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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Hop Farm Festival

In Culture on July 1, 2012 at 4:39 PM

Hop Farm Festival has slowly but surely been gaining a reputation in the world of festivals for its lively, ethical, come-one-come-all ethos, which, stereotypically, attracts a mix of suburban hipsters and ageing rockers (and rockettes). In this, its fifth year, founder Vince Power, suitably attired in pink-hatted and Hawaiian shirt, has amassed probably the festival’s best line-up to date, with Peter Gabriel and The New Blood Orchestra, Bob Dylan, and Suede headlining (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively). And other highlights including Billy Ocean, Jose Gonzalez, Richard Ashcroft, Kool and the Gang, Lianne Li Havas and The Futureheads. TAY…ahem, hopped along on Friday to check it out.

90s band everybody has heard but not heard of, Mercury-winning Gomez, were second on the main stage. And, with their brand of eminently hummable, yet forgettable, indie rock were a unspectacular but perfectly welcoming band to soundtrack people wandering around, acquainting themselves with the Kent country park.

Jose Gonzalez was next on, following a rather awkward technical hitch which left the Swedish-Argentine songwriter just sitting there in front of hundreds; silent, offering the odd consolatory smile but little more (stage presence has never been one of his strong points). In fairness, the acoustics did – eventually –  work well, effectively conveying Gonzalez’s intensely lo-fi, acoustic sound to a main stage. But Gonzalez’s aesthetic – intricate, arty, personal, low-key; beautiful to some, mopey to others – was never really built for the big stage. And so it proved an odd decision to put him on in the middle of day in the (relative, British) sun, rather than in one of the slightly more intimate tented stages, in the dark or twilight more suited to his sincere (or ‘humourless’), sombre tones. As it was, with little effort to gee up the crowd, it proved very nice, but only mildly diverting – even on classics, Heartbeats and Crosses.

Billy Ocean on the other hand, on afterwards, truly was built for this occasion. With his repertoire of sexed-up soul and funk cheese, and energy of someone forty years his junior, there was basically no-one not dancing and smiling. His cover of The O’Jays’ Lovetrain even saw a 50(ish)-strong, conga-ing lovetrain snaking in and out of the crowd. And, in circumstances nearly too apt to be attributed to mere coincidence, his set also brought the sun out. As compere Vince Power said, doses of Billy Ocean should be made available free on prescription from the NHS to treat depression.

In the Big Tent, Lianne La Havas, a similarly earnest (or trying) artist to Jose Gonzalez, fared much better than the singer-songwriter. The 22-year-old South Londoner of Jamaican and Greek parents has been making waves in industry circles for a little while now for her brand of soul, having been nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2012 and toured with Bon Iver, following her previous job doing backing vocals for Paloma Faith. So there was a definite air of anticipation to see whether she was the real deal or just another manufactured Adele. Thankfully, it turned out to be the former, Lianne’s variously soaring and honeyed vocals and the backing band’s impressive instrumentation adding depth and variety to what can appear a little ‘coffee table’ on record. And both parties seemed genuinely thrilled to be there; the crowd for seeing a rising talent and Lianne for finding the crowd’s love was indeed Big Enough just ahead of the release of her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough? (9th of July) – even taking a few pictures in a nice gesture to remember the occasion.

The Futureheads livened up proceedings in the Big Tent afterwards. The Sunderland band are probably on no-one’s list of top five bands/artists, but they certainly put the effort in, having quietly (unbeknownst to me at least) racked up four albums since their September 2004 debut – the Scott Parker of the indie music world. Alike the industrious Spurs centre-midfielder, they had the energy to get the crowd moving, even to numbers that it seemed most hadn’t heard (or, again, maybe I’ve just been particularly ignorant to their time in the indie music hinterlands…or not, as it were). Regardless, they played a few great joker cards to add variety to their usual slightly idioscyncratic indie schtick. The first was a couple of songs off their entirely acapella most recent album, Rant – a Northern version of Scrubs’ Ted’s barbershop band singing Kelis’ dance/R&B smash, Acapella; bizarre but somehow brilliant. The second was their segue into defining song, Hounds of Love, in which they had the two sides of the audience singing alternate harmonies, before launching into their frantic cover of the Kate Bush song – one of those very rare songs where no one really cares that people mistake it for the coverer’s own due to its quality. However, having almost undoubtedly one’s best song be a cover is a double-edged sword. (They cleverly left it to near the end of the set, after which a good many left).

The evening was a bit of a fallow period (sorry, had to get a farm reference in there somewhere), personally at least. Take a deep breath for I might be about to commit blasphemy to many… I’ve always considered the Kinks’ mediocre and overrated, and I found Ray Davies’ solo oeuvre to be even more insipidly ‘dad rock’. Also, I’m sure it would appeal to those who deify him, but to me his cocksure manner just rendered him an arrogant twat (“I’m now going play a song by a band called The Kinks…great band”). One benefit of the mediocre I Am Kloot, playing at the same time on the Bread & Roses stage, was that the lead singer pricked the ego of “fucking Ray Davies”, telling of how Davies had gone to a tribute show for a sadly passed musician where others were covering his songs, but Davies came and played three of his own. Others seemed to enjoy it, though.

Anyway, this was only a small blip on an otherwise great day, capped off by an incredible headline set by Peter Gabriel and The New Blood Orchestra, the latter a 60-strong outfit, which together create, I suppose, a pop-classical hybrid, here allied to an amazing visual show. Strangely enough given the stirring, soul-searching mood, it was sign of the only trouble (at least that I saw) at the festival – one hell of a punch up that took a good ten lads and one very brave female arbitrator to sort out… but then I don’t think Pete had yet played Book of Love, a song so beautiful even Voldemort would probably shed a tear.

Joel Durston

Record Doctor II – The Punk and The Hipster

In Culture on April 13, 2012 at 4:49 PM

If you don’t know the deal with this, it’s basically a selection of housemates who all love music but have different tastes, so we pick stuff each other should be listening to and review it – and hopefully amuse and inform you good people in the meantime (you can take a little gander at the first one, here for an better explanation).

 

Gary’s choice: David Thomas Broughton – The Complete Guide to Insufficiency.

Gary’s choice next. A Complete Guide to Insufficiency it’s called. And already I want to hit someone. It’s by some arsehole called David Broughton. And he’s probably the person I will hit.

Never in my life have I heard such fucking drivel. Apart from anything in the chart nowadays but still, this is pig shit. Pig shit with a capital P. And a capital ‘ABSOLUTE WANK’.

Listening to this makes me think ‘what if?’ What if this was how everyone thought music should be? What if this guy came before the Beatles and so everyone started playing like this? I’d rather castrate myself with a blunt turtle than live in a world where everyone thought this stuff was good.

What grates me about this pile of wank is the fact that it’s ALL THE SAME. Literally, change the fucking record, Dave, you twat. No-one wants to hear a nine-minute ménage-a-trois of guitars, whingy vocals and churches all the time, you utter dick.

With Guillemots, I went into hearing the album dreading the worst and coming out of it relatively surprised. This, however, offered nothing surprising, other than the fact that no-one shot this guy during the recording.

Another thing that grates is that this liquid disc of shit was recorded in Leeds. LeedsWho the fuck records in Leeds?! No-one, that’s who, and in Broughton’s quest to sound cool, different, chilled out in a ‘save the trees bro’ kind of twatty hippy way, he’s ended up in Leeds wanking himself off with a guitar while talking about shitting on people. Why did anyone let this guy record anything?!?

As far as I’m concerned, this guy can be thrown down a bottomless pit with Lady Gaga, Chris Brown, Far East Movement, WilldotfuckingdotIshittingdotAm and the other lads from BEP (not Fergie – she’s fit), One Direction and Simon Cowell. And anyone else who is ruining music for me. To think that the Clash and this guy are both considered musicians makes me want to vomit up my own pelvis.

Fuck off Broughton, just fuck off now, you utter, utter, terrible, terrible dick. (Edd)

 

From Gary, another obscure artist I have never heard of before. First, an utterly bizarre techno/electronic/slap bass/free album and, now, an album of introspected folk recorded in a single take in a church in Leeds – A Complete Guide to Insufficiency by David James Broughton. Couldn’t really get any more different from The Clash on the ‘guitar music’ spectrum than this: The Clash play raucous ska/punk rock with a snarling singer to thousands of disaffected youths and Broughton is the most low-key, niche and obscure of singer-songwriters who presumably plays to Independent readers. At the very least, Record Doctor is succeeding in its principal aim of introducing each other to hitherto unheard music.

Broughton’s music is certainly not the type that will be troubling the Rihannas and Gagas of this world at the top of the charts any time soon. For this album contains 9 minute (purported) epics of solitary guitar and vocals, hazy scuzz reminiscent of war movies, and quite possibly the first time in musical history an artist’s love for a woman has been described with reference to capital punishment, peep shows and faecal discharge – the oddly catchy refrain of Execution: “I wouldn’t take her to an execution / I wouldn’t take her to a live sex show/ I wouldn’t piss or shit on her would I / because I love her so.”

Ambiguity starts the album off in typically subdued, mannered, melancholic mood, with ostensibly simple guitar playing and quiet reverb on the guitar. He has a voice that is at once rugged and choir-boy, and that really enunciates every word; a marmite voice. The real problem is, like much of the rest of the album, it eschews any real discernible melody in favour of, seemingly, coming off as a purist’s singer-songwriter choice. The lyrics are equally divisive; the epitome of the earnestness/pretension (delete as applicable) of the singer-songwriter: “…such selfishnesses trivialises any tenderness as the coffee commands the torture of my bowels, pronouncing every word with a rigid sensitivity.” They certainly don’t make for Cold Patrol-esque sing-alongs.

Ambiguity is proceeded by Execution, which, with the aforementioned lyrics, certainly offers none of the former quality in its blunt lyrics. Unmarked Grave is the one track that most resembles a ‘song’; a tender message, accompanied by winding guitar riff and even a hint of verse and chorus, from a fallen soldier to the lover waiting for his return who  he will never see again – ‘haunting’, if it takes your fancy.

Walking Over You is back to the abstruse, though – another sketch of song more than a fully formed one, with no discernible melody; just introspected, stripped-back guitar playing which many broadsheet readers will think is good by definition. Ever Rotating Sky hits upon one fairly listenable riff a minute in, layers over some lyrics and some chanting and, after going quiet for a minute, just plugs the same riff for nearly five, musically masturbatory minutes. If parents ever need a song to use as blackmail, to stifle the irksome hyperactivity of their kids in the back seat, this would be it. How’s that for a quote for the album cover, David?

Ever Rotating Sky best illustrates the biggest problem with this album. He is obviously a talented guy who strives for authenticity in a music industry dominated by the by-numbers instrumentation and cheap sentiment of lighters-up stadium ‘rock’, but he often aims for this too much. There’s certainly a heartfelt candour to his songs, but they are often just…well, dull. His bleak songwriting should also come with an overdose warning, for the constant droning can wear quickly. To varying extents, all five songs feel stretched out for twice as long as necessary; mere sketches of songs, as in Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk – a collection of Jeff Buckley’s demos, first workings and previous cast-offs that only saw the light of the day after his untimely passing. Especially on all-time classic, Grace, Buckley managed to marry incredible musicianship and lyrical depth to a pop sensibility (Shrek, anyone?) without losing its credibility, as have many similar artists such as Jose Gonzalez and, lately, Ben Howard.

