Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Treasures of the deep

The BBC's long reads are almost always well worth the effort. Take this one, for instance. I came for the tale of an extraordinary, incredibly expensive CIA plot involving a sunken Soviet sub, a ship equipped with "ingenious devices straight from a Bond film" and an elaborate cover story that fooled the world. But I left with an insight into something I'd never previously heard of or considered: deep-sea mining.

What is clear is that it poses a serious quandary. On the one hand, the precious metals that mining the seabed could potentially produce would help to satisfy a demand that is steadily increasing due to the growing popularity of electric cars and the development of environmentally friendly technologies. But on the other, deep-sea mining would almost certainly involve churning up sediment and destroying sites of rich biodiversity about which barely anything is known. The former argument, you suspect, will win out, simply because there are evidently enormous profits to be made.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"A privilege to open this window into the past"

There are a whole host of reasons for the fascination with buying and developing old rolls of used film, as the Guardian's Amelia Tait found.

It's not just a voyeuristic interest in other people's lives (though that does undoubtedly come into it) - it's also the thrill of potentially discovering something of historical, cultural or social import; it's the pleasure of "being the first person to ever see these images" (as one enthusiast Levi Bettwieser puts it); it's the desire to save personal items with sentimental value from being completely lost; it's like bringing ghosts to life (to paraphrase another fan, Jack Jewers).

As Tait points out, in the pre-digital, pre-cameraphone era "every roll ... was mystery film - most of us didn't know which pictures would come out, how we were going to look, or which shots would have a blurry finger in the corner, cutting off half the photograph". Perhaps that helps to explain why the forgotten film fans she quotes are all relatively young, in their 20s and 30s - perhaps it's a yearning for a form of excitement that we've lost with the immediacy of digital photos.

Of course, developing these films only generates more questions. Why had the rolls been discarded or neglected? Who's in the photos? Who took them, and why? Bettwieser clearly enjoys the hunt for clues: "When you're taking a picture of someone in your house, you think you're taking a picture of them but what's around them tells a greater story. You look and try and piece together a story of who those people are."

Given the last word by Tait, Bettwieser does a good job of encapsulating the value of photos generally, even if the subject matter is ostensibly trivial or meaningless or the people in front of or behind the camera have been long forgotten: "I try and look at every image I rescue as if I'm looking at it in 50 years - everything I rescue is history. People hold on to rolls of film for years and years in the back of a drawer, because we all know that pictures are history, whether it's just a birthday party or not. Pictures are our only defence against time, our only evidence, sometimes that we ever even existed."

Monday, November 11, 2019

Deconstruction site

To mark the 40th anniversary of the release of The Pop Group's Y, Mute have put out a special reissue - and Treble have published this excellent article in which Jeff Terich and the band members themselves explain what made (and indeed makes) it such an extraordinary album. The LP as a whole is much the same as how Terich describes 'We Are Time': "On the surface it feels like chaos, but its elements all come together into one collision of strange, violent, extraterrestrial joy."

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The end of the road

I might already have written at length about Glenn Edwards' photographic project Route A47zero, but the exhibition's move to the city where the much-loved Welsh highway ends (or begins, depending on your perspective) certainly merited further promotion.

It was great to see the pictures in the flesh on Thursday, and to meet Glenn himself - as well as to pay a long-overdue first visit to the exhibition venue, the Andrew Buchan, a pub that landlord John is clearly determined to make a characterful cultural hub. Anywhere that puts on Gindrinker and has evenings solely dedicated to surrealist film and krautrock is pretty much guaranteed to get a thumbs up from me.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Black magic?

If there's one thing you're guaranteed by taking a look at the Quietus' monthly round-up of metal releases, it's some spectacular band names and album and song titles. Take September's edition, for example, which served up Witch Vomit and Cerebral Rot, whose LP Odious Descent Into Decay features such ditties as 'Reeking Septic Mass' and 'Swamped In Festering Excrementia' - the latter a comment on the state of the nation, one presumes. Surely they can't be doing this with a straight face?

Kez Whelan begins the round-up with critical reviews of the month's three biggest releases (Tool, Slipknot and Entombed) and offers only a lukewarm assessment of Russian Circles' Blood Year, an album that I really enjoyed.

I've given the two records he's most enthusiastic about - Ghold's Input>Chaos and Uniform & The Body's collaboration Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back - a try. Neither could be accused of lacking distinctive character or sticking rigidly to a formulaic genre, but personally speaking that's about as much as can be said for them.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Expert analysis

Academics regularly stand accused of living in ivory towers, cut off from society and content to bumble along in their own little world. Funny, isn't it, how those who make such accusations are also often those who routinely dismiss or simply ignore the findings of academic studies that could and should have a significant impact beyond the research community - something encapsulated in Michael Gove's infamous claim that people have "had enough of experts".

This article on the Transforming Society site celebrates the fact that Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, drew on work published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice in compiling his condemnatory report on contemporary conditions in the UK. The report garnered some press attention and gave ammunition to opposition MPs.

However, what the piece doesn't mention is the predictably depressing response of the Tories, who quibbled with Alston's findings and criticised his language/tone rather than actually engaging with the substance of the report or giving serious consideration to the recommendations. As long as they remain in government, it's hard to foresee a shift from ideology-based policy making to evidence-based policy making - a shift that we so desperately need.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

"I don't need to explain what I do or how I do it"

It probably doesn't help matters that I hate 'Brown Eyed Girl' with a passion and have never listened to Astral Weeks, but Van Morrison really does come across as a monumental prick in this interview with the Guardian's Laura Barton - all 16 minutes and 28 seconds of it.

