Monday, 29 December 2008

MORE 2008: LISZT

-
'BUMS

1) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
2) The Week That Was - The Week That Was
3) TV on the Radio - Dear Science
4) Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
5) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
6) Q-Tip - The Renaissance
7) Flying Lotus - Los Angeles
8) The Walkmen - You and Me
9) Dodos - Visiter
10) Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

TOONS

1) Paramore - 'That's What You Get'
2) Dodos - 'Fools'
3) Futureheads - 'Beginning of the Twist'
4) Milosh - 'And Then It Happened'
5) Spiritualized - 'Borrowed Your Gun'
6) Rick Ross - 'Here I Am'
7) The Walkmen - 'In the New Year'
8) Fleet Foxes - 'He Doesn't Know Why'/'Blue Mountain Ridge'
9) Girls Aloud - 'Call the Shots'
10) Everything Everything - 'Suffragette Suffragette' ;----)

Sunday, 28 December 2008

AND AT THE END OF IT ALL: A SHOE (END OF YEAR REVIEW Pt 2)

-
Well folks, it seems that everything might just turn out alright after all.

This time last year, shit was looking pretty grim. All manner of stuff - jewellery, hair, clothes, shoes, faces - had turned a rather odious shade of gold, reflecting some pretty damn insidious, all-pervasive, corporate-minded cultural behaviour of the very worst kind. It seemed as though a fucked-up new apathetic-hedonistic Gilded Age was upon us, in which the alternative sphere had been wholly co-opted by the mainstream, in which even the shallowest dregs of 1980s culture enjoyed widespread revivalist homage, and in which Alan Fucking Sugar was treated as a kind of bizarre postmodern folk hero.

But by the end of 2008, thankfully, the situation had improved greatly (with the prospect of more unequivocally ameliorative good craic to come in 2009).

In the name of Jesus Keegan, by December it was even possible to hear people talking favourably about socialism, in a tone other than the now more typical one of total nouveau-ironic disapprobation!

Obviously, we have America in large part to thank for this rather wonderfully seismic epoch shift (although the credit crunch must also get a special mention here - people being less willing to spend their time indulging in bland frivolity of the Kate Nashean/Russell Brandean/Jo Whileyan variety when faced with a burgeoning twat of a recession).

Check out ‘In the New Year’ by the Walkmen: ‘I know that it’s true, it’s gonna be a good year CROWNNN-CRANDLEY-CRANDLEY-ANDLEYY-WOWWW’ and try not to weep shit as you listen to the articulated sound of an entire nation, nay, an entire geo-political hemisphere, nay, an entire cranking planet breathing a great oceanic sigh of relief as all the pessimism, fear and apparent hopelessness of the Bush Era finally began to dissipate.

Indeed, 2008 was nothing short of an anus mirabilis for American music of all kinds, a great, once-in-a-lifetime cultural flowering preceding, and ultimately, thank-fuck-fully, actually commemorating a truly incredible and historic victory for the Senator for Illinois in the US presidential election to end ‘em all.

The marvellous melodic Stateside efflorescence was in evidence right across the board .

Vampire Weekend fell into the collective consciousness like a perfectly-formed chicken nugget of pop brilliance; smooth and jagged in exactly the right places, literate, witty, funky, vocally gorgeous: pure, unabashed, sun-sodden Yankee optimism like we haven’t heard in a geet long while.

No Age and Deerhunter served up two very different, but similarly impeccably-wrought lo-fi shoe-gaze masterworks: woozy esotericism had never sounded so lovely.

Q-Tip came back with an irresistibly sweet offering (I really had forgotten hip-hop could be this immediate and enjoyable). Lil’ Wayne’s record was adventurous in an extremely welcome way, mainstream rap bolstered by a very un-Fiddy-like willingness to inject a light smattering of what might be termed soul into proceedings (sampling David Axlerod always a good starting point in this case).

Hercules and Love Affair produced a dance record which melded plangency and poignancy onto an unremitting, sonically inventive, sometimes even slightly folktronic, disco underbelly, while Flying Lotus came through with a smoky, layered, futuristic dance production job of the kind Britain used to churn out with unfailing consistency until relatively recently (Children of Albion - what has happened to our experimentalist tradition?).

Speaking of which, TV on the Radio surpassed themselves with an album that was just comprehensively beltaz in every conceivable way, summing up the mixture of confusion, melancholy and, ultimately, overriding undaunted empowerment that characterised the historical moment. It’s been a good while since the alternative fraternity had such a cogent leftfield bulwark as TVOTR on which to pin its hopes, in equal parts danceable, eclectic, innovative, melodic, cerebral, and zeitgeist-defining. In so many ways this was the record of the year, if nothing else, an album whose potential for widespread intercontinental influence on a massive scale is undoubtedly something to get excited about.

But really, 2008 was all about the New Primitivism. If one of the most pernicious manifestations of evil in the last decade was a terrifying, insidious fundamentalism, then this year witnessed a neat dialectical twist, as the radical margins put out its own powerful and affirmative proclamation of fundamentals. If the bad guys were going to be bloody, bold and resolute in stating their essentialist, reductive creed, then the good guys would have to respond in kind, with a selective, positive idealism that posited a core essence of stripped-down, inclusive, progressive Americanism.

Musically, this impulse was quite brilliantly embodied in the work of Dodos, Department of Eagles, Bon Iver, and above all, Fleet Foxes, records which collectively dug deep into American history to recover all the humane communalism, visionary magic and boundless optimism of the place, in a way that seemed to provide an emphatic reaffirmation of Lincoln’s description of his country as the ‘last, best hope’ of mankind.

Bon Iver lacerated the heart, Department of Eagles pointed to the future with their psychedelic/experimentalist take on things, and Dodos provided a bit of requisite hi-octane exhilaration, but Fleet Foxes produced a record that was so consistently, astonishingly excellent as to be fully deserving of a much-overused epithet: instant classic. When I saw them at Manchester Academy 2 in November the harmonies were so perfectly concordant as to send wonderful rainbow-coloured natural harmonics bouncing all over the box-like venue. Talk about e pluribus Unum! Really, you would have to be a McCain voter and/or an NME journalist to overlook the fact that something unusual and special was going on here.

(It was almost enough to make up for the loss of DFW, but not quite. I’m sure he would’ve approved).

Amidst all of this it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify being British, on a musical level.

Elder statesmen/women Portishead and Spiritualized were reliably interesting, and Field Music staple finally lived up to its promise with the awesome The Week That Was record (predictably ignored by the Topshop indie contingent - not Kate Moss’s cup of tea I should imagine).

But ultimately we’ll have to do better than the Mystery Jets if we as a musical nation are to have any relevance at all in the ensuing era (and glittery trendy MGMT are some way from being the best people to look to for American inspiration, although it’s not a terrible start).

At the end of it all the Award for Resonant Spirit-of-the-Age Lyric Writing goes to Dodos for ‘I’ve been, I’ve been silent’ (on runaway album highlight ‘Fools’ - all about the past tense here), combined with ‘we can do this on our own’. This summed it all up as astutely as did Thom Yorke a couple of years ago at the height of Bush/Blair with ‘we think the same things at the same time / we just can’t do anything about it‘.

It felt as though we found our voice again in 2008.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

DIALOGUE: 'A GOOD WEIGHT'

-
ME: Have you read Macbeth?
LOUISE: School.
ME: At school?
LOUISE: Yeah and I've seen the film too.
ME: Right, well it's not really like that with Shakespeare you know, not like there's a 'book' and a 'film'.
LOUISE: There often is though isn't there? There's a real actor version, then there's a cartoon version.
ME: Err, hang on ...
LOUISE: Have you ever held a chicken? I think it'd be dead good. A good weight.

END OF YEAR REVIEW Pt 1: MORE NutsME BAITING (GOTS TO DO IT)

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My next post will be brimful of treacly Yuletide optimism and Obamanian positivity, I promise.

