Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Any of the four could have achieved the victory": Strictly Come Dancing, Weeks 11-13

See, this was actually a reasonable idea before the last episode happened.

We can knock off the first couple of weeks easily enough - Christine Bleakley was 12th man out three whole weeks ago, having had it made abundantly clear to her that, in comparison to the rest of the competition, she was basically totally out of her depth. And, to be fair, she was. In one of the ineffably dull "[x] is having trouble getting to grips with [y], so [z] invited [a] along to give them a hand" segments, x = Christine, y = the tango, z = Matthew Cutler and a = Felicity Kendal. Felicity proceeded to smoulder all over Matthew in a manner he found slightly scary. Christine, however, couldn't manage that and so settled for looking like she had a mild case of seasonal affective disorder. Aside from that, her performances suffered from being composed of the same old moves (twisty-twisty-not-much-else), which were mildly spiced up by having her slide through Matthew's legs. Over and over again. Not entirely surprisingly, she found herself bottom of the leaderboard and not even the phone votes of "everyone in Northern Ireland" (according to her brother) could save her from the dance-off. Her opponent, Rachel Stevens, attempted to look nervous, but she and pretty much everyone else in the building knew La Bleakley's goose was cooked.

And so on to week 12, with (apparently) barely a sliver to separate the four remaining couples, what with all of them having topped the judges' leaderboard at least once during the competition. One thing, though - Rachel and Snowflake had both been in the dance-off twice. Phwoarrrr Austin and Our Tom had never been in the dance-off . Most notably, Tom had scored less than Rachel the week before, but the public vote had saved him. Though the judges couldn't seem to separate them, the public looked to have their order more or less sorted. All the gents needed to do was stay out of last place in the leaderboard, and they'd most likely be through...

Easier said than done, though, as Austin found out. 34 in the American Smooth would have seen him safe most weeks, but then the judges fell in love with the ballroom performances of all the other couples to the extent that each of them scored 39. That meant Austin needed to outscore at least one other pair by six points to not finish bottom, and though his salsa garnered him 36 points, nobody screwed up to the extent that he needed them to, meaning he found himself in the dance-off, playing a hopeless game of Top Trumps - he had to put his salsa up against Snowy's waltz, which three of the judges had awarded perfect scores to earlier in the evening. The gap could not be bridged, and the man who had been favourite for the competition for yonks was gone.

We should probably remember him like this, from week 11:

Positive Len thought there wasn't enough content, and started making his Cotton Hill noises. The other three judges gave it 10s.

Anyway, now that's all out the way - last week. You may have read about this. From what I can recall, what happened was as follows:

Lisa and Filthy Brendan did their Argentine Tango, which was slightly lacking in verve (Brendan's first time doing the dance as well as Lisa's, apparently) but pretty much smooth enough, and scored 35. Our Tom and Our Camilla then did a Jive whilst decked out in enough gold lame to sink Martin Fry, and sweet Jesus was it ever naff. 33 points worth of naff apparently, but naff all the same. Tom sort of wobbled and gurned a bit, so did Camilla, there was some moderate kicking action... his worst dance in quite some time, to be blunt. And it looked even shoddier when put up against Rachel and Vincent Simone's Argentine Tango, which was several kinds of fairly incredible, as the duo became a writhing mass clipping their way across the floor, legs knotting in and out and in and out... 39 points.

As such, Our Tom could have done with Lisa's quickstep being rather less immaculate than it turned out. Much less immaculate, in fact - it got her perfect scores from all of the judges, the first time she'd managed that in the competition. He needed to at least get close to perfect to stay in with a shot of not coming bottom. Instead, his Argentine tango wound up being the weakest of the three due to him doing specifically what the judges had asked him to do less of - acting. Too much time spent on that, not enough on the actual dancing bits, and he wound up with 34 points for his trouble. 67 overall, meaning he now needed Rachel to card 28 or less to stay out of bottom spot. Rachel's previous lowest score in the competition - 30. It was never going to happen. Rachel scored 36, leaving her tied for first with Lisa. Our Tom, mathematically, couldn't stay out of the dance-off now, and once there he'd have no chance of surviving.