Doing press must be tedious at times (as I've acknowledged previously, in relation to St Vincent's "interview kit"), but journalists are at least entitled to basic courtesy and respect. According to Morrison, Barton asking straightforward uncontentious questions constitutes "a psychiatric examination". I'd hate to see how he behaves in response to someone who isn't a self-confessed superfan - or at least was before meeting him.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Signs of the times

As a backer myself, it was heartening to hear that the British Culture Archive's crowdfunding appeal has succeeded in raising the targeted £10,000 needed to (among other things) open a permanent exhibition space for the People's Archive in Manchester - and to see that the news has been picked up by the BBC, which can only help to spread the word about this fantastic project.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"A message to my many friends in the UK: a large percentage of the population of the United States of America never can afford to see a doctor because health insurance is prohibitively expensive. This man is trying to kill you and your family."

Who would have thought that Curtis Stigers would end up being a musician worth listening to (here savaging Nigel Farage on Twitter) and that Morrissey would be a moronic racist best ignored?

Friday, November 01, 2019

Desert sessions

One minute I was carving a Halloween pumpkin, the next Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising was playing in my head, the next I was watching (for the first time) the footage of the band's January 1985 performance in the Mojave Desert as part of a gig billed as the Gila Monster Jamboree. The performance of 'Death Valley '69' in particular is something special.

This Dangerous Minds post by Oliver Hall tells the story of the legendary "not-totally-legal" show, whose line-up also featured Meat Puppets, Redd Kross and Perry Farrell's pre-Jane's Addiction band Psi Com and whose audience had ingested a lot of LSD.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

This is England

Inspired by J B Priestley's book of the same name, John Angerson's photo series English Journey takes the viewer on a contemporary tour of our not-so-great nation. Brexiteers may have us believe that England is still an idyllic 1950s picture postcard of warm beer, vintage cars and cricket on village greens - but the truth is that it's much more one of grubby plastic garden furniture, horses grazing on industrial estate scrubland and neon McDonald's signs glimpsed through drizzle-patterned Travelodge windows.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Massage Celebrate the history

Prompted by the release of her new LP No Home Record, Spin's Andy Cush has published an article entitled "13 Best Sonic Youth Songs That Put Kim Gordon Center Stage".

His selection includes a number of real gems that are undisputable high points of the band's career, let alone Gordon's own: 'Shadow Of A Doubt', 'Pacific Coast Highway', 'Cross The Breeze', 'Tunic (Song For Karen)', 'Kool Thing', 'Little Trouble Girl'. Of the less celebrated songs, 'Jams Run Free' is an interesting choice. I certainly like but have never quite loved the album on which it appears, Rather Ripped, and Cush's comments make me inclined to listen again.

Of course, this being a listicle and me being a blog-writing music nerd, I can't refrain from raising a few personal quibbles. While 'Swimsuit Issue' is a solid pick, by far and away the best Kim-fronted song on Dirty, surely, is 'Drunken Butterfly' - a song I've previously described as "a quite glorious cacophonous headfuck explosion of noise that sounded to my wet-behind-the-ears ears like something that had been beamed in from another dimension", and one that subsequently proved absolutely critical in the formation/development of my musical tastes. Meanwhile, I approve of Cush's selection of 'Massage The History' but disagree with his assessment of The Eternal - indeed, I'd suggest that its opening track 'Sacred Trickster' would also be worthy of inclusion.

You might assume that Gordon - recently given the dubious distinction of being named a Q Hero - would be a bit miffed at the fact that her debut solo release has prompted someone to wax lyrical about former glories with her old bandmates. But in a tweet she's claimed to have enjoyed the nostalgia trip, describing her time in Sonic Youth as "magical": "I can now marvel at it and know nothing else will ever be like it."

Monday, October 28, 2019

World music

Want to know what the world's listening to? Give Radio Garden a go - it allows you to tune into live streams from digital stations all around the globe with ease, and even to eavesdrop on historical broadcasts.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Must-not-see TV

We've been treated to some fantastic TV this year: the second series of Fleabag and Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing, the latest installment of the documentary series Up, Alan Partridge's return to the BBC with This Time - not to mention many others, such as Chernobyl, that I haven't seen but that have had others raving.

By contrast, the programmes mentioned in this Guardian article by Sarah Dempster, which names and shames TV's four worst genres, won't be featuring in any best-of-2019 lists. Her targets are spot on, and skewered to perfection.

The Weekend Cookery Show? "Scallops in chino runoff. Steak in Lynx Sport Blast reduction."

The Costume Romp? "Rudimentary attempts at historical accuracy drowned out by budgetary bluster, clanging anachronisms and unnerving preoccupation with heritage hardbodies that, verily, doth turn even the most grandiose venture into Hollycloaks."

The Consumer Rights Programme? "Menacing exhortations to know your rights lest the heavens split asunder and ye be cast into the eternal fire of implied warranty (Hotpoint 3:16-17)."

And then there's the Cosy Detective Series. Even as a self-confessed semi-ironic fan of Midsomer Murders, I could only nod in amused agreement at the references to "the honeyed peal of garden implement against Home Counties skull" and "no immigrants to spoil the views". It's very true that they present the Daily Mail's vision of post-Brexit Britain, a return to a mythical past that is otherwise best glimpsed by walking around your average jigsaw shop.

Let's be thankful that all this dross exists, though - after all, if it didn't, we wouldn't be able to enjoy Dempster writing about it.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Royal: mint

It's a bold business model, to be sure: publishing a new book every week, each limited to just 250 copies and each for the price of little more than a pint. But that's just what Craig Atkinson has set out to do with Cafe Royal Books, whose black-and-white publications showcase the very best in post-war British documentary photography. If you want to gain an insight into how the nation has changed over the last 70 years - socially, culturally, economically - then you could do much worse than browse their back catalogue.

It was only recently that I came across Cafe Royal, thanks to their publication of Robin Weaver's South Wales In The 1970s, a selection of images from his 2015 book A Different Country - hopefully the subject of a forthcoming feature for Wales Arts Review.

