Thursday, July 20, 2017

Art rock

It made a change to write a preview rather than a review - especially of a gig I'm unfortunately not going to be able to go to: Martin Creed's Talk And Songs show at Chapter this Saturday. A shame, as I've been quite enjoying the artist's musical output (particularly 'Understanding' and the Sgt Pepper's-esque 'Let Them In'), and he was an engaging interviewee on Vic Reeves' BBC4 programme Gaga for Dada last year.

Doing the background research was an absolute pleasure, too. Sadly, the restrictive word count prevented me from including such details as the fact that he's afraid of cheese and, when asked when he was happiest for the Guardian's Q&A feature, responded "Probably before I started thinking".

It has to be said, though, that, given the piece for which he won the Turner Prize in 2001, I think he missed a trick by not calling his album There Is A Light That Sometimes Goes Out...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus."

Fresh from admitting that Brexit could be an error, Vote Leave's Dominic Cummings delivers a resounding vote of confidence in David Davis.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No support act

Locally, there may have been some good news for the music venues on Womanby Street recently, but the picture nationally is looking bleaker now that Arts Council England (ACE) have rejected a funding bid from the Music Venue Trust. To add insult to injury, the Trust were only asking for £500,000 - a fraction of the comparatively obscene £96 million awarded to the Royal Opera House.

Little wonder that the Trust's strategic director Beverley Whitrick is dismayed: "We thought we were winning the argument about these clubs being cultural venues, and so this feels like a slap in the face." Given that the situation is, in Whitrick's words, "critical", the consequences of ACE's decision hardly bear thinking about.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Apparently Dave was going to re-record a few of the songs. I don't know if the producer told him to keep going, or what. But the next thing you know all of the work I had done was gone except for one or two of the tracks. ... ['Raped'] was a way of describing how it felt - when you put that much of yourself into something, and then without you even knowing, it is completely destroyed from existence. ... The way things were handled, and what was done to me, I do think that staying in that band would have made me feel like my soul was destroyed and I would have likely ended up dead."

Time heals? Not for William Goldsmith, Foo Fighters' original drummer, who remains royally pissed off at Dave Grohl for what transpired during the recording of The Colour And The Shape. Very few people ever seem to have a bad word to say about Grohl - but Goldsmith might receive a sympathetic hearing from Melvins' Buzz Osborne.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Let down

And so the Ken Loach v Radiohead ruck rumbles on. Loach has once more tried to reach out to the band in an attempt to stop them playing a gig in Tel Aviv next week, writing a piece for the Independent quite bluntly entitled "Radiohead need to join the cultural boycott of Israel". That sort of approach was never really likely to wash with Thom Yorke, who has responded to say that "playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government".

I can't help but feel that Loach might be right, though, and that Yorke is basically missing the point. If the call to boycott the show is coming from the Palestinian people, then should that not be respected?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A little more conversation

If you've been to a good gig in Oxford over the last couple of years, chances are you've got Simon Bailey to thank for it - which is what made the Future Perfect man the perfect interviewee to kick off the new Sounding Bored spin-off series of interview podcasts (you never know - the idea might catch on...).

In conversation with Rob, Simon talks about how he got into the gig-promoting game; the importance of building a brand; the live music scenes in Wolverhampton and Leicester, where Future Perfect also operate; the thrill of taking a gamble; the coup of securing an Oxford gig for the reformed Slowdive; the joys of helping to develop the careers and audiences of bands like IDLES, October Drift and newcomers Mellow Gang; and the sociability and capacity for boozy late nights that are essential for the role.

Naturally, he also takes the opportunity to plug his bash Ritual Union, a one-day multi-venue festival due to take place on Cowley Road in October. A much-needed successor to Gathering, Ritual Union will feature Future Perfect favourites Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation alongside the likes of Peace, Black Honey, TOY and local heroes The August List.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Quote of the day

"It takes the biblical, almost apocalyptic levels of revenge witnessed in Dead Men's Shoes, along with the bittersweet humour from This Is England and creates a landscape like nothing else I've ever worked on."

Shane Meadows offers a mouthwatering preview of his new series The Virtues, which will star Stephen Graham and air in 2019. Channel 4 are naturally delighted that they'll be screening it - though they could perhaps have got the show's title right in the article announcing the news...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Boys on the black stuff

It's impossible to do justice to the new Public Service Broadcasting album Every Valley in just 80 words, but I did try. That said, my verdict was probably fairly evident (and expressed at greater length) in Sunday's post about Quietus co-founder Luke Turner's unfairly scathing review of the LP.

The latest Buzz round-up of reviews also features my take on Alpha Male Tea Party's Health - songs from which are set to entertain punters at If Not Now, When?, Idiot King and Divine Schism's joint-venture festival taking place in Oxford at the very beginning of September.

