Monday, December 05, 2016

Heavy metal parking lot

Think of New York, and you're probably imagining noise, bustle and congestion (of people and traffic). Which is precisely what makes Langdon Clay's photos of deserted city streets and particularly the cars temporarily or permanently abandoned on them so arresting.

The pictures also help to convey the grime and grubbiness of 1970s New York - the one that spawned the legendary punk scene that the Talking Heads' Chris Frantz recently spoke to the New York Post about.

(Thanks to Jonathan for the link.)

Spinning in your grave on your turntable

Giving away little bags of a late band member's ashes with every purchase of a new album is one thing, but it's not exactly practical or useful. Far better, perhaps, to engage the professional services of Vinyly and get your remains pressed into vinyl, onto which can be put a recording of your choice - a song, maybe, or just your voice, to haunt and upset people from beyond the grave.

(Thanks to Jamie for the link.)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Watching Kate Bush At The BBC the other week - first aired around the time of her run of gigs at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2014 and no doubt repeated to coincide with the release of her new live album Before The Dawn - I was struck by one thing in particular: the fact that I really must stop comparing other artists to her. Put simply, she's incomparable.

It's partly her creativity, her imagination, her apparent lack of self-consciousness, her enthusiastic embrace of the theatricality of performance, her impulse always to move on both musically and aesthetically, the way she consistently spurns the prosaic in favour of the outlandish and outrageous without actually resorting to crass shock tactics.

Take, for instance, the performance of 'The Wedding List', a bloody revenge fantasy inspired by Francois Truffaut's film The Bride Wore Black. (Having sworn I would stop making comparisons, allow me just this one - as good as Bat For Lashes' concept album The Bride is, I can't help thinking that it might have been even better if Natasha Khan had listened more to this song than to the rest of Bush's back catalogue.)

Of course, this devil-may-care attitude and refusal to play it safe does leave her exposed to ridicule at times. While 'Wuthering Heights' is rightly hailed as a classic, 'The Sensual World' - Bush's attempt to adopt the persona of another famous fictional heroine, Molly Bloom from James Joyce's Ulysses - is rather less successful. But, as with David Bowie, such missteps are inevitable and it's her indomitable spirit of adventure that makes her such a fascinating artist, even if it did bring her to try a reggae cover of Elton John's 'Rocket Man' (performed together with what looked like Keith Lemon on headless bass) in 1991 - a track that was inexplicably voted the Greatest Cover of all time by Observer readers in 2007.

However, all this isn't the whole story. What makes Kate Bush truly remarkable is the fact that she has unstintingly followed her arty, cerebral muse without ever losing mainstream acceptance and appeal. The BBC programme underlined this, showing all of her many appearances on prime-time chat show Wogan during the 1980s (something that of course also reflects the stature and influence that Terry Wogan and his show had during that decade, which seems rather odd or quaint now). In many respects, Radiohead are one of the few who can say they've somehow managed to bridge the same gap, with deliberately leftfield and experimental albums like Kid A, Amnesiac and King Of Limbs being gobbled up by the masses - but you wouldn't find them appearing on Alan Carr or Graham Norton's shows.

When all's said and done, then, I think Bush can be just about excused for recently expressing her liking for Theresa May as though she's some kind of feminist icon. Though that does make me feel not quite so bad for admitting (once again) to much preferring the Futureheads' version of 'Hounds Of Love' to her own...

Friday, December 02, 2016

"Songs of engagement and endurance"

Like Tariq Goddard, I've found myself listening to and enjoying an increasing amount of what could be fairly described (at least by anyone with mainstream tastes) as extreme metal as I've approached middle age: Neurosis, Kowloon Walled City, Deafheaven, Locrian, Oathbreaker. There are two differences between us, though: I've always had an occasional liking for a bit of metal (it's certainly not a new discovery) and I can't really explain the reason behind the recent enthusiasm - or at least not with any eloquence.

Neurosis' gig at Koko last month gave Goddard the platform (or the excuse) to write about his conversion to the dark arts in a review that is perhaps too self-centred and Quietus-esque for some tastes - but it nevertheless makes for an interesting perspective on a genre often seen as something you're supposed to grow out of rather than into.

(Of course, there's no reason that I'm mulling over the approach or arrival of middle age today - no reason at all...)

Boom? Busted!

