The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, November 18, 2002

Bought Whole Numbers Play The Basics by Casino Versus Japan on Simon R's recommendation. I agree that there seems to be something of a resistance in current electronica towards factors such as poignancy, melodicism and rapture; stark and pointillistic seem to be the bywords of the day.

So how affecting are/is CVJ? I can see the thread stretching back to SAW2 and Global Communications' "14.31" but also a considerably longer thread stretching back to Vangelis; and not just the Vangelis of Blade Runner, but further back to his mid-'70s concept albums like Heaven And Hell (not quite as far back, admittedly, as his semi-improv days with the later Aphrodite's Child or his early, considerably more brutal solo work, frequently with Tony Oxley on drums). That wavering high-pitched synth, an electronic approximation of a Brothers Gibb vocal tremolo, mixed with the unrepentant quasi-orchestral grandeur, is highly evident on tracks such as "Summer Clip" and "Manic Thru Tone." There are BOC-style moments of quiescence as well; the unhurried perambulations of "Aquarium" and "Trad Velecido," as well as the outright minor-key poignancy of "The Possible Light" and "Em Essey," the latter worthy of heartbreaking electronica peaks like Mu-Ziq's "sick porter" or Leila's "Young Ones." The music is largely benign, though punctuated by beats as heavy and forceful as those found on Amon Tobin's new album (reviewed last week), hear especially "Moonlupe."

It's lovely, but is that all it is, and if so, is it enough? There is tragedy somewhere...CVJ is one Erik Kowalski, and on the sleeve there is a fatalistic quote from Justin Kowalski, who I assume was his brother, who died in 2000, aged 28. So again we see that there can be no true beauty without an underlying pain.

As fine as this record is, it doesn't quite top Ming Star by Jon Brooks, aka King of Woolworths, in the poignancy stakes. This latter was one of the many records from the summer of 2001 which passed me by at the time for reasons which will be obvious to regular Churchgoers. The beauty of this record is the punctum added by the brutality at its centre.

The sleeve depicts a young child (presumably the young Brooks) photographed in an idyllic village setting in what looks like the early '70s (though it could of course equally be the early '80s), drenched in the orange sepia of Eastman colour. Utopia lost. We discern this immediately from the opening "Kentish Town" (the complete antithesis to the idyll on the cover) with a brutal electrothrash beat pummelling the listener. Suddenly it subsides and we are left with the delicate poignancy of "Bakerloo (Main Titles)" which uses a High Llamas guitar sample to far better effect than the High Llamas could ever have used it. Vibraphones and minor keys are always a tearjerking combination for me, anyway (residue of Northern Soul?), and this swims gracefully in best Saint Etienne fashion; indeed the whole album, from the title "Kentish Town" downwards, makes me think of what a parallel, instrumental Saint Etienne (the BEF to Cracknell's Heaven 17) could have gone. "Where Fleas Hide" continues in the same vein until it unavoidably segues into the poisoned heart of the record, the "Stalker Song." In the latter we hear (initially Vocoderised) a conversation between a stalker's victim, detailing his break-in into her house, and a police officer. The beats thud in with an immediacy which, especially on headphones, will make you gasp. This eventually subsides, and we are left with the conversation, slowly being slowed down to 16 rpm, becoming more ominous in its loop ("you have to start documenting this, or you will end up dead." "Yeah"). The aggression is maintained throughout the beat-heavy "Colcannon" and the rather too David Holmes-style '60s Britflick sample obviousness of "To The Devil A Donut." Happily, the album then settles gradually back into pastoral mood, with Peter Green's (no, not that one) string orchestration on "Kite Hill" returning us to a bucolic standpoint, an idle memory. This becomes more apparent, and more seductive, with the barely touchable beauty of "The Watchmaker's Hands" and the unutterably sad lament "Theydon." before ending with a beat-less reprise of "Bakerloo (End Credits)."

Its yearning for childhood is as poignant as the perspectives offered in the past by Beat Happening or the Bonzo Dog Band (you doubt the latter? Listen to "Ready Mades" or "Sport (The Odd Boy)" or, most devastatingly, "Slush" for cast-iron proof). Yes I want more beauty and more poignancy. I love noise and roughage as much as any punter. But every Arthur Lee needs a Bryan MacLean to balance him out. These are both fundamentally very lovely records indeed.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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Another question might be: is it right to write when you're gutted? Suicidal ideations would be impossible without caring about what other people thought. If Donnie Darko is to be of any importance, it has to be seen as a suicidal ideation. Otherwise it would slip into the standard Lynch/American Beauty/Ghost World underbelly of suburbia/teen angst/cod surrealism.

The world failed to live up to Donnie Darko's unreasonably high expectations. He cannot have it all. Either he lives and everyone about whom he cares dies, or he dies and everyone else survives. The turnaround is made even more remarkable by the hitherto unquestioned sub-Christ vision of DD as a visionary who sees through all masks and pretences, a human battering ram against the insulated walls of affordable complacency. The sequence where DD shouts down Patrick Swayze's feelgood shyster is very "Denise Lambert" - crying out the truth which the system recognises but cannot afford to acknowledge, as it would mean the collapse of its own carefully selected mask; in the case of Swayze's character, a child porn ring.

But is DD a standard, a talisman, an absolute? Hardly. He is a fuck-up, recognises himself as such and can therefore only address the harmful world in terms of confrontation. Drew Barrymore's pissed off teacher realises this, as does Katharine Ross' psychiatrist. The rabbit is a real McGuffin; the person wearing the mask scarcely exists in the film, is nothing out of the ordinary, kills by accident caused by DD being somewhere he shouldn't be.

Towards the end one expects it to veer dangerously towards Harry Potter territory (quick, the cellar! We've only got six hours to save the world!) but no - and the death of the Other is unsentimental, abrupt; as with the progenitor in Baise-Moi, she simply suddenly stops existing.

Why is he asleep by his bike in the middle of the road at the film's beginning? Has he already met his fate? He has to stop others meeting theirs. It's the reverse of It's A Wonderful Life; the others will not only be better off if he's dead, but will actually live. So he has to stay in his bedroom as the rogue 'plane fuselage plunges into it and kills him. Otherwise he would have outlived his own uselessness.

Why set it in 1988? Surely not for the sole reason of rehabilitating Tears For Fears? Why the repeated deer motif?

Right at the end, where DD's body is loaded into the ambulance. His mother weeps. The girl whom he would, had he survived, have met, fallen in love with, made love to and ultimately killed, acknowledges her with a very deliberate raised hand. The mother returns it. It is the Kaddish. They understand, though will never understand why they understand.

So answer me this. How fucked up does someone have to make themselves, or is made, to the extent that it actually is better for them, and for those around them, that he be dead?

"I killed them. It's my fault. Their blood's on me"
(Ward Littell, who kills himself)

Get me the hell out of here.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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