Monday, September 12, 2005

From the ashes to the Ashes

All together now:

Merv Hughes, Kylie, Russell Crowe, Dame Edna, Steve Irwin, Alf off of 'Home And Away', Nick Cave, Jason Donovan, Richie Benaud, Nicole Kidman, Rolf Harris, Michael Hutchence, Mick Dundee - your boys took one hell of a beating!

Not only did we withstand the anticipated Aussie onslaught on the final day of the final test, but our adopted stupid-haired South African gonk Kevin Pietersen bludgeoned Warne and company all over the ground.

A tremendous victory overall in which every member of the team played his part, but Michael Vaughan's tactics and field placings were spot on, and Freddie Flintoff thoroughly deserving of his Man Of The Series award.

There was sadness amid the tickertape and confetti, though, with Richie Benaud leaving the commentary box at an English test for the last time - but this is the sort of series he'd have wanted to bow out on (though presumably given the choice he'd have opted for an Australian win..).

One final question (other than the obvious - whether we can retain the Ashes on Australian soil in 2006-7): have you ever thought about the fact that if cricketers didn't have a ball in their hands when they're shining it, they'd probably be arrested for vigorously rubbing their inner thighs in a public place? It lends a new meaning to the expression "ball-tampering"...

Other bloggers' reactions: Swiss Toni's Place, Delrico Bandito, Cage Of Monkeys, Casino Avenue

(Thanks to Martin for suggesting some of the names at the top of the post.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Reasons To Be Cheerful: Guest Contributor Special

On 17th September 2004, after seven years living in Nottingham, I moved across the Midlands to Birmingham. As a way of helping myself to settle in, I started a series of posts about the attractions of my new home entitled Reasons To Be Cheerful - you can find them in the sidebar under Miscellaneous Features.

To mark the first anniversary of my time in Birmingham, I thought it would be a good idea to throw the feature open to fellow bloggers either currently or formerly resident in the city, and ask what they would choose to write about.

The contributors:
Phill of Danger! High Postage
Vicky of The Highrise
Pete of Pete Ashton's Interweb Presence
Bushra of Fudge It
Pete of The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha

Phill: My nomination - the music scene. Growing up as an indie kid in Brum meant that to go to gigs you generally had to trek to deep, dark Wolverhampton or brave the horrors of the NEC. Things seemed to change with the opening of the Academy in 2000. Admittedly it's a dingy underground bunker full of overpriced watered-down lager - but it does get a fantastic selection of bands and it seemed to kickstart something in Brum's music scene.

2001 saw Radio 1's Soundcity event come to Brum and from then on, the music scene has been blooming. Now there are great gigs every week, with a wealth of fantastic independent promoters like Capsule, Cold Rice, Chick Dig Jerks to name just three, bringing top international bands to the city. There's also a thriving DIY scene with new bands, club nights, labels and venues springing up every week. It's inspired me to begin promoting my own gigs too...

Just don't mention King Adora, OK?

Vicky: The Crown, located conveniently enough for some opposite Birmingham Crown Court, has seen more rescue operations than even the most veteran St. Bernard; from spit and sawdust drinking hole for that post committal-appearance pint and fight, through Friday night mobile disco hell to its current incarnation as a pretender to the crown (ha ha) of some of the local chain bars.

Mavis the clumsy barmaid no longer graces the optics, having dropped one mixed grill too many en route from kitchen to table - and in general staff turnover is high since the last revamp, but the food is okay (and reasonably priced) and the magic words "Do you want to make that a double for an extra 20p?" still ring from behind the bar.

Decor is part faux Queen Anne-style furniture, part musty old codgers - much of the former graffiti'd on by wasted staff from the now-defunct HSBC credit control department, once located in the McLaren building just down the road - but the general atmosphere and history of the pub makes it worth at least one visit in your lifetime.

Pete Ashton: I'm currently doing a fair bit of cycling, trying to get out every day or so for a blat or a bimble around the cycle paths and canals of south Birmingham. My favourite spot is an unlikely stretch somewhere between University station and Five Ways on the Birmingham and Worcester Canal. It's a dead straight piece of towpath where you can kick up some serious speed but I particularly like it for the trees hanging over the dark water of the canal and the Mordor-like black brick wall rising up from the railway. It's silent and a little bit spooky, yet right in the centre of the city. Magic.

Bushra: [I'd recommend] my first place of work, Balsall Heath Library on Moseley Road. The only way a lot of people can find it is if you tell them it is next door to the Moseley swimming baths. I went there a lot as a kid with my brother. There's always something going on, there's free net access and really helpful staff.

I think for me it was finding out about the eccentrics, there was an toothless old guy called Tom who would shuffle in and gave a big smile if you handed him the Times without asking, or the group of Muslim men squabbling over the only copy of the Pakistani newspaper The Jang. I remember how they all frowned when I stopped wearing a headscarf.

It was also very cool closing up at lunchtime, you'd get the library to yourself for a whole hour. Another good point, Balsall Heath Library was the only library that didn't need a security guard! Definitely my best job.

Pete Fat Buddha: "I feel like a tourist now whenever I return to Brum, so long have I been away and so much has it changed, and most of my thoughts on it are based on subjective memory, rather than objective fact. Most of my visits home now are to go the football and my ritual is to arrive a couple of hours before kick-off and grab some scoff at Café Soya, which needs no introduction from me on this blog.

Most of the pubs en route to the ground are cack and full of tossers so I tend to head for The Anchor on Bradford Street. On match days this is a good place to be, attracting a good mix of civilised rival fans. I don't know what it's like at any other time but the building itself is full of character and there is always a good range of well kept real ales.

Bank is good for scoff if you are not short of a bob or three; Imrans is my balti house of choice if skint.

The Harborne Mile was my nightly habit when I lived in the town but I suspect the pubs down there have all become fun palaces now, with large, fun loving gents on the door to ensure a warm, fun loving welcome, but I might be wrong.

Thanks to Phill, Vicky, Pete, Bushra and Pete for their contributions.
Blogwatch: in brief

Badger offers a first-hand account of the effects of Hurricane Katrina in his home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Elsewhere...