A while back, I noted a solitary silver lining to Britain's impending (probably) exit from the EU: the derailing of a proposed second Mrs Brown's Boys film. Well, here's another: the fiercely pro-Brexit Daily Mail is anxious about how leaving Europe might adversely affect its profits - going so far as to talk about "macroeconomic volatility" and outline a new "principal risk" entitled "economic and geopolitical uncertainty". Funny, that - I could have sworn its front pages have been plastered with bluster about the fact that the post-referendum economy is actually booming and mocking those who expressed fears of a slump...

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Zine but not heard

You'd imagine that Toby Mott's Oh So Pretty: Punk In Print 1976-80 is precisely the sort of thing that might have prompted Joe Corre into Saturday's pyre of punk memorabilia - if that hadn't been just a self-publicising act of wrong-headed cultural vandalism. After all, Mott's book not only seeks to celebrate and preserve for posterity the printed paraphernalia of punk (rather than contemptuously sending it up in flames) but is also published by Phaidon, and therefore would no doubt signify for Corre the commercialisation and commodification of punk. To be honest, I don't really care - it looks and sounds great, and is hopefully assured of a place on my bookshelves at some point in the future.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"Ignorance is no excuse for this idiocy."

Former England rugby player Brian Moore, who was abused as a child, offers a remarkably restrained response to Eric Bristow's Twitter posts claiming that the footballers coming forward to report historic abuse are "wimps" for not "sorting out" their childhood abusers when they grew up.

Bristow's ramblings - defended by the man himself as "the truth" that others are afraid of saying (aka the Trump/Farage Defence) - have earned him the sack from his role as a pundit on Sky Sports, but their potential wider ramifications are troubling, especially (as Owen Jones notes) if such public proclamations prevent further victims from taking the courageous step to admit to experiences that have haunted them for years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

That must be some kind of record

There can't be much that excites both record collectors and stamp collectors - but Bhutan's "talking stamps", which were the world's first when they appeared in 1972 and which can be played on a standard turntable, are an exception. Chris May of The Vinyl Factory has traced their origins back to American maverick Burt Todd, who created them in a bid to raise funds for the kingdom and whose exploits suggest he would be an excellent subject for a biopic.

Monday, November 28, 2016

We've been Trumped

Now that the dust is starting to settle (if it ever can - especially given his latest ill-advised tweets), how to react to Trump's presidency? (In a way that doesn't involve enthusiastically daubing swastikas on a children's playground in the park dedicated to the memory of late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, that is.)

If you're New Yorker editor David Remnick, by following up a heartfelt lament for "a tragedy for the American republic" with an exceptional account of the seismic shockwaves Trump's victory sent through the incumbent administration and in particular how Barack Obama himself has reacted to developments. There is a sense that some in the Democrat Party were too complacent during the election campaign, but, in conversation with Remnick, the man who has held office since 2008 argued that Trump "is not an outlier" but "a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years" who "tapped into something" ("He's able to distill the anger and resentment and the sense of aggrievement") and who "understands the new ecosystem, in which facts and truth don't matter".

Since the result came in, Obama seems to have somehow managed to retain his characteristic optimism and cool and diplomatic manner, seeing his role as being to reassure White House staff - and non-Trump voters across the nation, and indeed people around the world - that "this is not the apocalypse" despite understandable fears to the contrary, as well as to ease the transition between administrations. There's no doubting the handover will be awkward, though, with Remnick confirming that Obama's meeting with Trump underlined that the incoming president's grasp of the basics of procedure and policy is "modest at best".

Like Obama, the Guardian's George Monbiot is convinced that the election of Donald Trump (or someone like him) has been coming for some time, the inevitable consequence of the enthusiastic embrace of economist Friedrich Hayek's brand of neoliberalism by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s - elements of which were then adopted by their centre-left successors Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The disempowerment and disenfranchisement of the electorate as a result of neoliberal ideology and its translation into policy has resulted in the rise of "a virulent anti-politics in which facts and arguments are replaced by slogans, symbols and sensation". Enter Trump, Nigel Farage et al.

Monbiot is in no mood to sit back, though - he's clear about the need to fight back, to convince people of the fact that "the atomisation and self-interested behaviour neoliberalism promotes runs counter to much of what comprises human nature". Naturally, he cites the evidence of "modern psychology and neuroscience" to support the claim that Hayek's view of people has been comprehensively debunked. But at a time when he himself concedes that experts are viewed with suspicion if not mockery and scientific fact is routinely dismissed in favour of overheated appeals to the emotions and baser instincts, his optimism is sadly hard to share.

