Sunday, December 10, 2017

Brass Eye = solid gold

When it was announced that Brass Eye movie Oxide Ghosts would be coming to Cardiff, I was rather excited - and suspected that I wouldn't be alone. That much proved to be the case, with Snowcat Cinema ending up putting on two consecutive screenings on Tuesday just to satisfy demand for more twisted brain-wrongs from a one-off man-mental (to use Chris Morris' own words).

Needless to say, we weren't disappointed. Considerations of space (as well as a concern about spoilers) prevented me from discussing its contents at length in my Buzz review, but suffice to say that the scene in which a Morris character asks David Sullivan to define pornography is worth the entrance money alone. The Q&A with director Michael Cumming was a bit chaotic, but very illuminating nevertheless.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Not-so-fine dining

Back in June, Vice's Oobah Butler wrote about a sequence of dinner dates he had with people with a history of leaving spiteful reviews of restaurants on TripAdvisor. It turns out that there was a particular reason for his fascination with reviews on the site: he was in the middle of a secret attempt to get the shed in his garden to be ranked as the #1 restaurant in London, without actually serving a single meal. Incredibly, he succeeded - here's his tale of how it happened, and what transpired when, with mission accomplished, he finally made the fiction a reality and started serving up gourmet grub procured from, ahem, Iceland.

In a review of Michael Cumming's Brass Eye film Oxide Ghosts that I've just written for Buzz, I echo the director's view that creating hoaxes is far harder in the internet age because facts can be verified at the click of a mouse. Perhaps, though, as Butler's project illustrates, the opposite is somehow also true: social media and sites like TripAdvisor can actually fan the flames of hoaxes, rather than extinguishing them, with gullible punters falling over themselves to experience something that's talked up as exclusive, extraordinary and secret.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Friday, December 08, 2017

A sorry state

Well, here's some cheery news in the run-up to the festive period: a fifth of the UK population is now living in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. As poverty levels increase and the inequality gap widens, the finger of blame is being pointed squarely at the Tories' welfare policies, in conjunction with rising prices. The situation is so severe and concerning that "the entire board of [Theresa May's] social mobility commission quit over the weekend" in frustration and protest.

Reassuring to think that we're cutting ourselves adrift from Europe to be left at the mercy of these utter fuckers, isn't it?

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Fantasy football

Happy 25th birthday to Championship Manager - now called Football Manager, and much more than a mere computer game. A worldwide network of scouts now yields data that is so extensive that many professional football teams actually rely on it in the early stages of looking for new recruits. I must confess to only having owned Championship Manager 2 - a good thing, too, as it used to take me half an hour for a single game weekend, so anything more detailed and complex would have consumed my whole life.

For his BBC article celebrating the game's impact and longevity, Alex Bysouth simply had to speak to one of the original game's superstars, Tonton Zola Moukoko, who was at the time a hot prospect at Derby. The anticipated glittering career never materialised, and while manufacturers Sports Interactive have a meeting room named after him, it's a bit cruel for the company's director Miles Jacobson to describe players like Moukoko and Cherno Samba as "data errors".

In the second version of the game, my favourite under-the-radar signings were attacking midfielder Ivica Mornar and central defender Teddy Lucic. Neither could be considered "data errors", given they were both full internationals in real life, but when they found their way into the Premier League with Portsmouth and Leeds respectively, neither excelled in the way they did for my title-winning Newcastle sides.

It was probably a "data error" or at least a deficiency in the realism of early versions that allowed me to get away with playing an absurdly attack-minded 3-4-3 formation that saw Zinedine Zidane on the left of a three-man defence, Alessandro Del Piero in defensive midfield and a hyperprolific ex-Peterborough striker called Mike Eyre up front...

(Thanks to Sam for the link.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"What an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldn't run a piss up in a brewery bunch of jokers there are running the government at the most critical time in a generation for the country."

Ed Miliband with a tremendous verbal assault on the Tories. Either the normally mild-mannered Miliband has had his Twitter hacked or he's been spending a lot of time listening to Napalm Death.

The gift of laughter

Hang on a moment, BBC2 - after revealing you're going to be treating us to both three new episodes of League Of Gentlemen and an Alan Partridge documentary this Christmas, there's MORE? Incredibly, it seems there is - in the form of a one-off Vic And Bob's Big Night Out on 29th December.

I don't know about gifts that keep on giving, but the channel is certainly in an extremely generous mood this year.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Another one bites the dust

Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has already had a somewhat turbulent history, and now director Bryan Singer has been fired for erratic behaviour including a big bust-up with star Rami Malik. The show must go on, though - and despite the recent shut-down it's supposedly still on course for release in December 2018.

Apparently Tom Hollander (of Rev, among other things), who is playing Queen's manager Jim Beach, also had a falling-out with Singer and walked out, but has since been persuaded to return - a good thing, too, as he's bound to ensure the film is at least partially watchable.

I'm no hardened Queen enthusiast, but there's a potentially great story there waiting to be told - whether it is indeed told remains to be seen.

Back to basics

I'll admit that my interest in Parquet Courts had waned since the release of Sunbathing Animal in 2014 - but Andrew Savage's comments about their forthcoming record have grabbed my attention anew: "I wanted to get back to writing raw songs. Things you can dance to and things I could harness my anger into, which is plentiful being in America right now. I didn't write any love songs; it's all rippers." Bring it on, I say.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Twisted tributes

In his recent article on "superniche" cover bands, the Guardian's Michael Hann may have overlooked my chums Elvana, about to head out on their first overseas tour, but he did mention an outfit they've previously supported, Bee-Gees-gone-metal jokers Tragedy.

