Monday, February 08, 2016

Not-so-great Scott

Not only are the Tories' MPs systematically dismantling the welfare state and waging war against those in desperate need of its support, but it seems that their local councillors also have no qualms whatsoever about instigating smear campaigns against anyone who dares to complain about the cuts (aka "the loony left"). Take a bow, Scott Harris. And then take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Corey, you Goonie

'Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?', pondered briefly popular Irish band The Thrills in 2004. Well, after his 1980s heyday, he slipped into drug addiction and died of an overdose in 2010. But what about the other Corey - his friend and fellow Lost Boys star Corey Feldman, who also featured prominently in The Goonies and Stand By Me? His latest project involves assembling Corey's Angels - basically his own version of the Playboy Playmates - for parties at his house and charging men $250 to attend. A classy guy, who, in Vice's NSFW pictures of one such bash, is shown wearing the not-at-all-bizarre combination of a mask, leather fingerless gloves and a black dressing gown. He almost makes Macaulay Culkin look sober and restrained.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Bullet point

So a libertarian bookshop in Texas is offering customers a discount if they rock up packing heat. So what? I'm sure I could get a discount in Blackwells in Oxford if I wandered in waving around a handgun.

(Thanks to Mark for the link.)

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Quote of the day

"I’m in a more contented place than ever. I drive an executive saloon, I take several foreign holidays a year, I have a four-figure endorsement deal with Norfolk’s leading manufacturer of non-recyclable cat litters. What else? I own two NutriBullets. My hair’s still nice and thick. I do have a fat back but I’m able to manage that by not approaching people back-first with my top off."

Alan's back (with a new series of Mid Morning Matters), and doing very well for himself thankyouverymuch.

(Thanks to Dan for the link.)

Out of the shadows

These images of Hong Kong in the 1950s, with their masterful use of light and shade, would be remarkable enough even if they weren't taken by an untrained teenager, Ho Fan.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Feel good hits of the 6th February

10. 'We Can Do What We Want' - Drenge
There's more than a bit of a Clockwork Orange vibe to the video for the first single from Drenge's second album Undertow.

9. 'Saltes Of Humane Dust' - Haikai No Ku
From Newcastle, deep psych for melting ears and scrambling brains. For when the likes of White Manna just aren't quite enough.

8. 'Silver Hands' - Bummer Vacation
Slacker shoegaze that, while largely unremarkable, has at least helped to whet the appetite for the new DIIV record.

7. 'Temporary Secretary' - Paul McCartney
As recommended by my friend Brian, who stumbled across it and was for a while convinced it must by by a contemporary hipster synthpop outfit who'd chosen their band name as a prank. Not that the track is exactly an undiscovered gem - it was rated the 167th best song of all time by NME writers. It finally got a debut live performance at the O2 Arena last year - a mere 35 years after its first appearance on McCartney II.

6. 'Chemical Reaction/Chemical Delight' - Destruction Unit
Your album's called Negative Feedback Resistor (a follow-up to 2013's Deep Trip), is released on Sacred Bones and is a blur of metal, punk and psych? To be honest, Destruction Unit, you had me at hello.

5. 'Disintegration Anxiety' - Explosions In The Sky
This taster of The Wilderness, the successor to 2011's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, is everything that a seasoned Explosions In The Sky fan would want - except for the fact that it's too damn short. (As an aside, I had no idea that both they and Godspeed You! Black Emperor had supported Nine Inch Nails on an arena tour in the US and Canada in 2013 - hats off to Trent Reznor for inviting them along.)

4. 'The Plain Moon' - The Besnard Lakes
The Jagjaguwar sticker affixed to the front of A Coliseum Complex Museum, The Besnard Lakes' fifth full-length offering, describes the Montreal outfit as "purveyors of technicolor landscape rock". Who am I to argue?

3. 'Whitest Boy On The Beach' - Fat White Family
How, you wondered, could Fat White Family be any more provocative? By naming the lead single for their second album Songs For Our Mothers 'Whitest Boy On The Beach', and by accompanying it with a video that features suicide hotspot Beachy Head, torture, head-shaving and lots of meat, perhaps? Yes - but the fact that the track pays a curious sort of homage to disco is the most sick and twisted aspect of all. (If you've not yet made their acquaintance, here's a helpful introduction.)

2. 'Adore' - Savages
Arguably the strongest track of the quartet's second album Adore Life, a slow-burner that builds to a pretty epic climax. I can't be alone in loving the all-too-brief Smiths-esque sweep of the chorus, surely? (Adore Life was, incidentally, our featured album on the first episode of the Sounding Bored podcast, which you can hear here.)

