Thursday, December 31, 2009

fun with string



(via)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

my nineties

Was I alive in the early 1990s? I'm sure I was, but I'm watching one of those TV shows about the decade, and a bit mystified at how out of step I apparently was. The show is 'Electric Dreams', where a family are stripped of their modern technology and then given the appropriate tools for each decade, getting the technology of a new year for each new day.

So far, we're up to something like 1994, and my record so far is pretty poor. We've been introudced to:

Sonic The Hedgehog (I've never played Sonic The Hedgehog)
Super Mario (I've never played Super Mario)
Nintendo Gameboys (I never had a Nintendo Gameboy)
Satellite TV (I never had satellite TV)
Pagers (I never had a pager)
Mortal Combat (I've never played Mortal Combat)

My nineties were very different indeed - can't see this program getting much more accurate for my experience. I didn't use the internet until 1996, or have a mobile until 1999. Oh dear.

changing opinions

Julie Bindel is easy to admire - a courageous, dogged fighter for women's rights and relentless campaigner against men who abuse women - but rather hard to like. The Guardian has been running a series of columns recently which describe the things its respective authors have changed their mind over during the 2000s. Bindel's contribution reveals that she, over the last decade, has learned that it's possible to be friends with men. It's really rather shocking that this realisation has come so late, and while I'm glad for her, it's hard not to wonder if the problem is not that, as she suggests, men are intimidated by her sexual politics, but rather that she's not a very friendly person. Towards the end of the article she reveals that she's even had a male friend over for dinner, as if this represents incredible progress. It's a world-view I don't recognise.

As often happens, she gets a bit of a kicking in the comments, which probably just confirms her distrustful attitude towards men. Nevertheless, the following comment made me laugh out loud.

strange curations

This blog - Stevie's Curiosity Cabinet - is the kind of thing that I love about blogging - the way that 'content' is democratized to the extent that esoteric interests can be published freely and accessed with as much ease as mainstream ones. If I'd never have stumbled onto Stevie's blog, I would never have needed to know about ANYTHING he writes about. But as it is, his posts regularly have me sitting up, interested, alert. Here he is on Dolly Parton.

Possibly the best known of all Dolly's compositions, Jolene is the lead track on a seven-inch maxi-single (RCA Victor RCA 2675) which was her breakthrough hit in the British market in 1976, reaching number seven in June of that year. Whilst there's nothing remotely unusual about this disc in itself, either musically or as an object (unless one views the value-for-money three-track maxi as a curious product of the 'seventies, like Dynaflex, say), it merits inclusion in this journal because of how Dolly was manipulated by John Oswald (link : http://ubu.artmob.ca/sound/oswald_john/mystery_tapes/x1_version/ - it's number 13).

"Dolly Parton gets a sex change by slowing down the speed of one of her singles...", wrote Andrew Jones in his book Plunderphonics, 'Pataphysics + Pop Mechanics, which includes this quote from Oswald : "Although the idea of slowing down Dolly Parton was my idea, two separate Dolly Parton fans told me on two separate occasions that I should listen to Dolly Parton 45s at 33 RPM, because she sounded really great at that speed. And it's true."

From http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xnotes.html: "Pretender (based on 'The Great Pretender' written by Buck Ram) features the opportunity for a dramatic gender change, suggesting a hypothesis concerning the singer, Ms.Parton, perhaps worthy of headlines in the National Enquirer. The first inklings of this story came from fans of Ms.Parton's earlier hit single 'Jolene'. As many consumers have inadvertently discovered, especially since the reemergence of 12' 45rpm records of which this present disc is a peculiar subset, it is not uncommon to find oneself playing 45rpm sides at the LP standard speed of 331/3. In this transposed tempo 'Jolene' reveals the singer to be a handsome tenor. Additional layers of homosexual longing, convoluted ménages à trois and double identities are revealed in a vortex of androgyny as one switches, verse to verse, between the two standard playback speeds."

Whilst to my ears the backing music does work extremely well, the reduced pace darkening the mood of the track wonderfully, I'm not sure I'm totally convinced that Dolly's voice resembles that of a male when heard at twelve revs fewer per minute - but if disbelief can be suspended briefly, one gets a whole new intriguing perspective on her lyric : a man worrying about losing his man to the song's female subject; the vulnerability of a male capable of being moved to tears by the potential situation.
Fantastic, odd, stuff.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

craigie aitchison

Oh, I always miss news at Christmas - too focused on all the adornments of the festive season to trawl through the paper, and days behind as a consequence. Just flicked through the papers and seen that Craigie Aitchison has died. Now, when I was first beginning to express an interest in art, but struggling to really work out what I liked (as opposed to what I thought I should like), some of Aitchison's paintings were amongst the first to really get through to me. So I'm sad about this. Here's some examples of his work - and here's the Guardian obituary.

dealing with camera loss

This is quite sweet - a pictorial guide to avoiding camera loss. Really not a bad idea at all. Thinking back, given the many things I've mislaid over the years, I don't think I've lost a camera yet. Give it time.

eccentricity and spotify

I've been playing with Spotify a lot more recently, and naturally it's a dazzling tool - it's clearly going to revolutionise how we listen to music. As I get to grips with it, I've started playing with playlists - so here is one of my first attempts - a big, messy, odds and sods concoction.

It's drawn largely from releases on Trunk, Finders Keepers and Honest Jons, so what we have is (deep breath): Kids TV music (Clangers, Ivor The Engine), weird library music, found sounds, Sci-Fi soundtracks, eccentric funk interpretations of Christian hymns, unsettling Satanic folk music, Free Jazz & 1920s Afro 78s. The goal is basically ti cover all bases from 'The Wicker Man' to 'Bagpuss' through to Hammer Horror.

Odd things, basically. Here you go:
http://open.spotify.com/user/jonathas/playlist/4I4Ff3Uc0tHEonSENRhNTY

Monday, December 28, 2009

meat after moral certainty

Sitting having breakfast in Billie's Cafe in Brighton this morning, Alba, Lyndsey, Dan, and I discussed foods that we can't - or rather, won't, eat. I was a horribly fussy eater as a child, forcing my poor mother to serve me up all sorts of deeply indulgent dinners as a way of encouraging me to eat. Like a lot of kids, the number of foodstuffs I rolled my eyes at was embarrassingly great - eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes etc. The one constant component of my diet was always meat, although I'm proud to say that I have eliminated practically all of my food-phobias in adulthood. There's pretty much nothing I won't eat now, with the exception of grapefruit (I know, weird). I like just about everything, including things I would have had a cheerful tantrum over when I was a kid - brussel sprouts, frog's legs, olives, avocados. I still eat an awful lot of meat though - too much to make ever becoming a vegetarian absolutely unthinkable.

Still - this article, by Neel Mukherjee, is pretty much beyond reproach. He's absolutely right to say that the intellectual and moral argument over the eating of meat is settled, and that vegetarians are on the right side of the debate. That I can admit this and at the same time admit that I'm still not tempted to abandon meat is evidence, I guess, of a certain moral cowardice. But it's tempered by the suspicion that attempting to live one's life by virtue of rational, intellectual moral arguments alone is ultimately fruitless; a never-ending quest. There will be many painful decisions still to be made once animal welfare issues are resolved.

And anyway, I'm much too thin as it is, so I need the sustenance. So there.

Back to the article - it's hardly an in-depth study of the subject, but I like Neel's candour, and his own admission of inadequacy at the end. Worth reading.