I'd heard of (and loved) the concept behind Ye Nuns (an all-female Monks cover band), but was surprised to discover that they include a whole clutch of former members of bloody awful Britpop bands (Echobelly, Salad, Gay Dad) in their ranks.

A particular debt of gratitude is owed to Hann for introducing me to Jewdriver, "who perform the songs of the neo-Nazi punk band Skrewdriver, reconfigured to remove the nazism", and Electronica Wizard, who prompted me to (finally) listen to Dopethrone by their inspirations, doom metal band Electric Wizard. It's somewhat Sabbathy, shall we say...

(Thanks to Ronan for the link.)

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Good Friday (and Good Saturday and Good Sunday)

2017 isn't even over yet and already we've got a tasty line-up for a 2018 festival to look forward to. As was the case this year, Wales Goes Pop will take place over the Easter weekend (30th March to 1st April) at the Gate Arts Centre in Cardiff, and will feature an impressive cast including The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Drahla, Peaness, Shonen Knife, Brix & The Extricated, Jeffrey Lewis and local hero Sweet Baboo.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

And the refinement of his decline

First day in the new job yesterday, and I have my very own office, with a view* and my full professional title on the door, and the prospect of international travel.** As I enter my fifth decade, it seems I'm finally living the dream.

Forty, then. Fuck me. All downhill from here - though in truth it has been for some time.

* Of an industrial air-conditioning unit.
** A day of training in London.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Fighting talk

You know what you're going to get with The Lovely Eggs: generally jovial daftness with the odd powerchord but nothing that'll upset the C86 janglepop kids too much. Or, at least, you knew what you were going to get with The Lovely Eggs. Relatively abrasive new single 'I Shouldn't Have Said That' and particularly its B-side, 'Melody For Meathead', suggests that they might be changing. Perhaps it's best if I get myself along to their gig at Clwb on Valentine's Day next year to find out whether they really are now more fighters than lovers.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Quote of the day

"In 2002, we owned the scene completely. If you look at the sales of NME, there's a long slow curve of downward sales from 1964. But there are two blips where they increased - '77 to '78, when NME had finally jumped on the punk bandwagon, and '02 to '05. It happened for us in a way that it didn't happen with indie in the 80s or Britpop in the 90s, and the difference was that we owned the scene. Britpop was owned as much by the tabloids as by NME - the whole Blur vs Oasis thing - whereas we owned a scene that nobody else could get inside. You suddenly had Kasabian, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, Kings Of Leon, The Killers, this explosion of really fucking great music, and nobody else could really understand what was going on, because it was based in the live experience. People say to me, 'Oh you were so lucky, because you had such a great scene, great bands and stuff'. We fucking built that scene. It doesn't appear by itself.

I ran it as a very visual paper. I basically said, 'I'm not interested in putting anybody into the magazine who doesn't have good hair and good shoes'. It doesn't matter how good the music is, I can't get excited about a band that doesn't look good. When Franz Ferdinand turned up at the end of 2002, they had fucking great hair and brilliant shoes. The conversation we'd had with record industries, the signals we'd put out, record labels know if they wanted to get into NME they needed to look fucking great. Putting that filter in place suddenly got bands like Kasabian rocking up. Whether it meant anything didn't matter, because you've suddenly got something to write about.

The idea of starting work at 10am is just nuts now, but that's what we had to do because most of them had been out the night before. You'd look at the gig listings, send out emails to PRs with minutes' notice and they'd get you on the guest list. Then you'd get cabs bouncing from one gig to another, and then all pile into the Marathon Bar in Camden afterwards. It was like living in some kind of rock and roll theme park. But the office could be a really brutal environment. I brought in very brilliant journalists and editors who just crashed and burned, because you can get rejected pretty fucking quickly. Some people are allowed into the clique, some people aren't. It is incredibly intimidating to walk over to the office stereo and put something on that everybody is going to listen to. That's the fucking job. If you can't do that, you shouldn't be on the paper to begin with."

Former NME editor Conor McNicholas, talking to Vice's Alexandra Pollard about his time at the magazine. It's long but worth quoting in full, as one of the most preposterous statements I've ever read. It's almost as if he's determined to give Donald Trump a run for his money in the self-aggrandising, delusional buffoon stakes, while also incorporating some Accidental Partridgisms.

It's genuinely hard to know what's the most ridiculous bit. The hubristic claim that he and the NME "built" and "owned" the scene? The even more mind-boggling assertion that "Kasabian, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, Kings Of Leon, The Killers" constitute an "explosion of really fucking great music"? The argument that establishing a "filter" - that bands had to have "good hair and good shoes" - should be considered a good thing because it resulted in "bands like Kasabian rocking up"? The suggestion that working conditions were "brutal" and that putting something on the office stereo could be "incredibly intimidating", which makes the office sound like some kind of warzone?

He's right about one thing, though: the fact that, under his editorship, the NME became "a very visual paper". In fact, it became a contentless comic for morons, one that's now distributed for free and comprised mainly of advertorials for branded sportswear. It would be far more credible and less hubristic if he were to claim to have played a significant part in the demise of music print media.

(Thanks to Luke for the link.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Merry Christmas

Gawd bless BBC2 for an apparent determination to make this Christmas particularly merry. Not only will the channel be screening the three new episodes of League Of Gentlemen during the festive period, it will also be building up to the forthcoming new Alan Partridge sitcom with a documentary called Alan Partridge: Why, Where, When, How And Whom? Back of the net.

