Monday, July 23, 2018

Offensive self-defence

You don't have to look very far for evidence underlining just how fucked-up the US is - in fact, you don't have to look any further than Donald Trump - but here's a bit of news that is particularly staggering: MGM Resorts International are suing many of those injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, and their family members, in a pre-emptive bid to prevent liability claims.


Just wow.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

You have been warned

First we were transported to Royston Vasey, and now it's off to Scarfolk. Richard Littler's brilliant blog has already spawned a book, and it's little surprise that a TV series is to come. The creator of the fictional town stuck in 1979 is working with Veep writer Will Smith on what the producers have described as "a terrifyingly topical dystopian comedy drama that refracts the world as it is today through a horrifying kaleidoscope of 1970s culture and attitudes". Needless to say, it's eagerly anticipated round these parts.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

(McFadden's Cold) War: what is it good for? Absolutely everything

One of the joys of the internet is that even the unlikeliest of things can find an appreciative audience and take off. Take McFadden's Cold War, for instance - though that's not to imply that it isn't genius.

According to Al Murray, "It's so funny you can't really parse it. To say any more might shatter the thing I love about it." True, but the Guardian's Andrew Male has had a commendable stab at summing it up as a "phantasmagoric photomontage world", "a blackly comic Twitter account where the likes of Trump, Kim, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are pilloried in a purgatorial Albion of abandoned caravans, flat-roof pubs and dank laybys, amid a rogues' gallery of low-rent celebrities, serial killers, football managers and the ever present figure of [Steve] McFadden."

It turns out Murray isn't the account's only celebrity fan - Kathy Burke and Jon Savage are both quoted raving about it. (Though the latter's claim that the images' creator Coldwar Steve is "a modern-day Hogarth" is perhaps a little hyperbolic, given that he knocks them up "on the bus into work with a £3 phone app".)

Male has tracked down Coldwar Steve himself - aka Christopher Spencer - who reveals that making the photomontages has been a form of therapy. It's great to hear that he's found his way to a better place thanks to the account - and the fact that he's been able to make a lot of people (myself included) guffaw at their screens in the process is an added bonus.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Feel good hits of the 20th July

1. 'Heat Wave' - Snail Mail
Indie-rock summer jams don't come much better than this. Lush is an effortlessly accomplished record - and all the more remarkable for the fact that it was released (on Matador) a week before its creator, Lindsey Jordan, turned 19. Mary Timony might be keeping us waiting for a second Ex Hex album, but, as Jordan's guitar teacher, she can claim some credit for another fine LP. Lush also partially staves off the hankering for new material from Angel Olsen, whose ice rink video for 'Shut Up Kiss Me' seems to foreshadow Jordan's for 'Heat Wave'.

2. 'Paperback Writer' - The Beatles
One of the consequences of having 1 on practically constant play in the car for the last three or four months is that I'm fairly sure that this is now my favourite Beatles song. Don't hold me to it, though...

3. 'Loner Boogie' - Boy Azooga
The song that has, quite rightly, helped to catapult Davey Newington and chums from being darlings of the Cardiff scene to being on the radar nationally - via an appearance on Later... (as part of a decidedly Welsh-themed episode also starring the Manics and Gwenno), countless plays on Radio 6 Music and a whole host of gigs and festival slots. Back in April, reviewing a stupendous hometown show, I wrote that they were "a band primed for lift-off" and it's no surprise that they've now achieved it.

4. 'Maps' - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Crazy to think, isn't it, that Fever To Tell is now 15 years old? 'Maps' was a revelation at the time, and with hindsight something they were always going to struggle to top. So good it even makes me forget how much of a dog's dinner Mosquito was.

5. 'Don't Go' - Moaning
Shoegazey slacker punk on Sub Pop? Let's face it, Moaning were always likely to be a hit round these parts. While lead track and single 'Don't Go' naturally steals the limelight, I was pleasantly surprised by quite how much sticking power their self-titled debut LP actually has. Moaning aren't the first band to have Alex Newport to thank for making them sound great - if rather more polished than they are live.

6. 'Swish Swash' - Crack Cloud
Crack Cloud look so hipster it hurts, and my initial reaction to both 'Swish Swash' and its video was "What the...?". But after a couple of listens I started to get more attuned to their wavelength (itchy funk rhythms given some Gang Of Four punch and sinister intent) and after a couple more I was ready to hail it as one of the best things I've heard all year.

7. 'Nuraghe' - The Cosmic Dead
A couple of minutes of this absolute beast, from last year's Psych Is Dead LP, was more than enough to convince me that I had to go and see The Cosmic Dead last week. No regrets whatsoever. Mogwai, always play the role of patron with regard to other bands, need to do the decent thing and take their fellow Glaswegians out on the road with them.

8. 'Y Teimlad' - Super Furry Animals
My Welsh nightclass finished on Monday night with us tasked with trying to piece together the lyrics of this song, a Datblygu cover. At some point in the not-too-distant future I'm sure I'll be a card-carrying Super Furries fan - and exposure to songs like this is certainly helping.

9. 'Somewhere After Sunday' - Year Of The Kite
No longer living in Oxford wasn't going to stop me reviewing the debut LP from a band who grabbed my attention shortly before I left. Single 'Somewhere After Sunday' is representative of With Sparks Flying generally: delicately poised, meditative-verging-on-sombre post-rock that refuses to resort to the standard trick of always building to a crescendo.