But the archive is so extensive and impressive that I couldn't help but also order something else at the same time - just a wonder that I limited myself to one: Trevor Ashby's England 1970-1990: Work & Play. The photos contained within are both real and surreal, shot by someone with a keen eye for the absurd amid the everyday.

Few of them have failed to raise at very least a smile - from the picture with a big top in the background and a billboard advert showing an elephant being dragged along against its will in the foreground, to the image of the child in a Spiderman mask standing behind a similarly attired hockey goalkeeper, to the shot of the snooty-looking straw-boatered toff pictured next to a lorry emblazoned with the words "SEPTIC TANK & CESSPIT CLEARANCE".

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The weeping songs

Writing about Nick Cave's new LP Ghosteen for the New Statesman, Tracey Thorn declared that "it has floored me. In a good way". I know how she feels. From its first note, it's a jaw-dropping album, one that's hard to take in a single sitting. 'Waiting For You' is particularly incredible. Having found his last two records (Push The Sky Away and Skeleton Tree) impressive but quite hard to love, I'm already smitten with this one. Fingers crossed I'll be there when he and the Bad Seeds call in on Cardiff next May.

Thorn's article is wonderful in its own way - not a review as much as an unapologetically personal appreciation, in which she writes beautifully about the experience of listening to the record on early-morning autumn walks.

Cave, meanwhile, continues to post fascinating, thoughtful and sensitive responses to fan questions on his site The Red Hand Files - such as on harbouring regrets and saying goodbye (he admits to having had difficulty with the latter over the years, often preferring "to cut and run and not look back", without reflection or regret) and on negative self-image and vulnerability (a reply to a troubled teen that is a million times more eloquent and touching than that of your average agony aunt/uncle).

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sbwriel Gwyn: far from rubbish

In March last year, I went to one band's album launch gig and came away more enthused about another. The outfit in question, Los Blancos, had their own album launch gig towards the tail end of last month - unfortunately I couldn't go, but I did at least get to review the LP for Buzz. And a fine debut Sbwriel Gwyn is, too.

In a good month for new releases, the album round-up also features LPs by Richard Dawson, Foals, DIIV, Clipping, John and Moon Duo, while Noel's verdicts on demos from local types Clwb Fuzz and Seaside Witch Coven suggest considerable promise.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Jurassic Park!

Pity the poor sod who has to try and coax substantial answers out of J Mascis - in this case Rolling Stone's Kory Grow, who was dispatched to talk to (at?) the Dinosaur Jr frontman about the band's 90s output, which has just been reissued on Cherry Red. I'm not ashamed to dispense with any cooler-than-thou pretence and admit that I love their major-label albums much more than their grittier predecessors, so the interview was of particular personal interest.

As is often the way with artists, Mascis claims that his favourite of the four LPs is the one that is least widely celebrated, 1997's Hand It Over, which "seems to be the one that slipped through the cracks", not least because of a lack of label support. It wouldn't be my pick (that would be 1993's Where You Been) but he's absolutely right that more people should know about it. Just give 'Nothin's Goin' On' a listen and tell me it isn't on a par with anything on Without A Sound - or Where You Been, for that matter.

Credit to Grow for getting plenty more out of Mascis than might be expected - about everything from the breakdown of his relationship with Lou Barlow (now patched up) and the semi-legendary Rollercoaster tour (undertaken with The Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and, er, Blur for company) to the covers of Green Mind and Where You Been (the former a Joseph Szabo photo that Mascis first spotted in a book owned by Kim Gordon, the latter painted by an artist who was compelled to continue painting over his own work).

I didn't expect to ever "hear" him say "I wish cars still had the wood panelling", or that he was aware of Noel Fielding wearing a Without A Sound jumper on The Great British Bake-Off...

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Bringing death to life

Her most recent book, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, might have a kids-say-the-funniest-things title (unsurprisingly, given that it's structured around questions posed by children), but Caitlin Doughty's mission - "to dispel the West's fear of death" - does seem to be, as the Guardian's Marianne Eloise has put it, "a very admirable personal aim".

Talking and thinking more about death, Doughty suggests, can be constructive and enable people to be better psychologically equipped to cope with the inevitable. Children's natural curiosity about the subject (one that, as a parent, I've encountered regularly over the last three or four years...) means that such conversations should ideally begin at an early age.

Not only are many of us in the West in denial, we also rely on "cookie-cutter, bland death rituals" that offer little in the way of comfort or meaningful ceremony. In this respect, her pop-anthropology book From Here To Eternity - a survey of such rituals around the world - sounds like a potentially enlightening read.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Past imperfect

If it wasn't made explicit from the outset, I'd suggest that there's still something about these moody and evocative scratched photos created by Aletheia Casey that makes them unmistakably Australian.

Casey explains, "The images seek to uncover hidden atrocities through the disfigured and manipulated landscapes. The series considers how Australia's national identity has been informed by a manipulated version of history. My own manipulation and distortion of the imagery is a part of my personal attempt at coming to terms with the history of the country, leaving my own individual trace within the image and uncovering and revealing a more truthful version of history." As such, they would have been perfect for the flyposters for John Hillcoat and Nick Cave's film The Proposition or the cover of The Drones' Gala Mill.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Beauty pack

I love Low for many reasons - the latest being Alan Sparhawk's use of the band's Twitter account to rate other bands' abilities to pack away their gear into a van/car in a careful, efficient and aesthetically pleasing manner.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

He's still standing

I can't say I had much interest in reading Elton John's autobiography, but Hadley Freeman's review has changed all that. By the sounds of it, Me is a riot of colourful anecdotes and loose-lipped gossip, but its author is also (in Freeman's words) "utterly, astonishingly, hilariously self-lacerating". For every bitchy aside or candid comment about others, it seems, there's a sentence like "I sat around, wanking, in a dressing gown covered in my own puke". Consider me sold.

"I just show things as I find them"

Having seen Martin Parr's Return To Manchester in April, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that his next exhibition will be rather closer to home - Martin Parr In Wales opens at the National Museum in Cardiff on 26th October.

