Monthly Archives: December 2017

In Review: Music Of 2017 (10-1)

Thanks for tuning in again. Yesterday I counted down my #20-11 albums of 2017. Let’s finish off that countdown and see who ended up at #1.

#10 – Utopia by Björk

This may be the happiest that we have heard Björk since she released Vespertine back in 2001. Where Vulnicura was an open wound, Utopia is a beacon of love and hope. As with all albums she has got a musical theme – this time it’s woodwind, bird song and glitch. Together these help to produce the heightened sense of nature that we’ve seen shades of in Medulla and in ‘Joga’ from Homogenic.

Sure, this album is a bit on the long side and might have been a bit higher if this had been a track or two shorter – but as long as Björk is healing and happy she can have as long an album as she needs. It might also mean that she’s back to her older prolific ways as well. One can only hope as, with Utopia, it feels like she is on her way towards transcendence.

Top Tracks: Arisen My Senses, The Gate, Sue Me

#9 – Rest by Charlotte Gainsbourg

When it comes to intent, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Rest is the polar opposite of Utopia. With the recent death of her half-sister (and her feelings about the death of her father brought up as a result) Rest is an album that grew out of the anger that can result from grief. The lyrics are deeply personal and mostly delivered in an almost ASMR-worthy breathy French whereas and the music that goes with it is this grand atmospheric electronica.

Rest marked a first for Gainsbourg as she penned the majority of the lyrics herself; which paid off immensely as this is may go a long way to explaining why this is her best album. She’s always had one hell of a family legacy to try and follow-up and with Rest she has started forging her own path to truly become her own musician. Also, she’s a great actress – so she has that going for her as well.

Top Tracks: Deadly Valentine, Ring-a-Ring O’ Roses, Lying With You

#8 – Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and James McAlister

On his own Sufjan Stevens released two amazing songs this year (‘Mystery of Love’ and ‘Tonya Harding’), but with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister he took part in one of the more ambitious albums this year – an album that take’s it’s cue from the Solar System and all the cultural baggage attached to it.

Over the course of 76 minutes you go on a folktronic trip around the cosmos with the Sufjan’s tender voice and Muhly’s arrangements for company. Despite it’s length and scope Planetarium became one of my most played albums of the year – thanks in no small part to the amazing singles ‘Mercury’ and ‘Saturn’.

Much like with Joanna Newsom’s Ys, this is an album that needs a lyric booklet with annotations in order to fully grasp all of Sufjan Steven’s references or as a sign post as to how certain musical elements became attached to certain planets. As with astrology a lot of this album is up for interpretation and that’s why I love it.

Top Tracks: Saturn, Mercury, Moon

#7 – Plunge by Fever Ray

With The Knife disbanding a few years ago and it being 8 years since the release of her debut solo album, Plunge was not an album I expected to be seeing in 2017. It’s also an album that I had no idea I needed in my life.

There really hasn’t been another act who have been able to take up the mantle of The Knife’s cold and utterly unique style of electronica. Silent Shout still stands out as one of my favourite tracks of all time with ‘Neverland’ being a track that can get me up and dancing to the point that my glasses go flying across the room.

Plunge is like Silent Shout screaming through a megaphone after taking a hit of Viagra. It’s erotically charged, highly political and expansive in it’s innovation. It’s got such confidence and (loving) aggression that demands your attention. The scary thing about this album? It still feels like Fever Ray is trying to squeeze herself into an album sized box – who knows what she’ll be able to do next.

Top Tracks: To The Moon and Back, IDK About You, This Country

#6 – I See You by The xx

This album was released on January 13th, which means that in some drafts of my favourite albums of 2017 I managed to forget that this was even eligible. It was such a strong album to start the year out on that it’s a real testament to the quality of releases in the rest of the year that this fell to 6th.

Ever since their debut album I have had a huge affection for The xx . They are able to create music that feels intimate and yet expansive. They create songs that become caverns to fill with electronics, reverb and echoed guitars – which makes them perfect for a great set of earphones.

