Thursday, March 23, 2017

New York state of mind

A new Thurston Moore record? Well, go on then - if you insist... Rock 'N' Roll Consciousness is out on 28th April, recorded in Crouch End (near his Stoke Newington manor) by Paul Epworth and with his now established accomplices James Sedwards, Deb Googe and Steve Shelley.

It comprises just five tracks, three of which feature lyrical contributions from London poet Radieux Radio, with whom Moore's collaborated on a 7", previous record The Best Day and most recently a residency called Watch The Sky at the Islington Mill in Salford.

The first of the songs to see the light of day is the largely (and perhaps surprisingly) understated 'Smoke Of Dreams', electrified only by a section of chugging guitar over which Moore solos like J Mascis. It's a wonder six-string pyrotechnician Sedwards was able to restrain himself for four minutes. Meanwhile, the lyrical subject matter indicates that while you can take the boy (well, nearly sixty-something man) out of New York, you can't take New York out of the boy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

When Esther Honig sent a natural, make-up-free portrait photo to Photoshop artists in 25 different countries with the simple instruction "Make me beautiful", the results underlined the fact that ideals of beauty are culturally and geographically relative.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How things change

I came across the work of photographer Camilo Jose Vergara through his pictures of the crumbling metropolis of Detroit (which reminds me that I really must get round to reviewing Mark Binelli's book on the subject), but he's trained his lens on numerous cities across the US. Vergara's fascination with the processes of urban change is evident in his photos taken of the same buildings/street from the same perspectives over the course of four decades. While the photos do generally depict decline, in one or two cases they also show positive urban renewal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My Chemikal romance

As we explored in Episode 2 of Sounding Bored, Glasgow has an extremely rich musical heritage. That heritage is underlined by Niall McCann's recent documentary Lost In France, which serves as a portrait of the Chemikal Underground label and its associated artists - and which I've recently reviewed for Buzz. If the film at times inflates the importance of the trip, the label and those on it, it's excusable - and it'd be worth watching even if only to hear Mogwai's signature song 'Mogwai Fear Satan' at fearsome volume in an auditorium and to see the word "bawbags" written in enormous capital letters across a cinema screen.

Set up by the Delgados to release their debut single 'Monica Webster', though always with the intention of putting out the work of other artists too, Chemikal Underground celebrated its 21st birthday last year. To mark the occasion, the Daily Record invited Stewart Henderson to name his 21 favourite records to have been released on the label. Unsurprisingly, Bis' 'Kandy Pop', Arab Strap's The Week Never Starts Round Here and Mogwai's Young Team all feature, having been instrumental in the fledgling outfit finding its feet, but there are also mentions for And The Surrounding Mountains by the Radar Brothers (who hailed from the US rather than Glasgow), Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat's collaboration Everything's Getting Older, the Delgados' own Mercury-nominated The Great Eastern and the 2007 compilation Ballads Of The Book, the brainchild of Idlewild's Roddy Woomble, which brought Scottish musicians and literary heavyweights together for some fruitful collaborations.

A new trip or a dead end?

The good news is that The Trip is back, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon this time set to sample the gastronomic delights of Spain. If it's as funny as the two previous series and features as much chorizo as expected/hoped, I'll be a dribbling, jibbering wreck.

The bad news, though, is that it's made a journey of its own, from the BBC to Sky Atlantic - a decision prompted by the BBC's concern to cut costs and (judging by the pair's interview with the Guardian's Laura Barton) one that seems to have been taken over Coogan and Brydon's heads and is much to their discomfort. There's a feeling that Sky Atlantic is a bit of a graveyard for comedy, with neither Coogan's Mid Morning Matters (as Alan Partridge) nor Julia Davis' Hunderby or Camping receiving the attention or audiences they deserved.

Meanwhile, another pioneering comedy of recent years, Fleabag, is also set to make a welcome return. Phoebe Waller-Bridge thinks she's got an idea worthy of building a second series around, and is hopeful that filming might start in November so that the series is ready for screening next year. Hopefully, the BBC will be prepared to fork out for that.

Let it rock

While it's evident from obituaries that Chuck Berry was a bit of an unsavoury character on a personal level, the extent of his influence on popular music (and youth culture more generally) cannot be disputed - as underlined by Richard Williams, writing in the Guardian.

By way of a tribute, the New York Times' Alan Light has picked out 15 essential Berry songs, naturally including debut single 'Maybellene', 'Roll Over Beethoven', 'Johnny B Goode' and 'Back In The USA' - though the stiff formality of referring to him as "Mr Berry" throughout is amusingly at odds with his association with youth rebellion.

Meanwhile, Berry's death has once more brought attention to his pithy reviews of seminal punk outfits, as featured in a 1980 fanzine and unearthed by Dangerous Minds four years ago. The Ramones' 'Sheena Was A Punk Rocker' and Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer' got the thumbs up, but he was less complimentary about the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wire and Joy Division.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Street spirit

Episode 14 of Sounding Bored finds Josh Wells making a solid debut alongside returning contributor (and conspiracy theory fanatic) David Cox and regular host Rob Langham, with the panel discussing hip hop, gangsta rap and the crucial significance of the LA riots in 1992 and the murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. in 1997. The conversation ranges over everything from artistry, politics, violence, pseudonyms and homophobia/misogyny, with enthusiastic endorsements of the likes of Wu Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar, Run The Jewels and Outkast.