Betty eavesdrops on unsuspecting female members of the public to find out "what the wimmin are saying, y'know".

Diamond Geezer outlines The Seven Ages Of Blog (I think I'm somewhere between #3 and #4).

He Who Cannot Be Named confesses to the nine worst songs he's ever downloaded from iTunes (beware: this post features references to Tony Hadley, Dido and Queensryche).

Mike writes brilliantly about weddings and the traumas and dramas of other formal social occasions.

It's 'Question Time' over at Swiss Toni's Place, as his readers get to know a little bit more about him and vice versa.

Alex reviews the film 'Primer'.

LondonMark has difficulty coming to terms with navigating his way around his new home, New York.
Reasons The Internet Is Great #781

A few weeks ago, I was reading London Calling... and happened across this post. Having never heard of 18th Dye before, I was intrigued - it only takes a whiff of a Sonic Youth comparison for that to happen - and asked which album D would recommend. He replied by offering to send me both their albums, Done (1994) and Tribute To A Bus (1995).

A couple of days later and they arrived by post. First impressions justified the Sonic Youth reference, though the three-piece are rather more primal and less intricate and arty in their construction of fearsome bursts of noise, a bit like The Wedding Present around the time of Seamonsters. I'll be giving both LPs many more plays before finally making up my mind, but they certainly make an appealingly dirty racket.

So, thanks to D for his generosity and for introducing me to a band I wouldn't otherwise have come across.
Dead good

Unable to wait until it airs on terrestrial telly, I've been sneaking a peek at the final series of 'Six Feet Under' on E4. It might have one foot in the grave but, for me, it's still the best thing on TV by a country mile. Tuesday's installment was particularly gripping, not least the cataclysmic surprise party arranged for Nate's 40th birthday during which the Arcade Fire got a look-in on the soundtrack front, 'Rebellion (Lies)' the perfect accompaniment to a blazing row between Nate and Brenda.

That night I dreamt I went out on the lash with Billy. I'm not convinced that a bipolar fuckhead who's stopped taking his medication and is looking even more feral than normal would make a good drinking buddy, are you?
About time

Over a year after his death, Nottingham City Council are finally preparing to unveil a tribute to one of the city's most loved faces, Frank Robinson aka Xylophone Man. The tribute, which will take the form of an inscribed paving stone, will be on Listergate, where Frank could most often be seen playing.

All well and good - but how has it taken them so long? And why is it just a paving slab? Judging by these responses to the news, the form the tribute will take is far from universally popular amongst local residents.
Mutton dressed as lamb

Wandering down to the Arts Cafe by St Martins Church at the Bullring yesterday, I was struck by the massive queue gathered outside Borders. And not just any old queue, either - almost entirely female, acres of sagging middle-aged flesh, mutton dressed as lamb, touching their hair and giggling with nervous excitement like teenagers at a school disco.

Who could they possibly have been there to see, I wondered. Tom Jones? Alan Titchmarsh? No, it was Donny Osmond, in town to promote his new book (Wednesday he was in Guildford, after Birmingham it was on to Milton Keynes - no rest for the wicked, obviously). Good to know that the written word can still inspire such feverish interest.
"An unwanted souvenir"

You can expect festivals to leave you with a hangover like death and a bank balance well in the red. What you perhaps don't expect, though, is that you might end up suffering from a dose of trenchfoot. That said, if you're a Glastonbury regular then it might not come as that much of a surprise. Quite how I avoided it I'm not sure, given that for the entire Friday I was walking around sockless in boots filled with sloppy mud. Wisdom and rationality were in short supply during the deluge, I can tell you.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dereliction of duty

As the scale of the death and destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi seemingly continues to worsen, it's difficult to know quite what to say.

It beggars belief that the administration of the richest and most advanced nation on the planet could not have reacted quicker to save and help its citizens. The disaster may have been natural, but the inadequacy and slowness of the response is entirely manmade. Some might feel it's the wrong time for political debate and finger-pointing, but it's not - Bush and company have an awful lot of explaining to do, not least on the issue of the budget cuts that have crippled the emergency services and rescue operations.

One person who's been asking awkward questions is Howell Raines, a former editor of the New York Times. In this article he celebrates what made the now devastated city of New Orleans so special and expresses disgust at the way Bush has responded to the crisis: "This president, who flew away on Monday to fundraisers in the west while the hurricane blew away entire towns in coastal Mississippi, is very much his father's son when it comes to the kinds of emergencies that used to call forth immediate White House action before its Bushite captivity. When he was president, his father did not visit Miami after Hurricane Andrew, nor for that matter, did he mind being photographed tooling his golf cart around Kennebunkport while American troops died in the first Iraq war. Now the younger Bush seems determined to show his successors how to holiday through an apocalypse".

Equally appalled is Bill of Orbis Quintus, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: "The response to the worst natural disaster to hit the United States has been a disgrace and an embarrassment".

Thousands of people have lost their lives and incompetence and mismanagement are largely to blame. It will take years for the cities, the region, the survivors to recover. Bush's political reputation may not.

(Thanks to Dr Migs for the link to the Raines article.)
While you were sleeping

The plot of 'Goodbye Lenin' is as straightforward as they come. The year is 1989, and an East German woman who believes passionately in her country's socialist political ideals falls into a deep coma. Meanwhile Communism crumbles, so does the Berlin Wall and everything she believes in is swept away by the inexorable force of capitalism. When she suddenly awakes eight months later, a doctor tells her son and daughter that the slightest shock might trigger another potentially fatal heart attack, and so they have to try and conceal the collapse of the Wall from her. Cue all manner of elaborate strategies aimed at protecting the secret.

The film might hinge on a single "joke", but that hardly does it justice. Though lightened by frequent touches of humour, it never descends into farce. A moving personal story, it's also a powerful documentation of the incredible pace with which events unfolded, and of one of the most dramatic periods in recent European history. It makes some valuable points about the way in which East Germans were soon disabused of their illusions of freedom as the realities of capitalist society hit home. Beautifully acted, too.
Up in smoke

What's that burning smell? Oh, that'd be the political career of Labour Peer Mike Watson going up in smoke. You see, Lord Watson of Invergowrie - to give him his full title - has pleaded guilty to setting fire to some curtains at a hotel in Edinburgh last November whilst veh veh drunk.

