Monday, January 30, 2006

Westward the wagons

So, less than a year and a half after arriving in Birmingham, I'm on the move again.

Since swapping East Midlands for West, I've actually become rather attached to a city of which I really wasn't fond. In part this is because I've been actively seeking out and finding places and things to like about the city, as documented in the Reasons To Be Cheerful series (links below). The biggest miss? The Anchor and the Farmers' Market come close, but it has to be Cafe Soya.

But, as the old saying goes, it's who you're with that often matters most, and my new-found appreciation for Birmingham is inextricably connected with those I've met here, including Phill, Kate, Kenny and Andy. Friendly, sociable, well-adjusted bloggers? It's almost unheard of.

The next stop on the SWSL UK Tour is Cardiff. Unfortunately I'm anticipating being without internet access for at least a week following tomorrow's move, so there won't be anything new appearing here for a while. I'm sure you'll all survive.

When I return, expect the usual mix of reviews, links and self-righteous blathering, as well as a new Reasons To Be Cheerful series about Cardiff - but until then, take care. See you on the other side (of the border).

Reasons To Be Cheerful:
#1 - Birmingham Book Festival
#2 - The Bartons Arms
#3 - Cold Rice
#4 - The Farmers' Market / The Frankfurt Christmas Market
#5 - Clare Short MP
#6 - The Sunflower Lounge
#7 - The Electric Cinema
#8 - The REP
#9 - Pork scratchings
#10 - The Anchor Inn
#11 - Cafe Soya
#12 - Guest Contributor Special
#13 - The Actress & Bishop
#14 - The Wellington

Friday, January 27, 2006

Finger-lickin' Thumb-suckin' good

There are a few actors whose names are an automatic selling point for me when they appear on film posters: Robert de Niro, Jack Nicholson, Steve Buscemi... Suffice to say that spotting the names of Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn doesn't exactly have me rushing to the cinema with feverish excitement and anticipation, but both appear in 'Thumbsucker', which I saw at the Electric Cinema earlier in the week.

Based on a novel by Walter Kirn, 'Thumbsucker' is as indie as they come, not least because it's soundtracked by The Polyphonic Spree and Elliott Smith - the involvement of Reeves and Vaughn aside. Mercifully, their "star quality" and predominantly lame performances (as an oddball orthodontist and an unconventional teacher respectively) don't detract from what is by and large a very good film.

The thumbsucker of the title is seventeen-year-old Justin Cobb, and the film explores with a careful sensitivity and from an unusual angle the traumas of adolescence. The subject matter actually reveals itself to be rather broader, though: the strategies and mechanisms by which people find comfort and cope with the world around them - thumbsucking, drugs (whether prescribed or illegal), flights of imagination, cod-philosophies, self-deceiving fictions.

As Justin, Lou Taylor Pucci is excellent, and much of the film's drama comes from his interrelation with his parents Mike and Audrey, played brilliantly by Vincent D'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton. What is wonderful about this film is that it illustrates that "ordinary" interfamilial relations, when scrutinised, can be extraordinarily complex.

Disappointingly, as with another relatively recent American indie flick, 'Garden State', the ending is all too trite and tidy. The fact that Justin has only got into a New York college by lying about his parents' mental condition on his application form is conveniently swept under the carpet - or is the point that everyone is mentally ill to some extent, so he hasn't actually lied? I'm not sure.

Either way, it's well worth seeing.

Incidentally, as we filed out of the auditorium, who should we encounter outside in the lobby waiting for the private 8.30pm screening of the film but Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan aka Dalziel and Pascoe. Do all TV police / detective double-acts go everywhere together, we wondered. Alas, Morse and Lewis were nowhere to be seen in The Crown, and The Anchor probably isn't the sort of establishment you'd find Rosemary and Thyme.


Anna, Girl, Diamond Geezer and Zoe whose sites have all been nominated for the 2006 Bloggies.


Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day, a remarkably wide-ranging blog that covers everything from politics to the arts.

Gordon McLean, whose comments on others' sites I've read for ages and whose own superb site I'm only belatedly linking to.

Ditch Monkey, a gem thrown up by Swiss Toni's Blog Of The Week series written by a chap who works in London but lives in Oxford. Oh, and who lives in a bivouac in the woods.


Inspired by the Bloggies, Betty suggests a shortlist for the inaugural Crappies - "LIVING WITH HALITOSIS - The daily diary of 36 year old Timothy from Chipping Norton. People give him a wide berth but he refuses to give in. Details his frequent visits to the dentist, homeopathic remedies, purchase of a tongue scraper etc".


Simon casts his eyes over the NME Awards nominees - "It's pointless really to complain how the NME Awards, with Shockwaves lest we forget, mirror the Brit nominations more and more, although which organisation changed more to make this the case is a moot point".

ByTheSeaShore has a close encounter with his former boss - "The choice was mine. Should I say hello? I recognised her and she probably recognised me. I used to be a favourite, in the way that Darth Vader was quite fond of his Admirals".

JonnyB receives a bequest - "I pace around a bit. With money comes worries, and I do not want eg to be ripped off in the Village Shop by the Village Shop Man dressed as a fake sheikh. My celebrity status also brings the risk of extortion, blackmail etc by those who would forge photographs of me with prostitutes. Fortunately I think of this immediately, and am able to provide an alibi by saying here first that people might forge photographs of me with prostitutes, thus proving that any subsequent photographs of me with prostitutes will be forgeries, especially ugly ones".

A tearful farewell...

Musings From Middle England, indefinitely suspended by its author Willie - it'll be sorely missed.
Quote of the day

"Number one single 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' is an acceptable enough slice of date rape indie, how The Kaiser Chiefs would sound if Ricky Wilson didn't have the girth of an MP3 blogger".

Dom Passantino isn't exactly fulsome in his praise of The Arctic Monkeys' debut LP Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.

Also worth a look:

Dom relishes the opportunity to consign the site's Album Of The Week feature to the dustbin with a feature entitled The Top Ten Worst Stylus Albums Of The Week, including Elbow's Leaders Of The Free World, The Streets' A Grand Don't Come For Free, Devendra Banhart's Cripple Crow, Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake It's Morning and (dear god) Dry Kids, the Embrace B-sides album.

Nick Southall reviews The Strokes' third album First Impressions Of Earth.

Derek Miller offers an excellent assessment of Abba's career, records and enduring appeal.
I's right

The latest installment of the Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music feature finds me ranting and raving about the virtues of LA's premier bunch of headache-inducers The Icarus Line.

