Monthly Archives: March 2014

…2014 – w 14 Album of the Week is “Diamond Dogs” by David Bowie.

Bowie Diamond Dogs

Released in 1974, “Diamond Dogs” is positioned between the glam rock of Ziggy/Aladdin Sane and the new soul direction of “Young Americans”, a fact that´s easily recognized in the overall sound of the album. Originally intended as a rock musical take on George Orwell´s classic novel “1984, Bowie had to change direction after being denied the rights to the work by Orwell´s widow. Instead a sort of concept album emerged chronicling the post-apocalyptic world of “Hunger City”, it´s chaotic ruins populated by depraved and scavenging youth living on the rooftops of derelict skyscrapers. The iconic sleeve, picturing Bowie as half man half dog (canine genitals and all) flanked by two mutated dog-variations on background singers, set the tone together with the eerie opener “Future legend”. Being merely 11 years old when this album was released, I still remember the effect this skin-crawling one minute plus piece of music had on my impressionable mind.

Title song “Diamond Dogs” along with live show staple “Rebel, rebel” is firmly grounded in Stones-type boogie rock, although in the case of “Rebel, rebel” with a killer riff, and as such not that remarkable compared with the rest of the album. The first indication of something fundamentally new comes with the almost 9 minute long song suite “Sweet thing/Candidate/Sweet thing (reprise)”. With a sinister feel to both melody and lyrics, Mike Garson´s wonderful piano work echoing his epic performance on “Alladin Sane” and guitar lines anticipating the sound of British band Magazine, this is classic Bowie with a vocal performance up to par with his best work.

Side two of the vinyl edition continues with a series of his best songs beginning with the piano-led ballad “Rock ´n´roll with me”, supposedly about the relationship between artist and audience. Beautiful melody, evocative singing and a coda reminiscent of Ziggy´s “Five years”.

Returning to the initial theme of Orwellian nightmare, the final four songs marks the highpoint of the album as they blend almost seamlessly into each other. The drama of “We are the dead” morphs into the wah-wah-guitar propelled “1984” with its big string arrangements and funky drive. A splendidly realized piece of music, and if you´ve got the reissue on CD you can compare the final song to the early draft on disc 2. “Big brother” follows, with its wonderful Mellotron sounds, tightly arranged and rich in melody, before the album ends with “Chant of the ever circling skeletal family”. One of the strangest pieces of music ever committed to vinyl. Even stranger is the decision of British group “The Wedding Present” to make a cover of it as a part of their 1992 one-single-every-month marathon.

So, whatever you do, listen to this album and remember that it was recorded before synthesizers became common.

…two stars are two stars.

For different reasons me and the wife had the opportunity to try out both of Sweden´s two star Michelin restaurants on two consecutive weekends, a few months ago. Since situated in Stockholm they have been subject to fierce competition from several other remarkable establishments, with or without stars. Three of these restaurants have been awarded one Michelin star, 1997, 2004 and 2007 respectively. Through the years, I´ve visited them on several occasions and have had the possibility to develop an informed opinion.

F 12

Fredsgatan 12 (F12) is in my mind the least special of the group. Despite not ever being a disappointment it´s still not exciting enough to feel really remarkable. Catering to a younger and more hip audience, I feel that it sacrifices originality and dedication on the altar of popularity. A beautiful and central location is a plus, but can´t compensate for the other disadvantages.

Lux stockholm

Lux Stockholm was the first high-end restaurant in Sweden that I ever visited, and as such has held a special place in my heart ever since. Located on the island of Lilla Essingen, in the old staff cantine of the Electrolux company, it has carved out a very special niche for itself in the Swedish gastronomical landscape. Extremely high quality of both food and service has made it famous, and the possibility of waterside seating in summertime is an added plus. This establishment has a long history of excellence and I´ve made a point of going there at least once a year, without ever having been disappointed. On the contrary, this has been the location of many a truly remarkable exhibition of the culinary arts. After being on sale for a while, the restaurant has downscaled to a slightly simpler format while still keeping its philosophy of locally produced ingredients of the highest class.

Esperanto

Esperanto is situated in the upper parts of the fashionable Östermalm-district, and through the years has been an almost perfect experience. Beautiful ambience in an old theatre building. Friendly and attentive staff that remembers you from your earlier visits (of course aided by computers but still charming). Cutting-edge cuisine with quality and innovation that´s truly remarkable. It doesn´t get much better than this. One of my absolute favourite restaurants and together with Lux the place where I take prominent visitors coming to Stockholm for the first time.

