Friday, November 27, 2015

No end to austerity until we're bled dry

Just in case you were foolish enough to believe the Tory press when they declared that George Osborne's decision to axe plans to cut tax credits signalled "the end of austerity", here's John Harris to explain why that's complete bullshit. The simple truth is that local councils - some already stretched beyond capacity - are having to face up to cuts in central government funding of more than 50 per cent by 2020.

Meanwhile, one of the most incredible aspects of Osborne's Spending Review was his attempt to mitigate the continuing classification of sanitary products as "luxury items" and thus subject to tax by explaining that the money raised will be used to support women's charities. As has been widely pointed out on social media, this effectively makes women responsible for funding organisations that care for female victims of domestic abuse, which is almost always perpetrated by men. Not only that, but it begs the question of what happens if the ludicrous tampon tax is ever removed - starved of their source of funding, will these vital support services simply atrophy?

If Osborne had genuinely recommended that disgruntled women use Jaffa Cakes in place of tampons, as the Daily Mash has suggested, it wouldn't have been much more absurd.

(Thanks to Terry for the first link.)

Quote of the day

"What strange people we Brits are. We spend years moaning that our politicians are cynical opportunists who don’t stand for anything. Then along comes an opposition leader who has principles - and appears to stick by them even when it makes him unpopular - and he is dismissed as a joke."

Thus begins a surprisingly sensible Spectator article on Jeremy Corbyn, who is depicted by the magazine's deputy editor Freddy Gray as honourably (if naively) steadfast in his beliefs and position - in comparison to David Cameron, who appears to be making up his foreign policy on the fly with no regard for the consequences.

(Thanks to Tim for the link.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Survey monkeys

The Sun's front page declaring that one fifth of British Muslims have "sympathy for jihadis" has unsurprisingly attracted a record number of complaints - complaints that are well-founded if the testimony of one anonymous person who helped to conduct the survey that the rag used is to be believed.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Robinson's squash

Meet Kane Robinson, the Geordie twentysomething who set up an online forum that permitted the exchange of file-sharing links while living with his parents and working at Tesco, who gained the attention of the Arctic Monkeys and NME and who wound up with a 32-month prison sentence after being branded a "cyber crook" responsible for "stealing" £240 million worth of music. It's a remarkable story - as is his apparent good humour in the face of the injustice of being made a scapegoat.

"Utterly, UTTERLY dreadful"

It may just have been a one-off as a way of promoting his new TV series, but Steven Toast's review of the forthcoming film adaptation of Macbeth is sufficiently entertaining to warrant a regular reviewer's column in the pages of the Guardian. Much of his criticism is directed towards leading man Michael Fassbender: "Where was the lightness of touch, the sheer 'silliness' that makes Macbeth one of Shakespeare’s most memorable comic characters? He fails to get any laughs out of 'Macca' at all, and was clearly going through the motions on set." It's an amazingly perceptive appraisal, given that Toast has based his judgement solely on the trailer...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"The present system is one of conscious cruelty. It bears down on those least able to bear it. The bureaucratic inefficiency is vindictive and hunger is being used as a weapon. People are being forced to look for work that doesn’t exist. ... This is a real open wound in our society. We are just closing our eyes to this. The situation is much worse than in the days of Cathy Come Home, at least then if people had a trade they could have a job for life. Those jobs don’t exist now and working people are no longer in control of their own lives. All this is about dividing people into skivers and strivers. There needs to be public rage about this."

Ken Loach on food banks and benefits sanctions, the subject of his forthcoming (and possibly final) film I, Daniel Blake.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quote of the day

"In times of crisis, we are made to feel we should scrutinise our government’s actions less closely, when surely that’s when we should pay closest attention. There’s a feeling that after an atrocity history and context become less relevant, when surely these are actually the worst times for a society to go on psychopathic autopilot. Our attitudes are fostered by a society built on ideas of dominance, where the solution to crises are force and action, rather than reflection and compromise."

Not so very long ago I would have scoffed at the idea of turning to Frankie Boyle for level-headed, eminently sensible reaction to major news stories (in this case, the Paris attacks), but times have changed.