In failing on this count, to use a clichéd music hack trick, David James Broughton has indeed given a complete guide to insufficiency. (Joel)

 

Edd’s choice: The Clash – London Calling.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, Edd has given me another Clash album to review. This time, their third and probably most famous, London Calling, named after their infamous lament of police brutality and threat of nuclear disaster (“London is drowning, and I live by the river”), which was named number 15 in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (the album itself was voted number eight). It’s certainly a stirring opener; a stomping anthem to youthful disullionment.

The next song, Brand New Cadillac, returns the Londoners to familiar territory, treading as it does a similar furrow to their first two fairly down-the-line rock/punk albums. But after this, they open up and give many of the songs space to breathe, so often absent on previous albums. Jimmy Jazz has the relaxed feel of a song played to ease commuters into the daily grind duo of a poor, bedraggled guitarist and brass musician busking for money in the tube.

This is, though, one of the quieter moments on an album characterized by chirpy ska-rock which belies the anger in much of the songs. For example, Hateful is introduced by an upbeat harmonica and proceeds in a rambunctious kind of skiffle, even though it hides lyrics on lost friendship, nowhere-ness and memory loss. Spanish Bombs even hints at some real funk swing to their sound, evidenced later by dancefloor classic (ironically, given it is about war), Rock the Casbah.

Most songs, particularly Rudie Can’t Fail, Guns of Brixton and The Right Profile, take the Jamaican ‘Rocksteady’ sound and give it a punky 70’s London overhaul. The results are usually positive. Though some songs, especially towards the end of the album, such as I’m Not Down and Four Horsemen, have a tendency to wash over or blend into one when listened to as a whole. The vocals can also pall after a while. While the ragged, snarled, sometimes shouted vocals are clearly intentional, and in fitting with the band’s aesthetic, after a while they can grate. Listening to last two minutes of Revolution Rock was personally not too dissimilar an aural experience to that of pretending to ignore the bloke on the tube with a can of Special Brew in his hand on his tube at 5pm on a Monday, loudly proclaiming to all those who he thinks care his supposed misfortune in not being able to find a job or a woman. All in all, not unlike the downtrodden feel of Jimmy Jazz, but this time not in a good way.

Or maybe that is just my Mark Corrigan side coming out. As mentioned in the first Record Doctor when Edd plied us with The Clash’s self-titled debut album, one will always lose at least something in listening to an album out of the context culture it commented on and from which it spawned. With that in mind, though, it does frequently feel a little messy and uncohesive an album. At 19 tracks, it’s certainly a generous offering (and in today’s digital age where people can easily skip tracks, that’s practically more important). But one feels that it could be improved with some quality control, much like the Chili’s Stadium Arcadium which had a good dozen or more strong, if stupid, rock songs, but the quality of which was diluted by a fair few stinkers.

Still, it’s a good record, moving the band on significantly more than its predecessors. (Joel)

 

Joel’s choice: The Guillemots – Through The Windowpane.

This time Durst gave me an album called Through the Windowpane by Guillemots. Now, don’t be alarmed, but despite Guillemots being one of those bands that I will forever hate and wish a plague of cockney hamsters upon, I actually liked this album. Well, some of it anyway.

I approached it tentatively, much like the opening sustained strings on curtain raiser Little Bear. Immediately I got the impression that this was one of those albums I’d put on when I wanted to fall asleep. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the smooth sounds of the opener made me feel like slipping into a nice comfortable dream away from the harshness, loneliness and stabbiness of London.

Despite Fyfe Dangerfield’s voice being one of those I’d usually hate, singing fucking awful lyrics with a kind of whiny howl, it fits perfectly over many of the songs on here, Sau Paulo being one of the prime examples. Despite the fact that song is 12 minutes long. You could kill someone in that amount of time.

The beat picks up in Made-up Lovesong #43 and it sounds very…well, very normal. It doesn’t stand out – there are no redeeming features that make me think “oh wow, I’ll stop wanking into a Clash CD sleeve and listen to this one again”. In all honesty it sounds like a Coldplay song at some points, and Fyfe doesn’t help when he starts howling/screaming at around the two minute mark.

One track that does stand out is We’re Here. The tempo’s good, the guitar echoes are good…in fact there’s not really anything I dislike about this track, other than Dangerfield’s whiny voice. Someone ram a few cigars down his throat and beef his vocals up a bit, then I’ll be able to listen to them without wincing like a crocodile named Tony Davies is nibbling my ear lobe in a sensual manner…

In fact We’re Here is a song that sums up the album well – there are quick and slow bits, with some brilliant orchestral arrangements and tidy guitar work…that’s a good word to describe the album in one word actually – tidy. Not good or bad or messy or thrashy or vomity or grumpy or bashful or any of the seven dwarves, but tidy. Clean cut. If it were a man he would have a short smart haircut, a jumper, smart trousers and sensible shoes. However, how many people would want to look like that? Dicks who would rather read big books than throw milk out of windows, that’s who. The bastards.

And that’s my problem with this album. Not the dicks who don’t like the occasional milk toss. The album’s purpose. The only good purpose it serves is to be a good soundtrack to sleep. And that’s no disrespect to Guillemots, they are very talented and Dangermouse is an excellent arranger and musician, but how many people would put this album on at a party, or on their work-out playlist, or as background music to sex or other recreational activities? Or at work, to get themselves motivated? Or on a long car journey? Not many I’d think…unless you wanted to fall asleep during any of those things. And if you want to fall asleep during sex then you’re mentally fucked. Seriously. Go see a doctor. Or a psychiatrist. Or a scientist. Yes, a scientist. One with funny hair like Einstein, because that means they’re a proper scientist. Not one of these phonies with sensible hair and glasses.

One final thing. If you do fall asleep listening to this album, why not wake yourself up with a Clash record? Just saying. Any of them will do, they’re all brilliant. And probably better than anything you’ve ever listened to. Now fuck off and listen to them. Otherwise I will be coming round yours with Tony Davies, and he’s in a sexually vivacious mood… (Edd)

Edd Paul, Gary Napier, Joel Durston

Assorted Music Reviews

In Culture on April 4, 2012 at 11:36 PM

Kasabian – Velociraptor.  4 stars

Kasabian seemed to have mellowed with the birth of Sergio ‘Serg’ Pizzorno’s first child if the evidence of this album (not their interview) is anything to go by. For Velociraptor is a far more mature, coherent and rounded album than the self-titled one the Leicester lads burst onto the scene with, aiming to give a kick up the backside to all the supposed whining indie kids dominating the hearts, if not charts, of British music fans. The two following efforts, Empire and West Rider Lunatic Asylum followed up with a few great songs, such as Empire and Underdog, but much filler and confused mess.

Velociraptor kicks off with their standard classic rock riffage of Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To and Days Are Forgotten, which should suit down to the ground Kasabian’s stereotypical fan-base of cocksure young lads. But the album should earn them a wider fan-base, because they have, possibly for the first time, backed up their charisma with consistently good tunes. The Psychadelica of La Fee Verte makes no bones about its inspiration with its Beatles nod (“I see Lucy in the Sky / Telling me I’m high ),but is executed with enough class to make it more than a pale imitation. Another highlight is the paranoid, electro-inflected I Hear Voices.

It’s an art to make an album so indebted the 60s and 70s sound important, but Kasabian have – finally – mastered it.

Pixie Lott – All about tonight. 4 stars.

An attractive young blonde singing over a dance beat about how she’s going to go to a club, drink, dance and possibly even bag a new fella doesn’t break any musical boundaries, much less solve the banking crisis or shed light on the Amanda Knox trial. But when the chorus is so infectiously huge as to be the work of some omnipotent deity of pop, this does not matter one jot.

Sak Noel – Loca People. 1 star.

Anyone that wants a reminder that summer is over, need do no more than listen to this faecal matter. It comes on like some awful hangover of the summer party season; intoxication seemingly the only excuse for enjoying a robotic feminine voice repeating ‘all day…and all night’ ad nauseum over a beat largely indistinguishable from a pre-programmed keyboard beat.

Niki and The Dove – The Drummer. 5 stars. 

The Drummer, in which Malin Dahlstrom sings of being a drum, is as brilliantly mad you would expect from that description and the fact that Niki and the Dove come from the spiritual home of eerie Electronica: Sweden. But it matches this craziness with a downright great pop tune. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Niki and the Dove were, in fact, the result of a cynical, high-tech experiment taking Robyn, Lykke Li and The Knife and coming up with something even better than the sum of the parts. Even if true, I’d probably listen. Whatever they put in the water in Sweden, it needs to be bottled and sent over to the offices of Messrs Cowell…snabbt.

Lucy Rose – Scar. 4 stars.

Lucy Rose is basically a carbon copy of Lucy Marling (herself not unlike many others). Or Alas I Cannot Swim-era Laura Marling, anyway. Since, ol’ Laura has become more mature, wintry and, frankly, just a little trying to listen to. There are no such worries with Lucy Rose, though. While not exactly being revolutionary, this lovely lament to young love, lust and loss, sung with an incredible voice, means that doesn’t matter one jot. Or maybe that’s just this reviewer, who frankly is just a little besotted with Lucy (creepily so?), and wants to join her in, just like she does in the video, Scar, skimming stones, driving in an open-top vintage car, and climbing in a treehouse and wondering around non-descript parts of London looking all indie ‘n’ that.  And indulge in some of her home-made jam and tea she offers to fans at gigs. The soppy twat that he is.

Regina Spektor – All The Rowboats. 4 stars.

All self-respecting muso’s favourite kooky arty woman returns with All The Rowboats. From the intro, it sounds like her near three year sojourn has been spent partying in German electro club, but soon the familiar jaunty twinkle of Regina’s trademark piano kicks in and it’s all pleasingly arty, fan stuff – a salutary tale of the trials and tribulations of characters in the pictures of boats she sees. It also has a discernible tune and melody which is a nice – not necessarily typical – inclusion. Rowboats is just another example of Ms Spektor flitting between the real world and her hyperactive imagination – like her very own Inception. Here’s hoping no-one finds the tell to her totem.

Bon Iver – Latitude

Bon Iver has only just emerged – musically and emotionally – from the heartbreak-induced musical cocoon that saw him cooped up in a Wisconsin log cabin, mourning (or moaning) his loss of the titular Emma of the first album. While usually lovely, in large doses the relentless earnestness could grate. (Everyone’s broken up with someone, so the criticism that he should grow some fucking balls and get over himself is harsh but not totally unfair). His second album, though, has seen him open up, exploring North America’s forgotten backwaters and all attendant emotions with a broader sound, delivered with a bolstered backing troupe, encompassing horns, synths, organs and electric guitars.  Make sure to catch him playing these big shows quick so he doesn’t return, sullen and unloved, to more masturbatory musical carthasis in some sensitive loner’s paradise like Alaska or Iceland – which plays magnificent host to his Holocene video. For that would be a shame, as he’s a great musician and seems like a nice bloke too – if too nice.