Judging by the comments Parr made in a recent interview with the Guardian's Stephen Moss, the title is just right. Unlike, for instance, Glenn Edwards' Route A47zero that I've recently written about, the show is not the coherent result of a concerted effort to "capture" Wales: "They're just pictures that happen to have been taken in Wales, and therefore by default are a portrait or interpretation of the country. There are places that aren't represented, but that's the point really. These are the pictures I've come across."

Parr spoke to Moss about gaining access to Magnum despite fierce opposition from some of its most famous members (including co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson) and his fondness for humour ("The world is funny, let's face it, and people are funny"). Particularly interesting was the explanation he gave for his obsession with photographing food - "We're being fed these lies constantly about how the world is represented" - which would equally stand as a pithy summary of the thesis behind his book on global tourism, Small World, which repeatedly underlines the disparity between myth and reality. I should add that until I read Moss' article I had no idea Parr was responsible for the BBC idents depicting various groups of enthusiasts momentarily freezing for the camera.

Moss notes that Tony Ray-Jones was a major influence on Parr's choice of subject matter and style, so it's fitting that not only has a Martin Parr Foundation exhibition of Ray-Jones' work just opened in Bristol, but that the Guardian have also published a gallery of his photos. I shouldn't really need an excuse to make a visit to the Foundation, but this certainly seems like a good one.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cutting remarks

Welcome news last week - or at least it was news to me, who admittedly may have been living under a rock: The Trip will be back on our screens soon, this time set in Greece.

Not that director Michael Winterbottom spent much time talking about it in his interview with the Guardian's Catherine Shoard, which focused predominantly on his new film Greed, also starring Steve Coogan. Understandably so, though. The film - in which Coogan plays an oily, obscenely wealthy Philip Green-style businessman - has been censored by Sony Pictures International, who helped to finance it and will now be responsible for distribution.

Apparently Sony were unhappy with the idea of naming and shaming specific people and fashion brands for their unethical conduct - which, by the sounds of it, rather softens the impact of what might otherwise be a hard-hitting satire. As someone used to getting his own way - he directed 9 Songs and managed to get it into mainstream cinemas, after all - Winterbottom is unsurprisingly somewhat miffed.

One can only imagine how Ken Loach would react in the same circumstances. He'd never get dare get into bed with the likes of Sony in the first place, you'd imagine - but in another Guardian interview, this time with Aditya Chakrabortty, he does express irritation at the way "[e]verything is micro-managed [now], by a whole hierarchy above the programme-makers". It is, he declares, "the enemy of creativity". No doubt Winterbottom would be inclined to agree.

Loach's latest film, Sorry We Missed You, very much picks up where I, Daniel Blake left off: a stark portrait of life in Austerity Britain, as experience in the north east of England. As you might expect, the trailer doesn't make it look like a very cheery watch - but if anyone has the skill to wring the drama out of the subject matter, then it's him.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Black Sabbath Saturday

BLACK FLAG / TOTAL CHAOS, 12TH OCTOBER 2019, CARDIFF TRAMSHED

Total Chaos come across as a bit of a cartoonish parody, a vision of what the headliners might have become had their growth stunted around the time of Damaged. The members have spiked their hair and surrendered their surnames for punk substitutes; the letter "A" in "CHAOS" on the backdrop banner is an anarchy symbol; the songs rail against cops, the lust for war and the US, branded "the most repressive dictatorship in the world" (Amnesty International might be inclined to disagree).

The showmanship and shredding guitar solos help to give Total Chaos' hardcore its distinctly LA flavour, as opposed to the smart, austere assault of Washington DC pioneers Minor Threat. The chaos is actually for the most part carefully controlled, except when the bassist comes perilously close to knocking over the guitarist's amp in his overexuberance. Nevertheless, the boots they repeatedly aim at your face rarely miss the intended target altogether, and they deserve credit for doggedly sticking to their guns for three decades.

Black Flag are the subjects of the very first chapter of Michael Azerrad's exceptional book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From The American Indie Underground 1981-1991, and with good reason. Having initially established themselves as a ferocious hardcore act, they quickly grew bored of the genre's paradoxical championing of personal and political freedom within a rigid form that demanded slavish adherence to musical and aesthetic rules. The second half of 1984's My War was their Dylan-goes-electric moment, its slowed-down sludge inspiring a whole generation - including Melvins, The Jesus Lizard, Kurt Cobain and Mudhoney's Mark Arm - to explore the fertile ground between metal/hard rock and punk.

In addition to putting out Black Flag's albums, guitarist Greg Ginn's labour-of-love label SST released influential records by everyone from Minutemen, Husker Du and Meat Puppets to Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Meanwhile, his brother Raymond Pettibon came up with the band's instantly recognisable logo, subsequently inked onto countless arms and sewn onto countless jackets, before going on to design the iconic cover of Sonic Youth's Goo.

Suffice to say, then, that anticipation for Black Flag's first UK tour in 35 years, even in the absence of any new material, is high.

Ginn may be the only original member, but then that's been the case for years - he is, to all intents and purposes, Black Flag - and from the moment the current line-up (vocalist Mike Vallely, bassist Tyler Smith and drummer Isaias Gill) rip into 'Depression' without a word of introduction, it's clear he's in very good company. Vallely in particular has huge shoes to fill, given that his predecessors include Henry Rollins and Keith Morris, but he does vein-popping intensity with aplomb, especially on 'Black Coffee'.

Ginn, though, is the focal point - an idiot savant guitar genius whose love of both three-chord punk and freeform jazz come through in his unique, uninhibited style. His bandmates regularly converge in a huddle around the drum riser to allow him to stand centre stage, wobbling his head from side to side before pausing to towel his face down and take a restorative sip from the teacup atop the amp.