"To understand intellectually is one thing, to put it into practice quite another, a whole untraversable territory away. I still haven't been able to stop eating meat. In any restaurant, my eyes alight first, as if by an atavistic pull, on the meat dishes on the menu. In any dinner party I throw, I think of the non-vegetarian dish as central. I view this as a combination of weakness, greed and moral failure. Someone please help."
No need to help me - but I'm roasting a chicken tomorrow, so let me know if you fancy lunch.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

tory

Saturday, December 26, 2009

xmas high-jinks

Had a totally brilliant Xmas in Brighton so far; it's been great. Some random highlights:

- Managing to actually cook my contribution to the Christmas lunch well; somewhat of a surprise. Almost messed up the chicken by accidentally putting it at too high a heat, which meant it was browning with alarming speed after just twenty five minutes. Some frenzied adjustments ensured it was a success. Yay!
- Watching Lyndsey getting really angry as it became apparent that she wasn't going to win the first party game of Christmas. She settled down once it became apparent that I'd come last.
- A glorious wine and spirits contribution from Sam and Laura, which ensured that the food was never for a moment unaccompanied by fortifying alcohol.
- Singing and dancing in the small hours; sorry, Brighton, if we made an unforgivable amount of noise.
- Just being able to spend the day with my lovely friends is a real treat. Had a brill time.

Our soundtrack for the day was a Xmas CD courtesy of local label One Inch Badge - fittingly, then, the video below, which shows us tucking into Christmas lunch, comes courtesy of one of its contributors; 'Christmas Song' by The Hornblower Brothers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

taking heart

This week lots of the bloggers I read regularly seem to be preoccupied with relationships, ineractions; how we get on, and why. It would be nice to report that everyone is filing success stories - but original thoughts, confidential whisperings and admissions of failure are just as welcome. Wendy is dredging up the past over at her Wendy House; I don't think she's the only person with a story like this in her past:

We laughed together at his assertion. It was one of the most honest expressions of closeness I’d heard then or since.

After two weeks of dating that involved lots of

  • laughter,
  • sleeplessness,
  • loud singing after dark,
  • passionate debating of the relative efficacies of pychological theories,
  • burning of incence, nicotene and canabis

He dumped me.

Easing the suprise with the phrase ‘you’re the only girl for me’ and explaining that he preferred boys. With hindsight, this explained the dearth in exchanges of bodily fluids.

20 years later. He’s still passionate, humourful, debating, smoking, prefering boys and I’m still the only girl for him. Only now there is even less excahniging of bodily fluids because the boy’s grown into a christian priest.

Over at his Potentially Eventually Funny blog, our eponymous author has been told he is a good listener. Instead of taking heart, he is coming to terms with some home truths. Honesty compels me to admit that I know exactly the instinct that he describes in this passage, and the truthfulness of it makes me feel ashamed. Still, it's good to know that I'm not the only one (and - disclaimer - it isn't all the time).
Anyway, my point is that I'm not a good listener - whether to females or males - I am simply quite good at finding something with which to agree on about their position and focusing on it. Or, alternatively, I am good at finding a positive in a situation and exploiting it to make it seem that the overall impression that the person I'm speaking to has is that 'everything is, or will be, alright'. I caught myself doing it automatically the other day. A friend (not you) started to tell me about an issue that he/she had in a work relationship the other day. Immediately I discovered that I was scouring his/her testimony for anything to alight upon as a positive or as a signal misinterpreted. I was simply looking for the most simple way of getting from A to B; from concerned / depressed / upset, to at ease / positive / happy. That is not being a good listening: at best it's prostituting my ability to rationalise interpersonal dilemmas in return for friendship, and at worst it's a technique to change the topic of conversation from something boring - other people's problems - to something interesting - my problems.
Perhaps because I've just been reading about the slow train crash which is the Copenhagen summit - a meeting beset by the failure of disperate communities to find a compromise for the greater good, Matt's observation over at his Zen Bullets Blog rings true today. Why Can't We Just Get Along, he asks?
Atoms work together to make cells. Cells work together to form organisms. Organisms work together to form societies, and societies work together to make cultures.

Getting cultures to work together seems to be the tricky one.
Agh. Yep.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

mystical animals

For reasons I don't understand, I just seem to be getting an enormous amount of spam comments at the moment - it's really annoying. If I snap and turn on the comment verification thing soon you'll have to forgive me. In the meantime, some - some - of the spam is charming enough to let slip through the net.

Monday, December 14, 2009

to be or not to be

Perhaps I'm softening in my old age - not sure I'd have spent much time watching youtube videos of cute kids a few years ago - but this is just lovely. The actor Brian Cox coaches a 30 month year old toddler to recite Shakespeare. Extremely sweet.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

the lyrical genius of luke haines

I'm getting in a right muddle listening back to this year's records and trying to pick my favourites - increasingly I find that when I can't decide between a few LPs I end up plumping for the one with the best lyrics. Not really clear on what my top ten will be. Might have to be a top 15.

Anyway, talking of lyrics - there are some moments on Luke Haines' intermittently terrific 21st Century Man which are just sublime. I'm in raptures over 'Love Letter To London' at the moment:

"I'm not frightened, I'm no longer tired of life,
but the grass is greener in the English countryside.
A voice in the wilderness cries out from time to time,
and says "I'm off the dial, in my country pile".

Young couples with children leave the big city,
we'll not see them again.
It's just like the blitz. The countryside groans
with the stress and the strain.

So don't send us a postcard.
We like it here now that you're gone
They said that they loved you, but they used you as a playground,
when they were young".

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

early blur footage

Some early footage of Blur has turned up out of nowhere - brilliant. Unfortunately the embedding is turned off for this video, but it's essential viewing anyway, so you'll just have to follow the link below. Not quite sure where it came from all of a sudden - perhaps it was uncovered during the research for the new Blur documentary - but it's amazing - this is Seymour (the band that would become Blur) playing 'Superman' in Harlow, Essex in December 1989. Twenty years ago. God.

Wish the first Blur album had sounded all fuzzy and frenetic like this - we'd have realised how wonderful they were that bit earlier...

Seymour - Superman

UPDATE: Ah, Scimmy has obliged by sticking the mp3 version on divshare - great; still - you'll probably want to watch the vid, too.

the lists descend

What with it being both the end of the year and the end of decade, it's LISTMANIA on the internet, obviously. I've been reading lots of lists and, so far, disagreeing with lots of them. It seems to me that lots of very good albums are being overlooked in favour of a lot of pretty average ones (I'm looking at you, The Low Anthem, you, The Big Pink, and you, The Mountain Goats). But until I unveil my own list, I shan't moan too much - and I readily admit I look forward to the gnashing of teeth.

The Music Fix list isn't one I was looking out for, and sure enough it mixes the sublime (Darren Hayman's Pram Town) with a bunch of records I'd cross the road to avoid (The Airborne Toxic Event, Biffy Clyro, that surprisingly bad Florence & The Machine LP).

Anyway - one happy consequence of their list is that they've scrambled a set of mini-interviews with some of the winners, which provokes some interesting thoughts from the couple of artists on the list I'm interested in...

Luke Haines

Dear Music Fix, My heart brims with joy and seasonal good will on my inclusion in your list thingy. My heart brims with joy and seasonal good will anyway. You lot deserve my salutations because frankly I don't know how you found 40 albums of the year. Man, I can just about think of 40 albums from the last 40 years that get the old five star treatment. By the way is my 'record' in the Sounds best of the year list? Melody Maker? Who cares, I'm more of a Zig Zag man. BTW, what number am I? Actually it doesn't matter because I operate under a different numerical system to you lot. Anyway; to lists and my inclusion in them. Thank you.

