Friday, April 30, 2004

The Ugliest - and the best of - Television

Now that Easter has passed, we seem to be into Summer scheduling, which means tons of new programmes on the telly, and, unsurprisingly, half of them are reality shows; the children of Wife Swap, What Not to Wear, and Jamie's Kitchen.

Actually, the three I watched this week were exactly that. The worst, Ten Years Younger, was a cruel antecedant of Trinny and Susannah's excellent appearance's programme. But where the emphasis in that programme is always on working with what we have, and proving that there are many many ways to make any body look good, despite what Heat magazine might tell us, Ten Years Younger began with the unpleasant idea: if you wanna look good, you're gonna have to work at it. And they don't mean go shopping with a list of 'fashion rules' in it. They mean botox, hair extensions, more make up than you see on a night out on West St (although not as much as the girl who runs the No. 5 stand in Boots by Churchill Square. Really. Go see). This week's participant (victim?) was a prison warder with a grade A nicotine habit.We had to guess how hold she was.

By weighting the survey with young kids who, frankly, wouldn't have a clue, they managed to get her average (perceived) age up to 51 (some youngsters had been squinting and saying '67?'). Both myself and Vic both said 45 immediately. She was 45. In order to get her looking 41 they gave her 60 botox injections. She would have smiled, but her face was set.

And where Ten Years Younger drew on WNTW for inspiration, Jamie's Kitchen, the big reality hit of a couple of years ago, where Jamie Oliver had 12 weeks or something (these programs don't work without an arbitrary timescale, for some reason) to train 20 teenagers with no cooking experience to be chefs in a busy London kitchen, was clearly the main influence behind another, rather better show which just aired on C4.

Gordon Ramsay, who swears inventively and often, was up against the same challenge as Jamie, more or less, in this week's excellent Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, except the know-nothing star had persuaded a misguided restauranter to call him 'head chef', and the restaurant itself, Bonapartes, was in Yorkshire. Cue much Northern stereotyping from Ramsay, who used to play in goal for Celtic and should know better, and lots of closeups of bald pensioners salivating over Gord's own Beef and Ale Pie.

Fun to watch though Ramsay was, the real star was the young 'head chef'. He was a genius. A comic genius, I mean. He began by indicating that he hoped to one day run three restaurants (London, Paris, New York, of course), then poisoned Ramsay with an off scallop, revealed he couldn't cook an omelette and finally that - despite it all - he couldn't cook a damn thing. Worse, nor he could he empty a fridge. The show seemed to segue seemlessly into another reality show, How Clean Is Your Kitchen?. His was not very clean at all. He was given every opportunity, and was, eventually, fired.

The reality show, when it is good, makes you really root for the participant, really hope he can pull it off. Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was like an exquisitely plotted episode of Poirot. Only at the end do you discover the murderer - and it was the chef all along! But we liked him!

Not any more. Twenty minutes in you're praying that he'll come up to scratch. After thirty you're grimly fascinated and neutral. With quarter of an hour left I was baying for his blood. What a cretin! Never one to pass up the opportunity to take something too seriously, he was protesting that it was a stich up by the time Thursday's Guardian went to press. Front page, too.

If the rest of the series is half as good as this week's episode, it will be perfect.

Almost as good again was last night's Fairy Godfathers. Ostensibly the child of Wife Swap and America's Queer Eye For a Straight Eye, it was not only hilarious and touching but downright fascinating. Two (ahem) godfathers (for which read gay men) move in with two old-fashioned husbands and their wives move out. Before long the neandethal men are ironing, whisking their lovers away for romantic weekends, and look ten years younger (with no botox involved).

What made this week's debut episode so winning, however, was not so much the slow dawning in these men that they have turned their (ridiculously pretty, how did they manage that???) wives into doormats and slaves, but the genuine and tender relationship that developed between one of the 'godfathers' and his charge; a pleasingly hefty, affectionate but unreconstructed farmer. They fell in love, if only in a 'you're my new best friend' kind of way. Lovely.

Much lovelier than Ten Years Younger, that's for sure.

There was another programme on earlier in the week and it was, in fact, better than all of the above. It was entitled One Life, and in it an air hostess, Ros Pryer, met up with other people, children and adults, who were born with prominent birthmarks on their faces. Ros, who was in her mid 30s, had covered her face in camoflage make-up since her teens, and was terrified of being seen with her port wine colouring. Eventually she met a younger version of herself, a young mother, who persuaded her to go out without the warpaint. Had she seen Ten Years Younger the night before filming I bet she wouldn't have dared - it was a programme which insinuated that behind every smile was the utmost unkindness, and without extreme beauty - or a disguise - we were lost.

iTunes on shuffle

Unfortunately, unlike Gutterbreaks, I’ve not got an iPod, but I was much taken by his idea of putting his iPod on shuffle and seeing what it came up with. He talks of thinking increasingly of his record collection ‘in a more modular way, rather than as a series of discreet blocks', and, actually, since I started using iTunes I’ve started to think in a similar way. Because I’ve not got much space on my hard drive lots of the albums I originally ripped have had inferior songs snipped out over the last couple of months, as I prune the selection to free up space for new music. It’s actually a totally different approach to storing music, akin to collating the biggest compilation in the world, perhaps, as opposed to the most extensive collection, which was, I suppose, my former (and totally unrealistic) approach. Now, I dunno if I could apply this method to storing my music collection if I didn’t have the security of having all my Blur and XTC albums lined up on shelves next door, but it’s an interesting idea. Anyway, leaving my iTunes on shuffle this morning produced the following collection…

1. Tony Allen feat. Damon Albarn and Ty – Every Season
2. Tom Tom Club – Wordy Rappinghood
3. Braintax - Acapello
4. Wu Tang Clan – As High as Wu Tang Gets
5. Brian Eno – Golden Hours
6. Dave Clarke – Way of Life
7. Joy Division – These Days
8. Fischerspooner – Emerge (DFA remix)
9. Bedsit Bomber – Newbuild 2
10. Girlinky – Newspaper Round
11. T. Raumshmiere – The Game is Not Over
12. Scissor Sisters – Take Your Mama Out
13. British Sea Power - Apologies to Insect Life
14. Damon Albarn – American Welfare Poem
15. Einsturzende Neubauten - Sensucht
16. Wiley – Happens for A Reason
17. Luke Vibert - Slowfast
18. Andre 3000 – God (Interlude)
19. Lou Harrison - Piano Concerto (II. Stampede)
20. Andre 3000 – The Love Below (Intro)
21. John Cage - Quodlibet
22. The Fiery Furnaces - Winter
23. Pharrel feat. Jay-Z – Frontin’
24. Over Sea Under Stone – My Prayer
25. The Raincoats – Adventures Close To Home
26. Meredith Monk - Panis et Ciceres
27. Miss Kittin – Berlin is Burning (vocal outro)
28. Kraftwerk – Electro Cardiogramm
29. Blur – Don’t Bomb When You’re the Bomb
30. SL2 – On a Ragga Tip

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Blur star turns DJ - NME.COM

Just seen this:

BLUR's ALEX JAMES is to make his debut as a radio presenter.

