H A P P Y
C H R I S T M A S
Thursday, December 25, 2008
H A P P Y
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This blog has been stupidly quiet recently, for which apologies; I shall try to remedy the situation over the New Year period. In the meantime I am readying a host of posts about my favourite records, books and TV programmes of the year - but first here is an excellent and intriguing Albums of 2008 list by Dan. Quite a few things to explore if you don't know the records already:
1. Bowerbirds - Hymms for a Dark Horse. This is my favourite album of the year by quite a way actually. Very honest recording, very beautiful songs. Tracks sound like they have been sung and recorded in the open and the instrumentation is basic but used to great effect. Saw this band at End of the Road twice, once on their own and also backing up their pal Bon Iver (more of him later). Watch this video of 'My Oldest Memory' to get a flavour of their rustic charm:
2. Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim. Ah, lovely Laura. She's from the Reading area y'know? This album has been a revelation and I don't know anyone who does'nt like it and who has'nt fallen under its spell. I stalked her this year at End of the Road Festival, this is what I saw.
3. Anni Rossi - Afton EP. Ok this is just an EP but I like her. She sounds a bit like Scout Niblet and quite a lot like Joanna Newsom. However she trumps the two of them - in my opinion. Looking forward to an album next year.
4. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago. Alright, what end of the year list would be complete without this? I like it a lot, though maybe a little tired of it now. Who is Emma? Does she mind? Anyway, as forced as this sounds at times its still really really good. How much we'll want to pick it up next year remains to be seen however.
5. Hauschka - Ferndoff. This is a great comtemporary classical album. I really like it, it self destructs in places but is underpinned by beauty all the way through. A little like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Goldmund which I also really liked this year.
6. Daniel Martin Moore - Stray Age. Superior singer song writer stuff in which you discover more reasons to like with each listen. I think Stray Age was his first album and it sounds a little like Sufjan Stevens circa Seven Swans.
7. Max Richter - 24 Postcards in Full Colour. It's been a busy time for Max Richter. This year he has released this album as well as the soundtrack to the excellent film Waltz With Bashir. Each song here cuts off just as you imagine how they might turn out. It too is soundtrack stuff in a way but you are left to imagine the film for yourself.
8. Krulle Bol - This is the Kit. Second only to Laura Marling this year in my book for solo female song writing prowess. A little known album, but look up the track 'She Does'.
9. Noah and The Whale - Peaceful The World Lays Me Down. Grown a little tired of this now but that is only due to the amount of listens I've given it over the year. The kids are ok - excellent album.
10. Sea Wolf - Leaves In the River. Cheesy in places, not as good as past 'Sea' named bands eg Seabear or Seagull. However there are enough beards in this band to make their sound authentic and there are three or four strong songs here. Their lead singer looks like Michael J Fox I reckon - check them out.
I used Amazon’s MP3 service for the first time last night – to buy this - and am happy to report that it was a very efficient, affordable process; no DRM, no hassle, and best of all a really good price. They clearly will need to sort out the interface if they really want to take on iTunes, but my initial report is good. This is my first stop for MP3s from now on.
In other Amazon related news; if you, like me, are fascinated by the prospect of digital publishing and ebooks, you may like this blog, which is dedicated to the Amazon Kindle and its various competitors. It’s a bit of a Kindle-love-in, but it contains lots of interesting information, and is making me more and more sure that when the Kindle is finally launched here in the UK, I’m going to have to buy one. This is an emotive subject for me, and my attachment to physical books is incredibly strong, but there’s no point in denying its appeal. Still, the Plastic Logic is my tip for the emerging e-book readers, and the one that’s likely to point the way forward in terms of my publishing career.
Lastly, seeing as we’re on technology, it’s good to hear that iPlayer is finally fully Mac-compatible. Yay.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It's very nice to be chaperoned around a foreign city; I'm in Paris this week attending a work conference, and my friends Sam and Laura, who moved here a few months ago, have been keen and dedicated hosts, filling me to the brim with wine and food and ushering me around Montmartre like the seasoned Parisians they are fast becoming. Seeing them settled into the heart of the city provokes a mixture of feelings; mostly real pleasure in seeing them happy, but also everything from non-specific nostalgia for any number of past events that we shared, and envy that their new life has brought them such adventure.