With I See You it feels like they have opened up more as a group to let us get to know them. Songs like ‘Replica’ and ‘Performance’ are achingly personal whilst ‘I Dare You’ (an early candidate for song of the year) feels like the most they have ever reached out to their listeners. It’s a shame that they got kicked out of the Top 5 towards the end of the year, but that’s just how it goes I guess.

Top Tracks: I Dare You, Replica, On Hold

#5 – 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields

How did this work as a concept album? I know that this is an album by the same man who gave us the excellent 69 Love Songs, another concept album that should have crumbled under its own weight, but I don’t know if I had expected him to pull this off just as well as he did.

The idea behind this album is that each song represents a different year in the life of singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt’s life. We start out in 1966 with a song about his birth and follow his life through key events in either his life (including his relationships, mental breakdown and an ode to his pet cat) or the world around him (including the Stonewall riots, the Vietnam War, and a creepy song about the AIDS crisis). After listening to this a number of times, I think I now this man more than a lot of people in his life.

This album is the ultimate time capsule not just because of the topics he addresses, but also because the music draws on what was contemporary to him at the time. Because of this, the latter 15 songs do feel a bit more out of time, but these are also when his own music was starting to take off, so he’s starting to make reference to himself.

I know I probably get more from this album because of the shared social history of being gay men, but there’s no denying just how well this ambitious project was pulled off.

Top Tracks: ’92: Weird Diseases, ’81: How to Play the Synthesiser, ’76: Hustle 76

#4 – The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff

The Navigator stands here at number four as the highest entry by an act who I had never even heard of before 2017. It’s an album that I am not sure I would have even come across if it wasn’t for the people on the Acclaimed Music forum, so a big thank you to them for making me aware of this album.

As an album it follows a loose concept of frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra travelling to Puerto Rico (where her family come from) and protests against what the Puerto Ricans have had to deal with. The encroaching poverty and being dumped on by the United States in general… and this was all recorded before Hurricane Maria. She also sings of how the area she was brought up in New York has since been gentrified. As with all things, there are bright spots on this album. Despite everything Puerto Rican culture has continued to flourish and spread with an ever present optimism that can be found on tracks like ‘Living In The City’.

Taken as a whole, The Navigator is a delicious blend of Americana, folk and Hispanic influences. It’s an album whose poignance has only been enhanced by events over the summer and should really be on more ‘best of’ lists.

Top Tracks: Pa’lante, Living in the City, The Navigator

#3 – Mental Illness by Aimee Mann

2017 has been a year where the spectre of my depression reared its head and stuck around for a solid 10 months. If there was one track that exemplifies where my head has been for large parts of this year, it would be ‘Simple Fix’. It’s a song about endlessly repeating the same cycle of events and not being able to find a way out of it, despite there being a simple fix available.

In this album, Aimee Mann has gotten herself into the headspace of people with depression and other related mental conditions. In keeping with this theme, it is one of the more stripped back albums I have heard of hers, although it still very much a production of light layers.

Listening to her tell stories of people going through different things has been a fantastic comfort to me over the course of the year. It has allowed me to wallow a bit when I felt the need to wallow, but has also found a way to make me feel normal again. With more albums like this we would be on our way towards mental illness being more and more de-stigmatised; something we still have a long way to go on.

Top Tracks: ‘Simple Fix’, ‘Good For Me’, ‘Patient Zero’

#2 – Melodrama by Lorde

The older I get, the fewer pop albums are finding their way into the higher places on my list. Is this just me ageing out of contemporary pop or has my opinion of rival genres eclipsed my once favourite genre? I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know that I’m glad Lorde is around to showcase how mainstream pop and art pop can be a marriage made in melodramatic heaven.