But in order for the this to be the case, I feel the need to have a pre-emptive, pre-festive, cathartic moan, a sort of gargantuan, purgative shit, a preparatory cleansing of the bowels for the imminent orgy of extravagant forward-looking hopefulness.

It will not come as a surprise to many of you that my gripe centres on the ol' reliable NME.

Now, as a one-time avid reader of this no-longer-very-good-at-all-in-any-way publication, I am fully aware of the charade that occurs annually in respect of the Albums of the Year poll. Readers respond with outrage at the inclusion/exclusion of their favourite/least-favourite artist, the NutsME quite reasonably asserts that the poll is very straightforwardly decided by an unimpeachably democratic points-system voting process amongst the writers, leaving no room whatever for sinister ulterior motives, commercial-mindedness, individual caprice, gerrymandering, hanging chads etc, etc. No one could doubt the rationalism and fairness of this.

However, the logical rigour of the voting process itself does not absolve the paper of all blame for the list. Responsibility is diffused to a collective level, but the writing staff must ultimately stand by this collective decision. Writers deploy the impersonal 'NME' rather than 'I' in reviews and interviews after all: the paper is inevitably the sum of its constituent parts, and the album poll stands as perhaps the most cogent statement of its ideology during the course of any given year (and no use saying the NME doesn't have an 'ideology' - it does, however nebulous and disparate, not to mention misguided and shallow, that ideology might be).

So any criticism of the Albums of the Year poll is fair game as far as I'm concerned. And, by christ, here goes ...

The top 10 is as follows:

1. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
3. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
5. Foals - Antidotes
6. Metronomy - Nights Out
7. Santogold - Santogold
8. Mystery Jets - 21
9. Kings of Leon - Only by the Night
10. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires.

I should probably start off by saying that there is a very great deal here that is commendable. Oracular Spectacular and Dear Science are certainly two of the most brilliant records of 2008, and Vampire Weekend's debut was one of the year's most enjoyable, entertaining pop records. Haven't heard much Friendly Fires stuff but it sounds pretty good on an initial listen. As Hamish McBain points out in a (characteristically miniscule, reading-age-six) preface to the list, no room in the top 10 (or top 50, for that matter) for Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs or Pigeon Detectives.

But, really, what else is there to say to this but WELL FUCKING DONE MATE, to which might be added WHY THE FUCK DOES THEIR ABSENCE EVEN NEED TO BE STATED?! The omission of Razorlight from a poll purporting to catalogue the most artistically worthwhile, wrought, adventurous, innovative, subversive, moving, politically-engaged, intelligent, exciting, resonant music of the year is surely such a basic, first-rock-of-civilisation thing to do for the sake of human decency as to be almost totally unworthy of verbal utterance, a bit like expecting kudos for not getting behind McCain in the US presidential election, or like bragging about not nominating Josef Fritzl for a good parenting award.

These infantile, inarguably corporate-mainstream artists should never have got any support at all from the still notionally alternative NME, so it comes as something of a long-overdue, completely inadequate insult to hear that they have now fallen out of favour with, presumably, many of the same writers who were responsible for their grotesquely meteoric ascendancies in the first place.

Moreover, in terms of the actual poll itself: KINGS OF FUCKING LEON?! Theirs is a record so devoutly conservative, so AOR, so MOR, so creatively bankrupt, vocally excruciating, lyrically inane, and just so so so supremely shit as to actually make me feel a little bit sick, and I say this without a hint of hyperbole, metaphor or euphemism. The place of Kings of Leon in the collective memory will have about as much durability and relevance in years to come as the recent temporary rebranding of Pizza Hut as Pasta Hut, you mark my words.

Metronomy are OK, but ultimately nothing more than a not-very-multi-faceted hype band, likewise Santogold, who had a couple of fantastic tunes but whose album was some way from being one of the year's best out of a massive lack of consistency.

Mystery Jets - superficial '80s revivalism, boring, style-over-substance mediocrity.

Glasvegas - 'Daddy's Gone' was superb but this is another very average album that has been extravagantly over-hyped. Similarly with Foals, although certainly in this case there is a sense that once the Skins-induced haze has cleared there is actually something very worthwhile here, and hopefully this'll get the chance to develop independent of undesirable scenester bullshit with subsequent albums.

Oasis at number 22!? The Verve at 26?! Fucking Laura Marling at 14?!

Overall, it seems that NutsME has just catastrophically missed the point once again. Something has gone massively wrong when Metronomy and Mystery Jets are judged to be producing better art than Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. By far the best British record of the year was The Week That Was album, and it doesn't even make the top 50 (presumably because it's not the sort of thing Alexa Chung and Kelly Osbourne are able to snort coke to). The writers of NME have conformed to type by nominating the shiniest, faddiest artists, completely ignoring such stellar, meaningful, zeitgeist-defining efforts as Department of Eagles' In Ear Park, Q-Tip's The Renaissance, and Dodos' Visiter. They're lucky that the hippest, trendiest fashionista band of the year (MGMT) also made an artistically interesting, forward-thinking album, but in the final instance the emphasis remains resolutely on Topshop-friendly, hype-worthy shallowness. For NutsME, MGMT are the Klaxons Mk II (ie. an ostentious, 'kooky' yet palatable, image-driven band) and that's about the level of depth they're operating at.

Brooklyn may have been partially imported to Shoreditch in 2008, but the idealism and profundity has apparently been left on the other side of the pond. NME will have to change pretty fast if it wants to remain relevant once people no longer have so much money to spend on glitter-encrusted tat. The Kate Mossification of British alternative music is now on the back burner, and it's time to choose Obama over apathy and hedonism, time to do away altogether with celebrity, the language of hype, T4, Jo Whiley, Doherty, Nash, Allen, London, decadence, Russell Brand, gold, silver, drugs, money, NME, clothes and the rest of it.

In 2009, let's get naked.

And I mean that in a D.H. Lawrentian rather than a Paris Hiltonian sense.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

'THIS SEX IS ON FIRE'?! BEGPARDON?!?

-
By god, the new Kings of Leon stuff is just embarassingly shit isn't it?

People have been banging on for a while now about a certain strand of 'indie' guitar rock having become interchangeable with '80s MOR - the much-vaunted Razorlight/Dire Straits comparison being an example that springs readily to mind.

But 'Use Somebody' is to my ears actually worse, by some distance, than anything Dire Straits ever did.

In years to come we will look back on this kind of thing as a joke that got spectacularly out of hand.

Monday, 24 November 2008

DJ DAN ENGLISH TACKLES BADLY DRAWN BOY (NO TWEAKING NEEDED HERE)

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DEEJ: Badly Drawn Boy! Me and my mates used to listen to your first album all the time when we were about 16!
BDB: Oh OK.
DEEJ: Yeah it was sweet! Haven't listened to any of the stuff you've done since then though.
BDB: Well, actually, my subsequent work has been as good, if not better, than the first record.
DEEJ: Really?
BDB: Yes.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

'I HOPE YOU DEFEAT THIS UK INFLUENZA'

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... says Zane to TV on the Radio.

You can say that a-fucking-gain.

(Every time I hear 'Family Tree' it reminds me how much more hopeful I am about where things in general are headed than this time last year - melancholy and elegiac bleakness redirected by the unmistakeable, unstoppable sound of pure-driven, old-fashioned American optimism.

Moving stuff from the TV/Radio lads.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

AT THE HMV SALES COUNTER, STRANGE THINGS CAN HAPPEN

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WOMAN: Do you do older-type music?
HMV SALES GUY: ...
WOMAN: Do you do older-type music: The Nivens?
HMV: What?!
WOMAN: The Nivens. It's an older-type music.
HMV: The Livings?!
WOMAN: The Nivens: N-I-V-E-N-S.
ME: ...

Monday, 20 October 2008

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

-
Extract from the Bella Italia waiter training manual:

SECTION TITLE: EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

1) Think about your worst ever experience as a customer. How did it make you feel? Did you ever use that company again?

I WRITE: Bad. No.

2) What do you think we mean by 'Exceeding expectations'?