Stewart Lee has argued that now is not the time to be building bridges, and New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow would certainly agree, having given spectacularly short shrift to Trump's post-election attempts to sound conciliatory - rightly so, after a campaign in which he established himself as "a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities". Blow doesn't just thrust Trump's weaselly olive branch back at him, but whips him around the head with it: "No, Mr Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity - and certainly this columnist - have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn".

Azealia Banks aside, the response from the music community suggests that countless bands and artists will be more than happy to fulfil that obligation. Take Green Day, for instance, who protested from the stage of the American Music Awards, chanting "No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!" - a line adapted from MDC's 'Born To Die' - in the middle of a performance of 'Bang Bang'. And then there's the venomous rant posted by Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste, in which he savaged all those whose votes helped to put Trump into the White House.

Meanwhile, one Tumblr user's response to Trump (albeit created before the election result) was simple but arguably among the most eloquent and effective: a portrait of him made up of 500 pictures of dicks.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Amsterdamn good*

AMBER ARCADES / ELLA, 19TH OCTOBER 2016, OXFORD CELLAR

Being forced to endure a top-deck shuttle bus journey from Bristol Airport to Bath would be more likely to inspire most people to misanthropic and perhaps even homicidal rage than to write a song, but not Ella van der Woude. The penultimate track on her new EP was conjured up in just such circumstances, and is remarkably measured to boot.

Elsewhere in a set of material that would probably endear itself to fans of Waxahatchee and Courtney Barnett is a cover of "a French goth song from the 80s", mere mention of which no doubt has the ears of Nightshift's esteemed editor immediately pricking up. Apparently, Ella learned it at the request of a friend for her wedding - which, on this evidence, must have been an, erm, eventful bash.

Certainly more eventful than the headliners' day. Not that Annelotte de Graaf aka Amber Arcades is disappointed by that. On the contrary - given that recent tour tribulations have included the classic van breakdown, it's positively welcome.

This isn't de Graaf's first time in Oxford - she's previously visited as a law student (as a former legal aide on UN war crimes tribunals, she's presumably used to hearing even more routinely horrifying and upsetting things than you would on a Bastille record) and indeed could have ended up doing a semester in the midst of the dreaming spires. She opted to go to the US instead, though, which is where she started playing music. "I don't regret it." Neither, she can be assured, do we.

Backed by her support band plus a bassist and a drummer who looks like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall if he'd stuck his fingers in a socket while on holiday in Hawaii and who appears to be drying tea towels on his drum skins, de Graaf crafts instantly charming jangly indie pop smeared with pretty 60s psych. It's unafraid of melody and clean lines; it's Deerhunter, Camera Obscura, Angel Olsen, perhaps (with the deliciously chiming guitars of 'Come With Me') even Sonic Youth at their most placid.

Any fears Amber Arcades may have shot their bolt by playing 'Right Now' - arguably the best track on debut LP Fading Lines - just two songs into the set are swiftly dispelled by the haze of sensitive, daydreamy loveliness that follows, in which 'Constant's Dream' is particularly spellbinding.

An interpretation of Nick Drake's 'Which Will' that de Graaf confesses is "very free" wins even more friends, but most appreciation is reserved for another of the singles from Fading Lines, 'Turning Light', which sees them morph into Stereolab and banish the summery wistfulness with a bracing autumnal squall that shakes us into the realisation that we've just witnessed something very special indeed.

*De Graaf is actually from Utrecht, but please don't let that get in the way of a good (groansome) pun.

(This review first appeared in the December issue of Nightshift.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Burying bad news

"Why didn't the Daily Mail put the jailing of Jo Cox's murderer on its front page?", asks Jane Martinson, writing for the Guardian. Of course, the answer is so obvious that it hardly needs to be stated. Put simply, it's because the Mail knows it's got the MP's blood on its hands. As Billy Bragg noted, if you're waiting for the rag (and others of its ilk) to demand to know how white supremacist Thomas Mair was radicalised, don't hold your breath.

Even by the usual barrel-scraping standards of the Mail's editorial policy, though, the decision to avoid mentioning the verdict of the trial until page 30 was extraordinary (lest we forget, Cox's murder was the first of a sitting British MP since Ian Gow in 1990). As was the brazen and frankly astonishing attempt to exonerate Mair of at least some of the blame by pointing the finger at immigrants and even Cox herself.

One of these days I might stop being staggered at the depths to which Paul Dacre and chums will stoop - but not just yet.

Punk is dead - again

In a classic case of "like father, like son", Joe Corre has echoed the verdict of his late father, Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren, that punk is dead. Yawn.

