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Sunday
Apr152018

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

It occurs to me after watching One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest last night that the film is a right wing fantasy about how white men are an oppressed minority.

The first obvious feature of the film is that it's about a group of white men being oppressed by women and black men. As those of us who've spent any time on Twitter are aware, this is the predominant fantasy/nightmare of many right wingers, but this is nothing new. I understand the late sixties and early seventies were an interesting time in American politics when feminism was still relatively new but gathering pace and racial tensions had been high. Some white men would have felt deeply uncomfortable about these two developments coming along and threatening to upset their place in society. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is clearly a film arguing that America had at this point in history become a nuthouse and was arguing for right wing libertarian values as the way out.  Or to put it another way, it’s Atlas Shrugged for dirty hippies.

Within the film there is a hierarchy.  At the top are the doctors who run the facility but are rarely seen.  Next are the nurses who regularly interact with the patients and run the wards.  Below them are men, exclusively black, who’s job is to lay hands on the patients where necessary and do lots of the dirty work. 

Should we be surprised that this hierarchy exists? After all working in an asylum is considered a low status job so we shouldn't be surprised these frontline roles are held by black men and women. That would be a fair objection, except the film goes out of its way to dispel this. When the doctor first meets Jack Nicholson’s character, R P McMurphy, he seems intrigued by him.  He seems to like McMurphy, albeit cautiously. They chat amiably about fishing, and the doctor doesn’t see fit to set McMurphy straight when he suggests that statutory rape is perfectly fine.  Later on in the film, McMurphy busts his fellow inmates out and takes them on a fishing trip. Is that an admiring smile the doctor flashes when McMurphy returns to port with a crew of inmates and some enormous fish they have caught? Even though such an incident could end the doctor's career he still seems sympathetic to McMurphy.  

Which brings us to the pivotal scene when the doctors of the hospital, mostly white men, are deciding what to do with McMurphy. The head doctor (by which I mean the most senior psychiatrist, not that he's "a doctor of the head") seems to think McMurphy is sane and should go back to prison.  The remaining doctors are split so Nurse Ratched is given the deciding vote and she decides that he should remain at the facility. McMurphy is clearly a pain in the arse for Nurse Ratched, but she would rather have power over him than release him back to an open prison.

What this is telling us is that it's not the guys at the top doing the oppressing - no, they're pretty reasonable guys - it's these damn women. This makes sense when you see the film as a right wing fantasy: how often do right wingers jump to the defence of the powerful in our society? Right now there are Republicans twisting themselves into knots trying to defend Donald Trump’s bizarre behaviour.  Defending the establishment is the whole raison d’être of the right. Our Jack is just a free spirit.  The doctor is just a man trying to do his best.  What is being argued is that it is the distortion of the natural order here that is the problem.  These people can’t handle the control they have been given over others and have become power mad.  If power had been left to white men as is the natural order of things then everything would be fine.

There is an obvious objection at this point: one of the most memorable of all the inmates isn't white at all, but is a Native American referred to as ‘chief'. This is true but can be explained. 

The chief is not there to represent people of colour. He is there to represent a kind of elemental manliness that is being suppressed (by the way, if you want to record a prog rock epic called Elemental Manliness then please be my guest).

To put it another way, what other kind of man would you choose to represent the concept of oppressed manliness? A cowboy? John Wayne strutting bow legged about an asylum doesn't seem too likely or appealing. A soldier? The Vietnam war sent plenty of soldiers home with mental illnesses and they had nothing to do with oppression from forces at home so that wouldn't work for the theme of this film. A wrestler or a boxer?  Those guys get brain injuries all the time.  I honestly can’t think of a better icon that would fit in this location.

If you want to get across the conservative ideal of innate manliness ironically it has to be the Native American man. The Native American lives out in the open, faces the forces of nature and wins, gets by on his own mettle.  He does not bow to women or anyone else. Of course this may not be the true version of Native American life but I think this is the version we are meant to believe. 

Look what our twisted society has done to this symbol of man’s mastery over nature.  He has been reduced to pretending to be deaf and mute.  Not only this, he is reduced to pushing a broom around like a goddamn housewife!  A man the size of a house with a face made of rock and he’s sweeping up and silent like a scared little mouse.  He could break out any time with his enormous physical strength, and yet he can’t bring himself to do it.