According to the press release, the programme - which promises new material and unseen footage and features a host of comic actors who have worked with Coogan's creation - "will explore Alan's unprecedented cultural influence, his impact on the comedy landscape, and how the most entertainingly contemptible man in fictional light entertainment has become permanently embedded in the national vernacular". Recognition of his influence and impact is certainly merited, and the press release is also spot on when it ventures that Neil and Rob Gibbons "have taken the character to new heights".

All in all, a fine way to ensure that the new series is even more feverishly anticipated.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Cave in the capital

If Nick Cave is trying to make amends for his error of judgement over the recent Tel Aviv gigs (and the way he tried to justify them), then he's going the right way about it. A headline appearance at new London festival All Points East on 3rd June, with Patti Smith, St Vincent and compatriot Courtney Barnett in support, is pretty much guaranteed to be a highlight of next summer.

In other live news, Yo La Tengo's recently announced tour dates don't include anything in Cardiff (the nearest gig is at Birmingham Town Hall), but at least their label Matador are not-so-subtly hinting that a new LP (their first since 2013's Fade) is on the way: "MIGHT THIS TOUR HAVE SOMETHING OR OTHER TO DO WITH NEW RECORDINGS? Maybe. Possibly. Who can really say for sure in confusing times such as these?"

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Wipe out, but Cunk and the Gentlemen are back

Yesterday seemed to be a big day for breaking comedy news on Twitter.

First, Charlie Brooker admitted defeat and revealed that there'll be no 2017 Wipe, saying it was on the cards but he just "ran out of road" due to other projects. Perhaps it's for the best, though - reliving the year would be difficult even if refracted through the prism of Brooker's black humour, and Donald Trump has continually positioned himself beyond satire.

On a positive note, one of the projects that derailed the Wipe is Cunk On Britain, a new series of five half-hour episodes for the BBC that will build on the triumph that was last year's Cunk On Shakespeare. I can't get enough of Diane Morgan - she's the best thing about Motherland (review to follow), so it's good to know she'll be returning to our screens before too long.

Even better, Reece Shearsmith then confirmed that the three new episodes of League Of Gentlemen will air on BBC2 on 18th, 19th and 20th December. Please, please, please let them live up to expectations...

Horseplay

I'm not going to be able to get over to see Pulled Apart By Horses' gig at Swansea's Sin City next Tuesday - but that hasn't stopped me previewing it for Buzz. Here's hoping the venue's fixtures and fittings are robust...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Executive producers

Lots of bands have gone down the Kickstarter route in terms of pre-emptively covering the cost of releasing albums (as opposed to shelling out and then hoping to recoup expenses through sales) but there probably aren't too many who've offered fans the opportunity to stay at the recording studio, witness the album being recorded and join the wrap party. A pledge of £400 would have got you a room at Rockfield Studios for two nights to be part of the recording of Six By Seven's new album, but it's now all fully booked. Rockfield has legendary status and is also a part of Six By Seven's own history, as the place where they recorded The Way I Feel Today, their best-selling LP (if not actually their best).

Fingers crossed they can get the additional £350 needed by 1st January to make the whole project happen. As I've said before, 2013's criminally ignored Love And Peace And Sympathy is, to my mind, their best album to date, so it's heartening to know that Chris Olley continues to retain faith in the band. However, former Placebo man Steve Hewitt, who was largely the catalyst for Love And Peace And Sympathy, no longer appears to be involved - instead, original drummer Chris Davis is back, joined by another tubthumper. Perhaps most significantly, though, it seems that keyboard player James Flower - Olley's longest-serving musical accomplice - won't feature on the new record. His synth tones/drones are so integral to the Six By Seven sound that, without him, they might be in danger of losing their identity.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Electric wizard?

Of the Baker's Dozen features I've read, Lee Ranaldo's selection is probably the least surprising. That's not to say that the former Sonic Youth guitarist's chosen LPs aren't wildly divergent in genre and ethos, though - ranging from Mojo readers' classics (Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell) all of the way to out-there experimentalists and pioneers (Ornette Coleman, Glenn Branca, Einsturzende Neubauten, John Cage) via John Fahey, Elvis Costello and Pavement. The inclusion of records by The Beatles and Talking Heads is fairly predictable for anyone who's seen his episode of What's In My Bag?, while he's also made no secret of his love for Grateful Dead in recent years, writing enthusiastically about their farewell shows and contributing to a tribute album put together by The National.

The Baker's Dozen interview naturally involves talk of his influences and how they've filtered into his new record Electric Trim. While I've been a dedicated follower of Thurston Moore's post-Sonic Youth releases and have kept a fairly close eye on Kim Gordon's various projects too, Lee's previous solo albums have passed me by. The Beatles influence is definitely discernible in closing track 'New Thing', but Electric Trim's experimentalism is largely evident in the fact that it's all over the shop - often veering between styles within songs as well as between them. It makes for a disorientating listening experience - at times, otherwise good songs seem to be somewhat sabotaged (see the naff solo in the title track) and at others, so-so tracks suddenly come into their own.

Ranaldo has assembled a great cast of collaborators including Sharon Van Etten, author Jonathan Lethem and drummers Steve Shelley and Kid Millions. However, Van Etten's vocals are primarily in the background - it's a shame she only gets to be front and centre for the duet 'Last Looks' - and the clunkiness of some of the lyrics suggests that Lethem could have been more involved too. And then there are the fiddly little electronic details, which are largely incongruous and feel too much like an ageing Neil Young fan trying to sound contemporary.