The bassist will be sitting in for Tom Robinson on the DJ's regular BBC 6 Music show, 'Tom Robinson's Evening Sequence'.

James will be filling the slot for two weeks, kicking off on May 31, Mondays to Thursdays 7-10pm.

Living in a busy house

Sometimes it’s difficult, when you live in one flat in a large building, to feel as if you live in anything other than your own three rooms, approached via a corridor and a couple of flights of stairs. We told ourselves that when we moved into our current flat we would make a point of introducing ourselves to our neighbours and not just live as anonymous flat-dwellers. But we fell into the usual trap and didn’t approach anyone – especially silly as, in fact, we used to live in the basement flat of the same building a few years ago and our old landlady, who we really like, still lives down there. Consequently when we eventually bump into her and explain we’re living too floors up, it will be an absurd moment.

The last few days, though, I seem to have come into lots of contact with our neighbours, or rather become conscious that there is more to the building than just us. In actual fact, apart from our experience in Seven Dials, where we were hounded by the loud music of our neighbours, this is probably the first time I’ve felt this.

Not that I’ve been doing lots of socialising with the other people in the building, mind – just that lots of little events have occurred which, joined up, add up to something, much as the 10 flats in our building must, naturally, add up to a house.

The other evening someone rang our doorbell / intercom thing. I answered it, and was met by a man demanding, rather aggressively, to speak to ‘Elisa’. I explained there was no-one there by that name, but he didn’t seem convinced, and I had to repeat myself. Then, the day before yesterday, as I was leaving for work in the morning I got to the top of the road and heard someone call “Hey” out to me. As I turned round I saw a man getting out of a nearby car and, in a familiar voice, ask me to hang on, as I was already walking on, it not being my practice to get into conversations in the street. When I did turn around, I imagined that I would be asked for directions somewhere, or at most for a cigarette or something. But the man again, asked, quite urgently, “Where is Elisa?”. He had obviously been waiting in the car for someone to leave the house. Obviously, I told him that I didn’t know of any Elisa. “But you live in that house”, he said. “Yes, but I don’t really know the neighbours, or if there is anyone of that name living there”. Thinking him a bit menacing, I continued, “As far as I know – there isn’t”. He looked pissed off and returned to his car.

Last night, bringing back memories of our last flat, we had quite a lot of loud music, overhead. I had rented out the film Together and we were trying and failing to watch it, becoming distracted by the sounds. The couple above us are not that noisy, although they always play music on Tuesday nights, and once had a fairly raucous dinner party on a Sunday night which kept us awake. However, we had observed them going up and down the stairs and their appearance seemed to explain why they had been so animated that night. It was the evening when the Greek election results were announced, and they had obviously stayed up late to watch the results coming in. We heard much stamping of feet and the kind of rumbling chatter which you know must be in a foreign language. Their appearance, besides betraying their Southern European background, also helped explain the fact that we would often hear them thumping about upstairs – we called them ‘The Elephants’.

After sitting through the music for ten minutes or so, we decided to go up and ask them to turn it down a bit - something which would of course, have been much easier if we had introduced ourselves to them when we first moved in. But doing that would, it turns out, have done more than just that - it would have disabused us of an assumption or two. Because when we got to the top of the stairs and knocked on the door, a young man in his mid-twenties (playing, I could hear now, Jimi Hendrix) answered, saying "Oui?".

Why had we reached the conclusions we had about the people overhead? Obviously the Greek couple lived somewhere else in the building. All the mental images I had of the flat above us collapsed. It was strange. The guy turned the music down immediately, of course, and we returned to the flat to wonder how we had so successfully rationalised so much of what we had - frankly - guessed at since we had moved in. The Greek elections? Now I think about it, the 'Greek' couple don't look that Greek - only slightly Mediterranean; their 'Greekness' only followed from the knowledge that the Greek elections were being held the day they had a party. How easy it is to make assumptions! Anyway - the chap who does live above us seemed nice.

When I left for work yesterday morning, I was relieved to see that the man in the car was nowhere to be seen. Nor, however, was my bus, and standing at the stop at the top of our road waiting for the 7 I noticed out of the corner of my eye, suddenly, someone I recognised. It was, of course, our former landlady, Teresa. If she saw me she reacted the same way I did; it was too late. I find meeting people unexpectedly quite alarming, usually (as does Vic, who looked away when a friend waved at her the other day. The next day she said, cheerfully, 'sorry for blanking you', which I thought was funny - I'd have made an excuse), and both myself and Teresa did that hesitate, look of confusion, look away thing. In actual fact, nine times out of ten you're level or beyond the person before you completely recognise them, I find. Well, it was a bit embarrassing. But perhaps she didn't see me at all, I don't know.

Even if we desire to live in isolation, it really isn't possible. But I can't think why we would. Living surrounded by other people means you're opened up to plenty of situations beyond your control (and the emotions I described above are hardly sanguine - embarrassment, concern, irritation, confusion) but it also means you're in some way connected, and in some sense that is calming, even if the stereo above is blaring. I feel better about living where I do after the last few days; like the house just became an organic thing. In the Geoff Dyer book I just read, he spends some time in Rome and visits the Colosseum - while on acid - and writes,

"The exhaust-smeared stones pulsed and rippled with life, warm and vital as a stroked animal. For a few minutes, anything seemed possible. I was within reach of the stillness at the centre of the stone."

Wiley and techno...

I was reading some of the customer reviews of 'Boy in the Corner' on earlier - interesting that for most US listeners they posit his sound squarely as hip hop - presumably because garage in the US means Todd Edwards and 4/4. I've always thought Diz's record is reminiscent of early Public Enemy, with all the sirens and the clatter, and there's obviously a big electro influence. And if you stripped the vocals off 'I Luv U' you'd have something which could comfortably sit on a more esoteric Warp release. And now, obviously, Rephlex are about to release 'Grime', which collects together stuff by Plasticman, Mark One and Slaughter Mob, and persues the dubstep/breaks side of the grimey scene. Now, K-Punk calls the Forward>> stuff 'Croydon Techno' (more on this, here), and now Gutterbreaks spends a bit of time looking at the links between Eski beat and Techno. He writes:

"I've always been a fairweather Garage listener, merely dipping my toes in occasionally but never committing any allegiance. A lot of it leaves me cold, especially when it gets a bit too 'urban', but prior to the imminent release of Wiley's long-player I'd just like to say a few words on the subject of Eskibeat. I bought the new single "Wot Do U Call It", but other than that all I'd heard previously were various MP3's. I like the instrumentals best. Tracks like "Freeze","Blizzard" and especially "Icepole" are definitely on my wavelength. To me, Wiley should be viewed outside the confines of UKG/Grime, as the latest visionary in a long line of electronic innovators within dance music. I hear echoes of Richard H. Kirk's early-nineties electro experiments like "C.C.E.P." (as Sweet Exorcist, with Parrot) and "The Mood Set" (as Xon, with Robert Gordon). I would also put forward the idea that Wiley is Britain's answer to Juan Atkins. I always felt that Atkin's sound was colder than that of other Detroit artists; soulful but with a dagger of ice through it's heart. He developed a new sound, 'Techno', from the ruins of a previous genre, 'Electro', just as Wiley has created his Eski mutant from the ashes of Garage. And it took one of Juan's disciples, Derrick May, to 'break' his sound to a wider audience, much the same way that Wiley's protege Dizzie Rascal broke into the mainstream first. "Wot Do U Call It" is as potent a statement of intent as Model 500 classics like "Off To Battle" or "Techno Music".

