Friday, November 30, 2007

Spirit medium


So, this is how it's going to be, is it? A second trip to the Academy and the same result - I arrive shortly after 8.15pm to catch the first support band's last two songs.

Merseyside's Man From Michael, aside from having a dreadful name, deal in melodic pop-rock that they'd probably like to think sounds like Grandaddy but that actually falls far short, something no amount of vocal woos can change. What else to say? Well, the guitarist sports a most impressive moustache, while the lead singer has a passing resemblance to Julian Rhind-Tutt (you know, the shaggy-haired posh one off of 'Green Wing' and the Barclaycard adverts).

It's probably fair to say that Creepy Morons are best experienced in a small room on a Friday night when the beer's been flowing freely, rather than in a soulless corporate club on a freezing cold Monday in front of the sort of so-polite-it's-uptight crowd bands playing in Oxford routinely seem to have to suffer. It's not that blistering gutter-punk blues duos like this are an alien concept here - after all, it's not so long ago that the city of dreaming spires spawned Winnebago Deal.

Creepy Morons' music is so primeval it's still covered in a slick of slime and hasn't yet learned how to wash. Never mind that the same drum beat and riffs appear to be constantly recycled - the impact isn't ever lost, and the thwack of new single 'Piece Of Mind' is a clip around the ear with a brick. What's perhaps most unsettling, though, on a night of lookalikes, is my realisation of the extent to which guitarist Nick resembles an extremely unelegantly wasted Johnny Borrell.

After a prolonged intermission made bearable only by 'Chinese Rocks' by Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers featuring on the DJ's looped CD and the sight of the roadie who clearly thought he should dress like he's in the band (military chic waistcoat, shirt, flat hat, calf-high boots), headliners The Duke Spirit take to the stage. Continuing the lookalikes theme, we have a generically gorgeous blonde-haired 60s film star (singer Liela Moss, possessor of the most hand-held percussive instruments I've ever seen), the tousle-haired brothers Reid circa 1986 and the Darklands album (guitarist Dan Higgins and drummer Olly Betts) and Ronnie O'Sullivan if he steered clear of the pies for a while (guitarist Luke Ford). And bearded bassist Toby Butler.

The parallels between the quintet before me and the last band I saw headlining at the Zodiac, Sons & Daughters, are striking. Despite having worked with producer Chris Goss of Masters Of Reality (and sometime Queens Of The Stone Age member) for recent EP Ex-Voto, of which the excellent 'Lassoo' is the pick, most of the material from forthcoming second album Neptune showcased tonight suggests a band collectively taking files to the rough edges that attracted me in the first place. 'The Step And The Walk', for instance, lollops along with a poppy gait, while the piano-led 'My Sunken Treasure' reaches for a chorus that is simultaneously anthemic and Strokes-esque. A bit harsh, perhaps, but these days it seems to be less Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and more Black On-The-Straight-And-Narrow Scooter Club.

Not that the scratchier 'Send A Little Love Token' grabs me more; of all the new songs, ballad 'Souvenir' and the slow-burning mid-set beast called (I think) 'A Ship Was Built To Last' are the most impressive, but nevertheless pale in comparison to the likes of the shimmering majesty of 'Hello To The Floor' from first LP Cuts Across The Land. 'Red Weather', meanwhile, despite being deposed from its customary place at the conclusion of the set, still manages to upstage 'Love Is An Unfamiliar Name' - the band failing to heed the cardinal rule that wig-outs should be left until last unless you want to create a sense of anti-climax.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Love parade

Ever wondered what Eddie Chacon of Charles & Eddie fame did after 'Would I Lie To You'? (Well, 15 years after, to be precise.) He recorded an album of sleazy electro-pop inspired by Roxy Music, The Velvet Underground, Roman Polanski and "retro German porn" with someone called Sissy he met "on a late night chat line". The lyrics to 'WWIII' are particularly worth hearing...

Ever wondered what Bon Scott did before fronting hard rock titans AC/DC? He sung and danced very badly in a late 60s teen-pop combo from Perth, Australia, who were one of countless bands to cover The Temptations' 'Build Me Up Buttercup'.

The name of both outfits? The Valentines.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Seeing double

There are plenty of rock musicians whose fathers were themselves rock musicians. There aren't quite so many who were geniuses in the field of quantum physics.