Unbeknownst to him, however, the BBC were about to bust him out of jail. For, despite the fact that as recently as week 10 two couples had managed to get the same score, it had somehow not occurred to the programme makers that it would be possible for the same to happen when the couples performed two dances each rather than one. And so they hadn't realised that opening the voting lines for Our Tom was completely pointless, since the public couldn't keep him out of the dance-off. And so they opened the voting lines.

However, in the gap between the first and second shows, someone suddenly remembered what happened when Blue Peter tried to name their cat, and the panic switch got flipped. Lines were closed earlier than planned, and then:

This still wasn't enough of a fudge for the viewers, however, and so after two further days of fussing the BBC announced it would be offering refunds to anyone who was cross enough. I haven't been paying attention to this week's papers, so I don't know if any claimed it as a victory, but I'd not put it past them.

Anyway, have a look at the footage at the moment the couples realise what's happened, and you'll notice one face look distinctly less cheerful than the rest - namely, Filthy Brendan. He's realised that his last chance to get shot of Our Tom has gone, cos next week, the judges no longer have any influence on the scores. The couples will be ranked based on their combined score from last week added to their score from the public vote this week, with the lowest-scoring couple eliminated before the final two dance off for the title, which, I think, is based entirely on public votes. And based on how said voting's gone over the rest of the series, that means Our Tom's just escaped to victory...

Join us this weekend, as we get ready to finally slip this yoke.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Official Rocktimists Sports Personality of the Year 2008 Liveblog

19.00 - LIVERPOOL! LIVE! DAVID MOYES! (not sure why, he won't win)

This opening montage is quite nice. Lots of Hugh Porter commentating, judiciously edited. Seriously, it's really not been a bad year for sport at all, has it?

BIG ARENA, very large floor, why Sue Barker & Gary Lineker are entering to the big guitar bit from "Live & Let Die" has yet to be determined.

Oh good, Tom Daley's turned up.

19.02 - Bradley Wiggins already regretting turning up.

And right on cue, here's Jake fucking Humphrey. He's with the orchestra, conveniently hidden behind a buncha trophies. Congratulations to Manchester United for keeping the Premiership trophy in Britain, yes.

19.03 - Big Joe Calzaghe's here to return the trophy. Refrains from slagging off Carl Froch. Good lad.

19.04 - montage of those up for the award. Just so you know, this blog is pulling for Nicole Cooke, who can be voted for on 09015 22 22 04. She was mugged for this in 2006 (year Zara Phillips won) - twice winner of the women's Tour de France, once winner of the women's Giro d'Italia, first person of either gender to win the world and Olympic cycling road race titles in the same year, if it weren't for Jeannie Longo she'd be the greatest of all time.

Plus Lewis Hamilton is a twat.

19.07 - Olympics/Paralympics montage introduced with the theme from Chariots Of Fire. Parade of gold medallists, starting with Cookie, then bunch of sailors, Ben Ainslie, Peter Norfolk and Sophie Christiansen, Christine Ohuruogu (Kelly Sotherton looks slightly blank, but who doesn't?), David Weir (the Paralympic track athlete, not the Rangers centre back), a cavalcade of rowers, Tim Brabants, James DeGale (David Haye looks on proudly), the boccia captain, then cyclists - Rebecca Romero, Vicky Pendleton (making up for not being nominated by looking like the exact midpoint between Fiona Bruce and Charlotte Church), various others, Wiggins, BEG CHRES HOYEEEE, then Becky Adlington and Eleanor Simmonds and now we cross back to Jake fecking Humphrey.

I thought they weren't allowed to mention Robinson's Soft Drinks' "support" of this event?

