Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Racket from Russia

Kiss were once banned in Russia, but - 44 years into an improbably successful career - they're now playing for 15,000 people in Moscow. The New Statesman's Kate Mossman went behind the scenes, trying to discover what lies beneath the make-up.

Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are an odd couple, seemingly united solely by the band but sharing a common background, both being the sons of Jewish women who fled Nazi persecution in Europe. While Stanley seems relatively quiet, distant and thoughtful, Simmons comes across as a rather unpleasant individual, a domineering loudmouth who is unrepentantly reactionary in his views. There can't be many iconic male rock stars who started out as a temp at Glamour and Vogue.

(Thanks to Sean for the link.)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Late greats

Lo, the cry of the music snob: "I prefer their early work". We've all been guilty of it - even if it's motivated by a genuine enthusiasm for the singles/albums in question rather than merely as a means of suggesting we were somehow ahead of the curve. Contributors to the Quietus - who've earned (with some justification) a reputation for perhaps willfully perverse judgements - have put together a list of 40 albums from the twilight of artists' careers that are exceptionally good, if not necessarily better than anything that went before.

Among those artists featured are The Beach Boys (Keepin' The Summer Alive), Alice In Chains (Black Gives Way To Blue), Can (Saw Delight), Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band (Bluejeans & Moonbeams), The Fall (Sub Lingual Tablet), Iron Maiden (A Matter Of Life And Death), Manic Street Preachers (Postcards From A Young Man), Mudhoney (The Lucky Ones), Pet Shop Boys (Electric), Pink Floyd (A Momentary Lapse Of Reason), Pulp (We Love Life), REM (Up), Smashing Pumpkins (Zeitgeist) and Neil Young (Le Noise).

I can't comment on any of those, other than to say that Up is a good album within a sizeable back catalogue with which I'm not sufficiently familiar. I'd quibble with the inclusion of Dinosaur Jr's I Bet On Sky, Mogwai's The Hawk Is Howling, Queens Of The Stone Age's Era Vulgaris and The Jesus & Mary Chain's Munki, though - while all of them are decent enough, none come close to the heights of their finest efforts.

Nevertheless, it's nice to see Quietus editor John Doran making a strong case for the qualities of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Push The Sky Away, and I'm in complete agreement with Patrick Clarke's assessment of Sonic Youth's The Eternal as "one of their very best" and "the worthiest of send-offs" - though, of course, as he says, "There's not really such a thing as a bad Sonic Youth album".

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Disowned designs

Creative types aren't always satisfied with the realisations of their visions, and architects are no different. The Sydney Opera House is the most famous of these six projects disowned by their creators - though the fault, in their view, very often seems to lie with cost-cutting compromises rather than with the original design.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Aural delights for the autumn

It's bloody typical that as soon as I swap Oxford for Cardiff, the latter's Swn Festival takes a gap year (with no guarantee it'll return in 2018) while the former will host not one but two new one-day smorgasbords of music in the autumn.

First up, across three stages at East Oxford Community Centre and Fusion Arts on 2nd September, will be If Not Now, When?. A collaboration between promoters Divine Schism and Idiot King, the festival sees Alpha Male Tea Party and Tellison on the bill alongside a host of the city's finest including Slate Hearts, Kid Kin and Flights Of Helios.

Then, on 21st October, it's the turn of Future Perfect's Ritual Union, a multi-venue event taking place on Cowley Road that will hopefully pick up where Gathering left off in 2013. Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation, Flaminggods and local porch-folk duo The August List have already been named on the line-up, and Nightshift editor Ronan has hinted that the yet-to-be-announced headliners will be a significant coup. It's already sounding like a good excuse to head back to my old stomping ground.

Quote of the day

"Described as 'semi-connected short films chronicling the lives of the mutated women, men and children of Los Angeles', the movie includes such sights as a man having sex with a woman's talking boil and George Clinton birthing a giant cockroach from his anus."

Flying Lotus' film Kuso, set for release this summer, sounds like delightful. Perhaps take an empty pick-'n'-mix bag into the auditorium with you, just in case.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Of synths and synthesis

Episode 17 of Sounding Bored finds a panel consisting of host Rob, returnee Brian and debutant Pete aka Kid Kin chatting about rock's embrace of (and resistance towards) electronics.

Each panellist begins by choosing a band/artist with a foot firmly planted in both camps, with Brian choosing Japanese maverick Cornelius, Pete enthusing about 65daysofstatic and Rob deliberately looking beyond the narrow Anglo-American field to select Russians Gnoomes. (Personally, I would have been tempted to choose Battles, but I can't think of a much better example of the complete synergy between acoustic and electronic elements than Holy Fuck.)

Other bands/artists discussed include Bon Iver, Muse, Radiohead, Mogwai, David Bowie and Animal Collective. As a practising musician himself, Pete's observations about the joys and challenges of working with electronics, and the opportunities that new technologies bring, are particularly interesting. (If I'd been on, I'd have mentioned looper pedals, which in around 2006/2007 seemed to me to be a complete game-changer with regard to solo musicians like Voice Of The Seven Woods and Ill Ease.)

