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Weekend Reads (2/4): Mark Hollis, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Jafar Panahi, M&M’s
Recommended weekend reading material for February 4, 2023.
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Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
Nick Zanca dives into the “quiet genius” of Mark Hollis and chronicles the arduous recording sessions of Talk Talk’s final albums as well as the philosophy behind Hollis’ masterful solo album.
By the time their critically-lauded but commercially underrated final two records arrived — Spirit of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991) — their lineup had shifted and their sound evolved to become something ethereal, experimental, and impossible to pin down, much to the chagrin of the record executives tasked with their release cycles. With the assistance of longtime producer and collaborator Tim Friese-Greene, the veteran engineer Phill Brown, and a motley crew of guest musicians, Hollis cultivated a cosmic blend of studio improvisation, chamber arrangements, and transcendental songcraft. When paired with his solo album, they embody a trilogy of visionary records that never sound the same way twice upon repeated listens. While they're often credited with pioneering the genre of “post-rock,” their influence could be heard in several diverse strains of sonic exploration to follow.
Attempting to accurately write about how these three records hit the ears is like trying to capture smoke, but as Hollis described it, the formula they arrived at is simpler than it sounds. “You have these two areas of music that sit apart from each other,” he elaborated in a television interview in 1988 while promoting Spirit of Eden. “One is spontaneity and freedom, and the other is having a textured depth of arrangement. What we’ve tried to do is bring these two things together for once, and that’s why it takes so long. Everyone who comes to play is given absolute freedom and has no direction at all in what they play, then you take a few seconds and you assemble an arrangement from that. You end up with something that is very tightly constrained, but everything within it is completely free and completely loose.”
Related: For last month’s podcast, I discussed Talk Talk’s “New Grass” from 1991’s Laughing Stock.
The 2022 wrap-ups keep rolling in. First up is Steven D. Greydanus reflecting on last year’s cinematic offerings.
The movie year 2022 was a year of memory and identity, with one film after another exploring how memory both gives us access to our past, to our roots, and also distorts and obscures the past. At least five notable films (three of which are among my favorites) are from filmmakers drawing on childhood memories of their parents. In three of the five, prominent filmmakers — Steven Spielberg, James Gray, and Sam Mendes — have made the most personal film of their careers; in the other two, memories of parents is a subtle but ultimately crucial theme in the film itself. One of the year’s best animated films is both formally and thematically an exploration of how we recreate the past in the act of remembering, while a quiet sci-fi movie explores themes of memory and identity in a story of artificial intelligence, loss, and grief.
Meanwhile, over at Looking Closer, Jeffrey Overstreet continues listing his favorite albums of 2022.
Music is one of the languages of God that sustains me. I am so grateful for the rivers of song that continue to flow into my heart, strengthening me to endure another season. Music brings me the beauty, the poetry, the wisdom I need to remember the Grand Scheme, in which God’s kingdom of Unconditional Love and Embrace overcomes all prejudice, all fear, all corruption. My dreams will be realized. Grace will overcome legalism. Courage will overcome fear. The hateful and the fearful will make a small noise for a while, but their empty victories will be overwhelmed by the Big Music of love.
The 2023 nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have been announced, and they include Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, and for the first time, Joy Division/New Order (who’ve been nominated together). The selected inductees will be announced in May, with the induction ceremony happening later this fall.
Over on Bandcamp Daily, Louis Pattison writes about Bristol’s “quiet psych” music scene, which included such artists as Flying Saucer Attack, Movietone, and The Third Eye Foundation.
When you’re thinking in terms of posterity, a little obscurity can be its own reward. The self-titled debut album from the Bristol group Movietone appeared in 1995, right as most of the United Kingdom was in thrall to the circus of Britpop. But Movietone couldn’t have felt further away from those big, swinging egos. Listening to it, you can glean a few reference points: the slow-burning jangle of Galaxie 500 and Codeine; the shadowy art pop of the third Velvet Underground album; a rustic, improvised quality that gestures to jazz or folk. But its out-of-stepness has served Movietone well. It’s hardly dated; it feels undatable.
I still remember the first time I heard some of those Bristol acts, be it Flying Saucer Attack’s noisy freak-outs on 1994’s Distance or The Third Eye Foundation’s nightmarish take on jungle music with 1997’s Ghost. Those were formative experiences, to be sure.