For Xmas I would like a chisel.

Next year I intend to commence work on my replica scale model of the world.
Darren Hayman

Lists are infuriating, especially when you're not in them. But that's what they are there for, to encourage debate, to make people disagree. I'm not used to flattery. People say very nice things about my records and I know some people like them a lot but I don't usually find myself in end of year lists.

But I'll take a compliment! It's been a strange couple of years, the Hefner re-issues and related shows have made me aware how much my old band means to people but the honest truth is that I think I'm currently writing the best songs of my life. I tried hard to make Pram Town unusual, beautiful and intelligent. I hope I half succeeded.

I have no idea of how good I am compared to my contemporaries. I guess if you had to push me on it I would say I'm better then the guy out of Snow Patrol but not as good as Emmy the Great. If you say I wrote one of the 40 best albums of the year I'll think you're taking the piss.

But it does make me very happy.

I'm hoping for the Big Star box set in my Xmas stocking. I think I have dropped enough hints to my wife. I think I have a reasonable chance.

It looks like Pram Town may be part of a loose trilogy of albums about Essex. The second Essex Arms is another folk opera about love in the lawless countryside. We hope to have it out by the summer. There is talk of a Hefner Peel Sessions album.
Both Luke and Darren will be pleased to hear, I'm sure, that both are in the running for my top ten.

joy diversion

(via)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

more video experiments

This afternoon myself and Dan went and had a burger and a beer at Brighton's lovely The Eagle. While we were eating, I set up my camera to do a time-lapse recording; which is presented here accompanied by some pleasing beeps and squiggles courtesy of Andrew - the track is his 'Succour & Liquor', credited to Bedsit Bomber.

the london perambulator

A couple of weeks ago myself, Vic, Dan, Ant and Alec went down to the Sallis Benney Theatre to see the screening, as part of the Cinecity Brighton Film Festival, of John Rogers’ new film, London Perambulator, a wonderfully affectionate portrait of Nick Papadimitriou, a writer who lives in North London – in my old haunting ground of Barnet, no less - who dedicates his life to the pursuit of what he calls ‘deep topography’; what you and I might have heard described as ‘pyscho-geography’ – urban exploration through the medium of walking, enacted not through pre-researched routes but by chance and happenstance, working on the assumption that the mysteries of the landscape will be revealed through being ‘found’.

As that muddled definition implies, the practice of deep topography is an inexact thing, occupying a vague, semi-mystical space between geography, anthropology, philosophy, art and science. What Nick Papadimitriou does, essentially, is walk through the overlooked corners of cities, and writes about his experience. His preoccupation is not with finding conventional beauty, whether ancient or modern, but rather in examining the functional areas where mankind, nature, and necessity overlap. In the process of this obsession, which sees him undertaking long ruminative walks, creating a kind of philosophical mind-map of the city, he has carried out research – and acted as somewhat of a poetic muse – for the likes of Will Self and Iain Sinclair (whose own book, ‘London Orbital’, sparked my interest in this area).

Papadimitriou is self-evidently an idiosyncratic individual, pursuing with admirable single-mindedness a line of enquiry which many would dismiss as eccentric. Rogers’ film cannot help but play on this, observing its protagonist in reveries of post-industrial romanticism, waxing lyrical over water treatment plants and manhole covers, standing rapt on brownfield sites transfixed by concrete posts. As one might expect of a close confidante of Will Self, Papadimitriou is not only incredibly literate but also extremely funny. So it’s easy for the film to poke affectionate fun at him, not least because a contributor like Russell Brand – who is insightful throughout – can’t resist sending him up.

Speaking after the film – which is only 45 minutes long – Papadimitriou expressed a little wry frustration at the fact. And that is understandable; there is something innately comic about the intensity of his passion for, say, Mogdon Water Treatment Plant – but the film plays up his eccentricity without sacrificing the opportunity to include many thought provoking and poetic displays of language and thought. And the more involved with his subject matter he gets the more profoundly interesting he becomes. It’s in Middlesex, that absent county at the top of London that was folded into Hertfordshire, Surrey and Greater London but which retains a geographical presence of its own, that his most fervent interest resides, and for a period in the film I found myself transported back to the vocabulary of my youth – Barnet, Southgate, Potters Bar, Finchley, Hendon. Papadimitriou is not myopic in his interests – he has a long term plan to walk across the Ukraine – but it’s obvious where his heart resides. He tells us:

“My ambition is to hold my region in my mind… so that I am the region. So that when I die I literally do become Middlesex in some way. For me that is my highest spiritual aspiration, I will be the tarmac that you race along on the A41-T, I’ll be absorbed into the mildewed lintels hidden in overgrown knotweed by the side of the Hendon way…”

My own youth was spent mapping out this part of the world; rambling through Hadley Wood, waiting for tubes into the city at Oakwood station, tracing cycle paths through Totteridge, scrabbling over high fences to let off firecrackers behind the Sainsbury’s car-park in New Barnet. I’m not especially nostalgic for those years, but Papadimitriou’s enthusiasm is infectious. I understood him best, I think, when he stopped suddenly between two semi-detached houses in a glum suburb, and pointed out the contour of the ageless landscape through the gap; where a river once flowed. These buildings, he pointed out, could be destroyed in moments, but it would take something immense to change the shape of land which has held its form for thousands of years.

I’m not sure I fully understand to what end his infectious, limitless enthusiasm can be taken, but in his current role, mid way between philosopher and naturalist, urban historian and dreamer, it strikes me that Nick Papadimitriou is doing something terribly important – chronicling parts of the city which are all around but rarely seen; liminal, overgrown, ambiguous places where mankind has made marks on nature which we would do well not to forget. Their unsystematic, unresolved, chaotic distribution seems to have some significance when counterbalanced against our own unsystematic, unresolved, chaotic lives.

You can watch a short clip of John Rogers’ incredibly enjoyable film below, visit his website here, or download the regular podcasts (“Ventures and Adventures in Topography”) which he and Nick make for Resonance FM here. Nick’s own website, misleadingly named Middlesex County Council, and as chaotic a site as you might expect, is essential reading. Here’s the link.

http://www.middlesexcountycouncil.org.uk/

Thursday, December 03, 2009

ellie goulding, roscoe (midlake cover)

With the best will in the world, regardless of the fact that her stuff is pretty good, I'd kind of written Ellie Goulding off as superfluous; the kind of pop star we'd need if we didn't already have Bat For Lashes, and who is targeting a position in an intolerably crowded market. Well - that might well still be what I think. But I got a real surprise when I heard this, on Siobhan's recommendation - here's Ellie tackling, with very fine voice indeed, Midlake's wonderful 'Roscoe'. Vid courtesy of Dan.

Friday, November 27, 2009

nice ola podrida video

The Texan musician David Wingo is better known as a soundtrack composer than he is a conventional songwriter - his score for the magnificent David Gordon Green film 'All The Real Girls' is worth checking out - but it's telling to see that his work under the name Ola Podrida is increasingly gathering deserved plaudits. His new record, Belly Of The Lion, is out now. Dan has braved the wintery winds of the edge of England and made the following video to accompany one of Wingo's new tunes. Aside from its matching up nicely with the music, it makes me all sentimental for Brighton. Here it is.



barnet

Thursday, November 26, 2009

filesharing misfire

This article, published on the Guardian site today and written by Anne Wollenberg, is one of the worst discussions of filesharing I've ever come accross. That said, it's worth a read simply to discover the the extent to which it is unutterable, unreadable, gibberish. Hopefully when the day comes when publishers are forced to defend their copyright in the face of mass downloading, we’ll be more eloquent – and less fatheaded – than this.