Frantzén

So, what does the two star establishments have to offer that´s better than this? Let´s begin with Restaurant Frantzén.
Frantzén/Lindeberg was the name of the first incarnation of this exceptional place. After working together at the famous Edsbacka Krog, Björn Frantzén and Daniel Lindeberg decided to start a restaurant together, chronicling it´s birth in a highly entertaining blog. My first visit upon their opening 2008 involved the celebration of my brother´s 50th birthday in their chambre separée. Cutting edge cuisine presented by attentive staff catering only to our group, consisting of my closest family, was certainly an unforgettable experience. Classics like “aniseed air” and the inventive dessert “cheeseburger 2.0” dazzled and entertained. A later visit by me and the wife was similarly awe-inspiring, with the clay-baked potatoes being their hitherto single false note.

The first Michelin star arrived as early as 2009, followed by a second one in 2010. May 2013 saw the departure of Daniel Lindeberg, and the name was changed to just Frantzén. The extremely high level of ambition didn´t change however, and since it can accommodate only a limited amount of guests, a visit needs careful planning. Online bookings are accepted one month in advance, and you need to be exactly a month ahead if you want a Friday or Saturday evening spot. That said, let me tell you how our recent night at this establishment turned out. Upon arriving at the restaurant we were greeted by the doorman, an elderly gentleman in a bowler hat ( and umbrella in hand on this particular rainy evening), who not only knew our names but quickly whisked us inside as well as seeing about our coats. The attentive staff quickly presented the menu, which constantly changes based on the best seasonal ingredients available. If there´s something that Frantzén has spent energy and effort on it´s locating the best suppliers of everything that´s used in the restaurant. Mostly small providers based locally, carefully chosen for their quality and sparing no efforts to get the best.

The menu is built around a number of different types of dishes, with the exact formulation depending on the day-to-day availability of ingredients. There´s quite a lot of finishing the dish right at the table going on, with several really nice ideas. A competent wine pairing is available which further elevates the experience. Some of the wines are used for more than one course, which could be interpreted as an interesting way of comparing how the same wine blends with different foods, or as a way to economize. Upon booking you are told how long it will take to enjoy the tasting menu, which could be seen as consumer information, or as a way of telling you when you´re expected to leave your table. The former is of course ok, but the latter represents a really boring current trend amongst Stockholm high-end restaurants. The experience as a whole was extremely nice, with food of extraordinary quality and flawless service. A night at Frantzén is a perfectly choreographed performance of the best gastronomy that Sweden has to offer. The wish to keep everything flowing along easily and seemingly without effort will of course have to be balanced with a menu deserving all the time in the world. When it comes to ambition, knowledge, attention to detail and actual achievement this establishment is second to none.

Mattias Dahlgren

Mathias Dahlgren is a legendary Swedish chef famous for winning the Bocuse D´Or in 2007. Born and raised in the northern district of Västerbotten, he has been a vocal proponent of a kitchen based on natural and regional ingredients, with a vision focused on quality and tradition. After taking part in the start-up of above mentioned Fredsgatan 12, he indulged in his own obsessions as the mastermind behind the formidable Bon Lloc. Existing for about 10 years and acquiring a Michelin star in the process, this was one of the truly great Stockholm restaurants. I only managed to go there once, which is something I regret profoundly, since this was a remarkable establishment delivering levels of quality unheard of by anyone at the time. The next project by this extraordinary chef was in co-operation with Sweden´s foremost luxury hotel, the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. Two restaurants were developed, the slightly more basic “Matbaren” and the high-end “Matsalen”. Matbaren is available on a day-to-day basis while Matsalen needs to be booked well in advance. Both establishments managed to charm the inspectors of the Guide Michelin, resulting in one star for Matbaren and two stars for Matsalen. Our first visit to Matsalen a few years ago turned out great when it came to the quality of food and service. Eventual complaints were based solely on the presence on the actual night of a large group of people badly suited to this kind of venue. Drinking coffee as a starter and exiting the restaurant to smoke cigarettes between every course is not something that will give you a reputation as a gourmet. The attentive staff handled this in a great way, offering us to move to an unoccupied table by the windows, putting some distance between us and this rather noisy group. After this, everything was flawless.

