Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rockin' all over the world

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pearls before swine

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The pretender

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

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

Quote of the day

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Know Your Enemy

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

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

Punctured dreams

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Right to buy

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Know Your Enemy

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Pop pickers

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a dog's life

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dusty jackets

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

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

(Thanks to Hugh for the link.)

Eyya gorrowt by Sleaford Mods?

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Goodbye to all that

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

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

Scratching beneath the surface

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

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

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

Spin the black circle

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

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Keep the boat afloat

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

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

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

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

Quote of the day

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

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

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The end of the world isn't nigh?

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

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

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

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Quote of the day

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

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Feel good hits of the 7th November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 06, 2017

Starry ayes - eventually

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

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

The three stooges

It's hardly the biggest story to emerge from the Paradise Papers, but the revelation that no fewer than three of the cast of Mrs Brown's Boys were using an offshore tax avoidance scheme makes me hate the programme just that little bit more. Hopefully they'll find being the focus of attention about as funny as I find the sitcom in which they appear.

(Thanks to Martin for the link.)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Quiet, loud, louder, LOUDEST

2017 has not only seen the release of a new Mogwai LP Every Country's Sun, their ninth album "proper", but also the twentieth birthday of their first. Young Team wasn't the first record of theirs that I heard (that would be the bits-and-pieces collection Ten Rapid, released six months earlier, in April 1997), and it isn't my favourite of theirs (that honour probably goes to 2003's Happy Music For Happy People, though it's a close call), but there's no doubt it was a staggering release at the time, has proven hugely influential over the past two decades and remains a pretty astonishing listen - as underlined by this piece by Clash's Robin Murray.

For many (myself included), Mogwai proved to be a gateway drug to a whole host of leftfield, experimental and obtuse acts - but, as Murray acknowledges, they themselves were remarkably unpretentious. He also rightly acknowledges that Young Team wasn't created in a vaccum - the LP was pieced together at an extraordinarily fertile time for Scottish (and particularly Glaswegian) music, with the Delgados' label Chemikal Underground and the cash injection it received from the surprise success of Bis' 'Kandy Pop' (see Niall McCann's film Lost In France) helping to bring Young Team into existence and then ensure its impact.

Talking of impact, apologies in advance to both the neighbours and the cat for any upset caused by the fact that I'm about to revisit 'Like Herod'...

Imagine there's no people

This blog regularly promotes series of photos in which people are conspicuous by their absence, but this is generally because the places depicted have been abandoned, left to fall into dereliction. Polly Tootal's pictures are different in that they show places that very much remain in use. To capture them devoid of any human life - particularly some of the aerial shots - must have required phenomenal patience, and the results are all the more unsettling and strange.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Lambs Cows to the slaughter

Episode 22 of Sounding Bored sees the panel - this time consisting of host Rob and regular guests David and Amy - taking aim at a selection of sacred cows, provoking some of the best debate yet.

Most entertaining is David's demolition of The Smiths on the grounds of their "dull, bloodless" music; Morrissey's "pretentious moaning", "sub-Betjeman lyrics", misogyny and general attitude/personality; and the avarice of Morrissey and Marr. I like The Smiths, but his criticism generally struck a chord, even if Rob debunked the suggestion that they were apolitical. The game of Morrissey or Partridge? was an unexpected treat too.

Amy's pick was Britney Spears, as an artist without much in the way of talent or personality given too much credit for reviving/revolutionising US pop in the late 1990s (she was essentially merely one of the fronts for the Max Martin sound), and particularly as someone who was manipulated into using sexuality in a troubling way (the Catholic schoolgirl persona of 'Baby One More Time' has "the whiff of Operation Yewtree about it").

Rob, meanwhile, praises Radiohead before offering a few caveats: their sniffy superfans, their ineffective embrace of electronica (compared to their source material and influences), the lack of songs on recent albums, Thom Yorke's voice. His comments have some merit, but I'd argue that the likes of Kid A and Amnesiac are a triumph as a gateway into electronica for those who had hitherto loved the meat-and-potatoes (albeit finest meat-and-potatoes) indie rock of The Bends. Amy complains of the fact that they now seem to have "carte blanche" to do what they want and persist with their noodlings - I'd argue (and indeed have done in the past) that they've earned that right, but not the right for anything they do to be greeted with unanimous acclaim (King Of Limbs, I'm looking at you...).

