Friday, September 25, 2020

Hauss music

Not for the first time in a Buzz review, I've found myself referencing John Doran's 2019 defence of the claim that Sunn O))) are "the most influential metal band of the decade". The first time, I was reporting back from December's superb Blanck Mass gig at Clwb (gigs, eh - remember them?); on this occasion, it was in the course of assessing Anna von Hausswolff's astonishing new LP All Thoughts Fly - not one for the faint of heart.

Also featured in this week's review round-up are the latest releases from Hen Ogledd, Action Bronson and IDLES. More on the latter to come soon...

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The light fantastic

Speaking to the Guardian's Dave Simpson ahead of this evening's Mercury Prize announcement, Hazel Wilde was cautiously optimistic about Lanterns On The Lakes' chances: "If we win, it would be for all the artists who have been plugging away for ages without recognition. And we're in unprecedented times, so for an unknown, long-serving indie band to win it with their fourth album might actually happen."

Sadly, it turned out that times aren't quite THAT unprecedented - Michael Kiwanuka was named the winner (to the audience of The One Show, bizarrely), so it's commiserations to my fellow North Easterners. Of course, the judges' verdict doesn't change the fact that Spook The Herd is a very good album, a career high and a worthy nominee - and this brief stint in the spotlight will hopefully have brought these hitherto unsung heroes to wider attention, deservedly so.

Beyond the reflections on their nomination and general underdog status, the interview with Simpson was notable chiefly for Wilde's surprising admission that her musical ambitions were inspired and emboldened by Oasis. It seems that the Gallagher brothers were Wilde's punk, proving that music was actually accessible to all. So there's something to be grateful to them for, after all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

"Music is for me an entirely political interconnection, a political act"

Given that his new LP, out on Friday is called By The Fire, it made perfect sense for the Guardian to mark the occasion by arranging the modern-day equivalent of a fireside chat with Thurston Moore.

In response to fans' questions, he spoke about his love of live music and records as physical artefacts, and waxed characteristically lyrical about everyone from The Wipers and The Fall to Patti Smith and Jimi Hendrix, and everything from black metal to disco. (Incidentally, his comments on the latter connect neatly to the chapter on no wave in Simon Reynolds' superlative Rip It Up And Start Again, which describes punk's entrenched antipathy towards disco and consequently James Chance's eager embrace of it.)

There was a revelation, too: "I've also been writing a book, about music, and my own personal experience with it, and trying to talk about my discovering and inspirations and intrigues with being a musician and starting Sonic Youth in 1980. So I've been writing that, and I hope to publish it on the other side of the quarantine age. It's titled Sonic Life." They say "Write about what you know", and Moore certainly knows about music. He might have admitted to listening to fewer records these days, but his enthusiasm evidently remains undiminished.

That said, his claim that Venom were from Nottingham did hint that his musical knowledge, while encyclopaedic, does have its limits. Has he never heard Beastie Boys' 'Dedication'?

(Thanks to Kev for the link.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The hole story

Conspicuous by their absence from David Hurn's recent exhibition Ynyshir: 25 Mile Radius at the Workers Gallery (or so I gather from the Offline write-up - sadly I didn't get there to see it myself) were the photographer's images of the Aberfan disaster. As Offline's reviewer (and editor) Brian Carroll suggested, they were omitted "perhaps justly". That fateful day in October 1966 might be more than half a century ago now, but no doubt there will still be those living locally for whom the pictures would have brought back excruciatingly painful memories.

Nevertheless, Hurn doesn't regret the fact that he and fellow photographer Ian Berry turned up and captured the aftermath: the devastation; the frantic efforts to locate and rescue children and teachers buried under the spoil; the dirty, wearied and despairing faces. On the contrary, he's insisted: "It's a really good example of photography absolutely justifying being done." The pair's cameras bore witness to what happened, and sent shockwaves around the country and indeed the world.

Grant Scott of The United Nations Of Photography has recently written about arguably the most famous of the images, which shows one boy comforting another as they survey the nightmarish scenes from above. It's a sensitive appreciation that focuses in on the hole in the older boy's jumper - a detail that you might otherwise overlook but that in fact says so much.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Black magic

Happy 50th birthday to Paranoid and its "potent anthems of working-class strife". As Joe Sweeney argues in an article for the Guardian, Black Sabbath's second LP wasn't merely the Big Bang moment for heavy metal, but also made for a sharp contrast with Led Zeppelin in that it boldly wore its social and political conscience on its sleeve - something born of the band members' formative years spent immersed/entrapped in the "Dickensian realities" of post-war inner-city Birmingham.

Sweeney points out that Sabbath were far from one-trick ponies - Paranoid's first three tracks alone ('War Pigs', 'Paranoid' and 'Planet Caravan') "gave a pretty thorough representation of what this sneaky-versatile band was capable of". 'War Pigs' in particular is extraordinary, "a rollercoaster ride in a lightning storm" as Sweeney neatly puts it - even if that sped-up section to wind it up still makes me cringe every single time.

The reaction of rock 'n' roll's critical gatekeepers was snooty and uncomprehending - Rolling Stone's Nick Tosches sneering at "the 'heavy' sounds of bubble-gum satanism" and Lester Bangs dismissing them as "unskilled laborers", for instance. But Sabbath had the last laugh, and 50 years on Paranoid has a strong claim to be the single most influential record in popular music.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Feel good hits of the 18th September

Yet more proof of Angel Olsen's golden touch. I've never thought much of Tom Petty, and 'Walls' seemed like a pretty unremarkable song - until Olsen and friend/tour support Hand Habits got their mitts on it. This performance - beautifully filmed during lockdown by Ashley Connor at the Masonic Temple in Olsen's adopted home town of Asheville, North Carolina - is utterly stunning. Incredible (and upsetting) to think it's only a little over six months ago that I saw them both on stage in Bristol on the All Mirrors tour - it feels like a lifetime ago.

If it wasn't for the eternally wonderful Amoeba series What's In My Bag?, and specifically the Melvins episode (my favourite, bar none), then I'd never have discovered this ridiculous song, which somehow switches from plaintive croon to 70s Bowie pomp without batting an eyelid - or new album Songs For The General Public, for that matter.

Viscerals is without doubt my most listened-to album during lockdown. Not sure whether that says more about its quality or the extent of my cabin fever, though. It's such a shame that they had this record all ready to go before the pandemic struck and have been denied the opportunity to take it out on the road, where it belongs.

Try to pin Islet down at your peril. Latest record Eyelet has been described, not unjustifiably, as psychedelic pop - but lead single 'Good Grief', with its intricate construction and busy percussion, is just one reason I think it could (and should, if there's any justice) find favour with fans of latter-day Radiohead.