McLaren made the declaration in 2000, and now his son has followed suit - and is planning to go further on Saturday by staging a ceremonial torching of punk memorabilia including rare Sex Pistols records and clothing worn by the chief protagonists.

Needless to say, Corre's contention that punk has become irrelevant and corporatised, no longer a credible attack on the status quo, crumbles at the merest mention of Pussy Riot. What's more, he's defenceless against accusations of blatant hypocrisy - to raise the capital to found Agent Provocateur in the 1990s, he sold much of his memorabilia, thereby profiting from exactly the corporatisation he's railing against.

John Lydon has dismissed the proposed pyre in typically forthright terms as the actions of a "selfish fucking lingerie expert" - and the fact that Corre has rejected suggestions that the items to be torched could be auctioned off for charity certainly encourages that judgement.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sounds of the city

The new issue of Nightshift is out now, containing the annual Tracks Of Our Year feature, which celebrates the best music to come out of Oxford in the last 12 months, which reflects the views of the magazine's writers (including yours truly) and which is as much a December tradition as mulled wine, mince pies and ill-advised office party dalliances. Glass Animals top the bill with 'Life Itself', while several of the tracks I voted for (by Maiians, Cassels, Cameron AG, Kid Kin and, of course, Radiohead) also make an appearance. As ever, it's testimony to the continued strength of the city's music scene - as also acknowledged in Episode 5 of Sounding Bored.

Elsewhere in the issue, there's a bumper gig reviews section, including write-ups of four shows I've been to in the last month or so: Audioscope at the Bullingdon, Three Trapped Tigers with The Physics House Band and Kid Kin at the Academy, The Wave Pictures at the Cellar, and Amber Arcades with Ella at the Cellar. The latter was my sole contribution to the issue - and, sadly, almost certainly my last contribution to the magazine full stop, with the move to Cardiff now looming large. Here's hoping there's something broadly similar in the Welsh capital that might be prepared to publish my dribblings...

Quote of the day

"I am determined that we challenge extremism in all its forms including the evil of far-right extremism and the terrible damage it can cause to individuals, families and communities."

Home Secretary Amber Rudd responds to the verdict in the Jo Cox murder trial, which saw white supremacist terrorist Thomas Mair given a whole-life sentence. Yes, that would be the same Amber Rudd who only last month announced government proposals to force businesses to declare how many of their workers are not UK-born - a proposal that invited comparisons with passages in Mein Kampf.

I'm forgetting, though, that we now live in a post-truth world - a world in which making two contradictory statements is no doubt in no way problematic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"We are a fucked up racist country and stop with ur bullshit 'but whites can be discriminated against too!' ... or 'just because we voted Trump doesn't mean we're racist!' ... oh, honey, your poor white privilege. 'Trump's America' is a continuation of white supremacy. I CANNOT deal with whites that feel 'marginalized'. This country is built on blood, and all y'all 'make America great again' idiots are literally  harkening back to a fictional idea of the past. White supremacy still lives, but ur attempt to make it 'great again' is a huge step back on progress. It's a fantasy for white people that never existed and for everyone else was a collective nightmare."

Musically, Grizzly Bear are the epitome of restraint - always refined and mild-mannered, perhaps even to a fault. So it came as something of a surprise to read frontman Ed Droste's stinging attack on those who voted for his country's new president and those who unthinkingly celebrate Thanksgiving - an attack that he posted both on his own personal Instagram and also on the band's Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Objects in the rear view mirror

It's pretty common knowledge that 53 years ago today, on 22nd November 1963, JFK was shot dead in Dallas. It's rather less common knowledge that one of those present at the city's Parkland Hospital in the immediate wake of the assassination - right in the thick of it all - was a 16-year-old Meat Loaf. Here's Martin of Ruth And Martin's Album Club to explain (or at least to set out Meat Loaf's recollection of events as detailed in what sounds like a humdinger of an autobiography).

While we're on the subject of Mr Loaf, you might not know that he nearly died after being struck on the head with a shotput, he's a Hartlepool Utd fan and he was a vegetarian for ten years. Well, you do now.

Know Your Enemy

"This nigga is crazier than the shit I have on my head. I smoke weed. Weed don't make you do that. What the fuck is he on?"

The fact that even Snoop Dogg thinks he's batshit crazy says a lot about Kanye West, whose latest onstage meltdown, in Sacramento, was swiftly followed by the cancellation of the remainder of the tour.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Quote of the day

"The danger in meeting politicians is that they seem all right and then, as a comedian, it is much harder to summon up the manufactured anger required to despise them for personal commercial gain. I have a mortgage. I can't afford to find myself thinking things like 'You know, Ken Clarke isn't so bad once you get to know him'. Hate is money! And I have to pump it out to a deadline!!"

