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.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Scene and heard

As reported here a few weeks back, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the news that two Cardiff venues (plus Le Pub in Newport) will be closing their doors, at least temporarily. But is there a danger of being too alarmist, too pessimistic? Credit to Wales Online's David Owens, then, for taking the temperature of the city's music scene on a single night, 3rd February.

If you can forgive the horrifically wayward description of The Fall as "the precise approximation of Phoenix Nights for the C86 generation", the resulting article is a worthwhile read. The consensus appears to be that the scene is in really good health, certainly in comparison with the situation a couple of decades ago, which is heartening, but that that vibrancy is thanks in large part to the variety of venues both small and large and so is under threat by planned closures. While there's a definite value to a place like Tramshed in terms of attracting acts of a certain size, smaller venues like Clwb and the Full Moon are essential in giving local acts a leg up.

One of the interviewees also alludes to an issue affecting live music in general, not just in Cardiff: the simple fact that fewer people seem to be interested in going to gigs, preferring to discover and consume music online in their own home. Of course, there are other factors too, as discussed in Episode 11 of Sounding Board - ticket and bar prices, for instance - but this is a significant trend, one that would be hard to reverse.

Romance is dead

The work of photographer Seph Lawless has been plugged on this site before - first his pictures of decaying shopping malls, and then his images of Picher in Oklahoma, the most toxic town in the US - but I make no apologies for doing so again, this time drawing attention to his photos of abandoned honeymoon resorts in Pennsylvania. They satisfy my possibly unwholesome craving for ruin porn, but also serve the more edifying function of offering a fascinating glimpse into the past. Where once Americans couldn't get enough of heart-shaped jacuzzis and mirrored ceilings, it seems they've now very much fallen out of love with them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trump to the rescue?

"Donald Trump, media saviour"? A trolling headline if ever there was one - or so you'd think. The BBC's media editor Amol Rajan has looked beyond Trump's aggressive attitude towards mainstream news outlets ("fake news" etc) and use of alt right sites and social media to communicate directly with the American people, taking a closer look at his actual impact, and come to a surprising and counterintuitive conclusion: "In fact, contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy, Donald Trump is not the man who will kill the mainstream media. He is the man who could save it."

The crux of Rajan's argument is that, not so much despite as because of his ranting and rhetoric, Trump has inadvertently boosted the flagging revenues of such media institutions as the New York Times, CNN and the Guardian, all struggling to find financial models that work in the digital age.

Not that it's an unproblematic situation, of course. As Rajan notes, it's making the relationship between the commercial and editorial divisions of news organisations increasingly fractious and oppositional. What's more, he focuses purely on finances and arguably also only on the short-term impact, failing to acknowledge that Trump's successful pursuit of his policies would surely be damaging in the long term. Perhaps the mainstream media are merely making hay while the sun shines, and the money men should be as concerned as the editorial staff about what happens when the hard rain comes.

Oh Annie, with this video you are really spoiling us

While Record Store Day certainly isn't the uncomplicatedly Good Thing it might initially seem (see here), it's to be thanked for giving us this video, which suggests that St Vincent aka Annie Clark is taking her role as ambassador for this year's event very seriously indeed. Or perhaps not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Fake news": nothing new

As is so often the way with these things, it turns out that despite the intense debate, anger and despair that "fake news" has prompted recently (what with Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts" and the naming of "post-truth" as the Oxford Dictionaries' choice for the 2016 Word Of The Year), the phenomenon is actually nothing new.

Robert Darnton of the New York Review of Books has helpfully traced its history, through eighteenth-century Paris and London and all the way back to sixth-century Byzantium. Such "news" has regularly been produced for the purpose of mere titillation - but often, as now, there's been a more significant political dimension, with false titbits thrown out to discredit beliefs and poison minds against particular individuals.

The last first supper

My first foray into food and drink reviewing for Buzz finds me studiously trying to keep any sniffy metropolitan liberal elitism in check in the course of writing about a chain pub up in the Rhondda (and struggling when it comes to the fish finger pizza...) - but the Fulling Mill in Tonypandy genuinely wasn't bad at all, especially for the price.

