Wednesday, 9 July 2008

FILM: The Happening

Do you remember when M. Night Shyamalan used to make good films? Films with absorbing atmospherics propelled by intelligent plotting, genuine chills and those shock twists that quickly became his trademark. Even as those twists started to become forced (‘Signs’), and gimmicky (‘The Village’), and his ideas increasingly insular (the bizarre mermaid fantasy ‘Lady In The Water’), we would be sure to get touching central performances from the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti.

Not anymore, and with ‘The Happening’, it’s probably fare to say that he has lost it almost completely. A ludicrous ecological cautionary tale, it is embarrassingly conceived, poorly cast and a colossal misfire right from the get go. Though the idea of the world’s flora suddenly deciding on a mass culling of the human species is in itself timely and intriguing, Shyamalan doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. The result is a weird chase movie which sees Mark Walhberg’s science teacher fleeing Pennsylvania to escape the trees of Central Park whose toxic farts are driving the entire population to commit suicide, thus preventing them from seeing any more Shyamalan films ever!

Oh no!

As the film goes on, its plotting proves to be as disoriented as its suicidal victims with Elliot (‘Marky Mark’), traipsing through the strikingly unspectacular Pennsylvanian countryside with his girlfriend, Alma (Deschanel), looking for a point while taking regular breaks to gaze fearfully at the rustling trees. But try as he might, Shyamalan just can’t make a breeze look scary and no amount of overly intense close-ups of Wahlberg earnestly emoting will help to convey that supposed fear.

Just why Shyamalan thought it suitable to put Wahlberg in the lead role is anybody’s guess. As films like ‘I Heart Huckabees’, ‘The Departed’ and ‘Four Brothers’ showed, Wahlberg is much more suited to roles that require his wit and rage. Whenever he tries his hand at compassion and understanding (like in the awful, awful ‘The Big Hit’), he comes across as curiously patronising, so when he is trying to reason with a demented Betty Buckley, the effect is humorously forced and condescending. More entertaining are the oddball characters that are plonked here and there along the story, but unfortunately, they don’t stick around long enough to make the film more bearable. Deschanel fares better, but then she’s just too cool to let the shit of any film come too close to her.

Shyamalan seems to have written ‘The Happening’ with Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ in mind. Needless to say, Shyamalan fails to inject the same sense of utter helplessness and confusion into his film and that’s probably the biggest disappointment here. In every single one of his prior films, Shyamalan could effectively cause one’s insides to knot up in fear and tension at the simplest of cues; ‘The Happening’ has barely enough suspense to fill a thirty-second Benadryl advert.

It is actually a real shame that Shyamalan’s ego has grown by such an extent that he thinks he can serve up such an extraordinarily lazy effort and then rely solely on his name to get people into cinemas. Where has the heart, the professionalism and intelligence of his films gone? There’s nothing rewarding here, no big pay-off at the end and the entire thing feels merely like an after thought. If trees are being cut down for the sake of such abysmal screenplays, no wonder they’re pissed off.
Jorge Costa

SINGLE: The Inconsolables -Hoverfly (Jealous Tony Records)

Even though all the individual bits would usually annoy the hell out of me – the squeaky la la la la la’s, Gameboy sounding keyboards and overdubbed vocoder – together with the buzzsaw guitars and the poppy chorus hooks ‘Hoverfly’ makes for some electro-punk dancefloor fun that could make any other band look boring. First b-side ‘Hydra’ is in the same vein with fizzing keyboards and an even catchier hook, probably deserving of being a single itself, and second b-side ‘Surf Rats’ is a two-minute freakout of spiky guitars and sudden shifts. Factor in the boy/girl vocals and their smart, funny lyrics and The Inconsolables look like a band with a lot of promise.

Ollie Khakwani

ALBUM: The Sugars - The Curse of the Sugars (Bad Sneakers Records)

Amid the swathes of indie bands who build their fan bases on their vintage look, here’s a band that’s walking as well as talking by sounding so retro it seemed like they were still using a double bass instead of a bass guitar.

Opener ‘Black Friday’ makes it impossible to resist a quick Zutons comparison, as it perfectly captures the 70s feel of their latest album. That’s about where the similarities end. Not content to just pick a decade and emulate the sound, every track on the album takes a different approach in sound, from the grungey guitars of ‘Unnamed Duet’ to the disarmingly charming doo-wop of ‘Mama’ to Jimi Hendrix references in lyrics and guitar work on ‘The Seamstress.’ The Sugars make it clear that they’re more ambitious and daring than The Zutons, eschewing their pop sensibilities to make something altogether more satisfying. Also unlike The Zutons, the girl in their crew, Anna Greenway, does more than adding more than the occasional backing vocals and building up a male fanbase, with her vulnerable and soulful vocals playing with Matt Bolton’s intense bluesy voice.

‘The Curse of the Sugars’ is a fresh debut, and the band’s talent and diverse influences make for a brilliant sound so convincing it could be a time-machine. And The Zutons suck.
Ollie Khakwani

ALBUM: The Subways - All or Nothing (Warner Bros Records)

For anyone out there who loved ‘Young For Eternity,’ you’ll be pretty damn pleased because for the greater part ‘All or Nothing’ is more of the same – the relentlessly catchy albeit fairly simple riffs and the general good fun and vivacity. Basically, if you’re over 25 then it’s pretty likely this won’t be your thing but if you’re not over that hill yet then ‘All or Nothing’ is all the fun bits of rock music compressed into 35 minutes – the almost hair metal of the addictive ‘Kalifornia’ and ‘Shake! Shake!’ and single ‘Alright’ with its contagious pop punk hook begging you to sing along.

