Silence: Not Silent Enough (review)


Scorsese’s Silence is a movie naturally within my sphere of interest, so of course I knew I had to see it, but between this and that, it took me over a month before I found time for it. Was it worth it? Weeeell…. kinda.

First, the good bits: the visuals are verging on genius. Rodrigo Prieto fully deserves his second Oscar nomination for cinematography. Japan (or rather, Taiwan playing the part) hasn’t looked that bleak, cold and unwelcoming on screen in a long while. It’s a welcome change from the usual way of portraying its landscape, especially in western cinema. You can feel every lashing of the cruel ocean, every damp waft of fog; the light, the wind, the rain, all play at least as much part in the first half of the movie as the actors themselves (it did help that the weather in London these past few days was the bleakest I remember). Somewhat jarring in all this is the use of sounds associated with Japan’s hot, dry summer – cicadas, summer birds – for the ambience, but I’m guessing it’s not something most viewers would notice.

Speaking of actors: there’s no bad acting in Silence (it is a Scorsese, after all) but of the three Westerners, a woefully underused Adam Driver steals every scene he’s in – I won’t be the first reviewer to note he should’ve gotten the lead; Andrew Garfield is mostly adequate – though he comes into his own the nearer the climax we get – and Liam Neeson plays “Liam Neeson’s priestly figure” – though more Qui-gon Jinn than Father Fielding. The entire middle act of the movie hinges on the performances of the Japanese, and what performances they are! A veteran comedian Issei Ogata is ridiculously brilliant as “Inquisitor” Inoue – easily a role of his life. Tadanobu Asano, here without his trademark goatee, is almost his equal, his polite, disarming smile hiding the cold, ruthless efficiency of a government official; it’s lucky he came in to replace Ken Watanabe, whose overbearing charisma would likely imbalance the scenes with the interpreter. Yosuke Kubozuka‘s Kichijiro is a shining light of the movie, a tragically comic character of which we learn tantalizingly little: a movie with him as the main protagonist would make a much more compelling story, if not exactly the story either Endo or Scorsese wished to tell.

So in terms of pure cinema craftsmanship, from cinematography to acting, Silence is a very good movie. Where it fails is the script – a script which Scorsese and his pet writer Cocks developed for decades, but which nonetheless suffers from several major drawbacks.

The deadliest sin is the use of narration. Ironically for a movie titled “Silence”, there’s barely any silence at all, especially in the first and third act. There were moments where I prayed for Andrew Garfield to just shut up and contemplate his predicament quietly for a while. I haven’t seen a voiceover narration this pointless and distracting since the producer’s cut of Blade Runner. There is virtually nothing that the voiceover adds to what’s already shown on the screen; at times, comically so, when we are literally told what’s happening before our eyes, as in the scene where some prisoners are given sake and the narrator comments: “they were given sake”. Scorsese keeps slavishly to how Endo’s book is written – the narration follows Father Rodrigues’s letters and diaries at first, then the voiceover keeps quiet where the book is written in third person, to return to voiceover at the end, just as Endo returns again to letters. I can’t fathom what made Scorsese film it this way, as if forgetting he was making a movie, not an illustrated audio-book.

The script is too uneven to be fully enjoyed; the movie’s a little bit too long, a little too repetitive at times, and the climax falls flat due to pacing problems. Its treatment of Driver’s Father Garrpe is criminal. A potentially crucial secondary character is reduced to a few bits, and in the end, it’s not even certain why he was there in the first place. I can see why Garrpe is important in the book, but in the adaptation his role fizzles out with barely any consequence to the plot or character development. Again, it seems like a matter of slavishly following the written source: Garrpa’s in the book, so he must be in the movie, even if his presence amounts to almost nothing. (Father Ferreira is similarly underused, though his role in the plot is more clear; Liam Neeson fails to switch between two versions of his character, and if his decision has any negative consequences, they are never clearly shown. He may have wanted to play it subtle, but subtlety at this point was not necessary.)

The one moment where Scorsese decides to modify the story – the final scene – belies both the message of the source material and the movie itself. The ending is far too unambiguous, far too easy, considering the complex and multi-layered psychology of everything told before. And, I feel important to note, it is a false ending, at least as far as the history of Christianity in Japan, and the Far East in general, is concerned. The sapling did not take root in the swamp, other than in the hearts of a tiny minority whom Endo himself represented.