My bloody Valentine

Dangerous Minds' Martin Schneider might be sceptical about the narrative surrounding their creation and subsequent rediscovery, but this set of Valentine's Day cards, inspired by the works of director David Cronenberg's horror films, are nevertheless entertaining - if not exactly the ideal choice for declaring your romantic intentions.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Feel Good Hits of the 13th February

1. 'Destroyed By Hippy Powers' - Car Seat Headrest
OK, so I'm late to the party. Extremely late to the party. So late to the party that everyone's fucked off home. But it still has to be said that Teens Of Denial is a great album, and 'Destroyed By Hippy Powers' is one of its very best tracks. Grungy indie-rock from a self-effacing, literate singer/guitarist whose lyrics are shot through with memorable images, imagination and humour: yup, Will Toledo was 2016's Courtney Barnett.

2. 'Internal World' - Cloud Nothings
Compared to previous album Here And Nowhere Else (a firm favourite round these parts), Life Without Sound dials down the dischord and turns up the polish. It's not as good, I don't think, but given 'Internal World's ace approximation of a turbo-charged Idlewild, it's good to know that they're continuing to fight rock's corner.

3. 'Fade Into You' - Mazzy Star
The song that kicks off 1993's So Tonight That I Might See, which I bought a while back on the recommendation of a friend. It pretty much instantly convinced me I'd made a wise decision. Hope Sandoval has one of those "could listen to her reciting the phone book" voices.

4. 'Please' - Blanck Mass
The first track to see the light of day from Blanck Mass' forthcoming third LP World Eater (a reaction to the insanity of 2016, apparently) takes Benjamin John Power further away from the abstract soundscapes of the self-titled debut and continues the progression signalled by 2015's Dumb Flesh. There's definitely an Aphex Twin vibe to the way 'Please' deconstructs, fractures and reassembles soulful club music.

5. 'Nothing Feels Natural' - Priests
Dreamy, bittersweet post-punk somewhere in the sweet spot between Deerhunter and Warpaint. The fact that singer Katie Alice Greer organised an anti-Trump benefit concert featuring Waxahatchee and Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis should of course endear them to you even more.

6. 'Halleluwah' - Can
No installment of Feel Good Hits would be complete without me admitting to shameful ignorance as regards some band or other. This time it's the turn of Can. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit's death spurred me into properly listening to them - and fuck me if this, and Liebezeit's typically funky, complex beat, isn't bloody great.

7. 'Gather' - US Weekly
Punk fan disappointed by the direction Parquet Courts took after Light Up Gold? US Weekly might just be for you. Here's some proof. Thanks to Gareth for the tip-off - and to the happy accident that resulted in Spotify bringing them to his earholes.

8. 'Risk To Exist' - Maximo Park
The synth-heavy title track of Maximo Park's forthcoming sixth album is very much business as usual - sharp new-wave-influenced indie. Until, that is, you pick out the subtle backing vocals behind Paul Smith, supplied by none other than Low's Mimi Parker. Apparently she appears on four other tracks on the album, in what's one of the oddest musical collaborations I've come across in recent years. 'Risk To Exist' isn't bad, but to be honest she's more than a bit wasted here.

9. 'Near To The Wild Heart Of Life' - Japandroids
This may be another air-punching anthem in Japandroids' canon, but the fact that it's also the name of Brian King and Dave Prowse's third record speaks volumes - they're now merely near to the wild heart of life, not in it. The duo have claimed the LP is a deliberate attempt to make "a proper studio album", which is cause enough for alarm. It was inevitable they'd grow up, I guess - indeed, the warning signs were already there on Celebration Rock  - but a large part of me wishes they could have remained the Peter Pans of punk forever.

10. 'Infra Red' - I Am Lono
Sharp 1980s drum machine beats, a Joy Division bassline and dense walls of synth make for a pleasing combination. As recommended by Six By Seven's Chris Olley, who's apparently so desperate to join them that he's promised to keep his head down and his mouth shut. Watch this space...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Quote of the day

"I finally had enough and piped up: 'Who is it? Who is shouting? Tell me who it is!' I asked the person to raise his hand so I could see him. He did not. Finally people pointed furiously to a seat not far from me in the front. I walked down the few wooden steps in front of the stage to the aisle where all the fingers pointed.

