Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they affect his own life as a politician. However, we wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a ‘Christian country’ and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders.

Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established church, we are not a ‘Christian country’. Repeated surveys, polls, and studies show most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities and at a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives and a largely non-religious society. To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society.

Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who – as polls show – do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government."

The British Humanist Association responds to David Cameron's recent claim that Britain is a "Christian country" with an open letter endorsed by more than fifty eminent signatories and published in the Torygraph.

(Thanks to Zoe for the link.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Listen without prejudice

"Had your brain shut down upon being asked 'What kind of music do you like?'?" Yes. "Forced someone to listen to something obscure because you wanted to 'educate' them?" Yep. "Felt like ranking your favourite music of the year was a necessary thing to do?" Absolutely (the run-down for 2013 will appear here shortly, honest...). All things considered, then, it's a wonder I only scored 42 out of 100 on this alleged test of how much of a music nerd/snob you are.

Perhaps, though, it's because I don't give much of a toss about collecting expensive rarities, ripping music digitally or buying pricey stereo equipment and/or vinyl. I also fail to understand how anyone can possibly alphabetise their record collection. I mean, you can do it, but what happens if you then buy something by Abba? If your collection is, like mine, spread across several racks, then putting it in the correct place alphabetically would necessitate shifting pretty much your entire collection. Much better to use my system, surely - positioned chronologically according to date purchased, from oldest to most recent.

Incidentally, I notice that the test was put together by Matthew Perpetua, founder of Fluxblog, the original MP3 blog and one of the first blogs I ever linked to in my sidebar. He's also written for Rolling Stone, Slate and other publications, so you do wonder quite what he's doing wasting time on trivial stuff like this.

(Also, don't worry - I'm not about to start doing every inane "What Hollyoaks character are you?" style Buzzfeed quiz and posting the results here...)

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Quote of the day

"To grab people's attention, you should argue that something we think of as bad is good, or vice versa; that some apparently individual phenomenon is really collective; that several seemingly disparate things are actually part of the same thing."

From this Oliver Burkeman column on interestingness v truth. This definitely holds for the majority of arts PhD theses, in my experience. My own could admittedly be summarised as follows: "Ooh look, here's something that's interesting and allows apparently disparate things to be linked, yet has been overlooked even in two of the most pored-over novels of the twentieth century".

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

There must be some misunderstanding

Note to self: next time you're being a pedant and mentally tut-tutting at someone's verbal faux pas, just consider that you could be witnessing linguistic evolution in action. Here's David Shariatmadari to explain why error is crucial as "the engine of language change" and to explore some "wonderful examples of alternative pronunciations or missteps that have become standard usage".

(Thanks to Joe for the link.)

Match of the day

Following Christophe Gowans' series depicting iconic albums if they were books (several postcards of which now hang on our wall) comes the work of another designer, James Campbell Taylor: a series of imaginary album covers featuring footballing legends of the past.

(Thanks to Darryl for the link.)

Long-term loans

So George Washington took out a library book in 1789 and it wasn't returned until 2010, 221 years later? These US presidents think they can get away with anything, don't they?

Know Your Enemy

"It makes life really difficult. Sometimes, I miss out on a lot of important news or celebrity gossip because I have to avoid anything which features the Kardashians."

Unbelievably, Mike Amess - a man so disgusted by Kim Kardashian that she makes him physically sick - appears to be a real-life person, not a Daily Mash character or someone invented for an April Fool's prank.

(Thanks to Wan for the link.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Quote of the day

"It's almost like mould. If there's mould in the room and you brush it away and get rid of it, it just goes. But the longer you look at mould and don't do anything about it… The longer that everyone's talking about this mould, it'll just get bigger. No one's rubbing it off because they're all too busy speculating about it."

Darlia vocalist/guitarist Nathan Day finds an unusual analogy to explain why rock is making a comeback. (It's not, of course - it's always been there.)

