Sunday, December 31, 2006

SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2006

Or, rather, not.

You see, the problem is this. I don't listen to radio (not even Radio 6, though I know I should) and no longer read the music press (aside from the occasional copy of Plan B - which I must write about at some point) so I've completely lost touch with the singles charts, and with the concept of singles altogether. Most years I can say I bought a carrier-bag-full of singles, but this year it was little more than a handful.

Even though the internet (and MySpace sites in particular) mean that music is more readily available and easily accessible, even that of relatively obscure bands, I am ashamed to say I make little use of this fantastic resource at my disposal. In the main it's albums I read about online, so it's albums that take my fancy and are subsequently acquired.

All of which means that I don't feel at all qualified to pass serious comment on this year's single releases in the form of a list. This doesn't necessarily signal the end of the SWSL Top 20 Singles - it may be back next year - but, given my listening, reading and purchasing habits are unlikely to change dramatically in 2007, it's a distinct possibility.

Anyway, in lieu of a bona fide list, allow me some brief scattershot reflections on some of those singles I DID hear...

Were I to be persevering with a Top 20, Howling Bells would probably be this year's Arcade Fire, having released a string of consistently excellent singles (including, inevitably, 'Setting Sun' and its massive chorus) - though The Young Knives ran them close. Meanwhile, Graham Coxon's 'Standing On My Own Again' nearly repeated the trick of 2004's 'Freakin Out'.

Straight out of nowhere came Autons' 'Snakes', to which far more people should have been exposed. On the R'n'B front, only Rhiannon's 'SOS' really grabbed me, and that was mainly down to its inventive appropriation of 'Tainted Love'.

Had My Latest Novel's 'Sister Sneaker Sister Soul' been released this year, it would have probably walked it - and had I heard it last year it would certainly have grabbed a spot in the upper echelons of the Top 10.

Of the few 2006 singles to which I was exposed, two stood out.

The first was 'Weekend Without Makeup' from The Long Blondes, which demonstrates perfectly why the fivesome are Sheffield's answer to Franz Ferdinand and Blondie. Strident arty pop infused with sass, style and attitude. Their debut LP Someone To Drive You Home was very unfortunate to miss out on the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2006 (coming soon...).

The second was Semifinalists' extraordinary 'Show The Way', its twinkling and sparkling opening passage smashed to smithereens by a riff that appears from nowhere. More on the record on which it appears in the albums run-down...

But if we're talking the SWSL Song Of 2006 (rather than Single Of 2006), then there's only one winner: 'You Me Dancing!' by Los Campesinos!. Essentially their signature tune, this was the song that stirred up a blog frenzy early in the summer. An A&R scrum inevitably followed, the youthful Cardiff troupe eventually signing to Wichita. 'You Me Dancing!' is an unashamedly joyous celebration of legendary local indie disco Twisted By Design. I challenge you to hear it and not grin insanely.

Lest we forget (aka "back when it were all proper lists"...):

10. THE VON BONDIES - 'It Came From Japan'
8. THE DATSUNS - 'In Love'
7. THE ICARUS LINE - 'Feed A Cat To Your Cobra'
6. THE CORAL - 'Dreaming Of You'
5. THE WHITE STRIPES - 'Fell In Love With A Girl'
4. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - 'Master' EP
3. THE MARS VOLTA - 'Tremulant' EP
1. SUGABABES - 'Freak Like Me'

20. THE CORAL - 'Pass It On'
19. THE RAPTURE - 'House Of Jealous Lovers'
18. HOT HOT HEAT - 'Bandages'
17. RADIOHEAD - 'There There'
16. FRANZ FERDINAND - 'Darts Of Pleasure'
15. THE FUTUREHEADS - '1 2 3 Nul!' EP
14. THE STROKES - '12:51'
13. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - 'Date With The Night'
12. THE DARKNESS - 'Growing On Me'
11. INTERPOL - 'Say Hello To The Angels' / 'NYC'
10. OUTKAST - 'Hey Ya!'
9. THE WHITE STRIPES - 'Seven Nation Army'
8. MEW - 'Comforting Sounds'
7. JANE'S ADDICTION - 'Just Because'
6. ELECTRIC SIX - 'Gay Bar'
5. THE DELGADOS - 'All You Need Is Hate'
3. BEYONCE FEAT JAY-Z - 'Crazy In Love'
2. THE RAVEONETTES - 'That Great Love Sound'
1. JOHNNY CASH - 'Hurt'

20. SCISSOR SISTERS - 'Comfortably Numb'
19. THE FUTUREHEADS - 'Decent Days And Nights'
18. FRANZ FERDINAND - 'Michael'
17. PJ HARVEY - 'The Letter'
16. THE STREETS - 'Blinded By The Lights'
15. THE LIBERTINES - 'Can't Stand Me Now'
14. KELIS - 'Milkshake'
13. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - 'Nature Boy'
12. THE FIERY FURNACES - 'Single Again'
11. THE WALKMEN - 'The Rat'
10. THE RADIO DEPT - 'Why Won't You Talk About It?'
9. GRAHAM COXON - 'Freakin Out'
8. RACHEL STEVENS - 'Some Girls'
7. INTERPOL - 'Slow Hands'
6. MORRISSEY - 'First Of The Gang To Die'
5. THE ICARUS LINE - 'Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers'
4. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - 'Breathless' / 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World'
3. KELIS - 'Trick Me'
1. FRANZ FERDINAND - 'Take Me Out'