Sample:

"Hey, how about I help myself to your car while you're on holiday. It's OK, I'm not going to deprive you of it – I'll leave it where I found it, with the same amount of petrol and everything, so that's fine, right?"

Christ. That analogy doesn't even work. Someone offers a swift correction in the comments section, thankfully, replying:

"No, but if you want to buy the raw equipment and materials to make an exact copy of my car, knock yourself out".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

dark star brewery

Good to see Brighton's own Dark Star Brewery listed in the Guardian's list of the top ten UK microbreweries. Ace. Here's what the Grauniad says:

Dark Star Brewery – Evening Star Brighton

When the Evening Star became a freehouse in 1992 the owner converted half the cellar into a microbrewery. When demand grew the brewery moved to nearby Ansty but still supplies the pub with it's golden Hophead bitter (3.8%) as well as rotating Dark Star beers. You'll also find a choice of real ciders and international bottled beers. A short hop away from Brighton Station, it's often missed by the visiting crowds heading down to the seafront. Also handy for catching the last train back to London if you're on a day trip to the coast. Look out for its one-batch-a-year Critical Mass (7.2%) Christmas ale - sure to get you singing Fairytale Of New York in the manner of Shane MacGowan himself.

• eveningstarbrighton.co.uk, 55/56 Surrey Street, Brighton, BN1 3PB, +44 (0)1273 328931.
Thirsty now.

stormy coast

Nice little video of Brighton seafront courtesy of Dan; the South Coast is absolutely nuts, weather-wise, at the moment - sun, rain, hail, rainbows. Don't understand.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

messing about

Right, I want this on the record that the following took me exactly twenty two minutes to make - including taking the photos, putting them on my computer, animating them and processing. I say this not because I am proud of it and showing off, but because I am a bit ashamed of its simplicity. Anyway - the goal was to see if I can remember how to produce simple animations, and it's official, I can. Will have a go at doing a proper one later this week.

In the meantime... miniature drum roll...

small seagulls

The seagulls in Brighton are so enormous - it's always funny when you see them inland and note how small they are in comparison. These were snapped in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire, this weekend. Nice chaps.

Monday, November 23, 2009

someone told me a poem

At the risk of talking about Tristram too much, Anika - whose blog, Anika in London, is well worth a read - has made this sweet video for Tristram's forthcoming single, 'Someone Told Me a Poem' - which is out on Oh Inverted World records on February 15th. A tantalising snippet from what is likely to be an awesome EP.



The video makes me want to do some animation - here, for the sake of completeness, is the one attempt at it I've ever made. Yes, very amateurish, I know. Might have another go at this sometime.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

not tempted by avatar

Over on Gawker.com, they're compiling evidence which points to the distinct possibility that James Cameron's 'Avatar' - which promises to be a revolution in film-making technology - will turn out to be a a big, queasy, sugary, 3D nightmare. Along with a few damning facts about the film, they provide a very early review from an industry insider, whose comments are wonderfully frank, culimating in the quite magnificent line, "Of course there are very beautiful moments, with great editing/sound/art direction, but overall it's a horrible piece of shit."

I had a ticket to see a preview taster of this film a couple of months back but something seemed wrong about it even then. Would be nice to be proved wrong, but I think this film is going to be really really bad.

Here's the Gawker case for the prosecution.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

charlotte vere

I'm interested - and cautiously pleased - to hear that Charlotte Vere has been chosen as Brighton Pavilion's Conservative Party candidate to fight the general election. I'm pleased not because I intend to vote for her (I'm not a Tory voter, as regular readers will know), but because she seems, on first impressions, to be a pretty decent candidate with concerns that I think will resonate with people - she's worked alongside Zac Goldsmith or environmental issues and dedicated much of her working life to dealing with mental health issues (other people's, not her own).

She helped create Big White Wall, which is an online 'suppport network for those in emotional distress', and seems in that respect to the personification of the new, cuddly Tory which we are encouraged to believe exists. On the down side, she's a Londoner rather than a local candidate - but then aren't most of us in Brighton Londoners in the first instance? It often feels that way. And perhaps she just can't take any more of Boris as mayor? We could hardly condemn her for that...

I didn't, however, attend the (not so) Open Primary, last night, where she was nominated - and so beyond a quick scan of her biography, it's hard to know where she stands on key issues. Very peculiarly, she doesn't seem to have either a blog or a website (which makes you wonder how participants in the Open Primary were supposed to have found out what she believed in), although she is on Twitter, where she seems relatively normal. If I find out what she does believe in (which probably isn't as fanciful a notion as finding out what, say, David Cameron believes in), I shall surely keep you informed via this blog.

Most interestingly, we are now in a position where we have a geniunely open election in Brighton Pavilion, between three strong female candidates. At present, I - like a lot of people I know - haven't quite figured out who I'll vote for in the Spring - so I'm hopeful there'll be an intelligent, thoughtful debate fought locally - and that the best candidate wins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

tristram; complete live set in mp3, brighton

Although I'd never heard of him before, Tristram Bawtree, who plays his beautiful, tender folk songs as Tristram, has a Brighton connection; he studied Painting here a few years back (and his paintings, which you can find if you google him, are rather nice - abstract but detailed, mural-like), so it's appropriate that I should discover him by chance here, rather than in his native London. His songs - although the videos below are in black and white - are similarly colourful - tender, imaginative meditations fleshed out with sumptuous orchestration. The six songs he played in support of Peggy Sue at the Freebutt last month were uniformly fantastic.

On the night, he arrives on stage looking thoughtful, slightly nervous. From the first note, though, I am hooked - both by his beautiful voice and wonderful way with words. His songs are funny, critical and very intelligent. He is sardonic for someone so young (“When I hear the word culture I pull out my wallet / and peel off a banknote or two”), playful (in Zombie Holocaust he muses that "I'd only waste my life, so better I use it well / to stop the monsters, from taking my loved one”) and he is ambitious, too – Isolde, the closing track, is inspired by a Wagner opera that he has not yet seen.

Musically, there is incredible richness in his soft, delicate folk. And where he seemed a touch uncertain arriving on stage, a natural ease and confidence is quickly evident. He's able to demonstrate nimble touches that endear him to the audience (such as the arch Abba reference in Place In The Sea), and writes intelligently - only occasionally slipping up (the same song's "well, we're all going to die someday" reveals him to be a man with too many Jeff Lewis records in his collection). I'm pretty sure, however, by the end of the first song, that I'm watching the best live performance from a new band or songwriter I've encountered in 2009 - or longer.

It's clearly early days for Tristram - his debut single isn't out 'til February - but on the evidence of this short, artful set, he is absolutely brimming with promise. I await that single with baited breath.

In the meantime, here is a complete recording of the set - good enough, I think, to demonstrate just how brilliant he is - and a couple of videos made by Dan (who came away just as convinced as me that we'll be hearing lots more from him soon).

Tristram
live at The Freebutt, Brighton
Weds 4th November, 2009

(right click and 'save target as' to download)
1. Someone Told Me A Poem
2. Ballad Of A Stolen Bicycle
3. Zombie Holocaust
4. Rhyme or Reason
5. Place In The Sea
6. Isolde

Here's where you go to track down Tristram on Facebook and myspace. He's also playing a bunch of gigs over the next month or so. Not to go to at least one of them (assuming you live in, or can get to London) would be to really miss out.