10. 'Cadi' - Los Blancos
The second Welsh-language track in this selection: proof that I'm going native? An initial encounter with Los Blancos in the supporting role at Wylderness' album launch in March meant that I snapped up reviewing duties for their recent double-A side single. Of the two tracks, 'Cadi' - an ode to a dog (hence the video) - is probably the better, a veritable scuzz-pop rough diamond.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Crossed out

The news that the Malt Cross in Nottingham has closed its doors has left me absolutely stunned - as it has members of staff who were given no advance warning. Only last month, we paid a visit to one of my favourite places in the city, enjoying a typically tasty light lunch in what is a beautiful old building.

The owners have predictably blamed the closure on "the tough trading environment for bars and restaurants", but there certainly didn't seem to be any problem the day we were there, with every table taken both upstairs and downstairs.

They are now, apparently, "actively exploring new possibilities" - whatever that means. Given that the building was only refurbished in 2014 to the tune of £1.4 million of National Lottery cash, it's certainly to be hoped that it reopens sooner rather than later.

Bonfire of the vanities

As if conspicuous consumption wasn't offensive enough, its consequences are even worse - such as Burberry's destruction of clothing, accessories and perfume worth a staggering £28.6 million last year. The company announced that "energy generated from burning its products was captured, making it environmentally friendly". So that's alright then.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Art attack

That music is often used as an instrument of political torture is widely known. Take Guantanamo Bay, for instance, where prisoners were subjected to the likes of Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' and Deicide's 'Fuck Your God' repeatedly and at extremely high volume. (Not that Metallica's James Hetfield was bothered, laughing it off at the time and only last year declaring "I'm honoured my country is using something to help us stay safe".)

But I wasn't aware that modern art had been deployed for the same purpose, as it was during the Spanish Civil War by republicans. Captured nationalist supporters of General Franco found themselves imprisoned in cells designed by Alphonse Laurencic, who took inspiration from Salvador Dali and others in deliberately seeking to disorient the occupants.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Read and write

The boat has probably already sailed for me, but if you harbour ambitions of a career as a writer/journalist, then you could certainly do worse than heed the advice of Jazmine Hughes. An editor for the New York Times as well as a writer, she has spoken to The Creative Independent's Thora Siemsen about when artistry and being precious about your work is justifiable, the importance of allowing interviews to follow their own course rather than imposing a pre-imagined trajectory on them, the benefits of having mentors (as long as you're prepared to listen to them) and the value of not being a full-time writer ("It's a privilege in that it feels like something I get to do, not that I have to do").

(Thanks to Laura for the link.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Things'll never be the same

According to the Quietus' Brian Coney, Pete Kember's "curveballing imprint on modern experimental and electronic music is nonpareil and largely stems from collaborative interactions". That claim is substantiated with a run-through some of Kember's most significant releases, with the man himself as guide - from Spacemen 3 (widely misunderstood) and solo releases as Sonic Boom and Spectrum to collaborations with Silver Apples, MGMT, Panda Bear and Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Of the latter, Kember is effusive in his praise: "To this day, I still listen to her work and am still floored by her genius. I believe the Doctor Who theme is possibly the most important electronic piece of its era and to that time. Stockhausen and Boulez and all those dudes were pivotal, no question, but Delia took their lead and placed it in a cultural context, courtesy of the BBC, that affected millions and millions in a really transportive way."

Kember is not the first musician to be astounded by her talents, either: "Delia told me that three people sought her out at the BBC to discover who the hell was sending those amazing sounds through the airwaves: Syd Barrett, Paul McCartney and Brian Jones. I think that gives a hint as to what an impact she was making culturally - which resonated right through electronic music via White Noise, the Silver Apples, Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin."

While many of his collaborations have evidently been happy and mutually enriching, Kember is quite unequivocal in describing Spacemen 3 as "dysfunctional". With no signs of any attempt at reconciliation, the prospects of a reunion look slim - all the more so because the very same day that the Quietus piece was published, 9th July, his former bandmate Jason Pierce was quoted as dismissing the possibility: "I just don't see the point. I find it really difficult as to why. It's a weird one, because I'm not wild about anything that's, like, people just replaying their [old music]." Don't hold your breath, then.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Men: know your place

While it's good to see a piece on the BBC website acknowledging that it's not just women who experience everyday sexism, I can't help but wish that its author Matthew Jenkin had made the case rather better.

Some of the comments to which the stay-at-home dad has been subjected are more obviously homophobic than sexist (though no less offensive for that, of course), while - as several readers have noted - others are more probably attributable to the curious and infuriating tendency of some people to make a point of trying to shame parents in public, regardless of their gender.

Nevertheless, Jenkin does draw attention to the way that society's sexist expectations of mothers also serve to constrain fathers. All too often, men are assumed to be relatively uninterested and uninvolved in their children's upbringing and development, expected to be working breadwinners rather than unpaid caregivers.

Having taken over parental leave duties when Stanley was six months old, I subsequently quit my job and took on primary responsibility for childcare during the week. Even now, as he comes to the end of his first year of school and with me back in a formal day job, I still do the school pick-up and coordinate post-school activities four days a week. I don't really recall ever feeling judged or patronised (as has been Jenkin's experience), or at least I was able to shrug it off, and was fortunate enough to be accepted easily by the mums of Stanley's peers.