Grand Hotel

Our next visit to this great restaurant was planned a month in advance, respecting the booking policy imposed by it´s popularity. Since we of course needed somewhere to stay in Stockholm, I´d also booked a nice room at the Grand Hotel, which was promptly upgraded to a lavish suite with sea view. The restaurant is easily reached by a short walk through the hotel, and we soon found ourselves being shown to our table by the friendly staff. A beautiful presentation on an iPad showed the two menus on offer this particular night, one being chef Dahlgren´s signature “The natural kitchen” and the other one a theme menu built around birds. A pretty tough decision, but we ended up choosing “The natural kitchen”, but with the dessert from the other menu (the staff making the switch without so much as batting an eyelid). A glass of exclusive Champagne accompanied the splendid amuse bouches – fresh radish with reduction of oysters, beetroot with smoked ox marrow, double-baked egg with purée of Jerusalem artichoke along with crispy chicken skin, and finally my personal favourite – rye bread straight from the oven served with smoked butter and smoked cod roe. Simply sublime.

This wonderful beginning was followed by an 8-course menu of nothing less than world-class quality and inventiveness. “Swedish coolness” consisting of scallops with reduction of horseradish and whitefish roe, Swedish squid cooked over open fire, mildly smoked arctic char, variations on celery, pizza with goat cheese and truffle from Gotland, fried breast of tonight´s wild bird, grilled lamb and the special dessert made with arctic raspberry (“åkerbär”). This is a very exclusive berry only growing on select locations in the very north of Sweden. Attempts have been made to cultivate a genetically modified variety of this rare treat, resulting in a commercially available berry with at least some of the aromatic taste of the wild one. “Åkerbär” is something that everyone interested in fine foods should try at least once in their lives.

All in all, this was a night of the best Swedish cuisine imaginable, accompanied by the best service you could ask for. When the wife expressed concerns about the amount of wine included in the wine pairing, she was immediately offered the same package with reduced quantities (the same thing was done at Frantzén, and very appreciated). No-one seemed the least interested in how long we were going to occupy the table, making you feel welcome all the way – just like it should be. Anybody interested in top-quality cuisine should try this restaurant as soon as possible if you haven´t already. Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen is a dream come true.

…2014 – w 13 Album of the Week is “Heartbreaker” by Free.

One of the seminal British blues-rock bands of the 1970´s, formed in 1968 by members still in their teens. Their hit “All right now” brought success which in many ways led to their early demise.

Releasing five albums in four years the group disbanded because of differences between singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser, as well as the increasingly debilitating drug addiction of guitarist Paul Kossoff.

Free Heartbreaker

After some personnel changes the band reconvened for their last record “Heartbreaker”, released in early 1973. I must have been about 10 years old when my brother brought this album home, and I immediately fell for it. Although based in generic blues-rock it showed an unusual melodic maturity as well as pop sensibilities way ahead of its time. Great songs beautifully arranged and expertly played. An album that I´ve listened to regularly from the seventies onwards to the present.

The first song, “Wishing well”, has everything you could ask for in a rock tune. From the opening guitar riff through the quicksilver-like verses and chorus everything is perfect. Beautifully played and sung this is a classic that still holds its ground.

The album continues with slow ballad “Come together in the morning”, showcasing the rhythm section of the band as well as the soulfull singing of Paul Rodgers. One of my absolute favourites by the group by way of its melodic intensity and the performance by guitarist Paul Kossoff.

“Travellin in style” goes back to the aesthetic of the band´s first records, more blues than pop but still with a melody chugging along like a train. The rootsy sound of title song “Heartbreaker” sees the band heading for Zeppelin country while still keeping their melodic inventiveness. Great riffs, peerless singing, and arrangements to die for makes this an exceptional moment on the record. And how could you not love that Hammond organ.

“Muddy Water” is yet a strong ballad with a lifting chorus, carried by Rodgers` expressive voice and some really nice harmonizing.
The last three songs on the album goes in a slightly darker direction. The dramatic “Common mortal man” seems to be about Paul Kossoff, with its reference to “the needle factory”. “Easy on my soul” has a flowing piano figure adding beauty to the melancholic feel of the song. Final song “Seven angels” adds drama and a sense of foreboding, as well as a very strong vocal performance by Rodgers. A mighty closer to a great album.

…the Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edicion Limitada shows great promise.