The episode's featured album, Forest Swords' Compassion, blurs the boundaries between acoustic and electronic elements, though edges more towards the electronic end of the spectrum, and gets a unanimous thumbs up from the panel.

Meanwhile, in the news section, there's reaction to the death of Chris Cornell and anticipation for the forthcoming soundtracks to the revived Twin Peaks and the Netflix film War Machine, the latter created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Episode 18 is set to follow towards the end of June - and, if all goes to plan, will see me clambering back in the saddle to record a Music Cities episode on location here in Cardiff.

Friends in familiar places

You can take the boy (well, nearly fortysomething) out of Oxford, but you can't stop him writing for Nightshift. OK, so I can't easily cover gigs there anymore, but I can still review the odd local release - such as the new self-titled LP from False Friends in the June issue. Its stylistic restlessness results in a record that isn't exactly coherent but is nevertheless intriguing in its ambition and scope, and on occasion genuinely successful in execution.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ultramega OK

It's now a week since the news of Chris Cornell's death broke, and a good time for further reflections.

What struck me the most was the fact that tributes came pouring in from right across the musical spectrum. Last year, the deaths of both David Bowie and Prince prompted such a reaction, but I hadn't expected it for the former frontman of Soundgarden and Audioslave. Few will have been surprised at the tributes paid by the likes of Jimmy Page, Tommy Iommi and former bandmate Tom Morello, but it's hard to imagine another musician also being the subject of eulogies from everyone from Elton John, Brian Wilson, Nile Rodgers and Timbaland to Best Coast, Wavves and Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley.

Inevitably, I found myself revisiting Soundgarden's back catalogue - admittedly, for the first time in a long while. First port of call was 'Jesus Christ Pose', but after that it had to be Superunknown, rightly hailed on its twentieth anniversary as "the platonic ideal of what a mainstream hard rock album should be" by Pitchfork's Stuart Berman. It's an incredible album: complex, deep, multi-faceted, utterly engrossing. In the wake of Cornell's death, Berman has also written a piece for Noisey about the five different dimensions of Soundgarden - and all five of them are perfectly exemplified on Superunknown.

From there, I moved onto Down On The Upside - an even more diverse album that proved to be their last until reformation and 2012's King Animal. It's a record that, for me, never really gets its due - and, sure enough, none of its tracks featured in Stevie Chick's list of Cornell's ten most definitive songs. Admittedly, its two highest points (in my view), 'Zero Chance' and 'Switch Opens', were both written by Ben Shepherd - but Cornell's vocal performance is inevitably front and centre throughout.

That list did include Audioslave's 'Cochise', though - a song that I subsequently revisited and that, in conjunction with its firework extravaganza video directed by Mark Romanek, is a real tour de force, thanks largely to Cornell's full-throttle vocal performance.

While I wasn't hugely keen on Audioslave otherwise, and while much of his post-Soundgarden work was dreadful, Cornell nevertheless deserves great credit for his "refusal to stand still artistically", as the Guardian's Alexis Petridis put it. Many musicians of Cornell's stature would be tempted to settle into a comfortable groove, every now and again knocking out albums that feel instantly familiar, but he continually sought to challenge both himself and what was expected of him. Scream, his Timbaland-produced solo record released in 2009, is by all accounts awful (I can't bring myself to listen to more than a couple of tracks) - but I'll defend his right to try something completely different. Ultimately, he should be celebrated not just as a great rock vocalist but as someone who retained creative ambition to the end.

"A bias towards truth"

As if Infowars being granted White House press accreditation on Monday wasn't bad enough, the Trump-supporting far-right conspiracy theorists/propaganda merchants (and friends of Billy Corgan) then mocked the inevitable outcry, showing off their jaw-dropping levels of self-delusion in the process: "tiny cracks of truth topple even the most colossal of lies - and that's why major, corporate media is scared of small, independent press with a bias towards truth".

Alex Jones then promptly showed the organisation's true colours, spouting off about the Manchester Arena attack: "a big bomb goes off at a pop star's rock concert bombing a bunch of liberal trendies ... [the] same people, god love 'em, on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in." Yep, you read that right: teenage girls are "liberal trendies" who only have themselves to blame for their deaths.

What's worrying, of course, is that Jones isn't a lone despicable cunt shouting into a vacuum, but a despicable cunt with a sizeable following and sphere of influence. Trump is a fan of the alt-right sites that helped to propel him into the White House, having gone so far as to appoint Breitbart's Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counsellor. When the likes of Breitbart and Infowars have the ear of the president, we really do live in dangerous times.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Safe spaces?

It hopefully goes without saying that I spent most of yesterday feeling bewildered and profoundly saddened by the terrorist atrocity in Manchester. As heartening as some of the stories were (the dedication and compassion of the emergency services; the offers of emergency accommodation and free taxi rides; the generous support of the public in terms of medical aid, provisions and blood donations; the statements of unity, solidarity and defiance from around the country), unfortunately it wasn't only the best of humanity that was brought out by the bomb - inevitably, there was political point-scoring and the deliberate circulation of fake missing persons images on social media, and a characteristically controversial outburst from Morrissey.