A fiver for the first three Motown Chartbuster compilations? You don't get much better value for money than that. They haven't been off the car stereo since being picked up on a stall in the covered market in Abergavenny in October. An ode to the irresistible power of lust, 'No Matter What Sign You Are' - on the third and best of the discs - may not have been a big hit, but I love the stylish sweep of the chorus and the way it sticks two fingers up at the contemporary hippie obsession with star signs.

"Rarely can you say that a record is perfect. But Fun House is perfect." So said Henry Rollins of the Stooges' second LP, on the occasion of its fiftieth birthday. He's not wrong, you know.

Who knows when live music will return - but when it does, TJ Roberts are top of my list of Cardiff bands I haven't seen but absolutely must. Their debut LP, the cheekily titled Best New Reissue, is a power-pop/melodic slacker-indie delight.

If I'm being completely honest, my love of rock didn't start with Nirvana, or Guns 'N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction before that, or Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet before that. No, it started with this song on a 1984 double-cassette compilation - something I was reminded of when it cropped up on the radio last week.

With Howling Bells seemingly on indefinite hiatus, any opportunity to hear Juanita Stein's vocals is welcome. The gentle psych haze that envelops 'Snapshot' suggests that her forthcoming solo LP might just satisfy those of us still pining for a worthy successor to Howling Bells' debut.

A band I wish I'd watched more of at last year's Green Man - especially since discovering that not only is Richard Dawson among their ranks, but Rhodri Davies too, whose creative destruction of a harp in support of The Ex had me mesmerised at Clwb last September. 'Trouble' is a first taster of new album Free Humans, a bold venture into "weird and wonky pop" (as they recently told the Quietus' JR Moores).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"It just seemed like a punk thing to do"

Heard the one about the prolific punk/noise musician who achieved notoriety through a prank appearance and same-sex kiss on The Jerry Springer Show? Here's Vice's Alex Zaragoza, the man himself - The Locust's Justin Pearson - and his accomplices to tell the story.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Special Relationship

When it comes to finding an adjective that describes both At The Drive-In and their finest hour, Relationship Of Command, "combustible" is absolutely right. And that's not the only thing Tom Breihan nails about the band and the record in this Stereogum piece marking the twentieth anniversary of its release.

There's no doubt that without that combustibility within the group, Relationship Of Command wouldn't have sounded the same - though it also meant that implosion was inevitable; as Breihan notes, they "were not built to handle adulation or even attention". He writes about "a flammable combination of elements", and the album was the result of a perfect storm (in a good way): their best songs, a producer and an engineer capable of capturing their ferocity on record (Ross Robinson and Andy Wallace) and the right circumstances musically and politically.

However, Breihan only briefly acknowledges the fact that "At The Drive-In had already put together a pretty serious discography on a shoestring budget". Relationship Of Command was certainly a great leap forwards from the likes of Acrobatic Tenement and In/Casino/Out, but the narrative that they came out of nowhere and burned spectacularly brightly for a short period of time is misleading - and potentially fuelled by Breihan's article.

In fairness, though, they only appeared on my radar - and that of many other people - when Relationship Of Command was ready to drop. As I've recounted here before, I was smitten the moment I read about them, and the deal was sealed first by the inclusion of 'Cosmonaut' on a Kerrang! covermount CD and then by a memorable encounter at Leeds Festival. Personally speaking, at least, Relationship Of Command proved to be a classic gateway drug - not only to the band's back catalogue (which sounds meek in comparison) but more importantly to Fugazi, MC5 and a whole host of punk and post-hardcore firebrands.

Where I disagree with Breihan is with his dismissive reference to "their underwhelming reunion", by which point "the magic was gone". Surely I'm not alone in thinking that in.ter a.li.a was more than just a respectable comeback? Sure, it was no Relationship Of Command, but then what is? For my money, it was significantly superior to those pre-Grand Royal releases.

That reunion also meant that, unlike Breihan, I did get to see the band at a stadium show, cast in the incongruous role of support for Royal Blood. Admittedly they looked "ill at ease in the surroundings", on a massive stage confronted by a sea of "blank faces", but that didn't stop them from turning in the sort of incendiary performance for which they were legendary the first time around.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Seldom seen scenes

For such an enormous country - the largest on earth - we in the West see surprisingly little of Russia. The photos that we do encounter are most often narrow in scope and subject matter: frozen and desolate landscapes, characterless or forbidding concrete architecture thrown up under communist rule. All of which makes this gallery - composed of images taken by Russian photographers - an eye-opener.

Sure enough, those staple elements do appear, but overall the picture they paint of the nation is much more complex, showing the frequently fascinating juxtaposition between the natural environment and the built environment and revealing something of its richness and diversity, as well as of its past and present.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Tunes for troubled times

It's fair to say that Uniform's new LP Shame is very much in keeping with the year of its release, in that it delivers a relentless battering that leaves the listener bruised, dazed and despairing. Here's my review for Buzz.

Friday, September 11, 2020

IDLES speculation

It's fair to say that my relationship with IDLES is somewhat complicated.

While I enjoyed their 2017 show in Clwb enough to give it four stars, I remained "slightly wary" of them for reasons I found it quite hard to put my finger on. Second album Joy As An Act Of Resistance won me over (as it did a sizeable number of other people), though, and by February 2019 I was stoutly defending them from what seemed to be misguided and unfair criticism, first from Sleaford Mods and then from Fat White Family. I then witnessed the band closing out Green Man "with simultaneously furious and joyous abandon", though couldn't help but feel that the experience was marred both by the unusual boisterousness of the assembled audience and the slickness of the set.

And now, while I'll try to avoid forming prejudicial assumptions about new LP Ultra Mono - not least because I haven't heard it (it isn't released until 25th September) and because I actually think 'Grounds' hints at an interesting new direction, showing some evidence of the grime influence they've talked about - I can't help but feel that JR Moores' hilariously stinging review for the Quietus gives voice to all of my greatest concerns.

For a start, there's those lyrics. There's no getting away from the fact that the snippets that Moores singles out are risibly bad. In that early gig review, I noted Joe Talbot's ability to churn out "memorable line after memorable line"; regrettably, "Clack-clack, clack-a-clang clang / That's the sound of the gun going bang-bang" is nothing if not memorable. Even at his best, though, Talbot only seems capable of writing in slogans, the sort of things that will look good on a T-shirt. In that respect, he's a bit like fellow Bristolian Banksy, making valid points in a way that sometimes seems clunky and heavy-handed. 

(I'd still strongly defend his determination to make those points, though, in the face of the Sleaford Mods/Fat White Family complaint that IDLES are puritanical social justice warriors. The band's albums might seem to be a checklist of issues, but even Moores concedes that "IDLES' hearts are in the right place" and a cursory glance at the news underlines that those issues need to be raised and discussed.)

