Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stop the press

Yesterday could well prove to be a hugely significant watershed for print journalism, with the Independent the first of the major papers announcing that it will be stopping producing print copies at the end of next month in response to costs and dwindling sales, and that the focus will now shift solelyt to its online operations. Media commentators appear to agree that this may well herald the end for print journalism in the UK more generally, with other rival publications likely to follow suit.

I'm not a regular purchaser of the Independent or Independent on Sunday by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still disheartening to contemplate the disappearance of one of the two left-leaning broadsheets from newsstands. Many a long return train journey back from a weekend away has been made more pleasant by a great wadge of (by-and-large) quality writing and articles to sift through.

Nevertheless, the website will live on, and will apparently undergo something of a welcome makeover, adopting some of the seriousness of the print edition while (presumably) jettisoning the short snippets whose headlines scream "CHEAP LAZY CLICKBAIT".

Animal magic - at times

On Tuesday I found myself wondering whether I should give Animal Collective another try. Four days on, and Alexis Petridis' Guardian review of Painting With is little help either way - even if it is very well written. The gist of Petridis' argument is that the new record has some sublime moments but others that are "almost supernaturally annoying". So, very much like all of its predecessors, then...

Morale maze

Here's one straight from the You Couldn't Make It Up file: "Jeremy Hunt launches urgent inquiry into junior doctors' morale". This is the political equivalent of taking a massive shit in the middle of your living room and then wondering why there's a massive shit in the middle of your living room. Much the same, really, as making swingeing cuts to funding for councils and then wondering why they're having to cut back on services.

(I was going to take this opportunity to link to the petition calling for a vote of no confidence in Hunt, but in the space of less than 24 hours it's already surpassed the 100,000-signature threshold that makes it automatically eligible for discussion in Parliament.)

The good pub guide

Let's raise a glass to George Orwell, who not only gave prescient warnings about totalitarianism and surveillance, but also established a blueprint for what a proper pub should be. Thankfully, a growing number of people seem to be taking note.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Love is not a crime

I'm still kicking myself for missing/passing up the opportunity to catch one of Therapy?'s twentieth anniversary Troublegum shows two years ago, and yet the band have moved on to marking the release of another landmark record, its successor Infernal Love. Given the difficult circumstances in which it was created - Andy Cairns and Fyfe Ewing not speaking, Cairns regularly hoovering half of Columbia up his hooter, the whole band feeling intense record-label pressure to swiftly deliver a commercially successful follow-up, Britpop ruling the roost - and the critical mauling it received upon release, it's a wonder that Cairns was prepared to even speak to the Quietus' Kiran Acharya about the album, let alone decide to perform it in its entirety for the benefit of fans.

Infernal Love is no Troublegum - it was never going to be - and is a bit excessive, a bit pretentious, a bit silly, much like the frilly dress shirts the band were wearing in the photo shoot for the single 'Loose'. However, it undoubtely still has its merits - not least the beasts that are 'A Moment Of Clarity' and 'Me Vs You', the opening lines of 'Bad Mother' ("It's a beautiful day / But I don't see it that way") and the cello-and-vocals-only cover of Husker Du's 'Diane', which sounds on paper like a complete car crash but somehow, against all odds, proves to be anything but.

Seen from the other side

If history is indeed written by the victors, then it's curious that most of our visual documentation of the Vietnam War was produced by Western photographers. To redress the balance, here's a gallery of pictures taken by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, which help to show the conflict and its impact from a different perspective.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"We have decided to end our partnership with the IAAF Kids Athletics programme with immediate effect. This decision was taken in light of negative publicity associated with allegations of corruption and doping in sport made against the IAAF. We believe this could negatively impact our reputation and image and will therefore terminate our existing agreement with the IAAF."

You have to feel for Sebastian Coe and the IAAF. When you're abandoned by Nestle on the grounds that they're concerned the association may tarnish their "reputation and image", you know you really have hit rock bottom.

Not that it's the first time Nestle have had the nerve to take the moral high ground - they did so with the Daily Mail back in 2009, in the wake of Jan Moir's poisonous article about Stephen Gately.