19.13 - Football montage, taking full advantage of the opportunity for lol Chris Iwelumo. "The Euros without the Home Nations was like Strictly without John Sergeant" - Gary Lineker, this may be the wrongest thing you've ever said. In so, so many ways. Euro 2008 montage has insufficient Fatih Terim, and we cross into Wimblingdon/tennis montage... with a special bit for the Federer-Nadal final at SW19. Which, to be fair, was awesome.

19.19 - Andy Murray montage, could accurately be summarised as "some Lord of the Rings bullshit". Jake Humphrey is now talking to Judy Murray. Sitting in the background is ex-England Rugby Union prop Jason Leonard. He is not impressed. Jake attempts to suggest that everyone wants Andy to win Wimbledon. Cut to Kelly Sotherton's completely expressionless face. Judy informs him that Andy reckons he has a better chance in the US or Australian Opens. Showed you, Hake Jumphrey (I am unsure if this qualifies as mockery).

19.21 - Young Sports Personality now, to be presented by Ricky Hatton and Theo Walcott.

19.22 - Ellie Simmonds wins. Ricky Hatton, not the most natural presenter in the world, manages to pronounce Eleanor as Helena. Worthy winner in any case - multiple Olympic champion, world record holder, 13 years old. Fairly incredible whichever way you slice it.

19.23 - Rugby union. Wales won the Six Nations, so encore de Lord of the Rings bullshit. And they take the stage to Duffy. "Please welcome various members of the Welsh Six Nations Grand Slam-winning team!" Jason Leonard is still unimpressed. So is Clive Woodward.

"What's the success secret of this team?"

At a guess, none of the Welsh team want to be here. Big curly perm dude conspicuous by his absence.

Ooh, I think Phil Brown is in the audience. Lock up yr daughters, etc.

19.28 - The Helen Rollason Award - not sure what precisely it's about, presumably triumph over adversity, since it goes to Five Live commentator Alistair Hignell. I had no idea that a) he'd retired, b) he'd played rugby for England, or c) that he has multiple sclerosis, so this is actually rather emotional. He takes the stage to an orchestral version of "Angels", so that's diminished. Clive Woodward gives him the trophy. It looks as though he may possibly also be upbraiding him for poor time-keeping.

19.33 - Gold-medal winning rower Zack Purchase is going to do a number on the saxophone for encore de salute to Olympic watersports heroes. Jake: "His saxophone - or should that be his Zack-sophone?" It dies so badly that you can't actually hear the groaning.

Well, that filled two minutes.

19.35 - Ben Ainslie. Jake: "When it comes to ruling the waves, Big Ben is definitely the daddy."

Ah, but this is narrated by Eddie Butler's Fantastic Voice. Evening now 20x better. Needs to be - of all the nominees, Ainslie completes in easily the least telegenic of all the sports. Seriously, I love Eddie Butler. This is actual bloody poetry. Tears in eyes etc.

And now back to Jake. Ainslie gets first proper laugh of the night. He's not actually being funny, but next to Jake. Second proper laugh also goes to Ainslie, as they show him hurrying to get out of the water following the shot for his montage where he falls backwards into the channel off a jetty.

19.41 - betrousered plonker Ian Poulter narrates the year in golf, pointedly mispronounces Padraig Harrington's first name. Lots of abstract adjectives said to camera in the Jazz Club style. Not sure why anyone assumued that might be a good idea.

19.42 - Michael Phelps montage, footage of Baltimore intercut with his wins.

19.45 - Becca Adlington montage, even as they're trying to make it all dramatic she refuses to stop giggling. The woman's charm is basically off the scale. Would take her winning as acceptable substitute for Cookie, to be fair.

19.48 - Adlington on stage now - still giggling.

19.50 - Unsung Hero award to be presented to deserving volunteer from around the country by "two Liverpudlian heroes" - Ian Rush and... Phil Neville. You sure about that last one?

Won by the 70-year-old bloke who runs Dorchester Amateur Boxing Club. He's not really sure what to do, and Lineker has to point him in the direction of the camera, but he comes up with an admirable acceptance speech off the cuff all the same.