Relatedly, there's Moores' observation that "challenging masculinity ... in such a routinely chest-beating way seems self-defeating". It's essentially like fighting fire with fire. Claiming that the songs are "so generically bellowing they could be filed under Sham 69" is comic hyperbole, but it does go a long way to explaining the proliferation of belligerent bell-ends in that Green Man crowd, and is something that has essentially troubled me from that first live encounter, when I said: "As ambassadors for peace, love and understanding, IDLES are certainly unorthodox." Ironically, Moores argues, the message is stated so bluntly and forcefully that it's actually lost in translation.

And finally there's the suggestion that they're the Emperor's new clothes and "not all they're cracked up to be". At that Clwb gig, I pondered why they were attracting such hype and also noted that Talbot's "constant gobbing into the air comes to seem like the behaviour of someone self-consciously playing at being a punk". Authenticity is a notoriously thorny issue in music, but Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson and Quietus head honcho John Doran clearly aren't alone in having questioned the self-image that IDLES have tried to cultivate.

I could also comment on what Ultra Mono's guest list (David Yow, Warren Ellis, Jamie Cullum) says about the band, but I'll reserve judgement until I've heard the results...

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Time signature

Go to a Sunn O))) gig and you're not likely to hear many chord changes. But that's nothing compared to the experience of visiting the St Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany, where John Cage's composition 'As Slow As Possible' has been playing since 2001 and where an audience recently witnessed the first chord change since 2013. I'm just envious of them being able to enjoy live music, to be honest.

The piece is due to finish in 2640, by which time My Bloody Valentine might have released another album.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

"I wasn't bullied. I allowed some pretty dysfunctional kids to reveal their dysfunction through the medium of hitting me"

Alan Partridge is back (again), this time with a podcast recorded at home called From The Oasthouse, and pretty much every single moment of this interview with the Guardian's Rich Pelley is solid gold - from Lynn's recent drink-driving incident to his enthusiasm for social distancing ("Now I can say, 'Get your hands off me!' without appearing in any way rude"), his verdict on Boris Johnson, recollections of a disastrous family Christmas during his marriage to Carol and his underwhelming experience of "elite dating agency" Echelon ("We'd kiss, cuddle and talk about the garden. Very pleasant. Just nothing genital"). Probably my favourite detail, though, is the fact that his dog is called Seldom. Long may he continue to broadcast.

Monday, September 07, 2020

"His friends all knew what he was like"

According to the old adage, you shouldn't speak ill of the dead. That certainly seems to have been the line taken by numerous (male) DJs and dance music insiders when reacting to the death of Erick Morillo. However, as Annabel Ross has pointed out in a no-punches-pulled article for Medium, what is perhaps most appalling is the fact that practically all of the tributes made some gesture towards the rape and assault charges levelled against him - but did so only vaguely and dismissively, effectively excusing his actions as those of a flawed genius, a legend beset by personal demons or a "troubled soul". His victims evidently merited barely a thought.

Just as Rachael Healy recently made clear is true of the stand-up scene, Ross notes that sexism and misogyny are endemic within the world of dance music (going so far as to use the same "tip of the iceberg" metaphor) - but she also acknowledges that the problems are much bigger, systemic in wider society. In that context, the chances of significant change look slim. But it has to start somewhere - and that should be with male performers and promoters both acknowledging and calling out inappropriate behaviour among their peers rather than either keeping quiet or making excuses for the likes of Morillo and James Veitch.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Cutting remarks

Even at their most sober and sensible (in the mid-00s), Young Knives were oddball outliers, so the weirdness that oozes out of new LP Barbarians' every pore should come as no surprise. As I said last week in response to THAT Vice article, it's "utterly preposterous that they might ever be considered indie landfill".

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Civil rights, rock 'n' roll

As Stuart Cosgrove's book Detroit '67 makes clear, the Motor City was an electrifying place to be in the late 1960s - the American nation's revolutionary heart, in many ways. While Cosgrove focuses his attention on Motown, he does also acknowledge the simultaneous rise of The MC5, The Stooges and the White Panther movement. As the wife of legendary MC5 manager and activist John Sinclair and a fellow founder of the White Panthers, Leni Sinclair was at the centre of it all - and took the photos to prove it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Self-preservation society

Anyone familiar with Rage Against The Machine's debut album will know that Buddhist monks can be capable of some pretty extreme behaviour. When Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire outside the Cambodian Embassy in Saigon in protest at the repression of his religion, it was a premeditated act. But it wasn't as premeditated as deliberately setting out to mummify yourself while still alive.

Yes, really.

The practice of sokushinbutsu apparently involved following an incredibly stringent and restrictive diet for three years - one that both rids the body of fat and muscle and helps to prevent decomposition, and would put anyone who boasts about doing the 5:2 or going vegan to shame. The monks then embalmed themselves from the inside out by drinking a special type of tea (not Tetley).

The final stage saw them buried alive: shut into "a small, tightly cramped pine box" that was lowered into the ground. When the bell they had been given finally stopped ringing, it was assumed they were dead. It reminds me of a horror story that creeped me out as a kid about someone trying to make their escape from a prison by getting buried in a coffin, only for their accomplice - the only person who knew they were buried - turning up dead in the same grave. Be still, my shivering spine.

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A sense of identity

"The state of placelessness" or "the escalating homogeneity of urban spaces" is, for Darran Anderson, one of the scourges of the modern globalised world: "Everywhere looks like everywhere else and, as a result, anywhere feels like nowhere in particular." His recent article for the Atlantic is a passionate, persuasive and eloquent statement of the case for the vernacular as opposed to the rootlessness, blandness and brutal indifference of corporate architecture. All too often, the former is bulldozed to make way for the latter in the name of "progress".

For Anderson, the issue is not just aesthetics - it's the environmental and social costs, and the dangerous degree of detachment and insulation from reality. While acknowledging that the vernacular can be interpreted in crudely conservative and traditionalist ways, he nevertheless insists that we need an architecture that (re)connects those who inhabit and experience it to the local landscape, to history and heritage, and to those around them.

The breadth of references is one of the most impressive things about the piece, and I was particularly intrigued by the extraordinary story of Fordlandia, which sounds like Bournville or Port Sunlight on crack.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Trash talk

So, that Vice article on the "greatest landfill indie songs" - where to start? Probably with the points made succinctly by Simon Price: "the list's main problem is that the ones that are good (Maximo Park, Glasvegas) aren't landfill, and the ones that are landfill aren't good."

On that first point, the boundaries drawn do seem somewhat arbitrary. Why specifically exclude The Subways and Jamie T, for instance? Why declare that Franz Ferdinand are art rock and therefore "too innovative" to count, but include two songs by Maximo Park, a band who contributor Zing Tsjeng admits existed in a "weird hinterland", whose debut album (at least) is just as sharp and creative as Franz Ferdinand's and who were signed to Warp? How dare they besmirch The Futureheads by association! And as someone who has just been listening to the new Young Knives album, I find it utterly preposterous that they might ever be considered landfill indie, even at the time of Voices Of Animals And Men.