Times may have changed - the sarcastic satire of 'Slip It In', for instance, feels dangerously open to misinterpretation - but 'Gimme Gimme Gimme' and 'Six Pack' stir up the moshpit much as they did in the band's youth. Total Chaos emerge to lend vocal support to a raucous 'Nervous Breakdown', but the night isn't quite over. A meandering cover of 'Louie Louie', performed while the crowd thins and hardcore purists grumble about the songs omitted from the set, simply peters out after about 20 minutes when Ginn decides he's had enough: the perfect punk gesture from the band who ripped up the rulebook.

(An edited version of this review first appeared on the Buzz website.)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Kim in conversation

With her debut solo LP No Home Record released on Friday, Kim Gordon has been subjecting herself to the media merry-go-round, interview features popping up left, right and centre.

In the course of her conversation with Mike Hogan for Vanity Fair, Gordon spoke about the serendipitous circumstances in which she met her key No Home Record collaborator Justin Raisen, her love of Lizzo and Bohemian Rhapsody, and the death of rock 'n' roll: "I think it kind of went out with a whimper. I mean, when you think about rock and roll, it was the music of rebelliousness, and where to you hear that in the culture now? I don't hear it anywhere. Except maybe in hip-hop or some alt-girl bands. And some noise music, but that's so far underground."

Despite being so often perceived as effortlessly exuding cool, Gordon claimed that only now, at the age of 66, is she finally feeling confident about her own artistic voice: "I can be anxious or kind of insecure, but when it comes down to it, I guess I act out of a feeling that I have nowhere else to go but forward. I just feel like that moment of expressing, or making something, is a way to lose oneself."

Perhaps even more surprising were her ambivalent comments about the #MeToo movement, which she argued "has made everything have to become black and white. That's just what happened, so all the more subtle dialogue about symbiotics and feminism, that whole aspect of feminism doesn't fit in anywhere now. I think people are confused."

Don't call her a feminist icon, though, as she told GQ's Gabriella Paiella: "People want to call me an icon and I want to back away from that because it makes me uncomfortable. Because it's something then that can become slogan-y. It doesn't feel right." They also spoke about naff inspirational/aspirational art and how transience and change are among No Home Record's key themes and, as in the Vanity Fair interview, Gordon claimed to have no regrets over the candour of her memoir Girl In A Band (which, rather embarrassingly, I still haven't read).

Meanwhile, in a feature for the New York Times, she showed off her exemplary taste in picking Neil Young's 'On The Beach' as her favourite song, principally for the key lines encapsulating the tension experienced by the insecure, shy performer: "I need a crowd of people / But I can't face them day to day."

What, though, of the new record itself? The Guardian's Laura Snapes is just one of the critics to have raved about it, but personally speaking I think it'll take some time to digest. What is evident is that 'Murdered Out', which emerged in 2016 as the first fruits of her collaboration with Raisen, is far from a rogue outlier, and that tracks like 'Sketch Artist' see her venturing into genuinely unfamiliar territory. Currently I'm clinging to the vaguely familiar - in particular the heavy-hitting punk chorus to 'Air BnB', which could be ripped straight from a Sonic Youth song.

Vanity Fair's Hogan asked Gordon whether her former band might ever play together again. "It doesn't look like it" was her reply. Thankfully, the solo output of the various members at least offers some consolation.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Shots on target

I might not actually be out supporting Non-League Day in person today, but I can at least share how the BBC have marked the annual event's tenth anniversary: with a gallery of images selected from When Saturday Comes' non-league archive. The photographers' focus is less on those on the pitch and more on those in the stands - the hardy souls whose loyalty and devotion, in the absence of absurdly wealthy benefactors, really does keep clubs at grassroots level alive.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ransom notes

It seems clear from the comments of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that not only were the discussions between the BBC and the government about funding free TV licences for the over-75s flawed on both sides, but the corporation also faces a big headache in the near future because the viewing habits of young people are undermining its existing revenue model.

However, the most telling comment in this news item on recent developments comes from former Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey: "There was a negotiation, there was a bit of give and take, but I do think looking back that it was wrong to impose on the BBC what was effectively a welfare policy and then to ask them to take responsibility for it going forward." While it's gratifying to hear a lone Tory finally admit what I and many others have been arguing for some time, it nevertheless remains to be seen whether the government will actually do the decent thing and make amends by stepping back in, rather than leaving the beleaguered Beeb, their customary punching bag, to carry the can.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Animal magic?

As much as I enjoyed this Pitchfork piece marking the tenth anniversary of the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion - and I honestly did - I can't help thinking that its author Larry Fitzmaurice rather overstates the case.

The album is indeed "inarguably Animal Collective's most purely listenable release, as lovely as a babbling brook with trippy textures befitting the album's organically psychedelic, Magic Eye-style cover art", a definite career high beloved by the critics. But did it really mark a breakthrough "to a level of collective pop consciousness"? In my recollection, it didn't register much beyond the internet and a few excitable music publications, certainly in the UK at least.

This is what makes Fitzmaurice's surprise at "Merriweather's own lack of projected influence on indie at large" rather odd. I, for one, was never under any illusions that it was anything other than an experimental LP by mainstream standards (even if not by their own). It didn't bring about the sort of significant seachange that Fitzmaurice claims it could (and maybe should have) simply because it wasn't visible, accessible or commercially successful enough.

There's also that troubling use of the label "indie". To my mind, Animal Collective could never be classified as such. Sure, Merriweather made concessions to listenability and threw pop into the blender, but they've always had far more in common with out-there noise acts like Black Dice and Wolf Eyes. Bracketing them in with Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors feels forced - they just happened to be three bands making fascinating, critically acclaimed music in the same place (Brooklyn) at the same time (the late noughties).

Finally, I'd take issue with Fitzmaurice's view that "Animal Collective's insistence on sticking to their oddness [in the wake of Merriweather] instead of seeking greater commercial glories remains quixotically impressive". He's right about their chosen course of action - but it would only be impressive (rather than stubborn and self-sabotaging) if the results were as good or better than Merriweather. Which, thus far, they haven't been.