The episode's featured album is Sleaford Mods' English Tapas, their first LP for Rough Trade, which the panel regards as symptomatic of the current political and economic climate but a rather joyless perspective that doesn't have much positive to say or a particularly interesting way in which to say it. (I'd disagree, but it's definitely for the best that I wasn't on the panel to do so, as I would have been hopelessly out of my depth for the bulk of the discussion...)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

This machine kills fascists

The songs currently being released daily through the Our First 100 Days project may all be directed against Donald Trump, but I don't suppose anyone (including the artists) expects that they'll bring him down; instead, the purpose of the project is to raise funds for campaign groups that might do so.

But, as this Pitchfork article by Jes Skolnik underlines, certain punk songs have in the past been instrumental in deposing right-wing/fascist leaders and dictators. The piece is both a testimony to the potential political power of punk and a reminder of its cultural currency over a long period of time and right around the world, from Belgium to South Africa and Chile.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Quote of the day

"We were never good enough to write proper punchlines. Non sequiturs and that, we can write all fucking day. But bringing things to a conclusion is not easy."

Bob Mortimer, in conversation with Vice's Joe Zadeh.

Vic Reeves is of course bloody hilarious, but his act only really took off when Bob came onboard and many people have a sneaking feeling that it's Bob who's actually the funnier of the two. They are to an extent the product of their region, somewhere where "it hits me immediately how fucking obsessed people are at making you laugh up there" (he's right that "You can take the piss out of a Geordie and he's absolutely fine with it").

The interview traces the pair's path from eating yoghurt very slowly upstairs at the Goldsmiths Tavern to cheering on a young lad boxing a garden shed in front of a judging panel of jockeys in a primetime Saturday evening slot on BBC1. "If other comedians of their generation held up a mirror to society", writes Zadeh, "then Bob Mortimer and Vic Reeves held up a watercolour painting of Sylvester Stallone staring at a potato."

All of which is a chastening reminder that I still haven't reviewed Vic's BBC4 documentary on Dada art...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tasty morsels

I can't imagine that Sleaford Mods aka Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn are particularly thrilled by the prospect of being subjected to another round of press interviews and features - but then that's what happens when you're both prolific and consistently turning out quality records. Of the pieces to have appeared to mark the release of English Tapas a fortnight ago, two caught my eye in particular.

First, there was their guide to modern Britain, as related to the Guardian's Bernadette McNulty. The Roundhouse rightly gets a thumbs up, while there can't be too many people who are National Trust members who are fans of both Rillington Place and Consumer Electronics. Also of note, personally speaking, was that Williamson's typical day is very much like mine - childcare, soft play centres, one of an assortment of local independent coffee shops, evening gigs - except that the gigs are his own...

Meanwhile, the Quietus took the opportunity to ask Williamson to talk about the records that have inspired him - from first-wave-of-punk also-rans English Dogs to Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon, Nas, Photek, Andrew Weatherall's Two Lone Swordsmen, rockabilly outfit The Meteors and (perhaps inevitably) The Streets.

(Thanks to Simon for the first link.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Banksy has described his latest work, the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, as 'a three-storey cure for fanaticism, with limited car parking'. It's a typically glib statement from the bingo master of heavy-handed symbolism, the latest evolution in a career of unsophisticated protest art, the tipping point where he jumped the shark from aggressive mediocrity to ludicrous pompousness."

Thus begins Bella Gladman's demolition of the much-trumpeted latest project from "spray can charlatan" Banksy - essentially a fierce riposte to the uncritical coverage afforded to it by the likes of the Guardian (and subsequently reproduced by me and others).

The crux of Gladman's critique is that Banksy has overstepped the mark by wading arrogantly into a subject that is far too complex and serious for his simplistic and self-consciously "playful" art. As a result, the hotel and the artworks in it don't so much achieve their stated objective of promoting understanding and invite reflection as provoke offence.

I'll admit to generally being a fan of Banksy's work - but in this instance it does feel as though Gladman may well have a point.

Sick scenes

Delicate of stomach? Reading Cosey Fanni Tutti's new autobiography Art Sex Music (three words that succinctly summarise the substance of her career) is probably not advisable. I speak from experience, having negotiated the Throbbing Gristle chapter of Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again over the weekend, while laid up ill. Just reading about some of the group's sound experiments - and especially the performance art pieces created by COUM Transmissions, out of which Throbbing Gristle sprang - is more than enough to make you feel nauseous.

In conversation with the Guardian's Alexis Petridis to coincide with the book's publication, she claims (somewhat improbably) that neither COUM nor Throbbing Gristle were ever deliberately confrontational ("We were just ... sharing something, if you like") - which is why the reaction to COUM's 1976 retrospective Prostitution at the ICA took them by surprise.

Once reviled in her home town of Hull (as well as further afield), she's now in the curious position of finding herself revered - with an exhibition of COUM's work and a programme of related events arranged to mark Hull being named UK City of Culture for 2017. Not that she's exactly delighted by it - the thought of establishment acceptance seems to make her as queasy as her work has made other people feel over the years.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Revolution Evolution rock

It's amazing to think that, with Sick Scenes, Los Campesinos! are now six albums into their career. Not so much because they never seemed like a band that would have much longevity, but because I had the privilege of being there pretty much when it all started. So this Pitchfork article, in which they rate and rank their first five LPs, is an engaging read, tracing their musical and lyrical trajectory from the effervescent juvenilia of 2008's Hold On Now, Youngster to 2013's No Blues, recorded as their relationship with their label was deteriorating.