However, it's true that so many things are geared towards mums and therefore (whether intentionally/explicitly or not) make dads feel excluded. There was also an assumption that I would be desperate to meet and bond with other men in the same position. While I didn't feel remotely self-conscious about hanging around with a bunch of mums, that isn't true for all men - but drawing attention to the scarcity of stay-at-home dads isn't exactly helpful either.

Despite its weaknesses, Jenkin's article concludes by making a powerful point: "I am not for one minute claiming men are somehow the great oppressed. In many ways it is the patriarchal society that we have created coming back to bite us. Changes to employment law which allow parents to share parental leave are enabling more men to enjoy those joyous (and tough) first few months bonding with their child. But we need to recognise that the culture surrounding parenting also needs to change to encourage more fathers to take the plunge - gay or straight."

He's right: the number of couples taking advantage of the legal change, while on the increase, remains pitifully small, and that must be attributed to cultural factors (as well as things like the gulf between men's and women's earnings, which makes it harder for men to take on childcare duties on purely pragmatic and economic grounds). The everyday sexism that persistently afflicts fathers as well as mothers will only be eradicated once both are recognised simply as parents, in cultural as well as legal terms.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reviews round-up

The July issue of Buzz finds me enthusing about the Welsh-language college rock of Los Blancos (first encountered in the support slot at Wylderness' LP launch show at Clwb in March), marvelling at The Wave Pictures' ability to avoid a complete car crash in the form of Brushes With Happiness and bemoaning the fact that Warp Transmission fail to stand out from the psych crowd - unlike, say, The Cosmic Dead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Living proof

According to the title of The Cosmic Dead's most recent LP, psych is dead. Don't believe them: over the course of four songs spread over more than an hour at the Moon on Monday night, the Glaswegians proved that, in their own special way, they are very much keepers of the flame - as well as ear-botherers of the highest order.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Quote of the day

"There's no longer any way to make the case that Morrissey ever meant anything other than what he says".

So comments Stewart Lee, slightly ruefully, in a Guardian article in which he recounts largely purging Moz's music from his record collection "with sadness for the sorry state of things, not erectile pride in my own virtuousness". He's right: often the artist can be separated from the art (albeit not always defensibly), but with pretty much every pronouncement he's made for the last few years Morrissey has made that impossible.

(Thanks to Bill for the link.)

Monday, July 09, 2018

Run (the other way)

"Where did Snow Patrol go for seven years?", asks the headline of this BBC article, as if we might have been wondering rather than merely enjoying their silence.

It turns out that Gary Lightbody was grappling with some serious demons - chiefly drink and depression. While it's encouraging to hear of anyone managing to escape from crippling and indeed life-threatening addiction, the prospect of Snow Patrol's return is hardly something I'm relishing. In the interview, Lightbody reveals that Nick Cave is primarily to blame for getting his songwriting juices going again, with Skeleton Tree's 'Jesus Alone' the inspiration behind 'A Youth Written In Fire'.

Once upon a time, Snow Patrol were part of the respectable Scottish indie fraternity, but it's a measure of how far removed they are now that they're tourmates of and collaborators with Ed Sheeran. Needless to say, they bonded over a mutual love of Bon Iver...

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The fab four

While I certainly won't be queuing up to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I am at least grateful that it's prompted the Guardian's music writers into rating and ranking all 27 of ABBA's UK singles.

The article should be required reading for anyone who still insists on dismissing the Swedes as kitsch pop fluff (though perhaps we should hastily gloss over 'Thank You For The Music'). There's serious emotional depth to numerous ABBA songs, whose exposition and dissection of heartache is all the more gripping when you consider the fractured relationships in question weren't hypothetical but those between the band members themselves. As Tim Jonze observes of 'The Winner Takes It All' (and as Peter Robinson implicitly agrees with respect to 'One Of Us'), "Writing about divorce is one thing; asking your ex-wife to sing it quite another".

The critics acknowledge that, from the perspective of 2018, some songs do appear rather problematic lyrically (most obviously 'Does Your Mother Know', of course, but also 'Money, Money, Money', which Michael Hann admits "does feel a bit icky: the patriarchy is not being smashed").

However, the fact that the camply dramatic 'Fernando' and 'Chiquitita' and Eurovision romp 'Waterloo' all fail to make the top twenty is a sure-fire marker of the overall calibre of their output. Personally, I would have placed 'Mamma Mia' much higher, and, unlike Roy Keane, rate 'Dancing Queen' as one of my favourite ever singles, and certainly more highly than 'The Day Before You Came' (Jonze acclaims 'Dancing Queen' as "not only ABBA's most joyous song, but arguably pop music's itself"), but it's nevertheless hard to argue with many of the assessments. The song that tops the pile, 'SOS', is undeniably brilliant - even if it took Portishead's inspired cover to awaken some people to that fact.

How the band's hotly anticipated new material will compare remains to be seen, but as it stands ABBA's back catalogue is pretty much peerless in terms of pop craftsmanship.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Quote of the day

"We know who the leaders of a reactionary Englishness are. But who are their progressive equivalents? The question is no longer whether politicians should promote Englishness but rather what kind.

