Monday, July 25, 2016

Feel good hits of the 25th July

1. 'Honeymooning Alone' - Bat For Lashes
Taken from her typically spellbinding fourth LP The Bride, a concept album that's set to be one of the subjects for discussion when we record Episode 7 of Sounding Bored this evening. The record has a whole narrative arc, but it's no surprise to me that one of its bleakest moments is my current stand-out.

2. 'Elevator Operator' - Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit might be old news to most people, but I'm still playing it to death. The album opener has recently been released as a single, and the accompanying video features a feast of cameo appearances from the likes of Sleater-Kinney, Jeff Tweedy and The Drones (the latter dressed with delicious incongruity as businessmen, sharply suited and glued to their phones).

3. 'Parasaur' - Maiians
Local groovemeisters with the most Holy Fuckesque song on their debut, which I've just reviewed for Nightshift. As for the video - well, any excuse for a food fight.

4. 'Bovina' - Turing Machine
The drop on 5:06 is one of the best things you'll ever hear, I promise.

5. 'Punks In A Disco Bar' - Beach Slang
Missing Japandroids (or The Replacements, for that matter)? Don't fear, Beach Slang are here with tracks like this, taken from a forthcoming second album that's not only called A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings but that also features the tracks 'Wasted Daze Of Youth' and 'Young Hearts' back to back.

6. 'The Kiss' - Judee Sill
I've been meaning to listen to some Judee Sill for a while, but it was this Toppermost article that finally pushed me into doing so - and I'm pleased to report that 'The Kiss', a track covered by Bonnie "Prince" Billy back in 2004, is pretty special. She's somewhere between Natasha Khan and Karen Carpenter, and her fondness for religious imagery, background in church music and bookish appearance are deceptive - as this Observer piece reveals, her life was plagued by tragedy and drug addiction, her talent sadly squandered or at least frustrated.

7. 'Ice Cream And Sunscreen' - Martha
As has been pointed out elsewhere, given that Martha hail from the County Durham village of Pity Me, surely they should be an emo band rather than politically engaged pop-punkers? The quartet, about whom I was tipped off by fellow Sounding Bored podcaster Niall, are playing an Oxford show next month - if I'm lucky, I might just get along.

8. 'Monoliths' - Maserati
Very definitely in the same ballpark as Turing Machine, with whom they shared a drummer (the late Jerry Fuchs, also occasionally of LCD Soundsystem, The Juan MacLean and !!!), and US labelmates of Mono and Explosions In The Sky (among others) on Temporary Residence. An album purchase is required, methinks.

9. 'War Pigs' - Black Sabbath
It doesn't matter how many times I listen to this song - I just can't get over how monumentally shit that ending is.

10. 'I Was A Teenage Werewolf' - The Cramps
The Cramps are such an oft-quoted reference point that I thought it was high time I went back to the source. In the main: frantic, scratchy, messy, primal renditions of 'Johnny B Goode' (though 'I Was A Teenage Werewolf' is a little different - slower, for a start). It's not hard to see why the likes of The Birthday Party, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Jesus & Mary Chain were so fond of them.

And here's the Spotify playlist (minus Maiians, and with Turing Machine's 'Bovina' conjoined to the previous track on the album).

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The long read

The Chilcot report isn't exactly a laugh a minute - but that hasn't stopped a whole host of comedians from signing up to read it out loud in its 6,000-page entirety as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. The show is the brainchild of Bob Slayer, and Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery and Reginald D Hunter are among those who'll be taking a turn. The report isn't going to be mocked or trivialised, though - the idea being to raise both awareness of its content and money for a refugee charity.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"I was still disgusted but more comfortable with the racism of the 70s and 80s that was overt and thuggish, than this new form of respectable xenophobia where it is done in political circles, journalism and academia."

Tory peer and former party co-chair Lady Warsi on the post-referendum climate of intolerance. If that's how she feels, you have to wonder quite why she remains a member of a party whose former leader was particularly culpable, by referring to refugees as "a swarm"...

Joan of artwork

I suppose it was only a matter of time before Joan Cornella - whose disconcerting and twistedly comic cartoons I only recently came across - was commissioned to produce some album artwork, and it's Wilco who have got in there first.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Quote of the day

"Through witty vignettes, heavy essays and nod-inducing pieces of wisdom, I shine a light on the nooks of the nation and the crannies of myself. It's a piece of work of which I'm immensely proud and if I had to sum it up in one word it would be: hope."

Back of the net! If Alan Partridge's forthcoming book Nomad, written as a companion-piece to his recent TV show Scissored Isle, is even half as good as its predecessor, his 2011 autobiography I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan, then there's absolutely no chance of copies ending up pulped as word porridge.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

You don't fool me

Another day, another bunch of musicians railing against Donald Trump. Queen may not have written a protest song about the Republican presidential candidate, but they have been unequivocal in their disgruntlement at Trump playing 'We Are The Champions' at a campaign rally - unlike Neil Young, who's been somewhat inconsistent on the issue.