On the second point, "landfill indie" is a pejorative term, so it seems perverse to be claiming that some of the absolute dross that features in the list can be considered to be in some way "great". Is this just another case, then, of young Vice journos trying to be edgy by defending the indefensible?

Perhaps, though, we should be more charitable. As becomes clear, the contributors are actually quite conflicted. On the one hand, they can see and are happy to call out the scene's creative and political conservatism - hence the semi-consistent tone of sneering judgement that seems to have put a lot of people's noses out of joint. On the other hand, though, they also share some genuine (if, to me, mystifying) fondness-verging-on-love for songs and bands that soundtracked their youths, even if only as guilty pleasures. Call it Stockholm syndrome if you like, but who among us can say that they don't look back at the period during which they fell in love with music through rose-tinted specs? When Emma Garland writes of landfill indie "We have no choice but to embrace it", she's talking about her generation. Me, I'll happily maintain social distancing.

What has been largely lost in all of the heated online debate is that the article is a thoroughly entertaining read. Dorian Lynskey had a point when he commented "I forgot music writing could be this sharp and joyful". I couldn't help but chortle at Helen Thomas' quip about Maximo Park's Paul Smith's hat screaming "I will corner you at a party and talk about why we shouldn't judge Morrissey for being a racist" (something he's since declared he wouldn't do), at her claim that the Wombats played a critical role in "the formation of Dark Fruits lad culture", and at Jack Cummings' reminder that Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong had the decency to make NME endure and review their album before retracting it ahead of release.

(On the subject of NME, landfill indie is the true legacy of Conor McNicholas and his "good hair, good shoes policy", regardless of what self-aggrandising bullshit he'd have you believe.)

One final thought: landfill indie claimed a lot of casualties, but a very few select band members managed to make it out alive and move on to better things. Daniel Blumberg, for example, started out in the execrable Cajun Dance Party, then progressed to Yuck, and is now putting out stunning solo records that could hardly be any further away from the dump. Do yourself a favour: avoid Vice's landfill playlist (even if you're tempted for nostalgic reasons) and check out Minus and On&On instead.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"It's probably the most special film I've ever been in"

Last year's The Day Shall Come may have received a lukewarm reception (something of an unwanted first for Chris Morris), but the same certainly can't be said of his debut full-length film, 2010's Four Lions. Daniel Dylan Wray's oral history - assembled for Vice with contributions from writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, producer Mark Herbert and actors Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay and Riz Ahmed, as well as Morris himself - is an entertaining behind-the-scenes tour.

Four Lions was prompted by the realisation that farcical levels of stupidity and incompetence are universal, and wannabe terrorists are no different. This helped Morris to challenge the narrative that "this is an incomprehensibly evil, foreign culture that is absolutely outside of our understanding". And understanding is precisely what he set out to do. His research appears to have been time-consuming and meticulous - which ultimately meant that, despite the controversial subject matter, the film got the content and tone right (much to Armstrong's relief).

Morris may have been a tough taskmaster on set, but there was also (naturally) a lot of silliness. Lindsay talks about the daft ways they maintained secrecy (using false names for the film and director, sending party invites rather than call sheets, shredding scripts) and the time when he upset the owner of a greengrocers' stall by destroying it while dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a scene that wasn't even used. And pity the poor chap who had to get a fake rocket launcher through customs to Spain...

Aphex Twin emerges as a good egg, having gone to the trouble of re-recording a track at Morris' request just so it could be used for the credits. But perhaps the article's most interesting revelation is the reference to an unfilmed Brass Eye sketch about a Paedo Pride March. The mind boggles.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Feedback form

It's astonishing to think that until last month no one had written a Toppermost article about The Jesus & Mary Chain. Thankfully, Marc Fagel stepped forwards to do the honours and, as is so often the way with posts on the site, the resulting piece stands as a succinct overview and astute assessment of the band's career.

Even with a back catalogue as extensive as theirs, there were some cast-iron certainties for inclusion: 'Just Like Honey', 'April Skies', 'Sometimes Always' (the note-perfect duet with Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval from Stoned & Dethroned).

But in truth I would have found it hard not to have given greater representation to Psychocandy in the form of 'Never Understand', 'You Trip Me Up' or 'Some Candy Talking', probably at the expense of Fagel's other pick from that debut ('Taste Of Cindy'). 'Reverence' would have been difficult to ignore, too, and he does his selection a further disservice by flagging up the quality of the non-album tracks left out. 'Kill Surf City' is a real favourite of mine, 'Surfin' USA' is a tremendous cover and 'Sidewalking' is another gem.

A few days ago Fagel followed up his post with another, this time on JAMC acolytes The Raveonettes. It was a well-timed prompt to revisit a band I haven't listened to in a while and whose recent albums have passed me by.

Full-length debut Chain Gang Of Love remains the place to start, for me, and Fagel is right to refer to 'That Great Love Sound' as "one of the band's most perfect stand-alone singles". But 'The Love Gang' also merits a mention as arguably a finer obliteration of the Shangri-Las with feedback than their gurus the brothers Reid ever managed, and, as Fagel suggests, Pretty In Black, Lust Lust Lust and In And Out Of Control all have plenty to offer anyone besotted by the collision/collusion of pop prettiness and clanging guitar noise.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The popular imagination

I'm a fan of musical reference points, but mentioning 11 different bands/artists in the space of a single review - of The Lemon Twigs' Songs For The General Public - may be a record even for me. And I could list even more: MGMT, T Rex, Bowie, Cheap Trick, ELO... The truth is that when a band sound like a distillation of so many influences, you can be sure of one thing: ultimately, their sound is unique.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Light reading

In recent months, I've written in appreciation of Teju Cole's comments about the aesthetic pleasure that a photobook can give as a material object, but also in praise of Cafe Royal Books, the publisher of affordable, unfussy booklets whose modus operandi is simply "getting the work seen".

For Grant Scott of United Nations Of Photography, "it's not the weight of the book, but the weight of the work that counts". Lauding Another Place Press as well as Cafe Royal, he warns against favouring "the bloated pretension of size and weight over narrative and content". There's no substitute for careful and selective editing, he suggests, and no manner of flashy design, typography or materials can disguise it.

In this view, Cole isn't necessarily wrong - but I take Scott's point that many photographers do their work a disservice by becoming obsessed and intoxicated by the perceived need to create a beautiful artefact (and paying for the privilege) rather than more sensibly giving priority to finding quick, cheap and effective means of distributing it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Staying alive

While the picture for live music remains horribly bleak, there are at least some crumbs of comfort for the industry. Given the sample size, it's anecdotal evidence, to be sure - but this BBC article suggests that some independent record labels and shops are successfully improvising in a bid to keep afloat.