'Parallel Universes, Parallel Lives', an hour-long documentary shown on BBC4 this evening, followed Mark Oliver Everett aka E of Eels as he pieced together his dad Hugh's remarkable story - and for this confirmed Everettian (of fils, rather than pere) it was essential viewing.

Hugh Everett III was just 24 when, as a student at Princeton in 1957, he proposed the theory of parallel universes, an alternative to pre-eminent quantum physicist Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation, explaining such things as the apparently bizarre behaviour of photons in the double slit experiment. Everett actually took Bohr on in person, but when the Dane rejected the challenge to his own theory, the Copenhagen interpretation triumphed and the concept of parallel universes was discredited, even if surviving as a suggestive source of inspiration in popular culture.

In the late 70s and 80s, though, the theory began to gain more adherents within the world of physics - too late for Everett, sadly, who had dedicated his life to working for the military (his research was at least partially responsible for the restraint shown by Eisenhower in the atomic arms race) and died in 1982 aged 51. While I suspect that to someone with a firm grasp of the concepts and ideas the science was criminally simplified, I found it illuminating, and it was a fascinating tale of one man's conviction (mathematically substantiated, he felt) and persistence against the odds.

Of course, as the title implies, the documentary was almost as much about E and his relationship with his father. As someone who has drawn so much inspiration (if that's the right word) from the entanglements of his family life and the personal experience of his father, mother and sister all dying prematurely, E was shown gradually coming to a deeper understanding of someone he never really knew: "My father never, ever said anything to me about his theories. I was in the same house with him for at least 18 years but he was a total stranger to me. He was in his own parallel universe. He was a physical presence, like the furniture, sitting there jotting down crazy notations at the dining room table night after night. I think he was deeply disappointed that he knew he was a genius but the rest of the world didn't know it."

The journey wasn't always easy - E's discomfort and trepidation before listening to a collection of old tapes left lying in boxes was palpable, but it was poignant when he pressed play and heard his father's voice talking physics with his childhood self bashing away on the drums in the background. Inevitably, what with E being a bit of a prankster, there were laughs along the way (most memorably when the man who once dressed as the Unabomber for an album cover expressed his amazement at getting clearance to get into the heart of the Pentagon), and I was left thinking that there's a bit of father in the son, if you look at E's intense observation of the minutiae of life and appreciation of the enormity of the cosmos and our insignificance within it.

Here's to BBC4 for an excellent hour's viewing.
Quote of the day

"Poetry has been defined as the imagination pressing back against the pressures of reality, and these poems from Guantanamo are a vivid proof of the rightness of that definition. Here are voices crying de profundis, yet the very fact of this articulation constitutes a victory, a guarantee of the spirit's indomitable aspiration towards freedome and justice."

Seamus Heaney on this book of poems written by prisoners detained in Guantanamo Bay and edited by Marc Falkoff, an attorney to many of the contributors. In some cases the poems were written in toothpaste or etched into Styrofoam coffee cups.

But of course poetry is a minority literary form, a dying art, unimportant and irrelevant to the modern world...
Know Your Enemy

"For some, this expanded issue will be a reminder of something sadly lost to our pop culture. For someone who remembers the rise of the NF and the battles of the early Eighties, it is a montage of idiocy, aggression and race-hate enjoyable only as a tombstone to a thankfully dead community of cunts and fascist scum who found themselves unable to deal with a changing Britain. Prime thugporn wanking material for Morrissey, I'm sure. Kindling for the rest of us."

Plan B's Neil Kulkarni on the expanded edition of Gavin Watson's documentary photo book 'Skins'.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

This is the end

Way back in September, I signed up to take part in Swiss Toni's second annual Shuffleathon, whereby each participant makes a CD for another drawn at random to listen to, review and (hopefully) enjoy. I'm still waiting for the compilation assigned to me to drop through the letterbox, but the verdict's now in on my effort, which winged its way to the stereo of Ian of Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From? - and it's not exactly glowing...

For the record, the tracklisting was as follows:

1. 'Trilogy' - Sonic Youth
2. 'Party The Baby Off' - The Icarus Line
3. 'She Can Do What She Wants' - Field Music
4. 'Feel Like Goin' Home' - Spiritualized
5. 'We're No Here' - Mogwai
6. 'Anonymous Collective' - Stereolab
7. 'Road To Joy' - Bright Eyes
8. 'In The Backseat' - The Arcade Fire
9. 'Wicked Game' - Giant Drag
10. 'Ambulance Blues' - Neil Young
11. 'Sixteen Straws' - The Drones
12. 'The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes' - The Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band

Entitled The End Is Nigh, it's a collection of album closers (well, Giant Drag's cover of the Chris Isaak song is technically a bonus track, but creative licence and all that...).