It's been suggested that Trump's use of a song by a band famous for featuring an African-born bisexual immigrant of Iranian and Indian descent runs counter to pretty much everything he stands for. As for the band, the official statement and comments from Brian May indicate that actually their problem isn't so much with Trump's politics as with their music being commandeered for political purposes in general. Not quite so principled after all - but then probably only to be expected from a band who failed to see the problem with playing a series of gigs in apartheid South Africa...

The odd couple

Of all the people to feature on the cover of an album by hard rock/heavy metal dinosaurs UFO, Genesis P-Orridge and girlfriend Cosey Fanni Tutti of violent performance art troupe COUM Transmissions and later industrial noise terrorists Throbbing Gristle are two of the least likely.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rewriting Correcting history

Once a punk, always a punk - as Viv Albertine recently proved. Invited to appear in conversation with Jon Savage at the British Library to mark its Punk 1976-78 exhibition, the former Slits guitarist took exception to the way that the display text had airbrushed out the contributions of women like herself and decided to set the record straight. You'd hope that the exhibition's curators feel suitably chastened.

Rewritten history aside, Punk 1976-78 nevertheless sounds like it would be worth a visit.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The frying photographer

The portrait pictures that fish-and-chip shop proprietor Kazem Hakimi has taken of his regular customers suggest they're anything but regular. It comes as little surprise to learn that the Oxford establishment he's run for more than 25 years is located on Iffley Road - along with neighbouring Cowley Road, arguably the only area of the city that can claim to be home to such diversity.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The waiting game

Wondered what the hell the Avalanches were up to in the 16 years it took to produce the follow-up to Since I Left You? Well, here's the answer, courtesy of Robbie Chater: "financial meltdown, serious illness, experimentation with powerful hallucinogenic drugs, the departure of band members, the collapse of their record label and Chater's insistence on using the same equipment that they'd made Since I Left You with, on which he'd stored umpteen musical ideas". In those terms, it seems remarkable that Wildflower exists at all.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The white death

When any building is abandoned, it's left exposed to the elements - but nowhere is that more dramatic than in the snowy wastelands of Eurasia. The ruins featured in photographer Danila Tkachenko's Restricted Areas series are set against the bleakest of white backdrops - perhaps a poignant comment on the folly of the human conviction that anywhere can be made hospitable.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"Forgive my harshness when I state categorically: the so-called 'truth' these malicious cranks persist in forwarding - that my father conspired with the US government to 'fake the moon landings' - is manifestly A GROTESQUE LIE."

Stanley Kubrick's daughter Vivian responds to one of the most notorious conspiracy theories in circulation.

Scotland I love you but you're bringing me down

I couldn't bring myself to watch much more than five minutes of LCD Soundsystem's Other Stage-headlining set at Glastonbury for fear of exploding with envy, but I'm reliably informed it was pretty spectacular. So it's painful to see quite how poor the turnout was when they played at T In The Park. In what (parallel) universe are Red Hot Chili Peppers a better option, or mud an impediment, to seeing James Murphy's crew in prime form?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Kill your idols

Much of what has happened amid the post-referendum circus has been horrifying or ridiculous (and often both at the same time), but one thing has been infuriating and even tragic: the failure of Labour to capitalise on the situation. Rather than forming the credible opposition the country needs and making hay while the Tories imploded through treachery, chicanery and egotism, Labour have instead sought to emulate them, far too preoccupied with bitter internecine squabbling over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and the direction the party should take.

Gary Younge's recent article for the Guardian sums up the frustration extremely well. Why are members of the Parliamentary Labour Party unable to accept that Corbyn is the leader preferred by the majority of ordinary party members and adamant that he should be undermined and ousted? It's farcical that the current incumbent was almost excluded from the ballot sheet and therefore barred from even attempting to retain a position he gained through a democratic process. As many people have pointed out, it's almost as if his critics are determined to prove he's unelectable.

It's not as if there's any substance to the challenge, either: "The Parliamentary Labour Party has obsessed about nothing else for the best part of a year. In all that time it has not produced a plausible strategy, programme or policy designed to win back those who voted for Corbyn." The best it can offer is Angela Eagle, whose voting record (on Iraq, on Syria, on tuition fees, on the welfare bill) is largely indistinguishable from that of a Tory and thus completely out of step with the views of party members.

In keeping with the general ridiculousness of politics at present, Eagle's leadership bid has already been upstaged twice, both times by the Tories (inadvertently). First, at the launch of her campaign (with graphics that many have noted looked very like those Alan Partridge has for his event at Linton Travel Tavern) she tried to address the assembled political journalists directly, only to discover that they'd all snuck out to cover Andrea Leadsom's withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest. Then, she was in the midst of mocking Boris Johnson when someone in the audience told her he'd just been named Foreign Secretary, which left her completely dumbfounded (as it did most of the nation, to be fair).

Hopefully she'll throw in the towel, PLP members will grudgingly accept the will of the wider Labour membership and Corbyn can get on with leading the party - but unfortunately it looks far more likely that the anti-Corbyn plotters will refuse to concede defeat and this civil war will rumble on and on, to the detriment of the party and the nation as a whole.