Also reviewed are new LPs from Algiers, Ride, Dan Croll and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

For her pleasure

Despite the ridicule that the Bic For Her attracted, the completely unnecessary gendering of numerous products continues unabated. Cards Against Humanity have now followed suit, launching a special pink edition called Cards Against Humanity For Her. The makers promise that it "hydrates, lifts and revives", it's "there for you when you need a good cry" and it "pairs nicely with a nice glass of chilled white wine". It also costs an extra $5, "because we're worth it" - and because they're raising money to support EMILY's List, which promotes the election of pro-choice Democrat women.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Feel good hits of the 11th July

1. 'Leave Them All Behind' - Ride
Trust me to only truly discover the delights of Oxford's first bona fide indie guitar heroes just after I've left the city. And to think I was sniffy about them on account of Andy Bell's involvement with Hurricane #1, Oasis and Beady Eye - 'Leave Them All Behind' is so good it could excuse a litany of crimes even more heinous than that.

2. 'Summer's Kiss' - Afghan Whigs
Belatedly clicking with In Spades sent me scurrying back to Black Love, the first Whigs album I ever got. Back then (1996), 'Summer's Kiss' was among the songs that soon had me scrambling to pick up the rest of the Cincinatti outfit's back catalogue.

3. 'Switch Opens' - Soundgarden
Another one from 1996. When Chris Cornell died, I - like most Soundgarden fans, I imagine - instinctively reached for Superunknown. But it wasn't long before I had a hankering to revisit its much less celebrated follow-up. Down On The Upside is less consistent but more surprising in its variety, and to these ears 'Switch Opens' remains one of the best things they ever recorded.

4. 'Bodies For Money' - GNOD
For anyone who thinks that psych music is always slow, ponderous and soporific. Rarely have I been to a gig where the material has been delivered with such aggression as it was at the Moon on the night of the General Election.

5. 'Maui Tears' - Sleepy Sun
First hearing 'White Dove' back in (ooh, about) 2009 was little short of a revelation, but sadly it was gradually diminishing returns for Sleepy Sun thereafter. Spine Hits, their third LP, was a bit of a mess recorded after the acrimonious departure of vocalist Rachel Fannan, an attempt to be succinct that didn't suit them at all. It's only very recently that I discovered a follow-up was released in 2014, of which 'Maui Tears' is the title track - a gorgeous slow-burner that channels OK Computer-era Radiohead and Pink Floyd as well as their usual stoner touchstones and that makes a strong case for giving them and new album Private Tales another chance.

6. 'Let Me Sing You Love Songs' - Rachel Fannan
Speaking of Fannan, here's what she got up to next: gorgeous Cat Power-esque balladry (as well as her own band Only You and collaborations with UNKLE and Anywhere, the supergroup that has at various times featured Mike Watt, Krist Novoselic, Dale Crover, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Comets On Fire's Ethan Miller and her former Sleepy Sun bandmates Bret Constantino and Matt Holliman).

7. 'Rushing Through My Mind' - Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation
Not the first time I've very belatedly heeded an effusive recommendation from Nightshift editor Ronan only to discover he was bang on the money. Labelmates of GNOD on Rocket Recordings (which currently boasts an impressive roster), Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation and their spaced-out psych Stereolab vibe are one of the main draws on the bill for the Future Perfect-curated Ritual Union bash due to take place in Oxford in October.

8. 'Well Done' - IDLES
"Even Mary Berry loves reggae. Why don't you like reggae?" Accusatory questions don't come much better than that. The highlight of their Clwb set at the beginning of April.

9. 'Dowager' - Anna Meredith
Captivating synth-heavy single from Anna Meredith, who's established herself as one of the most inventive artists in the UK and garnered plenty of attention at SXSW this spring. Her LP Varmints was Sounding Bored's album of the year for 2016, dontchaknow.

10. 'Stargazer' - Juanita Stein
2014's Heartstrings was very much the fabled return to form for Howling Bells, but sadly it sank largely without trace. The band still seem to be a going concern, but frontwoman Juanita Stein has launched a solo career so their days might be numbered. A shame if so, as this relatively lacklustre effort suggests she's better off in company.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Noise annoys

The central conceit of Edgar Wright's new film Baby Driver is that its lead character, getaway driver Baby, suffers from tinnitus and constantly needs to drown it out with a specific soundtrack. That's prompted Consequence Of Sound's Lior Phillips to research the condition - and her findings are alarming.

Talking to sufferers, including Quietus founder John Doran, she explains how it develops (through damage to the sensitive sound-conducting hairs in the ear) and notes that there is currently no established cure, meaning that the damage is permanent. For gig-goers and musicians, Doran observes, it's not merely a matter of volume - it can also be caused by poor-quality PAs. He's not exaggerating when he says that tinnitus has driven people to suicide - take the tragic example of Inspiral Carpets drummer Craig Hill.

I've experienced tinnitus myself - when I've had blocked ears and after particularly loud gigs. Thankfully, it's only ever been temporary, but this article is a timely reminder to be sensible and not to take it lightly. Perhaps investment in a proper pair of earplugs would be wise.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Critical error

Reviews don't come much more savage than Luke Turner's evisceration of Public Service Broadcasting's new LP Every Valley for the Quietus, the strapline for which declares it to be "turgid, insipid, bizarrely misjudged pap". So let's review that review.