Meanwhile, across the pond, we've got a presidential hopeful who, if elected, would reintroduce waterboarding "in a heartbeat", on the grounds that "if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us"...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Feel good hits of the 22nd November

1. 'Lucette Stranded On The Island' - Julia Holter
The highlight of another spellbinding album bearing Holter's name - and her recent show in Islington. Typically lush arrangements, with the abstraction of the verses balanced out with a chorus that sweeps in and carries you off your feet.

2. 'Never Ending Circles' - Chvrches
Quite a way to announce the arrival of your second album. Easily the match of anything on their debut - even if the jury remains out on Every Open Eye as a whole.

3. 'In The Shade Of The Sun' - Kapitan Korsakov
Belgian rock bands - there aren't many of note. Off the top of my head: Deus. And that's about it. This is very good, though - a sprawling beast that sounds a bit like primitive Mogwai. Thanks to Gareth (and Spotify) for the tip-off.

4. 'Bent (Roi's Song)' - DIIV
I'll admit it: while I enjoyed 2012's Oshin, I'd largely forgotten about this lot. It turns out they've had a rather troubled few years, to say the least. 'Bent (Roi's Song)' is lovely, though - dreamy shoegaze that promises much from forthcoming second album Is The Is Are. Little wonder that the reformed Ride saw them as kindred spirits, inviting them to open up a handful of dates on their recent US tour.

5. 'Duplex Planet' - Deerhunter
Like 'Breather', which precedes it, 'Duplex Planet' has Lockett Pundt's fingerprints all over it. Indeed, that's true of the first half of Fading Frontier - just a shame that they seem to abandon that tack in the second half, and lose their way.

6. 'Thunderstruck' - AC/DC
Just the thing for a sweaty rock club at 2.30 in the morning, at the climax of a messy stag do, believe me.

7. 'Undone (The Sweater Song)' - Beach House
I definitely feel like I owe it to Beach House to buy both Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars now that they've covered one of my favourite Weezer songs. It makes more sense than you might think.

8. 'Longpig' - Perfume Genius
Having won new recruits to the Marissa Nadler fan club the weekend before, I then did it again with Perfume Genius. This track - idiosyncratic handclappy synthpop - seemed to do the trick. 

9. 'Director' - The Antlers
I still find Familiars a bit too one-paced (and that pace being too sedate), but 'Director' does at least have a richly satisfying crescendo.

10. 'Sundowner' - Blanck Mass
From the self-titled debut - the point at which that record's ambient mood collided with the sheer noisiness of Fuck Buttons. If ever footage of the Big Bang needs a soundtrack, this is it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The hitman and her - and him

A propos of nothing much (it seems), the Independent's Christopher Hooton has penned a piece celebrating Luc Besson's 1994 masterpiece Leon which perfectly encapsulates what makes it such a powerful and enduring (and influential) film. He's absolutely right to praise the performances of Jean Reno as the titular professional assassin and the 12-year-old Natalie Portman as the hitman's unlikely sidekick, but also to hail Gary Oldman's as truly "unforgettable". Oldman's corrupt cop is astonishing, "a brilliant film villain because his menace, malice and mania are entirely unexplained. He chews pills with convulsive ritual, conducts massacres as symphonies, and lurches between different accents for no apparent reason." A repeat viewing is long overdue round these parts...

The Dead live on

Given his already well-publicised (if surprising) enthusiasm for them, it comes as little surprise to learn that Lee Ranaldo will feature on a forthcoming Grateful Dead tribute album, but the list of other contributors that The National have attracted to the project is pretty stellar: Stephen Malkmus, J Mascis, Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo, Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear, Perfume Genius, The Walkmen. Who knew there were so many unabashed Deadheads in the world of American indie rock?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Risky business

A few months back I wrote briefly about the risks attached to crowdfunding. Those risks are underlined in this article by the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. Kickstarter have admitted that while their requirements are a little more stringent than other similar platforms, they don't verify all of the claims made by creators: "Creators are responsible for their projects, and backers decide whether those projects should be funded. We encourage backers to do some research on the creator and their project before backing, and to evaluate their ability to complete the project." So, essentially, due diligence is down to prospective investors.

However, while investors can't necessarily expect results and consequently a return on their investment, they are at least entitled to good communication from those they're helping to support - something that creators would do well to remember.