1. 'No End' - Low
Believe me, it's really saying something when, approximately 30 seconds into my first exposure to 'No End', I was more than happy to acclaim it as one of Low's very best songs. The only disappointment is that it doesn't have the epic coda it's crying out for, a la 'Broadway (So Many People)' on The Great Destroyer. Still, I suppose the behemoth 'Landslide' later on Ones And Sixes does, and I should just be satisfied with that.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Paternal instinct

Brothers Peter and David Brewis of Field Music might have an inexplicable love of both Hall & Oates and their hometown of Sunderland, but they're both now stay-at-home dads - and enthusiastic ones at that - so at least we've got that, plus a mutual liking for the music they make, in common.

Incidentally, their new LP Commontime, which was named Album Of The Day on 6 Music yesterday, will be our featured record on the second episode of the Sounding Bored podcast, due to be recorded some time towards the end of this month. The first episode, focusing on Savages' Adore Life as well as David Bowie and some of 2015's most prominent end-of-year lists, is available to download here.

From despair to Steventon

Might the Manic Street Preachers be the biggest name ever to headline Truck? Quite possibly. It's an announcement that suggests that the organisers' ambitions have grown together with the festival's scope, which this year will run for three days rather than the usual two.

Will I be there? Perhaps. I'd pay the full whack just to see the Manics play The Holy Bible again...

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Your majesty ... they were there

"The greatest British band of the Nineties"? I wouldn't go as far as Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, but there's no doubt that Earl Brutus were something special. The release of a new boxset, Closed, has prompted Stanley to reappraise the idiosyncratic charms of a curious bunch of misfits who emerged sounding like the post-punk to Britpop's punk: "confrontational, antagonistic, intellectual and hilarious", lurching between glam, punk and Krautrock, picking over Britpop's bones and surveying the contemporary landscape with sardonic wit.

I only saw them once, at Reading in 1996, and was captivated by Jim Fry's belligerent vocal style, the revolving garage forecourt signs (which, that day, had "PISS" on one side and "OFF" on the other) and a Japanese man, Shinya Hayashida, whose sole responsibilities on stage seemed to be to drink and smoke while staring out at the audience, as if to suggest to Bez that he has a tough gig in the Happy Mondays.

The only band I've seen before or since that have come close to resembling them either musically or in terms of chaotic art terrorism in the live environment have been The Pre New - who feature former Earl Brutus members Fry, Hayashida, Stuart Boreman and Gordon King and who appeared on the bill at the 1-2-3-4 Festivals in 2010 and 2012.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Flawed genius

"What makes an inconsistent album a classic? How much of it needs to be brilliant?" The answer, suggests the Guardian's Dorian Lynsky, is not necessarily that much, picking out five examples - The Who's Sell Out, Patti Smith's Horses, The Clash's self-titled debut, NWA's Straight Outta Compton and Radiohead's Kid A - to illustrate his point. I'm not sure I agree with him about Kid A, but would certainly point towards Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and its inclusion of 'When I'm Sixty-Four' as an example of an album that is a cast-iron masterpiece that isn't derailed by a duff track.

The joy of 6 Music

Hard to believe, isn't it, that BBC 6 Music was threatened with closure just six years ago? It survived, and has since gone from strength to strength, surpassing the two million listeners mark and most recently posting the highest listening figures for any digital-only radio station. It's sweet vindication for those who stood up to the BBC bean-counters, and proof positive that a sizeable audience exists for what those bean-counters had felt was a niche product, both in terms of its output and its means of delivery.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The life and death of a nobody

The bare bones of William Stoner's uneventful life are set out on the very first page of the novel that bears his name, author John Williams immediately establishing that his protagonist is ordinary and unremarkable, someone who soon fades from memory after death: "Stoner's colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers". Over the pages that follow, those bare bones are substantially fleshed out, but the reader is already under no illusions as to the trajectory of Stoner's life and his ultimate fate.

Stoner is depicted as an almost eternal victim of circumstance, someone who is carried along on the tide of fate without the ability to swim against the current. Even the significant social mobility he experiences - born the son of farmers, he becomes a professor of English literature - is only because his father sends him to college to study agriculture and he gets sidetracked by a subsidiary course. Time and again, he's portrayed in a way that makes his life seem like an out-of-body experience: "he had the feeling that he was removed from time, watching as it passed before him like a great unevenly turned diorama".

