine in a week without really trying.

Food item: Chicken Drumsticks and Wings Food item: Matzo Ball Soup

So yes, as the title alludes to: I am over KFC. I did not have anything from KFC for about a year, so I thought that it would be nice excuse. After all, I have a lot of positive memories of eating KFC during weekend visits to my father’s house. Now, I love southern fried chicken. LOVE it. But after getting used to hotter food and different spices it just felt a little bit bland.

Then, for no reason other than lack of a theme, there was the matzo ball soup I managed to get in a Waitrose. It was delicious. I mean, I have always been a fan of clear soups and of German bread dumplings so matzo ball soup worked really well for me. One of those things that I might stock up to once we get closer to winter.

Food item: Baklava Food item: Amaretto Di Saronno

Time for some desserts eaten at my desk. Firstly, there is some baklava that one of my colleagues brought back from a holiday in Dubai. Then there is a packet of Amaretti biscuits. Neither of them are things that you can eat a lot of, the baklava are very honeyed and the Amaretti biscuits taste like they have been drowned in Amaretto.

Food item: Tarte au Citron Food item: Soupe a l’Oignon

Okay, time to check in with the catering at work. I actually got this slice (made of two rather tiny slices) for free at an all day meeting. It was delicious (I am a sucker for good pastry), but due to work etiquette I was stuck with what I grabbed earlier.

In the cafeteria this week one of the soups on offer was a French Onion Soup which, I’ll be honest, I was not a big fan of. Probably doesn’t help that I am not a big fan of anything that is overtly oniony.

Food item: Cream Cheese Food item: Apple Turnover

Two rather simple ones here. Cream cheese, pretty standard to be honest and great on a bagel.  Apple turnovers too are a pretty standard dessert of puff pastry with an apple filling. It was nice, but something fairly standard to be honest.

Food item: Boeuf a la Bourguignon

Okay, so I made this using a Colman’s  mix, but the whole point of this list is to be trying out the different flavours and this is the first time that I had eaten Beef Bourguinon. As my engagement partner point out, the best part of this is the sauce, in fact it would have done fine without the beef. Meat is always welome in a meal if you ask me, but a good sauce and some crusty bread is all you need sometimes. One regret was not adding some red wine into the sauce as that would have given it just that extra bit of depth.

Progress: 488/933

XL Popcorn: Eyes Without a Face

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 434/1007Title: Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without A Face)
Director: Georges Franju
Year: 1960
Country: France

Eyes Without A Face is one of those films that proves once again that in order to have a successful horror movie you do not have to rely on excessive gore and monsters jumping out of the shadows. It does feature some mild gore in a scene of a face transplant… but that was mild compared to a lot of horror films that I have seen.

Let’s step back a second. Eyes Without A Face is a rather weird French horror film that deals with many of the fears surrounding organ transplants. Bear in mind that in 1960 the only full organ that we had successfully been able to transplant was the kidney. The search to transplant hearts was well and truly on with 1967 marking the first time where the receiver survived. In fact it took until 1986 where we were able to transplant a set of lungs. Therefore the fear and wonder surrounding the ideas of transplanting was making its way into the public consciousness.

Eyes Without A Face takes things that step further by tacking the idea behind a face transplant for a victim of a car accident (some 50 years before the first complete face transplant was carried out). The horror itself derives from two different areas. Firstly there is the kidnapping and, ultimate, murder of young women so their faces could be cut off and transplanted. Then there is the creepy-ass mask that the poor faceless girl has to wear where all you can see is her large expressive eyes. In many ways it’s similar to the mask in Abre Los Ojos, just a whole lot creepier.

It is one of those things where I can imagine that the critics and audiences of 1960 would not have been as receptive to the ideas in this film when compared to more modern audiences who are more familiar with organ transplantation. It does feel, in some ways, rather quaint at times since the way they remove the skin from the face of the knocked out girl takes under 5 minutes and somehow the whole face just peels off as long as you cut around the outside. It makes for a great visual, but it plays the stakes of the operation as far lower than it would be in real life. Small niggle in what is otherwise a good film.

Acclaimed Albums – What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 69/250Title: What’s Going On
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Year: 1971
Position: #6

Music, like any form of art, invariably finds itself making a commentary on the society or culture it finds itself in. It just happens that What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is one of the more famous, and more obvious examples. The titular track, which opens the album, confronts us with the question immediately despite being written over 40 years ago. What was going on? More importantly, is it still going on?

Much like Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, this album is a song cycle. One track bleeds into another, whilst maintaining a central theme throughout. As such it is difficult at times to actually know when the track has changed so I will not be so easily able to refer to tracks on their own as they all form part of one consistent whole.

Like I mentioned in my coverage of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, I don’t really have much in the way of touchstones when it comes to soul music other than Janelle Monae. This means that once again I am thinking back to her last two albums and being able to draw parallels between the sounds. This is never a bad thing because she is one of those artists that used to be an exception that proved the rule when it came to my musical taste. Now, with my exposure to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder now fully under-way I think my ears are beginning to open up.

Listening to this album it was hard not to have my mind stray to the events of earlier this year when Marvin Gaye’s daughter used a lot of rather out of place superlatives to describe the trial between her inheritance of copyright and Robin Thicke. For someone living off their father’s career whose main highlight is an album addressing the cruelties and incoherent attitudes surrounding the Vietnam through songs focusing on love and understanding… I don’t know. Feels a little strange to me.