Quote of the day

"I wanted to make something that was new and bold and that was more forward-thinking about the idea of beauty and noise and dissonance and texture. That's where we've always been - the balance between beauty and noise. And this time the noise wins... Barely."

I haven't listened to Low's new album Ones And Sixes, but comments like this from Alan Sparhawk certainly help to whet my appetite, given that 2005's The Great Destroyer - arguably the first Low album on which noise definitely won - is my favourite.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


A date for next year's gig diary: 28th and 29th May, when the Common People festival comes to Oxford's South Park. It's a prime festival site, but one that hasn't been used as such very often, aside from for the odd Cowley Road Carnival music events and Radiohead's Kid A tour in 2001. Last year's OxfordOxford festival was scrapped due to poor ticket sales (not surprising given the paltry line-up), but that's not a fate that's likely to befall Common People, given the involvement of Rob da Bank, whose Bestival and Camp Bestival shindigs regularly attract high-quality performers and continue to go from strength to strength.

After the demise of the Cowley Road-focused Gathering, which took place in 2012 and 2013, it'll just be nice to have another festival back in the centre of the city to complement the annual Audioscope event, which takes place this Saturday with a typically strong bill.

Credit to the nation

Banning Islam, abolishing the BBC and outlawing the use of the word "racism": sensible policies for a better country. Thanks, Britain First. Just a shame that the party conference notes did little to dispel the notion that you're a bunch of gibbering, illiterate morons.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Keyboard warriors

The pen is mightier than the sword, it's said - but is the cyberattack mightier than the suicide bombing? We may be about to find out, now that Anonymous has declared war on IS, promising their "biggest campaign ever". France's apparent determination to lash out with air strikes in retaliation for the Paris attacks, with support from the US and the UK, is understandable - but waging virtual warfare, which doesn't risk civilian deaths, may prove a more effective course of action.

Anonymous' declaration may sit slightly awkwardly with the collective's somewhat anarchic roots, in that it involves alignment with the Western establishment, but it indicates that the hacktivists consider the defence of freedom of speech and action to be more important.

What Western governments and citizens make of this will also be interesting. Until now, hackers have often been portrayed as bogeymen on a par with IS, a shadowy and dangerous threat to security both national and personal (witness the recent TalkTalk hack). Now, Anonymous members are putting themselves forwards as protectors or guarantors of that security. Of course, an undemocratically elected organisation capable of wielding such power remains potentially troubling, but there may nevertheless be a subtle shift in public perceptions.

Fortress mentality

You might well have guessed it was the case, but a new study has confirmed that "the UK printed press coverage of the refugee crisis is the most xenophobic and dehumanising in Europe". Sadly, that's only likely to worsen in light of the terrorist atrocities in Paris.

(Thanks to Seralynne for the link.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


It's a sad state of affairs when one BBC local radio DJ can (it seems) keep his job after flagrantly breaking Ofcom's broadcasting rules with repeated misogynistic and derogatory comments about breastfeeding while another, far more talented DJ is forced to apologise for challenging bigotry and homophobia on air and as a result decides to quit. Something's not quite right there.

He's no here

So it's farewell to John Cummings, as Mogwai experience their first line-up change for 17 years. The statement on the band's website is short and to the point, mentioning his desire "to pursue his own musical projects". The instrumentalists aren't exactly renowned for wordiness, but after that length of time together you might have expected something a little more effusive. It's mischievous to suggest it, but might he have grown frustrated with the unadventurous direction Rave Tapes seems to have taken them in?

Either way, the remaining four will soldier on, with assistance from long-time collaborator Luke Sutherland and ex-Sons & Daughters guitarist/vocalist Scott Paterson on their forthcoming tour. Here's hoping the change will reinvigorate one of the best British bands of my generation.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A mark of respect?

As the dust settles on the tragic events in Paris on Friday night, one thing is abundantly clear: just as events are filtered and refracted through media before reaching us, so too are our reactions mediated or mediatised. The world reacted with horror immediately on social media, and before long some of those reactions - those  of Jason Manford, Rob Lowe and Kay Burley, for instance - became transformed into media stories in themselves. Perversely, the events themselves, and their causes and consequences, are in danger of being overshadowed by different people's reactions to them.