Also discussed are Justin Timberlake's scheduled appearance at the Superbowl, the latest in the Martin Shkreli/Wu Tang Clan beef and Roy Orbison's forthcoming tour as a hologram, while the panel conclude by reviewing Beautiful Trauma, the new album from Pink - who, they suggest, has stood still while everyone else has moved on, yet is now perversely very much of the moment and reaping the rewards.

Ghosts sighting

Ask and ye shall receive. Having written about and then tweeted about the lack of a Cardiff screening of Brass Eye film Oxide Ghosts, I received a reply from Chapter to say that they were working on it. Then yesterday Snowcat Cinema alerted me via Twitter to the fact that they'll be showing the film at Milk & Sugar in the centre of town on 5th December, complete with post-screening Q&A session. Needless to say, I'm certainly not planning on passing up the opportunity.

Friday, November 03, 2017

State of the nation

You only have to look at the president to see how troubled the US is, but Louis Theroux's latest documentary series Dark States underlined that fact. The three programmes examined the underbelly of the American dream: the heroin epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia; sex trafficking in Houston, Texas; and homicide in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The series was consistent in exploring the issues from a variety of different perspectives to illustrate their complexity and avoiding suggesting that there are any easy solutions. The spike in heroin use nationwide, for instance, was traced back to a clampdown on the prescription of opioids by doctors - a welcome move, to be sure, but one that has had unintended consequences. As this BBC article indicates, there is no single reason for the country's opioid problem, so alleviating it is no simple matter.

Similarly, Theroux made clear that in the case of sex trafficking, the waters are muddied by some women actively choosing sex work and others exhibiting Stockholm syndrome-like love or at least respect for their pimps. In the final episode, he highlighted the petty incidents that spark much violence as well as some of its causes (unemployment, poor education, poverty, a loss of values and respect for life, absent fathers) - but he also illustrated the police's heavy-handedness and suspicion of people purely on account of their skin colour, and the vicious cycle by which increasing levels of violent crime induce people to arm themselves in self-defence.

All of which was for the most part deeply depressing, but Theroux always managed to find a tiny speck of hope to which to cling at the end of each episode. That was to his credit, as was his ability to remain reasonable even when faced by particularly odious interviewees, such as the imprisoned pimp insisting that "some women are just hos". He didn't ask questions to challenge or provoke so much as to invite people to talk - and, given that his subjects are rarely afforded a voice, they generally seized the opportunity to be heard. His skill was then allowing them the time and space to talk.

Dark States was too frequently difficult to watch to be called enjoyable - but it was certainly eye-opening viewing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Wrong place, wrong time

First it was Radiohead - now it's Nick Cave who's at the sharp end of criticism from a coalition that includes Roger Waters, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach for scheduling gigs in Israel. And just as there was some awkwardness then (Radiohead's former associate Brian Eno was among their critics, and their producer Nigel Godrich was caught between two stools, having just worked on Waters' album), there is some awkwardness now: Thurston Moore, a signatory of both open letters, has previously collaborated with Cave on a cover of The Gun Club's 'Nobody's City' (with Iggy Pop) and the pair have sometimes moved in similar circles since the 1990s.

Radiohead refused to back down - indeed, Thom Yorke lashed out in response and the band went on to play a particularly long headline set in July - so it'll be interesting to see if Cave follows suit or instead chooses to cancel the dates.

People power saves the Bay

It's not just Womanby Street in Cardiff that has been spared the scourge of development that would have destroyed its unique character. Last night, it was revealed that ABP's proposals for the construction of Dolffin Quay, down at the Bay, have been scrapped - thanks, once again, to the weight of public opposition. In the circumstances, I'm more than happy to admit that my initial pessimism was very much misplaced.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Honesty is the best policy

While it's undoubtedly a shame that there'll be no Supernormal next year (especially for Oxfordshire-based music fans with rather leftfield tastes), you have to give the organisers credit for the rationale behind the decision, as set out in a statement. In a year that has witnessed several horrorshows - Fyre in the Bahamas, Hope & Glory in Liverpool, Y Not in Derbyshire - it's refreshing to encounter organisers talking about pausing to take stock and plan for the future to ensure that the festival is "financially sustainable" but also remains "true to its roots".

If only others would follow suit and put sound planning (including contingency arrangements) and the experience of the average punter above the relentless pursuit of profit.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"The astonishing truth about JFK is that after the events of 22 November 1963, the 35th President still had more brains than the current one."

Lord Buckethead on Donald Trump. One day I'll tire of Trump being the focus of Know Your Enemy posts - but not just yet.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Stop! Collaborations! Listen!