(Thanks to Tim for the Gary Younge link.)

An idiot abroad

To borrow my friend Owen's delightful epithet, "bumbling fucktrumpet" Boris Johnson is our new Foreign Secretary. It could be politely described as an interesting choice on Theresa May's part. The only circumstances in which he could be considered a safe pair of hands were if the only other candidates for the job were Nigel Farage and Prince Philip.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Women's writes

Music journalists gushing about bands is one thing, but music journalists gushing about each other is rather harder to stomach. When the object of affection in question is Sylvia Patterson, whose writing for NME (at least) seemed pretty unremarkable to this regular late-90s/early-00s reader, you have to take it with a pinch of salt.

Nevertheless, Eve Barlow's interview with Patterson for Noisey does suggest that the ex-NME scribe's memoir I'm Not With The Band: A Writer's Life Lost In Music might possibly be worth investigating, if only for an insight into an era of relative journalistic freedom, before a vibrant mainstream music press was killed off by money, marketing wonks and vacuous corporate cliches masquerading as pop stars.

That said, Patterson does acknowledge that creative freedom and good music writing does still exist - it's just that it's generally to be found online rather than in print and it's much harder to make a career out of it (even though her own experience underlines that that certainly wasn't easy even in the period she looks back on with rose-tinted spectacles).

There's a whiff of hubris about Patterson suggesting she had the ability to "destroy someone's career" - as she did actually try to do with Placebo's Brian Molko, "the most condescending, creepy, paranoid, slippery goblin of a man". But then NME was at that time a tastemaker in much the same way that Pitchfork is now, and had a wider readership (at least here in the UK), so perhaps the claim isn't quite so preposterous and egocentric as it might seem at first.

Through the decades rock journalism, like rock music, has generally been a depressingly male domain, and Barlow makes a point of asking Patterson whether she's encouraged by the fact that things do now seem to be changing. In her reply she observes that institutional sexism dictated that she would be expected to "do the comedy stuff" but that this actually stood her in good stead for coaxing her interview subjects into candid and unguarded comments. Interestingly, this exactly echoes the experience of young female pop journalists in the early 1960s, as featured in the Radio 4 documentary The Women Who Wrote Rock - a reminder that men haven't always ruled the roost when it comes to reporting and writing on music.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Better the devil you know?

It's a sad indictment on the current state of affairs when a self-avowed leftie like me feels a palpable sense of relief at the news that Theresa May will shortly be installed as the country's unelected Tory prime minister.

All of May's rivals for the party leadership dropped like flies - the most recent being Andrea Leadsom, who had been subjected to a barrage of criticism and abuse and clearly couldn't stomach the fight. The prospect of the nation being led by the woman described as "Brexit's Bisto mum" (by Marina Hyde) and "created by Nazi scientists as a response to Dame Vera Lynn" (by Frankie Boyle) doesn't bear thinking about.

Nevertheless, it's worth contemplating what May might mean when she talks about creating a "better Britain". After all, as playwright David Hare pointed out earlier this year, in her role as home secretary the "British values" she endorsed are certainly not the sort of values that many of us would be happy to share. Not for nothing did Boyle, reporting on last autumn's Tory conference, quip that she "exudes all the compassion of stage 4 bone cancer".

Monday, July 11, 2016

Time to de-caff?

My coffee consumption is copious regardless of what day it is, and the mornings after gigs are no different - though perhaps they should be, given that recent research suggests caffeine can impair your ears from recovering after exposure to high volumes. Blasted with Motorhead and then force-fed espressos - what a life lab guinea pigs lead, eh?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"'I want to speak to the markets', Leadsom smiled, with the air of someone who imagines you can negotiate with gravity. There was absolutely nothing to fear, she went on, smiling that smile again. Andrea Leadsom's smile is terrifying. It is the smile of the school careers adviser telling you flatly that the school is looking for a night caretaker. It is a smile that is powered by the extinguishing of your future. You can't escape Andrea's smile. And it'll certainly come for you if you try. ... As a junior minister in Her Majesty's government, Andrea enjoyed the sort of anonymity you'd hope for in one of the better witness protection programmes. ... At least 50% of her public statements sound as if they were said for a dare. 'Let's banish pessimists.' 'Boris Johnson is a lovely man.' The rest sound like she's assembling endtimes magnetic fridge poetry."

Move over, Frankie - it's your fellow Guardian columnist Marina Hyde's turn to cast her withering gaze on the Tory leadership contest, and on "Brexit's Bisto mum" Andrea Leadsom in particular. Hyde memorably refers to the march to parliament to promote her cause as an "am-dram peasants' revolt".

Meanwhile, novelist Ian McEwan has been reflecting on the profoundly ridiculous events of the past fortnight and come to the conclusion that the best we can hope for is that it was all just a bad dream.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Just for laughs

Poor old Sam Wollaston. The Guardian's hapless TV critic recently ventured that "studio laughter has no place in modern sitcoms", claiming that it's outdated and that audiences are now more sophisticated and don't want to be patronised by having jokes signposted for them. To make his case, he cited the recent boom in quality comedy shows that don't have studio laughter.

