Friday, September 30, 2016

Easel listening

It's my annual jaunt down to the south coast for Southsea Fest this weekend - amazing how quickly it comes around. After a year off last year (when the gap was plugged by the slightly smaller-scale Dials), it's back and boasts a large and varied line-up headed by British Sea Power across a range of stages and venues, all for the bargain price of £20.

One of my highlights two years ago were Ultimate Painting, who at the time had only recently released their self-titled debut LP. Two years on, and Jack Cooper and James Hoare are already onto their third, with Dusk - the follow-up to last year's Green Lanes - hitting shops today. According to the duo, interviewed by Noisey, it's a step away from its predecessors, with a more stripped-back sound. It also sounds as though both of their original bands, Mazes and Veronica Falls respectively, are no more, so they can dedicate all of their energies to this project.

Clearly I've got some catching up to do...

A shore thing

The ATP weekenders may be no more, but there are clearly some people who still (rightly) believe in the concept. Somehow the existence of Rockaway Beach, taking place at Butlins in Bognor Regis next weekend, had completely bypassed me but - aside from one or two to-be-avoided acts (Suede and St Etienne) - the line-up is pretty decent, featuring Killing Joke, Wire, The Wedding Present, Cats Eyes, Clinic, Yuck, Blanck Mass, Black Honey, Membranes, FEWS and Jane Weaver.

This is actually the second event, following up a successful debut last year. On the strength of the idea and the bill, here's hoping that it becomes a fixture and that one day I might be able to afford to go to a proper festival again...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The ugly side of the beautiful game

Thanks very much to the Telegraph's investigative team for making it an extremely, er, interesting time to be editing a book on football management that features managers, players and agents musing anonymously on the murkier side of the industry...

High points in history

Both "representative of spatial economy and a symbol of power", skyscrapers have dominated skylines around the world for more than a century. ArchDaily has picked 17 of the most significant and influential and told their stories.

As a building typology initiated and popular in US cities, it's perhaps unsurprising that most of those selected are American - but it might have been nice to have had more examples from Latin America and the Middle and Far East.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Here we are now - entertain you?

Everyone else may have been marking the 25th anniversary of the release of Nevermind, but the Sounding Bored crew simply didn't feel we could let it pass by without following suit. That LP - the very definition of seminal - is the focus of discussion for Episode 9, recorded on Monday night and now up online.

While we explore the places (literal and metaphorical) that Nevermind sprang from, look at the album itself and consider its cultural resonance and legacy (one that continues to this day), we also take a personal perspective - for both myself and guest David, the record's release was a complete year zero, a seismic event that was quite literally life-changing.

While we may have broadly agreed on Nirvana, the three of us had divergent views on Angel Olsen's new LP My Woman and most definitely on Nick Cave's latest, Skeleton Tree...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Quote of the day

"'Just play one note', Sonic had advised us as we travelled down the M1. 'Keep it simple. One note. No fancy stuff.' By 'fancy stuff' he meant two notes. Anything beyond that was pointless."

Spacemen 3 bassist Will Carruthers recalls a memorable set in the foyer of an arts centre in Brentford, in an excerpt from his memoir Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands published by the Guardian.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"There was the potential of a better, more thoughtful book here, one that delved into the complexities of creating art with someone of great troubles and transcendence. If only Love had taken some time in his 75 years to consider writing it. But, ladies and gentlemen of the court, Mike Love's surname is the kindest thing about him. His memoir leaves him neither vindicated nor convincingly tolerable as a human being."

Thus concludes Stacey Anderson's hugely entertaining dissection of Mike Love's new book Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy on Pitchfork.

Love was the subject of some discussion in Episode 7 of Sounding Bored, when we celebrated Pet Sounds' 50th birthday. This review merely further corroborates the existing evidence that Love is a bitter, egotistical, money-grabber.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Long live the King

Nightshift doesn't usually cover tribute bands, so I'm pleased to have been able to break with tradition and squeeze a review of Elvana's recent show at the Academy into the October issue. The mash-up of Elvis and Nirvana is evidence of their good taste, even if dropping 'Love Me Tender' into the middle of 'Rape Me' perhaps isn't...

Meanwhile, the cover star is Ally Craig of Bug Prentice, whose new EP (simply titled EP) is released next month. Elsewhere, both of my fellow Sounding Bored panellists Rob and Niall are represented - Niall's band The Beckoning Fair Ones get a glowing live review from Matthew Chapman Jones, while Rob has reviewed the Besnard Lakes' August show, which sadly proved somewhat underwhelming. Among the listings are previews of gigs by FEWS and Amber Arcades, both of which I'll be at with my reviewer's hat on.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Blood on the tracks

Given that Ayrton Senna died in 1994, it's amazing that it took until 2010 for his story to be made into a film - though not quite as amazing as the film in question, Asif Kapadia's Senna.

