Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Speak your brains

Morrissey has joined Twitter - as if it wasn't already awash with people proudly spouting deliberately provocative comments. His first tweet - "Spent the day in bed" - hardly suggested he'll be worth following. It turns out that that's the title of his new single, though, and so perhaps the self-promotional tool is going to use his account solely as a promotional tool.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.

This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave.

It is a clear misuse of official statistics."

Sir David Norgrove, head of the UK Statistics Authority, delivers a smart slap to Boris Johnson's wrist for resurrecting the erroneous claim that the UK pays £350m to the EU every week.

Wonderful life

Nick Cave has always looked like a character in a graphic novel (particularly in his Birthday Party days) so it comes as little surprise to learn that he's now the main protagonist of one. Reinhard Kleist's Nick Cave: Mercy On Me is a biography created with Cave's input and approval that the singer has described as "a terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations" and "a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World". Consider my interest piqued.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quote of the day

"This is not a nice album. It was not made by nice people. It is an extraordinary, and ugly, and sensational album that could not conceivably have been made by anyone other than awful people. ... I can't see myself not listening to it, despite the deep distaste I feel for it. It's too damn good, and in the end, as distinct from other aspects of life, there are no useful rules about morality in art. There's what you can stand and what you can't. I've never lost my appetite for Appetite For Destruction, and I don't suppose I will."

The Quietus' David Bennun's conflicted take on Guns 'N' Roses' first LP - now 30 years old - sums up my own thoughts both eloquently and succinctly. When you actually sit and digest some of the lyrical content ('It's So Easy' being merely the tip of the iceberg), it's a profoundly unpleasant record - and yet it's absolutely incredible at the same time.

It was one of the albums that went into the bin as part of my cliched post-hearing-Nevermind purge - but I couldn't live without it for long and, for all its abhorrent, indefensible sentiments, it remains a firm favourite.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Heavenly records

What better way for Constellation to mark the twentieth year of its existence than with a new album from Godspeed You! Black Emperor? After all, the celebrated indie label has been synonymous with the Montreal collective almost since its inception, to the extent that Godspeed have come to embody their whole not-playing-by-the-established-rules ethos.

However, Luciferian Towers isn't out until next week, so in the meantime Pitchfork writer Stuart Berman has selected ten of Constellation's most "crucial" releases. The inclusion of Godspeed's debut  (as opposed to its better, more accomplished successors) makes sense, given its wider significance, but I would take issue with Berman's choice of 2005's Horses In The Sky to represent Godspeed offshoot A Silver Mt Zion - to my mind, the earlier Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward is far superior, not least due to the sensational album closer 'The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes'.

Nevertheless, the article is a good read, and has prompted me to dig out the featured Do Make Say Think LP and also contemplate giving Carla Bozulich and Ought - who've previously left me underwhelmed - another try.

Snap(s) out of it

The Daytime Snaps Twitter feed - which takes screenshots and (often) text graphics out of context - makes me want to watch more (i.e. some) daytime TV. Almost.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Eyes on the prize

I'm hardly alone in pondering this, but what exactly is the point of the Mercury Prize these days? Well done to this year's winner Sampha and all that, but any award for which abominable albums by Ed Sheeran and Blossoms can be nominated (as well as The XX's substandard third LP I See You) and which is judged by a panel that includes Jessie Ware, Marcus Mumford and Jamie Cullum clearly no longer constitutes any mark of exceptional quality.

Much more worthy of interest is Drowned In Sound's alternative, the Neptune Prize, which this year pleasingly features Blanck Mass' World Eater, IDLES' Brutalism, Sacred Paws' Strike A Match and Sleaford Mods' English Tapas. While I enjoyed Honeyblood's Babes Never Die, I'm not convinced it's quite worthy of this company, but the list has reminded me of a clutch of records I haven't yet listened to: Ride's Weather Diaries, The Moonlandingz's Interplanetary Class Classics, Slowdive's self-titled comeback and Jane Weaver's Modern Kosmology. (I've got Weaver's new EP The Architect to review for Buzz, so listening to the album will help to put it into context.)

Anyway, voting is open until midday on Sunday, with the winner due to be announced next week. I'm currently favouring Sacred Paws.

Makes no sense at all

RIP Grant Hart.