By the time I got there, I was so angry. I felt humiliated, but what else could be done? Either way I had lost something. Unlike a more seasoned comic or musician, I didn't have the experience to ignore a situation like this, or to use wit to turn it around. I felt a kind of disappointment and disillusionment that I had never known - and it was in front of a thousand-plus people.

As I approached the heckler's wooden pew, I was shocked. He was only a few years older than me. Unshaven, bleary-eyed. He had on a baseball hat and seemed so drunk that his limbs hung from his sides like a broken doll. His eyes were like two poached eggs waiting to break. The anger left me, and I felt instantly bad. No one was there for this man. No one stopped him."

Ryan Adams tells the New York Times and its readers the story of the first time he was genuinely unsettled by a heckler, at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in 2002. Needless to say, the offending shout was a plea for Bryan Adams' 'Summer Of '69' - a song that Adams has since willingly covered in the same venue.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Consensus has determined that the Daily Mail (including its online version, dailymail.co.uk) is generally unreliable, and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist. As a result, the Daily Mail should not be used for determining notability, nor should it be used as a source in articles. An edit filter should be put in place going forward to warn editors attempting to use the Daily Mail as a reference."

The full, gloriously damning verdict of Wikipedia on the Daily Mail. The Huffington Post's George Bowden has detailed five specific instances of the rag's failings.

The Mail on Sunday's Dan Hodges was suitably nettled into responding on Twitter, which led to a clash with fellow journalist Sunny Hundal. And then in stepped Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to give Hodges a lesson on how Wikipedia actually works...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Closer encounters

Dom Gourlay interviewing Six By Seven's Chris Olley? It's like 2000 all over again. Gourlay was a contemporary of mine when I was in Nottingham, my opposite number as music editor at Nottingham Trent's student publication Platform, while Six By Seven were the city's best band - indeed, as Olley notes, probably one of the only bands of any note at all.

It's entirely fitting that it feels like the turn of the millennium, though, given that that's the period they're talking about, by way of previewing the vinyl reissue of The Closer You Get, a new Best Of and a pair of promotional gigs in Nottingham and London in March featuring the original line-up reunited for the first time in 17 years.

Olley's ramblings aren't always coherent (complaining about "the system" and record label pressures but also insisting that getting a record deal is the best advice he can give new bands, for instance), but he's as engaging an interviewee as ever. He also comes across as somewhat embittered by his experiences and obsessed with money, but then who can blame him when Six By Seven never really received their due, other than glowing critical reviews, which unfortunately can't pay the bills. He's right to be enthusiastic about the current healthy state of Nottingham's music scene (making a point to mention the variety of venues and the influence of promoters DHP as well as the bands), a sharp contrast to when Six By Seven set out, and also right to describe 2013's Love And Peace And Sympathy as "a great record" (seriously, I'd venture it's their best). The Closer You Get deserves the reissue-and-played-in-full-live treatment - it's just a shame it's not economically viable to turn it into a tour that might call in somewhere closer to Cardiff.

A site for sore ears

If this year's Truck bill seems tediously regressive, then the line-up for fellow Oxfordshire festival Cornbury is infinitely worse, apparently beamed straight from hell: Bryan Adams, The Kaiser Chiefs, "Tom Chaplin, the voice of Keane", Scouting For Girls, Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra... Do I need to go on? That said, it's not as though the bash, dubbed "Poshbury" for the attendance of David Cameron and the Chipping Norton set, is bowing out with a bill much shitter than normal.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Mark: my words

For my first gig back in Cardiff after a decade away, I could certainly have done a lot worse than Bo Ningen supporting The Fall on Friday. It nearly didn't happen, though - a guest-list mix-up resulting in me having to use Buzz listings editor Noel Gardner's name like a magic password. My review of a tremendous evening in the company of the incomparable Mark E Smith and the Japanese loons is up online now.