After all, the three-times Formula 1 World Champion's life had all of the elements of a classic Hollywood narrative: a fascinating character single-minded in the pursuit of success, engaged in intense and bitter struggle with a friend turned foe (Alain Prost), battling valiantly to overcome gross injustice (as a victim of both Prost's cynicism and the petty and partisan judgements of Prost's fellow Frenchman, FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre) and ultimately succumbing to a tragically premature death in front of thousands of spectators and a TV audience of millions.

In view of the subject matter, you might argue that it would be hard for Kapadia to have done a bad job - and he certainly didn't, exhibiting a masterful use of archive footage, interview segments, voiceover and music in illuminating the key moments in Senna's professional life.

Senna was - appropriately enough, given his chosen occupation - a very driven person, dissatisfied with the prospect of resting on his laurels and absolutely compelled to keep going, as though racing was vital to his sense of self-esteem and self-identity. Unlike many Brazilian footballers, he wasn't from an impoverished background (far from it) but was profoundly patriotic at a time when most of his countrymen felt ashamed rather than proud of their nationality, and helped to bring much-needed joy to the people and raise the profile of the country internationally. After his death, his sister Vivianne set up the Ayrton Senna Foundation, a charity that supports the education of poor Brazilian children - a tribute that Senna (unusually humble for a Formula 1 driver) would have appreciated.

Prost, meanwhile, was cast as the pantomime villain, a 1980s-permed gnome, a Machiavellian Leo Sayer who knew very well how to play the political game. When Senna first joined Prost's McLaren team, the pair enjoyed a healthy rivalry but, with Prost growing irritated by the Brazilian trespassing on his turf, the relationship descended into outright warfare. In many ways Prost was the victor, dragging Senna down to his level and the art of the tactical collision.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Prost objected to his depiction in the film, expressing particular irritation that the reconciliation between the pair that took place prior to Senna's death wasn't explicitly flagged up. However, scriptwriter Manish Pandey defended the film from that particular charge, pointing to numerous implicit indications that the pair's enmity was over by the time Senna suffered his fatal crash - not least Prost's presence at the funeral. In any case, anyone who regularly bad-mouthed the eponymous hero of a film is never likely to come out of it smelling of roses.

Despite the fact that Senna's ultimate fate is well known and casts a shadow over the whole film, imbuing everything with added resonance and poignancy, the inevitable conclusion nevertheless packs a powerful emotional punch. The strategy of flitting between footage of family and friends with Senna and shots of them in mourning at his funeral is simple but devastatingly effective.

I'm certainly no Formula 1 fan, and have been known to mock a former colleague who has an oil painting of Senna hanging over her mantelpiece - but when Kapadia's film finished I found myself suddenly inclined to get an easel, a canvas, a set of brushes and some paint and start creating my own tribute.

As for Kapadia, he went on to do Amy, which told the story of the troubled singer Amy Winehouse, another iconic figure who died prematurely. Supersonic, his new film about Oasis' rise to superstardom in the mid-1990s released next month, will buck the trend - unless you consider the death of Britpop tragic. Which I don't. Still probably worth a watch, though.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"What does the left have apart from Corbyn at the minute?"

Of all the victims of Labour's recent purge ahead of the leadership election, Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson was probably the least likely to take it sitting down - and, sure enough, this article for the New Statesman underlines his anger and frustration at being disqualified.

Like many people, Williamson signed up despite being neither "a huge fan of Labour" or "an ardent socialist", but simply as someone who feels Jeremy Corbyn "speaks a lot of sense" and deserves the opportunity to lead the opposition without backbiting and sabotage from within his own party. Williamson is absolutely right to be indignant that he's paid his money and yet is now being barred from voting in the election on spurious grounds - and that it's people like Owen Smith and Hilary Benn who are destroying the party, not Corbyn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Standard practice

Ever wondered where building standards came from? It's a mystery even to many architects. As Daniel Richards explains, though, they were essentially invented by a pioneering Bauhaus architect called Ernst Neufert, who was fascinated by mass production and inspired by the standardisation of paper sizes and the myriad ramifications this had.

Unfortunately, the visionary result, Neufert's Octametric system, was initially put to work in service of the Nazis - but the Allies found it too useful to resist adopting themselves in the course of rebuilding Germany after the war.

(Thanks to Alan for the link.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What makes her a woman

Not yet acquainted with Angel Olsen? Here's a great introduction, courtesy of Pitchfork's Jillian Mapes, to the one-time Bonnie "Prince" Billy collaborator whose last two LPs have been so spectacularly good as to completely transcend that past. The most recent, MY WOMAN, a stylistically varied exploration of womanhood and identity, will be the featured album on Episode 9 of Sounding Bored, due to be recorded next Monday.

The main topic of conversation for that podcast, incidentally, will be Nirvana's Nevermind, its forebears and its legacy. No doubt our conversation will be coloured by the revelation that Kurt Cobain, previously presumed dead, is actually alive and well, and still performing.