Nowhere is this more apparent than during the passages relating his marriage to the upper-middle-class Edith. Stoner, for whom "everything seemed a blur, as if he saw through a haze", is the passive object of the actions of others, and barely conscious of his own: "William heard himself responding to silences". His detachment from events is underlined: "It was not until they were on the train, which would take them to St Louis for their week's honeymoon, that William Stoner realized that it was all over and that he had a wife".

Sadly, his marriage is a failure, as foreshadowed by the fact that the couple spend their wedding night apart. They have a child together, but as the years pass their relations deteriorate and become increasingly strained, to the point that their daughter becomes the innocent victim, the battleground on which their marital struggles are fought.

Stoner responds by throwing himself headlong into his work, but a run-in with a malicious student and a vindictive colleague and all of the departmental politics that ensue prove critical in derailing a promising academic career - further testimony to the fact that his life is somehow beyond his control and he is permanently at the questionable mercy of fate. Cue mid-life crisis: "He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it. He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been".

These bleak reflections on the apparent futility of existence are not only prompted by "the density of accident and circumstance" in his own life, but also the deaths of his parents, who are buried together on their farm ("Now they were in the earth to which they had given their lives; and slowly, year by year, the earth would take them ... And they would become a meaningless part of that stubborn earth to which they had long ago given themselves") and Grace's descent into loneliness and alcoholism, having become a mother and then a widow at a young age ("she would live her days out quietly, drinking a little more, year by year, numbing herself against the nothingness her life had become").

There is some respite, in the form of a fling with a younger instructor at the university with whom Stoner finally experiences the intense joy that love can bring, but this is all too fleeting - curtailed, like his career, by circumstance and departmental machinations. He accepts that the relationship must come to an end with quiet dignity and resigned stoicism, as he does everything else that befalls him - including the discovery of a malignant tumour, to which he reacts calmly and without great shock, as though it were merely "a minor annoyance".

The passages that culminate in Stoner's death (and the natural end of the novel) are arguably the strongest in the book - methodically constructed in effortlessly elegant prose, unfussily lyrical, infused with a pervasive sadness, weighted with poignant detail (such as his acknowledgement of the shrinking horizons of those suffering with terminal illness: "Gradually, he knew, this little room where he now lay and looked out the window would become his world"). He and Edith finally find "a new tranquillity", "a quietness that was like the beginning of love", and are "rapt in a regard of what their life together might have been", while impending death accentuates his sense of not being in control of himself or his actions ("Sometimes he heard his own voice speak, and he thought that it spoke rationally, though he could not be sure").

A tragic end to a tragic life? Well, not quite. At the last, he grasps for a copy of his book, the one on which he has been toiling for most of the novel: "It hardly mattered to him that the book was forgotten and that it served no use; and the question of its worth at any time seemed almost trivial. He did not have the illusion that he would find himself there, in that fading print; and yet, he knew, a small part of him that he could not deny was there, and would be there". Little matter that, as stated on the opening page, his name will soon fade from memory. His book essentially verifies his life - as, of course, does the novel in which his tale is told. It's a heartfelt endorsement of the power of the written, printed word, and testimony to the truth of the statement made by Archer Sloane, the lecturer who unexpectedly fires the young Stoner's love of English literature: "'There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history'".

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Get set to get all shook up

Save the dates, folks, and perhaps lock up your daughters just to be on the safe side. 2016 will see Elvana - the world's finest (and probably only) Elvis-fronted Nirvana tribute band, who just happen to feature three of my good friends - touring Academy venues around the UK. I'll most definitely be at the Oxford date (2nd September), but may also make it to either Islington the next night or Birmingham the following weekend. It promises to be a lot of fun.

No laughing matter

You don't have to be a fully paid-up coulrophobe to find clowns just that little bit unsettling - but this gallery of images will probably be sufficient to give you nightmares either way. The smoking dwarf clown and the big-headed clowns visiting the bedridden girl in hospital are particularly terrifying.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link.)

Monday, February 01, 2016

Listen up (please)

Shameless self-promotion alert! As if I didn't have my fingers in enough pies, I've joined forces with a couple of friends and former work colleagues, Rob (also of football blog The Two Unfortunates) and Niall, for a new monthly roundtable music podcast called Sounding Bored. The first episode - in which discussion focuses on David Bowie, a selection of 2015 end-of-year album lists and Savages' new record Adore Life - is now available here. Feedback is very welcome, either on Twitter (@soundingbored69) or via email (soundingbored1969@gmail.com).