For me, the album is encapsulated in its first two tracks. 'Moroccan Mountains' is absolutely exceptional, for the most part a dreamy, trippy, drone-psych-folk song with spoken-word lyrics not dissimilar to the material on Moore's Demolished Thoughts, and one of the best things I've heard all year. But it's followed by 'Uncle Skeleton', the record's one true dud from start to finish and a song that just has me cringing throughout.

Maybe he's got a great solo record in him (maybe he's already put it out and I just haven't heard it yet), but Electric Trim isn't it.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

False friends

I suppose it's inevitable at a time when the boundaries between the real and the virtual are increasingly blurred, but the service provided by Family Romance still makes the mind boggle. As the Atlantic's Roc Morin reports, Ishii Yuichi's company and others like it are able to supply surrogates for practically any scenario: supposed boyfriends, fake friends, false fathers, even pretend wedding congregations designed to deceive just one or two people.

What's particularly remarkable are the lengths to which Yuichi and his employees will go to sustain a lie. That, and the number of jobs they have on at any one time, means that they almost lose sight of their own identities. Yuichi claims he feels most like himself when at home with his real family, but when Morin asks him how he knows his family hasn't been hired, he replies: "That's a good question! No one knows."

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

A reformed character

History is littered with examples of musicians behaving dickishly, often towards fellow musicians - whether out of envy, out of ego and an overinflated sense of their own band's brilliance, or as a thinly veiled attempt to define themselves as different from the herd. All three factors came into play as regards Eddie Argos, frontman of Art Brut, who - much like Luke Haines - seemed to derive great enjoyment in taking snide potshots at others. Those potshots weren't always unjustified, but this article written for Talkhouse suggests that, unlike many such musicians, Argos has at least developed a degree of self-awareness and is capable of critiquing himself and expressing some contrition.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The List top the list

Congratulations to The August List, whose track 'Wilderness' has been named the best of 2017 by an Oxfordshire act by Nightshift contributors. Editor Ronan was more than happy to stick his neck out back in April and predict that the alt-folkies' second album Ramshackle Tabernacle would be the finest released by any local band all year - and he was proven right (yes, Ride, that includes you). When I heard 'Old Rip' and 'Connie Converse', in concert in June 2015, it was already evident that the record they were working on would be something special. My pick of the LP's tracks was 'Petrified Forest', but I certainly have no quibbles whatsoever with 'Wilderness' - a track that exemplifies their dark American of yore and newfound embrace of drones - scooping the prize.

At risk of divulging trade secrets, three of my other four nominations also made it into the upper echelons of Nightshift's Top 25: 'Coup' by Cassels, who have had quite a year (and who I unfortunately missed playing Cardiff with Single Mothers last night); 'I'm Not There', the punchily melodic standout track on grungers Slate Hearts' recent Honey Roasted Henry EP; and the bubblegum fuzz-pop of 'Radio' by recent Sounding Bored guests The Other Dramas. All well worth your ears' attention.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Heading for trouble?

As much as I love him (and as much as I feel he's unfairly maligned as a pundit), it's fair to say that my football club's record goalscorer isn't much of a presenter. Nevertheless, Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football And Me, his BBC documentary exploring whether there's a link between repeatedly heading footballs and dementia, was worth a watch.

Over the course of the programme, Shearer met sufferers and their relatives, as well as talking to scientists working in the field. While there were no firm conclusions as to the existence of a connection, it was made clear that heading a ball does cause brain changes and that, though these are temporary, there may be cumulative negative effects in the long term. Shearer endorsed the specialists' calls for further research (and for the funds to conduct it - after all, the beautiful game isn't exactly short of cash at the top level) but stopped short of suggesting that the way forward was to ban heading from the youth game.

There was cause for cautious optimism that, 15 years after the pathologist who examined Jeff Astle's brain concluded that football-related dementia had killed him, the issue is finally being taken seriously - and hopefully the documentary will have helped to play a part in further raising awareness, encouraging action and reminding the authorities of their duty of care.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Quote of the day

"The album had a sonority and mood unlike any before or since: a painful beauty, a languid ennui, a timbre, oddly perhaps, both warm and metallic. To listen to it was - and still is - like having an exposed nerve stroked, sometimes softly, sometimes a little too roughly. ... The entwinement of rock and drone - that unique tonality and timbre - flowed into almost all that followed: punk, electronic-wall-of-sound, even avant-garde jazz and contemporary 'classical'. ... Emotions in The Velvet Underground & Nico are raw and honest, sometimes scalpel-edged, but in an age of idealism, these songs are as far removed from the 'summer of love' as you can get. And perhaps, 50 years on, the record is vindicated as such, as we find ourselves not so much in the aura of an 'age of Aquarius' as in what Percy Bysshe Shelley described two centuries ago as 'an age of despair'. Some people found the album cynical at the time, but the diagonal glance of Cale and Reed saw more accurately into their future - our present - than the lambent gaze of Joan Baez or Grace Slick."

As Ed Vuillamy makes clear in a piece for the Observer, 2017 marks the 50th birthday of two revolutionary records that, put simply, "changed the sound of sound". I wrote about Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band back in June, and Vuillamy's assessment of The Velvet Underground & Nico's remarkable qualities and its legacy is spot on.

I came to it relatively late, at the age of 20, on a stop-off at a friend of a friend's on the way back from Glastonbury 1998. Instantly, I was gripped - the louche ambience, Cale's scraping violin, the drones and occasional descent into noise, Nico's otherworldly voice. Even today, it sounds like the innovative, out-there creation of a band consciously pushing the envelope.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Growing pains

Just in case you're not already sufficiently grumpy and depressed about the phenomenon that is Black Friday, you can always rely on the Guardian's George Monbiot to do the job. He highlights the incontrovertible damage that our insatiable lust for consumption is wreaking, and goes further in claiming that sustainable growth is an impossible myth.

