Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pot luck

First it was Ireland - now it's the state of Indiana that has accidentally introduced a legal loophole that means drug use is something of a grey area. The best bit of the story is that the botched legislation that's created the confusion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is designed to make discrimination on the grounds of sexuality perfectly legal and acceptable. God moves in mysterious ways, doesn't he?

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Quote of the day

"I don’t listen to music, I don’t watch television, I don’t read."

And to think people have the nerve to suggest that Nigel Farage is ignorant! Actually, this is the man himself, in an interview with the Observer's Rachel Cooke, who amusingly compares him to Zippy from Rainbow on the grounds that "Little of what he says bears even the slightest scrutiny, for all that he interrupts with alacrity".

Incidentally, hats off to the Guardian for handing Farage's book The Purple Revolution to Will Self to review. Self is cutting in his characterisation of Farage, branding him a "puffed-up little saloon-bar bore" rather than the "swashbuckling risk-taker who beerily belches in the face of life’s vicissitudes" that he imagines himself to be.

(Thanks to Damian for the second link.)

Divided loyalties

Sorry Throwing Buns, but I'm no longer feeling quite so guilty about switching my Abingdon coffee shop allegiance over to Java&Co. It's partly the loyalty card, partly the possibility of sitting in the sunshine in the town square, but mainly the fact that someone there appears to have damn fine taste in music. On my last two visits, I've been treated to The XX, The Doors, The Shins and Johnny Cash's extraordinary cover of 'Hurt'. You don't get that kind of thing in Starbucks.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Roc and role

As the presenter himself wryly noted, St Patrick's Day was a curious date for Radio 4 to choose to schedule Gareth Gwynn's Little Book Of Welsh Rock. While the half-hour programme was nothing new to aficionados such as the Welsh friend I recommended it to and too short to give real insight, it was nevertheless a useful crash course for someone like me who doesn't speak the language and wasn't familiar with the bands and the history.

Satirist Gwynn traced the Welsh-language rock movement back to its beginnings in the 1960s with earnest folkie Dafydd Iwan, through Peel-approved punk and post-punk in the late 1970s, on to the so-called "Cool Cymru" set of the post-Britpop period (Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci), and right up to the present day.

In the early days, when the national language wasn't even officially recognised, simply performing "roc cymraeg" was a provocative and inherently political act, a means of fighting for the preservation of Welsh culture. As Iwan commented, the enemy and the objectives were clear. As time wore on, though, the waters became more muddied, both by infighting between North and South Walians over the concept of "proper Welsh" and particularly by concerns about insularity.

In his book Spoken Here, Mark Abley argues that the revival of the Welsh language is a great success story, one founded on the refusal to defensively close ranks and exclude outsiders and on the determination to reach out and (literally) spread the word - so the argument that Welsh-language rock partially fell victim to exclusionist dogma, preaching to the converted while remaining unknown beyond Offa's Dyke, is interesting. Gwynn highlighted the amusing example of the Super Furries being banned from performing the English sections of bilingual songs at the Eisteddfod, and responding in characteristically cheeky fashion by whistling them instead while handing out lyric sheets with the words translated into Japanese and French.

Welsh-language rock no longer has the political force and content it once did - probably, Iwan suggested, because those original objectives have been achieved. The principality has its own assembly government and TV station, things that would have been inconceivable in the 1960s. It's nevertheless a situation Iwan admitted pains him slightly. Young bands like Y Ffug are even consciously and openly turning their backs on the past - controversial for some of the older guard like Iwan, no doubt, but a political act in its own way in that they are refusing to dwell on battles won or lost and instead looking to the future.

One thing I took away from the programme was a newfound appreciation of the fact that Manic Street Preachers hardly sprang up in splendid isolation - on the contrary, despite singing in English, they belong to a long lineage and tradition of fiercely nationalist political music. 'Ready For Drowning', as a tale of the flooding of a Welsh village to create a reservoir to supply water to Liverpool and Manchester, has clear precedents.