19.53 - Horse racing - it's a sport. So, y'know.

19.53 - CYCLING! Crap montage is followed by cyclists riding down the ramp individually. Ed Clancy no longer has a first name, apparently.

Please don't let them fall off.

I suspect this amount of clapping is getting a little wearying for the majority of the audience. Weird thing, I think Bradley Wiggins gets the best reception of the lot of them. He still looks incredibly pissed off that he's there.

Cookie describing her win at the Olympics is not exactly doing her any favours in the voting stakes, I suspect. Also her smile kind of seems glued to her face.

Rebecca Romero really does not seem to have time for this shit, it must be said.

20.05 - Motorcycling - also a sport - leads into world's blandest man, Lewis Hamilton.

20.08 - OK, going off reception in the hall, Lewis Hamilton's name might as well be on this trophy already. "Good evening everyone, thanks for the warm welcome" - more applause. Spawny get. His car is suspended from the ceiling. Not very well, it must be said...

20.12 - Calzaghe montage. Not, strictly speaking, interesting, and nowhere near up to the footage of him surrounded by what appeared to be most of British boxing when he shocked everyone by pipping Lewis Hamilton to this title last year.

20.15 - the somewhat doomed campaign to get Britain to like Christine Ohuruogu continues. Lots of isolated abstract nouns. Again. Less Jazz Club, more godawful Hugo Boss advert. The cutting to Michael Johnson reminds me that he looked REALLY unimpressed when they cut to him during Lewis Hamilton being tedious, and given that he is basically the best damn pundit on British television right now, it feels like disagreeing with him would be a really bad idea, y'know?

20.19 - And a montage of the Paralympic athletes now. It's all a little bit too "there's a person behind the disability" for comfort. They all say "I am me" in a manner that's a bit heavy on the portent.

20.23 - club football round-up. More portent, this time with Rio Ferdinand's Gravitas.

20.25 - Sir Bobby Charlton gets the lifetime achievement award. Denis Law and Sir Alex Ferguson: They Reminisce Over You. Oh, and here's Big Jack. And David Beckham: "Every young kid should know something about Sir Bobby" quoth he, looking rather too pleased with himself if we're being entirely honest.

Sir Bobby manages to look hella dignified and be on the verge of bursting into tears at the same time. And now he's gonna receive the award from Jackie Charlton. Why they're playing The Feeling to introduce Jackie onto the stage I don't know, but this all feels fairly incredible.

20.34 - it kinda feels like I'm the only person on the planet Sir Bobby didn't personally thank there ("Thanks for the Polar Bear tip, Nick, they're marvellous"), but my contribution to the 1966 World Cup was fairly minimal, to be honest.

20.36 - Coach of the Year is between Dave Brailsford, Siralex, Warren Gatland... HARRY REDKNAPP? Get fucked.

Winner is... Brailsford, for basically owning all cycling that doesn't involve men's road racing. "Cycling is a small sport, it's not like the big sports..." - any word on whether feller's a Man City fan?

20.40 - Usain Bolt. Obv. His montage is intercut with All Other Significant Sporting Achievements Ever, with the exception of Bobby Stokes winning the 1976 FA Cup.

This, confusingly, does not lead into the awarding of International Sports Personality, but the cricket montage instead. Hmm.

20.43 - The Two Alans take the stage to present Team Of The Year to the strains of Gabriella Cilmi. Sport Relief raised £28m, a figure emphasised by being written in zoomy grey metallic numerals. Uh-huh.

So then, Team GB vs. Man Utd, the Welsh rugby union team, and the British cycling team... and the cyclists get it. Despite being part of Team GB. Man, Martin Samuel's column about this tomorrow is going to be insanely bitter.

But now they've given Vicky Pendleton the mike. And, y'know. Yes.

And from the sublime to Jake Humphrey, for a montage of Every Other Sport. Darts! Triathlon! Bowls! Paula! Ronnie! All Other Sports!