Cue a forthright rebuttal by American comedy writer Ken Levine, a veteran of such shows as M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier and The Simpsons, who contended that Wollaston's argument is just personal opinion, that a live studio audience not only holds writers to account (a poor script means few laughs) but also benefits actors, and that shows with studio laughter such as Frasier aren't any less funny or enjoyable now than they were when they first appeared.

Among those who subsequently weighed in on Levine's side was Graham Linehan, co-creator of Father Ted, a show Wollaston described as "certainly one of the greatest sitcoms ever, and probably my own favourite". It must have been painful, then, to find Linehan commenting: "Only TV writing is held in such low regard that someone as consistently uninformed as Wollaston can keep his job"...

Friday, July 08, 2016

Famous five

It's 20 years since the release of 'Wannabe', so naturally the time is ripe for an appraisal of the Spice Girls' legacy. The BBC's John McKie sums it up nicely: pop music cynically marketed at "those hard-to-get pre-teens who the music industry had previously considered as a small market"; the advent of the band-as-brand, an unashamed cash cow; celebrity obsession (referred to as "Kardashianisation" by one of McKie's interviewees, Music Week's Paul Gorman), thanks to Posh and Becks; and "Girl Power", a slogan that was superficially empowering but proved vacuous in that the quintet were manufactured and moulded by men. Not a great deal to celebrate there, then...

"My banh mi bring all the boys to the yard"

It doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? But that's exactly what Kelis is hoping will happen this month - if by "yard" you understand "Leicester House in London and the Standon Calling festival in Hertfordshire". The singer is now a professionally trained chef and is opening a pop-up restaurant in collaboration with Le Bun. Just the descriptions of the cuisine - a multinational fusion of styles, colours and flavours - have my mouth watering.

Here's hoping she signs up for a cook-off with Steve Albini sometime soon.

(Thanks to Ben for the link.)

Mud, glorious mud

Another Glastonbury has been and gone, and once again I managed not to get too morose about not being there (or too envious of those who were), largely by avoiding watching any of the highlights. (I did start watching the LCD Soundsystem set on iPlayer, before coming to my senses and wondering why on earth I was tormenting myself.) However, this set of random pictures - taken by photographers working for or contributing to Noisey - did remind me of the sheer joyous silliness of the whole thing. Maybe next year...

Thursday, July 07, 2016

The truth will out

We've been waiting for the Chilcot report to appear nearly as long as we've been waiting the Avalanches to release a second album, but now it's been published (all 2.6 million words of it), it's abundantly clear that it hasn't told most of us much that we didn't already know - or, at least, confirmed what most of us already suspected : that the 2003 Iraq War was a fuck-up from start to finish, instigated on false/exaggerated premises, fought by ill-prepared troops and waged without exhausting all peaceful methods of resolving the situation.

Robin Cook and Charles Kennedy were ridiculed and vilified by the right-wing press for saying so at the time, so the report comes as vindication of their principled stances - it's just a shame neither of them are alive to witness its publication.

The report also highlights the catastrophic deficiency of post-war planning, which led to the country becoming a breeding ground/playground for extremists. It's a good thing that times have changed and our leaders would never again take hugely significant decisions without any consideration of the consequences or any plan about how to clear up the messy aftermath, isn't it?

Still, Jeremy Corbyn has had the decency to apologise on behalf of Tony Blair's New Labour for leading the country into an unjustified and unjust war. That's something, at least - albeit too little, too late.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"The frontrunner, Theresa May, communicates something horrifying, not through her appearance, but rather her unique expression of unwavering, furious disgust. It is the expression some nameless, pitiless archon will wear 50 years from now as it signs a contract to rent out our city centres to pharmaceutical companies so they can crop-spray viruses and harvest antibodies from any survivors. It is the expression Lucifer wore when the other angels attempted an intervention. Surely May, of all people, could make a positive case for migration just by saying: 'If you can't see the potential of a free-moving workforce, simply imagine how great it would be if I fucked off somewhere else.' Bizarrely, it looks like she'll be involved in a runoff against Andrea Leadsom, who was created by Nazi scientists as a response to Dame Vera Lynn. Michael Gove needs to get 50 signatures, but at the moment he doesn't look like he could persuade his mother to sign him off a cross-country run after a leukaemia diagnosis."

Frankie Boyle (who else?) offers his thoughts on the Tory leadership contest, in a Guardian article published yesterday that is already out of date (with Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox having dropped out of the running).

On a related note, credit to Twitter user Alex Watts for describing Gove as a "haunted pork mannequin". In fairness, no wonder he looks haunted - so would you if you were made of pork and had Cameron licking his lips in your direction.

(Thanks to Mark for the link.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The not-so-sweet smell of bullshit

Every now and then I contemplate returning to the real world and getting a proper job (maybe even the sort that Nigel Farage would approve of), and then something happens to convince me otherwise. Most recently it's been the testimony of a friend who, over the course of just two days of a "corporate retreat", had the pleasure of hearing his snake-oil salesman of a manager say the following, without even the merest shred of irony or self-awareness:

"What drivers will move the needle?"