Having recently bought a new humidor as well as a batch of exciting cigars, I decided to try the Hoyo de Monterrey 2013 Special Edition before it really had time to acclimatize in its new surroundings. Impatient, I know, but so what? Amongst the first Cubans I ever tried, this brand has ever since been one of my absolute favourites. Usually showing a more creamy and sweet taste-profile than other Cubans they could be considered on the light side, but in my opinion they will still give you a very enjoyable and complex experience that I really like.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edicion Limitada 2013

This cigar is of course handmade, and with its 55 ring gauge a fat delicacy. Beautiful, dark chocolate wrapper with some rather discreet veins. Feeling tightly rolled but still slightly spongy to the touch that I attribute to the cigar not really being in its right element yet. Giving off a pleasantly intense aroma of sweet, dark chocolate and leather, with an easy pre-light draw tasting of creamy chocolate.

The first puff startled with some bitterness and acidity, which quickly vanished and was substituted by dark chocolate and a delicious creamy sweetness. Taking a few puffs and savouring the taste will give you a similar experience to trying a good whisky or a nice wine – a flavour with a start, middle and finish. One of the interesting things about cigars are the fact that it could be likened to a whisky where the taste changes every 15 sips or so. The beginning of this one showed lots of dark chocolate mixed with a creamy sweetness and roasted coffe-notes, finishing with some leather and tingling black pepper.

The middle third gives evidence of a slightly uneven roll, showing unattractive flaky ashes as the smoke progressed. The taste mellowing out a little, going into a distinctive honey-like sweetness while keeping the creaminess and tuning down the pepper quite a bit. However, make no mistake, this stick contains a lot of tobacco and for someone like me who maybe smokes a few cigars a month it started to give me a head-spin.

Going into the final third the flavor turned towards earth, wood and leather, mixed with the occasional glimpse of the earlier sweetness. The return of a distinct black pepper note makes the experience deliciously complex and enjoyable all the way to the end.
The burn in this case was uneven and it had to be topped-up twice. I blame this not on the cigar per se, but rather on my impatience in smoking it before it was ready to be enjoyed. I trust that this will be fixed after being allowed to rest in the humidor for some time. I also belive that there is potential for further development after some time in storage. Looking forward to trying this again after half a year or so.

… about readme/reamde – Neal Stephenson seems to be in the grip of graphomania.

Neal Stephenson

My first contact with the fiction of Neal Stephenson was with his post-cyberpunk drama “Snow Crash”. In many ways a pleasant read for fans of William Gibson, while still adding a new distinctive voice to the genre. Despite somewhat hazy memories (after all I read it in the early nineties), I recall it exploring several interesting ideas, the pizza delivery guys gone crazy not being one of them. Earlier attempts “The big U” and “Zodiac” were unremarkable by today´s standards and not enjoyed by many except die-hard completists. For me personally, the feeling that Neal Stephenson mattered came with his next novel “The Diamond Age”. Even though published in 1995 it exhibited a visionary streak that could surprise you even today, with the depictions of nanotechnology, matter compilers and cybernetics combined with strange and hidden subcultures. I still remember this book as both entertaining and esoteric.

Cryptonomicon
“Cryptonomicon” published in 1999 dealt with cryptography, code breaking and Nazi gold by way of Alan Turing and modern day data havens. In essence an intellectual suspense story with a backdrop of Bletchley Park Military Intelligence. Spanning from WW II to the present, Western Europe to Asia and treatise on cryptography to modern day suspense story, it´s an interesting ride that never becomes boring. The story somehow manages to balance intellect and entertainment in a way that makes you rush forward through the many pages of this fairly thick volume.

Baroque cycle

His next work, “The Baroque Cycle”, was published in 2003/2004, and widened both the scope and the word-count of his oeuvre considerably. Actually presented as a series of 8 novels published in 3 volumes, Stephenson himself refused to call it a trilogy. The books are a wonderful mix of historical fiction and science fiction, with a blend of fictional and historical characters and events. The mix of styles (very often bordering on pastiche) could be off-putting to the serious reader, but might just as well be seen as enriching the work. Characters from 17th and 18th century Europe like scientists Newton, Leibniz, Hooke and Huygens rub shoulders with various Kings and Dukes of the time, in a sprawling story of political intrigue and the birth of both Natural Science and the Royal Mint. This is without a doubt the endeavor of a madman, trying to incorporate an impossible amount of real history, fictionalized period drama and philosophy of science into a few thousand pages. It´s not difficult to see how this work could be criticized for lack of focus and its mix of the high and the low, but I can´t help to admire the audacity of what it´s aspiring to do.