What other problems I have with Silence are problems with both Shusaku Endo’s narrative and Christianity in general, so they don’t belong in this review. Despite these criticisms, it’s still a good movie – and definitely worth seeing on the big screen, if at all; I really can’t praise the visuals enough. It’s just a pity that it falls short of the brilliance it could have been if only Scorsese had more faith in his own skill as a cinematic storyteller (I mean, come on! You’re Martin Fuckin’ Scorsese!) and less devotion to the source material; although judging by that change to the last few seconds of Rodrigues’s story, even that’s not certain.

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“The Vanished” review: disappointingly cliche.


I first noticed this book because of the traffic it was bringing to my old post about Tokyo’s Sanya district. “The Vanished” seems to be making a lot of noise in the Japanophile, and not only, circles – and the premise of the book is promising: telling the stories of the “Evaporated People” – johatsu –  the deliberately missing people of Japan, those who have fallen through the cracks of the system and ran away to start a new life in a different part of the country.

But from the start, there are a few problems with the premise. For example, is Japan really a place with unique numbers (and categories) of disappearances? The book quotes the number of the missing, for any reason, at 120-180,000 a year. But in UK, with half of Japan’s population and with no natural disasters, there are 200-300,000 people going missing every year. It would seem the French author might find a more interesting story across the Channel, rather than traipsing half-way across the globe…

Another problem I notice early on is that, although the book was published in France just two years ago, there is already a sense of it being out of date. Most of the interviewees “evaporated” during the Lost Decade of the 1990s, out of fear of debt collectors and the mafia, or because of economic hardships their companies had suffered – which is hardly a uniquely Japanese experience. The Sanya as described in the book is not the Sanya I know today, with the slums and “extended stay” hotels being torn down to make place for trendy backpacker hostels, boutique cafes and art galleries. Abenomics may be controversial, but it’s changing the surface of the places described in the book at a pace that’s difficult to keep up with, and it would perhaps be more interesting to read about how the forces of gentrification and a flood of cheap yen tourists impacts the local population, rather than slog through another cliched description of the homeless sleeping at the train station (as they do all over the world), or a woeful tale of the author getting lost in the meandering, narrow streets of suburban Japan (it’s the 2010s, don’t you have a GPS in your phone?).

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Shining future: one of the trendy new hotels in Sanya

The one unique aspect of the Japanese “evaporation” that is, indeed, worth exploring and reading about – and which is the supposed main topic of the book – is the organized and efficient manner in which it is happening. Instead of the government or the NGOs dealing with the scale of the problem, everything is left in private hands. The stories of the secretive companies engaged in the “night escapes“, which provide everything from unmarked removal trucks to cash-in-hand jobs in remote parts of the country, make for a good, intriguing read, but they are too sparse and too few to make up for the rest of the book, petering out after a few chapters. The authors seem to be aware of it, spending far too long explaining how difficult it was for them to find enough contacts to fill out the 200 something pages.

Half-way through, the narrative degenerates into a rambling sequence of non-sequiturs, brief essays only vaguely connected to the theme of “vanishing” or escaping, and veering dangerously at times into the “wacky Japan” or “mysterious Orient” territory: the seclusion of the hikikomorithe suicide cliffs, maid cafes, the Tohoku earthquake, the North Korean abductees; these are all topics worthy of separate research, and having them thrown in among the other stories only compounds the feeling of not having enough proper material for what is, for the price (£12 in half-price e-book deal) a fairly short collection of words and photos.

These cliches accumulate until, at last, I am almost forced to give up reading further, as Mauger begins quoting from the antiquated and often discredited Chrysanthemum and the Sword“. This only confirms my suspicions that her understanding of Japan is merely skin-deep and full of preconceived opinions. It is a pity: a better author could take the subject and go into some really interesting places with it. Perhaps somebody having more sympathy to Japan and the Japanese way of life might notice that the “evaporations” seem, after all, a better way of dealing with the hardships of modern urbanized life than suicide or turning to a life of crime. That even though places like Sanya or Kamagasaki are considered “slums” in Japan, life there is still infinitely easier, and safer, than that in actual slums of Africa or South America. And finally, perhaps somebody would find a way to write an entire book about this single topic, one more deserving of the hype and raving reviews than this jumble of random, forcefully cobbled-together stories.

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Apparently, these girls also count as “evaporated”.

Black Mirror series 3, ranked.


