Tag Archives: 2016

Book Review: Hot Milk (2016) by Deborah Levy

A solid coming-of-age novel is a wonderful thing. The sort of book that reminds you that – no matter how old you are – it’s okay not to have everything entirely worked out in your life. Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk is one of the best modern coming-of-age novels I’ve read in a long time because of this. It succeeds where I’ve seen so many other books fail – having a protagonist that is incredibly human and, as a result, incredibly relatable.

At the core of the novel is Sofia, a twenty-something anthropologist, and her mother, who suffers from serious joint problems in her legs. The two of them have travelled to Spain, seeking the help of the supposedly brilliant Dr Gomez. Isolated from her life back in England, and trapped in a remote Spanish community, Sofia discovers a lot about herself – as well as her complex relationship with her mother.

Hot Milk is a novel about identity, focusing Sofia discovering who she is, and who she wants to be, through the relationships she makes while in Spain. The main appeal of the novel, to me at least, is its heroine’s fantastically well-defined voice. Sofia feels original yet relatable, and is incredibly easy to like. She’s the sort of protagonist that every reader can find a piece of themselves in. She fumbles through most of the novel – not being driven by a clear goal like most protagonists – bemoaning her laptop’s cracked screen and arguing with her mother.

It’s a joy to see the world filtered through her eyes. Like most great novels written in the first person, Hot Milk offers a unique viewpoint, with Sofia’s observations ranging from hilarious to depressing – though sometimes they’re both. Some of my favourite passages in the novel focus on Sofia’s relationship with her step-mother and father. Though the scenes draw a lot of comedy from the awkwardness of their relationship, it’s also heart-breaking. ‘Estranged parents’ isn’t exactly an original focus, but the novel handles it really well.

Hot Milk isn’t the sort of plot-intensive novel that keeps you on your toes with its many twists and turns; it tells a simple story that, at its core, is incredibly easy to connect to. It’s book with characters that feel truly alive – and that’s one of the best compliments I can pay any novel.

Album Review: Human Performance (2016) by Parquet Courts

I mainly seem to moan about albums I don’t like on this blog, so it’s a nice change when I get to talk about one I really like.

Parquet Courts’ third album has really grown on me as the year has progressed. I first listened to it a few months ago, not thinking too much of it, but now it’s easily one of my favourite albums of the year. At first only a few songs really stuck out to me (like ‘Dust’, which is a song that’s literally about, well, dust) though now I can appreciate that Human Performance is really stuffed to the brim with great songs. Maybe I’m just impressed that the band have managed to make seemingly mundane topics into pretty powerful songs – from the aforementioned ‘Dust’ to ‘I Was Just Here’, which is about a Chinese takeaway closing down.

Let’s start with the title track – my favourite on the album. It’s a break up song that almost entirely avoids being cheesy and cliché. It’s got a down to earth feel to it, and Andrew Savage’s usually abrasive vocals have a vulnerable feel to them. The delivery on the verses is very low-key and almost conversational, contrasting with the dark and depressing tone of the lyrics: ‘It never leaves me, just visits less often / It isn’t gone and I won’t feel its grip soften without a coffin’. The chorus gets a bit more dramatic, with an echoing effect being placed on Savage’s vocals and the instruments getting distorted. Heartbreak is a topic that’s been covered to death in music, but ‘Human Performance’ somehow manages to make it feel fresh.

‘I Was Just Here’ is another highlight, addressing how quickly things change in today’s society (a theme explored by most of the album’s songs). It has an off-kilter feel to it, with the lyrics being delivered in an almost robotic tone: ‘I’ll brush my teeth / That’s good for me’. The song explodes towards the end after the narrator realises that his favourite Chinese takeaway has closed down. It’s odd, but it works. ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ is also a favourite, being built around a jangly guitar riff that’s hard not to love. It’s got a lot of energy to it, and is probably one of the most accessible songs on the album.

Human Performance is one of those albums I love for the reasons other people probably hate it for. It’s weird. On first listen, some of the songs feel like they’re challenging the listener to turn it off. ‘Paraphrased’, for example, features some of the most over-the-top and ‘ugly’ vocals on the album. It sounds less like Savage is singing, and more like he’s just shouting at the listener. Opener ‘Dust’ similarly sounds like a bit of a challenge at first. I mean, it’s about dust, and as a result the lyrics are straight up ridiculous: ‘Dust is everywhere, sweep!’ But in the grand scheme of the album, it does a great job of setting up the themes that the rest of the tracks explore – such as the claustrophobic feel of modern city life.

One of the things I really love about this album is how rough it feels. Coming off the very clean and digital Starboy, Human Performance is refreshingly messy. The band don’t care much about making sure the listener has a ‘pleasant’ time listening to all of the songs on the album. Like I said before, ‘Paraphrased’ and its vocals are the best example of this, though you can also see it on tracks like ‘Two Dead Cops’ and ‘One Man No City’ (which is certain to annoy some people with its repetitiveness). However, there are a few moments of audio bliss, such as the digital only track ‘Already Dead’, which features an incredibly dreamy interlude.

Parquet Courts really knocked it out of the park with this album, and I’m excited to dive into their back catalogue and give their other two albums ago. The band try to do a lot of different things on this album, and most of them really work. If you’re looking for an album that’s going to challenge you a bit, I highly recommend this one.

Essential Songs: ‘Dust’, ‘Human Performance’, ‘Berlin Got Blurry’.