I THINK: Is this some kind of provocative Magrittean language game?
I WRITE: Nothing. I become so baffled from this point onwards that I genuinely can't muster any kind of response.

3) Pretend I don't understand 'exceeding expectations' and explain it to me so that I could go away and deliver it.

...

4) Do we have a manual on how to exceed expectations? If not, why not?

...

5)Who benefits when expectations are exceeded?

...

Sunday, 19 October 2008

THE TREE IS REALLY ROOTED IN THE SKY

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Ay ay, that Simone Weil was pretty good wasn't she?

'When science, art, literature and philosophy are simply the manifestation of a personality they are on a level where glorious and dazzling achievements are possible, which can make a man's name live for a thousand years. But above this level, far above, seperated by an abyss, is the level where the highest things are achieved. These things are essentially anonymous'

Friday, 17 October 2008

'A RECORD WITH NO WORDS, ONLY SIGHS'

-

Chris Moyles's actually pretty perceptive summation of 'Creep'.

Aside from the fact that this is, from a certain viewpoint, a remarkably poetic and lovely evocation of a relatively mediocre tune, Moyles also picks up on an issue that I've been mulling over for some time, namely: that Radiohead's great tragic flaw consists in the perennial non-rythmic amorphousness of Thom Yorke's vocal phrasing.

Listen to any given 'Head tune with this fact in mind and I promise you the nagging question that has been gnawing away at your musical psyche for years ('I adore my Radiohead, but why can't I truly love him?') will be instantaneously demystified.

'Bullet Proof', 'Airbag', 'No Surprises', 'Knives Out', 'Pyramid Song': WHERE IS THE FUCKING RHYTHM IN THE VOCAL PART?!?!!

When Mr Yorke does bother to inject a bit of gumption into his writing for voice (bits of 'Paranoid Android', 'The Bends', 'Just', 'Ideoteque', the much-underrated 'Wolf at the Door') the results are nearly always gratifyingly good, so I really don't understand why he spends so much time failing to rise above his default ethereal sigh (top marks for this on a purely melodic level, but a good songwriter really must be consistently hitting the bullseye on both targets - melodic and rhythmic).

Anyway, all of this merely serves to confirm my longstanding suspicion that Chris Moyles is the modern-day Samuel Johnson.

But more on this later.

Monday, 22 September 2008

THE BEST HOUSE TUNE EVER IS ...

-

... 'What Else Is There?' by Royksopp (Thin White Duke Remix)

A title that is the very definition of negative capability, and a tune that defies verbal summary, this is, as Byron would've had it, the thing.

Shite cover though.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A SMALL POINT

-
Cambridge vice-chancellor Alison Richards said last week that British universities are not 'engines for promoting social justice'.

Surely that's precisely what they are?

Monday, 8 September 2008

VIS A VIS

-
'It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want.'


'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.'

Thursday, 4 September 2008

THIS IS THE WEEK THAT WAS

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The Week That Was record is fantastic.

I've always been a big Field Music fan, however I've often found the relentless melodic modulations very frustrating, particularly over the course of an entire album, and the sonic palette has always seemed a little weak and one-dimensional: the adventurousness of the music itself not really done justice by a relatively trad instrumental line-up.

The School of Language album seemed to replicate these shortcomings (augmented them, even), but TW2 seems to have channelled all the restless cerebrality of the first two Field Music albums into something a lot more compact, focused, and ultimately engaging.

There is a wonderful colourful variety of tone here: marimba and archaic synth intertwining beautifully on the gamelan-esque 'It's All Gone Quiet', brutalist machinistic drumming meeting a spiky string arrangement head-on in 'The Airport Line', female b-vox supplying nice pentatonic interludes, 'Sound and Vision'-style, on album high-point 'Come Home'.

Production-wise, TW2 is also a big improvement on the retro mustiness that often left Field Music offerings sounding slightly wet. Everything is just a little bit punchier, drums and acoustic guitars in particular, with each instrument granted a crystal-cut hi-fi autonomy, which in turn emphasises the eclectic daring of the arrangements.

Length must also be a factor. The Field Music b-sides collection Write Your Own History still seems like their best record, partly because it's only half an hour or so long. TW2 is similarly brief, a fact that compounds the sense of ideas reigned-in and fused with a very welcome new-found immediacy.




Why not 'That Was the Week That Was' though? Can't help feeling they pussied-out on that one.

Mackem bastards.

Monday, 1 September 2008

LYRIC! - 'BONAPARTE SAID'

-
Bonaparte said:
'I got lost on the way to my bed
I got stuck back in the day with the dead
Bait for all the people I hate'

Bonaparte said:
'I must lose some of these skills in my head
I must chisel me a beast made of lead
Prize my demands from the vice'

I crossed plains for you, plains for you
Marched to the Dnieper
And ravaged the people
But blew too soon

You say the night is coming on
I deem the mountains passable
Midas and you are happy
In the house of fire

You say the world is spinning on
Change if you can you idealogue
Tie the rhymer to the budgerigar
And sing old hymns

Bonaparte said:
'I'm obscure as the eaves of the shed
I've got pieces of eight instead of pence
Guys tripping drunks in the night'

Bonaparte said:
'I will stick to my beliefs til I'm dead
And I reject with my feet what you suggest
Boy, you don't know the sound from the noise'

I crushed Ukraine for you, Ukraine for you
Sped to the Dnieper
To salvage my people
Fired guns to soothe you

You say the night is coming on
I deem the mountains passable
Midas and you are happy
In the house of fire

I thought the world would gather round
I put a devil in the ground
Love is just another hand-me-down
For you, my friend

GOOD PIECE

-
in the Guardian today by David Cox

Especially like the tag: 'too many films today are literally meaningless'.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

FUCKIN HELL LIKE

-
Just arrived back home after a weekend away, turned on Radio 1, was LITERALLY knocked to the floor by an awe-inspiring triumvirate consisting of:

Keane - 'Spiralling'
Alphabeat - 'Boyfriend'
Does It Offend You, Yeah? - 'Dawn of the Dead'

Senseless, Wagnerian, very-possibly-coke-fuelled pop with an underlying sense of desperation and bewilderment: the Eighties revival in full swing.

And yet ...

The Keane tune is, on a purely formal level, actually pretty fucking good.

Strange, that.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

JOHN BETJEMAN: NB

-
eg.
'Gaily into Ruislip Gardens
Runs the red electric train,
With a thousand Ta's and Pardons
Daintily alights Elaine;
Hurries down the concrete station
With a frown of concentration,
Out into the outskirt's edges
Where a few surviving hedges
Keep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesex again.'

Glib, emotionless patois of the English upper-middle class.

Why this is glorified as 'brilliant light-versification' by people who are wont to dismiss other more demotic forms of popular art as inane is frankly beyond me.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

LOUISE

-
In the morning of my life
there you were, dancing.
I ran the spool against itself
my love,
and watched our children
with their infant fingers drumming
a tattoo on my piggy-back shoulders,
kicking at the dawn,
glue-bound eyes opening
to the world.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

'UBIQUITOUS IRRITANTS' ...

-



... the epithet applied in this week's Guardian Guide to Edith Bowman and Zane Lowe. Nice.

Monday, 5 May 2008

THE NEW BRITNEY ACCORDING TO WIKI

-

"Break the Ice" is an uptempo-oriented electro track with heavily synthesized, breathy vocals. The song runs for three minutes and sixteen seconds. It is composed in the key of Amajor, and is set in common time. It is constructed in the common verse-chorus form. The spoken intro contains a dual meaning. She whispers "It's been a while. I know I shouldn't have kept you waiting. But I'm here now," which serves as an apology for being gone so long in the music industry, as well as away from her love interest in the song. The song speaks about a girl and a boy, with the former saying: "You're a little cold. Let me warm things up and break the ice." Spears' breathy vocals are layered when she sings "Hot Hot Hot Hot" in the choruses and sound similar to that of her 2001 single "I'm a Slave 4 U." She sings of the intensity of "breaking the ice", lyrically stating "You've got my heart beating like an 808". Midway through the song, she halts, "I like this part...", mimicking Janet Jackson's style in "Nasty". The heavy drum line drops and the song finalizes in a repeated chorus, with ad-libs included by Spears.