Two factors influenced my choices.

Firstly, having taken part in the inaugural Shuffleathon last year and done the whole "tracks that mean something to you / that you love" thing then, I wanted to take a different tack and pull together a themed collection featuring none of the bands and artists that made it onto the CD last time out.

Secondly, being in Oxfordshire without access to the vast bulk of my record collection here in Cardiff for two months, I had to make do with what was already in my limited iTunes library.

Given that in putting the CD together I was much less concerned to avoid awkward, difficult or long songs this time around, and actually set out to create something challenging, Ian's decidedly mixed response hardly came as a surprise.

While I'm very fond of all these songs, some of them extremely so ('Trilogy', 'In The Backseat', 'Sixteen Straws', 'The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes'), they're not all favourites - 'Anonymous Collective', for instance, was included as something a bit different, but there are several better songs on the Emperor Tomato Ketchup album. 'Party The Baby Off' and 'She Can Do What She Wants' - coincidentally the two tracks that Ian enjoyed most - were almost left off, as they don't really fit the overall mood of the compilation (which Ian characterised as "reflective" - inevitable for a collection of album-closers, I guess), but in the end they kept their place because the opportunity to introduce someone to two bands who are in my view unjustly unknown was too good to pass up.

My choices also reflected the moment of compilation: 'Feel Like Goin' Home' and 'Road To Joy' are both on albums I was listening to repeatedly around the time it was compiled (Pure Phase and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning respectively), while, once I'd settled on the theme, there was never any question of the CD opening with anything other than 'Trilogy', the memory of Sonic Youth's performance of Daydream Nation in its entirety still being fresh.

Aside from 'Trilogy', Ian was distinctly unimpressed with 'We're No Here' and 'Ambulance Blues' (which I love for its early 70s bitter death-of-the-hippie-dream vibe), but was most scathing about 'Sixteen Straws'. Clearly, ten minute narratives about violent crime and suicide among convicts and deportees in turn-of-the-century Australia aren't to everyone's tastes. To me, though, this and the album it's from, Gala Mill, would be the perfect soundtrack to a film like Nick Cave's 'The Proposition'. Harrowing, bloody and disquieting - but in a good way.

In other music-related activity, Swiss Toni invited me back for another stab at his regular Friday Earworms feature, which is now up here. If you do nothing else, take a listen to the Flight Of The Conchords song...
The heat is on

"I'm too old to be worried about climate change."

"No point."

"I don't believe in it."

"I'm in the Labour Party - we do all that."

"Nature looks after itself."

Just a sample of responses received this morning, when as part of the Big Ask campaign we were asking residents of Whitchurch to sign postcards to put pressure on local MP Julie Morgan to press for a strong Climate Change Bill. I'm not sure which response was most depressing. Thankfully, though, there were plenty of other people who were both informed and concerned enough to sign up - around 80 postcards in an hour and a half isn't bad going at all on a freezing cold November morning.

While I've got my pressure group hat on, I'll do a JonnyB and endorse the Save Our Post Offices campaign in Cardiff. Time for another protest song, I think, Jonny - Bob Dylan doesn't do that kind of thing anymore, and Billy Bragg seems to think he's got bigger fish to fry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Burns night


No Motion Picture, so we have to make do with just the one support band - and we nearly miss Nomad 67's entire set due to the lateness of my train. Not that that would have been any great loss.

Earlier this year, over on The Art Of Noise, I successfully defended Nirvana from the charges brought against them by the prosecution aka Pete, and bands like Nomad 67 were one of the reasons that defending them was tricky. Perhaps by the time they've sprouted their first facial hairs they'll have abandoned the McFly-does-Nine-Black-Alps schtick in favour of something more interesting.

If my understanding of irony was on a par with that of your average football commentator, I'd claim that there's an irony in the Worcestershire trio supporting Brooklyn's The Fiery Furnaces, who stuff more ideas into a single song than have occurred to Nomad 67 in their collective years on this earth.

It's rather fortuitous that our passing visit to Birmingham should have afforded me the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger - we missed their instore appearance at Sound Fix Records in Williamsburg when we were over in New York, and having just seen Sons & Daughters, it feels fitting watching the band I first saw them support.

