Thursday, 17 December 2009


... cultural decadal summary from Mark Fisher/K-Punk in this week's New Statesman (best, most succinct I've seen yet).

Fave bits:

No longer dressed in staid grey, the new cultural conservatism that enjoys full-spectrum dominance blitzes us with hypnotic hype - the whole neurotic assault and battery of multi-media marketing and interactivity that seems designed to ensure that nothing will ever happen again.

But if bohemia can rouse itself from defeat and depression, the cultural terrain seems open for contest in a way that it has not been for a long time. Perhaps soon we will be able to look back on the Noughties with a shudder and think: how did things ever get that bad?

Fisher's book is a bargain ...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Excerpt from forthcoming The Pale King, entitled 'All That'.

See also this excellent potted bio article of DFW at the New Yorker.

Monday, 7 December 2009


Have finally gotten round to listening to (and enjoying) these guys.

I knew we were always only a step away from a Chris Isaak revival!

Not really sure what potentialities it suggests for future UK alt-rock though, and there's the inevitable staginess of the vocals.

But better a vaguely cheesy American vocal intonation than a spuriously demotic one. One of the worst things about Libertines, Kate Nash, Maccabees et al is that the colloquial British accent is now an unfortunate (not to mention deeply corny) shibbolleth for a sort of twee, hedonistic, metropolitan, drama-school privilege.


... is up there with Conor McNicholas, Jo Whiley et al on my Middlebrow Wanker of the Decade list.

This review of the decade's pop was appropriately Whiggish and banal, a facetious non-argument which passingly acknowledges the limitations of mainstream pop culture, while wrapping the whole thing in blandly un-rigorous yuletide optimism.

Friday, 4 December 2009


The Euro-eccentric's noughties masterpiece receives fittingly hyperbolic praise over at The Grain.

Top 10 Tunes of the Decade fast approaching.


In sum, this decade offered up a flat
and fierce rebuttal to the notion that
pop music’s every bit as ‘high’ as books:
The Killers, Razorlight, Snow Patrol, Muse, The Kooks.

Monday, 9 November 2009


My first brush with death:
aged nine,
I saw Daniel Day Lewis
in Last of the Mohicans.

It was the last day of
first school,
and as the credits rolled,
my eyes streamed.

'So life is that
short, and then you die?'
'Yes' said my Dad.

'But that is also what makes it
worth while'.



The best thing about this was the pared-down ordinariness of the portrait.

Keats has suffered more than most because of some hysterical, not to say excessive, admirers. So it was good to see him here as a pretty average guy able to evoke a world of magic in his writing.

There was a great line that went something like 'the poet is the least interesting thing about a work'. I think starting from this sceptical premise and then trying to create your own core of interest stands as a good methodology for any biopic.

With some pretty spot-on cinematography ('poetic-visual'?), and some brilliantly nuanced acting from the three leads, the poetry could be sprinkled on top in a nicely subtle ancillary way, obviating any capital K Keats bullshit.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Despite having enjoyed the odd Weezer tune back in the day, I doubt I'll ever get around to listening to Raditude.

But this is surely either greatest, or the most spectacularly risible album cover I've ever seen.

By some way.

Monday, 2 November 2009



The Graduate in reverse?

Education and self-abnegation win out against individual freedom, hedonism.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


"Let this
be a lesson
to you:
don’t matter!
think of

Meaning slips
and slides,
is not
be controlled,
no memory,
soon runs
out of juice."

See this
wagon full of
stalling and
in a final
abject disaster,
halfway down
the A69.

Friday, 23 October 2009



Perhaps the most pernicious cultural institution in recent memory (Radio One's Live Lounge) is now the presenting vehicle of FEARNE FUCKING COTTON.

In light of which, how has FATM's bile-inducing, stage-school-awful, Live-Lounge-incarnate cover of 'You've Got the Love' managed to slip through the credibility net?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


That photo:
the two of us,

you holding me aloft
in a dangle of triumph.

In those days we
were round and hopeful,

joy thread tautly
on our spirit-level gaze.

‘Respect for you – that
I did not expect,

looking up
into those spry pupils;

a face so sharply
distinct from my own’.

Later on the scales would tilt,
splashing endless excessive

effusions of water
all over your brain.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Dreamy, dirty, laconic, fantastic.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


ME: How did we meet, again?
LOUISE: Fatality.

Friday, 9 October 2009



I can't decide whether this is timely optimism or hollow American Dreamery.

In a way over-harsh review Pitchfork made much of the indie/hip-hop crossover context on Blueprint 3. So how about 'Paris' by Friendly Fires as an inspiration for this one? If the genealogy holds, although I quite like FF, this is surely a step in the wrong direction for Jay Z (and hip-hop generally) - a step off the ground and into the clouds, a step into hedonism and the rarefied melancholy that comes with it.

Aspirational-Thatcherite? Or Obamanian-communitarian?

