Archive for October 2018

Gig review – Beach House, 17 October 2018

This gig was a double first for me.  The first time I’d been to Troxy and the first time I’d seen Beach House.  Troxy is a Grade II listed building in London’s east end.  Opening in 1933 the building originally saw use as a cinema, the largest cinema in England at the time.  Its reincarnation as a venue for live music happened in 2006 and to this day Troxy continues to exhibit its Art Deco charm.  Holding over 3,000 people, Beach House packed out the venue for two nights running.

Beach House is a dream pop duo consisting of vocalist / keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally.  Formed in 2004 in Baltimore the duo have released seven albums, and were in town (with a drummer added to the line-up) to promote their latest, 7.

As you’d expect the set consisted mainly of tunes from 7.  While 7 has some great tunes – Dark Spring, Lemon Glow, Woo – there were to my mind a number of average tunes on the album.  Hearing them live however mostly shifted my opinion and I found that the live setting added up to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  The band also played some of their back catalogue including Myth from 2012’s Bloom album, a favourite it seemed of most of the audience including me.

Here’s a short clip of the band in action:

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Beach House are certainly a band worth seeing live.  Their dreamy soundscape seemed to wash over the venue and everyone in it.  My only regret was that the sound generally remained the same throughout the gig.  Victoria Legrand has a great voice and it would have been wonderful to hear her sing without her voice being embedded within a dense wave of sound, though that’s a minor quibble.  I’d recommend anyone catching the band so look out for them when they’re next in town, maybe promoting 8!

Book review – Written in Dead Wax (The Vinyl Detective #1)

I can’t quite recall how I got to reading the first installment of The Vinyl Detective – Written in Dead Wax (2016) by Andrew Cartmell.  I think perhaps it was something that Amazon’s algorithm thought I might like and recommended to me.  I don’t normally pay too much attention to what Amazon recommends to me but I guess I must have on this occasion.

The Vinyl Detective in question is a record collector / dealer, who lives a hand to mouth existence, based on his success or otherwise at acquiring rare and sought after gems in record stores and fairs, and fairs of the boot variety.  His social world, if it can be called that, is populated by the inhabitants of the aforementioned world, i.e. second-hand or specialist record store owners, hi-fi geeks, and his two cats.  His world is turned upside down following a visit from a beautiful woman who wants him to find a rare and priceless jazz record on behalf of her mysterious boss.  This triggers a hunt that takes us across London, including visits to innocuous locales such a church hall in Surbiton, to more glamorous locations such as LA.  On their journey our protagonist and beautiful accomplice compete for the prize with a couple of hoods and the body count racks up.

Record fairs and church halls evoke a quintessential England, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Cartmell has written for Doctor Who and Midsomer Murders, which might explain the easy co-existence between record fairs and a body count.  If anything, Dead Wax felt like a Nick Hornby novel but without the lists and with more chases.  Hornby’s world, if I continue with that comparison, also feels a little more believable.  I struggled to see our detective and his world as such; certainly not someone whom beautiful women seem to throw themselves at!  In fact, I found the latter to be more interesting than our protagonist.

At 320 pages long, the book isn’t a long read but it seemed to take a little longer than I would have hoped in its telling and could have benefited from a more ruthless edit.  Notwithstanding this, I enjoyed the tale which was more intriguing than I had expected it to be.  The boot and record fairs certainly brought forth some memories of my own, and which lent the book a certain charm.  Moreover, as a jazz fan, I always appreciate jazz being woven into fiction, such as in The Axeman’s Jazz.

I’m keeping my proverbial powder dry on the Vinyl Detective.  I like the idea so may well check out #2 at some point in the future.

Book review – Hit Man

One of my go-to websites is Do The Math, the pianist Ethan Iverson’s blog.  Not only is it essential reading for jazz musicians, especially pianists, but Iverson’s a prolific reader and, like myself, happy to share his thoughts.  I’ve read a few of his recommendations over the years, including Ready Player One, so I read a recent post of his, celebrating the author Lawrence Block’s 80th birthday, with interest.

Block is a crime writer who’s written as many lead characters as he has nom de plumes.  The character that caught my eye in Iverson’s blog was that of Keller, a hit man. The first in Block’s Keller series is unimaginatively, or is it imaginatively (as I can’t think of any other books with the title!), titled Hit Man (1998), (320 pages).

Hit Man is a collection of ten short stories, each of which stands by itself, but are sequential and related.  So if you’re not a fan of short stories, don’t fear as this might as well be deemed a novel.  Keller’s a New York-based hit man who drops everything at a phone call to travel wherever it is he has to ply his trade.  But what does a fictional hit man do when not doing hits or in fact when he’s on the job?  How do you explain your random travels to your neighbours or your dog walker?  What do you say to your analyst? What if, in the process of staking your intended victim, you get to like them?  What if you shoot the wrong person or have two jobs where the two clients are each other’s victim?  Hit Man’s the place to the find the answer, or, an answer!

It’s a well written book with a normal, well adjusted human at its centre. Only this human is a hit man. Keller is portrayed as a normal guy who just happens to kill people for a living. He’s not portrayed as a sociopath and I guess some might have an issue with this, i.e. the normalisation of killing.  Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t see Keller as a cold-blooded killer is that we’re not really exposed to detailed, gruesome descriptions of the murders.  And, for me, I guess this is the point.  If you wanted to read that then you could read American Psycho or countless other books.  If you want to read a book about the day-to-day life of a hit man then Hit Man’s your book.  There are four other books in the series and I suspect I’ll be reading the second before too long.