It’s hard to deny the talent present here in Lorde’s songcraft and singing. There is so much confidence just excluding from her as she veers between ballads (‘Liability’) and dark electropop (The Louvre). Of course a lot of praise needs to be piled onto producer Jack Antonoff who has helped bring this album to life.

Of all the songs on here though, it is hard to deny the greatness of opening track ‘Green Light’. This has been my most played song of the year and I am still not sick of it. There is just so much joy and abandon in this song about the break-up of a relationship that it’s hard to not dance along (much like how she did when she sang it on Saturday Night Live).

As much as I loved her debut album, Pure Heroine, her second release has more than delivered on the promise of this young artist. I guess sometimes it just takes a New Zealander to show the rest of the world how pop is done.

Top Tracks: Green Light, Sober II (Melodrama), Perfect Places

 #1 – MASSEDUCTION by St Vincent

I have been an ardent follower of St Vincent since she first released her debut album back in 2007. With the release of each of her albums there has been a big change in my life around about the same time. Her music has provided solace, rallying cries and everything in between as I have needed them.

With the release of MASSEDUCTION she somehow manages to continue her streak into three near faultless albums, with this one bring the third of hers to find its way to the top of my end of year list.

I don’t think there are many other artists out there who still put as much work into track order as St Vincent does. Individually the songs are excellent, but she knows exactly how to make her album flow. Motifs from one song bleed into another, themes rise and fall and at the centre of it there is her.

She’s not exactly elusive, but this is the first time in an album where it feels she is allowing us into her inner sanctum. Even though I don’t list it as a top track, ‘Smoking Section’ feels like an incredibly important song in terms of getting to know her as an artist. It’s like ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’ and ‘I Prefer Your Love’ from her previous album in that she is allowing us to watch her emotions bleed out in a beautiful catharsis.

In the end, this was such a close run thing between St Vincent and Lorde for the top spot that it would be the fraction of a percentage point. Still, it’s good for St Vincent to, once again, be sitting at the top.

Top Tracks: Los Ageless, Sugarboy, New York

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In Review: Music Of 2017 (20-11) + An Honourable Mention

So here we are again at the end of the year. There’s no denying that 2017 has been an ‘interesting’ year all around. But I’m not talking about that today – no, instead I’m using the next two posts to look back on, what has been, an excellent and eclectic year for music.

I know that I had some issues with my final selection back in 2016, but this year has been even more difficult. It came to a point where I even started toying with making this a Top 30 instead because of some of the albums that were starting to disappear down the rankings, but I’m sticking with 20.

In terms of sheer volume and variety 2017 really has been my biggest year in music ever. It has also been a year of discovering some back catalogues of artists like Bon Iver and re-evaluating some of last year’s placements. More on one of those later in this post. 

So before we get into all this…

Honourable Mention: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Soundtrack

It would be so easy to include the latest year of songs in my countdown. However, I don’t think I can easily sort out how much I love the songs themselves from how much I love the TV show (‘Rebecca’s Reprise’ immediately comes to mind). So, I figured it would be fairer to do this.

It’s hard to describe just what makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend my favourite current show on television. Not only is it a clever deconstruction of romantic comedies, but it is also one of the few shows out there that has provided an honest (and at times unflinching) look at mental illness. The cast are top notch with lead Rachel Bloom being deserving of nearly every award that she could be eligible.

The fact that this is not watched by more people just feels wrong. However, this has given me the joy of spreading the word and finding new converts to the cause. Even if you haven’t seen it, the soundtrack is worth the listen.

Top Tracks: The End of the Movie, Strip Away My Conscience, Let’s Generalize About Men

Right, let’s get into it…

 #20 – Stitch of the World by Tift Merritt

It’s always nice to start this off with an album by someone who I had never even heard off before this year. Stitch of the World was one of the first albums from 2017 that I listened to. As such this album has had a long way to fall as more and more albums have overtaken it. Still, it managed to stick the landing… which is more than I could do if I were standing barefoot in a tree.