So begins Stewart Lee's explanation of why he's no longer going to schmooze with politicians on and off screen.

As usual, there is a serious point in there: "These aren't the times for self-loathing liberals to seek to understand the leaders of the global far right, or their supporters." On the contrary: "We should be in crisis-management mode. It's time to reassert a fundamental principle, namely that there's no excuse for bigotry." Quite right. What's needed isn't attempts to understand or build bridges, but vehement and rigorous opposition.

Thank you for the music

I've long maintained (in the face of regular and bemused opposition) that, far from being a cringeworthy guilty pleasure, ABBA are the absolute epitome of good pop music - and indeed music in general. So it's nice to see that the tastemakers at Pitchfork agree. In a retrospective review of the group's fourth studio LP, released in 1976, Simon Goddard argues that "at their best, as on Arrival, ABBA are as mysteriously out-there as Bowie, as rococo as Phil Spector, as unbearably sad as the Smiths".

What's more, he rightly lauds 'Dancing Queen', the album's second track, as "one of the greatest pop records ever made because, like so many of the greatest pop records ever made, it throws multiple reflections". Hyperbole? Not at all. My charity shop purchase of a copy of Gold earlier in the year and the fact it's been on almost constant rotation in the car ever since has only confirmed the truth of Goddard's claims.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Kool thing

To coincide with the release of the new Body/Head album No Waves, the New York Times asked Kim Gordon to name her top ten books. The resultant list includes works by Catherine Breillat, William Gibson, Greil Marcus, Jean Piaget and Gustave Flaubert, and was the subject of an idle tweet I wrote on Thursday afternoon - an idle tweet that was then retweeted by Gordon herself later that day. Y'know, suddenly 2016 doesn't seem quite so bad...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"We were Generation X"

Fifteen or so years on, Spaced remains one of my favourite sitcoms - for the perfectly observed characters and recreation of twentysomething life, for the razor-sharp dialogue, for the impeccable acting (particularly Julia Deakin as Marsha and Mark Heap as Brian), for Edgar Wright's signature style of direction (which felt creative and refreshing at the time, but irritating when it came to Scott Pilgrim Vs The World), for the wealth of subtle but knowing references, for not outstaying its welcome.

As Vice's oral history of the show reveals, though, the fact that only two series were made was more a consequence of fate rather than careful planning, and remains a source of regret for Simon Pegg. Nevertheless, the majority of the cast are right in saying that, given their ages, realistically it simply wouldn't work if they attempted to revive it. Much better instead just to revel in each and every one of the 14 precious existing episodes. As Wright says, "I'm very proud of what we did and I don't really want to spoil it now".

You should have listened to Jessica Stevenson and put in that Goonies reference, though, Simon...

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Persona non grata

Poor old Vince Neil. The former Motley Crue man thought he was all set to play at the president's inauguration, having signed up well before the election, only to discover that since Donald Trump's victory he's been unceremoniously dumped. It makes a change from conservatives being rejected by musicians...

Friday, November 18, 2016

Quote of the day

"He's saying things that are intellectually impossible, politically unavailable, so I think he's not offering the British people a fair view of what is available and what can be achieved in these negotiations."

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup president, on Boris Johnson's public pronouncements about Brexit. As if we didn't already know the man's a complete fantasist.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

"With that combination of bands, you know something's going on"

Chances are that if you're a fan of American punk, you won't learn much that's new from Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz's interview with the New York Post - 1970s New York was a dangerous and scarred city, CBGBs was an exciting focal point for the nascent scene, Patti Smith was as intense off-stage as she was on it, Johnny Ramone was "a pure, unadulterated mean spirit" - but it's still worth a read.

Ignorance is bliss

"Post-truth" may have been named the OED's Word Of The Year, but Scarfolk Council are here to remind you they were there first with their "mandatory de-education classes". Bang on the money, as always.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Back in black

For fans of the Jesus & Mary Chain, the long wait for a new LP - nearly 19 years, to be precise - is almost over. In an interview with CBC Music, Alan McGee announced he's signed the band to Warners and the record will be released in late March next year: "It's kinda enormous." Here's hoping the band's comeback release is a little less underwhelming than contemporaries My Bloody Valentine's turned out to be.