For us non-celebrities, there was soon an option to overlay our Facebook profile pictures with a tricolour filter. Like many, many others, I did it as a gesture of respect and solidarity, however futile and trivial it might seem. And yet I can't help but feel chastened by the sentiments of one Facebook user, Charlotte Farhan: "I won't be changing my profile to the French flag even though I am French and from Paris. The reason for this is that if I did this for only Paris this would be wrong. If I did this for every attack on the world, I would have to change my profile everyday several times a day. My heart is with the world, no borders, no hierarchy, I hold every human's life with value who is attacked by extremist beliefs whether they are based on religion, prejudice or profit! Don't be part of the 'us and them' mentality which the war mongers want you to do!"

That, I'm afraid, is the uncomfortable, unpalatable truth. Much as I and others might think we don't fall into the trap of the Mail et al. in believing that events are more serious and tragic if they occur in close proximity to the UK and affect British citizens, none of us was making a similar gesture of respect and solidarity with Beirut prior to the attacks in Paris.

Update: As has been pointed out, it's not true to say that our media didn't cover the Lebanon attack - so we haven't got an ignorance that can be blamed on the media as an excuse.

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Know Your Enemy

"Honest to God I’m fucking sick to death of the bullshit this industry pulls on people like me and I’ve had it. Enough I’m done. Fuck you Radio 2. Fuck you Bauer network and fuck the lot of you. It is utter shit. It’s an fucking good song, OK? There is no reason why you need to do this to me once again."

Sandi Thom has a public meltdown in response to the decision of Radio 2 and the commercial Bauer network not to playlist her new single 'Earthquake'.

While I'm reluctant to kick someone who's evidently not in a very happy place, this encapsulates all that is wrong with the music industry, and in a more profound way than Thom might have intended: not only an industry and mainstream radio network that creates hoops through which people must jump, but also the undignified willingness of some musicians (I hesitate to call them "artists") to do so in the hope of receiving a juicy bone, and their indignation when success isn't forthcoming. Following a formula (and 'Earthquake' certainly does that) doesn't always result in spectacular chemistry, and music is better off without careerists who feel they're owed a living simply because they're putting the hours in.

Which reminds me of a post I've been meaning to write for some time now. Maybe this week...

(Thanks to Ronan for the link.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

How should small businesses respond in the face of blatant tax avoidance by multinationals who are attempting to bully them off our high streets? Perhaps by adopting the same strategies in a bid to force the government to act and close loopholes. Hats off to businesses in Crickhowell for giving it a try.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

In with the cool crowd

While I'm umming and erring about going to either the Stewart Lee or newly announced Drive Like Jehu weekenders in April, ATP have announced some pretty tasty additions to the line-up for July's shindig in Iceland. Angel Olsen and Ty Segall would be particularly big draws for me if cash and holiday wasn't a factor, but Les Savy Fav, Tortoise, Blanck Mass and Thee Oh Sees certainly aren't to be sniffed at either.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Quote of the day

"Morning! Would you feel comfortable wearing clothes designed by a lesbian? Give us a call, 020 7173 5555 #wrightstuff"

There I was, thinking that Matthew Wright had fallen foul of the #accidentalpartridge hashtag (and almost certainly not for the first time) - but it turns out that this tweet is taken from an excellent parody (but very believable) account.

On the subject of Alan, I missed the news that he'll be back on our tellies at the beginning of February with a second series of Mid Morning Matters - on Sky Atlantic again, rather than terrestrial, but you can't have everything. It's a chastening reminder that I haven't yet watched all of the first series - shameful, given the extent of my love for his work.

(Thanks to Ben and Hannah for the links.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Answering your critics

There's being miffed at receiving a negative review online for your creative endeavours, and then there's travelling hundreds of miles to track down your critic and smash her over the head with a bottle of wine. If ever I get another job in a supermarket, I'd probably be advised to watch my back.

(Thanks to Drew for the link.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ignorance isn't bliss

As I've said round these parts fairly recently, I'm not much of a fan of George Monbiot - someone whose views broadly tally with mine but who regularly articulates his points in the sort of shriekingly hysterical fashion that makes you almost wish you were on the opposing side. But credit where it's due - he's done the nation a huge favour by publicising (via the Guardian) the leaked correspondence between David Cameron and Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth. He's quite right to have been incredulous at how slow the mainstream press have been to picking the story up from the Oxford Mail, even allowing for those that endorse the austerity agenda.