All characteristically grim and ominous, though he does undermine his argument somewhat by drawing his readers' attention to the existence of a device called a PancakeBot, "a 3D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa, the Taj Mahal or your dog's bottom every morning". If you're wondering what to get me for Christmas, there's your answer.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

An uneasy read

That modernism is experiencing a revival and renewed popularity (according to Bret Johnson, writing for the New Statesman) came as news to me - as did the fact that it had fallen so far out of favour. Modernist texts were a cornerstone of my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, so I guess you could say I was locked in the ivory tower with them, largely unaware of their currency in popular culture.

In truth, though, Johnson is referring to modernism not as a cultural/artistic phenomenon belonging to a specific historical period but as a generic term for art that is inventive, experimental and (as a result) challenging. It's a questionable conflation, not least because it's precisely the use of the term as a synonym for "difficult" that helps to make the works of arch modernists like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce seem more arcane and foreboding than necessary.

Nevertheless (and despite the fact that Johnson's article features plenty of backslapping over the New Statesman's role in the revival of "modernist" fiction, through the establishment of the Goldsmiths Prize, a rival to the Man Booker), it's encouraging to know that the British public retain some appetite for novels that resist easy readability and refuse to dumb down - and that there are both presses prepared to publish authors who take risks and literary prizes set up to reward them for doing so.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A man of (misguided) principle?

At the beginning of the month, I wrote about the fact that Nick Cave was coming under fire for planning to take his tour to Israel, and that it would be interesting to see how he would respond to the criticism. Well, we now have an answer - like Radiohead before him, he's come out swinging, but with a markedly less convincing argument.

In a pre-gig press conference, he's declared that "it suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people who are trying to shut down musicians, to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians". Which is all fine and well in some contexts, but in this instance is it not more important to make a stand against those responsible for the oppression of Palestinians by Israel?

Frankly, I'm disappointed in him - just as I was in Radiohead - and I'm not alone. Roger Waters has argued that the issue "isn't about music, it's about human rights", and Brian Eno has been equally critical, commenting: "It's nothing to do with 'silencing' artists - a charge I find rather grating when used in a context where a few million people are permanently and grotesquely silenced".

For those who rocked, we salute you

I'd say "RIP Malcolm Young", but the co-founder of AC/DC was never really much of a fan of peace. Is there any other way to pay tribute other than to play 'Back In Black' loudly and repeatedly?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Going solo

Writing about music can be tricky enough at the best of times, but writing about the largely instrumental soundtrack to a film you haven't yet seen is even trickier. Still, out of context, Phil Selway's Let Me Go is a fine record - I hesitate to use the word "enjoyable", as it's too unsettling for that, and thus in keeping with the film's grim subject matter.

Selway and his Radiohead bandmates Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are no strangers to going it alone, and now guitarist Ed O'Brien is set to join them, with work on a debut LP well underway. Presumably Colin Greenwood is busy formulating plans for an album of bass solos as I write.

Alongside my thoughts on Let Me Go in Buzz's November albums round-up are verdicts on the latest offerings from John Carpenter, John Maus, Quicksand, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts and locals Farm Hand, Martin Carr and Goldie Lookin Chain.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rockin' all over the world

I love a good record shop (I visit far too few these days, and seeing the inside of Amoeba Records during episodes of What's In My Bag? makes me salivate), but I'm not an absolute obsessive. If you are, and break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of being somewhere unfamiliar and unaware where the nearest record shop is, then help is at hand in the form of VinylHub. The brainchild of the folks behind Discogs, it's an ambitious attempt to create "an interactive map of every record store on Earth". As a crowdsourced project, though, it's only as good as the information that's fed in - so contributions and updates are always welcome.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pearls before swine

If you're looking for a band to take your arena gig virginity, then you could certainly do much worse than Royal Blood. That said, I wasn't at the Motorpoint Arena on Monday night for them - no, the real attraction was the opportunity to see the band occupying the main support slot. It wasn't quite the same watching At The Drive-In as a near 40 year old from a balcony seat play to a clueless crowd who couldn't give a toss as it was seeing them first time around, as a 22 year old from the moshpit at Leeds Festival, but it was still damn good (much better than paying a fiver for a "pint" of Tuborg poured from a can that was at least half head...)

Partly as a consequence, comeback album in.ter a.li.a has grown on me hugely, to such an extent that it might just sneak into my top five albums of the year when Rob polls the contributors to Sounding Bored in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The pretender

I've previously written and indeed spoken about the fact that Nirvana's Nevermind was (true to cliche) the most significant album in the formation of my musical tastes - one that swiftly led to the discovery of countless other bands, as well as prompting a complete clear-out of what then passed as my record collection. Among the LPs unceremoniously binned were Appetite For Destruction and the Use Your Illusion albums. I later saw the error of my ways and reinvested in the former, but it nevertheless felt strange watching Dave Grohl guesting with typical gusto on 'Paradise City' at Guns 'N' Roses' gig in Tulsa this week, doing his best to distract attention from Axl Rose's ropey vocal performance. Kurt Cobain doubtless wouldn't have approved, but what the hell.

Grohl being invited on stage for a guest appearance at someone else's show makes a difference from Foo Fighters' CalJam festival last month, at which the curators came together with Liam Gallagher and Aerosmith's Joe Perry to cover 'Come Together' and also collaborated with Rick Astley for a mash-up of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. Cobain definitely wouldn't have approved of that...