Above all (and in spite of myself), I felt a deep sense of anger. How fucking dare someone specifically target children (as the bomber surely did, by picking an Ariana Grande concert)? How fucking dare he (ab)use a live music event - a source of such pleasure and enjoyment - as an opportunity to kill and main en masse?

Naturally, my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones. I'll leave it to others to recommend what measures should now be taken to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in future, but, as someone obsessed with music, I've found myself speculating gloomily on what this might mean for arena gigs, and gigs in general.

First, security will inevitably be stepped up. Not only will more intensive and rigorous checks mean longer waiting times to get into venues, they will also push up costs. Those costs, you would imagine, will ultimately be passed on to fans, and tickets for shows like this will become even more prohibitively expensive. As a result, more young music fans will be deprived of the opportunity to see their heroes in the flesh - an experience that might have led to a lifelong love of gig-going.

Second, even if children can afford to go to gigs, they may not be allowed to. While I agree wholeheartedly with the concluding sentiment of Tshepo Mokoena's comment piece for Noisey, urging that we should continue to go to arena gigs in defiance of the terrorists, parents may well not feel the same way when it comes to their children. Those whose kids went to Monday night's concert are now either grieving, enduring the horrible anxiety of hospital visits or living with teens traumatised by the event itself and the thought that a faceless stranger might have wanted them dead. No matter how defiant I might feel personally, as a parent myself I can understand why some might now be reluctant for their children to go to concerts - and certainly to go to concerts unaccompanied.

Third, musicians might be deterred from touring - especially those of sufficient stature to tour large venues like the Manchester Arena and the Bataclan in Paris. It goes without saying that no blame or responsibility can be attached to Ariana Grande, but that's unlikely to stop her from feeling guilt at the knowledge that 22 people wouldn't have lost their lives if they hadn't gone to see her perform. It's a horrendously cruel burden to bear (as it was for Eagles Of Death Metal in November 2015), and one that might prompt more than just Grande to reconsider playing live. Given that it's sales of gig tickets rather than records that now keeps the music industry afloat, such decisions could be damaging to the industry as a whole.

I sincerely hope that none of this comes to pass - though sadly that seems unlikely. These three developments would spell bad news for the music industry and music fans, at the exact moment that the positivity, collective enthusiasm and generosity of spirit that live music can generate are most needed.

This charming man

It's often debated who was the best James Bond, but, as a child growing up in the 1980s, there was only ever one 007 for me: the late, great Roger Moore - a suave, calm hero always ready with a raised eyebrow, able to charm his way out of tight situations and deliver one-liners once he'd done so.

So perfect was he for the role that even his name sounded like an Ian Fleming character who might star opposite Pussy Galore (either that, or appear in a Carry On film or in the pages of Viz). I can't say I've kept up with the Bond franchise in recent years (far from it), but A View To A Kill remains my absolute favourite - thanks in no small part to Moore's presence (though, admittedly, Christopher Walken is the real star of that one).

Moore is also synonymous with The Saint and The Persuaders, but - as the statement from his three children noted - it was actually his work as an ambassador for UNICEF "that he considered to be his greatest achievement".

Marc Haynes' recollection of meeting Moore on two different occasions separated by a number of years is a fitting testimony to a British icon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The lady's for turning

The problem with describing yourself as capable of providing "strong and stable" leadership of the country is that you then have to live up to it - as Theresa May is now finding out to her cost.

As Andrew Neil pointed out to her on the day that she performed a U-turn on the so-called "dementia tax" but then vigorously denied having done so, the enormous lead in the polls that she enjoyed relatively recently - the lead she was hoping to use to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn and, in the words of the Daily Mail, "crush the saboteurs" - has been whittled down to very little. For someone very much left of centre like myself, it's extremely encouraging to see her floundering so badly in the face of questions from an interviewer naturally disposed to look favourably on Tories.

There's some way to go yet, of course, but suddenly backing a party other than the Conservatives is looking like much less of a lost cause; on the contrary, it's May and her cronies who are increasingly all at sea.

Quote of the day

"Each weekday evening between about seven and 10pm he leaves his office to sit on the paper's back bench and remorselessly rehash that day's offering, all the while delivering what staff call 'the vagina monologues', heated critical assessments of his journalists' efforts, with scattershot use of his favourite word, 'cunt'. Though the Mail's website, with its sidebar of celebrity shame, is the most visited news site in the world, Dacre has little interest in technology. He edits with a blunt pencil, often apparently with enough vitriol to shred his page proofs."

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre really does come across as a charmer in this Observer piece by Tim Adams, which (through the analysis of front pages from the last year) traces the way that Dacre and his paper have managed to manipulate the public and orchestrate Brexit and the ousting of David Cameron. The rag's power is truly scary.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Protection racket Racket protection

Since moving back to Cardiff, I've been loudly and regularly lamenting the plight of the city's gig venues and Womanby Street as a whole - so it's only fitting that positive developments should be shouted from the rooftops.