His comments appear in this BBC article profiling his band and three other rising rock acts. I was aware of Drenge and Royal Blood (and in the past six months have seen and written about them here and here), but both Darlia and Honeyblood are new to me. The former haven't grabbed me but, on the strength of 'Bud', I'm quite taken with the latter, a Glaswegian duo who've supported The Twilight Sad.

In the line of fire

Abandoned settlements are usually bleak outposts whose hardy inhabitants eventually give up the fight against the climatic conditions and environment, right? Not so in the case of Tyneham, a Dorset village commandeered by the War Office in 1943 to which the residents were never allowed to return.

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

"Darling, do we need parmesan for both houses?"

Overheard In Waitrose: now there's a Facebook page to which I really must contribute. Some of the existing submissions (such as the one in the heading above) are priceless.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Losing our edge

There's nothing like a bunch of clearly quite intelligent children baffled by Walkmans (and indeed cassettes) to remind you of your steadily advancing years. "I feel bad for the people who lived in the 90s, I really do", says one. I wonder how bad she feels for someone who not only lived in the 90s, but also the 80s and 70s, and who has a large number of beloved albums only in cassette form...

Still, now these kids know how I feel when confronted by much modern technology. Given we're the adults and we're in charge, why are we developing things that make us look stupid?

(Thanks to Alice for the link.)

Peace summits

Pieter Hugo's portrait photos may be simple but they tell extraordinary stories - of reconciliations between perpetrators and survivors of the Rwandan genocide. The generosity of spirit that the latter show in offering forgiveness for unspeakable acts is remarkable, even if (quite understandably) they can't quite forget.

(Thanks to Helen for the link.)

Know Your Enemy

"I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’ And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers."

Nick Cave's scathing comment is just one of Flavorwire's top thirty harshest musician-on-musician insults in history, which features a number of absolute gems.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Snap unhappy

I'm certainly no fan of Paul Weller, but credit to him for taking on the evil might of the Daily Heil and winning. The former Jam frontman was unhappy about the Heil Online's publication of a paparazzo's photos of him out shopping with his wife and kids in LA. The amount won in damages - just £10,000 - isn't the issue, but the ruling is. As the Heil's parent company Associated Newspapers commented, "This judgement has serious and wide-ranging consequences". Yes, hopefully it does - much of the photo content which appears on the site could equally aptly be described as "plainly voyeuristic" and not remotely in the public interest. Maybe Weller will help to take the site down faster than we can by sharing its stories...

Open access to the past

Talk about a valuable resource: British Pathe has uploaded its entire collection of moving images, digitised in 2002, to YouTube. As a result, 3,500 hours of footage - covering everything from the Chernobyl disaster to a prototype robot called George from 1950 - are now freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection. There goes my plan to be constructive today...

For those who will continue to rock, we salute you

In honour of AC/DC deciding to soldier on despite founding guitarist Angus Young's stroke, I'm currently listening to 'Back In Black' loud. It's only right.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quote of the day

"My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature. She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves - in this case this means not subjecting her to the indignities of judgement and competition. My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race and if indeed she was, still I would not harness her to this tumbrel - this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes. My muse may spook! May bolt! May abandon me completely!"

Nick Cave rejects his nomination for Best Male Artist at the 1996 MTV Awards in style, in a missive featured on the ever-excellent Letters Of Note.

(Thanks to Miranda for the link.)

Beard today, gone tomorrow

Have we reached "peak beard"? Is that even possible? But if so, then perhaps I should keep my current stubble (the product of laziness rather than an attempt at being fashionable) to avoid looking like a hipster and having to come up with "plausible beard exit strategies".

(Thanks to Tim for the links.)

Red, red whine

When it comes to naming bands whose music is so loud it alters heart rhythms and makes fans' ears bleed, you'd probably plump for someone like Motorhead or Swans - not UB40.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spreading the word

Somehow I doubt that celebrated linguist, academic and author David Crystal OBE is an avid viewer of Channel 4's 8 Out Of 10 Cats. But if he were, he might have been pleasantly surprised by a recent installment during which Jimmy Carr revealed that, when asked to name the nation's most significant contribution to the world, a whopping 60% of the Great British Public plumped for the English language.