Bernie/jerk reaction

Amid all the horrified incredulity on this side of the Atlantic at the continued popularity of Donald Trump among segments of US society, we should take the opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary margin by which Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary in pursuit of the Democrat nomination. Sanders' campaign appears to be gathering momentum and, like Trump, he's busy making a mockery of his supposed outsider also-ran status. Unlike Trump, though, he's not a dangerous imbecile.

A load of bollocks

What's worse: being lectured on family planning by Donald Duck or being educated about testicular cancer by Senhor Testiculo? The latter has a surprisingly cheerful demeanour, given both his message and the fact that I'd always imagined an anthropomorphised scrotum would be a wizened, grumpy old man.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Now I wanna ... listen to some Ramones

"The smartest dumb band you ever heard": that's the verdict of Richard "Handsome Dick" Manitoba of The Dictators on The Ramones. Pauline Murray of Penetration also nails the New York quartet: "a dirty, east coast version of the Beach Boys".

Manitoba and Murray are just two of the punk luminaries and close associates of the band - including members of The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Stranglers, Talking Heads, Suicide, Buzzcocks and Blondie - invited by the Guardian's Paul Lester to reflect on a band whose solid-gold classic self-titled debut album has just turned forty years old. It's all there: the sound, the look, the style, the chaos, the tour tales...

I remember hearing The Ramones for the very first time and thinking that all other music was completely redundant - when something so simple can be so effective and so much damn fun, why bother with anything else? Despite the myriad atrocities that my football club Newcastle Utd have inflicted upon their long-suffering supporters over the years, it's the source of some pride and pleasure that for home games the team continues to run out to 'Blitzkrieg Bop'.

The vinyl curtain

It's a shame to hear that The Music Exchange in Nottingham will be closing its doors next month. I've never actually visited the shop, which opened up in 2009, long after I'd left the city, but have friends there who very much value its existence both as a source of music and as a social enterprise dedicated to fighting homelessness through employing volunteers as staff. Given that the city's music scene is apparently in rude good health, it's a sad state of affairs when an establishment that has been lauded by everyone from Music Week and Gigwise to the Independent and the Observer is unable to survive.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Mates' rates

Just when you think the Tories can't possibly get any more despicable and machiavellian. Their latest jaw-droppingly shameless act is to award millions of pounds to councils in the affluent south-east while giving absolutely nothing to the five most deprived councils in the country. Anyone would think they were trying to mollify party colleagues in local government...

On a related note, it's worth pointing out that the news that David Cameron's mum has signed an anti-cuts petition hardly suggests that she's at loggerheads with her own son - after all, in an astonishing move Cameron himself complained to the Tory-run Oxfordshire County Council on a similar note back in September.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Wild things

I was astounded to discover that Animal Collective have now produced ten albums over the course of nearly two decades together. To mark the milestone, reached with the release of new record Painting With, Pitchfork asked them to reflect on their musical path, prompting them to discuss The Grateful Dead, being college drop-outs and the place of personality and emotion in their music.

As I've probably said a few times before round these parts, I liked 2007's Strawberry Jam and loved 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion (their pop opus), as did many others - but their beyond-underwhelming performance at Glastonbury 2009 completely soured everything and I found myself unenthusiastic about going back to their old records and unwilling to investigate what has followed since (the self-consciously more difficult Centipede Hz and now Painting With).

Nevertheless, one of my best discoveries of the last couple of years was Panda Bear's 2007 album Person Pitch, which is effectively a solo blueprint for Merriweather, and Painting With's lead single 'FloriDada' has a similarly dayglo pop effervescence to Merriweather's best moments 'My Girls' and 'Summertime Clothes' (and a video to match), staying just the right side of annoying. Perhaps, in light of this and the fact that they're veterans of the musical leftfield, they deserve my renewed attention.

Beak practice

It's interesting that Walt Disney chose Donald Duck to lecture men on the virtues of birth control, given that the, er, unusual sexual proclivities of mallards are such that Stewart Lee originally called his 2007 stand-up show March Of The Mallards as a rebuttal to the "heterosexual monogamy is normal" narrative of March Of The Penguins...

The educational film verges on being outright propaganda produced for the Population Council, which continues in respectable form to this day but which was founded on eugenicist principles. No doubt Walt Disney himself, who died two years before the film was made, would have supported it, given his racist sympathies.