After dealing with “The Baroque Cycle”, which must have been a pretty extreme effort, it´s not hard to understand that the next book from Stephenson didn´t arrive until four years later. “Anathem” is again a science fiction story, concerned with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and different philosophical ideas of reality. While owning a copy of this book, I must confess to not having read it yet. Maybe it´s just me, but I found the beginning of “Anathem” so uninviting and just plain boring that I quickly put it away for later reading. Sorry to say, that later hasn´t yet arrived, even though I´m sure that I will sometime get around to it.

Reamde

This leads us to “Reamde”, his latest novel published in 2011. Here we have a 1000+ pages long suspense story, chronicling the adventures of multi-millionaire former marijuana smuggler gone online role-playing game tycoon Richard Forthrast, as he´s desperately trying to save his niece from the Russian mafia and Islamic terrorists. A real roller-coaster of a story taking us from continental North America to China and beyond, covering such topics as MMORPG´s, hacking and credit card theft, internet gaming gold mining and social networks, as well as organized crime, religious terrorism and the US Sovereign Citizen Movement. A lot could be said about Stephenson´s ability to tap into current concerns in an impressive way, but this is still more than anything an entertaining yarn probably destined for a future Hollywood makeover. Reading it is very often pleasurable, even though it´s impossible not to be irritated by its tendency towards longueurs. What should be a fast-paced suspense piece is often interrupted by page after page of detailed descriptions of milieu or events that could easily have been told in a few lines. This creates a weird effect of story-time either rushing forward or suddenly stopping in a bubble of suspended animation. If a character travels from point A to point B in a novel or a movie, you can choose to show the character departing and then arriving, or to show every turn of the wheel and every part of scenery passing through the window. It´s not like we don´t know where this is heading, but it takes us a long time getting there.

The part of the novel that deals with T´Rain, the online game created by Richard Forthrast, tells you about one of the persons creating the underlying story of the game-world. Producing huge amounts of text he is suggested to suffer from graphomania, the obsessive/compulsive impulse to write. Somehow you wonder if this is not Stephenson trying out a little introspection. So, as “Reamde” goes, read it but feel free to skip a few pages when you feel like it.

…setting off on a tangent might be the way ahead for Arcade Fire.

AF first
Without a doubt one of the truly great bands of our time, formed in Montreal in 2001 by prime motor Win Butler, together with a cast of friends and classmates.
While the first 7 track EP showed some promise, it´s still mostly interesting in the light of what came afterwards. Even though “No cars go” was considered good enough to reappear on their second album “Neon Bible”, this collection of songs has a certain originality but not much more. For example the boy/girl singing of “I´m sleeping in a submarine” borrows the dynamics of The Sugarcubes, without really going anywhere with it, unlike the magic of the combination of Björk and Einar Örn.

AF funeral
Extensive personnel changes as well as founders Win Butler and Régine Chassagne becoming a couple had a lasting influence on the group. First album “Funeral”, released 2004, dealt with heavy subjects like the passing on of several relatives of persons in the band. With a sleeve carrying the aesthetic of the first EP forward, Arcade Fire seemed to be content with their indie credentials and expectations were accordingly. The songs, however, turned out to be extraordinary both in subject matter and form. Inventive music by musicians developing their craft, with unique melodies and textures as well as lyrics part of a greater story of love and loss. Filled with moments of unsurpassed beauty, making this an album of ideas realized by a select group of people, with an impact much greater than what would have been expected from the ingredients. The feeling of a concept album, although much maligned in the contemporary rock scene, added considerable strength to what was basically a debut by an unknown band. This collection of songs is still by any standards remarkable and very much feels like the creation of intuitive genius. Both musically and lyrically adventurous and with a sound completely their own.

The subsequent story is well know – the album becoming a word of mouth success leading to the band being pictured on the cover of Time magazine´s Canadian edition. Upon touring the album the building momentum around the group necessitated moving to increasingly larger venues, as their reputation as a live act grew.

