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Media from April 2019

Some things I’ve seen, read, heard and been to in April…

§   Martha had a new album out, Love Keeps Kicking, which, on first listen, didn’t grab me as much as their previous two but it subsequently did and for most of April I was plagued by its earworms. I also went to see them at The Garage, which was apparently 20 years after I last went there. Blimey. Anyway, the gig was good fun and here’s the album:

I’ve only listened to Aldous Harding’s new album, Designer, a few times but I haven’t (yet) found it as interesting as the best of her previous, Party. Hopefully it’ll grow on me, but so far it feels a bit more conventionally “folky” rather than brilliantly peculiar.

§   I finished two novels this month. The first was Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 which was a bit disappointing. One of the few things I remember from his Mars trilogy was a bit set on Earth, in coastal England, after sea levels rose, with roofs poking above the waves and residents diving from boats to salvage things from submerged houses. It was one of the best and clearest visions I’d read describing what climate change could mean so I was looking forward to a whole book set along these lines.

But, while there’s a lot of that in New York 2140 — which would have felt more immediate to me if I was more familiar with New York — I didn’t find the story itself very interesting. It felt like it should be a thriller, with its intrigues, rescues, adventures, and mysterious big villains to be thwarted, but it didn’t have the pace or jeopardy of a thriller.

It also seemed odd that, although the book was set 120+ years in the future, not much seemed to have happened between now and then. Yes, there were two terrible sea level rises and advances in building materials but so much seemed very similar to now. I’m not sure what else I expected to be more different but it felt much closer than 2140, especially as the vast majority of references characters make to past events are to things in our past rather than the intervening period.

These days, whenever I read things set in the future and every character identifies as male or female I’m starting to take this as a conscious choice by the author to say that the recent prominence of gender fluidity is a fad, that it won’t last, and in, say, 2140 everyone will be “he” or “she”. The only non-binary people I recall in this book, for example, were in some kind of weird “alternative” group that a protagonist witnesses in passing.

Following that I read Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich which, unofficially, could be set some time before New York 2140: a futurist obsessed with possible disasters is eventually proved right when a surge from the sea swamps New York. I enjoyed this more. It felt quite a lot like Super Sad True Love Story.

§   I also finished Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne, after this recommendation at The Online Photographer. The book is subtitled “Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History”, although only a tiny percentage is actually about Parker himself. Sometimes it felt too long but I don’t know what you’d cut out. A lot happens! It recounts how the invaders slowly, sporadically and often ineptly pretty much wiped out the Comanches and related tribes. It’s all interesting, especially as my knowledge of this place and period is sketchy at best, never mind knowing anything about the differences between groups of Native Americans. For example, the image of a Native American warrior on horseback, that we know from Westerns, is only an image from the west:

There were no horses at all on the continent until the Spanish introduced them in the sixteenth century. Their dispersal into wild mustang herds was exclusively a western event, confined to the plains and to the southwest… This meant that no soldier or settler east of the Mississippi, going back to the first settlers, had ever encountered a mounted Indian warrior. There simply weren’t any. … eastern Indians learned to ride horses, but that was long after they had surrendered, and no eastern, midwestern, or southern Native American tribe ever rode into battle.

A good, enlightening and sobering read.

§   On telly… Relatedly, in the same month we finished watching all three seasons of Deadwood in preparation for the forthcoming movie. It was just as good second time around, helped by me remembering almost nothing about it or most of the characters. A few plots were like OH MY GOD life-and-death situations when they didn’t seem to be that serious to me and I wondered if I’d missed something crucial in the wordy dialogue. But generally, still brilliant.

We gave up on Pose after 1½ episodes. I was hoping to like it, given the interesting setting, but either the script or the acting of both felt pretty clunky and I wasn’t convinced by any character. Maybe, in style, it’s supposed to be a pastiche of clunky 80s TV dramas? You know, from back when American TV drama was regarded as generally bad.

We watched the first season of Babylon Berlin which was good and looked great. It’s not as deep/complex as I’d hoped but I’m constantly disappointed on that front with TV. It’s a good noir-y thriller. It’ll be interesting to see how it progresses, assuming it continues to mirror Volker Kutscher’s series of books leading up to the eve of World War II. (Kutscher doesn’t have a page on English Wikipedia…)

We’ve also watched the five-sixths-so-far of season five of Line of Duty which has been on a par with the previous seasons: plotting to keep you gripped despite the endless sequence of expository lines that can only be delivered in a wooden fashion.

§   Also in April… we saw The Sisters Brothers which… was fine, but for some reason I thought it was going to be a Coen-Brothers-style western romp but it was actually slower and more serious than that. I couldn’t shake my expectation for the entire film so didn’t enjoy it as much as I probably would have done otherwise.

I saw the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, although not much about it grabbed me. I liked how some of the images were composed almost like hasty camera snaps, with people at the edge of, or disappearing out of, the frame. But otherwise I was missing whatever I was supposed to see in the work.

And on the last day of the month I saw the Don McCullin retrospective at Tate Britain. That was good. Some of it was hard to look at — war, famine, war and famine — but I loved some of the photos.

§   I think that’s about all for April. I hope May’s going well for you so far.

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