It is this symbol of manliness that breaks free at the end of the film once McMurphy has been finally crushed in an iconic scene.  We know it’s an iconic scene because it got satirised in The Simpsons.  Ultimately you have to ask yourself, do the film makers care about freeing Native Americans from their bonds, or is it just men in general?  

Money

Let’s move on to the favourite subject of libertarians: money and property.  Early in the film McMurphy starts playing cards with his fellow patients, and he immediately introduces them to gambling.  He explains that cigarettes represent money, one cigarette is worth a dollar.  Much later in the film a big row ensues because one of the patients demands to have his cigarettes - they are his property after all. Ratched explains that because McMurphy has been taking the inmates to the cleaners in card games they've had to ration their access to money and cigarettes. The inmate asks how he is meant to make his money back. Ratched says flatly that he won't. The inmate is offered cigarettes by other patients but he gets agitated and says he does not want them, he wants HIS cigarettes, he wants HIS property. As the inmate gets angrier and creates more of a scene, McMurphy eventually punches through the glass of the nurses station liberating the inmates cigarettes and handing them over.

What I find interesting about this part of the film is the right wing argument is presented in a slightly more nuanced form than usual.  Clearly the argument here is that it is better to be exploited and free than to be infantilised by the state.  Of course it also shows us that crafty men like McMurphy are able to exploit weaker, less intelligent men, but the argument seems to be that this is fine.  Yes he is exploited, but he wants to be exploited.

But surely a right winger would never argue that people being free but destitute is a good thing?  The key line is the inmate asking how he can ever win his money back if he hasn’t enough money to gamble with?  Nurse Ratched’s answer is that he can’t.  And this is the argument: that an exploited man could succeed and win but not if the state constrains him by taxing him, nannying him and therefore condemning him to mediocrity.

I think they call this freedom to be exploited "the American Dream”.

Of course this leaves us with a rather perverse situation which is rather like real life.  McMurphy, the exploiter who takes property from people who are not equipped to defend themselves, then liberates more of their property for them.  This is presumably so he can take that from them as well.  And so we see the right wing politician lowering our taxes so that they can bilk us for more money for the necessities of life (see social housing, the NHS, private railways, etc.). Should we be grateful that the libertarian frees us from taxes only to then charge us more than we ever paid before for health care?

Choice

Half way through the film McMurphy discovers to his horror that most of the inmates are there by 'choice'. They are clearly institutionalised but they can theoretically leave whenever they like - and they know they can. They even seem oddly proud of the fact.

So this raises the question of who is there by choice and who isn’t?

At one point in the film when the patients have an illicit party on the ward which is likely to be rumbled, Scatman Crothers bemoans how he is going to lose his job - obviously a big deal for him. So we have to ask ourselves: is he there by choice?

The patients (at least most of them) are there by choice.  The staff are notionally there by choice as with any job, but economically are not.  McMurphy may have talked his way in but now he can’t get out and will remain as long as the staff require him to be.  And don’t forget, the chief can leave anytime he wants just by use of physical force.

But this is the key to the argument.  White men are not prisoners by force, but because they have chosen to be prisoners.  The film is saying to the white men watching: your prison is self imposed and you can leave anytime you want - why don’t you?

Sex and Gender

It’s notable to me that McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are probably about the same age.  It’s also interesting that Nurse Ratched, while she may not be wearing make-up and attempting to be glamorous, is no slouch in the looks department.  She looks like an off-duty Jackie Onasis.  This is surprising for such a role in such a film - why isn’t she just some gargoyle in curlers?

Nurse Ratched is clearly not meant to be a sexless, unattractive butt of jokes.  She can’t be easily dismissed as ugly, fat, stupid, or weak.  She is meant to be formidable.  And the other nurses are pretty too.  This is important because these are women that in other circumstances the patients might find sexually attractive but instead they are putting up walls.

During the talk therapy sessions one patient complains that he can’t sleep with his wife, while another patient wants to marry a local girl.  Both are presented as absurd comedy.  They talk about tip toeing around these women, while two attractive nurses listen with disinterest.  It’s enough to make any man shrink to the size of a chipolata.

Once again we are meant to see McMurphy as a free spirit to be admired - and yet he frankly treats women like crap.  I can’t help but feel that we are being presented with a 'world turned upside down' and that we are expected to see an environment where women might be in positions of power as absurd.  Should I be horrified that attractive women might not want to be viewed as sex objects?  Should I be giggling like a fool because a woman might demand respect in a position of responsibility?