With numerous record release dates pushed back due to the impact of the pandemic on manufacturing and distribution, music fans can look forward to a bumper crop of new albums in the autumn. It's just a shame that, at present, the prospects of hearing their contents performed live still seems a long way off.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Shamanic street preacher

"Every generation gets the Jim Morrison it deserves: Gen X got Perry Farrell." I must confess that I'd never made the connection between The Doors and Janes's Addiction until Jeff Weiss pointed it out in this recent interview feature, but it's certainly an apt parallel to draw. Both were pioneering LA bands who didn't fit with what was around them, fronted by flamboyant and charismatic showmen whose cod mysticism was excused by their sheer stage magnetism.

With Jane's Addiction, Farrell steered a course somewhere between metal, grunge, punk and funk rock. Ritual De Lo Habitual is an incredible album, and Nothing's Shocking isn't far behind. Just as well, really, so Farrell can be forgiven for saying stuff like this: "I feel a tremendous responsibility to carry on the great shamanic spirit of Los Angeles. I want to show that we speak truth, we are courageous, we are fearless and we are heavy. We dive deep into the inter-dimensions of our own hearts to try to extract the truth and then put it out into the world." Don't ever change, Perry.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Editorial misconduct

Mic Wright's interview with Conor McNicholas is a good read - if you enjoy nauseating, delusional, self-justifying, self-congratulatory bullshit.

The fact that McNicholas remains proud of hammering nails into NME's coffin by turning it into a vacuous comic - or making the magazine "much more visual", as he puts it - during his stint as editor, and equally of instituting "a 'good hair, good shoes' policy", tells you all you need to know about him. As does the fact that he was given and took the opportunity to see Wright's article before publication and "to clarify anything that may not have been clear on a sometimes rickety phone line".

Since leaving NME in 2009, McNicholas went on to edit the Top Gear magazine, has been a contributor to Superyacht Life and is now described as "a creative content, brand and disruption consultant". Or "twat" for short.

Friday, August 14, 2020

"It's like the Big Brother house, innit, just with tunes"

Whatever you think of some of the albums cut at Rockfield (personally I can't stand the Stone Roses or Coldplay and have very little time for the Charlatans, Tim Burgess aside), you can't deny that the studio has an extremely impressive history as a magnet for many of the biggest-selling British acts of the last few decades - all the more extraordinary given that it consists of converted farm buildings in rural Wales.

Hannah Berryman's documentary film, recently aired on BBC Two, did a solid job of telling Rockfield's remarkable story - with the help of a number of high-profile interviewees including Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and Liam Gallagher.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The end of empire

This Rolling Stone article by Wade Davis has been widely shared and lauded on social media - and understandably so.

Admittedly, his blithe dismissal of pandemic-induced global economic apocalypse as mere "financial uncertainty" is hard to stomach, and he also rather unnecessarily plays down other seismic shifts already underway in terms of work and culture in order to make his central claim: that what genuinely marks out the current moment as "a turning point in history" is "the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America".

A contentious claim, perhaps, and one that inadvertently and ironically overstates how important the decline of the US might be to the rest of the world. Yet few could consider the evidence that Davis presents and doubt that what was formerly the most powerful nation on earth has been brought to its knees by coronavirus. The myth of exceptionalism has been destroyed, and all that remains is a failed state, a pitiable victim in need of international aid.

According to Davis, the seeds of the US' downfall have been sown for some time. He deftly links militarism, inequality, social breakdown, the ideology of selfish individualism and more in a cogent explanation of how the country reached this point.

Naturally, Donald Trump is excoriated as "a national disgrace, a demagogue as morally and ethically compromised as a person can be" and later as "a bone spur warrior, a liar and a fraud, a grotesque caricature of a strong man, with the backbone of a bully" (though oddly is contrasted with "the actual tin pot dictators of the world") - but Davis takes pains to point out that the president "is less the cause of America's decline than a product of its descent".

Crucially, "COVID-19 didn't lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken". And, he suggests, banged a final nail into the coffin.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Once upon a time in the East Midlands

At the start of the year, Nottingham venue/recording studio/rehearsal space JT Soar turned ten. Reading this LeftLion interview with Phil Booth, the man who transformed it from a fruit and potato warehouse into a DIY cultural hub, I'm absolutely certain that it would have been a firm favourite of mine if I still lived in the city when it first opened its doors.

However, it's hard to read that final sentence - "in a wildly unscrupulous industry, it's heartening that a venue like JT Soar, with an ethos that prioritises communality and character over commerciality and 'cool', can survive and, better still, thrive" - with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that coronavirus was just around the corner. Booth has dismissed the idea of reopening for gigs any time soon - "the thought of encouraging folks into a confined space makes me real nervous" - but hopefully the place can stay afloat thanks to income from the studio.

Another Notts venue in which I definitely did spend an inordinate amount of time (and money) between 1997 and 2004 is Rock City, which is celebrating its own milestone birthday this year. Happy 40th to a place that opened in style with gigs from The Undertones, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Kinks, has gone on to play host to a phenomenal array of artists and has given me some of the best nights of my life. It too must have been massively impacted by the pandemic, and it doesn't have alternative sources of revenue to fall back on. Fingers crossed it can survive.

On a more positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane that was the special issue of Overall There Is A Smell Of Fried Onions. The mag largely existed before my time, folding less than a year after I arrived in the city. Nevertheless, the special issue - produced to commemorate the fact that, with the help of LeftLion and a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, all back copies are now archived online - was a fantastic reminder of old haunts (including Rock City, naturally) and some of the people who made the city's cultural scene what it was back then (especially gig promoters Lynda and Anton aka The Night With No Name and Darrell Martin, whose stellar bookings at the Just The Tonic comedy nights at the Old Vic invariably resulted in split sides).

However, the piece on Selectadisc by former store manager Jim Cooke was a painful read. More than ten years have passed since it shut up shop, and still I can't believe that a genuine local institution was allowed to die. Some of the records picked up there form the backbone of my music collection, and its specialist sections catered to tastes that I didn't know I had. In a parallel universe, it's still in existence, and the dream of constructing "an arthouse cinema with music, food, drink and DJs" next to the Market Street store (as mentioned by Cooke) has become a reality. What was, for a music-obsessed student, an already awesome city would have been even better.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Distraction technique

Marina Hyde's latest article for the Guardian - on Nigel Farage and his continuing egregious influence on the news agenda - is, as usual, tremendous, but that hasn't stopped one Twitter user from pompously declaring: "The widespread liberal fancy that Farage is Roderick Spode and can be deftly undone by a judicious comical word is a major contributing reason to why he's done as much harm as he has. He is serious, and we should take him seriously."

Sure, the column is as jam-packed with pithy zingers as ever: talk of "a turd immunity strategy", the description of Dominic Cummings as "our own Otto von Jizzmark", the nauseating image of "the quickening in the Farage journalistic loins when, after several hours of fruitless sea perving, he finally spots a small craft full of desperate people coming into his sights". But any suggestion that the piece is merely frivolous, a light-hearted ribbing of a pantomime villain, seems woefully wide of the mark. On the contrary, it's razor-sharp, merciless and (I suspect) motivated by fury.

Admittedly, though, in focusing firmly on Farage and the way that his dog-whistle racist talk of a migrant crisis is helping Boris Johnson and the Tories to divert attention away from all of the myriad genuine crises, Hyde sidesteps the more uncomfortable question of the media's complicity in all of this. Without the oxygen of publicity, Farage would be just another gammon in a Barbour jacket and mustard trousers fulminating and foaming at the mouth on the cliffs of Dover. The Guardian may not be as guilty of giving it to him as other news outlets, but when you see mainstream reports like this one, then it becomes clear how Farage's ravings have been enabled to take hold.

Monday, August 10, 2020

"The north of England really felt black and white in those days"

My native Newcastle was remarkably well served by documentary photographers in the 1970s and 1980s - just think of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen in Byker, Chris Killip in Wallsend and South Shields, and Tish Murtha in Elswick.

When Mark Pinder returned to his home city in 1987, he moved into Scotswood, to the west of Murtha's Elswick, and began documenting what he found: an area crippled by a combination of industrial decline and Thatcherite policies.

In Pinder's words, the resulting images chart "the historical, political and economic changes that my home region has undergone", and as such were always likely to be of interest to Craig Atkinson of Cafe Royal Books. Newcastle West End: Elswick To Newburn certainly looks like a worthy addition to the imprint's treasure trove of a back catalogue.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Reading festival

By common consensus, it seems, White Rabbit - the music-focused Orion imprint established by Lee Brackstone following his departure from Faber - got off to a real flyer with the publication of Mark Lanegan's Sing Backwards And Weep. It's been followed up with Remain In Love by Talking Heads' Chris Frantz, and the latest announcements suggest that there will be no let-up in the pursuit of Brackstone's vision of "a list that is expansive, experimental and commercially ambitious".

Legendary BBC Radio One DJ Annie Nightingale's memoir Hey Hi Hello is on its way, as is a book by Casey Rae on the significant impact of William Burroughs and his work on music and musicians. Arguably most intriguing of all, however, is Harry Sword's Monolithic Undertow. This excerpt gives a fascinating flavour of what promises to be an ambitious history of musical drones that connects the dots between cosmology, religion, mysticism and Melvins.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Back on the beat

Part of the post-lockdown return to something approaching normality, personally speaking, is once again being on reviewing duty for Buzz and experiencing the delights of discovering artists of whom I was previously entirely ignorant.

In truth, I wasn't entirely unaware of Daniel Blumberg, having enjoyed his band Yuck - but his solo material belongs to another universe entirely. As the work of a singer-songwriter working within an improv space, On&On is a fascinating record, and set me on the path of investigating its predecessor Minus and coming across this spellbinding performance of the track 'The Bomb' on Later....

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Cover versions

I don't suppose ace "avant-garage spelunkers" Clinic have often found themselves rubbing shoulders with members of GWAR and Slipknot, but then these are abnormal times. What the three bands have in common is the fact that they're all experienced mask wearers, and so are ideally placed to dispense advice to those of us adjusting to the new reality. The Liverpudlians are particularly worth listening to, given that their customary stage attire consists of surgical masks and scrubs.

Needless to say, none of the musicians quoted in the Spin article have any time for anti-maskers' bullshit. Blothar the Berserker - who points out that masks also come in handy for armed robberies and concealing your ugliness - is aggrieved at the fact that ignorant behaviour is likely to delay GWAR's return to the stage, unless policy changes soon: "It's hard to convince the government you're an essential worker when what you do is stand onstage and play music and shoot a bunch of blood everywhere and strangle people to death." More's the pity.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

"What you see on Twitter is only the tip of the iceberg"

Anyone in any doubt as to the truth of Kiri Pritchard-McLean's claim that the stand-up circuit is "a Takeshi's Castle of pervery" should read this article by Rachael Healy. Canvassing the comments of a whole range of female comedians and industry insiders, the piece offers jaw-dropping and utterly damning evidence that the problem is not just a few male bad apples but institutionalised and endemic sexism that makes stand-up an unsafe space for women.

Comedy clubs shouldn't need to have anti-harassment policies or codes of conduct, and there shouldn't need to be mentoring schemes specifically for women - but it's clear that that need both very much exists and is urgent.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Discontent providers

There's no disputing that streaming has totally changed the face of the music industry. But Daniel Ek seems to have let that power and influence go to his head, if his recent interview with Music Ally is anything to go by.

Put simply, the Spotify CEO claimed that any musicians who now find themselves struggling or unable to make a living from their art are either stuck in the past, clinging in vain to the idea of being able "to release music the way it used to be released", or plain lazy: "[I]n this future landscape, ... you can't record music once every three to four years and think that's going to be enough. The artists today that are making it realise that it's about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans." In other words, the problems lie with the artists rather than with Spotify or its ilk.

Needless to say, Ek's comments have been met with considerable anger. One of the best ripostes has come from Zola Jesus, who (like many others) bristled at his astonishing ignorance of/disregard for the creative process and his arrogant view of artists as merely content providers whose output he can monetise.

Sure, there are some musicians who do indeed (to use her words) "have no muse to serve but the marketplace", but many (most?) would no doubt rightly refuse to be lectured by a jumped-up tech bro - especially one who can shoot himself spectacularly in the foot at point-blank range. By pointing out that many artists' incomes are suffering due to tours cancelled as a result of the pandemic, he was presumably trying to remind musicians of their financial dependence on him, rather like a domestic abuser might do to their victim - but, as Zola Jesus noted, instead he only underlined the damaging impact that streaming has had and the fundamentally exploitative nature of platforms like Spotify.

Monday, August 03, 2020

"The value of compassion"

As a riposte to Annunziata Rees-Mogg and anyone else inclined to "lecture [other people] paternalistically about how you would be better at being poor than they would", Jack Monroe's - entitled "You Don't Batch Cook When You're Suicidal" - is pretty good. But then, unlike Rees-Mogg, she has actually had the benefit of experience - not that "benefit" is the right word to use about finding yourself at the mercy of austerity politics and forced to feed yourself and your child on £7 a week.

Monroe's message is simple: "poverty and privilege are largely accidental" but patronising, judging and (in the case of Rees-Mogg and many politicians) depriving the most vulnerable - "those whose lives are entirely beyond your experience and comprehension" - is a deliberate choice. And an unforgivable one.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Scream called out

When it was announced on Monday that Mancunian singer Denise Johnson had died, there was an immediate outpouring of grief and tributes to her as both a performer and a person on social media. Conspicuous by its absence was any response from the band with which she is most closely associated, Primal Scream, despite the fact that she was a member for several years and made a significant contribution to Screamadelica.