Whatever, the album's (mostly) delicious.

Friday, 2 October 2009


I think this is good news overall.

At least, on top of the fact of this horrible desecration of the club's recent history, the really malignant elements have gotten a tiny bit of their just desserts.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


... is an astonishing bit of kit.

Highlights include: 'Surgical Gloves', 'Ason Jones', and the two Ghostface tracks, 'New Wu' and 'Penitentiary'.

Further proof of the roughly Obama-coinciding resurgence of mainstream hip-hop as a vital musical force in the last years of the decade (I'm thinking it started post-Nas's 'Hip-Hop is Dead' - within months you got Ghostface's Fishscale, Jay-Z's American Gangster, then came Lil Wayne, The Renaissance, Wale, Blueprint 3 etc).

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Monday, 28 September 2009

Thursday, 27 August 2009


1st May, 2009

Running over blades of light
In Oxford on this worship me! day,
The ipod piping noon and the season
Into blood that just the other day
I’d judged old and cooled. 
And all the family optimism
Coalescing in a rush
As Keble chapel limbers into view,
The Light of the World inside,
And inside me:
The Toon will go down, the Tories get in,
But by God, or whoever, life will go on

Now I dare to think I know a mote-sized part
Of what my mother meant
That moment in the car four years ago
(Her sentence months-back passed):
Oh Aixy, I didn’t think I’d see another spring!
She was sun-dazzled, and inexplicably hopeful.

Friday, 21 August 2009


LOUISE: Before Jesus ... ?
ME: Yes ...
LOUISE: There were Christians, weren't there?
ME: ...
LOUISE: I know that there are - I want to talk about it!
ME: Um ...
LOUISE: Christ was around before Jesus. Cos God is like Christ, isn't he, God? And the Holy Spirit. So who are the people who read the Old Testament?
ME: ...
LOUISE: I was just thinking, before Jesus, Christians didn't have much to talk about, did they?

Thursday, 13 August 2009


E-mail from Gordon just arrived in me hotmail inbox with this link attached ...

Monday, 20 July 2009


As regards context (for worthwhile music): London = Bad, Newcastle = Good.

I realize this is a gross over-simplification, a completely unforgivable, borderline-bigoted generalization. I’m brushing over the genuine opportunities a metropolitan centre affords new bands, ignoring the serious shortcomings of a provincial town without any formalised infrastructure to speak of.

But fuck it. After watching Post War Years in a sort of barren corporate Shoreditch-Gomorrah last week (see gig review below) I saw Findo Gask play to a Newcastle crowd as part of a small, completely free local festival, and it was without a doubt the best gig I’ve been to all year.

This could easily have gone the way of PWY @ Vibe Bar. Here were four young men in multicoloured sweatshirts, with a sound that ticked just about every box imaginable, musical zeitgeist-wise (synths – check, disco-redolent accessibility – check, post-punk edge – check). But instead of coming across as a cynical, shallow, manufactured pop-like gesture, as with PWY, all these elements seemed to click for me as I watched Findo Gask’s set this weekend, to come across as complementary parts of a sincere and harmonious whole.

There were no record company A&Rs present. There was no cocktail-strewn VIP room, and no banner on stage to proclaim the fashion industry-sponsored nature of the whole thing. Instead, there were lots of friends drinking on a Saturday afternoon, un-self-conscious people dancing, members from a wide array of incredibly good north-eastern and Scottish art-rock bands talking to each other in bullshit-free, self-deprecating terms. This was something approaching a mutually-supportive, autonomous community, and it felt utterly right, where Vibe Bar had felt so completely wrong.

Back to the band itself, and Gerard Black’s voice is a big part of what distinguishes the Gask from their less-imaginative coevals. Plaintive, romantic, and the opposite of derivative, something about his delivery in set highlight ‘One Eight Zero’ recalled early Morrissey in a really good way (perhaps it was the post-industrial-gothic, railway arch setting). And flanking him were Jehovah’s own backing vocalists Greg Williams and Gav Thomson, so soaringly and angelically in-tune that I thought they must be cheating in some arcane technological way (they weren’t, of course).

Other than that, as far as I’m concerned, the mystery of the Gask’s genius is a fairly straightforward one. They’re talented, and they’ve got something interesting to say. But this isn’t in itself enough. What sets the Gask apart from people like Post War Years is their knack for eschewing London-centric generic-ness, for breathing a unique spirit of independence and marginality into a music that might otherwise be degraded by a context of identity-distorting ephemerality and trends.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen at first hand music so appropriately located in context, so wonderfully comfortable in its own skin, so purely focused on the mere fact that it exists.

Monday, 13 July 2009


‘All young writers have, very naturally, a tendency to imitate the personal habits of an older author whom they admire. And I think my generation was singularly fortunate in that our hero was Mr Eliot. I don’t think that any of us, so far as I know, took to imitating him to the point of wearing a bowler hat and carrying a tightly-rolled umbrella. But at least he taught us that it is not becoming to look too much like a poet.’ W.H. Auden on T.S. Eliot.