Turner is unequivocal in his antipathy towards the band's music, their use of samples from audio archives and their whole ethos. Indeed, he's admitted as much on Twitter: "I've always disliked that band but you need a review to hang it on. Or hang them on." This latest album has provided that opportunity, it seems. He's also said that he doesn't "see any point in personal hatchet jobs", arguing that "a thorough criticism" is something different. Fair point - but it's hard to see this review, well written and closely focused on the record itself as it is, as anything other than grossly unfair. Turner is, of course, entitled to his opinion of the album's merits, but I think his review is itself "misjudged pap" for three specific reasons.

First, he's critical of Every Valley for its allegedly clumsy and overly simplistic perspective on its subject, the decline of the coal-mining industry in south Wales, claiming that the LP's message is essentially "the mines closed sad emoji". At the same time, he attacks the more upbeat, "sunny" tracks as inappropriate given the context. While the tone of the album is certainly very often elegiac, there's nothing wrong with that, and it's far more carefully affecting than Turner is prepared to allow. But the record is also angry, defiant and, at times, even tentatively hopeful. Lead single 'Progress' is a case in point, both a Kraftwerkian ode to the promise of a brighter future or at least of new opportunities and greater productivity and efficiency, and an ironic commentary on the inexorable forward march of history and development that threatens old ways of life even as it opens up new ones. Likewise, 'You + Me' celebrates the inestimable value, comfort and solace of simple companionship and loving relationship in the face of socioeconomic apocalypse. Turner somehow attempts to condemn the LP for its lack of nuance and complexity and, at the same time, for any evidence of precisely the sort of nuance and complexity that he's demanding. The logic is utterly baffling.

Second, there's the sentence that begins "Even the presence (finally!) of some Welsh language lyricism from Lisa Jen Brown". That word "finally!" suggests that Welsh-language vocals are long overdue, and by implication that the extensive use of English-language vocals and audio clips is culturally insensitive. This naive and simplistic conflation of the Welsh language and Welsh identity betrays a profound ignorance on Turner's part: south Wales is not predominantly Welsh speaking. Public Service Broadcasting have done no disservice whatsoever to the miners and their communities by releasing an album about their plight in which most of the voices speak in English.

Third, there's the charge of "distasteful appropriation". It's a serious accusation, and certainly not one to be bandied about lightly. In the case of Every Valley, it's also one that is manifestly false. As Englishmen with no personal connections to the area or the industry, Public Service Broadcasting seem to have been acutely aware that they might be opening themselves up to a charge of cultural appropriation, and thus set out to do everything they possibly could to avoid it. As this Independent article underlines, they fully immersed themselves in their subject by interviewing former miners, poring over the archives in the South Wales Miners' Library, recording the album in a temporary purpose-built studio within the Ebbw Vale Institute (at the heart of the community whose tale it tells) and returning to launch it there with two gigs on consecutive nights in early June. Rather than actually acknowledging the thoughtfulness and effort that went into the album's creation or the subsequently enthusiastic and grateful responses to the LP from those with whom Public Service Broadcasting have collaborated (those whom the record was for and about), Turner lazily whips out the appropriation card. If anyone stands guilty of sitting at home in London writing insensitively on something about which they apparently know nothing for their own personal gain, it's Turner.

The whole thing is rather depressing, as Turner is undeniably a great writer - even in this piece his turn of phrase is often worth savouring - and I've enjoyed many of his articles in the past. On this occasion, though, he's attempted to justify a strongly prejudiced opinion through a willful misrepresentation of a record that by no means deserves it.

Turner's piece is conspicuous among the many positive assessments of Every Valley - hardly the first time the Quietus have been very much in the minority, though, which (let's face it) is something they seem to like. It's inevitably provoked some social media discussion about the nature and function of reviews (including contributions from the likes of Luke Haines and Portishead's Geoff Barrow) - and here's where we're in agreement. He's claimed that there isn't enough negative music criticism, and he's right. It's important to remember (as Arctic Drones haven't and bands, labels, PR companies and readers often don't) that, while reviewers regularly champion artists they love, they are not merely PR reps and shouldn't be expected to blindly and breathlessly regurgitate press releases and puff pieces. A review is (or at least should be) a subjective reaction, and alongside glowing recommendations there's also a place for well-written, cogently argued demolition jobs, which are enjoyable both to write and to read.

So, while I profoundly disagree with the substance and the argument of this specific review (one that reads like a deliberate misinterpretation and smacks of axes being ground), I absolutely defend the right of Turner or anyone else to write reviews that are less than gushing.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Curmudgeon

I'll be honest with you: I'm not convinced that Grunge: The Musical is a good idea.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Albums of the year

As you may possibly be aware, it's now twenty years since Radiohead released OK Computer. 1997 also saw the appearance of seminal albums by a whole host of artists, from Blur and Spiritualized to Daft Punk and Wu-Tang Clan. The BBC 6 Music team have chosen 15 of them for a feature - and among the contributors is my friend Del explaining why The Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land deserves its status as one of the year's most celebrated releases.

The world Wales is your oyster

Much to my shame, I recently caved in after years of resistance and bought a pair of slippers. Further confirmation that old age may be upon me prematurely came today in the frisson of excitement I felt at learning that the TrawsCymru network is offering free bus travel the length and breadth of Wales every week for the next year, starting this Saturday. Forget class tourism, this'll be age tourism - being able to enjoy the feeling of having a free bus pass despite not being old enough to qualify.