Butch Vig’s production definitely deserves some credit here – the guy behind Nevermind, Siamese Dream and every Garbage record’s trademark wall of sound thing works well for The Subways, making their songs sound heavier and more distorted, capturing more of the wild energy of their live performances than their previous album did. Nevertheless, the acoustic guitar based softer tracks like ‘Strawberry Blonde’ where Billy Lunn sounds so sweet he could almost be a choirboy prove that The Subways haven’t decided to throw in the towel and lose their innocence quite yet, and Billy and Charlotte’s harmonies remain as lovely as ever.

There are hints that The Subways have matured a little since ‘Young For Eternity.’ Despite their tendency for one line or even one word choruses, ‘Move To Newlyn,’ another ballad-like track shows a surprising amount of lyrical dexterity, with its chorus of ‘my cousin Rick he still believes/there’s a world he’s yet to see/carry on or fade away/eventually there comes a day/we’ll all see we are the same but different things we choose to say.’ Opener ‘Girls and Boys’ is also unconventionally complex in its arrangement (for The Subways), sacrificing its ability to be immediately catchy but suggesting that there might be a secret ambition to make more than just three chord soft-grunge rockers.

‘All or Nothing’ is a good album and definitely one that you’ll listen to over and over again after you get it but whether you’ll still be listening to it in a month is a different question. Still, there are occasional clues that make it seem not only that The Subways have dodged the sophomore slump but that album no. 3 could be even better.

Ollie Khakwani

SINGLE: My First Radio - Progress (God Is In The TV Records)

I was lulled into a false sense of security/boredom by the soft piano of single ‘Progress,’ not sure if I really needed to listen to another band that was trying to make me curl up in ball and cry. So it scared me a bit when the synths and the vocoder came in and joined the swooning strings to make one of those sad but epic songs that would probably get played in Spiderman when Mary-Jane is about to fall of a building and into a giant blender and he realises he can’t save her in time. Not the most interesting song ever, but the vocalist had a lot of conviction I suppose, although it did make it seem like he was taking it a bit too seriously.

B-side ‘My Secret Plan’ was almost the opposite. The singer’s single line of ‘I have a secret plan to make all of you happy’ was repeated with a Mark E. Smith mysterious intensity over what started as Blonde Redhead/Mogwai chiming guitars and eventually dissolved into a crazy distorted fuzz of discordant screams and Russell from Bloc Party’s effect pedal overdrive.
For all the boredom of the actual single the b-side’s experimental shoegaze feel showcased a much better side of the band, one that goes beyond just being able to play their instruments – it was intriguing and demonstrated some actual musical vision. It’s a little hard to understand why they would make a pretty standard song like ‘Progress’ and then have it as the single when they can create hypnotic soundscapes like ‘My Secret Plan’ instead.
Ollie Khakwani

INTERVIEW: Cleft Palettes

According to their Myspace, Cleft Palettes are "two geeks and a dweeb who use grime handclaps and MIDI samples to make awesome songs sound really fucking shit." I'd like to contest that fact but whatever, they've answered some questions for us which is a whole lot more interesting than me raving about them.
So, first of all, how did you guys meet and what made you want to form a music collective?
I wouldn't describe us as a music collective. That sounds like we should be playing gigs at the Royal Festival Hall. Dan and I met when he fingerbanged my sister (truth, not jerky interview answer).

Lucy was his next victim. From then on, we clicked and the faff began.

I guess your name could be seen as being a bit distasteful by some. Have you had any negative reactions to it so far?
No, just praise. A fan once received a dirty look from a mother when wearing one of our t-shirts.

I've seen you being compared to bands like Hadouken! Are you fans of their work? Do you think that's an accurate comparison?
Not really. Many moons ago, we drove down to Southend for their first gig. They smacked it. At the time it was really aggressive and refreshing, but they're a good example of the perils of hype ... and major record labels.

You're relatively unknown at the moment. What goals do you have as a band? Do you want to be mega famous or are you happy staying more underground?
Underground is the new overground. We're mega famous in our regular lives anyway - we do the band thing for a bit of anonymity.

You've done a few remixes, most notably The Teenagers' Homecoming. Do you prefer writing your own stuff or doing remixes?
We would never remix anything we didn't heart, so its a good foundation to build upon. Kind of like playing Grand Theft Auto and starting with all the weapons unlocked. Writing our own music is like the kill screen from Donkey Kong.

I guess it would be really easy to brand you as "new rave", but how would you describe your music?
We love the way new rave is becoming an insult. Like when the French say 'your father pissed up your mother'. You're new rave.

We came 16th in the UK Black Metal MySpace charts by accident a couple of months ago... so I guess we're more metal than rave and that makes all kinds of sense when you look at Lucy's t-shirt collection...

What sorts of things influence your sound? Do you take inspiration from things other than music?
We are heavily influenced by drugs, arguments and accidents.

You played your first gig recently. How did that go? How did you prepare for it?
We shat it, but it went super well. People seemed to like it and nobody threw stuff or threw up. We managed to gain and lose a manager that night too.

Do you have any tricks or surprises for your live shows or do you just let the music speak for itself?
Like gimmicks? I guess Pat being ginger and Lucy and Dan being heavily involved with each other are pretty gimmicktastic. But for the time being we're mostly trying to concentrate on the noises and putting our fingers on the right buttons. Pat wanted to keep porno running on his laptop whilst we're up there, but Dan's mum didn't sign the release documents.
If you could go on tour with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

So, what's next for you guys? Are you going to be booking more shows soon? Any plans for a record?
All the gigs we seem to get booked for are getting cancelled because of noise complaints. We'll be unleashing our album 'Doofus Bible' in the fall
Rhian Daly