Anyway, another list: ....liking:
1. Wiley - Treddin' On Thin Ice (better than I thought it would be!)
2. Michael Mayer - Fabric 13 (excellent and odd Germanic tech-house)
3. Graham Coxon - Bittersweet Bundle of Misery / Morrisey - Irish Blood, English Heart (new singles!)
4. James Lavelle - Romania (seems to have escaped the instro hip hop rut now)
5. Ellen Allien - Live at May Day 2003 (a barnstorming electro set - her album Berlinette is ace too)

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Assistant live!

Assistant will be playing the Freebutt on Monday 7th June - supporting My Device and My Tour of Duty. We're on first, and should be playing 6-7 songs, which will definitely include new material. We should also have our new demo completed by then, so if anyone wants a copy they only have to shout 'Jonathan! Give!', and I shall.

Interesting old Dizzee Rascal article

Philadelphia Inquirer 01/25/2004 Will this English hip-hopper translate?

Music Reviews and General Pretentiousness

If you're not familiar with, then do take a look; it provides just about the best resource of album reviews on the web, provided you're interested in music of a vaguely alternative rock / underground bent. Actually, they do a good line in underground hip hop stuff too.

Pitchfork Media

And once you have looked at it, then take a look at this. Looks the same, but subtly, subtly different:

RichDork Media and Music Reviews and General Pretentiousness

List-makers rejoice!

The newspapers are always stuffed with end of year reviews and 'holiday picks' and the like, but just now, browsing the Guardian site, I found an old Observer feature which is really interesting

The Observer Review A few of our favourite things

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Adnams ail...

Although old-fashioned, fisherman's pubs are one of the main reasons why Aldeburgh has such charm, one of the pubs we frequented a couple of years ago when we visited (admittedly, not the nicest pub there) had undergone a bit of a revamp. Now styled as a 'bar and grill', what used to be The Victoria is the largest pub in town and, on a Thursday night where only one of the town's several restaurants was not fully booked, the emptiest, too. As for the grill, they seemed to have given up.

Aldeburgh is, incidentally, being just around the corner from Southwold, very much part of Adnams country. Due to a strange combination of events, and our tiredness post dinner, we never quite got a chance to sample a pint. Had we decided to do so, any pub would have served it, except for the Bar and Grill, which served an unimpressive mix (perhaps why it was so quiet). When we went (late afternoon, attracted by the sun and seats outside where we could read our books and watch the high street) we plumped for a Hoegaarden for Vic and a, ahem, Carling Cold, for me, which I had not seen before. Basically Carling that's been in a freezer as opposed to a fridge. Buying them, the pub's sole other occupant (Vic was outside), a middle aged man drinking Guiness, addressed me in a posh, matey voice.

"Is that a wheat beer?", he asked, pointing at the Hoegaarden.
"Yes, it is". I think it is. What's the difference between a wheat and a white beer? "It's very nice", although actually I don't like it, too thick.
"Ah", he said, becoming a bit excited.
I smiled and made to leave, but he kind of edged into my way.
"You know what they say about [he named a beer, I can't remember which], don't you? The slogan?"
"That it is a beer for professors! Other drinks may be alright in their way, but this is a drink for professors! Isn't that good?".
"Excellent!". He obviously wanted me to continue our conversation, but I made my way outside.

Striking up conversations with friendly strangers is the kind of thing I wish I did more often, but it's hard to know what to say. What had my neighbour at the bar seen in me? I imagine he saw a scruffy, posh-ish young man who might sit and discuss unusual beers with him. I'm probably like his son. But I know nothing about beer and talking to a stranger in a deserted pub is not as much fun as sitting outside in the sun. When we got back out there we sat contentedly, getting sunburnt. I was reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, which is really good, and getting partially distracted by the sun, by the fact that the fellow sitting on the next table along looked like the Aphex Twin, and by the next man along still, who knew everyone that passed. He had a voicebox. "Still croaking away?", one passer-by asked. He nodded happily.

A few more people did turn inside the pub as the afternoon stretched on, but the man I'd talked to inside didn't come back out.

Assistant update

Did some work on new songs at the rehearsal last night - Don't Ask Me started out life as a demo I did on my keyboard, and was a (possibly misguided) attempt to sound like Soul II Soul. Early versions of it with the band saw it taking a much heavier, guitary sound, with tribal, krautrock drumming, but, like the early versions of Get Away, lacking structure. Last night we had another go at it, trying to differentiate between verses and bring out the chorus (it's the kind of song which relies on repetition and slightly shifting sounds, so - if we're not careful - it can end up sounding like soup). Eventually we hit on the idea of suddenly switching the drums in the chorus to a surprising, clear disco type beat, which worked really well, and finally the song is taking a bit of shape.

Another old one, which I've referred to before but never by name (because it hasn't got one), has existed as a fully fledged song for quite a while but lacked lyrics, so it never got anywhere. It's a pretty, melodic, indie-pop type number and writing a vocal melody has always been beyond me. But on the train yesterday I put our old MD recording of it on loop on my discman and had a go, and worked out a set of words and a melody that I was really pleased with. Having done so, I fretted about forgetting the tune, so ended up humming it in my head all day. When it came to playing it last night, my mind went completely blank and I forgot it. This morning, luckily, the tune popped back into my head. Anyway, I'd better give it a title now I've got some words, so I'll go for either Advice or, for singalongability value, the chorus's I'm Shit.

Of the three other tracks we worked on, we spent the least time on an instrumental song that arose out of the lead break for You Should Know a few months ago. Rehearsing without me a few weeks ago the others had the idea of blending the short section we already had with the really good, and no longer played, intro to one of our very first songs, Broken. It worked well, but we only really had one go at it. Still, it sounded good, and it's nice to have a faster number to play, too. Another one which we've worked on a little before, What it Means, is taking shape, although it's fast, monotonous bassline is taking its toll on Andy's fingers. Despite appalling slurs from Pete (he said it was melodic), it's one with lots of potential I think.