Thanks to Monbiot and (subsequently) others, you're probably now well aware of the content of the letters - but if not, here's a summary. Cameron, in his capacity as an MP representing an Oxfordshire constituency, wrote to Hudspeth to complain about savage cuts to services that have been forced upon the council by a drastic reduction in government funding approved by Cameron, in his capacity as prime minister. Hudspeth responded in suitable fashion, pointing out the extent of the cuts his council has had to bear, undermining Cameron's arguments and challenging his figures. If he weren't a Tory councillor, you'd imagine he might have been rather more forthright and indignant at the prime minister's extraordinary hypocrisy and (perhaps wilful) blindness and ignorance.

As Monbiot points out, what is perhaps most worrying is that Oxfordshire is "among the wealthiest counties in England" - if Cameron thinks its population has been hit hard by cuts to council services, then he clearly has no conception of how the cuts are affecting the services in more deprived places, such as Newcastle, where they're most needed. As I suggested yesterday, it's almost as if the Tories have an ideological agenda and, tucked up in their Whitehall cocoon, haven't given any consideration as to the actual consequences of their actions.

(Thanks to Siobhan for the link.)

Know Your Enemy

"It seems you have somehow mistook two men feeding their child soup as a pornographic film depicting anal stimulation?"

Campbells respond to someone critical of their "homosexual agenda", as exemplified by a recent advert. Companies' attempts to engage with people on social media are often horribly cringeworthy, so this is refreshing.

First Doritos and now soup - which will be the next food brand to foist gayness upon our youth?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cut the cuts

Given his merciless assault on the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, it's nice to see Bonfire Night effigy du jour George Osborne getting a taste of his own medicine. The chancellor is currently under attack from all sides for his proposed cuts to tax credits.

The cross-party Work and Pensions Committee has warned that the cuts should be postponed and reconsidered in light of their likely impact: "by 2020-21, 78% of families will be on average £1,500 worse off in real terms", with supposedly compensatory measures like the National Living Wage failing to balance things out. That much shouldn't come as a surprise, but the statistics are nevertheless damning - as is the committee's description of the Treasury as "unacceptably evasive" as regards outlining the probable consequences of the cuts. It's almost as if Osborne and chums are ideologically motivated and don't give a toss about those whose lives they damage.

Meanwhile, both Gordon Brown and (slightly more unexpectedly) John Major have laid into Osborne for plans that will worsen a domestic poverty crisis. Major has branded the current level of inequality in Britain "shocking" and pointed out the connection between poverty and life expectancy. Coming from a Tory (albeit a moderate one), this is all the more damning - though you do have to wonder why Major and fellow Tory opponents of the tax credit cuts such as Heidi Allen of the Work and Pensions Committee are Tories at all if they feel that way.

Black comedy

The headline "Signs of dementia could include sense of humour getting darker, says study" had me worried for a bit, until it occurred to me that my sense of humour hasn't changed much recently (it's always been pretty dark) and in any case those showing symptoms of the condition "liked satirical and absurdist comedy significantly less than healthy patients". In other words, I should be OK as long as I continue to find The Day Today marginally more funny than Jam.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The lying game

And so the right-wing media's campaign to smear Jeremy Corbyn's name continues apace. This time his crime is to have appeared insufficiently solemn and respectful at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph, the Sun's headline implying (untruthfully) that the Labour leader refused to bow. It's bizarre to see him criticised as a pacifist in the same breath - surely there's no better way to pay tribute to the war dead than by working to ensure such sacrifices are not required or demanded in the future?

Still, it's not hard to see why the Tory press are inclined to print this kind of nonsense - the party they endorse are equally fond of being economical with the truth. Take Amber Rudd, for instance, who it emerges wasn't entirely honest when declaring that cuts to subsidies for renewable energy would have no impact on meeting targets. No surprise there, really - either that the targets are going to be missed or that a senior Tory thinks nothing of lying through her teeth.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"Unfortunately, since we fell into the quagmire of the Iraq war and the ubiquitous war on terror, Armistice Day and the wearing of the poppy have been not only politicised but also commercialised. It is now almost a month long dirge of patriotism without context and without understanding the true cost of war."