Incidentally, this is far from being the only time that Disney ventured into the realm of public information films. Here's one on menstruation from 1946, now preserved in the US National Film Registry.

A shelf-filling service that isn't off the shelf

Can't be bothered to choose and buy books? Why not get Heywood Hill to curate your library? Their service costs a small fortune, though, and to a large extent it smacks of something set up to pander to moneyed philistines for whom books are merely status symbols.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Monday, February 08, 2016

Not-so-great Scott

Not only are the Tories' MPs systematically dismantling the welfare state and waging war against those in desperate need of its support, but it seems that their local councillors also have no qualms whatsoever about instigating smear campaigns against anyone who dares to complain about the cuts (aka "the loony left"). Take a bow, Scott Harris. And then take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Corey, you Goonie

'Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?', pondered briefly popular Irish band The Thrills in 2004. Well, after his 1980s heyday, he slipped into drug addiction and died of an overdose in 2010. But what about the other Corey - his friend and fellow Lost Boys star Corey Feldman, who also featured prominently in The Goonies and Stand By Me? His latest project involves assembling Corey's Angels - basically his own version of the Playboy Playmates - for parties at his house and charging men $250 to attend. A classy guy, who, in Vice's NSFW pictures of one such bash, is shown wearing the not-at-all-bizarre combination of a mask, leather fingerless gloves and a black dressing gown. He almost makes Macaulay Culkin look sober and restrained.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Bullet point

So a libertarian bookshop in Texas is offering customers a discount if they rock up packing heat. So what? I'm sure I could get a discount in Blackwells in Oxford if I wandered in waving around a handgun.

(Thanks to Mark for the link.)

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Quote of the day

"I’m in a more contented place than ever. I drive an executive saloon, I take several foreign holidays a year, I have a four-figure endorsement deal with Norfolk’s leading manufacturer of non-recyclable cat litters. What else? I own two NutriBullets. My hair’s still nice and thick. I do have a fat back but I’m able to manage that by not approaching people back-first with my top off."

Alan's back (with a new series of Mid Morning Matters), and doing very well for himself thankyouverymuch.

(Thanks to Dan for the link.)

Out of the shadows

These images of Hong Kong in the 1950s, with their masterful use of light and shade, would be remarkable enough even if they weren't taken by an untrained teenager, Ho Fan.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Feel good hits of the 6th February

10. 'We Can Do What We Want' - Drenge
There's more than a bit of a Clockwork Orange vibe to the video for the first single from Drenge's second album Undertow.

9. 'Saltes Of Humane Dust' - Haikai No Ku
From Newcastle, deep psych for melting ears and scrambling brains. For when the likes of White Manna just aren't quite enough.

8. 'Silver Hands' - Bummer Vacation
Slacker shoegaze that, while largely unremarkable, has at least helped to whet the appetite for the new DIIV record.

7. 'Temporary Secretary' - Paul McCartney
As recommended by my friend Brian, who stumbled across it and was for a while convinced it must by by a contemporary hipster synthpop outfit who'd chosen their band name as a prank. Not that the track is exactly an undiscovered gem - it was rated the 167th best song of all time by NME writers. It finally got a debut live performance at the O2 Arena last year - a mere 35 years after its first appearance on McCartney II.

6. 'Chemical Reaction/Chemical Delight' - Destruction Unit
Your album's called Negative Feedback Resistor (a follow-up to 2013's Deep Trip), is released on Sacred Bones and is a blur of metal, punk and psych? To be honest, Destruction Unit, you had me at hello.

5. 'Disintegration Anxiety' - Explosions In The Sky
This taster of The Wilderness, the successor to 2011's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, is everything that a seasoned Explosions In The Sky fan would want - except for the fact that it's too damn short. (As an aside, I had no idea that both they and Godspeed You! Black Emperor had supported Nine Inch Nails on an arena tour in the US and Canada in 2013 - hats off to Trent Reznor for inviting them along.)

4. 'The Plain Moon' - The Besnard Lakes
The Jagjaguwar sticker affixed to the front of A Coliseum Complex Museum, The Besnard Lakes' fifth full-length offering, describes the Montreal outfit as "purveyors of technicolor landscape rock". Who am I to argue?