Ultimately McMurphy is lobotomised for trying to strangle Nurse Ratched, which occurs because Ratched has shamed a young patient for having sexual intercourse and he killed himself.  Naturally no one should be shamed for wanting to have sex - but this does feel like the playing out of the feminism of right wing fantasy rather than feminism as it exists.

The Shining

Was Kubrick watching?  I have no idea but it seems he might have been.  The Shining makes an interesting counterpoint to this film.  Cuckoos Nest is about a place where women and black men have power over white men, The Shining is about a place where Jack gets to do whatever he likes to a black man, a woman (and a child). 

In fact The Shining is all about power dynamics. The film starts with Jack clearly annoyed that he has to defend the way he has treated his child to a social worker. He goes on to meet the manager of the hotel and we immediately see how he sucks up to him, and does his whole aw schucks act. Later the pivotal scene in the film is where Jack meets Grady, the waiter who murdered his family. It starts with Jack talking down to the waiter while trying to be magnanimous, but then it changes when it appears that it is Grady who has the power and tells Jack what he must do to discipline them. 

While I wouldn’t argue that The Shining is exclusively about masculinity, the evil manifested in this instance does seem to emanate from a masculine outlook and results in a man oppressing and abusing his wife.

While Cuckoos Nest seems to see masculinity as a good thing that is being repressed, The Shining sees masculinity given unchecked power with horrific results. 

Monday
Jan012018

Top Ten Albums of 2017

In previous years I have bothered to put my selections into order of preference but this year I can't be bothered. Hey, it's all good.

Dutch Uncles - Big Balloon

I've been following and enjoying Dutch Uncles for some time now and every album has been a delight. I feel with this album they've really hit their stride and come out with an album that is confident and effervesent. Much of it borrows the spirit of eighties pop without quoting anyone in particular, which is a neat trick.

Joanna Wang - House of Bullies

Joanna Wang appeared to me out of the blue, and I'm very glad she did. The over riding influence here is Danny Elfman's soundtrack to Nightmare Before Christmas alongside Cardiacs and They Might Be Giants. Those are some pretty strong falvours, and this may put some people off, but don't let it. Wang synthesises all of these influences seemlessly and with charm and confidence.  Her voice veers from ice maiden, to bratty teenager, to Rex Harrison half-singing, to effortless lounge bar jazz all without sounding like she's trying too hard. One of the most enjoyable discoveries of this year.  

Interestingly if you look up Joanna Wang on Apple Music or Spotify you will find the album above but you will also find some smooth jazz artiste doing light covers of MOR classics. This sort of thing happens all the time when two artists have the same name. Interestingly in this case they are one and the same and she has had a rather extreme career change. You can read her story here. Good for her! 

Richard Dawson - Peasants

I loved Dawson's previous album Nothing Important and thankfully his latest doesn't disappoint. While this album has a more convential approach than the previous album which had four epic songs unaccompanied, the strange sound of Dawson's voice and twanging guitar remains the same as always. The songs are as melodic as anything Paul McCartney might concoct but retain a Whicker Man style paganism that makes them sound other worldly and unsettling.

Idles - Brutalism

Punk will never die but at least it has moved on from lazy three chord rock and honking sloganeering. Or at least it has for some. Idles are genuinely exciting. They're smarter than the average punk but feel no need to prove it - they just settle for witty lyrics and sharp inventive music.

Spoon - Hot Thoughts

Spoon are almost part of the furniture these days but they always manage to sound fresh and inventive. This album is probably their most energetic effort for a while.

Sparks - Hippopotamus 

Everyone loves Sparks. Quite right too. Unfortunately their output of recent years has been admirable but not especially exciting but this all changes with Hippopotamus. They seem to have found a way to reference their past without being enslaved by it, creating an album that is constantly inventive and energetic. It's good to have them back at full strength - we need Sparks now more than ever.

Hundred Waters - Communicating

A few years ago Hundred Waters came out with a tremendous album, seemingly from nowhere. Apparently with this album they've joined Skrillex's record label which I guess has reinvigorated them because it's a fantastic return to form.

Venn - Runes

I don't remember where I heard about this album but I'm glad I stumbled upon it. It's a black clad, gothic, krautrock, singalong - a perfect new blend of old influences.