The other take-home message was that I need to investigate Peel favourites Datblygu - commonly labelled "the Welsh Fall" - albeit in the company of someone who can translate David R Edwards' sardonic lyrics in the same way that Gwynn had Elis James to help him out. Edwards used to teach at the school my friend went to, and would apparently spend his lunchtimes sat in his car drinking vodka. Imagine receiving an education from a drunk Welsh Mark E Smith...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly."

Mental health charity Mind respond to the typically hysterical and sensationalist tabloid reporting of the Germanwings plane crash.

Country boy

When he's not terrifying young girls by shouting "The world is on fire", it seems Republican senator and wannabe president Ted Cruz listens to a lot of country music. Not that he's always been a fan - no, he's confessed he was turned onto it by country musicians' jingoistic response to the 9/11 attacks, rock's reaction having been a disappointment. Just what we need to succeed Obama - someone who believes Toby Keith's 'Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue' is akin to a national anthem.

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Running order

Who knew that behind the Road Runner cartoons lay a set of rules rigidly enforced by creator Chuck Jones?

(Thanks to Damian for the link.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Talking heads

The hottest ticket of this year's Oxford Literary Festival saw one national treasure, playwright Alan Bennett, in conversation with the director of another, National Theatre head honcho Nicholas Hytner, in the venerable surroundings of the Sheldonian Theatre - a very Oxford venue in that it's old and aesthetically spectacular but also stiffly formal and uncomfortable for spectators. Perched up in the front row of the upper gallery, I couldn't see Bennett at all and could only see Hytner's head if I craned forwards - though I did get a decent view of fellow audience members Armando Iannucci and BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz.

Hytner was nominally the interviewee and Bennett the interviewer - the former commenting on how strange it was for the boot to be on the other foot for once, though the latter was endearingly remiss in his duties and probably only asked one question. Instead, the Bodley Lecture was a largely informal chat full of anecdote and the warmth of firm friendship between two men whose long-term partnership has been absolutely central to British theatre over the last two or three decades.

To describe them as playwright and director/producer doesn't quite do justice to the nature of their collaboration. Personally speaking, it was a revelation to hear quite how much involvement Hytner has had in shaping the plays, even if only by offering vague or general comments on early drafts that were then taken on board by Bennett (such as was the case with both The History Boys and The Habit Of Art). Where Bennett has felt that certain books or stories were unstageable due to particularly important elements (the train in The Wind In The Willows, for instance), Hytner has been on hand to offer reassurance and take care of the logistics. (Interestingly, though, Bennett admitted that mention of War Horse opened up a bit of an old wound as he actually turned down doing the adaptation partly on the grounds that he couldn't see how it could be satisfactorily staged).

There was much talk of forthcoming film The Lady In The Van, the pair's most recent collaboration. Telling the extraordinary tale of the eccentric Miss Shepherd who lived in her van parked on Bennett's driveway for 15 years, it's based on the West End play of the same name from 1999, which in turn emerged out of a piece that appeared in Writing Home. Bennett was at pains to correct anyone who believed the initial invitation he extended to Miss Shepherd was out of selfless charity - on the contrary, he did so because when the van was parked on the street, people would regularly bang on the sides to disturb her and thereby disturb Bennett from his work too.

The film stars Alex Jennings and Maggie Smith, whose performances and talents had both men in raptures. Hytner expressed his wonderment at the intuitive and magical ability of actors to bring a script or even just a line to life and imbue it with new or alternative meaning, but declared himself equally in awe of and inspired by the skills of some of the directors he's worked with during his time at the National. Prior to taking up the position, he admitted to thinking as though he'd gone a bit stale, but as a producer, freed from any feelings of competition and rivalry towards other directors and instead wanting them to do the best job they possibly could, he revelled in the opportunity to learn new things and look at directing through fresh eyes.

