How NOT to write about music – 64. Mary Poppins Returns

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I have not processed my mother’s death.

I am not even aware which day it happened on, although I know my sister Alison called me up around 9 pm one Saturday evening in December last year. I cannot recall if it happened before or after Christmas. I have moved the leaflet from her memorial service onto one of my shelves alongside the never-to-be-read books and detritus of a former life. Her picture is standing proud above the piano, and my fellow brothers and sisters occasionally get in touch. At the time, I wondered if her death was a relief, a blessing? My mum had not been able to recognise her surroundings or children or even form sentences for years before she died. Maybe it was a relief? Yet here I am on Mother’s Day 2019 and wishing I could just go visit her in her Home in Chelmsford anyway. Just for the reassurance, an echo of the love and support she so warmly gave while she was alive.

I saw Mary Poppins Returns on Sunday 16th December, 10am for 11am, with my three children at a premiere in Leicester Square. I am able to look that date up. It was the morning after my mother died, and I didn’t tell the children till afterwards when we were just about to enter The Mall right by the ICA. It seems an odd place to tell them, but then what is a good place to tell someone? Isaac had been explaining (rightly) how mawkish he found one scene where the children explain loss to their dad, and I needed to tell him then. Mary Poppins Returns is not the best film to see when you’ve recently suffered a loss. A theme of bereavement and departure runs right through it.

I didn’t enjoy the film that day, although it was lovely seeing the children awed by their surroundings and train journey and free snacks. Also, I fucking loved the companionship and sense of family.

During ‘A Conversation’ I was sitting with tears running down my face, trying not to look obvious, as the dad expressed the bewilderment he still feels at his wife’s absence… not least because the shockwaves I have tried to suppress since my divorce last February chose that moment to sound out loud and clear. (There is a moment during ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’ at the film’s end where the Admiral shouts to Jack “don’t you lose her, son” and what have I done but precisely that?)

I found myself resenting the chirpy moments (e.g. the bloke they drafted in to be the new Dick Van Dyke; the scene with Meryl Streep) but I cannot deny that the film’s storming centrepiece, ‘A Cover Is Not The Book’ had me spellbound and in raptures at Emily Blunt’s acerbic, loving, inch-perfect reading of P.L. Travers’ original Mary.

I am becoming distracted, avoiding the issue. It’s so tiring, so draining trying to process grief. Easier to ignore it, shunt it away so it cannot bother you again. I have listened to the soundtrack to Mary Poppins Returns once, twice – even three times a day, every day since I returned to work start of January. I know why. Mary Poppins leaves at the end of the film, at the end of the soundtrack, it’s so sad and yet no one ever seems to notice. If I keep skipping straight back to the start she’s back, helping me, comforting me, supporting me.

I miss you, mum.

How NOT to write about music – 63. Her’s

Her's

Such beautiful music. So sad it took the news of the band’s passing for me to listen to their music.

I will be honest. The debut album from Her’s references Twin Peaks and the great Jimmy Stewart film Harvey – both of which I have bought on DVD over the last week. So there is serendipity. I was driven to listen to their music both by the pathos and heartbreak of the situation – a young band and tour manager cut cruelly down in their prime – and the reference points being mentioned for their music. Aztec Camera. Jens Lekman. Early Everything But The Girl (when Tracey was still channeling Marine Girls). Prime Scritti Politti. Ariel Pink. The bossa nova swing of post-punk post-noise bands such as Weekend, my delight. So there is my heart.

So beautiful, so delicate, so fun. So naive. So wonderful. There is so much to love about their music, and so much to mourn. I am so sorry I never heard Her’s before now. Usually I go online to check out the latest news in Culture about Billie Eilish, and wonder quite how much I love her. This reminds me of Kings Of Convenience playing a starstruck show at Duke of York’s, early 2000s and my continued love affair with the debut Aztec Camera album. Music for melancholia-stricken teenagers.  These are my people. I know them even if I never met them, and I am sorry that they are no longer with us.

