Archive for March 2019

Songs from the Vault

It’s been a while since the last edition (January) of Songs from the Vault. It’s time to right that wrong, so this post is hot off the press. This edition is, like the last, going to be an assorted selection of tunes. No themes, just good tunes. I hope you’ll agree.

Up first is US band The Airborne Toxic Event with their tune Sometime Around Midnight from their eponymous 2008 album. I was reminded of the band when I came to a part of the book I’m currently reading, White Noise by Don DeLillo, titled The Airborne Toxic Event. A bit of Googling told me that the band took its name from DeLillo; it’s a great name for a band. The tune itself isn’t as great but it’s a good ‘un, and reminiscent of The National’s About Today.

Next up is a tune that I’ve recently become acquainted with by English singer-songwriter Virginia Astley. A Summer Long Since Passed featured on Astley’s 1986 album Hope_in_a_Darkened_Heart. Sticking with titles and names, the song sounds exactly as you’d expect it to; church bells, ethereal vocals, and cascading chords. [excuse the awful video]

Hope in a Darkened Heart was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto and we turn to him next. Sakamoto released the album async in 2017, on which features the tune Solari. According to pitchfork, the album was a soundtrack for an imaginary Tarkovsky film. Tarkovsky directed the 1972 movie Solaris, so you can add this up. It’s a tune which sounds both futuristic and retro. Seeing as we appear to have our imaginary hats on, you can imagine a vehicle traversing some alien nebula where communications are disrupted by stellar radiation. I’m running away with myself but listen and I hope you’ll hear what I mean. It’s a soundscape that I savour and don’t hear often enough.

It’s time to return to planet Earth. A Bowie track would work well here (Space Oddity, anyone?) but I did say that this was unplanned, including the link between Astley and Sakamoto. We’re going to go with Slowdive, an English band that’s been going since 1989 (albeit in different incarnations). Their eponymous 2017 album is a particularly strong affair and the track No Longer Making Time is a favourite. Whether you call it dream-pop, shoegazing, etc., it ticks a lot of boxes for me including anthemic choruses and shimmering guitar chords that could fill the largest of cathedrals.

It’s time to draw this edition of SFTV to a close and we’re going to do it with Haunted Dancehall from the 1994 album of the same name by The Sabres of Paradise, co-founded by Andrew Weatherall. I first heard this version of the tune (which differs from the album version) on Cafe del Mar Volume Two (1995) – one of the series of albums put out by the classic Ibiza sunset bar. It’s dramatic, cinematic and a fitting end to this edition of SFTV. I hope you’ve enjoyed the selection.

Book review – Gorky Park

Google ‘best spy novels’ and Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park (1981) will invariably be on the list, so it was high time that I checked it out. The novel is set in Moscow, where three mutilated, faceless bodies are uncovered in the city’s Gorky Park. Our chief protagonist is one of Moscow’s finest, Arkady Renko, who is tasked with identifying the corpses and finding the murderer. Renko’s investigation is frustrated from the outset, by corrupt colleagues, the KGB and by person or persons unknown, leading Renko to suspect that the culprit is being protected by powerful allies. Not only is Arkady battling the system, he’s also battling on the personal front; his marriage is on a downward spiral and he is falling short of party expectations, having been born into the elite with a famous general for a father.

If this sounds like a recipe for complexity and chicanery you’d be right. Over the 434 pages of the novel, I spent much of it wondering what was going on. I don’t mind this and in many respects it’s par for the course as the novel serves up its corresponding share of twists and turns. Despite the slow start, Cruz Smith also does a fine job at conjuring up Soviet era Moscow, with its seemingly drab and dispiriting existence. As for Arkady himself, Cruz Smith does a good job at drawing a believable character, albeit one that is again par for the course; brilliant yet flawed.

While Gorky Park has enough skulduggery to shake a stick at it’s not really a spy novel. What Cruz Smith serves up is more along the lines of a crime thriller, albeit set in Moscow. While there is a US-Soviet dimension to the book, it’s not of the spy variety. So if you were thinking that this book might resemble TV’s The Americans you’ll be in for disappointment.

Writing this blog I am reminded of Tom Rob Smith’s 2009 novel, Child 44. Rob Smith was clearly influenced by Cruz Smith and while quite different novels in terms of subject matter and era (Child 44 is set in the 1950s), if you’re after a crime novel set in Russia, I’d go for Child 44.