Here’s the brilliantly trippy video for new Mogwai song ‘The Lord Is Out Of Control’. Along with British Sea Power, Mogwai are one of the most consistently thrilling bands I know. I’ve blogged before about listening to these two bands for my writing music; they take me to the right place. This video is almost a glimpse of what that place sometimes looks like.
I’ve finally caught up with The Returned, which has not just maintained the quality of the first episode, but consistently improved across the series, growing in confidence, becoming ever stranger, madder, sadder. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve watched on television for a very long time: it’s Lynch without the hysteria; it’s Lost without the sensationalist cliffhangers. When a show is this good, eight episodes is not enough, and I’m glad there’s a second series on the way.
There’s a habit in these long-running ensemble shows – and increasingly in big-budget films, too – of ‘concluding’ with threads left untied – or introducing tantalising new story strands. Sequels and follow-ups have therefore become implicit. The gradual switch from ‘series’ to ‘season’ is an ingenious use of weasel words; season implies annual regularity, and makes the show a fixture, part of an ongoing narrative, integrated into the cycle of the year. New instalments are seen as part of a continuum; rather than stand-alone, self-contained sequences. This has clear drawbacks: I loved Lost, but the final conclusion to the show was incredibly weak. It felt increasingly apparent, as the show expanded, that they had started without knowing how it would end, and that each successive series was created to generate the next, rather than conclude the previous. With such a weight of expectation piled onto the final episodes, it was always going to fall short. The conclusion of Lost was less than the sum of its many, flawed, dazzling parts.
With a little courage, I think The Returned could probably have finished at the end of the first series, even with so many questions still unanswered. It would have been bold, but the last sight of the flooded town would have made the metaphor of the draining dam all the more apparent… but we have expectations of closed narratives, and there’s too much still unsaid. And when it is so incredibly well-made, a second series will be very welcome. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until November next year – and what’s 18 months for the best thing on television?
In the meantime, I’ll console myself with the breathtaking Mogwai soundtrack. I reckon it’s their best work since Come On Die Young. You can listen to some of the songs here, but you’d better get the real thing, just to be on the safe side.
Caught up with the first episode of The Returned (Les Revanants) last night – and loved it. In exploring the impact of the dead returning to a small Alpine town, it oozes the same surreal menace as Twin Peaks or Lost – but already feels more cohesive than those stunning, albeit deeply flawed, masterpieces. The story was thrilling and compelling without being sensationalist, the human reactions were as convincing as The Killing, and the cinematography, direction and editing combined into a breathtaking aesthetic. I’m really excited about the next few episodes.
Even better, the show is gloriously soundtracked by one of my favourite bands, Mogwai. (This trailer actually features the Raveonettes, who are also great, but they’re no Mogwai.) Follow this link for an E.P. of the soundtrack; I’ll definitely be tracking down the full album for writing music.
When I’m writing, I listen to music. I can barely type a word without it. Music helps me focus. Occasionally, I’ll use music to steer my emotional response towards a certain tone in my writing, but more usually, I simply need a soundscape filling the space in my head. I tend to avoid music with vocals – or rather, if there is someone singing, I prefer the vocal to blend tonally with the track.
I’ve returned to some records endlessly over the years. I’ve listened to Mogwai‘s Come On Die Young literally thousands of times. I’ve spent entire weeks working to the British Sea Power back catalogue on repeat – or Arcade Fire, Arab Strap, Throwing Muses, The Antlers or Godspeed You Black Emperor.
All these bands have similar musical themes: they drone and fuzz, they soar and soothe – but ultimately, the music they create is cohesive, regular or continuous. Their albums tend to run without breaks or interruptions, creating sonic soundscapes. Call it post-rock – call it what you like – it works for me. It helps me tune out and focus on the story.
I develop different soundtracks for different projects. My 2008-2009 novel-length prose-poem Meat was soundtracked almost exclusively by Godspeed You Black Emperor’s 2-disc, 4-track epic album Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!, while first novel The Visitors was heavy on Mogwai and British Sea Power (two of Flora’s favourite bands). As I moved from writing to editing and redrafting, the soundtrack changed, and I built a playlist that was energetic and snappy; exactly what I needed to fuel my 12-hour redrafting sessions.
Now I’ve started work on my second novel, the music has changed again. At the moment, if I listen to Mogwai or BSP – as much as I love them both – it takes me back into The Visitors. So I need something new, at least while I’m making the transition from one novel to another. Even as I’m feeling out a fresh vocabulary, I’m developing a different soundtrack. While working on Grisleymires, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beirut, Bat For Lashes, The Antlers and Super Furry Animals. Thanks to Last FM, I’ve discovered Portico Quartet, Hidden Orchestra and Bersarin Quartett, all whom play organic, slightly sinister trip-hoppy movie-type soundtracks. At the other end of the spectrum, childhood favourites Crowded House are also back on the stereo, though I’m not totally certain why, as they go against all the conditions I suggested above; but they just fit, and that’s fine. Most startling (to me) is that I found myself wanting the sound of wind chimes to work to, and downloaded an hour-long track of chimes and trees designed for meditation. I can’t see it lasting, but for now, it helps me into the world of my story.
Does anyone else need music to work? Who and what soundtracks your writing?