This is an album so far off the radar that it still doesn’t have it’s own Wikipedia page. It’s also a real shame that this is an album that faded into the background as 2017 marched on as, in the end, Stitch of the World is a really strong slice of Americana that deserves a chance to be savoured

Top Tracks: Icarus, Stitch of the World, Dusty Old Man

#19 – Goodnight Rhonda Lee by Nicole Atkins

Whenever Nicole Atkins releases an album she is nearly always guaranteed a place in my end of year list. She’s one of those singers who I have followed right from the beginning of her career and where I have e-mail alerts set up to notify me of her upcoming releases.

With this, her fourth album, I would say this is my least favourite of her discography because it is a lot more laid back than what I would expect. Still, to place above so many other albums released in 2017 she must be doing something right! Goodnight Rhonda Lee is a bit of a throwback to Nicole Atkins’ musical roots to make something more intimate and containing a hint of 1950s/1960s glamour.

She really is one of those singers that never quite made it. Maybe her time will come. I hope it does.

Top Tracks: Goodnight Rhonda Lee, A Little Crazy, If I Could

 #18 – DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

Rap is a genre that pretty much passes me by. There are the rare albums that I ‘get’, but usually it leaves me cold. Considering that Kendrick Lamar has likely released yet another album that will be touted at the ‘best of the year’ by most publications, I was ready to just right myself as out of touch again. Then I listened to DAMN.

I hope it makes sense to say that this is the most accessible album that he has done. It feels much more akin to  Good Kid , M.A.A.D City than To Pimp a Butterfly which, for me, is the mark that this is an album that I can enjoy. It isn’t as dense with ideas or as aggressive as Butterfly, instead this feels more like a stripped-back album where Lamar is freer to be eclectic with his influences and put his raps at the centre of things.

So yes, a nice surprise for me there to find a rap album to add to the slowly increasing pile of exceptions.

Top Tracks: DNA., HUMBLE., ELEMENT.

#17 A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked At Me feels like the ultimate act of musical voyeurism, an album about singer Phil Elverum losing his wife to pancreatic cancer. It’s one part Devendra Banhart, one part Nick Cave and a million parts devastating. I tried to listen to this at work and found myself crying at my desk… I think my boss figured that I was having some sort of mental breakdown.

It would be easy to compare this to Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree where he sings about the sudden death of his sun in a car. However this is much more stripped back and a lot rawer. This was a drawn out death that left a man as a single parent to a small child. The lyrics deal a lot more with the post-death confusion rather than just complete devastation. It also goes chronologically through his grief and features songs that eschew traditional song structure because, in effect, this is a musical diary.

A Crow Looked At Me is an album where you have to be feeling emotionally robust before attempting a listen. This might have been higher on my list had I been able to listen to this more… but that’s how it goes.

Top Tracks: Real Death, Ravens, Toothbrush/Trash

#16 Visions of Life by Wolf Alice

This is the most recent entry into my top 20 list, spurred on by the number of British publications that featured this highly in their end of year lists. The moment ‘Heavenward’ began to play, with it’s beautifully echoing noise pop/shoegaze influence, I knew that this would be kicking out another album from my list.

Visions of a Life doesn’t stay in one area of alternative rock to get too comfortable. It goes on a bit of a random journey around the genre taking on elements of noise rock, grunge and indie rock. Yet it manages to feel like a cohesive album despite going between beautiful synths and scream tracks. Obviously my preference is for the former… but sometimes you need the latter as a bit of a palate cleanser.

I’m somewhat ashamed to say that this marks the first of only four non-American albums on my list (and the first of only two British albums). I guess I knew this was happening, but then again I’ve never been a big fan of British music anyway.

Top Tracks: Heavenward, Beautifully Unconventional, Don’t Delete The Kisses

#15 Colors by Beck

Okay fine, this isn’t Beck’s best album. However, this it the most positive album that he has released since Midnite Vultures and any year is made better with a Beck album. Considering the political climate it feels a bit jarring to have such a positive pop kaleidoscope of an album coming from him… then again he delayed the release of Colors by a year because it’s original release would have come shortly after Trump won the election.