"We need to raise the altitude of our thinking."

"I enjoy gaining insights from data-driven decisions."

"We need to move from activation to mobilisation to the delivery of enablement."

"We need to commit and align towards a reality."

"Change has changed a great deal."

"Communication is a conscious commitment."

"Customer success is a wholesome commitment."

"We need to move from entrapment to engagement."

"I want to float some of these stories."

"Do we understand what customer empathy looks like?"

"Invent the future through the customer lens."

"We need to enable change through a platform mentality."

"Customer experience is the foundation of the transformation."

"We don't want to ignore inventing the new."

"Don't challenge to raise the bar low."

"Don't leave the takeaways here - take them with you."

And best of all:

"If there is a big white elephant in the room, you need to put it on the table."

Complete and utter bullshit, the lot of it. Language is supposed to be a tool for communication - but in the hands of fuckwits like this, it's instead deliberately used to obfuscate and confuse, to conceal a dearth of ideas, and devalued to the point of sterile meaninglessness.

So, yes I don't have a pension or holiday/sick  pay - I'm just relieved I don't have to be subjected to this nonsense on a daily basis.

Monday, July 04, 2016

(Dis)like father, (dis)like son

The political circus that has followed the EU referendum has somewhat distracted everyone here from the equally ridiculous and nightmarish scenario unfolding across the Atlantic. Neil Young may have given out mixed messages about Donald Trump, but other musicians have been unafraid to nail their opposition to the mast. Take Tom Morello and Ani DiFranco, for instance, who have joined forces with singer Ryan Harvey to craft a protest song called 'Old Man Trump'. Most remarkably, the song features recently discovered lyrics by Woody Guthrie, who wrote them about his landlord - who just so happened to be Trump's father, Fred. An exploitative money-grabber who endorsed racial segregation in Guthrie's public housing complex Beach Haven, Trump Sr would no doubt be proud of the fruit of his loins.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Hands off

Radio 4's Good Vibrations: The Story Of The Theremin, presented by Bill Bailey, definitely did what it promised to do on the tin: relate the history of the curious musical instrument that you don't even need to touch to play while inevitably referencing its most famous use - by the Beach Boys on 'Good Vibrations'. But in truth that title and the description on the iPlayer Radio site rather undersold the half-hour documentary.

As a fan of the theremin - not only for its appearance on 'Good Vibrations' but also its extensive use by Jon Spencer, who regularly karate-kicks the air to play his - I was interested to learn a little more about how it works. Moving your right hand adjusts the pitch, apparently, while moving your left controls the volume level. Mark Kermode was on hand to talk about the instrument's importance with regard to film soundtracks, as a go-to tool when you want to create a creepy, disconcerting, otherworldly feel. Little wonder it's so prominent in sci-fi and horror movies.

But the really remarkable thing about the programme was not so much the story of the instrument itself as that of its inventor, Leon Termen. The Russian showed off his creation to Lenin himself at the Kremlin in 1922, accompanied by the Soviet leader's secretary on piano. His colourful life subsequently took in industrial espionage, an 11-year stay in the US (including a spell working at Alcatraz), a stint as a labour camp prisoner back in the Soviet Union when he developed cutting-edge bugging devices for spying and a prototype TV, and twilight years living in one room of a large shared apartment. All of this fascinating insight was supplied by Albert Glinsky, whose biography of Termen Theremin: Ether Music And Espionage certainly sounds like an engrossing read - and perhaps the basis for a biopic?

And then there were none?

It's not just the Tories and Labour who are in turmoil in the wake of the EU referendum. You'd have thought UKIP would be buoyant given the result - but no, they're busy tearing themselves apart too, with Nigel Farage suggesting that Douglas Carswell could shortly be sacked, to leave the party without a single MP. Farage is clearly exasperated by Carswell, who defected from the Tories but has proven a constant thorn in his side: "We find somebody inside our party who doesn't agree with anything the party stands for. It's a very odd state of affairs."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Taking the Michael

Of all the ridiculous and gobsmackingly bizarre things to have transpired in the world of politics over the last few days, one of the most ridiculous and gobsmackingly bizarre is the revelation that odious pospective Tory leader and thus prime minister Michael Gove once fronted a comedy series on Channel 4, together with David Baddiel and Richard Herring. In light of recent events, I'm sure no one will make any satirical capital whatsoever out of the fact that the show was called A Stab In The Dark.

(Thanks to Steve for the link.)

Pulp fiction, Victorian style

Pulp fiction, strictly speaking, was an American phenomenon in the early years of the twentieth century - but we Brits got there first with "penny dreadfuls", popular for much of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth and featuring lurid tales of crime and horror. So far so trashy - but, as this article (illustrated with a number of amazing penny dreadful covers) suggests, they were more than that, in both encouraging literacy and paving the way for more edifying serial publications on political and educational themes.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Eton mess

Another day, another intensification of the omnishambles that is the post-referendum political landscape. Boris Johnson's decision not to stand for the Tory leadership is extraordinary. All that jostling and chicanery to undermine and oust David Cameron only to get cold feet at the thought of actually having to "take control" and follow through by triggering Article 50 and kicking off the formal Brexit process. He and Cameron seem to be locked in a contest to see who can commit political suicide in the messiest and most public way - which would be hilarious if the fate of the nation and its people wasn't at stake, and if Labour weren't so engaged in bitter infighting of their own to capitalise on the situation.