What one seeks, then, is patriotism without rancour and a more confident, harmonious English identity that is not inward-looking and bitter, not captured and defined by the far right or the forces of reaction, but in its diversity, openness, tolerance, rootedness, generosity and commitment to the common good reflects a country distinct from but also part of a larger multinational polity; a country that has struggled for self-definition but seems at last to be experiencing a reawakening, however inchoate it may be. Call it Gareth Southgate's England."

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley writing on Englishness and the World Cup. His point might be overstated, perhaps, but nevertheless it does seem to ring broadly true.

At the outset of the tournament, I had little time for England, but the bold and resilient mentality, calm assurance and evident harmony of the young, multiracial squad has been impressive - as has Southgate himself, a model of "thoughtfulness, articulacy and pragmatic good sense". Whatever happens this afternoon in Samara, he and his players have succeeded in reconnecting the national side with fans and helped to shape (and maybe even redefine) English national identity in the process.

"A gentle soul"

Soon after legendary Cardiff busker Toy Mic Trev was tracked down to the village of Pentre, up in the Valleys, he was back in the Welsh capital for what was billed as his final gig. And yet it wasn't - he returned some time later, without the media fuss and fanfare, drawn back by the simple pleasure of making people smile.

Sadly, though, there will be no more opportunities to chance upon him crooning away on Queen Street. Following his death at the age of 80, friends and neighbours have been paying touching tribute to the man behind the voice.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Feelgood music

Just a stone's throw from Cardiff Castle stands a statue of Aneurin Bevan, the left-wing firebrand MP who is credited as the architect of the NHS. So it was entirely fitting that former Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys should have chosen to perform 'No Profit In Pain' there yesterday, given that the song was specifically commissioned by National Theatre Wales for their NHS70 festival.

Writing in the Guardian, Rhys explained the motivation behind his involvement and the decision to temporarily abandon his customary "lyrical abstraction" in favour of something more direct: a robust hands-off-the-NHS message to "zealous free-marketeers" with "loads of swearing in it" (though perhaps not as much as one might expect given the subject matter and the fact that this is the man who wrote 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck').

In typically self-deprecating fashion, Rhys refers to his "melodramatic synth-pop power ballad" as a "heartfelt if feeble attempt" to pay tribute to the work of NHS staff - but, given that it doesn't appear on his latest LP Babelsberg and all profits go to Welsh NHS charities, there is every possibility of it making a significant impact.

Also marking the NHS's 70th birthday, the Guardian's Alexandra Topping has spoken to some of the staff to whom 'No Profit In Pain' is dedicated. Their compassion and devotion to the job are abundantly evident, and the article, like Rhys' song, underlines the immense value of free-to-access healthcare.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Talk isn't cheap

What is it about gigs that makes some people feel as though they have the right to behave however they want, even if that includes ruining the evening for others? That's the question Annie Zaleski considers in this article for Salon. She recounts her own personal experiences of loud gig conversationalists and mentions drunken belligerence, but might also have included those who seem incapable of watching a show unless through the prism of their mobile phone, regardless of whether this hinders the view of others.

In the course of her piece, Zaleski casts about in search of explanations, suggesting that the self-centred attitude and short attention span of many contemporary gig-goers might be to blame. She also points the finger at modern means of music consumption, particularly streaming, as helping to strip music of its intrinsic value and instead relegate it to the status of mere wallpaper for social events.

All contributory factors, I'm sure, but perhaps not as significant as an issue to which Zaleski only partially alludes. I share her bafflement at why people would choose to spend good money to be able to have an extended conversation in circumstances that are far from conducive to it. But perhaps it's precisely the fact that they have shelled out a significant sum that makes them feel entitled to then enjoy it their way, with scant regard for the enjoyment of others. As such, continually rising ticket costs (and increasing bar prices) might be helping to exacerbate the problem.

Of course, though, this sense of entitlement is both unjustified (as Zaleski argues) and infuriating. Gigs that take place in nearly perfectly observed silence - such as pretty much any Low show, or Stella Donnelly's recent performance at Clwb - bear out the truth of Zaleski's closing comment: "When people shut up and enjoy the music, great things happen - and memorable, indelible experiences are created."

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Urban jungle

"In the heart of New York City lies an abandoned island." Thus begins Rachel Nuwer's Smithsonian piece on North Brother Island, situated between Manhattan and the Bronx and yet off many people's radar. Nuwer recounts the island's remarkable history, from uninhabited space to quarantine centre and back again.

The 2014 article was prompted by the publication of a book of photos by Christopher Payne, whose perspective is striking: "Most people view ruins as if they were looking into the past, but these buildings show what New York could be years from now. I see these photographs like windows into the future."

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Underground and under threat - again

When the Cellar, one of my favourite Oxford gig venues, successfully fought off redevelopment plans last year, Nightshift editor Ronan sagely observed that a significant battle had been won but that the war would rage on. He was talking about venues generally, though, so it's concerning to learn that the Cellar itself is once again mired in deep trouble, this time under threat from health and safety regulations.

The problem is that its fire escape has been deemed too narrow for the current capacity of 150 - something that has only come to light following an assessment as part of the lease renegotiations. As a result, the capacity has been limited to just 50 people until the situation is resolved - in the words of the venue team, "to such an extent that it may severely affect our ability to survive as a live music and club venue". If they want to avoid a massive drop in takings, it's hard to see how they can respond to this restriction other than by pushing up ticket and bar prices.