Quote of the day

"This one is like if somebody took [the last album] and dropped some acid on it or created a dimensional clash or something. It's all over the place."

Kevin Shields on My Bloody Valentine's new album, due to drop at some point next year. I'll be honest - I'm none the wiser. In light of Jack White's recent comments on his new material, perhaps Musicians' Baffling Descriptions Of Their Own Music could become a new regular feature?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"To say this is a f***ing dog's arse of an album is a f***ing insult to dogs' arses! Put it this way, if you were to take a small needle and rotate it for 40 odd minutes at 33 1/3 rpm around the interior of a dog's arse, the pained howls that would result would be infinitely preferable to the f***ing bleating bill of fare on offer here, the unedited f***ing musings of a superannuated, superfatted, greying teenager who went up to his bedroom to sulk in f***ing 1978 and has mentally never f***ing come back downstairs!"

Who better to review Morrissey's new album Low In High School for the Quietus than Mr Agreeable, someone with a similar penchant for voicing offensive opinions?

Punctured dreams

If the subjects of Michael Kirkham's Urban Goals photo series often look forlorn, patiently waiting for someone to come and use them, those of the pictures posted to the Lost Footballs Twitter account are positively tragic (if that's not a contradiction in terms): often punctured, all either irretrievable or abandoned and forgotten, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. BBC Three's Ciaran Varley has spoken to the account's founder Matt Lutz about the images and the accompanying indie lyrics that he and friend Adam regularly post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Right to buy

Barely a week has seemed to pass this year without Rachel Aggs playing a gig in Cardiff. On Thursday, she was back again, this time with Shopping (rather than Sacred Paws) and with Gauche and Lawndale High in support - and most enjoyable it was too.

I've also had a sneak preview of the new Shopping album The Official Body and it's a nifty little record - review to appear in due course.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old', when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?' Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!"

Donald Trump, so often the subject of Know Your Enemy quotes, indulges in a most statesman-like tweet about his opposite number in North Korea. As if wasn't already abundantly evident that they're a pair of childish brats. Unfortunately for the future safety and security of the planet, they're a pair of childish brats with access to enormous arsenals.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Pop pickers

When it comes to the internet, I'm easily distracted - and never more so than when I discover a whole load of episodes of the What's In My Bag? series from legendary LA record store Amoeba.

They're always interesting - even when sometimes you suspect the subjects are being deliberately obscurist and pretentious (Lightning Bolt, I'm looking at you). For instance, I wouldn't have had Conor Oberst down as a fan of Thin Lizzy or Rage Against The Machine (he recounts the story of playing a terrifying support slot with the latter, armed only with an acoustic guitar) or guessed that Deafheaven duo George Clarke and Kerry McCoy would pick a bunch of synthpop albums, Anthony Kiedis' autobiography Scar Tissue and Oasis' Definitely Maybe (choices guaranteed to further rile those death metal diehards who took against them for the pink cover of Sunbather).

Two of the best I've come across feature Melvins and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The former are hilarious together (it's evident how well ex-Redd Kross man Steven McDonald has fitted into the Buzz Osborne/Dale Crover double act), all showing off Rolling Stones-related picks and turning me on to Miles Davis' On The Corner (which, I've discovered, somehow seems to boost my productivity when working). The inclusion of the latest Ty Segall album and the Stooges film Gimme Danger is a helpful reminder that I need to investigate both.

Bixler-Zavala, meanwhile, chooses Cluster (not an especially out-there pick for a member of The Mars Volta) but also albums by a handful of relatively straightforward pop rock bands (Big Star, Guided By Voices, The Flamin' Groovies) and a fascinating-sounding LP by Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks - plus I love hearing an American's take on Sleaford Mods.

Worth a watch for pure entertainment value (rather than any useful tips) is the episode starring ex-Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach - a surprisingly likeable record-collecting fiend wearing his own T-shirt who bounds about like an excitable puppy in search of rare LPs and chastises his label to camera for the fact that the store has no stock of his album.

(I wrote about another batch of episodes of the series a few years back: Ty Segall, Dave Grohl, Lee Ranaldo, No Age, J Mascis, Jeordie White, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Bradford Cox).

It's a dog's life

There are few things better than a pub with a resident dog. As the pair behind new book Great British Pub Dogs, Abbie Lucas and Paul Fleckney wouldn't disagree. I feel sorry for poor Buster, who "has a phobia of drunk people" and so may be in the wrong line of work, and am now very keen to visit the Smack Inn in Whitstable just to meet Barney the cocker spaniel, who "has a bald patch on his tail from wagging it against things".

The gallery reminded me of the Kite in Oxford, whose landlord regularly took in waifs and strays from the West Oxford Animal Rescue Centre, making the pub seem like a doggy daycare centre that happened to serve beer. I'll not forget the time I was waiting at the bar and turned to my left to see an Alsatian perched on a bar stool staring at me as if to say, "I was here first, mate".

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dusty jackets

"Now that we have the wherewithal to read uninterrupted through the night, how many of us avail ourselves of it?" asks Howard Jacobson in his diary column for the Guardian. These days, he finds himself eschewing the pleasures of a good book, instead glued to a TV screen, and I suspect he's far from alone. A book at bedtime has become a thing of the past for me too, but my poison is the internet - I don't necessarily read any less than I used to, but the reading matter is articles like Jacobson's rather than full-length works of fiction and non-fiction.

Dismayed with his own behavioural habits, Jacobson argues that "you feel you've earned your sleep when you've wrestled with the angel of meaning at the end of a long day", and the science suggests that late-night screentime is potentially very bad for you. Time to make a concerted effort to switch off earlier and stop the books on the bedside table gathering dust, methinks.