3. 'Whitest Boy On The Beach' - Fat White Family
How, you wondered, could Fat White Family be any more provocative? By naming the lead single for their second album Songs For Our Mothers 'Whitest Boy On The Beach', and by accompanying it with a video that features suicide hotspot Beachy Head, torture, head-shaving and lots of meat, perhaps? Yes - but the fact that the track pays a curious sort of homage to disco is the most sick and twisted aspect of all. (If you've not yet made their acquaintance, here's a helpful introduction.)

2. 'Adore' - Savages
Arguably the strongest track of the quartet's second album Adore Life, a slow-burner that builds to a pretty epic climax. I can't be alone in loving the all-too-brief Smiths-esque sweep of the chorus, surely? (Adore Life was, incidentally, our featured album on the first episode of the Sounding Bored podcast, which you can hear here.)

1. 'No End' - Low
Believe me, it's really saying something when, approximately 30 seconds into my first exposure to 'No End', I was more than happy to acclaim it as one of Low's very best songs. The only disappointment is that it doesn't have the epic coda it's crying out for, a la 'Broadway (So Many People)' on The Great Destroyer. Still, I suppose the behemoth 'Landslide' later on Ones And Sixes does, and I should just be satisfied with that.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Paternal instinct

Brothers Peter and David Brewis of Field Music might have an inexplicable love of both Hall & Oates and their hometown of Sunderland, but they're both now stay-at-home dads - and enthusiastic ones at that - so at least we've got that, plus a mutual liking for the music they make, in common.

Incidentally, their new LP Commontime, which was named Album Of The Day on 6 Music yesterday, will be our featured record on the second episode of the Sounding Bored podcast, due to be recorded some time towards the end of this month. The first episode, focusing on Savages' Adore Life as well as David Bowie and some of 2015's most prominent end-of-year lists, is available to download here.

From despair to Steventon

Might the Manic Street Preachers be the biggest name ever to headline Truck? Quite possibly. It's an announcement that suggests that the organisers' ambitions have grown together with the festival's scope, which this year will run for three days rather than the usual two.

Will I be there? Perhaps. I'd pay the full whack just to see the Manics play The Holy Bible again...

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Your majesty ... they were there

"The greatest British band of the Nineties"? I wouldn't go as far as Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, but there's no doubt that Earl Brutus were something special. The release of a new boxset, Closed, has prompted Stanley to reappraise the idiosyncratic charms of a curious bunch of misfits who emerged sounding like the post-punk to Britpop's punk: "confrontational, antagonistic, intellectual and hilarious", lurching between glam, punk and Krautrock, picking over Britpop's bones and surveying the contemporary landscape with sardonic wit.

I only saw them once, at Reading in 1996, and was captivated by Jim Fry's belligerent vocal style, the revolving garage forecourt signs (which, that day, had "PISS" on one side and "OFF" on the other) and a Japanese man, Shinya Hayashida, whose sole responsibilities on stage seemed to be to drink and smoke while staring out at the audience, as if to suggest to Bez that he has a tough gig in the Happy Mondays.

The only band I've seen before or since that have come close to resembling them either musically or in terms of chaotic art terrorism in the live environment have been The Pre New - who feature former Earl Brutus members Fry, Hayashida, Stuart Boreman and Gordon King and who appeared on the bill at the 1-2-3-4 Festivals in 2010 and 2012.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Flawed genius

"What makes an inconsistent album a classic? How much of it needs to be brilliant?" The answer, suggests the Guardian's Dorian Lynsky, is not necessarily that much, picking out five examples - The Who's Sell Out, Patti Smith's Horses, The Clash's self-titled debut, NWA's Straight Outta Compton and Radiohead's Kid A - to illustrate his point. I'm not sure I agree with him about Kid A, but would certainly point towards Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and its inclusion of 'When I'm Sixty-Four' as an example of an album that is a cast-iron masterpiece that isn't derailed by a duff track.