20. NINE BLACK ALPS - 'Not Everyone'
19. SIGUR ROS - 'Hoppipolla'
18. EELS - 'Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)'
17. THE RAVEONETTES - 'Love In A Trashcan'
16. BLOC PARTY - 'Two More Years'
15. THE MAGIC NUMBERS - 'Love Me Like You'
14. THE DELGADOS - 'Girls Of Valour'
13. LOW - 'California'
12. MAXIMO PARK - 'Graffiti'
11. FRANZ FERDINAND - 'Do You Want To'
10. GOLDFRAPP - 'Ooh La La'
9. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - 'Little Sister'
8. INTERPOL - 'Evil'
7. SUGABABES - 'Push The Button'
6. THE ARCADE FIRE - 'Rebellion (Lies)'
5. MAXIMO PARK - 'Apply Some Pressure'
4. THE ARCADE FIRE - 'Wake Up'
3. THE ARCADE FIRE - 'The Power Out'
2. THE FUTUREHEADS - 'Hounds Of Love'
1. BLOC PARTY - 'So Here We Are'

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2006

No big festival this year (though Summer Sundae certainly exposed me to plenty of bands I may not have been sufficiently curious about to have bought gig tickets for) and I've done less travelling in pursuit of live thrills, but I think it's fairly safe to say that in 2006 I've been to more gigs than ever before.

What's more, they've been of an increasingly local, small-scale nature. During my time in Nottingham and Birmingham (in the latter, mainly thanks to the influence of Phill and Kate) I saw many local bands perform supporting roles but never really immersed myself in the "scene" in the same way that I have in Cardiff. Perhaps it's partly a consequence of there being so much good stuff going on here (see the recent Twisted By Design compilation for evidence), and long may it continue.

That said, the list which follows is still dominated by out-of-towners...

10. LOS CAMPESINOS!, Cardiff Dempseys, 16th September

"The seven-strong student outfit might only have played a handful of gigs, but it's no wonder that the likes of NME, Moshi Moshi and countless MP3 blogs have been foaming at the mouth about them like a rabid Roy Hattersley. Quite simply, they are absurdly good fun, and much more than the sum of their parts: American indie riffage, British tweeness, pop singalongs, wicked humour (a song with an opening line about playing pass the parcel with human body parts, anyone?) and boundless energy.

Excitable frontman Gareth chastises us for "cheering the hits", but in truth nothing is received with anything less than fervour. 'Infinite Lives' and the wittily cutesy 'It Started With A Mix' are ace, closer 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' is even better (climaxing with drummer Oliver standing on his kit and leading the crowd in the chant of "One blink for yes, two blinks for no...") but once again the irresistible 'You Me Dancing!' steals the show - how could it not, as the second musical tribute of the night to Twisted By Design (after Shake My Hand's 'Indie Disco')?

Of course, it's all over far too early. The only people left relatively unmoved by the preceding half an hour are the parents stood directly in front of me. I want to tap the bemused pair on the shoulder and say "Don't worry - they really are amazing"...

(Also seen at Cardiff Point and Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach)

9. THE YOUNG KNIVES, Summer Sundae Festival, 12th August

"After the lull of Tuung, THE YOUNG KNIVES (Outdoor Stage) are mercifully on hand to inject a bit of much-needed life and energy into the afternoon. One glimpse of the local heroes (well, almost – they’re from Ashby-de-la-Zouch originally) and Alison’s smitten – particularly with bassist The House of Lords, who’s looking somewhat streamlined, presumably as a result of this year’s punishing touring schedule. There’s more than enough from their forthcoming debut proper Voices Of Animals And Men to suggest that it’s going to be an essential purchase – the singles in particular (‘Decision’, ‘Here Comes The Rumour Mill’ and closing duo ‘She’s Attracted To’ and ‘Weekends And Bleak Days (Hot Summer)’) are marvellous, as is ‘Loughborough Suicide’ (HoL: “I had a letter from the Loughborough Echo this week saying ‘You can’t call a song that’. But have you been there?”). That said, none of the B-sides aired – ‘Elaine’, ‘Guess The Baby’s Weight’, ‘Current Of The River’ – signal a drop in quality. Having seen them back in March, this time around I’m even more struck by the Futureheads parallels – but, with the Mackems apparently having lost their sense of humour for second LP News And Tributes, there’s more than enough room for The Young Knives to thrive. And thrive they certainly deserve to."

(Also seen at Cardiff Barfly)

8. DEAD MEADOW, Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach, 26th May

"Whereas appearing before Mogwai on Rock City's biggest stage they seemed a little lost and remote, in this intimate room packed full with an enthusiastic Friday night crowd, and on a stage shrouded in green smoke, they are instantly at home.

Jason Simon's lyrics are barely audible given the noise they kick out, but no-one's bothered as the trio kick into another twisting, grooving jam that has my guitar-playing companion drooling into his beer and the rest of us nodding in time like dazed but deliriously happy puppets. Behind the kit Stephen McCarty, who appears to have gone feral, gradually morphs into John Bonham as the set progresses, and bassist Steve Kille hops his strange hop in front of an audience lapping up what his band are feeding us.

A fine way for Kille to celebrate his birthday, and a fine way for us to spend a Friday night.