Back then, Blueberry Boat was on the verge of being unleashed - since when the duo have released an EP collecting together their singles (amongst other things), recorded an album featuring guest vocals from their grandmother Olga Sarantos (Rehearsing My Choir) and followed it up last year with a record inspired by Devo (Bitter Tea). And now they're in the UK in support of their latest release, Widow City, their first for Thrill Jockey and in some ways their most readily comprehensible and linear album to date.

But, with The Fiery Furnaces, everything's relative - and that's why the album and tonight's set kick off with 'The Philadelphia Grand Jury', seven minutes of strangeness in which plinked keyboard sections rub up against oddball funk and strutting rock, changing direction without the merest hint of a warning. It's that passion for the incongruous which is both most likely to alienate their listener and make them come back for more, to try to catch sight of the thread of string that will lead the way out of each labyrinthine song so it can be viewed from the outside.

On this evidence, two of Widow City's strongest moments are 'Clear Signal From Cairo' and 'Navy Nurse', both of which find the Friedbergers - currently accompanied by Bob D'Amico on drums and Sebadoh's Jason Loewenstein on bass - foraging fruitfully for inspiration amid the annals of garage and 70s rock. By virtue of avoiding deviation, meanwhile, 'My Egyptian Grammar' comes closest to being their most conventional pop song yet, albeit one that has the magnificently befringed Eleanor singing a chorus of "Now, that clearly didn't happen, I consulted my Egyptian Grammar / On p.333 was the hieroglyph for motorcycle helmet". And it has rivals, in the shape of brilliant former singles 'Tropical Ice Land' and 'Single Again'.

It's not an unmitigated triumph, though. For a start, though the snippets of 'Evergreen' are genius, there's no 'My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found', 'Blueberry Boat' or 'Chris Michaels'. And it's an unpleasant distraction to realise that the goosebumps on my arms are less the result of the Fiery Furnaces' performance and more the consequence of the venue being cold and significantly less than half full. OK, so Acid Mothers Temple are playing a sold-out Capsule show at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, but surely the second city could have mustered up more enthusiasm for a band as bewilderingly original as this? Brummies, you should be ashamed of yourselves. The Fiery Furnaces blew hot, and you blew cold.

(Read Kenny's Parallax View review of the gig here.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back home

Just back from a riotous weekend in Nottingham, the first time I've been properly back in over a year. Things certainly change, too - the wonderful Malt Cross heaving with people when three years ago I was genuinely worried it might have to close down; Rock City now with a shots bar in place of the grotty old food bar, which just about makes up for the scantily-clad podium dancers...

Thankfully, other things don't change - DJ Mike Bottomley (aka Guinness Top) and the fat bloke who wanders around looking at the floor all night were both present and correct in Rock City, and the Salutation is still a great place for the consumption of cheap, honest pub grub and a great selection of beers and ciders to a hard rock soundtrack.

I watched Israel improbably resurrect England's chances of qualifying for next year's European Championships, I witnessed two friends "breakdancing" (i.e. rolling around on the floor) to Guns 'N' Roses's 'Paradise City' in the Rig, and I met someone who's a locum singer for Abba tribute bands around the country - not your common-or-garden weekend, really.

Pretty much the only down sides were yesterday's malingering hangover, and the awful watery post Rock City kebab from Antalya, but in fairness I should have known better.

Not long to wait until my next visit, either - just a fortnight away. Given that it'll involve meeting a couple of newborn babies in Long Eaton and going to a 1st birthday party in West Bridgford, I'm guessing that might be slightly more sedate, though...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Happy families

Congratulations to Lisa and Paul, and a cheery hello to Benjamin Wakefield, born in the early hours of yesterday morning.

If Paul - author of 1000 Shades Of Grey and my other half over there - thought he'd done his bit nine and a half months ago, he was sorely mistaken, having to pitch in to help with the delivery when Lisa went into labour at home. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was all over, Paul having shown a safe pair of hands on catching duty...

Chuffed to bits doesn't come close to how he sounded on the phone - and well he might be.

Would that be SWSL's favourite Cardiff-based indiepopstrels Los Campesinos! in the pages of the latest issue of Plan B? I rather think it would. The article finds Gareth admitting to being "a total snob" when it comes to music, and Tom saying: "I hope it's not just throwaway pop. Or, if it is, please recycle"...