It surprised me to see Hello Sadness (rather than Hold On Now, Youngster) ranked lowest - Tom suggests it's "a bit beige" in places, while Gareth thinks it's too much of a break-up album and that it would have been better with the inclusion of some of the tracks they recorded at the same time but left off. However, I was even more surprised to see Romance Is Boring in the top spot - of the five, it's the one I've never really got on with. Tom describes it as "a maximalist mess" consisting of "these really aggressive songs in strange time signatures". This definitely calls for a revisit and a reappraisal...

The article also includes commentary on their excellent 2008 Shred Yr Face tour with No Age and Times New Viking, Gareth singing "like a version of myself rather than myself" on Hold On Now, Youngster and the experience of having Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard backstage helping himself to all their coconut water "before coconut water was even a thing".

As for Sick Scenes, I haven't given it much time yet but it seems like a solid follow-up to No Blues, which for me remains their career high to date. In the absence of any more considered thoughts of my own, here's The Album Wall's superb review.

(Thanks to Ian for the Pitchfork link.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dancing in the dark

As a live music fan, I've been taking a keen interest in the ongoing struggles of venues in the face of a seemingly never-ending series of threats - the most recent being sharp rates increases. Across the Atlantic, establishments are also suffering, many forced to close their shutters after being deliberately targeted by the authorities in the wake of the fatal fire at the Ghost Ship venue in Oakland at the end of last year.

Even if a concern for public safety is the only reason behind the increased scrutiny and pressure, then it's worrying (if understandable) that it's mainly DIY venues that are being affected, simply because they're precisely the sort of places that are routinely the crux of creativity and new scenes.

And in any case, it's doubtful that keeping people safe is the sole motivating factor for the clampdown. As this short history (part of Thump's Dancing vs. The State series of posts) illustrates, the US authorities have long resorted to all means at their disposal (including systematic misuse of laws) to regulate nightlife. Footloose was based on a true story, you know.

Brothers gonna work it out

It may have taken the best part of two decades, but Jim and William Reid aka The Jesus & Mary Chain finally settled their notorious sibling differences sufficiently to get back into the studio together. Thankfully, as Jim's been telling Pitchfork's Marc Hogan, it didn't descend into "the kind of World War III" that he was fearing, and the resulting album, Damage And Joy, is out on 24th March.

Apparently, we can expect something deliberately designed to follow seamlessly on from 1998's Munki (as if they've never been away), and the inclusion of a number of duets (including two with Isobel Campbell and one with Sky Ferreira). If the latter are even half as good as 'Sometimes Always', the Hope Sandoval collaboration on Stoned And Dethroned, then I'll be very happy indeed.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Unknown pleasures

Panel programmes featuring George Michael, Morrissey and Tony Blackburn discussing Everything But The Girl albums, films about breakdancing, pretentious books about Joy Division and Atlantic reissues? It's a shame they don't make 'em like Eight Days A Week anymore.

In this 1984 episode, Blackburn predictably comes across as a lecherous old fuddy-duddy, expressing profound disapproval of Joy Division but giving a positive verdict on Breakin' (which his fellow panellists both slate) largely on account of star Lucinda Dickey having "a lovely bum".

Even more predictably, Morrissey smirks and eyeballrolls his way through, evidently considering himself above both the proceedings and whatever he's being asked to comment on. Sat with his hearing aid in, he shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness by criticising Joy Division for their "affectation". Oh the irony.

George Michael, though, is something of a revelation, savaging Breakin' but most intriguingly declaring an unexpected love of the second half of Joy Division's Closer - if not the book under discussion and particularly Paul Morley's contribution to it. 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' may have been sitting in the charts at the time, but he was showing as early as this (before the release of 'Careless Whisper', alluded to in the chat about Atlantic's back catalogue) that he was clearly no fly-by-night pop airhead.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Po-going places

Just as geographical distance, isolation and the local environment/context can result in the evolution of unique adaptations and varieties of particular animals, and even completely unique species (think Australia and Madagascar), so they can give rise to localised, distinctive and often surprising musical subcultures. It's this fact that prompted the Musical Cities series on Sounding Bored - thus far, we've focused on the scenes in Glasgow, Oxford and Manchester, seeking to identify their specific character and exploring the factors (economic, historical, geographical) that lie behind that uniqueness.

I've just finished reading the Manchester chapter of Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again, which details the grim environs that birthed Joy Division and The Fall and inevitably references the indisputably significant but poorly attended and much mythologised Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Frank Owen's account of those turbulent times - taking the reader from the scene's spiritual home at the Ranch, the basement of a gay club, to Wolverhampton by coach for a Pistols gig that ended in complete carnage, to the pitched battles with rival subcultures (the Teddy Boys, the Perry Boys, football hooligans), to the establishment of Factory as the epicentre of Manchester's music culture - might not add much that's new, but it does come from someone who was an eyewitness to events, as a member of contemporary punk outfit Manicured Noise.

Across the Irish Sea, the late 1970s punk scene in Belfast has been celebrated on the big screen in Good Vibrations, but what's perhaps less well known is that there was a subculture of Pistols-style punk music and fashion in the city in the late 1990s, focused around the Warzone collective. Ricky Adam captured the grotty clubs, ripped clothing and spiked haircuts on camera. (To be honest, it's probably a good thing that the wider world never heard the music of a band called Mr Nipples And The Dangleberries.)