MODERNIST NEWCASTLE

-
I reckon someone could make a good study of Toonian (popular) modernism. The following might be included:












Sunday, 4 May 2008

RECENT POETRY CRAIC

-
Sam Gardiner's latest collection is sweeeeeet:

Check out an earlier poem of his here.

Conversely, gave Vernon Scannell a go on the basis that he's one of those names people always bang on about: unreconstructed parochial shite.

GHOSTLY SWIM COMPILATION - CHECK IT (IT'S FREE, AND GOOD)

-
Ghostly Swim download

(Milosh and Mux Mool tunes especially good).

Saturday, 3 May 2008

WONKY POP - LET'S BE CAREFUL

-

There’s an article in the Guardian’s Friday Review this week on the current Wonky Pop tour - Alphabeat, Leon Jean-Marie, Frankmusic – all of whom are reasonably engaging and interesting in their disparate ways (although, in true chart pop fashion, there’s a heap of woeful inanity to wade through before getting to the good stuff).

It’s encouraging to see these guys picking up on what must be the most simultaneously obvious yet still relatively unacknowledged fact of the century so far: that most commercial pop music (led by feeder genres such as nu-R’n’B and garage/twostep) is typically about ten times more futuristic and innovative than anything coming out of the indie/alternative scene. Swap you the Courteeners, Babyshambles, Kaiser Chiefs, Wombats, Foals and Bloc Party for Kelly Rowland, Britney, Robyn, Beyonce, Amerie and Lykke Li any day of the week.

However, caution must be exercised here. If the Guardian piece is anything to go by, this mini-scene is in danger of becoming a full-blown media cause celebre, which of course puts it in danger of being turned very quickly into a vehicle for all manner of inverse snobbery and capricious scensterism. As soon as the London music establishment gets involved, you can bet bandwagon-hoppers will seize on this eloquent musical avowal of pop, and use it as a pseudo-intellectual excuse for all kinds of lesser commercial artists to carry on indulging in shallow corporatism and cliché-ridden cheese (am I mistaken, or does ‘cheese’ just mean ‘shit’?), a sort of media-sanctioned get out of jail free card for conservative, unimaginative people everywhere.

Also, the conceit of the article – that pop is usually regarded as lightweight and unsophisticated - is fucking irksome, as well as being a commonplace so extravagantly time-worn and facile as to render the majority of the piece (which is largely spun out of this premise) entirely pointless. ‘There’s something deeply incongruous about finding Alphabeat in these surroundings [ie. the Cardiff Barfly]’ claims Alexis Petridis, as if a pop-crossover band has never dared to venture out of the comfortable arena/academy circuit. (Just to digress, Petridis may not be the worst music writer I’ve come across, but he is some way down there on my personal ratings scale, and I feel like I must take the opportunity to say, once and for all, YOU CANNOT BE A NEWSPAPER’S FASHION CORRESPONDENT AND AT THE SAME TIME EXPECT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS A MUSIC JOURNALIST. Fashion is an inevitable and integral part of popular music, but music is not, as many people seem to have started believing recently, a marketing tool for selling clothes. British alternative culture has suffered terribly in recent times from the unscrupulous willingness of prominent cultural figures – Jo Whiley, Mark Ronson, Pete Doherty, Conor McNicholas, Lily Allen, Johnny Borrell – to treat independent music as just another branch of the style/consumption/celebrity circus, and equating fashion with music a la Petridis is in the current climate always going to seem like a complicit extension of this trend).

There is an obvious problem with nomenclature here – pop, pop music, popular music, have always and will continue to mean vastly different things in different contexts (what is popular is not necessarily pop, and what is melodic and well produced is not necessarily marketable, etc) - it all gets a bit ridiculous after a certain point. But broadly speaking, if you’re being consciously ‘pop’, you just need to make sure you don’t go too far down the commercial path, and ensure you keep in mind at all times the genuinely useful artistic aspects of pop music – populism, spontaneity, openness, fun, directness, immediacy, compression etc. At their best these Wonky Pop acts understand this high-art approach to pop very well, even if they're not anywhere near as accomplished as fellow Scandinavians Robyn and Lykke Li. You just hope all these artists are allowed the breathing space to keep mining this promising path.

... AND BACK DOWN AGAIN

-
Conor McNicholas seems to have shat his socialite pants after last week's tentative foray into risk-taking adventurousness.

This week's NME cover stars:

Green Day
The Strokes
Coldplay

Friday, 2 May 2008

I HEART REVOLUTION (AND HEARTS REVOLUTION)

-

These guys probably the best discovery arising out of the NME Future 50 feature:

Hearts Revolution myspace.

Some shallow fashionistic ravery here and there, but overall a laudably fractured and exhilaratingly distorted dance-pop, recalling all kinds of goofy, girly indie of yore (this compounded by the classic alt-rock referencing lyrics, now becoming pretty voguish, cf. Les Campesinos, Let’s Wrestle etc - and hopefully indicative of a revival of old-school indie ethics going beyond mere quirky nostalgia).

‘Digital Suicide’ (both myspace versions) - just lovely.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

IF ANY PIC COULD TURN A MAN ...

-
... this is it:

DAVID CAMERON AND REAL SOUL

-
Have just discovered Rob Carmody's masterly Run Away Home blog via Simon Reynolds.

Particularly liked the following nugget on the 'Blue-eyed Soul'/'Real Soul' Leona/Winehouse/Duffy/Adele brigade:

'... as much the Cameronistas' preparing-for-government music as Britpop was for the Blairites (the US success of "Bleeding Love" in this context might be analoguous to that of "Wonderwall").'

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

EVEN NOW THERE ARE PLACES WHERE A THOUGHT MIGHT GROW

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Props to the NME for this week's encouragingly modernist 'Future 50' feature.

I could grumble at the inclusion of fashion designers and Apple employees, and at the typically unhelpful hyperbole getting in the way of a good cause, but overall this is a hugely welcome mini volte-face after the recent regression into low-brow corporatism.

I actually went on the net after reading the piece and checked out some bands/artists based on NME's recommendation, something I haven't felt compelled to do in a painfully long time.

Follow this up next week with a Krushchev-like denouncement of the Pigeon Detectives and I might even start buying it again regularly.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

M83 - SATURDAY=YOUTH

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As some of you may have divined, I’m not all that enamoured with the current trend for ‘80s revivalism.

The new M83 album Saturdays=Youth does however point to ways in which the decade god forgot might be put to good artistic use. Yes there’s a good deal of stylistic plagiarism going on here - lots of superficial pastiche in lieu of real creative transformation of the past.

But frankly, any band as heavily indebted to the Cocteau Twins as these guys are is OK in my book (steering towards the Cocteaus, Kate Bush and My Bloody Valentine, and away from Peter Gabriel, Bon Jovi and A-Ha might stand as a useful guiding precept for anyone thinking of indulging in this particular form of accelerated postmodern nostalgia).

Saturdays=Youth embodies all the lush esoteric loneliness of the eighties, at a time in which such emotive separatism is once again looking like one of the few pertinent ways of responding to a climate of vigorous conservative commercialism.

Friday, 25 April 2008

ON ROUGH TRADE’S ‘COUNTER CULTURE ‘07’ – MORE YANKOPHILIA

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There might be plenty of good stuff out there, but Jesus Christ it’s difficult to identify what is genuinely worthwhile amidst all the hubris, celebrity shite and low-brow media hysteria that has penetrated the alternative cultural sphere in recent years.

The Rough Trade compilation from the end of last year provides ample opportunity for a modest recovery of optimism, although again it’s necessary to underline how much of the best and most innovative stuff on this release from a bulwark of British independent music is American.

Tunes by Glasvegas, Dan le Sac Versus Scroobius Pip, and Von Sudenfed (w/Mark E. Smith) do however offer some hope for imminent improvement closer to home.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

IN THE INVALID LIGHT OF THE MORNING

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I wept at the space between cities

Archipelago of loss

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

LITTLE AMIS: THE FOLLOW UP

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Just been to a talk at Man Uni called 'Education in a Neoliberal World'.