The discovery of elasticated trousers is probably only just around the corner, at which point I'll be booking myself a one-way ticket to Dignitas. Sadly, I'll have to pay for that - unless they open a new branch in Wales.

Dress code

According to Liam Fox, MPs should show their support for British tie-makers by wearing their products post-Brexit. It's an argument lifted straight out of an episode of The Thick Of It, surely, but one that will no doubt be used as yet another stick used to beat Jeremy Corbyn with - not only is he being scruffy by often going tie-less, he's also being unpatriotic.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

This uncharming man

It's really come to something when even Martin Rossiter - the Gene frontman whose entire music career has been devoted to aping Morrissey - is denouncing Moz for his pronouncements and condemning him for walking "a lazy path, contrary for the sake of being contrary". Of course, he's entirely justified in doing so.

Not that Moz needs any more enemies, having apparently been threatened at gunpoint by an Italian policeman, an incident that has resulted in the cancellation of tour dates in the country. Presumably the officer was barking "STOP TARNISHING THE LEGACY OF THE SMITHS WITH YOUR SMUG, KNOWINGLY PROVOCATIVE BULLSHIT!" while holding the gun to his head.

Sex machine

For me, the real story in the news of the birth of Jacob Rees-Mogg's sixth son isn't the name he's been blessed with (Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher), it's the revelation that the MP has had sexual intercourse on at least six occasions. To listen to him, you'd think the Rees-Mogg household would be a chilly, child-free place in which all the table legs are covered up for fear of arousing lascivious feelings.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Driving songs

Director Edgar Wright's work has always betrayed a love of music (the music was the only thing I vaguely liked about Scott Pilgrim Vs The World) but by all accounts his new film Baby Driver takes that to a whole new level, with the soundtrack being so inextricably embedded that it choreographs the action.

The Quietus have invited him to share his 13 favourite albums for their regular Baker's Dozen feature, giving him the opportunity to talk about some of the key songs from the film: 'Bellbottoms' by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which soundtracks the opening heist sequence (from Orange), 'Brighton Rock' by Queen (from Sheer Heart Attack) and 'Debra' by Beck, a track he succinctly describes as being "almost like a Flight Of The Conchords song but it's done with such brio" (from Midnite Vultures).

Peppered with some pretty shameless name-dropping about his famous mates, Wright's selection also includes some serious big hitters (The Beatles, The Kinks, Prince, David Bowie), with the most recent release chosen being King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's Nonagon Infinity - another prompt for me to check out a band who are being talked up everywhere.

The review of Baby Driver by the Quietus' Ben Rabinovich isn't perhaps as glowing as you might expect, suggesting that this car chase movie becomes something of a car crash towards the end, but he does note that the integration of the music helps to transform an otherwise "run-of-the-mill" genre flick into something much more interesting and memorable.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Bus wanker

Reassuring to know, isn't it, that Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave and the man who came up with the £350m NHS bus pledge, is now describing the referendum as "a dumb idea", the process of leaving the EU as "a guaranteed debacle" and Brexit itself as "an error"? No, thought not.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Quote of the day

"The head-fuck for me has been trying to work out why people dislike me so much."

Ed Sheeran, announcing that he's quitting Twitter due to the levels of abuse directed at him. Here's two words for you, Ed: 'Galway Girl', one of the most intensely fuckawful songs I've ever had the misfortune to hear, so much so that I'm reconsidering my position on the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Healing Howling fields

While I've seen quite a few punk acts at Glastonbury over the years (perhaps most memorably Fucked Up on the John Peel Stage in 2009), metal bands have very rarely featured on its extensive bills. Metallica's headlining slot in 2014 is the exception that proves the rule - but the fact is that they went down well, perhaps surprisingly so (especially given the pre-festival carping).

So it was laudable but not a complete gamble on the part of Nottingham-based metal label Earache to offer to curate a metal-centric stage for this year's event. The festival's organisers should be commended for acknowledging the lack of representation afforded to metal and taking them up on the offer, and the result - the Earache Express, a stage created out of a London Tube carriage in the Shangri-La area, which featured Heck, Extreme Noise Terror, Dead Kennedys and Ed Miliband's favourites Napalm Death - seems to have proved a real success.

Here's Earache's Tom Hadfield talking to ace Nottingham culture site/publication LeftLion before the festival about how it all took shape.

New Romantics fall out of love - again

In a short and strangely worded statement issued yesterday, Tony Hadley wrote: "Due to circumstances beyond my control, it is with deep regret that I am required to state that I am no longer a member of the band Spandau Ballet and as such I will not be performing with the band in the future."

The remaining members of the band later gave their own side of the story: "Much to our frustration, Tony has made it clear in September 2016 that he didn't want to work with the band anymore. This has not changed and 2015 was the last time we were able to perform or work with him. So we have now made the decision to move on as a band."

If Hadley did indeed refuse to perform, then quite why his announcement was made "with deep regret" or "due to circumstances beyond my control" is mystifying - but it certainly indicates the return of the acrimony and resentment that resulted in an intra-band legal squabble in 1999.