Arguably even more surprising is that in the early 1980s kids in Airdrie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, were obsessed with Johnny Thunders, Lou Reed and Throbbing Gristle. That might seem unlikely, but not so according to David Keenan, at least, who has written about his formative years there in the form of an article for the Guardian and a novel (This Is Memorial Device) for Faber.

Sometimes, of course, distinctive subcultures develop not in geographical isolation but in cultural epicentres - such as the Polish punk scene in London, which appears to be in rude good health. In a piece for Noisey, Jak Hutchcraft has sketched out the history of punk's popularity in Poland, initially as a form of protest against communist/totalitarian rule, and spoken to some of the key players about the contemporary scene in the UK.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

End hits

It's looking like another year without a summer festival for me, but if it was feasible then End Of The Road would certainly be among the most attractive, with a line-up that now includes Japandroids, PWR BTTM, Blank Mass, Waxahatchee, Bill Callahan and Fat White Family side project The Moonlandingz alongside the likes of The Jesus & Mary Chain, Ty Segall, Car Seat Headrest, Parquet Courts, Perfume Genius, Deerhoof and Nadine Shah.

Meanwhile, Truck has become significantly more palatable with the addition of Pumarosa, Honeyblood, Dream Wife, The Moonlandingz, Kamikaze Girls, Alpha Male Tea Party and Barn favourites Pulled Apart By Horses. That the bill bears some similarities to that for the Y Not Festival in Derbyshire - including Idris Elba - is unsurprising given that the same organisers are behind both. At least punters in Oxfordshire don't have to endure Stereofuckingphonics.

The award for the oddest bill of 2017 might well go to Bearded Theory, also in Derbyshire, which will see The Fall line up alongside Cast, Transglobal Underground, Skunk Anansie, The Sugarhill Gang, New Model Army and Glasvegas. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't suppose there are many Fall fans who would fork out to see their heroes in that company, or many non-Fall fans who will bother to watch them.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Quote of the day

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide emissions are] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

Scott Pruitt, talking to CNBC. A good thing he's not the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which - among other things - has responsibility for regulating emissions of greenhouse gases in the US, isn't it? Eh? Ah.

(Thanks to Mark for the link.)

Turning the tables

Obsessive record collecting and crate digging are often seen as quintessentially male pursuits - and so is running a record shop. So hats off to Mixmag for choosing to mark International Women's Day on Wednesday by singling out 16 stores from around the world that are wholly or partially female-owned.

Of those featured, one is very close to home. I haven't been to Outpost yet, but it's only a matter of time - even if it will feel like cheating on Spillers.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Divide Unite and rule

Fair play to Donald Trump. In his victory speech last November, he pledged that "We will come together as never before". It's a promise that's since come true. Not only is his presidency provoking mass protests around the world, he's also inspiring musicians to form fruitful new alliances. Without him, we wouldn't be able to enjoy 'War/Golden God', the high-octane collaboration between Kim Gordon and Mikal Cronin, recorded under the banner Self Esteem.

Our First 100 Days continues to give birth to superb songs, not least PWR BTTM's 'Vacation', A Place To Bury Strangers' punishing 'Everyone's The Same', Peter Silberman's suitably gorgeous cover of one of my favourite Flaming Lips songs 'Feeling Yourself Disintegrate' and (of course) the Angel Olsen track 'Fly On Your Wall' that kicked the whole thing off. Thus far, the project has also featured contributions by the likes of Speedy Ortiz, Kate Tempest, Meat Wave, Surfer Blood, DRINKS and Gold Panda. At this rate, I might actually be disappointed by Trump's inevitable impeachment.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Metal machine music

The March issue of Buzz is out now, featuring (among many other things) my review of the distinctly underwhelming new Wire LP Silver/Lead. I'm loath to suggest it, but perhaps their quality control can be questioned. While it's admirable that they continue to be so prolific 40 years on from the release of their seminal debut Pink Flag, maybe they should take a bit more time between records in future?

Also included in the Buzz reviews section are verdicts on albums by Depeche Mode, Dirty Projectors, The Residents, Bardo Pond, Adult., Craig Finn (The Hold Steady), Laura Marling and Spoon.

Tales of the unexpected

It is a truth universally acknowledged that changing the second line/sentence of practically any novel or story to "And then the murders began" immediately improves the first line/sentence. Give it a try.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The birth of uncool

At the inaugural poker evening at our new house recently, we'd got through Car Seat Headrest's Teens Of Denial (with which I'm currently obsessed) and some of Cloud Nothings' Life Without Sound before one of the party commented, "Why not just be done with it and put the first Weezer album on?!" So we did.

The comment was a bit unfair on Car Seat Headrest and Cloud Nothings, but the truth is that both LPs are firmly in the lineage of Weezer - a marker of just how influential that record's chunky hooks and nerdy, neurotic lyrics have proven since its release back in 1994.

By complete coincidence, the day after our poker session Pitchfork published Jillian Mapes' retrospective appraisal of an album that brought Rivers Cuomo's love of Kiss, The Beach Boys and alt rock/grunge together with his insecurity and ability to analyse and savage his own behaviour and thought patterns in public.

While widely ridiculed and misunderstood upon its release, Pinkerton is probably now lauded more - but Mapes does an excellent job of detailing why its predecessor continues to resonate.

