Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I've never been a fan of Steven Spielberg. Being subjected to schmaltzy, cliched shit like E fucking T and Jurassic Park while I was a kid probably had something to do with it. I never saw Schindler's List and I thought Saving Private Ryan wasn't bad but didn't do a whole lot for me.

Still I'd heard enough good things about Munich to convince me to give it a chance, and I'm very glad I did. The movie is based on historical events; following the murder of the Israeli competitors at the 1972 Olympics in Munich the Israeli government had the organisers of the attack assassinated. The assassins are the protagonists of the movie, and Spielberg uses their story to criticise Israeli and American foreign policy both at the time the movie is set and today.

It would be easy for such weighty subjects to be ruined by a heavy handed treatment, but fortunately Spielberg shows a restrained style that I didn't know he had in him. He doesn't portray the Israeli authorities as bad people (he shows that their decisions were based on solid reasoning) but rather is saying that history has indicated that perpetuating the violence has had no benefit in the long run.

As he did with Saving Private Ryan Spielberg shows said violence in a brutally graphic manner, almost as an antidote to the slick, thrilling violence of most action movies. But having said that it still works pretty well as an action movie itself at times. He also makes a point of humanising the terrorists, showing them as intellectuals and family men, not to excuse their actions but just to emphasise that, contrary to the attitudes of some of the assassins, murder is always wrong, even though it may sometimes be necessary.

Yes it's a bit long and maybe it tries to pack a bit too much in but I found it to be a very powerful movie. The final shot of the New York skyline links his point to the international issues of today in no uncertain terms, and even though the movie offers no solutions it clearly states that the solutions currently pursued by the western governments are almost certainly the wrong ones.

Underworld Soundtrack

Another cheap score from Cash Converters. I'd idly admired the tracklist a couple of times because there are some really good bands listed there, but was turned off by the 'soundtrack for a shitty action movie' factor. However I needn't have worried, the record has been compiled by Danny Lohner, who played bass for Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle, and he seems to have pretty good taste in music as well as being a good composer himself.

I already have a few of these tracks on other albums, such as the A Perfect Circle remixes and Dillinger Escape Plan's brilliant 'Baby's First Coffin', but there are plenty of other worthwhile songs on here such as a new Skinny Puppy track 'Optimissed' and a song by The Icarus Line, who I've been meaning to check out for a while.

Danny Lohner's soundtrack compositions are good too, and the album is rounded out by a few nice ballads from female singers. I was surprised by how good this album is, I believe Danny Lohner is in charge of the sequel's soundtrack too so hopefully it's good as well, although I'm still not going to see the movie...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

You Can't Talk To A Man With A Shotgun In His Hand

Carole King – Tapestry

Yeah not my normal style that's for sure, but it's one of the 1001 Albums You Must Listen to Before You Die (more on that later) and my Mum used to play it when I was a kid and I remember it quite fondly. Plus it was six bucks from Cash Converters.

Released in 1971, this is a very stripped back, mellow album, produced in a manner that shows off King's considerable songwriting talent. She sings accompanied by simple clean piano and acoustic guitar with little embellishment, in true sixties singer-songwriter style. If you don't recognize her name you're still likely to recognize the songs. 'So Far Away' and 'I Feel The Earth Move' are the most recognizable, along with '(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman', originally written for Aretha Franklin.

I really rate this album even besides the nostalgia factor. I'm not normally one for straight up pop (even in the original definition of the term), but King is a good lyricist and a great songwriter, so only the most die hard noise head could sneer at this album.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

This is the first of a bit of a popular science reading binge I'm having at the moment (assuming you count economics as science). Steven Levitt is a smart young economist with a reputation for tackling unorthodox subjects. This book is basically a popularised collection of Levitt's essays. There's no real unifying theme to it, other than to convince people to think rationally and not to always accept conventional wisdom. Something that anyone with a scientific background should already be familiar with.

There's plenty of fascinating stuff in here. The most controversial finding is a link between the fall in the crime rate all over America in the 90s and the legalisation of abortion twenty years earlier. Without consulting all the references (and following the maths) there's no way to say for sure if that is actually the case, but it's a startling and thought-provoking idea, (and also one that makes logical sense).

That takes up one chapter, and the rest of the book deals with completely different subjects. The most memorable parts look at the management structure of crack gangs, and the factors in someone's childhood that influence whether they'll 'succeed' later in life. The last chapter is a bit silly, looking at how childrens names filter down through the socio-economic classes over time, but it's still worthwhile for some amusing stories about kids with regrettable names. Among the worst: a pair of brothers called Winner and Loser, and a kid called Shithead.