20.48 - Overseas award to be presented by Lord "I Hate" Sebastian Coe and Oscar Pistorius, taking the stage to, er, Girls Aloud.

Usain Bolt wins, obv., and can't be there tonight. They soundtrack his acceptance with some dub. Him being Jamaican and such.

20:51 - First-ever British Olympic Gymnastics medallist Louis Smith does his bronze-medal-winning pommel horse routine as Monkey makes possibly his last appearance on our screens. Louis has been body-painted but is lit so you don't notice it. Hmm.

Jake Humphrey introduces montage of all British Olympic medallists this year - "the performances that made us all - PROUD!" And yes, that's the cue for Heather Small. Sorry - Heather Small. Observe yr style conventions, boy. Tssk. If you can't guess how shit this is, I envy you so much.

Another plug for Robinson's. Hmm.

20.55 - IT IS TIME.

Award to be presented by Sir Steve Redgrave and Michael Johnson. They take the stage to... One Night Only? Really?

Becca Adlington is third...




It has only just struck me how similar Beg Chress looks to Hamilton manager Billy Reid. But, y'know, bigger. And with thighs. Frankly, Beg Chress' thighs are probably bigger than Billy Reid all by themselves. Hamilton and Adlington both look at least moderately gutted. There is a shower of glitter. The audience collectively realises that they can go home now.

Goodnight, everybody!

Friday, December 12, 2008

For those of you that have been wondering...

I'm gonna do one big post about Strictly Come Dancing this weekend, once they've had their semi-final shenanigans. The last two shows have been, to put it politely, uninspiring, so I think one post to cover the three weeks should do it nicely.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nat Johnson – Heart of Clay

Over at Ich Lüge Bullets yesterday Dom Passantino was—along with the usual unpleasant allusions—repping for terminated Sheffield twee-sters Monkey Swallows the Universe whilst saying that he’d never heard any of MSTU singer/songwriter Nat Johnson’s solo material. I’m in the opposite position. I did hear one of the MSTU albums but in a situation where I was in no position to take notice. But what I have done this year is rinse the track “Heart of Stone” which I grabbed from Johnson’s MySpace a while back. It currently ranks 15th in my iTunes play-count, between tracks by The Quick and Heart.

It’s type of song that I can imagine regularly being described as ‘effortless’ or ‘breezy’, something which begs the question; if it’s so simple why aren’t there loads more tracks like this? I can see why someone would say this though—each part of the song follows so smoothly from the last that it’s almost possible to imagine the song writing itself, animated notes dancing around like characters in a delirious 1920s Fleischer Brothers cartoon. Johnson’s pure voice skates fluidly over the top; an aloof, icy commentary. 

You can buy “Heart of Stone” as part of Nat’s first solo single released by Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation. Here’s the video for the lead track “Dirty Rotten Soul”:

Nat Johnson – Heart of Clay  [YSI]

Albums of 2008

2008 has been an odd year for me in terms of my relationship with music. At the tail-end of 2007 I bought a house and then Stylus shut up shop in pretty quick succession. This year I’ve written a couple of things for DiS, started this blog, and… pretty much nothing else. I’ve also been conspicuous by my absence from even this venture you’re reading right now over the last couple of months; I’ve barely written a thing in 2008. I’ve not listened to much new music, either. Or old music, for that matter.

Why? Domestic bliss, for one. Lack of interest, for another. Becoming an interior design whore, for a third (a side-effect of owning a house, I suspect). Kittens. Cooking. Credit crunch. In late October a new digital SLR camera that seriously rekindled a love affair with photography. All sorts of things. Plus, maybe, just maybe, a (whisper it) shitty year for music.

There, I said it.

I normally react badly to people saying things like that, and trot out “you have to dig, there’s always good stuff around if you look for it” statements. Every year is as good as every other year, cos you always have new old stuff to discover, too. But maybe this year really was poor?

Nah, that’s still a crock. If I’d looked hard enough, invested enough, I’d have got rewards. I just… got old. Perhaps.