It was also my first visit to Tramshed. On first impressions, it's a very welcome recent addition to the city's range of venues, bridging the gap between the likes of Clwb and the CIA (and so attracting bands and artists who would otherwise have had to play at the university or simply bypassed Cardiff altogether), while the range and quality of drinks on offer makes it a vast improvement on the Academy in Oxford. In fact, my only reservation would be the fact that before and between the acts we were repeatedly subjected to tracks from The Wonder Stuff's best of...

Walking the line

The Mexico-US border is once again the subject of much discussion in the wake of Donald Trump's inauguration and his subsequent repeated insistence that a wall - whether entirely physical or partially invisible - will be built to separate the two countries and prevent illegal immigration. Alessandro Grassani's photos should serve as an indicator that people can't simply stroll into the US, as some foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers would have you believe - and a timely reminder of the desperation and dedication of some of those who make the long journey to the border, hoping to be able to make it across.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Pitch perfect

Only last week I wrote about how Pete Shelley has described Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP as (initially, at least) more "a stroke of necessity" rather than "a stroke of genius". Here's another musician, Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox, claiming that a more recent seminal release (albeit not quite so widely revered or influential - yet), his album Person Pitch, was also in many ways an accidental triumph, its "signature sound ... partially indebted to a customs mishap". Gawd bless the Portuguese officials who wouldn't let his guitar into the country, but did let him have a 303 sampler.

The LP may have been created in the downtime between Animal Collective tours but it doesn't feel remotely forced or rushed - on the contrary, it's a kaleidoscopic and sonically dense record that you could live for a week, and that went on to shape the sound of his main outfit's career highpoint, 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion.

It seems a little odd to me that it's getting the tenth anniversary treatment already, but that's just because I only discovered it two or three years ago, having long ignored all Animal Collective members' side projects (and indeed Animal Collective themselves, pretty much) ever since the debacle that was Glastonbury 2009. An extremely unwise decision - at least as far as Person Pitch is concerned.

The less said, the better?

So it looks as though it took the travel ban to convince Kanye West that it might not be wise to associate with and talk sympathetically about Donald Trump. Because the president wasn't spewing racially insensitive (at very best) or hate-fuelled openly bigoted bullshit prior to that, of course...

Why do people delete tweets, exactly? It's quite beyond me. The fact that Kanye publicly endorsed Trump during the election campaign and was happy to have his photo taken with the gurning imbecile when they met to chat back in December (when Trump claimed they'd been "friends" for a "long time") isn't something that's going to be erased from the memory (or internet search engines) by removing a few tweets. And now that he's been rumbled for attempting to remove the evidence on his own Twitter has only brought the issue right back into the public spotlight.

A megalomaniacal determination to control the media and what's written/said about them: just another thing the pair have in common...

Quote of the day

"After years of dealing with the homophobic comments aimed at me by the preacher, I felt I needed to stand up against these false prophets spewing bigotry. I have fought hard for my rights. I have seen too much tragedy in the LGBTQ community to let a man in cargo pants tell me I am the embodiment of sin."

Florida Gulf Coast University student Brice Ehmig on standing up to a bigoted bully who had made his mission to make her life a misery, droning out his rantings by playing the bagpipes. I've long thought that bagpipes are an offensive weapon, so it's just nice to hear them put to extremely good use for once.

(Thanks to Ronan for the link.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Noughtie boys

The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, Maximo Park: one look at this year's Truck line-up and you'd be forgiven for thinking we're back in 2003. I'm a fan of the latter two bands, but add in the likes of The Wombats and The Vaccines and it's all a bit depressingly safe indie. Given the flak faced by other festivals, I wouldn't be surprised if the organisers aren't called out for largely ignoring female artists too.

Yak and Crows would be worth a peek, but in its current state the bill certainly isn't anything worth hauling myself back to Oxfordshire for.

Monday, February 06, 2017

A life less ordinary

Having roadied for John Cage, had a song poached by Elton John, put Nick Drake up for the night, played with a pre-Spiders From Mars Mick Ronson, performed a gig with John Fahey and a drunk bear, and inspired the likes of Sonic Youth and Pelt, you'd imagine that guitarist Michael Chapman might be rather better known. On the occasion of the release of his new album 50, he's been telling the Guardian's Andrew Male about his extraordinary life in music.