While not wishing to dismiss the vital importance of fire safety regulations, especially in light of tragedies that have taken place in recent years, I - like others - am somewhat suspicious of the timing. Finding a solution is extremely difficult because of the age of the building. One of those under consideration is to expand into the vacant shop unit above, formerly occupied by Lush. That might save the venue, but it would surely transform it into a very different space - no longer the dark subterranean mecca beloved by music fans.

The venue team are putting on a brave face and crossing fingers that history can repeat itself: "Suffice to say, the incredible events of last year continue to feed our hopes to be able to stay open". Here's hoping they can - ideally without having to compromise what makes the Cellar so special.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Right on queue

Festival season has been underway for some time now, so it's a bit of a surprise that there haven't been (to my knowledge, at least) any of the usual horrorshows. That seems to have changed over the weekend, though, with a lot of very negative reports from those who went to the Liam Gallagher and Queens Of The Stone Age gigs in Finsbury Park.

Organisers Festival Republic have pointed the finger squarely at the Workers Beer Company for the horrendous bar queues. The bar management firm - who, it has to be said, have years of experience, including at Glastonbury - have in turn blamed "unprecedented failure of up to 40% of our staff to turn up" and offered an apology to fans who had to wait for hours in the baking heat, often missing acts they'd paid to see in the process. (Personally, I'd happily stand in a stationary bar queue rather than watch Gallagher and some of those on the bill with him - but each to their own.)

I'm assuming that there was the standard ban on taking in your own drinks into the site, which no doubt contributed to the problem. However, as has been pointed out by a number of disgruntled fans, the shortage of bar staff is of no significance with respect to some of the other reported issues, such as overcrowding, poor sound quality, security problems and bottlenecks at the exit and by the toilets. Festival Republic clearly have some explaining to do.

He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy

I don't suppose Jacob Rees-Mogg has ever been accused of "insolence" before - on the contrary, he looks like the sort of person who, at school, would have been a smug, obsequious goody-two-shoes with not a detention to his name. But, according to fellow Tory MP Alan Duncan, Rees-Mogg's recent piece on Brexit in the Telegraph, "lecturing & threatening the PM", has earned him that label.

And Duncan isn't alone in condemning the ideologically motivated stance of the backbench toff and his European Research Group. Another Tory, Simon Hoare, described the article as "hectoring nonsense/blackmail". Nice to see those who got us into this whole mess scrapping amongst themselves as we sleepwalk/stagger into the Brexit mincing machine.

Quote of the day

"[A] remarkable man with an incredible ability to create wonderful characters that children have adored for decades."

Director of BBC children's programmes Alice Webb pays tribute to the late Peter Firmin, whose work, created in partnership with Oliver Postgate, made a significant impact on many childhoods, my own included.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

"I stand for taking Africa to the world and taking the world to Africa, through dance"

So says Sherrie Silver, the precocious dancer who at the age of just 23 choreographed Childish Gambino's jaw-dropping video 'This Is America'. Having come to the UK from Rwanda at the age of five, she pursued her dream of being a professional dancer through posting YouTube videos and her talent has now seen her strike it big.

Her aims are much more laudable than merely making a fortune, though - on the contrary, she's on a mission to change the way the continent of her birth is viewed in the Global North: "We're not just about poverty, disease and sadness that you see in the media. We're also about happiness, dance, fashion and passion, and good food - lots of flavour actually." No small task - but she's certainly manoeuvred herself into a position to be able to make a significant impact.

On a related note, here's the BBC's Will Gompertz discussing the symbolism of the video. It could be a bit of a posh-dad-trying-to-understand-grime car crash, but actually it's worth a look as a way of beginning to make sense of everything that's going on.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Truthseekers in a post-truth world

Journalists are much maligned - in truth, not always without good reason - so it's worth celebrating the profoundly positive impact that the work of the best can have. Observer/Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr's expose about Cambridge Analytica and the harvesting of personal data from Facebook for political ends made her pretty much a shoo-in for this year's Orwell Prize for journalism.

The Guardian's article on their journalist's triumph also drew to my attention Darren McGarvey's Poverty Safari, a book effusively endorsed by both Irvine Welsh and J. K. Rowling that won the Orwell book accolade and sounds as though it would be very much up my street.

Know Your Enemy

"I sympathise with fans who made plans to see him, we know what it's like to be let down by Morrissey."

Well played Dave Haslam, whose proposed Love Music Hate Racism parties in the vicinity of Moz's Manchester concerts next month may have helped contribute to the decision to postpone all of the UK and European dates of his tour.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Edward Scissorhands Lightfingers

Poor Ed Sheeran. No sooner has he earned a vast amount of cash for his tour (including four bloody consecutive nights here in Cardiff) than people are lining up to take it off him.

Why exactly it's taken those behind the lawsuit four years to decide that there are uncanny similarities between Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' and Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On' is unclear, but it's not the first time he's been branded a plagiarist. Being accused of theft once again is probably worse than discovering your toilet habits are national news.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Blood on their hands

The US brutal knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11 attacks may have been swift and unlawfully severe in terms of its consequences for those suspected of terrorism, but - as a damning new report from the Intelligence and Security Committee reveals - it's not as though the UK government and authorities behaved much better: "That the US, and others, were mistreating detainees is beyond doubt, as is the fact that agencies and defence intelligence were aware of this at an early point". They may not have committed torture, but in condoning it, and in some cases even aiding and abetting it, they too have blood on their hands.