Alongside the regulars this week's installment also includes a piece from our newest contributor Steve of the band Johnny Domino, who, together with his bandmates, runs Domino Rally, an excellent mp3 blog showcasing their favourite music. There he's helpfully posted two versions of Miles Davis's 'In A Silent Way' for anyone intrigued by his A-Z contribution.

In other news, my review of StrangeTime's 'Demonstration No 1' is now up on the Vanity Project site.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"The dark funk"

News from SWSL-endorsed Stourbridge "fuckabilly" mob The Pubic Fringe: henceforth they are to be known as Das Fringe, and their new demo - entitled The Misanthropic Sounds Of The Pubic Fringe - is available now. The demo comes accompanied by liner notes from the band's Director of Communications, retired Army officer and hubcap collector Captain Lazonby-Threpwell, which are perhaps the finest I've ever read.

Here, for instance, we find him reflecting on the circumstances he found himself in before first chancing upon the band: "In the summer of 1986, my life lay in utter ruins. My import-export business had self-destructed, largely due to a petty ban on the trade of live human skin. I was bankrupt and homeless, had not washed for six months and had developed a serious addiction to wood-glue and Ajax speedballs. To top it all, my live-in lover left me for a lathe operator from Bilston. I don’t mind admitting that I had drifted into a dark, aimless netherworld. My days were spent in a mindless haze, populated by false friends and invisible phantasms. I somehow imagined that I was being pursued through the streets and back alleys of Stourbridge by a medieval, time-travelling robot called Yohoshira. This horrifying, gothic future-machine whispered dark threats to me in a language I could barely recognise and I became trapped in a self-made vortex of confused paranoia and nausea".

If you thought The Libertines were incomparable self-mythologists, then read on and think again...
Who do you think you are?

Two great links courtesy of Pete:

The Surname Profiler, created by "boffins" (copyright The Sun) at UCL, allows you to search a database of census information to find out the frequency, ethnicity and geographical spread of your surname. According to the 1998 census, mine occurs six times per million surnames - not a great surprise, though its geographical incidence confounded my expectations.

The 50 Most Loathsome People In America - as Pete suggests, the list may be stuffed full of unfamiliar names, but there's still much to admire in the sheer biliousness of it all. On Paris Hilton, for example: "Her continued success as a celebrity famous for nothing, despite the eerie resemblance she bears to the inbred banjoist from 'Deliverance' and a lack of talent so profound that others become duller as they approach her, indicates that something is fundamentally wrong with humanity".

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

If nothing gets challenged, nothing gets changed

"The best book about punk rock and pop culture ever". Thus reads the NME critic's appraisal on the cover of Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols And Punk Rock'. Perhaps it's just an idiosyncratic tendency of mine, a function of my cynicism, that leads me immediately to view such pronouncements with suspicion and spend my time hunting out and dwelling upon perceived faults. Anyway, more of that later.

The book begins not with Malcolm McLaren's puppet-masterly bringing together of the volatile foursome, but with a history of 430 King’s Road (what would become Sex, the shop run by McLaren and Vivienne Westwood at the geographical centre of The Sex Pistols' story) and with a discussion of McLaren’s interest in New York Dolls and the Situationist politics that arose out of the 1968 student uprisings in Paris and the subsequent writings of theorists like Guy Debord.

It's evidently fundamental to Savage's understanding of pop culture that it affects and is affected by the wider artistic, social and historical context - the band themselves are explicitly seen as a "social phenomenon". Not only is this material essential to the narration of a movement that gathered pace gradually and then peaked suddenly before a sharp decline; it also underlines the fact that McLaren and, to a lesser extent, Westwood were a huge influence on the band, and so any history of the band should properly begin with their history.

When the four central protagonists - Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock and lastly John Lydon - are brought together centre-stage, Savage makes clear that they were never the most cohesive and compatible of units; "The Sex Pistols began in a miasma of antagonism, misunderstanding and mutual suspicion".

Nevertheless, Savage depicts the summer of 1976 as punk's golden age, when the movement was full of youthful vigour and hostile idealism, before the nihilism, cynicism and violence took over.

One thing that came as something of a surprise was the fact that McLaren always envisaged his charges signing to a major label, being fascinated about the possibility of destroying a decaying industry and society from the inside. Wherever the punk ethos of DIY and abhorrence of selling out came from, it wasn't The Sex Pistols.

By December 1976, trouble had been brewing for some time, not least because the confused symbolism - and the "ironic" flirtation with Nazi imagery in particular - was becoming increasingly dangerous : "A song like 'White Riot' could be taken a different way: not as an admiring shout of solidarity in sympathy with the blacks of Notting Hill Gate, but as a racist rallying cry".

And then came Bill Grundy and the 'Today' show. Savage is particularly adept at pointing up the programme as a watershed moment that changed everything, not only for the band themselves but also for the movement of which they were at the vanguard: "The Grundy scandal made The Sex Pistols, but it also killed them. They were now frozen in time, leaders of a movement which had been wrested out of their control". Notoriety was their fate. From then on, it was all downhill - and spectacularly so.

Their behaviour became ever more cartoonish and farcical, no day exemplifying this better than that on which, having left EMI in the wake of the Grundy episode, they signed to A&M in front of Buckingham Palace. There was a horrendously drunken press conference, followed by in-band fisticuffs in the back of a limousine, and, at A&M's offices, Sid Vicious breaking a toilet and then bathing his bleeding foot in it. A few days later, during a nightclub fracas, associates of the band threatened to kill Bob Harris of 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' - and they were promptly dumped by A&M.

Savage underlines the significance of 'God Save The Queen', and the way its release was timed to coincide with the Jubilee celebrations: "The Sex Pistols appeared with all the force of a hand-grenade tossed into an arrangement of gladioli. 'God Save The Queen' was the only serious anti-Jubilee protest, the only rallying call for those who didn't agree with the Jubilee because they didn't like the Queen, either because like John Lydon, they were Irish, or, much more to the point, because they resented being steamrollered by such sickening hype, by a view of England which had not the remotest bearing on their everyday experience". The Sex Pistols famously played a gig on a boat on the Thames which ended in arrests, but - as Savage makes clear - even on an evening which should have been a triumph the writing was already on the wall: no future.

Punk's messy decline is depicted in all its gory detail, as people and events span out of control and the lines were suddenly drawn, the whole debacle ending with Sid Vicious's death. The Sex Pistols were essentially finished by February 1978, even though McLaren kept the idea of them alive for the purposes of 'The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle'.