Penguin Cafe - Imperfect Sea

A year or so ago I discovered Penguin Cafe Orchestra and was delighted to find these rather odd albums that didn't really fit into any particular category but somehow felt ahead of their time. Somehow I had also missed these new albums from the son of the creator of PCO. This album is quite beautiful, full of looping, fractal melodies.

Snapped Ankles - Come Play The Trees

I discovered this via snooker player Steve Davis' Interesting Alternative radio show. Roughly speaking it's motorik rhythms and rock and roll riffing. You can't go wrong.

Everything Else

And the other stuff that I enjoyed this year:

Sunday
Mar262017

Dennis Potter - Binge Watch

A couple of weeks ago I started reading The Art of Invective: Selected Non-Fiction 1953-1994, a collection of writing by Dennis Potter.  I'm not sure why I was so keen to read this book since I’ve hardly watched any Dennis Potter, but I do remember his interviews and always thought he was rather good company.  The book does not disappoint.  It does however, unsurprisingly, make reference to his various bits of TV work and I realised I should do the right thing and get up to speed.

To this end I bought the box set The Essential Dennis Potter which includes all the most obvious works - but I decided to be perverse (as seems appropriate) and start with some less celebrated work.  Thankfully the BBC has done us all a great service by releasing many of Potter’s plays and serials digitally here.  I love this because, while some things are clearly too niche to be released on DVD, at least this stops them moldering in the archives and Auntie Beeb gets to make a few extra bob too.  Everyone’s happy.

I started off with Traitor, a play I’ve been curious about for years.

This play was inspired by Kim Philby, a British double agent who handed secrets to the Russian government and, when he got caught out, then defected to Russia where he remained until he died. The entire play takes place in the Russian apartment of Adrian Harris, a spy who has defected. He is being interviewed by a group of newspaper journalists asking him to justify his behaviour. 

Throughout we see various flashbacks that may explain how Harris has arrived where he is. While it is partly a story about spying and betrayal it's also about Britishness and Class. As one of the journalists asks him, why would a comfortably off upper class gentleman decide he'd rather live in the austerity of Soviet Russia?  Harris struggles to tell us but the flashbacks we see to his youth suggest that his beliefs are not so alien or inexplicable. 

The play is dizzying as we spiral downwards into Harris' despair and confusion. As a lover of British comedy Le Mesurier is a very familiar presence to me: the upper class authority figure, the well meaning patrician face of the establishment. Here he is a very different character but still playing to his strengths; he is absolutely brilliant. So brilliant that it makes me sad that he didn't play more straight roles. 

Of all of the Potter plays I saw this week this is the one that keeps replaying in my mind. I see Le Mesurier gripping his whiskey tumbler struggling to answer questions from three incredulous inquisitors. Strong stuff. 


Both of these semi-autobiographical plays were shown on following weeks in 1965. Firstly Stand Up covers a lot of ground in a short space of time, so clearly Potter had not yet learnt to pace himself.  But he did come back to this and cannibalise it for ideas later on (from the plays I watched this week I could point to Blue Remembered Hills and Traitor alone).  It can really be split into two parts: his struggle with becoming “classless" after leaving his working class mining town to go to Oxford, and a key incident in his childhood that clearly left him with a lingering sense of shame (and which turns up a couple of times in The Art of Invective too).  The former is interesting but particular to Potter, however the latter is something everyone can relate to and feels like it must have been a breakthrough moment for Potter as a screenwriter.

Vote, Vote, Vote is about the time Potter stood as Labour Party candidate in a safe Tory seat.  Apparently Potter was so disillusioned by the end of his campaign that he couldn’t even summon the energy to vote for himself.  Right from the start we are dropped into what is a miserable grind, and Nigel’s cynical agent speaks straight to camera about the home truths of political campaigning - it doesn’t look glamorous and it’s less glamorous than it looks.  In the end Nigel is crushed between conceding some idealogical ground to the electorate in order to attract votes, and the lofty, leftier-than-thou, idealism of the party membership.  At one point a party member says she would rather get no votes at all than give up her socialist principles.  A few years ago I would’ve thought that a very fanciful bit of dialogue but these days it’s the common chorus of the constituency Labour Party (yes comrade I sympathise, but the wilderness is no place for socialism).  It’s remarkable that a play like this can seem so current today but it really resonates.  The only thing that lets it down are some angry young mannerisms that were in vogue at the time.

