All posts by mulholland

Acclaimed Albums – Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 180/250Title: Innervisions
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Year: 1973
Position: #46

Four and a half years. That is how long it has been since I did the last Stevie Wonder (Talking Book) album for this blog. Hell, I said two months ago in a 1001 songs post that Innervisions was high on my listening list and it has still taken me a while to get to this. Yet I managed to find time to listen and feel a bit meh about two classical pieces in the last week.

Well I’m here now and I think Innervisions is brilliant. Listening to the full album length version of ‘Living for the City’, rather than the single version which removes a lot of the ending, was a harrowing listen that showcases the political side of this album. It’s not the only time that he does it on this album. His songs deal with the topics of drug addiction and then, in his final track ‘He’s Misstra Know-It-All’, takes aim at then-president Nixon – who would soon be ceremoniously cast out of office.

Then, on the other end of the soul extreme, are some really optimistic songs with some positive messages. The most known of these is the Latin-influenced ‘Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing’, which I am really sure that I’ve heard on the radio at some point. It’s one of those great songs that instantly make wish that you knew how to dance. You also have the love song ‘Golden Lady’ which helps to keep the album feeling positive in the first half.

One more Stevie Wonder album left in this cut of the Acclaimed Albums list, which is higher in the rankings than Innervisions. Then again the album I’m talking about is Songs in the Key of Life – which is long and ridiculously famous. I doubt it’ll be another four and a half years before I get to that.

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📽️ Disney Time – Fun and Fancy Free

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 9/57Title: Fun and Fancy Free
Year: 1947

This may be one of the longer feeling 73 minutes that I have had for a while. No this isn’t an exaggeration, this is the ninth film in the Disney canon: Fun and Fancy Free. Continuing the trend of package films, Fun and Fancy Free consists of two shorts with a framing narrative. What makes these interesting, historically speaking that is, is that both of these would have likely been feature length films in their own right… until the U.S. government came on board and directed a lot of Disney’s personnel to start making propaganda.

Now, I’m not sure if this is the weakness of the stories themselves or how they were cannibalised to make these shorts, but both of these feel as if they could have been unmitigated disasters had the U.S. government not intervened. Then again, if these had been full length films the second short would not have had that bloody awful framing narrative of a grown man holding a cake party for a small neighbour girl whilst showing off his ventriloquist dolls. Honestly, it all felt a little bit ‘local neighbourhood child molester’ to me.

It’s also interesting that it was Disney himself that felt these stories weren’t worth saving for a larger feature (unlike Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, which were already in pre-production) – so rather than waste the work they made Fun and Fancy Free. However, in the end, this whole film feels like that – an utter waste that is now making me feel a bit uncertain about Melody Time (one of the few Disney films I am yet to see).

I think it’s going to take a lot for there to be a worse Disney film that this one. Not only did it commit the cardinal sin of boring me, but the whole ‘showing your love with a slap’ shtick in the first story is extremely questionable. Like – for a family friendly film, is that the right message to be sending to small children? To slap their crush in the face? Ugh I just want the next film to be Cinderella.

What’s On TV – Ultraman

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 221/501
Title: Ultraman
Episodes Aired: 39
Year(s): 1966-1967
Country: Japan

After a run of fairly modern shows it is about time to go back to something a bit older and, finally, not in English. Like many people of my age, I watched Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a kid and played with some of the toys. As most of us now know as adults, this was an American re-skinning of a Japanese series where all the suited action sequences were originally shot in Japan. I mention this because there would probably have been no Power Rangers without Ultraman.

Now, one thing to get out of the way is that the book specifies the original Ultraman, which is the second series in the larger Ultra franchise. This marks the first appearance of Ultraman himself – which is apparently an alien spirit in a pen that a pilot from the Science Patrol uses to transform in order into a giant fighter who can take on monsters.

On the surface this feels like this should have worked for me – a monster of the week in Japan with some crazy fighting. However, it’s worth remember that this is the first series of this type – which means that there are a number of kinks to work out. This isn’t a knock at the production values as the crappy monster costumes are part of the fun, but the story lines were just very bland and predictable with the final five minutes featuring some fun (and occasionally bloody) monster fights.