This almost certainly isn't the place or time to admit this, but I've never really got Husker Du. They're one of my biggest blind spots - and I say that as a fan of most things from the 80s US underground and of Bob Mould's later band Sugar. When, at the Nightmare Before Christmas ATP in 2009, Mould appeared on stage with No Age to run through some Husker Du songs, I was probably the only person in the room grumbling that it meant fewer of No Age's own bangers.

What's put me off in the past has been an inability to get over the rudimentary recording quality of their albums - a very poor excuse, in other words. Reading the obituaries and tributes, it seems obvious that I should absolutely love them.

Where to start, though? Zen Arcade, I guess?

Quote of the day

"I don't think the state can do everything. It tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work. And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are."

A week after claiming he's opposed to abortion even in cases of rape, arch Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg argues that the fact people living in the UK in 2017 struggle to afford to feed themselves is a cause for celebration. Unfuckingbelievable.

Not only that, but he tried a spot of political point-scoring by attributing the upsurge in food bank usage to the fact that the Tories have overturned Labour's ban on jobcentre staff explicitly referring benefits claimants to food banks. The Trussell Trust have swiftly debunked that claim as nonsense, and it just goes to show that the US doesn't have a monopoly on right-wing politicians who happily spew out brazen lies.

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"I have read your story. I don't think it's bad, but you must stop using too many adjectives. Study Hemingway, particularly his early work and learn how to write short sentences and how to eschew all those beastly adjectives."

Roald Dahl's forthright response to teenager Jay Williams in 1980, after the aspiring author sent him a sample of his work for comment and appraisal.

OK, so this should really have gone up on the site yesterday, to coincide with Roald Dahl Day - but it needed to be posted simply because it's advice I would do very well to heed myself...

Rewriting history

Think colonialism's bad? Well, you thought wrong. At least, you did according to academic Bruce Gilley, whose recent paper in journal Third World Quarterly entitled "The Case For Colonialism" not only claims it was, "as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate" but also argues that we should create "new Western colonies from scratch".

I'm not entirely sure what my old employers were thinking in accepting the article for publication. Presumably a paper by David Irving entitled "The Nazis: Just A Nice Bunch Of Lads" is next.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Seeing double

Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody isn't due to be released until December next year, but we've already been treated to the first shot of Rami Malek in the lead role - and the resemblance is staggering. Now fan footage has emerged of the filming of Queen's legendary Live Aid performance scene. Sadly it's unavailable to view in this country due to copyright reasons, but the screenshot of a grinning Brian May in the background indicates his approval.

Sacha Baron Cohen was originally lined up for the role, but bailed out following disagreements with Mercury's remaining bandmates, who are working as executive producers. He told Howard Stern last year that part of his disgruntlement was with their determination to paint a sanitised, "PG-rated" picture of Mercury's life. As he said, this airbrushed portrait might be understandable, but it would (or will) almost certainly make the resulting film much less dramatically engaging.

Meanwhile, this December we can look forward to seeing The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of the cult classic The Room which stars James Franco in the role of Tommy Wiseau. On the evidence of the trailer, it's going to be very good indeed.

A prickly subject

Is there any news that the Daily Mail can't or won't twist, distort or misrepresent? The British Hedgehog Preservation Society have been prompted to issue a clarification after the rag printed a story claiming that experts have advised people not to feed hedgehogs in the autumn.

Similarly, Dawn Scott of the University of Brighton (the expert quoted) has also issued a statement, branding the story "misleading" and explaining that she was making a much more nuanced point about the need for further research into anthropogenic feeding.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Bo selected

With the addition of psych mentalists Bo Ningen (among others), the bill for Ritual Union - Future Perfect's one-day festival in Oxford next month - is looking significantly stronger. Just a shame, then, that it's looking as though I won't be able to make it. Hopefully it'll be a success, as Cowley Road has been ripe for this kind of bash ever since Gathering stopped.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Off the record: starts with a Euro Tech Pop thing and transition into a more peppy tune that's easier to dance to and has a sound track that on YouTube is impossible to heard. Suspect it won't make Casey Kasem's Top 40."

Karl Rove on the song 'Walk It Back' from The National's new LP Sleep Well Beast.