"What took you so long?" has been a question regularly levelled at Kevin Shields, and now Pitchfork's Marc Hogan has done it again - though this time it's not in reference to a long-overdue My Bloody Valentine record but to his collaboration with ambient nut and fellow studio boffin Brian Eno. 'Only Once Away My Son' doesn't go anywhere very fast over the course of its nine minutes, but its drones, howls and jingles will be lapped up by fans of either artist.

Arguably more surprising is the revelation that Simon Raymonde, formerly of Cocteau Twins, is set to release his first new music in two decades. Rather than engaging the services of former bandmate Liz Fraser, though, he and drummer Richie Thomas - who are calling themselves Lost Horizons - opted to collaborate with a different vocalist for every track of their debut album Ojala, due out on Raymonde's own superb label Bella Union on 3rd November. The first taster of the project has come in the form of 'I Saw The Days Go By' featuring none other than SWSL favourite Marissa Nadler. If the rest is as good as this, then we're in for a real treat.

"Hull is a portal to Hell"

With Louis Theroux back on the idiot box, it seemed like an opportune moment for Ultrabrilliant to create and launch their Louis Theroux Bot Twitter. Sample tweet:

"I'm in Florida to meet Chase, a former barista turned alcoholic preacher who believes magnets make swans racist."

The account has quickly gained a lot of followers - including Theroux himself, who invited users to retweet a message if they wanted him to record it "using my real voice". They did, in their droves, and so he duly obliged. Dark States is dark stuff, but at least he's not lost his sense of humour.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Quote of the day

"It was comedy, Jim, but not as we know it, because there was a strong moral force behind it. Morris could have been an incredible journalist, but he saw that television news had been begging to be parodied. Brass Eye has been copied, but it can never be the same, because Morris is not really a comedian in the usual sense."

Playwright Jonathan Maitland on Brass Eye. Oxide Ghosts, the behind-the-scenes/outtakes film put together by the show's director Michael Cummings with Chris Morris' blessing, continues to tour the country's independent cinemas and Maitland has chaired a couple of the post-screening discussions.

Inevitably but quite rightly, Chortle's Andy Murray concluded his review of the film: "If you're an admirer of the show and the opportunity should arise for you to see Oxide Ghosts, have some self re-cocking-spect and do so without hesitation". Sadly, that opportunity doesn't look as though it's going to present itself for me - unless Chapter get a screening booked?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hooray for Henry

The November issue of Nightshift is up online now, featuring my thoughts on the new(ish) Slate Hearts EP Honey Roasted Henry. Enjoying its grungey delights and Cobain-esque levels of self-loathing got me thinking that they would make perfect local support for my chums in Elvana, so I took to Facebook on Friday to suggest the idea - only to discover that the two bands were playing together that very evening in Leicester. What are the chances?! Turns out Slate Hearts' set at Common People in Oxford in May impressed the members of Elvana (who were also on the bill), they bumped into each other later that day, and the rest was history.

Also in the latest issue of the magazine is Dale Kattack's enthusiastic review of Saturday's inaugural Ritual Union festival. I missed the Future Perfect-curated event due to a diary clash, but have heard it was good from other sources, too, and the verdicts on the sets by Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation and Bo Ningen in particular have got me questioning the wisdom of not being there.

The waiting game

For most of us, getting stuck in traffic is a source of frustration - but for photographer Chris Dorley-Brown in 1986 and 1987, the experience was the inspiration for an opportunistic and unusual series of portraits, published in the book Drivers In The 1980s.

Personally speaking, at least, the images underline the fact that the 1980s are fast receding into history. The cars, the hairstyles and particularly the very stiff-upper-lip city gent staring straight ahead on a bus are all vivid reminders of an increasingly distant past.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"A vow of poverty"

Academia is seen by some as something of a gravy train, so it might come as a surprise to learn that that's certainly not the experience of adjunct professors in the US, many of whom find that the pursuit of a faculty position involves long hours, poor pay and none of the advantages of full-time employment (most critically, healthcare insurance).

It's saying something that one of Alastair Gee's interviewees, Rebecca Snow, gave up on the dream and is now trying to forge a career as a novelist - itself not exactly a profession noted for providing stability and financial security. Indeed, some adjuncts find themselves homeless even while employed and one woman Gee spoke to has effectively been driven to sex work just to make ends meet.

The situation might not be so severe in the UK, but don't imagine that postdoc students and junior researchers aren't being exploited as a cheap resource by universities here too, offered little in the way of pay, support or job security.