Thatcherism arrived in 1979, and though it didn't mean Britain changed overnight, it did (for Savage at least) mark the end of the road for punk: "Punk was beaten, but it had also won. If it had been the project of The Sex Pistols to destroy the music industry, then they had failed; but as they gave it new life, they allowed a myriad of new forms to become possible. When punk entered the music and media industries, its vision of freedom was eventually swamped by New Right power politics and the accompanying value systems, but its original, gleeful negation remains a beacon. Histroy is made by those who say 'No' and punk's utopian heresies remain its gift to the world".

And so to the book's faults - two of which I think are major, and another which is also significant if understandable.

Firstly, given the intense and ferocious nature of punk music, there is an extraordinary lack of raw passion evident in what Savage writes. Knowledge, yes; fascination, yes; enthusiasm, perhaps; but outright passion? No. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's rather bloodless and dispassionate. This might be assumed to be the deliberate strategy of someone wanting to give an objective overview of the band, movement and period; but not only is it very often markedly subjective, the diary entries which start to crop up are also as coolly detached, despite being recorded in the heat of the moment.

Secondly, as former Melody Maker journalist Jonh Ingham observes in a comment glossed over by Savage, "'You couldn't intellectualise the band. You couldn't analyse it'". That is precisely what 'England's Dreaming' does. Savage marshalls an impressive range of philosophers, theorists and historians in seeking to make sense of the phenomenon and the period. At times, such as the reference to Bakunin's 1842 statement from 'Reaction In Germany' that "The passion for destruction is also a creative passion", this is illuminating - but at others it comes across as pretentious intellectualising. To what extent could The Sex Pistols be said to have genuinely and consciously aligned themselves with the history of English anarchist thinking and revolutionary practice, as Savage intimates that they did? One gets the feeling that he's continually talking over the heads of his characters, as it were. Punk's impact came from its fiercely primal quality - and that's something that I think's all too often lost in the midst of Savage's analysis.

Thirdly, it's an inevitable consequence of the focus on The Sex Pistols that their cultural importance is always in danger of being overstated. London was very much the focus of the movement for Savage, and consequently other provincial scenes (Manchester aside) are almost completely ignored. Savage might (rightly) complain in his preface that "The Union Jack-strewn Britpop ... did not reflect Britain's multicultural reality but highlighted, almost exclusively, white rock groups from the South East" - but then he himself does much the same with punk. The British focus also means that punk emerges from the pages as very much an English phenomenon; America is by and large ignored, the role of the likes of Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground hardly even alluded to. Natural, given that the lines had to be drawn somewhere - but the well-documented obsession of The Sex Pistols and others with American predecessors like the New York Dolls and particularly The Stooges subtly detracts from the pioneering status Savage claims for the Brits.

But 'England's Dreaming' is nevertheless a fantastic documentation of one of the most fascinatingly short-lived and self-destructive musical movements since pop music "began", meticulously researched, well written and packed with the accounts and testimonies of those who, like Savage, were there to witness it all first-hand. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in "alternative" music and pop culture, not least because, thirty years on, the story remains the same: "how do you avoid becoming part of what you’re protesting against?

Perhaps the highest praise? It made me want to buy lots of records.

Next up on this front has to be Simon Reynolds's 'Rip It Up And Start Again', I think...

Monday, January 23, 2006

StrangeTime for heroes


Uh-oh! Embarrassing dad x3 alert! By day (one suspects) a high school teacher, a solicitor and a tax inspector, but by night The Disciples Of Tone. The only concession to showmanship might be the vocalist / guitarist's green Teddy Boy jacket, but it's Friday night and they're intent on cutting some rug.

And what does this public recapturing (or at least recapitulation) of youth through songs called 'The Ice Cream Man' and 'Psychedelic Kid' sound like? A bit of The Jam, a bit of The Kinks - not particularly disagreeable at times. But then at others The Disciples Of Tone do nothing to challenge the ageist "truism" that rock 'n' roll is a young man's game.

Worse in many ways are Dedd Zebra - not least because of the name. Tight and proficient, undeniably, but unfortunately precisely the sort of band that made Pete's Going Deaf For A Fortnight project such an endurance test ie nondescript and seemingly adept at making what can be thrilling unfeasibly dull. It doesn't help that neither singer can seem to hold a note.

One song ends in such incredibly bombastic style that I'm expecting that to be it for the set - but no, there's more. It's like 'The Return Of The King', and I'm left impatiently willing it to draw to a close. Uncharitable I know, but that's the way it is.

For StrangeTime, tonight's gig is the biggest challenge to date: their first headlining slot, and the first time they've been called upon to play for longer than the usual half an hour. It's a challenge they meet head on with aplomb.

It's a measure of their gradually growing self-confidence that the set-list is now no longer set in stone but manipulated subtly and effectively anew each gig, while three of tonight's opening four songs are relatively recent compositions.

Sure, songs like 'Interference' would benefit in terms of impact by being abbreviated, others ('Doppelganger', for instance) are lyrically a bit too simplistic and cut 'n' dried, the band are still predominantly static on stage, and the concerns voice between songs about the sound quality betray a residual nervousness.

But then you can't run before you walk, and it's not so long ago that StrangeTime weren't even crawling, having played live for the very first time last July. The vocals are powerful, the instrumentation inventive and in the likes of 'Dressing Up' and 'Mundane' they have songs that can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Not something you encounter too often on the local toilet gig scene - a fact that the vast majority of those assembled (a sizeable audience) evidently recognise.

If the gig marks the beginnings of a buzz surrounding the band, then it'll be richly deserved.

Saturday, January 21, 2006



JonnyB, whose LTLP has given birth to almost certainly the most anticipated baby in the history of the blogosphere - cue the nappy posts...


As recommended by Mike, Joe. My. God. writes a tremendously powerful post about the failure to recognise an old friend (the epilogue can be found here).


Mike, Anna and Zoe make up part of the team of contributors for new collaborative blog Agonising. So, if you've got a problem, if no-one else can solve it...

Jonathan returns after an extended Christmas holiday with a typically superb post about Italian films and Twiglets - "Judging from the depressingly small amounts of Harvey's Irish Cream (well OK, Tescos Irish Cream), Martini and sherry over there, I would say our once-yearly flirtation with the middle-class idea of having a drinks cabinet, or at least a drinks area of the kitchen work surface just beside the kettle, is all but over, and it must be at least January 15th, and possibly even later. So it really is about time to get back into the swing of things".