Against which I’d like to place a corresponding adage: ‘it is not becoming to look too much like an indie musician’.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


CHILD: I'm going to fall over.
DAD: Don't fall over, you'll bonk yourself.
[Child falls over, starts crying]
CHILD: I did fall over.


I don’t think I’m being blithely reactionary or un-astutely apathetic in saying that British alternative music is in a state of total and profound confusion right now. Where are the movements? Where are the standard-bearers? Who are the genuine maverick innovators (as opposed to the tiresome Kate Bush-lite wannabes and the fashionista bullshitters)? Where is the underground? Where is the mainstream-independent divide? Where is the coherent narrative of any kind? Is the traditional four-piece instrumental group a completely outmoded concept? Is the entire genre an outmoded concept in light of genuinely relevant and progressive modern musical developments such as grime, dubstep and US r’n’b-pop?

In a situation like this, without any discernible infrastructure or starting point from which to begin, the rational analysis of new independent band is a task fraught with objective-judgment-testing quandaries. It’s likely to give rise to a number of question, questions like is this the sound of a daring, experimental, technology-abetted future, or is it the sound of a group of desperate and immature young men trying to sound like Duran Duran, or the worst bits of Michael Jackson, because a self-consuming, pastiche-obsessed 20-year stretch has left them with nothing to rip-off but the sleaziest dregs of pop history?

This was the sort of debate taking place in my head as I watched Post War Years the other night. I couldn’t really make up my mind as to whether they were purveyors of a laudably edgy futurism, or a kind of horribly confused post-Klaxons, ‘80s funk-reviving, synth-driven mess.

On the plus side, these lads from the Leamington Spa ghetto are doing interesting things with the orthodox four-piece set-up, alternating between samplers, keys and (most intriguingly and successfully of all, on the excellent ‘Black Morning’) a twin-bass guitar + sampler + drums arrangement. They’re also a significant improvement on vaguely similar-sounding coevals Foals; they know how to take the post-rock/electronica template beyond one-dimensionality by way of an awareness of melody and harmonic development. Thus, a vogue-ish tune like the very Foals-y ‘Whole World On Its Head’ is redeemed by a powerful vocal line (a welcome contrast to the guileless ‘post-punk’ LDN yelping of Yannis Phillipakis). A further salvaging boon lies in the fact of their willingness to experiment with a wide variety of textures and stylistic touchstones, from the Hot Chip-redolent prog of ‘Soul Owl’ to the ambient grace of tunes like ‘White Lies’.

However, there were moments on Friday night this subtlety got buried under a hailstorm of gratuitous synth tackiness. Perhaps this was a live vs. recordings issue, perhaps there’s something fundamentally wrong with translating into a live context tunes which have obviously started-off as experiments in bedroom tech-manipulation. Whatever it was, there seemed to me to be something incongruous at the heart of the experience, something hollow in the sight of four trendily-dressed young men running through a routine of clichéd indie-band ‘moves’ (stagecraft, I believe it’s called) as part of a Levis-sponsored gig complete with a VIP room packed with mojito-toting music biz wankers who couldn’t even be bothered to muster much of an applause at the end of each song. Surely this is just about the most inappropriate context imaginable for the sort of music that Post War Years produce – music that is grounded in sonic experimentation, textural shifts, complexity, and studio adventurousness. In this context, the synth elements really did seem like the work of a naff Duran Duran-like pop band, rather than of radical innovators.

Context is everything, and bands need to be a darnsight more aware of this if alternative music is to become interesting and worthwhile again over the next few years. Because there is a very real risk that the time-worn British tradition of radicalism and idiosyncrasy will die with a whimper if these sorts of conditions continue.

For all that, the set concluded with the aforementioned ‘Black Morning’ and I began to swing back to a more sympathetic mindset. This tune was soulful and expansive, with a sublime melody and a piano sample that got the human being-tech ratio exactly right. In the end I made my mind up. Post War Years are a laudably futuristic band. Even if the kind of context they’re operating in works against the genuine worth of what they’re trying to do, they’re still a massive step-up from the sort of archly-conservative garage rock these shores were blighted with in the wake of the Strokes. They’re trying to push things forward, and they have ambitious creative horizons.

They’re on the side of the angels. Just.

(but whatever you do, DON'T CLICK ON THIS LINK)

Thursday, 9 July 2009


I picked up Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers last night at a friend's, and thought it seemed fairly reasonable and worthwhile on first glance.

Anyway, the opening vignette - a eulogy to the benefits of good upbringing and background based on the story of an uncannily healthy Italian-American community - got me thinking about latter day attempts to recapture communitarian ideals, and (perhaps inevitably, for me) modern folk music was the first example that sprung to mind.