Second World War veteran Harry Leslie Smith explains why he refuses to bow to convention and wear a red poppy.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Quote of the day

"I’m bored of irony. I got bored of it a long time ago. And also, I rail against acerbic cynicism, because to me it’s actually a very safe place to be. My adage is that the edgiest word to use at the moment isn’t 'fuck', 'cunt', 'piss' or 'shit'. It’s 'love'. That’s what really makes people’s buttocks clench. It’s about being vulnerable. If you are vulnerable, it’s counterintuitive, it ultimately makes you stronger. And that’s a very hard thing to grasp."

Steve Coogan gets all deep, meaningful and touchy-feely with the Guardian's Zoe Williams, who was posing readers' questions to him. I would have liked to ask either whether he feels that Alan has bounced back after a bit of a creative lull (personally, I'd say so - the autobiography and film are two of the best things he's ever done) or whether he feels trapped by having created such a cult character.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Dumb and dumber

It may be nearly four months old, but this article on so-called "deficit fetishism" by Jonathan Hopkin and Ben Rosamond remains both relevant and engaging. The authors' starting point is to ponder why the electorate appears to have swallowed the Tories' austerity "bullshit" (a term they use in a technical sense) despite all the evidence that undermines it. Ultimately, they conclude, it's a seductive narrative in many ways, not least because it's relatively straightforward amidst a proliferation of more complex, nuanced perspectives.

Since the article was published, they would no doubt have been pleased to have seen Jeremy Corbyn elected as Labour leader, in light of his opposition to the narrative. A large part of the reason it's been able to gain traction and flourish, of course, is down to Ed Miliband's apparent inability to avoid its lure himself. One of the commenters makes the valid point that there's a risk of overstating the power of bullshit and making the classic mistake of underestimating the intelligence of the electorate. Have people been naively duped into buying the tale the Tories are peddling, or did they make a rational decision to return the Tories to power because the alternative was, at the time, even more dismal? It's a question to which the authors' response would be interesting.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Friday, November 06, 2015

Conspicuous consumption

So, "binge-watch" has been named as Collins English Dictionary's Word Of The Year - a timely reminder that our viewing of  Breaking Bad, which has stalled for various reasons since the end of the breathtaking fourth season, needs to be kickstarted.

Also singled out for mention were "contactless", "shaming", "swipe" and "transgender" - all words I'd have thought were already well established in the dictionary. Apparently not. "Ghosting" is a phenomenon I only heard for the first time very recently, while "dadbod" and "clean eating" (the latter preventing the former) are both new to me.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"The music industry is a giant shrieking ghost. It means nothing. It never meant much. It’s just an appalling apparition. It has no vitality. How can you expect much from someone who thinks only of profit? They’re simple creatures. I might sound so arrogant. I’m not a socialist in any dogmatic way. I don’t believe that I have the answer. I think [indie-film pioneer] John Cassavetes had the best answer for the creation and distribution of art: Pay for it yourself, do it yourself."

Deerhunter's Bradford Cox gets stuck into the music biz in the course of discussing the "concept map" he drew up ahead of the release of Fading Frontier last month.

The queen of the Queen Vic

And the award for the Least Likely Victim Of Homophobia Ever goes to ... drum roll ... Danny Dyer!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Breaking the cycle

Heartening news from Ireland, whose chief of National Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has announced that the personal consumption of a number of drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis is to be decriminalised. He described the move as signifying a "radical cultural shift" - one that is necessary and welcome, and yet totally at odds with the Tories' proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill.

Given such an enlightened stance on drugs, however, it beggars belief that abortion remains illegal in Ireland. Surely that has to change soon.

"We are the robots!"

It's safe to say that if my teacher at school had got us to perform a cover of Kraftwerk's 'The Robots' while wearing homemade robot outfits fashioned out of cardboard, I might have enjoyed music lessons more.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

'Hopping mad?

Say what you like about groundhoppers - and despite being an ardent fan of football, even I find the obsessive pursuit of their hobby slightly baffling - but the extent to which they put their money where their mouth is in invaluable support of the grassroots of the game is undisputed. Here's something I recently wrote to that effect about this year's North Berks Football League groundhop.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Feel good hits of the 1st November

1. 'Nothing In My Heart' - Marissa Nadler
July has been back on heavy rotation of late, and this, the track with which it signs off, is spinetinglingly good. I won over a couple of new converts while away with friends at the weekend - or, should I say, she did.