Dave investigates the possibility of owning his own pub - "Pringle jumpers and cigars and cheese chunks on cocktail sticks and muddy knees on Sunday footballers and darts team buffets and lock-ins and pork scratchings. These are a few of my favourite things".

Jonathan overcomes his own initial prejudices and does his best to convince us we should give The Arctic Monkeys a chance - "The first thing of note is the guitars; nice loud crunchy guitars which are at times more reminiscent of the full throttle Mudhoney than the tinny, ramshackle Libertines - it's nice to hear a production job which doesn't follow the brittle post-punk blueprint and instead goes for volume and effect. Alex Turner's vocals, meanwhile, unlike Doherty's, are more than strong enough to punch through the sound, as he does to such great effect on 'I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor', which is great apart from the horrible backing vocals".

And finally...

Silent Words Speak Loudest is honoured to have been officially designated a friend of Conditional Reality - and so I point you in that direction, if you haven't already visited. Mario might be on a temporary hiatus, but there's a fantastic back catalogue of daily 100 word prose poems for you to browse through. Example: "The old ones returned and told us about their lives since their funerals. It’s not too bad, they said. We are very comfortable. Everyone is super nice. Lots of food and amazing levels of politeness. There are benefits to being dead, no doubt about it. We listened carefully and asked them why they came back if the afterlife was so much to their liking. Well, they said, we didn’t know we could take some things with us, so we came back for our anger, sarcasm, snobbery, greed, vanity, condescension, and rudeness. See, the only thing missing over there is fun".
Feel good hits of the 20th January

1. 'Heart Of Glass' - Blondie
2. 'Munich' - Editors
3. 'Red Weather' - The Duke Spirit
4. 'Casmimir Pulaski Day' - Sufjan Stevens
5. 'Mundane' - StrangeTime
6. 'Been Caught Stealing' - Jane's Addiction
7. 'Just Friends' - Nine Black Alps
8. 'Helicopter' - Bloc Party
9. 'Apply Some Pressure' - Maximo Park
10. 'No-One Knows' - Queens Of The Stone Age

Thursday, January 19, 2006

H(ave a look)

The latest installment of the A-Z Of Music feature is up now on The Art Of Noise. This week, it's the letter H, and there are contributions on everything from Bowie's 'Heroes', legendary bluesman Howlin' Wolf, the Nick Hornby inspired film 'High Fidelity' and the cult radio show that introduced Marc and Lard to the wider world, 'Hit The North'.

Monday, January 16, 2006

An hour and a half of bliss

No, not watching Newcastle, but BBC2 from 9pm on Monday evenings.

Tonight was the first time I've been able to watch 'Balderdash & Piffle', 'Up In Town' and 'The Thick Of It' without the aid of either a video recorder (remember them?) or subtitles in a public house.

Letter of the week on 'Balderdash & Piffle' was N, and the four words or expressions upon which attention was focussed were: "ninety-nine" (as in ice-cream), as researched by Daniela Nardini (descendent of an ice-cream dynasty); "nit-nurse", as researched by presenter Victoria Coren; "nice", as researched by impossibly well-spoken writer and City of London School headmaster Jonathan Keates (who did an excellent job of revealing the extraordinary semantic ebbs and flows of a word we're taught to avoid at all costs); and "nutmeg", in the sense of the football trick, as researched by writer Giles Milton (something to do with bollocks, probably).

Asked for his favourite word beginning with the letter N, Ian Hislop again came up trumps. His suggestion: "namby-pamby", originally a mocking nickname given by Alexander Pope to an contemporary writer of excessively sentimental verse.

Then 'Up In Town', which I haven't paid much attention to over the course of the last two weeks. Written, produced and directed by Hugo Blick, who also co-wrote 'Marion And Geoff' with Rob Brydon, 'Up In Town' is a series of ten minute monologues starring Joanna Lumley as fading society queen Madison Blakelock and hailing from Steve Coogan and Henry Normal's Baby Cow Productions stable. It was originally shown three years ago, from what I can make out, but must have completely passed me by. I guess the inevitable comparison to be made is with Alan Bennett's superb 'Talking Heads' series, and certainly 'Up In Town' features the same elements of gentle humour and mockery alongside more touching moments of genuine pathos.

Armando Iannucci and Jesse Armstrong's 'The Thick Of It' surpassed itself this week. To sum it up as 'Yes Minister' shot in the style of 'The Office' and with an impressively high expletive count wouldn't do it justice, but it gives you some idea. Each week, bumbling Minister for Social Affairs Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham) staggers from pothole to pitfall, aided and abetted by a bunch of alternately sycophantic and squabbling staff.

This week's episode saw Abbot caught up in a scandal over an unused city centre flat in his name which becomes known, uninspiringly, as "Flatgate" - "They should be calling it Notting Hill Gate Gate". Abbot, given a severe dressing-down by the particularly foul-mouthed Alistair Campbell figure Malcolm Tucker (brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi) within hearing of a Daily Mail journalist, was left to chomp on biscuits somewhat sheepishly and exclaim Partridge-style "Yes, I am king of remembering my own password!" while seated at his computer as the shit hit the fan, eventually being spared by the resignation of an "brushed-aluminium cyberprick" some years his junior.

If 'The Office' was uncomfortable viewing for the general public, then 'The Thick Of It' is likely to be particularly uncomfortable viewing for the inhabitants of Westminster.

(Incidentally, here's a link to an article on Nottinghamshire dialect which I came across via the 'Balderdash & Piffle' site and which may well be of interest to those of you familiar with the city and area. It's particularly worth a read for the golfing anecdote at the end...)
What you wrote on your blog, like, two years ago

The way iTunes insists on DJ-style enjambement of consecutive songs? Fine in many cases, but every now and again it's the split second of silence that makes all the difference between two perfectly juxtaposed songs. Ho hum.

Perhaps by next week I'll have discovered a way to turn it off.

And the week after expect me to be raving about how the shuffle function has led to a new appreciation of lots of hitherto overlooked album tracks.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reasons To Be Cheerful #14

(If you’re wondering what this is all about, click here.)

The Wellington

For the real ale enthusiast (and yes, I now consider myself as such), The Wellington is a veritable oasis in the desert that is Birmingham city centre – as testified by the fact that thirsty, rotund bellied and impeccably bearded gentlemen of a certain age are drawn to it like Wayne Rooney is to sextaganarian prostitutes.