Hytner's last day as director at the National is today, and he leaves behind a legacy of major productions, commercial and critical success, and improved accessibility for those who are not normally non-theatregoers. One audience member, understandably, wondered what the future might hold - but Hytner played his cards close to his chest, alluding to a new project but reticent about divulging details in case it doesn't end up happening, to spare his blushes.

As for the man sat alongside him, you can be fairly sure he won't be appearing on stage in person again - he expressed a horror of it, and particularly of the obligation to hold lines in your head at a time of life when the memory is beginning to fail. His talk of regularly being able to write only the first 20 minutes of plays before they fizzle out prompted one anxious audience member to ask whether this might possibly mean no more plays. Thankfully, though, Bennett assured us otherwise - apparently, the 20-minute barrier is something he's crashed into all his writing career, and it's not just a recent symptom of age.

As this was the Bodley Lecture, and in recognition of his "outstanding contributions ... to the worlds of communications and literature", the evening ended with Hytner being awarded the Bodley Medal - in true Oxford style, fashioned out of copper salvaged from the original roof of the Bodleian Library. However, as Bennett quipped right at the beginning, they're both guaranteed theatrical immortality regardless of their own achievements, having played a small part in the inexorable rise of James Corden...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inside job

Well done, Auntie - no, not just for coming to your senses and (finally) sacking Jeremy Clarkson, but also for commissioning a second series of Inside No. 9, which kicks off tonight. Creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have been talking about it with their employers ahead of transmission, with the former seemingly slightly nervous about the critical and popular reception it might get: "It's like presenting your baby to the world and them passing judgement on it. You feel protective of it, you want it to be liked."

That said, the pair's track record is extremely good and consequently they've had the luxury of being trusted by the Beeb, left to their own devices to do what they want rather than having TV execs breathing down their necks. The results, Shearsmith says, are "hopefully subtler than stuff we've done before" - an intriguing comment, given that "subtle" is one of the last words that would spring to mind when describing League Of Gentlemen. The proof, of course, will be in the viewing...

Hen picked

In English, it might be a gendered term, but in Swedish "hen" is a gender-neutral pronoun - and it's just been officially added to the dictionary. It's taken a while to get this far, though - the term was first coined in the 1960s but failed to catch on.

What about the prospects of such a pronoun in English? As Gary Nunn underlines, it's not as though there haven't been efforts to introduce one - more than 100, in fact, over the course of a century. It's just that creating a term is only a fraction of the battle - getting consensus on a particular term and propelling it into common currency and usage is a much more significant challenge. Language usually changes and develops organically, so to try to do anything in a prescriptive or deterministic way is problematic.

However, Nunn concludes that a unisex pronoun would be desirable, and not only for socially/politically progressive reasons. Speaking as a copy-editor/proofreader, it would thankfully remove the need to use one of those two painfully grammatically unsatisfactory options, "he/she" and "they".

Punked by metallers

If it irritates you to see Ramones, Motorhead and Iron Maiden T-shirts sold in high-street shops and worn purely as fashion accessories (as it does me), then you'll like the fact that metallers have fought back. In selling metal-themed clothing adorned with the names of fictional bands, H&M may have sidestepped licensing issues, but instead left themselves wide open to attack from a bunch of savvy metalheads, who fleshed out the mock acts, complete with biographies, tour dates, music and extremely questionable taste.

(Thanks to Nick for the link.)

Kitchen sink drama

A reason to love Jay Rayner just that little bit more: he's weighed in against Michael Gove's wife Sarah Vine over her snooty comments about the Milibands' kitchen - comments that Private Eye pointed out were all the more interesting given that the high-quality fixtures and fittings in Vine's own kitchen were bought at the taxpayer's expense...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Playing it safe

THE LITTLE UNSAID / WALTZ IN THE SHALLOW END, 7TH MARCH 2015, OXFORD CELLAR

As Oxford music/arts collectives go, Bear On A Bicycle are the gawkier, more-awkward-around-members-of-the-opposite-sex cousins of the cooler- and holier-than-thou Blessing Force. Think acoustic guitars, xylophones and hairslides rather than fiddly time signatures and 80s production gloss.