This is one of those albums where you put it on and it makes you smile. Tracks like ‘I’m So Free’ and ‘Dreams’ are so infectiously happy that it kinda proves that an album like Colors has as much a place in the moment as the more thoughtful albums.

Top Tracks: Dreams, I’m So Free, Colors

#14 – Okovi by Zola Jesus

After the misstep of her previous album, it is so great to see Zola Jesus back at the height of her goth-pop powers. Sometimes it works to go more in a pop direction, and you can’t blame her for trying, but Okovi is really a sign of just how pop she needs to go. Having listened to her albums for years it has been interesting to see how each release has been a further calibration to find her best sound; between this album and Conatus I think she’s found the balance.

Everything about Zola Jesus’ best music is epic in scope. Her operatic contralto, her dark layered production, her inward looking lyrics. This is art pop and proper art pop at that. With Okovi it feels like having gone through her depression, and dealing with a lot of the trauma that her friends were dealing with, Zola Jesus has found her voice. I would not be surprised if her next album is what launches her into the stratosphere.

Top Tracks: Wiseblood, Remains, Exhumed

#13 – American Dream by LCD Soundsystem

It’s rather shameful to say this, but this album was the first time that I have listened to LCD Soundsystem. I know that all their previous albums are heavily acclaimed, it’s just that I’ve never had the urge to discover what all the fuss was about. I figured it would be like that time where I tried listening to The National and was completely underwhelmed.

With American Dream I have to admit that is has been a slow burn. On the first listen the only track that really grabbed me was ‘tonite’ with it’s dirty synths. Now that I am further into the listening I am finding more beauty and more things to dance to – on the most recent listen I just had the titular track ‘american dream’ click into place for me.

As albums go it’s very self-aware in a way that is very much needed in the English-speaking world this past year. It’s also the album that I really wish Arcade Fire could have released instead of Everything Now. I know that’s a bit much to ask for, but they’d have it in them to deliver an album like this.

Top Tracks: how do you sleep?, tonite, other voices

#12 – No Shape by Perfume Genius

One of the themes for a bunch of albums that found their way into the upper part of my list this year is queerness. 2017 marked the first year where I began to take more of a note of albums within the LGBT+ community and No Shape is the first of 5 albums in my list (would have been 7, but a last minute surge of listening managed to knock Arca and Trixie Mattel’s albums out of my Top 20).

If you listened to Perfume Genius’ previous album (Too Bright) you would not be surprised to know that No Shape is continuation in his efforts to make soulful brand of chamber pop. What’s different, however, is that his attention is more fixed on the positivity he has gained from being with his long term partner.

It’s still a rarity to hear music about one man’s love and devotion for another man, which makes No Shape all the more special. Where many artist’s who previously drew on their dark side to music only to falter when something good comes into their live, Perfume Genius has found a way to make happiness work for them by producing some of their most beautiful music ever.

Top Tracks: Slip Away, Wreath, Alan

#11 – All American Made by Margo Price

The biggest omission from last year’s list was Margo Price’s exceptional debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. With her debut she showed up to the country music scene ready to slay and with this second release it’s abundantly clear that her talent means she won’t be going anywhere fast.

All American Made is a more polished album than it’s predecessor (as she now has the money to do so) and deals with some more political messages, where her debut had a more autobiographical bent. This is also an album where she is able to get the legendary Willie Nelson to sing a duet… and then completely outshine him.

If you’re an American conservative there are tracks on this album that are not to your taste. Then again if you manage to listen to ‘Pay Gap’ and still think it’s a myth and/or okay… then jog on, this album is not for you to enjoy.