7. THE LONG BLONDES, Summer Sundae Festival, 13th August

"There’s another full day of band-watching in store. And what better way for it to kick off than with THE LONG BLONDES (Outdoor Stage)? The Sheffield quintet are an impeccably cool art school wet dream of a band hell-bent on teaching the indie kids to dance again, sounding like a Pulp for the post Franz Ferdinand set while also referencing Blondie and 60s girl groups. ‘Weekend Without Make Up’ – a serious contender for SWSL Single Of The Year – is brilliant mid-set, while its arch B-side ‘Fulwood Babylon’ open up and the singles ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ and ‘Separated By Motorways’ also feature. Snake-hipped frontwoman Kate Jackson, wearing extremely high heels and matching turquoise neckerchief and socks, is a cross between Karen O and Mick Jagger. Can you tell I’m in love? If you haven’t heard of them yet, don’t worry – you soon will, as soon as their Steve Mackay produced debut album hits the shelves."

6. HOWLING BELLS, Summer Sundae Festival, 12th August

"Our paths have never quite crossed before, much to my annoyance, but now, finally, a chance to catch HOWLING BELLS (Indoor Stage) live – and they don’t disappoint. “They look great”, says the compere (oh yes – cowboy hats and scuffed boots for the boys, a short floaty dress and black tights for Juanita Stein), “they sound even better” (damn right), “their debut is being hailed as the album of the year” (I’d find it hard to disagree)… ‘Blessed Night’ is the opener, and between that and a fiery ‘Low Happening’ we get all bar four tracks from the aforementioned record. Occasionally there’s that sense of mystery demystified, of seeing how a delicately flavoured and lip-smackingly delicious meal has been rustled up in the kitchen, but there remains something obscure and enigmatic about them, the dark space of De Montford Hall ideally suited to their exquisite gothic blues. Stein’s voice, it gives me great pleasure to report, is as arresting in the flesh as it is on record, and she and her guitarist brother Joel are magnetic presences on stage. The real highpoint of the set – and, for me, of any set I’ve seen so far this year – is ‘A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts’, when I get goosebumps on the goosebumps on my arms. Sublime."

5. THE MELVINS, Cardiff Point, 10th December

"Massively influential, then, but what do The Melvins actually sound like? Well, when pondering how to go about defending Birmingham's musical legacy recently, I considered posting just two words: "Black Sabbath". And it's Ozzy and company from whom Osborne and company most obviously take their cue, though it's also fair to say that the echo of Henry Rollins' Black Flag is ever-present in their fusion of metal and punk. The Melvins are unlikely to win any prizes for sophistication and subtlety, but for sheer no-nonsense wrecking-ball riffage they're hard to beat.

It's only for their latest album (A) Senile Animal (released on Ipecac, the label set up by Faith No More and Mr Bungle man Mike Patton with whom Osborne founded Fantomas) that The Melvins have expanded to a foursome - and there's a certain irony in the fact that it's a band called Big Business who have been swallowed up. Warren and Willis bring extra oomph, thump, thwack, weight. In particular, the effect of having two drummers contributing to every song - and not always simply mirroring each other, either - is quite incredible.

Each and every song is duly met with joy unrestrained by the fans at the front, whose behaviour - forming a moshpit, stagediving, throwing devil horns, lobbing half-full cans of lager about - is not that which one imagines occurs very often in churches, even those deconsecrated and converted into gig venues like the Point.

As for myself, I'm utterly transfixed by the way the spotlight illuminates Osborne's extraordinary hair (think a poodle perm exploded into a mushroom cloud) swaying and falling as he nods his head. The excruciating stiffness of my neck at the end of the night, after one final drum duel between Willis and Crover, is enough to indicate that I too have been nodding away furiously - and that I've been treated to a rather fine introduction to a rather fine band.

4. MY LATEST NOVEL, Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach, 23rd March

"Ambient opener 'Ghost In The Gutter' and 'Pretty In A Panic' drift by before things really catch fire with the climax of 'Learning Lego', four of the five band members shouting in unison into their mics as the music gradually fades out. This is followed up with 'The Job Mr Kurtz Done' and 'When We Were Wolves', both of which depend for their impact on a similarly impassioned chorus effect, before the slight but beautiful 'The Hope Edition' and 'Wrongfully, I Rested' appear to soothe.

It's a near-perfect platform for last year's quite remarkable debut single 'Sister Sneaker Sister Soul', which begins life with an indiepop twinkle in its eye before revealing a real fire raging in its belly. A suitably stirring rendition of 'The Reputation Of Ross Francis' and its rousing chorus about "fighting tooth and nail" later, and that's it, drummer Ryan King - unfortunate to be obscured throughout by his front-of-stage bandmates - unscrewing his cymbals to scotch any possibility of an encore.

Never less than impressive, then, and with flashes of absolute brilliance.

3. YO LA TENGO, Cardiff Point, 7th November

"McNew it is who is vital to the ten minutes of sheer bliss that make up the opening song, locking down the groove with an insistent bassline to allow Kaplan to venture off into the fantasy world of the unfettered lead guitarist. If that isn't enough to win the crowd over, then the nods to local heroes certainly are - Megan of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci appears to accompany them on the violin, and Kaplan tells us that the acoustic guitar he's using belongs to Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and has been lent to them for the occasion because "it has a nicer pick guard" than their own.