When asked what could be done to get rid of Martin Amis, Terry Eagleton suggested that the knobs on all the university doors be raised by six inches as a means of thwarting the diminutive Islamaphobe. 'He even has problems dealing with curbs, so that should do the trick', said Eagleton, who also revealed that Amis's creative writing classes apparently consist largely of him reading a long passage of Bellow or Nabokov and saying 'wow'.

Talk was pretty good too. The ghost of '68 was brought-up several times in reference to the recent university strike action, without it ever seeming like a hollow gesture.


(He does actually look like a bona fide midget in this photo, doesn't he?)

Monday, 21 April 2008

HJ HAD IT WRONG, IN MANY RESPECTS: NATIONAL IDENTITY Pt. 3

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Henry James contrasting America with England ('Hawthorne', 1879):

No State, in the European sense of the word, and indeed barely a specific national name. No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities nor public schools--no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class--no Epsom nor Ascot! Some such list as that might be drawn up of the absent things in American life--especially in the American life of forty years ago, the effect of which, upon an English or a French imagination, would probably as a general thing be appalling. The natural remark, in the almost lurid light of such an indictment, would be that if these things are left out, everything is left out.

The natural remark, to my mind, is that a place with most of these things left out sounds like a very good place indeed.

Friday, 18 April 2008

POEM

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The first bit of action in years. Sat there
with blood coming out of our eyes, applauding
immaculate artistry of a wayward soviet.

Excitement when the volcano burst; autumn
spliced to a memory with a finger’s flick, holiday
blockbuster playing out summer’s end.

Move the earth to be with my good friends,
Move the earth to be there when it ends.

Our absolute team
has gathered light of evening,
shards tumbling out of our globular arms.
Shoulders lug ash.

You were too pretty with me:
you built towns with your charitable hands
but you left no footprint.

We will take on the world with a rock and a book.

Right in the dead-middle of the air
a hard-boiled hulk of a man is visible;
red yolk stiffening to a heavy glue.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

NATIONAL IDENTITY Pt 2

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I saw Ian Hislop on a recent BBC Who Do You Think You Are? programme quoting William Cowper:

England, for all thy faults, I love thee still

The more apt poetic evocation, for me, comes from Linton Kwesi Johnson:

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

LITTLE AMIS AND BIG STATEMENTS

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At the end of last year I saw Martin Amis speaking in a ‘Literature and Terrorism’ debate at Manchester Uni, and two things about the night made an impression. The first thing that struck me was that Amis is an almost laughably small man, providing a sort of poignant proof for the axiom about the startling diminutiveness of famous people. Seeing him on the stairs outside the lecture hall, after he had just fielded the inevitable staunch criticism from fellow speakers for his recent advocacy of neo-con politics, he looked lonely and slightly out of place, not at all comfortable in his latest role as an under-fire political cause-celebre in this archetype of northern red-brick normality, seemingly rather pathetically cut loose from the urbane, metropolitan world he ordinarily inhabits.

The second thing I remember, and the thing most relevant to the present discussion, is Amis trying to prove the point, now quite fashionable in political and cultural circles, that the Western left-wing intelligentsia has become woolly and relativist to the extent that it will routinely show misguided sympathy for such decidedly anti-humanitarian causes as Saddam Hussein, Palestinian terrorism, suicide bombers and the like.

Amis related an anecdote about another recent speaking event, at which he asked audience members to indicate if they felt they were ‘morally superior’ to the Taliban, a request that was met with bafflement, unease, and apparently only a smattering of raised hands. When the same question was posed of Nazi Germany, of course, the response was almost unanimous.

It seemed to me at the time that this was all a bit silly. ‘Morally superior’ is exactly the sort of reductive, chauvinistic slogan debates as vital and delicate as this can do without. Moreover, as a phrase it seems to epitomise the kind of cantankerous mid-twentieth-century-radicalism-grown-reactionary militancy currently favoured by Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and their ilk. Making statements like this, Amis came across as stubborn and upper-class snobbish, looking a bit foolish beside his co-speakers, whose arguments were, I thought, much more nuanced and sensitive to the demands of a mind-bendingly complex issue.

Nevertheless, Amis’s assertion of the need for principled affirmative statements in the context of the present volatile international climate is perhaps not one that should be dismissed out of hand, even if his particular choice of wording was unfortunate. Amis quoted DeLillo’s now famous argument in Mao II, an argument which states that terrorists, with their ‘new tragic narratives’, have appropriated cultural authority from novelists. For Amis, if I’m not misinterpreting things too much, the task of the post-9/11 novelist (and presumably that of other artistic and cultural figures) must therefore be to take back this authority from the terrorist, and not to let a fear of sounding old-fashioned, absolutist and moralistic prevent you from making firm proclamations of belief. Fundamentalism in all its various manifestations, so the line goes, is not likely to be efficaciously countered by guilty liberal ambiguity and cavilled, sitting-on-the-fence rhetoric.

This seems to me to be a more than reasonable assertion, and you might want to view the post below on Thatcher in light of this.

Monday, 14 April 2008

MARGARET ON THE GUILLOTINE

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Apparently many people are gearing-up for the supposedly imminent passing into the night of Margaret Thatcher, preparing to throw ‘Thatcher Death Parties’ as soon as the good news filters through.

Just to forestall what will inevitably be a media frenzy of fairly above-average proportions, I’d just like to offer my twopenny’s worth in rebuttal of the likely suggestion that such festivities might be interpreted as in some way inhumane.

I’m relatively young and have never met Margaret, but on TV, and in books and newspapers etc she has always struck me as, on a personal level, a completely fucking shit human being, not at all one of those people of whom it is possible to say ‘I’m sure she’s a nice person, but …’, and an emphatic riposte to the popular notion that ‘there’s a little bit of good in everyone’.

As with all public figure deaths/births/marriages, our reaction to the event of Thatcher’s death will be less a reflection on the individual than a reaction to what she as a socio-cultural shibboleth represented, which might be summarised as follows: authoritarianism, militarism, greed, social heartlessness, radical egotistic individualism, the end of the welfare state, privatisation, aggressive consumer capitalism, untrammelled economic avarice, anti-union bullying, homophobia, jingoism, racism, divisive England/South-centric majority-rule politics, anti-intellectualism, horrible nasal atonal upper-class speech, snobbery, elitism, bad taste, malign traditionalism, shoddy creative standards, sententious quasi-Churchillian rhetoric, emotional callousness: basically, a cornucopia of everything that is shit in life.

For many people, the death of this woman will represent something like a final, belated divine retribution, and reminder that the unequivocally evil cannot prosper indefinitely. It will also offer a chance for a celebratory declaration that the above values are categorically and unambiguously things that must always, always be vehemently opposed.

Thatcher ruined countless lives in Britain through her political actions, and had a hand in some even more appalling misdeeds elsewhere, in the Falklands and Northern Ireland, and through her tacit support for South African apartheid and such one-dimensionally murderous villains as fascist Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Rejoicing over her final demise will be a chance to make up in some small, exuberant way for all the myriad violence, death, and unscrupulous uncompassionate political nastiness she visited on the world throughout the course of her undeservedly long, comfortable life.

The truly humane thing to do.


A WAY OF HAPPENING

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I know it’s pretty absurdly fucking famous and has been quoted to death by all kinds of people over the years, but Auden in the elegy for Yeats is always worth repeating:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Q)

-
I've just been invited to an event called 'Recession Party' in Manchester tonight. What the Jesus Christ is that about?

BIZARRE '80s REVIVAL VIGNETTE #1 (IN WHICH THE MYSTERY JETS MEET DREW BARRYMORE UPTOWN)

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I think it's worth pointing out that the new Mystery Jets single 'Young Love' bears an uncanny resemblance to 'Way Back Into Love', a Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore duet featured in seminal modern rom-com classic Music and Lyrics (essentially an even-shitter Wedding Singer).