Amongst the other goodies in the November issue of the only music magazine worth parting with your hard-earned cash for: a big feature on New Zealand's Flying Nun label; interviews with Thurston Moore and Fuck Buttons; live reviews of PJ Harvey, Future Of The Left and the Truck Festival; and album reviews of Les Savy Fav's Let's Stay Friends, The Hives' The Black And White Album, The Raveonettes' Lust Lust Lust and Einsturzende Neubauten's Alles Wieder Offen. That Sons & Daughters' new single 'Gilt Complex' is described as "streamlined" (as opposed to "rompy") is interesting in the light of last week's gig.

Los Campesinos! and Fuck Buttons are two of the acts already announced for ATP vs Pitchfork, set for the weekend of 9th-11th May at Camber Sands, alongside Sebadoh, Ween, Of Montreal and the charmingly named Pissed Jeans. To be honest, though, the ATP event the following weekend in Minehead looks even better, with Explosions In The Sky curating and Dinosaur Jr, Broken Social Scene, Iron & Wine and ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead already lined up. I won't be able to go, sadly. Partners do have milestone birthdays at the most inconvenient times, don't they?

Talking of Jenni, here are some photos from Pitchfork of the incredible gig we very narrowly missed out on in New York last month. Just for the record, the line-up for the Randall's Island gig featured The Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Les Savy Fav and Blonde Redhead. Why am I torturing myself by looking at the pictures? Why?

As if to prove that, though Rather Ripped may have seen Sonic Youth getting as cosy with mainstream pop as at any time in their career, they're still very much leftfield arty types, Lee Ranaldo has just published a book of poetry inspired by spam email. Expect lots of references to Viagra and Nigerian bank accounts, then.

Last but certainly not least, the news that we've all been waiting for. The only question now is whether they'll tour with the reformed Jesus & Mary Chain...
Know Your Enemy

"What a dim muddy glow there is lighting this goldfish bowl of the English intelligensia. Nothing exists for them later than 1948, or outside the Charing Cross noise perimeter ... They are simply steaming compost of bile, saliva, & disintegrated copies of Penguin New Writing, - the pustulence of their own canker, the fungi that sits & swells & sweats & stinks wherever English literature is gathered together."

Ted Hughes, not mincing his words in a 1960 letter to Lucas Myers.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Filial respect


Bloody students. There's little so likely to excite my curmudgeonly ire these days as that particular species. They're responsible for the early start to tonight's gig which scuppers my best intentions to get immersed in the local Oxford scene quickly - as it is, I only catch the tail end of the first support band's set.

International Jetsetters are aptly named, it turns out, what with guitarist / vocalist Mark Crozer and ex-Ride drummer Loz Colbert having recently seen the globe as part of the resurrected Jesus & Mary Chain line-up. Given that shoegaze is very definitely flavour of the month round these 'ere parts at the moment, they couldn't have picked a much better time to introduce themselves to my ears.

Even that doesn't quite guarantee them a favourable reception, though. What I hear is a bit polite, perhaps even rather banal, much like the material on their MySpace site - fuzzed-up pop that's more the polish of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club than the spit of the Mary Chain. But no doubt they'll get another chance to impress before long, and I'm open to persuasion.

Pass up or miss so many chances to see one of Cardiff's most recent exports in what is nominally their hometown that I've lost count, and what happens? They turn up, unexpectedly, on someone else's bill. In Oxford. As well as flying in the face of grammar, The Victorian English Gentlemens Club - like the latest band to break out of the Welsh capital, Los Campesinos! - are musical mavericks, every song a curveball, though by contrast they sport the scars of the city's love affair with the lurching basslines and scabrous guitar of Shellac rather more obviously.

Guitarist / vocalist Adam Taylor's sailor's shirt suggests the discovery of a child's dressing-up box, as do the sparkling dresses modelled by bassist Louise Mason and drummer Emma Danan. But the box marked "Tunes" seemingly remains elusive, and despite witnessing a commendable display of elbow grease, tub-thumping, bell-beating and semi-strangulated choral yelping, I'm not really won over - not even by the bizarre punk-skiffle of trademark song 'Ban The Gin'.

It's safe to say that last time I saw Sons & Daughters (or "Sons & Dauters", as the front of tonight's venue proclaims in big red letters - did they run out or are they economising, or something?), at Glastonbury two years ago the circumstances weren't exactly conducive to their dark-hearted art: they were hidden away in the gloom of the John Peel Tent when outside, in hot sunshine and under blue skies (the Friday's biblical downpour a distant memory), and in front of a huge Pyramid Stage crowd, Brian Wilson was kicking off one of the best sets I've ever seen. But this is more like it - or should be, at least.

