Music

Soulsavers: Its Not How Far You Fall, Its the Way You Land

Rajkishen Narayanan

Soulsavers are definitely capable of painting a picture that is emotive enough to enter the realm of spiritual, philosophical music. Oh, and having Mark Lanegan never hurts.


Soulsavers

It's Not How Far You Fall, It's the Way You Land

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
UK Release Date: 2007-04-16
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The wind makes the last embrace on your body. There is no warmth in your eyes because your tears have been blown away from your face. You see in the corner of your eye the last glimpse of the mountain of clouds behind you getting taller and taller as you fall faster and faster. The sun is caged inside a coliseum of golden nimbus gates. A moment ago, you were on a cliff at the edge of Heaven and then you jumped.

It's this peaceful melancholy that flows through the veins of almost every track on the Soulsavers' latest release, It's Not How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land. The team that is Soulsavers, Rich Machin and Ian Glover, has found a delicate way of conveying images of faith and salvation through stripped-down, empowering electronica. Granted, they've also got Mark Lanegan doing vocals for much of the album, but nevertheless, Soulsavers is definitely capable of painting a picture that is emotive enough to enter the realm of spiritual, philosophical music.

You may expect the album to be a big cut and paste job, with samples being used left and right and out of place guest musicians coming in whenever the groove seems good. Thankfully, Soulsavers know what's good, and they do it with direction and unity. At times, especially in the intros and outros of the slower songs on It's Not How Far You Fall, the music felt reminiscent of Radiohead's Amnesiac. Of course, don't expect the voice of Thom Yorke to enter your ears. That doesn't mean you should be disappointed either. Mark Lanegan has one of the most distinctive voices of our generation and it’s the years of smoking, drinking and everything else they tell you not to do in school choir that made it so unique.

It's hard to describe, but there's some incredible beauty to Lanegan's raspy vocals put on top of inspirational tracks like "Revival" and "No Expectations". For all his talent, Lanegan does fall short on one song, "Spiritual". Calling it hackneyed would be a little light. It's just so disappointing because much of the album makes a good balance of solemnity and upbeat alternative electronica. The piano and vocals are oversaturated with a pretentious desperation that off sets the rest of the album's honesty. Plus, the lyrics sound like something written by your local Christian rock band. "Jesus, I don't want to die alone / My love was untrue / Now all I have is you". I expected that last line to come, but for the sake of the song I prayed that it didn't. Oh well.

Apart from some minor disappointments, the album is able to hold its own. Some tracks captivate the listener with the atmosphere of a solemn reverence, like looking up at the sky and searching for God, as with "Ask the Dust", which is one of two instrumental tracks on the disc. The other instrumental, "Arizona Bay" put me into the setting of a dying farmland, with grass and animals destroyed by hunger and the weight of a sadness too great to make anyone lift themselves up from their dredges. It concludes, however, with an epic subtlety as trumpets and bells converge and the static that hissed through the song before disappears to reveal a man on his feet at the top of a grassy hill, chest bared and challenging God and the sun.

But this peace that is so integral to the message of It's Not How Far You Fall is also injected with a twisted excitement. The tracks "Paper Money" and "Jesus of Nothing" bring out this sentiment. Both have a strong jazzy, trip-hop feel and seduce the listener. To go along with the theme of spirituality that is present on the album, these songs are definitely a dip into darkness and vice, and it feels pretty damn good. If you recall earlier how you jumped from Heaven, you'll realize that for a single moment, you are the fastest moving object in the entire world. And soon, you'll be at the feet of the Devil, ready to laugh in his face.

6

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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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