james debate
james debate

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Genre Electro-swing
Label Verywise Studio
Producers Caravan Palace

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In the electro-swing genre, few names hold as much cachet as Caravan Palace. Since their emergence in the late 2000s, the Parisian group has become the great mainstream success story of the genre, combining their jazz and swing influences with a modern club-infused style that manages to feel both fresh and retro at the same time.

If their recent work has shifted more into pop sensibilities, their new album Gangbusters Melody Club leans much more heavily towards the group's jazz roots. This is immediately apparent from their lead single and opening track MAD, a low-tempo brassy number that sounds like a surprisingly tense remix of Minnie the Moocher.

Fans of the group's more modern, dancey sounds will feel right at home with second single Mirrors, a track much more in the vein of Lone Digger or Plume. A bouncy, high-energy tune with an irresistibly toe-tapping chorus.

This is an album full of highlights, and this level of fun and energy is maintained throughout. Special 81 is another top track, with a kind of distorted big-band vibe, or Reverse with its fun tempo changes and sax-solo. But my personal favourite has to go to Raccoons, a super-funky swagger of a tune that is just bursting with fun. Of all the album's tracks, it is the one that sounds most different to the usual Caravan Palace fare, yet works so well.

Ultimately, Gangbusters Melody Club might be the best work yet from Caravan Palace, a sublime blend of modern dance sensibilities with retro influences that should appeal to a broad range of tastes. The production is silky smooth, with barely an ill-conceived beat within its dynamic, textured instrumentalisation. The whole thing is just a ton of fun.

Must Listen :
Special 81

Sunday 21 April 2024

Created by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Alexander Woo
Network Netflix
Starring Jovan Adepo, Eiza Gonz├ílez, Jess Hong, Alex Sharp, Liam Cunningham
Genre Science Fiction
Running Time 44-63 minutes

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It is safe to say that I was skeptical when I heard Netflix were adapting Liu Cixin's seminal Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, the first novel of which is titled The Three-Body Problem. As much as I love these books, it was difficult to imagine how they might be successfully transposed to the screen. This is, after all, a series that derives its success more from heady concepts than satisfying character-drama, with minimal action outside of the denouement of each novel.

I was even more skeptical when I heard that Netflix were putting David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, creators of the HBO fantasy drama Game of Thrones in charge of the adaptation. Not to belittle that series, which was obviously quite a critical and commercial success, but it seemed like an odd fit for such an intellectual, slow-burning piece of literature to be placed under their creative control. I certainly couldn't picture it.

It turns out I was wrong. Say what you want about Benioff and Weiss, but GoT shows that they clearly know how to make compelling TV that can expand even niche genres to a mass audience. With 3 Body Problem, it seems they may have done it again.

Reviewing an adaptation of something is always challenging. How much credit do you give an adaptation for the quality of its source material? To what extent can something be considered a good adaptation if it makes material changes to that material? 

It's a difficult balancing act to craft something that works in its own right, without losing the qualities that worked for the original. With their adaptation, Benioff and Weiss have made some pretty significant changes to the structure of the story, but for the most part these changes have proven to be good decisions.

To keep things relatively spoiler-free, this first season is a (mostly) straight adaptation of the first novel in the series, as well as the opening sections of the second novel. 3 Body Problem is set on present day Earth. Scientists have started mysteriously dying off in seemingly unrelated incidents, the only link being that each scientist had previously been sent a virtual reality game of mysterious origin. The series follows a group of five former students of one such scientist and their attempts to unravel the mystery, the truth of which portends a grave reality for mankind.

Right off the bat, fans of the novels will note some pretty immediate and significant changes. The original novel focused on a single protagonist, instead of five. I've seen some reviewers commenting that this character from the first novel was therefore "split" into five, with this decision usually being raised as some kind of criticism. To be clear, this is not true. If you see any reviewer commenting as such, then they are clearly only pretending to have read the books. What the writers have actually done is introduce the protagonists from later books at the beginning of the story. These aren't new characters, they're just appearing sooner than in the novels. 

While potentially controversial, I think this is a pretty smart choice. Television is different to literature. Whereas a novel might give you a dozen hours to get to know a character, the running time of a television show is far shorter. Introducing these characters, now, allows the TV audience to get to know and form a connection with these characters right from the start, rather than using up valuable narrative momentum to try and introduce unfamiliar characters later on.

In addition, to be quite frank, the original novels weren't perfect. A common criticism of the first book is that its protagonist lacks depth and personality, essentially functioning as a surrogate for the reader to learn about this world. In that sense, replacing their role in the story with the much more developed protagonists from later novels is a very shrewd choice that makes more efficient use of running time to develop compelling character arcs.

This also explains why the first season already makes a start on adapting the plot of the second novel. The protagonist of the second novel goes on to form a central figure in the mythos of the trilogy. If they didn't give us at least a taste of that now, that character would have had very little to do in this first season, making his later elevation in importance quite jarring.

So, while there are changes, in general I'm quite pleased with them. I think these changes make for better television and, in some cases, even fix flaws in the source material.

It's impressive how tight everything feels in this production. This is not a small cast, but for the most part each character is well-utilised. The showrunners manage to capture the key moments of the books, including some which are difficult to visualise, and often with creativity and ingenuity. The production quality, in general, is very high. The show simply looks great. The imagery, the special effects, the use of music, the moment-to-moment pacing and tension.

That's not to say 3 Body Problem is without its share of flaws. For whatever qualities they may have, Benioff and Weiss are not great dialogue writers. It's mostly fine, but there are a number of moments where characters will speak in stilited, unnatural ways that often feel like fourth wall breakers. It might be that they don't fully trust the audience to follow proceedings, or simply that they sometimes lack the dexterity to formulate the right dialogue. Performances are generally very good, but can occasionally feel a bit wonky. Often this is a direct result of the dialogue.

There is a slight issue in the pacing. Specifically, as the action crescendos towards the climax of the first novel, and then drops off immediately as the narrative switches to the plot of the second novel. It's pretty clear when that happens, and it does have the effect of the last few episodes feeling anti-climactic. 

Overall, I am pleasantly surprised. They've made a good effort at adapting a very tricky novel, and have come away with something that has broad appeal, without losing its substance. I'm very keen to see how they tackle the next two books. There are some very visually challenging scenes that they will need to figure out, and some real blockbuster moments of immense drama and scope. Unlike before, this time I can actually picture it working.

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