That, since its doors first opened around a year ago, it seems to have proved a massive hit presumably has something to do with the ever-excellent selection of beverages on offer. The beers available on any particular day are chalked up on the blackboard by the bar, each given a letter according to colour - A being the palest of pale ales, and E the Marmiteiest of stouts.

If ale's not your thing, then there's still plenty else to choose from - not least two or three different ciders and a whole host of continental lagers, as well as Erdinger on tap. You can have a pint of Carling, if you must, but be warned that if you do so you run the risk of being bundled into the back of a van, driven into darkest Staffordshire, put in the stocks on the village green, pelted with rotten tomatoes and probably mercilessly taunted by morris dancers for good measure.

One particularly distinctive feature of The Wellington is that they don't serve food, but do allow patrons to take in their own food, even going so far as to provide crockery and cutlery. The last time we were in, the table next to us was laid out with a veritable picnic.

Actually, it's not strictly true that they don't do food. They do, after all, sell a decent range of pub snackfoods, most importantly the local delicacy pork scratchings. There's a wicker basket behind the bar full of large clear bags of the stuff.

Mine's a pint of Parson's Nipple and some pig in a bag, please...


Mike, whose Business Diary of his second week in Hangzhou made it onto page seven of Tuesday's Nottingham Evening Post. However, as he himself admits, it was the front page headline that probably captured the attention of most readers: "Burglar hid haul inside his false leg"...


Robin makes a welcome return to the blogging fray with a look back at the festive period chez Speaking As A Parent - "We had a truly non-partisan Christmas Day, starting with a New Labour morning featuring champagne and Marks and Spencer's truffles, balanced by a small, prudent bit of wealth redistribution from the richest in our family to some of the poorest. I think I got it about right and it seemed very popular. I may well be in office next Christmas too. My attempts to promote education were less well received though, and perhaps I will give less books next year, if re-elected. The highlight was our Tory Xmas dinner. With Brussels but not run by Brussels. We then drifted into a Lib Dem afternoon of not knowing quite what to do".


Dave announces his New Year's resolution - "to apply for a new job every day in January. Jobs I know I won't get, jobs I hope to get, jobs I'd be totally unsuitable doing and jobs no one wants. I thought I'd 'put myself out there' and see what doors open for me (or rather which doors get slammed in my face)".

Reluctant Nomad recounts a cautionary tale of why it can be perilous to leave certain foodstuffs lying around for the unsuspecting to chance upon - "The dope cake had been in the fridge for months so she’d have seen it before without trying it. Although it was heavily laden with cocoa and chocolate, the taste of it was unmistakeable to an aficionado. To an unsuspecting innocent like Patience, it would have tasted like lucerne heavily laced with chocolate".

Mish hatches a wicked but wickedly funny plot to confuse "our colonial cousins" - "Just drop in a few during ordinary conversation: 'Oxford Circus? No, this one goes to Narnia, you need the District Line on the next platform'".


The moment you've all been waiting for (you just didn't know it): Phill reveals his Bus Routes Of 2005 - "16 - Birmingham - Hamstead (AKA The Polish Route) - Practice your conversational Polish whilst travelling through some of the dodgiest parts of North Birmingham. The ideal bus route to experience some of those classic Polish bus driver moments. Ask them any other question except 'How much is it?' and be prepared to be met by confusion, bewilderment, hostility, more confusion, or a beautiful smile and a shrug which conveys the message - 'I have no bloody idea what you are talking about, I'm from Gdansk'".
(Well) behind the times

Guess which album is currently rocking the SWSL stereo? Yes, The Back Room by Editors, which was released a whole six months ago. My finger may have slipped from the pulse a bit, I fear - not that it's ever on it for very long, that is...

The early verdict? Very sound stuff, but not particularly stirring. I think I'd take their American forefathers Interpol ahead of them.

Perusal of the sleevenotes has revealed that the black-and-white live photos are the work of Ami Barwell, who also took the photos for the article that came out of my encounter with Pavement way back in October 1999. Her website showcases some of her work, including the liner photos for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Take Them On, On Your Own.

I picked The Back Room up during a spending spree in Selectadisc in Nottingham last week, the first for quite a while. My haul also included Cuts Across The Land by The Duke Spirit, Good Morning Spider by Sparklehorse and United By Fate by Rival Schools, as well as singles / EPs from Field Music, Amusement Parks On Fire and The Pipettes. All for a (very) grand total of just under £30. Brilliant.

The trip would, however, have been even better if they'd had Black Dice's Beaches & Canyons in stock. Even then, though, if I hadn't stopped to ask an assistant, I would have probably left the shop without hearing the album on the stereo, something by Bristol psycho-stoners The Heads. Very good it was, too. You don't get that with Amazon.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Craic strikes back

It's reassuring, isn't it, that even in the midst of the quick-moving modern world some things never change.

We went down to The Anchor on Monday for the first time in a while. Still populated by a smattering of real ale enthusiasts, old men poring over newspapers, and Andy. Still serving Thatchers Cheddar Valley, the evilly potent yet fatally alluring bright orange cider. And still somewhere you can pick up a copy of An Craic.

The latest issue is much the same as those that have gone before it, too - the cover dominated by a photo of a beaming bright-eyed young woman, presumably taken at a Lovely Girls contest on Craggy Island, and inside some of the most entertainingly bizarre news stories you'll ever have the good fortune to encounter:

Doggie the dog - who achieved notoriety for surviving a 60-mile journey wedged to the front of a car which hit him - has died after being knocked down in his own back yard

All this in amongst the usual advertisements for the city's many Irish drinking establishments - the advertisement for Behan's in Hall Green, for instance, which is accompanied by a quote from the man after whom the place is named: "I am a drinker with writing problems". I know how you feel, Brendan, I know how you feel...

Unfortunately, the trip did mean that I missed out on seeing the excellent BBC2 double-whammy of 'Balderdash & Piffle' and 'The Thick Of It', though they were being shown on the pub TV with the sound off and the subtitles on. I just wish I'd properly seen the bit of the former programme in which the expression "Mackem" was being researched and discussed. Black-and-white shirted Geordies en route for St James's Park seemed to have plenty of choice things to say on the subject...
G whizz

The latest installment of the A-Z Of Music feature is up now on The Art Of Noise. There you'll find Goldie Lookin' Chain sandwiched between Glen Campbell and Woody Guthrie. Now there's a sentence I couldn't have imagined myself ever writing. It's the sort of thing that might appear in a particularly dubious piece of web fanfiction...