The final new one we had a go at was one I wrote in the week on my computer, and, though fairly simple, sounds endearing enough at the moment - a choppy, new wavey verse and a big sounding chorus which, horribly, reminded us slightly of Stairway to Heaven. We only gave it a couple of goes but it seemed to work, especially the bassline. Andy said it reminded him a bit of The Clash, so he's my friend for life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The road to nowhere

Victoria and I spent three days last week in the lovely seaside fishing village of Aldeburgh.

(lovely picture of the town here)

If Aldeburgh is, indeed, in the middle of nowhere (and of course, it isn't really - the nearby town of Southwold is a popular destination and Ipswich itself is not so far away - but it feels like it to a city boy whose journey from Brighton to London, even, is peppered constantly with large towns and only the thinnest slices of countryside), it is at least noticably civilised. A polite way of saying we only heard two regional accents all the time we were there (in the Co-Op and the newsagent, oddly, rather than the neo-Hampstead minimalist furniture store). The journey, which was hardly direct, was a bit more colourful.

Obviously, if you drive you simply get in at Brighton, admire the scenery and roll in at the Cross Keys Inn, Aldeburgh, a couple of hours later, but by train the journey is much more complicated. We had to go from Brighton to East Croydon, then to London Bridge, then to Bank, then to Liverpool Street, then up to Ipswich, and on to Saxmundham, a small town about eight miles away from Aldeburgh.

As the photo above should show, Aldeburgh is a very pretty, unspoilt little town. A fishing village for hundreds of years, it was home to the poet George Crabbe and the composer Benjamin Britten, whose opera Peter Grimes was inspired by the former. Like lots of villages in the area, Aldeburgh has had much of its land reclaimed by the sea in the last five hundred years (Slaughden, where Crabbe was born, is now entirely under water), losing 5 or 6 streets to the North Sea. The Mote House, which stands on the village's long and beautiful beach, was once at the town centre. There have been more recent changes too, if not architecturally. The village has become popular with well-to-do Londoners in seach of a rural retreat, with the unfortunate consequence that during the winter much of the town is empty and the shops closed down. But it's a fascinating place.

Saxmundham, on the other hand, a small market town with not an awful lot going for it bar a Somerfield Supermarket and a train station, bears all the hallmarks of The League of Gentlemen. Well, possibly, I'm being cruel. But walking through the town on our way to the bus-stop (the last section of the journey, thankfully) we were comprehensively stared at and examined by all the locals, as if the heavy bags on our shoulders did not adequately explain that we were merely tourists passing through. The only people there who did not seem to notice our presence were the gang of kids skateboarding around by the bus shelter.

Everywhere teenage boys relish this carnival of failure, the endless, endless attempts to successfully master that manouvre from pavement to bench, or tarmac to curve. I had not a hundredth of that patience when I was a teenager - my skateboarding fad lasted less than a week. In Brighton at the tail end of last summer I asked Vic why she thought boys put themselves through it so much. Before she answered we noticed the gaggle of exceptionally pretty teenage girls coyly watching, and then I understood, maybe. But the boys in Saxmundham were only being watched by us, so I didn't understand it after all.

Perhaps it was the shortage of anything else to do except board the train to Ipswich (or the bus to Aldeburgh). All the shop windows were amazing, like the inverse version of Stephen King's Needful Things - all useless. One shop window carried a sign which asked for participants in the forthcoming series of Wife Swap, an advert I have never seen anywhere else. So that's how they recruit their country bumpkins! Pity the poor metropolitan who ends up here with one of Saxmundham's gurning husbands. Another was full of sponge mini-footballs adorned with the flags of Europe and an obviously fake botched attempt at the Euro 2004 logo. Why had the proprieter taken on these monstrosities? Where had he bought them? We did not wonder that the boys played instead with skateboards.

Better and stranger than this was the shop window in Leisten, which we passed through on the bus (and which was, amazingly, even weirder) - the usual clutter of end-of-line products and tat and, sitting proudly in the middle, a large black gollywog. There is a gollywog in The League of Gentlemen, isn't there? I'm not imagining it?

Harold & Maude / Tatie Danielle : Two films to see...

Saw a couple of wonderful films over Easter - Harold and Maude, which is a kind of precurser and surely an influence on the films of Wes Anderson (Rushmore and, particularly, The Royal Tenenbaums) and which has a gorgeous soundtrack by (ahem) Cat Stevens. The other film, Tatie Danielle, concerns an elderly French woman who goes to live with her nephew and his family and wreaks havoc. Imagine Principal Skinner's mother in The Simpsons and multiply by ten; a hilarious portrait of horridness. And enough cruelty to dogs in an hour and a half to traumatise even the most half-hearted of animal-lovers.

Harold & Maude Soundtrack by Cat Stevens the songs used in the film

Monday, April 19, 2004

No go, La Momo

Well, we tried to go and see the brill La Momo at the Freebutt on Saturday night but timed it wrong and ended up missing their set, so we went upstairs to the Penthouse for Miss Pain's L'Amour Electronique instead, which was not as good as it had been previously. By then we'd most of us drunk too much (wine and Alsacian beer over at Anne-So's and Sam, first, where we had a barbecue on the balcony and burnt two great holes into the floor. Erk). And the club thing dashed by fairly fuzzily - it was the kind of club night where no-one could muster up much enthusiasm for the proceedings, so we pushed ourselves along by making paper aeroplanes, those fold-down pictures where everyone takes a body part (my robot torso I liked, incidentally) and draws it (with horrific results). I snapped a circuit board in half which was a bit dumb. Miss Pain tried to look cheerful but they looked all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Back at last

Ah, back in several senses of the word. Back home after three days away over Easter, back online at home after 6 weeks offline without any internet access, and (shortly) back at work. Well, tomorrow. Also, of course, back to my blog, which has been neglected and gathering dust over the Easter week as I've not had the chance to post to it. Well, here I am.

Just reading some of Bruce Dyer's (so far) excellent Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It, and very taken by the following:

We'd never seen anything so green as those rice paddies. It was not just the paddies themselves: the surrounding vegetation - foliage so dense the trees lost track of whose leaves were whose - was a rainbow coalition of one colour:green. There was an infinity of greens, rendered all the greener by splashes of red hibiscus and the herons floating past, so white and big it seemed as if sheets hung out to dry had suddenly taken wing. All other colours - even purple and black - were shades of green. Greeness, here, was less a colour than a colonising impulse. Everything was either already green - like a snake, bright as a blade of grass, sidling across the footpath - or in the process of becoming so. Statues of the Buddha were mossy, furred with green. Stone had become plant, the inanimate had become organic. 'Annihilating all that's made / To a green thought in a green shade'? No, even thought had been annihilated. This was an entirely sensual green, one that rendered thought not just impossible but inconceivable.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

good god, not the theatre

"BLUR are heading back into the studio next week to record a new EP. The news will come as a blow to the sceptics who predicted 'Think Tank' would be the band's last record.