(Thanks to David for the second link.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Every day feels like a gamble"

The next time you think you've got a tough job, spare a thought for the life of a community mental health nurse. It's a wonder anyone has the fortitude and resilience to do the job in any circumstances, let alone at a time when the government are not only failing to offer support but actively decimating such services.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

The white death

There aren't many signposts marking the way on Mount Everest, and those that are there are rather macabre. Still, I suppose that if you did die in the pursuit of the glory of completing an ascent and descent of the summit, then you might be glad to know your death would serve to help climbers to avoid a similar fate themselves.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Feel good hits of the 18th September

1. 'All Apologies' - Nirvana
It really shouldn't have taken the world's finest Elvis-fronted Nirvana tribute band to remind me how powerful Nirvana were and how brilliant this song is, but it did. Two weekends in a row.

2. 'Sister' - Angel Olsen
I was doubtful that MY WOMAN could possibly match up to Burn Your Fire For No Witness - but you know what? I think it does. 'Sister', the LP's third single, features the sort of climax that is all the more richly satisfying for stealing up stealthily without detection.

3. 'I Walk For Miles' - Dinosaur Jr
32 years old and counting, but Dinosaur Jr are still coming out with riffs for which the adjectives "gnarly" and "killer" were invented. Hands up those who remain delighted that J Mascis and Lou Barlow managed to patch things up.

4. 'Ladyfuzz' - Kamikaze Girls
Taken from debut EP Sad, 'Ladyfuzz' was inspired by singer Lucinda Livingston's recent mental health problems. Anything that brings such problems out into the open is to be applauded - especially when it sounds this damn good. Cheers to Dave of Big Scary Monsters for the tip.

5. 'Familiar Patterns' - PUP
More punk, but this time of a less thought-provoking nature. One for fans of Japandroids and Beach Slang, though those vocals might be offputting, beamed in from a West Coast pop-punk band (even though they're actually from Toronto). Maybe it's just because I've been listening to Pinkerton a lot recently, but this track seems to be in a similar ballpark. (I'm duty-bound to point out that PUP's The Dream Is Over was our featured album on Episode 8 of Sounding Bored.)

6. 'Burn The Witch' - Radiohead
If there's a better song/video combination this year, then I promise I'll start telling everyone that King Of Limbs is a good album.

7. 'Ran Ran Run' - Pavo Pavo
Missing Grizzly Bear? Here's something to keep you happy, courtesy of Simon of Sweeping The Nation. Dreamy loosely psychedelic indie rock that shifts gear disarmingly though not unsuccessfully. It's not new, mind, the Brooklyners having released it as a single in May last year.

8. 'Deep Six Textbook' - Let's Eat Grandma
They'll suck you in with the name, and then keep you transfixed with the song. 'Deep Six Textbook' is pretty remarkable stuff for a pair of 17-year-olds from Norwich - weirdo post-XX gloom-pop.

9. 'Darkside Stare' - Basic Vanilla
Dark, twisted techno: the first fruits of the new side project of Matthew Rozeik, one half of Necro Deathmort (and an acquaintance of mine). This reached my ears at the right time - when, thanks largely to Factory Floor, I seem to be having a midlife crisis and discovering techno exactly when I should be going the other way and becoming an Americana bore.

10. 'And Why Not?' - Higher Authorities
Thanks to Ian for tipping me off about Higher Authorities, who include members of cult Domino band Clinic in their ranks. 'And Why Not?' certainly isn't bad, but it just leaves me wanting to stick a Clinic record on.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Roald: gold

To mark Roald Dahl Day (his 100th birthday), which fell on Wednesday, Michael Rosen wrote for The Big Issue about the peculiar thrill and excitement that inevitably followed the revelation that there was a new Dahl book on the way.

On the surface, his books seemed to break all the supposed rules for children's fiction. As Rosen notes, they were "outrageous", studded with grotesque and scheming characters, and incidents that "were so extraordinary or odd that we would perhaps wonder how he had got away with putting it in a book for children". Moreover, while there was undoubtedly a moral element to some or even most of the stories (the good ending happily and the bad unhappily, essentially), there was apparently little room for reform and redemption.

And yet despite these elements - or, more likely, because of them - his books were phenomenally popular with kids. It must have been enough to give many a conservative educator a headache.

(Thanks to Lucy for the link.)

Quote of the day

"If you look at our 2015 manifesto, Theresa May has announced it all in the first months of being prime minister - grammar schools, fracking, Brexit means Brexit, controlling immigration. The things that made me resolutely Ukip are the things that Theresa May is doing now."

Alexandra Phillips, who ran UKIP's media operations for three years in support of Nigel Farage, explains why she's defected to the Tories - and in doing so delivers an inadvertently damning verdict on the direction the Tories are taking under May.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"I'm getting too old"

Sticking to your principles can be wearying, as even Thom Yorke seems to have conceded. In a recent interview on Radio 1, he was open about the fact that he no longer has the energy for coming up with creative album release strategies to "circumvent the monsters" - a slightly surprising admission, given the way the last two Radiohead albums In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool as well as his own most recent solo effort Tomorrow's Modern Boxes have found their way into the world:

While Radiohead are probably still some way from appearing at V Festival and soundtracking adverts, I do wonder whether those "monsters" might include Spotify and whether the band might accept defeat or (in the terms set out by Gang Of Four's Dave Allen) stop sticking their heads in the sand and acknowledge the existence of new markets by reluctantly embracing the brave new world of streaming.