[spoilers ahead]

[subjective personal opinion ahead]

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6 (6). Hated in the Nation

Boring, predictable and overlong, this one feels like a one-sentence pitch forcibly extended into a 90 min episode. The foreshadowing is very on the nose, the twists are straighter than EU bananas. The main idea could have been executed in a number of better ways, and the inclusion of the ADIs felt somewhat silly. I’d have expected more of the episode spent on exploration of the social media-mob-like mentality, rather than hard sci-fi gimmickry and bad CGI. I can’t help but feel that this is one of those episodes than in the previous, 3-eps long series, would have stayed on the cutting room floor.

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5 (3). Shut Up and Dance

None of the reminding five are bad episodes – but some are better than others. In this one, a simple – a bit too simple – idea is made decent by good directing and acting (I’m a sucker for Jerome Flynn). A nice double twist at the end redeems its lack of substance. It’s got one other thing going for it – I’m sure it made thousands of people tape-over their laptop cameras!

4 (2). Playtest

A straightforward horror. Great acting from Wyatt Russell, overshadowing everyone else. What makes this episode falter is its length – paradoxically, it would’ve been much better as a feature-length movie, with plenty of time to explore the inner horrors of Cooper’s mind. As it is, it feels a bit rushed, but still good.

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3 (1). Nosedive

Classic Black Mirror, this one wouldn’t be out of place in any of the previous seasons. Let down slightly by the ending, but for 90% of its running this one is a nail-biting ride in the vein of Fifteen Million Merits or White Christmas. The design and special effects are pitch-perfect – from sleek phones that make the iPhone look like an old Nokia, to the run-down “retro-futuristic” “old” cars. And the message is one that affects everyone who’s ever done anything “rate-able” on the internet – which by now, is pretty much all of us.

 

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2 (5). Men Against Fire

Not so much a cutting edge of satire, as a bludgeoning sledge-hammer. This is the world won and ruled by the likes of Katie Hopkins and her followers – only with better AR technology… but the chilling realization here is that the AR is not really necessary in a world where a publicist can compare real people to cockroaches and keep the job. And while every episode of this season attempts to tackle several social and technological issues at once, only a few juggle all of them as successfully as this one.

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1 (4). San Junipero

A beauty of the episode, this is Brooker at his most poignant and life-affirming. You’d never guess there’s so much warmth in the man made famous for throwing insults at a TV screen. The 80s visuals are as perfect here as the future in Nosedive. And it’s a great reminder that, for all his warnings and pessimism, CB is not some tech-hating Luddite.

Kindle Direct Publishing – Paperback


5111xg4qthl-_sx311_bo1204203200_1About a week ago, I noticed a new chart on my daily sales report on KDP: Paperback. Turns out, Amazon decided to cannibalize its own print-on-demand branch, CreateSpace, and offer KDP authors an option to drop their books to paper straight from the KDP dashboard.

For the moment, there is little incentive to do so on books that are already printed via CreateSpace. The options are limited – there is no Alternative Distribution, no free copies. The pricing – as you can see below – is identical to CS. The service is very much in beta. So for the sake of testing, I chose to paper-ize my haiku booklet, as there’s no chance of my experiment harming its sales  🙂

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Starting out, the interface is a combination of KDP aesthetics and CreateSpace options. You’ve got your usual setup, already filled in with information from the ebook version. If you have the ebook all set up, there’s nothing for you to do here other than approve and click Save and Continue.

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If you have the book already as paperback in CS, this screen is where you let Amazon know about it so they can automatically import all the paperback settings for you – although, as I said, at the moment there’s no incentive to do that.

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On the next page, if you haven’t imported CS settings, you’ll get a bunch of options to choose from. As far as I can tell, these all cost the same in print, except the difference in color and black & white. Here’s more pricing information from the help page – looks identical to CS prices.Screenshot 2016-10-22 08.49.54.png

NB, at the top of the second page you can assign your own ISBN, or let Amazon assign it for you.

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From the second page, you can launch the Cover Creator if you don’t want to create the cover yourself. Again, standard CreateSpace fare. The selection of layouts and colors is limited – I certainly would advise creating your own image if cover quality is important for you. There are a few bugs here, too – for example, only on the second time I launched the creator did it tell me that the book is too narrow for the spine text – after I’ve already previewed and approved the book to print. I’m not sure what the final product of this would look like, and it’s a pity I wasn’t told beforehand, especially considering Amazon doesn’t offer free author copies like CS.