But, for all that I love it, thinking things over, it struck me that post-revival folk music on the whole seems to be a remarkably family- (as opposed to community-) oriented beast, constructed around a series of dynasties - Carthy/Waterson, The Kerrs, Prior/Kemp etc.

Of course, this has always been the way of things, to an extent, and it doesn't contradict the central thesis of Outliers at all, but the fact of this collective principle having shrunk to the atomistic level of the nuclear family seems like a bit of a shame. Basically, playing folk music growing up, sometimes it felt like there was a strong element of elitism in the genre, which was a massive paradox in light of its staunchly anti-elitist ideological core.

Sometimes it seemed to me that it would be difficult to take things beyond a certain point unless you were a member of a 'folk family', that there was an element of exclusive 'flame-carrying' that precluded any notion of folk music as a viable communal entity, that even this archetype of modern neo-collectivism, couldn't hope to build enclaves larger than the familial unit.

And if even folk music can't manage this ...

Friday, 26 June 2009


Extravagantly overrated band/record; superb, zeitgeist-encapsulating tune.

The key allusion here has got to be 'Dancing Queen'. Formally, quite a bit is half-inched from those ABBA kids - the simple, slaying two-chord pedal, the louche acme-D.I.S.C.O beat...

But I'm thinking more about the subject matter.

Bear with me. 'Dancing Queen' is a gay anthem, for obvious reasons. Gay culture in various ways subsists on ironic reversals of normative stereotypes eg. the co-option of queer, queen, poof etc as proudly ironic self-labels.

It's always seemed to me that a much broader version of this principle is at work with the tenor of gay culture as a whole; in its valorisation of surface and appearance it seems to be saying, you want to make superficial judgment-calls about us based on the way we dress or the timbre of our speech? OK, well we'll throw this back in your face as a form of empowerment. We'll transform the focus on surface-minutiae and outer trappings into a beautiful, soulful, rebellious raison d'etre.

Surely, part of the reason for 'Dancing Queen' attaining to its status as gay anthem over the last three-or-so decades is that it embodies and gives expression to this process of subversive redefinition, with a crystalline pathos and celebratory ebullience that is the preserve of the classic pop song. It pushes glitter and surface to such a peak of extremity that ends up sounding like the most profound, tragic, glorious thing in existence (helped along the way, it should go without saying, by a melody that is its own justification).

Fast-forward to the US/UK in 2008 and the ghost of '... Queen' becomes newly relevant in its 'Time to Pretend' reincarnation. Because now we're all of us - gay/straight, mainstream/indie - in danger of being thoroughly dehumanized by an orthodox worldview that tries to present hedonism and surface-worship as the be-all and end-all of life.

A lot of the time we can try to fight this, get angry about it, try to seek out stuff that is deep and worthwhile to counteract all the superficial froth that daily surrounds us. But sometimes you have to throw off piety and make a virtue out of what's in front of you, sometimes you have to look for ways of transforming shallowness into something joyous and meaningful, sometimes you have to seize control of the situation by re-imagining a life of models and cars and cocaine as something that might actually have some elements of beauty within it somewhere along the lines. Sometimes all you can do is be proud to say, with a poignant acknowledgment of the tragedy of it all, that just for a few minutes, it's time to pretend.

This was one of the quintessential impulses of the decade, summed up here with the aid of a classic synth hook that had nothing to do with ABBA, and everything to do with the genius ability of the band themselves to present a perfect combination of the vogueish and the timeless.

Pity they had to travesty it with an otherwise mediocre album, including the half-baked, borderline moronic 'TTP' rehash 'Kids', which for some bizarre reason ended up replacing the former as Oracular Spectacular's middlebrow, catwalk-charming signature tune.


For those of you who are, like me, finding it difficult to find any rational or emotional substance in news of the sad demise to a life that has been a hyperreal death-in-life for some decades now, here, by way of contrast, is the final piece written by the great music journalist Steven Wells, who also died yesterday.

Thursday, 25 June 2009


Friends ... henceforth my attentions will be divided equally between The Hope and The Grain, a new site that myself and STONECOLDLEDGE Mr Grant Edgeworth have started with the intention of casting the net a bit wider, of sharpening things up a bit, getting even more pretentious while writing slightly shorter sentences, stuff like that.

One of the primary motivations behind the new project is to have a space for all our friends to CHAT SHIT aboot whatever they fancy, express themselves, be creative, flex intellectual muscles, and the like.

So contributions on literally any subject under the sun are utterly, utterly welcome. Please just hit me or the Edge up with ideas. Even if you're not a friend. But I will say that you have to be a good person, with impeccable taste, and at least tokenistically left-wing political beliefs (although, on second thoughts, having some right-wing contributors in the fold would be interesting. Actually, the more rabidly right-wing you are, the better, I'd say).

So there we go. Exciting times.