Spandau Ballet may have become mainstream pop-soul boys for the Thatcher years but it's worth remembering their roots at Steve Strange's fantastical post-punk Blitz club.

I do, I do, I do, I do (want to go to the new ABBA exhibition)

My best music purchase of last year bar none (not even Angel Olsen's My Woman) was a CD copy of ABBA Gold picked up in a charity shop in Formby for 50p - it fast became a staple of long car journeys and a firm favourite with Stanley. Needless to say, news of a forthcoming exhibition, ABBA: Super Troupers, at the Southbank Centre has me planning a trip to London some time in the spring. Here's hoping that ticket prices aren't so high as to only be affordable in a rich man's world.

Growing pains

Forthcoming Morrissey biopic England Is Mine has been produced by Baldwin Li and Orian Williams (the duo behind the superb Joy Division film Control) and only goes as far as his meeting Johnny Marr, focusing on his early years rather than on his post-Smiths perma-cantankerousness. If I can be guaranteed that the man himself doesn't put in an appearance, not even as a cameo, then I might be persuaded to watch.

Monday, July 03, 2017

'Sister' act

Back home on Friday after a week's holiday, I finally cracked and, at the risk of making myself more depressed at having missed out, started dipping into BBC iPlayer's treasure trove of Glastonbury highlights.

The first set I chose to watch - Angel Olsen's - was part of a superb line-up on the Park Stage on the Friday night, which also included Sleaford Mods, Mark Lanegan and headliners The Flaming Lips. My choice of her set as a starting point was inspired by listening to the interview with her for Loud & Quiet's Midnight Chats - a podcast series long championed by my fellow Sounding Bored founder Rob.

Over the course of an hour, she played just eight songs, interspersed with goofy interaction with the crowd and (before the final track) a pre-prepared speech about togetherness. The set was structured in roughly the same way as last year's stupendously good My Woman, with the louder, shorter material in the first half and the more weighty, languid slow-burners in the second. Six of the eight tracks were drawn from that LP, with 'Sister', 'Those Were The Days' and 'Woman' played in an incredible sequence as on the album.

That meant that opener 'High & Wild' was the sole representative from My Woman's predecessor, 2014's equally brilliant Burn Your Fire For No Witness. If the absence of that record's singles 'Hi-Five' and 'Forgiven/Forgotten' was initially a disappointment, 'Shut Up Kiss Me' - her best single to date - at least supplied the upbeat poppiness.

Personally speaking, though, the real revelation was 'Acrobat', which was more than enough to convince me that her folky 2012 full-length debut Halfway Home should be investigated pronto.

Quote of the day

"He would follow my example in outdoor wear - a government surplus duffel coat and a bush hat - I felt he should follow my father's example and use the latter whenever he had the opportunity. My father was a polite man and never went out without a hat in case he met someone he knew and had nothing to raise (even when he went in the sea on our summer holiday!)."

The late Michael Bond, writing in a 2014 article for Radio Times about how he took inspiration from his father for his most celebrated creation, Paddington.

Practise what you preach

Just over a week ago, Jeremy Corbyn was given the freedom of Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage to deliver a speech in which he (and the festival, by association) championed workers' rights. A few days later, and some of Glastonbury's own workforce was shafted by virtue of being on zero-hours contracts - Europeans who had travelled miles for litter-picking work but found themselves stranded in the countryside with no warning. It's an embarrassing situation, and one that the organisers will need to address quickly if they're to avoid looking like hypocrites.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"In the wake of the Manchester bomb atrocity in May, Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told NHS staff in Manchester and the surrounding areas 'we are so proud of what you have done'.

In her speech made in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack at London Bridge in early June, Theresa May praised the work of the emergency services. But yesterday the Tories - along with the 10 DUP MPs they bought with £1bn of public money earlier in the week - voted against a proposal to end the pay freeze on the wages of nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers.

And they laughed and cheered when their 'victory' was announced in Parliament, at their success in blocking a pay rise for workers they praised as heroes only weeks before. 

This must never be forgotten or forgiven. The Tories have proven once again that they are lower than vermin."

In a letter to the Independent published a couple of days ago, reader Sasha Simic is suitably blunt in her reaction to the latest in a long line of appalling acts made and decisions taken by the Tories.

(Thanks to Polly for the link.)

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Star treatment

Ever wondered who the people are who seem to spend their entire existence writing negative and often spiteful reviews of restaurants on TripAdvisor? Vice's Oobah Butler did - and so arranged to meet three of them for dinner and write about the (frequently excruciating) experience.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Sympathy for the devils

Being a metalhead in the UK can mark you out as different, as someone standing outside the dominant culture and rebelling against it, as a target for mockery and ridicule. But that's nothing compared to the genuine dangers faced by metal fans in the Middle East, who often face persecution and imprisonment simply because of the music they love, the clothes they wear and the lifestyle they choose to lead.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the arrest and torture of around 100 metal fans in Egypt in January 1997, the Quietus' Patrick Clarke spoke to metal musicians from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Lebanon, discovering just how difficult and risky it can be to perform and even simply to listen to such music in countries where it's all too often equated with Satanism.