And while I'm busy indulging in some shameless self-promotion, can I also say thanks to Mike for nominating the recent Right To Reply feature on the change to the licensing laws for his Troubled Diva Post Of The Week Award. Of course, I can hardly take the credit, the contributions of others having made it what it was - the excerpt Mike's pulled out, for instance, was the work of a certain resident of rural Norfolk...

(Thanks to Damo for the post title.)
They thought it was all over...

More end-of-year listy goodness courtesy of Skif and his team of contributors to Vanity Project can be found here. In keeping with the best traditions of the fanzine, the lists are an eclectic mix of the familiar and not-so-familiar (or should that be soon-to-be-familiar?).

Also well worth checking out: the Albums Of The Year according to Delete As Appropriate, a new blog on my radar and as such the newest addition to the SWSL blogroll.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Living dangerously

The date: Friday 6th January

The mission: To tour some of Birmingham city centre's least salubrious public houses and enjoy a beverage in each one without being knifed, glassed or given a Chinese burn

The intrepid adventurers into the unknown: Adam, Jim, Robin, Tristan, Andy and myself

Jim, Robin and myself convene at Scruffy Murphys, Adam joining us soon afterwards. Situated at Dale End just round the corner from the Academy, Scruffys used to be an Oirish pub, but is now a haven for metallers and goths. I've been in a few times before. Last time I walked past there was a chap lying on his back outside as a couple argued furiously over his prostrate body.

The pub rapidly fills with police. They appear to be hunting for someone rather than on a stag do (as one of our number suggests), and a photo is shown to drinkers. A small group in the corner quietly rises and slips out of the door.

As we set foot inside the ground level door of B3, an underground pub of very dubious repute, some gold-bedecked Bacardi Breezer swigging chavettes stood outside attempt to warn us off. We pay them no attention, determined to stick rigidly to our mission, and, glancing only briefly at the shattered glass of the window, traipse down the stairs.

Andy arrives, bringing with him the bad news that our next scheduled calling point, Saramoons, is closed. Saramoons, situated beneath the Priory Market, is a low-ceilinged establishment with a sign on the door which bears the warning: "Drugs are not allowed on the premises". We're not going to get the opportunity to tell the proprietors that they aren't allowed elsewhere, either.

Costers, at the entrance to the Priory Market, is like Scruffy Murphys and B3 rolled into one - an underground (though surprisingly brightly lit) lair for the hairy and tattooed. We attract stares on our arrival.

An alcoholically refreshed patron kicks a stool in Andy's general direction. Nothing transpires, so we assume this was just playful tomfoolery rather than an expression of any malice.

Def Leppard's 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' blasts out of the speakers. I venture to the toilets. The horror, the horror!

Tristan turns up, having deliberately waited until he could be sure to have missed out on the Saramoons experience.

One of the only surviving relics of the original Bull Ring development, The Bull Ring Tavern is caught in time, its thin red carpet and battered furniture long past their best. The shutters are pulled down over the doorway once we're inside. What if we need to make fast our escape?

We step back into the night, pulling down the shutter on our departure, and I reflect on the fact that the place probably won't see many more months, likely to be closed like the Royal George opposite and subsequently demolished as part of the regeneration of the Bullring's immediate environs. I spare a thought for the displaced locals, and then it's onwards to Digbeth and drunkenness.

Time being of the essence, we pay only a very brief visit to Hennesseys, conveniently located right opposite Digbeth Police Station. As a break from the relentless pints, it's shots of strawberry cheesecake flavoured vodka all round. The door staff are bemused at our exit barely minutes after we've arrived.

Andy heads back to Moseley, missing out on the delights of The Dubliner, next to Digbeth Coach Station. The pool table being effectively out of order ("There's no white ball, mate, so we've been using the black", I'm told), we take a seat at a table behind which there is painted on the wall a jovial leprechaun and a snarling truncheon-wielding copper.

A rose-seller enters, and Adam and Tristan consider buying a couple for the two ladies shaking their booty on the otherwise empty dancefloor, before deciding against it.

The trip to the toilet is made more entertaining by the enormous hall-of-mirrors-style mirror above the urinal. Or perhaps it's just my vision going.

Round the corner to The Anchor, where the lights are still on (though the curtains closed), the jukebox still playing, the glasses still clinking - but the doors are locked. Our hopes are dashed.

An unplanned stop at The Toad At The Bullring, opposite the long-closed-down club Zanzibar outside which a couple of friends once pulled a young lady and her mother. The Toad is like a downmarket Wetherspoons, but not particularly rough. One of the urinals is blocked, filled with a stagnant pool of piss and garnished liberally with a selection of different coloured pubic hairs. Instead of a condom vending machine, a vibrator dispensor hangs on the wall.

Snobs, the natural end-point to the evening - a grotty, subterranean, dirt-cheap and quite spectacularly badly named club. Are double vodkas a good idea?

Tequilas. Oh dear. Having ventured into some of the roughest pubs in the city and emerged unscathed, it seems we remain intent on having a near-death experience in some form or other.

Which way's up?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Blogwatch: in brief


Cardiff Terrifies Me, which features headline sandwich boards for the South Wales Echo, my particular favourite being "Muslim pupils in sausage roll blunder" (via The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha!).

Happy birthday...

Girl With A One-Track Mind, two years old on New Year's Day.


Mike, spending Christmas and New Year working in Hangzhou, discovers that grunge has never gone out of fashion in China.


Swiss Toni sets up a new collaborative writing blog called Reader Meet Author.

Lady Muck also has a new blog, TV Scoop.

Jonathan reviews last year's comedy, like me finding 'Nathan Barley' brilliant and 'Extras' overrated and largely unfunny.
Word perfect

A new year, and a fantastic new six part series on the BBC. For someone with a fascination with language and who enjoyed Melvyn Bragg's 'The Adventure Of English', 'Balderdash & Piffle' was bound to appeal.

Presented by Victoria Coren (daughter of Alan of 'Call My Bluff' fame I think), the show sets out to look at a different letter of the alphabet each week. Last Monday's installment, the first of the series, focussed on the letter P. One aspect of the programme involves researching the origins of popular expressions and pitching both potential explanations and earlier recorded instances of their usage to those behind the Oxford English Dictionary. On Monday, the team were unimpressed by the findings relating to "pear-shaped", but accepted evidence confirming that the expression "Ploughman's lunch" originated as a marketing idea in the very early 1960s, thus entering popular parlance long before the OED's date of 1970.