From here I then went to a much more well known play: Blue Remembered Hills. It’s reputation is richly deserved although I feel I can’t say much about it without spoiling it.  In short it is Potter’s childhood memories of the Forest of Dean in war time but played out by adult actors.  The cast is brilliant and the performances faultless.  Most of all, such a simple idea works brilliantly.  At first the actors appear to be behaving childishly but before long we realise that they are adults being their true selves.  It is disturbing, creepy and funny, like looking into the monkey house in the zoo and realising that we have not changed so much as we like to think.

It had all been going so well so I then decided to watch Blackeyes.  This 4 part serial was famously a disaster at the time. This was Potter’s follow up to his greatest commercial success and was perhaps an unwise move on several fronts.  Yes, the press were deeply unfair, but this was too complex and flawed a concept to throw at the public after a massive success.

The central strand is the story of a model who calls herself Blackeyes and how she is sexually exploited by men. To one side of this is a second strand which is the story of how the novel about Blackeyes was written, its author and the woman he stole her story from. And then there is the third strand, the narrator, undermining and mocking everything.  This narration is voiced by Dennis Potter himself, writer and director of this series and author of the novel it is based upon. I wonder if that means something?

Focusing on sexual exploitation of women is a brilliant idea on television because television  sexually exploits women all the time, often while simultaneously tut tutting about it. It is  common that rape scenes are filmed to be sexually titilating, and then we get to cheer when the horrible rapist is killed at the end. The joy of double standards. Throughout Blackeyes it is clear that Potter is struggling with the way he manipulates his female characters as well as the actors that portray them, treating them like puppets for his own enjoyment, questioning his motives. He is showing the exploitation because his motives are pure but then realises that maybe his motivations are not pure at all and he is also an exploiter of women. 

Unfortunately once you understand this premise then everything else is repetition of the idea. There is not much of a plot. Is it a murder mystery? A revenge fantasy? A whowroteit (rather than a whodunnit)? All of these are mooted but none gain much traction. There are no real characters. Do I like any of these characters? No. Do I feel sorry for any of them? No. Am I given any reason to care? No. Do I hate any of them enough to hope I might get to see their downfall?  Sadly no. 

Without plot or character all you’re left with is chin-stroking about female exploitation and while worthy it just seems dramatically inert on it’s own. 

So what we get is the endless humiliation of Blackeyes. At one point a man attempts to rape Blackeyes and she screams so much and for so long that a group of men and women wearily and reluctantly enter the room. Blackeyes protests that she is not a prostitute. There is a brief pause and then the room erupts in loud derisive laughter for what feels like five minutes. Is this too 'on the nose'? It doesn’t make for good satire. 

Which then brings me to the next problem. Every man (with one exception) snarls and snears. All the time. Even the narrator. 

Ultimately this nihilistic thrashing away is exhausting. Every scene goes nowhere - it only serves to hammer in the same nail with the heel of an old boot. My tired old brain couldnt take the dull, thudding noise after a while. And then to stretch such tedium over four episodes is quite frankly taking the piss - two episodes would've been better, a single 90 minute movie would've been ideal. 

A side note: Traitor and Blackeyes both have a camera man grumbling about walking up stairs to take pictures in someones apartment. I wonder why?


Because of Blackeyes I felt I should see it's first incarnation: Double Dare

A scriptwriter who has been unwell for a year and has suffered writers block meets an actress at a hotel bar in the hopes of finding inspiration. He has a vague idea of a story that would require the actress to play a prostitute, and wouldn't you know it, there just happens to be a prostitute meeting her client right there in the bar. She looks an awful lot like the actress. At various times the scriptwriter is aware of what will happen before it does. It appears he is writing events and not just living them.

We know that the scriptwriter is reaching out from the page, through the actor and talking to us directly but the lines are blurred.  At one point Potter’s character is incredulous that the actress would do a highly suggestive commercial for a chocolate bar but then clearly has no issue having the same actress doing a sex scene in the very play we are watching.  Is Potter manipulating the actress for sexual kicks? Is he manipulating her in his play and in real life? Does he want to sleep with her? 