Top Tracks: A Little Pain, All American Made, Pay Gap

The countdown will conclude tomorrow with #10-#1. If you have any predictions or thoughts on the countdown please comment below.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 26/100Title: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Episodes Aired: 26
Year(s): 2012-2014

Right, so I usually don’t watch an anime adaptation this close to finishing the manga, but JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure felt like something that would better suit the small screen. In some ways I was correct, in others less so.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which covers the first two storylines from the manga of the same name. Whilst this has the benefit of setting up the Joestar dynasty and gives a lot of backstory, the first JoJo was always the most boring to read and, at times, it was actually quite boring to watch. It doesn’t help that the first JoJo is a complete Mary Sue and that Dio is pure evil for no real reason.

Then entertainment really begins with the second half of the anime where we pick up with JoJo’s grandson… JoJo. Not only does this have a better JoJo voice actor (which the second JoJo being voiced by the same guy who does Gintoki in Gintama), but better villains, more entertaining powers and character with actual flaws.

Speaking of flaws, it’s time to address the two major flaws of this anime. The first is the narration or, to be more specific, the over narration. In the manga this made more sense due to the format, but in the anime it really interrupted the flow and made a lot of the dialogue feel really stilted.

Then there is over masculinity within the series, which makes this a bit of a throwback to anime series from the 1980s and 1990s. Everyone is obscenely muscular and there is an awful lot of weird posing that goes on when there could be some fighting going on or at least some development of the plot.

The thing is, I did not go into this first iteration of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure expecting something truly amazing. Mainly because I really started enjoying the manga with the introduction of Stand powers. This probably means that I will enjoy watching Stardust Crusaders a whole lot more… whenever I get around to that.

🎻♫♪ – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saëns

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 23/501Title: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
Nationality: French
Year:
 1863

It’s been about a year since I saw Your Lie In April and yet it’s reach has yet to diminish. I believe that with this piece I am done with all the music from this series. In terms of the show Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso isn’t as iconic as Chopin’s Etudes or the Kreutzer but few pieces could match their use in the show.

Still the point where we transition from the introduction and into the main body of the piece just has so much energy that it fits Kaori’s character so well. For me, that is an instant win. Another instant win: that this is a duet between piano and violin with the violin at front and centre.

To use a term from the gay sphere (because I am currently watching Season 5 of Drag Race and it’s encroaching on my brain) this violin in Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is fierce. It is strong-willed, independent and, at times, cold. It draws you in and commands you to love it, which I do.

Whilst it lacks the urgency of other pieces there is something aloof about it. I can appreciate that in a piece of classical music.

Good Eatin’ – Shiro Shoyu

Merry Christmas… as I write this post the temperature is 30°C and it is actually the middle of June. I moved to 5 posts a week because I was writing over 6 months ahead. Thanks to a resurgence in my film watching I am back in this position again.

I guess it speaks to the level of obsession that some of these lists have become. Just imagine the lead if I was diligently making my way through the classical music list (my last post for that was about a month and a half ago).

Still Merry Christmas everybody – let’s eat some soy sauce.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Shiro Shoyu

If you haven’t heard of white soy sauce before you are probably in the majority. It’s not something that you find in regular supermarkets and I struggled to find it in nearby Asian markets. It was only after a proper search that I found a bottle of it in the Japan Centre.

As you can probably tell from the picture, I have already started to use this rather liberally in the place of regular soy sauce. Only when cooking mind, not as a condiment.

My favourite cooking use for soy sauce is to combine it with oyster sauce and napa cabbage. We had some leftover bacon and soya beans as well, so figured it would be worth inviting them to the party as well.

Now I bet you are wondering whether there is a difference between white soy sauce and the light and dark black soy sauces. Well there is, especially in the smell. White soy sauce has a smell that is somewhere between beer and Bovril whilst having that whiff of being just that bit more fermented.