You see, as Crystal explained in a talk as part of last month's Oxford Literary Festival, his latest book Wordsmiths And Warriors: An English-Language Tourist's Guide To Britain (written in partnership with his wife Hilary) finds him regularly despairing at the fact that our mother tongue, and key moments in its evolution, are all too often disrespected rather than celebrated. Take the arrival on these shores of the first Anglo-Saxons, at Pegwell Bay in 449, for instance - an event that marked the very birth of English, and yet that fact is neglected on all the signage there today. Or William Caxton's printing press and bookshop - there's now nothing where the building once stood, in Westminster, not even a memorial to commemorate its existence.

Key figures too are rarely afforded the official recognition they deserve, Crystal only uncovering two or three blue plaques in honour of those instrumental to the development of English (one of which is in Oxford itself, for the founder of the Oxford English Dictionary, James Murray).

Perhaps, though, the stat from 8 Out Of 10 Cats would make Crystal even more aggrieved - why is it that the general public can acknowledge the importance of English and yet the powers-that-be can't?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A sense of perspective

We're all used to seeing photos of famous landmarks at close quarters - which is what makes seeing them set within their immediate geographical context so fascinating. The surroundings in which the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids of Giza find themselves detract from their splendour, whereas the likes of the Arc de Triomphe and the Parthenon look even more stunning from a distance.

(Thanks to Raoul for the link.)

Come as you are - unless your name's not down

Hang on a minute, where was my invite?! With J Mascis in for Lorde and a 250-capacity venue, this sounds significantly better than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show.

(Thanks to Alison for the link.)

That joke's not funny anymore still funny

The internet: it may have its critics, but you've surely got to love anything that helps to popularise a joke about a mongoose that appeared in a local Yorkshire paper 98 years ago...

Monday, April 14, 2014

On location

A twist on the Sleeveface phenomenon: classic album covers overlaid on Google Street View images of their actual locations. The Beatles' Abbey Road inevitably features, but so too do Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP and PJ Harvey's Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.

On a related note, a Flickr user called Harvezt has posted a series of pictures called Dark Side Of The Cover in which he or she imagines what iconic album covers might look like from a different (often the opposite) perspective. Abbey Road features again, but the Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Kraftwerk covers are all better.

Know Your Enemy

"The game is an occult tool that opens up young people to influence or possession by demons."

Jon Quigley of the Lakeview Full Gospel Fellowship, speaking in 1985 about Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, seriously. Read more on the extraordinary moral panic the game provoked here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part II

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

#13 - Oxford Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum

These two museums, both free to visit, are essentially chalk and cheese.

The Oxford Museum of Natural History is home to a rich array of exhibits - as well it might be, given that it was founded to showcase the university's collections. The towering dinosaur and elephant skeletons are the most obviously visually impressive, but the smaller exhibits are no less worth perusing. Indeed Stan's favourite, on his first ever visit this week, seemed to be Mandy the stuffed Shetland pony, narrowly ahead of the model crocodile, a fox and some of the statues of famous scientists which adorn the stone pillars.

The museum - a slightly foreboding Victorian neo-Gothic edifice from the outside - is spacious, airy and light inside thanks to its high glass roof, which is supported by cast iron columns, and the exhibits are well arranged and accompanied by clear, informative text. While (thankfully) it doesn't pander to the modern museum fashion for interactive gimmickry, neither is it old-fashionedly stuffy or formal - for instance, there are a range of exhibits, including a 230-million-year-old piece of petrified tree trunk, that visitors are actively encouraged to touch.

The Pitt Rivers Museum, accessible through a doorway at the back of the Museum of Natural History, is very different. Much more anthropological in focus, it features glass cases crammed full of items from around the world, with labelling patchy and inconsistent. You feel much more like you're immersed in the dimly lit private collection of a Victorian eccentric, as you try to take in all the artifacts and trinkets he's amassed on his travels. That certainly has its own charm and appeal, even if the scalps and shrunken heads on display don't...