The story wouldn't be quite so amusing were it not for the marvellous irony that that night Watson had attended the Scottish Politician Of The Year Awards. So was he just miffed at missing out? To be honest I think it's unlikely he'll be in the running for this year's award.
Monkey business

Today J and I saw a load of monkeys mucking around in trees. I know what you're thinking - there are no trees in Birmingham. And you'd be right. So we went here. It might just be the most fantastic place in the world. If you've got kids and it's within fairly easy reach, I'd strongly recommend it. And even if you haven't and it's not, then go anyway. You're guaranteed to have a great time.
Better Kate than never

It seems that, after twelve years out of the limelight, Kate Bush has heeded her own advice: don't give up. One of English pop's most intriguing eccentrics is returning with a new double album entitled Aerial at a time when her stock is rising thanks in the main to SWSL favourites The Futureheads and their cover of 'Hounds Of Love', the title track of Bush's 1985 album.

So, is her music etherial genius or pretentious drivel? There's something slightly absurd and yet incredibly, fascinatingly compelling about songs like 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Running Up That Hill' (the video to which scared the shit out of me as a child, for some reason). This Independent article is a great overview of her career (despite the inevitable appearance of the words "wacky" and "elfin"), and looks forward to Aerial's autumn release. I'm not the only one who's interested to see how it's received.
Know Your Enemy #61

"Those who run cricket in this country, especially at the domestic level, are for the most part a self-serving, pusillanimous and self-important bunch of myopic dinosaurs unable to take any but the shortest-term view of everything".

Henry Blofeld of Radio 4's 'Test Match Special'. I'm not sure what prompted the outburst, but when it comes to the decision to hand all TV rights over to Sky from next summer, I agree wholeheartedly.

The Ashes tests have stoked up enormous interest around the country, and to take coverage away from terrestrial channels is at best perverse and at worst potentially fatal for the game's future at a time when that future looks incredibly rosy. To get interested, get involved and adopt role models in the sport, young people have to be able to watch the professionals in action, something which will as a result of the cricketing authorities' shortsightedness be denied them.
Feel good hits of the 4th September

1. 'Getting Bright At Night' - The Icarus Line
2. 'Vacant Skies' - Sparta
3. 'Wattershed' - Foo Fighters
4. 'Stones' - Sonic Youth
5. 'The Rat' - The Walkmen
6. 'Blood' - Sons And Daughters
7. 'C'mon C'mon' - The Von Bondies
8. 'Ooh La La' - Goldfrapp
9. 'My Doorbell' - The White Stripes
10. 'Oh Yeah' - The Subways

Friday, September 02, 2005

Absent without leave

My apologies. I've been AWOL for a whole week, and then when I return it's only to fob you off with a pile of links (see below).

The truth is, though, that I've been short of time and inspiration. Much of my energy has been expended over here (inevitably, given the week's events). For SWSL, I haven't been able to rely on the usual reliable sources of content - gigs, TV, films, books - and though there have been one or two social engagements (including a fine all-day barbecue / drinking session chez Paul and his Long Suffering Wife last Saturday, at which Del was also in attendance), there's been nothing much to blog about on that front either.

Must try harder. Bear with me. With any luck, before long there'll be something up on here that'll make the visit worthwhile.
Blogwatch

Welcome...

Reluctant Nomad, the blog of an acquaintance who's just departed Nottingham for pastures new (thanks to Mike for the link)

Southern Bird, home of a suvvern lady resident in Manchester

Welcome back...

Casino Avenue, back with us after a short hiatus

Meanwhile...

He Who Cannot Be Named reproduces a pre-Illinois interview with "Suyfan Stephens" - "[Greetings From Michigan] will find a happy perch in a climate that has begun to swarm with concept records like A Grand Don’t Come For Free and Magnetic Fields’s I. Alongside them, Michigan is fighting the long-player’s battle against the tyranny of the iPod random play button, and is fighting it well".

Elsewhere...

Donna watches 'What Are Men For?' on Channel 5 and finds much to object to - "The whole thing looked rather spiteful and bitter, and if I'm supposed to think that I've got it good, well, I'm sorry but I haven't changed my mind".

Jonathan offers his thoughts on Art Brut's debut LP Bang Bang Rock 'N' Roll - "The most fun pop record I’ve heard all year".

Jane reacts to the revelation that Victoria Beckham has never read a book in her life - "Shit, poor Posh! So exhausted is she after a day at the celebrity coalface that, by the time her nanny has served up a hearty plateful of Orbit, she's good for nothing other than a quick moisturise before her eyelids clang shut. It's amazing that she finds time to exfoliate her tits, let alone read a couple of pages of Jeffrey Archer".

London Calling gets political - "I reckon the Tories are onto something this time: Ken Clarke - beer, ciggies and a slap-up dinner. Gordon Brown - 40 watt bulb, put a jumper on NOT the heating, boiled potato and ham dinner"

JonnyB goes pram shopping - "I don't know when it was that prams became so complicated. Certainly when I was a child, they were very simple affairs, just a box sort of thing on wheels. The one I travelled in didn't even have any brakes, and kept hurtling down the steep hill into the river, or that is what my mother said to the policemen when they brought me back".

Willie ponders a career in the porn industry - "Gay movies are probably the only ones where the Best Boy is more likely to be the lead actor than someone working on the set. But, despite my boyish good looks, I'm probably unlikely to be engaged for either role. Frankly, I'm a bit long in the tooth and I don't think the dental department is where the producers of this oeuvre look for length. Not that I would disappoint on either score, you understand".

And finally...

Swiss Toni goes to the fourth Ashes test at Trent Bridge dressed as a Spanish cardinal. There was a perfectly good reason for it, too.
This week on Stylus

Nick Southall questions the need for Bloc Party's Silent Alarm Remixed, but is smitten by the Four Tet reimagining of 'So Here We Are' - "He amplifies what the tune is about, and he does so by toning it down a little, making the microcosmic details more important. It’s not a tune about love, specifically, but rather (according to Kele in interviews) a tune about the euphoria of an initial drug-rush, and this slightly shifted focus, emphasising the kind of unimportant details that drugs actually accentuate, works marvellously, especially when you realise he hasn’t sacrificed the song’s scintillating and key shift in pace in the latter third. It’s gorgeous, and quite possibly better than the 'proper' version".