Screenshot 2016-10-22 08.59.10.pngThis is the screen you get after uploading the content PDF and cover, and approving everything to get to the next stage. For me this took a long time, even though the booklet is tiny.

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The editor found one major problem: the content PDF didn’t fit the print size. This threw me off a bit, since all I did was save doc as PDF from Word, without changing anything – I guess Word took my printer settings for PDF? Anyway, the editor fixed the scaling with a push of a button, and the rest of problems were not critical to the quality of the book (mostly having to do with DPI of images and embedding of fonts, neither of which was important for this experiment).

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The standard 3d preview of the “ready” paperback

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The final page, as always, is the pricing. I thought the prices were better than CS at first, but no, CreateSpace offers exactly the same prices and royalties for its main distribution channel.

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Two versions of the same book. Unplusgood. 

Weirdly, Amazon is unable to automatically link the paperback and ebook versions, despite them both coming from the same source; same problem as on CreateSpace, but you’d think they fixed it for their in-house solution. I hope it’s just a matter of time, or of the service being in beta, otherwise it’s going to be a bit of a pain. If the two versions do get linked eventually, I’ll update this post to let you know.

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KDP and CreateSpace comparison chart

So there you have it – the KDP paperback. The setup is easy, especially if you’ve already did some work for CreateSpace version. If you only care about selling paperbacks on Amazon, this is a valid option – but you get that from CreateSpace anyway, and you miss out on Extended Distribution. Amazon promises to add that, as well as proof and author copies, eventually – and once they do that, I guess KDP will replace CS as the go-to paperback solution, but for now that seems a long way away.

The Museum of the Lost People – mad libs.


Here we are, at the Museum of ____*. It is a stunning building, its structure cunningly reflecting the history and culture of the minority it represents. As we enter its bowels, we first read of how the _____ first appeared in our country – earlier, probably, than most of us have imagined – and how they mingled with the society they’d encountered. They came sometimes as warriors, sometimes as traders, but mostly simply as settlers, seeking a calm refuge from the storms of the land they had dwelt in before.

We witness as their culture and society grew among us. Here is their temple, reconstructed; here is the cloth their priest wore; there is a festive outfit, and a description of a holy feast. A restaurant serving their traditional cuisine. Copy of a newspaper. We read the writings of their scholars and social activists – for the first time, since back then nobody outside the _____ community cared for such things.

We see as many of them tried to integrate peacefully into our society, while others shunned or even attacked it, and we muse upon the different approaches they represented, and what may have caused them. We read pamphlets written against them, often by people we now consider wise; we are surprised at the intensity of the fear-mongering, of the lack of cooperation and communication from both sides; we hear the appeals for assimilation, for abandonment of the faith and tradition we did not, and did not want to, understand. We feel the frustration of the more enlightened ______ at their orthodox brethren, and at us, for not making an effort to differentiate between the two.

We nod, sadly, at a growing, futile hope, as we see our society become more tolerant in time of prosperity, followed closely by dread as we sense the threads of anti-_____ grow ever stronger, as the worsening economic climate brings out the worst in people. We shake our heads at the irony of those who felt that the bad times are already behind them.

The last part of the museum is sad and terrible, but it’s just as we expected. We leave the dark confines of the museum shaken, but not shocked; after all, we all know well the history of how the _______ were destroyed, their culture wiped out. In the end, nothing they did to prevent our hostility mattered. We hated them whether they tried to assimilate or stay apart, to live among us peacefully or to fight us. We hated them simply because they were not like us.

We stumble out into the bright streets that still remember their shadows, looking around in disbelief. Was there really such a people living here, not so long ago? Was there really a temple here, and the faithful coming to pray to their strange God in their strange language, eating their strange food, wearing their strange clothes – and all that treated as normal, if slightly annoying, slightly threatening, by the “native” citizens of this once-multicultural city? And was all this really wiped out so swiftly, without a trace, almost without a memory?

We shake our heads again, and we walk home, promising ourselves that this could never happen again. Not here, not now. After all, we are not barbarians.

*) insert a religious/ethnic minority of choice.

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The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Anielewicza 6, Warsaw, Open 10-6 PM/10-8 PM except Tuesdays.

Snowpiercer – Review (spoiler-free)


Snowpiercer (or “La Transperceneige”, which is the much stronger-sounding title of the original French graphic novel) is a difficult movie to review. Going by the gut feeling, I’d have to say I enjoyed it a lot. When I left the cinema, I realized I was actually holding my breath throughout most of the second half, and my hands were shaking with tension: that is a very rare thing to happen, and mostly after watching an Asian horror.

The visuals are nothing short of stunning, especially in the second half (of both the movie and the train). Of the many recent graphic novel adaptations, this one does probably the best job of having a strong “comic book” feel without over-stylizing to a fault.

On the other hand – somewhat consistent with previous of Bong’s work – there’s a lot of wtf-ery and facepalm-worthy moments; the plot is shot through with holes like Swiss cheese, and despite what must be the third of the film spent on lengthy exposition dialogue, a lot of the symbolism, including most of the secondary characters’ backstories, remain unexplained. If you try to engage your analytic part of the brain too much, you may leave the cinema disappointed. Too many things just “do not compute”.

But if you focus on those, you focus on all the wrong things. The best review of Snowpiercer I’ve read so far (The Philosophy of Snowpiercer) says this:Snowpiercer is as good a sci-fi movie as Animal Farm is a farming manual. Despite the sci-fi trappings, this movie is an allegory, a brutal fairy-tale. Trying to over-analyze Snowpiercer is like trying to scrutinize Terry Gilliam’s movies for plot-holes and lack of realism. Indeed the closest cinematic equivalent to Snowpiercer I can think of would have to be “Brazil”.

The plot is linear almost by definition, as straightforward as the train’s relentless run, but that doesn’t mean it’s not smart. The movie has a lot more to say about tyrannies and revolutions than the average simplistic Hollywood fare in the vein of “V for Vendetta” and “Elysium”, and what it says rings more true. It is also much grander in the scope of its satire; even the very ending reveals still another layer of social criticism (hint: who dies, who survives?).

I can’t find much fault with the acting, given the material, though characters here are secondary to the plot. Chris Evans plays pretty much a gruff Chris Evans, or a less-crazy Christian Bale – imagine Captain America who had to live through a death camp. Tilda Swinton’s “Thatcher” is a delicious caricature. Hurt and Harris give decent, but unremarkable performances. By far the best are the two Korean actors – Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko – who shine throughout; you can tell they struck the best rapport with the director. I also enjoyed the largely silent performance of Luke Pasqualino (Skins, Musketeers), and I hope being in this movie will kick-start his career in Hollywood.

Snowpiercer had the potential for a 5-star masterpiece. It’s certainly one of the more engaging, thought-provoking and original sci-fi movies of recent years: it could be easily marketed as “The Matrix” of the new generation. If it falls short it’s because of too many unexplained quirks in the plot, and the fact that there’s simply way too much of the story left to tell, even for the full uncut 125 minutes. Perhaps if Snowpiercer was made into a trilogy like Matrix, or a high-budget TV series instead, it could have reached true brilliance.

2013 blog summary


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 46,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Random Access Memories – song-by-song review


Random_Access_Memories I first listened to RAM when it leaked on iTunes and Grooveshark last week; back then I could not focus enough to appreciate it. I had found it mostly jarring, except “Giorgio” which was already leaping forth from the headphones like a hurricane of drums.

I waited for Spotify version to give it a full, focused listen to, and the next thing I knew I bought the entire album (in MP3 – I don’t do digital anymore; that’s because I actually buy new records maybe once every two years)

One thing I have to say before going deeper into this. Like Brent diCrescenzo from Time Out Chicago (an obscure place to find a review you agree with, I know) I like to believe that I get the album, because I share similar musical experiences with these guys, albeit I got into the late 70s music a few years later than is socially acceptable. I get what Daft Punk wanted to do here, and I like it, and I agree with it.

I’m not a great Punkhead or Daftkid, or whatever fans of the group like to call themselves. Of previous albums I only really liked Discovery, and not even all of it. But I could always hear their music pedigree was impeccable, and their robotic hearts were in the right place. That a record like Random Access Memories was going to happen was pretty much inevitable, if you listened closely.

Reading reviews so far, one thing is striking: almost every reviewer has a few songs they like, and a few songs they hate, and they are never the same songs. Some might say this proves RAM is an inconsistent record, but to me it’s consistent in its grand idea. The memories may be random, but they are from a very specific place in time and space. The album plays like a radio station set to a 1976 Top Hit station; and the only way to enjoy it whole is to take all of the late 70s in stride, with no qualms or exceptions.

Of course, none of that would matter if the music was mediocre; but it’s anything but. The Steely Dan approach works, if you get the right people in; the Tarantino-esque collage of motifs and themes works, if you get the right sounds in. And Daft Punk does both these things perfectly. The melodies are catchy and instantly-hummable, and the rhythms are addictive. If they are robotic in their precision (as if that was a bad thing), then so where James Brown or Donald Fagen.

1. Give Life Back to Music 4/6

In “Rubber Ring”, Morrissey sings “Don’t forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life”. There is a similar sentiment here, I feel: don’t forget the music of the Golden Era of LP, which gave life to everything we know of as popular music now. This is a manifesto of the album: to honour that age and reinstate it in its proper place.

It plays just like an overture should, mixing and matching everything you’ll hear next: disco rhythms, funky bass, and stadion rock anthem-like guitar crescendo. By the time it ends, you should be prepared for the ride ahead of you.

2. The Game of Love 3/6

This one is a nice ballad, but a bit maudlin in its lounge-like smooth-jazz whine. What saves it are the exquisite keyboard solos by Chris Caswell – and the quality of the main melody, which like all good melodies is deceptively simple at first, until you start humming it.

3. Giorgio by Moroder 6/6

“There was no preconception of what to do.”

Where do I start? Not only the best song of the album, but possibly the best song of the decade. At first listen I was struck by most obvious qualities: the drum fillers, the Trans-Europe Express rhythm, the insane final battle between synths, guitar and drums. But there’s so much else going on, I keep discovering new sounds and mysteries. It’s so complex that describing it feels like posting spoilers. There will be disertations written on how they got that scratch-drum sound to work with the gated reverb so flawlessly. A true test of the quality of your speakers or headphones: can you hear everything that’s going on?

4. Within 6/6

Chilly Gonzales will no doubt experience a great rush in popularity, as people all over the world will keep asking “who’s playing that piano?”

This song has perhaps the best melody on the record, and the vocoder sounds as if somebody melted Chet Baker with his own trumpet. In arrangement, it is almost understated: there’s only enough extraneous sound there to bind everything together.

5. Instant Crush 5/6

Could you tell it’s Casablancas singing if you weren’t told? I’d say it’s one of his best vocal performances in career, even if mangled out of all recognition. This song single-handedly redeems auto-tune of all its many crimes.

Instant Crush thrives on its chorus, and is perhaps the most Discovery-like of this set. Indeed, with slightly different vocals it wouldn’t feel out of place on that record at all.

6. Lose Yourself to Dance 4/6

I didn’t like this one at first; I thought it’s just a repeatable, forgettable piece, like the lesser tracks from Discovery. But that was ignoring the whole idea of the song: it is a sound collage, in the strictest artistic sense of the word; they took the catch-phrases of the disco era: “come on”, “get on the floor” and “get ready” and made good music just from these three bits.

It still doesn’t quite work for me as a track in its own right, but the concept is admirable.

7. Touch 5/6

Apart from the fact he wrote “Rainbow Connection” I knew nothing about Paul Williams before discovering this song; now I know all there is to know, including having watched bits of the Phantom of Paradise, which according to the Daft Punk mythology had set the duo on course to world domination.

The beginning may be the third or fourth best moment on the record; to me it sounds like a Doctor Who villain reading a poem. There is an obvious 70s sci-fi vibe about the song, that gets later picked up in a more dramatic form in Contact: if Daft Punk ever made another space opera score, these two songs would have to be on it.

The jazz band/dixieland instrumental in the middle is just pure bliss, even though it’s incongruously sandwiched between two segments of straight-faced space rock. It forces you to wonder, just what exactly is the story being told here?

8. Get Lucky 3/6

By the time the album went out, everybody heard Get Lucky, and made their opinion. No point in reviewing this one, then; I’ll just add that, as great a single as it may make, it’s far from my favourite tracks on the album. It’s still a good song, even after all the overexposure, but apart from Doin’ it Right it’s one that I’m most likely to skip.

Also, in my head it will forever be sung by a three-headed Peter Serafinowicz.

9. Beyond 4/6

You can’t get a 70s homage without a grand cinematic orchestral sweep, of course. What follows is a song that I can only describe as “very decent”. I like it enough when it comes up on the playlist, but it’s not a song I actively seek out to listen. The reason may be that it’s invoking a vibe I missed out on in my musical education – or it’s simply not matching any of my moods.

10. Motherboard 4/6

Contrary to what some have said about the track, this is no throwaway tune. Motherboard is a thoroughly enjoyable instrumental that always gets me tapping my fingers to the synth flute line; the drumwork leaves nothing to complain about, and the spacey synths complete the Blade Runner-esque imagery. This is Tangerine Dream and Vangelis for the modern era; this is what the Replicants listen to in the chill-out zone.

11. Fragments of Time 6/6

Well, this one is obvious, isn’t it? Daft Punk take their Steely Dan inspiration to its literal  conclusion. It wouldn’t feel at all out of place beside Babylon Sisters or Charlemagne Kid. They play it so straight, and are so pious in their devotion to the original, that Todd Edwards isn’t even subjected to the usual vocoder treatment.

And since there is never enough Steely Dan or Steely Dan-derivatives in the world, this one deserves full marks.

12. Doin’ it Right 2/6

I think my opinion of this song proves how far removed I am from the usual Daft Punk listener. I can only guess Doin’ it Right is what die hard fans expected the whole album to be like; it’s by far the popular favourite in the comments sections of music magazines. Personally, I find it the most meh of the lot, almost to the point of skipping it when I listen through the entire record. If I leave it on it’s out of respect for the general concept: if Daft Punk deemed it right for the song to be there, that means it should be there.

13. Contact 5/6

Almost as good as Giorgio, this space-prog song sounds almost like a “lost track” off of Discovery, only better than any of those due to Omar Hakim’s live drums. I’m a sucker for drums, if you couldn’t tell by now, and when they are so prominent on the mix as here, the song immediately gets my attention. If it doesn’t get the full marks of Giorgio it’s only because it’s too straightforward: there are no surprises here from start to finish, no depth, just plain good old rocking out. This is the 70s rock moments before punk: the end of a golden era, cut off at just the right moment, before we stopped caring about melody and craftsmanship.

So there you have it. Random Access Memories is the Aja of our generation: for good or for bad, this is as good as the music of 2010s gets.

March Blog Tour Summary


tour_FIThe FMB blog tour is over. It lasted for 30 days straight, and it’s time to sum up the results.

It’s impossible to quantify the effect of the tour in terms of sales – at the same time I was running several promos which boosted the sales much more. But the tour was never about sales: it was about getting exposure, reviews, followers. And in that, I’m quite happy with how it worked out.

416 people took part in the giveaway (if you’re one of them – I’m still waiting for the ballot results). My FB page and this blog received a few dozen new followers – which may not sound like a lot, but is a considerable increase over my average numbers 🙂 I got a lot of positive reviews, more importantly, ones that feel authentic rather than the store-bought “couldn’t put it down!”. A couple of bloggers did not put up a review, which I suppose means the books weren’t up their alley, which I don’t mind. All in all – money well-spent 🙂

One unexpected result of the blog tour was discovering the world of Host Blogs – that is, blog sites that thrive, and indeed exist, only to serve as hosts for blog tours. Some of them post several different blog tour stops a day. Looks like a lot of hard work, so I wonder what the incentive to operate something like that is. I can only assume it’s worth it 🙂

Here’s the list of all the tour stops, by category:

REVIEWS:

March 2nd- Deal Sharing Aunt
March 6th- Happy Tails and Tales 
March 8th- Sweet n’ Sassi
March 15th- I am, Indeed
March 17th- A Book Lover’s Library
March 27th- HDWPbooks

GUEST POSTS:
March 4th- KMN Books – “How to write historical fantasy”
March 12th- Buffy’s Ramblings – “Great women of Japanese History”
March 16th- Paranormal Romance Fans for Life – “Ghosts and Ghouls of Japan”
March 18th- C.S. Jameson – “Building the World”

March 28th- Mightier Than the Sword – “What does it take to publish a book”

March 29th- Book Addict – “The Dragon King’s Blessing”

INTERVIEWS:

March 1st- Love in a Book
March 11th- Simply Infatuated
March 13th- Tamara’s One Stop Indie Shop
March 22nd- The Avid Reader
March 24th- Waiting on Sunday to Drown 

SPOTLIGHT POSTS: 

March 3rd- Musings of a Writing Reader
March 10th- Free eBooks Daily
March 14th- A Bibliophiles Thoughts on Books
March 20th- Books and their Wordly Realm
March 26th- Froggarita’s Bookcase