Monday, March 06, 2017

"It's more important than it's ever been that we prick the powerful"

Last month, I ventured that satirical shows like The Day Today and Brass Eye would have difficulty finding room to manoeuvre these days given the extraordinary bullshit that is routinely spouted by politicians and reported in the mainstream news media. Here, however, the Guardian's Nadia Khomami effectively argues the precise opposite, pointing to the increased circulation figures of Private Eye in the UK and the resurgent popularity of Saturday Night Live in the US as evidence that the business of satire is, in fact, booming.

What's more, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop agrees, describing the current period as "a golden time": "People are so gloomy they want something to laugh at. They are also interested in a take that isn't too obvious, the old inform and entertain ... At the moment, just about everything makes good satire."

I'm not sure I agree with the desire for satire being primarily escapist, and would certainly question the suggestion that "just about everything makes good satire". As stand-up comic Tiff Stevenson, also quoted in Khomami's article, says, "the weird thing about Trump is you almost run out of ways to satirise him because he's self-satirising".

And yet she's probably also right in claiming that there's nevertheless a value in continuing to mock egotistical buffoons like Trump and Paul Nuttall, simply because it's a direct challenge to their puffed-up sense of self.

(Thanks to Kat for the link.)

Chillout music

Struggling to sleep? Try listening to the sounds of wind, snow, fracturing ice and the dull drone of an idling ship's engine in the Arctic Ocean. An unlikely combination, perhaps, but it's remarkably mesmerising and soporific.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Are you Experienced?

Countless bands have made one album then gone their separate ways, whether imploding spectacularly or merely drifting apart. In very, very few cases does that one album even come close to matching the sole full-length recording by Lift To Experience.

The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was extraordinary in many ways - not least the fact that it was a double LP and concept album about the Second Coming of Jesus and the apocalypse. As a vocalist, Josh T. Pearson sat somewhere between Mark Lanegan and Jeff Buckley, while he and his bandmates crafted sublime epics that drifted between brooding post-rock and shoegaze thunderstorms.

In the years since the record was released, in 2001, its reputation - and that of the trio that made it before disbanding - has grown and grown to the extent that it now seems hard to believe that they had difficulty in arousing any label interest. Thankfully, Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie stepped in, sufficiently impressed by the band's performance at SXSW in their native Texas to put the album out on their Bella Union imprint - but incredibly, as Pearson has revealed in a recent interview with Drowned In Sound, the LP has never had a US release.

The interview was prompted by the fact that Mute have just put out a remixed version of the album, which interview Marie Wood argues is now "the immersive journey it was always meant to be". I'm intrigued to hear how it improves on the original, but Pearson and his bandmates were clearly dissatisfied with the initial mix. That and the fact that Bella Union have lost the master tapes (with Pearson even questioning their trustworthiness) indicates that the relationship with Raymonde has evidently soured - a real shame, given that he and Guthrie were among the first people to truly believe in what they were doing in the face of general incomprehension and indifference.

What of the prospect of a follow-up to a record that would seem impossible to follow up? Pearson says "nothing would make me happier than being able to lock in a room with those dudes and beat up some songs for a couple of months", as long as they were "politically viable and relevant". What's more, they have reunited under the Lift To Experience banner, for 2016's Meltdown Festival. You wouldn't pick Elbow's Guy Garvey, the curator of last year's bash, as one of the band's biggest champions, but it turns out their paths crossed on tour way back in the day, enduring friendships were formed and Garvey rates Pearson as "the best male vocal that's singing today" and his outfit as "the gnarlyest three-piece I've ever seen". So, if a second album does ever emerge, then we know who to thank.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The ruling class

Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that we're ruled by a shadowy elite. This article by Andy Beckett suggests that actually that ruling elite isn't shadowy at all. An inordinate number of those who run the political establishment in the UK (whether politicians, economists, political journalists or media moghuls) have one thing in common: a degree in PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) from Oxford.

The degree was once seen as a break with tradition, and a means of ensuring those elected to take decisions on behalf of the nation were furnished with a well-rounded, liberal education and sufficient knowledge in more than one narrow sphere. Now, however, it's increasingly seen as an irrelevance, as having not moved with the times and contributing to a political class that is elite and out of touch with populist sentiment on both the right and the left of the spectrum.

On the one hand, it can't be healthy having one particular degree course at one particular institution that so profoundly shapes and determines the political and economic landscape. But on the other, it does make sense for aspiring politicians to have some form of vocational training and preparation and to cultivate a broader understanding of and interest in the world than a narrow politics degree might give.

PPE does need to evolve, though, and start looking more forward than back if it's not to become an irrelevance turning out anachronisms incapable of making sense of the new political and economic realities of the twenty-first century. The alternative - imbeciles who deal only in loud rhetoric and see only in black and white (hello Donald!) - is too grim to contemplate.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Quote of the day

"Walls are hot right now, but I was into them long before Trump made it cool."

Banksy, in the statement announcing the opening of the Walled Off Hotel, his hotel-cum-gallery-cum-museum in Bethlehem. It proudly boasts the "worst view in the world" - the barrier wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories is just five metres away, helping to deprive its rooms of natural light for the vast majority of the day - and is an attempt to educate and provoke as well as merely offer accommodation and aesthetic gratification.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Life isn't always a groove!"

Raymond Pettibon is most widely known as the creator of the Black Flag logo (as well as much of their cover art) and the iconic illustration that adorns Sonic Youth's major label debut, Goo. But back in the 1980s he was the prolific force behind a whole host of black-and-white zines published by SST (the label run by his brother, Black Flag's Greg Ginn), churning out weird, grotesque images that were made even more unsettling by the accompanying text.