McGee also spoke briefly about the biopic of his life, which is currently in the pipeline. Irvine Welsh - who else? - is on board, with filming set to start in March, once Trainspotting 2 is wrapped up. I've got but not yet read McGee's Creation Stories, but am assuming that that will be providing much of the material for the screenplay.

After the fact

Oxford Dictionaries' choice of Word Of The Year is always a fascinating sign of the times, a snapshot of the zeitgeist - so, with the world still reeling from the seismic shock of Donald Trump's presidential election victory and many of us Brits still baffled by how exactly the Leave campaign won the EU Referendum (and bemused that there remains no clear roadmap for Brexit), "post-truth" seems like an entirely appropriate winner of the accolade for 2016.

Mistaken identity

Given that Trump supporters are apparently only too happy to lap up bullshit (and many of them are enthusiastic conspiracy theorists), I wonder how the revelations that the president elect is actually a Pakistan-born orphan will go down...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Apocalypse now, please

Forget Donald Trump, Brexit and the new-shape Toblerones for a minute. Perhaps the most obvious sign that we're all doomed is the fact that we live in a world in which ATP - organisers of some of the best, most varied and most mind-expanding festival bills around - can suffer a messy demise and yet the site of numerous marvellous ATP events, Butlins in Minehead, continues to play host to packed bashes like the Shiiine On Weekender, starring such musical luminaries as the Bluetones, Shed Seven, Dodgy, The Wonder Stuff, EMF, Jesus Jones, Echobelly, The Farm, Republica, a Stone Roses tribute band and even fucking Mike Flowers.

Former Melody Maker writer Mark Beaumont - a Britpop relic himself - was drawn to this month's weekender like a fly to shit and has written an enthusiastic piece for the Guardian about a festival that really does sound like my idea of absolute hell.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Home sweet home?

If you go down to IKEA today, you're sure of a big surprise - or at least you are if you go to the firm's store in Slependen in Norway. In addition to picking up items of flat-pack furniture, brightly coloured plastic kitchen utensils and a ropey hotdog, you're able to step into the shoes of Syrian refugees, experiencing the conditions in which they're living in a recreation of an actual home. Credit to the company for finding an arresting way to shake customers out of their comfort and complacency and alert them to the horrific reality faced by so many thousands of innocent victims.

(Don't) do what u like

As rock star spats go, it's an odd one. Robbie Williams has said that Jimmy Page has taken to spying on him in a dispute over the substantial housing renovations Williams is having made to his house. Even more improbably, he's claimed that Take That bandmate Gary Barlow is going through the same experience - only this time the legendary rock guitarist in question is Queen's Brian May. Williams and Barlow should stop complaining and just be grateful that anyone's still taking an interest in what they're up to.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The dark stuff

Reflecting on Leonard Cohen's death for the Independent, a former colleague of mine Sam has drawn comparisons between Cohen's You Want It Darker (a tongue-in-cheek title, surely?) and David Bowie's Blackstar, concluding astutely that only the latter has come to seem like a meditation on mortality in the wake of its creator's death - Cohen's final record, by contrast, looked that way as soon as it was released.

The decade that taste forgot

The 1970s have a lot to answer for - not least some of the most repulsive and unappetising dishes imaginable. Whoever gave perfection salad its name had an extremely sick sense of humour.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Born too loose

(Proto)punk fans, you really are in for a treat. Hot on the heels of Jim Jarmusch's Stooges documentary Gimme Danger will be a biopic on Johnny Thunders, originally of the New York Dolls and later the Heartbreakers. Based on a 1987 biography by Nina Antonia and directed by go-to music video director Jonas Akerlund, the film seems set to trace a familiar narrative arc of ascent to prominence followed by self-destructive decline - unlike We Are X.

"GET OZZY OSBOURNE A KNIGHTHOOD"

Angry? Upset? Frustrated? The default action these days is not to write a strongly worded letter to your local newspaper but to start an e-petition, which can end up being debated in parliament. They need to have at least 100,000 signatures, though, and also to concern serious and specific issues over which parliament has some authority/control. Not Emmerdale plot lines, Arctic Monkeys tours, direct flights to Romania or walking and renaming raccoons, then.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Quote of the day

"Unmatched in his creativity, insight and crippling candour, Leonard Cohen was a true visionary whose voice will be sorely missed. He leaves behind a legacy of work that will bring insight, inspiration and healing for generations to come."

Leonard Cohen's manager Robert Kory talking to Rolling Stone following the death of the "godfather of gloom" at the age of 82. And so the shitshow that is 2016 continues.