Damon Albarn has revealed that he is currently juggling three different projects: the Blur EP, an album he's set to record in Nigeria with the surviving members of Fela Kuti's band and a new Gorillaz record. He also said he would like Graham Coxon to rejoin the band. 'Blur's like a family with one brother no-one talks to,' he told 6 Music, adding: 'It is a realistic prospect - the only reason he's not in the band is because he didn't feel he was getting enough say. We're totally capable of making music together. I can forget about all the other things.'

A number of songs from 'Democrazy' - the album of half-finished tracks he recorded on the road in America - will find their way into these projects. 'The song actually called 'Democrazy' has evolved into a fantastic song with Tony [Allen] (producer). A couple of them have gone to nearly-polished Gorillaz pop gems now, and I'm doing an EP with Blur and a couple will go there,' he said. The Blur EP is likely to be the first of these to be completed. The band are due to go into the studio with 'Think Tank' producer Ben Hillier next week to record them.

As for Gorillaz, Albarn revealed that he is planning to use The Bees as the house band for the new set of songs, and he also has another high-profile collaboration lined up. He revealed: "I've been working with Dangermouse. It's gonna be great. Gorillaz is just pure unadulterated pop fun for me," he added. The Nigerian collaboration will see him fly out to Africa later this month to work in Fela Kuti's studio with Tony Allen and other members of the pioneering Afro-beat band. "They're all my songs and I'm singing, so there will be focus on me, but we'll have a name that isn't my name. I don't believe in the idea of a solo record. I'm looking for a country guitarist at the moment. There's gonna be a lot of slide guitar - sort of Afro-country," he said.

But Albarn's ambitions do not stop there. "After I've done these records I'm going to take a long time out, possibly to work in theatre for a few years," he divulged.

Thanks, NME.

Having said that, is it just me or is the NME's journalism hurtling downhill at a rate of knots. I found that article really hard to read. I had to heavily edit the paragraphs to get a readable version, and even that only just does the trick.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Downloading music gets more expensive

Something that's odd about the music downloading debate is that it's forced record labels into the odd burst of conciliatory language. Not in the sense that they consider file sharers to be anything other than criminals, but they have come out with the odd comment to the effect that they understand that essentially you 'can't compete with free' and have talked about a downloading climate which reflects better value for money - if not better than the file sharers can offer, then at least better than the rip-off prices and poor quality service they've been running for years. The more optimistic amongst us imagined a climate where artists began to be disinclined to fill albums with fillers, where the customer can pick and choose and discover, inexpensively, new artists. The lovely Bleep from the even lovelier Warp offers just this. On Bleep downloadable albums cost an average of 7 quid - significantly cheaper than the CD counterpart. But as for the good intentions of the rest of the music industry? Unsurprisingly, it's a sham.

Andrew mails to tell me that "The Wall Street Journal carries a story today on the higher prices customers are starting to face from online music stores. Apple, for example, is charging $17 for N.E.R.D.'s new 12-track Fly or Die album, while Napster charges $14--both higher than the $13.50 Amazon is selling the physical CD for. All five major record labels are also reportedly discussing ways to raise the price of single downloads, from increasing the price anywhere from $1.25 to $2.50, to bundling hot singles with less desirable tracks or charging more for singles of tracks that have not yet been released in stores"

Ho hum. Should we really be surprised?

source: Downloading music gets more expensive MacNN News

Assistant: demo progress

We came within a hair’s breadth of finishing the demo last night – in fact we finished it in a way, in that we completed the vocals and used up the last available tracks on the recording. But we decided that we want to free up another track so that we can add backing vocals, which means another couple of weeks before we get it finished (which, might, actually, give us time to resurrect Engines and Anvils, too).

It’s actually been well over a year since Assistant rehearsed in the evening: our Saturday morning slot gave way to a Sunday morning one and it’s only now that we’ve returned to practising in the evenings. So I also saw Monster (where we rehearse) at night for the first time. It’s on a mini industrial estate (sorry, Enterprise Centre) by Hove Lagoon (behind the posh, beachfront row of houses where slebs such as Norman Cook, Zoe Ball and Nick Berry live), and approaching it at night is a totally different experience. Beside the row of units which contains Monster (and also 'The Cheese Man') there is parked (no, moored, for the estate sits beside the canal which runs past Portslade and opens out at the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour) a huge ship, The Sand Weaver, which looks somehow extremely sinister at night. Its regular appearances at the harbour coincide, Ali says, with periods of good and bad business at Monster, though whether the studio is busy when it is there and quiet when it is not, or the other way around, I'm afraid I can't remember. Anyway. One consequence of rehearsing at night once more (we're doing 9-11ish), is the welcome return of alcohol at rehearsals. Tempting though it was, a can of beer when you're playing at 11am always felt just a little too much. Other, hardier bands will doubtless scoff.

In order to record vocals properly, we have to sing through a kind of shield thing to stop the popping noises you get otherwise; in our case, through what looks like a home-made fishing net. On closer inspection, it's a microphone stand with a pair of tights stretched across a hoop. Andrew Loog Oldham doubtless prepared a cocktail of exotic drugs to inspire the Rolling Stones to successful performances in the recording studio. We find that the tights do the job pretty effectively. The only down side of course, is that you have your face pressed up against a pair of tights on a metal pole for the best part of two hours, and can't see anything much else. Still, perhaps it focuses the mind.

We recorded Easy to Leave first. It's probably the easiest song for me to sing, so a good one to start with. When I started singing I felt like I was in pretty good voice, considering the fact that my voice is probably only middling at best (although a friend of Sam's, Tory Tim, said that I sound like a 'young Peter Gabriel'!!!), but it's funny how the voice loosens up and I probably sounded better later. Nevertheless, there are some songs which are so much fun to sing because the song gives you the space to do so. Our recording of the song is really wonderful, I think - a long way from my original demo, which sounded gentle and slight - and we've managed to really give it a proper chorus; I did the vocals quickly, until we tried to overdub the last chorus, which went wrong and it took us twenty minutes to tidy it all up.

The next song, A Century, is certainly the most testing song to sing, and the first take was a bit stretched, and the first line of every verse hard to get right. In the end Ali dropped the recording in pitch and all of a sudden it was much easier. Nonetheless, it took several overdubs to get a decent vocal line (my original attempts were floppy, I am told). The song itself sounds lovely, Pete's tremolo guitar giving it a really nice feel, and my guitar solo so trebly it sounded like a sitar of all things. Low in the mix, Ali!