2. 'Lights Out' - Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness has also come back off the shelf recently, 'Lights Out' being the current flavour of the month - one of the slow-burners that she does so well.

3. 'Priestess' - Pumarosa
I know next to nothing about this lot except that the esteemed editor of Nightshift caught them recently and enthused about the way they blew everyone else off stage. 'Priestess' is quite something - graceful and hypnotic, subtle in its use of drones, not dissimilar to Oxford's own Foals or Maiians, though perhaps most closely resembling the languid trancey-dance of 'Disco/Very', the standout track on Warpaint's second album.

4. 'The Answer' - Savages
"Evil" and "very heavy, very mean" were just two of the ways Savages described their new material to Rolling Stone back in May. 'The Answer' is more than enough proof that they weren't lying. Clearly the time they've spent working with Bo Ningen has had an effect. The album Adore Life is out on 22nd January and you can be damn sure I'll be buying it.

5. 'Golden Lion' - The Besnard Lakes
22nd January is also marked in the diary for the fact that the quietly quite wonderful Besnard Lakes release their latest magnum opus - bearing the characteristically preposterous title A Coliseum Complex Museum - on the same day. 'Golden Lion', released this month on an EP, is essentially a condensed version of everything they do so bloody well.

6. 'Elegy To The Void' - Beach House
No sooner had Beach House released Depression Cherry than they were announcing a follow-up, Thank Your Lucky Stars. I don't have either yet, but this delicious taster of the latter suggests that it certainly wasn't a half-arsed rush job.

7. 'Grievances' - Kowloon Walled City
I would have struggled to imagine how Shellac and Codeine could possibly be synthesised into something that not only works but that is the sum of its parts, were it not for Pitchfork helpfully pointing me in the direction of Kowloon Walled City and this track in particular.

8. 'Faultlines' - Lanterns On The Lake
Yet another SWSL favourite back with a new album, soldiering on in the face of criminal indifference. Maybe this track or the album itself, Beings, will finally propel them to receive the recognition they deserve.

9. 'Sunny Side Up' - Faith No More
To be honest, I've been enjoying this mostly for the video - pensioners running riot in a care home, in a knowing commentary on the band members' veteran status - though the song isn't bad either.

10. 'Don't Sit/Lie' - Erase Errata
Another one of those bands who've have passed me by until now, when I've learned they're calling it quits. Pretty shameful on my part, really, given the obvious Sleater-Kinney influence on their itchy, febrile punk.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"The psychoactive substances bill is the most oppressive law in terms of controlling moral behaviour since the Act of Supremacy in 1558 that banned the practice of the Catholic faith. Both are based on a moral superiority that specifies the state will decide on acceptable actions and beliefs even if they don’t affect other people. Worse, it won’t work – evidence from other countries such as Poland and Ireland that have tried such blanket bans shows an increase in deaths as people go back to older illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin."

David Nutt, who was sacked from his position as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by Alan Johnson for having the temerity to challenge the Labour government's policy, is scathing in his condemnation of their Tory counterparts' new proposed legislation in this Guardian article explaining why drugs are illegal.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The not-so-satanic verses

Salman Rushdie reading and assessing Drake lyrics? About as odd, awkward and weirdly compelling as it sounds. Next week: Martin Amis recites and rates the work of So Solid Crew.

Bread of heaven

"12 Life-Changing Sandwiches You've Never Heard Of": one of the most ludicrous clickbait headlines I'd come across - or so I thought. It turns out that when I did click on the link, I discovered a smorgasbord of delights that had me salivating immediately and that potentially do deserve the epithet "life-changing".

Not that the article was totally accurate, mind - I've heard of (and indeed already indulged in) a Francesinha...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Street life

Given that the CBRE Urban Photographer Of The Year competition is open to entries from around the world, it's no surprise to see that the quality of this year's submissions was so high. Of the featured photos, Coco Liu's - of a street scene in a wintery Chicago - is my favourite, and all the more impressive for being captured on a mere mobile phone.