Review: Catfish & The Bottlemen at Plymouth Pavilions (7/11/2016)

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Catfish & The Bottlemen. I’ve tried to get into them – mainly because I know loads of people that love them – but I just find them a bit bland and dull. To put it bluntly, all their songs sound the same, and the sound they share isn’t one I really like that much. It’s all just dreary and moany. They have a few songs I kinda like – ‘Homesick’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘Glasgow’ – but none of them wow me. The most positive attitude I can really have towards a Catfish song is ‘I suppose it’s okay.’

So why the hell am I reviewing one of their gigs? Mainly because they were playing in town. And despite the fact that I’m not the hugest fan, seeing a big band at a big venue is always going to be a fun experience. Even though I was one of the few people who didn’t know every word to every song – I’d say the lead singer handed at least 25% of the gig over to the audience – I still had a fun time.

I saw Bastille at the same venue a couple of weeks ago (even though my review of their latest album wasn’t overly positive) and I thought they were fun too. I’m not saying that the Catfish gig came close to being as good as Pumarosa (who I saw a few weeks ago), but it was kinda like dumb fun. Catfish & The Bottlemen songs often have cheesy choruses that you want to sing along to, especially in a live environment. (‘Oxygen is overrated’ – I mean, come on?) And the songs I did kind of like already sounded even better live. The band even opened with two of my ‘favourites’, ‘Homesick’ and ‘Kathleen’.

Though there were a lot of dreary and dull songs in the middle of the set, some I didn’t care for before did sound pretty good live. The closers to their two albums for example, ‘Tyrants’ and ‘Outside’ have a great climactic feel to them that sounds massive live. (Meanwhile both studio versions of these songs annoy the hell out of me with how they abruptly cut out…)

So while I wouldn’t call myself a convert to the Catfish fanbase, I see the appeal of them a little bit more. I can kind of understand why people love their songs so much – seriously, the crowd were so loud – after hearing them played live. Though to me Catfish are still a pretty average band, and unless they dramatically change up their sound, I don’t think my opinion will ever change. But live – they’re all right.

Review: Wild Beasts at Motion, Bristol (28/09/2016)

 

I feel like Wild Beasts specifically chose Motion to perform in due to its ‘rougher’ feel compared to Bristol’s other popular venues like the O2. Boy King has a rough, seedy vibe to it, and the place that the band perform in – and how they perform – reflects this.

I think I was more excited for this gig than any other one this year. Not just because Boy King is a great album, but because Wild Beasts have an incredible back catalogue of songs as well. All of their albums are great for different reasons, from the over-the-top flamboyant Limbo, Panto to the low key and sensual Present Tense.

But before Wild Beasts, there were two support acts – Ardyn and Money (who just might have the hardest to Google band name ever). I only knew one Ardyn song going into the gig, ‘The Valley’ (which sounded great live), and thought they delivered a great set. They have a nice folksy style, and I’ll definitely be looking up some more of their stuff in the future.

Money were pretty incredible as well. Frontman Jamie Lee has a mesmerising quality about him, and really managed to hold the audience’s attention well. Their songs have a nice, loose unstructured feel to them… It felt like they were playing songs around a campfire in the middle of the night rather than performing in what was essentially a night club. The only issue I had with these two bands is that they kind of felt like odd choices for supporting Wild Beasts, having very folksy styles compared to the headliner’s more electronic, synth-based sound.

Wild Beasts opened their set with ‘Big Cat’, which sounded huge live. All of the songs on Boy King sound like they’re designed to be played live, and this concert only confirmed that. ‘Big Cat’ and ‘He The Colossus’, two of my least favourite songs from the album, ended up sounding best at the gig. ‘He The Colossus’ in particular was fantastic, exploding into a loud, brash guitar solo at its end. The solo sounded good on the album of course, but live it’s just on another level.

The first half of the set leaned heavily on old songs – something I can’t really complain about. Two Dancers hits ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues’ got great reactions from the audience and rightly so. I found it admirable that Hayden Thorpe still sung the songs with so much passion even after playing them for so many years. Other classics like ‘Mecca’ and ‘Bed of Nails’ also sounded great live, with an extra bit of oomph being added to them to reflect the band’s new style. ‘Wanderlust’ – maybe the band’s biggest hit – got lost in the set a little bit, and really felt like it should have been saved for the encore. Still, it sounded great.

Another easy highlight was ‘Lion’s Share’, the opener from their third album Smother. I really didn’t expect the band to break this one out, and it didn’t really fit in that well amongst all the much louder songs, but it didn’t fail to create a round of deafening applause. It’s maybe the simplest, most stripped down song Wild Beasts have in their library – placing all the weight on Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming’s duelling vocals – and ended up being a nice change of pace.

As old songs were the focus of the set’s first half, the second half was made up of some of the best tracks from Boy King. ‘Tough Guy’ was great as expected – Hayden even concluded the song with a ‘Fuck yeah’ – ‘2BU’ was as haunting and sinister as its album counterpart and ‘Celestial Creatures’, my personal favourite from the new album, sounded fantastic with its otherworldly-sounding synths. I was a little underwhelmed by ‘Alpha Female’, ‘Get My Bang’ didn’t really carry the oomph I think the band were hoping for, and it was slightly disappointing that they didn’t play ‘Dreamliner’, (or anything from Limbo, Panto) but these small blemishes are forgivable in what was a great show. They of course rounded things off with their classic ‘All the King’s Men’, which demonstrated that Tom is every bit as good a vocalist as Hayden. A really brilliant show overall.