Punks in pics

Presumably prompted by the fact that John Lydon turned 60 yesterday (I was going to say "celebrated his 60th birthday", but I can't see him being too happy about it), there seem to have been a few Sex Pistols photographs appearing online in the last few days: fan Dave Smitham's snapshots of the band when they appeared in Caerphilly in 1976 in front of around 50 people, with The Clash and Johnny Thunders in support; and French photographer Pierre Benain's pictures from a shoot at Lydon's flat in early 1978, after the band had imploded and shortly before Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungen.

Meanwhile, judging by this gallery of sample images (which doesn't actually include any of the Pistols), Sheila Rock's new book Punk+ is a valuable visual document of the nascent punk scene in London - one that might sit nicely alongside Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan's Punk on my shelves.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Vulgar display of (white) power

"Some of y'all need to thicken up your skin. ... No apologies from me." That was how former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo initially dismissed criticism of his behaviour at the end of this year's Dimebash, when he gave a Nazi salute and shouted "White power!" at the crowd. He seems to have reconsidered, though, when the backlash grew in volume and intensity, with Machine Head's Robb Flynn among those in the metal community to explicitly denounce his actions, and yesterday he uploaded a formal apology on YouTube, begging to be given "another chance". He also claimed that "anyone who knows me and my true nature knows that I don't believe in any of that" - fair enough, you might think, if it wasn't for the fact that he has a history of speaking out from the stage on the subject of white power. Hopefully, as Flynn hopes, those in the metal community might now stop condoning such moronic behaviour and attitudes - and those who endorse them.

TMI?

What is it that induces so many authors to write confessional books? In the abridged version of an essay published by the Guardian, Blake Morrison suggests that there are seven prime reasons given, including to indulge a cathartic impulse, to set the record straight and to shock. It's probably all underpinned by varying degrees of egotism, but Morrison - himself the author of a memoir of his father - isn't as dismissive of the genre as some critics; on the contrary, he ventures that "if literature is the enemy of discretion and conformity, if its value lies in breaking the rules by means of truth-telling, then confessional memoirs may be the truest literature of all".

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The calm before (and after) the storm

The variety of photos in this gallery taken from Dona Schwartz's book On The Nest, together with the accompanying quotes from their subjects, capture perfectly that moment immediately before a first child is born: a mixture of excitement, nervousness, anxiety and an awareness that life is about to change dramatically. It's a moment I remember well.

But the gallery also includes pictures of empty-nesters - those whose children have now moved out. As Tim Dowling observes in his introductory blurb, they look "even more bewildered. Nobody really tells you about that bit". That much is true - it's not something we've even thought about, though I'll be grateful for the fact that the floors in our house will no longer be carpeted by food or toys apparently designed to cause maximum pain when accidentally stood upon.

Know Your Enemy

"When ministers – from the prime minister down – dehumanise refugees as 'swarms' and suggest that such people constitute a threat to our way of life, these are not merely passing aberrations. When victims of abuse are denied access to support and assistance in order to challenge that abuse, it's not a one-off case. In recent years the government has cut legal aid, withdrawn access to judicial review and ramped up the rhetoric against those seeking asylum in the UK. Faced with such a hostile environment, is it any wonder that racist thugs feel able to act with impunity while the victims continue to suffer in silence?"

Steve Symonds, director of Amnesty UK's refugee and migrant rights programme, underlines how attacks on refugees are being fuelled by the "aggressive hostility" of the Tories (both in policy and rhetoric), of which they're perversely proud.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Don't believe the hype

A propos of the fact that rapper BoB has declared his belief that the earth is flat, here's an article Andrew Mueller wrote for the Guardian back in 2011 about musicians and their extraordinary predilection for crackpot conspiracy theories, in which he argued that this predilection should come as no surprise: "the field is disproportionately populated by people who are overendowed with spare time, money, hallucinogenic drugs and delusions of grandeur, and/or correspondingly underequipped with common sense". I love Jay Z's response to accusations made by several fellow rappers that he's a member of the Illuminati: "I can't even get into a golf club in Palm Springs"...

History boys

The BFI's Football On Film collection really is an absolute treasure trove - even if some of the featured snippets serve as a painful reminder of my team's current shortcomings. Be warned, though - make sure you've got a spare hour or two before you take the plunge...

(Thanks to John for the link.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The spirit of independents

To mark the fact that it's Independent Venue Week, a worthy initiative funded by Arts Council England, the BBC website carried this piece about how YouTube may be a critical factor in the worrying demise of so many gig venues recently. While it's not an issue considered by Ed Gillett in his recent article on the subject for the Quietus, the argument does seem quite persuasive - young musicians can now write and record in their bedrooms, performing in front of only a camera and uploading the results to the internet rather than having to engage in the hard slog of honing their skills in the often harsh and unforgiving live environment. Numerous artists have now built up fanbases that way. However, the expectation remains that they will have to perform live at some point, if they actually want a record deal or to make any money, so perhaps that will thankfully help to safeguard the future of at least some venues.