Oh, and here's the link ...


Tuesday, 23 June 2009



I don’t know what ‘bitte orca’ means, and I must say that I’m also having a similar problem in trying to work out what the hell the new Dirty Projectors’ album of the same name is really about. Just where on earth does this insane, art-pop-neo-folk-chamber-rock-minimalist-afro-r’n’b odyssey fit into the wider scheme of things? There’s Kasabian, and then there’s Dirty Projectors. What kind of fucked-up logic is at work in a world that presents us with such radical contrasts in artistic worth? Did the same God who made West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum make Bitte Orca?

I think not, and in actual fact it’s not really all that difficult to position this latest from Dave Longstreth and co, to realize that Bitte Orca is so obviously and emphatically what the world needs right now. Even if large swathes of the western population don’t know it yet (notably most of our fellow citizens here in the UK) we’re surely now coming to the end of the Great Nostalgic Postmodernist Joke That Got Out of Hand, that chapter of our cultural history which began in earnest in the mid-nineties with the arrival of the devout pastiche-driven retrogressiveness of Britpop, and which subsequently deepened into a bewildered and backward-looking decade-and-a-half that saw just about every stylistic movement of the late-twentieth century pillaged and travestied in superficial principle-less fashion, until every shred of futurism and vitality was squeezed out of a once noble, radical and meaningful alternative/independent scene. We’re now at a juncture where many people who really should know better genuinely think the future of British music lies in the hands of a slickly-marketed, fashion supplement-courting Kylie Minogue knock-off.

So friends, I’m afraid it’s time to for us to choose sides. Will we carry on down the path of music-as-lifestyle, of shallow ironic referencing of past cultural (non-)glories, of dumbing-down, of pop music as commercial sell-out rather than populist art? Or will we side with the Dirty Projectors’ exhilarating, intelligent, experimentalist vision of what twenty-first century music can amount to if underwritten with a bit of idealism, bravery and (dare I say it) pretentiousness?

Listen to Bitte Orca, and the decision should be immediate and conscious-bypassing. The album opens with a series of evocatively filtered guitar strums recalling late-period Beatles, and from here on in, it becomes evident that the DPs have finally managed to pitch the art/pop quota exactly right, and that in doing so they might just have elevated themselves to the position of standout creative role models for a newly forward-thinking musical generation. Everyone should have heard by now about the laugh-out-loud total freaking genius of lead single ‘Stillness is the Move’, how it seems to suggest a perfect synthesis of post-Timbaland r’n’b pop and leftfield adventurousness, and on top of this just sound so effortlessly instantaneous. It's so physically joyous as to literally knock the breath out of you the first time you hear it.

In fact, although ‘Stillness …’ is surely the album’s crystalline apotheosis, there are many such moments of gleeful profundity that seem to dismantle the divide between cerebral high art and populism in a way that offers hope for civilization as a whole (I’m not even joking). Despite an ominous title and trademark disorienting art-music backing vox, opener ‘Cannibal Resource’ is almost ludicrously winning and accessible, from the enticingly direct address of the album’s first lyric (‘Look around at everyone …’) to the Zep-invoking funk grind of the verses, not to mention a hooky chorus complete with handclaps (even if these are of the artsy, rhythmically off-kilter variety; ‘Hey Mickey’ this most certainly aint). Likewise, ‘Temecula’ and ‘The Bride’ harness John Renbourn-style drop-tuned guitars to abrupt time-signature shifts and startlingly variegated arrangements, all the while, somewhat paradoxically, managing to retain a grounding in rationality by way of the delicate, florid folk-romanticism of Dave Longstreth’s immaculately-shaped melodic lines (restrained here in a way that seems more sensible than sell-out, bolstering the potency of his songwriting rather than taking away its mojo).

The sequencing of a truly great album should always act as a metaphor for the sense of discovery that its listeners feel on hearing it; it should embody a sense of gradual unfurling, of layers deepening over the course of a tracklisting, of shifts between tracks that are surprising and thought-provoking, but in a way that comes across as logical and fluid within the overarching imaginative structure of the work as a whole, and Bitte Orca is no exception to this principle. After the visceral peak that is ‘Stillness is the Move’ comes a shockingly lovely picked guitar-and-strings ballad called ‘Two Doves’, sung with grace and slaying pathos by vocalist Angel Deradoorian. Next up is a further lurch into contrast with the expansive 6½ mins of ‘Useful Chamber’. Some reviewers might have pointed to the latter as the album’s representative centerpiece, but for me, it’s ‘Two Doves’ that functions in this way, encapsulating Bitte Orca’s masterly ability to let complexity and seriousness (‘our bed is like a failure …’) shine through a microcosmically condensed, wonderfully simple premise. It blurs the complex/simple, basic/pretentious duality to the point that it seems to belong to an inferior, and now (hopefully, surely) bygone era of recent history.