Similarly pleasing to the ‘middle-class bedwetters’ (myself somewhat included) that seem to proliferate at the wimpy/uber-cool/pretentious Latitude should be demure indie songstress Laura Marling; Devonian folk-pop singer Ben Howard; bonkers yet lovely (and fit) shamanic mystic Bat For Lashes; and Elbow (though it’s acceptable in all quarters to like them because they’re down-to-earth Northern lads). All great, as with many others, but thankfully there’s loads of good comedy too to prick the balloon of (possible) pretentious, soul-searching wankishness. Can’t wait.

Joel Durston

Record Doctor – The Punk, The Hipster & The Baldy

In Culture on February 3, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Me, Gary and Edd have lived together since September, and by all accounts, very harmoniously (unless they have hidden pictures of my face on dartboards which they ritually throw darts at, cackling demonically, but I’d like to think not). Anyway, this harmony often ends at musical taste, with all of us typically very staunch in our liking of our often very disparate tastes. Edd came up with the genius idea – on the can, naturally – to turn this into a challenge to regularly provide the other two with albums ‘they need to hear’, for them to review – no holds barred. The results follow the pre-fight introductions, written by the other two…

Edd’s taste:

How to describe Edd’s music taste? Well, you’ve got to the start with the Clash. Edd fucking loves The Clash. His love for them is so great that he styles himself upon them and that it’s become a running (endearing) joke. He practically worships at their altar. It’s not just the music itself, but their essence – disillusioned youthful rebellion.

Other bands are almost judged in their musical proximity to The Clash. So Oasis and Blur are also much liked for their rock ‘n’ roll swagger (often ironic in Blur’s case), which also captured the generation’s zeitgeist. Similarly, Kasabian and The Black Keys are the only ones really holding up the rock’s flag at the moment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vacuous, ‘floaty’ statements of Snow Patrol and their bed-wetting ilk are given short shrift, as is pop music with a capital P, even if the talent is recognised as with Adele. He doesn’t go towards too much stuff with bleeps, presumably in the belief that production means things are almost by definition not raw or genuine. And, except for a slightly ill-fitting love of reggae, the greatness of much music of black origin hasn’t really been investigated. Hopefully, I can show that there is invention and heart and soul is much more than guitar music, starting this week with the electro-soul of new critics’ fave Frank Ocean…  (Joel)

The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Stones, Reggae.

The Clash
                                                                The Clash

Edd likes The Clash.

No, he like some good tunes as well (Ha! see what I did there? I took all your expectations about my stating Edd liking The Clash as a neutral observation, then I completely subverted them, and turned your narrow-minded, middle-class world upside-down by deftly turning it into a statement of judgement). No, he does like some good tunes: anyone who likes Gimme Shelter or Jumping Jack Flash knows what good music sounds like. (Gary)

 

Gary’s taste:

Despite being a bald man, Gary likes music. He loves anything from the Wu-Tang Clan to the Stones, from Bo Diddley to Gaslight Anthem. It is impossible to say he has a bad taste in music because he has such a BIG taste – every shitty band he likes will almost always be cancelled out by two brilliant bands that appear on his iTunes. I’ve even walked past his room late at night to hear him humming along to well-known social recluse J’im Le Fáébbeoú, one of the great pioneers of the Gospel-Funk movement. Fucking mental. While not being partial to some of his winter-y folk stuff, I admire his wide taste and open-minded approach to music. I’m just hoping he doesn’t force me to listen to Chippy D’Arabaley, the man who fused mime and hip-hop together. He really pisses me off. While he’s got a great knowledge of the old and the weird, he’s not so up with much…well of this millennium, really, through some combination of lack of time and wanting to cultivate a dad-ish ‘things were better in my day’ attitude. Just this week, he walked into the living room to me playing the new Bombay Bicycle Club album and, not entirely unjustifiably, commented: “Who are these bunch of gays, then?!”. Hopefully, we can somewhat break down this chronological and taxi-driverish musical wall. (Edd and Joel)

 

Joel’s taste:

Despite being a ‘haddock basket’, Joel does like some good tunes. Then again, he likes some shit ones. So, if I was to draw a graph, I think an average cross-over of taste versus match correlation would result with most people. Looking at the whole pie, we find blues/rock, plinky-plonky indie (gay shit), standards, anthems, and a recent flirtation with R ‘n’ B ‘sensation’ (I’m told) Frank Ocean, who is black, so doesn’t quite fit with the aforementioned textbook suburban white-boy genres. So he’s open-minded and definitely NOT a racist (at least when it comes to music). (Gary)

I regularly walk into the living room to hear him nodding his head along to some jangly indie music, hip-hop, or the latest sounds of Jkandwe Smythe-Ubanoodlebaratabonky, King of African bee-bop jazz*. Some of it, in my opinion, is utter shite. Some of it makes me want to cut my balls off and feed them to a passing bumblebee. But I am looking forward to gaining a little insight into the musical brain of Durst. From the outside his main musical preference is floaty indie stuff like the Foals, but I have heard him Marvin Gaye-ing it up. He’s also a keen Florence & the Machine fan. Dubstep is up his street too, as well as some of Drake’s ‘fat beatz’. Whether I’ll like those obese riddims is the intriguing question – but not nearly as intriguing as Joel’s almost library-like musical taste.

*JD also dips into Seamus O’Trunkandeer, a glam-folk acoustic act with a penchant for a dazzling funk oboe solo. (Edd)

 

Now on to the selections

Edd chose The Clash’s self-titled debut for being “the album that changed music“.

Mmm… Not bad. What’s that? You want me to elaborate? OK. Well first of all I think I’d say that I thought all the tunes sounded more or less the same. By the end I had Clash fatigue as the anaesthetic of familiarity (Dawkins’ phrase, not mine) took hold. There were highlights however. ‘White Riot’ being one, another being.. er, forgot now. But I’m  sure it was there.

I think this album illustrates the flaw in the concept of the album. Why is it lionised as the unit that best parcels an artist’s work? Alan Partridge is made to look a fool when he replies to the question ‘what’s your favourite Beatles album’ with ‘I’d have to say the Best of the Beatles’. He is completely demolished in his attempt to appear as one of the musical cognoscenti by lumping all of the Beatles’ best works together. In a sense, he can’t therefore be wrong; everyone’s favourite Beatles album is trivially ‘the best of the Beatles’. So his reasoning is flawed, but the thrust of the gag is in his ignorance of these units, knowledge of which makes one cool. Why? I can appreciate the commercial need to put out between seven and fifteen songs on a regular basis, and albums can reflect the musical style of a band at a certain time; linking them creates an arc of creativity, and we can usefully discuss ‘early’, ‘middle’ and ‘late’ periods. But an album is itself composed of discrete units (I believe they are called ‘songs’, or ‘tracks’) and there’s nothing stopping us, especially now, in the cyber space-world of the 21st century, chopping these up and putting the best ones together into temporal continuity.

I actually don’t like any album, because that would imply that I liked the majority of tracks. But every time I try to listen to one I find myself thinking the weak tracks drag down the good ones, spoiling my enjoyment. The case was slightly different, but definitely akin, in the case of The Clash. I just couldn’t distinguish one from the other. I’m sure Clash fans can discern the nuances, but until I train my ears to tune into these, I will be lost in homogeneity.

One last point about the Clash, then I’ll shut up: To their fans they kill two birds with one stone: they are paladins of rebellion, expressing anti-establishment sentiment through equally intense anti-bland music… and that. The natural audience for displays of vexation is the teenager, and it’s easy to mock and parody as half-baked political philosophy immaturely expressed. It gets easier to mock as one has to earn a living and, with all probability, get trapped in a vapid, sterile bubble. However, I think their sentiments deserve to be taken seriously, at least as far as its honesty of passion and simple sense that things can be improved, somehow.

Joe Strummer at Glastonbury once addressed the crowd, quite soon before he died I think, drawing attention to the festival’s significance. The phrase he repeated a couple of times was ‘this is not meaningless’ (a clip I still can’t find on YouTube). In other words, the gathering and the music go beyond just mass hedonism.

Now that can cynically be interpreted as self-aggrandising; Glastonbury does not seem to have any direct causal power to change the world politically, probably contains as many opinions as there are attendees, from crypto-fascist to Marxist pseudo-intellectual, and only increases the eudaemonia of those attending for three days, usually by way of drink and drugs. But I do like the fact that it, and the Clash, exist as an ‘up yours’ to ‘the system’, even if they have contrived this for themselves, and they don’t quite know what ‘the system’ exactly is. If only to contrast with the brushed-steel and glass environs one has to spend most of one’s life surrounded by, as one accumulates tokens of effort called money, I like that there is a kernel of portable rebellion, however misplaced, and however impotent.

Verdict: OK (Gary)

 

Listening to a whole Clash album in 2012 – 35 years on from its release – as an almost blank canvas is an odd experience. Of course, I’ve heard (and liked or loved) the classics such as London’s calling, Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go?, but never properly listened to them. And, I must admit, the first impression is that of ‘meh; they just sound like any old generic punky indie band’. Now, I realise the criticism of their musical style is somewhat unfair, because The Clash predated and influenced the modern bands I have listened to which make me see them this way (to name but a few: The Libertines, Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things, The Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party).  But I can’t change the year of my birth from 1988 to 1968, nor know if that incidence would make me think that The Clash’s general output is, blashphemous as it may seem, anything more than mediocre.

It’s certainly got energy, attitude and a distinct identity – far more than many modern imitators (…’to the crown’ as Edd would say) – but often at the expense of a decent tune, as Joe Strummer snarls and shouts his various demands and condemnations of anything establishment. Maybe I’m just a bit… Mark Corrigan, as Edd has said before, or establishment, like Stewie Griffin at Woodstock. But I don’t think that’s quite true – I’m a Guardian reader and hate The Daily Mail – nor is it the reason for my general ambivalence to The Clash. Allow me to try to explain…

Listening to it properly, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really care too much for mere attitude and identity in music; only in so much as it complements the music itself – not intrinsically. For, in a similar vein, I don’t like The Sex Pistols, nor Dylan, but my taste does range from libidinous latter day nutjob Prince; to swaggering Oasis; to self-consciously cutesy teenage girls Pipettes; to psychopathically angry, first-album Plan B; to crestfallen, second-album Plan B. Strip The Sex Pistols of all their political influence and it just becomes that borderline alcoholic from the local making guttural noises over some basic power chords. For some, this statement will be as nonsensical as saying: if you take wheels of  cars they’re just small covered benches, and I completely understand the arguments that music should not be heard in a cultural and political vacuum, but music is also first and foremost art; not political or intellectual statement. Often people get so caught up in a band’s image – and wanting to align themselves with it – they don’t really care about what the music itself sounds like.