But… that doesn’t seem quite right, either. Mike TD is older than me and far more enthused, and just as into photography and interior design too, I suspect. So there must be something…

I want to understand my apathy better. Maybe it’s just mourning Stylus. Maybe it’s all the above and then some.

So I’ve decided to write about some “significant” albums from 2008, in order to try and understand the year, and my relationship to its music, a little better. And I’ll do that with a corny list.

Only this isn’t a list; it’s not in any order, for a start. Really it isn’t – I C&P’d a big chunk from the NME list a couple of posts back (deleting all the ones I’d either not heard of or not heard at all), and the rest from my Amazon List memory aids. This is… a hodge-podge.


MGMT Oracular Spectacular
Lots of people whose taste I respect were muttering about this early doors, and piqued my interest. Then I found out Friddmann produced and mixed it, and that it was a big, wave-hammered sonic mess. I don’t think I’ve consciously heard a note of it since; if I have, I certainly can’t remember it. This may well be my loss (this was NME’s album of 2008, and is cropping up high on pretty much every other mainstream / indie list I’ve seen), but, after nearly three years of banging on about compression and sound quality, I really can’t be arsed anymore.

Insert long-winded, wrong-headed rant about Blu-Ray being pointless here.

TV on the Radio Dear Science
As above, except that I did download and listen to this, and, obviously, Friddmann wasn’t involved. A populist breakthrough to some. A predictably dull move away from what made them at all interesting to me.

Glasvegas Glasvegas
Every single note I’ve heard from this, which admittedly is not that many (thankfully), has been absolutely fucking wretched. How on earth did this get as much hype as it did?

Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
This, on the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed. Yes, it’s not quite up to my rigorous sonic-fascist standards, BUT… it uses its dynamics (and, more importantly, space) well, the songs are hooky, good-natured, pleasant, clever enough to want to listen to again. Is it ideologically sound to listen to (gasp) middle class kids in Lacoste play at cod-afrobeat? Who fucking cares.

Foals Antidotes
Dave Sitek, TVotR’s producer dude, had his handiwork pretty much erased from this. It’s probably better for it. I quite liked it. Not massively, though. Yes, I watch Skins, but very much as a nearly-30-something voyeur. There are… hints at art, perhaps… in this, enough to make it seem worthwhile, rather than just snotty-nosed.

Kings of Leon Only by the Night
At times I’ve thought about picking this up, having heard lots of good things about it. Em has too. But something stops me. I like to think it’s the fact that, however close I may feel I’ve got to giving up on music, I’m not there yet. I don’t drive a Mondeo. I’m not a sales rep.

Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
Pretty, occasionally transcendent, but just a little hollow. If the upbeat side of the EP and the first few songs on this had been continued, rather than abandoned in favour of samey aesthetic prettiness torpor, it might have been great. The people putting this at number one in their lists for 2008 aren’t far from the Kings of Leon acolytes, I suspect. Yes, you’re still into music. No, it’s not terribly amazing music.

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid
Do I feel the same way about this? Are Elbow the British KoL or Fleet Foxes? Or are they something else? Unlike Snow Patrol they prove that you can go to Polydor after being an interesting little indie band and NOT have your personality sucked out entirely (although, to be fair, SP managed at least one good album for Polydor before becoming entirely hollow and reprehensible). Live they were awesome. It’s heartening that “Grounds For Divorce” has become so ubiquitous. It’s doubly heartening that the record sounds so good. But still there’s a sensation that they’re not quite… the same thing as they once were. Which, of course, they shouldn’t be; because what fun, or use, or joy, or worth, is stasis?

Late Of The Pier Fantasy Black Channel

Spiritualized Songs in A and E
Bits of this make me think they still matter to me. Most other bits are fucking boring.

Lightspeed Champion Falling Off The Lavender Bridge
This guy was in Test Icicles. I think I met him once. I know people who love this. But he was in Test Icicles, so I can’t even approach it.