On Friday afternoon, it was announced that Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs in the Welsh Government, has agreed to revise the national planning policy so that it makes explicit reference to the agent of change principle. This puts the onus for soundproofing and noise reduction onto new developments rather than pre-existing venues. It's good news for Fuel, though sadly ten years too late for the Point.

What's more, Griffiths has said that the policy will also be updated to make it possible for places like Womanby Street to be given protected status as areas of cultural significance for music.

Needless to say, news of the two revisions has come as music to the ears of those behind the Save Womanby Street campaign, which was explicitly named by Griffiths as a factor in the decision. It just goes to show that sometimes the weight of public opinion and the power of well-coordinated and passionate protest can prevail.

Forces of darkness

Back in 2008, Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli joined forces as the Gutter Twins for an album (Saturnalia) and a live experience that didn't quite live up to high expectations. This year, the pair - the legendary frontmen of Screaming Trees and Afghan Whigs - released new records within a week of each other.

First to land was Lanegan's solo effort Gargoyle, which was an instant hit around these parts. That rich, low voice is always a delight and the gloomy lyrical subject matter is no surprise, but the album continues where 2012's Blues Funeral left off (there's a hole the size of 2014's Phantom Radio in my collection) in its use of electronics and synths, thanks in large part to the influence of regular collaborator Alain Johannes. The gothy 'Nocturne' is great, but 'Beehive' is even better - it must be galling for Jim and William Reid to know that not only have they not released the best album this year, they've not even released the best Jesus & Mary Chain song.

Meanwhile, Dulli's offering - In Spades, the second LP released by Afghan Whigs since they reformed in 2011 - has taken much more time to sink in, to the extent that I was almost ready to write it off. But the glut of enthusiastic reviews like the one written by my fellow Nightshift scribe Sam Shepherd for MusicOMH convinced me to persist - and I've been rewarded. The sleazy, black-hearted 'Demon In Profile' is classic Whigs (and the video - featuring women in gold jumpsuits, bloody knives and spider eating - answers the question "Whatever happened to Har Mar Superstar?") and there are several other very good tracks, particularly 'Copernicus' and intense album-closer 'Into The Floor'.

For Lanegan and Dulli, then, it's a triumphant return apiece.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grohl lotta love

It's perhaps hard to remember now, but once upon a time Foo Fighters were actually a really good band - specifically around 1997 and their second LP The Colour And The Shape. While I love the rawness of their self-titled debut, its more polished successor is more varied and texturally interesting as a collection of songs. To mark the twentieth anniversary of the album's release, Rolling Stone's Dan Epstein has listed "ten things you didn't know" about it.

That the songs' subject matter largely concerned Dave Grohl's divorce and that the recording process resulted in tensions with drummer William Goldsmith, culminating in his departure, are hardly the revelations that Epstein presents them as. I also knew that 'My Hero' - Grohl's first song explicitly about his former bandmate Kurt Cobain - had been knocking around for a while before finding its way onto the album - I first heard it on a bootleg live cassette from 1995.

However, I wasn't aware that Pat Smear's exit was also already assured (he eventually left four months after the album's release, in September 1997, between me seeing them at V97 in Leeds and at the Sheffield Octagon shortly before Christmas that year), that producer Gil Norton had such an integral role (in terms of the tracklisting and lyrics) or that Grohl was initially planning to bin the riff for 'Everlong' because he thought it was a rip-off of Sonic Youth's 'Schizophrenia'.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Treasure trove

Despite what you may have thought from posts appearing on this site over the last few months, Cardiff's Womanby Street isn't home to music venues alone. New since I left Cardiff in 2007, the Castle Emporium stands opposite (in both literal and metaphorical senses) to Elevens, the recently opened sports bar collaboration between Brains and Gareth Bale. Inside, you'll find a coffee and vinyl shop, vintage clothing, a comic stall, a skate shop, a bitcoin ATM and plenty of beards. So far, so hipster.

But the cafe in question, Outpost, does do extremely good coffee and play decent music while you're enjoying it; The SHO Gallery & Shop, on the upper balcony, is well worth a browse; and Heads Above The Waves - a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness of depression and self-harm - has a shop there to support its invaluable work.

I've long thought that every city should have its own equivalent of Afflecks in Manchester - and it seems as though Cardiff, at least, does.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Peace in the heart of the city

The beauty of Diffusion, Cardiff's annual photography festival, is that it is literally diffuse - spread across a host of venues city-wide. You can of course seek out specific sites, or alternatively find yourself stumbling across them by happy accident. Such was the case last week when, getting off our bus by the Central Square development, we spotted a vacant shop unit/office (the 'Stute) that had been converted into a temporary exhibition space.

Inside, on the ground floor, was Peace Signs, an exhibition of pictures taken by Edward Barber. Shot between 1980 and 1984, they fit in squarely with this year's festival theme of revolution, showing the protests against the US stationing nuclear missiles at English RAF bases. The peace/anti-nuclear movement is often associated with young hippies, so Barber's pictures are enlightening in revealing the cross-generational nature of opposition. There's also a very DIY feel to the protests and the protest materials, underlining their relatively uncoordinated and spontaneous nature.