"Doing a Boris" has already been added to the Urban Dictionary, defined as wanting to live in Dave's house, having a massive shit in the front room causing him to move out and then deciding that the stench is so bad you don't want to live there after all. He's back to being a grinning idiot suspended in limbo, pathetically waving a couple of small Union Jacks...

Meanwhile, Boris' backstabber, that horrible little git Michael Gove, has thrown his hat into the ring, as has Stephen Crabb and his extremely questionable views on homosexuality. As has been pointed out on social media, it really is coming to something when Theresa May is the most appealing candidate. Come back Dave, all is forgiven.

Armando Iannucci's response to the situation on Twitter was telling: "People keep telling me things are like a 'Thick Of It' script. Maybe, but only if it was written by an infinite number of monkeys."

Palm reader

You may not know the Lithuanian EU commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis by name, but by now you're probably familiar with his facepalm response to Nigel Farage's tirade at the EU parliament on Wednesday. It turns out that Andriukaitis - who, like his fellow MEPs, stood accused of having never done "a proper job" in their lives - is not only a trained cardiac surgeon but has risen to his current position of prominence in spite of being born in a Soviet gulag.

He's taken to the European Commission's blog to explain his reaction, criticising Farage and the Leave campaign for spreading "toxic untruths" and "instigating hate, chauvinism and phobias" which have had fatal consequences in the form of Jo Cox's death. Sadly, the chances of Farage pausing for a moment, dispensing with the childish insults and actually accepting responsibility for the bullshit that pours out of his mouth are about as slim as Michael Gove's chances of receiving a Christmas card from Boris Johnson this year.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Feel good hits of the 30th June

1. 'Shut Up Kiss Me' - Angel Olsen
An early taster of MY WOMAN, the forthcoming follow-up to 2014's superb Burn Your Fire For No Witness - and fuck me if it isn't absolutely brilliant from the very first play. 'Shut Up Kiss Me' is very definitely more in the vein of that last LP's real outlier, the 90s rock-out 'Forgiven/Forgotten', than the alt-folk/alt-country for which Angel Olsen has largely earned her reputation. Now I REALLY can't wait for the album to drop.

2. 'Miniskirt' - Braids
Righteous feminist polemic meets gargantuan-sounding glitchy synth-pop, from the Canadians third LP Deep In The Iris - and the highlight of a stunning (though sadly sparsely attended) gig at the Oxford Academy in the middle of the month. The creativity and talent on display were impressive - especially in comparison to the sold-out Brian Jonestown Massacre show I went to at the same venue two days later...

3. 'SOS' - Portishead
'SOS' was hardly a cheery tune to start with, and it certainly isn't in Portishead's hands. The cover originally featured in the recent film adaptation of J G Ballard's High-Rise, but has since acquired significant political resonance thanks to the fact that its video ends with a quote from Jo Cox, the MP murdered in the run-up to the EU referendum: "We have far more in common than which divides us." The video was played on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury before the tribute to Cox that got a festival still reeling from the news of the referendum result off to a sombre start.

4. 'Depreston' - Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit has been once again monopolising the car stereo of late, and 'Depreston' never fails to raise a smile with its gently mocking commentary on hipster coffee fetishism and gentrification.

5. 'Ether' - Mogwai
After the last installment of Feel Good Hits, I gave Atomic a proper listen and am pleased to report it's very good indeed - especially this twinkly beast - and certainly far superior to Mogwai's last "proper" album Rave Tapes.

6. 'Vessel' - Zola Jesus
Braids' support act, local artist Esther Joy Lane, had me itching to revisit Grimes and particularly Zola Jesus. Conatus never lived up to the standard set by this superb single, sadly - but perhaps we should just be grateful for the existence of 'Vessel' as an indication of what Nine Inch Nails might sound like fronted by Lady Gaga. The climax is awesome every time.

7. 'Right Now' - Amber Arcades
Annelotte de Graaf aka Amber Arcades will be pitching up in Oxford in mid-October for a gig at the Cellar, and this track - hazy jangle-pop meets Deerhunter - should suffice as evidence of why I'm very much looking forward to it.

8. 'Chwyldro' - Gwenno
As a huge fan of Cate Le Bon, it's little surprise that Ronan of Nightshift is smitten with Gwenno. The former Pipettes member -who, like Amber Arcades, is signed to Heavenly - sings in her native Welsh over dreamy motorik electronica that inevitably recalls Stereolab.

9. 'Starve' - Rollins Band
Writing about Henry Rollins recently, it occurred to me that I'm largely unfamiliar with his music. This taut, muscular track was a good place to start - in Rollins' own words, "if James Brown was born into King Crimson and had to write a song with Fripp".