Incidentally, I'll be showing my support for Independent Venue Week tonight by heading for the Cellar in Oxford, where two of the city's best outfits, Maiians and Cassels, are appearing on the same bill. 2016 promises to be a big year for both of them, and it couldn't kick off in a much better place - somewhere that does the power and passion of music far more justice than a pair of tinny laptop speakers ever could.

From beyond the grave

Now here's a festival line-up announcement we should have been expecting. No sooner have Hot Snakes been added to the bill for Drive Like Jehu's April ATP weekender than they've been joined by another of John Reis' many bands, arguably the most celebrated: Rocket From The Crypt. That is one punk reformation that I would definitely pay to see. The fact that METZ will also be laying waste to Prestatyn too is enough to make me reconsider the possibility of attending.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Quote of the day

"The door creaked open and there he was, handsome as ever, like a giant melting fat carrot with fake hair."

No doubt Donald Trump has always seen himself as a hero - though perhaps not as the hero of a comic homoerotic novel. The book's author, comedian Elijah Daniel, wrote it in the space of four hours while drunk to fulfil a pledge made on Twitter.

Valley parade

Sad to report that thus far the line-up for this year's Green Man is very meh, with Belle & Sebastian, James Blake and Wild Beasts a distinctly underwhelming trio of headliners. That said, further down the bill are The Besnard Lakes, Julia Holter, Battles and Fat White Family, all set to stand out like beacons of salvation in the Brecon Beacons.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The kids are aren't all right

Given that the Tories threw their toys out of the pram when the House of Lords had the temerity to reject their proposed cuts to tax credits, you have to suspect that they're none too happy about the fact that the peers have humiliated them again, by voting for an amendment to the new Life Chances Act that will force the government to publish figures on income-related child poverty. Incredibly, the Tories had been attempting to scrap income-related measures, as if poverty has nothing to do with a lack of money. Of course, they were eager to do so to avoid the publication of evidence that indicates child poverty is worsening under their rule, as a consequence of the ideologically motivated austerity drive. Typically underhand, pernicious politics, even by their own exceptionally low standards.

(Thanks to Hannah for the link.)

Taking the temperature of the NHS

Hats off to the Guardian, who have gone a long way to making amends for the decision to take sponsorship cash from Shell by kicking off a new month-long series called This Is The NHS. Hugely ambitious in breadth and depth, the series is ultimately intended to cut through all the tabloid bullshit, examining how an institution that should be treasured works in practice and allowing the voices of those who actually work on the frontline to be heard.

(Thanks to Tom for the link.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Quote of the day

"The next [Swans] album is going to be called 'A field recording of Michael taking a shit while reading a paperback copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.' It’s going to be a field recording of me taking a shit while reading a paperback copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. The special edition includes photographic evidence that I did in fact take a shit while reading Infinite Jest."

I don't know whether Genuine Michael Gira Quotes really is genuine, but that hardly matters.
 
(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Buzzword bingo

Business-speak may be encroaching insidiously upon numerous different spheres of life, but you'd hope that the world of international development and aid, which should be all about meaningful actions rather than meaningless jargon, might be impervious. Sadly not.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"It was dirty, wasn't it?"

A propos of the fact that 6Music are currently exploring the history of the fertile Bristol underground scene of the 1970s and 1980s, here's The Pop Group's Mark Stewart discussing punk, politics and musical experimentation with Thurston Moore. In view of the latter's fandom, the fact that The Pop Group supported Sonic Youth the last time I saw them, in 2010, must have been a real treat.

Outed

Racist trolls, eh? Often lurking online, hiding behind anonymity. Occasionally, though, they're Tory MPs with a six-year history of writing bizarre letters to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Live to work?

As motivational techniques go, it's certainly a novel one. South Korean firms are sending employees to the Hyowon Healing Centre to convince them that their job is better than death by making them climb into coffins. However, as the Guardian's Peter Fleming observes, "we can imagine the 'coffin exercise' backfiring, an employee refusing to ever return to the pettiness of office life after realising that her existence must add up to more than merely sending emails all day". Factor in wrestling with Excel spreadsheets and trying to find gaps in diaries to arrange meetings with even a handful of people and it's a wonder the technique works at all.