The fact that the Republican and former Deputy Chief of Staff in the George W. Bush administration has written a barely literate review of a National song would seem bizarre if it wasn't for the fact that the track in question features a quote that appeared in a 2004 New York Times article and that has been attributed to him - a quote that he's claimed is entirely fictitious.

The National's response to Rove's denial and review was nicely succinct: "Fuck you, Karl."

Wish you were here?

A postcard almost invariably shows a place at its absolute best, with the reality rarely matching up to its idealised image. That was the inspiration behind Pablo Iglesias Maurer's series Abandoned States, for which he juxtaposed 1960s postcard shots of popular holiday resorts (some of which looked touched up) with photos of the disused, decaying buildings now. The results underscore the destructive passage of time but also the faded dreams of the optimistic post-war period.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hot stuff

Having already spoken to Trev McCabe, the proprietor of Pop 'N' Hops, for a Buzz article, it only seemed right to also chat to Matt Jones of Outpost, another Cardiff venture making a name for itself for selling drinks alongside vinyl. Rather than craft beer, though, Outpost specialise in hot, caffeinated goodness. Its location in Castle Emporium is just another reason why Womanby Street is the coolest in the city.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Gone but not completely forgotten

I don't suppose many people lie awake at night wondering whatever happened to JJ72. Once upon a time - around the year 2000, to be precise - the Irish trio looked set for superstardom: a succession of hit singles, the attention of an excited music press, tours with Coldplay and Muse and the patronage of U2. The Quietus' Matt Kaufman has caught up with the band's former vocalist and guitarist Mark Greaney to find out what went wrong - a classic tale of too much expectation and pressure, a poor follow-up album and the fickle nature of the music industry. Meanwhile, Dean Sobers revisits their self-titled debut LP, which appealed to Smashing Pumpkins and Placebo fans (as I certainly was at that time).

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Answering back

As a music journalist (of sorts) who does the occasional interview, it can be difficult to find interesting questions and new angles. But as a musician, it must be infinitely more tedious to be asked the same things over and over again in the build-up to, and in the wake of, an album's release. St Vincent's decision to create an "interview kit" - written by none other than Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney (and now, more famously, Portlandia) - is a characteristically funny and sharp comment on the drudgery of doing press and the dumbness of some interviewers' questions.

The kit may well come in handy given that she has a new album, MASSEDUCTION, out on 13th October. The LP - which is apparently "all about sex and drugs and sadness" - has been preceded by 'Los Ageless', which unfortunately isn't as good as its name, but the earlier single 'New York', her take on the conventional romantic ballad (i.e. one that features the word "motherfucker" several times), is much better. I found myself admiring rather than loving her much-lauded 2014 self-titled album - perhaps this will be the one that finally wins me over completely.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Sit down, shut up

Wednesday brought (unwanted) evidence that attempts to intimidate female MPs into silence don't only take place on social media - and that the perpetrators aren't always anonymous members of the public. When she stood and began asking Theresa May about the Tories' promised childcare provisions during Prime Minister's Questions, Layla Moran - the newly elected MP for my old constituency in Oxfordshire - found herself jeered by Tory MPs in the opposing benches, to the point that she stopped and covered her mouth in anxiety and embarrassment. Speaker John Bercow came to her rescue, but defended the Shadow Secretary of State for Education's right to speak in the most patronising terms, as a "highly articulate lady".

I don't suppose we should be surprised by the incident, given the nature of the question and the fact that those culpable are monied male oafs who can't understand why parents don't just employ nannies, but it's nevertheless shameful conduct in a place that supposedly enshrines the values of equality and democracy in 2017. Credit to the Independent for subsequently giving her a platform to air her view uninhibited by jeering boors.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Support act

It's easy to turn up to a gig, enjoy yourself for a couple of hours and then head home again, without sparing a thought for all the hard graft that's gone into setting it all up and ensuring it runs smoothly. Promoters are an integral part of any city's music scene, bringing national and international acts to local audiences while (ideally) also championing the cream of the city's own bands and musicians.

In an attempt to give credit where it's due and offer exposure to some of those who work tirelessly behind the scenes, I spoke to Matt Jarrett, one half of Cardiff promoting team Fuelled By Jealous Lovers, who have put on two of the best gigs I've been to this year (IDLES in April and Tricot at the tail end of last month).