Here's hoping that the report's findings aren't somehow swept under the carpet, that the calls for an independent inquiry bear fruit and that the guilty parties are finally held to account.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Civil right

Congratulations to Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, the heterosexual couple who - after a protracted and arduous legal battle - have won the right to have a civil partnership. The Supreme Court decreed that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights because it discriminates in favour of same-sex couples.

Had Jen and I had the option of a civil partnership, we would have taken it ahead of marriage - indeed, at one point we were one of a number of people to answer Peter Tatchell's call for couples to volunteer to test the durability of the law. So, while today's news comes too late for us, it offers hope to those who share our misgivings about the historical and cultural significance of marriage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Peer pressure

My working days are spent dealing with the intricacies, finer points and frustrations of the academic peer review process - but it seems that some science journals take a rather less scrupulous approach, to the extent of not even bothering with it despite claiming to do so.

When it is implemented rigorously and reviewers truly engage with papers, offering measured assessments and constructive critique rather than brief approval or ego-driven demolitions, the process is of enormous value in sorting out the wheat from the chaff and making already sound pieces even better.

Sadly, the fact that the problem of fraudulent journals appears to be growing is probably an inevitable consequence of the ever increasing pressure to publish that quality is disregarded in favour of sheer quantity - something that suits many academics as much as it suits the journals. There's no point in crowing about the open and free dissemination of knowledge, though, if that "knowledge" is not worth knowing.

(Thanks to Shaun for the link.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

They've rebadged it, you fool

Just two months after I hailed the eternal quotability of the Demo Dumper review in Nightshift, the Demos section is no more. But fear not - it's simply been renamed as Tracks, to reflect the fact that the definition and status of a demo has been a grey area for some time. Demo Of The Month has become Cat's Whiskers, while Demo Dumper has become Dog's Arse. The evisceration of Television Villain's submission proves that, in reality, nothing has really changed - thankfully.

The July issue's cover stars are MSRY, metalcore fiends who are new to me but appear to be taking Oxford by the scruff of the neck, while there's also a four-page review of the Common People bash, which featured Ride, Sparks, Maximo Park and the Jacksons among others.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Postcards from the past

Robin Weaver may have been a local newspaper reporter rather than a member of Magnum like David Hurn, but he too took to photographing scenes of ordinary daily life in Wales in the 1970s. His images bear out the truth of Hurn's dictum that pictures of what was at the time apparently mundane subject matter become increasingly significant and fascinating with every passing year.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hating on the hits

Writing a BBC listicle entitled "Embarrassing early songs the stars left behind" last year, Sam Richards avoided the temptation to go for the obvious and pick Radiohead's 'Creep', instead choosing 'Pop Is Dead'. His colleague Fraser McAlpine, however, couldn't resist it when pulling together a very similar piece on artists who despise their most famous song.

Also featured are Madonna ('Like A Virgin'), REM ('Shiny Happy People'), The Pretenders ('Brass In Pocket)' and Frank Sinatra ('Strangers In The Night'). Kanye West, meanwhile, has apparently admitted that 'Gold Digger' was a cynical ploy simply to sell some records. It worked, sadly.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Small towns, big thinking

As the home of the out-of-town mall and the big-box retail store, of hollowed-out city centres and mile upon mile of featureless urban sprawl, the US isn't exactly renowned for small-scale thinking. Yet, as the BBC's Tom Geoghegan reports, echoing the verdicts of a clutch of recent books, a localist mentality appears to be thriving in smalltown America.

The revival of previously declining towns and cities, catalysed by this focus on the local, may not seem that noteworthy to us Brits, given that such a movement has been discernible here for the last 20 years. But, as Geoghegan points out, it is when you consider both the political and economic gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Washington and the predominant narrative of national decline. While Trump blathers on about "Making America Great Again", others are actually busying themselves trying to do just that on a local level.

Of course, there is the danger that this revival may merely constitute gentrification, routinely celebrated for smartening up areas, boosting property prices and making places more appealing to live but also often deeply problematic in excluding or expelling those who are priced out. (It would be interesting to know what Mark Binelli, the author of the excellent book The Last Days Of Detroit, which I'm still meaning to review, makes of all this.)

Nevertheless, the evidence gives cause for cautious optimism that the country might finally be coming to the realisation that bigger isn't always better and that thinking small can result in significant change.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

No (65daysof)static electricity

Enticing post-rockers 65daysofstatic into coming to Cardiff for a warm-up gig at Clwb the day before their Royal Festival Hall show for Robert Smith's Meltdown was a bit of a coup for promoters Fuelled By Jealous Lovers - so it was with some regret that I felt compelled to be so critical. It's worth stressing what is (I hope) implicit in the review - that it very much reflects my own personal views rather than those of other attendees, who largely seemed to be enjoying themselves far more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Who do you think you are?

Paul Joseph Fronczak's story, as told to the BBC and in the book The Foundling, is an incredible one - not least because it wasn't until the age of 51 that he found out that Paul Joseph Fronczak wasn't his real name. A sense of self-identity is so fundamental to us - sometimes the only thing that seems certain - that it's almost impossible to imagine how difficult it must have been to comprehend and cope with what he discovered.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Capital gains

I've banged on loads about the best places to eat, drink and be merry in Cardiff - so here's someone else doing it, for a change. In her piece for the Guardian, Suze Olbrich manages to pack in endorsements for a huge number of the city's highlights, covering restaurants (Milgi, Dusty Knuckle, the Potted Pig), pubs (St Canna's Ale House and our wonderful local the Lansdowne), breweries (Pipes, Crafty Devil), coffee specialists (Uncommon Ground, Hard Lines, Brod), venues (Clwb Ifor Bach, Gwdihw) and general attractions (Bute Park, the shopping arcades, Cardiff Castle, St Fagans National Museum, Chapter).