Knowing that the entire play was inspired by Kika Markham (the actress playing both leads in this play) and Dennis Potter meeting in a hotel bar and seeing a prostitute and her client does give the play an extra frisson. What is real and imagined?  Is Potter really acting out a fantasy? Potter and Kika, sitting in a tree, script R I T I N G. The fact that the viewer doesn't know about this additional layer if they've come to it cold is I guess what lead to Blackeyes and it’s multilayered commentaries. 

There is a thing about this play I struggle to get over and that is the idea that female sexuality is something that is sacrosanct and pure.  I’m sorry but I just don’t think that an actress getting her kit off is that big a deal as long as she’s comfortable to do so, regardless of it’s at the behest of a man or a woman.  Potter’s hand wringing over it just seems to be a bit overwrought.  Sorry to be all capitalistic about it but I would be more worried his female actors got paid the same as their male equivalents for the same sort of work.

But I’m being a bit churlish. This play could not be any more seventies and it should be seen in that cultural context - at least Potter has the decency to think about this stuff and make it the central issue. In 1972 feminism was still screaming in its crib and I don't imagine too many TV screenwriters were listening. 

A side note: there is a moment in Double Dare where we see the actress in an advert for what is clearly a Flake but being the non-commercial BBC, and seeing as Cadburys were unlikely to give permission for use of their brand, it becomes the very similar Fraggie bar.  Intriguingly the Fraggie bar also appears in Blackeyes.


Anyway, Double Dare is a better use of your time than Blackeyes not only because of its succinctness but because it's a much richer experience with never a dull moment or wasted scene. 

Schmoedipus

And here we have a play that's just as weird as all the others but rather more self contained. 

The story starts with a familiar scene of a middle aged suburban couple where love died long ago and there is nothing left to say. After hubby goes to work (to somewhere remarkably like Reggie Perrin's Sunshine Desserts) the wife suddenly has a mysterious visitor - why it's Tim Curry looking all wide eyed and crazy. This predatory lunatic has some secrets and home truths to share. 

Schmoedipus is madness on stilts, and creeps like a millipede.  It’s barking mad, unsettling and absolutely top notch.

Part of Potter’s obsession here is with people reliving their youth - inititally shown with the husband’s model railway which he pretends is a serious adult interest. What he would have made of adults today with graphic novels, Star Wars collectibles and fizzy pop one can only wonder.

Finally, in a desperate effort to tie this up in a neat little bow, how about I list the serials/plays in the order I would recommend them:
  • Traitor 
  • Blue Remebered Hills
  • Vote, Vote Vote for Nigel Barton
  • Schmoedipus 
  • Double Dare
  • Stand Up Nigel Barton
  • (Almost anything else*)
  • Blackeyes 
* While reading The Art of Invective I was delighted to find the following and you can see the famous clip he refers to here:
"But more delight came in Parkinson (BBC1), in which mine host –his nervous fidgeting and fawning long since flattened into weary ease –played the perfect straight man to a puppet emu. This horrible bird comes menacingly alive on the end of Rod Hull’s arm. It has bright blue feathers, a yellow beak which curls into a snarl, long loose legs and eyes which Angela Rippon keeps for news of the pound sterling. I thought Parkinson was overdoing it more than a bit when he greeted this bizarre creature with such an uneasy simper, and I scribbled the single word ‘fool!’ to help find a way through my brief, exclamatory notes. But there followed a scene so manically aggressive, so outrageously funny and so perfectly staged that I managed to cross out the premature abuse before collapsing into the longest and loudest laughs which the glum old screen has provided in months."
Monday
Jan022017

Top Ten Albums of 2016

This year I took on a new job that requires a lot more travel which, looking on the bright side, gave me the opportunity to listen to a lot more music.  That meant this year I also had a much more difficult choice of what to include.

1. Field Music - Commontime

As my previous best of year lists show, I adore Field Music. They took a couple of years off (during which they seemed to work harder than ever), had kids, and came back with an album that is a perfect pop distillation of their strengths. David Brewis' previous project School of Langauage where he indulged his love of 80s soul-pop has leaked into FM and produced some of the most remarkable results. While they wear their influences on their sleeves it always has a unique FM spin. The Noisy Days Are Over may be influenced by Prince but he would never have written lyrics about struggling to party as you get older.  And would Hall & Oates ever have suggested their lover might be Disappointed? This album is joyous, inventive, and entirely apart from anything else around at the moment.