Sales were poor, though, and Pettibon apparently destroyed many of the unsold copies. He and his reputation have come a long way since then, though, given that he's now got a major exhibition at the New Museum in New York. A Pen Of All Work showcases his zines and his punk cover art, but also some of his less deliberately antagonistic material.

Guide book

Most people off on an adventurous holiday would take a guide book with them - one from the Lonely Planet series, maybe. Not Luke Spencer, who went to Cuba armed with a novel, Graham Greene's 1958 classic Our Man In Havana. Here he recounts his experiences of trying to walk in the footsteps of Greene's fictional hero James Wormold. His trip took in bars, extravagant hotels, grubby barrios and a brush with the law - and the account succeeds in making me want to both go to Cuba myself and finally get round to reading the book.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Fish & pics

Amateur photographer Kazem Hakimi has had the portraits he takes of customers to his Oxford chippy showcased in a feature in the Guardian, and now they're going to be formally exhibited in the city. As Hakimi himself observes, the images - which have been lauded as "honest, dignified, funny and skilfully taken" by Jeremy Spafford of the Old Fire Station, one of the galleries involved in the exhibition - "reveal an Oxford which is very different to the image of the city known to the outside world: one that is multi-ethnic and diverse".

I don't suppose the series began life as a political statement, but the fact that Hakimi seeks to represent diversity and treats all of his subjects with evident warmth and respect means that the exhibition is timely in the current political climate.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

English Welsh tapas, anyone?

Just as I'd pretty much written off Green Man for another year (very much despite the presence of PJ Harvey and Angel Olsen), the organisers went and chose St David's Day to announce a whole host of intriguing additions to the bill, including Sleaford Mods, Liars, Anna Meredith, Thee Oh Sees, The Shins, Pumarosa, Kate Tempest.

It might still prove to be a bit of a stretch for us - but if we do go, then at least I'll have a second chance to see Julian Cope, after the postponement of Sunday's gig at the Globe...

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Fuzzy logic

"Air in the lungs for some of the most influential music ever made", says J. J. Anselmi of distortion and amplification, whose history he outlines in a short but informative piece for Noisey.

As with so many things, the discovery of distortion was essentially a happy accident, offering blues players wanting a rougher, noisier, grittier sound in keeping with the subject matter of their lyrics. According to Anselmi, it's the Fender Super Amp and pioneering musicians like Goree Carter and Ike Turner's guitarist Willie Kizart whom we have to thank for that beautiful fuzzy sound and the subsequent arms race to be the loudest band of all: Deep Purple, Motorhead, electronic acts like Leftfield and Merzbow, contemporary noise fiends like Sunn O))), Dalek, Jucifer, Tim Hecker and The Body.

There's no mention of Swans and their legendarily punishing live shows, but I have twice experienced (with earplugs) the so-called "holocaust section" of My Bloody Valentine's 'You Made Me Realise', which they resurrected for the reunion shows in the late noughties and which turned noise into a primal physical force that seemed to make every atom of your body reverberate.

Wish you were here?

It's official (according to Royal Mail): we now live in one of the most desirable postcode districts in Wales. It's neither the most expensive nor the smartest, but (as with other parts of Cardiff) makes the list because of the relatively good-value house prices and the proximity of workplaces, schools and amenities. Stanley's pre-school is a ten-minute walk away, while shops, an increasingly impressive array of small independent restaurants and a superb arts centre are all even closer. If ever we do fancy leaving the enclave that is Canton and venturing into the centre of a city that has all the cultural attractions of a capital, it's a 20-minute stroll or a paltry quid on the bus.

Our old haunt Abingdon might objectively seem a "nicer" place to live, but it was prohibitively expensive. We miss it at times, of course - but there's no regrets whatsoever about having made the move.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Quote of the day

"Generally speaking, as long as it's funny as well as bleak, that's what we're after. And immediate - that's really important, to give an impression of the here and now. Because we're living in such horrible times at the moment, it really does need communicating. I feel like singing about frivolous things like romance at the minute, there's a time and place, and it's not now."

Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson, talking to Loud And Quiet with the release of new album English Tapas imminent.

Despite all the attention and critical acclaim, and despite a bullish (and justifiable) belief that "we're still one of the most interesting bands around", Williamson is clearly sensitive to the precariousness of their position - the fact that it might not last, the danger of repeating themselves or slipping into self-parody (Noel Gallagher's comment that he just rants about fried chicken evidently rankled). As you might expect, he's also somewhat uncomfortable with being famous and being recognised in the street.

I'm not quite sure what's going on with his love of tweed, though. You'd think he wouldn't want to have anything at all in common with Paul Nuttall...

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dark matter

The Washington Post's new motto might be intended to indicate journalism's vital role in shining a spotlight on what is (deliberately) murky or obscure, but it reads like a gloomy epitaph: "Democracy dies in darkness". Just in case they do reconsider the decision, Slate's Will Oremus has helpfully suggested 15 classic metal album titles that "strike a slightly gentler tone". Many of the suggestions would probably appeal to the Daily Mail's Paul Dacre: "The Downward Spiral", "The Erosion Of Sanity", "Slowly We Rot"...