Such a dense and relatively short article could only ever hope to give a flavour of what the city has to offer, but it's a fine aperitif all the same - even if the comparison with Barcelona is a bit of a stretch.

Monday, June 18, 2018

In defence of compact discs

Streaming rules the roost, the vinyl revival is in full swing and cassette culture is back (in the underground, at least). But what of the fall guy of the format wars? In an article for the Quietus, James Toth has offered an excellent defence of "unfashionable, unsexy" CDs, arguing that the supposed reasons for their obsolescence are very much exaggerated and that in many ways they represent the best of all worlds.

While acknowledging that CDs are unlikely ever to acquire the collectability of vinyl and also lack the same level of visual and aesthetic appeal, Toth notes that they're more practical, portable and cheaper than records, and also flags up the fact that having whole albums on one side (rather than having to find somewhere to insert a side break - often impossible to do without being intrusive) can be a definite advantage.

Compared to streaming, meanwhile, CDs are largely of identical sound quality but also allow old-school materialists like me the opportunity to physically possess the music they love. As Toth astutely observes, those who are keen to kill off physical formats, such as Apple, are "counting on it not occurring to you that if you purchase a CD or record, you own it forever; if you're willing to pay for monthly access to it, you're paying for it forever".

And the benefits of CDs aren't only for the listener. The cost and time consumed by the process of pressing vinyl copies has prompted some musicians to return to releasing material on cassettes. CDs, too, are quick and easy to reproduce.

I'll admit that part of my appreciation for Toth's piece is that I was one of those who, like him, "came of age as consumers alongside the rise of the format". I've never been a vinyl junkie and use streaming services with a degree of self-loathing. While I have a sizeable cassette collection (which has been slowly degrading over the years), CDs have always been my primary means of consuming music and, unlike (it seems) everyone else, I've never stopped buying them. If the CD does indeed come back from the (near-)dead, then for once I can claim to have been ahead of the curve.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Real cool time guaranteed

Kim Gordon, J Mascis, Mike Watt, Mark Arm, Jennifer Herrema, Mario Rubalcaba and Don Fleming - the musical equivalent of a Fantasy Football line-up, essentially - playing Stooges covers together in tribute to the band's late Ron Asheton?! Oh to be in Ann Arbor on 17th July.

Relatedly, I wasn't aware that, as part of the fundraising efforts for a new home for Seattle radio station KEXP, Arm had performed Stooges covers with three of the city's most prominent musicians: Mike McCready (who was instrumental in organising the show), Barrett Martin and Duff McKagan. Again, what a line-up.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Can't come Swn enough

Swn is back for 2018, taking place from 17th to 20th October. Kicking off with a pair of gigs on consecutive nights headlined by Gwenno and Drenge, the festival will then feature Dream Wife (whose debut album is a irrepressible gem) and the incomparable Bo Ningen alongside Goat Girl, Martha and The Go! Team and many others over the course of the weekend.

As usual, it will also be championing the cream of the local crop, including Adwaith, Buzzard and Boy Azooga - though at the rate they're going, by the time the event takes place, the latter may well be the biggest name on the bill.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Everything under one roof

The Mundaneum sounds like a Borgesian conceit. While the author's Library of Babel contains every book ever written, and every book that could ever be written in the future, the Mundaneum was nothing less than an attempt to archive and catalogue all of the world's knowledge on paper. Talk about mildly ambitious.

The brainchild of a pair of Belgian idealists, the Mundaneum was conceived as a means of promoting European and global unity and peace. Relocated from Brussels to Mons, it's now a museum and intellectual and cultural hub, and remains true to its founders' aims. Well worth a visit, I'd imagine.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Drama queen

Nick Cave's songs have always been about theatricality and performance, often sung in the voices of memorable characters. So Camille O'Sullivan's show Cave, performed at the Wales Millennium Centre this week as part of the Festival Of Voice, made perfect sense.

O'Sullivan sent me scampering back home to listen to The Boatman's Call in particular, the first Bad Seeds album I ever got, but for me the highlight of her show wasn't 'Into My Arms' (our choice of song for our first dance, dontcha know) or a brilliant rendition of 'People Ain't No Good' but the incredible opener, 'God Is In The House', from 2001's No More Shall We Part. More than 15 years on, those lyrics still make my jaw drop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Punk rock perfection

It was inevitable that reading and subsequently writing a review of Carrie Brownstein's beautifully written memoir would lead me to revisit Sleater-Kinney's back catalogue. Helpfully, in 2015 Spin marked the release of comeback LP No Cities To Love by ranking every single one of their 109 songs.

Working my way through just a portion of the list, three things soon became apparent - or, rather, more apparent than they already were:

1. I absolutely love 'You're No Rock 'N' Roll Fun' - a perfect pop song that would be my #1. I've got a copy of the limited edition CD single squirrelled away somewhere.