Associates of Arab Strap and championed by Franz Ferdinand and The Delgados, the Glaswegians couldn't possibly feel aggrieved at a lack of support in their hometown, but here in the heart of England they're greeted by restrained if warm applause and between-song silences that an unnerved Scott Paterson tries to fill. Perhaps it's the city, or perhaps it's the new material from their second full-length album This Gift, due out in January, which appears to signify (if only subtly) a simultaneous sanding-down of the rambunctious punkabilly of their past and branching out into poppier territory. Thus the sneering twitch of new single 'Gilt Complex' is counterbalanced by two songs that are cinematic in inspiration if not in sound: 'The Nest' takes Ken Loach's 'Cathy Come Home' as its starting point, while 'Darling' flutters its eyelashes coyly in the direction of 60s girl groups as well as the 1965 Julie Christie film of the same name, its fingernails impeccably manicured rather than bitten ragged.

Whether it's a reflection of the quality of the new material only time will tell, but whereas 'Rebel With The Ghost' and 'House In My Head' pass by without making much lasting impression, hearing the likes of 'Taste The Last Girl', 'Medicine' ("This one's about suicide. Yay!") and 'Dance Me In' again is enough to convince me to revisit last album The Repulsion Box. Even then, though, the two best songs of the night are bone-rattling debut single 'Johnny Cash' from first EP Love The Cup, which morphs improbably into 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' halfway through, and 'The War On Love Song', their collaboration with Scottish writer A L Kennedy for the 'Ballad Of The Book' musical / literary crossover project co-ordinated by Sons & Daughters bassist Ailidh Lennon's husband, Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble, for which Adele Bethel stalks the stage in as menacing a fashion as someone wearing Kylie-style gold hotpants possibly can.

By 10.20pm, and without an encore, it's all over, the club night for which the gaggle of swaying, braying toerags dressed as golfers are outside queueing having prematurely curtailed the evening's entertainment. Bloody students.

* Sadly, the Academy was just as I'd feared from my experiences in Birmingham: characterless, soulless, poor bar service and even worse beer. There's just too much going on there to boycott it all together, unfortunately, but I'll be doing my best to patronise other venues around the city in preference, while the old name will stick here, at least.
Quote of the day

"It's not so much that poetry matters as it won't go away. Language is a poetic system. Poetry's just what happens to it when you put it under a bit of formal pressure and emotional heat. So I don't know if it matters, as such: it's deeper than that. It's just language's way of keeping itself vital."

Two-time TS Eliot Prize winner and Picador poetry editor Don Paterson in this Sunday Torygraph article on the continued good health of the art form in the UK, which makes for interesting reading in the light of the Right To Reply feature on the topic from two years ago.
Guilty as charged

"White Ladder had a touch of magic about it. Something happened at that particular time, it was created in an unself-conscious way. You can't blame it for being a catalyst for this whole cloyingly plaintive style that seems to have taken off. There may be a deluge of similar-tasting products but I think mine's got something else, a grain of gravity".

Modest words from David Gray, who despite his protestations to the contrary is (to borrow some bon mots from 'Blackadder') as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Music to my ears

The drought is over!

OK, so in the past six months I've been to three festivals - Glastonbury, Supersonic and Green Man; I've seen Sonic Youth perform Daydream Nation in Camden, !!! conclude their North American tour in Toronto and Patti Plinko in something approaching her natural habitat - an underground venue that resembled a strip joint in 1930s Berlin; and there've also been Los Campesinos!, Creepy Morons and Meltdown gigs in Cardiff.

But I still hadn't been to a gig in Oxford - until tonight.

In the first four months of the year, before leaving Wales for Oxfordshire, I was going to, on average, at least a gig a week, so it was quite a comedown. Moving to Abingdon rather than Oxford didn't help, and neither did the bastardisation of the Zodiac into an Academy venue, the refurbishment entailing its closure from mid May until mid September.

Needless to say that, having made the move into the city over the weekend, I was itching for some hot, sweaty live action. So imagine my disappointment when on Monday, only my second night as a resident of Oxford, I went up to the Jericho Tavern full of hope and expectancy, only to discover that Asobi Seksu had cancelled. And then tonight I found out the reason - not illness or injury or a squabble with the promoter or venue, but the fact that 65 Days Of Static have a soft spot for New York shoegaze and had hand-picked them as support at the Academy instead.