Oasis Dig Out Your Soul
The single made me think, for four minutes, that this might be worth bothering with. It’s not.

Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
This is on 4AD and an awful, awful lot of people, some of whom have taste I can respect, have said wonderful, loving things about it. And so I bought it, and hoped it would be beautiful. And it was really dull fake folk.

Portishead Third
Seemed like a revelation, an explosion, nuclear fallout, something important and profound. Probably would do still if I played it now. But it’s too bleak, perhaps, to play at all. It’s like Threads, more talked about and through of than experienced. Unless you’re into self-flagellation.

The Verve Forth
NME only put this after Portishead in their list for shits and giggles. Bits are promising, if you’re mental. But really, this is like… Mandy going back into Hollyoaks; sad, pathetic. “Didn’t it work out for you in the big wide world? You can always come back with your tail between your legs.” Richard Ashcroft manages to make himself the most hateful man in the world. How? Why? He surely must realise what an unpleasant wanker he seems.

Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair
A track from this came on the Zeppelin the other day, when we were playing a playlist of everything we have from 2008; you know what? It was pretty wicked. Maybe a bit shiny-clean and disco for me to really love, but perfect like a frosted lawn in the morning.

British Sea Power Do You Like Rock Music?
I wanted to like this. But I thought it was shit, I think. I can’t really remember it. I remember broadsheets and similar frothing at the thought it might propel them into Arcade Fire’s league of sales, simply because… well, people always go silly for one album they hope will be a smash that comes out in January. There’s fuck-all else to write about.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
I quite enjoyed the title track. Next!

Coldplay Viva La Vida
Oh, it’s this;’s album of the year (according to scrobbles, whatever the fuck they are). It’s… pleasant. Inoffensive. Unremarkable.

Mogwai The Hawk Is Howling
I wanted to like this too, but somehow it never connected for me. “Batcat” and that vaguely Eno-esque one whose name escapes me where good, but really…Mogwai never sound like anything but Mogwai, and Bark Psychosis exist, so why would you bother?

Primal Scream Beautiful Future
How in the name of holy fuck is this in NME’s top 50? Absurd. I heard three songs. They were horrific. Wretched. Their performance on The Culture Show was almost enough to make me burn my LP of XTRMNTR. That’s some free pass they’ve got.

Bloc Party Intimacy
I said pretty nice things about this for DiS. And then I didn’t listen to it again. I very nearly predicted that this would be the case in the review, but then I thought… what if it DOES reward more over time? Fat chance with this bunch of poseurs.

Polar Bear Polar Bear
Now we’re onto the stuff I’ve listed myself rather than just stolen from the NME list. I said very nice things about this for DiS, and probably listened to it more than any other new album this year. But that’s just because… if you’re 29, and own a Wassily Chair, and a Componibili storage unit, then modern British jazz is your default listening, isn’t it?

Shearwater Rook
At points I thought this was the greatest record ever made (mainly that point with the trumpet at the end of “The Snow Leopard”). It’s not, but it is very good. And not as much like Talk Talk as some people think. I’m saddened that it’s not cropped up on more lists. Or any lists, that I’ve seen.

The Notwist The Devil, You & Me
Ditto this, which is a miraculously constructed record of beautiful, subdued songs and exquisite, sensually pleasurable arrangements, that no one gives a fuck about.

The Blessing All Is Yes
More British jazz, a bit more frenetic this time.

Guillemots Red
wtf happened with this? What went wrong? Some of it… maybe all of it… is actually really good. But it landed on its face flatter than… any record since the last promising debut had a left-turn for a follow-up.

Cadence Weapon Afterparty Babies
If I listened to hip hop more, I’d listen to this more. And enjoy it more.

Roots Manuva
Ditto. Except, with this, I can’t even remember what it’s fucking called, which says more about me than it, I think.

Why? Alopecia
Third. Ecept that this guy’s not hip hop, is he?