Meanwhile, Thurston Moore - who told Chapman in 1998 that his album Millstone Grit, and the extensive use of feedback on it in particular, was crucial to the formation of Sonic Youth and the establishment of their aesthetic - has been speaking to the Quietus' Brian Coney about his plans for 2017 (including a new LP from The Thurston Moore Group, Rock 'N' Roll Consciousness - hurrah!), his foray into teaching, a new book charting the extensive body of work he's produced or collaborated on outside Sonic Youth, and (inevitably) Donald Trump and how to respond to his election.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Quote of the day

"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture."

Sales of George Orwell's 1984 might be up as a consequence of our current predicament, but Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death, quoted above, predicted that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World would actually prove to be the more prescient novel - a point made by his son Andrew in a recent Guardian article.

(Thanks to Phil for the link.)

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Yes, but is it art?

25 years on from the first in a series of era-defining shows put on at the Saatchi Gallery, how to assess the merit and legacy of the works of the Young British Artists, now Middle-Aged British Artists?

According to Robert Barry, writing for the Quietus, they didn't produce much of worth, were incorrigible self-promoters and are arguably responsible for initiating "the gentrification of the East End, the growing inseparability of art and speculative finance, the commercial sponsorship of appropriation, and the many silences and exploitative practices stemming from and circulating around art as a business".

And yet he's surely right to flag up as a significant achievement the way they managed to drag conversations about art from exhibition spaces, exclusive coteries and specialist publications and into the mainstream media. Even if much of the reporting was framed in sceptical, negative terms, it nevertheless got "ordinary" people talking and thinking about what art is, should be or should do - and for that much the YBAs should be commended.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Stop me if you've heard this one before

Rock is dead? Yawn. Well, not so much dead, as dying - according to Consequence Of Sound's Collin Brennan, at least. This, he argues, is due to a combination of factors including its slavish and outmoded focus on the album in the age of streaming and short attention spans, its modest and understated "stars" (while pop and hip-hop now boast the provocative hell-raisers), its inability to channel anger as effectively and authentically as rap, the commercial dominance of its heritage acts (both in terms of record sales and live tours) at the expense of newly emerging talent, and a depressing lack of diversity.

Brennan canvasses the opinions of several of those struggling to keep the flame alive, including Japandroids, Cloud Nothings and Real Estate, all of whom have released new albums in 2017 or are about to do so. Between them, they express little dissent as regards the statement that rock has become somewhat marginalised, its impact dulled - indeed, they often corroborate Brennan's claims. Moreover, they carefully avoid suggesting that it's a depressing situation, instead giving the impression of a stoic acceptance of the shifting sands of music and culture.

And yet they all still persist in representing a supposedly moribund tradition. Why? Because it's all they know? Perhaps. Because, deep down, it's something in which they stubbornly and passionately believe - and something that remains worthy of such stubborn and passionate belief. Yes. Cloud Nothings' Dylan Baldi is surely (hopefully?) right when he states, in the context of the digital age, that "I think rock as a genre will always be around ... Rock is going to find its own little pocket, and there's always going to be someone reviving it."

Any discussion of current keepers of the flame would be incomplete without reference to Ty Segall, whose in his sheer prolificity is arguably doing as much as anyone to reinvigorate rock. His latest effort is a self-titled album (his second), of which 'Break A Guitar' is the splendid second single, and he's been talking to the Guardian's Geeta Dyal about his upbringing as the son of a hair-metal-loving mother, his love of The Kinks and recording with Steve Albini. The article whets the appetite for hearing the album - though I haven't yet properly digested his last, Emotional Mugger...

Live and learn

Independent Venue Week may have been and gone for another year, but you can still support the live music scene - by being a regular gig-goer, of course, but also by signing up to take part in the inaugural UK Live Music Census, which will take place in March.

The project involves three universities (Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow) as well as the Music Venue Trust, the Musicians' Union and UK Music, is run by members of the Live Music Exchange and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The objective is simply to canvas the thoughts of punters, promoters, musicians and venue owners on the value of live music and on the challenges the UK scene is facing - presumably with the long-term goal of being able to bring in measures that will be effective in nullifying or overcoming those challenges.