At a time when venues seem to be under increasing threat every day, it's encouraging to know that live music has such enthusiastic and passionate supporters. It's down to the rest of us to do our bit.

The inconvenient truth

Defending plans to curb immigration, Theresa May has said that it would protect low-paid Britons. A reasonable justification, you might think - except for the fact that it's simply not true. As Lib Dem leader Vince Cable revealed yesterday, during her time as Home Secretary May suppressed no fewer than nine studies that suggested that "immigration had very little impact on wages or employment". On the contrary, some experts pointed out that immigrants actually create job opportunities.

Cable has essentially shown up May's claim for what it is: a cynical attempt to dress up a xenophobic proposal in a way that will make it palatable to working-class Labour voters while simultaneously playing to the Brexiteer gallery.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The light fantastic

It might still not be the heavily electronic Mogwai album I've been craving ever since Happy Music For Happy People's 'I Know You Are But What Am I?', and it's probably not quite up to the very high standards of last year's Atomic soundtrack, but Every Country's Sun is still (in my book) a marked improvement in their last LP proper, 2014's Rave Tapes.

The record - whose title, please note, is not a pun - is their first without guitarist John Cummings, so it's understandable that there should be a discernible shift in style. In truth, though, it's less "some of the wildest left turns of the group's 23-year career", as Bandcamp reviewer Ron Hart has claimed, and more evolution than revolution, as the appraisals of the Guardian's Dave Simpson and MusicOMH's Sam Shepherd suggest. Synths are more prominent than before, but nevertheless remain subtle and relatively unobtrusive, used to flesh out the sound rather than dominate the songs.

The album starts with 'Coolverine', the first of several slow-burners, and 'Party In The Dark'. The latter is likely to be the most talked-and-written-about of the tracks on Every Country's Sun simply because it's the most obviously accessible and almost "pop" thing they've ever done. Stuart Braithwaite has provided vocals before, of course, and they haven't always been obscured by the use of a vocoder (see Rock Action's 'Take Me Somewhere Nice', for example) - but 'Party In The Dark' nevertheless feels like it goes a step further, perhaps evidence that his work with side project Minor Victories has had an influence.

'Crossing The Road Material' is very good indeed, and though the LP dips a bit in the middle, I really like the trajectory it takes in getting progressively louder towards the end through 'Don't Believe The Fife', 'Battered At A Scramble' and 'Old Poisons', and the title track brings it to an entirely satisfactory conclusion.

Happy music for happy people

As if you should need any further reason to go and see live music, it's actually good for your psychological well-being. Presumably the researchers took into account matters of personal preference, though - it's not like any gig would work for everyone. For example, I'm not likely to ever come out of a Kasabian gig feeling happier about myself and the world. I'm not even sure that some of the shows I voluntarily go to and enjoy are good for me...

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Silence the abusers, not their victims

It's well known that women suffer disproportionate and horrendous abuse on social media, but empirical evidence that reveals the scale of the problem is nevertheless alarming.

Azmina Dhrodia was part of an Amnesty International team that conducted research into the abuse received and endured by female MPs in the UK via Twitter in the six-week run-up to the election in June. They found that Diane Abbott was particularly singled out, the subject of a staggering 45 per cent of all abusive tweets during that period. As is evident from the content of many of the offending tweets, much of the abuse is racist as well as sexist in nature.

The impact is felt on a personal level - Abbott admits that the sheer volume of abuse is what "makes it so debilitating, so corrosive and so upsetting" - but also much more widely, in that it effectively serves to silence women's voices online, or at least make them think twice about posting. For those in the public eye for whom social media is (potentially) an invaluable communicative tool, such as MPs, this is particularly troubling.

Dhrodia argues that attitudes need to shift (or be shifted) in wider society, in recognition of the fact that online behaviour cannot be dissociated from offline reality - a difficult and long-term challenge. In the short term, though, Twitter could at least start more rigidly enforcing their own policies with regard to hateful conduct. As she implies, those policies are laudable but essentially pointless if not properly and consistently implemented, with many cowardly keyboard warriors currently free to post abuse with apparent impunity.

(Thanks to Sophie for the link.)