Waltz In The Shallow End, just back from a recent tour, may feature BOAB founder member Jordan O'Shea alongside Kaye Dougall and Trenton Smith, but at first the trio's sunshiney (and, if truth be told, rather grating) tweepop is some way removed from his lachrymose solo material.

However, while the grins and goofy banter remain throughout, the metaphorical storm clouds roll in with the more aggressive 'Foxtrot Fitzgerald' and a lyric about "being better off dead", while the penultimate song's repeated refrain "Are we madly in love with you?" is simple, resonant and beautifully harmonised. Nightshift may not be madly in love with you quite yet, Waltz In The Shallow End, but our initial frostiness has certainly melted away.

Thanking your audience for attending by reminding them that "You could be doing anything else - you could be having a foot spa" is a potentially risky business, in that it may prompt some people to come to their senses and walk out. But multi-instrumentalist John Elliott, the man behind The Little Unsaid, clearly feels there's no danger of that; not only does he have firm faith in the quality of his songs, he's also hoping or even expecting us to share that faith. The band - Elliott, accompanied by bassist, drummer and viola player - are in the midst of recording a new album, Fisher King, with local producer Graeme Stewart, and Elliott is asking for crowdfunding assistance to ensure it sees the light of day.

After the first song, I'm tempted to find the nearest cash machine and withdraw my life savings, such is the whirlwind their amped-up indie folk kicks up. But after a while, I'm glad I resisted. Though there's a measure of anger and darkness in the lyrical content (the image of horses dragging bodies through the street is particularly memorable), things never get quite so bitter or bleak as to make the dubious endorsements they've received from Whispering Bob Harris and Jeff Buckley's mum seem improbable. Elliott has covered Nick Cave and at one point cites Tom Waits, but lacks their maverick spirit, offering little that would seriously unsettle a Radio 2 listener.

'Riot Song' is a case in point. Despite that title, some crashing crescendos and the sounds of police sirens and lampposts going through windows sampled from YouTube footage of the London riots, it's all a bit too neat and well mannered, as though you're watching the violent tumult on TV in the comfort of your own living room, rather than first-hand on a street corner, with bricks whistling past your ears.

There's no denying that Elliott and accomplices are accomplished musicians, and plenty of the gig-goers adding lusty vocals to set-closing sea shanty 'Lead The Way' would be happy to dip into their pockets to help fund their future, but personally I'd have preferred something a bit more raw and ragged.

(An edited version of this review appears in the new April issue of Nightshift, available to peruse here.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Home truths

When the BBC's James Lansdale was invited to interview David Cameron in and around the family home in the Cotswolds, the results were always going to be excruciating to watch. But what - other than that he won't stand for a third term - did we learn? That he cheers on his son on the touchline of the football pitch like someone who's never watched a game in their life. That he's not above a bit of Carry On-style innuendo in the butchers (surely "I like the thighs, because they're very juicy" must have been a knowing comment?). And that his daughter feels so strongly about Jeremy Clarkson's treatment by the BBC that she's threatened to go on hunger strike until he's reinstated. If you can think of a more noble and honourable cause for which to go on hunger strike, let me know. I'm sure I can't.

"The genius that sort of sits over everyone"

It may be slightly frustrating for a UK readership in the way it patiently explains snooker, but this New Yorker profile of Ronnie O'Sullivan is a superb portrait of one of the most fascinating sportsmen around - someone whose personal life has been turbulent (to say the least) and who remains psychologically brittle, but who nevertheless possesses outrageous, breathtaking talent and is up there with the game's greats.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Creative creatures

Architects have a tendency to be po-faced and take themselves very seriously - so it's refreshing to come across Italian Federico Babina, whose playful and imaginative ARCHIZOO project finds him transforming internationally renowned architectural icons into a menagerie of different animals. You wonder what the "starchitects" whose projects have received the ARCHIZOO treatment would make of the results.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Know your station

I’ve come to the realisation that Thomas The Tank Engine is a classic example of what Louis Althusser referred to as "ideological state apparatus", serving as covert propaganda designed to inculcate unquestioning obedience and the value of hard work in our young. Sodor is a totalitarian society in which challenges to the ostensibly benevolent authority of the state (the aptly named Fat Controller) are shown to result in disaster, and order is only restored when the engines do as they’re told, accept their designated roles and prove themselves to be Really Useful parts in the service of the whole. We must not allow our children to be brainwashed, and must expose them to the psychedelic anarchy of In The Night Garden instead.

