Tag Archives: review

Review: Oblivion

Oblivion
Oblivion by Arnaldur Indriðason

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I only noticed that it’d not read this book when tidying up my wish list, hastily ordered because I couldn’t believe I’d missed another instalment of the ever pensive Erlendur. It didn’t take long to realise that this was a prequel, the book cover features an eerie looking blue lagoon, not the fun n frolic-y one we’re used to seeing in tourist photos, and as the first crime unfolds it becomes apparent it was set before the blue lagoon existed as a private entity.
The story (or stories as there is never just one thread in these books) are centred around activity related to the air force base at Keflavik, a murder and a missing persons cold case. This gives you some insight into Elendur’s fascination with missing persons whichs is a constant thread woven throughout the later series even if you’ve never read any of the other books that reveal the whole back story. So you can read this as a standalone book and not feel like you’re missing out. The other story is investigated mostly by Erlendur’s mentor, Marion Briem – which again fills out some back story missing from the later set books. I’m hoping that this continues – as I feel that this would be a really interesting addition to the series. I dont want to say much about the story as I feel that this would spoil the plot too much, but as usual the plot is a slow boiling stew with the tension mounting more than I expected towards the final few chapters and I really didn’t want to stop reading but had to go to work!

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Aurora & Xamvolo, Oxford o2 Academy

Tuesday night for me was almost a year in the making. You see, I’d somehow missed seeing Aurora play at Iceland Airwaves last year, I don’t recall whether it was a schedule clash or pure exhaustion, but either way I missed her show and regretted it. Then to rub salt into an already raw wound, I found out she was supporting Of Monsters and Men who I was seeing in later that same month, but not the date I had tickets to. So unsurprisingly when news of a full UK tour came around and by some stroke of luck an Oxford date was announced, I was on it like the proverbial car bonnet and snapped up a ticket. I’d also like to state for the record that my love for Aurora’s music has everything to do with the Running with the wolves EP and nothing to do with that John Lewis advert (I also wasn’t a fan of the song when Oasis were one of my favourite bands).

So on with the support act -21 year old Xamvolo came on dressed in black, cutting a sleek silhouette in amongst the stage smoke and really blew away those cobwebs between my ears. having checked out the video below on youtube I was expecting good things. I was perhaps not expecting a an upbeat jazzy set that had the crowd dare I say, dancing? He has such a powerful voice and stage presence, as well as having a cheeky sense of humour, the crowd really started to warm up.. in his words ‘ I play this jazzy upbeat stuff, then I play … other stuff and played Down’ (also from the Chirality EP like Runner’s High). You can check out more of this stuff on soundcloud I think he will be one to watch in future.

In the swift break between Xamvolo and Aurora I grabbed a beer from the bar – the O2 Academy sells one of the Wychwood ales in an orange bottle – either a ruby or halloween ale, it was dark, malty and a nice respite from the 3 or 4 types of lager they seem to overly promote – hidden in the fridge out of view, would be nice if they promoted it a bit more, or even had a drinks list visible, so I’m just putting it out there!

Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes performing at the Oxford O2 Academy

Aurora @ O2 Oxford Academy 2

On to Aurora, when she enters the stage looking several years younger than her 20 summers the crowd go pretty wild. There’s a good mix of people here- from young kids with parents, to people old enough to be my parents. Stood in front of a backdrop of a woodland scene she immediately starts with Black Water Lilies her voice mesmerising the crowd as she waves her arms around reminiscent of a Hindu goddess. We get treated to almost the whole of All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, as well as the whole of the Running With The Wolves EP. My 2nd favourite track from the latter, In Boxes was particularly drum heavy which I loved – Aurora later told us that any variations to the tracks were down to a new band member Noel (or possibly Noah sorry if I’ve gotten that name wrong.. I couldn’t hear that well) who was ‘very creative’ and bringing new things to the music.

Aurora

Aurora

After several upbeat songs, the stage cleared leaving just Aurora and the guitarist (who may or may not be called Olaf), and sometimes co-writer to perform a new song Animal Soul, where Aurora declared she thought there were several of us audience members with animal souls. It is these sort of whimsical comments that endear her to the crowd instantly, that we all feel like we’re living in her fantastical world with her, just for tonight. After another acoustic track by way of Murder Song, where we’re reminded how dark her world can go we remain fairly mellow with Remain and Runaway (where I muse that I still can’t believe she wrote this when she was 12!). But soon enough the energy is fired back up with I Went Too Far and Running With The Wolves – where the intense, more danceable drum beat was back, reminding me of the remix that’s included on the deluxe album version. And just I was thinking, well the show can’t be over yet, she hasn’t sung Conqueror, Aurora announces that this will be their last song, as the inevitable drum beat starts the crowd cheers and we all start dancing again, then I realise I need to leave and get the bus, to beat the rush. I get on the bus happy and exhausted put my headphones in and relive the last hour and a half, blissfully unaware that there was one more song…

 

full photo set here.