Come together

Andy Warhol's Factory was, in its heyday, a pretty unique place in terms of the way it acted as a focal point for musicians and actors as well as artists - as revealed by Brigid Berlin's Polaroids, published in a book of that name last November.

(Thanks to Hannah for the link.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Let England Barcelona shake

Even by its usual high standards, this year's Primavera line-up, announced yesterday, is exceptional. Joining Radiohead and the reformed LCD Soundsystem as headliners is PJ Harvey - whose new single 'The Wheel', coincidentally, got its first full play on 6Music yesterday evening. Her show in Barcelona is currently set to kick off a tour in support of new album The Hope Six Demolition Project, her first since the stupendous end-of-year-list-topping Let England Shake in 2011.

Primavera is very much an ensemble cast, though, and the list of bands/artists who'll also be appearing is awe-inspiring and never-ending. To name but a few: Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, Deerhunter, Shellac, Beach House, Dinosaur Jr, Drive Like Jehu, Julia Holter, Ty Segall, Battles, Savages, Tortoise, Mudhoney, Parquet Courts, Wild Nothing, Bardo Pond, White Fence, Boredoms, Algiers, Thee Oh Sees, Loop, Beach Slang, Jenny Hval. And that's not to mention the not-so-insignificant matter of Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds. It's at times like these that the responsibilities and lack of cash that come with parenthood are a real curse...

Meanwhile, the organisers of Field Day had announcements of their own, with Parquet Courts, Moon Duo and Sleaford Mods among those joining the bill. It remains sorely tempting - more so than the ATP curated by Drive Like Jehu, despite the additions of Wire and (perhaps inevitably) Hot Snakes.

And on top of all the festival news came the revelations that At The Drive-In are back (again) and set to tour armed with new material this time, and then that, unbeknownst to anyone, Josh Homme and Iggy Pop have been working on a secret album, Post Pop Depression, due to be released in March...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Only shallow?

"Who killed shoegaze?", asked Ben Cardew in a recent article for The Quietus. The received wisdom - as endorsed by Neil Taylor's liner notes for Cherry Red's new shoegaze compilation, for instance - is that the finger of blame can be pointed squarely at a music press that loves nothing better than hyping new bands and scenes to the heavens only to then turn on them with equally excessive savagery and mockery.

Needless to say, Cardew disagrees with that narrative. He suggests that, while the capricious nature of the critics was a factor, as was the historical context (it was seen, wrongly, as uninventive in comparison to baggy and was soon eclipsed by both grunge and then Britpop), the most significant factor in the demise of shoegaze was the deluge of second-rate copyists that followed in the wake of My Bloody Valentine, Ride et al, and the creative stagnation that ensued. In falling victim predominantly "to its own circle of ever-diminishing returns", it was no different to most music genres - something Cardew doesn't really acknowledge.

The article was prompted by the fact that 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Loveless (Cardew refers to 1991 as shoegaze's "imperial year"), but also by the revival of the genre and reformation of some of its leading lights in recent years. It is, essentially, back from beyond the grave. Cardew seems unsure how he feels about this: "you know you’re in a strange situation when bands who have reformed in their late 40s sound considerably more forward-thinking revisiting their glory years than the copyists they have spawned". However, there are some bands and artists who have taken and continue to take the shoegaze blueprint in interesting new or at least distinctive directions. Cardew mentions Deafheaven and Ulrich Schnauss (who I'm hoping to catch in Oxford in March), but to those two you could justifiably add Boards Of Canada (electronica), Deerhunter/Lotus Plaza (indie rock) and SWSL favourites The Besnard Lakes (prog).

ISISn't

Pity the poor ten-year-old Muslim lad from Lancashire who mistakenly wrote that he lived in a "terrorist house" rather than a "terraced house" in an English lesson and was consequently subjected to a police investigation. It's like a deleted scene from Chris Morris' Four Lions. Whatever next - paediatricians finding themselves targeted for abuse after being mistaken for paedophiles?

Update: Ah. It seems the BBC got the wrong end of the stick and have been forced to set the record straight.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Friends forever

I imagine that I'm not alone in having received yesterday a badly spelt email from Friends Reunited informing me that the site was being closed down. It was like hearing that a vaguely famous person from your childhood had died, someone you hadn't thought of for years but had assumed was long since dead.

The site's heyday seems lost in the mists of time, but it was without doubt a pioneering venture, one that paved the way for Myspace, Facebook et al, and the whole Web 2.0 revolution. Perhaps, then, we shouldn't snigger at its primitive clunkiness and instead mark its passing with a modicum of respect.