AF Neon bible
I have no idea how instant success affected the band, but if anybody would be expected to suffer from the difficult second album syndrome, it´s these guys and gals. Recorded in a disused church turned into recording studio by the band, “Neon Bible” (2007) was the work of a group of people suddenly turned into a force of contemporary rock music. Apparently not inspired by the John Kennedy O´Toole novel, it´s still a great title that maybe could have been thought of twice. Almost universally hailed at its release, I remember a certain disappointment that some of the initial innocence of the band´s music had turned into a slightly less interesting competence. While still clearly being one of the best albums of the year, I felt that Arcade Fire had turned into more of an ordinary rock band than they had been before. Today I´m not sure just why that would be considered a problem, and repeat listenings while writing this tells me I was reading things wrong back then. The sound of “Neon Bible” is much more focused in a rock band direction than was the debut, and so what? The quality of the songs are very high and anybody wanting to explore the development the band had gone through since their beginnings can just compare the two versions of “No cars go”. Returning themes of this record is the duality between light and darkness, black and white, as seen in both song titles and lyrics. The reflection of yourself seen in “le miroir noir”, the neon bible lighting up the darkness, a black wave carrying bad vibrations instead of the good ones expected – maybe not that strange coming from an ocean of noise, served by a lighthouse whose brightness is contrasted by the darkness of a well. Without a doubt this was the necessary next step by a band going from indie oblivion to the higher echelons of contemporary art rock. If you´re not convinced, just listen to “My body is a cage” and be blown away.

“The Suburbs” (2010) upped the ante with no less than 16 songs made by a band confident in their creative process. Seemingly more at peace with their position as resident mainstream indie wonders, the band lets loose in a diverse but still cohesive cycle of songs. Here the idiosyncratic vision of early Arcade Fire finally meets the accomplished songwriters and musicians they´ve become. From start to finish the quality of these songs are remarkable and combines originality with clarity of vision. The idea of the biographical artist has been very much lauded in both literature and music, somehow implying that depictions of actual events are more interesting than fictional ones. What this record shows above anything else is the power of imagination. It´s immersed in the art of storytelling from the perspective of coming of age in a certain milieu. AF suburbs
Good fiction is always superior to mere factually correct retellings of incidents in a person´s life, by means of the story´s transformative power of turning the personal into the general. Part of what makes “The Suburbs” into such a great work of art, is exactly this dislocation from how earlier works was expected to be an iteration of personal experiences, and the development into these entirely new fictional territories. Musically, this is an album that could only have been made by songwriters and musicians firmly confident in their abilities, while still remaining adventurous and inquisitive. The creative scope here is huge and very neatly paired with actual accomplishments. For most rock groups something as good as this would be their crowning achievement and as such a point of departure for all future works.

AF reflektor
The latest collection of Arcade Fire music called “Reflektor” (2013) is such an oddity as a CD double album. Mainly produced by James Murphy of LCD Sound System fame, this is a change of course for the band, making a right turn into the land of electronic dance music. Every time you choose something new you will also decide to lose something old. Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of opinion. That said, I must confess to having some reservations upon first hearing this album. Much of what had been the defining points of Arcade Fire has been left behind while embracing the new direction of this group of musicians. Their multi-instrumental past is exchanged for a more closed synthetic sound. “Reflektor” is in many ways a change of direction that´s not obviously leading things forward. But on the other hand, how do we know what´s the best way for a group to evolve?

Opening song “Reflektor” goes from proto-disco propelled by bongos, through a lifting chorus and onwards to an ending of call and response with none less than David Bowie. I agree with my colleague D. that this is a great song, and he usually knows what he´s talking about. Still, I can´t get Blondie´s “Heart of glass” out of my head while listening to this one. Seeing that “Reflektor”, along with several other songs on the album shows some similarities with the dance/disco sound of 80´s Bowie, it´s perhaps no surprise that the man himself turns up here. The dance pop of “We exist” could be seen as strengthening this point even though it undoubtedly deserves a life of its own.

Some of the sessions for the album were done in Jamaica of all places, and “Flashbulb eyes” exhibits the first signs of local influence in its marriage of electropop and dub. Going out into the unknown, the song is still a successful union perhaps saved by its brevity. The next one “Here comes the night time” doesn´t fare as well. If anyone was curious of how an Arcade Fire spoof of Vampire Weekend might sound like, this is the answer. Why anyone would consider this song good enough to appear in two different versions on the album is beyond me. “Normal person” defines the level of contrast on offer here, being a straightforward rocker with an ill-adviced pasted on guitar line. The stomping pop soul of “You already know” sets the music flying again, with its effortless melodic drive carrying the song forward. “Joan of Arc” on the other hand enhances the duality of this record by its Pixies-type punk intro which quickly metamorphoses into Glitter-band country.