Andrew Unterberger sits through the entirety of the MTV Video Music Awards - "Usher gets a Diddy-like entrance, and starts blathering about the history of LA dance. Enter a bunch of LA dancers, at least one of which is a little girl and at least of which is a clown. 'CRUNK CLOWN, BREAK IT ON DOWN!' This is surely going to go down as one of the most surreal VMAs in history. The audience applauds very slowly and hesitantly".

Derek Miller takes a look at the soundtrack to 'Donnie Darko' - "Where most of the film’s music is simply used as timely wallpaper, Kelly isn’t beyond the shrewd use of pop music to subvert what he sees as unwelcome social trends. At the school’s talent show, after a gauche operatic performance by one student, Duran Duran’s 'Notorious' is used diagetically to soundtrack Darko’s younger sister’s dance-squad showcase. As the troupe 'Sparkle Motion', five over-made-up young girls juke, still skinny of age, provocatively to Duran Duran’s overtly sexualized dance smash".

Jill Labrack reviews Scout Niblett's Kidnapped By Neptune - "raw, damaged, modern day folk-blues-punk rock with a vengeance".

Ian Mathers revisits Weezer's Maladroit and proclaims it "their peak" - "It's the most mannered album Weezer have ever made — a more Weezer album than their others in the way that 'The Royal Tenenbaums' was a more Wes Anderson film than 'Rushmore'. Which is not, sadly, why it's so wonderful; the record's focus on Rivers Cuomo's neuroses hold it back from being as good as it can be. Rather it's a testament to this band's talent that this brief patchwork of an album sounds better than a hundred less queasily self-obsessed others".
Quote of the day

"I was about to play these songs, and no-one has ever heard them before, and it was just like throwing a surprise party for a friend!"

Regine Chassagne of The Arcade Fire on the band's early gigs, as quoted in an interview from last week's edition of the Guardian Guide. Now that's a party I'd like to have been at...

Friday, August 26, 2005

What's Hot On The SWSL Stereo: August 2005

You may have noticed a lack of decent content round these 'ere parts of late, and in particular a dearth of music-centred waffle (partly a consequence of my shameful gig-going drought). So to go some way to rectifying the situation, here are some long overdue thoughts on a few albums that have commandeered my stereo for long periods in recent months...

Bloc Party - Silent Alarm

When I said long overdue thoughts, I meant long, long overdue. Not least because I've already written about the new first non Silent Alarm single 'Two More Years'.

There are two things I love about this album. Firstly, the spidery guitar lines and clever effects. Secondly, and even more importantly, Matt Tong's incredible epileptic drumming - always inventive and unusual, it gives the songs a twitchy on-edge feel ideally suited to the lyrics. 'Like Broken Glass' and 'Helicopter' are particularly special, but best of all is 'So Here We Are', a brilliant, brilliant song illuminated by Tong's contribution and guaranteed to be right up there in my end-of-year lists.

And of course it's all borne out of the band's impeccable taste in music. If songs this clever and complex can capture kids' imaginations, then there's hope - which is why it would be a shame if 'Two More Years' signals a more direct and poppy direction for album number two.

Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger

At last - a band from Newcastle that I can unreservedly endorse! Maximo Park are never going to oust Mackems The Futureheads from my affections, but then no-one's asking me to choose between them. The world's big enough for the two of 'em, and my record collection certainly is.

Any album featuring three of the very finest singles of the year - 'Graffiti', 'Going Missing' and 'Apply Some Pressure' - and a great double A-side from last ('The Coast Is Always Changing' / 'The Night I Lost My Head') was always going to be decent, but of course the worry was that they'd be the peaks and everything else would seem like troughs. Naturally, on the first few spins the singles do stand out, but it doesn't take long for the other tracks to reveal their considerable charms - 'Once, A Glimpse', 'I Want You To Stay', 'Limassol', 'Kiss You Better', 'Now I'm All Over The Shop'...

Unlike near-neighbours The Futureheads, they steer clear of clattering punk and display more of a pop sensibility, coming across like a rough-around-the-edges and slightly less arch Pulp gone new wave. That template serves them well, and it's only when they abandon it that they find themselves on less solid ground - vocalist Paul Smith might be most proud of his lyrics to 'Acrobat', but the song, co-written with keyboardist Lukas Wooller, is the only dud on the album, as well as the only track that veers towards sounding like their label Warp's more usual fare.

A Certain Trigger is a great debut by anyone's standards. J's standards are rather different to my own - she likes it "because he enunciates really well and you can hear what he's singing"...

The Coral - The Invisible Invasion

It seems that the negative effects of all that pot-smoking are making themselves shown. There have been hints of a darker side to The Coral - witness 'Keep Me Company' from Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker and the lyrics to incongruously jaunty single 'Bill McCai' from second album proper Magic & Medicine - but, as its title suggests, the prevailing mood of The Invisible Invasion is paranoia and sombre reflection.

Nothing wrong with that, you might think - and certainly that's the sort of thing I'm normally drawn to like a moth to a lightbulb. But The Coral are all about fun and playfulness, and in musical terms this all feels rather lacklustre and lifeless alongside the pop genius of songs like 'Dreaming Of You' and 'Pass It On' - 'Arabian Sand' and a couple of others aside, the new tracks just don't grip the imagination in the same way. Little wonder, then, that they looked so disinterested showcasing them at Glastonbury. Perhaps, a few albums in, they've just become jaded.

Even more surprising, though, is the relative lack of novelty and invention - especially given that their last release, Nightfreak..., was stuffed full of fantastic ideas hinting at all manner of possible new avenues.

A disappointment, sadly.

Queens Of The Stone Age - Lullabies To Paralyze

How would Queens Of The Stone Age sound post-Oliveri? Well, pretty much like they did before he and Josh Homme parted company.