(Thanks to Hugh for the link.)

Eyya gorrowt by Sleaford Mods?

With Selectadisc long gone (but still fondly remembered, not least around these parts) and the Music Exchange closing its doors early last year, it looked as though Nottingham's currently healthy music scene was curiously not reflected in its array of record shops. However, this LeftLion piece by Kyle Hearse suggests otherwise, flagging up Plates (next to/beneath the lovely Malt Cross), Rob's Record Mart and Forever Records - all shops new to me. There are also mentions for Fopp and Rough Trade, of course, and even the inclusion of HMV is justified with the claim that it stocks a surprising collection.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Goodbye to all that

At the end of the month, I'll be bidding farewell to life as a freelancer (at least for the foreseeable future) and returning to the world of "proper" work as the editorial assistant for a couple of journals based at the university here in Cardiff. For the last three and a half years, the flexibility has been great, but I can't pretend that I'm not excited or at least relieved at the prospect of earning more (possibly enough to actually start buying albums again - here's hoping!) and not having to work in the evenings, at weekends and often even when supposedly on "holiday".

That latter fact might actually mean more posts round these parts - though I'm reluctant to make any promises, not least because we've got countless TV series to catch up on and I really want to rediscover the lost art of actually reading a book of an evening...

Scratching beneath the surface

Independent venues may be struggling, beset by a whole host of threats, but - according to Clash - "Britain's DIY underground has never been stronger". To illustrate the point, Jack Palfrey has singled out five indie labels fighting the good fight to bring exciting new bands to fresh ears and wider audiences - including Oddbox, formerly of London but now based in Cardiff.

Of the bands mentioned in the article, I like the sound of both Pink Kink ("a sneering, hyperactive mix of The Cramps and Bikini Kill whilst taking aim at themes of sexual liberation and getting stoned") and The Gametes ("an Australian band who sound more like what I'd imagine The Fall would have conjured up if they found a home in 70s New York").

Meanwhile, Palfrey identifies RIP Records as having been responsible for putting out an early Blossoms EP and therefore instrumental in helping them to get where they are today - let's try not to hold it against them, eh?

Spin the black circle

For the second in the Sounding Bored spin-off series of interview podcasts, Rob spoke to Steve Reynolds, founder and DJ of Reading club night Darklands. The fact that it takes its name from the second (wonderful) LP by The Jesus And Mary Chain speaks volumes. Over the course of the interview, Steve talks about his formative influences, his love of vinyl, how to run a club night successfully and the songs pretty much guaranteed to fill the dancefloor. It's reassuring to know that there are still indie nights like this around, where you're more likely to hear The Fall than The Kooks.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Keep the boat afloat

Another day, another much-loved music venue under threat. This time it's the Thekla, the legendary boat moored at Bristol's Floating Harbour, not somewhere I've ever been to personally but somewhere evidently close to a lot of people's hearts. Those behind new development proposals stand accused of failing to undertake adequate noise assessment, with the management of the venue fearing that insufficient soundproofing and a deluge of noise complaints from new residents will be the inevitable result.

There is certainly hope, though. Thus far, those to have proclaimed their support for the Thekla's cause include musicians of the stature of Roni Size, Fourtet, Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Charlatans' Tim Burgess, while decisive victories recently won in both Cardiff (in the case of Womanby Street) and Oxford (in the case of the Cellar) are ample proof that petitions and people power can work.

Nevertheless, the bigger picture looks bleak. The Music Venue Trust must be one of the most overworked organisations in the country at the moment, given the sheer array of challenges that small independent venues face. This article by Drowned In Sound's Dave Brooks doesn't even explicitly mention aggressive developers and planning issues, though it does refer in passing to gentrification in relation to the exorbitant hike in business rates faced by some venues that now find themselves in areas where prices have soared. He underlines the negative impact of the Tories' Late Night Levy and points out that venues are often forced to charge inflated bar prices because that's the only way they make money.

And then, of course, there's Brexit, no less of a shitstorm in this context than it is in any other. As Brooks observes grimly, with access to EU funding about to be cut off and Arts Council England allocating an obscenely small amount of their overall budget for the next four years (just 0.06 per cent) to popular live music venues, more places like the Thekla will inevitably go to the wall.

Quote of the day

"My father's death has given me a lot. It has given me a lifelong love of women, of their grittiness and hardiness - traits that we are not supposed to value as feminine. It has also given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness - traits that we do not foster as masculine or allow ourselves to associate with masculinity."

I'm certainly not the first to flag this up, but comedian Aisling Bea's piece for the Guardian about coming to terms with her father's suicide is an incredibly powerful read. It took Robin Williams' suicide, last year's Grayson Perry documentary series All Man and a box of things from her dad's work desk to change her perspective and encourage her to open up about it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The end of the world isn't nigh?

On Sunday, Frankie Boyle opined: "I like the way every episode of [Blue Planet II] ends with the news that everything we've just watched is utterly doomed." I'd noticed that, too, seeing it as a very deliberate reality check for anyone still sceptical about climate change and a fundamentally depressing reminder for the rest of us.

Perhaps, though, the doom and gloom is overstated. Though it's admittedly beyond the remit of Blue Planet II, perhaps more emphasis should be placed on what can be (and is being) done to prevent environmental apocalypse, as a way of combating the fatalism and apathy that inevitably set in when the severity of the situation is made apparent.