(This conveniently gives me another excuse to plug Episode 8 of Sounding Bored, on which we discuss all of the issues surrounding streaming and make mention of the stances taken by Yorke and Allen.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Myths of the near past

I promise I won't bang on about this, but ... I've got a chapter appearing in a forthcoming book, Throwback 2007. The volume is about the music released that year and is edited by my Kiwi pal, wordsmith and inveterate list-maker Nick Ascroft. My contribution tells the story of ex-Arab Strap man Malcolm Middleton's unlikely bid for the Christmas #1 spot. Here's Nick saying nice things about it (as well as talking about the concept for the book, the art of making lists, the vagaries of musical fashion and personal taste, and his own poetry) in conversation with Pip Adam on the Better Off Read podcast.

Men of distinction

Having trouble distinguishing between all of the middle-aged white men in Theresa May's new cabinet? Here's Buzzfeed's Hannah Jewell to help.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Quote of the day

"[If] these terrifying criminals tell you to do something you do it, so we had a conga of convicts snaking around the jail. They all seemed to find it hilarious and everyone joined in. It lifted the gloom somewhat. All the murderers and drug dealers wanted to be my mate. It was all the time. Everyone wanted to sing 'Agadoo' with me. It was surreal singing the party song about pushing pineapples and shaking the tree in such grim circumstances, but people were obsessed. At night when we were all in our cells, the entire wing was singing in chorus: 'Agadoo doo doo'. I thought the prison officers would be angry but they found it hilarious."

Black Lace frontman Dene Michael Betteridge talking about the time he recently spent at Her Majesty's pleasure after being found guilty of benefit fraud. As requests go, wanting to hear 'Agadoo' is akin to asking to be waterboarded.

(Thanks to Will for the link.)

"I'm a pillar of my community"

Good news, Jezza: if a black metal legend can get himself accidentally appointed to a town council in Norway despite explicitly asking people not to vote for him, then you certainly can't be considered unelectable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Looking the other way

Fifteen years on from the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the identity of the Falling Man - captured in photographer Richard Drew's extraordinary yet horrific image - remains a mystery. In an article for Esquire, Tom Junod tells the tale of someone who is now "falling through more than the blank sky. He is falling through the vast spaces of memory and picking up speed".

Monday, September 12, 2016

"When did I become a figure of pity?"

I haven't seen 20,000 Days On Earth let alone Nick Cave's new film One More Time With Feeling, which was screened across the country on Thursday in advance of the release of the new Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree - but my former colleague (and Nick nut) Sam has, and what's more he's written about it for the London Review Of Books.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Quote of the day

"So Brexit means Brexit means Britain leaving the EU. ... We will be creating beacons and roundtables of organisations. There will be challenges but these are opportunities and everything will basically be fine once we've got round to thinking about it with the brightest and best minds in Whitehall, though obviously there can be no room for complacency."

Thanks to Brexit minister David Davis for setting my mind at ease and explaining the government's carefully considered and exhaustively detailed strategy for managing the process of withdrawing from the EU.

In one short bit of waffle, Davis managed to utter meaningless tautologies ("Brexit means Brexit"), spout bullshit buzzwords with the same earnestness and lack of self-consciousness as The Thick Of It's Stewart Pearson ("creating beacons and roundtables of organisations"), lapse into the language of bad job adverts/applications ("challenges" and "opportunities") and make an attempt at reassurance that couldn't be any less reassuring ("everything will basically be fine"). It's quite an achievement.

In fairness to Davis, he was only really taking his cue from his prime minister, who herself told a press conference at the G20 summit: "The reason I've been saying Brexit means Brexit is precisely because it means it does."

For a sharper skewering of all this waffle and linguistic obfuscation, here's John Crace writing for the Guardian.

(Thanks to Marc for the link.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The lost girl

As Stuart Heritage's review for the Guardian suggested, Fleabag was not - "on paper" - a terribly appealing proposition. But it proved to be one of the best sitcoms I've seen for years.

Written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag began life as a ten-minute slot at a London storytelling night and developed into a critically acclaimed solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe, later transferring to the Soho Theatre. The titular character, played brilliantly by Waller-Bridge, initially comes across as insecure, sex-obsessed and manipulative but nevertheless essentially a loveable rogue. (Her real name is never revealed, so she's only known by her nickname - and thus her actions seem like evidence of nominative determinism.) Many of the laughs come from her bitter jibes and schemes, as well as from her insatiable carnal appetite and awkward sexual encounters, while there is also plenty of cringe-comedy.