(Incidentally, it turns out that a Canadian professor of political science reached much the same conclusion a few years ago.)

Quote of the day

"Protest never works. Because we are all plankton. And the world is run by whales. You can be a big and important plankton but that doesn't make a jot of difference if a whale has decided to eat you up. You can get a million other plankton to dress up and wave banners but Mr Whale won't even notice."

Jeremy Clarkson writing in his column in the Sun on Saturday, with a comment that couldn't better exemplify the argument of Guardian columnists Hadley Freeman and Suzanne Moore that he seems to regard himself as a victimised man of the people rather than the obnoxious privileged bully he really is.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Southern man

Not unlike Foo Fighters' recent Sonic Highways project (of which I saw only the New York episode, sadly), Reginald D Hunter's Songs Of The South looked at the peculiar and powerful connections between music and place - and did so to illuminating and entertaining effect.

The first programme in the three-part BBC series saw comedian Hunter travel around Tennessee and Kentucky, inevitably paying a visit to Nashville but also giving sympathetic depictions of the European folk-influenced rural bluegrass and hillbilly traditions so often derided as ignorant or racist. It served as a great introduction to The Handsome Family, a band I've been meaning to investigate for years, and to the convention of the murder ballad (through 'Knoxville Girl').

Blackface minstrelsy was considered, too, in keeping with Hunter's view that that dark stain is part of the South's history and can't - and shouldn't - be airbrushed out of the picture. Even there the programme offered a nuanced perspective, implicitly endorsing the opinion of one interviewee that Stephen Foster (compositor of Southern classics 'Old Folks At Home' and 'My Old Kentucky Home') sought to effect change from within the tradition by attempting to provoke compassion for the slaves as opposed to mockery.

Alabama and Hunter's home state Georgia were next - but, as he noted, the lyrical obsession with home remained constant despite having crossed state lines. The episode began with an encounter with Lynyrd Skynryd, creators of 'Sweet Home Alabama' whose home is the rather less poetic Jacksonville in Florida, before moving to consider the FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals which played a huge part in battling against the artificial racial divides by uniting black vocalists like Aretha Franklin with white session musicians.

The importance of gospel music to various Southern musics was underlined during a visit to a chapel, Hunter noting how many soul singers started off in religious circles before crossing to the other side of the tracks, so to speak. Speech of Arrested Development argued that gospel is what lends Southern hip-hop the soulfulness that distinguishes it from the harder-edged styles of New York and LA, while Ludacris told Hunter that he feels the distinctive solidarity and togetherness of Atlantan rap is ultimately evidence of the legacy of the civil rights movement.

In the third and final installment, Hunter explored Mississippi and Louisiana, delving into the roots of blues - both the delta blues of Charlie Patton and the hill country variety popularised by R L Burnside. Along the way he visited a juke joint (added to my list of places to call in on when I get round to my own trans-American road trip), introduced me to another splendid slice of Southern Gothic (Bobbie Gentry's 'Ode To Billie Joe') and argued that Stax rather than the more legendary Sun should be regarded as Memphis' most significant record label for promoting race interrelations in the same way as FAME in Muscle Shoals.

It ended, perhaps inevitably, in New Orleans - for Hunter, "the most unAmerican American city, and America is much the richer for it". The impact of Hurricane Katrina was an obvious focus, with Alain Toussaint suggesting that, rather than allowing things to just drift along (as is their wont), New Orleans natives have been spurred into a show of strength by the disaster, with a "spike" in the quality of the city's musical output.