10. 'Anxiety' - Preoccupations
It's a busy old time for Jagjaguwar at the moment, what with new records from Angel Olsen, Dinosaur Jr and this lot - the band formerly known as Viet Cong. While Olsen's comeback has made an immediate impression, I can't say I love this. Maybe that'll change, though. After all, the previous album was so, so good...

And, in a new development (possibly just a trial), here's a Spotify playlist with all of the tracks except 'SOS', which isn't available. The version of 'Starve' that's included is live rather than studio.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A shore thing

Whenever we're up in the north-east visiting the folks, Tynemouth (well, Longsands, anyway) is always high on our list of priorities when it comes to places to go. So it doesn't come as much of a surprise to learn that it's been named the best seaside town in Britain by Rough Guide. I don't think we've been to King Edward's Bay before, though, and Riley's Fish Shack certainly sounds very tempting - even more so than Longsands' cafe Crusoe's, a welcome port of call for coffee and cake (or something more substantial) after a blustery morning or afternoon on the beach.

Know Your Enemy

"Let's be positive, we are getting rid of the biggest waste of EU budget: your salary."

Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt responds to Nigel Farage's childish jibes directed at the European parliament.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Poetry in (pro)motion

Four poets travelling the length and breadth of the country in a people carrier? As tours go, it was never likely to be like Motley Crue. But Shore To Shore - featuring Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy and others - has a more noble objective than excess and (self-)destruction: the simultaneous promotion of contemporary poetry and independent bookshops.

Like their record store equivalents, indie bookshops are under increasing pressure and facing ever greater challenges and threats, so many need all the help they can get in order to survive - which is where Independent Bookshop Week and its various initiatives, such as Shore To Shore, come in.

Of the 600 or so shops that have closed in the UK in the last 12 years, one of those is Appleby's, a childhood favourite in my home town of Morpeth, which underwent a painful and enforced transition to a discount store with added cafe before finally closing its doors. I've said it before, but my current home of Abingdon is quite remarkable in being a town of a similar size that supports not one but two independent bookshops, Mostly Books and the Abingdon Bookstore - both of which seem in rude good health. Long may that continue.

Background noise

Want to consume music in an easy, modern way without compromising your hipster credentials? Welcome to Vinylfied, "a website that adds an imitation vinyl hiss to the background of the track you're listening to".

For fuck's sake...

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Quote of the day

"Why should I do all the hard shit for someone else, just to hand it over to them on a plate?"

David Cameron's alleged comment to aides, following the announcement of his resignation on Friday. Dave, I'd suggest that you should "do all the hard shit" on account of the fact that you called the referendum and  therefore bear ultimate responsiblility for the current state of affairs.

Leave campaigners seem to disagree too, with one pro-Leave MP telling Sky's Faisal Islam that it's the responsibility of Cameron, not his side, to come up with a coherent plan for post-Brexit Britain. Absolutely staggering - more so than all of the frantic backpedalling that Leave supporters have done since the result was announced, including Iain Duncan Smith describing the campaign's promises as "a series of possibilities".

However, it seems that tumult, confusion and anger aren't merely confined to the political class in the wake of the result. Readers of the Daily Mail and the Sun - both of which backed Brexit and have now published articles explaining the financial consequences of the vote - are irritated at having been kept in the dark or lied to. They could perhaps have listened to the Remain campaign rather than accepting the Daily Mail/Sun line that it was all merely scare-mongering...

Elsewhere, the Independent have published a piece in which an idiotic twentysomething expresses "Bregrexit" at voting Leave in protest at the Establishment - and sadly she isn't alone. Anyone who did so should be forcefully reminded of Stewart Lee's point that voting for UKIP in protest is like shitting in your hotel bed as a protest against poor service only to realise that you've then got to sleep in a shitty bed.

Cornwall, which voted strongly in favour of Brexit, is now desperately seeking assurance that there will be no shortfall in funding caused by the loss of EU money. Talk about turkeys voting for Christmas. I shouldn't mock, though - my own home county is doing exactly the same.

While no one seems to know quite what will happen now, it's beyond doubt that the referendum result has already had significant effects - quite apart from Cameron's resignation and the implosion of Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet, there's the fact that racist incidents seem to be on the rise.

Best kept secret?

Last month, Joel Dear of The Album Wall conducted a survey about music consumption and included the request "Recommend me a great album I've never heard before." He's since set down his general reflections on the numerous enthusiastic responses he received here, expressing surprise at people's generosity of spirit: "obviously we all want our favourite bands to make it big, but in my experience that latter feeling is often superseded by a more selfish desire to keep a good band all to yourself".

This is a sentiment I can partially identify with. I certainly don't automatically become predisposed to disliking a formerly beloved band as soon as they find modest success and a foothold in the popular consciousness, but there is indeed "a warm, smug glow from feeling like I'm the only person in the world who knows about an amazing artist".