Since I am way ahead on watching UK and US shows, the next show for this list will be another foreign language one. I just hope that it will be a lot more riveting than Ultraman, even if it ends up being far more emotional.

World Cooking – Libya

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Libya
Progress: 33/193

Sometimes all it takes is putting out some intentions into the world to make something little happen, or something a little less cringe. It doesn’t always work out that, by mentioning my hoped next country in the previous cookery post, I will have the recipes and time to do it justice. This week I got exceptionally lucky by finding somewhere they would sell me barley flour, otherwise there would have had to be a last minute replacement nation.

Libya (like neighbouring Algeria) is an interesting case when it comes to a melting point of cuisine types within Africa, as most of these influences are actually quite old – especially when compared to how colonialism shaped some of the foods eaten further south of the continent. By sitting on the westernmost extreme of the Ottoman Empire, Libyan food sees elements coming from the Levantine traditions. It has also seen Mediterranean, North African and Berber influences just because of where it sits bang in the centre of Africa’s northern coast.

As such, there is a whole lot of things that could be made which could be found in Libya – most of them being their own twist on another’s cuisines staple. Since I had both the time and inclination this week – I have made both a main and a dessert. The main being a traditional Libyan food, the dessert being a rather delicious variation on something I am not usually a big fan.

Main: Bazin

Bazin is a type of unleavened bread you find in Libya that is primarily made of barley flour and can be seen as an analog to the dumplings we Brits put in stews. Despite there only being one ingredient essential to make an authentic bazin, the barley flour, it was weirdly hard to actually find what I needed. Thankfully, you can buy barley flour online and it arrived the day before I planned to make it – so crisis over.

Served with the bazin is a stew made from lamb, tomato, potato and paprika that you mop up with your large dumpling that’s sat in the middle of the plate. Despite how this may look, this is not a time consuming recipe (thanks again Taste of Beirut) – which allowed me to play a lot of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in between oven alarms.

The stew itself was a bit spicy (because I overdid it), but it was fine with that big simple barley dumpling to help temper the heat. Seriously, this is something I would happily make and eat again in the future – maybe I’ll get better at making the central bazin dumpling that looks more picture perfect.

Dessert: Bakalawa bil Jibna

This is unlikely to be the last time that I make a type of baklava for this food quest, but I just couldn’t resist this recipe from Libyan Food. After all, I am more than partial to cheesecake – so a baklava filled with a cream cheese custard flavoured with rosewater was extremely tempting. This from someone who usually finds baklava to be too sickly sweet.

I really should not have worried, because whilst this recipe is sweet – this is far more in the region of what I find delicious. It tastes like it you wrapped the filling of a rose cheesecake in filo pastry and then topped it with some honey-rose syrup. The recipe makes 25 large pieces, and these have already made my mum and my neighbour very happy as I made too much to fit in the fridge.

Now that I have made my own baklava, I really do appreciate how much work it takes to make some of these. Especially those made of homemade kataifi pastry which, despite being delicious, are way too much work for me to attempt right now. I might, however, be tempted to make more baklava in the future.

So it turns out that Libya has a wealth of delicious looking food worth exploring. By researching and making some of these, I feel I have gained a better knowledge of this area other than the awful stuff I’ve seen on the news. I hope that, as I continue to explore the food of this region, I’ll find more delicious stuff. As for the next country, this is still up in the air – but it’s going to be either Asian or European.

🎻♫♪ – O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 57/501Title: O Magnum Mysterium 
Composer: Tomás Luis de Victoria
Nationality: Spanish
Year:
1572

Right, so this is the piece I was meant to be listening to instead of Battle MassThe difference in length actually means that I probably did these the right way round: Battle Mass at work and O Magnum Mysterium as I got my post together for The Spider’s Stratagem and fretted about the baklava I currently have soaking in syrup. All within 4 minutes.