The difference comes from the different percentages of soya to wheat in the recipe – the white soy sauce being primarily wheat-based. This makes it a sweeter and mellower alternative to darker soy sauces, whilst also being just that bit meaty. It’s also worked out well as a marinade ingredient for fish, so would really recommend picking up a bottle of this if you have a chance.

Progress: 665/751

Graphic Content – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
34/501Title: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Creator: Hirohiko Araki
Year: 1987-now
Country: Japan

What a fantastic name for a manga series. I have been holding off starting the anime adaptation until I got a chance to sit down and actually read it first. From the images of the recent Diamond is Unbreakable seasons I was not entirely sure of what to expect when the manga started in the 1880s. Now it makes more sense.

It takes a lot for a manga to be able to last for 30+ years and still find commercial success. The genius with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure being that the titular JoJo has changed a number of times in the manga’s run. All are descendants of the original 1880’s Jonathan Joestar and we move between them (and eventually different timelines) between the story arcs.

Doing this was a real gamble; especially since the first JoJo dies rather unexpectedly at the end of Phantom Blood. Full credit to Hirohiko Araki though – by going down the family line it helps to keep the story fresh whilst still keeping it in the same world. A world of vampiric masks, column-bound demigods and powerful auras based off of tarot cards.

It’s all good fun, but there are times where JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is let down by the artwork. Especially early on. In the later chapters there is a substantial improvement where it kept the slightly over the top burly look of the male characters, but everything felt more detailed. I guess the budget went up or something.

Getting back to the name – it feels a little bit loaded and, honestly, it takes a good while until things start to feel truly bizarre. For me that moment where the bizarre truly hit me was in the third JoJo incarnation where they were battling a pissed off orangutan on an imaginary boat. Nope, it wasn’t the robot Nazi or the killing people with soap bubbles that did it – it was that weird orangutan.

As of writing this I am coming to the end of the third section, which means I haven’t even gotten to the Diamond is Unbreakable section that I mentioned at the top. I will, however, be continuing with the JoJo family for as long as there are still manga for me to read.

XL Popcorn – Stalker

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 615/1007
Title: Stalker
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1979
Country: USSR

Am I the only film lover who doesn’t get this film? I have been going around the web looking for someone that meets Stalker with a shrug… and I can’t find that person. That cinematic soulmate. So, I guess take my opinions on this film with an even bigger pinch of salt than usual.

For the sake of this 1001 list I have already watched two films by Andrei Tarkovsky (Solyaris and Andrei Rublev)There is a certain style that comes with a Tarkovsky film. They are on the slower side and lean heavy on the philosophy. Stalker is no exception to this, in fact this would probably be the most representative of his style.

On paper this should have been a film I could really get behind. A weird sci-fi mystery about a sentient plot of land (the Zone) and an area that can grant wishes (the Room) that can only be reached with the help of a special guide (a Stalker). Sounds great right?

For me, however, I didn’t really feel any of it, especially the mystery aspect. So much of this film is centred around languorous shots and talking about philosophy to really provide any tension. As the film went on and none of the supposed danger ever came to fruition there was a part of me that wondered if the dangers of the Zone was in the mind of the Stalker. As in, he has become so mentally broken (by the guilt of leaving his wife and physically disabled daughter behind as to serve his jail sentence) that this whole mythology of the Zone is inside his head.

I am pretty sure that this is not an adequate interpretation, but for me it is the only way that I can make some semblance of sense from this movie. Especially as we finish off with a to-camera monologue from his wife and an example of telekinesis from his daughter. The whole film is just unsettling, which can be an amazing thing (take Peeping Tom for example), but it didn’t work for me with Stalker.

On the whole, however, I can see how this would be a film that people would really enjoy. It’s just that this is one of those ‘slow movies’ that didn’t work for me. There doesn’t appear to be a way to predict this, it’s just how it is.

Mending 101

There are a number of goals on this old bucket list of mine that could be put under the umbrella of ‘become an adult’ – whatever that means anymore. Previous posts have covered the likes of holding a dinner party, getting married and building a bookcase.