The series was largely celebratory in tone; on occasions, though, there was anger and disgust behind Hunter's words. Take, for instance, his comments about the way Beale Street in Memphis was allowed to die but has since been revived, transformed into a marketable commodity and sold back to tourists as a cultural mecca - "what America does best", he observed bitterly. The fact that he was shown exploring the recreation of Dolly Parton's childhood Tennessee home at her Dollywood theme park rather than the original building made much the same point. In the final programme, Hunter expressed his bemusement that the crossroads where Robert Johnson is alleged to have sold his soul to the devil is now surrounded by places you can buy fried chicken. Originally, music in the South was all about self-expression, community and a connection to the old country - all things that have now been largely eroded or commodified.

As the title suggests, the series wasn't only about music; it was also inevitably about the personal journey taken by its genial presenter. Hunter freely admitted to hating the South when he left for England to study drama, and initially I felt he seemed a little hamstrung by his own (historical) prejudices rather than by any directed at him by those he met along the way. However, during the course of filming, those prejudices were cast aside and, particularly in the final episode, it became evident that he had rediscovered his Southern pride.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I am the passenger, and I write, and I write, and I write

Sick bags are often put to good use, though it'll be interesting to see if the same can be said of the ones Nick Cave has used to compose his soon-to-be-published "epic poem" The Sick Bag Song. According to The Quietus, he's pitched it "as being somewhere between The Wasteland and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" - nothing like lofty ambition, is there? I imagine the critics are sharpening their pens as I type - though if any musician can back up that kind of literary chutzpah with results, then it's Cave.

The original hipster?

John Ruskin: celebrated art critic, artist, social theorist, cultural commentator, proto-environmentalist - and, it turns out, pioneering photographer. To the cynical modern eye, his holiday snaps from around Europe look like normal pictures put through some kind of Instragram filter.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tears of a clown

It's occasionally said that stand-up is the hardest job in the world. (It isn't, as Stewart Lee has pointed out.) So what would happen when a stand-up - albeit a rather unique one - swapped theatre audiences for hospital wards full of sick children, as was the case in BBC4's excellent Nina Conti: Clowning Around?

Like most of us at some point in our lives, ventriloquist Conti had the urge to do something a bit more worthy than her day job (making audiences laugh by good-naturedly humiliating people on stage), and thought that her act with puppet Monkey would lend itself naturally to entertaining children. Upon enrolling in training to become a hospital clown - or "giggle doctor", to use the preferred nomenclature - she received her first blow: Monkey would need to be regularly hot-washed on infection control grounds and so couldn't be part of her routine.

The documentary traced Conti's experiences shadowing fully trained clowns and trying to find her own clown identity, without Monkey and without a great deal of success. Her proficiency in stand-up turned out to count for very little indeed, and she was frustrated by her inability to be funny, her confidence and self-assurance visibly waning. In the job, both sensitivity and emotional robustness are essential, and she had too much of the former and not enough of the latter. You could see she was upset by the predicaments of some of the children she encountered, and genuinely hurt when her attempts to provoke laughter had quite the opposite effect. It got to the point where she couldn't carry on - all of which underscored quite what a remarkable job the professionals do.

Conti wasn't the only one undergoing a crisis of confidence and identity, though. During the course of the two years over which the documentary was filmed, Theodora Children's Trust, the charity through which she was training, opted to remove all references to clowns and clowning from their work. The decision was met with great sadness by many of the giggle doctors (and, by implication, Conti herself), but was taken as a result of the negative image of clowning among medical staff, some parents and, most importantly, donors.