It’s interesting that, for the 1001 Classical Pieces list, the sole Tomás Luis de Victoria piece that they picked is not the one considered his masterpiece. Instead we get this incredibly short piece which is Catholic chant, traditionally done at Christmas. This is one of the chants that I’m sure will appear in other entries on this list (and might have already appeared already considering how many of these vocal piece I’ve done by now.

Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’m a the point where I am just a bit over these simple pieces. It doesn’t feel as if the type of pieces have really moved on in the previous century up to this point – which I guess will be partially down to fewer people moving between nations, therefore the exchanges of ideas and cultures is exceedingly slow. I mean, this piece is fine, but I wasn’t close to being moved.

XL Popcorn – The Spider’s Stratagem

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 728/1007Title: Strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Year: 1970
Country: Italy

Between all the Disney films I’ve been watching in between the 1001 movies, it’s getting a bit difficult to remember the last time I did a foreign language film for this particular challenge. Turns out it was only two films ago… and prior to that it was three films in a row of non-English excellence – so I really shouldn’t have worried.

Going into The Spider’s Stratagem I had absolutely no idea what I was about to watch; other than it being by Bernardo Bertolucci. He has four films on the 1001 list and, somehow, this is the first of them that I have gotten around to seeing. Probably doesn’t help that, due to a lot of what came out recently, I am really uncertain about watching his most famous film: Last Tango In Paris. 

After seeing this film, however, I am keen to see what else he can do. In a nutshell, this tells the story of a Athos – man journeying to a rural Italian town where his father is worshipped as a martyr of the anti-fascism movement. He’s there to uncover the identity of the person who killed his father, having received a tip-off from his father’s acknowledged mistress, only to become trapped in the same conspiracy that resulted in the death of his father.

At no point in the duration of The Spider’s Stratagem do you feel that Athos is anything close to safe. The people who killed his father clearly don’t want the truth to come out, which results in him being locked in a stable, punched in the face and then having some weird interactions with a local boy who holds his rabbit up by the ears. Even the woman who is meant to be his ally starts to act incredibly oddly as he tries to leave.

This is a town where his martyred father is so revered that the truth threatens to undermine their whole identity and so, by the end he has to choose whether to reveal what he’s learned or to allow the mystery to continue (think Lisa Simpson’s final choice in the episode ‘Lisa the Iconoclast). It’s a poignant ending, made all the more interesting by his physical inability to move away due to the poor condition of the railway line.

It’s nice to get around to seeing a film on the list that is one of the ‘hidden gems’ and have it live up to that designation. The whole setting of this town felt very much like a 1970’s Italian version of Twin Peaks – but without the backwards talking girl and the flaming playing cards. With that in mind, what wasn’t there to like.

🎻♫♪ – Battle Mass by Francisco Guerrero

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 56/501Title: Battle Mass
Composer: Francisco Guerrero
Nationality: Spanish
Year:
1582

Going back to the second oldest piece left on the list (I was meant to listen to the oldest, but I got in a bit of a mix up) and it’s time for some more religious music. It’s been a few months since the last religious piece, and that was so much more interesting than this one.

Honestly, after a while a lot of these masses have a tendency to merge into one – with the exception of pieces like the The Western Wynde Mass, which was legitimately interesting. I know that I should be able to note some difference in the harmonies or the style when comparing it to the other masses and motets that I have heard so far – but that would require a lot more reading up on the history of classical music, a step beyond what ticking things off of this list requires.

At least I’m getting closer and closer to the end of these religious vocal pieces. Next time on the classical list will be… the oldest piece I have left to listen to because I am a completionist like that.

📽️ Disney Time – Make Mine Music

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 8/57Title: Make Mine Music
Year: 1946

When I started girding my loins for the package films after my viewing of Bambi – it appears to be very likely that Make Mine Music is the film that I had in the back of my mind. I originally saw this about 10 years ago when I decided to plug some holes in my Disney watching and my opinion then is the same as it is now – this is so incredibly uneven.

This is probably the most disjointed of the package films that Disney released to this point with there being 10 short segments, each linked to a different sort of music or musical performance. The benefit of this should be that, upon watching a poorer segment, there is always another segment coming up soon. However, at least for me, Make Mine Music really back ended the quality.