Dark arts

There can't be too many artists out there whose improbable mission seems to be to join the dots between Throbbing Gristle and Lady Gaga, but that's exactly what Zola Jesus' latest LP Okovi suggests. Not that its predecessors were much different, mind - it's just that this might be the most fully realised version of that vision yet.

My review of the record features alongside other Buzz contributors' write-ups of the new LPs from the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Mogwai, Sparks, Wolf Alice, Mount Kimbie, Marc Almond, The Horrors, Amadou & Mariam and Cradle Of Filth (whose Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay explores "the clandestine underworld of late Victorian England", apparently...).

Monday, September 04, 2017

Keep on Trucking

Oh look, Pitchfork's Marc Hogan has - like me - drawn parallels between the spectacular horrorshow that was Fyre and the smaller-scale muddy carnage of Y Not, that (partially) took place in Derbyshire in July. He's gone further, though, and linked to this Oxford Mail article about arguably Oxfordshire's flagship festival Truck in his piece about poorly planned and organised events that have left punters disappointed and angry.

I knew Truck was now being run by Global (also behind Y Not) and that both bashes were extremely unfortunate with the weather conditions - but I wasn't aware that its future looks to be under threat given the disgruntlement of the site owner with this year's festival. Alan Binning has said: "The event has lost its village fete approach. It's gone too commercial and lost its way. There needs to be a serious re-think of approach."

While I wasn't there and so can't corroborate his complaint first-hand, it certainly rings true. That "village fete approach" - catering provided by Didcot Rotary Club (for whom the event has always been a major fundraiser), a sweet stall run by the local vicar - was always a cornerstone of its unique character. Here's hoping it can rediscover that character - though it seems as though Global might need to relinquish control for that to happen. It's already effectively been reborn once, after the disaster of 2011, so hopefully it can rise once again, on a smaller scale and with a much more interesting line-up.

Are you sitting comfortably?

As a member of Kyuss and, more recently and famously, Queens Of The Stone Age, Josh Homme is used to having an audience nodding back at him. Now it's been confirmed that he'll be trying to get his audience to nod off, with the news that he's joining the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart, Simon Pegg, Tom Hardy, Sally Phillips and Stephen Graham as someone who's read the CBeebies bedtime story.

It's hard to believe that the ringleader of the band that released Rated R (and 'Feel Good Hit Of The Summer' in particular) and for many years included Nick Oliveri in their ranks - a man booted out of punk outfit Dwarves (who released such gems as Blood, Guts & Pussy and Thank God For Little Girls) for being too nuts - has been invited to address the nation's pre-schoolers.

On the subject of QOTSA, I've been distinctly underwhelmed by what I've heard of new LP Villains. Its predecessor ... Like Clockwork left me completely cold too - but, given their back catalogue (Songs For The Deaf, in particular) and a magnificent Other Stage-headlining set at Glastonbury in 2011, I feel like I owe it to them to give it a try.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Friends in high places

With Oxford's fantastic subterranean gig venue the Cellar under threat of closure, it's good to know that there's a familiar face vowing to fight its corner, and in a position of some authority, influence and clout too. Alex Hollingsworth is a former colleague of mine, back when he used to commission books on architecture. The Cellar won't win any prizes for architectural aesthetics or feature on Grand Designs any time soon, but it's a haven for music enthusiasts that needs to be preserved.

Thanks to Ronan of Nightshift for pointing me in the direction of this blog post by Richard Brabin. It's a perfect summary of the Cellar's cultural and historical significance for Oxford - and a riposte to those who would prioritise retail facilities over everything else and turn the city into a homogenised place devoid of any character.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Mathemagicians

If you think that math rock is all white boys with a nerdish obsession for improbable time signatures and little regard for entertaining their audience, Tricot are here to make you think again. Tuesday night saw them come to Clwb Ifor Bach for the second time in a year and a half, and they were (rightly) as rapturously received as they were last March.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Purrfection

I didn't really see this coming, but we're now officially Cat People. Jen wanted a pet of some description, Stanley wanted a cat called Sparkles and I wanted her to be black and white - so everyone's happy.