There is so much to savour and adore within the baroque involutions of Bitte Orca. There’s the fact of Longstreth’s continued synthetic ingenuity in incorporating African guitar stylings into a primarily Western folk-pop-classical-grounded music (surely the only way for the electric guitar to proceed as a viable, non-nostalgic instrument in popular music). Then there’s the fact of those sublime backing vocals, unearthly textures that will bore holes deep, deep into the epicentre of your consciousness (check them in ‘Useful Chamber’ about 3½ mins in, possibly the album’s greatest What the fuck? Oh I see moment, or check them in the chorus to ‘No Intention’, another of Bitte’s formal-melodic highlights). There are moments of quite ridiculous instrumental virtuosity, and there are moments that seem to encapsulate the rush of instantaneous, ephemeral childish wonder that you get with a bona fide great pop hook. People will be poring over the minutiae of this record for years, feeding off its entrails, making use of its singular instructional template for how it is still possible to create organically futuristic, experimentalist alt-rock, even after 20-odd years of corporatism, identity-loss and artistic atrophy in Anglo-American music.

I still haven’t got a clue what ‘bitte orca’ means. Even the supposedly omniscient internet couldn’t help; the best it could throw up was ‘bitte’ as German for ‘please’, and ‘orca’ as Latin for ‘whale’. But maybe this stands as a good title for the record after all. This is an album that is defined by its ability to crank a world of mystique and sophistication out of the most rudimentary of monosyllables, a rallying cry for the continuation of pop music as the highest of high art forms. ‘Bitte orca’ is a title that encapsulates all the mystery and precious beauty of a life-affirming record that ultimately defies analysis. That we need many more like it, especially right here in the UK, should go without saying. Kasabian, Little Boots, and their ilk have taken our national obsession with mediocrity and pastiche way, way beyond a joke. Why isn’t anyone laughing?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

IN WHICH A TOON SUPPORTER SPEAKS FROM THE HEART ('In the gloom, the gold gathers the light against it')

I don’t know for sure, and I can never ask them now, but I think I’ve got a fairly good idea as to why my parents chose to settle in the north east of England. They had both spent a fair bit of their formative years in London and the south, but their own parents were originally from Scotland, Ireland, Lancashire, and I think they felt a congenital pull away from the powerful centre of things, felt the need to raise a family somewhere with warmth, with a sense of marginality and distinctiveness, somewhere where community, identity and bloody-minded, out-on-a-limb adventurousness counted for far more than money, superficiality, careerist ambition and a life of comfort.

A hell of a lot of bollocks is talked about class and regionalism in this country, but as far as I’m concerned this is what it comes down to; this sense of feeling like you belong either to the middle or to the fringes, to the inside or to the outside, and one thing that growing up in the north east made sure of was that I had wired into my marrow a proud sense of being on the outside looking in. Even if my particular corner of Northumberland was relatively affluent (though in a complicated, variegated, very un-Archers, peculiarly bleak northern way that I don’t really have the space to go into here) the important thing was that it wasn’t London, wasn’t the Home Counties, wasn’t close to the heart of the establishment, the epicentre of taste and influence, the focal point for the bullshit-ephemeral exigencies of fashion and celebrity and self-interest and everything else that puts formidable obstacles in the way of worthwhile existence and worthwhile art.

Growing up in a marginal place (and this could be Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, North Wales, Wyoming, Warsaw, or wherever) gives you time and space to develop independently of metropolitan trends and hype and soulless session-musician-style shallowness, to be original and to dream of producing works of permanence and profundity during long hours of exclusion and silence. It means that music is likely to amount to something like an ineffable, quasi-religious means of salvation and escape, emphatically not just another expression of the sort of egotism and luvvie-dom of the entertainment industry and the London media that says that music is only really differentiated from journalism or acting, modelling or TV presenting in the slightest, most arbitrary way.

Attempts to deny or to play-down the kind of difference and distinctiveness I’m talking about are often of the ill-thought out, liberal humanist, naively rationalistic ‘everyone is the same everywhere’ variety, and invariably come from the vantage point of the centre (ie. those benefitting from the power dynamic, and therefore consciously or unconsciously intent on preserving its invisibility).

In the media coverage of the weekend’s football events there has been plenty of this, plenty of cheap, cynical pot-shots at the irrelevancy and insignificance of the ‘passion’ and ‘soul’ of the Toon supporters in the face of the harsh practicality of a relegation fight, plenty of petty sensationalist shadenfreude at the thought of Newcastle getting their ‘come-uppance’, plenty of scoffing at the notion of NUFC being regarded as a ‘great club’ when there has been no silverware in 40 years, quite aside from the fact of the unremitting gutless awfulness of the team’s performance this season.