Over the course of the six half-hour episodes, though, Fleabag gradually reveals hidden depths and a tragic backstory, as the narrative arc takes the viewer off into a very dark place. It's a risky strategy, not least because the laughs have all but disappeared by the final episode, but - as, for instance, with the most recent series of Rev - it's one that really pays off. Outwardly spiteful and selfish, Fleabag turns out to be as vulnerable, fragile and damaged as everyone else around her - and as much in need of love and kindness. As Waller-Bridge told the Guardian's Julia Raeside, "She has a heart. It's just broken."

Stylistically, Fleabag's most distinctive feature is the character's extensive use of asides to camera that none of the other characters can hear - all beautifully done by her Rada-trained creator. Raeside compared her to Ferris Bueller, but the frequently barbed, sneering and Machiavellian nature of her comments actually bring to mind Francis Urquhart in Michael Dobbs' House Of Cards. Given its critical function in the television adaptation, I'm intrigued to know whether the technique was also used in the stage show, or whether it was developed specifically for TV. (The fact that Peep Show's Jesse Armstrong is credited as a consultant perhaps suggests the latter.)

The title of the programme naturally focuses attention on Fleabag herself, and it is very much her story - but that shouldn't obscure the fact that she's surrounded by an extraordinarily good cast. Olivia Coleman is exceptional as a cruel smiling stepmother (is there anything she doesn't shine in?) and anyone surprised by Hugh Dennis' quietly sublime performance as a world-weary bank manager is thinking only of his appearances on epic banter panel show Mock The Week rather than his long-standing acting role in Andy Hamilton's Outnumbered.

It's hard to see there being a sequel - and, much as I might be craving more, perhaps that would be for the best. One thing's for sure: whatever Waller-Bridge does next will have all eyes on it.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Knight Night czar in shining armour?

Night czar: it might sound like a superhero's adversary, but it's to be hoped that whoever fills the role - newly created by London mayor Sadiq Khan, with a deadline for applications of Monday - can perform superhero-esque feats in reversing the worrying trend that has seen huge numbers of nightclubs and live music venues close their doors across the capital (and indeed across the country) in recent years. The issue is once more in the news with Fabric losing its licence, but less high-profile closures are taking place on an almost daily basis.

While it's encouraging that there will be someone dedicated to fighting the venues' corners (something that all cities would benefit from), it's disappointing that the job is only two and a half days a week, and it remains to be seen whether the czar will be granted sufficient clout to actually be able to make a significant impact. You'd certainly hope he or she would be able to make more of a difference than Goldie would by melting down his MBE in protest...

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Whoop whoop!

Being of an older generation and never really listening to radio, I rarely knowingly consume mainstream pop these days, so the phenomenon of the "Millennial Whoop" is largely alien to me - though it's disappointing to note that CHVRCHES have succumbed to a trend that I'm sure I would find irritating given sufficient exposure to it.

(Thanks to Alan for the link.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"So all you over-privileged, economically disadvantaged and socially unpersecuted white cisgendered males out there, I say this: I'm sorry you're suffering. I'm sorry you didn't choose to be born who you are.

I didn't choose to be born into a racially segregated patriarchy where menstruation and childbirth render me intolerant of your suffering, and where I'm statistically more likely to be raped, murdered or discriminated against than you.

But we all have our crosses to bear."

The Independent's Harriet Marsden responds to a laugable article claiming that straight, white men are the silenced victims of feminism. The original piece is particularly extraordinary for appearing in the Guardian (of all places) rather than the Daily Mail or the Telegraph.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Dead futures

It's a vexed issue, and one with which I've found myself grappling recently: is an obsession with (or even simply an interest in) so-called "ruin porn" ethically problematic? The New Statesman's Anoosh Chakelian suggests it possibly is - especially if you're a Westerner gazing at images of abandoned and/or derelict Soviet architecture and infrastructure and dwelling on their visual impact and aesthetic qualities alone, while failing to consider the lives of those who once inhabited the buildings or the repressive nature of the regime that constructed them.

Nevertheless, Chakelian does quote the defence offered by Will Strong, one of the curators of a new exhibition called Dead Space And Ruins, part of the Power & Architecture season at the Calvert 22 Foundation in London. Wary of the "fetishisation of dead space", he suggests that the dark history behind the images should not and cannot be ignored, and that the exhibition actually "looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn't been delivered".

Photographer Danila Tkachenko - whose Restricted Areas series is featured in the show (and was mentioned on this site recently) - broadly agrees, though suggests that the exhibition's message is even more pessimistic in outlook: "There is disappointment in all utopias".

All of which serves to remind me that a review of Mark Binelli's book The Last Days Of Detroit - in which ruin porn is discussed as a contentious phenomenon - is long overdue.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Monday, September 05, 2016

Sites for sore eyes ears

It's been a long time since I plugged any other blogs (shamefully long, really) - so consider this an attempt to start making amends. It's thanks to Sounding Bored that I've become aware of two music blogs that are not only excellent but also very regularly updated, The Album Wall and Dukla Prague Away Kit.