I had the good fortune and pleasure of seeing Cohen at Glastonbury in 2008. Looking like "a dapper Mafiosi pensioner in his Sunday best", he put in a sparkling performance, with 'Dance Me To The End Of Love' one of the weekend's undisputed highlights.

Much love for Black Love

When it comes to the Afghan Whigs, I'm boringly predictable in rating Gentlemen their best album. The first one I came across and bought, though, was 1996's Black Love, on the recommendation of the Select reviewer who, in lauding Screaming Trees' Dust, also cited Greg Dulli and company's album and Rocket From The Crypt's Scream, Dracula, Scream! as being among the best rock records to come out of the US that year. I wasn't disappointed - it's a dark, majestic album (not un-Leonard Cohen-like, appropriately enough).

To mark its twentieth birthday, the Quietus' Aug Stone has spoken to Dulli about the writing and recording of the album and reappraised it as the band's masterpiece, the moment when their grungey Sub Pop stylings entered into an unlikely but inspired marriage with the soul music they (or Dulli, at least) loved.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Quote of the day

"I'm fucking proud as FUCK of you. One for being a Gemini, two for being from NYC, three for winning the presidency and four for beating the media."

Well, at least someone in the world of arts and culture (outside the sphere of country music) is elated by Donald Trump's election. These latest moronic comments from Azealia Banks are compounded by the fact that she's delighted that Hillary Clinton lost on the grounds that she only represents "corporate white feminists". It's a person of rare intellect who can claim that voting for an avowed misogynist on feminist grounds is logical.

Question time

It's not every day your friend gets published by HarperCollins, so I really ought to give a plug to The Times Quiz Book, a collection of more than 200 quizzes culled from the pages of the Times. Its publication in the run-up to Christmas no doubt means its content will be the source of much delight and frustration over the festive period. Expect more questions on Mogwai than on classical music...

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump's shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President - a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit - and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety."

So begins the extraordinary reaction to Donald Trump's election by New Yorker editor David Remnick. It goes on to brand Trump "vulgarity unbounded", "knowledge-free", "a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right" and "greedy, mendacious, and bigoted". Too true, sadly.

Meanwhile, the gruesome post-mortem has already begun, with the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan arguing that the media, who predominantly backed Hillary Clinton and saw Trump as a comedy ogre, were far too complacent and hopelessly out of touch with the electorate, and were thereby complicit in endorsing Trump's rhetoric about the liberal establishment and ultimately in helping him secure victory.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

X rated

Many musicians seek to denigrate and disown their past output (see Noel Gallagher), but there can't be too many who've been brainwashed by a cult into believing that it's downright evil. Vocalist Yoshiki's story is just part of the overall incredible-sounding-but-actually-true narrative of X Japan, a "visual kei" glam-rock/metal band little known outside of their native Japan but about to reach wider audiences through Stephen Kijak's documentary We Are X. This preview by Pitchfork's Judy Berman promises an extraordinary tale that - unusually for a rock documentary - doesn't dwell on the sex, drugs and debauchery of the lifestyle to generate interest.

You and whose guitar army

The fact that the annual Audioscope bash, which took place on Friday, opened with the Oxford Guitar Orchestra (seven guitarists/bassists drawn from local bands past and present plus Ride drummer Loz Colbert) covering avant garde composer Rhys Chatham's 20-minute piece 'Guitar Trio' says much about the nature of the event. The fact that that proved to be the most conventional performance of a typically enjoyable evening says even more. A snippet of the highlights can be found here.

Unrequited love

Given that we've reached the day of reckoning in the US, I guess it's about time I posted a link to Pitchfork's "Brief History Of Conservatives Rejected By Musicians They Love". Particularly delicious is Tom Morello's suitably savage Rolling Stone response to Mitt Romney's 2012 running mate Paul Ryan citing Rage Against The Machine as one of his favourite bands, in which he branded Ryan "the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades".

Monday, November 07, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"If you like feedback so much, why don't you get a job with the council?"

Even as someone not remotely disposed to approve of barbed comments about Sonic Youth and their fans (for obvious reasons), I still have to take my hat off to Jason Williamson for that one.

It's actually an old jibe, brought to my attention by Sasha Frere-Jones' Village Voice article about Sleaford Mods' new EP TCR. Apparently the duo are gearing up for "their first proper tour of the US in 2017" - the mind boggles as to what American audiences will make of them.

(Thanks to David for the link.)

Say what?