The best pictures show the political/cultural/ideological clashes: a group of police officers engaged in conversation, apparently oblivious to the female protesters lying at their feet; a dapper gent with suit and briefcase crossing a City street, with protesters lying across it in the foreground and crowds of bemused onlookers gathered on the pavement in the background.

It seems like a different age - which it was, I suppose, being more than 30 years ago - but the photos are more than merely a valuable chronicle of the anti-nuclear movement. Personally, at least, they felt like a reminder of the power of protest, and even a call to arms at a time when policies and developments both in this country and across the Atlantic require vigorous and robust resistance.

Upstairs, a collection of photos by Sebastian Bruno takes the visitor behind the scenes at the Dynamic, a local newspaper set up by two friends to cover the Abertillery, Ebbw and Usk Valleys. The evidently ramshackle nature of the whole operation, as well as the recreated office - complete with piles of paper, spilt Doritos and rancid half-drunk cups of coffee - transported me back to my days working on the student magazine. All that are missing are overflowing ashtrays and stacks of promotional CDs from indie no-hopers put to good use as coasters.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fell on black days

I've not had much time for Chris Cornell's music for a long while - Audioslave were decent enough but, given their pedigree, consistently underwhelmed, and his solo stuff is by and large appalling - but the news of his death at the age of just 52 has come as a bit of a hammer blow. Soundgarden were an absolutely essential part of my musical education, very much a gateway drug (along with Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins) that helped to bring my musical tastes to where they are today.

Little wonder that Jimmy Page has been among those paying tribute - Cornell's rock-god voice is almost as distinctive and worthy of celebration as Robert Plant's. While it's gratifying that Soundgarden had reformed, it's a shame that that voice wasn't put to better use in the years after they initially disbanded in 1997.

Let's not dwell on that, though. Superunknown was for a time my favourite album (at least until Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness was released the following year), while Badmotorfinger is extremely good and Down On The Upside, with which they signed off first time around, heinously underrated. Cornell's contribution to each was huge.

Know Your Enemy

"There are cynical people at the reins who want to keep you going and burn yourself out. The music industry is the worst one, as far as showbiz goes. The most evil, the most venal. It's really fucked up."

Thus speaks Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, in conversation with Michael Hann of the Quietus - very much the voice of experience, though he didn't exactly resist burn-out by ingesting copious quantities of drugs. Much the same as The Strokes, then.

Of all the lows to which he stooped, hanging around with Menswear is infinitely worse than heckling Jeff Buckley.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Admission of defeat

Poor old Jeremy Corbyn. If he's not getting vilified in the right-wing press, he's being undermined by those on the left. Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has said he can't see Labour winning the election (for them to do so would be "extraordinary") and that the retention of "200 seats or so" would constitute success despite being the party's worst result since 1935.

Of course, those of us with no obligation to trumpet Labour's chances can agree (albeit gloomily) that McCluskey's prognosis is realistic. A shame, as Labour's manifesto is by and large impressive, with the party refusing to shy away from the need for tax increases to properly fund public services and reverse the Tories' austerity policy.

Risk avoidance

Maximo Park's sixth album Risk To Exist has had positive write-ups in a few places, which makes me wonder whether my negative assessment for Buzz was overly hasty. It pains me to write them off (I loved debut LP A Certain Trigger back in 2005 and enjoyed their live show as recently as 2014), but I'm not keen on either the sonic direction they appear to be taking or Paul Smith's attempts to sound relevant and contemporary.

In what was a bumper month for new albums, I unfortunately missed out on reviewing duties for the LPs by Thurston Moore, At The Drive-In and Mark Lanegan, while other contributors also offered thoughts on the latest releases from Blondie, Bonnie Prince Billy, Erasure, Feist, Jane Weaver and Mac Demarco.

However, I did also contribute a review of the Peaness EP Are You Sure? to a singles section that this month largely featured local acts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Life after the final whistle

My own tardiness followed by some technical gremlins prevented the second of my two pieces on mental health and football from being published during Mental Health Awareness Week itself, but it's now up on the Two Unfortunates site. The first article, posted last Tuesday, looked at mental health and elite football in general last Tuesday, and this second one focuses on one particularly significant psychological stressor: retirement. While it acknowledges that retiring can be traumatising for players in a number of ways, the conclusion is rather more positive than that of the first piece.

Is that it?

Back in 2001, even allowing for all of NME's hype and the false narrative about rock being all but dead and them being its saviours, The Strokes were an extremely exciting prospect. However you look at it, Is This It is a very good album - indeed, James Murphy's favourite of the decade. The excitement couldn't last, though, and under the weight of expectation they crumbled. Here Vulture present an oral history in which the band members and those around them trace the way they messily unravelled - including the alleged bad influence of Ryan Adams on guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Quote of the day

"They were brilliant to work with, total anti-pop stars. Their energy was always good. It was: we can do what the fuck we want. And in all the madness there was a genius pop sensibility going on."