The joy of 6 Music

Hard to believe, isn't it, that BBC 6 Music was threatened with closure just six years ago? It survived, and has since gone from strength to strength, surpassing the two million listeners mark and most recently posting the highest listening figures for any digital-only radio station. It's sweet vindication for those who stood up to the BBC bean-counters, and proof positive that a sizeable audience exists for what those bean-counters had felt was a niche product, both in terms of its output and its means of delivery.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The life and death of a nobody

The bare bones of William Stoner's uneventful life are set out on the very first page of the novel that bears his name, author John Williams immediately establishing that his protagonist is ordinary and unremarkable, someone who soon fades from memory after death: "Stoner's colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers". Over the pages that follow, those bare bones are substantially fleshed out, but the reader is already under no illusions as to the trajectory of Stoner's life and his ultimate fate.

Stoner is depicted as an almost eternal victim of circumstance, someone who is carried along on the tide of fate without the ability to swim against the current. Even the significant social mobility he experiences - born the son of farmers, he becomes a professor of English literature - is only because his father sends him to college to study agriculture and he gets sidetracked by a subsidiary course. Time and again, he's portrayed in a way that makes his life seem like an out-of-body experience: "he had the feeling that he was removed from time, watching as it passed before him like a great unevenly turned diorama".

Nowhere is this more apparent than during the passages relating his marriage to the upper-middle-class Edith. Stoner, for whom "everything seemed a blur, as if he saw through a haze", is the passive object of the actions of others, and barely conscious of his own: "William heard himself responding to silences". His detachment from events is underlined: "It was not until they were on the train, which would take them to St Louis for their week's honeymoon, that William Stoner realized that it was all over and that he had a wife".

Sadly, his marriage is a failure, as foreshadowed by the fact that the couple spend their wedding night apart. They have a child together, but as the years pass their relations deteriorate and become increasingly strained, to the point that their daughter becomes the innocent victim, the battleground on which their marital struggles are fought.

Stoner responds by throwing himself headlong into his work, but a run-in with a malicious student and a vindictive colleague and all of the departmental politics that ensue prove critical in derailing a promising academic career - further testimony to the fact that his life is somehow beyond his control and he is permanently at the questionable mercy of fate. Cue mid-life crisis: "He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it. He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been".

These bleak reflections on the apparent futility of existence are not only prompted by "the density of accident and circumstance" in his own life, but also the deaths of his parents, who are buried together on their farm ("Now they were in the earth to which they had given their lives; and slowly, year by year, the earth would take them ... And they would become a meaningless part of that stubborn earth to which they had long ago given themselves") and Grace's descent into loneliness and alcoholism, having become a mother and then a widow at a young age ("she would live her days out quietly, drinking a little more, year by year, numbing herself against the nothingness her life had become").

There is some respite, in the form of a fling with a younger instructor at the university with whom Stoner finally experiences the intense joy that love can bring, but this is all too fleeting - curtailed, like his career, by circumstance and departmental machinations. He accepts that the relationship must come to an end with quiet dignity and resigned stoicism, as he does everything else that befalls him - including the discovery of a malignant tumour, to which he reacts calmly and without great shock, as though it were merely "a minor annoyance".

The passages that culminate in Stoner's death (and the natural end of the novel) are arguably the strongest in the book - methodically constructed in effortlessly elegant prose, unfussily lyrical, infused with a pervasive sadness, weighted with poignant detail (such as his acknowledgement of the shrinking horizons of those suffering with terminal illness: "Gradually, he knew, this little room where he now lay and looked out the window would become his world"). He and Edith finally find "a new tranquillity", "a quietness that was like the beginning of love", and are "rapt in a regard of what their life together might have been", while impending death accentuates his sense of not being in control of himself or his actions ("Sometimes he heard his own voice speak, and he thought that it spoke rationally, though he could not be sure").

A tragic end to a tragic life? Well, not quite. At the last, he grasps for a copy of his book, the one on which he has been toiling for most of the novel: "It hardly mattered to him that the book was forgotten and that it served no use; and the question of its worth at any time seemed almost trivial. He did not have the illusion that he would find himself there, in that fading print; and yet, he knew, a small part of him that he could not deny was there, and would be there". Little matter that, as stated on the opening page, his name will soon fade from memory. His book essentially verifies his life - as, of course, does the novel in which his tale is told. It's a heartfelt endorsement of the power of the written, printed word, and testimony to the truth of the statement made by Archer Sloane, the lecturer who unexpectedly fires the young Stoner's love of English literature: "'There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history'".

