The High Dials: Anthems For Doomed Youth

If you like your pop to have enough power in it to back 100 navies, you'll find this record to be a dazzling kaleidoscope of psychedelic flavoured confectionary.

The High Dials

Anthems for Doomed Youth

Label: Rainbow Quartz
US Release Date: 2010-11-02
UK Release Date: 2010-11-15

Montreal psych-rockers the High Dials took a unique approach to recording their fourth full-length album, Anthems for Doomed Youth. It was put together in a home studio that was built in an abandoned building that was once home to the Canadian Navy. The place was full of naval artifacts, including old nautical maps and a giant ship engine, and reportedly had a reputation for being haunted. That last little fact is apt for this band, as the High Dials are definitely inspired by the ghosts of '60s psychedelica. There are more jingle-jangle guitars here than the sound of coins rubbing together in your pockets. The space also offered a grandiose reverb-heavy sound, and Anthems for Doomed Youth certainly has a big booming quality to it. The album may have been recorded for the indie Rainbow Quartz label, home to the Capstan Shafts and Lilys, but there's a huge cavernous sound to the record that would make bigger label acts envious. The press release notes that Anthems for Doomed Youth is the album that comes closest to replicating the band's live sound, and I don't doubt it. This is a long-player that practically demands you to play it at ear-splintering volumes, just to revel in the hugeness of it all.

The style of the High Dials really harkens back to an amalgam of the Byrds, with a few pinches of the Beach Boys thrown into the stew for good measure. Or, imagine if R.E.M. had formed during the Summer of Love -- that would be just an apt descriptor of the High Dials' sound. Clearly, the band is a throwback group, though it infuse its sonics with the latest in 21st Century recording technology -- there's no fuzz or tape hiss to be heard on the latest offering. The album, while it is stuffed with generously catchy tunes, doesn't get much better than opening track "Teenage Love Made Me Insane". The tune is a delightful slice of heavily reverbed, phase-shifted Rickenbacker guitars and drums, a psychedelic high that wouldn't be out of place in the canon of both Roger McGuinn and Brian Wilson alike. The song is so sunshiny and bright that it'll leave you applying liberal amounts of sunscreen in an attempt to beat the UV rays filling up your room. It's one for the band's highlight reel, a song that also captures a little bit of XTC's sound circa Oranges & Lemons.

The second track, "I'm Over You (I Hope It's True)", comes off as being particularly Tommy Keene-esque, while next song "Uruguay", which the band's website notes was actually written in that South American country, has a particular Pet Sounds vibe to it. That's followed by "I Was, You Were", a song that has a certain Tom Petty-like feel and has a cute opening line that catches your ear instantly: "You were a ballerina / I was a box / You twirled around inside me / Until you picked the lock." And then there's "Chinese Boxes", with a countrified steel guitar underpinning it. It is a sort of distant cousin to Kim Mitchell's "Patio Lanterns", which makes it the least '60s-sounding cut on the first half of the record.

By the time "The Rich Die Too" rolls around at the record's mid-point, things start to take a turn for the melancholic. The last half of the album is generally much more subdued and not quite as infectious, but the songs are still strong. A particular high point comes with "What You Call Love Is a Lie", which harkens to Echo & the Bunnymen in their "Bring on the Dancing Horses" phase. The comparison isn't out of the ether given this band's infatuation with the Paisley Underground -- the High Dials recently supported Echo on a tour, and something must have rubbed off in the interim. Singer Trevor Anderson even tackles the smoky, nasally vocal style of Ian McCulloch to a T; those of you who lament the fact that Echo & the Bunnymen don't quite sound like they used to will find much to be awe-struck by. "Mysterio", which precedes it, is another stab at punchy power pop, and is the album's longest track owing to the fact there's an extended guitar solo breakdown tacked onto the end that wouldn't feel out of place on a lengthy rendition of "Eight Miles High". You'll have to make sure your speakers aren't too close to the walls, unless you want your wallpaper or paint to start peeling.

Finally, the album ends with a couple of downtrodden songs, including the sad "Snowed In", which has a longing Mellotron anchoring it. Still, even though it borderlines on the depressing, it still offers a catchy melody that will have you tapping your foot in spite of yourself. It definitely can be categorized as dream pop, and the song veers almost into borderline shoegaze. Then there's "Bedroom Shadows", which is a glacial ballad with a gospel chorus of female vocals slathered into the mix. It's a definite prom slow dance track if there was one, and it ends the album on a note that is quite differently stunning from how the record began.

With Anthems for Doomed Youth, the High Dials have made an album that might be hailed in some quarters as an instant power-pop classic. While it may be a tad too consistent sounding, particularly in its second quarter, there is a real sense of craftsmanship in the proceedings. It's a record that almost invites you to waltz to it, as it is so contagious and bubbly (save for some of the record's last half). The High Dials won't make you forget about their influences, which they really wear on their sleeves on Anthems for Doomed Youth, but the songs are so well-written that it doesn't really matter. If you like your pop to have enough power in it to back 100 navies, you'll find this record to be a dazzling kaleidoscope of psychedelic flavoured confectionary. The High Dials certainly take up the mantle of putting together meticulous, drug-addled, starburst songs that resonate long after this album leaves your CD player. Indeed, the songs here are not only anthems for doomed youth, they are, in the best sense of Brian Wilson, teenage symphonies to God.


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"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.

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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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