I don't really know what this says about anything, but it is intriguing nevertheless. Aside from the blatant formal-melodic similarities, both tunes feature boy/girl lead vocals, and both are engaged in the kind of superficial '80s nostalgist whimsy currently doing the rounds in just about every walk of popular cultural life.

Both tunes are also pretty good, a fact you might want to situate somewhere on a scale that runs from grimly-disheartening to weirdly-actually-quite-life-affirming.

(Curious Barrymore/Mystery Jet fans should also check out 'Pop! Goes My Heart', another artistic highpoint in Music and Lyrics, and further showcase for Hugh Grant's surprisingly OK vocal skills.)

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

JAMESON'S FINEST (PRESCIENT CULTURAL COMMENTARY)

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As for the postmodern revolt against [modernism] … it must be stressed that its own offensive features – from obscurity and sexually explicit material to psychological squalor and overt expressions of social and political defiance, which transcend anything that might have been imagined at the most extreme moments of high modernism – no longer scandalize anyone and are not only received with the greatest complacency but have themselves become institutionalized and are at one with the official or public culture of Western society.’

‘What has happened is that aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes), at ever greater rates of turnover, now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation. Such economic necessities then find recognition in the various kinds of institutional support available for the newer art, from foundations and grants to museums and other forms of patronage … Yet this is the point at which I must remind the reader of the obvious; namely, that this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death, and terror’
.

- Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism and the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism


Monday, 7 April 2008

Q) IS THE PANDA BEAR ALBUM ALL THAT?

-

Nigerian-born Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins says:


'It's ok, though the kind of lavish praise heaped on Person Pitch by the indie fraternity baffles me slightly. I mean, Pitchfork naming it album of 2007? If this womby esoterica is supposed to define the epoch then I say we should be a little bit worried. The album doesn't get off to an great start: 'Comfy in Nautica' is just so many arch-Beach Boyisms buried under an Everest of water-logged reverb, and this formula pretty much sticks for the remainder of the record. Things do start to brighten-up after obscurely-titled third track 'Bros', which sees the unremitting drum-patterns finally beginning to click with the strung-out melancholia of Noah Lennox's vocals. Album closer 'Ponytail' benefits from a melodic directness not in evidence elsewhere, but it's difficult to banish the impression finally that this is an egocentric, if artfully-wrought side-project'.

'To be fair, I'm not dismissing it out of hand. Actually, I think it could be a grower as they say'.

Obafemi's name translates literally to 'the king loves me' in his native Yoruba language.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A NON-COMPREHENSIVE, SELF-PROCLAIMEDLY RIDICULOUS LIST HINTING REDUCTIVELY AT MY SENSE OF NATIONAL IDENTITY

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'Englishness' having become an unmistakably HOT TOPIC in recent times, I thought a totally absurd, borderline-bigoted summary of my personal Manichean take on things might be a good idea.

So, in an imaginary play in which English good fights English evil, and in which any faults or redeeming nuances are clumsily ironed-out of characterisation, the cast sheet would probably read something like this ...

ENGLISH GOODIES
The Beatles
Kevin Keegan
William Shakespeare
William Blake
William Morris
Shelley
Robin Hood
Lauren Laverne
John Peel
Tony Wilson
Basil Bunting
Johnny Marr
Delia Derbyshire
The Futureheads
The Stone Roses
Tony Benn
Gina McKee
Oasis
Charles Dickens
Milton
Anne-Marie Duff
The BBC
Michael Eavis
The Venerable Bede

ENGLISH BADDIES
John Betjeman
Margaret Thatcher
The entire aristocracy since William the Conqueror
Jo Whiley
Jane Austen
Evelyn Waugh
Virginia Woolf
Peter Stringfellow
Johnny Borrell
Geri Halliwell
The Duke of Wellington
Dennis Wise
Jeremy Clarkson
Lord Kitchener
Alan Sugar
Simon Cowell
Archbishop Laud
Sharon Osbourne
Richard Curtis
Robert Baden-Powell
Lily Allen
Cecil Rhodes
Kingsley Amis

Friday, 4 April 2008

SPAWN OF LOADSAMONEY

-

Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Lily Allen and Lauren Laverne from the TV show Lily Allen and Friends broadcast last week:

[Just by the way, Lily Allen sounds precisely in these exchanges like a spoilt, not-very-bright public schoolgirl. This is because she is a spoilt, not-very-bright public schoolgirl.]

ALLEN: Peter Stringfellow is a nasty man.
LAVERNE: Yeah.
ALLEN: I mean, respect to his trade and what he does.
LAVERNE: What do you mean respect?! Respect to what? Respect to the lapdancing trade? Yeah it’s really important to respect that! Do we?
ALLEN: I like it.
LAVERNE: Do you? Oh my god.
ALLEN: When I signed my record deal I went there.
LAVERNE: Did you? To Stringies?
ALLEN: I got quite into it. [coquettishly] I liked sitting there while they gyrated in front of me.
LAVERNE: I’m sure it’s very nice; they look like very pleasant girls.
ALLEN: Yeah yeah, it was fun, umm [turning to the camera as if to say ‘moving on …’]
LAVERNE: But yet, a little bit sad isn’t it, really? The thing is …
ALLEN: A lot of girls do it to fund their education …
LAVERNE: Nah, do you know what Lily, that’s fucking bollocks, right, cos even if they spend the money on that, it’s one of those things that, it’s one of those lies that blokes try and sell you that, you know: ‘you’ve got the power, cos like, you’re getting the money for it’. Frankly, if you’re being paid to be naked, you’ve not got any power in that dynamic. It’s not a good thing. It’s a bad thing.
ALLEN: [holding up her hands, perhaps realising she sounds slightly ridiculous] But I think it’s a woman’s right to sell herself. If there’s a market for it, why not?
LAVERNE: [magnanimous, but clearly utterly appalled by this stage] Let’s do this on ‘Loose Women’. For now, back to the show …

Now, I should begin by saying that, as far as myself and Lily Allen’s music is concerned, I think it’s mostly not that bad. Or, put differently, while it would be slightly disingenuous of me to say that I have a lot of time for her first record, it might be said that I have something approaching a little bit of not-very-valuable time for it, some of the time.

So, I was initially willing to give Lily a chance. But then strange things started happening. Lily had made a fairly decent, sometimes innovative album that appealed to a wide range of the British listening public. This was pop, but it was the kind of mildly urbane, occasionally trenchant and witty pop the alternative fraternity could appreciate just as readily as could a twelve year-old girl. The music was a neat, hi-fidelity hybrid of The Specials, St Etienne, and The Streets, and underneath the bubblegum sheen there appeared to be a sort of laudable combativeness and belligerence, a hint of marginalised rebellion and feminist vigour which set Lily apart from the Bailey Rae/Melua school of say-nothing mediocrity.

As such, it was confusing when Lily began to behave not so much like an alternative musician, and quite a lot like a first-year graduate intern at Price Waterhouse Cooper. Lily began to make statements like: ‘I just want to make some money. Maybe I could retire at 25. I’m only going to do one more album’, and [see article below] ‘So what if we're middle class? Just 'cos your mum was too lazy to get her fat ass up off the sofa and make some cash. I shouldn't be able to make tunes, yeah?' Apparently, we were told, such comments had to be viewed in light of Lily’s difficult upbringing. Lily’s poor mum had struggled for years to raise Lily and her siblings in the face of innumerable hardships such as having to fork out for her kids’ private education, being the wife/girlfriend of successful commedians Keith Allen and Harry Enfield, and producing multi-million dollar international blockbuster movies. Lily’s cynical, money-minded careerism, we were told, arose from a desire to ensure she herself would never have to return to this world of Dickensian privation.

Soon Lily’s face began to appear with increasing regularity on the cover of lifestyle magazines throughout the land, commenting on yet more aspects of her arduous life: Lily was after all going out with moderately famous Chemical Brother Ed Simons, taking cocaine now and then, and suffering from the bane of having an arse she thought was just that little bit too voluminous. Despite this, Lily became a ‘fashion icon’ and role model for young girls everywhere, a paragon of good style-sense and straight-talking neo-‘girl power’ sensibility.