The observation that "everything about Merriweather practically screams 'live'" amused me, given that it was witnessing them performing the album at Glastonbury 2009 that soured the whole thing for me. It remains one of my biggest musical regrets that I didn't stay to watch Neil Young's entire set and now have a jaundiced view of an album I loved.

Still, that's where Panda Bear's wonderful Person Pitch comes in. Fitzmaurice is spot on in identifying it as being in many ways the blueprint for Merriweather, "a collagist classic of sidelong Beach Boys-isms and kitchen-sink sonics". Discovering it came as something of a relief, given that Merriweather remains off-limits a decade on from that traumatic experience at Worthy Farm.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The long and winding road

It was about time I wrote something for Wales Arts Review, and photographer Glenn Edwards' Route A47zero project proved to be the necessary inspiration. I had a (virtual) chat with him about the limited-edition zine and the exhibition (currently at the Northern Eye Photography Festival in Colwyn Bay, and due to move to Cardiff's Andrew Buchan pub early next month), and this article is the result.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Gone - and in danger of being forgotten?

Writing about the Cardiff episode of Alice Roberts' Britain's Most Historic Towns back in June, I noted that it was "a reminder not only of what was gained as a result of the Edwardian expansion but also what has since been lost, in the wake of the razing of most of Butetown and the creation of Cardiff Bay - a subject worthy of a documentary all of its own". Another reminder popped up in my social media timeline in the last week: this (very) short BBC film by Cardiff resident Mo Janneh, produced to mark Black History Month in the UK.

As he explains, the busyness of the docks and the extent of the city's connections to the wider world meant that Butetown and Tiger Bay developed into extraordinary, vibrant, multiracial places. This created a sense of local pride and community that crossed ethnic and cultural lines, but residents often found themselves cast as scapegoats when times were hard. The authorities showed little understanding or appreciation for the uniqueness of life there, all too often seeing only "problems" that could be solved by destroying old buildings and constructing characterless high-rise flats.

Butetown survives today, albeit much changed from its heyday, but Tiger Bay was bulldozed to make way for the yuppie flats and chain restaurants that are depressingly believed to constitute progress. The Butetown History & Arts Centre was founded to keep the memory alive, but scant funding meant that it was reliant on volunteers and eventually forced to close in 2016. Surely that rich history deserves better than a small corner at the Museum of Cardiff?

Monday, October 07, 2019

"I'm always wanting to use comedy for a purpose"

A newspaper interview with Chris Morris is rare, but a televised interview is even more so. Perhaps surprisingly, he seems to be playing the promotional game ahead of the release of new film The Day Shall Come, speaking to Channel 4's Jon Snow last week.

In the course of their conversation, Morris outlined his guiding philosophy: "I don't really see the point of comedy unless there's something underpinning it - I mean, what are you doing? Are you doing some sort of exotic display for the court, to be patted on the head by the court, or are you trying to change something?"

The current problem, as he sees it, is that "we've got used to a kind of satire that essentially placates the court. You do a nice dissection of the way things are in the orthodox elite and lo and behold you get slapped on the back by the orthodox elite." (Personally speaking, these comments had me looking pointedly at the likes of The Mash Report and Have I Got News For You? - the latter having been at least partially responsible for showing Boris Johnson in a good light.) What's needed, he feels, is "something with a bit more clout".

Snow asked Morris the question that I've regularly been asking myself over the last few years: is satire dead, having been overtaken by the farcical nature of current events? The interviewer, quite understandably, pointed to Donald Trump by way of illustration: "He's doing things that even you might not have dreamt that an American president could do." Morris, however, refused to buy that idea, insisting instead that satire is less about imagination and more about looking at what is actually happening and then zeroing in on what makes it so ridiculous.

Asked what he plans to do next, Morris revealed that he has "a long-standing interest in the coup in Iran in 1953" and is still trying to get his head around it all - but that he "may just put a lot of effort into a tweet" instead...

Sunday, October 06, 2019

"They're just pop songs"

It was a long time coming, but Mclusky - or should I say Mclusky* - finally announced a Cardiff date this week: Friday 20th December. When that sold out within four hours, they promptly announced another show taking place the night before. I managed to bag a ticket for the Friday night and can't wait to hear Andy Falkous singing things like "All of your friends are cunts / Your mother is a ballpoint pen thief" in the flesh.

The fact that Falkous has been interviewed for a Quietus feature is appropriate given that, as he admits, the site's co-founder John Doran played a big part in the renewed "Mclusky-based activities" with his "Poundland Shellac" jibe. Over the course of his chat with JR Moores, Falkous talks about the circumstances that led to Jon Chapple's departure, The 1975 sounding "like Living In A Box", the merits of Angry Arousal as a potential album name, and how, in comparison to all of the other acts handpicked to play Shellac's ATP in 2012, Future Of The Left were "basically ABBA". Hint: when he says "I'm out of opinions", don't worry - he's certainly not.

Steve Albini's Waitrose Mclusky, meanwhile, will be playing their own Cardiff show in December, on the 14th at Plas. It's shaping up to be quite a month.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Simian mobile disco

Liam Gallagher might be a knucklehead who hasn't released a half-decent song in an age, but the artists featured on his BBC Sounds Takeover Mix podcast - including Fontaines DC, Fat White Family, black midi and Boy Azooga - suggest that either he does have good taste after all or he's got a savvy assistant who's down with the cool kids and knows what to recommend.

Given that the warring Gallagher brothers appear to be united in their love for Boy Azooga, maybe Cardiff's finest should be brought in to resolve the Brexit negotiations and then the Middle East peace process?