Paris, for its part, is a welcoming set; cold and brisk in the background, scented for Christmas but vivid and warm where my hosts carve me inroads - their family and friends have been around providing good-hearted chat and kindness. The landmarks lose none of their charm with repeat viewings; Gallerie Lafayette is sumptuous (but increasingly expensive!), the Sacre-Coeur magical on its raised perch. Right now, however, I'm sat in a conference centre, a thin head-ache getting slowly cooked by the artificial lights, and I've got toothache, too.
That aside, all is well, and I'm even feeling quite festive.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
According to today's NME, the Blur reunion is now, at last, official - what wonderful news; they've been my favourite band for something like seventeen years now, and that love has never come close to fading. They remain, for me, the best British pop group of the last twenty years, bar none, and what's more they've got better and better rather than worse and worse, a more typical trajectory. Although not all of their fans agree, I'd pinpoint their 'Think Tank' as the best record of this decade so far, and one of their finest - and Damon's work since has not been far behind. So the prospect of them being back together, whether it's just onstage at Glastonbury or possibly even working on new material, fills me with happiness. Hurray.
Here's a lovely, sentimental quote from Graham on the Blur message-board:
"i have plunged headlong into self destruction as reaction to others doing what i have done many times- falling in love.it is a pathetic resentment...and after so many years of what can almost be considered (...having to make a few journies alone...) a coma of sorts all that we thought stuck to us, keeping us apart just fell away in seconds of seeing each other and a lightness replaced it all see...terrific relief....the festering and paranoid conjecture....the inferiority complexes..the double guessing...all seem such a waste of time...what the press called falling out and friction.... there was no friction...we never saw each other for there to be friction....that rubbing together and causing of heat/irritation......there came a time where we had to travel the path without each other's support. if it hadnt happened in 2001/2 it would have happened later. it was painful enough to realise we had forgotten how to look after each other....without those in the media telling us it was actually alot worse than it was!
its heavy....its a life regained...not just 4 friends but all those surrounding the friends..the surrogate family, the real family...the extended family, the tree...its many!!! not just 4."
Here's the cover of today's NME - masthead stripped out:
I managed a momentous, and probably record-breaking shift of around ten hours of midweek sleep last night, which is feeling today rather like a necessary luxury. I arrived home last night pretty much ready for bed already, but managed to get through ‘til about eight o’clock in the usual routine – fiddling with iTunes, making dinner, watching Eastenders, before realising just how tired I was feeling and allowing myself the privilege of an early night. So I took a long bath and planned to retire.
By the time I was out, of course, I’d actually livened up a bit, and settled on the sofa with a book, reasoning that I’d just stay up after all. It was at that point, however, that it occurred to me that I’m locked into a system of staying up ‘til eleven, half-eleven, even when my body is telling me to do something different. There should be some connection in my head between “I’m really tired” and the command “go to bed”, but I think it’s something I have to teach myself. So at around half-nine, or possibly even earlier, I went through to the bedroom, switched on the radio, and fell immediately asleep. I wouldn’t say that I found waking up easy this morning, or getting up any more pleasurable than usual, but there was one glorious moment when I woke in the night, conscious that I’d had about the usual amount of sleep, and felt a wave of grim awareness that I’d have to rise shortly. At which point I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 2am and I had another four or five hours of sleep to indulge in.
For that moment of relief and calm, the early night was worth it’s weight.
Monday, December 08, 2008
This is a bit late, but I've not been to many gigs lately so feel I should blog about the ones I do go to; consequently here's a brief review of a recent outing, albeit one which is probably fuzzy round the edges as a consequence of disintegrating memories...
Jay Reatard has garnered a lot of column inches this year and some pretty decent reviews off the back of his recent singles collection for Matador. Without knowing an awful lot about him, Ant and I headed down to the Engine Rooms in Brighton a couple of weeks ago to watch him play with a couple of British bands, local boys The Pheromoans and Nottingham's Lovvers.