(Thanks to Nick for the link.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not going out

I'll be honest: my twenties and thirties were a blast. As an incorrigible nostalgic whose youth is fast receding into the past, I'm embarrassingly often grumpy about the thought of young people having unbridled fun while my weekends regularly consist of trips to IKEA and drilling holes in walls. And yet it's sad to learn that for the current generation of youngsters, at least, the fun seems to be over, owing largely to increased economic pressures. Here's hoping hedonism is soon once again affordable. In some respects, I don't have much to show for a large period of my life, but what I do have are memories and friendships that endure - and so no regrets.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unreasonable behaviour

There's a Stewart Lee routine about a bigoted taxi driver that ends with the exasperated homophobe responding to Lee's well-reasoned argument in memorable fashion: "Well, you can prove anything with facts". In 2017, in a post-truth world awash with "alternative facts" and scepticism towards science and scientific method, the problem is arguably the opposite: that you can't prove anything with facts.

Reviewing three recently published books for the New Yorker (Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber's The Enigma Of Reason, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach's The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone and Jack Gorman and Sarah Gorman's Denying To The Grave: Why We Ignore The Facts That Will Save Us), Elizabeth Kolbert explores the fact - and yes, it is a fact - that "reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational".

The answer, it seems, lies in our "hypersociability" (the need to cooperate and collaborate, which goes against innate self-interest and reason) and our tendency to rely on the often flimsy "knowledge" of others to prop up our own thinking and beliefs: "If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration". And the echo chamber that is Facebook and social media more generally, Kolbert might have added.

The problem, she acknowledges (as do Jack and Sarah Gorman), is that attempting to hammer home scientifically proven or demonstrably true facts as a corrective to falsely held convictions just doesn't work; on the contrary, confirmation bias means that those facts often only serve to convince people even more that the opposite is true. A horrible impasse, to be sure.

Know Your Enemy

"When the campaign was happening, I was like, 'Wow, Trump is so much like Corgan. I'm sure Billy loves this guy. I know he's a Trump supporter. He has to be. He's got millions of dollars. He's got that ego. He loves the bully mentality.' I don't keep up with him, and I don't wanna talk bad about him. But I wouldn't be surprised at all if he was a Trump supporter. In fact, I'd be more surprised if he wasn't..."

David Pajo, making a very poor attempt at "not talking bad" about Billy Corgan, his former bandmate in Zwan. I've long wondered how he (or, indeed, anyone else) could possibly get on with Corgan - and it seems he couldn't.

For what it's worth, Dave, I suspect you're spot on. Corgan's appearances in conversation with Alex Jones on Infowars, ranting about political correctness and "social justice warriors", suggest as much...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Paper cuts

The odd overdue paperback, yes - but an estimated 25 million books missing from UK libraries?! Who are the wankers stealing them (or damaging them and refusing to confess)?

In fact, the situation may be even more severe than that. Job losses and cutbacks enforced by councils (whose hands are in turn tied by the government's austerity measures) mean that librarians rarely have the opportunity to carry out stocktakes of physical copies on shelves rather than merely running reports on computer databases, and that even when books are identified as missing, they can't always or even often be replaced.

As so often, it's a case of the government saying one thing (bleating on about the importance of the knowledge economy) and doing the exact opposite (removing rather than increasing funding and resources). The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) have pleaded for additional funds from the chancellor Philip Hammond - but holding your breath would not be advised.

Reach out and punch hate

Donald Trump isn't the only dangerous right-wing fucknut to have trouble finding friends in the music world, it seems. Trump had difficulty identifying any artists happy to either have their music played during his election campaign or appear at his inauguration, and now Richard Spencer has been given a verbal smackdown by his musical heroes Depeche Mode for claiming (without any evidence) that they are "the band of the alt-right" (whatever that might mean).

A representative for the band immediately responded in the bluntest terms: "That is a ridiculous statement. Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt-right and does not support the alt-right movement." Cue that video of Spencer getting punched in the face, set to a soundtrack of 'Just Can't Get Enough'...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The future is now then

With the benefit of hindsight, 1997 was a pretty extraordinary year in British music. The reactionary, jingoistic Britpop was dead, its "peak" reached with Knebworth the previous year (although, as has been argued elsewhere, its creative peak had actually come in 1994), and by 1997 the movement's former luminaries Blur had performed a complete volte-face, embracing lo-fi aesthetics and looking across the Atlantic to American indie rock (unconvincing from Damon Albarn, if not from Graham Coxon).

As Pitchfork's Stuart Berman has noted, Blur's resultant self-titled fifth album was the first of a torrent of inventive, game-changing, hugely influential British records from the likes of Radiohead, Spiritualized, The Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream, Cornershop, Super Furry Animals and Mogwai, all of which looked forwards rather than merely back. "Listening to Brit-rock's class of '97 now, you don't so much feel like you're revisiting a bygone moment as living in the tense, chaotic future it anticipated."

Berman's only contentious choice is the bloated Britpop hangover of The Verve's Urban Hymns, a pompous, vacuous statement that says nothing except that they'd completely abandoned any interest in making vital, challenging music. The exclusion of The Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land might also raise a few eyebrows - it was one of the year's most significant releases, after all - but in truth 1994's Music For The Jilted Generation was their key LP. I also rate Primal Scream's XTRMNTR much more highly than Vanishing Point, but Berman's right in arguing that the latter successfully salvaged their career and paved the way for XTRMNTR - even if they then blew it with subsequent releases.