It's a fascinating and thought-provoking book. It's only flaw is that it's aimed at a scientifically uneducated audience (I often have this problem, being too educated for the popular science ones and not educated enough for the serious ones), and there's a large amount of smug promotion of the author (no doubt done well intentionally by his co-author, but annoying nonetheless).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Are You Ready To Go Now?

Coil - The Ape of Naples

After the sad death of their singer Jhon Balance in late 2004 the remaining members of Coil announced that they would release some material they'd already recorded and then call it quits. The Ape of Naples is their final album, mostly consisting of material from many years ago when they recorded at Trent Reznor's Nothing Studios. The album was to be called Backwards but it was never released and was presumed lost forever in giant record company limbo.

Since the tracks on this album come from a few different sources they don't really fit together very cohesively, but individually they're very strong. It doesn't rank in the top tier of the albums they've released, but for such a good band with such a sizeable back catalog that's no insult. More than anything it sounds like Horse Rotorvator, one of their earliest albums. The songs are more 'songy' and conventional in structure than their more recent releases, which tend to be more experimental.

Two of the Nothing Studios tracks are very reminiscent of the older albums, 'It's in my Blood' and 'I Don't Get It' are full of dirty-synth screamy goodness, almost like Throbbing Gristle. Other tracks are not such difficult listening, 'Cold Cell' and 'Amber Rain' are, freaky subject matter aside, fairly accessible. 'Triple Sun' is surprisingly melodic for these guys, and 'Heaven's Blade' is very catchy and even danceable. Together they represent Coil at their most upbeat and beautiful, and are some of the best songs on the album.

The newer tracks include 'Tattooed Man', which is in a similar vein to the others, although with a quirky circus vibe, and featuring an accordian of all things. There are also extended versions of two of their older songs 'Amethyst Deceivers' and 'Teenage Lightning' (both of which exist in several other versions already).

The album is bookended by two hymn-like songs, 'Fire of the Mind' and 'Going Up', both of which deal with death. The last is the better of the two, the lyrics are provided by the theme song to an old British sitcom, and are reinterpreted as an ascension to the afterlife. The backing music is stolen from one of my favorite Coil songs, 'Rosa Decidua' off Amethyst Deceivers, and underneath it all Jhon Balance whispers 'It just is...' from beyond the grave.

It's not their best album, but still a worthy swan song for one of the greatest bands ever, and I'm really going to miss them.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Anansi Boys reminded me a bit of this book, which I first read over ten years ago, so I thought I'd give it a reread. I was a huge Pratchett fan back in the day, but the last few times I've read his books I've been a little disappointed.

Good Omens is primarily a pisstake of the old horror movie The Omen, which chronicles the childhood of the antichrist. It's a pretty good premise and a pair of sharp guys like Gaiman and Pratchett are almost guaranteed to do a great job of it, and by and large they do. The humour is especially good, and the plot is rather clever, even though a lot of Pratchett's schtick is quite old to me now. Perhaps I overdosed a bit on him when I was younger.

What didn't work for me was the cutesiness. The main character is a young boy in the 'Just William' mould, and he's held up as the true spirit of humanity. So while I enjoyed the humourous part of the story the moralising is a little trite.

It's also interesting to try and guess which author wrote which part. Gaiman definitely puts a darker tinge on the characters. It's particularly noticable with the four horsemen of the apocalypse (sorry, motorcycle riders of the apocalypse). War is a women and Gaiman portrays her as sexy and fatal, while Pratchett makes her a joke in the 'helpless girl fucks everyone up real bad' mould.

Despite my disappointment with Anansi Boys I thought this one was a decent effort from Gaiman. I wasn't so impressed with Pratchett's contribution but I got one of his newer books for christmas, so we'll see how that goes down when I get to it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

You Might As Well Listen To The Birds

Coil – Live One

The first in a series of four live Coil albums. This one consists mostly of material from Time Machines; an album I've been repeatedly told is very good, but which I've had great difficulty tracking down, so getting this is a decent compromise. Almost all of the tracks are ambient and very long (fifteen to twenty minutes each), which must have made for an unusual concert. It's a very good album though, out of all the varied genres they've done ambient is probably the one they're best at.

The Time Machines stuff is not too different from other ambient tracks they have done on albums like How to Destroy Angels and Ten Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room, quiet but menacing tracks that build up esoterically themed samples and dirty, distorted synths to aggressive climaxes. While it might be similar to some of their other albums it's definitely nothing like any other band I've heard.

Aside from the ambient tracks there's an early version of 'Amethyst Deceivers', one of their best songs. I've always really wanted to see Coil live, both because they're great and because I'm very curious as to how they'd go about it, but now that Jhon Balance is dead I never will, so this is probably as close as I'll ever get.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Back Again

I didn't quite make it to the Andromeda galaxy, but I saw some pretty neat stuff anyway.

Content should resume in a day or two.