When the tribute finally did come, a full day later, it struck many people as lacking the warmth that might have been expected. However, Terry Christian - yes, that Terry Christian - was moved to more than mere bafflement, launching an entertainingly vicious offensive against the band for the tone of the message and the way they treated his friend: "Luke warm bullshit. You fucked her over like the money grubbing snides you were. Gillespie couldn't even look her in the eye in London 18 months ago. Without her you're just a 2nd rate pub rock outfit ... not even shit on her shoes." Ouch.

The only problem with his argument, though, is that Primal Scream were "a 2nd rate pub rock outfit" even on an album that featured Johnson's vocals (Give Out But Don't Give Up)...

Friday, July 31, 2020

"I really wanted to take back power in a celebratory way"

Competition for the title of the greatest living Geordie is stiff, but Nadine Shah is most certainly a contender. Not only has she released another knockout album in the shape of Kitchen Sink, but she also makes for a great interviewee, both forthright and funny.

In a recent chat with Jude Rogers for the Guardian, she talked about the pleasure of interrogating music journalists, having 8,000 copies of your new record delivered to your flat in error, how its cover art was inspired by Abigail's Party, and making an album that discusses subjects that some people (particularly men) might find discomforting: "If anyone takes offence to anything on Kitchen Sink, they're the one with the problem, not me."

Sonically, Kitchen Sink is slinky and seductive - but lyrically, it has real claws (and wit). While 2018's Holiday Destination was a more obviously big-picture political album, its follow-up finds Shah offering more intimate and personal reflections on the everyday tribulations of women the world over and defiantly resisting social expectations.

It would certainly have merited the Mercury nomination that Holiday Destination got, but none was forthcoming - which prompted the self-confessed Mercury obsessive to sound off on Twitter, only for her tweets to be deleted without her consent. It wasn't a bitter moan/rant about being snubbed personally, though, and she admitted that the judging process is fair - her point was that the prize should recognise and support commercial underdogs and emerging talent rather than give a credibility boost to bigger outfits no longer in need of the leg up.

In Shah's world (and mine), Richard Dawson would have got a nomination for 2020, and I'd also have liked to see Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs' Viscerals - an album that's probably been my most played through lockdown - get the nod of approval. But there is at least some North-East representation on the list, with Lanterns On The Lake's understatedly epic Spook The Herd in with an outside chance. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

"It's just people partying and I like a good party"

Ian Weldon wouldn't be everyone's ideal wedding photographer, but there's no doubt that he takes memorable photos of happy couples' big day. Not for him patiently posed portraits or painfully stylised images that could be flogged to wedding magazines or image libraries; instead, he goes behind the scenes to capture the sometimes mundane, sometimes messy, often hilarious reality.

Monday, July 27, 2020

"Without such places our community is dead in the water"

Barely a week goes by without me banging on about the importance of small independent gig venues. So, for a change, here are a few others doing it - from Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods to Johnny Marr, Bill Ryder Jones, Richard Dawson, Steve Lamacq and Nadine Shah, who talks about finding "her people" within their walls and how "they light a fire in my belly".

The points they raise and the arguments they make really should be obvious, but it seems not, given the paltry £2.2 million of emergency funding allocated to the sector by the government. More may follow, but - as the Quietus' Fergal Kinney explains - it absolutely needs to if countless vital performance spaces aren't to go to the wall. Making ends meet was tough enough before lockdown, but it's nothing compared to the desperate situation as we emerge gradually (as possibly temporarily) from what Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family has referred to as "the music business nuclear winter that is Covid-19". Make no mistake: social distancing measures are without doubt the greatest threat to the sector's sustainability.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

High notes

Having recently read Viv Albertine's Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, I wasn't remotely surprised to see the former Slits guitarist's book first in Fiona Sturges' list of recommended music (auto)biographies. It's brilliantly written, astonishingly candid and, as Sturges says, "a corrective to the reigning punk narrative where men are the creative geniuses and women the bit-part players".

Of the other featured books, I've only Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One, which I loved despite not being a Dylan nerd. Pauline Black and Patti Smith's memoirs certainly sound worthy of investigation, and there's another ringing endorsement for Mark Lanegan's Sing Backwards And Weep, which from the excerpts and reviews I've read is even more unstintingly frank than Albertine's book.

To Sturges' selections, I'd add Things The Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Everett aka E from Eels, in which he hilariously/poignantly recounts his unusual path to adulthood and fame - including his complex relationship with his father, quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, which was the subject of the brilliant documentary Parallel Universes, Parallel Lives.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Austin powers

It's often said that politically conservative historical periods or environments are conducive to the creation of great art and a vibrant counterculture. There's some truth to it: after all, if there aren't any pricks, who or what are you going to kick against? But that does also downplay how draining and potentially dangerous it can be to be an outsider artist - just listen to Viv Albertine of The Slits talk to Loud And Quiet's Stuart Stubbs about the challenges of being a self-styled punk in late-1970s London.

Imagine, then, being the gay frontman of a hardcore punk band not in New York or LA but in 1980s Texas, a state whose "local conditions" - according to photographer Pat Blashill - included "racist cops, the KKK, Reagan America conservatism, and the born-again Christian wackos". Hats off to the Dicks' Gary Floyd and the Big Boys' Randy "Biscuit" Turner for having the guts to do what they did.

The Dicks and the Big Boys both feature in Blashill's new book Texas Is The Reason: The Mavericks Of Lone Star Punk. The most maverick of the lot, of course, were Butthole Surfers - no doubt it's them that Blashill particularly had in mind when talking about the "wild and unhinged" music to which the time and place gave birth. Michael Azerrad's exceptional Our Band Could Be Your Life is worth buying for the chapter on them alone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Extravagant inanity"

Personally speaking, the most offensive thing about what Andre Spicer calls "business bullshit" - or, to use the term Molly Young borrows from author Anna Wiener for this Vulture article, "garbage language" - is the way that it masquerades as a mode of communication while actually having the precise opposite function. It's a means of being deliberately obscure and obtuse, of making yourself and your job seem important while making anyone unable to speak or understand the language feel inadequate.

Spicer has argued cogently that such talk is actually a damaging blight on business, something that Young also hints at in claiming that "the point of these phrases is to fill space" and that many people's working day would be significantly shorter if everyone had to talk plainly. Interestingly, she identifies the contemporary office surveillance culture as one explanation for the rise of meaningless corporatespeak: "In an environment of constant auditing, it's safer to use words that signify nothing and can be stretched to mean anything, just in case you're caught and required to defend yourself."

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Drone logic

Forget minstrels from the Middle Ages and Donovan's late-60s hippie guff. "A hurdy-gurdy", says Jennifer Lucy Allan in a fascinating piece written for the Quietus, "sounds like medieval Sunn O))); like a parade come to collect you for the eternal hot licks of the underworld; like a squall of wraiths; like a horde of horrifying troubadours in animal heads singing your sins; like the wheezing exhalations of the pained geologic earth itself."