I had no idea where the expression "It's a bit black over Bill's mother's" (or, in my experience, "It's a bit black over Will's mother's") came from, but this BBC article provides a helpful explanation - as it does for several other curious and baffling regionally specific phrases. However, it doesn't explain how an expression whose usage was supposedly restricted to the Midlands was frequently employed by family members in the north-east, and whose roots are in Bedfordshire.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Don't look back in anger?

Funny how things change, eh? Today, Oasis' third album Be Here Now - recently reissued as an expanded box set - is widely ridiculed and reviled, dismissed by critics and frequently disowned even by its own creator, Noel Gallagher. And yet on its release in 1997 fans were mad fer it, and music scribes were equally enamoured. Were they all as blinkered and delusional as it's claimed the band themselves were? How else to explain the extraordinary shift in its commercial and critical fortunes?

At the time of Be Here Now's release, Angus Batey was the reviews editor for music mag Vox (a poor relation to NME and Select). He's written a fascinating piece for the Quietus attempting the unenviable task of not only tunnelling through what he suggests is the critical revisionism surrounding the album (which is bound up with retrospectively imposed narratives about the death knell of Britpop and the souring of the New Labour/Cool Britannia dream) but also offering a stout defence of its alleged merits. His argument is that neither fans nor critics were deluded, as Be Here Now is in fact not only a brilliant album but also Oasis' best, not least because it embodies and expresses self-doubt and fears of irrelevance even in the midst of their most brash, OTT statement.

A provocative claim, to be sure - and not one I buy. For me, Be Here Now remains vapid, self-indulgent, cocaine-fuelled guff - full of empty posturing, devoid of anything remotely original and stinking like you might expect an unceremonious, uninspired exhumation of musical corpses would. It has neither the boisterous (or bolshy) vitality of Definitely Maybe, nor the reasonable songwriting craft of (What's The Story) Morning Glory. If the record is indeed shot through with subtle hints that Gallagher was concerned about the pressure to produce another era-defining collection of songs - and his inability to do so - then that concern is well founded.

That shouldn't detract from the quality of Batey's piece, though, in which he's evidently not simply playing devil's advocate for the sake of getting up readers' noses. Worth a read, just to see how surprisingly seductive his argument is at times.

Know Your Enemy

"It is both illogical and ignorant to castigate the High Court for doing its job and stating the constitutionally obvious: that having passed the act, only parliament can override it by consenting to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Yet castigating the judges and by extension, anybody who has the effrontery to agree with them, is exactly what the hard Tory Brexiters and their accomplices in the lie factories of Fleet Street have resorted to with a venom, vindictiveness and vituperation remarkable even by their standards. The will of the people has been thwarted by an 'activist' judiciary. These bewigged, closet Remainers, members of the fabled 'well-heeled liberal metropolitan elite', are 'enemies of the people', they shriek. Some of these sleaze-peddlers even dipped into homophobia, highlighting the sexual orientation of one of the judges. Inexcusable.

This is mendacious bile. It wilfully misunderstands the relationship between parliament, government and the judiciary. Partisanship is understandable, but this level of stupidity is unforgivable. It misleads and distorts - either deliberately or out of ignorance."

The Observer editorial quite rightly pulls no punches on the response of many Tories and particularly the right-wing press to the High Court's Brexit ruling.

Thou shall hev a fishy on a little dishy (well, in a wooden box, actually)

If Riley's Fish Shack wasn't already starting to lose its best-kept secret status, then it certainly is now. Thanks to Jay Rayner's gushing review in Sunday's Observer, in which the ordinarily hard-to-please critic happily described it as "the eating experience of the year", the word is out. Despite being regular visitors to Tynemouth, we're yet to frequent the small cafe/restaurant on the beachfront and are now very definitely regretting not going sooner - not least because we'll have to fight our way through the throng.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Death to traitors

As if it wasn't bad enough that those three judges - or "enemies of the people", as I prefer to refer to them - had the temerity to defy the Will Of The British Public by defeating the government over triggering Article 50, one of them was gay. And not just gay - "openly gay". The very worst kind of gay. The kind that refuses to keep it to themselves and has to thrust it under your nose at every opportunity. It's absolutely disgusting.

Even Daily Mail sub-editors seem to be using the Daily Mail-o-matic now.

Quote of the day

"You might have seen the demand by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell that BBC1 should play 'God Save The Queen' at the end of the day's programming to mark our departure from the EU. Well, we're not BBC1 and it's not quite the end of the day, but we're incredibly happy to oblige."

Newsnight's Kirsty Wark introduces an absolutely first-rate bit of trolling that makes me want to pay my licence fee three times over.