“Warm, gentle and hilarious,” is how their label described this Liverpool duo in the flesh, and I can well believe it.

How NOT to write about music – 62. Deadbeat & Camara

Deadbeat & Camera

It was This Mortal Coil who reinvented Alex Chilton for a new generation.

OK, that’s all I have to say. No, wait…

Making the connection to this new album from Deadbeat & Camara is like doing one of those dot-to-dot drawings where all the dots have been placed so closely together you can already work out the picture. Intensely complicated, ultra rewarding.

Deadbeat & Camara are on Canadian label Constellation (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Tindersticks) and… I think you can sense what I’m going to type here. The dots have already been joined.

No, wait…

So, frankly, when the press release details the forthcoming album Trinity Thirty along the lines of, “Initially imagining they would run a fair amount of electronic treatments during the mix, Deadbeat and Camara instead found themselves absorbed by the spaces and silences, guided by a spirit of preservation and restraint, in homage to the original. The result is ‘a less electronic album than we imagined making’: a gorgeous somnambulant collection of ‘covers of covers’, where the reference point is always the Cowboy Junkies original approach, stretched to new and beguiling limits of deceleration and narcotized spaciousness – a sensibility further reinforced by the mastering treatment of minimalist dub-techno legend Stefan Betke (~scape, Pole). Trinity Thirty is a wonderfully languid, subtly avant-garde, conceptually reverent acoustic-meets-electronic interpretation of this classic album”, I cannot deny that

  1. I am hooked
  2. already imaging exactly what such an album would sound like (in my dreams, in my dreams), even if
  3. I cannot deny that I downloaded a copy because I initially thought I was getting a newly-remastered half-speed version of the actual The Trinity Session.

Um. No matter

They also say, “Deadbeat & Camara are thrilled to share ‘Working On A Building’ ahead of the album’s release next month. The Berlin-based Canadian duo reshape the original Cowboy Junkies arrangement into a tense, slow burn. A languid yet insistent bass line anchors hushed, spectral vocals from Monteith, Camara, and guest singer Caoimhe McAlister, while accents of plucked acoustic strings and snippets of mechanical sound harken back to its origins as a traditional work song. Listen to it now in advance of Trinity Thirty‘s release on 26 April”, but let me unpick that for you.

This dub techno version of Cowboy Junkies is quite something.

Here’s the pull quote for the barricades:

“Berlin-based Canadian duo Deadbeat & Camara do for Cowboy Junkies what This Mortal Coil did for Big Star, a sparkling, magical reinvention” (UK music critic Everett True, 2019)

Pow.

How NOT to write about music – 61. Peaness

peaness

Cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy just cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. A lineage that certainly takes in Buzzcocks, Pastels, all those wonderful female Seattle groups turn of the new millennia and wonderful female Continental groups some time in the late 1970s, occasionally showing off their chops when the melodies surge but never showy, just cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. Like waves washing up and racing away again on Brighton beach, with all its cherry-sweet, razor-sharp pebbles. Losing yourself to the groove, the cherry-sweet, razor-sharp groove. Lost in music, the cherry-sweet music. Converse sneakers. Heavenly. Caught in a trance, the razor-sharp trance. Play it once and lose yourself within the cherry-sharp rock pools of Chester. Play it twice, and go swinging on the razor-sweet playgrounds of Chester. I had this particular song listed among my favourite songs of 2016 but I never got round to explaining its cherry-sweet, razor-sharp allure. No eruptions but plenty of euphoria.

Peaness look like they would be a whole heap of fun to watch live. Just watch out for the cherry stones, and the razor blades.

How NOT to write about music – 60. Dave

Dave - Black

Apologies. This should have gone up a few weeks ago. My only excuse is that I was too gobsmacked at hearing this played on the… pause for emphasis… Radio One Breakfast Show. What can I say? Just listen to the man.

This is as great as The Last Poets. Serious. Can’t believe it has attracted criticism.

Right now, in the wake of the horrible news from Christchurch, it seems more relevant than ever.

As Neil Kulkarni puts it:

The horrible news from NZ almost makes me think there must be some kind of mainstream narrative going on about silent majority ‘native’ populations rising up and ‘taking back control’, coupled with a similarly omnipresent narrative about hostility to ‘outsiders’ and Muslims in general perpetuated by the media and stars like Trump, Farage and Robinson – the kind of incessant dehumanising hostility to ‘auslanders’ that might be seen as the perfect breeding-fodder for bedroom-borne warriors and deluded murderous fascists.

But then I remember, reassuringly , how often I’ve been told, mainly by lapsed lefties about how ‘Islamaphobia’ doesn’t actually exist. Silly me.

Look, black ain’t just a single fuckin’ colour, man there’s shades to it
Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it
Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit
Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit
Black is deadly
Black is when you’re freezin’ in your home and you can’t get sleep but never feelin’ empty
‘Cause you got 20 cousins in your country living stress-free
Walkin’ for their water, daughter wrapped inside a bed sheet

This next track is so chilling, especially if you know a little of its context:

I’m sorry. I have no more words. Not today. There is a really good piece on the Dave album over here, if you want to discover more.

My heart so goes out to the Muslim community and their families and their friends, and to Christchurch, and New Zealand. And I’m filled with nothing but hatred and disgust for the right-wing extremists at platforms such as The Sun and The Daily Mail masquerading as ‘the mainstream’, radicalising an entire generation of pathetic cowards, and the money-hungry scum who help enable them, wielding almost unimaginable influence and power at social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter without a single moral or scruple between them. Donald Trump has been cited as a direct inspiration by the turd who carried out these latest murders. If that is the case then surely, surely Hate Speech should be a crime across the world, applicable to both the powerful and powerless.

Neil again:

There’s no putting the white-supremacist genie back in the bottle y’know. It’s further out than perhaps it’s ever been in our lifetimes, it’s enabled both passively & actively, and it’s only going to grow.

radicalise

And what makes me saddest right now is that not one person who reads this post will have changed their mind for doing so.

How NOT to write about music – 59. Nilüfer Yanya

Nilufer Yanya

Fuck Brexit. We have a new pop star to fall in love with.

The stakes feel higher now. Society is collapsing around us. I hope to never live to see the results but I have a nasty feeling I will. And soon. It’s all noise, all hubbub, all screaming, all detritus. Yanya sings like she’s stuck inside an end-loop of Black Mirror. Everything is closed, circular yet unpredictable. Guitars chip away at the edges of your consciousness. paranoia seeps through.

I watched three episodes of Black Mirror recently, and thought, “Wow. Charlie Brooker is going to kill himself one day soon”. I really hope he doesn’t, though.

I find it uncomfortable enough living with my own lack of understanding, let alone yours. Several years back, a friend wrote this and it has stuck with me:

“Not sure if this was the third or fourth time I’ve seen The Legend! live but am sure I’ve never seen ET less mannered, more unhinged & free. For some reason it felt like the stakes were higher. I’m fairly sure this wasn’t just a figment of my imagination or a product of the beer he downed before the third set. (Ringo P Stacey)

No one understands my past.

You want approximations, descriptions? OK.

  • Anxious
  • Embryonic
  • British
  • Honeyed
  • Grungy
  • Satirical
  • Female
  • Grated
  • Grating
  • Great
  • Left-field
  • Wired
  • Nervy
  • Bleak
  • Reassuring
  • Familiar
  • Abandonment
  • Abdominal
  • Abstruse

Remind me to send you my patented cut-out-and-keep guide to reviewing music.

“Dang she’s pretty,” comments one Guardian reader picking up on one of the undeniably least interesting aspects of both the music and video.

  • Why the fuck does YouTube keep trying to force me to listen to Sharon Van Etten?

You want comparisons, reference points? OK.

  • ANY FEMALE ARTIST WHO IS CONSIDERED VAGUELY LEFT-FIELD AND PLAYS GUITAR BECAUSE GOD KNOWS THERE ARE ONLY TWO OF THEM

————————

I remember encountering this song a few years ago, and it scaring the shit out of me.