Friday, October 04, 2019

Better the duo you know

No sooner had I reviewed Cassels' second LP The Perfect Ending than the opportunity presented itself to experience it performed in the flesh. The Beck brothers have come a long way in the four years since I first saw them at Nightshift's much-missed annual showcase the Punt - not least in terms of packing the sort of serious clout needed to ensure that a co-headline tour with Bristol bruisers The St Pierre Snake Invasion wasn't a mismatch. Thankfully, as their set at Clwb on Wednesday night demonstrated, this hasn't come at the expense of the wilful disregard for conventional structure that made them such a striking and exciting prospect back in those early days.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Fringe benefits

In Cardiff, much as in London, it's easy to live in a bubble and get complacent about all of the cultural events going on all the time. Every once in a while it's worth taking a step back and reminding yourself how privileged you are to call a capital city home. Not that those who don't live in Cardiff are completely starved of cultural sustenance, of course - far from it.

Take the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, for example. Established for a number of years now, it routinely attracts some of the biggest names in stand-up to a small market town on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park every May. Such has been its success that it now has a sister event in Aberystwyth, which runs for a second time over this coming weekend and will feature shows by James Acaster, Mark Watson, Tony Law, Rhod Gilbert and Elis James as well as a whole host of up-and-coming talent.

As the man behind both festivals, Henry Widdicome, told Wales Arts Review, "Our aim is to create a counterpoint to the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, which is largely about the creation and development of new work in the spring. Aberystwyth Comedy Festival will be at the other end of the summer season, post-Edinburgh Fringe, where completed works will be staged. The idea is that Wales will then have two of the best comedy festivals in the UK, showcasing what are the most interesting contemporary comic voices at different stages of the creative process."

And then there's the Northern Eye Photography Festival, which is taking place in Colwyn Bay this month and consists of a weekend of talks and a fortnight of fringe exhibitions. It first came to my attention because images from festival founder Glenn Edwards' project Route A47zero, which I've been writing about recently, will be on display. In truth, though, the other exhibitions - which focus on everything from an abandoned hotel in Llandudno (Antonia Dewhurst's The Talisman) to Welsh mods (Haydn Denman's Welsh Mod), lone island wardens (Alex Ingram's The Gatekeepers) and people who like to dress up as animal characters (Tom Broadbent's At Home With The Furries) - and indeed the whole programme also look fantastic.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn't acceptable, at any level. We won't and can't believe in a world where there is no accountability for this."

I'm no royalist, but Prince Harry's lengthy attack on the tabloid press - in the course of announcing legal action against the Mail on Sunday for their publication of private correspondence between Meghan and her dad - is most welcome.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Are friends eccentric?

Some gigs are almost instantly forgettable. Others fade gradually over time. But Thursday's, at Clwb, is likely to be one I'll remember for a long while for various reasons - not least Jeffrey Lewis' quite brilliant lecture on the history of Lower East Side punk from 1950 to 1975. I went for the self-deprecating lyrics and songs about oral sex, but came away with a new-found appreciation of the Velvet Underground and some new names to check out.

Quiet Marauder were also memorable, though in a less positive sense. There's an ostensibly thin but nevertheless significant line between naturally idiosyncratic and self-consciously quirky. While Lewis remained firmly on one side of the divide, they strayed onto the other.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

It's the end of the world as we know it, and Cassels feel fine

"I'm very much a pessimist anyway so a part of me does like to wallow in feeling that we're all fucked." So said Cassels guitarist/vocalist Jim Beck in an interview back in 2016. Three years on, and that sentiment is borne out by his band's second proper full-length LP The Perfect Ending, a pull-no-punches indictment of humanity as an "upright fleshy parasite" trashing the planet but too preoccupied with upgrading their iPhones to care about the prospect of imminent extinction.

Drummer Loz's percussion at the start of 'All The St John's Wort In The World' even sounds like a ticking timebomb, and the album as a whole is suitably explosive, paying customarily little lip service to convention and veering wildly from spoken word to skull-cracking assault. The gnarly riffage of 'Melting Butter' is Royal Blood after a crash course on Shellac, while the savage, violent conclusions to songs like 'The Queue At The Chemist's' prophesy the environmental apocalypse looming ever larger on the horizon.

Jim's verbose sing-speak isn't for everyone, but it takes considerable courage to put your neck on the line with your lyrics the way he does, refusing to hide behind distortion or effects. What's changed since their last outing, 2017's Epithet, is that he no longer seems to abrasively convinced of the righteousness of his own opinions, as though recently awakened to the truth of Bertrand Russell's famous comment "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."

Opening track 'A Snowflake In Winter' sets the tone, Jim's critical focus trained on himself: "I like to think I'm a deep thinker / And I'm pretty sure I'm a person with conviction / But in reality I know I'm a snowflake in winter / Blown along on the wind of the latest liberal opinion." The alt-right media might deliberately manipulate people through fake news and economy with the truth, but, he acknowledges, living in a left-wing online echo chamber also results in a distorted perspective on reality. One song later, though, and he's warning himself of the fine line between introspection and self-obsession.

Even the more intimate 'Mink Skin Coat' is infected with this sense of self-doubt and unease, Jim confessing to a lover with the simplest and arguably best lines of the LP: "I live in hope / I live in fear / Regretting letting you get so near."

If we are collectively rushing headlong to hell in a handcart - personally, politically, environmentally - then let's at least be thankful for the fact that it inspired the brothers grim to make this record.

(An edited version of this review first appeared in the October issue of Nightshift.)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"Oh God, white liberals are terrible! They're awful! There's a sort of feeling that they've done the due diligence on their own conscience and if somebody comes in and says something else bad about them, that person must be wrong. Of course, I'm talking about my friends here. It's a sort of privileged position whereby your conscience is allowed to operate in a particular way, without fracturing your worldview. Then they go and have a bracing latte."

Chris Morris talking to the Guardian's Catherine Shoard about his forthcoming film The Day Shall Come - his first full-length interview in nearly a decade.