Another day in paradise

Bob Mortimer's triple heart bypass has forced the cancellation of the first half of the 25 Years Of Reeves And Mortimer: The Poignant Moments tour: boo! Phil Collins is coming out of retirement so we'll soon be able to see him live instead: hurray! Er, hang on a minute...

(Get well soon, Bob.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"Tonight un-elected Labour and Liberal Lords have defeated a financial matter passed by the elected House of Commons. David Cameron and I are clear that this raises constitutional issues that need to be dealt with."

Funny, isn't it, how George Osborne and the Tories seem to have taken a sudden interest in reforming the House of Lords, after suffering two defeats over their proposed cuts to tax credits.

Presumably this opposition to unelected peers will rule out the possibility of Cameron simply flooding the House of Lords with Tories in order to get whatever he wants rubber-stamped - something proposed by a number of Tories, including Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I wouldn't go for 150. I'd go for more than that. You've got to make absolutely sure".

Monday, October 26, 2015

Queasy listening


That Kancho!’s cymbals are battered and fraying at the edges gives us helpful advance warning that our eardrums are about to come under attack. And so it proves, with what is a significant change of direction for former Ute and Old Grinding Young man (not to mention Idiot King head honcho) Mike Chilcott. Shellac are a reliably agreeable point of reference, though the duo could perhaps vary the pace a bit for added impact.

The Correct Arc instantly transport me back to the turn of the millennium – a time when it seemed more bands were off-kilter than were on, and when the contents of my bank account were regularly channelled straight into the cash registers of Nottingham music-lover’s mecca Selectadisc in return for a selection of albums from the store’s post-hardcore section. As a result, their set is a trip down memory lane, conjuring up the ghosts of largely forgotten Dischord signings like Bluetip and Faraquet. Times and my tastes have moved on, though, and the rose-tinted reverie doesn’t last.

And then there’s Blacklisters. The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow was never one to be reticent about exposing himself onstage, and I can only assume that at a gig in Leeds some time in the late 1980s he went rather further, judging by the number of love children his band seem to have fathered in the city.

From the moment they kick off with ‘Shirts’ – from new album Adults, produced by Hookworms’ Matt Johnson and released on Smalltown America – it’s clear that we’re in for a treat. And like most treats, the Blacklisters live experience is moreish and irresistible but an indulgence that will significantly reduce your life expectancy.

Songs slouch along malevolently before exploding into life with violent, in-your-face intensity – a full-on assault of howling vocals, abrasive sandpapery guitar noise, lurching basslines and seasick rhythms that desperately clutches at your throat, hell-bent on throttling every last breath out of you.

For a while it's touch and go, but in the end we make it out alive - and, having lived to tell the tale, we're duty bound to do so, loudly and regularly to anyone who'll listen. Consider yourselves told.

(This review appears in the November issue of Nightshift.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bat Puppy out of hell

First it was Slayer saving homeless kittens, and now it's Meat Loaf rehoming abandoned puppies. There's a BBC3 docudrama in this: The Rock 'N' Roll Animal Rescue Centre. Just don't let Ozzy look after the injured bats.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

My heart's reflection

Another great feature on reliably high-quality site The Talkhouse: Jeffrey Lewis' cartoon telling a condensed version of the story of his 19-year love of Yo La Tengo. It's reassuring to know that even celebrated musicians sometimes turn into hopeless goofy, foot-in-mouth fanboys in the presence of their heroes. (He had a point, mind - surely Electr-O-Pura simply has to represented for a 30th anniversary gig?! 'Blue Line Swinger', at very least...)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Welcome to the danger zone

So you've been on holiday to Pripyat, taken a load of photos and are now hungry for another expedition that puts you at risk of exposure to dangerous levels of radiation. The Fukushima Exclusion Zone is just the destination for you - just take a look at this brochure, put together by Polish photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski.

Something's Amess

Presumably when the powers that be were looking to appoint an MP to scrutinise the Tories' Psychoactive Substances Bill, they scouted around for someone with a bit of experience of the area. I'm not sure David Amess, the Tory who fell headlong into Chris Morris' trap in denouncing cake as a "big yellow death bullet" in the drugs episode of Brasseye, is quite the man for the job...