Dates
17 Nov 2009 Love & Milk @ Jamboree w/Jack Cheshire, London
26 Nov 2009 @ Soapbox with Derek Meins, London
1 Dec 2009 The Allotment @ Betsy Trotwood w/Caitlin Rose, London
6 Dec 2009 Moonshine Jamboree Xmas Party @ The Slaughtered Lamb w/ Left With Pictures, Jake Bellows and more, London
15 Dec 2009 The Tamesis Dock w/Peggy Sue & Curly Hair, London

The single is out on February 15th on Oh! Inverted World records, and will feature Someone Told me a Poem, Ballad of a Stolen Bicycle, Me and James Dean and Zombie Holocaust. As soon as a link to pre-order it is available, I'll be posting it here.

Lastly, many thanks to Tristram and his lovely manager Anthony for giving me permission to post these tracks. Much appreciated. Thanks also to Brad over at Bradley's Almanac, who's been posting this sort of stuff for years and inspired me to start chronicling and posting live recordings of shows I go to. Following his lead, I recorded these songs with a (borrowed) MD player (thanks Dan) and a Sony ECM-719 mic. Hope you like them - any comments much appreciated.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

darren hayman

Just heard some awful news about Darren Hayman, who has been in a pretty serious altercation in Nottingham after he played there at the weekend. Sounds like he's just about OK, but it's an awful ordeal. Here's the full message up on the Hefner website:

Hello all,

Darren is still not allowed near his computer but I've read him all of your messages and he is completely overwhelmed and grateful for all ofyour love and best wishes. He is feeling very loved and supported.

The full story is, that he and David Shepherd were attacked and mugged whilst parking the car after Nottingham's show. Nothing to do with the gig, just wrong place at the wrong time. He was discharged from hospital last night and is now safely back in London. There should be no long
lasting damage, but he does have a linear fracture in his skull (this is the best kind apparently!) which will keep him fairly quiet for six weeks or so. He also has a head wound, a bit of bruising, and a very nasty headache. However they have prescribed a terrifying amount of pain killers to deal with this.

He has made huge improvements since the incident and I'm sure that it is only a matter of time before he wrestles this computer from me and lets you know how he's doing and what he's up to.

All we seem to have done for days is to say thank you to people for their kindness, sorry for the lack of eloquence but thank you again.

Love, Helen & Darren


Get well soon, Darren.

predictable nme

The NME has published its 50 Greatest Albums of the 2000s. It's such a boring, predictable list. Would any of my readers care to better it? I might give this some thought over the next few days. To make things easier, shall we say Top Ten, rather than 50, in the comments box below? Alright then.

Here's the NME list
1. The Strokes - Is This It
2. The Libertines - Up The Bracket
3. Primal Scream - xtrmntr
4. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever To Tell
6. PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
7. Arcade Fire - Funeral
8. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights
9. The Streets - Original Pirate Material
10. Radiohead - In Rainbows
11. At The Drive In - Relationship Of Command
12. LCD Soundsystem - The Sound Of Silver
13. The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
14. Radiohead - Kid A
15. Queens Of The Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf
16. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
17. Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise
18. The White Stripes - Elephant
19. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
20. Blur - Think Tank
21. The Coral - The Coral
22. Jay-Z - The Blueprint
23. Klaxons - Myths Of The Near Future
24. The Libertines - The Libertines
25. Rapture - Echoes
26. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner
27. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
28. Johnny Cash - Man Comes Around
29. Super Furry Animals - Rings Around The World
30. Elbow - Asleep In The Back
31. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
33. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
34. Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump
35. Babyshambles - Down In Albion
36. Spirtualized - Let it Come Down
37. The Knife - Silent Shout
38. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
39. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
40. Ryan Adams - Gold
41. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
42. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
43. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
44. Outkast - Loveboxxx/The Love Below
45. Avalanches - Since I Left You
46. Delgados - The Great Eastern
47. Brendan Benson - Lapalco
48. Walkmen - Bows and Arrows
49. Muse - Absolution
50. MIA - Arular

Monday, November 16, 2009

obama and the wisdom, or otherwise, of crowds

I'm interested in this piece by Michael Tomasky in today's Guardian, which looks into the incredible amount of opposition which Barack Obama faces in the US, and examines whether - or more accurately to what extent - the hostility he faces is rooted in racial prejudice.

It's a good article not only because Tomasky is even-handed and cautious about making accusations of racism (unlike, say, Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch) but also, mainly, because he is perceptive about the nature of crowds. He acknowledges that, person to person, many of Obama's most steadfast critics may not be racist. But having described the opposition he faces, Tomasky notes:

"This is the Obama-hating crowd. It's deeply conservative, and it's about 98% white. And the thing about crowds is that they develop a personality of their own that is not merely the sum of individual parts. A crowd is an organism that grows in its own way and tends to be led and excited by its extremes. It can mutate into being racist without many or even most of the individuals in it being so."
Good article - you can read the rest here.

leading up to tristram / folk music

Let me preface the next music post, which will concentrate on the best young musician I’ve encountered so far this year – Tristram - with the kind of weary complaint you’ll often hear from people who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they’re old enough to know better. The complaint is this: over my years of gig going (which, actually, I’ve been chronicling over here) I’ve seen enough scenes begin and end to have got pretty good at recognising the tipping point – where the joyful originality of the first wave of performers (who might decide to take as their starting ground the work of, say, The Kinks or the Pretty Things, Black Sabbath or Talking Heads) gives way to the clumsy, plodding fare of less talented followers; the second and third wave of artists who pick up a fashionable sound but wield it clumsily, missing the dynamic that made their immediate forebears effective.

The sound which has dominated indie rock in the UK and the US for the last few years is drawn – however unlikely this might have seemed five years ago - from folk (and, to a lesser extent, country) music; from Karen Dalton and Nick Drake through to The Band and John Fahey. And we’re now at a point where it is positively de rigour for every young band to have a xylophone and a ukulele, and to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Noah and the Whale, Jeffrey Lewis and Bon Iver by creating delicate, mournful and precise folk music.

There are literally dozens of musicians who do this terribly well. Too many. Take William Fitzsimmons, a hugely talented but underappreciated American songwriter whose new album contains a set of deeply personal, overwrought marvels, run through with a sorrowful beauty every bit as rich as Bon Iver’s. Or the likes of Fanfarlo or The Leisure Society, both of whom make lovely, homespun indie-folk which, for all their skill, may not be original enough to set them apart.

Others, meanwhile, do it really badly. There are a number of Brighton-based singer-songwriters, often to be found on ostensibly decent bills, whose crass, myopic takes on Dylan’s troubadour shtick are faintly agonising to listen to – the folk music equivalent of those awful, unimaginative bands – rhyming ‘treason’ with ‘reason’ - that briefly dominated the tail end of Britpop.

And then there are charming bands consisting of mere kids, who play far better than their tender years imply, and so unselfconsciously in the style of, say, Noah and the Whale, because folk music has been de rigour for most of their teenage lives.

Had I been 16 in 2009, I would doubtless be doing the same. But I was 16 in 1993, so I played in a grunge rock band. Three years later and it would have been different.

