Heartbeats (2010)

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First time with Xavier Dolan. “Grade A-“!

No ugliness in XD’s world (just noticed: not great initials for 2017). Great in HD: colours so full you can taste them; urbane grace in the costuming honoured with appropriately ostentatious closeups and framing. Definitely Wong Kar-wai in this modern but stately elegance, the taut emotion, and the at-times distracting foregrounding of form. Too much structural rigidity here for me – the intermittent rounds of monologues seemed only to provide illustrative context on the tensions and conundrums of relationships in a millennial world (in a way that I think could have been done in the main plot), while the oscillating bedroom-scenes were sultry (lovely cellos) but with a predictable trajectory that left me increasingly with a sense of impatience. I do wonder, though: there’s a nice touch at the end where Dolan’s Francis (standout performances from both behind and in front of the camera) attempts to prop a Bauhaus catalogue against a window but is frustratingly unable to make it sit flush on the sill. A sense of life’s stubborn informality which isn’t born out so much elsewhere, unfortunately.

That said, it is beautifully assembled. Loved the echoing approach scenes, gladiatorial comfort in armour of assembly, Dalida’s Italian ‘Bang Bang’ cover with an almost Western melancholic inevitability (maybe the wilted but defiant beauty of a tired standard revitalised?) to the film’s romantic deterioration (Some nice soundtracking by The Knife, also). Was filled with some dread after the apparently needless zooming in and out during the opening monologues but was reassured by the neatly handled (very WKW) shot of F and Marie chopping veg at the party, backs turned with only the sound of knives clacking before HEARTBEATS. The breathless closeups of chance encounters, waiting, fights are all quite intoxicatingly elliptic and disorientating in a way that recalled Moonlight. There are some moments when Dolan’s direction is amusingly present: jousting over Nicolas’ mysterious affections the camera whizzes between F and Marie as if it were an eager spectator goading each of them on.

There is a loosely-handled theme of complexity, greys between black and white: one recurring monologist discusses the spectrum of sexuality, while the ambiguity of N’s orientation is toyed with allusively, as when he criticises the “Manichaean” simplicity of a play’s characters. This culminates in a couple of extremely savage rejections (after which the eventual reconciliation comes like a reprieve), but the wells had been poisoned long before the conclusion. As these two old friends spar over a mutual interruption – N as distressingly disruptive a force as Terrence Stamp in Pasonlini’s Teorema – there’s a sort of deep-seated ugliness that grows beneath the trimmed and flourished exteriors. There’s a moment at a party, comparing birthday gifts, when I felt a rush of sadness at the spiritual state of these two – not the sympathetic and romantic sadness that comes inevitably later (or the especially poignant reflections on F’s feelings of alienated futility), but a more general sadness at the film-world they seemed trapped in, where everyone seemed totally alone. In the end they drift over to Louis Garrell (from Christophe Honoré’s ridiculous and boring Ma Mère), who I knew was in this and actually thought had played N all along, so much does he resemble Niels Schneider. Again a depressing sense of circularity.

Looked great plus I admired the low-budget simplicity and the uncompromising commitment, so feeling upbeat about XD’s other stuff.

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This Old Dog (2017)

 

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Mac’s back, on Captured Tracks.

Early singles This Old Dog and My Old Man suggested a melancholy and contemplative comedown after the slightly lurching romance of Another One. MOM swings out in the wise charm direction of Brother (see later the brotherly Salad Days jangle of One Another). It’s like the spirit of Salad Days blown into the images of KV’s Pretty Pimpin’ and left to cool to a cinder.

It shuffles into TOD which is more moonlit and almost grizzled; probably a better look for gloomy Mac in 2017, with his weary reaction to carefreedom refined to a reflection upon changeability and persistence (apparently there’s an over-arching narrative here about his dad, but on the rumbly bus back from Ox I can’t really be bothered to pick it out – actually it does come out nicely in the BoC-synthy ballad closer). All interesting but just fine (La Blogotheque did quite a good show with Mac playing these first two in a Parisian park, failing to converse with locals).