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Kate Lamb has reported on Voice Of Baceprot, an all-female thrash metal band from Indonesia who preach the value of daring to be different and who are equally familiar with disapproval and threats from the conservative religious establishment.

Both articles are a potent reminder not to take for granted the relative liberty that we enjoy when it comes to music and culture.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Top of the poptys

No sooner had I bemoaned the absence of Brod from Buzz's round-up of the finest purveyors of tea and coffee in Wales than it featured in the magazine/website's list of the country's best bakeries - recognition that's richly deserved.

Also mentioned was Pettigrew Bakeries, whose premises just down the road by Victoria Park I've yet to visit. I have however sampled a sausage roll from their stall on the Sunday Farmers' Market and can vouch for the quality.

Lock, stock photo and two smoking barrels

Dark Stock Photos is definitely the place to go if you want your dreams to be haunted by balaclavaed stalkers armed with guns. Don't say you weren't warned if you end up as terrified of everything as your average Daily Mail reader.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I think know I'm in love

For me, 1997 was all about OK Computer (hence my particular dismay at not being at Glastonbury on Friday evening). It wasn't until a few years later that I even heard the album that grappled with Radiohead's third LP for so many people's affections. Needless to say, Spiritualized's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space belatedly blew me away, and even if I do marginally prefer its predecessor Pure Phase, it's only fitting that its twentieth anniversary should be marked as well as that of Radiohead's magnum opus.

As Loud And Quiet's Sam Walton points out, the two records had plenty in common: "Typical: you wait ages for one era-defining masterpiece third album by a notoriously perfectionist band that incorporates nods towards experimental jazz, psychedelia and contemporary classical music in a firm rebuttal of Britpop and which is housed in coldly medicinal blue and white artwork full of aloof, impersonal slogans - and then two come along on the same day." Walton heaps praise on Ladies And Gentlemen for its visceral impact and the meticulousness of its construction, as the work of a man with a "singular sense of purpose".

Meanwhile, in a piece for Noisey, Cam Lindsay also mentions Jason Pierce's "singular vision", but instead traces the parallels and connections between Spiritualized and another band who released a landmark LP in 1997, The Verve. I've never had any time for Richard Ashcroft, but if (as Lindsay plausibly claims) Ladies And Gentlemen derives much of its emotional power from the fact that Kate Radley had chosen him over Pierce, then I guess I should be grudgingly grateful.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Enlightenment in the darkness

"Libraries gave us power", sang James Dean Bradfield on the Manic Street Preachers' classic single 'A Design For Life'. They can also give us hope or consolation when times are tough - as Rowan Hisayo Buchanan underlines in a fascinating article about the Bethnal Green Library in London. Established in what was once a lunatic asylum with the aid of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the library took a direct hit from a German bomb during the Second World War - only for the books to be moved down into a bomb shelter for their protection and so that the librarians could continue to provide a service to the local community. Keep calm and carry on indeed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Health warning

Welcome to In Goop Health, where you can pay between £500 and £1,500 to go on a one-day "wellness adventure", learn that antibiotics are like "napalm" for the body, have your aura photographed and dine on such delights as "quinoa and lox swaddled in seaweed" and "ladles of unsalted bone broth". And, as Lindy West points out, mingle with lots of other wealthy white women.

Bizarre, laughable and grotesque, the whole thing could be dismissed as a satirical Chris Morris-style joke if it wasn't for the fact that the involvement of "radioactive swan" Gwyneth Paltrow confirms that it's all too real. It would be great if the Guardian could send Ben Goldacre to the next event.

(Thanks to Joe for the link.)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What will survive of us?

This site regularly reveals my addiction to ruin porn - stunning images of abandoned and deteriorating manmade constructions - but those images are usually merely stills. Nikolaus Geyrhalter's film Homo Sapiens goes a step further, capturing such post-apocalyptic and human-free places and buildings aurally as well as visually. The trailer is absolutely incredible, and sufficient to understand why Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw might have been moved to describe it as "the most extraordinary documentary I have seen in years".

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Everything in its right place

There have been acres and acres of articles written about Radiohead's OK Computer on the occasion of its twentieth birthday (a few examples of which are here). But what about the thoughts of the band themselves, as well as others who were part of their inner circle at the time (producer Nigel Godrich, artist Stanley Donwood, filmmaker Grant Gee, REM's Michael Stipe)? A series of recent interviews for Rolling Stone generated so much material that the magazine has published an oral history alongside the main article, and it's a fascinating read of how they manoeuvred themselves into a position of relative freedom in which they could create their magnum opus, how it was recorded and how it affected them (and Thom Yorke in particular).

Also worth a read is Jeremy Gordon's piece for Pitchfork tracing the way that Radiohead's development has paralleled that of the internet. The band were early adopters and have always used it as a way of creating mystique, generating speculation and communicating directly with fans (bypassing the mainstream music press) - so it's little wonder that their online fanbase is particularly zealous and that they have spawned countless fan sites.

Friday, June 23, 2017

All quiet noisy on the Western front

One of the major downsides of moving to Cardiff was that it ended my run as a regular contributor to Sounding Bored. As much as I've enjoyed listening to the monthly episodes this year, it's not the same as actually taking part - so it was with great pleasure that I was involved in the most recent podcast, Episode 18, recorded on location with Rob in the Welsh capital.