Scenes offer tremendous appeal to young musicians and music fans; they offer a warm, welcoming safety blanket and a spirit of mutual exchange and discovery. I’ve watched scenes from a distance (shoegaze, grunge), participated half-heartedly or over-enthusiastically in others (riot grrrl, britpop), and found something to love in nearly all of them. But every single one, in the end, turns to shit. The joy of discovering new music consists largely of finding beauty in unexpected places; the moment beauty – even genuine beauty – becomes predictable, it loses some of its shine. That day always comes.

In the meantime, however, the fact that it is possible to walk from one’s flat down to a local venue and discover, completely unexpectedly, someone as warm, wonderful and winning as Tristram, is a very lovely fact indeed. So, next music post: a complete recording of his live set – worth treasuring.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

jenga dog

Possibly I have too much time on my hands.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

crowns on the rats orchestra

For those who don't yet know them, Crowns On The Rats Orchestra - an odd, enormous, complex and tuneful many-headed beast from Brighton - are one of the most interesting bands I've seen for ages. Their songs are restless, imaginative and very beautiful; kind of fidgety, eloquent and celebratory. Their live shows are crowded and chaotic - but their musicianly instincts mean that everything stays magically focused. I like them a lot - and not just because my friend Eleanor is in the band. This is one of those situations where you think you'll have to lie and say how good a show was, and then discover THAT IT REALLY WAS. Ace.

Here's a video of the band that me and Dan made. I've got some mp3s which should, I hope, follow shortly, as might another video or two. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

exlovers, complete live set in mp3, brighton

I first saw Exlovers in the spring of this year, playing with Younghusband and Emmy The Great, and noted then that they were a band worth keeping an eye on. In many ways their influences evident that night - ranging from Postcard pop to shoegaze - suit my tastes exactly, but my conclusion then was ultimately cautious - they looked and sounded, I thought, a touch under-nourished, lacking authority and only sporadically hitting full throttle. I know now that I caught them early in their career, so with that in mind I went to see them at The Hope, in Brighton, a couple of weeks ago, wondering if they'd improved.

My god, they absolutely have. From the first note their sound was more forceful, evocative and compelling. The influence of My Bloody Valentine is increasingly evident, rushing through the tender, melodic pop and creating a kind of coursing, joyful reverberation, a clashing of air. I always felt that this heavily emotional, yearning sound was very physical. Displacement music. They don't (that often) create a racket, and in fact much of the set is delicate, recalling Elliot Smith (although I later find out the band are Lemonheads fans - no wonder I love them), but the way they move up the registers, gliding through different volumes, hints at an instinctiveness which masks expertise.

Pete, their singer, is charismatic, gangly and ever-so-slightly detached, simultaneously towering and effeminate - and as such inevitably draws comparisons with that other famous Peter - Doherty. Laurel, who played glockenspiel last time I saw the band, has shorn her hair and stands instrumentless for the duration, acting as a second vocalist. Men seem to find it hard to drag their gaze away from her and back to her bandmates. All of whom, meanwhile, give a whole-hearted, animated showing - their lead guitarist taking every opportunity to hook his guitar sideways and reach down for a mouthful of beer. It's a well-judged, noisy, beautiful set - and I'm very glad to say that I took the opportunity to record it.

What follows, then, is a complete live recording of the band's performance. Right click and 'save target as' to save each song individually, or click here to download a zipped up folder of all eight tracks (which saves me bandwidth, so it's the preferred option - but it's up to you).

Eagle-eyed readers will spot there's a songs I don't know the name of. If you can help me fill in the blank it'd be much appreciated.

Exlovers
live at the Hope, Brighton
24th October 2009

1. A Moment That Keeps Repeating
2. Photobooth
3. You Forget So Easily
4. In The Woods With The Werewolf
5. Just A Silhouette
6. Unknown Title #2
7. You're So Quiet
8. Weightless

Here's a clip of the band playing 'You're So Quiet' on the same night - video by Dan (whose Youtube channel is here) and audio by me.



Some links:
- Exlovers on Myspace, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
- Read the lovely Emmy The Great interviewing the band, for Drowned in Sound.
- An Exlovers interview at Music Mule
- Another recent interview, courtesy of Comfort Comes.
- Exlovers interviewed for Female First
- And Thom Morgan interviews the band for There Goes The Fear.

And a bunch of reviews of 'You Forget So Easily':
(Sounds XP) (AtSounds) (Sound Junkie) (Noize) (Call Upon The Author) (TGTF) (Idiomag) (Glasswerk) (Breaking More Waves)

Forthcoming gigs
4th Nov 2009 Bodega, Nottingham
5th Nov 2009 Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
6th Nov 2009 Portland Arms, Cambridge
14th Nov 2009 Luminaire, London
29th Nov 2009 Lock Tavern, Camden, London

Discography
You Forget So Easily, 14 September 2009
Photobooth / Weightless 7", 06 April 2009
Just a Silhouette 7", 08 December 2008

Buy Exlovers records here, at Rough Trade.

Lastly - many thanks to the band and their manager Simon for giving me permission to post these tracks. Much appreciated. Thanks also to Brad over at Bradley's Almanac, who's been posting this sort of stuff for years and inspired me to start chronicling and posting live recordings of shows I go to. Following his lead, I recorded these songs with a (borrowed) MD player (thanks Dan) and a Sony ECM-719 mic. Hope you like them - any comments much appreciated.

trains and tolerance

I've had bad luck with train companions lately. It's usually the case that, when someone sits in the carriage and cranks their headphones up to brain-damage levels, their thoughtlessness about the noise pollution is matched by a corresponding surliness, bordering on the suggestion of violence. Having suffered just such a companion last night - I boiled in silence - this morning I sat myself down and hoped for a peaceful commute.

At Hove, the noise pollutant boarded. I'd placed my bag, optimistically, on the empty seat beside me but readied myself to move it once I saw how many people were boarding the train. When someone arrived beside me I glanced up to spot a teenager on the verge of tipping over; hurrying to grab my seat and overloaded with a bag, a paper, a mirror, a drink, and several tubes containing glosses, creams and ointments. They tipped onto me as she sat down.

I retrieved them and held them out as the girl flopped into the seat, grinning apologetically. She leant forward, loosed her hair out of her pony tail and shook it, whipping my face as she did with a clutch of curls. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Seated at last, she poured her various belongings onto the fold down table, and began going through her bag, emptying further clutter - crisp wrappers, a mobile telephone - onto her lap. She turned and grinned again, conscious how disorganised she looked. From the bag she retrieved an iPod nano. I felt a familiar sense of dread.

The music, when it came, was, I think, Leona Lewis. It was cripplingly loud. Worthing, I thought. She'll get off at Worthing. She didn't.

What was odd, however, was that haphazard, clumsy, friendly way she carried herself. The big, apologetic smile, her inability to impose order over her spilling belongings, I found strangely endearing. In the end, having been gifted a noise-polluter to whom I wouldn't have felt self-conscious about asking to turn down the volume - I felt too fond of her to do so. Which is not to say that her music didn't annoy the hell out of me. It only goes to show I'm too tolerant.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

wave pictures at the garage, islington



Although my birthday was a month ago, I had a lovely second pass at being spoiled this weekend, when Anne-So and Rich took me not only for a delicious curry in London but also to see the final date on the Wave Pictures current Uk tour, at the Garage in Islington.