Also recommended from Bandcamp Daily: This brief survey of ‘90s ambient music featuring Tetsu Inoue, Anthony Manning, and MLO.
In good news, Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been released from prison after a hunger strike. He was imprisoned back in July 2022.
Panahi, who recently announced a hunger strike in protest of his incarceration, was detained after inquiring about the arrests of filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad following this social media protest against how the Iranian government responded to a building collapse that killed 40 people.
As previously reported, Panahi’s inquiry reactivated a six-year sentence from 2010 along with a 20-year-long filmmaking and travel ban after Panahi attended a 2009 funeral for a student killed in the Green movement, where Iranian citizens demanded the removal of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Panahi has remained in incarceration since his inquiries in July 2022.
Panahi’s most recent film was No Bears, which was released after his imprisonment. His other films include The Circle, Crimson Gold, and Taxi. Many of his films have been banned in Iran and/or made illegally.
By now, I’m sure you’re aware of the kerfuffle surrounding M&M’s recent wokeness, which was then followed by (extremely easy-to-mock) outcry from certain pundits on the Right. However, as comedian Jeff Maurer points out, the Left isn’t exactly innocent when they freak out over the Right’s freak outs.
When the right freaks out about M&Ms, Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss, or a Twix commercial, we dismiss them as unserious. But it’s not like the left never obsesses over cartoons and dumb kiddie bullshit — we focus on that stuff all the goddamned time. It’s hypocritical to start a conversation about how the female rabbit from Space Jam is insufficiently “empowered” and then mock those who prefer the thirst trap bunny from the ‘90s. We can’t invent the widely-despised word “Latinx” as part of a relentless language-policing campaign and then dismiss Sarah Huckabee Sanders as frivolous when she bans the word immediately after becoming governor of Arkansas. We need to be consistent; either all of this stuff is a dumb culture war sideshow, or none of it is.
Related: Back in 2019, I wrote about the “new fundamentalism” that could be found in certain progressive and “woke” circles, and how it reminded me of the religious, conservative fundamentalism of my youth.
Cory Doctorow discusses the “enshittification” cycle that plagues “Big Tech” companies like Amazon, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter.
Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a "two sided market," where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, holding each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.
The good news, typographically speaking, is that the State Department will no longer use Times New Roman for its documents and instead, opt for a more accessible sans-serif typeface. The bad news is that they’re switching to Calibri.
Aesthetics were not the primary reason for this change. In The Washington Post, Hudson writes that “[t]he secretary’s decision was motivated by accessibility issues and not aesthetics, said a senior State Department official familiar with the change.” Sans-serif typefaces are easier to read than their more baroque relatives, particularly on a screen. Additionally, sans-serif fonts are less likely to create problems for people who need to use optical character recognition and text-to-speech tools.
Calibri is a relatively new typeface, arriving at the turn of the century from Dutch type designer Lucas de Groot. In 2007, it replaced Times New Roman as the default typeface for Microsoft Word in recognition that, going forward, most documents would be read on screens rather than print.
Calibri isn’t the worst typeface, and was probably chosen because it’s Microsoft Office’s default sans-serif font. But why go with Calibri when there are better options out there if you’re concerned about accessibility? (See Atkinson Hyperlegible and Google’s Noto library.)
From the Blog
I’m not a huge fan of noir, but I know when I find something I like. Recently, I really got into Reckless, an oddly nostalgic comic by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips about a P.I. toiling away in the underbelly of ‘80s Los Angeles.
Reckless’ nostalgia, however, isn’t of the sweet, innocent variety that undergirds Stranger Things. Rather, it’s a nostalgia culled from Brubaker’s own experiences as a former Navy brat who became fascinated with horror movies and scream queens, Hollywood’s glory days, murder house lore, underground zines, and the Satanic Panic. As a result, Reckless often feels like a deconstruction of the ’80s. As our cynical protagonist works/punches/shoots his way through sunny California’s seamy underbelly, Brubaker explores how the idealism of the ’60s and ’70s eventually gave way to the narcissism and materialism of the ’80s. Or perhaps more accurately, how the ’80s revealed that the preceding decades’ idealism was probably just an illusion all along.
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