You want song titles? 'Fraid I can't help you there, really, though they definitely play 'The Weaker Part' from their splendidly titled new LP I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, and I'm pretty certain 'I Heard You Looking' is in there somewhere too. There's a bit of a lull mid-set, I feel, when they overdose slightly on the avant-jazz and lightweight pop-rock stuff - though it has to be said they have a more catholic aesthetic than Sonic Youth, and that these songs do provide welcome textural variation. But the medley which brings the main set to an end is intense, thunderous and thrilling. Don't just take my word for it - how's about asking the hairy young man in the Eagles T-shirt moshing away at the front like his life depends on it?

They return for a low-key four song encore and, although (sadly) 'Today Is The Day' never puts in an appearance, at last there's a song I know and even own, 'Let's Save Tony Orlando's House' from 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. Two of the others are covers: the first 'The Readymades' by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whom they are delighted to have seen at St David's Hall the previous night; and the second (the last song of the night) an unnamed Welsh folk song performed with a sublime gentleness of touch.

One of those nights when everything suddenly becomes crystal clear, then. Not quite gig of the year - but certainly well up there.

2. MOGWAI, Cardiff Coal Exchange, 2nd April

"'Hunted By A Freak', the gorgeous opener from 2003's Happy Music For Happy People, marks a significant shift in gear and suddenly we're in a different place. 'Summer' is its usual transcendent self, raw power and grace married to perfection, while '2 Rights Make 1 Wrong' is reworked in line with the tone of Mr Beast - in other words, the banjo and choir are dropped in favour of an excess of violently throbbing electronic bass that has the floor shaking, trousers flapping and sphincters loosening (as my companion remarks, "If I'd had a curry last night, it would be game over"...).

And then, either side of the brief break between main set and encore, we're treated to some of the heaviest and loudest riffs Black Sabbath never wrote. 'Glasgow Mega Snake' sets ears bleeding, and 'Ratts Of The Capital', even after three or four minutes when they're off stage, does nothing to staunch the flow. The set ends in the same way as Mr Beast, with 'We're No Here''s six minutes of absolute power.

Four members then leave the stage not to return, but Braithwaite and guitarist John Cummings aren't finished, instead conjuring up a fearsome racket of feedback and what sounds like a chopped-up and robotically repeated AC/DC riff accompanied by an ever-varying array of coloured strobe lights. I think it was Michael Gira of Swans who once said he wanted to play so loudly that it made people sick. Well, that certainly seems to be Mogwai's objective. We're a hardy crowd, though, and most of us stick with it, putting ourselves through the punishing closing stages of the evening in the knowledge that the inevitable tinnitus will be extreme.

1. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE, Cardiff Point, 29th August

"What is most remarkable is that despite their being formed from fragments of other Toronto contemporaries (a fact reflected in the band name), they manage to cohere in perfect harmony. What we’re witnessing is evidently a whole host of incredibly talented musicians at work. But there’s none of the virtuosity and self-indulgence that that might imply, and there’s no room for chinstroking amongst the crowd – this is a party!

It’s great to see the likes of Spearin cutting loose (during ‘I’m Still Your Fag’ he wanders among the audience playing the trumpet), while Whiteman is a pleasure to watch throughout, throwing shapes and pulling moves like a teenage boy living out his rock band fantasies in the bedroom mirror.

But for the most part it’s Drew who’s the focus of attention. Fuelled by continual gulps of red wine, his onstage banter is relaxed and often hilarious. On being robbed: “Someone’s smoking crack on us tonight, ladies and gentlemen”. On it being Spearin’s first visit to Cardiff: “He was telling me that he played Newport with Do Make Say Think, and when they came out of the venue there were lots of little men beating each other up. And enjoying it”. On The Rolling Stones (who are busy playing the Arena): “This one’s for Keith Richards. I’d like him to live forever. Not the others, though. I don’t give a shit about them. Well, maybe Charlie Watts”.

By the end of a two hour set which leaves us and them exhausted (returning for one of the encores Peroff says into the mic “You won’t break…”), Drew is desperate for a joint, and his inability to remember how to play a solo song indicates that the wine has taken its toll. One final hurrah and then we’re out into the night, the clock having ticked past midnight.

Without a doubt the best £12 I’ve spent for some time.

Every other band / artist I've enjoyed (or, in some cases, endured) this year: Acid Mothers Temple / Adzuki / Attack + Defend / Autokat / Autons / Belle & Sebastian / Big Business / The Blockheads / Calexico / Camera Obscura / Isobel Campbell / Neil Casal / Cave In / Circa Regna Tonat / M Craft / Dedd Zebra / Deguello / The Delays / Delta Red / The Disciples Of Tone / Drei / Elbow / Bela Emerson / Field Music / DJ Format / Forward Russia! / Stephen Fretwell / Liam Frost & The Slowdown Family / Gender Fascist / Gindrinker (x2) / Jose Gonzales / Lily Green (x2) / Guillemots / Richard Hawley / The Keys / Seth Lakeman / Larrikin Love / Little My & Friends (x3) / Lone Pine / The Loungs / Lovemat / The Loves / The Martini Henry Rifles / Minotaur Shock / Morning Runner / My Passion / Nouvelle Vague / Noxagt / Porchlight / Porn (The Men Of) / Semifinalists / Shake My Hand / Shy Magnolias / StrangeTime / The Stray Borders / Taint / Threatmantics / The Toy Band / Truckers Of Husk / Tuung / Venus Elixir / The Voices / Voice Of The Seven Woods / The Voom Blooms / The Wave Pictures / Danny George Wilson / Winnebago Deal / You & The Atom Bomb / Zumbar

This being the fifth year of the SWSL end-of-year lists, I thought perhaps it might be worth looking back at previous lists.