False friends

I'm normally a stout defender of the Guardian, despite its occasional lapses of judgement and grammar/spelling, but it's put itself in a somewhat compromising position by launching a campaign to tackle climate change that promotes fossil fuel divestment and renewable energy and then deciding to cosy up to Shell, who are sponsoring (and influencing) the content of their Work/Life pages online. Something has to give - and hopefully it's the corporate sponsorship.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Read it and weep

Jorge Luis Borges' 1941 short story 'The Library Of Babel' finds the Argentine author positing a library stocked with books that collectively contain every possible combination of the letters of the alphabet plus full stops, the commas and spaces - and thus every single coherent book ever written, and indeed (assuming no new letters are introduced in the future) every single book that could ever be written. The conceit itself is mindboggling enough - so the discovery that the Library is now a (virtual) reality is quite extraordinary.

Jonathan Basile is finding his creation both compelling and frustrating - the latter because of the inability to unlock the secrets and treasures tantalisingly contained within: "The desire produced in most visitors to the site, as it was for Borges’s librarians, is to discover what they do not already know – to find the lost gospels, or the cures of diseases, or the true story of one’s own death. All of it is contained on one of the library’s pages – and the fact that one can find anything one looks for only makes it more frustrating. What we want is to find what we don’t know how to look for."

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Quote of the day

"It was an astonishing world of glowing oddness that hypnotised you. I remember looking at the naked dog sleeve of Diamond Dogs intrigued by its twisted strangeness and sci fi dystopian vision. I remember the micro group of Ziggy kids walking through my home town of Blackpool – proto freaks in a world of squares on a trip led by their zigzag faced hero who turned the future into art. And yet…

And yet for all his beautiful freakishness Bowie was oddly British. This was the true sound of the suburbs. The true pulse of the glowing freak show of the endless houses at the edge of British cities where all the great wonkiness emerges from. The pent up suburban sex behind those twitching curtains."

John Robb, founder of The Membranes and Louder Than War, makes a very pertinent point in the midst of his own glowing and heartfelt eulogy for David Bowie. He was, after all, someone who, in a song called 'Life On Mars?', slipped in a reference to the Norfolk Broads.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Killing two birds with one stone

Congratulations to whichever Tory came up with the bright idea of a policy that will simultaneously victimise immigrants and help to destroy public services, including the NHS. Jackpot! Still, I suppose it's consistent with the party's conviction that everything - including an individual's contribution to the society and country in which they live - can only be measured in purely economic terms.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"You lazy cocksucker. ... The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past. Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen round here, Burgess, and I'm fucked if I'm going to stand for it any longer."

When, in 1973, Anthony Burgess was struggling to produce a "thinkpiece" for Rolling Stone, his suggestion that they print his new 50,000-word novella instead was not particularly well received by the magazine's Hunter S. Thompson, who declared it to be "lame half-mad bullshit".

Thompson's reply is among the missives that feature in More Letters Of Note - another book to add to my lengthening shopping list.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Feel good hits of the 15th January

1. 'Pedestrian At Best' - Courtney Barnett
Talk about being late to the party. Countless end-of-year lists prompted me into giving Barnett's album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit a try - and fuck me if I wasn't smitten almost immediately. The whole record is wonderful, but this single, two songs in, is an instant hit. Lyrically and musically, she's very close in spirit to Oxford's own Rainbow Reservoir - here's hoping the latter are inspired to new heights as a result.

2. 'The Jean Genie' - David Bowie
No prizes for guessing why this has been on heavy rotation over the last few days. Glam stomp meets louche New York art-scuzz. Probably my favourite Bowie track, if you pushed me to single one out.

3. 'Duplex Planet' - Deerhunter
My current earworm from Fading Frontier. It changes by the day, but as yet still hasn't been anything from the second half of the album. Time will tell.

4. 'How Long' - Julia Holter
Holter at her most sultry and sensuous, even though the chorus is as mundane as "Do you know the proper way to ask for a cigarette?" She could sing her way through the Yellow Pages and I'd be rapt. A song tailor-made for the soundtrack of a black-and-white European arthouse film.

5. 'Solitude' - Marissa Nadler
C'mon, it's Marissa Nadler covering Black Sabbath - it was never not going to feature in one of these lists, was it? (Thanks to Dave for the tip-off.)

6. 'Pipe' - Fuzz
Did someone say "Black Sabbath"? You'll swear Ozzy's on guest vocals. 'Pipe' and Fuzz II, a recent purchase, are just what the doctor ordered to banish the January blues. Ty Segall might as well just borrow my debit card, given the high frequency and even higher quality of his output. (And he's got another album out shortly.)