———————–
This is the music I used to watch, age 20.

How NOT to write about music – 58. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson Billie Jean

So I wouldn’t say I’m a fan right but you can’t really imagine modern day pop without him right, and you can’t just wipe out the music from millions of people’s lives just because a couple of people make outrageous claims can you, I mean they’re obviously in it for the money anyway aren’t they, and they’ve already been proven to be lying, and I wouldn’t say I condone sexual abuse but didn’t Michael suffer some pretty horrific abuse himself in the past not that that condones it of course, no way, but I’m just saying, cos that would help explain some of it if it was true which it isn’t, and anyway haven’t all his relatives and female friends come out and said they still support him, and his real fans true, not the ones who never really cared all along, and it’s low isn’t it, bringing all this stuff up when he’s dead when he can’t defend himself, and I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of pedophiles either but really you just have to look at the facts don’t you, cos facts don’t lie, people do and I’m a fan of facts, and the facts state that there’s no way Michael is guilty of any of the stuff he’s been accused of cos basically all it comes down to in the end is whether you believe a couple of discredited lying fans or not, a bit like the way Donald Trump keeps getting accused of stuff but obviously he hasn’t done any of it because if he had he wouldn’t still be President would he, and going back to the argument facts don’t lie people do, that’s a really strong argument isn’t it, and we all know Michael was a little strange, that was part of his genius wasn’t it, but he had already told us he shared beds with young boys and we accepted it then so why would we change our minds now especially when it’s not based on facts just testimony and personal experience and years of painstaking research and trauma, er, and anyway you can’t just not listen to someone just cos he’s had groundless unproven accusations made about him, that’s not fair or right, and if it was true don’t you think it would all have been said years ago, and there’s no way we would be calling him the King of Pop even now, and I wouldn’t say I’m a fan but you can’t deny his talent, that’s a FACT and FACTS don’t lie, and no of course I didn’t watch that documentary why would I have watched the documentary I already knew it wasn’t true, and as Michael once said “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, then make that change”, that’s what we should all do, so I wouldn’t say I’m a fan right but you can’t really imagine modern day pop without him right, and you can’t just wipe out the music from millions of people’s lives just because a couple of people make outrageous claims can you, I mean they’re obviously in it for the money anyway aren’t they, and they’ve already been proven to be lying, and I wouldn’t say I condone sexual abuse but didn’t Michael suffer some pretty horrific abuse himself in the past not that that condones it of course, no way, but I’m just saying, cos that would help explain some of it if it was true which it isn’t, and anyway haven’t all his relatives and female friends come out and said they still support him, and his real fans true, not the ones who never really cared all along, and it’s low isn’t it, bringing all this stuff up when he’s dead when he can’t defend himself, and I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of pedophiles either but really you just have to look at the facts don’t you, cos facts don’t lie, people do and I’m a fan of facts, and the facts state that there’s no way Michael is guilty of any of the stuff he’s been accused of cos basically all it comes down to in the end is whether you believe a couple of discredited lying fans or not, a bit like the way Donald Trump keeps getting accused of stuff but obviously he hasn’t done any of it because if he had he wouldn’t still be President would he, and going back to the argument facts don’t lie people do, that’s a really strong argument isn’t it, and we all know Michael was a little strange, that was part of his genius wasn’t it, but he had already told us he shared beds with young boys and we accepted it then so why would we change our minds now especially when it’s not based on facts just testimony and personal experience and years of painstaking research and trauma, er, and anyway you can’t just not listen to someone just cos he’s had groundless unproven accusations made about him, that’s not fair or right, and if it was true don’t you think it would all have been said years ago, and there’s no way we would be calling him the King of Pop even now, and I wouldn’t say I’m a fan but you can’t deny his talent, that’s a FACT and FACTS don’t lie, and no of course I didn’t watch that documentary why would I have watched the documentary I already knew it wasn’t true, and as Michael once said “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, then make that change”, that’s what we should all do.