Review: The Painter of Modern Life

The Painter of Modern Life
The Painter of Modern Life by Charles Baudelaire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled to decide whether this should be 3 or 4 stars, but given that I didn’t enjoy reading a vast chunk I’ve knocked it down to 3. It was an interesting style of writing, and what drew me in particular to this book (aside from Baudelaire being recommended to me on several occasions at uni), was that it was part of a series ‘dedicated to those writings that changed the way people thought about the world’ or something… To be honest, I probably could do with re-reading the beginning, or reading it solidly over a few days rather than sporadically over a few months, as I really can’t remember much from the first part. some of it clearly struck a chord with me, as I’ve underlined and highlighted several passages, but the swathes of praise for Delacroix sort of fell on deaf ears, as I’m not that familiar with his work (and to be fair, nothing in the passages made me think ‘oh I should go look him up’). The final passage on photography and how it should not be considered art, and should remain low-brow was fairly amusing to me, not least because it was referred to as mechanical; as are certain types of printmaking, but he lauds that earlier in the book.
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Of Monsters and Men – Beneath The Skin

I know this album has been out going on for 9 months by now (in fact my procrastination skills are so on form, I just found an 8 month old draft… oops), but seeing as I’m not the sort of person who gets advance review copies, there was no way of pushing something out around the time of release. I also believe that these things take time to sink in and be fully absorbed – I can tell you that Crystals, which started out as a firm favourite in the beginning (released almost a year ago this week!), went to being at the bottom of the pile, then back up into my top 3 (maybe). Initially I loved it because it was new,  in terms of UK releases, the newest single in 3 years, then once the entire album was released I preferred other songs as they were newer, but then in late 2015, possibly after seeing it performed live I fell in love with in all over again. The huge swelling drum beats that start the song before Nanna’s vocals win me over every time. It was also used for a Disney film about dinosaurs which I have not seen.

Of Monsters and Men

Black Water was another instant favourite, I used to sing this in my head whilst I was swimming in the summer and found it was good for focusing, except where counting how many laps I was doing was concerned! Also the lyrics felt like they could have been written about the characters in the book series I reading within the supernatural genre which was an unusual twist. Wolves Without Teeth might just be my number one track though, again the drum beat starts up and it could be the rhythm of the beast running – now I’m in training for a 10km race later this year, this track is on my essential playlist as the beat is spot on for me. However Slow Life is a track that took until this year to really gain a place in my heart, I think maybe because it feels to me like a real winter tune, and here in Oxford at least, winter didn’t really kick in until February. The whole feel to the album is a generally more larger, all encompassing sound, the music press would probably say it’s a more ‘grown-up sound’ but that would also imply that the previous album was immature sounding? they haven’t lost their playfulness which is part of why I love them. There’s still plenty of creatures as metaphors à la Dirty Paws.

 

As I mentioned above, I travelled to see OMAM in concert back in November, as now we live in Oxford, a lot of bands don’t play locally, particularly non UK bands (where as in Manchester, most bands if playing outside London will play there as well). We live equilateral travel time from both Bristol and Birmingham so chose Bristol as my husband has never been, and also it was a Friday night rather than midweek which didn’t require time off work which is always a plus.

The gig itself was amazing, even if the venue was not. The band played their socks off, the sound was possibly better than on CD, I don’t know why I’m always amazed by how good Icelandic acts sound live, maybe I’ve seen too many poor bands or bands in bad venues? Or maybe they’re all just so good at what they do… Anyway, the only downside, was missing part of the gig – how did this happen you ask? well the doors opened at 6:30pm, usually gigs open the doors at 7 or 7:30pm with the main band being on stage at 9pm – and either 1 or 2 support acts on, curfew is usually 11pm unless it’s a Sunday – I say usually because me and my husband have collectively being going to gigs in various cities since the 1980’s and this is the only time we’ve come across a gig for all ages that the curfew was 9:30pm, I shit you not! So after finding our hotel, dropping our bags, rushing to find somewhere to eat quickly, then heading to the venue, stupidly thinking we might catch the end of the support act, we walked in part way through King and Lionheart (full set list here) Because as it turns out that in order to maximize profits, the Bristol O2 academy does a club night every Friday opening at 10:30pm – this is not something that is communicated to attendees despite it being highly unusual for a gig venue as speaking to other gig goers who’d also travelled from various cities in the UK they were all equally surprised. The venue was also overcrowded and a potential fire hazard IMO, with staircases that led to fire exits jam packed and impassable, and did I mention some parts of the room you can’t even see the stage?!… but I digress. Of Monsters and Men and their touring band played so amazingly, my favourite part was when Nanna took the drumsticks and started pounding what I think was a Timpani drum with a look of pure mischievousness on her face, before rushing back to get her guitar strapped back on to finish the song! which may or may not have been Crystals… I really hope I get the opportunity to see them play again with this album, but at the moment it seems to be festivals only and no mention of an Airwaves appearance yet (I was praying for last year, as they had two empty tour dates during Airwaves, but I guess everyone needs a break!