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)

High definition

Who better than Jeff Noon to write a piece about the most potent imaginary drugs in fiction? Aldous Huxley's soma (Brave New World) and Anthony Burgess' moloko plus (A Clockwork Orange) naturally feature in a list that's understandably heavily weighted towards science fiction. That said, there's a place for Lewis Carroll's Drink Me (Alice's Adventures In Wonderland) and black meat, the creation of real-life junkie William Burroughs.

The concept behind Don DeLillo's White Noise sounds fascinating - but I should really make greater inroads into his Underworld before turning my attentions in that direction.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"You are not part of the pop scene"

As a keen fan of Madball, Sleep and My Dying Bride, Richard Burgon isn't exactly your average MP. When it comes to music, your average MP is rather more like Margaret Thatcher: clueless, basically. In preparation for a 1987 interview with Smash Hits, in a futile attempt to connect with young people, she requested a briefing on what sort of issues she might be asked to comment on - and the result, put together by an advisor who was almost equally clueless, makes for hilarious reading, not least for the characterisation of the "'PUNK' era" as "a very basic musical style featuring a strange bunch of anti-establishment acts".

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump recently prompted laughter with the claim that she had a "punk phase", especially because she cited her love of Nirvana as evidence. To quote the succinct response of Twitter user Zombie Queen, "Nazi punks fuck off".

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"That is one fan I'd be very happy to lose. You want to be funny and you want to make sure everyone enjoys the show, but no one wants to be the guy that made Hitler laugh."

Curb Your Enthusiasm executive producer Jeff Schaffer responds to Steve Bannon labelling the show's star Larry David a "genius". Bannon has good reason to think kindly of David, given that he apparently made money out of being a producer on Seinfeld (without David's knowledge).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Not-so-plain Jane

This month's singles round-up for Buzz finds me enthusing about 'The Architect' from Jane Weaver's excellent Modern Kosmology LP but grumbling about the largely pointless exercise that is the Still Life With Roses EP, a collection of remixes of tracks from Mark Lanegan's Gargoyle.

Among the albums reviewed are the latest releases from St Vincent, Protomartyr, Ben Frost and Fuck Buttons' Andrew Hung, all of which are very much on my "To Listen To" list. I'll need to stop returning continually to Public Service Broadcasting's Every Valley and Nadine Shah's Holiday Destination first, though...

Friday, October 20, 2017

Naming rights (and wrongs)

We haven't yet had to take our new cat to the vet, but I'm not looking forward to having to publicly confess to owning a pet called Sparkles. It's embarrassing enough having to shout it out of the back door each evening, and it really doesn't help knowing that vets like Bradley Curtis make all kinds of (probably justifiable) assumptions based on the monikers of those booked in to see them.

Curtis is right to warn against naming in pairs because "you're setting yourself up for tragedy". When our budgie Vic died, we felt so sorry for poor Bob that we were compelled to go out and buy two more budgies and christen them Rita and Sue - thereby compounding the problem.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Accept yourself

I was already a fan of Chris Packham for his trenchant opposition to the badger cull, attacks on the Countryside Alliance and skill at peppering episodes of Springwatch with the titles of songs by The Smiths, The Cure, The Clash and David Bowie. But this week's documentary Chris Packham: Asperger's And Me, a courageous and intimate portrait of the private struggles of a very public figure, really sealed the deal.

Packham wasn't diagnosed with high-functioning autism until his forties, but admits he'd known for decades that his brain worked differently - starting with his childhood obsessions, which were deeper and more all-consuming than those of others. His descriptions of experiencing the world around him as a kind of hyperreality were fascinating - something that is often draining but can occasionally be savoured.

Given that he finds social interactions so awkward and uncomfortable that he lives alone and hasn't been to a party in ten years, the fact that he's managed and concealed his condition to such an extent that he's been able to work as a TV presenter is remarkable. Now, though, he's decided the time is right to open up about his experiences in the hope of shining a light on a condition that, while universally recognised, remains widely misunderstood.

Perhaps the key misunderstanding is that being diagnosed with autism is some kind of curse. Certainly, Packham pulled few punches about the lows, but he also stressed the advantages of the condition - his obsessive love for and encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife, for instance, which got him to where he is today, or the methodical attention to detail and creative thinking without which Silicon Valley wouldn't exist. It all supports his case that the currently pitiful number of autistic adults in full-time employment - just one in every six in the UK - constitutes an appalling waste of valuable human resources.

