Another Look at the Scottish Vote

Another Look at the Scottish Vote

The link above from Huffington Post examines the Scottish independence vote from another angle.  Apparently it had as much to do with the legacy of Tory policies as it did with any newfound call for independence.  One can trace the modern unhappiness of the Scots back to Thatcher.  The kind people still have a wonderful dream?…

Impressionistic Songs

I was listening today to the Cocteau Twins.  They were a band that came out of the post punk scene in the U.K., but they carved a very different path than many of their contemporaries.  They hailed from Scotland.  They are somewhat similar to The Cure in that they created reverb drenched dreamscapes, but they were much more abstract and lacking The Cure’s penchant for abrasive gloom.  Some of the earlier Cocteau Twins stuff has some gothic undertones, but even then it is often quite beautiful.  It kind of seems a cliché now to say it, but listening to them you can easily imagine yourself in some enchanted forest. 

The thing that truly sets the Cocteau Twins apart from other bands is the ethereal voice of Elizabeth Fraser.  She was singing in a way that was largely nonverbal long before it became trendy in the indie world.  Although at times she sang nonexistent words, it really had more to do with her style than anything.  Even when she sings in plain English it becomes lost in translation.  Her voice becomes an instrument of pure emotion.  Where often singing that obscures the words can be a crutch, a way to hide the fact that one has nothing to say; her singing is powerful enough to allow the listener’s imagination to fill in the gaps.  This is a beautiful sounding instrument.  One imagines that she was an opera singer in some other lifetime. 

The band backs her up in a way that is full of empathy.  They create the perfect bed for her voice to rest upon.  However, their music is not art rock in the sense that it is something to be appreciated more than loved.  There music is not purely intellectual.  Melodies still come to the forefront that are as catchy as any pop song.  If I was to think of a visual representation for what they do I would use impressionistic painting.  There is enough detail there to connect with the song, but it is blurry enough to give one a different view into what a pop song can be. 

Unlike a lot of the post-punk stuff that came out of the U.K. their work can be appreciated on a beautiful sunny day as well as a rainy one.  I’ve gone on walks on both kinds of day and felt reality heightened just a little around me.  There are some that might call this painterly approach to music pretentious, but there is nothing pretentious about creating something that creates strong emotions.  Emotions by their very nature are abstract.  Although the Cocteau Twins will leave you plenty to think about, they are band that makes you feel first. 

If you are interested in checking them out I would recommend their best of which is called Stars and Topsoil.  I don’t usually recommend compilations as a place to start, but this is a really excellently sequenced one.  Although they changed sounds over the course of their career, their different periods sit nicely next to each other.  Also, unlike most pop music that can eventually be figured out, their music will always remain somewhat mysterious due to its nature so that you will not tire of it.  It is as good of a place to start as any and it will allow you to see the different shades of their career, while also playing like a great record in its own right. 

Review of Under the Skin

I saw Jonathan Glazer’s movie Under the Skin tonight starring Scarlett Johansson.  It is a highly contemplative movie that features a great deal of stunning original imagery.  It’s not as surreal as something like a David Lynch film, but it is way more art house than most American cinema.  An easy way to decide if you would like this film is to be honest with yourself about how much you like meeting images halfway to arrive at your own interpretation.  I loved it, but can say with certainty that it is not for everyone.

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien that has come to earth whose purpose seems to be to lure men into a trap.  She does this by seducing them.  Exactly what happens when the men are lured into the home she is using as a trap is slowly revealed piece by piece.  The movie moves along at a slow meditative pace, where each image is parsed for meaning.  She eventually develops empathy for her prey and things take a different turn in the second half of the film.  Part of the enjoyment of this movie is putting the puzzle pieces together yourself, so I don’t want to say anything else about the plot.  It’s not a mystery per se, so much as it is a film that doesn’t hold you by the hand, and uses the imagery on screen, more than any dialogue, to tell the story.

The movie is cinematically beautiful and haunting.  There are several scenes that I know will stick with me for awhile.  There were several shots in this movie that reminded me of Japanese art for the way that nature seems larger, more mysterious, and more powerful than the characters taking place in the foreground.  There is a sense of dread that permeates the film, but even in the middle of this dread the images still have a sense of wonder to them.  The movie takes place in Scotland and the rainy foggy Scottish countryside in the second half of the film seems every bit as foreign as the early shots that take place where Johansson brings her victims.  One scene in particular, of trees waving in the wind, had me thinking that the woods were as alive and enchanted as a dark fairy tale.

The film is full of ideas, but I think different viewers will take different things from it.  Sex and gender plays a role in the film, both in relationships between Johansson and her victims and during some scenes near the end that I would rather not spoil.  The film also contemplates mortality and what it means to be human.  I feel like I have only just started thinking about this film and over the next few days it will be running through my head.

Most good movies are like short stories with some even approaching the depth of a novel.  This movie is much more like a poem.  It is a stream of images, where the story is secondary to the ideas and visions of its director.