Read it and weep

Grasping for an upside to the early days of Donald Trump's presidency? How's about the fact that more people appear to be buying (and hopefully reading) George Orwell's classic 1984? Not, presumably, because there's a sudden appetite for dystopias but because the novel helps to make sense of the one in which we're currently living.

(Thanks to Katie for the link.)

Thursday, February 02, 2017

No laughing matter

Phil Harrison's assessment of Chris Morris' Brass Eye, 20 years after it was first screened, is for the most part astute. For instance, he observes (among other things) that "it actively required repeat viewings", that it helped to bring about a specific change in the broadcasting code (as well as influencing a whole raft of pale imitations) and that it appeared at "a cultural and historical sweet spot" when risk-taking was easier (even if Morris did test the limits "more fearlessly than most" and "did so with greater moral purpose").

However, I'm not so sure about his concluding point that "a glance at the current state of media and politics suggests we need the likes of Chris Morris more than ever". It's true, of course, that Brass Eye (even more so than its predecessor, the spoof news programme The Day Today) was "a show about ignorance and hypocrisy - about celebrities blindly parroting scripts that ten minutes of research would have confirmed as ludicrous; about news outlets manipulating and preaching and wallowing in self-orchestrated moral panics". But the problem for Morris - and anyone else who might try something similar, for that matter - is that what's now served up to us daily by the news media is often essentially indistinguishable from parody, a fact that is no longer hilarious, merely horrifying. There is now practically no space left in which Morris could profitably operate - hence why, I'd suggest, he's resisted any temptation to resurrect Brass Eye.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

"The Shangri-Las and Einsturzende Neubauten on the same record"

By way of a preview for the Jesus & Mary Chain's forthcoming new album Damage And Joy - lest we forget, their first since 1998 - the Guardian's Jeremy Allen has chosen ten of the best tracks from their back catalogue. Perhaps unusually for this kind of list, there are no controversial or wilfully perverse choices, but that's very much to be welcomed.

The selection serves a reminder of the stupendous quality and huge influence of their early material ('Upside Down'), their effortless marrying of apparently disparate styles ('Just Like Honey', 'Some Candy Talking') and the merits of 'April Skies' and the Darklands album in general (Allen is probably right when he ventures that it has better songs than Psychocandy) while also offering a stout defence of songs and albums that time has remembered less favourably, such as last LP Munki, and highlighting their contribution to the excellent soundtrack for The Crow.

Coincidentally, 'Sometimes Always', the duet recorded with Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval that is quite rightly Allen's pick from 1994's Stoned & Dethroned, has been covered by US punks Beach Slang for a mixtape called Here I Made This For You Volume II. It's more a nod to their influences than an attempt to make the song their own, but it's still worth a listen.

Buzzing

The February issue of Buzz is now up online, the first to feature a contribution from yours truly (a review of Moon Duo's new album Occult Architecture Volume 1). Having thoroughly enjoyed writing for Nightshift in Oxford for the last decade, I was itching to find a new online/print outlet for my witterings. Buzz certainly fits the bill, covering a whole host of topics including (but not limited to) film, art, books, theatre, food and drink, politics and sport, all with a Welsh focus, and therefore offers the opportunity to write about something other than music every now and again. As one door closes, another one opens, etc etc.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Anyone can play guitar - and release a record

When we focused on Manchester in Episode 10 of Sounding Bored, as part of our semi-regular Music Cities series, Buzzcocks received only scant attention - largely for the pivotal role of founding members Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto in setting up the Sex Pistols' legendary gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. We knew we'd done them a bit of an injustice - the consequence of having so much to squeeze into the usual hour-and-a-bit - but the Spiral Scratch EP really ought to have merited a mention, given its widely recognised status as, if not the first indie record, then at least the first to make its independent release a deliberate statement of defiance.

To help make up for our omission, here's the Quietus' Patrick Clarke talking to Shelley and bandmate Steve Diggle plus manager Richard Boon about the landmark release, recently reissued by Domino to mark its 40th anniversary. Buzzcocks' label New Hormones, Clarke argues, "offered a demystification of the notion that records were some kind of mysteriously produced artefact; this was a hitherto unseen demonstration that 'anyone' could do it".