On the other hand, though, I'm not slow in offering recommendations and endorsements - something to which this blog bears witness. In that respect, I find it hard to keep a secret. The likes of Codeine, The Icarus Line and Marissa Nadler are all pet bands/artists whose records I regularly enthuse over - none of them are completely obscure, but hopefully they're just a little less obscure to anyone who regularly visits this site.

Enough of my generosity - now it's over to you. Recommend me a great album I've never heard before...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Making Taking a name for yourself

A couple of years ago, Curtis Wallen wrote about the experience of inventing a person and then making them disappear for the Atlantic. A few months later, in the London Review Of Books, Andrew O'Hagan reported on his experience of doing much the same thing - though this time using the name of a real person who died young and inventing a backstory and posthumous life for him (thereby copying a strategy adopted by the Metropolitan Police Force in the 1960s).

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Minority reports

On the grounds that it'll be years before I ever get round to writing up this month's stupendously good Oxford gigs by Malcolm Middleton (1st June, Bullingdon) and Braids (19th June, Academy), let me point you in the direction of the reviews written by Sam Shepherd and Rob Langham respectively, as included in the July issue of Nightshift. As is often the way, it's just a shame that relatively few people had the pleasure of witnessing the performances first-hand.

Cutting out the middleman

You might find it surprising to learn that the chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents has been quoted as saying that "tourism can kill tourism", lamenting the effects on cities, their people and their economies. However, it may well seem less surprising when you discover that Mark Tanzer's complaint focuses specifically on the surge of tourists using home-letting services like Airbnb - tourists who have bypassed travel agents, in other words...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Exit strategy

Democracy, eh? Bravo, UK, bravo. *very slow handclap*

Tempting though it is to think that we're all now going to hell in a handcart, and much as Brexit is (or at least looks like) a victory for bloody-mindedness and xenophobia that threatens to condemn the UK to isolation and obscurity, it's worth noting that there was a rational, largely cogent leftist/Green case for voting Leave (not that you'd have known it from the media). The belief that national sovereignty could be restored in an era of globalisation and international corporate power - a belief that Leavers of all hues seem to share - looks rather naive and quaint, but now that the damage has been done, those of us on the left have no option but to cling to the hope that the country can now be wrestled back from Farage and company. It's a task akin to attempting to turn around an oil tanker in a canal. But a politics of fear has brought us to this juncture; it's time for a politics of hope.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The French revolution

The more cutting-edge the design, the quicker it seems to age. That much goes for many things, not least buildings - as Paris has found out to its cost. The "Grands Ensembles" of the city's boom period between the 1950s and the 1980s - the unconventional creations of ambitious, forward-thinking planners and architects - are now largely abandoned and reviled, tombstones to a future that has already past or never even came. Laurent Kronental's photos capture them in all their neglected glory.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Blues brothers (and sister)

The last Los Campesinos! album, 2013's No Blues, was to my mind their best to date (and Gareth agrees) - so it's heartening to hear that they're busy working on a follow-up which is likely to be released early next year. Tom's already written the music - described as "fantastic" and "really exciting" by Gareth and as "a bunch of loud euphoric pop songs that'll hopefully make you dance and cry" by their composer - and now Gareth has quit his job and is "spending a lot of time day-drinking in beer gardens with a note pad, scratching down drunken ideas".

Less heartening are Gareth's cryptic reference to the last two years being "extremely frustrating for a bunch of reasons I can't really mention", to the extent that they've "been forced into questioning whether we want to do this anymore or why we're still here" - so the fact that that questioning has resulted in an "excited, affirmative answer" in the form of the new songs comes as a relief.

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The joy of Episode 6

With festival season very much upon us, Episode 6 of Sounding Bored finds us muddying our metaphorical wellies with a discussion of everything from the sheer number and variety of festivals to economic issues and personal bugbears before finally considering whether - as was suggested by Ryan Bassil in a recent Noisey article - the "golden age of music festivals is over". The episode - recorded at the tail-end of May, so excuse some of the slightly out-of-date references - also features Niall's report on the Double Dot Bash in Reading and our lukewarm-at-best assessment of James Blake's third LP The Colour In Anything.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Back to the future

What does revisiting early issues of Wired (published between 1993 and 1995) tell us? In an article for the New Yorker, Anna Wiener notes with amusement how quaint and dated some of the technology appears today but also acknowledges how prescient many of the articles and featured devices were. Most interestingly, she's drawn to reflecting wistfully on a period when "hippie idealism" was roughly still in balance with "monied techno-utopianism", rather than obliterated by it: "As much as my Wired archive is a document of its era's aspirations, it's also a record of what people once hoped technology would be - and, in hindsight, a record of what it might have become".

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Fists and friendship

In the local paper last week, in among the pictures of disgruntled NIMBYs complaining about planning decisions and grinning people holding big cardboard cheques, was this extraordinary story about an unlikely transatlantic friendship that developed between Muhammad Ali and a bare-knuckle boxer who fought to overturn the ban Ali received for refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Here's hoping the mooted film sees the light of day.

Going underground

As festival venues go, the inside of a live volcano in Iceland is pretty unique. Presumably the bar and food/merch stalls made a killing - talk about a captive audience...