Music

PVT: Church With No Magic

PVT, representing legendary electronic label Warp Records, make an album of mind-bending and energizing music that defies genre.


PVT

Church With No Magic

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2010-08-10
UK Release Date: 2010-08-10
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One of the more interesting aspects of the “digital music revolution” (maybe you’ve heard of it) has been the consistent brand loyalty to independent record labels expressed by most listeners, all while their major label brethren have been increasingly consigned to meaninglessness. Merge and Sub Pop, for example, remain hallowed indie powerhouses. Even smaller companies like DFA and Jagjaguwar bring attention to new albums solely through the virtue of label reputation. Along those lines, any release by venerable electronica standby Warp Records will generate plenty of excitement among longtime fans and casual followers alike.

The latest record fortunate enough to hold the Warp insignia on its sleeve comes from Australian genre-defiers PVT. The experimental electronic-rock act has been around for about a decade, originally making waves as Pivot. Their new album, Church With No Magic, shows PVT changing their sound in enough ways to warrant the slight touch-up of their name. Previously focused on moody instrumentals, the band is injecting energy into their work through stronger electronic-based compositions and Richard Pike’s shapeshifting vocals.

“Community", the brief opening track, offers a sense of continuity from PVT’s previous work: a meaty synthesizer fades in and out above ghostly vocals, creating an atmosphere both dark and contemplative. However, PVT’s new direction makes itself quickly known after that song wraps up. “Light Up Bright Fires” shakes the haze off with aggressive breakbeats from live drums, joined by a bass synth line that snakes so low to the ground you’d almost have to dig to grab hold of it. Richard Pike asserts himself powerfully, his voice gliding from affected tenor to clipped falsetto, following the beat and pulse of the song masterfully. His performance here is a perfect example of how he brings new drama to PVT’s songs, enlivening them with a force never overly showy or domineering.

The album’s title track follows the pattern of “Light Up Bright Fires", with a syncopated rhythm and synthesizers simultaneously maxing out the low end and sprinkling the song with chiming keys that lift it to lofty heights. Again, Pike proves to be the song’s masterstroke, this time bringing an Elvis-tinged swagger to a more throaty delivery. “I sold myself out / In a heartbeat”, he sings, his voice menacing and seductive in the same notes. It's a formula and register that bring to mind Dan Boeckner, another singer able to bring a pitch-perfect confidence to his blending of rock and electronic elements in Handsome Furs. Indeed, Pike changes his approach each time a listener thinks he or she has pinned him down. He bellows into Ian Curtis territory on the fantastically woozy “Crimson Swan", which also shares Joy Division’s affinity for combining melody and dissonance in ways successful enough to seem natural.

“Window” starts to make sense as a first single, its intricate sampling rolling at a driving pace that underscores the urgency of Pike’s stadium-ready delivery. He sings, “I won’t slip, / I won’t fall, / I won’t change, / No, I won’t slip…” in the beginnings of a perfect pop circle, a looping chorus that would’ve been taken from the best of radio-ready playbooks. Just when he’s gotten everyone to their feet, ready to jump in unison, he and the band suddenly slow the tempo to zero before finishing the song at a stuttering clip, purposefully never regaining the momentum of the song’s early promise. It’s a massively frustrating moment, but it works on a purely intellectual level. By this time, we believe enough in the band to go along with the joke.

Fortunately enough, “The Quick Mile’s” skittering hi-hat and soaring “oh-ah” harmonies are more than enough to make up for the popping of “Window’s” balloon. Church With No Magic’s final tracks are heavy on mood, and all successful in their own right. Closer “Only the Wind Can Hear You” has Pike singing his throat out, surrounding by bursts of noise and a buoyant synth melody. It’s a song that gets more stunning with each listen as it unfolds and unfolds. PVT more than carries the Warp Records torch, matching the label for restless reinvention and invigorating energy. Consider Church With No Magic, like Warp itself, a mix of high art and pop songcraft, music that will make you nod your head both to the beat and to a sense of real intrigue and admiration.

8

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70. The Horrors - "Machine"

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

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"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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