Mark "Spike" Stent on Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, in this Guardian article by Andrew Harrison on The KLF's remarkable history, which encompassed an obsession with the Illuminati, collaborations with Tammy Wynette and a grindcore band from Ipswich, a single"sung" by a car and (notoriously) a dead sheep and the torching of £1 million on a remote Scottish island.

There's clearly no love lost between former Echo & The Bunnymen manager Drummond and Liverpool music scene associate Julian Cope (as evidenced by 'Bill Drummond Says' at Cope's recent Cardiff gig), but, as crazed mavericks the pair actually have a lot in common.

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Under the bridge

J G Ballard's Concrete Island, a kind of modern parody of Robinson Crusoe, sees a man crash his car off the Westway in London and have to survive in the no man's land in the midst of a motorway intersection. The photos collected in Gisela Erlacher's Himmel Aus Beton (Skies Of Concrete) show a similar human resourcefulness in the shadow of enormous, dehumanising concrete structures around the world. In some cases, you suspect that the people in question have had about as much choice over inhabiting the sub-structural nooks and crannies as Ballard's protagonist.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A sour note

Only a few days ago, the future looked very bright for PWR BTTM: wall-to-wall media coverage, love all over the place (including here), likely breakthrough album Pageant set for release today. The LP's appearance has been totally overshadowed by sexual assault allegations made against the band's Ben Hopkins - allegations that have apparently been circulating in private online for some time but have only surfaced in public.

PWR BTTM have issued a statement referring to the "alleged behaviour" but not explicitly refuting/denying it. At a time like this, you'd expect close associates to rally round them as positive character witnesses - but now two touring members of the band have quit, and all of their support acts have pulled out, including T-Rextasy, whose statement is particularly damning: "We wish we could say these allegations come as a complete surprise, but that is not the truth. We made a mistake supporting this band. We put our career above the safety of fans who have trusted us and supported us and there's no way for us to remedy that." PWR BTTM have also lost their slot at the Hopscotch Festival.

Innocent until proven guilty and all that - but a lot of people close to them seem to have decided the allegations are true.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Talk Talk talk

Post-rockers - and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in particular - aren't exactly renowned for being vocal, so credit to Jeanette Leech for getting a whole bunch of them (including members of Godspeed, Mogwai and Tortoise) to talk for her new book fearless.: The Making Of Post-Rock.

The tome sounds as though it'd be right up my street, particularly in tracing the development of the genre and the key influence of the likes of Talk Talk and Slint. As the press release suggests, "post-rock" has always been a loose label, though I'm not sure I'd consider either Codeine or Stereolab to fall under that umbrella; nevertheless, the fact that both are celebrated in print is very welcome indeed.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"A city of shadows"?

We've been spending a bit of time down by the Bay/Barrage recently, and so I was alarmed to read about the proposals for the area around and behind the Norwegian church. As David James has highlighted, the digital images showing the planned Dolffin Quay development seem to suggest that public space currently regularly enjoyed by thousands like us will be sacrificed to make way for private places accessible only to those with deep pockets.

Not only does such a development seem unnecessary (the Bay area is already full of vacant "executive" flats), but - as James points out - it is only feasible because "of the huge sums of public money that have been poured into building bridges and other infrastructure to open up the former docklands for development - not to forget the many millions that paid for the barrage itself".

Sadly, I don't hold out that much hope that the public will be given priority over developer interests (and cash) in such cases any time soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

It's good to talk?

Over on The Two Unfortunates, we're marking Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has the theme of "surviving or thriving?", with a series of posts connecting football and mental health. Yesterday, the site's co-founder Lloyd wrote about his experiences of fandom in relation to mental well-being. Today sees the publication of the first of my two pieces, this one looking at mental health within the professional game. The research and reading legwork and the writing both took a long time, and it's fair to say it's a lengthy read - but such an important subject deserved proper consideration.

A wee drinkie

Well, this is taking the piss on a whole new level. In a process aptly described as "beercycling", a Danish brewery has used 50,000 litres of urine "donated" by boozed-up revellers at the Roskilde festival to make a new beer - called, inevitably, Pisner. Just to clarify, the brewery in question isn't Carlsberg, even though their standard offering is often derided as pisswater.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tuning in to tunings talk

Let's be honest: I was never likely to be disappointed by Thurston Moore's "masterclass" on Steve Lamacq's 6Music show.

After power problems (during which Lamacq joked that they were replicating the chaos of early Sonic Youth shows), it was a delight to be able to hear him play a handful of stone-cold classics - 'Tom Violence', 'Cotton Crown', '100%' and 'Sunday' - even if he readily admitted they're hard to do on a single guitar, given that much of the effect comes from the interplay between the instruments.

The masterclass aspect of the interview was sufficiently untechnical as to avoid alienating non-musicians like me. Moore spoke about the experimentation with tunings that has become an integral part of his signature guitar sound, stressing that it initially arose out of necessity (making cheap "pawnshop" guitars, which were all he and his bandmates could afford, sound decent) and that it was inspired by Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, both of whom they encountered and played with in early-80s New York. Those distinctive tunings, of course, frequently made it a challenge to recreate recorded material in the live environment. He managed to play the four Sonic Youth songs using just two guitars, but understandably confessed he'd had to dig out old notebooks to reacquaint himself with the tunings.