 

 

Snorri Helgason & Ásgeir – Deaf Institute, Manchester

Last night I headed on down to Manchester’s Deaf Institute for a gig featuring not one, but two Icelandic artists in the form of Snorri Helgason and Ásgeir who are both often described as folk, melodic sometimes poppy but most definitely folk.

I was looking forward to this immensely (despite only hearing of and booking my ticket less than 2 weeks ago), as I’d previously had the pleasure of seeing Snorri perform back in November at Iceland Airwaves festival, against the interesting back drop of a men’s clothing store, surrounded by deer stalker hats!

Up until a couple of weeks ago the only Ásgeir track I’d heard was a cover of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box on YouTube (and only a matter of days before Gizmodo ran an article entitled ‘watch this one woman band cover an uncoverable Nirvana song’ err yes not that uncoverable then). I’ve since listened to the few tracks available on Soundcloud and liked what I’d heard.

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The Deaf Institute is a wonderful gig venue, small and intimate without feeling overcrowded, bird print wallpaper lines the stage area which is draped with deep red, luscious curtains, there’s even a fireplace if you look hard enough!
Snorri kicked off proceedings with an all too short 30 minute set, playing at least a couple of songs I recognised from his most recent album Autumn Skies (give it a listen on Soundcloud) and the harmonica made an appearance. There was new track he wrote whilst in Nashville which at first I thought was called mad cap (and didn’t know what to expect!) But by the end of the anecdote I realised that as someone had described the song to him as ‘like the last you drink before you put the candles out’ I realised it was called Night Cap.
Then it was all over, I managed to grab a copy of Autumn Skies directly from the man himself after the gig and managed to not to say anything too embarrassing in the process.

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After a short break Ásgeir and his band took to the stage and started with two songs in Icelandic before introducing himself to the crowd and later on the rest of the band which includes his brother.

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The afore mentioned cover of Heart Shaped Box was in there along with Dreaming, new single Going Home and finishing with the upbeat Torrent. great night all round, I’m hoping to catch both artists back at airwaves in November.
Oh BTW Ásgeir’s record Here It Comes with Heart Shaped Box on the B side is a Record Store Day release on Saturday 19th April – go buy it!

3 Music Inspired Exhibitions in Manchester

This week I took in no less than 3 exhibitions with a musical inspiration. First up was Manchester Marauders at 2022NQ, a fantastic exhibition dedicated to Manchester’s Hip Hop scene by photographer & DJ Air Adam. 20 years after the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, whose eponymous album cover paid respect to fellow artists on the scene, Adam’s exhibition centrepiece is of his very own Manchester Marauders. A cleverly crafted homage to the original,  featuring people who’ve inspired Adam within Manchester’s thriving scene,  over the years since he moved to Manchester in the mid 90’s. I really enjoyed this exhibition because if you’ve ever been to any club night with a hint of Hip Hop on the bill over the past 15 years or so, you’re bound to recognise at least one of the names, if not faces from this collection. For me the exhibition as a whole acts as a celebration of Manchester’ s music scene that doesn’t seem to get recognition outside of the guitar bands and Hacienda nights.

Manchester Marauders © Air Adam 2013

The exhibition features shots from various club nights within Manchester (the only exception are some photos of Tribe themselves, earlier this year at Wireless Festival in London) but it’s not all about the Dj’s & performers though, the audience participation at various events are equally represented in Adam’s shots  which are a mix of crisp black & white shots with some atmospheric silhouettes against the ambient light. This exhibition runs until 26th October 2013 – prints are available to purchase here.

Next up was the ‘Defining Me: Musical Adventures in Manchester’  in the oft forgotten or at least not well publicised ‘side gallery’ of the Lowry, the exhibition is an impressive array of photographs, posters, and artefacts from personal collections of people who’ve been involved in the Manchester music scene who you might not recognise alongside some extremely familiar names such as Kevin Cummins.

Denise, Joan and Jodie © Kevin Cummins 1977

Personal highlights were a ticket stub for LL Cool J from 1987 and a poster for a Grand Central album launch mid 90’s.  It’s an exhibition I intend to revisit and have a really good nosy into, there was a lot to soak up and it was unusually busy when I visited.  Exhibition runs until 23rd Feb 2014.