Particularly interesting was playwright Mark Ravenhill's investigation of polari, a form of coded slang popular amongst sailors and adopted in the 1940s by gay men but which has to a large extent died out due to the legalisation of homosexuality and liberalisation of society. "Bevvy" and "carsey" are both polari expressions that have seeped into "mainstream" language, while it was amusing to discover that "naff" actually means "not available for fucking"...

Word of the show? Ian Hislop's choice, "popinjay". I've resolved to use it more often in conversation.

One other point of interest: one of the OED panel, Tania Styles, once tutored me in Old English. I recall she also had a stint in Dictionary Corner on 'Countdown', quite probably getting to sit alongside the likes of Giles Brandreth and Richard Stillgoe. Perhaps there was some kind of catfight with Suzie Dent and she had to move on?
Career opportunities

So, Charles Kennedy has bowed to the pressure and resigned. If he's after a job for which alcoholism is not merely not prohibitive but actively encouraged, then he could do worse than get some pointers by watching BBC2. Yes, with the addition of a couple of strategically placed tattoos and the purchase of some judiciously selected gold jewellery, Kennedy could reinvent himself as a darts player. Champagne Charlie has a nice ring to it. Any suggestions as to what his entrance music would be?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Feel good hits of the 7th January

1. 'You Could Decide' - Field Music
2. 'Love Me Like You' - The Magic Numbers
3. 'You Shook Me All Night Long' - AC/DC
4. 'Ironside' - Nine Black Alps
5. 'The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts' - Sufjan Stevens
6. 'Number 1' - Goldfrapp
7. 'Molly's Lips' - The Vaselines
8. 'Wake Up' - The Arcade Fire
9. 'Slow Hands' - Interpol
10. 'The Fallen' - Franz Ferdinand

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Oranges are not the only fruit

Or, the end-of-year lists you will find below this post are not the only ones in existence.

To wit:

Assistant Blog: Singles Of The Year 2005

The Bargain Basement: Top 20 Singles Of 2005

Casino Avenue: Top 3 Albums & Top 10 Singles Of The Year

Danger! High Postage: Top 50 Albums Of The Year / Chip Shop Of The Year

Delrico Bandito: Top 50 Singles Of The Year

Diamond Geezer: Top 3 Albums Of 2005

Expecting To Fly: Albums Of The Year Poll

Indie For Dummies: Top 100 Albums Of The Year (composite list)

Lex Scripta: Top 100 Singles Of The Year

One Louder: Rajeev's Top 12 Albums Of 2005 / Jeff's Top 10 Albums Of 2005 / Jason's Favourite Albums Of 2005

Parallax View: Albums Of The Year / Films Of The Year / Books Of The Year

Sweeping The Nation: Albums Of The Year / UK Albums Of 2005 Poll

Swiss Toni: Earworms Of The Year / The Complete Earworms Of 2005 List

Troubled Diva: Favourite Singles Of 2005 / Favourite Albums Of 2005

More to be added as and when I encounter them - if I've left you off, leave me a comment to point me in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Effing hell

Not satisfied with the glut of music waffle below? Then head over to The Art Of Noise to take a peak at the latest installment of the A-Z feature, back after the festive break with pieces on The Fall, fans, Foo Fighters and Ella Fitzgerald amongst other things.
SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2005

(aka Better Late Than Never, aka Wot No Kaiser Chiefs?)

First of all, the (as usual) shamefully long list of albums which I haven’t heard in their entirety if at all, but which if I had might potentially have impinged on the Top 10:

ARAB STRAP – The Last Romance
ART BRUT – Bang Bang Rock ‘N’ Roll
BECK – Guero
BLACK DICE – Broken Ear Record
BLOC PARTY – Silent Alarm Remixed
BRIGHT EYES – I'm Wide Awake It’s Morning / Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
BROADCAST - Tender Buttons
KATE BUSH – Aerial
DOVES – Some Cities
THE DUKE SPIRIT – Cuts Across The Land
EDITORS – The Back Room
ENGINEERS – Engineers
THE FALL – Fall Heads Roll
THE FIERY FURNACES – Rehearsing My Choir
FOO FIGHTERS – In Your Honour
HOT HOT HEAT - Elevator
JOY ZIPPER – The Heartlight Set
LADYTRON – Witching Hour
M83 – Before The Dawn Heals Us
MERCURY REV – The Secret Migration
MEW – And The Glass Handed Kites
MODEY LEMON – Thunder + Lightning
THE NATIONAL - Alligator
RILO KILEY – More Adventurous
STARS – Set Yourself On Fire
TEST ICICLES – For Screening Purposes Only
TOM VEK - We Have Sound
THE WHITE STRIPES – Get Behind Me Satan
WILCO – Kicking Television

The worst of it is that there are almost certainly several records I’ve forgotten about…

Next, the honourable mentions:

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – B-Sides & Rarities
CLOR – Clor
THE CORAL – The Invisible Invasion
GOLDFRAPP – Supernature
THE GO! TEAM – Thunder Lightning Strike
HOCKEY NIGHT – Keep Guessin’
IDLEWILD – Warnings / Promises
THE MAGIC NUMBERS – The Magic Numbers
THE MARS VOLTA – Frances The Mute
NINE BLACK ALPS – Everything Is
SILVER JEWS – Tanglewood Numbers
SIX. BY SEVEN – Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves
SONS & DAUGHTERS – The Repulsion Box

Closest to sneaking into the Top 10? I’d say a four-way tie between The Go! Team, The Magic Numbers, Nine Black Alps and Sufjan Stevens.