Moore evidently remains bemused at the thought of being considered a guitar idol, and argued that his style is more defined by instinct, feel and confidence, rather than technical ability. Spoken like a true punk - even if the first song he ever wrote, the heavily Ramones-influenced 'I Don't Have To Mow The Lawn No More' (of which we were treated to a snippet), has four chords, not three. "I was already too progressive for those guys", he laughed.

Other points of interest in the conversation included: the fact that after a while Sonic Youth realised they'd developed a kind of formula - verse, chorus, verse, chorus, noise wig-out, verse, chorus - and that they should start breaking with the trope; the band's ultra-pragmatic motivations for signing with a major label - proper accounting, health insurance and simply being able to pay the rent; and the reason why he never got into drugs - "I never understood why you would spend money on something that wasn't a record".

Moore also spoke about life after Sonic Youth and his new collaboration with Nought's James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine's Deb Googe and his old mucker Steve Shelley under the banner The Thurston Moore Band, revealing his love of taking the orthodox guitar-bass-drums set-up and using it to make unorthodox music. The show ended with a rendition of new song 'Turn On', which was just about the best promotional tool for new LP Rock 'N' Roll Consciousness you could imagine.

Monday, May 08, 2017


Given that my diary has been so stuffed full of gigs of late, it was inevitable that I'd end up going to a bit of a stinker. That's a pretty fair description of Thursday night (although here's a slightly longer judgement).

The contrast with the previous week's Thursday night gig at Clwb could hardly have been sharper. While Part Chimp returned from a lengthy spell away sounding as good if not better than ever, Tall Ships apparently did so to prove a mystifying determination to become bland, boring stadium rockers - and the world really doesn't need any more of them.

Hearing aid

Just in case you thought Ukip had the monopoly on nutters, meet Kirsty Adams, the candidate hoping to win back Hove for the Tories, who claims she once healed a man of deafness by virtue of praying for him. It's an ability that'll come in handy when it comes to improving the situation at the local hospital, which is currently in special measures.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Quote of the day

"There's only us and the [Arctic] Monkeys left on that level. They're great. Kaiser Chief too, probably. When we came out in 2004, you had Franz Ferdinand, Razorlight, Kings Of Leon, The Holloways, The Paddingtons, The Maccabees, Libertines had just finished. It was just a fucking good time. We were 22 and there was so much good music. Bands were back, there were loads of rock magazines, indie and rock 'n' roll were cool. We survived it. Where is rock 'n' roll at the minute? It's gone, isn't it? I reckon it's a mixture of everything. What runs the world at the moment? It's R&B, pop, solo artists. Adele, she's amazing ... Ed Sheeran. There are no bands."

In a world fraught with uncertainty, at least there are some guarantees - such as if you give Kasabian's Tom Meighan enough rope to hang himself with (i.e. an interview with NME), he'll gladly oblige. If his band - whose new album For Crying Out Loud has possibly the shittest cover I've ever seen - are one of the sole remaining keepers of the rock 'n' roll flame, then I'd happily piss on it.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Positive vibes

In Episode 8 of Sounding Bored, we looked at the pros and cons of streaming. It's a topic that a panel of representatives of independent labels discussed at the recent AIM Music Connected conference - and the verdict was largely positive. The panel agreed that streaming is a major revenue source, lowers access barriers for their artists and delivers invaluable data and marketing opportunities.

However, as you might expect, it's not all rosy. Panellists talked of the need to ensure that financial return is maximised, with YouTube's model a particular concern. I confess to getting much of my exposure to new music these days via YouTube, and it's true that while in some ways it's a promotional device, it rarely inspires me to then listen again via a means that pays a better rate to the labels (e.g. downloading or buying a physical copy). The warping effect of streaming on the charts was also mentioned - something that needs to be addressed if they're not to become largely meaningless.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Friday, May 05, 2017

A change of scenery

Dempseys and its upstairs music venue have already been replaced by Elevens Bar & Grill (which, looking in the window last night, is - as expected - a weird kind of museum/shrine/upmarket Walkabout in honour of Gareth Bale). Now football is set to inflict further cultural vandalism on Cardiff city centre, with the news that the Millennium Walkway graffiti wall is being removed to allow UEFA to use the space for advertising (but of course) ahead of the Champions League final, which takes place at the Principality Stadium on 3rd June.

The council have at least offered an alternative site, but Callaghan Square is, as local writer Helia Phoenix has noted, "basically just a strange no man's land of a place - a walkway across the middle of a massive roundabout that hugs the edge of the city between Butetown and the city centre". The location has a much lower footfall, so the artworks will be seen by far fewer tourists and appreciated by far fewer locals.

Here's Helia Phoenix's article about the wall for the Caught By The River site.

Looking at the twentieth century through a lens

Happy 70th birthday to Magnum. To mark the occasion, the BBC have put together a short clip exhibiting some of the celebrated photographic agency's most iconic images.