7. 'Eraser' - METZ
The Canadian trio had somehow passed me by until I came across this single. Neither the song itself nor the accompanying video is for the faint-hearted (or the epileptic) - you have been warned. Fittingly enough for a band on Sub Pop, it sounds like a mash-up of In Utero tracks rolling around on broken glass.

8. 'Feed Me' - So Pitted
Speaking of neo-grunge signings on Sub Pop, here are METZ's tour buddies and odd-looking bunch So Pitted. 'Feed Me' has a chorus that's vaguely reminiscent of Nirvana having a breakdown, with some extra weirdness thrown in just for good measure in the verse (lurching bass, choppy guitar, freaky robotic vocal) and a slowdown/warp that suggests the heavy meds really are kicking in.

9. 'Florent' - Raketkanon
"Monolithic riffs. Wonky synths. FX-laden screams. Lyrics sung in a completely made-up language." All courtesy of four Belgian loons whose second album has been produced by Steve Albini. Suddenly everything else above sounds a little bit tame. (Thanks to Gareth for the tip-off.)

10. 'I Did What I Did For Maria' - Tony Christie
Probably the only song on this list likely to get airplay by Len Goodman on Radio 2 - which is where I first heard it. The subject matter leads me to think it would be fascinating to hear his take on Nick Cave's Murder Ballads. The video is pretty special, too, though not in a good way: Christie smiling and dad-dancing uncomfortably in a pair of yellow slacks, medallion on show, in front of footage of a pier. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Behind enemy lines

The temptation to dismiss those supporting Donald Trump's push for the Republican presidential candidacy as gibbering morons, in much the same vein as their idol, is strong - and, indeed, one to which I'm sure I've succumbed on here on more than one occasion. However, to do so is ultimately to use the same broad brush of prejudice as Trump has been advocating as regards Muslims and others. That's Kaddie Abdul's argument, and her explanation for why she - a Muslim woman in a bright orange headscarf - decided to attend a Trump rally: as a way of humanising and attempting to understand his supporters, in much the same way as they should with regards to Muslims.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

An honourable mention

While the announcement of the New Year's Honours list prompted a lot of angry or bemused commentary, no one reacted quite like Stewart Lee, whose piece for the Guardian managed to include reference to Ann Summers' Anal Training Kit, buying lemon couscous for a vole and the phrase "a lacquered fragment of Ronnie Kray's palaeofaeces" before going on to make the case for the author being a deserving recipient of an OBE.

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)

Quote of the day

"I have no interest in working with anyone who is too important or too good or too traditional to take a call at 3am."

Kanye West - who else? The tweet prompts two questions:

1. Has he never heard of call screening?

2. Does anyone have his number? Let's all ring him at 3am for a chat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"A civil rights movement unto himself"

It's not surprising that of all the many tributes to David Bowie, some of the most articulate are from fellow musicians and gathered together in a post for The Talkhouse. Kim Gordon, Merrill Garbus and Stephen Merritt are among the contributors to the site to have offered their reflections and eulogies.

Meanwhile, if - like me - you're currently feeling somewhat ashamed at the relative dearth of Bowie albums in your collection and are thinking of rectifying the situation, head for Rough Trade, either in person or online, as they've pledged that for the remainder of this month all profits from sales of Bowie's records will go to Cancer Research.

Salvador sells

I didn't have Salvador Dali down as someone who might have starred in adverts, but he did. I suppose it makes sense for someone who suffered from migraines to be endorsing Alka Seltzer.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Quotes of the day

"Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming."

"I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, 'Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.'"

 "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring."

RIP David Bowie.

Musical innovator, cultural pioneer, style icon: like him or not, the man who was born David Jones but who took on countless personas over the course of his life was impossible to ignore. While I wouldn't consider myself an absolute Bowie nut - like many (most?) people, I have a favourite Bowie period rather than loving everything I heard - and felt he did (inevitably) take some wrong turns along the way, I always admired his refusal to stand still and determination to blaze a trail, and was blown away by parts of his headline performance at Glastonbury in 2000. I haven't yet heard new album Blackstar, released to coincide with his 69th birthday on Friday, but by all accounts it's a fitting testament to the man's extraordinary and enduring ability to both push boundaries and retain commercial appeal.

By way of a hasty tribute, I'll point you in the direction of my review of Glam! The Performance Of Style, an exhibition held at Tate Liverpool a few years ago which inevitably featured Bowie as a central protagonist, and my thoughts on Francis Whately's documentary film David Bowie: Five Years, which now stands as a perfect tribute to and celebration of its subject.