But let it be stated once and for all: Newcastle United is a great club (and I’m not using the word ‘great’ in the lazily hyperbolic manner that seems to have become de rigeur throughout the culture in the past decade (cf. Auden – ‘the language of size’)). They are a great club because all the things I said above about the north east apply equally, and in a peculiarly pronounced way, to the football team; because in its hard-boiled, spiritual essence (shorn of all the apathy, greed and selfishness of the board and the vast majority of the squad) the club epitomises with a wonderful exactitude all the marginalised pride and heroic, suffering-surmounting spirit of an entire region.

This is not blind sentimentality or romantic bluster, but a profound statement of fact based on experience. It has been a formative empirical observation for me over the past few years that things do tend to dissipate and to mean less the closer you get to the nodes of power and money and ‘success’. This is not necessarily an inherently geographical issue, but, because of the way British history has happened to pan out over the last 1000 years, geography has become an unequivocally significant factor, and the north east has become something like an antithesis of all the callousness and avarice you find congregated in London as a result of it being, firstly, the centre of British Imperialism, and subsequently, one of the 3 or 4 major centres of the new imperium that is American-led neo-liberal consumer capitalism. The fact is that, through being at a requisite distance from all this, the north of England, and particularly the north east, has managed to retain some sense of radicalism and some sense of the importance and depth of meaning that arises out of marginalisation. The powerful inclination towards belief and towards irrational hope that comes hand in hand with pain, with failure and with existing at arms length from a dehumanising establishment is something I try to draw on in everything I do with my band Everything Everything. It is also part of the reason why, despite all the harsh reality of the situation this weekend, and despite all the cynicism and sardonic adolescent noise you will hear about us in the national press, Newcastle United will always be the greatest club in the world.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


... is irresistibly good. There may be a thick vein of middle-brow Strokesiness running through (absolutely sensationally-titled) Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but this is a churlish and minor grumble.

Anyhow, stripped of the blazers, the inclination towards retrograde pastiche, and the faint suggestions of nepotism, those Strokes were, at their best, a pretty unequivocally wonderful formalist pop band, weren't they?

Can't quite get rid of the stink of that invidious decade-despoiling legacy, though ...

But Phoenix: sweet.

Monday, 27 April 2009


'The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant's bent shoulders ...'

Not much hope in this equation.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Really impressed with the new Dan Deacon album.

It does however seem to me that the central tension is not, as has been argued elsewhere, between community and individualism/solipsism, but between primitivism and futurism - progressivist technological vigour pushed to such an extreme that it comes full circle, and ends up as a sort of wonderfully innocent kaleidoscopic primordialism.

Seems like a perfect encapsulation of the spirit of the age - multivocal hyperactive excess combined with a hankering for a humane, back-to-basics simplicity.

Monday, 9 March 2009


Some of you may be cursorily interested to learn that, after a small amount of deliberation, I’ve lighted on ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes as my very least favourite tune of all time.

Moronic defeatist-descending riff + inordinate hype + style-over-substance + lack of either melodic or rhythmic elan + pointless retrogressiveness + bodiless look-at-me 'bluesy'/post-punk revival voice + heavy rotation on Radio 1 at the commencement of alt-rock’s high-Thatcherite dead-centre-of-mainstream phase + evocations of a spectacularly shite first year at uni = What ‘It’ Most Certainly Is Not ‘All About’.

Anyone else?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Monday, 23 February 2009


Slumdog Millionaire as a British triumph at the Oscars?

I'm not under the illusion that it's anything close to an echt depiction of Indianness, but surely the narrative derives much of its resonance and timeliness by embodying the notion of the third (ie developing, ie ascendant) world attaining to some kind of spectacular enfranchisement, at the same time as a half-Kenyan has become US president, and as all manner of afro sounds are pervading the airwaves?

Sentimental Dickensian fairytale though it is, SM is a remarkably un-orientalist, realistically-grounded piece (the definition of magic realism?) even down to the lack of an exoticising curry-house chic aesthetic in the marketing campaign (see White Teeth by way of contrast - even Aravind Ardiga's book had an element of this, I thought, as has just about every Asian/Anglo-Asian Booker winner of the last few decades, come to think of it - Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai - Life of Pi too)

Slumdog undoes a lot of its eloquence with the schmaltzfest in the final quarter, but ultimately it does feel like the song of a brave new world - Asia very nearly able to speak on its own terms, and only 'British' in an arbitrary personnel sense.

Thursday, 19 February 2009



Still trying to track down an image of this week's NMHeat 'My Chemical Romance Go to the Oscars' cover (you really couldn't make this stuff up!).

Tuesday, 3 February 2009



Downloaded this record from 1994 the other day, and was struck by how antiquated (and removed from now) it sounds, but in a really appealing way.

It's strange. Formally, there's nothing particularly interesting going on here: generic early-nineties US alt-rock (can I use the term 'grunge-inflected', or was the G-word always just a spurious, media-conjured moniker?), the kind of straight-down-the-line, marginally punk, ever-so-slightly messy guitar rock that has influenced just about everyone from Pink to the Pigeon Detectives in the last 15 years.