One of the agency's leading lights was Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose pictures of ordinary Brits celebrating coronations and on holiday in Blackpool feature in the Strange And Familiar exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. The show runs until 29th May, and I'd strongly recommend a visit - not only to enjoy some examples of Cartier-Bresson's work but also to see the influence that he and other Magnum members have had on photographers who have followed.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Wrecking crew

I might be firmly behind the preservation of Womanby Street, but must confess to rather enjoying Part Chimp's attempts to destroy it last Thursday. If Clwb hasn't yet had a noise complaint from Fuel's "friend", then it's probably now only a matter of time.

The gig - reviewed here - was notable not only for the headliners' extreme volume but also for the impressive quality of the support acts, Grey Hairs (featuring a guitarist who was in two quality Nottingham bands back in my time there) and local oddballs Twisted Ankle.

Future of the leftfield

As festival locations go, central Birmingham isn't exactly the Bahamas, but Supersonic nevertheless genuinely offers a unique festival experience rather than promising a ludicrous pipedream only to inevitably deliver a nightmarish reality. The bill for this year's bash, as ever a celebration of the loud and the leftfield held in and around the Custard Factory in Digbeth, includes Melt-Banana, Zu, Arbouretum, Grey Hairs, Jenny Hval, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Oxbow and Tomaga. All you need is an open mind and (probably) a pair of earplugs.

In answer to anyone who argues that experimental music is offputtingly difficult or challenging or appeals only to chinstroking musos, Supersonic have also arranged a kids' gig at the Symphony Hall which this year will be hosted by Melt-Banana. Genius, pure and simple.

Restricted appeal

Announcing their official reissue of OK Computer to mark the twentieth anniversary of the album's original release, Radiohead's Ed O'Brien has said that one of the bonus songs, 'Lift', was left off the LP because "it would've taken us to a different place and probably we'd have sold a lot more records". Maybe that fear of becoming too popular explains the existence of King Of Limbs?

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"The European Commission's negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June."

Theresa May doing her best to mimic Donald Trump's delusional paranoia. Because nothing screams "strong and stable" more than claiming everyone's secretly plotting against you.

Street spirit

The fight to save Womanby Street, the hub of Cardiff's music scene, stepped up a gear or two at the weekend with both a well-attended march to City Hall on Saturday backed by music lovers and politicians and the reopening of the Full Moon, now rebranded as the Moon, less than a month after it looked to have closed its doors for good.

Unfortunately, I wasn't around to lend my support in person, but hats off to all those who did, and those who worked tirelessly to make both the march and the reopening a reality. Much credit should also be given to Wales Online's David Owens, who continues to perform a sterling service in publicising the plight of Womanby Street, its significance within the city and the attempts to preserve its unique character. I 'll be sure to raise a glass in their honour next time I'm there: tomorrow, for Tall Ships at Clwb.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Fyre goes down in flames

Schadenfreude isn't my usual reaction to festival-goers enduring nightmarish experiences, but with Ja Rule's Fyre Festival I'll happily make an exception. After all, punters had been sufficiently seduced by the prospect of seeing Blink 182 in the Bahamas and hanging out with the gaggle of models/"influencers" who were relentlessly plugging the bash on social media to part with up to $12,000 for a single ticket.

Most new festivals experience a few teething troubles, but Fyre's problems went a long, long way further than that. The photos of the site and catering were reminiscent of those pictures of winter wonderlands that are rather less than wonderful. A combination of the inexperience and arrogance of the "organisers" and weather conditions led to woefully inadequate infrastructure, the cancellation of the festival and chaotic scenes that gave the idiots who'd shelled out stupid amounts of money an unexpected insight into what life is like in a war zone. It's poetic justice that an event deliberately puffed up on social media was then destroyed by the same means.

There have been apologies of sorts from Ja Rule and the organisers, who maintain that the whole affair wasn't a scam and have promised disgruntled attendees both refunds and free VIP passes to the proposed event next year. But, as has been noted, the festival's wanky pitch deck was beyond parody and a $100m lawsuit has now been launched, so anyone who believes that Fyre will be resurrected for 2018 and that it'd be a good idea to go is even more of a moron than they were for signing up in the first place.

Monday, May 01, 2017

It's Wall over now

It's always a shame when time is called on a blog I've been reading and very much enjoying - and that's certainly the case with The Album Wall. The music site first came to my attention via connections on Twitter to our music podcast Sounding Bored, and has been of particular interest to me as it's written by a fellow Cardiff resident, Joel.

The reasons for the blog's demise are familiar: a lack of time and motivation, and the feeling that is blogging becoming more of a chore than a pleasure and starting to negatively impact other areas of life (in Joel's case, his enjoyment of listening to music for its own sake, rather than as something to write about). Credit to him for doing what Paul and I did with Black & White & Read All Over in 2014 and deliberately killing it off rather than allowing it to fade away, with posts becoming less frequent and quality dropping off.

Our paths have crossed before (albeit unknowingly) at the Broken Social Scene/Los Campesinos! gig at the Point in 2006 (my review here, his recollections here), at least, and will hopefully do so again. Cheers for the posts, Joel.