On what was a sweltering night, we battled against the drone of the overworked air conditioning and discussed Cardiff as the latest in our semi-regular Music Cities series. Hopefully, it doesn't just come across as me attempting to catalogue and give a shout-out to everything that's great about the city from a musical perspective (bands, venues, shops etc) - though there's admittedly an element of that.

The episode was an opportunity for me to wax lyrical about my long-standing love for Los Campesinos!, as well as enthuse about the new Public Service Broadcasting album Every Valley, which takes as its subject matter the decline of the mining industry in south Wales.

Album of the month was Sweet Baboo's Wild Imagination - an LP that struck a chord with me on a personal level (and beyond), even if it left Rob somewhat disappointed.

A big thanks to those who took the time to contribute their thoughts in advance of the recording: Noel Gardner, Mark Daman Thomas and Geraint Evans.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

School of rock

Ed Miliband, well meaning and generally decent though he seems, comes across as a bit of an Alan Partridge figure at the best of times (largely thanks to the voice). However, never has the comparison been more apt than yesterday, when, while filling in for Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, he took lessons in extreme metal vocals from Napalm Death's Barney Greenway. Needless to say, he wasn't very good.

In truth, Miliband has probably already got a bit of credibility within that sphere, given his association with massive gravestones and his niche appeal to the electorate.

So what's next - Ken Bruce collaborating with Squarepusher?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Free love

In 1967, not only did The Beatles release their seminal album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, they also scored a #1 hit with 'All You Need Is Love'. Rather fittingly, as Jon Savage points out, the single occupied top spot in the charts when homosexuality was partially decriminalised.

While popular music and culture didn't exactly have an instrumental role in bringing about change (though The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Pink Floyd all touched on the subject of homosexuality and androgyny), they were heavily influenced by gay visionaries like Beatles manager Brian Epstein and fashion designer John Stephen.

Savage's look at a momentous period in pop and the wider culture, and at how a confluence of progressive politics and shifting public attitudes resulted in a historic legal change, is an illuminating read.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Charge of the shite brigade

How music should be paid for and how music-makers should be compensated for their art is a regular subject of discussion (as it was in Episode 8 of Sounding Bored, on streaming) - but what about reviews and reviewers? It's a thorny issue, one brought into sharp focus by the decision of one website to start charging for reviews.

I must admit that Arctic Drones, an online magazine specialising in post-rock, hadn't appeared on my radar until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention by Dan Salter of Echoes And Dust, formerly a fan of Arctic Drones who profoundly disagrees with their recently adopted paid-for model. Salter's issue is not with the decision to create some revenue but with the way Arctic Drones are going about it: it's not readers who are being charged, but bands.

In response to Salter's online criticisms, Arctic Drones posted a lengthy Facebook post attempting to explain and justify their stance and reasoning, which has provoked a significant amount of further debate.

I'll admit that there are times when I feel uncomfortable for continually providing free copy - but it does mean that I'm able to hear many more albums and go to many more gigs than I could afford to otherwise. But I would never even attempt to equate (even obliquely) the time and effort I put into reviewing with the time and effort musicians put into their art - and how much money they expend in the process.

Even if Arctic Drones' reviewers do feel entitled to receive some sort of financial compensation (for, it should be pointed out, writing only about albums they like - as per another site policy), surely it should be generated through adverts, crowdfunding or some kind of paywall - in other words, generated from readers who think the site's content is worth paying for. Arctic Drones' model is the equivalent of the despised "pay-to-play" model operated by some unscrupulous gig promoters, and removes all credibility from their reviews, which (however you look at it) are now nothing but advertisements. If they want to morph into a site that provides a PR service, fair enough (I guess) - but they need to drop all claims to being reviewers.

While, to me and many others, the decision looks like a misguided attempt to bite the hand that feeds, Arctic Drones have made clear that they don't really care if it results in the demise of the site. Arguably, that's the most damning thing about the whole affair - if the writers have collectively lost the passion for what they do or at least are resentful of the time and cost that running the site incurs, then far better to admit that and close Arctic Drones down than adopt a model that discriminates against the very bands and music scene they claim to love.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Art and Kraft

Wonders will never cease. Not only are Kraftwerk busy dazzling audiences up and down the country  with a (by all accounts) astonishing live show that most probably never thought they'd get to witness, the German pioneers have also granted an interview. In conversation with the Guardian's Tim Jonze, Ralf Hutter isn't hugely forthcoming - his responses are guarded and often somewhat elliptical - but he does talk about technology, politics, his band's origins and their enormous musical legacy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hot stuff

It might not be the season for hot drinks, but as someone who can't get through any day - whatever the time of year - without copious quantities of caffeine, I read Buzz's guide to the best tea and coffee places in Wales with interest.

Of the cafes located in Cardiff, I can wholeheartedly endorse Wally's Kaffeehaus, which is styled on Viennese coffeehouses and is situated above an amazing deli, and would also make mention of Uncommon Ground, also situated in Royal Arcade. Outpost in the Castle Emporium, the Plan in Morgan Arcade and Brod in Canton, other places I've discovered while on my dedicated one-man mission to research the capital's cafes, would also be worthy of inclusion.