True, Lullabies To Paralyze sets off on a disarmingly different tack with 'This Lullaby', a gossamer-light track with vocals by Mark Lanegan that wouldn't have been out of place on the ex Screaming Trees man's last album Bubblegum. But then 'Medication' kicks in, and it's business as usual - primal hard rock to make your ears pop, your head nod and your face grin.

It takes a little while to warm up, but there's a four track sweet spot right in the middle which includes the single 'Little Sister', the softer and more delicate 'I Never Came' and 'Someone's In The Wolf', a stoner jam with a relentless groove that recalls the sound of their eponymous debut.

Sure, it's too long - it could lose the bluesy Billy Gibbons' collaboration 'Burn The Witch' and the tedious 'Skin On Skin', and I wouldn't miss much - and Homme still hasn't quite come up with the album to match the quality of their live performances, but Lullabies To Paralyze is a fine follow-up to Songs For The Deaf all the same.

The Arcade Fire - Funeral

Regrets - I've had a few. One of the most recent is passing up the opportunity to get tickets to see The Arcade Fire when they came to Birmingham in May. The gig sold out well in advance - those who were lucky enough to get tickets, including Kenny, obviously knew something that I, at the time, didn't.

And now I do know it. And what I know is that Funeral is an absolutely stunning album.

The Montreal band are utterly unique - the guitar sound of The Strokes or The Talking Heads, the strings and sense of the epic of Godspeed! You Black Emperor (unsurprising given the involvement of G!YBE's Jessica Moss and Sophie Trudeau), the thumping disco drumbeat of Blondie (courtesy - on record at least - of Hotel2Tango recording engineer Howard Bilerman), the widescreen vision of The Flaming Lips (witness the incredible opening to 'Wake Up') all unfeasibly coalesce to create something quite astonishing which plays your heartstrings like Jimmy Page in his prime.

The first half of the album - particularly 'Neighborhood#1 (Tunnels)' and single 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)', which winds up with vocalist Win Butler sounding mad-eyed and feral - is breathtaking, but somehow the second half is even better. Kicking off with the splendidly queasy waltz 'Crown Of Love' ("I carved your name across my eyelids", "my love keeps growin' still the same, just like a cancer"), it continues with the aforementioned 'Wake Up', gentler interlude 'Haiti' and the frenzied and intense call-to-arms that is 'Rebellion (Lies)' ("Sleeping is giving in, so lift those heavy eyelids") before winding up with 'In The Backseat' in which Butler's wife, keyboardist Regine Chassagne, takes centre stage. Rarely can a song - and a whole album - soaked with the stench of death have been so powerfully uplifting.

To repeat: this is a fucking phenomenal record that you MUST get your hands on, if you haven't already. Beg, steal or borrow, as the saying goes.

You never know, just around the corner there might be reviews of other recent acquisitions: Sons And Daughters, Stephen Malkmus, The Arcade Fire, Sleater-Kinney, Eels, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Shins, The Dresden Dolls, The Magic Numbers, The Go! Team. I wouldn't hold your breath if I was you, though...

Links:

Stylus review of Bloc Party's Silent Alarm

Stylus review of Maximo Park's A Certain Trigger

Pitchfork review of The Coral's The Invisible Invasion

Stylus review of QOTSA's Lullabies To Paralyze

Stylus review of The Arcade Fire's Funeral

Kenny's review of The Arcade Fire's Birmingham gig in May

He Who Cannot Be Named's review of The Arcade Fire's London gig in March (scroll down a bit to find it)
Blogwatch: in brief

Welcome...

Lex Scripta, online home of Stylus writer Alex Macpherson

Betty's Utility Room, the blog of a recent visitor to SWSL and fellow fan of Musings From Middle England

Meanwhile...

Pink is left disappointed by Scissor Sisters at the V Festival;

Alan is unimpressed by Stewart Lee's Edinburgh show;

Smacked Face gets all tearful at a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds gig.

And finally...

Mike, "a fully paid-up homosexualist", confesses to liking staring at women's tits.
Know Your Enemy #60

"Went to Kasabian last nite at the Astoria. I sent a photo-message to a friend that said 'Kasabian are messianic shit'. It’s this outstretched arms, worship me like I’m your fucking god attitude that sticks in my craw as a large twig would do. Kasabian are all widdly keyboards and compulsive basslines and non-words like 'Nanana-Boommmm!' ... It is all a swaggering, cock-waving sound that is ultimately empty and futile. Moody bollocks for moody car adverts played by Prada models. The way they look is 23 per cent of their appeal".

He Who Cannot Be Named on Leicester knuckledraggers Kasabian. No-one does vitriol better.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Quote of the day

"I said to him 'How's it going?' and he said 'Quite eventful. I've just shaken hands with someone dressed as a turd. I've never shaken hands with a turd before - unless you count Noel Edmonds.'"

Steve Lamacq on John Peel.

The quote's taken from this article about the news that 13th October has been designated John Peel Day. Gigs large and small will be taking place the length and breadth of the country in memory of the great man - a fitting tribute.

(Thanks to Alex for the link.)
Mo Mowlam RIP

From one sad death to another.

I'd been meaning to post something about Mo Mowlam until I read this post on Musings From Middle England and realised that my own paltry tribute would be pointless and I'd be much better off just linking to Willie's brilliantly written personal response to the news of her death.

"One certain indication of an extraordinary person is when the grief that you feel at their death is out of all proportion to the part that they played in your life. I was not a close friend of Mo and knew her for only a brief period. But, although her death today had been expected for some time, I feel devastated by it and find this very difficult to write. I'm struggling to avoid the worst kind of sentimental cliché but I do feel that there's a little less love in the world now that she's gone. And even as I write that I can hear her shouting 'Wanker!', or something worse".
Heroic failure

A warm "Nice try but no cigar" to Phill and the rest of the Different Kettle Of Fish crew for having the inclination and audacity to invite Alan Fletcher aka Karl Kennedy from 'Neighbours' to play at one of their club nights.

Unfortunately it seems that "Fletch" (as he signs himself) had already opted to showcase debut album In The Waiting Room at Walkabout in Birmingham.