She's currently busy adjusting to her new surroundings, and will have the run of the house once she's learned to use her litter tray rather than pooing in the kitchen sink. She's already discovered the delights of taking a stroll across my desk and keyboard, so if any garbled, nonsensical posts appear here, you can (probably) blame her.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cold front

January doesn't seem the most likely time for a music festival, but that hasn't deterred the organisers of the third Rockaway Beach event. Needless to say, there won't be a tent in sight at their bash - it's due to take place at Butlins in Bognor Regis.

Given that their second festival was in October 2016, it seems that the organisers have decided to change the timing, while keeping the location the same. Judging by the latest bill, the booking policy has also shifted from the leftfield in the direction of the mainstream - from the likes of Wire, Clinic, Blanck Mass and Jane Weaver in 2016 to Wild Beasts, British Sea Power, The Orb, Alabama 3 and Peter Hook & The Light.

While there are smaller bands further down the bill to catch the interest (Honeyblood, Pulled Apart By Horses, Gang Of Four), I'd venture to suggest that, with the event four and a half months away, they really need to announce more acts that will really entice people to brave the British seaside in the bleak midwinter.

Printing press

I'm no Terry Pratchett nut - far from it - but have to hand it to the late author for insisting on keeping control of his literary legacy by asking for his unfinished novels to be destroyed. He's not unusual among writers in that regard (not that such wishes are always respected), but the manner in which he sought to prevent any posthumous opportunism by publishers has made the headliners: his hard drive, containing up to ten incomplete works, was literally steamrollered at the recent Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quote of the day

"I don't believe Hurricane Harvey is God's punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than 'climate change'."

It was only a matter of time before someone pointed the finger of responsibility for the devastating flooding in Houston at the gays - and when it happened, it was always a fair bet that it would be Ann Coulter doing the pointing.

In related news, it was good of local pastor Joel Osteen to offer his thoughts and prayers for victims of the flooding. What might perhaps have been better, though, would be to have opened the doors of his 16,000-seater megachurch (yes, you read that right) to provide shelter rather than making the highly dubious claim that it was "inaccessible".

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The underground resistance

Deeply saddening news from Oxford, where the Cellar is under threat of closure. It's a classic underground gig venue - a scruffy, dark, low-ceilinged sweatpit - and perhaps most importantly is located just off Cornmarket, right in the city centre, rather than out on Cowley Road. Its loss - threatened by the charities who own the building and want to redevelop it into additional retail space - would be a devastating blow to the city's live music scene.

Unsurprisingly, the outcry has been immediate and loud, with punters and musicians alike expressing their dismay and signing a petition protesting the proposed closure. I have many fond memories of shows there, not least Oxes back in October 2008 and Maiians with Cassels in January 2016 (ironically to mark Independent Venue Week). It was also the site of my last gig in the city before moving (The Wave Pictures last November).

Here's hoping an amicable solution can be reached and its doors can remain open.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pixels of the pops

Hats off to whoever came up with the title "Joystick division" for this list of "bizarre band video games". The "strange and existential" Frankie Goes To Hollywood game sounds genuinely fascinating and seriously ambitious, incorporating "elements of political satire and philosophical probing", while Journey Escape - part of which involved escaping from "love-crazed groupies" - comes across as an even more monumental act of hubris than the others.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sonic youths

Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis is so synonymous with his flowing locks (these days wholly grey) that it comes as a shock to see a photo of him with close-cropped hair. But at the age of 16, in his first band Deep Wound, he was an ardent hardcore fan and so, like most, signified it through his outward appearance.

Mascis' reflections on his formative years, the appeal of Minor Threat and what he learned from hardcore and took into Dinosaur Jr form part of Loud And Quiet's Sweet 16 series, which has also seen Thurston Moore recalling how he quit his role as a flautist in the school band in protest at being told to wear a bow tie.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Red reads

Investigation by the FBI, the threat of arrest and prosecution on charges of sedition and "criminal syndicalism", violent attacks by right-wing groups including the KKK: as this fascinating article by Joshua Clark Davis about a largely forgotten phenomenon underlines, running a Communist bookshop in the US during the twentieth century was a risky business.

Such stores evidently not only disseminated left-leaning literature and served as focal points for local branches of the Communist Party, but also "flourished as hubs of avant-garde culture and various kinds of free thought" - particularly vital, as Davis notes, in smaller cities with a paucity of such spaces.