Certainly, Edd, who gave me this album, is guilty of it, if in reverse. He admits that new indie darlings, Two Door Cinema Club, who NME describe as: ‘a band that would steal your library books rather than your girlfriend’, can play and thinks they have some good songs, but self-consciously stops himself from saying he ‘likes’ them because they do their top button up, play their guitars up fucking here (*air-guitars at chest height*), and are basically ‘too’ twee, straight laced, and resolutely not Rock nor indeed Roll. Now I am not professing that Two Door Cinema Club are a great band, but I don’t see the logic in, in a sense, fighting against one’s instincts to not like music which one instinctively does (or vice versa). At the risk of sounding insufferably pretentious, music is/should be an abstract, visceral and emotional interaction between song and listener; not an exercise in head dictating over heart (or tapping feet) to say I should/n’t like this. At least Edd’s more honest and reasoned  than many of those in the ‘cooler-than thou camp’, whose self-conscious contempt of a generation that, shock horror, buys their music in Tesco – and consequent need to differentiate themselves from those masses – seems to mean they hate the likes of Adele and Coldplay before even them listening to much of their stuff.

This, for me, accounts for some of the Clash’s deification, and why I’m, still, relatively unmoved by them.  (Joel)

 

Gary chose Squarepusher’s Ultravisitor because “while it might be for everyone, it should have something for everyone”.

Now onto Gary’s choice, which essentially, for some parts of the record, sounds like R2-D2 and C3-PO hosting a wild robot sex orgy. The bleeps and bloops fly about with the wild ferocity of a tactically-engineered moose with the ability to fly like a jet engine. See, that metaphor makes no sense, a bit like this album.

Robot sex orgy

Robot sex orgy

Squarepusher – a brilliant name, it makes me think of Tetris, which is fucking brilliant, fuck off if you don’t like it – is curious. Sometimes on this record his stuff’s good; sometimes it’s not really music at all. I’ll tell you what I liked before I hit you with the shitstorm of dislike. I liked Every Day I Love. But I get the feeling that’s only because the rest of the album is so annoyingly awful that it stands out like a penguin among midgets. I can’t remember which track but there seems to be some kind of crazy jazz shit going on later on the record. Fucking dire.

Like Joel, I’ve also picked up on the 9-minute, slap-bass song. Seriously, Squarepusher, fuck off. Stop wanking off over a bass then trying to pass it off as a song.

This album is the musical equivalent of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. You get the sense it’s trying to be ‘OFF THE FUCKING WALL’ for the sake of being different and weird. This, as Noel Fielding and many other Boosh fans found out, is not necessarily a good thing. Again, like Frank Ocean, I appreciate Squarepusher’s musicianship but I don’t think half of this album could even be defined as music.

A good point about Squarepusher is the fact that he is obviously adept and musically talented, more so than Ocean. I’d rather him resort to making random sounds than completely sample (steal) a Coldplay backing track to make the album bearable. Take note, Ocean, you production-line, R’n’B twat.

The fucking End. Not particularly impressed boys. I’ve sent a letter home to your parents. You’re suspended for a week. Otter carcus. (Edd)

 

Before being recommended it, I hadn’t listened to Squarepusher. He was one of those artists I’d heard about, but never properly investigated, to use the pretentious muso speak. The first thing to say is Tom Jenkinson is certainly a talented fella. Where most of his contemporaries – if there can be any to this vast, bewildering array of sounds – rely on protocols and artificial bleeps, Squarepusher is primarily a slap bass artist but performs live on piano, laptop and more.

His style has been variously described as acid techno, acid jazz, drum and bass, musique concrete. Acid is the operative word, for even the mellow songs have the hyperactive restless energy of a man on that drug throwing the kitchen sink at his songs (indeed, one of the few things not employed is vocals). Tetra-Sync, in particular, is a nine-and-a-half minute electronic wig-out of frantic slap bass, spooky synths and mellow guitar plucking. Coldplay, it is not. If critics’ darling, James Blake, represents electronic music as afflicted with chronic lethargy, then Squarepusher is electronic music as diagnosed with ADHD.

The musicianship is rarely less than staggering, but often it doesn’t translate to any more than collections of awkward, disconnected, dissonant sounds devoid of any emotion, melody or even apparent purpose. Sessions; not fully formed songs. As in An Arched Pathway, which begins with the chalk-on-a-blackboard sounds of dial-up internet connecting, accompanied by frankly horrible sounds of stabbing piano, which gives way to bizarre, hyperactive free-form jazz. It’s songs like these which make you think he is being deliberately abstruse, like a modern artist who has cynically worked out if he can remove from the art any discernible thing to hold on to hipsters will tautologically disregard their own intelligence and label it as brilliantly visionary. Maybe I’m just a cynic. But, occassionally, it’s brilliant, like blessed-out melancholy of Iambic 9 Poetry and the lovely acoustic self-indulgence of Every Day I love.

Still, call me a traditionalist, but I do like melody, harmony and lyrics, so I think I’ll stick to the more computerised, but more coherent electronic wig-outs of DJ Shadow’s Entroducing for my muso thrills. (Joel)

 

Joel chose Frank Ocean’s mixtape Nostalgia/Ultra because it is “an R’n’B album which has enough innovation and depth that it can be justifiably – and enjoyably – listened to by white, middle-class kids from Oxford”.

I tried to like it, I really did. I wanted to, in fact, so I could say I’d broadened my taste in music. But when it comes down to what really matters the best thing about this thing were the samples. That’s bad for you, Ocean, you sample-mad, tomato casket.

The one song I found I could listen to without wanting to wrench my eyes out with a lobster tail was Strawberry Swing, with basically all the music provided by Coldplay.

Love them or loathe them, the original track is brilliant. So kudos to Ocean for recognising its quality and combining it with his stuff. The problem is the only good part about the track is the original Coldplay instrumental, none of Ocean’s stuff over the top. I didn’t really care for Ocean’s mumblings at all to be honest.

And that applies to the whole mixtape, I guess. This is what I feel is wrong with music nowadays. Ocean had the chance here to rap/sing about something that really has value and that young people can connect to. But he has used the well-documented stereotype that has engulfed R‘n’B recently instead – singing about shagging and money basically.

He has been given a spotlight, a chance to connect and write something meaningful, but he’s wasted it on the same drivel I could hear in a club. There’s no doubting the lad has talent, by all means he’s got a cracking voice, but he’s wielding it in completely the wrong way. I’m not saying he should write about “saving the trees, man” or “fight the system, bro”, I’m just saying write about something your fans can identify with. Luckily for him most of his fans will be the musical retards who accept the Black Eyed Peas as good music. Sorry, Durston, not sold on this guy. (Edd)

Mmm… how can I say that this is a pile of shit in a more sophisticated way? Well here goes: Ocean’s album is supposed to be the saviour of modern slick RnB (pure surmise). Perhaps it is. It’s more chilled out than the interchangeable club / pop dirge that rots the soul. But it does, just about, fall into the genre I’d Christen ‘Average Cool Pablum’ (ACP).

It makes you think it’s innovative, because it samples all sorts of different kinds of musician (everything, honest, Radiohead, MGMT, Coldplay. It’s mad!), adds some ethereal keyboard riffs in places (not sure if these are original), and some chilled out deep-voice rapping. I think an artist called Drake, who came out (in terms of music) a couple of years ago, sounds similar.

But the overall sound is just boring. It reminds me of those vacuous characters in Miami Vice, perhaps driving around in a cool car, looking cool in a slightly outdated way, but actually being boring cunts who have nothing to say. They just exist. On the Miami theme, I’ve never been there, but for some subliminal reason I’ve built it up as the physical manifestation of everything that is bland, tacky, monotonous, vapid. I’d apply the same adjectives to this album. (My association of Miami with the spirit-crushing was of course  tacitly gathered through TV and films, but I think it was reinforced irrecoverably by  Stephen Fry, who on his tour around the States a couple of years ago said it was the only place he didn’t like. It was the opposite of the wholesome, open, characterful USA that you rarely see – if you’re interested).

Miami ViceMiami Vice

Being Miami-boring is bad enough, but coupling it to dirty lyrics about shagging makes it sleazy. I can smell the insipid provincial clubs that dominated that depressing hiatus between university and real (though interesting) life. Some imagery: blokes with fake tans and crap all-the-haircuts-in-one haircuts to which hair-straighteners had been applied (did  young British men really fight in two world wars?); dry ice suggesting aspiration, until it insidiously hits your nose, when you realise OH FUCK, WHAT IF THIS IS ALL THERE IS??; fat slags with no personalities, who work during the week in insurance administration, literally having the time of their short lives dancing while silhouetted against a cloying green light. Nostalgia, Ultra is their soundtrack, and their elegy.

Oh yeah, back to those lyrics…

In one song he describes doing a girl ‘under the cherry leaves’ largely by way of innuendo. I was reminded of some of the ludicrous R Kelly’s lyrics:

‘I’ll take a rocket to Uranus [your anus – geddit?!]’;

‘Girl I got you so wet, it’s like a rain forest’;

‘Like Jurassic Park except I’m your sex-a-saurus baby’,

No, it’s up there with Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress. I’m not going to make Ocean guilty by association, and his words are marginally less Primary School. Also, I’m not going to take the lazy option and say that the lyrics/songs are bad because they’re ‘misogynist’, a criticism which doesn’t even properly belong to criticism.

Howard Jacobson:

I’m always very wary of the misogyny charge it seems to me misogyny is not a literary critical term. If I want to write a misogynistic book, I can write a misogynistic book I can write a brilliant misogynistic book or I can write a poor misogynistic book. But what would make it brilliant and what would make it poor would have nothing to do with misogyny. A person could write an anti-semitic book, a person could write a homophobic book. These are things which are taken from outside of the book. So they are charges which I think almost never hold and they’re mainly irrelevant.

But as I say, in combination with this plastic-palm tree aesthetic, I just felt a bit bilious. Maybe it’s not aimed at me. Perhaps I’d find it alluring if I was one of those dim-headed bints in the clubs, and getting done under cherry leaves was all I could hope for.

Critics’ choice? CUNTS’ choice more like! (Gary)

Edd Paul, Gary Napier and Joel Durston

2011 in Music

In Culture on December 30, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Inevitably, as time marches inexorably on, people proclaim music’s death. What with that pint-sized buffoon, Bieber, ruling the charts (and, somehow, hearts), female equivalent in the axis of evil, Ms Black, racking up more than 17 million Youtube views, anodyne X factor winners butchering more perfectly decent songs (this year, Cannonball), saccharine sack of shit Buble crooning his way to the top of the charts with Christmas schmaltz. And, just generally, music being consumed in the distinctly unromantic form of bits of data, often seemingly subservient to advertisers’ needs or those of making some of the next automatons off the factory line look sexy and cool.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. However, ‘evil’ the aforementioned may be, some of it’s undeniably catchy. Plus there’s a plethora of great lesser-known music in many of the end-of-year music lists, including this one. I don’t claim for this to be by any means a definitive list since music is a notoriously subjective thing. Nonetheless, it’s a list of 25 or so albums and singles I like/love, arranged into (very vague) order of quality. Feel free to praise/berate my selections as you see fit…

Albums of the year

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

After the lonely – but lovely – log-cabin mourning of the loss of titular Emma on his first album, Justin Vernon seems to have stepped out into human civilisation with this sophomore effort, and it’s all the better for it. It’s still distinctively Bon Iver – cryptic lyrics and soulful voice are still present – but now allied to far more expansive arrangements of percussions, drums and brass and even Vernon’s voice auto-tuned (inspired by a certain Mr West), which oddly works…brilliantly.

Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/Ultra

This is actually a mixtape, but such is the popularity and quality of this prodigious Californian offering, it warrants inclusion here. His is one of those voices currently in vogue in R&B, notably Drake; half-sung, half-rapped, as adept at either. But what sets Frank Ocean apart is the production and the lyrics; tales of suicide, drugs, love, childhood, marriage and more over a variety of synths, drum machines and Spanish guitar. Even the standard R&B fare of sex is given a certain frankness: “I’ve been meaning to fuck you in the garden” (on Nature Feels – one of the several brilliantly reworked covers; this, of MGMT’s Electric Feel). As an uber-cool reflection of both the grit and glamour of California Life, developers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, with its revolutionary soundtrack, are no doubt thinking Mr Ocean came about seven years too late.

Sbtrkt – Sbtrkt

With the unsubtle Wob-Wobbing of Dubstep growing, Sbtrkt – alias of enigmatic Londoner, Aaron Jerome – created an album of rare beauty for the genre. Though this pigeonholing doesn’t do justice to the scope of this album, which takes in two-step, soul, funk, Chicago house and RnB, and is lifted by the soulful voices of Roses Gabor and frequent collaborator, Sampha.

Wild Beasts – Smother

The Kendal four-piece released their third album this year to relatively poor sales (it reached a peak of 17 in the UK), but great critical acclaim for its intricate, sparse marriage of funk, indie, electronic and Hayden Thorpe’s distinctive falsetto. Though executed with more style than many poppier contemporaries, the four lads’ salacious intentions are quite clear. On this evidence, it’s a good bet they’re now reaping the rewards.

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom

Given a helpful ride by Danny MacAskill in his viral bicycle video, this Devonian is gradually earning long-overdue attention for his heartfelt, expertly crafted indie-folk, which betrays his relatively tenders years (23). Evocative of cold winter nights, in traditional country pubs of his native county, with the log fire burning. Or maybe that’s just me.

Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting

After a good five years touring, Mr Woon finally broke through to the mainstream with this fine album. His is a unique blend of acoustic backing, blessed-out electronica and a voice smooth enough to sell prophylactics to the pope.  Only reaching number a high of 15 in the charts, it deserves to be heard by a much bigger audience. He’s got far more soul than Rihanna, anyway.

Friendly Fires – Pala

Friendly Fires’ second album came strutting, clad in dayglow, into the charts in May, ushering in the summer with their melodic, funky indie-dance hybrid. Some of the ballads are a bit wet, but their technicolour blasts of dance-pop could have even the most earnest musos putting on their dancing shoes.

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

Feisty indie-pop songstress returned this year with this long-awaited successor to 2008’s hipster’s album of choice, Youth Novels. Thankfully, her sophomore effort is every bit as good, even better than her debut – ranging as it does from tender ballads to the kind of quirky, claustrophobic indie-electronica (indietronica?) that Sweden currently specialises in (see The Knife, Niki & The Dove, Fever Ray, Robyn and others). Imagine a Scandinavian Lady Gaga with some sophistication and restraint and you’re in the right ballpark.

Weeknd – House of Balloons

One of the oddest album sounding albums of the year in theory, but, or rather because, utterly brilliant, in my eyes and obviously the thousands who freely downloaded it causing the site to crash. The album’s blend of hip-hop, trip-hop, shoegaze, R&B and electronica is, I imagine, what Prince (i.e the Prince of old; not whatever the fuck we’re supposed to call him now) may sound the morning after getting lost, in a weed-induced haze, in an electro club in a German red light district.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

This year’s Mercury Music Prize winner, and topper of many end-of-year lists, and with good reason. In a year dominated – commercially at least – by fluff, however enjoyable, such as Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and One Direction, Ms Harvey gave us a strident offering of rough-around-the-edges indie-folk which articulatedthe unease of a nation. But these weren’t glib, change-the-world sentiments from someone who judges inflation by the price of Freddos; Harvey worked for two and a half years on it and cites Harold Pinter, T.S. Eliot, Salvador Dali and Iraq soldiers’ and civilians testimonies as influences. It shows, in a seemingly career-defining album.

Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials.

So, your 4x platinum selling debut album has been a mainstay in the charts since about 1967 and become loved by everyone from critics, to Rihanna fans, to hipsters, to housewives. What do you do for that ‘difficult’ second album? Why, ramp up it up to 11 with this collection of ‘chamber soul’ – grand gothic songs shot through with a great pop sensibility – of course.

Kasabian – Velociraptor!

Kasabian seemed to have mellowed with the birth of Sergio ‘Serg’ Pizzorno’s first child if the evidence of this album (not their interviews) is anything to go by. ForVelociraptor! is a far more mature, coherent and rounded album than its predecessors, incorporating their default classic rock riffage but also tinges of blissed out electronic and Beatles-y pscyhadelica. It’s an art to make an album so indebted the 60s and 70s sound important, but Kasabian have – finally – mastered it.

White Denim – D

While this fifth offering from this Texan four-piece – who have been plugging away at the seams of the indie scene for over five years – may not have troubled the charts, it made a few waves in critics’ circles. And unsurprisingly, given its catchy blend of funk, psychadelica and indie; what one might the Kings of Leon to sound on a Speed and LSD induced bender, and, on a few of the songs, such as the Pink Floyd-esque Street Joy, evocative of the post-bender comedown.

Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix

Such was their hype for two years while taking GCSEs and A-Levels, Bombay Bicycle Club now feel like veterans of the indie music scene with three albums under their belt just three years after leaving school. This effort manages to combine the best elements of their energetic but often uninspired first and their earnest but often over-earnest solely acoustic second to create an album of real quality.

Adele – 21

What with her now being sold to, god forbid, middle-aged women in Tesco, it’s become very cool to hate Adele. But, to these ears at least, this is largely from a mere contrarian spirit. For this is a sterling collection of modern-day soul, with choruses as huge as big as Ms Adkins’ rich voice, which, somehow, manages to sound both authentically New Orleans and Saaf London.

Tom Vek – Leisure Seizure

One of the (very welcome) surprises this year was the return of the Tom Vek. After a very promising, albeit commercially ignored, first album, We Have Sound, he returned in June with Leisure Seizure without so much as apology note for his mysterious six-year hiatus in the musical wilderness. The story was much the same. The tracks are guitar-inflected, drum-heavy electronica toe-tappers; sonically joyous, but deadpan lyrically and in delivery deadpan (i.e. he can’t sing, but strangely it works). And again, it garnered positive reviews, but largely failed to register with the public, reaching a peak of a mere 79 in the charts. So come on, let’s get behind him, lest he be out in the cold for another half-decade.

Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys

While the (much deserved) post-Mercury success Elbow have garnered has been warmly received by the Bury five-piece, it has left them with a significant problem. For a band whose subject matter is typically subdued, sometimes melancholic, they are now “too happy” to write personal, instrospective lyrics. So Guy Garvey shifted his attention to childhood; his memories of it and, his eyes, the unfairly deemed errant youth on the streets, and came out with an album of distinctively Elbow understated beauty.

Ed Sheeran – +

Perhaps a more tame offering than his prodigious early talent and hype suggested, this was nonetheless a solid album telling of young love, set apart from the legions of lads with acoustic guitars by Sheeran’s homespun humour and wordplay. It does suffer a little, though, from the sanitised treatment it has been given, probably due industry pressure, in comparison to more sharp-edged demos or personally better songs that did not even make the cut. Hopefully, with the chart-topping success of this, he’ll be given more freedom to really pursue his love of folk and hip-hop.

Drake – Take Care

Contrary to how he may come across to the passing observer, Aubrey Drake Graham does actually think about more than his riches and his penis. Or at the very least he’s acutely self-aware about his adherence to the tired old hip-hop cliché, and in that sets himself apart from it, as this surprisingly introspective and sophisticated second album shows. Less sympathetic listeners would be wise to steer clear, for it often comes as a cathartic project set by a therapist in a kind of Priory for those addicted to the intoxicating drug of celebrity, but for everyone else there’s some sincere storytelling over forward-thinking electronic production.

Jamie xx and Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Here

Jamie Smith of The xx cemented his position as one of the producers du jour with this accomplished reworking of the Gil Scott Heron’s I’m New Here, released the year before. The nuances of what constitutes ‘Dubstep’ will be argued over by its devotees until the apocalypse the genre sonically heralds. But using a broad definition (i.e. basically anything dance-y/electronic which isn’t Calvin Harris), Jamie XX is one of dubstep’s few exponents capable of dub-step reworkings without choking the original into submission as many do, indeed often giving them an interesting reimagining, as here as his electronica perfectly complements Scott-Heron’s soul and spoken word. The album thus proved a spookily prescient and fitting tribute to American’s lesser-known king of the counter-culture when he met his untimely end in late May.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

The Seattle sextet’s second placed the group, sonically, even further back in time and deeper into the forest. For their woozy, folky medieval-sounding psychadelica sounds as if The Beach Boys might if, for some reason, they were playing as part of Oberon’s crew of mysticals in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Having said that, that pretentious bollocks is more likely to put you off this album. If so, just read that it’s catchy and…well, good.

The Black Keys – El Camino

More rollicking rock & roll from the Ohio duo; like that band you always see in the downtrodden, unpopular mid-west bars in films, just really, really good. It practically demands to be played on a clapped out old Chevvy (indeed, the titular El Camino) on a dusty American highway, with hair blowing in the wind, cigarette in mouth and steering wheel as surrogate drum.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

The Chilis returned with their 583,865th album this year, and while it’s unlikely to reinvent the wheel or go down as a classic, it was a very solid offering of their trademark brand of gibberish, sing-along punk-funk.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.

Yes, so Noel doesn’t exactly stray far from the Oasis mould (or indeed anywhere from it), except from perhaps AKA…What a Life, but this solid collection of dad-rock proves once and for all that Noel was the Brains behind Oasis. Not to downplay Liam’s essential rock & roll swagger, indeed some of his…Liam-ness could spark this up a little, but Beady Eye’s album this year proved this can be limited without  decent songs to back it up.

Foster the People – Torches

These Californians burst onto the scene with Pumped Up Kicks (yeh that one) – destined to have feet subconsciously tapping and to be played on an advert somewhere in the world from here until eternity. The rest of their debut album features similarly pleasant if pointless pop, tinged with the very smallest amounts of electro and rock. Torches falls somewhere between early MGMT, when they had some bite, and second album MGMT when they crawled up their own respective arses into lifeless pscyhadelica-lite.

Overrated

Katy B – On a Mission. A couple of good, innovative singles and guest spots masking an album of dull, generic dance filler.

Metronomy – The English Riviera. Don’t see how it’s particularly innovative. The singer’s voice grates and, much like the Devon coast it details, it’s nice enough but dull under the surface.