Of course, it's as ridiculous to talk of touring schedules with the Wave Pics as it is to talk of album release cycles. Since I first stumbled, delighted, upon them at the End Of The Road three years ago, it's been apparent that - seemingly contrary to the instincts of many of their contemporaries - they do most what they love most; writing and playing. So there have been two conventional albums in quick session plus a bunch of singles and EPs and then a slew of hastily recorded 'unofficial' LPs, often recorded with a cast of like-minded accomplices which includes the Berlin-based Andre Hermann Dune (now known as Stanley Brinks) and Clemence Freschard, both of whom appear with the band tonight in what seems to be a genuine and touching display of open collaboration.

In case you're not quite up to speed, here's a quick précis. The Wave Pictures are like no other band on earth - drawing on a set of influences which includes Sam Cooke, Jonathan Richman and early Dire Straits (and frequently sounding like a neat combination of all three) the band simultaneously straddle a relaxed, unfussy approach which yields thin, scruffy takes, shorn of overdubs, and a quite spectacular level of musicianship - David Tattersall's guitar playing is instinctive, spare and quite dazzling when he lets loose. Aesthetically, they couldn't be more comfortable in their own skin, transparently loving every minute of what they do. Just as notes come easy, Tattersall's yearning, kitchen-sink lyrics sound wonderfully unforced - and are similarly wonderful.

London clearly has a loyal Wave Pics fanbase, and whereas the last time I saw the band - in a sweaty basement in Brighton - they played a short, fast, exposive set, this weekend they played a longer and more varied, more celebratory collection of songs. The results were spellbinding.

The problem with amassing such a comprehensive and assured back catalogue in a very short period of time is that it's impossible to play everything, meaning that once again there is no room for classics like 'Long Island' or the beautiful 'If You Leave It Alone'; but we're amply rewarded with some absolute treats - a star turn on lead vocals (and a drum solo) from Jonny, some wonderful, mellow saxophone playing by Stanley Brinks, and a smattering of new songs, including a gorgeous one from Tattersall's new CD, sung sweetly by the exceedingly European Freschard:

"I saw your hair between the trees, I saw your hair
In the sunlight on the leaves, I saw you there
I saw the curve of your lips, I saw blue skies
I saw chipped toenails in the twigs, and your blue eyes".

Best of all was the song, presented above, which they played the one time I turned my camera on and trained it on the stage - a delicious, communal acapella take on 'Strawberry Cables', which saw Tattersall eke out exquisite melodies from the call and response harmonies of the original version. The crowd clapped and swooned at every turn - a crowd reacting joyfully to a band immersed in love for their craft, and preocuppied, as Tattersall's charming, reflective lyrics attest, with love itself.

Thanks thanks thanks to AS and Rich for a wonderful night. Hope the rest of you enjoy the video.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

kurrana & the wolfnotes

It's always nice to be taken by surprise with a band, as I was with Kurran & The Wolfnotes, who I'd never heard of before I saw them co-headling The Hope in Brighton with Exlovers in October 2009. Theirs is an enthusiastic, high-octane blend of UK indie and folky Americana, and their songs are extremely memorable. Debut single 'Whatabitch' is available to pre-order now, and the following clip - which shows them playing 'Thanks A Lot Noah' does a lot to demonstrate their promise.



Click here for another video.

kurran

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

joe columbo's smoke glass

The following is one of many interesting design projects I looked at while at an Engineering conference in Budapest recently. The design, by Joe Columbo, makes use of negative space to design the 'Smoke glass'.

joe colombo - ‘smoke glass’, 1964
the sculptural shape of this unusual glass speaks for itself. its unique stem invites you to grasp the form. the name of the design was born from its function: with the balance between the forefinger and the thumb it is possible to hold both the glass and a cigarette with the same hand.

the cylindrical form is in perfect harmony with the foot.

the ‘double’, which are two glasses in one make it possible to turn the glass over for a sip of water or aperitif.


More pictures and info here.

noah's misery

My impression – I may be wrong - is that the new Noah and The Whale record has underwhelmed quite a few people. It feels like the fans who liked the upbeat arrangements of their debut album are bewildered by the introverted, melancholic seam running through The First Days Of Spring. Equally, the people who understandably took against the contrived, Wes Anderson-influenced trappings of the band’s image and first record have not been convinced by the earnest, mature stylings they’ve followed it up with. Accompanying the new album with a full-length DVD film may be their biggest mistake; a brave, admirable artistic endeavour which nevertheless feels desperately pretentious.

Anyway – as you’ll know if you’ve spent some serious time with The First Days of Spring, it’s an excellent record; a big improvement on Peaceful The World Lays Me Down and a really rewarding, emotional account of what sounds like a pretty fucking awful year in the life of the band’s songwriter, Charlie Fink – whose break-up with Laura Marling doesn’t just dominate this set of songs, it positively defines them. On ‘Stranger’, my favourite song, he sounds positively wretched, musing on the sense of shame he feels after a night of casual sex with a new acquaintance. It’s a peculiar topic (for a man, particularly) to write about, but it’s oddly moving – once one has reconciled Charlie’s lyrical approach with a natural aversion to cliché.

My first reaction to the set of songs on The First Days of Spring was that Fink had written an extraordinary, brooding, lilting set of instrumentals but been unable to find words to express his heartache without resorting to a set of anodyne, stock-phrases to voice his anguish. That may well be the case – there’s an interminable amount of cliché here. But there’s something more complex going on here too.

A year or so ago I was confronted by a very strange, emotional experience. In a venue in Hove, surrounded by my friends, I watched a couple of musicians perform a song for a shared friend which was informed by a sense of loss and regret and love. It was a completely beautiful, spine-tingling moment. Yet I mused afterwards that if I had heard the same song on the radio, unaware of the context, I would probably have written it off as mush; as mawkish, middle-of-the-road stuff. All of a sudden, an alarm went off in my head. All my life I have written off songs with unimaginative or sentimental lyrics as ‘meaningless’, without really given much thought to the fact that they might, despite their failings, be essentially truthful, heartfelt and honest.

Listening to The First Days of Spring now, it’s impossible to argue that Charlie’s lyrics are not predictable and clichéd – and yet something about the completeness of the narrative, the tone of his voice, and the sheer brilliance of his arrangements, persuades me that they’re entirely real, entirely true. When Charlie sings about "songs for the broken hearted", or needing "your light in my life", I think, why adorn these despairing sentiments with beautiful embellishments if the plain sentiments get to the heart of the matter? In as much as I believe that anyone's heart can be broken, I don’t doubt that Charlie’s truly was.

And of course, 'Stranger' is just particularly pretty – built, like, most of the record, around simple, ringing, circular guitar lines played on a clean-toned electric guitar, and rich with Charlie’s heavy, regretful vocal. “Last night I slept with a stranger for the first time since you’ve gone / Regretfully lying naked, I reflect on what I’ve done”. It even contains what I hope is a gag; the line where, having described his lover’s naked body entwined with his, he croons, “I’m a fox” – before completing the line “...trapped in the headlights”. If it isn’t a gag, it’s still funny.

And then, just past the half way mark, the song changes emphasis and a still, clear, piano line emerges, accompanied by muted acoustic strumming and some gentle vocal harmonies. “You know in a year”, Charlie starts to sing, “it’s gonna be better”. The riff starts to circle. “You know in a year, I’m gonna be happy”. As it shifts pace, it slides magically from tortured to reflective to uplifting; it’s Charlie reassuring himself, calming himself down, the sound of the early signs of healing. As the next song reflects, “blue skies are coming / but I know that it’s hard”.