Still, Sons & Daughters went a long way to pacifying me - for it was they who ended up popping my Oxford gigging cherry (full report in due course, naturally) - and there's lots more good stuff on the horizon: The Duke Spirit / Creepy Morons, The Warlocks / Blood Red Shoes, Emma Pollock, CSS... Just a shame Rilo Kiley have cancelled and I'm going to miss out on Ill Ease and The Raveonettes, who are playing on consecutive Fridays later in the month. You can't have it all, I guess...
Feel good hits of the 7th November

A bumper edition, seeing as it's been so long since the last one...

1. 'Some Kind Of Sad' - Ringo Deathstarr
2. 'All My Heroes Are Weirdos' - !!!
3. 'In A Funny Way' - Mercury Rev
4. 'Gilt Complex' - Sons & Daughters
5. 'Blue Line Swinger' - Yo La Tengo
6. 'Sleeping Lessons' - The Shins
7. 'Eyelids' - Fridge
8. 'Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)' - Stars Of The Lid
9. 'Be Prepared' - Shellac
10. 'Walk On' - Neil Young
11. 'Roll The Credits' - Peter Bjorn & John
12. 'Ban The Gin' - The Victorian English Gentlemens Club
13. 'We Live By The Lake' - Fanfarlo
14. 'The Diamond Sea' - Sonic Youth
15. 'Make Another World' - Idlewild

Thanks to Simon at Spoilt Victorian Child for sending me the Ringo Deathstarr EP (accompanied by a personalised thank you note written on an old postcard of Loch Lomond), and for putting it out on his label - and to Silence Is A Rhythm Too for introducing me to the Texan foursome in the first place.

Meanwhile, I came across the Stars Of The Lid song on their MySpace page when looking up some links to recommend to a friend who's taking some tentative steps into the world of sound art. I'd heard a bit of their 2001 album The Tired Sounds Of... before, but 'Apreludes (In C Sharp Major)', from And Their Refinement Of The Decline (their first album since) is better - a bit like Sigur Ros if they cast their drumkit overboard and set sail on the seas of abstraction. May have to investigate this "ambient classical" stuff further...
"Sorry, mate, you'll have to go outside if you want to do that..."

Apparently it's illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. Well, at least law-breakers won't resist arrest, I suppose.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Journey's end

Thought I'd gather together links to all ten installments of the Letters From (North) America series for ease of browsing (and ease of accommodating links in the sidebar). Thanks to Jenni and her digital camera, all are now fully illustrated - happy now, Andy?


#1 - across the pond, the Dakota Building, Fifth Avenue, New York Public Library

#2 - CBGBs and the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Tribeca, Ground Zero, Staten Island Ferry

#3 - Little Italy, Times Square, MoMA, St Patrick's Cathedral, Grand Central Station, The Library Hotel

#4 - Lindy's, The Chelsea Hotel, West Village, White Horse Tavern

#5 - Central Park, Radio City Music Hall, Brooklyn Bridge, East 7th Street bar crawl


#6 - the Greyhound, Cabbagetown, Panorama, Queen Street West, CN Tower

#7 - Chapter Eleven, the cottage

#8 - !!! gig

#9 - Riverdale Farm, curling, Russia v England, micro-blogmeet

#10 - Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, Erin, home

Monday, November 05, 2007

Letters From (North) America #10

The tenth and final installment sees us visit some waterfall or other, see no raccoons and head home to Blighty...

* Niagara-on-the-Lake is for the most part a beautiful town where every house seems to be a huge, painted, wooden edifice - but the main strip is a parade of tourist shoppes. One caters to Anglophiles, selling familiar brands of tea and biscuits at vastly inflated prices (though who exactly decides the way to exert their British roots is to remortgage the house in order to be able to buy some tinned gooseberries?), while the Christmas shop, open all year round apparently, is just the sort of establishment that should be exempt from legal protection against arson. All the same, we did pay a visit to one of the two bakeries to assess their (very reasonable) stab at a Cornish pasty, and I sampled one of the local delicacies, butter tart, which really was good.