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Get set to get all shook up

Save the dates, folks, and perhaps lock up your daughters just to be on the safe side. 2016 will see Elvana - the world's finest (and probably only) Elvis-fronted Nirvana tribute band, who just happen to feature three of my good friends - touring Academy venues around the UK. I'll most definitely be at the Oxford date (2nd September), but may also make it to either Islington the next night or Birmingham the following weekend. It promises to be a lot of fun.

No laughing matter

You don't have to be a fully paid-up coulrophobe to find clowns just that little bit unsettling - but this gallery of images will probably be sufficient to give you nightmares either way. The smoking dwarf clown and the big-headed clowns visiting the bedridden girl in hospital are particularly terrifying.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link.)

Monday, February 01, 2016

Listen up (please)

Shameless self-promotion alert! As if I didn't have my fingers in enough pies, I've joined forces with a couple of friends and former work colleagues, Rob (also of football blog The Two Unfortunates) and Niall, for a new monthly roundtable music podcast called Sounding Bored. The first episode - in which discussion focuses on David Bowie, a selection of 2015 end-of-year album lists and Savages' new record Adore Life - is now available here. Feedback is very welcome, either on Twitter (@soundingbored69) or via email (

Punks in pics

Presumably prompted by the fact that John Lydon turned 60 yesterday (I was going to say "celebrated his 60th birthday", but I can't see him being too happy about it), there seem to have been a few Sex Pistols photographs appearing online in the last few days: fan Dave Smitham's snapshots of the band when they appeared in Caerphilly in 1976 in front of around 50 people, with The Clash and Johnny Thunders in support; and French photographer Pierre Benain's pictures from a shoot at Lydon's flat in early 1978, after the band had imploded and shortly before Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungen.

Meanwhile, judging by this gallery of sample images (which doesn't actually include any of the Pistols), Sheila Rock's new book Punk+ is a valuable visual document of the nascent punk scene in London - one that might sit nicely alongside Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan's Punk on my shelves.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Vulgar display of (white) power

"Some of y'all need to thicken up your skin. ... No apologies from me." That was how former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo initially dismissed criticism of his behaviour at the end of this year's Dimebash, when he gave a Nazi salute and shouted "White power!" at the crowd. He seems to have reconsidered, though, when the backlash grew in volume and intensity, with Machine Head's Robb Flynn among those in the metal community to explicitly denounce his actions, and yesterday he uploaded a formal apology on YouTube, begging to be given "another chance". He also claimed that "anyone who knows me and my true nature knows that I don't believe in any of that" - fair enough, you might think, if it wasn't for the fact that he has a history of speaking out from the stage on the subject of white power. Hopefully, as Flynn hopes, those in the metal community might now stop condoning such moronic behaviour and attitudes - and those who endorse them.


What is it that induces so many authors to write confessional books? In the abridged version of an essay published by the Guardian, Blake Morrison suggests that there are seven prime reasons given, including to indulge a cathartic impulse, to set the record straight and to shock. It's probably all underpinned by varying degrees of egotism, but Morrison - himself the author of a memoir of his father - isn't as dismissive of the genre as some critics; on the contrary, he ventures that "if literature is the enemy of discretion and conformity, if its value lies in breaking the rules by means of truth-telling, then confessional memoirs may be the truest literature of all".

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The calm before (and after) the storm

The variety of photos in this gallery taken from Dona Schwartz's book On The Nest, together with the accompanying quotes from their subjects, capture perfectly that moment immediately before a first child is born: a mixture of excitement, nervousness, anxiety and an awareness that life is about to change dramatically. It's a moment I remember well.

But the gallery also includes pictures of empty-nesters - those whose children have now moved out. As Tim Dowling observes in his introductory blurb, they look "even more bewildered. Nobody really tells you about that bit". That much is true - it's not something we've even thought about, though I'll be grateful for the fact that the floors in our house will no longer be carpeted by food or toys apparently designed to cause maximum pain when accidentally stood upon.