As Conti observed following a trip to Italy, the antipathy towards clowns is peculiarly British (in a European context, at least), our characteristic reserve preventing us from indulging in silliness ourselves or indulging silliness in others. The clowns in Italian hospitals are treated as integral members of support staff, whereas in the UK they're often perceived by nurses as a frivolous nuisance - a sad state of affairs, when you see just one child's face light up as a result of their efforts.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In a field holiday camp of its own

YES! Three years after the "last" ATP Nightmare Before Christmas weekender, which I had the good fortune to attend, it's back from the dead, resurrected by popular demand. The festival will take place on the last weekend of November at a new venue, Pontins in Prestatyn, which apparently has a better layout as regards accommodation and two stages, both with tiered seating areas, as well as a beach in easy reach. There's also an interesting concession to those of us with kids in the form of family accommodation - a recognition that their fanbase isn't all young whippersnappers.

The line-up, curated for a second time by artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, currently features Ought, Iceage, Blanck Mass and Loop. I'll need a little more that that to tempt me into buying a ticket, and I'm also slightly nervous about doing so in light of what happened with Jabberwocky last summer. However, like many others, I retain a lot of goodwill towards ATP as the people responsible for some truly tremendous weekends and am keen to see the revived festival do well, paving the way for further events in the future.

Making it up as he goes along

Having first created fake bookshop sections, for his latest trick Jeff Wysaski has planted fake self-help books in a store in West Hollywood. So Your Son Is A Centaur, Learn To... Dress Yourself! and The Beginner's Guide To Human Sacrifice are all ridiculous titles, though not much more ridiculous than the annual clutch of Diagram Prize nominees.

(Thanks to Raoul for the link.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Coming together and Coming Apart

Stevie Chick's piece on Body/Head for Huck, which inevitably focuses more on Kim Gordon than partner-in-crime Bill Nace, may be a little old now but is nevertheless well worth a read for the discussion of improv and the coverage of all of the different cultural arenas beyond music in which Gordon operates: art, TV, fashion, writing. It's also a reminder that I haven't yet bought Body/Head's debut Coming Apart - something that needs to be rectified.

(Thanks to Damian for the link.)

"A 30 rack of Coors Light is now $23 at Sun Stop. Thanks, Obama"

Jimmy Kimmel's regular Mean Tweets feature is often worth a watch - but especially when the President is the subject.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Needless to say, he had the last laugh

I’ve done some inexplicable football-related things in my time – regularly stocking my Fantasy Football team with Newcastle Utd players on principle springs to mind – but nothing quite compares to agreeing to read and review a book about and by a man I despise that I was given as joke wedding present four years ago. Just be grateful I put myself through it so you don't have to. At least Neil Warnock's Made In Sheffield is pretty much one long Accidental Partridge, I suppose.

Rage against the machine swimming pool snorkel ban

Pity the poor local newspaper photographer, who has to spend all day taking pictures of people who are apoplectic about muddy roads, being IDed when trying to buy nuts and getting stuck in Portsmouth - and has to look vaguely sympathetic.

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Feel good hits of the 16th March

1. 'March Of Progress'  - Viet Cong
A remarkable song from a remarkable album by a remarkable band. An early frontrunner for SWSL Album Of The Year, and no mistake.

2. 'Price Tag' - Sleater-Kinney
Just the sort of bold, beefy, hook-laden track you would have prayed would kick off Sleater-Kinney's comeback record. See, dreams do come true after all. How good it is to have them back.

3. 'Dead Celebrity' - EMA
From an album opener to an album closer. 'Dead Celebrity' is noteable for making clever use of sampled fireworks to bolster the melancholic tone rather than suggest anything celebratory. Like the best songs on Past Life Martryed Saints, it'll haunt you for days.

4. 'War Paint' - Ex Hex
Ex Hex's Rips could be described with a word that you couldn't possibly use of EMA's The Future's Void - it's fun, pure and simple. Nothing particularly complicated, nothing particularly inventive - just glammy indie-rock tunes that hit the sweet spot time and again.

5. 'Queen' - Perfume Genius
I'll admit that I've been a little disappointed by Too Bright thus far, even if 'Queen' - the reason I finally relented and bought it - remains pretty stunning.