And now for the Top 10 itself, which due to my tardiness may not come as much of a surprise to readers of Expecting To Fly and Sweeping The Nation

10. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Lullabies To Paralyze
It was always going to be a tall order to better Songs For The Deaf, and Lullabies To Paralyze duly failed to do so, not least because it tails off disappointingly towards the end. But any record that can throw together a barnstorming single (‘Little Sister’), a delicate falsetto-vocalled gem (‘I Never Came’) and a seven minute long beast with a riff that wraps itself around your head like a boa constrictor (‘Someone’s In The Wolf’) deserves plenty of plaudits.
Key track: ‘Someone’s In The Wolf’

9. FIELD MUSIC – Field Music
The Surprise Late Gatecrasher Of The Year. The threesome may share links to North-Eastern brethren The Futureheads and Maximo Park, but they weren’t piggybacking on anyone’s success, their debut LP being a marvellous record in its own right – clever Sgt Pepper’s style orchestral pop as played by new wavers and garnished with helium-high-pitched vocals. I’m eternally grateful to Jonathan for giving me what I believe is referred to in young person’s parlance as “a heads-up”.
Key track: ‘If Only The Moon Were Up’

8. EELS – Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
It may have featured in SWSL’s Top 10 Albums Of 2003 list, but in retrospect, Shootenanny was something of a disappointment, a bit average. As such, Blinking Lights And Other Revelations was a sparkling return to form, as well as to the delicately simple melodies of Daisies Of The Galaxy. Modulating between the heartbreaking sadness of ‘Suicide Life’ and the heartwarming joie de vivre of ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’, the double LP has been hailed in some quarters as E’s finest hour – not here, but it certainly comes close.
Key track: ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’

7. FRANZ FERDINAND – You Could Have It So Much Better
You Could Have It So Much Better? Either unduly harsh self-criticism or arched-eyebrow irony. The latter, in all probability, but then with tracks like ‘The Fallen’ and ‘I’m Your Villain’ they earned the right to be smug. Much like last year’s debut, this was an instant hit, and one widely hailed as marking their discovery of the ballad (see ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Eleanor Put Your Boots On’, Alex Kapranos’s ode to girlfriend Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces). These are the weakest tracks, though, so it’s a relief that for the majority of the time the foursome stick to what they do best, and that’s hip-shimmying indie disco.
Key track: ‘The Fallen’

6. BLOC PARTY – Silent Alarm
Unlike the transcendent and expansive single ‘So Here We Are’ that prefaced its arrival on the shelves, Silent Alarm suffered something of a gradual decline in my estimation of it as the year went on – I’m not entirely sure why, except that Kele Okereke’s voice on tracks like ‘The Price Of Gas’ started to grate, and their po-faced earnestness in interviews made me realise that (‘So Here We Are’ aside) it’s a bit of a joyless affair. You simply can’t argue with the likes of opener ‘Like Broken Glass’ and ‘The Pioneers’, though, their tension and agitation created through the dynamic interplay of fabulous guitar and Matt Tong’s stunningly idiosyncratic drumming.
Key track: ‘So Here We Are’

5. THE RAVEONETTES – Pretty In Black
For those who felt themselves drowning in a sea of XTC and Gang Of Four obsessives (such as the bands flanking them in this Top 10), The Raveonettes were a rubber ring. Pretty In Black looked not to the post-punk era for inspiration, but to the Phil Spector produced girl groups of the 1950s and 1960s. Transparent perhaps – their covers of ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ and ‘Everyday’, and employment of Ronnie Spector herself on ‘Ode To LA’ revealed they were under no illusions on that front – but no less charming for it. As I’d suspected, underneath all the feedback lay sultry, beguiling pop songs crafted out of breathy vocals, fluttering eyelashes, surf guitar twangings and lashings of tremolo.
Key track: ‘Ode To LA’

4. MAXIMO PARK – A Certain Trigger
Not so long ago, the musical heritage of my native North-East would have been very nearly enough to drive me to chuck myself off the Tyne Bridge in shame. Dire Straits, Sting, Lighthouse Family, Lindisfarne, Venom – utter wank, the lot of it. And then, all of a sudden, up pop The Futureheads from (of all godforsaken places) Sunderland and things go nuts. The Mackems’ former tourmates Maximo Park are at the vanguard, their debut LP A Certain Trigger sufficiently smart and sharp throughout (it’s about more than just the singles, as admittedly brilliant as they are) to elevate them above the pack. Literate, spiky new wave pop which administered an invaluable shot in the arm to local pride, but which articulated the universals admirably too.
Key track: ‘Apply Some Pressure’

3. SIGUR ROS – Takk
Barry White may have been the Walrus of Luuurrrve, but these four shy and retiring Icelanders have proven to be the ones seemingly intent on creating aphrodisiac music designed to soundtrack the sexual acts of a rather larger aquatic mammal, the blue whale. Quite astonishingly, this stuff appeared to possess a modicum of commercial appeal (and not just amongst blue whales, I might add). Who’d have thunk it, eh? Quite possibly their finest record to date – and Takk’s predecessors have hardly been shoddy.
Key track: ‘Glosoli’

2. LOW – The Great Destroyer
The early frontrunner for the top spot, The Great Destroyer was only eclipsed by a record that would have stormed it practically any year you care to mention. After the calm of previous albums, the storm. In truth, they’d hinted at a suppressed knowledge of powerchords before, but on The Great Destroyer that knowledge was given its freest expression yet. Low’s year may have ended on a sour note, Alan Sparhawk’s fragile mental health necessitating the cancellation of their autumn tour, but the album with which they kicked 2005 off was nothing short of a triumph and ‘Death Of A Salesman’ remained THE most affecting and arresting song of the year bar none. If it hadn’t have been for those pesky Canadians…
Key track: ‘Broadway (So Many People)’

1. THE ARCADE FIRE – Funeral
It was never in much doubt, was it? Any lingering scepticism about the volumes of gushing hype that had flooded over from Canada and the US was instantly dispelled the moment Funeral got its UK release. If A Silver Mt Zion ever stopped being so obtuse and engaged with the mainstream rather than ghettoising themselves at a safe distance from it, then they might perhaps have sounded something like this. Out of angry emotions and emotionally trying circumstances – The Arcade Fire’s choice of title wasn’t arbitrary, after all – had come affirmative action. “Something filled up my heart with nothing”, sang Wyn Butler on ‘Wake Up’, but Funeral filled those of its listeners with so much everything, not least hope. A stirring, impassioned masterpiece.
Key track: ‘Crown Of Love’

A reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2004:

1. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus
2. THE FUTUREHEADS – The Futureheads
3. SONIC YOUTH – Sonic Nurse
4. FRANZ FERDINAND – Franz Ferdinand
5. THE FIERY FURNACES – Blueberry Boat
6. INTERPOL - Antics
7. THE ICARUS LINE – Penance Soiree
8. PJ HARVEY – Uh Huh Her
9. KELIS - Tasty
10. CLINIC – Winchester Cathedral

Links to my reviews of some of this year’s Top 10:

SWSL review of Queens Of The Stone Age's Lullabies To Paralyze

SWSL review of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm

Vanity Project review of The Raveonettes’ Pretty In Black

SWSL review of Maximo Park’s A Certain Trigger

Vanity Project review of Sigur Ros’s Takk

SWSL review of Low’s The Great Destroyer

SWSL review of The Arcade Fire’s Funeral