For me there are three segments that have really stood the test of time and are worth watching to this day – and these are the final three. First is ‘After You’re Gone’, which is a short jazz interlude in a Fantasia style. Then there is ‘Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet’, a sweet love story of two hats as sung by the Andrew Sisters.

This leaves us with the final, and by far the best, segment of the film – ‘Willie the Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met’. It’s a bizarre story of a whale that can sing opera and dreams of stardom, the whole thing being sung by one opera singer who, through the magic of technology, sings part of it in three-part harmony with himself. This is probably the most famous of the segments, and rightly so – it’s a great short film in its own right.

Now let’s not forget the context that Make Mine Music was released in. The majority of the work was done during World War Two where most of the animators were either producing propaganda for the government or were actually off fighting. Disney also were starting to get into a more financially stable position, but it wasn’t quite at the point where they could get back to producing regular feature films.

So, with limited resources (in terms of headcount and finances) Make Mine Music was the film that they could make to tide over the feature film division. Plus, like with The Three Caballeros this actually turned a major profit – so Disney were just adapting with the times in order to stay in business, even if it hasn’t aged too well.

Good Eatin’ – Vinegar from Corinth

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Corinthian Vinegar
Progress: 773/1001

Here we are some 3-4 months after buying this bottle of vinegar in an Athenian speciality store and I have finally cracked it open and put it to some good use. It’s taken this long because of how beautiful the ceramic bottle was and my fear of breaking it. What didn’t help this along was how they chose to cork the bottle, so I have to open a ceramic jug with a corkscrew. Obviously it went well as I’m writing about it, but there was fear.

So apart from sitting here typing and quaffing vinegar from a re-purposed Irish coffee glass (because I’m classy), what did I use this Greek vinegar for? Well obviously I made Greek salad and, might I just say, this is so much better than Modena Balsamic vinegar. There is a wonderful sharp, sweet fruitiness to this that has a remarkably clean finish. Much like the beautiful raspberry vinegar, this is absolutely delicious and I can only imagine how it would taste with cheese or under the influence of the miracle berry.

This particular variety of Corinthian vinegar that I purchased has the additional joy of bergamot extract to lend it an extra fruity hand. Sadly this won’t count as a varietal red wine vinegar because, whilst wine grapes were used to make this vinegar, the process is slightly different. So I’m still on the hunt for a bottle of that.

Acclaimed Albums – Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 179/250Title: Siamese Dream
Artist: Smashing Pumpkins
Year: 1993
Position: #133

Leaving behind the 1970s today as I felt the need of something a bit more modern and rocky whilst playing with some VBA coding at work. I was really between doing this and the remaining Nirvana album, but the prospect of something a bit more shoegaze led me here to Siamese Dream.

Apart from their appearance on The Simpsons, I don’t think I will have ever heard a song by Smashing Pumpkins. They’re one of those groups that I have known about for as long as I have been buying music, but I’ve never gotten around to even picking up one of their albums – other than to look at the artwork of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Now that I have finally gotten around to listening to it, I believe the word is wow. The album takes all the bits I like about My Bloody Valentine‘s shoegazing added in with some grunge, a touch of metal and a bit of prog rock to make an incredibly varied and satisfying group of songs full of production tricks that are missing on Nirvana’s work.

I know I’ve listened to a good album when I immediately restart it once I’ve finished it, and I know a future favourite song when it’s been on repeat for the better part of an hour. So, let’s talk about ‘Disarm’ for a bit. It’s been a while since a song so (pun unintended) disarmed me. The bells, the strings, the emotionally gravelly voice, the tale of an abusive upbringing and the continuous building in the production. God, this is an amazing song and this is an amazing album. Oh well, 26 years too late but I got there in the end.

Okay so I haven’t kept up the ‘album a day’ thing that I had hoped for after listening to Electric Warrior, but three in the first week of the year should bode well and bring nearer the time that I plan to expand the list. When that happens, there will be an excuse to spent some more time with Smashing Pumpkins as Mellon Collie becomes an album to cross off.