The Album Wall is run by Cardiff-based Joel Dear, whose recent review of Low's gig at the Tramshed in the city not only captured the magic of the Minnesotans' live show but also revealed that we have a mutual acquaintance, Graf (Spillers employee and Gindrinker guitarist), on whose strong recommendation Joel went along. Joel's own recommendations are well worth taking note of, and he doesn't just review gigs and albums - he's also recently interviewed Kate Jackson (formerly of The Long Blondes and now solo), for instance, and wrote a great post about "the trouble with streaming" that sums up most of my own issues with the format.

Dukla Prague Away Kit - which earns instant brownie points for being named after a Half Man Half Biscuit song - is the brainchild of Belfast-based blogger Phil and was named Blog Of The Week by the Guardian back in 2013. Recent posts have included reviews of Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and Dinosaur Jr's Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not; a piece on the early '90s "anti-grunge grunge" of Pavement, Polvo and Trumans Water; and the latest in the "Beer vs Album" series that pairs a particular beer with a particular album - in this case, Adnams Dry Hopped Lager vs New Order's Technique.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Food, (in)glorious food

Food is essentially our means of sustaining ourselves, but it's so much more than that - as Roald Dahl seems to have been only too aware. As Annalisa Quinn has noted in an article for Slate, in his writing "food is alchemy - magical, wonderful, dangerous, unmanageable".

His descriptions of various culinary creations and confections are so imaginative, rich and evocative that you can almost taste them on your tongue. However, gluttony, not pride, is the primary sin - the one that is hardest to resist and most likely to cause a character's downfall - as well as being the thing that, despite humans' belief in their own intellectual superiority, ultimately reduces us all to the level of animals.

(Thanks to Sophie for the link.)

The hard sell

Fretting over how to pronounce the, er, "unbelievably crazy" song titles on the forthcoming Bon Iver album 22, A Million? Don't fear - Justin Vernon has helpfully explained them, in the course of a press conference to debut the LP. After a full playback of the record, journalists were treated to an hour and 40 minutes of Vernon gushing about its "bombastic and exciting" nature, claiming to have invented a new instrument, dropping names and noting that Stevie Nicks (of whom a sample is used) wanted nothing to do with the album. I strongly suspect she had the right idea.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"It is Lord Of The Flies with NOS canisters and Native American headdresses because the memo about cultural appropriation has not yet reached Essex."

Drowned In Sound's Kate Solomon reports back from V Festival, which (as might have been expected) proved a gruelling ordeal. Surrounded by "young, selfish people" and subjected to Justin Bieber putting in a performance that would make a corpse seem lively, she ended up suffering something of an existential crisis.

Sex drive

Ever wondered why the A1 has a number of roadside sex shops? Here's Vice's Matt Blake to explain. Turns out the premises - often former Little Chefs - are in many ways ideal in terms of location (sufficiently far from schools and homes), size and ability to attract passing trade and afford relative anonymity to customers.

Less obvious to the untrained eye are the road's two swingers' clubs. Just be careful where you stop in search of a cup of tea or bed for the night, in case you end up with rather more than you bargained for.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Festive fifty

Congratulations to Nightshift editor Ronan Munro, whose 25 years of sterling service in support of the Oxford music scene have been officially recognised in the form of richly deserved inclusion in the WeGotTickets' INDIE50, which celebrates the contribution of 50 individuals to independent music in the UK.

He's in good company too, lining up alongside Jon Hillcock (Radio 6 Music DJ), Simon Williams (founder of the Fierce Panda label), Nathan Clark (owner of the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds), John Rostron (founder of the Swn Festival in Cardiff), the bookers for venues including the Cluny in Newcastle and King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, the people behind a host of promoters (Hey Manchester, Upset The Rhythm, Eat Your Own Ears, Now Wave) and - of course - Big Jeff, whose gig-going exploits in and around Bristol are the stuff of legend.

The September issue of Nightshift serves as a handy reminder of why Ronan's rightly at home within that esteemed company. The cover stars are Glass Animals, in whose first recorded offering he detected serious talent and promise, naming it Demo Of The Month, and who have since gone on to sell half a million copies of their debut LP as well as notch up 200 million streams on Spotify. History just goes to show that he has a proven track record of backing champion horses, so next time he gives a tip, make sure you take note.