Not that the band set out with any such expectations or grand plan - "we had no vision for the future because we didn't really think there was going to be one", says Shelley. On the contrary, the EP was initially "a stroke of necessity" rather than "a stroke of genius", merely a desperate attempt to document a short-lived phenomenon before it vanished. Fortunately, punk didn't die the almost instant death that looked to be on the cards when the band went into the studio, its longevity and legacy in both musical terms and culture more generally cemented by records like Spiral Scratch.

Quote of the day

"Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity - substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better."

A gloomy though realistic prognosis courtesy of Eliot A. Cohen. However, the fact that he's neither a loony Leftie or a Democrat but a card-carrying Republican who served as an adviser to Condoleezza Rice in George W. Bush's administration should give some cause for cautious optimism. As a consequence, his sober reflections on the current predicament are well worth reading.

It's to be hoped that politicians heed Cohen's warning that they should be wary of committing themselves to "moral self-destruction" by "fatally compromis[ing] their values" through serving in Trump's administration. Likewise, hopefully the American public will, as he recommends, "dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics, depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness" - "all the opposites of the qualities exhibited by this president and his advisers".

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"The people of America have rejected the expertariat, and I think with good reason because I think the expertariat have been wrong about one thing after another, including climate policy. The expert class, it seems to me, is full of arrogance or hubris."

Yes, Myron Ebell - because there is of course nothing remotely arrogant or hubristic about claiming to know better than experts in the field, is there? When in the run-up to the EU referendum Michael Gove argued that Britons had "had enough of experts", he was clearly echoing a worrying transatlantic position.

Ebell - the man who until recently led Donald Trump's transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency - has branded the environmental movement "the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world". As much of a dangerous egomaniacal lunatic as Trump seems, it's profoundly unsettling to realise that there are plenty of others who share his apparently perverse worldview.

In other words, we're all fucked.

"I think we're going to need more swear words"

For me and (I imagine) many others, the days since Donald Trump's inauguration have passed in a blur, each one bringing fresh jaw-dropping outrage and adding yet another dimension to an already terrifying dystopian nightmare. Credit to Standard Issue's Hannah Dunleavy, then, for not only managing to keep up with the successively more staggering announcements and incidents - the executive orders, the "alternative facts", the Twitterstorms - but also writing about them in such a way that still manages to prompt laughter, even if it's the very definition of laughter in the dark.

(Thanks to Anna for the link.)

Thinking Big

It's 200 releases not out for Oxford label Big Scary Monsters, renowned for their contribution to the punk, math-rock and post-rock scenes. To commemorate the milestone, here's an article in the Independent detailing how Kevin Douch's baby grew from being a vanity project to a widely revered imprint boasting an international roster of acclaimed acts.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

The joy of second

For us Newcastle fans, Saturday afternoon's 3-0 defeat at Oxford - a match for which I thought it would be prudent to return to my old stomping ground and witness in the flesh - is just the latest in a long line of humiliations. Perhaps our most spectacular and infamous collapse, at least of recent times, is the one that saw us lose a 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League in 1995/96 and get pipped to the title by a ruthless Man Utd. However, that particular failure is looked on with not shame, embarrassment and anger but pride and fondness.

Martin Hardy's Touching Distance, which I've recently reviewed for The Two Unfortunates, tells the tale of a halcyon era in the club's history in a manner pretty much guaranteed to bring a smile to the face, a lump to the throat and maybe even a tear to the eye. In other words, just the tonic for a miserably wet Monday morning in January when the current crop have just been comprehensively dumped out of the FA Cup by lower-tier opposition.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sun, sea, sand - and struggle

My first ever visit to Blackpool, last September, ticked pretty much all of the boxes: dipping toes in the water, a promenade stroll, a donkey ride on the beach for Stanley, copious quantities of fast food, various amusement arcades, enjoying a pint while watching pensioners waltz along to the sound of an end-of-the-pier organist. Photographer Dawn Mander looks at the town through the eyes of a local rather than a tourist, and in her pictures refuses to shy away from capturing the resort's faded glamour and the effect of years of neglect, as well as its bright lights and continued seafront vibrancy.