Where next, chaps? You could always try the girl that used to play Charlene.
Casino Cul-de-sac

Sorry to have to report that, owing to ongoing issues with Blogger and the hosting company, one of my essential daily reads Casino Avenue has gone into hibernation indefinitely. Hopefully the problems will be resolved sooner rather than later - I for one am not sure how long Inspector Sands will be able to stay away from the PC...
Music meme

From Del. I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing - nah, who am I kidding?

"List five songs that you are currently digging - it doesn't matter what genre they are from, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying right now. Post these instructions and the five songs (with artist) in your blog. Then tag five people to see what they're listening to."

1. 'Unmade Bed' - Sonic Youth
2. 'Love Me Like You' - The Magic Numbers
3. 'Everyone's A VIP To Someone' - The Go! Team
4. 'The Pioneers' - Bloc Party
5. 'Long Hot Summer' - Girls Aloud

I tag:

Paul
He Who Cannot Be Named
Dr Migs
Pete
Swiss Toni (because he gets guests in for his Friday Earworms these days and doesn't reveal his own)

Go to it!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Without rhyme or reason

Francis Wheen's book 'How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World' could be justly described as an angry polemic. But if you're getting images in your head of 'Grumpy Old Men' and Jeremy Clarkson perched atop his metaphorical soapbox pontificating pompously about speed cameras, then you're way wide of the mark. These are not the half-baked rantings and ravings of a belligerent moron, but the articulate and well-researched arguments of an erudite author.

What I was expecting was a light-hearted dissection of the modern propensity for "mumbo-jumbo" in such spheres as business and alternative therapy - and, true enough, there is for instance a chapter dedicated to the legions of books with titles like 'Moses: CEO' and 'The Leadership Secrets Of Attila The Hun' which claim to contain the secrets of corporate success but which are in fact stuffed with meaningless or hackneyed platitudes. What I actually got was a complex and fiercely impassioned debunking and denunciation of what Wheen labels “the new irrationalism” in all its many manifestations – Reaganomics, catastrophists, New Age quackery, creationists, UFO fanatics, conspiracy theorists, the War On Terror – and a corresponding call for a return to reason and Enlightenment values.

For Wheen there are no sacred cows. Ronald Reagan is memorably described as an "incorrigible fantasist", while it’s made abundantly clear that the author is not a member of the Cult of Diana: “In Britain, the undisputed champion of implausible self-pity was Lady Diana Spencer. At the time of her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981 she was just another dim, round-faced Sloaney girl of the kind you could see on almost every street in Pimlico, Kensington or Earl’s Court, clad in the unprepossessing uniform that prompted some observers to liken her, cruelly but accurately, to a stewardess from Air Bulgaria. By the time of her funeral sixteen years later she was routinely if ludicrously described as one of the most beautiful women in the world, and the most saintly”.

Wheen’s targets might generally be found on the Right of the political spectrum, but he has no qualms about taking those on the Left to task too. Noam Chomsky, for instance, finds himself in the firing line, guilty – in Wheen’s eyes, at least – of always assuming that everything comes down to American imperialism and for automatically assuming that his enemy’s enemy must be his friend.

Of course, the fact that Wheen’s subject matter is the "the sleep of reason" means that very often he has very little to do other than to give the perpetrators of irrationalism enough rope with which to hang themselves, something he does deftly and to hilarious effect. On guru and New Labour adviser Edward de Bono: "In unboastful fashion, de Bono often says he invented 'lateral thinking' - which is like claiming to have invented poetry, or humour, or grief". And in the chapter on postmodernism: "Luce Irigaray, a high priestess of the movement, denounced Einstein's E=mc² as a ‘sexed equation’, since ‘it privileges the speed of light over other [less masculine] speeds that are vitally necessary to us".

I found the latter chapter particularly interesting, Wheen arguing that postmodernism’s “enfeebling legacy” is “a paralysis of reason, a refusal to observe any qualitative difference between reasonable hypotheses and swirling hogwash”. It’s a bit of a caricature but certainly not a wholly undeserved one, and the section in which he illustrates postmodernists’ predilection for "babbling impenetrability" by quoting from Gilles Deleuze had me chuckling and nodding my head in agreement. (Wheen does seem a little over-reliant on Terry Eagleton’s critique of postmodernism, though – ironic in that Eagleton himself is not always the most lucid of critics…)

At every turn the text seems to throw up clay pigeons for Wheen to shoot at. If I had a criticism, though, it would be that the book is somewhat scattergun. The chapters which confine themselves to a single issue work well, but others range across several topics, shifting uneasily from postmodernism to creationism and from a robust defence of the Enlightenment project to the sentimentalism of the public reaction to Diana’s death (“Diarrhoea”). In the interview at the back of the book in which he discusses its reception, Wheen dismisses John Gray’s criticism of it as “a rambling and bilious tirade” on the grounds that Gray is just nettled at being singled out for vilification in its pages – in reality, there is an ounce of truth to the comment.

There are also occasions when Wheen is perhaps guilty of rather overstating the case: “For the American defence industry, which had spent the past decade fretfully calculating the consequences of a ‘peace dividend’, the identification of Islamic terrorism as the latest globe-threatening force was very good news indeed”. And: “Those who defend horoscopes as harmless fun never explain what is either funny or harmless in promoting a con-trick which preys on ignorance and fear”.

But these are minor quibbles which hardly detract from what is a bold and intellectually rigorous book that’ll have the level-headed sceptic in you alternately chuckling and snorting in bewilderment at the absurdities of twenty-first century Western society.
Youthful appearance

This weekend, E4 - usually awash with 'Friends' and 'Big Brother Live' - has been given over to coverage of the V Festival, the corporate shindig for people who don't like music.

Only one thing could have enticed me to go: Sonic Youth's only UK appearance of the year. I was very tempted.

And so it was the cause of no little surprise and delight that yesterday, in the midst of interviews with waste-of-space bands like Maroon 5 and some rather dull Doves live material, E4 decided to allocate ten minutes of programming to the New Yorkers.

Kim in an unfeasibly short dress, Thurston like a shaggy dog, Lee dishevilled, Steve a bit pudgy, Jim unassuming. Yes, they might be starting to look their age, but fuck me if they can't still make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.