On first, The Pheromoans were terrific. Peddling an artless, lackadaisical and nonchalant take on the Swell Maps / Fall / Pavement sound, their sound was obviously familiar, but none the worse for it; short, daft songs riding four note basslines and enlivened by a droll singer and a guitarist fluffing occasionally melodic surf-riffs. It's possible, perhaps likely, that they are self-conscious art students playing badly on purpose (in which case I withdraw my affection), but I'm happy to play along with the idea that they're stoned chancers, short on ambition and fired with a love for simplicity and fuzz. So I thought they were grand.
Lovvers, on the contrary, were incredibly tight, focused and forceful. Their sound was abrasive, energetic, full - and yet they were painfully awful; a sequence of yawnsome redundant cliches and dead-eyed ambition. Only when their macho, show-offy punk slowed down for some churning, slower numbers did they lift themselves out of the mire, but by that time I'd retreated to the back of the room. Bewilderingly, the crowd responded enthusiastically, so perhaps it's just me that can't bear their masculine, heartless hardcore. Ant was more enthusiastic, but not much.
Wondering if the problem is just that I like quiet music, I headed back towards the front for Jay Reatard, who quickly dispelled that notion by playing a set of fiercely enjoyable, high-octane punk rock, fusing the volume of The Melvins with the hooks of a young Evan Dando. Barely pausing between (cracking) songs, his performance is all about speed and energy, excitement and power. All were much in evidence as Reatard provoked a sea of grins and a wave of slightly apologetic headbanging from a reserved audience, perhaps mindful of Jay's unpredictability. And the good news is that, for all that my record collection is getting folkier and folkier, I still like a bit of furious punk. As long as it has pop choruses.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman’s excellent animated film, is a cool, deliberate and moving evocation of memory, conscience and war which moves from muted tones of yellow and black through luminous multicolour and back again as the director recounts the nightmarish reality of 1982s Israeli-Lebanon War, and his own efforts to reconstruct his recollection of it. Like thousands of men his age, his formative years were defined by his involvement in war, though both his own country and much of the Middle East which surround it – particularly Lebanon – have found themselves the staging ground for much of the world’s conflict since. At 19, be that as it may, he was sent to fight, and to kill. Yet he remembers little. What took place all those years ago?
Part autobiography, part fantasy, and part documentary, Waltz With Bashir is constructed from a series of flashbacks, hallucinations and interviews, all lovingly illustrated. Unable to piece together the details himself, Folman begins a long, painful search for the truth, finding people he served with, drawing out his own suppressed memories and interweaving them with those of his peers. The results are always beautifully drawn, but invariably upsetting; an officer forced to swim out to sea to escape capture by Palestinian forces; a troop trying in desperation to cross a junction while being fired on from all angles; the memory of six men having to gun down a child armed with a rocket launcher.
Worst is the darkest memory of all; Folman’s involvement in the massacres at Sabra and Chatila, where Phalangist Christians led Israeli forces into refugee camps and enacted a devastating genocide on the Palestinians within – murdering young and old, entire families lined up and shot under the yellow sky. As the film’s most devastating line attests, Folman, whose own parents survived Auschwitz, is made unwittingly to play the role of Nazi, firing flares into the sky so that the light persisted enough for the massacre to continue. At the apex of this savage injustice, the film switches not just from monochrome to full colour, but from animation to live video. The final, dreadful moments of the movie consist solely of archive footage of the terrible aftermath - wailing survivors surveying the destruction, the bodies of children poking horrifically from the rubble.
Despite the painful reality of these closing shots, the movie conjures up several arresting images of its own - an early sequence, which describes a memory experiment at a funfair, is echoed, in a moment of playfulness, through a window; a pack of dogs charge vengefully through the streets; a terrified soldier, cowering on a military boat, is provided with a moment’s respite by an erotic hallucination. The most powerful image is that of the auteur’s face, frozen in the streets of Beirut as he witnesses the carnage around him. It’s repeated several times; a slow pan around a youthful face, and gains in intensity with every viewing, until at last you learn something, something, of the atrocity of war. Waltz With Bashir is both chillingly upsetting and notably beautiful – a superb, troubling, and yet strangely cleansing film. Go see it.