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Forward thinking

Listening to Episode 13 of Sounding Bored, the first of 2017 and the first to be recorded without the garbled contributions of yours truly, was rather like seeing an ex and realising he/she's moved on and is doing very well thank you very much. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it - I really did.

The episode begins with Amy's eloquent and heartfelt eulogy for George Michael, expressing regret that in his early career he missed out on the critical acclaim that would have surely been his due now and describing 'Careless Whisper', written when he was just 17, as being like a whole novel in three minutes. Niall, meanwhile, raises the debate over how the current Trump-infested, post-Brexit political climate might affect music - a subject I wrote about recently here too.

The meat of the podcast finds them and regular host Rob looking forward to the year ahead in terms both of new(ish) acts to look out for (Brighton outfit Abattoir Blues, French duo Acid Arab's multicultural musical stew, the Rising Sun collective) and hotly anticipated records from more established acts (Japandroids' Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, Sleaford Mods' English Tapas, the Magnetic Fields' latest high-concept LP, the autobiographical 50 Song Memoir).

Album of the Month is The XX's third LP I See You - generally rated as a disappointment, with the consensus being that Jamie XX should have been allowed free rein and is now being held back by the band with which he first came to prominence.

While I'm on the subject of Oxford-based musical endeavours to which I used to be a regular contributor, the February issue of Nightshift is out now, previewing a bumper crop of gigs (among other things).

Friday, January 27, 2017

Coming to a field near you

Festival line-up announcement season is upon us!

First up, the one that I'm most likely to go to: Green Man. I can't say I'm excited by two of the headliners, Ryan Adams and Future Islands, but the fact that the third is PJ Harvey - and that Angel Olsen will also be in attendance - has given me serious food for thought.

More so than Reading/Leeds, certainly, where you could have predicted that Kasabian would join Muse atop a bill that screams "At The Drive-In - but at what cost?"

Meanwhile, Kendal Calling - a relative new kid on the block - boasts a line-up choc-full of big names (Manic Street Preachers, Brian Wilson, Editors, Tinie Tempah, Example, Slaves). Music journalist Hayley Scott was quick to note a problem, though - and it wasn't just the presence of Stereophonics among the headliners. Perhaps, in the organisers' defence, they've been issued with one of Trump's executive orders banning them from booking any female artists, Kate Nash being the exception that proves the rule?

Last but not least, my friends Elvana are naturally delighted at the prospect of sharing a stage at Camp Bestival with both Brian Wilson (playing Pet Sounds in its entirety, as he is at Kendal Calling) and Mr Tumble. You know you've made it when that happens.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lips (dis)service

As good as it is to see the new Flaming Lips album Oczy Mlody getting positive reviews, I've struggled to agree with the terms in which the praise has been framed. Both Drowned In Sound and the Quietus have hailed it as a return to the sound that characterised their commercial peak in the late 90s/early 00s. I've never been quite as rabid a fan of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots as others have, but The Soft Bulletin is an absolute beauty of an album and Oczy Mlody's lead single 'The Castle' certainly suggests the comparisons aren't wide of the mark. So you'd think I'd be pleased, right?

Well, I am - to an extent. What I don't approve of, though, is the parallel "return to form" narrative, and the consequent trashing of preceding albums Embryonic and especially The Terror. Drowned In Sound's Jack Doherty is particularly scathing about the latter, describing it as "rid[ding] the group of everything that made them great, stripping away the pop hooks in favour of prog-inspired meanders into a world less interesting than 'real life'". While it's true that its minimalism and relentlessly bleak outlook (no doubt coloured by the fact that Wayne Coyne was in the process of getting divorced) make it a striking contrast from the rest of their output (The Soft Bulletin in particular), I surely can't be alone in thinking The Terror is a terrific record in its own right?

In any case, the purported contrast between The Terror and Oczy Mlody is nowhere near as sharp as those two reviewers claim - the latter has more in common with the former's ambient soundscapes than they seem prepared to admit.