* It's impossible not to be impressed by the Falls themselves, particularly those on the Canadian side, which are an enormous horseshoe shape. The facts and figures are awesome - 154 million litres flows over them every minute, and at some point 20% of the world's fresh water will pass over the top. We took the trip into the tunnels which burrow into the rock behind the cliff face, where the incessant pounding makes conversation difficult, and marvelled at the static effect air ionised by water droplets had on our hair. But then it was the depressingly familiar ejection into the gift shop, and yet more tat. Do you really have to buy a T-shirt with "Niagara Falls" on it to prove you were there? Or an authentic "Indian" purse, made in China? Or a CD of music inspired by a pack of wolves? How to look after the Falls and cater for the volume of visitors must be a concern for the local authorities - but the statement, ubiquitous in the gift shop, that every dollar spent goes towards preserving the Niagara Parks struck me as a devious attempt to guilt trip the gullible into buying, buying, buying. Who's really profiting? In the town itself, it's fairly obvious - the casinos loom overhead like a miniature Las Vegas, and there's even a grotesque parody of the CN Tower, complete with revolving restaurant. It's no coincidence that America is barely a stone's throw away.

Some waterfall or other

Niagara Falls - a hair-raising experience, quite literally

"It's spitting, everybody in!"

* A second trip out of the city to the north - this time to visit relatives, their two dogs and 20-year-old cat - saw us head for a farm near Hillsburgh where the leaves were now very much on the turn. We ate lunch in Erin, a sleepier less picturesque version of Niagara-on-the-Lake which is home, perhaps surprisingly, to a thriving independent press of no little repute and where you can leave your car parked unlocked on the main street without giving it a second thought.

* When our last night proper, like all those before it, failed to furnish us with even a glimpse of a raccoon, I decided that, rather like the bounds of Canadian politeness and the utterances to which a Canadian can't append the tag word "eh", they don't really exist. Thankfully Nay made up for the disappointment with an anecdote about how she was once sprayed by a skunk and later, even after a protracted scrubbing session, ejected from a restaurant after a number of complaints about the smell from fellow diners...

* England's fate in the Rugby World Cup sealed (it's a rubbish game anyway), there was just time to pay a final visit to Riverdale Farm so Jenni could get her goat fix.

* That only left the dilemma of how to thank our hosts for their hospitality - a dilemma which was soon resolved...

Just call me the cabbage patch kid

* And thence to the airport and flight home, which we shared with an unholy mixture of spoilt brats, bewildered senior citizens seemingly unable to understand the concept of having to sit down and belt up when the plane was ten minutes away from landing, and a couple of Brits who'd spent their holiday following the Van Halen tour, tickets for the three gigs they'd gone to having cost them over £500. "Last year I flew over and did four dates with Nickelback", the woman said with what, had I not been jetlagged, I might have mistaken for self-satisfied smugness. Time for bed.
Onwards and upwards

Thank fuck THAT weekend's over and out of the way. The Abingdon house has been vacated and cleaned from top to bottom (and boy did it need it), the move to Oxford has been successfully completed and, as you may have surmised, there has miraculously been no problem in sorting out internet connections straight away.

It's only a move of around 8 miles, but the difference is quite significant - from a rural town which is pleasant enough but very quiet to something approaching the busy cities I'm used to living in. I could tell I was in Oxford, too, by the nature of the conversations overheard when we ventured out to the local pubs tonight - one bloke, an American, apparently seemed to think the way to impress his younger date was to boast about how many publications he'd submitted and his prowess at Tetris...

The move will no doubt mean more frequent additions to the Reasons To Be Cheerful Part II series, and, after the lull of the last six months (festivals aside), living somewhere where live music actually happens is likely to result in an explosion of gig-going activity - there's a chance I might see Asobi Seksu, Sons & Daughters and Fiery Furnaces this week, for a start. But the Letters From (North) America series hasn't been forgotten - I'll be wrapping that up this week too.
This is the end

Sad news for fans of intelligent, perceptive, well-written online music criticism: Stylus is no more, founder and editor-in-chief Todd Burns having decided the time has come to shut up shop. I had no idea this was even on the cards until Ian, a long-time Stylus contributor, broke the news when we met up in Toronto last month. Read associate editor Derek Miller's closing thoughts for what the magazine meant to him personally.

On a happier music note, congratulations to the Capsule girls on their nomination for the much-coveted Brummie Of The Year 2007 award organised through the Birmingham It's Not Shit site. This year Capsule have been responsible for bringing numerous excellent bands to the second city, many of them as part of the biggest Supersonic Festival yet. You can vote for them here - though it should be added that my loyalties are definitely divided, with Brum's blogger extraordinaire Pete Ashton also in the running...