Arctic Monkeys – Neither the thrilling urgency of their early work or sombre poignancy of later work and side projects. Resulting in mediocre, mid-paced indie. It also seems Alex Turner is running out of things to say now he can’t really chronicle, say, stories of the twats queuing up with him to the big new band (now being that big new band and all).

The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines. I thought everyone got bored of this bargain-bucket indie circa 2004?!

Michael Buble – Whatever Christmas (or other) shit he did. Do we really have to listen to this cheese-merchant just because it’s Christmas and he’s handsome. Men don’t actually like Girls Aloud’s or The Saturdays’ music.

Songs of the year

Frank Ocean – Swim Good. Only a song this good could warrant commercial success for such a dark subject matter (suicide).

Beyonce – Schoolin’ Life. Far more fun than any of her singles; an irrestible electro-soul masterpiece, which would probably be the result of putting Whitney, Aretha and Tina Turner in a blender.

Adele – Rolling in the Deep. Bar-room stomps, stabbing piano and some great harmonies made for that rare pop phenomena; a massive hit that critics universally liked too.

Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks. If you weren’t whistling, humming, head-moving or foot-tapping to this slice of ‘feel-good’ summer brilliance, then chances are you a) were living on Mars, b) are deaf, or c) have no soul. That basically no-one has realised it chronicles a shooting at a school is testament to its infectiousness. Might as well keep dancing now; pop music is just a nebulous vehicle for whatever advertisers need to sell now, anyway.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – AKA…What a Life! Unusually innovative for Gallagher; a rolling piano propels it along, but it’s still got distinct traces of classic Oasis.

Emile Sande – Heaven. A euphoric hybrid of dance and soul, bringing to mind Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy. Hopefully her debut offers similar quality.

Florence + The Machine – What the Water Gave Me. Florence returned with more soulful, baroque indie.  Sounds brilliantly like a gospel choir soundtracking a Daniel Day-Lewis movie.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Shuffle. The bookish London lads clearly know their way around onomatopoeia, for its jaunty piano riff and skittish guitar and general euphoria typical of the new album is meant to be shuffled to. Destined to soundtrack the happy moment in all Sundance-winning films for the next decade.

Wiz Khalifa – Black And Yellow. There seems few redeeming features to this latest flat-capped bechained rapper off the factory line…other than this huge beat and chorus and half-decent flow about shit he likes that is, you’ve guessed it, black and yellow.

Niki & The Dove – The Drummer. Irresistibly pulsating electonica from Sweden’s latest screwballs. Possibly even madder than The Knife. Simon Cowell needs to take some of what they have in Sweden.

Friendly Fires – Blue Cassette. A heady blast of colourful indie-disco, all carnival drums and yearning, nostalgic vocals. Manages the not easy task of making the 80s sound cool, and sounding current.

Sbtrkt – Wildfire. Never has dubstep sounded so tuneful or soulful. This time with the help of Little Dragon.

Drake ft. Rihanna – Take Care. Strangely, although on at least its third reworking, soul and life was still breathed into Gil Scott Heron’s original.

Rihanna ft Calvin Harris – We Found Love. Calvin Harris-produced behemoth so massive even (the fake Twitter account of) Sam Allardyce was referencing it: ‘I found love once in a hopeless place; Scunthorpe. Her name was Sally. Anal sex behind a skip is incredible.’

Wild Beasts – Bed of Nails. Hard to single out any from Smother, but this was even grander than others.

Aloe Blacc – I Need a Dollar. This melodic, barbershop soul telling of Mr Blacc’s financial woes struck a chord with many in today’s world.

DJ Fresh ft Sian Evans – Louder. Calvin Harris-esque dance beats over, some lite dubstep wob-wobs and some woman singer about getting louder. Just like the skateboarding, rollerblading and breakdancing yoof in the video; vacant, but fun.

Bon Iver – Perth. Washed out, acoustic beauty from Justin Vernon, brilliantly evocative of a military marching band with brass and thumping drums. Hard to decipher exactly what he’s saying, but he’s certainly expressing whatever it is with purpose.

Grenade – Bruno Mars. Though a few weeks after its broadcast, it could have a similar effect to waterboarding, you gotta admit, it’s an absolutely cracking hook.

Swedish House Mafia – One (Your Name). Yes, that beat. In Ibiza, it’s probably been elevated to equivalent heights as the Muslim call to prayer.

LMFAO ft Lauren Bennett and GoonRock – Party Rock Anthem. With the world economy going to ruin, and rock music supposedly lacking any soul, LMFAO caught the mood of millions by just sticking a big fat middle finger up to that and partying. It even spawned the ‘everyday I’m shuffling’ meme. For this, they deserve admiration.

Chipmunk ft. Chris Brown – Champion. A guilty piece of self-therapy, R&B guff.

Jennifer Lopez – On the Floor. A monstrous dance hit, shamelessly full of ‘la la la’s,  various demands to get on the floor and typically inane Pitbull raps. Works, though.

Ed Sheeran – A Team. Remember before he was all huge and therefore uncool; this was an catchy yet affecting song about the plight of an unfortunate prostitute on London’s unforgiving streets.

Pixie Lott – All About Tonight. An attractive young blonde singing over a dance beat about how she’s going to go to a club, drink, dance and possibly even bag a new fella doesn’t break any musical boundaries, much less solve the banking crisis or shed light on the Amanda Knox trial. But when the chorus is so infectiously huge as to be the work of some omnipotent deity of pop, this does not matter one jot.

Jason Derulo – Don’t Wanna Go Home. Brilliantly cheesy sample of 90s dance classic, Show Me Love.

Joel Durston

Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

In Culture on November 4, 2011 at 11:49 PM

So, your 4x platinum selling debut album has been a mainstay in the charts since the summer of July, you have conquered the states, wowed at intimate gigs, rocked festival crowds and, most incredibly, become loved by everyone from reviewers, to Rihanna fans, to hipsters, to housewives. What do you do for that ‘difficult’ second album? Why, ramp up it up to 11, of course.

I speak of Florence + The Machine and their second album, Ceremonials. They have again contracted the magic touch indie uber-producer Paul Epworth, responsible Blinding and Cosmic Love – two highlights from debut Lungs, this time for the whole album. They take the kitchen-sink approach, throwing dark piano, triumphant brass, twinkly strings, tribal drums and everything between at the songs. Yet it all sticks, resulting in an grandiose, cinematic art-rock masterpiece.

Welsh’s voice is typically strong, channelling both classic blues and the gothic melodrama of Tori Amos and Kate Bush, but allying this to plain great melodies and huge sing-along choruses often forgotten kooky contemporaries such Joanna Newsom and Regina Spektor.

This balance is part of Florence and the Machine’s greatness; the ordinary with the extraordinary. mundane with the miraculous. On and off-stage. Florence Welch seems to inhabit both the arty inner-city London Borough of Camberwell and the fictional worlds of Byron, Keats and Shelley. For example, single Shake It Out talks of deep regret and flesh-hungry demons, yet just dancing – shaking – them out.

Detractors may claim this sophomore effort progresses little from the similar if less operatic Lungs, that Welch’s histrionics are now – or have always been – affected, that the album lacks subtlety, or even that that she’s emotionally incontinent.

Admittedly, it’s not a quantum leap from Lungs, but to overly depart from such a distinctive sound is unrealistic, and no doubt would have had some complaining anyway. And there may be some calculation in the sound, but there’s far too much heart and soul poured in this record for any but the hardest of hearts to construe it as any kind of cold calculation.

Ms Welch claimed she wanted to make ‘chamber soul’ – a mixture of soul music and chamber pop – to soundtrack Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: ‘The violence mixed with the classical Shakespearean drama mixed with the pop and the pulp, extreme neon stuff’.

She, Epworth and the Machine succeed, and this applauded. Lest we have the anodyne likes of the JLS and Olly Murs infect our eardrums…..

Heroes of the Free World or Stark Raving Bonkers?

In Culture, Satire on July 26, 2011 at 9:32 PM

Last week saw the news that Austrian Niko Alm successfully won the right to be pictured in a pasta strainer in his driving licence photo. He claimed, however facetiously, that wearing the headgear is a requirement of his religion, Pastafarianism. This is a parody religion (although it goes to great lengths to claim it is sincere), originating from an audacious letter sent to the Kansas State Board of Education by physics graduate Bobby Henderson. Henderson sent the letter when Kansas was considering changing how science was taught in schools to include the severe questioning of evolution in favour of promotion of the ‘intelligent design’ theory. This is the theological doctrine that certain things are most appropriately explicable with reference to an intelligent, supernatural cause, namely God.

Niko Alm dons pasta strainer for his driving licence photo.Niko Alm dons pasta strainer for his driving licence photo.

 

Henderson was one of many angered by this enforced marriage in schools of science and religion. He thus wrote this brilliant, facetiously knowing letter to the Kansas School Board, requesting that they also teach in schools the idea that the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ created the world, because this idea is supposedly as much rooted in science as intelligent design. Due to the argument’s prescience and humour, it has become a cult phenomenon, as testified by Niko Alm’s satirical antics.

TAY seeks out some more whose religious/’religious’ beliefs are driving them to the brink of cultural acceptability. Heroes of libertarianism, raving lunatics or both? You decide…

Ned T. Rave

On the face of it, Ned Rave is just like any other 25-year-old British man. He works in the accounts department of a fairly successful telecoms company, lives with his girlfriend in moderate rented accommodation in Leicester and at the weekend plays Sunday League football, often hindered by the night before’s antics. Beneath this though lies a very particular practice, one which arguably marks him out as, quite literally, a raving lunatic. For, five times a day, without fail, Ned stops whatever he is doing at the time and performs his own act of worship to ‘Dave’ – The God of D‘n’B/House music.

Ned reasons for it as such:  “When I first heard ‘God is a DJ’ by Faithless, it just, you know, spoke to me. I just thought it made so much sense…that there is some sort of supernatural being out there, working through all the disciples like Rollo (of faithless), Tiësto, Judge Jules, and now Skream, Benga, Skrillex, Pendulum and so on to make all these banging tunes which unite everyone in like….love, you know. Look, you hardly ever see anyone arguing, getting violent, starting wars or anything when they’re there, in the moment listening to that  drop on ‘In for the Kill’ (Skream’s remix) or that bassline on ‘Slam’ (Pendulum) . It’s all just, good, man, so there’s gotta (sic) be someone behind that ain’t there. I call him ‘Dave’ cos I think he’s just a regular, stand-up geezer, just really powerful ‘n’ that.”

So it is, because of this epiphany, every day, before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, after sunset and after nightfall, Ned will leave what he is doing (unless he is clubbing to D ‘n’ B anyway) to worship ‘Dave’. He does this by taking an mp3 or preferably his “baby” – the boombox – to one of the many ‘churches’ in Leicester (‘clubs’, to you and me) or, where possible, the site of the former Virgin Megastores where he bought that fateful Faithless song on CD. He then faces in the direction of his spiritual home, Ibiza, and has “a good ol’ rave up”. Australian D’n’B merchants Pendulum even recently paid tribute to Ned in one of their videos.

