Bohemian Rhapsody

I know I am late to the party, having only seen this tonight.

The critics slammed the movie and I usually agree with them so I had my reservations.

But then all of a sudden, everyone is going Queen mental, including kids and I get a real sense of the movie causing a ruckus. Then Mark Kermode says on his podcast that the film made him cry thrice and I usher myself to the cinema whilst my inner dialogue goes ‘Ryan you idiot, go see this movie about one of your favourite bands, your childhood heroes’.

The production process certainly wasn’t without drama. Sacha Baren Cohan dropped out of the film due to creative disagreements, then Dexter Fletcher had to take over directing after Bryan Singer ended up behaving the exact way a director shouldn’t behave and this all had the spellings of a disaster.

And I get why the critics have a problem. The problematic moralistic subtext concerning Freddie’s orientation. The character portrayals themselves weren’t that particularly nuanced. And as someone who has avidly read Brian May’s biography and watched all the documentaries, the film took serious liberties with the timeline. Song releases, The American tour and then the biggest being Freddie revealing he has AIDS before the performance at Live Aid (he wasn’t even ill at this time). All for the narrative purpose to enhance the drama.

Then there is the constant stream of wink wink, referential parts from John Deacon jamming ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ to Mike Myers and that ‘Wayne’s World’ part and I could go on about the same problems already mentioned but the actual matter of fact is…

NOBODY CARES!!!

While I was to some extent hoping to see the full biography come to play, right up to Freddie’s passing and the wonderful musical material that would be released later in Queen’s career, the film set out to do something different.

This was to capture the magic of what Queen was and still is.

The film for the most part focuses on Freddie, who is wondrously recreated by Rami Malek, who’s performance is sensational. The interesting thing is the audacity of who Freddie was because, he was his own artist and he did things his way.

This kind of story is so engaging because Freddie is an outsider. Queen worked relentlessly hard and the world came to them.

Who are the artists out there now, playing by their own rules? Who are artists who can say no? Who are the artists who are artists first and not brands? Where are the risk takers?

I can name you some but they are nowhere near the mainstream.

We live in a different world today where Music is no longer important than politics and if Freddie was alive today, he would have plenty to say about it. I can’t help but think the film highlights a thing we all need that is well and truly and lacking in the Music business today.

The power of being an outsider and doing things your way.

Queen did it and they had the definitive front man in Freddie leading them, with a whole load of charisma enough to hold the arena filled audience at Wembley in the palm of his hand.

By the live aid sequence, my eyes started watering, because I started remembering what it was like to hearing this band for the first time, how in awe I was of their live performances when I watched the videos at my grandparents’ house and how Queen are truly something special.

And when you are truly special, you are something that stands the test of time.

This film has made Queen the biggest band in the world.

And in a world that is currently so divided, that tells you to stick to the rule book. Queen stand as a beacon for letting your freak flag fly.

‘But it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise, I consider it a challenge before the whole human race, and I a’int gonna loose’.

Julia Holter – Aviary

And they say the album format is dead…

It may well be on a monetary level but needless to say, it does not stop artists like Julia Holter from using the album format to make her statement.

And quite an artistic statement is Aviary.

Clocking at just under 90 minutes, the record is a experimental odyssey with so much depth and beauty, it is initially overwhelming. Similarly to the first time I heard Kate Bush’s ‘The Dreaming’ or Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, the album reveals its’ magic and gradually blossoms with repeated listens.

The title is inspired by Lebanese American writers Etel Adnan quote ‘I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds’. Such a sound collage can be blissful, peaceful, quietly unsettling. Julia achieves this in fifteen tracks that don’t have a distinct structure as such but dive into experimental explorations, build in tension and widen up a panoramic canvas of sounds consisting of piano, strings, drums, trumpets and even bagpipes; as well as Julia’s typically layered and ambient vocals.

This is demonstrated in ‘I Shall Love 2’, the first track to be released. There is not too much more needed to be said about the music as it is far better for it to be experienced. That being said, the noticeable trait of Julia as shown in her previous works is her evocative ambiguity. Julia didn’t really know how to articulate herself when I saw her live, she appears introverted and coy on social media. Ultimately, her goal is to get lost in the Music. There is no conventional structure, no direct meaning to the songs she does, instead there is an internal dialogue, a collection of sounds and words that may at times be on a lyrical level non sensical, outright bizarre but ultimately so satisfying.

And when so much Music out there is so formulaic, so lacking in it’s risk taking and no more than chewing gum for the ears; this record is a breath of fresh air. I have listened to this record with headphones on by a beach, I have listened to this record whilst turning the lights off in my apartment with dimly lit candles. Whatever way I have enjoyed discovering this record, ‘Aviary’ is truly an exhilarating musical experience.

The best records for me have been released by three women this year, Janelle Monae’s ‘Dirty Computer’, Natalie Prass’ ‘The Future and The Past’ and now Julia Holter’s ‘Aviary’. All of which showcase in their own way a defiance to the current chaotic climate we find ourselves dealing with in 2018. They are a celebration of opening up to vulnerability, love and truth…and that is when Music becomes so powerful.