Life after death

Back in May, reacting to the news that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds would be releasing a new album this month, I noted that for obvious reasons "it's a fairly safe bet it'll be a dark and difficult listen". The first taster of the forthcoming LP Skeleton Tree, 'Jesus Alone', certainly doesn't disappoint or surprise in that respect. A sombre, sinister meditation that appears to directly address the detail of the death of Cave's son Arthur and that picks up where 2013's Push The Sky Away left off, the song is without doubt one of the heaviest and most arresting things I've heard all year.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Rainbow warriors

It's heartening to know that, despite the closure of the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre earlier this year amid the swingeing cuts to local government budgets, Nottingham's annual Festival of Culture celebrating the life, work and times of arguably the city's most prominent creative type is still going ahead. If it wasn't, it would have made a mockery of Nottingham's recent designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The programme of events kicked off last night with a lecture by Andrew Harrison, the knowledgeable and personable director of the University of Nottingham's D H Lawrence Research Centre, which once upon a time I called home. His topic was "The Rainbow, female experience and suffragism" - and so the lecture will have hopefully been enlightening for anyone who holds the mistaken (or at least grossly simplistic) but unfortunately common view that Lawrence was nothing but a misogynist.

Kicking up a stink

When Japanese perfume company Kenzo commissioned Spike Jonze to make an advert, you'd assume they did so on the strength of (and in full knowledge of) his previous work - in which case, the result, which is very reminiscent of Jonze's iconic video for Fatboy Slim's 'Weapon Of Choice', shouldn't have come as any surprise. But I suspect it probably still did.

(Thanks to Ben for the link.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The "Quiet please!" life

If ever there was a job tailor-made for bibliophiles, it would be live-in superintendent at one of New York's most prestigious libraries. Sadly the position is no longer available - but at one time superintendents and their families really did live behind the stacks.

(Thanks to Nick for the link.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Difficult second album

A deliberately messy, abrasive, pained record that opens with feedback and stomping drums and chronicles its frontman's difficulty coming to terms with the runaway success of a breakthrough album beloved by MTV, manifested as anxiety and anhedonia: yep, it's not much of a stretch to suggest that Pinkerton is Weezer's In Utero. Here's an appraisal of Weezer's second LP and its unusual critical history (initially critically reviled and misunderstood, now widely lauded as their best) by Sam Lambeth of Louder Than War, to mark its twentieth birthday.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Civic pride

New towns: concrete abominations developed by myopic planners, with too many roundabouts and no soul or character - right? Not according to Bill Drummond (yes, he of The KLF and the K Foundation), whose love of new towns - chronicled in an article for Vice - sprang from a childhood move from Scotland to Corby. Such moves, common in the post-war era, marked an escape from "crowded squalor" to places of "quiet beauty".

That said, Drummond also recounts how and why he suddenly fell out of love with new towns - it was all Pete Winkelman's fault for not only moving Wimbledon lock, stock and barrel to Milton Keynes and changing their name to the MK Dons, but also for having the nerve to ask Drummond to compose and record an anthem for the team. It was never a commission that arch provocateur Drummond was ever likely to accept or even consider, other than with severe disdain.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

'Horn of plenty

RAGING SPEEDHORN / BY ANY MEANS / BURDEN OF THE NOOSE / BLACK SKIES BURN, 22ND JULY 2016, OXFORD WHEATSHEAF

Celebrating day release from the fetid dungeon that I like to imagine they call home, Black Skies Burn - Oxfordshire's four horsemen of the apocalypse - are here to ride roughshod over our ears with their unforgiving brand of thrash. It's saying something when the Extreme Noise Terror cover that closes the set feels a little like respite.

Burden Of The Noose, meanwhile, are proof that Birmingham continues to forge fine metal bands in its foundries. The short-notice stand-ins for Stoneghost are playing their first show of the tour with their own kit, and even a bassist down manage to up the ante with a set that is not so much intoxicating as asphyxiating, bringing intense pleasure but also the very real threat of imminent death.

"Come the fuck forward, I want you to fucking intimidate me", says the guitarist of hardcore crew By Any Means, a man with a Sick Of It All wifebeater and the physique of a 1970s wrestler. Not likely to happen anywhere, let alone in Oxford. Nevertheless, one of my unwritten rules of life is not to antagonise or disagree with someone whose neck is wider than his head, and so we're coaxed forwards reluctantly with the promise of a Motorhead cover, like a puppy wandering blindly into the blades of a combine harvester. The Troubles may be over, but Belfast is surely only peaceful when this mob are away on tour.

For a while, around the turn of the millennium, Raging Speedhorn often seemed like the sole credible standard-bearers for British metal, the only hope for salvation in the face of the US post-nu-metal invasion. Sadly, the pressure proved too much and they buckled, disbanding in 2008. But absence - as the saying goes - makes the heart grow fonder, and their reputation and legend continued to grow.

It's now two years since the Corby bruisers reformed - initially for only a handful of shows, just to see how it felt. It felt good. So good, in fact, that they recorded a split single with Monster Magnet, 'Halfway To Hell', and now have a new album out, Lost Ritual, on which the super-slo-mo heaviness of 'Ten Of Swords' - the sound of a woolly mammoth attempting to drag its hefty frame through a swimming pool full of gradually setting concrete - is a particular delight. Suffice to say they probably didn't spend their retirement making jam and tending to the garden.