Then it was announced that Lily was to be become a chat show host. Now, I am quite prepared to admit to being the holder of principles that might strike some as being woefully puritanical and old-fashioned. Nevertheless, it seems to me that hosting a chat show is probably not the sort of thing anyone interested in producing challenging, worthwhile art should be indulging in. Chat shows, surely, are vehicles for people like Terry Wogan and Oprah Winfrey, people with a penchant for suave, inoffensive affability, celebrities adept in the art of entertaining as many disparate people as possible with professional inanity and a studied genial populism.

Yet it seems that, for Lily, there is nothing wrong with trying to be, on one hand, something like a poppier Kate Bush, and on the other, a cooler, ‘feistier’ Davina McCall, nothing incongruous with being a serious musician at the same time as being a flirtatious celebrity style-icon. Presumably, as with most things where Lily is concerned, money provides legitimacy for this indiscriminate willingness to conflate mainstream and anti-establishment characteristics.

The above quoted conversation is a useful case in point. Here we see a young, inordinately rich musician defending the woman’s right to sell herself as a lapdancer, to the total bafflement of another, rather more scrupulous musical figure from a not-so-distant period of history, in which the justification but if there’s a market for it … was not some kind of quasi-postmodernist get-out clause masquerading as a proclamation of self-empowerment, with the potential to excuse all manner of corporate evils.

If Lauren Laverne personifies alternative music past: funny, articulate, principled, politically aware [Laverne, remember, memorably labelled The Spice Girls 'Tory scum' back in 1997] , then Lily Allen epitomises with horrifying exactitude the present state of the musical-cultural landscape: a place in which consumerism, fashion, self-objectifying sexuality and a kind of reactionary Burchillian brattiness have come to define the public persona of a girl who initially promised something a lot smarter and more creative.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

A NEO-FREUDIAN NUGGET OF WISDOM FROM ONE OF OUR NATIONAL TREASURES

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INTERVIEWER: Who are you trying to impress when you perform?
KEN DODD: Oh, almost certainly it’s your parents.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

CONTRASTS

-
MICKY: She’s got a certain je ne sais quoi, hasn’t she?
PAUL: She’s got a pair of titties.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

THE NEW FUTUREHEADS'

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I love ‘The Beginning of the Twist’ because it has a chord sequence more monumental than Penshaw Monument and a melody with more serpentine involutions than the Lambton Worm.

There’s localism for you.

That is all.

Monday, 31 March 2008

HEADS UP

-
Y'all should check out Bon Iver.

I dunno much about him, but Pitchfork said good things about his debut For Emma, Forever Ago, so I thought I'd give it a go, and it really is fantastic.

I'm not sure how you'd categorise it: scrappy folk, alt-folk, alt-country, folked-up alt-shit? It sounds a bit like the best bits of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou only without the smug ethnographical worthiness. Apparently it was recorded alone in a remote cabin in Wisconsin, which I suppose would account for the cracked, valetudinarian rawness of the songwriting. Shades of Elliot Smith and Bonnie Prince Billy, but more primitive and lacerating than either; the kind of record that works best listened-to in the midst of a really bad hangover or similar moment of mordant fragility. Mr Iver has a direct, powerfully emotive melodic range, and his music is about as far away from the spurious fakery of worldly scenesterism as it's possible to get. A big thumbs-up from me.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MY NME?

-
Clearing out the contents of my old house about a fortnight ago I came across two bin liners full of old NMEs.

Against my better instincts I decided to chuck the lot of them, but kept back one edition from 1997, which I decided to keep not because it evoked any special private significance, but because even a brief skim-read was enough to confirm all my bleakest suspicions about the decline of a publication that until recently meant a very great deal to a significant minority of intelligent music listeners in Britain.

Now, I am aware that, when I bought my first copy of the paper as a twelve year-old in the second Britpop summer of 1996, its acknowledged ‘70s-‘80s heyday of Charles Shaar Murray, Ian McDonald, Paul Morley and Simon Reynolds lay some years in the past. Nevertheless, glancing cursorily through articles on Coldcut, Scarfo, Beck, Foo Fighters and the like, I was reminded just how subtle and literate the NME could be, even up to the late-‘90s when I became a reader.

I’ve been meaning to count the words in this edition of 1997, and to do the same for a 2008 issue. Frankly I’m far too lazy for that, but just looking at the size of the pages it’s clear that anyone with the patience to do this would come out with two radically disparate figures (I reckon 2008 NME is about five times smaller than its 1997 counterpart). Whereas the first page of 2008 NME features a glib, cliché-ridden editorial written by current imbecile of an editor Conor McNicholas, as well as a list of contents in the lifestyle magazine mould, 1997 NME has four sizeable, well-written news pieces. Where 2008 NME’s musical remit begins and ends with ‘indie’ in the narrowest, Topshop-defined sense, 1997 NME had Vibes - a four-page dance section - as well as sections on television, film, and even books (yes books!). I can remember being energised by political articles in the NME of the late-nineties: a timely attack on the mass-hysteria surrounding Diana’s death only a few days after her funeral; a defence of Marilyn Manson following Columbine; a front cover featuring Ken Livingstone just before the London mayoral elections. Today’s NME Awards are sponsored by Shockwaves, a fact emblematic of the new arch-corporatist bent of the paper, and sad indication of how far it has strayed from its politicised past.

Linguistically too, standards have declined markedly. In the 1997 issue singles page Keith Cameron (probably my favourite writer back in the day) uses words like ‘eulogising’, ‘curmudgeonly’, and ‘iconoclasts’ to describe records by Travis and Cornershop that are probably unworthy of such an articulate response. This kind of vocabulary would be wholly alien in the NME of the present day (Conor McNicholas uses the phrase ‘dive-y venues’ in the editorial of this week’s issue, for instance) a fact which strikes me as being almost unutterably depressing.

Since its inception in the wake of punk, British indie music established a formidable tradition of intelligence, ideology, poetry and subversion, and it was largely through cultural mainstays such as the NME (as well as people like John Peel) that this tradition was able to flourish. From Joy Division and The Smiths through to Pulp, Radiohead and The Beta Band, successive artists were able to rely on a witty, sophisticated critical element in British cultural life, at the heart of which was the NME: a bastion of political radicalism, good taste and innovation that could be relied upon to seek-out and champion all that was creative and original on the margins of the national scene.

My own experiences with independent music were almost all the result of obsessive cover-to-cover readings of the NME every Wednesday. The NME opened up a world of idealism, eclecticism, wit and analytical depth that played an inestimably influential role in determining my attitudes towards music, and indeed art of all kinds, attitudes that I largely still hold. I didn’t read all that many books as a fifteen year-old, but I read the NME weekly in its entirety, and at that time this was enough to foster and maintain my interest in writing and critical thinking, so much so that my English lit. essays for many years read like NME album reviews. The NME of today, which reads increasingly like a scarcely more expansive Smash Hits, or a musical Nuts, would not be able to have anything like the same impact on an impressionable teenager, hungry for ideas and living in an isolated corner of rural northern England. This, truly, is a tragedy of colossal proportions.

If you want to find nuanced, incisive music journalism in 2008 you’ll have to look across the pond, via the internet, to Pitchfork, the website that has seemingly inherited wholesale the NME’s position as arbiter of the musical underground. Nothing wrong with this of course, but indicative more than anything else that North America has nigh-on entirely stolen our thunder as far as resolutely anti-mainstream popular music is concerned. If we want to rival the artistic successes of our transatlantic counterparts when it comes to producing left-field, progressive music, and if we want to do away with the fancy-dress indie cabaret of the BRIT school ascendancy, the NME is going to have to rediscover some of its former lucid intelligence and rebelliousness, or else some new figurehead for alternative culture will have to emerge to replace it. Otherwise, pretty soon our tradition of radical independent music in this country may be totally and irreparably lost.