10. FUGAZI, Nottingham Rock City
9. J MASCIS, Nottingham Social
7. THE WHITE STRIPES, Glastonbury
6. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, Nottingham Rock City
5. THE ICARUS LINE, Leeds Festival
4. JANE'S ADDICTION, Leeds Festival
3. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, Glastonbury Festival
2. SONIC YOUTH, Shepherds Bush Empire
1. GUNS 'N' ROSES, Leeds Festival

10. THE DELGADOS, Birmingham Academy
9. YEAH YEAH YEAHS, Leeds Festival
8. MOGWAI, Glastonbury Festival
7. EELS, Birmingham Irish Centre
6. THE RAVEONETTES, Birmingham Academy
5. THE FLAMING LIPS, Glastonbury Festival
4. JANE'S ADDICTION, Nottingham Rock City
3. LOW, Birmingham Academy
2. SIGUR ROS, Glastonbury Festival
1. RADIOHEAD, Glastonbury Festival

10. MUSE, Glastonbury Festival
9. FRANZ FERDINAND, Birmingham Academy
8. P J HARVEY, Glastonbury Festival
7. THE ICARUS LINE, Nottingham Rock City
6. THE FIERY FURNACES, Nottingham Stealth
5. MOGWAI, Nottingham Rock City
4. SPIRITUALIZED, Nottingham Rock City
3. THE FUTUREHEADS, Birmingham Academy
2. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS, Wolverhampton Civic Hall
1. SONIC YOUTH, Brixton Academy

10. MERCURY REV, Birmingham Academy
9. THE PUBIC FRINGE, Birmingham Flapper & Firkin
8. DRESDEN DOLLS, Glastonbury Festival
7. THE WHITE STRIPES, Glastonbury Festival
6. DIRTY THREE, Birmingham Academy
5. MAXIMO PARK, Glastonbury Festival
4. SIGUR ROS, Birmingham Academy
3. THE FUTUREHEADS, Glastonbury Festival
2. LOW, Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall
1. BRIAN WILSON, Glastonbury Festival

Monday, December 25, 2006


Merry Christmas, folks. Eat, drink, be merry and wear your Christmas jumper with pride.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Do I know it's Christmas?

Well, yes I do, but not that you'd realise it from the Earworm selection I've contributed to Swiss Toni's Place this week. Instead of being a litany of festive tunes, it's a healthy mix of songs about no-good men, witches and Jim Bowen. Cheers to ST for the invite.

In case you were wondering, the SWSL end-of-year lists will be appearing here some time before New Year. Behind the times as usual...
Quote of the day

"The past is a distant, receding coastline, and we are all in the same boat. Along the stern rail there is a line of telescopes; each brings the shore into focus at a given distance. If the boat is becalmed, one of the telescopes will be in continual use; it will seem to tell the whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an illusion; and as the boat sets off again, we return to our normal activity: scurrying from one telescope to another, seeing the sharpness fade in one, waiting for the blear to clear in another. And when the blear does clear, we imagine that we have made it all so by ourselves."

Julian Barnes

Monday, December 18, 2006

You throw parties, I throw knives


(A caveat: Notes for this gig were hastily scribbled down under the increasingly severe influence of Staropramen and in between accosting members of Cardiff's indie fraternity...)

The occasion is the Kruger Magazine Christmas Party, and this is the third time I've seen Little My - and the first time I've realised that the man beneath the tiger headdress is Graf, guitar mauler with Gindrinker. Little My's stock-in-trade - winsome indiepop gems that are over almost as soon as they've begun - is a far cry from what he's used to in his day job.

He and the other members of the collective do their best to squeeze onto the small stage, and the Guess Who? board makes a welcome reappearance. We're advised (unnecessarily) that if we tilt our heads it's in tune - the vocals from 'Sellotape My Hands' have already worked their magic, charming us to within an inch of our lives. And there's even a suitably shambling cover of 'Little Donkey' to get us in the festive spirit.

As at the recent Twisted By Design CD launch gig, what follows is something of a contrast. In place of Little My's lovingly worn frayed jumper of a set, we have a very tight and precision-machine-stitched pair of jeans courtesy of The Toy Band. There's no label as yet, I don't think, but it's surely only a matter of time. Personally speaking, though, there are a few moments of genuine interest, particularly towards the end of the set with songs like 'Lily', but for the most part I'm struggling to banish thoughts of The Kooks and calculated careerist indie from my head.

A quick trip downstairs to witness Tom, Gareth and Neil Los Campesinos! making their DJing debut (complete with turntables and Neil Young LPs), and it's back upstairs for Manchester's Autokat. This is when things start to go a bit awry.

The foursome are a very average rock band. There's more than a hint of Interpol in their dark motorik manoeuvres, but despite glimpses of promise they unfortunately don't have the songs or individual personality to live long in the memory - particularly a memory like mine, which by this point has been subjected to a large quantity of lager and is less like a sieve than a funnel.