We were treated to 'I Love You Golden Blue' and 'Unmade Bed' (E4 strangely steering clear of showing the "classics" I presume were included in the setlist), both played so beautifully they had me reaching for Sonic Nurse instantly. It just gets better with every listen.

(For a critical take on the standard of E4's coverage, see Sweeping The Nation.)
A treat, not a trick

What a splendid idea: a charity-benefit single in aid of UNICEF called 'Do They Know It's Hallowe'en'. And, even better, the North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative who are behind the single include Beck, The Arcade Fire, Sonic Youth, Malcolm McLaren, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Peaches, Buck 65, Devendra Banhart, The Postal Service, Sparks and Roky Erikson. And, er, Sum 41. Go to the Vice Recordings site (via the link above) to hear it.

(Thanks to Simon for the link. Simon's excellent music-centred blog Sweeping The Nation is a very recent addition to the SWSL blogroll - go see.)
Indie press

A couple of band interviews of note from the Guardian:

The Magic Numbers talk to Sylvia Patterson about Brian Wilson's sand-box and the 'Top Of The Pops' "incident". "We were never the Hoxton fins", says drummer Sean Gannon - and it's that resolutely unfashionable air they have about them that makes them stand out.

Caroline Sullivan talks to The Dandy Warhols - not normally something I'd bother with, but worth reading in the wake of seeing Ondi Timoner's documentary film 'DiG!'. Courtney Taylor: "Everyone in Europe loves the movie because it makes people feel hopeful, somehow, but it makes me feel uncomfortable and exposed. But what do I know? My favourite part is where Zia wipes something from my face. We're like monkeys grooming each other, 'cos we're like a family".
Feel good hits of the 21st August

1. 'Kiss You Better' - Maximo Park
2. 'Hell's Bells' - AC/DC
3. 'I Love You Golden Blue' - Sonic Youth
4. 'Ladyflash' - The Go! Team
5. 'Do You Want To' - Franz Ferdinand
6. 'Once More' - The Wedding Present
7. 'Two More Years' - Bloc Party
8. 'In The Backseat' - The Arcade Fire
9. 'Safety Net' - Shop Assistants
10. 'Landmark' - The Field Mice
Know Your Enemy #59

Far too long since the last one of these...

"But I thought I’d try a real Tom Clancy book, in case the poor sucker had simply sold his name and forgotten to read the small print about the actual fiction being any damn good. Guess what I found out? The CIA is full of decent, lantern jawed patriots whose honour is matched only by their enthusiasm for staunchly macho pastimes, like repairing Buicks or teaching ruddy cheeked orphans called Jimmy how to stage a coup and blame Communism. Their wives were either doctors or martial arts experts (as well as being damn fine when horizontal, naturally). Someone in the agency might be a touch dodgy but good old-fashioned patriotism makes everything all right.

My fucking arse.

(The writing, by the way, is 11 year old standard. I know. I’ve taught English to 11 year olds. Give them an editor and we could be talking $$$)
"

C J Wood on "that worthless shitbag" Tom Clancy, from a Villains piece on Bookmunch.

Other Villains featured include Jeffrey Archer, David Baddiel and Helen Fielding. In the interests of balance, though, there are also a number of Heroes pieces on Hunter S Thompson, Charles Dickens and Arundhati Roy amongst others - the best being this assessment of Charles Bukowski.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

"And they'll have to sell all their vans..."

It would be a shameful dereliction of duty were I not to point you in the direction of the one absolutely essential link of the week or even year: the recently released video for JonnyB and Mr Mitt's Post 8 charity single 'Save The Post Office'.

It's been put together by Eclectech, and judging by the extraordinary attention to detail it no doubt took an awful lot of time. Bunnies feature heavily, as does Adam Crozier, and there are also cameos by Tony Blair, Ozzy Osbourne and Jeff Hoon amongst others.

Needless to say, it's utterly, utterly brilliant.
Page and stage

A couple of excellent sites catering for two of my main passions:

Bookslut, currently featuring a decidedly lukewarm review of Bret Easton Ellis's new novel Lunar Park

Comedy Lounge, featuring an Edinburgh Festival diary and highly recommended by Stewart Lee, no less

Friday, August 19, 2005

Blogwatch

Welcome...

Ortho Bob, the LiveJournal of old friend Lord Marmite

Lady Muck, who has been as disappointed as me by Gervais and Merchant's 'Extras' (I must confess to having not bothered at all after the first two - my mistake?)

Meanwhile...

Congratulations to Phill, who's won his way through to the final qualifying stage for the UK Open II Poker Tournament and so might, if he gets lucky, be rubbing shoulders with Phil 'The Power' Taylor.

Elsewhere...

Jonathan dissects BBC4's Britpop nostalgiafest - "The programme entered a kind of social whirl in the middle, where the term 'Britpop' became interchangable with 'Cool Britannia' (which was, perhaps, what they should have been talking about in the first place; not a musical scene at all but a cultural mood, which is quite different), but still excluded plenty from its coverage";

Inspector Sands falls for the charms of Newcastle's Quayside;

Kenny offers some snappy six-word reviews of each and every one of the forty acts he caught at last weekend's Summer Sundae festival in Leicester;

LondonMark writes about "the absurdity of filling out long, long forms" - "Are you going to Scarborough Fair? (Note: if response is 'Yes', please attach travel itinerary and estimated value of items for purchase or sale, remembering to keep all receipts)";

Alan reviews Edinburgh shows by Phil Nichol, Rob Newman and Jason Byrne;

Jason previews forthcoming Sigur Ros LP Takk - "Sigur Rós know something about floating in space. On Takk, they've come down nearer to earth. Takk is Sigur Rós scaled to human proportions. Remember that the popular adjectives to describe them include otherworldly, spacey, and ethereal. They may not walk amongst us yet musically, but Takk is as direct and close as they've come";

He Who Cannot Be Named discovers that by attending St Bede's prep school in Eastbourne he was following in Peter Cook's footsteps - "The only previous famous alumni I can remember in this early morning state is Ed 'cocaine nosejob' Giddins. But then again, he played cricket and didn't make comedy so funny that it loosens your bowels";

Mish suffers at the claws of Big Ron when attempting the familiar off-to-the-V.E.T. routine - "We’ll gloss over the trip. Imagine you’ve got a tornado in a box. Now imagine you’re taking it on the bus. Add in a raucous wail of tiger-like intensity and you get the picture. At least no one wanted to sit next to me";

Swiss Toni is bemused by the current spate of TV adverts for the Army;

Mike tries to come to terms with his expanding waistline;

Willie recalls the time he had sex with an Irishman with an artificial arm - "I even helped him unscrew it before we went to bed, so my parents' misguided idea of giving me a Meccano set for Christmas had finally proved useful".
Singles at the double

There's no resting on laurels for either Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party, both of whom saw new singles aired for the first time on Steve Lamacq's Radio 1 show on Monday night. (You can listen to it here - if you'd rather skip through, the full playlist is here.