“Awful sound (Oh Eurydice)” is the closest we get to the aesthetics recognizable as an Arcade Fire tune, the lyrics repeating the concept of falling in love on a stage in a reflective age from the title song. Continuing the classical references “It´s never over (Hey Orpheus)” takes the soul pop side of the band forward with a nice, bubbling melody. The pretty straightforward synth-pop of “Porno” doesn´t really go anywhere unique, while still being a reliable example of the new way of the band.

The album finishes with two of the best songs of this great group. The juxtaposition of physics and metaphysics of “Afterlife” and “Supersymmetry” is probably not a coincidence, even though it might seem so. “Afterlife” has all the makings of a classic song – the melodic inventiveness, well thought-out lyrics, top-class singing and arrangements and a certain determined lightness lifting your spirit along with the music. Closer “Supersymmetry” slows things down into an air of introspection. What´s with this year? Nick Cave writes about Higg´s boson and Arcade Fire about Supersymmetry. If ever there was a perfect last song of an album, this is it. The beautiful and winding down melody slowly transforming into a drone part reminiscent of the sound of the dead souls in Kiyoshi Kurosawa´s classic movie “Pulse”. Curious and scary, just like it should be.

…who would have guessed that Hollywood would be out and television in?

Things are changing in the entertainment industry. As movies become increasingly expensive to produce, economic common sense equals risk aversion. Stories told with the broadest strokes of the brush are more likely to garner mass appeal and recuperate costs. Playing safe when it comes to script, subject matter, choice of actors, visual ideas and trust in the intelligence of your audience is in many ways a rational adaptation to the current situation. However, financial gain sometimes comes with a creative price. It´s interesting to speculate on how many of your all time favourite movies would have gotten the ok if they would have been pitched today.

It´s becoming more and more obvious that if fresh, creative and inventive is what you´re after, television is where to look. If we go way back, a phenomenon like “Twin Peaks” could be seen as an anomaly when it comes to story, while still being instantly recognizable in its format. A combination that fast-forwarded the traditional TV-drama into the future. This feeling of excitement continued years later as HBO launched series after series of high quality material, taking the type of well scripted and intelligent stories that´s usually reserved for the art-house clientele to the mass market. Shows like “The Sopranos”, “The Wire” and “Deadwood” were milestones in their own right, and seriously upped the ante for everyone trying to produce television programming. With the high output of new series we´re seeing presently, quality will of course vary and the really good ones risk drowning in the static.

House of cards

As I´ve mentioned in this blog earlier, the net-based streaming service Netflix has turned into a serious contender when it comes to bold and original new material. Season 2 of its unanimously hailed series “House of cards” was recently released. Such was the cravings for more of the Machiavellan machinations of aspiring president-to-be Frank Underwood, that me and the wife watched all the 13 episodes during the first post-release weekend. Clever, captivating and strangely perverse in its unabashed amorality. Can´t remember when I last saw something like this on television, or in the movies for that matter.

True detective

Much talked about new series from HBO ,“True Detective”, didn´t look that interesting when it appeared in the program listings. Beginning as a police procedural dealing with one of the most overexposed creatures in crime story lore, the ritually bizarre serial killer, it seemed set to rehash old genre clichés for the umpteenth time. Luckily, first impressions can be so wrong. Instead it turns out to be a dark and bumpy journey into the minds of the two detectives investigating a murder case, that´s quickly turning into just a back-drop for something else. Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart plays a character that he´s done many times before, and his philandering, hard drinking, regular guy serves as a point of normality of sorts, contrasting Matthew McConaughey´s deeply troubled Rustin Cohle. Cohle is a fascinating character, fiercly intelligent but with a decidedly bleak philosophy of life coloured by the loss of his family. McConaughey, whom I´ve previously regarded as a fairly light-weight pretty boy doing rom-coms, plays him brilliantly. As the underlying murder plot slowly gains traction and draws you in, the interaction between the two main characters and their respective stories still remains the real focus and is what keeps you watching. I promise, you´ve never heard dialogue like this in a television show, ever. As of now, only two episodes left to air and I can´t wait for the next one.