In most of the listening contexts I can imagine, this is the last thing you'd want to hear, neither powerful and immediate enough to be viscerally affecting, nor sophisticated and layered enough to get cerebral cogs whirling.

Basically, it's kind of shit (look at the cover art for Tony Hart's sake!).

So why do I like it?

I dunno, I suppose there is just something inherently winning about impotency, in a way that the British alternative fraternity has almost totally lost sight of. The sound of this album (one that I remember being fairly prevalent until relatively recently) is one of hopelessness being temporarily transfigured into something triumphant and hopeful, of small-town losers using their lack of any kind of technical/formal proficiency as a kind of beautiful, radical weapon. The whole wonderful point (and this is audible in the un-varnished, un-sparkly arrangements) is that this is never going to amount to anything, never going to make any money, never going to appear on Jo Whiley's Live Lounge or T4 specials presented by Makita Oliver, or be labelled the HOTTEST RECORD IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW by Zane Lowe.

This isn't music to change the world, but it is music that matters very much to at least some people - simple, enabling, empowering self-expression. And really, what major British indie bands of the moment genuinely matter in this way to anyone?

So I can forgive the shitness, because Superchunk appear to me to be offering something a lot more special: meaning.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009




So, according to Simon Reynolds, Vampire Weekend works because it’s the cultural expression of an Apollonian ‘liberal elite’ in the ascendant?

I’m all for ‘serenity, clarity, order’ and the rest of it, but surely something is lost in banishing Dionysus altogether.

Maybe a more apposite target of blame for the present political/economic/cultural malaise would be a pernicious, travestied form of the Dionysian urge, a culture-wide hegemonic assimilation and recuperation of all manner of radicalism and messiness into the staid and unwavering current of orthodoxy, to the point where all potential for subversion is lobotomized and we are left with a kind of bizarre hybrid of conservatism and excess. Order masquerading as freedom, retrograde corporatism as ironic kinky kookiness; an insidious Apollo in Dionysian garb, if you like.

OK, Obama isn’t a rock’n’roll leader in the Blairite manner, and his inauguration speech was notable for a very un-sexy emphasis on restraint and sacrifice, but does this really equate to a zeitgeist-minded avowal of hierarchy? Surely Obama embodies passion and populism as much as intellectualism and urbanity – isn’t that his great overriding strength as a unifier?

It strikes me that the reductive Dionysus/Apollo dichotomy applied to Obama and Vampire Weekend (and the apparent endorsement of ‘elitism’, however liberal) belongs to a Bushian, us-and-them climate, when what we are now (hopefully) being promised is a return to a Clintonian ‘there is no them, there is only us’ world.

For me, Vampire Weekend is such a great record because of its smoothness and its jaggedness, because of its incorporation and admission of chaos within the carefully-sculpted boundaries of its form, and its suggestion of a riotous dismantling of barriers – stylistic, geographical, formal, temporal. If it really were the clinical, precise, pre-meditated survey of pop history Reynolds argues for, it would be a lot less trenchant, and certainly a lot less fun (check the wonderfully wayward drumming on ‘A-Punk’ for an ebullient example of the countervailing tendency towards disorder).

Vampire Weekend are, like Barack Obama (and Animal Collective for that matter – another instance of ‘sculpted messiness’) the whole Hellenistic, disparate-yet-unified package: a timely re-appearance of a wise and mature Apollo combined with an equally important reaffirmation of the real Dionysus, who is free and democratic (and un-elitist) in the truest, subtlest, most heartfelt American sense.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


Got asked in an interview for wor band recently what our 'career plans' were.

At the time I thought nowt of it, but turns out roughly 1/3 (the final 1/3) of the 200 word-or-so article was devoted to my (rather bewildered) response.

What sort of band is it that has a fucking career plan?!!? (actually, come to think of it ...)

I suppose there's always the Manics: 'we will release the best album ever, sell 20 million copies, then split up'. But bands don't really make these kind of neo-Dadaist manifesto declarations any more, do they?

Next time I'll have a better idea what to say.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009



I suppose it's a bit like with performances of Shakespeare: many-faceted, culturally definitive text capable of rich multiple meaning is travestied by look-at-me am-dram idiots peddling a reductive, hackneyed caricature.

I don't mean to go overboard, and it does seem that Mr Hegarty himself was very much involved, but this is like a magnified visual summary of what Antony and the Johnson's could be like (if they were shit), as if someone has just lazily thought:


Antony and the Johnson's cover art (see below) always seems to me to do a fantastic job of capturing and augmenting the music's quiet, visceral weirdness, so I really can't see how this video has ended up looking like a below-par Scissor Sisters gig (and it doesn't get much worse than that now, does it friends?).

The tune itself and accompanying album is however almost orientation-questioningly brilliant.