Likewise headliners The Loungs, who are also from the North-West and record for Akoustik Anarky (sometime home for the likes of Nine Black Alps and The Longcut). Perhaps we're over-hasty in disappearing downstairs at little more than a flash of tank tops and trombone, but in our defence the first two songs do nothing to prolong our stay.

Some (more sober) post-gig reflections:

Our departure obviously didn't help matters, but the lateness of the hour (Little My didn't take to the stage after 9.30pm) and it being a Thursday meant that the crowd had already thinned very considerably for the two bands of out-of-towners, seemingly consisting mainly of people who'd travelled down to lend their support. Surely it would have made more sense to shift things to earlier in the evening, or to at least schedule it so that a local band headlined and Autokat and The Loungs weren't forced to suffer the indignity of playing to a bunch of friends in an unfamiliar venue?

Also, and at the risk of suggesting it should have been "a local gig for local people", there's nothing necessarily wrong with inviting outsiders to perform - but, as the Twisted By Design CD and gig have underlined, there is plenty of local talent around, and as a Cardiff-based publication Kruger could have easily sourced enough to put together a better bill and given a bit of extra exposure to some of the more interesting and unique bands on its doorstep.

Ultimately, though, all this is rather churlish, and at a time of giving I don't want to come across as ungrateful: the gig was free, as is the (very readable) magazine; my perspective was to an extent warped by alcohol and my increasingly partisan and hardening conviction that Cardiff is a hotbed of great bands; and, whatever I thought of the bands, I enjoyed myself.

Sunday, December 17, 2006



Tired Dad (via Troubled Diva)


JonnyB, whose blog has been named as the second best in the UK. That it would have won the Best UK Blog Written By A Norfolk-Based Anti-Post-Office-Closure Campaigning Serial LTLP Maimer category, had it existed, is of course beyond doubt.


Reluctant Nomad is off to live and work in Holland in the New Year - very best wishes, mate! Nottingham's loss is Amsterdam's gain.


Jonathan reviews the interesting-sounding first novel from Greg Stekelman (aka TheManWhoFellAsleep), 'A Year In The Life Of TheManWhoFellAsleep', and in the process alerts me to the existence of Greg's web-savvy publishers The Friday Project.

In a Troubled Diva-esque merchandising move, the ever-ace Indexed is now offering a range of T-shirts - this one particularly appealed to me...

Salvadore Vincent spots a glaring instance of a paradox and is thus inspired to write a Timewaster Letter.

And finally...

According to this piece from the BBC site, the popularity of blogging is slowing and will level out in 2007. An "analyst" is quoted as saying: "A lot of people have been in and out of this thing". How articulate of him. Well, dear reader, I can assure you that, despite significant Real Life changes occurring in the next few weeks, I will continue to be in "this thing".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Drum's not dead


The three men who finally take to the stage - after some unnerving ambient noise that has started to become wearing - are called Porn (The Men Of). A word of advice: it's probably best not to look them up online, especially if you're at work. The bassist (a stand-in for Billy Anderson, engineer for everyone from Neurosis to Red House Painters) wears a suit and the guitarist (Melvins manager Tim Moss) a Santa outfit. Drummer Dale Crover, meanwhile, is dressed as Elvis. Standing at the front of the stage, he takes a big bite of a banana to a round of applause.

And then they're off. With a bang. Except they've soon stopped again. And that's the problem - a bit of dicking (or should that be fannying?) about, then a song and with it a head of steam, but then more dicking about. It's something of a Pavlovian exercise - getting us salivating at a riff to die for, only to abandon it abruptly. There's not playing to the crowd, and then there's deliberately toying with us. It'll take more than Santa's mischievous promise of pot to win me round.

Suffice to say that LA duo Big Business cut rather different figures in the flesh than they do in the picture on their MySpace page. Bassist Jared Warren is unshaven and long-haired, while drummer Coady Willis, once of Seattle garage rockers Murder City Devils, belies his own clean-cut photographic representation, setting about giving a demonstration of how to play drums with both technical brilliance and astounding force.

Crover - whose own efforts behind the kit with Porn were sufficiently energetic to dislodge his Elvis wig - contributes guitar to a couple of Warren and Willis' sludgy clout-to-the-head songs, and shortly afterwards the unmistakeable figure of Buzz Osborne emerges and suddenly it's The Melvins we're watching.

If you're thinking "Who?!", it's time for a quick history lesson. Towards the end of tonight's set, Osborne expresses his disappointment at the fact that scheduled support act, the reformed Flipper, have had to pull out - thus depriving us of a sighting of Krist Novoselic, currently performing bass duties for them, and of their rendition of 'Scentless Apprentice'. But the Nirvana connection is not severed by Novoselic and Flipper's no-show. Oh no.

For starters, Crover was a founder member of Kurt Cobain's first band Fecal Matter, for whom Osborne also briefly featured. Crover then drummed on two tracks on Nirvana's debut Bleach ('Floyd The Barber' and 'Paper Cuts') and again filled in for Chad Channing when they joined Sonic Youth for a 1990 tour. Osborne, meanwhile, was the person who gave Dave Grohl's number to Novoselic. And as if that weren't reason enough for The Melvins to be hailed as the godfathers of grunge, they also originally featured Matt Lukin, later bassist with Mudhoney, and inspired every single band to ride the grunge wave out of Seattle, from Soundgarden to Pearl Jam. Impeccable credentials indeed.

