The books, records and cultural highlights you need this month.
The Flying Club Cup
Zach Condon, aka Beirut, was last year’s musical prodigy: composing and recording his critically lauded, Balkan folk-inspired debut Gulag Orkestar in his New Mexico bedroom at the age of 19. This year, he’s a 21-year-old with a record to beat. For his follow-up, Beirut has gone Francophile: Françoise Hardy and Jacques Brel inform the singing and strings, balloon-sailing pioneers and zincs infuse a stylised, sepia-tinted sense of history. Despite the geographical shift, Beirut’s itinerant imagination is still wonderfully at work on another bewitching set of songs.
Three average-looking blokes and a frosty Swedish songstress who thaws to reveal an eyeful of indie sexiness. This might have become a pop cliché since the Cardigans’ Nina Persson steamed up the specs of rock nerds 10 years ago, but Gothenburg’s Sambassadeur are a far more lively listen than the legions of lookalikes. Built around a backbone of faultless rock songs and solid Scandinavian melody, their glacial Persson (Anna) does a nice line in close-mic sensuality, her personnel love a bass groove and a tambourine flourish while allowing for a nip of Bergman-esque art-angst. About time, too: the world’s been waiting for an upbeat Nico to front a drug-free Velvet Underground for years.
03 Okkervil River
The Stage Names
Peering through the little hatch in the door, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Stage Names for a musical madhouse of hair-brained collaborations and mismatched inspirations. Look, there’s Robert Plant squawking along to Michael Stipe’s nonsense poetry, only to be elbowed out the way by some Let It Bleed-era country honk. In fact, it’s a studio where Will Sheff and his seasoned hands are polishing a rough Texan diamond of uneven, intense and stellar brilliance. They aren’t padded walls, it’s just a bubble in the beautiful wallpaper.
04 Mayra Andrade
Mayra Andrade is a young Cape Verdean singer who was born in Cuba, talent-spotted in Paris and releases Navega, her debut album, on a French label, in Portuguese. It’s a mixed bag. Cape Verde’s musical heritage mirrors its political legacy: African rhythms just about incorporate European arrangements while Andrade’s lush-yet-lively vocals lend funana, batuque and coladeiras styles a nimble, jazzy sheen. And what’s really wrong with being Cape Verde’s Norah Jones?
Five more for November
01 David Gilmour Girls — Vultures
02 Carbon/ Silicon — The Last Post
03 Cowboy Junkies — Trinity Revisited
04 Babyshambles — Shotters Nation
05 Scout Niblett — This Fool Can Die Now
The 19ème is becoming Paris’s latest artist enclave and gallery quartier. Galerie Balice Hertling has just enjoyed its inaugural show, a month-long exhibition of seven young artists. The Italo-German team of Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling confess they “are not completely part of the Paris art scene, we aim to be as international as possible”. Balice Hertling mount alternate exhibitions in the space with the Castillo/Coralles collective – a group of artists, writers, curators and critics from the US, France and Italy. Office space is also shared with the Metronome Press and Work Method, a curatorial agency.
Balice Hertling 65, rue Rébeval, Paris. +33 6 19 60 88 94; balicehertling.com
In August 2006, Iceland’s biggest band, Sigur Rós, closed their 13-month world tour with a two-week mini-tour of their homeland or Heima. The album they’d been touring for a year was called Takk and this seemed a nice way of saying thanks to grass-roots fans for their support and the grass roots, shale plains and geysers of Iceland for their other-worldly inspiration.
Dean DeBlois, fan and film director (Oscar-nominated for Lilo & Stitch), was invited along to record this small country’s big event. Being Sigur Rós, of course, the band were wonderfully wilful – no lazily-conceived 14-night residency at the Reykjavik superdome for them.
Instead, DeBlois records a bewitching musical exploration inspired by a geographical and social one as the band perform in a disused fish factory in the icy wastes of Djúpavík, rework their back catalogue in front of a community hall in Gamla Borg and brave the highland wilderness for a gig in front of no one but their crew. Intercut with the band’s reflections on touring and the nature of “home”, the result is a beautiful, spellbinding exercise in keeping it simple.
The DVD of ‘Heima’ and the companion double-CD ‘Hvarf-Heim’ are released worldwide on 5 November.
01 Old Men In Love: John Tunnock’s Posthumous Papers
Scots septuagenarian Alasdair Gray, author of Lanark, is a legend in his own teacake – or rather that’s what the titular hero of this his first novel in a decade is named after. It’s the imagined papers of a Glaswegian headmaster, discovered after he’s bumped off by a junkie girlfriend. Interweaving many different narrative styles and locations – such as Periclean Athens and New Labour Britain – peppered with striking typography and Gray’s own illumination-like drawings, Tunnock’s literary preambles bely his sexual depravity. It’s a hit of magical realism with a large dram of Weegie wickedness.
02 Evolution (In Action)
Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu & Patrick Gries
A reassuringly Darwinian volume in an evolution-deniers’ landscape of “Intelligent Design” and “Young Earth” creationism, this Thames & Hudson edition may be rooted in science but its pages hold a visual asceticism that make it meditative and mysterious. Emerging eerily from an inky background, its wondrous shots of animal skeletons – crab, cat, chimpanzee – have an old-fashioned daguerrotype look, conjuring up 19th-century drawing and momento mori symbolism. But as much as these bones remind us of our mortality, this book tells us why we’re alive. Plus, it’ll look great in a Pawson interior.
03 Festival of Britain Design 1951
This year, 56 after 1951’s original Summer of Love, the Royal Festival Hall reopened after a refurbishment and a new generation fell in love with London’s South Bank. This exquisite design compendium – part of a series that includes John Nash and Edward Bawden – is bursting with images of the souvenirs, graphics and objects from that postwar jolly. From the Festival emblem to tube posters and Ernest Race chairs, this is still-fresh design for nostalgia obsessives.
04 Guide for US Forces Serving in Iraq 1943
The War and Navy Department
During WWII, US troops were sent to Iraq to protect allied oil fields and were issued with a pocket primer to this far-flung nation that espoused a prototype “hearts-and-minds” approach. Covering everything from locals – “The Iraqi is one of the most friendly people in the world” – to manners – “Do not urinate in their presence” – this comes from a more respectful age. Would Abu Ghraib have been very different if Lynndie England and comrades had been issued with one?
05 ABC of Men’s Fashion
Long before The Sartorialist there was Hardy Amies. Originally published in 1964 this A-Z straddles an era that was just discovering youth culture but still doing it in suits. The royal dressmaker offered wry couture caveats to would-be poseurs. On bowler hats: “The only truly smart headgear.” On turn-ups: “You can’t have any.”