I get the feeling I've been cheated

Confession time: I passed up the opportunity to see Therapy? on their recent Troublegum anniversary tour in either Wolverhampton or Nottingham. Let's just say that the reports from friends who did catch them have left me kicking myself particularly hard...

An elevated sense of humour

So you're called Schindler. I guess it's a bit of a no-brainer to go into the business of making lifts...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Feel good hits of the 12th April

1. 'Try To Explain' - The Flaming Lips
A haunting digital ballad from The Terror, an album I've fallen for in a big way. The direct and personal nature of the lyrics is striking, no doubt influenced by Wayne Coyne's split with his long-term partner, and they're at productive odds with the experimental feel of the music (if not its minimalism). Incomprehension can have rarely sounded so beautiful.

2. 'Graffiti' - Maximo Park
A definite highlight of their recent Oxford gig, and a portal to a trip down Memory Lane for yours truly. A Certain Trigger remains a fine album.

3. 'Kveikur' - Sigur Ros
Never mind the fact that it's all too often a marketing cliche unsubstantiated by the evidence - Kveikur is a real return to form, its menacing title track in particular.

4. 'Possessed' - Eagulls
It's hard to imagine any band clearly heavily influenced by Iceage securing themselves any kind of mainstream exposure in this country, let alone in the US - so Leeds quintet Eagulls could be forgiven for wondering what the hell's going on. David Letterman seemed to approve, though.

5. 'Backwaters' - Drenge
The Smiths gone grunge.

6. 'Strong Hand' - Chvrches
A bonus track from debut album The Bones Of What You Believe (and the song that actually includes the album title in the lyrics). Not only is it as good as anything that made it into the official tracklisting, the fan-made video was declared "the best thing I have seen all day. Maybe ever" on the band's Twitter.

7. 'Le Prieur Rockets' - Kid Kin
An unfamiliar name from the line-up for this year's Punt, who actually turn out to be (a) extremely good in an electronica/post-rock kind of way and (b) the nom de plume of my former work colleague and current 5-a-side team-mate Pete.

8. 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' - Future Islands
Another Letterman performance - and this really is a performance. I'm wasn't impressed by them at the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas in 2011 (review still in the pipeline, ahem), I'm not particularly keen on this song, and I fail to understand all the positive press they've been getting around new album Singles, out on 4AD -  but I can't deny that Samuel T. Herring's vocal delivery and stage manner are remarkable. It does all remind of this, though...

9. 'Nowhere To Land New' - The Cult Of Dom Keller
Thanks to Dave for introducing me to a charming bunch who, on this evidence, drag 60s garage through psychedelia and krautrock to very productive effect. May be on nodding terms with narcotic substances.

10. 'Peaceable Child' - Inventions
Along roughly similar lines as Kid Kin, though more ambient. Also, Inventions are a duo - a collaboration between Explosions In The Sky guitarist Mark T. Smith and Eluvium's Matthew Cooper, whose debut album has been put out by tastemaking label Temporary Residence.

About a girl - well, a few girls

So it turns out that when St Vincent covered 'Lithium' in Chicago, she was actually rehearsing for Nirvana's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where she performed the song again with the backing of Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear and Dave Grohl. And she wasn't the only guest vocalist the trio invited to fill Kurt Cobain's shoes for the evening - Lorde contributed to 'All Apologies', Kim Gordon to 'Aneurysm' and (best of all) Joan Jett to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

Incidentally, Gordon's Instagram has been ranked among the fifteen best by Vogue. Worth a look for some vintage photos of her from the Sonic Youth days, as well as pics that indicate she's as much of a starstruck fan as those who meet her - the snap of her with Stevie Nicks taken at the Hall of Fame ceremony is captioned: "Oh my god!! Finally met the ultimate rock goddess?".