6. 'Surrealist Appearance' - Radar Men From The Moon
The first I heard of this lot was via my mate Dave, who always has an ear to the ground. I can tell you precious little about them other than they're from Eindhoven and 'Surrealist Appearance' is heavy, psychedelic, shoegazey post-rock that blows Mogwai's most recent material a long way out of the water.

7. 'Tied Up In Nottz' - Sleaford Mods
A highlight of last week's Oxford gig, inevitably. "The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon" - what an opening line.

8. 'Autodidact' - Swervedriver
First Ride, and now Swervedriver. They pretty much passed me by first time around (though I do have a copy of 'Duel' somewhere), but this track - the first offering from new album I Wasn't Born To Lose You, their first for 17 years - is very good indeed. Thanks to Geraint for the tip-off.

9. 'Animal' - Moon Duo
If there's a problem with this, it's that it's at least four minutes too short. Hence my general preference for Ripley Johnson's other outfit, Wooden Shjips.

10. 'White Galactic One' - Lotus Plaza
Just one reason why Spooky Action At A Distance is significantly better than the last Atlas Sound album Parallax. As much as I enjoyed the randomness and playfulness of Deerhunter's Monomania, it would be nice for Lockett Pundt to have more of an influence on its follow-up.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hail to the thief Radiohead

Over at Stereogum, it's Radiohead Week - presumably in honour of the twentieth anniversary of the release of The Bends. For one of the most interesting features, they've asked 33 musicians to choose and discuss their favourite Radiohead song. Among the respondents are Ed Droste (Grizzly Bear), J Mascis, Skrillex, Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), Mark Smith (Explosions In The Sky), Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit) and Trevor Powers (Youth Lagoon).

There's a lot of love for 'Pyramid Song' and 'All I Need', but it's a bit of a surprise (to me, at least) that only one person, Lydia Ainsworth, agrees with my choice of 'Exit Music (For A Film)'.

For some respondents, their chosen song conjures up specific memories - some special, some less so. Wayne Coyne chooses 'There There' and describes Radiohead's 2003 headline set at Glastonbury, immediately after The Flaming Lips, as "literally one of the greatest shows we've seen". (It's a bit of an exaggeration, but he's not far wrong - it was the first and, I wish, only, time I've seen them.) Talking about 'We Suck Young Blood', Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz recalls: "In college a few years later, some kids across the hall from me taped pubic hair to my door for overplaying that same song". Meanwhile, 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi' inspires a bizarre hallucinatory vision for My Morning Jacket's Jim James.

It's also fascinating what different musicians value in Radiohead's oeuvre. Merrill Garbus, perhaps predictably, celebrates the dazzling originality of 'Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors', whereas Kathleen Hanna is unapologetic in her reasons for choosing 'Creep': "I don’t sit around listening to Radiohead really because they went so esoteric and spacey which isn’t my jam". It certainly isn't Noel Gallagher's "jam" either, the monobrowed one selecting 'Fake Plastic Trees' (like Marissa Nadler and Kip Berman of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart) and commenting: "I only wish they’d write more songs like it". He has a more articulate ally in Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard, who admits: "If I’ve had any kind of issues with Radiohead post-Kid A, I feel like the traditional songwriting has been stripped almost out of what they do".

While several musicians complain about having to make a choice but nevertheless comply, Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes refuses to pick: "Radiohead are one of the last bands I can remember that have been able to create a journey. From Pablo Honey to The King Of Limbs, there are only a few musical tropes and faint traces that these are the same individuals still making music together after 18 years". I guess that evolution - generally gradual from album to album, but dramatic over the course of their career - is partly why there is so little consensus on a favourite song.

Other Radiohead Week features on Stereogum have included Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy (an avowed Radiohead disliker) interviewing her dad (who's lukewarm on them) and Ryan Leas' defence of The King Of Limbs, which he admits is partly an attempt to convince himself of the album's merits but which does just enough to persuade me that it might be worth one more sympathetic listen.

(Thanks to Del for the first link.)