The third exhibition I visited was the highly anticipated Alison Goldfrapp: Performer as Curator http://www.thelowry.com/exhibitions/microsites/performer-as-curator-alison-goldfrapp/home/ which has seen a massive amount of hype. I can honestly say I’ve never heard so much buzz about an exhibition at the Lowry before.  The exhibition is the first in a series of Performer as Curator, with this exhibition being a collection of works that inspire Goldfrapp’s whole artistic vision not just the music. The exhibition is an eclectic array of books, paintings, photographs and objects from Goldfrapp’s home, despite all this the exhibition left me cold, in fact my favourite part of the show was the promotional black on gold silhouetted image of a girl with  deer. I don’t know whether it was the layout of the gallery or the poor lighting but I just didn’t feel compelled to linger and explore.

There were some books of beautifully illustrated books of fairy tales, but the lighting above them made it difficult to see detail properly, with parts obstructed by shadows and reflections on the glass and the name plates of all the exhibits were white lettering on gold-coloured background which again made it difficult to read. This coupled with the lack of an exhibition pamphlet left me feeling that someone thought the objects & imagery alone, would be strong enough, but without some sort of explanation or dialogue, this exhibition felt seriously lacking something (I do not consider the brief notations from the curator on a couple of the walls a good enough explanation or reason to tie all the loose ends together) and I felt there wasn’t enough information to put everything together into a coherent context, for example the photographs from Francesca Woodman were presented without explanation.  I have no idea why or how this series of photographs influence Goldfrapp or why they were important enough to be included in the exhibition? maybe this mysterious element was intentional, but I’m afraid that if it was, it was just too mysterious for me to fathom and impeded my enjoyment. Exhibition runs until 2nd March 2014.

At the end of February (the 24th to be precise) we went to our first gig of the year, I would’ve blogged sooner but it was not long after we headed up to Scotland for another gig (more on that later) mixed in with holiday so haven’t really sat still for a few weeks.
Unusual for us, we arrived early for the OMAM gig as I’d heard that fellow Icelandic artist Mugison was supporting them, and as I’d listened via his facebook page to a few tracks and decided we should get there early to check him out, we arrived at Manchester Academy 1 (the big one) before 8:30pm. At this point the place was fairly packed, but not with the usual teenage crowd I’d expected for a band that had hit the top ten in the UK and would be flooding a gig that catered for the age 14+ market. Instead plenty of people who made me feel young (which at early 30’s is usually reserved for bands who are on their reformation tour having split up at least 10 years ago), not to mention an abundance of Nordic inspired heavy woollen looking jumpers, which seemed a bit over kill for what was to soon become a hot sweaty venue.

mugison icelandic musician

Mugison at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft


Anyway, onto Mugison: every bit as excellent live as I heard from the tracks I listened to online, only with this very amusing off the wall banter, about sending farts in a jar to Andy Votel and his family having to hand-craft thousands of CD covers. He played in no particular order Poke-A-Pal, Pathetic Anthem, Itrekun (which my other half describes as very Nick Cave-ish, in a good way) and Murr Murr the latter of which was song of the year at the Icelandic Music Awards in 2004 and you can catch a a live performance of it here, he actually played a few more tracks that I didn’t catch the name of (we’re pretty sure Kletturinn was on there though), but I’m sure I’ll learn them all after I picked up a 5 (yes, 5!) CD pack of his albums for a mere ten quid at the merch table.

mugison icelandic musician manchester academy 1

Mugison at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft


If you want to find out more about Mugison or read the full story about the fart in the jar, check out the extremely well written & researched wiki page.

On to Of Monsters & Men, well they started right in there with Dirty Paws which got the crowd riled up and ready to sing along and dance their socks off! I loved the way they almost marched back & forwards in sequence with each other, like a well rehearsed marching band

of monsters & men gig photo singing on stage at manchester academy 1

Of Monsters & Men at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft


Swiftly followed by From Finner and Slow & Steady, if I can remember it wasn’t until another few songs before they actually spoke to the crowd. They played what we assumed to be a new song but has turned out to be a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Cover, and finished the set by playing the rest of the album (yup all 12 songs played) with Sloom & Yellow Light being the encores, before the lights went up. I was more than impressed with this gig, although I’ve seen live versions on youtube etc and knew they could pull it off, I wasn’t quite prepared for the extra oomph of the bass and what felt like more complex musical arrangements at times than on the album (or maybe I just don’t have a good enough pair of headphones?).
Highlight of the night? Possibly the fantastic trumpet solo from Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, possibly the slightly disconcerting moment when the lead fell out of Nanna’s guitars almost creating the illusion of miming as the music continued…
Of Monsters & Men performing at Manchester Academy gig

Of Monsters & Men at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft


Non the less one of my favourite gigs of the last few years, I’m hoping to see them again somewhere soon