Friday, September 27, 2019

History in the making

British Culture Archive is an incredible resource - in their own words, "a non-profit educational resource set up to document, highlight and preserve British culture and lifestyle through social and documentary photography". They're currently crowdfunding for cash that will help them to establish an improved online archive, continue digitising images submitted by the public for their People's Archive and (ideally) open a permanent gallery space somewhere in the North West. The crowdfunding appeal only runs for another couple of days - so take a look and if you like what you see, bung them a few quid to show your support.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Chain reaction

Admittedly, there was very stiff competition for the most batshit bit of news yesterday - but the fact that David Hasselhoff has recorded a very faithful cover of The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Head On' surely deserves an honourable mention.

The song features Cars guitarist Elliott Easton, while Todd Rundgren and James Williamson of The Stooges are among the other contributors to Open Your Eyes, the album on which the cover will appear. It's no 'Jump In My Car', I'll say that much. Penny for the Reid brothers' thoughts. But, even more unbelievably, it's pretty good.

Naturally it brings to mind William Shatner's Ben Folds-produced cover of 'Common People' - and also 'I Can't Get Behind That', his even more incredible collaboration with Henry Rollins and King Crimson's Adrian Belew. (Speaking of Shatner, here's a recent interview he did with Buzz.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Discovery channel

Prior to Wednesday I wasn't even aware of the existence of Plastic Mermaids, Goo Lagoon and French Alps Tiger (the former to my shame), let alone the fact that they were all playing together at Clwb on Friday evening. So it's only thanks to a tip-off from a friend and a willingness to take a punt that I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The moral of the story should be obvious, but is worth repeating: make a point of going to gigs of all shapes and sizes, not just those whose bills feature artists you already know - not only will you be supporting the local scene and infrastructure, you might even discover your new favourite band before anyone else does.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Kid's stuff

Just your regular reminder that Ameoba's What's In My Bag? series is one of the very best things on the internet.

By way of further illustration, here's a particularly good episode from 2016 starring Kid Congo Powers, formerly of The Cramps, The Gun Club and Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, and now performing solo with his Pink Monkey Birds. Every single one of his picks piqued my interest - from The Burning World, Swans' sole major label release, and John Cale's Slow Dazzle, through Bush Tetras' EP Rituals, to Dusty Springfield's 'I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore'.

If you fancy disappearing down a YouTube rabbit hole, then What's In My Bag? is the place to start.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

"People had a lot of energy"

Strangely enough, I can't recall there being any mention anywhere in the Titanic Museum in Belfast of the fact that, on what was supposed to be the final day of filming in Nova Scotia on James Cameron's Hollywood blockbuster about the doomed liner, someone spiked the cast and crew's chowder with PCP. Had this happened earlier on in proceedings, it might have made for a very different (and much more entertaining) movie.

Friday, September 20, 2019

A flash in the pan?

Lizzy Goodman's Meet Me In The Bathroom was on my reading list - but I'm not so sure since I came across this piece about an art exhibition inspired by the book. Not only does she sound a little too closely (and uncritically) connected to the early-noughties New York scene about which she was writing - as a long-time pal of The Strokes' Nick Valensi - but there's something troublingly glib about describing 9/11 as "inspiring".

What's more, the exhibition's recreation of "a disgusting super gnarly dive bar on Second Avenue, with famously foul toilets" hints at the scene's artifice - in many cases, these were posh kids playing at being punks.

I like a lot of the bands that the city turned out during that period, including The Strokes, but many were overhyped and I'm not sure that their cultural legacy is as great as Goodman seems to claim - other than influencing the landfill indie that the UK was awash with later in the decade.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Unique selling point

As has been made abundantly clear over the years - including relatively recently with his 38 favourite songs of all time and his appearance on Damian Abraham's podcast Turned Out A Punk - Thurston Moore has both an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and great taste. So what to make of the fact that he's flogging more than 300 of his LPs via London record shop World Of Echo? No reason has been given for his decision to dispense with the albums, which apparently include a "broad range of genres, spanning multiple variants of jazz, noise, hardcore, black metal, ethnographic, punk and post-punk, no-wave, krautrock, ambient, electronic and the avant garde". Maybe it's not a comment on their quality; perhaps he's just downsizing - or pre-emptively making space for new purchases.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"We've now got ourselves into a situation in this country where [for] our tabloid press, partly because of the internet and social media and the way in which stories now travel, ... anything that brings in money is justifiable. They seem to have lost any sense of whether this story is going to do so much harm to the people whose background you're revealing that you shouldn't touch it with a barge pole."

Angela Phillips, Professor of Journalism at Goldsmiths, speaking in the wake of the Sun's deeply unsavoury muck-raking about Ben Stokes and a journalist not only blackmailing Gareth Thomas into disclosing his HIV diagnosis but revealing it to his parents.

She is of course right that this is a simple matter of ethics rather than anything to do with press freedom - but that hasn't stopped Ian Murray of the Society of Editors from blathering on about a free press being "a jewel in the crown of any free society". These aren't cases in which you can see (in his words) "the sharks circling" - "the politicians, the rich, the powerful who would like to see that free press closed down"; on the contrary, the criticism is coming from ordinary people who just believe in the value of common decency and respect.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Crystal balls

Occasionally I look at the wellness craze as harmless enough: if "healing" crystals make people feel better physically and psychologically through the placebo effect, then who am I to criticise? Most of the time, though, it looks cynical and opportunistic, preying on the gullible and the vulnerable.

But, as this article makes abundantly clear, it's not just consumers who are ruthlessly exploited by the crystal industry; on the contrary, those who actually mine the stones do so in an unregulated fashion and in horrific conditions but see only a sliver of the profits. Those who do reap the rewards aren't ignorant of the circumstances but seem unconcerned, paying lip service to the concept of ethical supply chains, swatting away concerns with talk of good "intentions"  and shifting responsibility to the consumer.

(Thanks to Luke for the link.)