The death knell for most Communist bookshops was sounded by the fall of Communist regimes around the world and the rise of chain and online stores such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon - but, were they still numerous, you have to suspect that the current political climate under Trump's presidency would be as viciously inimical to them as was the period of McCarthyism and the Red Scare in the 1950s.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Long live the King

As someone who knows embarrassingly little about Elvis, listening to Episode 20 of Sounding Bored was a revelation, as it pitches regular guest and Presley fanboy David Cox in conversation with host Rob Langham for a fascinating journey through the King's life, focusing on five key moments: his birth into poverty in East Tupelo in 1935; the release of 'Heartbreak Hotel', his first single for RCA, in 1956; the death of his mother and his entry into the US Army in 1958; the legendary 1968 "Comeback Special"; and his death in 1977. The episode was recorded on the fortieth anniversary of that tragic and much mythologised event, and is a worthy tribute to someone who, as David and Rob agree, remains culturally omnipresent if not always clearly visible.

The news items under discussion relate to the beef between Martin Shkreli and Wu-Tang Clan and the recent incident in which Belle & Sebastian left their drummer at a Walmart in only his pyjamas. The episode ends with the pair struggling to find positive things to say about Arcade Fire's widely maligned new LP Everything Now. They're not alone...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hello Dave BBC Two

Wanna buy some pegs? Well, you may just be in luck, with official confirmation that The League Of Gentlemen will be returning to the Beeb for three new special episodes, with all four original members - Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and the non-performing Jeremy Dyson - coming together to contribute. Presumably, then, no one else has upset Shearsmith by damning the original series with the label "kooky".

As is always the way with such announcements (including the news that Alan Partridge will also be returning to the channel), it's been met with a large dose of excitement but also a measure of concern that the new episodes might struggle to live up to the heights of their predecessors. Only time will tell, but the consistent quality of Shearsmith and Pemberton's Inside No. 9 certainly gives cause for optimism.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cheap laughs

There's often a debate to be had about the best joke of the Edinburgh Fringe, but this year the winner - a one-liner from Ken Cheng - is especially questionable: "I'm not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change." Not only did a panel of comedy critics choose it among their selection, but it then won the approval of the public with a whopping 33 per cent of the vote.

Pretty much all of the gags on the list are funnier than that, I'd say - my favourite being Mark Simmons' effort: "Combine Harvesters. And you'll have a really big restaurant." I also enjoyed Frankie Boyle's contender: "Trump's nothing like Hitler. There's no way he could write a book."

Speaking of Trump and comedy, the dumbfuck president and various others were beautifully ridiculed by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live - all while she was attempting to ensure that "sheet caking" is now a thing. I'm a big fan of 30Rock but haven't seen many of her appearances on the show on which she made her name, so this was a pleasure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Green (Man) with envy

Aside from a spate of tent robberies and a decidedly damp Sunday, this year's Green Man - the fifteenth - appears to have been another resounding success. The line-up was (once again) stellar, and just reading about it makes me insanely jealous that (once again) I wasn't there to enjoy it. Next year maybe.

Here's Fiona Stewart, Green Man's managing director and "owner", talking about the festival before the event took place. It's a definite jewel in Wales' crown, and in a setting that puts even Glastonbury to shame.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"It's so wonderful you booked the most self-important asshole on earth to 'break it all down for us' while he does his Nick Cave impression."

Fresh from savaging the Strokes, Ryan Adams turns his attention to Father John Misty aka "Sir Fuckhead", whom he claimed is like a "shit Elton John but if he was just sitting in a corner staring at his hands on LSD".

The tweets were posted in the early hours of the morning before his headline set at last weekend's Green Man festival, so it's fair to assume he may have been in a state of intoxication. He's since apologised on Instagram - though not without making an attempt to claim the moral high ground: "I am very tired but it's no excuse to be cruel to others, even if they have shown me that same meanness."

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The big hitters are back

Arcade Fire's latest LP Everything Now may have met with much bafflement, disappointment and outright hostility (I still haven't been able to bring myself to listen to it), but at least there's the consolation of knowing that two more of my favourite bands are gearing up for new releases.