 

Ned’s unusual lifestyle receives a generally confused but accepting reception among colleagues, loved ones, friends and family. His bosses at work are not overly enamoured by the regular breaks from work, but put up with them for Ned’s general productivity. One colleague seemingly only semi-jokingly accounted for his behaviour by claiming: “well, it’s the lengths working in accounts takes you too…half the time I feel like joining him, to be honest”. Alike Ned’s bosses, Ned’s girlfriend isn’t a huge fan, but grudgingly accepts his behaviour: “it can be annoying, especially after we’ve…you know and he has to go outside and ‘worship’. But what do you do… I love him and if you’d take it away from him, he’d probably be worse for it.”. His best mate Tom is a little more enthusiastic: “fair play to him; he’s a great lad, living life how he wants. Yeh, he’s taken it a bit far but everyone loves a bit of Drum ‘n’ Bass don’t they”.

Joanna Berger

19-and-half stone Joanna Berger loves her fast food. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement; she lives, and tragically will probably die, by fast food. Her worship of the “holy trinity” of Colonel Saunders, Ronald McDonald and The King (of Burger King) is such that she eats under the very strictest dietary restrictions.  Where possible, food must be fried in the “golden oil” of the “sacred deep fat fryer”. If this is not possible, food can be fried, grilled or cooked in the oven, but under no circumstances must be any “messin’ and mixin’” of the food before this happens, lest the food is “impurified”. For Ms Berger, the most unforgivable culinary sin is eating “that horrible rabbit food” because it is “very unclean and an attack on the…”. At this Joanna pauses for thought and to stuff another mouthful chips into her sizable gullet, but her friend finishes her sentence: “wondrous bounty of the holy trinity?”. “Yeh, that’s the one” Joanna concurs, in the process fully revealing an unedifying cornucopia of beige in her mouth; fat, oil and even some potato. Friends and family are severely concerned and worried by Joanna’s strange gastronomic habits. One has even turned to dealing with the situation with a dark humour, such has been the futility of his attempts to reform Joanna: “For around 10 years, I don’t think she has eaten any ‘meat’ containing more than 20% real meat and which has not in its production been responsible for the destruction of a part of the Amazon rainforest”.

"The Holy Trinity" of gastronomy.“The Holy Trinity” of gastronomy.

Ben Waiting

If you didn’t know any better, you would probably label 28-year-old Londoner Ben Waiting as just your typical ‘geek’. This is due to his portly frame, unkempt hair, face marked by glasses and spots and slightly awkward demeanour. He also displays the all the hallmarks of a typical ‘geek’; lives at home with his mum, does a bit of freelance programming and, of course, plays computer games for inordinate amounts of time. What sets Ben apart though is that he finds hard to divorce the virtual from the real. Games and, to a lesser extent, films greatly influence his real world views. For instance, due to his love of James Bond, he thinks that the Soviet Bloc is full of shadowy, facially-disfigured and oddly-monikered oil magnates with grand, nefarious plans to take over the world. Many also consider to him to live very vicariously through his World of Warcraft character, Ben the Great. Most notably by forming ‘relationships’ with the other ‘WoWers’ (or perhaps, rather, their avatars). These sincere beliefs and behaviours can be seen as worrying, although his small group of friends regard them as mere harmless quirks, only a little more extreme than their mannerisms and thought influenced by gaming and cyberspace.

What is the cause of grave concern though is Ben’s behaviour stemming from his recent prediction of a zombie apocalypse on Friday the 13th of January 2012. He came to this apocalyptic ‘realisation’ after “careful examination of the classics: 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Doom and the newest Red Dead Redemption game, Undead Nightmare”. He studied subtexts, decoded hidden messages and cross-referenced “prophecies of the zombie apocalypse” from these zombie-based shooting games. The final piece in Ben’s apocalyptic jigsaw is the fact that the end of the 5,125-year-long cycle in the ancient Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (used notably by the Mayans) is 2012; a fact believed by many to herald the end of the world.

This ‘realisation’ (Ben believes ‘prediction’ is an insult to the – supposed – certainty) has caused Ben to become increasingly isolated and nihilistic, claiming everyday life no long matters in the grand scheme of things. He has already made a survival kit containing 2,400-calorie food bars, solar blankets, water pouches, flashlight, tent, batteries, first aid kit, purification tablets, Swiss army knife, flares, camper’s stove, whistle, gloves and waterproof matches. Much to his mother’s chagrin, he has also set about building an Anderson shelter in the garden, redirecting the power supply to it and stocking it with basic furniture, several BB guns, canned food and, of course, his beloved £2,000 Vortex 2000 PC. He has even acquired a powerful chainsaw for the supposed zombie attack, and applied to the relevant powers-that-be to be granted a license for shotguns. At time of writing, however, the authorities remain unconvinced by Ben’s prophecy.

As hinted, Ben’s mother is becoming distressed by his behaviour. At the threat of throwing him out, Ben finally caved in to her continual requests to see a psychotherapist. The psychotherapist concluded that Ben had a rare psychiatric condition called ‘Delusional Disorder’. This is a condition where one suffers delusions (fixed, adamant beliefs that run contrary to clear consensual evidence), but without necessarily any clear mental hiccups. This can be seen in Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in Shutter Island and is also the case with Ben as both seem to function fairly well. A friend/cyber acquaintance of Ben claimed that he has “tried repeatedly to explain to Ben the Great, with my unparalleled knowledge of zombie games, that his prediction is in fact erroneous, but he has none of it. It is no madder than many religious prophecies which have been believed by millions though…”

The 'forthcoming' zombie apocalpyse.The ‘forthcoming’ zombie apocalpyse.

The RaptureThe Rapture

Joel Durston

Region Wishes to Remain ‘Unvajazzled’ by Regional Docudrama Craze

In Culture, Satire on July 26, 2011 at 9:23 PM

Extraordinary news emerged yesterday as an area of the UK claimed that it has no plans to make a spin-off of the infamous The Only Way is Essex TV reality show (or perhaps rather, ‘reality’ show).

 

The Only Way is Essex

The Only Way is Essex

For those of you not in the know, The Only Way is Essex (or ‘TOWIE’) is the first UK equivalent of the ‘structured reality show’ pioneered in America with Jersey Shore and The Hills. These shows follow the lives and loves of Americans from opposite seaboards (Jersey Shore – East, The Hills – West), confident enough that their lives are of interest to the wider public. Whatever your views on these shows, they have indeed proved of interest to many.

The Only Way is Essex, featuring self-styled  ‘Essex girls’ and ‘lads’, was the first major UK version of these hybrids of soaps and documentaries that occupy the bizarre, ambiguous hinterland between reality and fiction. Due to TOWIE’s enormous viewing figures (its 2nd season averaged about 1.4 million per show), seemingly every region of the country is clamouring to get in on the act. Others having already done so include Geordie Shore and Made in Chelsea.

It was thus with great surprise that TAY learnt yesterday that one region, namely Buckinghamshire town Milton Keynes, has motioned against such a show in their area. Milton Keynes lies about 30 miles North-West of central London and has grown rapidly in the latter half of 20th century, with much modern housing, transport and services. It is most noted for…well, having next to nothing of note, being fairly monocultural (white middle-class) and also full of generic, identikit, 70’s and 80’s suburban housing, faceless shopping centres and roundabouts. Lots of roundabouts. Even one of those bafflingly complicated ‘magic roundabouts’ with 5 roundabouts within one larger roundabout. Essentially, if you had to name a place that best describes that oh-so-ambiguous phrase ‘Middle England’, Milton Keynes would be it.

'Mediocre' Milton KeynesMilton Keynes

Indeed, one friend who had the indignity of growing up in Milton Keynes, darkly quipped that the only good thing about living in Milton Keynes was that it was easy to get away from, as the roundabouts do actually work and allow access to the M1, 5 railway stations and Luton International Airport just 10 miles away. It also brings to mind a somewhat accidentally brilliant response by a pupil, a friend once told me, of a similar suburban void. The teacher asks “what is the name of the place Christians believe you go which is kind of between heaven and hell? …A bit like a waiting room…?” “Crawley…?” one pupil proffered.

It is for these features and reputation (or rather lack thereof), that ‘MK’ is still technically a town. Specifically, it is a town because it doesn’t have a cathedral. This is despite a near 200,000 having the misfortune and/or bad judgement to call Milton Keynes ‘home’, however briefly or grudgingly.

Speaking in a press conference yesterday, Mayor Notine Mebeckyard stated: “we have no plans to promote such a show (like TOWIE) in our area; in the unlikely event of any group from Milton Keynes believing their lives are of such note to merit nationwide TV coverage, we will endeavour to persuade them otherwise and prevent the show getting to air. What would it be called, anyway; ‘Mediocre Milton’?!”

She further asserted that, if there did happen to be any particular identity of MK and its residents that could be advanced by a show, it would in all likelihood only be negative to the area, as authorities and residents of cities “unfortunate enough to play host to such dirge” have found.

She developed on this point to declare that “admittedly, Milton Keynes does not have much of a cultural heritage to sully, but we most certainly do not want one developed around one-dimensional, gaudy, gossiping girls and guys who think solely through their genitals”. “Furthermore”, she declared, “the vapidity and decadence which typifies this pseudo-television is entirely inconsistent with the upstanding reputation of a town built and run on the fine principles of British Conservatism”.

In summation, in a passionate kind of raison d’etre speech laced with passion ill-fitting of MK, Mebeckyard rhetorically asked: ‘do we really want to be represented nationwide by a group of self-proclaimed ‘socialites’ about as deep as a shower?! Drinking, dancing, dating, dumping, decorating ‘lady parts’ and discussing matters of such triviality even Heat wouldn’t give them a second look. I for one am quite happy in my ignorance of how ‘reem’ Chantelle’s hair is or how ‘jel’ Britney is of Tammy’s new ‘bestie’. And I am certainly happy ‘un-vajazzled’!”

Time will only tell if other local authorities are similarly content to remain ‘un-vajazzled’, literally or figuratively, by the impact of the wave of regional docudramas…

'Vajazzle'‘Vajazzle’

Joel Durston

http://thisaffectedyouth.com/2011/07/21/region-wishes-to-remain-unvajazzled-by-regional-docudrama-craze/

The Recycla-ballers

In Culture, Opinion, Satire, Sport on June 20, 2011 at 1:27 PM
[Although used to fan mail, this letter bemused Patrick more than most.]

 

This week gave us the new ‘Premier League Free Transfer List’ – a list of all the out-of contract Premiership players . Indeed, the name is actually slightly misleading and may be more accurately termed ‘released players list’. It includes several players who are on the list as ‘free transfers’ as a mere bureaucratic necessity following their decision to retire. This season, examples of such include the revered Edwin Van Der Sar and Paul Scholes, as well as the slightly less revered Gary Neville. The majority of the 125 players on the list, however, are merely those whose contracts have run out and whose services are no longer deemed necessary by the club, or at least not worth the player’s asking price (for wages). Some of these are youngsters who haven’t quite lived up to the expectations of them in their younger years and many are older players who the club feel, essentially, can’t hack it anymore.