‘That is all’.

 

Keeping the Peace – Arthur Beatrice.

When there is such an overwhelming amount of media out there, how on Earth can you break through and penetrate to audiences who would seemingly fall in love with the material you create?

I think it is a mixture of things these days, from the main trusted sources, snapping, tweeting and posting social media networks, gut wrenchingly writing out a cheque for marketing but I am sure as anything that good old spontaneity can be easily overlooked.

Because it was through that, that I stumbled across this beauty of a band on a rainy summer day at Field Day festival. I was there for John Grant, Air and PJ Harvey but I arrived super early on my own, ready to embrace a day of stumbling across anything and thank goodness I did.

I discovered many good acts that I had loosely heard of, Mystery Jets and Steve Mason who both impressed; but I had never ever heard of Arthur Beatrice, a band that has just released their second album and have been on the peripheral for a while.

They were superb live – in fact, awe inspiring. Their second album is a statement of intent, beautifully composed well worked songs, powerful vocals and an overall soaring, anthemic feel.

Besides spontaneity being overlooked as a means of discovery, you cannot underestimate word of mouth. That’s proven in my inability to stop mentioning this band to my fellow music lovers and sharing it here in my own digital space.

This band, in my humble opinion needs to be heard by more people, so here it is people.

Arthur Beatrice – Keeping the Peace

Give it a listen!

Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

This year thus far has been an impeccable one for music thus far and yesterday is what I could call one of the most highly anticipated Monday’s of my life as I waited for the post man to deliver the deluxe edition of Steven Wilson’s new album Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Anyone who has heard of my work with Eden Shadow or has met me in person will be aware that I take a lot of influence from this artist. I grew up with Porcupine Tree and besides Dream Theater, Tool and Opeth; Wilson has been one of very few artists to carry the torch through the last two decades for a genre of music that was constantly pushing boundaries (deemed by many as prog).

Besides being an unusual artist emerging through the 90’s, it has become very clear to me why Wilson has now gained the deserved amount of success he has had with Porcupine Tree and now his solo career. Firstly, the guy is relentless and completely prolific in writing music every single day, continuously making records, he has failed at achieving what he’s wanted at times but he’s kept going. It took him 15 years before he gained any prevalent recognition for what he was doing when PT released In Absentia, and every time he has faced success, he is adamant in ensuring that he does not repeat himself. Secondly, his attention to detail at times is astounding, you take many of his records, and the way in which they’re presented both sonically and in it’s packaging is remarkable, leading to a unique and immersive experience. Finally and what i would argue to be most important point is the context of his music. I have heard so much music from this scene, which is completely contrived and says so little that I would say even though most of my time is dedicated to writing progressive rock music, I avoid listening to most of it! The older I get, the more I realise what makes music work for me is how much I see of myself in it, which is when people ask me what my favourite records, I’ll say something like Vespertine by Bjork because it is a complete reflection of my introverted self. Wilson has more and more through the years delivered albums where he has had something to say. Music is a language after all. He is also one of very few artists who, low and behold, can actually be articulate in an interview, listen to to a question and say something insightful.

In terms of having something to say, and a mirror to hold up, after listening to Hand. Cannot. Erase. for the first time, I regard this album as one of the most relevant to me he has yet written. The album concept in brief is this,

“The story of Hand.Cannot.Erase. is a about a girl who grows up, moves to the city and begins to erase herself”

This is loosely based on the disappearance of Joyce Carol Vincent, who was a young woman, had a family, had friends but erased herself from everyone around her, died in her apartment and wasn’t discovered for three years. That is an incredibly macabre subject matter, but it holds a lot of pathos about modern day life in the city, and I have experienced this myself! I moved from the Welsh countryside to my student town, just outside London, and there were times when I was in London on my own and I felt completely isolated from the millions of people around me.

It’s not just the idea of being able to isolate yourself in a metropolis that is explored in this album, it’s also the impact that social media has had on my generation in particular and the fact there are people who can loose themselves in social media and video games where they do not walk outside their front doors for days on end. I am all to aware of the benefits of social media, but I share some ambivalence about it. More so than anything else, I use social media to share ideas, to share my thoughts, my music as well as other people’s idea and works but all too often, people who are using social media for those purposes are contending with a mass volume of trivial noise of people portraying their lives in a way that is faux. The lyrics from ‘Home Invasion’ seriously hit home.

Download sex and download God.
Download the funds to meet the cost.
Download a dream home and a wife.
Download the ocean and the sky.

Another day of life has passed me by.
But I have lost all faith in what’s outside.
They only are the stars across the sky
And the wreckage of the night.

Download love and download war.
Download the shit you didn’t want.
Download the things that make you MAD.
Download the life you wish you had.

I’ll save describing the music or concepts any further, but in my humble opinion, this album is again an incredible achievement and I look forward to seeing it live. For more context, here’s a great interview.