Exaggeration? Not really - not if you listen to the drone compositions she recommends by experimentalists France and Keiji Haino. Be warned, though - they may drive you insane.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Adult entertainment?

I'm sceptical of the concept of live albums at the best of times - there are so many factors that mean a record can never really hope to come close to approximating or recreating the gig experience (more's the pity, in the current context).

Which meant that, despite being a fan of Japandroids, I wasn't hugely bothered about checking out Massey Fucking Hall even before I read Pitchfork's review, which argues that the LP strips the band of their "wild utopian energy" and instead leaves them sounding "reliable and downright professional". That's surely something that no one who's had the good fortune to witness them in the flesh would want.

Admittedly, my love for the duo is less ardent than it was when I first clapped ears on them a decade ago. Back then, songs like 'Young Hearts Spark Fire', 'Younger Us' and 'The Nights Of Wine And Roses' really struck a chord - fist-pumping punk rock anthems for late twentysomethings/early thirtysomethings already nostalgic for a youth that they were still desperately trying to cling on to.

Ten years on, and I understand Jeremy Gordon's argument that Japandroids are "the most embarrassing band I love the most", and especially his comments about their lyrics being "cornily overwritten" and "reify[ing] all the facet of rock 'n' roll mythology that I've grown increasingly distant from in my adulthood".

Like Gordon, though, I'm not about to renounce them. The thirst for that nostalgia for youth hasn't gone away, after all - it's arguably got stronger, and been supplemented by a nostalgia for the halycon days of late-night house parties and ATP festivals to which Japandroids were the soundtrack.

Excuse me while I stick on Post-Nothing, crack open a can and feel all the feels.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

History repeating itself

Like so much else, best-laid plans for this year's EYE Festival have fallen casualty to coronavirus, but thankfully the two-day event is still taking place, albeit virtually.

Among the scheduled speakers is Vanley Burke, who, when recently asked by the Guardian to select a favourite image from his archive for a feature on leading black photographers, chose a 1972 picture of a march in Birmingham. Its selection at a time when worldwide protests against racism and police harassment are once again in the news just goes to show how little has changed, sadly.

Indeed, Burke is sceptical that they ever will, at least as long as the damaging myth of British colonialism as a civilised and civilising force is perpetuated. Perhaps the toppling of Edward Colston's statue was a sign of progress to cling on to, though.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"There really was no show like that that we ever did again"

I've written about Sonic Youth's January 1985 performance in the Mojave Desert before, prompted by a Dangerous Minds article - but this new piece by Daniel Dylan Wray has the added bonus of incorporating recollections of the gig from someone who was not only there but was also one of the select few people not to be totally out of his mind on acid: the band's guitarist Lee Ranaldo.

Under the name Desolation Center, promoter Stuart Swezey had previously put on al fresco desert events featuring Einsturzende Neubauten and performance art provocateurs Survival Research Laboratories, so on paper a four-band bill that also featured the Meat Puppets, Redd Kross and Perry Farrell's Psi Com didn't look quite so extraordinary.

It was Sonic Youth's West Coast debut, though, and the sheer novelty of their particular mode of aural attack and those freely circulating 500 tabs of LSD meant that it went down in legend, and rightfully occupies a place in the Guardian's 20 Iconic Festival Sets series.

Ranaldo refers to the whole event as "completely guerrilla style" and "an anything-goes situation" with "an element of danger" - in other words, a total contrast to the "sanitised" corporate festivals of the present day. I wonder what Swezey and the attendees would make of the Virgin Money Unity Arena?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Laugh or cry?

If the outlook for live music is bleak, then it's arguably even worse for live comedy, with a survey suggesting that 77 per cent of venues might shut for good within a year. The impact of the pandemic has caused stand-ups' mental health to suffer, and many are finding themselves with no choice but to leave the industry just to make ends meet.

The government may have belatedly announced a £1.57 billion bailout for the arts, but there are fears that live comedy will miss out, with prestigious big-hitters like the Royal Opera House hoovering up hefty chunks of the money. Those fears are understandable, given the historic lack of support for the sector. When local comedian Mike Bubbins claimed on Twitter that he was once told to sell his act as one-man theatre rather than stand-up if he wanted access to arts funding, I thought he was joking - but sadly it seems not.

One positive is the creation of the Live Comedy Association, who carried out the survey and have launched the #SaveLiveComedy campaign. No doubt inspired by the success of the Music Venue Trust, the LCA will hopefully have similar joy in representing the interests of all of those involved in the industry and applying pressure to ensure that stand-up isn't neglected.

As with music, grassroots venues and intimate spaces with tiny stages are vitally important - without them, there wouldn't be any comedy industry to speak of. And like music, comedy is far more accessible and egalitarian than other sectors of the arts. If the LCA's pleas aren't heard, the consequences could well be catastrophic.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

"Punk rock, rock & roll, attitude, intensity, ferocity"

Brian Eno famously said "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." First hearing the Stooges' Fun House almost had the exact opposite effect on a young Henry Rollins - as he recalls in an article for Rolling Stone to mark the album's fiftieth birthday. When he finally got round to listening to the LP after much insistence from Black Flag bandmate Chuck Dukowski, he couldn't comprehend the context of its creation: "I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor and trying to figure out why I was even going to try and be in a band."

Rollins' attempt to put the experience into words is fantastic: "It's like discovering carbon. It's like the first time you go, 'What's that?' 'It's called rain.' 'What's this?' 'Water, drink it.' You come upon a truth that's so large ... It was like someone hit me with a pickup truck."

Personally, I'll always have a very soft spot for the Stooges' debut, because that was how I first encountered them, but Rollins is right that it's the sound of "a young blues band who can kind of mam out when they have to". Fun House is in a different league - not least because of the involvement of saxophonist Steve Mackay, who supplies the "greasy lightning" that means "the whole thing goes bonkers".

Rollins may not initially have been able to give any thought to the way the record was made, but he certainly had to in the course of compiling the liner notes for the remarkable new super-deluxe reissue that consists of 15 LPs and two seven-inches. Overkill, perhaps? On the contrary, he insists that it reveals a band at the absolute top of their game in single-minded pursuit of rough-hewn perfection, hammering through the tracks to get the best take without any studio trickery.

Meanwhile, rock critic Simon Reynolds has also been writing about Fun House, and about the journey Iggy Pop took thereafter. He flags up the fact that the album - "inarticulate blurts of lust and unrest blasted out in rampaging noise at once primitive and avant-garde" - was totally out of sync with the prevailing trends and mood and so was actually far from well received upon its release. Hats off to the British writer who dismissed it as "a muddy load of sluggish, unimaginative rubbish heavily disguised by electricity". History has proven otherwise.