In advance of second LP You Could Have It So Much Better ... With Franz Ferdinand (released on 3rd October), 'Do You Want To' (note: no question mark) is out on 19th September. Not a massive departure from the sound of the first album - not as lapel-grabbing as 'Take Me Out' or as hip-shaking as 'Michael', but enough to keep me happy.

Not to be outdone by the band that "discovered" them, Bloc Party will be putting out their umpteenth single this year, their first not to be taken from debut LP Silent Alarm, on the same day that the Franz Ferdinand album hits the shops - and this after releasing Silent Alarm Remixed next month. Entitled 'Two More Years', the single is on the first few listens a bit of a disappointment - a straightforward verse-chorus pop song in which Matt Tong's fabulously inventive drumming is tamed to a consistent disco beat. Might just be a grower, though.
The sound of silence

Dead Air Space is a new blog by - you guessed it - Radiohead.

Expect the usual randomness. Here's the only bit I could read without feeling a migraine coming on:

"we ar egoing into a proper studio on thursday (for a leettle while)

with 192 faders
which is a lot of choice
a bit like the supermarket
and
it may all go off before we get to it
so we have to eat quick
".

(Thanks to Andrew for the link.)
Please plead temporary insanity

So, you're Robert Webb. Star of the award-winning BBC3 comedy series 'The Smoking Room' (not seen) and the frequently brilliant C4 comedy series 'Peep Show' (seen, and could watch again and again).

You've got cred, fame, respect, admiration...

So, why skip merrily after Alexander Armstrong down Advertising Avenue - appearing in one ad for the Nationwide and, worse still, providing a voiceover for another for McDonalds - unless you've got zero principles and you're doing it solely for cash?

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments box below).

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Online 'Fun'

More Lee and Herring goodness: the 'Fist Of Fun' book is available online in its entirety here.

I particularly like Mr Ice-T's introduction: "[Herring] is an extremely cool and fly dude and his upbringing in the village of Cheddar in Somerset was much like my own in the ghettos of the Urban War that is South Central LA, although his was possibly harder. You have to remember that, back then, Keith and Barbera Herring couldn't even afford a caravan and had to go on their holidays in France in a family-sized tent. Respect to them".

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Update: Link now fixed - thanks to Olav for pointing out the problem.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Apocalypse now

My first encounter with Douglas Coupland came a few years ago in the form of ‘Generation X’. I wasn’t particularly impressed.

If the task of the novelist is – as is generally assumed to be the case – to chronicle, reflect and refract in fiction the world and times in which he or she lives, then depicting the directionlessness and purposelessness of the lives of well-educated young people in late twentieth century North America is as valid a project as any other. It just doesn’t make for a very gripping read. Before long I found that the only real reason I was persevering with ‘Generation X’ was for the amusing neologisms which appear with definitions at the bottom of nearly every page like footnotes – “McJob”, “Now Denial”, “occupational slumming”.

So I probably wouldn’t have bothered with ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’, were it not for Tom Paulin’s confession of having been “absolutely knocked over by it”. For the dour hypercritical Paulin to praise it as “visually brilliant” and “a millennial novel of a very subtle and interesting kind”, I reasoned, it must be something quite special.

Certainly there’s a drive and focus to the narrative that is absent from ‘Generation X’. The protagonists of both novels drift through life aimlessly, “day-to-day twentieth-century living [having] become an almost unsolvable algebraic equation” – but whereas in Coupland’s debut this is mirrored in the structural shapelessness, the definite forward motion of ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is striking in comparison. There is always an end in sight.

And an end is what ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is all about. The end of the world as we know it (as REM, not The Smiths, once sang), no less. But an end which isn’t quite the end but the opportunity for a fresh new beginning for the characters who have “been allowed to see what [their] lives would be like in the absence of the world”.

But the novel’s end is also its biggest problem. The major difference between ‘Generation X’ and ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is that the former is simply descriptive, whereas the latter is both descriptive and prescriptive. That means that, perhaps inevitably, the conclusion – an extraordinarily impassioned rallying cry of “Carpe diem!” from the supposedly non-judgemental chronicler of the slacker generation – slides into heavy-handed preaching, the ghost Jared lecturing the reader as transparently as he is his friends.

This loss of subtlety and authorial restraint is a shame, because otherwise it’s an ambitious and visionary book that I enjoyed much more than its lightweight predecessor.

(A postscript: What’s with all the Smiths references? Aside from ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’, I noticed (when I could be bothered to look) ‘Ask’, ‘Hand In Glove’ and – most conspicuously – ‘The Queen Is Dead’. It just seems like Coupland playing pointless games, a gimmick for trainspottery readers, one which detracts needlessly from the novel’s seriousness.)
Roleplay

The University has been hosting the Tolkien Society conference. Unremarkable, you might think, but Tolkien enthusiasts are apparently unable to assemble together without dressing up in 'Lord Of The Rings' style garb.

Imagine my surprise to enter our tower block on Friday to be confronted by a wizard-type bearded figure clad in brown gown and sandles, chatting away on the payphone. I'm sure they didn't have telecommunications in Middle Earth.

Campus has been crawling with hairy-footed hobbits and mysterious cloaked figures. I also thought I spotted someone who'd come as Gollum, but as it turned out he was just extraordinarily ugly.