Know Your Enemy

"When ministers – from the prime minister down – dehumanise refugees as 'swarms' and suggest that such people constitute a threat to our way of life, these are not merely passing aberrations. When victims of abuse are denied access to support and assistance in order to challenge that abuse, it's not a one-off case. In recent years the government has cut legal aid, withdrawn access to judicial review and ramped up the rhetoric against those seeking asylum in the UK. Faced with such a hostile environment, is it any wonder that racist thugs feel able to act with impunity while the victims continue to suffer in silence?"

Steve Symonds, director of Amnesty UK's refugee and migrant rights programme, underlines how attacks on refugees are being fuelled by the "aggressive hostility" of the Tories (both in policy and rhetoric), of which they're perversely proud.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Don't believe the hype

A propos of the fact that rapper BoB has declared his belief that the earth is flat, here's an article Andrew Mueller wrote for the Guardian back in 2011 about musicians and their extraordinary predilection for crackpot conspiracy theories, in which he argued that this predilection should come as no surprise: "the field is disproportionately populated by people who are overendowed with spare time, money, hallucinogenic drugs and delusions of grandeur, and/or correspondingly underequipped with common sense". I love Jay Z's response to accusations made by several fellow rappers that he's a member of the Illuminati: "I can't even get into a golf club in Palm Springs"...

History boys

The BFI's Football On Film collection really is an absolute treasure trove - even if some of the featured snippets serve as a painful reminder of my team's current shortcomings. Be warned, though - make sure you've got a spare hour or two before you take the plunge...

(Thanks to John for the link.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The spirit of independents

To mark the fact that it's Independent Venue Week, a worthy initiative funded by Arts Council England, the BBC website carried this piece about how YouTube may be a critical factor in the worrying demise of so many gig venues recently. While it's not an issue considered by Ed Gillett in his recent article on the subject for the Quietus, the argument does seem quite persuasive - young musicians can now write and record in their bedrooms, performing in front of only a camera and uploading the results to the internet rather than having to engage in the hard slog of honing their skills in the often harsh and unforgiving live environment. Numerous artists have now built up fanbases that way. However, the expectation remains that they will have to perform live at some point, if they actually want a record deal or to make any money, so perhaps that will thankfully help to safeguard the future of at least some venues.

Incidentally, I'll be showing my support for Independent Venue Week tonight by heading for the Cellar in Oxford, where two of the city's best outfits, Maiians and Cassels, are appearing on the same bill. 2016 promises to be a big year for both of them, and it couldn't kick off in a much better place - somewhere that does the power and passion of music far more justice than a pair of tinny laptop speakers ever could.

From beyond the grave

Now here's a festival line-up announcement we should have been expecting. No sooner have Hot Snakes been added to the bill for Drive Like Jehu's April ATP weekender than they've been joined by another of John Reis' many bands, arguably the most celebrated: Rocket From The Crypt. That is one punk reformation that I would definitely pay to see. The fact that METZ will also be laying waste to Prestatyn too is enough to make me reconsider the possibility of attending.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Quote of the day

"The door creaked open and there he was, handsome as ever, like a giant melting fat carrot with fake hair."

No doubt Donald Trump has always seen himself as a hero - though perhaps not as the hero of a comic homoerotic novel. The book's author, comedian Elijah Daniel, wrote it in the space of four hours while drunk to fulfil a pledge made on Twitter.

Valley parade

Sad to report that thus far the line-up for this year's Green Man is very meh, with Belle & Sebastian, James Blake and Wild Beasts a distinctly underwhelming trio of headliners. That said, further down the bill are The Besnard Lakes, Julia Holter, Battles and Fat White Family, all set to stand out like beacons of salvation in the Brecon Beacons.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The kids are aren't all right

Given that the Tories threw their toys out of the pram when the House of Lords had the temerity to reject their proposed cuts to tax credits, you have to suspect that they're none too happy about the fact that the peers have humiliated them again, by voting for an amendment to the new Life Chances Act that will force the government to publish figures on income-related child poverty. Incredibly, the Tories had been attempting to scrap income-related measures, as if poverty has nothing to do with a lack of money. Of course, they were eager to do so to avoid the publication of evidence that indicates child poverty is worsening under their rule, as a consequence of the ideologically motivated austerity drive. Typically underhand, pernicious politics, even by their own exceptionally low standards.