Having done those two the next two were easy in comparison. It's Alright I've sung so many times that I felt like I got it in one take, but Ali asked me to go back over some lines and, actually, we got them much better the second or third time. This song is the only one which we've demoed before, but this new version is tauter and more aggressive, and - with the keyboards - a much better version than the old one. It misses the harmonies, though, and it was this as much as anything that inspired us to decide to hang on a couple of weeks and come back to the backing vocals.

If I thought I'd got It's Alright in one take, then I actually did for You Should Know, or more or less. By now my voice was greatly limbered up, but also quite gravelly, which probably helped the song, as, towards the end, it all gets pretty unhinged. Listening back to this one I really felt that it's the best thing we've done - powerful, but varied, and surprisingly intricate. Best bits: the fantastic intro, the two note lead break half way through, and the lovely keyboards, which echo the vocal melody in the chorus and sound amazing.

Having done all that, I was surprised to find myself pretty knackered. Having recorded 3 times now, this is the first occasion where I've felt comfortable doing it, and confident that I was performing OK. It's not like singing at a rehearsal, much less like playing live: you have to work without adrenaline, which means it's hard to get going. I think Anne-Sophie felt that, to an extent, when she stepped up to record her first ever vocal - for the fairly brutal sounding Vine to Vine. In fact, she ran through it faultlessly, and standing next to the speakers I could hear straight away that it sounded exactly right. But the thing that makes you feel awkward and lacking confidence, when you're recording, (apart from the bloody tights) is that you don't really hear what you're doing. AS seemed perplexed when we all told her it was a really good take - but when we listened back to it, agreed that it was. I'm afraid that, however much I enjoy singing, we always sound like an indie band when I sing. With AS's vocals, which are more like Nico's than anything, we sound much less ordinary. Not that we don't sound pretty damn good when I sing, of course ;-)

Finishing (surprisingly) ahead of time, we even had time to take another look at our problem child - Engines and Anvils. Despite not being able to get a decent sound out of the 303 when we first recorded it, Anne-so managed to record her piano line a few weeks ago and, with me singing along (hoping I was doing so in the right place) Pete recorded a lovely, warm guitar part direct through the 8-track. It was the work of moments, and yet it sounded really good. So, if we can find a way to get round the 303 bass line (and Ali is going to give it a go, and, failing that, I can try with my Novation), we should be able to record my vocals and melodica when we do the rest of the backing vocals. Which, frankly, would be amazing, as I didn't think we were going to get there with this song!

In two weeks, then, we should be finished. As soon as we get it mixed I'll have CDs to send to anyone who wants one, and we'll make sure the tracks are available for download and all that. I'm really excited about hearing it all. Hurrah.

Piranhas and Melanie Phillips: is there a difference?

Courtesy of Marina Hyde's Diary...

"And so to a snapshot of the mood at the Daily Mail, kindly provided by a mischief maker who, having digested her latest riff on the government's immigration policy, decided to contact commentator Melanie Phillips. He had, he said, met a Bulgarian called Ivan Balhakov who'd obtained a visa to work as an NHS surgeon. "He is in fact," the email continued, "completely blind ... claiming disability benefits, and spends much of his days begging ... But he also has a lucrative sideline importing water snakes from Bulgaria to sell to aquariums throughout London ..." A wildly credible tale of a world gone mad then and no wonder Melanie replied swiftly to say she had passed the story to the newsdesk and that they were immediately in touch. "We are very interested in talking to Mr Balhakov about his visa and his blindness," began this email. At this point, our hoaxer came clean. "Who would have thought," he mused in his final communique to the paper, "that a top journalist would believe a story about a blind surgeon called Ball-Hack-Off (or possibly Bollock-Off)? Especially if she received the email on April 1?" It's too disrespectful."

And, seeing as I got all preoccupied with piranhas a few weeks back, the following...

"Berlin aquarium staff were startled to find that a carnivorous piranha fish was recently released in the facility's petting pool for children, Germany's most widely read newspaper, Bild, reported.

The piranha, whose teeth can grow up to two centimetres (three quarters of an inch) long, had already begun taking bites out of other fish when it was found and transferred to another aquarium, curator Rainer Kaiser told Bild.

He said the fish was so rapid that staff had to empty the pool, where children can stroke the fish swimming there, to catch it.

Kaiser was puzzled about how the fish came to be there, but said tortoises and other exotic marine life had been found in the past left "by people wanting to get rid of them but who didn't dare flush them down the toilet."

The razor-toothed piranha can grow to up to 60 centimetres (two feet) long and normally lives in the rivers and lakes of South America. It can be freely bought in specialist pet shops in Germany."

Really liking:

1. The Streets - Fit But You Know It: Can do no wrong
2. Assistant - You Should Know (unfinished demo) : Our best yet
3. Pierre Bastien - Avid Diva : best track on the 'Rephlexions' CD
4. Bedsit Bomber - Ylla (33 degrees mix) : best track on Andrew's ace Elegy for Mondeo Man demo
5. Danny Weed - Creeper : so good I assumed it was Wiley.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Two different ways of reading

I've always been fairly obsessional, meaning that once I get interested in something I get fairly single minded about it for a short time, until I put it away and move on to something else. That sounds callous, doesn't it? I don't mean it like that. But I sometimes think of my interests as a kind of revolving assembly line, which, as it rotates, reveals forgotten interests which I add a piece to, and then allow to begin to go round again. Sooner or later that interest will come back round again, and be at the forefront of my mind once more. Then it keeps rotating. When I think about music, the obvious example and the easiest to demonstrate, it's clear. I could even reel off the years and observe the cycle, I'm sure.

1990 Baggy, Indie pop
1991 Shoegazing
1992 Early Warp Records stuff, Hip Hop
1993 Pavement, US Indie
1994 Riot Grrl, UK Indie
1995 Blur, Mod stuff
1996 Synth Pop, R&B
1997 Hip Hop, Mo'Wax
1998 Synth Pop and house music
1999 Punky guitar rock
2000 Hip Hop
2001 XTC, pastoral pop
2002 US indie (Mercury Rev etc)
2003 Modern Classical, Krautrock
2004 IDM, Tech House, Garage

All containing plenty more minute shifts and swings, of course. It's the same for everything else, to a varying lesser or greater extent. Past obsessions: TV comedy, films, comics, football, cutting clippings out of newspapers to make scrapbooks, art galleries, dropping my h's, emphasising them.

What made me think of this, was that although I change my subjects, certain things remain the same. You wouldn't have to try to hard to link together the progressions above, and in a sense they're all united by exactly the same approach: a feverish desire to be discovering new (or old) things, and too much free time and (in the distant past) money. Occasionally something comes along which changes your approach (the obsession with Pavement and UK indie came with the discovery of John Peel and home taping, a marvellously cheap year. I discovered synth pop and the Style Council through car boot sales. Limewire has been instrumental in guiding my music tastes over the last 6 months) but for the most part I've stuck with the same principles, and the same feeling of what it is I'm doing. Looking for just-about-to-be-fashionable, clever music, that I can research and collect, look forward to having, be made cool by.