2. They're utterly fantastic, to the extent that everyone from Greil Marcus to Rolling Stone to Noisey branding them the best (punk) band in the world started to seem less like hyperbole and more like simple truth.

3. I don't own enough of their back catalogue. Their final pre-hiatus LP The Woods, in particular, needs to be bought urgently.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"They changed everything"

One of the highlights of my year so far, without a doubt, is getting the opportunity to meet and talk to photographer Denis O'Regan. As the exhibition The Art Of Punk And New Wave proved, he and his equally celebrated colleague and friend Chalkie Davies were right in the thick of the action as the punk movement took off in the late 1970s.

In much the same way, it seems, fellow photographers Janette Beckman and David Corio found themselves (perhaps unwittingly) at the centre of the nascent hip-hop scene on both sides of the Atlantic a few years later, by which time O'Regan had moved on to shooting the New Romantics and increasingly well-established pop and rock stars. Here they talk through a selection of images that capture those early days, all of which are currently on display in the Beat Positive exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery in London.

Beckman's portrait of Run DMC is superb, while - as Corio notes - the attire and awestruck expressions of the predominantly white audience gathered to watch the Rock Steady Crew show at the Venue (which was practically synonymous with punk gigs) in 1982 underline how novel and startling hip-hop culture once was.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Never mind the myth, here's the songs

Noting last December that there wasn't a Toppermost post on Fugazi, I commented: "If I was ever faced with the task of choosing ten Fugazi songs to write about, my dilemma would be which tracks from In On The Kill Taker to leave out". Fast forward six months and there is now such a post, courtesy of contributor Wayne Jessup, and, in cutting through the myth to focus firmly on Fugazi's musical output, he's managed to restrain himself to picking just one track from that album, the excellent 'Smallpox Champion' - though he does acknowledge the LP as "arguably their masterpiece".

The group's early days are well represented in the form of two tracks from each of 13 Songs and Repeater - including, inevitably but rightly, 'Waiting Room', "a master class in tension and release" that "would become a reliable paradigm for the band". Meanwhile, the passage on 'Closed Captioned' from End Hits underscores the vital importance of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty to the band's dynamic, something often overlooked in the focus on twin frontmen Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto.

It's nice to see that the selection ends with a pair of tracks from The Argument, the record that - given that they only seem inclined to break their hiatus for their own personal, private amusement - looks set to serve as their swansong. On the title track, which ends the album, Jessup is spot on: "Ominous and measured, MacKaye is singing softly and clearly, letting the bitterness simmer, and just when you expect all hell to break loose, it moves into a bridge reminiscent of a music box, before the guitars kick in, giving way to a coda of ferocity that was all they ever hoped to be, ending precisely on a clipped cymbal hit". Very few tracks convey a sense of finality quite so powerfully.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

And now for something completely different

When the Quietus' Matt Kaufman spoke to Mark Greaney back in 2010 (not last year, as I'd mistakenly imagined), the former frontman of JJ72 said that his ex-bandmate Hilary Woods was "getting back into music". Fast forward to 2018, and she certainly has - and with an LP that hardly leaps out as the work of someone once in a band that toured with Coldplay and Muse and was regularly touted as the Next Big Thing. Colt is very good indeed - atmospheric mood music that fully merits a release on the ever excellent Sacred Bones. Here's my Buzz review of the album, and here she is talking about it track by track to Drowned In Sound.

Also featuring in the Buzz album review section for June is my verdict on the Lice LP (well, double EP), out on IDLES' label Balley, and write-ups of albums by Ghost, Orange Goblin and A Certain Ratio.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

The Dude abides

The Coen brothers have made numerous films, many of which I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen, but I refuse to believe that any of them can be as good as The Big Lebowski, my introduction to their genius back in 1998. With the movie celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its release, the Independent's Darren Richman has looked back at the brilliance of a film that at the time seemed a willfully perverse way to follow up their big-time breakthrough Fargo but that has quite rightly earned cult status.

From the rambling plot, to the scene construction, to the dialogue, to the interplay between the Dude, Walter and Donnie, to the bit-part characters (John Turturro's Jesus in particular), there is nothing not to love about the movie - except, perhaps, the fact that it has to have an ending.

Ritual sadly not habitual

The line-up for last year's inaugural Ritual Union festival in Oxford was good, but this year's is even better - testament to the pulling power and connections of local promoter Simon Bailey of Future Perfect. I'm a big fan of Jane Weaver's latest album Modern Kosmology, while Gnod, Nadine Shah and Boy Azooga have all been hugely impressive in Cardiff in the last 12 months. At just £25 a ticket, it's also a bloody bargain.

So it's gutting to discover that, despite it still being four months away (20th October), I'm already booked up. Next year it is, then.

Friday, June 08, 2018

"It's all about uniting people"

Gary Lineker has (quite rightly) won many new fans for his use of Twitter to support various worthy causes, challenge disagreeable opinions and attack deserving targets (not least Piers Morgan and the Sun). But his former Everton colleague Neville Southall has gone further in regularly handing over his Twitter platform to marginalised groups, giving them a much louder voice than they would otherwise have. He only agreed to be interviewed by the Guardian's Donald McRae on the condition that the focus would be on those he has been seeking to help rather than himself. The result was, as McRae justifiably puts it, "one of the most exhaustive and unusual conversations I've had under the modest banner of a sports interview".