Massively influential, then, but what do The Melvins actually sound like? Well, when pondering how to go about defending Birmingham's musical legacy recently, I considered posting just two words: "Black Sabbath". And it's Ozzy and company from whom Osborne and company most obviously take their cue, though it's also fair to say that the echo of Henry Rollins' Black Flag is ever-present in their fusion of metal and punk. The Melvins are unlikely to win any prizes for sophistication and subtlety, but for sheer no-nonsense wrecking-ball riffage they're hard to beat.

It's only for their latest album (A) Senile Animal (released on Ipecac, the label set up by Faith No More and Mr Bungle man Mike Patton with whom Osborne founded Fantomas) that The Melvins have expanded to a foursome - and there's a certain irony in the fact that it's a band called Big Business who have been swallowed up. Warren and Willis bring extra oomph, thump, thwack, weight. In particular, the effect of having two drummers contributing to every song - and not always simply mirroring each other, either - is quite incredible.

Each and every song is duly met with joy unrestrained by the fans at the front, whose behaviour - forming a moshpit, stagediving, throwing devil horns, lobbing half-full cans of lager about - is not that which one imagines occurs very often in churches, even those deconsecrated and converted into gig venues like the Point.

As for myself, I'm utterly transfixed by the way the spotlight illuminates Osborne's extraordinary hair (think a poodle perm exploded into a mushroom cloud) swaying and falling as he nods his head. The excruciating stiffness of my neck at the end of the night, after one final drum duel between Willis and Crover, is enough to indicate that I too have been nodding away furiously - and that I've been treated to a rather fine introduction to a rather fine band.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"A lifeline"

It's not often the Manics say anything worth listening to these days, but their statement about Spillers Records is serious and heartfelt.

A couple of months ago Spillers was named among the twenty best independent record stores in an article by the Guardian's Laura Barton. Today a whole page of the main section was allocated to the story that the oldest record shop in the world is under threat from closure. Not exactly news to anyone in Cardiff who's been following recent developments in the local press, but worth reading all the same, and interesting to see the likes of the Manics and Columbia Records lending their support to the campaign to keep Spillers alive.

Spillers' legendary status is not in doubt; what is in doubt, however, is whether the store can cope with the massive hike in rent anticipated as a result of the city centre redevelopments going on around its premises in the Hayes. Developer Helical Bar claims "it is keen for Spillers to survive and would offer it an alternative site - but it insists that it is not the sort of shop which would fit in with the multi-million development springing up around it". In other words, they don't give a toss about Spillers' merits and heritage and just want milk as much money as they can out of the site.

Spillers is an excellent shop, but Welsh Assembly Member Owen John Thomas has suggested that local support for its survival is at least as much out a concern to guard against homogeneity on the high street: "As well as love of this shop, I think there is a general feeling that if you get rid of the individual stores like this one and replace them with chains you produce a clone city. I'm not against the redevelopment but there must be room for the old shops like Spillers too".

Click here to add your name to the petition Thomas has set up.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Quote of the day

"About time too. Somebody won it for having a light going on and off one year. I wish I was on the committee that decides who gets it.

We all admire artists who can draw and paint something exactly as it looks to us. But that must get really boring for them so they move on to something that excites them.

All the best artists in the world could paint something that looked so real you'd want to touch it, but then they went a bit weird. Look at Picasso and Van Gogh. They saw things in a different way to us which is marvellous but I don't think turning a light on and off is art.

If that's the case I'm a fantastic artist because I turn the lights on and off and sometimes I turn them on and forget to turn them off and my wife goes mad.

In his column for the BBC website, Plymouth Argyle manager and legendary idiot savant Ian Holloway reacts to the news that the Turner Prize has been won by a painter, Tomma Abts. Who needs professional art critics, eh?

(Abts' paintings are rather good, aren't they?)
Know Your Enemy

"[He saw the BBC as] one of many branches of the entertainment tree: somewhere to swing from, if necessary, in order to reach a more congenial resting place".

Writing for Aerial, the in-house magazine, BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson gets the knives out for former Chairman Michael Grade following his defection to ITV.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Achosion I Laweni #7

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

#7 - Vegetarian Food Studio

Let's get one thing straight right at the start. I like meat. Always have done, and (I'm guessing) always will do. Lapsed vegetarians talk about the smell of bacon being fatal, but for me it would probably be the smell of any kind of meat.

So the fact that I wholeheartedly recommend the Vegetarian Food Studio should give you some indication as to how good it really is.

Tucked away behind the train station and the Millennium Stadium at the end of Penarth Road, it could be easier to find. But the fact that it's a little way out of the city centre and unlikely to be stumbled upon merely increases the sense that it's one of Cardiff's gems, known only to a select few.

Simply furnished, it specialises in authentic Indian cuisine with the twist that, duh, all the dishes are vegetarian. There's a wide range of choice - starters, mains, rices and breads - but the easiest and most satisfying option is the thali. You get a choice of two starters (the onion bhaji and atom bombs come recommended), a small dish of curry, a small dish of rice, a small dish of sauce, poppadums, breads and even a small dessert (a sponge soaked and floating in syrup). And all for just a fiver. Yes, a delicious and filling meal for £5.

On the alcohol front, they don't have a licence - but for just £1 per person corkage you can bring your own booze, and there's an off-licence handily situated next door.

You can also order takeaway - and, as we've had the pleasure of discovering, a selection of starters and sweets makes superb finger food for parties.