In that spirit, the Guardian's environment editor Damian Carrington has identified the "seven megatrends that could beat global warming". There are actually only six - plant-based meat grown in labs, renewable energy, the declining use of coal, electric cars, cheaper and longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries, energy efficiency - as the seventh, deforestation, is a negative trend. Nevertheless,  the piece is actually gives cause for cautious optimism at a time when the imbecile in the White House is busy backing out of the Paris Agreement and appointing a climate sceptic to head up the US' Environmental Protection Agency.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Quote of the day

"It's good gardening music or roofing music or, you know, back-alley stabbing music."

Jack White talking about his forthcoming new solo album with actor Gary Oldman. That's all fine and well, Jack, but we'd be quite grateful if it was just good listening music...

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Feel good hits of the 7th November

1. 'They Gave Me A Lamp' - Public Service Broadcasting
Given its subject matter, Every Valley is naturally a pretty bleak listen for the most part, but 'They Gave Me A Lamp' is one of the few tracks that genuinely lifts the spirits. Commemorating the women who fought tirelessly on behalf of their husbands, sons and fathers during the Miners' Strike and found themselves empowered by the circumstances, the song reduced grown men to tears at the Cardiff show that kicked off Public Service Broadcasting's tour and received the longest and loudest ovation of the night.

2. 'Head On' - The Jesus And Mary Chain
It feels wrong to single out any particular song from The Jesus And Mary Chain's set at the Students' Union at the start of October - the whole gig was spectacularly good - but I'll give 'Head On' the nod over 'Happy When It Rains' and 'Some Candy Talking'. It's the reason why Automatic got a caning for about a week afterwards (and the original is better than the Pixies' version, naturally).

3. 'Special' - Angel Olsen
As if I didn't love Angel Olsen enough already, she's only gone and decided to throw us fans a bone in between "proper" albums in the form of Phases, a collection of rareties, B-sides and unreleased tracks in the mould of Nirvana's Incesticide. 'Special', a wonderful slow-burner in the vein of the second half of My Woman, is the second track of the album, following on from 'Fly On Your Wall', the arguably even better song that kicked off the anti-Trump Our First 100 Days project.

4. 'Holiday Destination' - Nadine Shah
It's not always the case that important records are also very, very good ones - but Nadine Shah's third LP certainly is. An impassioned defence of immigration (and, consequently, also a vehement attack on bigots who seek to dehumanise refugees) that channels the maverick sax-punk spirit of PJ Harvey's most recent album, Holiday Destination is a gripping listen from start to finish - especially the title track, about tourists in Greece turning their noses up disdainfully at those who have risked their lives to escape the horrors of war, persecution and poverty. A highlight of her recent Cardiff gig.

5. 'A Private Understanding' - Protomartyr
Despite falling for 'Come & See', I never really clicked with Protomartyr's breakthrough album Under Color Of Official Right. However, this track - the lead single from their fourth LP, Relatives In Descent, out through Domino - is something special, from the unsettling, almost arrhythmic verse to the powerful chorus. Joe Casey's baritone ensures that they come across as the unlikely offspring of Iceage and The National.

6. 'Blindness' - The Fall
Admittedly I'm not intimately acquainted with all of their enormous back catalogue (I can't imagine many people are), but surely there can't be a Fall song that's much more malevolent than this. That bass! Mark E Smith didn't look a well man at Tramshed back in February and his health is clearly suffering these days - but you have to give him credit for refusing to cancel recent tour dates and instead performing sat in a wheelchair.

7. 'Silk Spirit' - Drahla
I came across Drahla a while back, via this Loud And Quiet interview piece in which Dominic Haley ventures that the Leeds trio have "a sound that recalls Sonic Youth, The Breeders and cult Glaswegian post-punks Life Without Buildings (without really sounding like any of them)". That may have been the case before (on previous single 'Faux Text', perhaps, produced by MJ of Hookworms and released through the Too Pure Singles Club back in April), but - as Ronan of Nightshift has pointed out - 'Silk Spirit' is so Sonic Youth it hurts, even down to Luciel Brown's Kim-esque too-cool-for-school speak-singing. Needless to say, I love it.

8. 'Wolfbite' - Bat Fangs
If, like me, you remain smitten with the glorious, unashamed Cheap Trick thrills of Ex Hex's Rips but are growing impatient for a follow-up, Bat Fangs should help satisfy at least some of the cravings. Ex Hex's Betsy Wright has teamed up with Flesh Wound's Laura King and 'Wolfbite', at least, is very much cut from the same cloth.

9. 'Soak' - Zola Jesus
The news of a new Zola Jesus album, Okovi, had me wondering whether it might contain anything to rival 'Vessel' from Conatus. "Probably not" is the answer, but 'Soak' should be credited for coming close, a near-perfect synthesis of Nine Inch Nails' clanking, clanging electronica and Lykke Li's strident, dark-hearted pop.

10. 'Homage' - Causa Sui
A YouTube recommendation after I'd spent days listening to Sleepy Sun's Fever on repeat. Hailing from Denmark, Causa Sui are a mellowed-out Kyuss and ten-minute stunner 'Homage' comes from their 2013 LP Euporie Tide.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Starry ayes - eventually

Sometimes, in the live environment, it can take a while for a band to truly warm up. That was very much the case with psych/Krautrockers Mugstar at the Moon at the tail end of last month - but once what I think was a slimmed-down line-up got going, they really did get going. I could've happily listened to the final 15 minutes all night.

Huge credit to the Moon for putting on high-calibre free gigs on a Friday night - with the headliners perfectly timed for anyone spilling out of a show at Clwb Ifor Bach across the street. They're making supporting the local live music scene about as easy as it could possibly be - and serving up some decent, reasonably priced beer in the process.