Books: So it looks like for the foreseeable future, these monthly roundups will regularly start off with whichever audiobook has been soundtracking our bedtime hot drinks. (Until we manage to get out and see some Art, I suppose.) And for May, it's been Hungry by Grace Dent, apparently subtitled The Highly Anticipated Memoir from One of the Greatest Food Writers of All Time, which is a bit alarming. I mean, we enjoy Dent's restaurant reviews in the Saturday Guardian, sure, but that's pushing it. Apart from a blink-and-you'll-miss-it prologue (or whatever the sound equivalent of that would be), it's a straightforward chronological retelling of her life: growing up in a working-class home in Carlisle, discovering an unexpected family secret in her teenage years, moving to London with a vague plan to get into journalism, actually getting into journalism at a time in the 1990s when ridiculous sums of money were being flung at it, and ascending the ladder from Marie Claire to the Grauniad food pages. The changes in her lifestyle are mirrored by the changes in her palate, and she's sharp and funny on how food becomes a sort of alternative soundtrack to our lives. Although it seems like a heartless quibble on my part, I think that the narrative thread relating to her father's illness - which, to be fair, is literally foreshadowed in that prologue I mentioned - is a little too reminiscent of the way that one-hour Edinburgh stand-up shows now have to feature an injection of personal tragedy at the forty minute mark to be considered meaningful. It makes for a very uneven tone, as Dent still feels the need to keep the jokes coming throughout the darker final quarter of the book. These days, I think, we're all looking for something a little lighter before we go to bed.
Movies: Back in December, we went to the cinema to see Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, Julien Temple's documentary about one of my favourite songwriters and alcoholics. Shortly after that, they closed down all the cinemas in Britain for five months. I'm assuming that the two events weren't related. They re-opened the picturehouses on May 17th, and in the two weeks since then we've been out to see five new films - all of which have been watchable online throughout lockdown, it's true, but we'd made the decision to save them for the big screen. Briefly, here's how that went for us. Minari: it's almost like someone spent several years reverse-engineering an Oscarbait film from all the tried and tested ingredients - immigrants chasing the American Dream, the dignity of agriculture, cute kids, dementia-riddled grandparents - and then twelve months ago suddenly realised 'hey, this year's winner had Koreans in it, can we get Koreans?' Godzilla Vs Kong: it's blindingly stupid, obviously, but if you see it on an IMAX screen it's the best and most entertaining kind of blindingly stupid. Judas And The Black Messiah: this, on the other hand, is an unironically great piece of work, with stellar performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, along with stylish direction from Shaka King. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom: some more top-notch acting, and obviously it's tragic that we'll get no more Chadwick Boseman, but even he can't get over the complete failure to turn August Wilson's stage play into a piece of cinema - as The BBG noted, the script hardly has any dialogue, it's all speeches, and somehow the few cutaways to the world outside the building where all the action occurs make it seem even more stagey. Sound Of Metal: I've no desire whatsoever to see The Father, so I'm just going to assume that Riz Ahmed was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar this year, with his emotional performance as a drummer losing his hearing getting a turbo boost from a brilliantly subjective sound mix (which did win an Oscar).
Music: With five months of 2021 behind us, what are the musical trends of the year so far? The latest Spank's Audio Lair playlist of Recent Tunes Of Interest has a couple of hot takes on that subject. Links to videos included below, for those of you who don't believe in Spotify.
- Sons Of Kemet have appeared on my radar thanks to Hustle, their excellent collaboration with Kojey Radical. But there are plenty of other collaborations of note on their new album, such as this one with Joshua Idehen.
- First trend to note: this year's seen the release of several albums full of cover versions. Always a popular approach for an act that's taking stock, although that's possibly not what eighty-year-old Tom Jones is doing here.
- That might be what Soil&"Pimp"Sessions are doing here, however. And this is also an illustration of the second trend to note: a growing tendency to let individual tracks stretch out to ten minutes or so.
- This is an odd choice for a Pet Shop Boys single, isn't it? Sure, they've released tunes that you couldn't really dance to before, but a ten minute mini-opera is new territory for them.
- By comparison, the sheer brevity of this is refreshing. And I do like the idea of a pop star being called Billy Nomates, particularly if you pronounce her name like you'd pronounce Socrates, in a reverse Bill and Ted style.
- Max Richter's 2020 album Voices had some lovely music on it: his 2021 album Voices 2 feels suspiciously like a collection of material that wasn't good enough for the first one, though this one's pretty and atmospheric.
- Another covers album, but an odd one - Folktonic sees Estonian electropop guy Noep taking on some of his home country's traditional folk songs with the help of a series of guest singers. Sadly, it doesn't work as an album because he hammers every tune flat with the same four-on-the-floor beat, but the individual tracks are just fine.
- This is sort of a covers record, too: Marianne Faithfull reading out classic Romantic poetry over a Warren Ellis backing. I could have included her epic reading of The Lady Of Shallot here to bolster my ten-minute-tracks thesis, but unfortunately I studied that poem for O Level English Literature and don't particularly care for it as a result.
- One more ten minute take for you, as yet another New Order live album features the full length version of one of my favourite singles of theirs. They've come a long way since the 1980s, when they were responsible for some of the most slipshod live shows I've ever seen in my life.
- And one more covers album, as The Polyphonic Spree - remember them? - apply their everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to other people's songs, but spend far too much time making them sound like carbon copies of the originals. This underrated gem from the Monkees comes out of the deal pretty well, though.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for June 2021 is the 70th Anniversary Edition of the Kay Bojesen Monkey, which you can buy online from Skandium for a mere £155 (or £600 for the larger model). The page tells you a little more about the history of this Danish design classic, and also lets you buy one of the less anniversary-ish, less eye-wateringly expensive editions. Presumably this means that when The Belated Birthday Girl and I first started doing that thing we do, the monkey was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Imagine that.
What can you expect this month? Hard to say. As of last week the two of us are now fully vaxxed up, and potentially ready to take on the world again, though still in a responsible fashion. Let's see how that pans out. Feel free to chat amongst yourselves in the comment box below while you wait.