If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know
Have you seen Whiplash yet? In a way it’s a film about Jazz, however more than that, it’s a film about obsession. to some, in musical terms at least, Jazz and obsession aren’t all that different. As a film it’s an ode not to music, but to greatness. For a film about music, there’s very little thought given to the music, just about obsessively playing to the point of virtuosity, about playing not to make the best music but to be the best. It’s all about the obsessive pursuit of greatness, for the sake of greatness.
It’s also absolutely brilliant! Miles Teller is a revelation already as Andrew, the driven young drummer in awe of Buddy Rich and Jo Jones, under the tutelage of the frankly terrifying Jazz School teacher, turned bully Fletcher played stunningly by J K Simmons. Andrew’s driven to the brink of break-down and the cusp of greatness. There’s a scene when sat around the table discussing careers Andrew is asked “How can you judge a music competition, isn’t it subjective?” He replies with a flat, “no”: it only gets more disturbing from there.
It’s quite chilling to see how far removed from any form of enjoyment Andrew’s relationship with music becomes; the relentless obsession with being in time, and playing faster and more complex rhythms seems to suck all the joy out of music. Music is about being able to play sure, but it’s also about making a sound that matters. Natalie Prass dropped out of music school but she’s made an incredible record, not because of it’s complexity but because of how it makes you feel. The Spacebomb house band has many classically trained musicians, but crucially they know that it’s not always about making it as difficult as it can be, and sometimes it’s more important to be good than it is to be ‘great’!
Essentially it’s just Natalie, although based on a quick scan through the sleeve notes there’s over 30 other musicians on the record!
Classic country songwriting with wronged women and absent men, given a soulful edge by the full band production, resplendent with strings, brass and on Christy, even a harp. Imagine if Caitlin Rose had been the one to revive Van Dyke Parks‘ career instead of Joanna Newsom and you won’t be a million miles off.
Born in Cleveland, and raised in Virginia Beach, Natalie was a keen student of music, and so a music degree was the obvious next step. But, after a year of Berkeley and snowy Boston, she dropped out, heading out to Virginia Beach before shipping out to hone her trade in the harshest of musical training grounds, Nashville. She briefly thought about giving up music to concentrate on a job making sweatshirts for dogs – yes sweatshirt for dogs! Luckily she returned home to Virginia to record her album with her school friend, a certain Mr. Matthew.E White.
Born in the Mid-1980’s, the best time to be born, we can reliably inform you, she started playing music back in her teenage years and finished her self titled album around the start of 2012. However, following the surprise success of Matthew E.White’s album Big Inner, Spacebomb are only now finding the time to release and promote the album. Luckily it’s worth the wait!
One of the sweetest country singers we ever had the pleasure of laying our ears on, her voice is a languid drip of honey, an effortless swoon of a voice that will have Jenny Lewis (for whom Natalie has spent the last year singing backing vocals) and Cat Power making room at the top table of fantastic singers.
On top of that she’s mastered the art of writing the perfect country song; equal parts heartbreak, an “I didn’t need your bullshit anyway” attitude, and whisky! Violently waltzes on washes of strings and perfectly judged blasts of brass as it talks frankly and darkly about how “I’ll break my arms because they want to hold you” and “getting to know someone violently”, a page out of the Sharon Van Etten harrowing songwriting nandbook.
Christy is Dolly Parton’s Jolene re-imagined for harp “why compare my love to yours if we both know he adores you Christy?” Like Jolene before her Christy “can take the hint of anyone she meets but still the only one she sees belongs to me” Oh Christy!
Elsewhere it’s the stunning Spacebomb house band’s time to shine. The almost doo-wop piano and gentle brass of Why Don’t You Believe In Me, the rapid waltzing piano and smoky sax on Your Fool, pick any track and there’ll be one instrument doing something both perfectly judged and stunningly played.
When the best of the playing and the best of the songwriting comes together, as on the opening track My Baby Doesn’t Understand Me, it’s really rather magical! A heartbroken ode to a relationship that’s failed but you can’t let go off, Natalie singing “Where do you go, when the only home that you know is with a stranger?”, before repeating the line “our love is a long goodbye.” It’s a track predominantly about coming to terms with the fact that for all the best efforts and will in the world, this is a relationship that just simply isn’t working. Musically it’s spectacular a plaintive piano, giving wave to a gentle swathe of strings, brass and even woodwind. It’s like an orchestra warming up for the album that follows, then there’s a spectacularly languid guitar solo, and an omnipresent walking bass, it underpins the track as everything else meanders in and out of sight. A master piece in perfectly judged arrangements and production.
You’re a joyless, soulless, stone-hearted bastard? Or one of the men who Natalie’s singing about otherwise I really don’t know what your problem is!