What made me think all this, eventually, is, well a number of things. Firstly, I reported with enthusiasm to Vic yesterday on a cheap bottle of red wine I'd found via Superplonk, and she commented that, if only she'd been

"been 'systematic' enough to realise it, getting you to consult a grid, list or chart proves to be a motivating force for you to do some shopping!"

after which we mused that the research, the categorising, the list-making is most of the fun for me. I've always enjoyed planning my buys and buying the records more than I have enjoyed listening to them (it's always a disappointment).

Anyway, likewise books. I even went so far as to start compiling a list of the books I've read the other week. There was not as much variety as I might have expected, heavily dominated by the Amises, by Wodehouse, Julian Barnes etc. The same logic has always applied. I love buying books, absolutely adore it. I had a passionate fling with the idea of the author Maggie Gee a month or so ago, all before I had read one of her books, so excited at the idea of a writer who seemed to be interested in things that interested me. Since then I've read two of her books (one great, one not-so-great) and the great passion is quenched. On to the next, then? I always want something to want.

Anyway, I was thinking, then, about all the books that I excluded from the list, the books that I knew I had read, but chose not to add to the list. Invariably they were either bad books (like The Da Vinci Code, which I recently read) or - more often - the product of brief obsessions.

My dad, incidentally, is the same, though perhaps a little less flighty. But his interests are similarly single-minded. For him, it is boats, or cars, or motorcycles, or bikes, and when one interest runs at the forefront of his mind the house is filled with appropriate magazines, catalogues, items and accessories. When it is time to move on, say from bikes to boats, the magazines change their titles from Mountain Biker UK to Boating Monthly, the catalogues are for marinas, the accessories morph from bicycle wheels to lengths of rope and boat furniture. And for a summer our cupboard was filled with pots of home made jam, when his obsessions took him suddenly in that direction.

When I read, I find it easy to become gripped by the subject matter and it often effects my next choice of book. Lots of the books I've read land in this category; sometimes with comical results. I read Mick Jackson's Five Boys a couple of years ago and was somehow intrigued by the beekeeping described in the book. Shortly after, I was attracted to several books with similar themes. In the end I spotted my work book club were reading a book called The Bee Season - I joined up and got the book out of my library. As it happens, it was 6 months before I attended a book group session, and the book itself turned out to be about, ahem, spelling bees.

But these aspects of a novel are often what jumps out at me. The kind of book I read, like the kind of music I listen to, falls into a certain type. High-ish brow, wordy, left-of-centre, and led primarily by character rather than plot. I should say at this point that I'm aware I'm making unsatisfactory generalisations. And yet in all these books, where we are asked to examine characters, relationships, and ideas, it's often objects and facts that stay with me. I come away from Five Boys (a book about childhood during the war) thinking about beekeeping. It's often these inconsequential things that appeal to me, and I'm aware that my subconscious obsessiveness underpins this somehow. I think... "now I must find out everything about beekeeping". That's maybe not the greatest example. Or maybe it is, because it demonstrates the arbitrariness of the whole affair.

Last night me and Vic watched University Challenge, and I was aware that, and it's not the first time I've thought this, there are a great many things that people know which I do not - particularly in the area of science, history and geography. I was wondering where people get this information. Vic pointed out, accurately I think, that one thing about this kind of knowledge is that it's very much the kind of thing one acquires in a private education, something which I didn't have. And I guess there's also a kind of person who thirsts for these things, and hangs on to them.

But it got me thinking again about the books I read and what I learn from them, and I realised that - though I have perhaps gained an insight into people and the way they (and I) think (as well as a tendency, currently much evident towards verbosity) - the books I have read have not really 'taught' me much (in the conventional sense of any better equipping me should my general knowledge be put to the test).

Those books I never listed? Among them were the kind of books (like The Da Vinci Code) which I read as time out from the 'proper stuff' - holiday reads, dumb thrillers, comedy, books about pop music; books which are lighter going, I guess. The reason these books have been on mind, I suppose, is that I've just read a couple of Michael Crichton novels - Timeline(which was mostly awful, actually) and, currently, Congo. Part of me - and this is silly - feels embarrassed about this, although I don't know why. Perhaps I really am too much of an elitist to admit that sometimes I enjoy something which does not speak from 'inside' the protagonist's (or the author's) head, but which, well, entertains. And these books do that, and I enjoy them.

And when I think about what they've given me (apart from the excitement that a thriller gives, something which is in itself more exciting than the slow pace of the latest tome by Literary X), I realise that, as an obsessive, these books are actually tremendously attractive to me, because they give me plenty of set-pieces to enthuse about.

So, the books of Michael Crichton. They haven't given me much insight into my fellow man (unless he's a gun runner from Borneo), but Jurassic Park, for all it's silliness, taught me things I never knew about DNA (and revitalised the sleeping knowledge I have of dinosaurs from when I was a kid), Timeline taught me not much about time travel but plenty about medieval villages and architecture (which I find interesting), Prey taught me about distributed computing and nanotechnology, and Congo, which I'm just about to finish, and which I've thoroughly enjoyed, contains heaps of fascinating information about the rainforests, about Africa, and about the differences between Gorillas and Chimpanzees. This is stuff I want to know about, somehow.

Now I'm getting ready to go up to the library and get a book about exploration in the African jungle. You see what I mean? It's addictive.

There are two kinds of reading, and they're both valuable. There's the kind which goes for hidden truths, insights, and strives for moments of beauty and pain. Literary fiction, if you like.

And then there's the kind which just aims to entertain (or, should we strike out into the area of non-fiction, educate), which can be maddeningly bad (not that, say, Martin Amis can't be awful too) but which works with the truths that aren't hidden at all - the kind of truths which one discovers in science, history and geography.

I've always been fairly prejudiced towards the former, and I still am. But the obsessive side of me, which likes to grasp on to something I can research, become an expert in (whether it's Italian football, Beekeeping, Geology, post-war Japan or paganism) can see the appeal of the alternative. So I'll see if I can find the list of books I've read and I'll add Congo to the list.

But why am I writing this? Because I'm in the grips of another brief moment of obsession. Email me in a month. We'll see how I feel then.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Taylor Parkes' Alternatives To Suicide

Taylor Parkes' Alternatives To Suicide

When the journalists of your teenage years reappear as bloggers pt. 362

oh, home entertainment.

Chris's blog is lively and grinning with updates, and it's good reading. I keep getting jolts of realisation that he's in Australia. The updates arrive on his blog easily and organically, in time with my browsing, or so it seems. But when I think about the gulf in time (and weather! grim day today) I get a moment of surprise every time. Either way, you don't need to know Chris to find his site interesting; in actual fact, it's very enjoyable reading - I hope he keeps going. That sounds like I'm urging him not to die, rather than to keep writing. Well, why not? Live, Chris! Live!