Quite simply, I very much doubt you could find better value or quality Indian food anywhere else in Cardiff. But don't just take my word for it - plenty more glowing testimonies here and here.

It's not quite Cafe Soya, but then what is? So good I don't mind being denied a meat option...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reading list

Three fine blogs:

The Hearing Aid - an excellent Birmingham-based gig review site which of late has featured reports on gigs by the likes of Bromhead's Jacket, The Jeffrey Lewis Band, The Rumble Strips and Men Women & Children (the first I've heard of the latter, who appealed instantly in my current LCD-Soundsystem-loving frame of mind). (Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Retro Boy - aka Mark, an associate of Swiss Toni and Lord Bargain, who (amongst other things) presents a pictorial record of their evening spent in the company of Steven Patrick Morrissey.

Corpus Obscura - consisting of obituaries for "those whose accomplishments vastly exceeded their fame". It's no wonder this little gem has been named as one of Best Blogs Of 2006 That You (Maybe) Aren't Reading on Fimoculous. (Thanks to Kenny for the link.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Side parting

Sad news from the West Midlands: psychobilly punks Das Fringe have decided to call it a day. The catalysts for the split were the departures of drummer Dusty Enclaves and bassist 'Tiny' Gene Pool, who have formed a new band, Nightingales, and guitarist Anal Ravine, who has left to join some bunch of chancers called The Fall.

Das Fringe - or The Pubic Fringe as they'll always be to me - were responsible for one of my favourite live sets of last year. That review led to Dusty suggesting I should write the sleeve notes for their next recording - sadly it never happened, but it would have felt wrong to usurp the inimitable Captain Lazonby-Threpwell in any case.

On the subject of splits, arguably the noisiest bastards in Cardiff are no more (bear in mind, though, that I haven't yet heard the bands that Mclusky's demise spawned, Shooting At Unarmed Men and Future Of The Left). The Martini Henry Rifles, who terrorised those of us awaiting The Young Knives back in March, have packed it in after six years.

The first I knew of it was when I read it in the latest issue of Kruger on Saturday. It was the first time I'd come across the Cardiff-based publication - and a damn good read it is too, with features on Hot Club de Paris, Love Is All, New Young Pony Club and Peter Bjorn & John as well as local types Future Of The Left and Los Campesinos!, and the Twisted By Design CD rightfully gets a plug in the reviews section. Little My are one of the bands playing at the magazine's Christmas party next Thursday at Buffalo Bar - and it's free entry before 11pm. May just find myself there...
Come together right now

Bands-Online is the brainchild of a friend of mine. The idea is simple: if you're a musician looking for a band, or a band looking for additional musicians, then register your details and away you go. Basically, it's like the noticeboards in Selectadisc and Spillers on a national scale. At present, it's functional rather than stylish, but from small acorns...
Straight outta Sutton Coldfield

You might like to pop over to The Art Of Noise where I'm currently making my In The Dock debut, defending Birmingham's musical legacy. Then again, if you're not a fan of metal or Dexys Midnight Runners, you might not...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

This week I have been mostly watching...

...'Coast' (thanks to NTL's rather handy On Demand facility). Somehow we missed the BAFTA award-winning series first time around, so it's good to know it's back for more, albeit with a different presenter, Neil Oliver.

A simple mixture of splendid locations, excellent camerawork, fascinating facts and engaging human interest stories, it's great viewing. My favourite installment so far has to be the one focusing on Cornwall, which had us wanting to pack our bags and jump in the car immediately - though from what I recall from a childhood holiday there, the permanent blue sky (and lack of rain) shown in the programme is somewhat deceptive...

In coming days, though, Larry David is likely to be taking over our TV, now that I'm the happy owner of the first two series of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. An utterly genius laugh-out-loud American sitcom? It's not so very long ago that I would have laughed at the very thought...
Quote of the day

"I did not want to publish civilised, neat poems that ignored the psychotic savagery of twentieth century life. Why, only the previous decade there had been Auschwitz and Belsen, Hiroshima and Nagasaki - so shouldn't poetry be more vital, angry, rough, urgent - in short, Dionysian? Should not poets write out of an urgent, personal predicament rather than compose neat little clever exercises?"

Dannie Abse, writing in his autobiography 'A Poet In The Family', offers a powerful poetic manifesto - and one which is equally suggestive for other branches of the arts. The world ain't a pretty place, so why pretend it is? Art as escapism and consolation - no thanks.
Word of the day

Embellish: Probably now most commonly synonymous with exaggerating stories for effect, "to embellish" literally means to improve in appearance or make more beautiful. So, next time you're busy embellishing an anecdote, there's no need to feel like you're telling porkie pies - just remember that you're actually prettifying the truth for the benefit of your listener, and carry on elaborating without shame.
"Bureaucracy gone mad"

Three words of which readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail are so fond, which this week emanated from the mouth of Welsh sausage manufacturer Jon Carthew. The reason? Trading standards have informed him he needs to make it clearer that his firm's Welsh Dragon Sausages actually contain pork and not dragon meat. I look forward to similiar tickings-off for the manufacturers of Monster Munch and Angel Delight.

Thanks to a special offer at Boots, our bathroom is now stocked with a range of Original Source shower gels - and very refreshing they are of a morning too. Today I tried out the lime one, which made me feel like an oversized Opal Fruit. There's only one problem: they all seem to induce hunger...