Baby You’re Out is funkier (Lough bemoaned the upstroke percussive blobs but I like the dominant skippy jaunt), and has a singalong hook that will go down well among the Being Mac Demarco crowds at the summer festivals. For the First Time starts sultry but ultimately feels like a dirge – however, the queasy Chamber-of-Reflection synths are the first glimpse (in the tracklisting) of the alternate-future TOD glimpsed in the album’s best single, On the Level (Homeshake has cut ties with Mac now, I believe, but still see the parallels with some of the best tracks off his effort this year). Comes in third-to-last, one of my favourites of the year – it’s almost garishly simple but still maintains a rolling determined groove (in the lyrics too).

One Another, again, is a minor SD cut. Still Beating is interestingly fragile but also feels brittle and fillery. Sister is an afterthought, a non-centrepiece. It’s followed by Dreams from Yesterday which infuses some of Mac’s mid-period stoner bliss into the dusky percussion of the opening singles. There’s also a slight return of the synths, picking up the string and unspooling towards On the Level (it’s coming). It’s better as a song than the others in this middle section but it still has that victory-lap sensibility which makes this a pretty arid central section.

Morning light on A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes; reads like an apology for (both senses) the album (“just trying to keep it light sometimes casts a shadow”). Has some of the upstroke pep of Baby You’re Out. One More Love Song starts like a return to that snoozy middle but it does have a nice piano-led hook (will take this over For The First Time – Mac I might just trim an EP out of your flabby album).

I’ll keep On The Level. “Boy, this could be your year…” Actually if it didn’t have such a great groove I’d be coming back more often to Moonlight on the River which has a weird meditative depth, an elegant hook and a discordant, valedictory fuzz-out. “It’s so strange / deciding / how I feel about you.” Almost summative enough to tie everything else together.

It’s not that the jig is up – Mac is always a good songwriter and I’m always happy just to sit with him. Last couple of projects have appeared a little naked without the proper Album clothing. Plenty of filler (how? without MOTR it’s 35 minutes), some variety that mostly seems to promise disappointingly unrealised sounds. Pleasant but I don’t really need it.

5

Fiction / Non-Fiction (2017)

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Olivier Alary put this out in March on 130701, an imprint of FatCat “releasing landmark post-classical records since 2001.”

Definite congruence with Johansson, Arnalds, Frahm, the Touch label lot, etc. – power in frailty, but OA largely sidesteps the main problem of that group: a sort of fatigue of delicacy. Strings and pianos yes, but deep horns too, (breathy airborne sax on ‘Flooding’, Stetson tones on ‘Juanicas’) and other bits.

Also Mica Levi (bells and negative space on ‘Juanicas’), Jonny Greenwood (titles from TWBB would fit here – ‘Open Spaces’, ‘Proven Lands’), Ryuichi Sakamoto – this is actually, unsurprisingly, a collection of score pieces.

Also post-rockers. (Erik Hove etc. and “many other musicians from the hyper-dynamic Montreal music scene” featured) Vinyl crackle on ‘The Dreaming’: playing a mothballed piano in an abandoned childhood home. Soaring weeping guitar drones and racing cymbal flutter on ‘Nollywood’ exemplifying that definition of the ‘genre’ as repurposing rock instrumentation for more abstract and expansive ends.

(As with that Stromboli record forging alloys between sibling styles, but here less transforming them into something new than revealingly excavating their similarities)

Gongs on ‘Qin’ and the polyrhythmic Rileyish cycles on ‘Pulses (For Winds)’ and ‘(For Percussion)’ grow and blend East Asian elements harmoniously with the delicate piano work popular in Europe (Frahm et al.) and the general western cinematic mood (read something about the Fiction of the title pertaining to the imagined spaces created by globally incongruous instruments, which does throw up some productive comparisons, as in the various strings and pipes on ‘Yu Shui’).

Often a sense of foreboding and possibility, weight. Easy to prefer this kind of gestural figuration to the self-contained, ludic post-Satie exercises of the European neoclassical luminaries. Imagined landscapes and stories; daydreaming in the Ikea easy chair.

29 April

Elegant and beautiful to wander round in but melts away afterwards.

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