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Media from May 2019

Some things I’ve heard, read and seen this month.

Last month, Aldous Harding’s album Designer hadn’t quite grabbed me but since then it’s done more grabbing. In the past I’d more often keep on listening to an initially-not-grabby album and, hopefully, find it growing on me. These days, with most music being sort-of-almost-free there are so many other things to move on to that this persistence happens less often.

Also, watching the videos for some of the tracks helped me like them. Which feels a bit wrong — shouldn’t the music work on its own? — but I think it’s OK. To pick an unrelated example, I like the writing of Jonathan Meades and Robert Hughes but I like it even more if I hear them speaking it, or I imagine them doing so as I read. It adds something extra. And so, with Aldous Harding, The Barrel is nice enough, sort of folky, but it seems more interesting in this odd video than when I listen to the music alone:

I admit that at first glance it’s a bit silly but I admire the seriousness with which she performs her videos (see also Fixture Picture) and the intensity of her live performances (see her on Jools Holland). I can see people dismissing all this as not “real” but… all singing’s a performance and, for me, she’s trying hard to achieve an emotional performance and effect. We don’t criticise actors because they’re not being themselves.

Anyway, I also went to see her play live this month and that was good. Seeing her and the four-piece band performing the songs also helped me to like them; I tend not to analyse music that much but when seeing it live I can’t help but be more aware of the contribution of individual instruments and how it all fits together. I guess, also, it’s one of the few times I’m doing nothing else while listening to music.

The gig was at EartH in Hackney, which I’d never been to before. It’s a great place, once a cinema, originally the Savoy in 1936, then ABC, Konak and finally Ace before becoming a snooker hall and community centre from 1984. It reopened as EartH, “a multi-arts space”, last year. I loved the experience of arriving there: walking through an unassuming doorway between a tattooist and a Turkish restaurant, up flights of plain stairs and then, suddenly, out into a vast space, high up, looking down into a cavernous auditorium, at wooden terraces to sit on and the peeling paint of the walls. Something about the size of the space, its shabbiness, and even the smell reminded me of San Francisco in the late 1990s. I’ve no idea why, but that pleased me nonetheless.

Also this month, Holly Herndon’s PROTO came out, which I was excited about, having loved 2015’s Platform. I haven’t been as taken with the entire album (yet) but its best bits are just as good and exciting. Here’s Eternal:

Splendid. I could do without so much guff (from journalists) about the “AI” she used as part of the creation, but then I could do without so much guff (from journalists) about “AI” in general.

Incidentally, it pleases me that both Holly Herndon and Aldous Harding are on 4AD, given I still think of the label fondly.

This month I finished All That Is, James Salter’s first novel for 34 years. I enjoyed it, although not as much as I did Light Years. I partly missed the interesting turns of phrase that were so tasty in the earlier book; this one feels a bit less showy, although but I do like the right kind of showy. I guess this is what James Meek means in his review when he says All That Is has “a capacity for craft more implied than employed”. I did like the way it hopped from one point of view to another, although that in turn made me wonder why so much time was spent with Bowman, the lead character, such as there is one, when others were at least as interesting.

We went to see High Life which was… fine. I think I was frustrated with it mostly because the bulk of the movie was a flashback and I wanted to know what happened next, not in the past. We’d already seen where we are, and at that point I was less interested in how we got there, than in what would happen from here.

On telly… It’s taken us a few months to get round to watching the final episode of season one of The Good Place and I still don’t understand why, seemingly, every publication and everyone I know thinks it’s brilliant. I may have smiled a couple of times during the series but other than those few seconds it left me cold. Kristen Bell is great but otherwise it felt stilted and lifeless (ho ho). From early on I wondered if there’d be a twist and the twist that finally arrived was, somehow, both the twist I’d expected, and unconvincing.

We finished watching season three of Follow the Money, a Danish crime series that I hadn’t really noticed before. Thankfully it all made sense without any knowledge of the previous two seasons and it was very good. Some good performances, nicely paced, thumbs up all round.

Finally, we’ve just finished watching Deutschland 86, but in this case I did feel I was missing a lot having forgotten everything that happened in Deutschland 83. The first couple of episodes, set in Africa, felt a bit shaky and too unbelievable but we persevered and the rest has been grimly enjoyable.

Oh, I nearly forgot, I got round to watching season two of Fleabag. Despite the rave reviews I was wary, having felt season one was such a perfect package that extending it might spoil things, dilute it somehow. But, no, it got… fresher and thicker, if we’re sticking with those metaphors. It was all taken further, emotionally and technically, I guess, without wanting to give away one of my favourite little moments. Every scene felt like it could suddenly go off in any direction, with all options equally believable. Funny and heartbreaking, which must be a tricky thing to pull off.

That’s all. Plenty of things. And it’s practically summer now. Excellent.