Is downloading music really that bad, asks the Guardian. No, it's not.

After a 6music special and a four page spread in Word Magazine, Andy Partridge gets another page of press in (last friday's) The Guardian. He comes across as a very grumpy boy of course, as usual, but then he is a bona fide pop genius so that's well within his rights. I was listening to XTC's wonderful Skylarking the other day on the train home from Newcastle, and it's really the most perfect pastoral pop record, better only perhaps by the later Apple Venus Vol. 1. Anyway, read on for his Rebellious Jukebox thing, or whatever they call it these days.

Arts features Above average Andy

Oh, and this looks like it's got to be interesting... The XTC tribute CD, with all songs by unknown bands, costs under a tenner and contains 138 songs. Some if it is, I read, awful. But that just makes me want to hear it more...

King for a Day - a tribute to XTC

There's a track to download for free here, and it's rubbish :-) But it reminds me of the original, and that's good enough for me! Like I said, pop genius.

(And talking of pop genius, I just bought my copy of Wiley's Wot Do U Call It? Well, it's the best single I've heard in absolutely ages. Years.)

Friday, April 02, 2004

I am a fool

April Fool's Day : Were you fooled?

I'm ashamed to say that I was taken in by the Mandelson story for quite a while, and it was only late yesterday afternoon, when I read the article properly, that I saw it was an April Fool's. Oh dear. Mental Faculties appear to be fading fast, I'm sad to report...

Music from the Depths

Andrew has been talking about the grimmest albums in his record collection on his excellent BB blog - irresistible stuff for me and my love of lists, and enough to have me mentally reeling off my depression top ten. And now, writing it down. I can't help noticing I've missed off anything by Lou Reed (and Leonard Cohen! Oh hell!), but that aside, this lot should inspire the bleakest of moods, should you be feeling uncharacteristically cheerful today, and keen to get back to normal...

(not in order)

1. Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Under

Claustrophobic and brimming with malevolence, the first gravediggaz album is suffocating, raw and immensely gloomy. not music for dark nights. "So you wanna die, commit suicide? Phone 1-800, cyanide line".

2. Tindersticks - Tindersticks

The first Tindersticks record (and indeed, every subsequent one) was bruised and melancholy, and chasteningly romantic. "You knew you were lost as soon as you saw her.You saw your life as a series of complicated dance steps, impossible to learn"

3. Blur - The Great Escape

People point to the torpid 13 as Damon's angst record, but the Great Escape fits the bill far better. On first listen full of over-produced and chirpy pop songs, repeated listening reveals an undercurrent of sadness which runs through from Country House and it's melancholy coda ("blow, blow me out, I am so sad, I don't know why"), Best Days' broken "Other people would break into a cold sweat, if they thought that these were the best days of our lives" and Damon's lovely Yuko and Hiro ("I drink in the evening. It helps with relaxing. I can't sleep without drinking"). And The Universal is, of course, a paean to Prozac.

4. Cure - Seventeen Seconds

People usually point to Faith as the Cure's most depressing record, but it doesn't have A Forest on it. This one does. "It's always the same, I'm running towards nothing, again and again and again". Brilliantly sparse and sombre, this is a fantastically depressing album.

5. Notorious BIG - Ready to Die

Granted, it's got JUICY on it, possibly the most uplifting hip hop track ever, but when Biggie got dark he was the darkest. In Things Done Changed he raps 'My mom's got cancer of the breast. Now you asking why I'm muthafucking stressed?', and from then on the album is brimming with desperate moments, culminating in Suicidal Thoughts - "I swear to God I just want to slit my wrists and end this bullshit" - and the album's final moment, a gunshot and a frantic voice calling down a phone line, "Yo, Big? Big?".

6. Alfred Schnittke - Concerto for Piano and Strings

Savage and frightening music.

7. Joy Division - Closer

Far too obvious, but it couldn't be left off the list. Despair in its purest form, with a kinetic quality which would resurface in the wonderful rhythms of New Order. Actually not a record I choose to listen to very often, but undeniably deserving of a place on the list.

8. Arvo Part - Fratres / Tabula Rasa

Not really depressing as such, but heartbreakingly austere. An ideal record for sinking in. Likewise Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which I've decided is, broadly speaking, uplifting. But with it's cold, brooding instrumentation, like Part, it's only a heartbeat away from being painful.

9. The Smiths - The Smiths

Possible to choose any Smiths record and find ample evidence of why it should be on the list. But in Suffer Little Children Morrissey wrote what was probably the most depressing lyric and melody in history, so it makes it in for that reason. As dark as music gets. The lyrics really need to be read in full to really appreciate them, but here's "Lesley-Anne, with your pretty white beads, Oh John, you'll never be a man, And you'll never see your home again. Oh Manchester, so much to answer for". In context, that's got to be the most upsetting lyric ever written.

10. 101 acoustic dirges

In the end, there's nothing more depressing, musically, than the dirge, especially is it's performed on an acoustic guitar, and especially if it's accompanied by weedy, nasal singing. So a last ditch mention for Graham Coxon (who sings "I wish I could bring Nick Drake back to life. He'd understand. Hold my hand") and Syd Barrett. Actually, my particular favourite in this vein is Neutral Milk Hotel's frankly disturbing King of Carrot Flowers, which opens with a cry of "I loooooove you Jesus Christ!" and never gets much further on my stereo, as Vic will invariably snap the volume off immediately, asking if I've gone insane...

Thursday, April 01, 2004

he went to Newcastle and thought about records...

Spent three days in Newcastle at a conference (for work). It was nice to be back in the North East, even if I only got to see - apart from an hour or so on Wednesday when I had a walk around Eldon Square - the inside of a conference centre and my hotel room. Still, I like Newcastle and like the journey; even not seeing much of it, it was nice to be there. I had a nice walk in the grounds (by Gosforth Park Races) and walked over a bridge which survived a disused railway line.

More typically, when it comes to grabbing my attention, I noticed that the Virgin Megastore in Newcastle now has listening posts on every rack of CDs, which one can use simply by scanning the barcode of any CD in the store, and listening immediately. This is a tremendous innovation! No more buying dodgy CDs on a whim and hating them when I get home. I listened to Pole, the new Tyrant compilation from Fabric, a Michael Mayer mix CD, one of the Andy Partridge demo CDs and the new Squarepusher album. And guess what? I wanted them all :-)

Haven't been down to the Churchill Square Virgin for a few weeks so will have to go down there to see what it's like. But I can't help remembering that, when I was a kid, Cadburys launched Twirl bars up North a year or so before they did down in London, and I had to get my Nan to send me them through the post 'til were launched in the 'sarf. So it's probably the same thing; might just have to spend a few further months spending money with the help of misguided, hopeful intuition...