First up there's Spiritualized, whose Jason Pierce has been talking to Elizabeth Aubrey of the Quietus. The band's new LP sounds like another intense labour of love for Jason Pierce, something that he's been recording (and re-recording) painstakingly over more than a year, to the point of obsession and to the detriment of his health. He's promising "a big record" that really makes a statement - but then that's pretty much par for the course with Spiritualized. Here's hoping that the cover artwork is rather better than that of the album's predecessor, 2012's Sweet Heart Sweet Light...

And then there's Godspeed! You Black Emperor, who've announced that a new LP, Luciferian Towers, will be released on 22nd September. The artwork and accompanying text, songtitles and press release all suggest it will be very much business as usual: resolute left-wingers soundtracking the apocalypse. On the one hand, you could see it as treading old ground - but on the other, with Trump in power, expressing sympathy with those on a neo-Nazi march and making belligerent threats to North Korea, the apocalypse seems particularly close at hand, and Godspeed! are arguably more relevant than ever.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

More than just hot air

The Trump/Charlottesville fiasco has been utterly shameful and appalling - but at least it's given us some amazing cartoons, such as this one, by David Plunkert for the New Yorker. All the more remarkable that it's his first for the magazine. Many more will follow, you'd like to think.

Friday, August 18, 2017

From pain and perseverance to publication

Coming to the end of your doctoral research, or already sitting on a thesis that's gathering dust? In a piece for the LSE Impact Blog, my former Taylor & Francis colleague Terry Clague offers some helpful guidance on how to turn your research into publications of interest to a wider readership than just your examiners.

It may be that, like me, you still harbour fantasies of publication even though you're long out of academia. If so, I can readily understand the feeling of wanting to have more to show for those three (or four, or five) years of solitary graft than just three letters after your name that only rarely come in handy. I can also appreciate why you might have decided to get out, though - attempting to forge a career in academia can be psychologically bruising, as this Guardian article and the recent experience of my friend Cat underline.

(Thanks to Terry and Cat for the links.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Inflammatory idiocy

"Donald Trump the neo-Nazi sympathizer has achieved what Donald Trump the president has singularly failed to do: unite the nation." Thus begins Guardian columnist Richard Wolffe's reaction to Trump's now infamous press conference comments on Charlottesville, in which the president declared that there were some "very fine people" who took part in the neo-Nazi rally.

Later, Wolffe notes that Trump's sympathy for neo-Nazis is consistent with previously racist pronouncements and behaviour, and is arguably "no more shocking than his pussy-grabbing boasts, his continued profiting from the presidency, his coddling of (and alleged collusion with) the Russians and his obvious obstruction of justice by firing the FBI director". True enough - but even then it does seem like a triumph for someone whose personal mission appears to be to plumb new depths daily.

That the US is now even more of a tinderbox than normal is all thanks to Trump. As John Oliver put it, "Nazis are a lot like cats: if they like you, it's probably because you're feeding them". In case you need a reminder of what those to whom Trump has been giving succour look and sound like, Vice News' coverage of the events in Charlottesville, and the individuals involved in them, is essential viewing.

Quote of the day

"Can't understand the fuss. Bellends at Westminster ... What's new?"

The irrepressible Denis Skinner MP on the fact that Big Ben will be silent from Monday until 2021 to allow for essential repairs.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Heavenly heaviness

As a band with legendary status and a large back catalogue, it was only a matter of time before Melvins got the Toppermost treatment. Ian du Feu's excellent piece serves as a gentle reminder to me that I own far too few of their numerous albums - only Bullhead and Houdini, I think - but it's nice to see the latter's superb 'Honey Bucket' among the selected tracks.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The waiting game

Another weekend, another festival that was (it seems) less entertainment and more endurance test. Judging by the complaints levelled at Saturday's Burning Lantern bash, just down the road at St Fagans National History Museum, there were a lot of punters left disgruntled by the infrastructure and the overall experience. My sources on the ground have since said that it wasn't quite as bad as that Wales Online article might suggest, though the queues for food and drink were indeed "terrible" and enough to test "even the most patient of us queue-loving Brits".

The promoters have at least had the decency to hold their hands up and admit their misjudgement - so hopefully lessons will have been learned if the festival goes ahead again next year.

Meanwhile, if you were thinking of taking a pineapple to Reading or Leeds, then be warned: you won't be allowed in. I tell you, it's political correctness gone mad.