While I'm not likely to be tempted into venturing into Cathays just to go to Kappuccino's, Little Man Coffee on Bridge Street is very definitely on my radar - it would have been good to visit when it was hosting an exhibition as part of the Diffusion festival, but it does have the work of local artists permanently on display.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"A tragedy, but not an accident"

This is the phrase Ben Beachos rightly uses to describe the Grenfell Tower fire in a Vice article in which he cites "austerity measures, gentrification and a callous disregard for public safety" as the key contributing factors. It's hard to argue with his conclusions.

The Tories have slashed fire service budgets and refused to back legislation that would have required landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation, with Philip Davies arguing that it would put too much of a "burden" on them. Meanwhile, the landlord operating Grenfell Tower, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, and its management company, KCTMO, are being criticised for apparently prioritising external cladding to prettify the tower for the benefit of its wealthy neighbours over spending money on a sprinkler system and other fire safety measures (especially in view of the fact that it may well have been this cladding that spread the fire to all floors so rapidly). Even worse, they repeatedly dismissed or ignored the legitimate safety concerns of residents, leading the Grenfell Action Group to issue a stark warning last year that "only an incident that results in serious loss of life" would result in safety being taken sufficiently seriously. Theresa May has demanded an public inquiry, and the findings are unlikely to make pleasant reading for her party and the landlord.

The front page of yesterday's Daily Mail posed a question: "How the hell could it happen?" Beach's piece provides answers aplenty, though not ones that the Tory-supporting, health-and-safety-gone-mad Mail and its readers are likely to find easy to stomach. Perhaps aware that the headline left it on shaky ground, the Mail also published both the name and pictures of the resident whose fridge is alleged to have caused the blaze, as if to point the finger of blame. Of all the many indescribably despicable things that the shitrag has done over the years, that's right up there with the most appalling.

Horny devil

Reading Kate Mossman's recent article on Kiss for the New Statesman, it wasn't exactly a surprise to learn that Gene Simmons is a bit of a prick. And now here he is proving it, by claiming that he invented the devil horns hand gesture and attempting to patent it. If he's successful (if that's even possible), I don't know what it'll mean - paying him royalties every time you make the sign? Either way, I've got a two-fingered gesture he can have for free.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Free thinking

One of the few familiar names on the Cardiff music scene from my first stint in the city ten years ago is Stephen Black aka Sweet Baboo. Wild Imagination, released on Moshi Moshi, is his seventh LP - and one I've just had the pleasure of reviewing for Buzz. A thoroughly nice chap (I had a chat with him in a local park the other day, while we were pushing our respective sprogs on the swings), he also gave a short interview for the site.

His tour calls at Clwb Ifor Bach tomorrow night, but frustratingly it doesn't look as though I'll be able to go. However, Wild Imagination will be the featured album on Episode 18 of Sounding Bored, to be recorded on location here in Cardiff and set to be the latest in our semi-regular Music Cities series.

Quote of the day

"To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible's teaching has felt impossible for me."

A frankly mind-boggling statement from Tim Farron, issued in the course of stepping down from the leadership of the Liberal Democrats. Not only does he effectively concede that being a "committed Christian" makes you a bigot, he's then open about the fact that he's chosen bigotry over liberal values. Come back Nick Clegg, all is forgiven...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The whale truth, and nothing but the whale truth?

Despite being someone often presented as a pioneer and a true original, Bob Dylan has regularly been accused of taking significant inspiration from (i.e. stealing) the work of others and passing it off as his own, sometimes without credit. Often, this is in the lyrical content of his songs, but it's also true of his art - only this January, blogger Diamond Geezer told the astonishing tale of how Dylan had used one of his photos for a painting of a pier that the singer claimed was in Norfolk, Virginia rather than in Blackpool.

But it really would take the biscuit if Dylan cribbed the parts of his Nobel lecture about Moby-Dick from SparkNotes, the online equivalent of the York Notes books. Slate's Andrea Pitzer certainly makes a good case for it. As she suggests, it could possibly be seen "as a sendup of the prestige-prize economy" from someone who initially snubbed the Nobel panel, which would be a pretty punk gesture - but it might simply be evidence that Dylan can't change the habit of a lifetime.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fool's gold

I'll admit that while I've long approved of what Jeremy Corbyn stands for, like many others, I had become unconvinced by his leadership of the Labour Party and was unsure he could deal any kind of blow to the Tories in the election. How wrong I was (happily) - but not as wrong as Observer columnist Nick Cohen. He published a piece in March (before Theresa May called the snap election) that not only denounced Corbyn's leadership and electoral prospects, but also the man himself and any Observer readers "foolish" enough to back him.

At the time, the article drew criticism for its sweary and intemperate concluding message for Corbynites; three months on, its unpleasantly patronising and hectoring tone seems even more ill judged, and the content of the whole piece leaves Cohen looking like the real fool. Presumably he's now on a steady diet of humble pie.

(Thanks to Chris for the link.)