Today is something a bit more practical… and annoying. Mending rip items of clothing.

In the last week, two pairs of work trousers have ripped. The first when I had to clamber under a table to unplug a laptop, the other when I crossed my legs rather awkwardly. This has lead to an extreme knock in self-confidence, as you would expect from both happening in such quick succession.

I am going to chalk this up to regular wear and tear; mainly because I have lost 25lbs in the last 4 months and both pairs of trousers were wearable before I started losing weight. If it was anything else, like my suddenly gaining all the weight back in 2 weeks, I don’t want to know.

So, I got out my sewing kit, found a how-to video on YouTube and started mending my rips.

I accept that this is not a perfect job. Why would it be for a first attempt? However, the location of this rip falls underneath a fold of fabric, which means that you can’t see my stitching when this pair of trousers are worn.

For the moment this stitching has held after a machine wash and a day of wear – so I think I can consider this as crossed off.

List Item: Mend your own clothes
Progress: Completed

What’s On TV – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 194/501
Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Episodes Aired: 7
Year(s): 1979
Country: UK

The BBC makes the best miniseries. I mean, sure, HBO have made some amazing one and there’s always ITV’s Brideshead Revisitedbut the BBC really is the tops. Especially if you include documentary series like The Blue Planet and Planet Earth – then no channel can touch it.

Based on the 1974 novel of the same name – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the story of an experienced spy ferreting out a mole within the British Intelligence Community. The title itself coming from a nursery rhyme used to give code names to the main suspects.

Over the course of 7 episodes we watch the untangling of webs of intrigue as we dig deeper and deeper to the centre of the plot. My problem? I guessed who the mole was right away as I have more than a basic working knowledge of British TV actors – which probably didn’t detract too much from the reveal, but it made it feel that little bit cheaper.

Full phrase has to be given to Alec Guinness who is beyond brilliant in the lead role of George Smiley. He is surrounded by a fantastic ensemble (as was the fashion of the time) with Ian Richardson, Beryl Reid and Michael Jayston being stand-outs. However, even with this ensemble, there was a noticeable gap in most scenes without the presence of Alec Guinness.

Another slight criticism is how this sagged a bit in the middle. It’s one of those things that tends to happen with shows of this length. In the case of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy it was a mixture of a slightly over-complex spy plot and a lot of names of older white men. It cleared up eventually and, when it did, it was utterly riveting.

So yes, Whilst Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy doesn’t quite top Pride & Prejudice or I, Claudius, this was still a compelling watch.

XL Popcorn – Beau Travail

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 614/1007
Title: Beau Travail
Director: Claire Denis
Year: 1999
Country: France

Like with the anime list, the main peril of following this list is the regular updates. For the movies list, any films released in the last decade are the ones for the chop – which is why this is the most recent entry I have watched since Moolaadé over a year ago.

I relented in my recency rule as Beau Travail felt like one of those films that would not be leaving the list. It is an incredibly well acclaimed film that one of the highest rated of its year of release. Also, it deals with a subject that you don’t see everyday – repressed homosexuality in post-colonial West Africa.

Well, you can watch this film and read the actions of this central character as either represses homosexuality or unwarranted hatred. Hand-on-heart I think the first one makes for the more interesting viewing. It would also really help frame some of the more homoerotic scenes in the film.

The direction and cinematography of Beau Travail is outstanding. The entire film feels like it takes place in a dream – which makes some degree of sense as it is told as the recollection of disgraced legionnaire Galoup. If he is gay then it would explain the film’s focus on the graceful movements of fit, shirtless men taking part in army exercises.

These sequences are set to operatic music and are beautiful to look at. Not just because these are good looking men, but how the choreography of the movements work with the beautifully arid Djiboutian scenery.

As a film that is set in the military this is slower moving than most. However, there is something stylish here that is ultimately hypnotic; especially when you think about how these are men that are training for a battle that may never come.