2. Sanguine Hum - What We Ask

After their previous prog rock 2 CD epic this release is a grab bag of songs from their early days. This is much more mainstream affair than their previous album and shows that not only can they write more conventional songs but can do it brilliantly if they wish. In particular check out Juniper that is a masterful bit of pop song writing that many a songwriter would have killed to have written. 

3. Weaves - Weaves

There hasn’t been a great deal of top notch power pop lately but this is truly superb.  They seem to delight in sounding slightly drunk and there is something just so uplifting about the organised chaos at work here. Check out tracks Tick and Shithole which are utterly brilliant.  

4. D D Dumbo - Utopia Defeated

An electronic album that doesn’t want to sound electronic.  When ever I hear this I can't help but recall the time when I had cassette tapes of Talking Heads Little Creatures and Paul Simons Gracelands. It's rhythms and rich palette of organic sounds is really something to behold.

5. Tigercub- Abstract Figures in the Dark

I'm always going to be a little bit of a goth and this superb album really scratches that itch.  What is most remarkable to me about this album is that it never falls into cliche and has loads of surprises from begining to end.  

6. Future of the Left - Peace and Truce / Christian Fitness - this taco is not correct 

I've been a fan of Future of the Left for sometime now so was only too happy to fund this album on PledgeMusic.  If you're new to FotL then you might not want to start here as this is a harder and more abrasive sound than previous albums - but it's a grower and there are some colossal riffs and lyrics here.  I've twinned this with Falco's latest solo album which is a great addition for anyone hungry for more. 

7. GoGo Penguin - Man Made Object / Naima- Bye / Neil Cowley - Spacebound Apes

Welcome to jazz corner.  I'm going to pile these all together because I feel they share an aesthetic - and also because while I enjoyed all of these albums, neither one really stuck out on their own.  I was a bit disappointed that Neil Cowley Trio's latest effort wasn't as great as their last two albums, probably because the space motif has led to a bit too much sparseness for my tastes, but don't be put off because there are some great moments here.  Similarly I loved GoGo Penguin's previous albums but felt this album similarly failed to take off despite great moments.  Naima are new to me and there are a few tracks on here I absolutely love (just try the first couple of tracks and see how you fair).

8. Three Trapped Tigers - Silent Earthling / Cleft - Wrong

These albums have little in common other than they are both instrumental and they have a prog-ish element to them. Cleft are shutting up shop with this final album and it's pretty amazing. 3TT on the other hand follow up their incredible Route One or Die album with a follow up that is very nearly as brilliant - an achievement not to be sniffed at.

9 - Knifeworld - Bottled Out of Eden 

While not as great as their previous album The Unraveling, this still has some great tracks on it. I Am Lost and High / Aflame are tremendous examples of psychedelic / prog rock.

10. The Monkees - Good Times

Let's be honest, it's not been a great year. Everyone has gone insane and pop stars have been dropping like flies. Thankfully someone had the good sense to call The Monkees and they came back to save the day. It's absolutely joyous to hear them, not just coming back, but coming back with what could be their best album ever (no mean feat). The best loved pop stars of the sixties not just surviving but doing the best work of their lives.  
Do you know what? Maybe there's still hope. 

Other Notables

There are a couple of albums that didn't quite make the list despite the fact that I really enjoyed them.
Somewhere between The Fall and Pavement is the experimental pop of Human Performance by Parquet Courts. The chugging Dust or the zombie rock of I Was Just Here are irresistible.
I also really liked Steve Mason's Meet the Humans - there are moments on it that really remind me of why for a brief period we all got rather excited about the Beta Band.
In addition to this there were a couple of albums that I became aware of a bit too late to include them but that I've really enjoyed a lot so far.
Firstly Teleman have come up with an album of really intriquing pop music - as if Kraftwerk met 10cc.. or something.
And the new album from Phall Fatale is a real oddity, a complex mix of styles that feels really new and fresh.

Monday
Jan182016

Top Ten Albums of 2015

No time for a commentary this year so let's get straight to it, starting with the best...

1. Sanguine Hum - Now We Have Light

2. Eureka Machines - Brain Waves

3. Dutch Uncles - O Shudder

4. Slug - Ripe

5. The Cesarians - Pure White Speed

6. Jaga Jazzist - Starfire

7. John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

8. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

9. Steven Wilson - Hand Cannot Erase

10. Christian Fitness - Love Letters in the Age of Steam

 

Other Notables