As might be anticipated of a band who sound like a Nigel Tufnell side project and who have a song "about a midget we met in Manchester once", Raging Speedhorn are acutely aware of the innate ridiculousness of rock and refuse to take themselves too seriously, playing snippets of other songs and taking turns to have solos during the encore. What's more, they're able to roll with the punches - faulty lead, faulty mic, lead guitarist being wrestled off stage by an overenthusiastic fan - and come out smiling. As are we. It's not just earplug manufacturers who are pleased to have them back.

(An edited version of this review appears in the September issue of Nightshift.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"Boardroom kiss arse blue tick wankers"

"A wank mess"

"Catalogue band bollocks"

Just three of the choice labels ascribed to landfill indie act du jour, Blossoms, by Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson during a Twitter spat in May. It passed me by, but thankfully Alexis Petridis was on hand to alert me to its existence. I'm not sure there's anyone who can touch Williamson for a quality insult these days.

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

There's nowt so queer as folk traditions

The photos in Homer Sykes' 1977 book Once A Year may capture the unself-conscious and frequently joyous participation of ordinary British men and women in rituals that seem bizarre and ridiculous to the outsider, but to the modern viewer familiar with the likes of The Wicker Man, Hot Fuzz and the video for Radiohead's 'Burn The Witch' it's hard not to see some of them - such as the those of the Marshfield Mummers Paperboys and the Burry Man - as unsettling and sinister rather than quaint and innocent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Child's play

It's not like Evanescence ever had much goth cred, but they certainly don't have any now that Amy Lee has released a cheery children's album.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A time and a place

A curious and original graphic novel that developed out of a comic strip created for RAW back in 1989, Richard McGuire's Here tells the history and the future of one specific geographical spot - largely the corner of a room, though not merely that. The timescale stretches back as far as 3,000,500,000 BCE and runs through the era of the dinosaurs, through initial encounters between Dutch settlers and American Indian natives, through the house's construction, occupation and destruction, and on into the near future (2213, when a tour guide explains what a watch, a wallet and a key are to a bunch of bemused visitors) and distant future (22,175, when strange creatures and enormous flowers once again dominate the scene).

A regular contributor to the New Yorker and founder and bassist of no wave band Liquid Liquid, McGuire is clearly interested in the passage of time and its effects - as evidenced by the depiction of the ritual of having annual family photos, and by one panel showing the room being decorated followed by another showing the same wallpaper being stripped off years later. However, the panels generally don't appear in the strict chronological order that would create a linear narrative. On the contrary, McGuire uses juxtaposition and undertakes chronological jumps to tell stories that the reader often needs to piece together.

Neither are the individual panels themselves uniform. McGuire's trick of superimposing framed images from other years onto one larger background picture deliberately shatters the chronological coherence of a single panel, instead drawing parallels and teasing out threads between different years - perhaps the best case in point being the panel that shows the piano being played in 1964 and characters "simultaneously" dancing to its tune in 1932, 1993 and 2014.

As this clumsily expressed review might suggest, Here and its effectiveness are difficult to explain but it certainly rewards investigation and reflection.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Go west

For someone who still harbours hopes of one day returning to Cardiff, the Guardian's recent alternative city guide does a very good job of capturing the vibrancy of the place, namechecking some established favourites (Chapter, Clwb Ifor Bach, Gwdihw and Pipes craft brewery, for instance) and whetting the appetite for what newer delights might lie in store (Depot's Saturday Street Food Social events in particular).

Of course, the fact there is no mention of Spillers is inexcusable...

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Punk at the pictures

It's fair to say that when Thurston Moore recommends, I listen - especially after the list of his 38 favourite songs that he put together for The Fly. So when I came across another list, this time of his top ten punk films (as included in the August issue of the BFI's Sight & Sound magazine, a punk special), it was inevitable that my own must-see list would get longer.

The only one of Moore's recommendations that I've already seen is Anton Corbijn's Control (yes, I haven't even watched The Filth And The Fury) but Shellshock Rock (a documentary to accompany Good Vibrations, by the sounds of it), Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer and the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo (as mentioned in Michael Azerrad's brilliant Our Band Could Be Your Life) in particular sound worthy of investigation. He obviously couldn't resist a shout-out for old Sonic Youth ally Dave Markey - Lovedolls Superstar promises much, according to his precis, but does it really deliver? Guess there's only one way to find out.

One of my own tips would be the Ramones film End Of The Century, though my enjoyment of that documentary was probably coloured favourably by the fact that every time a new song came on in the cinema (the lavish Art Deco palace that is Birmingham's Electric Cinema) the mohicaned punk in the row behind us moshed so hard our seats were shaking.

Of course, it would be remiss not to mention Moore's own star turn in 1991: The Year Punk Broke, which covers Sonic Youth's tour for Goo, features a stellar supporting cast including Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr, and remains one of my most prized viewing pleasures.

(Thanks to Tony for the link.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Lord moves in mysterious amusing ways

"Leader Of Hate Group Who Says Disasters Punish Gays Has House Demolished By Floods". What a way to be outed, eh? You can't hide anything from the Big Fella Upstairs.