Ultimately, the message of this touching hour-long film was that autism isn't something to be "treated" or "corrected" (or zapped like a cancerous tumour, to use one scientist's analogy), as the advocates of such techniques as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or the horrifying applied behaviour analysis (ABA) would have us believe; on the contrary, it's something to be accommodated and embraced. The problem essentially lies not with the individual but with society.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The politics show

Another night, another tremendous gig: hot on the heels of superlative shows by The Jesus And Mary Chain and Public Service Broadcasting came Nadine Shah's appearance at the Globe on Sunday, with Hull punks LIFE in tow (reviewed here for Buzz). Most of the set was drawn from new LP Holiday Destination, and it wasn't hard to see why - it's a significant step up from anything she's done before (and neither Love Your Dum And Mad nor last year's Fast Food were exactly shoddy). Given my home city's largely heinous contribution to music over the years, it's a relief to find another Geordie artist about whose work I can genuinely enthuse.

This Drowned In Sound interview makes for good background reading if you're just starting to explore Holiday Destination for the first time - and of course the fact that it concludes with her branding Morrissey "a fucking bellend" and saying "he's gonna make me eat meat again" only makes me love her more.

Know Your Enemy

"I don't even like them, but the kind of guys that I like have to be three things: strange, malnourished and sad. Those guys always like Radiohead, so I've been having to pretend to like Radiohead for years to get these men, even though the music is just elaborate moaning and whining for ringtone sounds."

FOX News correspondent Kat Timpf shares her carefully considered thoughts on Radiohead, following their nomination for entry into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame. I can't see them being too bothered, to be honest.

Incidentally, I've been recently enjoying Phil Selway's soundtrack for the film Let Me Go, due out soon on Bella Union - a bleak but also beautiful listen.

It's what she would have wanted?

We've had stories of bands giving away the ashes of former members together with copies of their new album, and I've previously written about the possibility of getting your own remains incorporated into a record. Now IDLES have announced that at the end of the month they'll be releasing a limited edition of 100 records that pay tribute to Joe Talbot's mum in a fairly unusual way.

The vocalist explains: "My old dear didn't have the luxury of finding something that could save her; I've had her ashes pressed into 100 vinyl to symbolise just how important she was to this album, to this band and of course to me and my drive to exist in the most loving and honest me."

I can't say I'd be that comfortable owning a copy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

There is power in a union

After 2015's The Race For Space, Public Service Broadcasting wanted "to do something on a more human level". With this year's successor, Every Valley, a record ostensibly about the coal industry in south Wales but also with broader themes, they've certainly succeeded.

That much was evident on Friday night, when they kicked off their UK tour with a quite remarkable gig here in Cardiff - one during which they expressed their gratitude for all the support they received in creating the album and, in turn, a fiercely partisan crowd saluted their efforts to tell the sorry tale of the industry's collapse to a younger generation. For a band who seem fascinated by the past's visions of the future, they've discovered a talent for bringing people together in the present.

In my review for Buzz, I couldn't help but allude to Luke Turner's accusations of appropriation - though only to underline how the evening made them seem even more preposterous than they already were. I took issue with those accusations back in July, and it turns out that Craig Austin made all the same points a fortnight later in an article for the Wales Arts Review - albeit more convincingly and more eloquently.

Strong but not stable

After an awful party conference - and an especially awful conference address - Theresa May is in desperate need of regaining some semblance of authority and respect. Perhaps she should take a leaf out of Henry Bolton's book, Ukip's new leader having recently claimed he could kill a badger with his "bare hands". Or maybe not - though at least she knows who to turn to if this autumn's extensive (and non-evidenced-based) badger cull falls behind schedule.

Eyes Ears on the Prize

It's been a while, but Sounding Bored is back with Episode 21, which finds host Rob joined by Maria Ilett and Richie Wildsmith of Oxford band The Other Dramas for a discussion of this year's Mercury Music Prize (and those of the past) and some reflections on an album that most thought would never happen: LCD Soundsystem's fourth, American Dream. (I'll offer my own verdict on that once I've actually properly digested it...)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Quote of the day

"What a punch in the soul that is."

Richard Herring's reaction to the news of Sean Hughes' death at the age of just 51.

I can't pretend to be a superfan - I've hardly seen any of Sean's Show, for instance - but always enjoyed his laid-back style, his music geekiness, his sense of poetry, his gentle world-weariness and surrealism, and the warmth that seemed to suffuse everything he did. He never became a megastar - he was too low-key and self-effacing for that - but the responses from fellow comedians and comedy fans have underlined just how highly thought of he was.

Here he is in conversation with Herring for the latter's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast.