That I have unburied relatives in France. I take a trip to Ypres with my father and father-in-law. Over four days we visit sites on the Ypres Salient, the Somme and finally the industrial wilds of Dunkirk. By day, we enter our own private worlds and protect ourselves from the enormity of everything; under bright skies we shield our eyes from the glare off bone-white graves. By night we roar at each other through smoke in Belgian bars, silence the last thing on our minds.
We enter Passchendaele, which in the imagination is a maelstrom of mud and horror. The town has a bakers and a shoe shop with a sale on. We stop and buy bread and olives. Later, we enter the eerie quiet of a French cemetery. The wooden crosses in diagonal rows are stained by the weather and compared to the immaculate condition of the commonwealth graves look tired and of age. The cemetery is presided over by a blackened statue of Christ on the cross. Beneath him are two cloaked figures and an anguished soldier in his death throes.
At the end of the third day, numbed by numbers and names we enter Loos, site of one of the first British assaults on the Western Front in 1915. My dad has a book listing the locations of all 917 Commonwealth war graves in France, his uncle, whose body has yet to be discovered, is listed on a plaque in a cemetery just outside Loos. The day is fierce hot. We carry a frantic air with us as we find two then three cemeteries – none of which is the right one. Then it comes: The Loos Memorial Cemetery, by the side of a nondescript main road. We perform the well-rehearsed glance at names, the by-now vague shudder of recognition at a surname, a place name. We’re looking for plaque 91, and after everything there it is, in plain view in the shade of a walnut tree. Plaque 91.
There are 55,000 names on the Menin Gate, another 72,000 on the Memorial to the Missing of The Somme. Names of those never found. No bodies, just a name, a regiment, a job. There is something so vast and abstract about the weight of numbers that you search around for a viable emotional response – you look within yourself, or you look to the thronged ranks of onlookers for guidance. Standing here though, light-headed and swaying slightly in the heat, a simple collection of letters, a known name, and all that abstraction is suddenly given focus. I feel the air change shape as the old man breathes deeply, I feel him buckle and turn, bearing away the dark weight of things. I wonder if things of this immensity give us a glimpse of something secret within ourselves. Something usually inviolable. Catching a sight of this space within someone else has the feel of the sacred.
In some way, this completes things. We leave and drive across France back into the welcome flatness of Belgium. That night we roar louder than ever.
More Flickr pics
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Silkie Vs Mizz Beats - 'Test' (from Purple Love 12")
Etienne Jaumet - 'Entropy' (from Night Music)
Cooly G - 'Narst' (from Love Dub/Narst 12")
Leyland Kirby - 'a longing to be absorbed for a while into a different and beautiful world (edit)'' (from Sadly, the future is no longer what it was - TLOBF review here)
Wooden Shjips - 'Motorbike' (from Dos - M*7 review here)
Pontiak - 'Aestival' (from Maker - M*7 review here)
Wolves in the Throne Room - 'Ahrimanic Trance (edit)' (from Black Cascades)
Emeralds - 'Alive in the Sea of Information (edit)' (from What Happened)
Dean McPhee - 'Brown Bear'' (from Brown Bear 12" - M*7 review here)
Download: Megafaun - The Longest Day (from Gather, Form and Fly - M*7 review here)
Peter Wright - 'Snow Blind' (from Snow Blind)
Ben Reynolds - 'Skylark, Scorner of the Ground'' (from How Day Earnt Its Night)
James Blackshaw - 'Cross'' (from The Glass Bead Game - M*7 review here, my TLOBF interview with Blackshaw here)
Steven R. Smith - 'The Road'' (from Cities - TLOBF review here)
My Latest Novel - 'Dragonhide' (from Deaths and Entrances)
So here's another list to add to the already ennui inducing throng. I think it's been a great year in all manner of genres and for all kinds of reasons. Which is why a) this list spills into two posts ii) isn't really weighted in any grand way and 3) is a bit of a mess. And I haven't stretched to a write up of these because, well, we're awash with words aren't we? Here's to 2010...
Extra mentions for The Village Orchestra's I Can Hear the Sirens Singing Again, Kreng's L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu and The Neck's Silverwater, all of which are too long to feature here, and for Oneohtrix Point Never and Jon Hassell - both of who's albums I've got into too late to feature here...
There Will Be Fireworks - 'Colombian Fireworks' (from There Will Be Fireworks - M*7 review here)
The Cave Singers - 'Hen of the Woods'' (from Welcome Joy)
Tortoise - 'High Class Slim Came Floating In' (from Beacons of Ancestorship - M*7 review here, M*7 interview with Doug here)
Mordant Music - 24 Million Or Sell Neverland (from Shackleton and Mordant Music - Picking O'er the Bones)
Fishermen row a boat in the algae-filled Chaohu Lake in Hefei, Anhui province, China. Image from REUTERS/Jianan Yu
Chinese military singers take part in a chorus performance of patriotic songs. Image from AP Photo
A Hindu woman devotee offers prayers after taking a holy dip in the waters of river Ganga in the northern Indian city of Allahabad. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash
Dazzling, humbling 3 part suite of photos from 2009 over the Big Picture blog. There isn't much to say except go and take a look.
Album: The Invisible Mountain
Label: Utech Records
A review I done for the other place. This is a great beast of a record. Yes - beast. More to come on some Utech Records stuff soon.
Impale Golden Horn which came out in 2007 – Jenks Miller’s first album as Horseback – was a huge thing of vast drones set against a gossamer curtain of distorted guitar. Despite being a limited release it was generally well received. Well, via a couple of almost-impossible-to-get CD-Rs, Miller has arrived at The Invisible Mountain – a record that (mostly) does away with the shimmer and glow of his previous work and instead throws up some sort of primeval scurf. This is something akin to deconstructed stoner rock music – deconstructed stone music: a regression into its magmatic past. If the press release is anything to go by, then Miller is on some sort of quest for individuation, the invisible mountain a metaphor for a kind of self-combat, an inward journey towards that most invisible of foes – our own neuroses.
It’s hard to speak about the sonic nature of The Invisible Mountain and not use the present tense: it creeps and seethes; it is inexorable. The constituent parts are rudimentary: Miller’s own fuzzed and gnarled guitar is augmented by Scott Endres’ which at times, as on ‘Tyrant Symmetry’, provides a bright tone which works against the sludge of Miller’s; a basic wall of rhythm is provided John Crouch, a drummer akin to Brant Bjork, all space and ride; and alongside everything, like a dry gulch, is Miller’s rasping bark, which, despite its harshness, perfectly fits the overall sound. Together the 3-piece over 3 of the 4 long tracks find a sludgey groove, lock in and aim at the middle distance.
The title track is a damn near perfect exploration of the form. It climbs from a tattered mess of overdriven bass and drums into a searing riff and for the next seven minutes works and claws at itself, drags itself onward. If the individuation metaphor has any weight then it’s at its most potent here. This has the weight of labour, of midnight toil. As a consequence, Miller’s strange snarl is at its most desperate and demonic here – coupled with the sheer pulverising force of the track it becomes part conjuration, part exorcism. It’s actually quite astonishing and one of the finest drone metal tracks I’ve heard in some time.
The last track, ‘Hatecloud Dissolving Into Nothing’ offers some respite and suggests a certain amount of closure and self-mastery on Miller’s part. Sonically, the track is a return to Impale Golden Horn with enmeshed guitars creating a fog of drones and although the guttural vocals (at their most black metal-like) are discernible, they’re obscured by the wash of treated guitars. As the track reaches a point of climax, it spirals towards a near Godspeed like sense of drama, albeit with much less bombast. It’s a dramatic, heartening close to what is hugely affecting album – one that continues to work its magic when it’s left alone and closed.
Download: Horseback - The Invisible Mountain
How convenient it would be sometimes to off consciousness and carry on with ordinary behaviour. Imagine flicking a switch on difficult days and flipping into oblivion, knowing that your body will continue going about its normal business. No one would notice. A pre-programmed wake up would return you to sentience in time for a film or the football. Controlled automatism might be preferable to periods of physical or emotional discomfort, or sheer boredom. If everyone had a consciousness switch then the world, most of the time, would be teeming with zombies. Perhaps it already is.
Paul Broks - Into The Silent Land