In light of the ridiculous sums being spent on players such as Torres and Carroll, the presence of ‘good’, and even some ‘great’(or, at least, once great) players in this list illustrates the strange, even dichotomous, nature of the transfer market. Having been brought up by a mother who often said the classic ‘what about the millions starving in the world’ line, not only to make me and my brother eat our greens, but also as a sincere declaration, the profligacy of the transfer market that the list demonstrates disappoints me a little. It is somewhat analogous to buying a load of shopping and forgetting about a lot of it, leaving it to go past its use by date (admittedly, the analogy falls down as players can be ‘re-used’).

Now, I understand the inherent difficulty of predicting necessary squad numbers and player form, not least in football where teams are so prone to injuries, and that it is unrealistic to ask clubs for too much good will in contracts and playing time for out-of-favour players, especially in these hard economic times. Nonetheless, this wastefulness seems a shame. So, with my dreams of top-flight football and my dear mother’s love of recycling in mind, I resolved to try to make the most of this situation by creating a team of such players, based around the great Patrick Vieira, as suggested by a friend. Thus, the idea for ‘The Recycla-ballers’ was born….

Joel Durston
Recycla-ballers Headquarters
34 Recycle Lane
Brighton
Sussex
BN1 1TR

Dear Patrick Vieira,
Let me start by me saying that, as a fan of Arsenal and indeed football, I am a great admirer of yours. Your constant talismanic presence and sometime leadership has been a joy and inspiration to watch, especially during your time in the ‘Invincibles’-era Arsenal team. Yes, there have been a few mistimed challenges which have resulted in early baths, but I’m sure these have all been honest attempts for the ball as I get the distinct impression you are a good sportsman and a positive role model. Indeed, it is because of your honourable humanitarian work and position as FAO Goodwill Ambassador that I believe you will find my new venture, ‘The Recycla-ballers’, of interest.

‘The Recycla-ballers’ is an idea that sprang from a conversation with a friend, and now business partner, Jamie Walker, about the new Premiership Free Transfer List, which I was shocked to see that you were on. However, I feel this idea may provide solace. After seeing great names on this list, we came up with the idea of creating a football team out of all these players, whose services have been deemed tragically no longer necessary by their erstwhile owners.

The reasons for this are threefold. Of course, I would be lying if I made out this venture was entirely selfless, as, like 95% of males, it has always been my dream to play top-flight football which this opportunity affords. The second reason is to revitalise the careers of great players such as yourself, which have been cut short in their twilight, seemingly just because their former owners are too short-sighted to see the simple truth that ‘form is temporary; class is permanent’. Perhaps most important though is the pioneering role (in football at least) the team will play in promoting sustainability. By its very nature, this team, if successful, will prove that clubs need not obtain new players through extortionate sums which have pushed top-flight football to breaking point and priced many honest fans out of the game. Furthermore, on a more general level, I envisage the team will promote the need for sustainability and recycling, which are of course both extremely important in our world, where global warming is unfortunately such an issue.

As such, the team will be non-profit. I envisage it will be financed by different companies and organisations who want to partner us in delivering our powerful message. We would probably have to start off in a low division in the Brighton, Hove & District Football League (where I am currently resident), but I am confident with the quality we would have we would rise up the leagues quickly. Indeed, my cousin’s team were only founded a few years ago and recently promoted several divisions due to the ease with which they were beating their rivals. As we do this, the awareness and support of ‘The Recycla-ballers’ would no doubt grow exponentially. Due to the project’s organic roots, I would be a liar if I said you would not have to take a bit of a pay cut from what you were on at Manchester City. I was hoping, however, you would want to do this for the unique, powerful message it could send the world of football and indeed the world in general. Besides, Brighton’s nearer to France and nicer than Manchester…

Well, now you’re probably thinking ‘that’s great ‘n’ all, but sacré bleu… who in Zidane’s name is gonna play?!’ Ah well dear Patrick, you will not be disappointed there. I am currently in the process of writing to other prospective players for what I am confident will be a great team. In goal we could have Richard Kingson – vice-captain and most capped player for Ghana. One can only assume he was released due to the usually spot-on Ian Holloway misattributing the blame for Blackpool’s recently leaky defence. In fact, Richard did very well to emerge from the season with his stellar reputation largely intact, considering.

At full-back we should have both Jlloyd Samuel and Ricardo Gardner; both very solid defenders short-sightedly overlooked in their twilight by Owen Coyle. As for centre back, I am in correspondence with Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate; both superb centre-halves with strong domestic records and 29 England caps between them – a figure which would no doubt be much higher were it not for injuries which have unfortunately plagued both their careers, particularly Woodgate’s. Both are fighting fit now, however, and would provide a super-solid foundation to the team.

In midfield, we could have Zolta Gera and your good friend Robert Pires rolling back the years on the wings and myself and you in the middle of the park. Coming from an extremely competitive football hotbed as a kid, I was, alas, overlooked by professional scouts, but have since forged a successful domestic track record with great teams such as Inter Mias, The Business F.C and Gape Athletic. Being a team player, I have played in many different positions, even a season as keeper, but see myself best fitting in to ‘The Recyclables’ as a player-manager in the middle. I may not be the quickest, or even the strongest, but I have the vision, intelligence and also a bit of trickery á la one Juan Román Riquelme. With your fine self, in the words of the Ian Holloway, carrying the piano and myself playing it, we could forge a great partnership similar to the one you did with Freddie Ljunberg in the ‘Invincibles’ team.

As for the strikers, I was hoping to get Johan Elmander, but he went to Galatarasay. I am, though, hoping to get John Carew to partner the aforementioned Jamie Walker. I feel these two could form a great partnership, with John Carew’s strength and aerial presence a perfect foil for the self-proclaimed ‘short powerhouse of a goalscoring prodigy’ that Walker undoubtedly is. Hopefully, the remaining squad positions will be filled by Dean Kiely, Marcus Hahnemann, Jody Craddock, Danny Gabbidon, Jonathan Spector, Jason Koumas, James McFadden, Lee Bowyer, Nigel Reo-Coker, Sebastian Larsson, Kevin Phillips and Mwaruwari Benjani.

As I say, I am currently in correspondence with the players mentioned above and prospective media partners (which I cannot name at present for legal reasons), but I am writing to you Patrick in this project’s infancy because I feel you could act as a catalyst for this pioneering project. Your involvement in the team would of course be fantastic, but any help, contacts or advice you could offer would be invaluable too.

Yours sincerely,

Joel Durston.

In Praise of ‘Apprenticisms’

In Culture, Satire on June 15, 2011 at 2:53 PM

So, another impending summer..and with it, as sure as death and taxes, a new series of The Apprentice. The 7th in fact, of what is, for better or for worse, becoming a British institution, as weekly, millions react with an intoxicating maelstrom of despair, desire, dislike, lust, laughs, even occasional respect, to the latest incumbents fawning, fighting and fabricating their way into the affections of the self-righteous “Lord”, Alan.

The first episode had the two teams of supposed recession-rescuers essentially shoving into the faces of unwitting Londoners extortionately-priced food they had produced with the £250 given to them by “Lord” (I refuse to not parenthesise) Alan. As is the norm with The Apprentice, this task itself provided much televisual gold with many eminently quotable catchphrases on exhibit. For example, Edward’s inane (and often inappropriate) endlessly repeated “rolling with punches” and his boardroom tautology so watertight it could be used as an example of the concept to budding logicians: “when I was producing, it was production”. Though the latter quote undeniably demonstrated the logic of ‘Team Logic’, his zealous over-spending on produce did not, and represented a ridiculous over-compensation for being in his words a mere “humble accountant”  and “the youngest AND smallest in the team”.

But before this, there was The Apprentice equivalent of the peacock pluming its feathers as the contestants indulged in the seemingly customary braggadocio, which has brought so many classic TV sound bites in recent years such as one-of-a-kind Stuart Baggs’ “everything I touch turns to SOLD”.

This year was no different, with Helen Milligan claiming “social life, friends, family…they mean nothing to me” and, pick of the bunch, Melody Hossaini declaring: “don’t tell me ‘the sky’s the limit’ when there’s footprints on the moon”. This was in addition to her working “with an understanding that there is..ACTUALLY (who’d av thunk it?!) a purpose greater than (herself)” and being “trained by Al Gore and personally taught by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama”. Naturally.

It got me pondering what brilliant nonsense could come next. So I came up with a few ‘Apprentic e-isms’ of my own. Feel free to join in at home, folks. Turns outs it’s actually quite fun getting into the ‘twat’ mindset….

 

A few rather standard ones, perhaps already consigned to the budding apprentice’s/twat’s proverbial dustbin:

“Audacity is my middle name.”

“I ALWAYS make sure I get my five a day: aspiration, assertion, audacity, achievement, alpha-male status.”

And basically any sentence of this ‘I am a champion’ American Football battle-cry of speech, which is so ‘Hollywood’ in its style, I don’t know whether to laugh or roar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX39J_YyKbs . For example: “I do not understand when things go wrong. I do not understand mistakes. But I do understand victory and never surrendering!”

 

A few where the imagined apprentice/twat has actually managed to step outside of their own self-absorbed bubble for just long enough to consume some pop culture…only for it to confirm their supposed brilliance and subsequently return to their narcissism:

“If I’d have been in any way connected to the production of Jerry Maguire film, it probably wouldn’t have got made ‘cos I would have shown Rod Tidwell the money long ago.”

“Don’t tell me ‘the sky’s the limit’ when Emile Heskey has played for England 62 times”.

“If I’d have been Ian Brown, The Stone Roses would never have released I wanna be adored ‘cos I’ve always been adored, even in the womb”.

“I’ve got so much drive I make the Duracell Bunny look narcoleptic.” (Risque, but then why should apprentices care about the feelings of anybody but themselves?!)

 

A few where the hypothetical apprentice/twat has, to be fair to him/her, displayed a dextrous grasp of the nuances of the English language. To similarly cheesy effect, though:

“The only difference between ‘try’ and ‘triumph’ is a bit of ‘OOOOMPH.”

“I’m not a businessman…I’m a business…, man.” (O.K, as much as I’d like to, I admit I can’t take credit for those two, the former being from a friend, the latter; a Jay-Z line).

 

A couple where the apprentice/twat has, strangely, considered for a second at least the possibility that someone other than him/herself is, in fact, God and subsequently glanced at some Theology, albeit with spurious appropriation:

“I’m not just the best businesswoman in this world…I’m the best businesswoman in ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS”.

“In all honesty, I don’t really see the need for Christianity because, clearly, I am all three faces of everything great: entrepreneur, salesman and marketer, yet still, just one entity…MIKE!”

 

And, my favourite of all, which I will be sure to use just for shits and giggles (unless, god forbid, I get eaten up by the proverbial ‘man’) in the extremely unlikely event of me being on The Apprentice:

“I inhale mediocrity, excrete worthlessness, exude purpose and exhale brilliance”.

Quite proud of that, if I say so myself. Maybe I would make a decent apprentice. Or at least I could walk the proverbial walk…