(Thanks to Hannah for the link.)

Taking the temperature of the NHS

Hats off to the Guardian, who have gone a long way to making amends for the decision to take sponsorship cash from Shell by kicking off a new month-long series called This Is The NHS. Hugely ambitious in breadth and depth, the series is ultimately intended to cut through all the tabloid bullshit, examining how an institution that should be treasured works in practice and allowing the voices of those who actually work on the frontline to be heard.

(Thanks to Tom for the link.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Quote of the day

"The next [Swans] album is going to be called 'A field recording of Michael taking a shit while reading a paperback copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.' It’s going to be a field recording of me taking a shit while reading a paperback copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. The special edition includes photographic evidence that I did in fact take a shit while reading Infinite Jest."

I don't know whether Genuine Michael Gira Quotes really is genuine, but that hardly matters.
(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Buzzword bingo

Business-speak may be encroaching insidiously upon numerous different spheres of life, but you'd hope that the world of international development and aid, which should be all about meaningful actions rather than meaningless jargon, might be impervious. Sadly not.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"It was dirty, wasn't it?"

A propos of the fact that 6Music are currently exploring the history of the fertile Bristol underground scene of the 1970s and 1980s, here's The Pop Group's Mark Stewart discussing punk, politics and musical experimentation with Thurston Moore. In view of the latter's fandom, the fact that The Pop Group supported Sonic Youth the last time I saw them, in 2010, must have been a real treat.


Racist trolls, eh? Often lurking online, hiding behind anonymity. Occasionally, though, they're Tory MPs with a six-year history of writing bizarre letters to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Live to work?

As motivational techniques go, it's certainly a novel one. South Korean firms are sending employees to the Hyowon Healing Centre to convince them that their job is better than death by making them climb into coffins. However, as the Guardian's Peter Fleming observes, "we can imagine the 'coffin exercise' backfiring, an employee refusing to ever return to the pettiness of office life after realising that her existence must add up to more than merely sending emails all day". Factor in wrestling with Excel spreadsheets and trying to find gaps in diaries to arrange meetings with even a handful of people and it's a wonder the technique works at all.

Come together

Andy Warhol's Factory was, in its heyday, a pretty unique place in terms of the way it acted as a focal point for musicians and actors as well as artists - as revealed by Brigid Berlin's Polaroids, published in a book of that name last November.

(Thanks to Hannah for the link.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Let England Barcelona shake

Even by its usual high standards, this year's Primavera line-up, announced yesterday, is exceptional. Joining Radiohead and the reformed LCD Soundsystem as headliners is PJ Harvey - whose new single 'The Wheel', coincidentally, got its first full play on 6Music yesterday evening. Her show in Barcelona is currently set to kick off a tour in support of new album The Hope Six Demolition Project, her first since the stupendous end-of-year-list-topping Let England Shake in 2011.

Primavera is very much an ensemble cast, though, and the list of bands/artists who'll also be appearing is awe-inspiring and never-ending. To name but a few: Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, Deerhunter, Shellac, Beach House, Dinosaur Jr, Drive Like Jehu, Julia Holter, Ty Segall, Battles, Savages, Tortoise, Mudhoney, Parquet Courts, Wild Nothing, Bardo Pond, White Fence, Boredoms, Algiers, Thee Oh Sees, Loop, Beach Slang, Jenny Hval. And that's not to mention the not-so-insignificant matter of Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds. It's at times like these that the responsibilities and lack of cash that come with parenthood are a real curse...

Meanwhile, the organisers of Field Day had announcements of their own, with Parquet Courts, Moon Duo and Sleaford Mods among those joining the bill. It remains sorely tempting - more so than the ATP curated by Drive Like Jehu, despite the additions of Wire and (perhaps inevitably) Hot Snakes.

And on top of all the festival news came the revelations that At The Drive-In are back (again) and set to tour armed with new material this time, and then that, unbeknownst to anyone, Josh Homme and Iggy Pop have been working on a secret album, Post Pop Depression, due to be released in March...