If The First Days of Spring is written off as self-indulgent and pretentious – or just plain depressing – it’ll be a real shame. There’s a hugely satisfying single-mindedness of purpose about it; a clear-headed, direct portrayal of misery (and the emergence from misery into a more hopeful state of mind) that, yes, employs a host of well-worn, too-familiar phrases. But I think they are true.

Monday, October 26, 2009

out of proportion

Wonderful first episode of the new series of The Thick Of It this weekend; just watched it on iPlayer - super stuff. Still not sure what the best line was, though. Omnishambles, perhaps. Actually no, I think it's the following exchange:

Nicola Murray: "You set this up didn't you?"
Malcolm Tucker: "What?"
Nicola Murray: "To put me in my place, or get back at me for ignoring your advice, or some other weird perceived slight that doesn't in any way merit this massive fucking out of proportion Israeli-style response?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

i am no navigator


Totally lost in Budapest; or Buda to be more precise. Went for a stormy, windswept walk there the other day and totally lost my way - ended up scrambling down from Várhegy into Víziváros and, despite thinking I knew at all times where the Danube was flowing (to my right, to my right) I ended up losing my bearings completely - creating along the way a far longer, more tiring walk than I had intended. But a pleasant one regardless. Here's a photo taken somewhere along the way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

fish tank, by andrea arnold; review

It's a trite but accurate observation that good art is not just about how it makes you feel while you're experiencing it, but also about how it stays with you. In the spirit of that, I keep returning to Fish Tank, the second film by Andrea Arnold, which I saw a month or so ago, and admiring the depth of its feeling, the power of the central characters' performances, and the striking visuals of the cinematography. This makes me think I should have written about it here earlier – as much as anything so I could compare my thoughts then with my thoughts now, which feel like they have blossomed and deepened, but may merely be overpowering my memory as the details of the film recede. This is definitely a film I'll return to when it comes out on DVD.

I remember the visuals more than anything; the way that Arnold has captured a landscape which, although it's familiar to me from encountering it myself, feels alien and extraordinary in a cinematic context, consisting as it does of a sequence of extraordinary, vivid sunsets over the Essex countryside, intercut with scenes of industrial blight – pylons towering overhead and motorways ploughing through the fields. The film is set on the edge of London and at the start of the Essex countryside, so a strange urban/rural duality is presented. Mia, the central character, a bolshy and bright 15 year old, lives a bleak life in a tower block (although this itself in Arnold's film is refreshingly free of cliché – there are no guns in this movie), and understandably dreams of escape. She is a dancer, although perhaps not one, like Billy Elliot, with a life-changing talent. As the title indicates, Mia is caged, looking for an escape. The fact that she can walk out of the city into the green fields, however, offers no respite until Michael Fassbender arrives in her life. He is Connor, her mother's new boyfriend, and a surrogate father figure.

Mia – played with extraordinary believability by the newcomer Katie Jarvis – is in every frame, prowling through the landscape, her movements repetitive, purposeless and frustrated. Each day she sneaks out, argues with peers, circles the estate, and passes a patch of wasteland where travellers keep a horse tied up. Her movements echo that of a caged animal, listlessly circling, sniffing at the possibility of escape. Her outrage at the horse's imprisonment is palpable – her own yearning for freedom just as obvious.

Her home life is thankless; her young mother is largely unconcerned with the duty of raising her two daughters, and Connor – who displays a sudden, unexpected interest in her life – offers something to which Mia is quite unused; encouragement, positive reinforcement, love. Mia has been excluded from school, and her mother echoes their analysis of her, that she is a nuisance, trouble, out of control. And there is another problem brewing; for all that Connor tries to nurture the girls, it is quickly apparent that Mia's role as troubled daughter is complicated by her emergence as a sexual rival for a mother who, apart from when Fassbander is around, is stuck in the memory of her own teenage years.

Connor is as complex and fascinating a character as the young lead. Notably a bit better educated, a bit more gainfully employed, a bit more comfortable in his own skin than the men Mia's mother normally sees, he nevertheless has his own troubles, and his complex relationship with Mia is just one of them. Their connection is apparent very early on. In one scene, Mia pretends to be asleep so that she can enjoy the feeling of his carrying her back to her room, and in another extraordinary set-piece, Connor takes the family out to the country, where he leads Mia into a fast flowing stream, leans over, and simply lifts a fish smoothly out of the water with his bare hands. It is an incredibly sensual scene, where electricity fizzes silently between the two characters, while Mia's mother and sister look on, oblivious.

Mia can hardly be blamed for her feelings for Connor; living a life so shorn of encouragement and love, she is completely unprepared for her reaction when such things are offered. Connor represents freedom, adulthood, and escape. Her already profound spirit of rebellion is spurred, as is a heart-warming, uncynical appreciation of the more poetic side of life. There are some absolutely thrilling scenes when she dances.

For all that Mia blossoms with Connor's encouragement, he is not the strong, centred man that he appears, and things swiftly get out of hand. Yet Arnold handles the development of the story beautifully, drawing wonderful things out of her young lead, and keeping such a tight hold of the reins that the final third of the film, again shot beautifully on the shores of the Thames Estuary, is completely surprising.

Fish Tank has been the best film I've seen this year, even better than Moon, which I praised very highly on this blog just a month or two ago. It's a magnificent study of youthful disaffection, love and anger, beautifully controlled, shot in bewitching colours. And as I indicated, I've thought about it almost every day since I saw it –so I don't think I could possibly recommend another film so heartily.

amazing parliament buildings

If the grandeur and status of the Houses of Parliament has anything at all to do with encouraging our elected politicians in the UK to feel it was legitimate to fiddle their expenses, surely the problem is, if anything, worse in Hungary?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

currently listening

Not sure what has prompted it, but been listening to lots of lush 60s garage and psychedelia since I've been in Budapest. Here's a Budapest playlist, via Youtube.

1. The Apple - Bufallo Billycan


2. The Zombies - Care of Cell 44


3. The Idle Race - The Imposters of Life's Magazine


4. The Kinks - Some Mother's Son

szimpka kert, budapest

Rather than soak an experience in and then think about it, analyse it, write about it later, I'm going to have a go at transcribing my thoughts about the latest chapter in my Budapest adventure as I experience it, so consequently I'm crouched over my iPhone while I should be drinking in my surroundings. On the other hand, I am sitting in the pitch black.

A couple of people have mentioned Budapest's ruin pubs to me since I arrived, but it took my friend Laura recommending Szimpla Kert to me to get me in the door of one of them. The ruin pubs are essentially ad-hoc bars created in the space of one of the city's many ruined buildings. In Szimpla's case, it is housed inside a crumbling mansion, a haphazard sequence of rooms, some without proper ceilings, and a huge courtyard in the centre of District VII, the pock-marked, culturally rich part of the city that proved to be first a haven and then a prison for the Jews of Hungary during the thirties and forties.

Everything inside the pub is delapidated and decaying, but the extent to which the space, and the objects within it, have been repurposed is absolutely staggering. Each room has it's own character and is as cosy as the last, even if some are filled with broken chairs, upturned bathtubs and old televisions. The space I'm sat in the at the moment contains 13 of the latter, suspended from the ceiling, each showing a gradually evolving psychedelic image. Apart from the TV's, there is no lighting. So until one's eyes adjust, one is basically sitting in the dark. The room opposite, by way of contrast, is just a few seats and a wall, upon which films are projected. To my left, dimly visible through the archway, a room with ivy snaking across the mesh roof.I've really never been anywhere quite like this before - it is the comfiest, richest, most dramatic and at the same time most basic pub I've ever frequented.

It's absolutely wonderful, in short.