Friday, 28 March 2008

TEN REASONS TO BE UNCHEERFUL

-
ONE: John Peel and Tony Wilson are dead.

TWO: Jo Whiley and Mark Ronson are flourishing.

THREE: British independent music is inches away from being buried completely under a hail of derivativeness, elitism, fashion, and unscrupulous corporatism.

FOUR: What was formerly, meaningfully independent has been reduced to a casual, two-syllable advertising slogan. Indie now has (in Britain at any rate) exactly the same cache in the world of marketing as Ferrari or Luckies might have had in previous years, and is used indiscriminately to sell all manner of products - clothes, mobile phones, hair products, computer games, cars, models, lifestyles.

FIVE: This is, unequivocally, a terrible state of affairs.

SIX: In the past, a lot of pious shit was talked about ‘selling-out’; today it is a scarcely tenable concept.

SEVEN: Musical purism has gotten out of control. Contra Noel Gallagher, ‘it’ (whatever it is) is not just rock’n’roll. Popular music can be simple, primitive, dance-like and spontaneous. But it can also be every bit as sophisticated, intelligent, ideological and pretentious (in the most positive sense of the word) as any other art form. British popular music in particular has, historically at least, often epitomised the very best kind of hybrid amalgamation of spontaneity and intellectualism, body and head, instinct and ideas, simplicity and depth. Moreover, this ‘both-and’ tendency has perhaps gone further than any other cultural movement in our history towards challenging the rigid hierarchies of British social life, consistently undermining class-like separations of high and low, presenting a forward-looking, often radical, always exuberant tradition that left its doors open to all-comers (unlike, say, much classical music, opera, fine art, etc).

EIGHT: The NME has abdicated its position as arbiter of the musical underground, becoming instead an epitome of the new tendency towards childishness, music-as-fashion, uncritical PR-style enthusiasm and musical conservatism. Where once it was a vital subversive bulwark, the NME is now in the vanguard of all that is reactionary in British culture life: a beau ideal of consumer capitalism.

NINE: This makes me want to cry.

TEN: As does Kate Nash, in a very different way.

Friday, 21 March 2008

AN APOLOGY

-
As the member of a guitar band I would just like to offer my sincere apologies for the inordinate predominance of guitars in contemporary music.

This prompted by a recollection of the listening habits of myself and friends, aged 16, circa Xmas 2000.

Favourites were:

Dr Dre - 2001
Destinys Child - Writing's on the Wall
Steve Reich - New York Counterpoint
Doves - Lost Souls
Super Furry Animals - Guerilla
Beastie Boys - Anthology
The Beatles - White Album
Aphex Twin - The Richard D. James Album
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin.

What happened to this catholic openness?

Sunday, 9 March 2008

ONCE AND FOR ALL ...

-
PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT

PRINCE HARRY IS NOT A HERO; HE'S A CUNT


&c, &c

Thursday, 21 February 2008

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

-
Capturing the zeitgeist with frightening accuracy, the theme of last night's Brit Awards appeared to be 'Money/Death', as if someone behind the scenes had gotten completely the wrong end of the stick about Damien Hirst's 'Diamond Skull'.

Like a cross between Beverly Hills circa 1982 and an Edgar Allan Poe short story, the stage featured a gargantuan memento mori disguised as a cartoon of co-host Ozzy Osbourne, a fixture which rhymed neatly with the gurning, synthetic hideousness of his wife's actual face.

Appropriately, those cultural altruists at MasterCard provided, in Kelly Osbourne's eloquent phrase, 'association for' the night, in what, if I'm being generous, may have been a knowing wink at the unabashed corporatism of the whole thing, but was probably nothing of the sort, the digitised red-gold hues of their logo after all providing an apt symbolic lynchpin for the pervasive sense of orgiastic decadence.

Props to the Arctic Monkeys though for arriving like a band of irreverently iconoclastic (and pretty pissed) spectres at the feast, sending-up the quasi-aristocratic nature of the event by dressing as country gents (though you can bet the British fashion press will overlook the irony here), taking gloriously-slurred pot-shots at the omnipresent BRIT School alumni, and generally exhibiting the kind of behaviour you might expect from sane, talented people amidst the absurd, gem-encrusted panorama of vanity.

They might have a bit of a way to go before the music is on a par with the maturity of the lyrics, but their hearts are clearly in the right place, and they stood out like heroic subversives last night.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

JUST WASN'T MEANT TO BE

-
'It's like

the first time

I told her

I liked her arse

she said:

"really?!

but I poo

out of it!"

and I thought:

Jesus Christ,

where

do I go

from here?'

Thursday, 14 February 2008

A MARGINALLY LONGER POEM

-
SNOW ON THE WINTER PALACE

I remember the hospital as a boarded-up Hermitage in winter
Set for our decorously private tragedy -
The wiping-out of a family

When you died the snow drifted wordlessly around
Its quiet lyricism recalling Russia
And a longstanding literary tradition

I loved snow
And as a facetious adolescent would place it
In a never-complete list of ‘Top Ten Things in the World’:

Music, girls, drugs, books, Eastenders - and snow
Trying to convey wittily
A democratic eclecticism

Now I can’t think of it
But a glacial nothingness
Shatters the nerves on the back of my neck

Saturday, 2 February 2008

THIS ROUGH MAGIC I HERE ABJURE

-
I love serene relinquishings of power in song lyrics.

Examples include:

Teenage Fanclub - 'I Don't Want Control of You'
Ian Brown - 'Keep What Ya Got (By Giving it All Away)'
Ivor Cutler - 'Women of the World' ('Women of the world take over / Cos if you don't the world will come to an end / And it won't take long')

Like Shakespeare's late plays.

Friday, 1 February 2008

FRIDAY NIGHT ROUND OUR HOUSE

-
ME: Why don't we go to Chorlton?
PAUL: Ah no man ... I just dunno if I can be arsed getting beaten up and then getting fucking ... bohemianized by the fucking ... diverse cultures.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

SELECTED HIGHLIGHTS FROM ONE OF HUMAN HISTORY'S VERY WORST FILMS

-
"My name is Matt Buckner. Last spring, I got kicked out of Harvard two months shy of my diploma, but what I was about to learn, no lvy League school in the world could teach me. "

"Was that a terrorist attack?What happened here?"
"Welcome to match-day madness. Tottenham was in town last night."
"Are you a soccer fan now?"
"Don't let them hear you say soccer."
"Who's 'them'?"
"The British Empire."

"I'll tell you what I'll do, all right? I'll give you a hundred ... if you take Matt here to the match."
(Heavy South-African accent) "Fuck off, you're having a bubble."

"I'm not being funny, but the last thing I want to do is to take you to the match.
So here's how it works. Give me half the money. I'll go to football. You can see where Churchill took a tom, or whatever you Yanks do in Jolly Old."

"Ruby Murray means curry. We call it cockney rhyming slang."

"So, basically, firms are gangs."
"Kind of. But we're a far cry from all that Bloods and Crips bullshit. Shooting a machine-gun out of a moving car at an eight-year-old girl, that's just cowardly."

WISE WORDS FROM A CHINESE FRIEND

-
Time goes so fast, and I think what it leaves us is far more than what we can memorize-joy, sorrow, gathering and leaving, perhaps what we got out of that is maturity and strength, and thus we are approaching to know what life is.

I can't decide whether this is Hallmark-style mawkishness or Zen-like poetry, but I think I'll go with the latter.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

THE GLORIOUS RETURN OF KEEGANITE RHETORIC

-
I know the club. I'm not saying the other managers didn't, but I know it as a player, a manager, I know what it's like in terms of what the fans want. They'd like to win something. When they've worked all week, the match for them is like it is for people down south going to the theatre. They want to see something special. They want us to have a go and that's why we're here. We're going to have a go.
- KK, January 2008

The journalists at the press conference tittered indulgently, sardonically.

The Toon supporters in Shearer's Bar laughed because it was so marvellously, obviously, precisely true, and because no one else ever seems to get it.