Meanwhile, the mock-inclusion of Oasis' Be Here Now indicates that, like me, he wouldn't buy Angus Batey's argument that it's a misunderstood work of genius...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rio's legacy RIP (rusts in pieces)

Given all the talk in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 London Olympics of the Games being a triumph and leaving a lasting legacy, it was hugely disappointing that that legacy never materialised, thanks in part to government funding cuts and a lack of available resources needed to sustain the facilities. Even more disappointing (though sadly entirely predictable) is the fact that such talk about the most recent Games, last year's Rio Olympics, is already redundant, as these photos illustrate. As expected, questioning the cost and value of the Games for the Brazilian people has proven to be valid rather than cynical.

You'd hope that the images might help to teach all involved a valuable lesson and underline the importance of careful planning for long-term sustainability as opposed to myopia, excess and greed - but, given that nothing has been learned from past events, I wouldn't hold your breath.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A taste of the highlife

With 2017 turning out to be even more of a shitshow than 2016, I prescribe a dose of uniquely brilliant post-punk/highlife duo Sacred Paws as the best possible antidote. My review of their recent Cardiff show - the last date of a UK tour - with Spinning Coin and Neurotic Fiction is now up on the Buzz website.

The gig was jointly promoted by The Joy Collective and All My Friends (the latter could quite feasibly be an alternative moniker for Sacred Paws) - two names that I'll be looking out for in future.

Sunday may have been my first visit to Undertone, but I felt immediately at home. It's not quite as scuzzy as the Cellar in Oxford, and the lack of anything on draught was disappointing, but I do love intimate subterranean venues.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Creating trouble

Brexit is set to wreak havoc on the creative industries, as it is on pretty much every other area of life. Here's Gail Rebuck, Chair of Penguin Random House UK, outlining the industries' five most significant concerns at the House of Lords back in January, in her capacity as Baroness Rebuck of Bloomsbury: access to talent and skills, funding and access to grants, copyright and the regulatory framework, trading relationships and co-investments, and intellectual and research independence within higher education. All five are under threat, and, amid talk of measures to redress the impacts of leaving Europe in other spheres, it remains to be seen what might be done to safeguard one of the very few areas in which the UK continues to excel.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Light up gold

I suspect I'm in the minority in regarding Pavement's fourth LP Brighten The Corners as their best, and to tell the truth I'd be hard-pressed to explain why, other than to suggest in general terms that it finds them at their most melodic and cohesive without compromising the creative quirkiness for which they'd made their name. The Quietus' Lesley Chow argues the album's genius lies in Stephen Malkmus' lyrics - I'm not sure about that, but the evidence presented does suggest that the words deserve closer attention.

Meanwhile, Malkmus has spoken on a recent episode of the Talkhouse Music Podcast about the band's fateful final album (and successor to Brighten The CornersTerror Twilight, describing it as "a real, classic rock, overproduced $100,000 record" and arguing that "With that much money you should be able to make something good. We made some things that weren't as good as they could've been." A harsh assessment, perhaps, and certainly one at which producer Nigel Godrich appears to taken umbrage, noting on Twitter: "I literally slept on a friend's floor in NYC to be able to make that album..."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump's psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to the New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn't meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn't make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump's attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological."

Know Your Enemy could, of course, be about Donald Trump from now until eternity, but this is a particularly interesting condemnation. Allen Frances' letter to the New York Times (quoted in full above, because it's so elegantly and succinctly expressed) is noteworthy not only for its stinging rebuke of Trump, but also as a necessary corrective to those critics who carelessly chuck the "mentally ill" label at Trump. As the person who literally wrote the book on narcissistic personality disorder, Frances needs to be listened to.

(Thanks to Marc for the link.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Closing time?

No sooner have I written about the fact that Cardiff's local music scene is in many ways in rude good health, than along comes a revelation that threatens the future of countless venues in the city and right around the country. Vice's Mark Wilding has pointed out that the re-evaluation of business rates is due to take place this April, for the first time since 2010, and that, given that these rates are calculated with reference to property values, the result is likely to be significant increases for music venues - many of which are naturally situated in city centres and areas that have recently experienced gentrification and localised booms.

As you'd expect, the Music Venue Trust are extremely concerned about the scale and impact of the anticipated increases, with chief executive Mark Davyd no doubt pulling his hair out while delivering a gloomy prediction: "We would estimate half of all these venues will be placed in difficulty."

So what's the solution? Exemption, hopefully - which isn't quite as fanciful as it sounds, given that exemption is already enjoyed by other cultural institutions such as theatres (if not by other small independent businesses whose future will also be under threat). If that's not forthcoming, then pursuing charitable status might be a means of seeking refuge. Otherwise, the inevitable outcome will be higher ticket and bar prices, (even) less risk-taking by promoters and venues in a bid to maximise revenue - which, as Stacey Thomas of the Lexington underlines, would be "detrimental to grassroots music and the community as a whole" - and a catastrophic number of closures.

It is big and it is clever

Ever wondered why the insults "cockwomble", "fucktrumpet", "bunglecunt" and "shitgibbon" (the latter memorably used recently by Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach in reference to you-know-who) are inherently amusing? Linguists like Taylor Jones are on hand to explain: it's all to do with the combination of a monosyllabic expletive with a trochee (a word with two syllables, with the emphasis falling on the first), and the repetition of the vowel sound.

It's not a failsafe formula, and there are a few exceptions ("wankpuffin" doesn't have a repeated vowel sound, for instance), but generally speaking the principle holds. Which is very helpful, given the currently daily need to invent new ways of referring to certain prominent individuals.