Youthmovies Good Nature
About 40% of this album is wicked little leftfield indie tunes that makes me go “wow, these guys could be fucking amazing”. Sadly the remaining 60% is bad heavy metal with show-off time signatures and lyrics about Games Workshop games.

The Dø A Mouthful
This is an unexpected little joy, just a little, foreign slice of indie-pop that pushed all the buttons a little, from Lisa Left-Eye Lopez to PJ Harvey to Björk to lots and lots of other things. Apleasure from start to finish.

Four Tet Ringer
Likewise this four track EP by Keiron Hebden, who eschewed folktronica and improvised electronic-jazz to just make some excellent electronic music that might be old-fashioned techno or might be something completely new but which was definitely, definitely, wicked.

Seu Jorge America Brasil
Just. Really. Good.

The Dodos Visiter
Guitars, drums, singing. Enjoyable.

Koushik Out My Window
Caribou’s mate, finally making a debut album, and it being a perfect little distracted pleasure, like sitting in a sunny field and hearing bees buzz and birds chirp.

Scorch Trio Brolt
Mad fucking guitar jazz that I need to buy a real copy of.

I may add more later, if I think of anything else. Am I any closer to understanding why I’ve lost my musical mojo this year? Unsure. If there’s a thread, it’s that the things I’ve enjoyed have been very much about sensual pleasure, about listening rather than taking part…

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

D Lissvik – Track 03

I’m stating the obvious here, but releases on Information—home to, and run by, Studio—are very short of it. Information, that is. They don’t even take the approach of most CDs with minimal design (OK, most CDs fullstop now) and glob a sticker on the front with a blurb and some desultory crit quotes.

Information’s releases are for the Google era; there’s certainly no way I’d have been able to untangle what the deal is with the awkwardly titled CD by Frak—“88-92 Ext. Tempo Mix by Parlour”—without the internet, as along with the Information logo the title is literally all the, er, info given. It turns out to be a sixty-minute mix (all as a single track on the CD) of tracks by a Swedish band that churned out a mountain of cassettes and 12”s of beatbox grot and wobbly end-of-the-pier organ between the late-80s and late-90s. Aside from a wow-and-fluttering synth-pop cover of “It Never Rains in Southern California” the mix is at its best when loopy and hypnotic like a Swedish take on a John Carpenter soundtrack (Escape from Göteborg?) but how much of that is Frak and how much Parlour I can’t say.

In the case of the short new album by D Lissvik the lack of details doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that Lissvik is one half of the amazing Studio and that the album sounds like one half of a duo stre-e-etching out without the other half stepping in the way and derailing the flow with, y’know, suggestions of chord changes, or harmonic development, or vocals, or songwriting, or any of that stuff. This is Studio with the baggy dance music moves removed. Still—yes—Balearic but more hermetic and gnomic; the type of beach party that grizzled Kraut-rock veterans like Klaus Schulze and Ashra ended up at in the late-seventies when being new-age started to seem a better bet than being space-age.

"Track 03" (coz they are all untitled) sets reverb-engulfed percussion against bass plucks and an echoed-out guitar jam that goes on, and on. And on, and on beyond the point of excess. Being honest, it isn’t all that long ago that I would have hated music like this, and hated some of the words used to describe it (jam—yuck! Balearic—turn-off!) but as of right now—everyone needs to hear this shit:

D Lissvik – Track 03

Oh, and the other day we posted a jazzy version of Steely Dan’s “Peg” (yeah, I know the original is pretty jassy anyway). To make bookends here’s a very ripe vibes-go-disco version of a pivotal Christopher Cross yacht-rock track:

Montana Orchestra – Ride Like the Wind

NME's top 50 for 2008

1 MGMT Oracular Spectacular
2 TV on the Radio Dear Science
3 Glasvegas Glasvegas
4 Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
5 Foals Antidotes
6 Metronomy Nights Out
7 Santogold Santogold
8 Mystery Jets Twenty One
9 Kings of Leon Only by the Night
10 Friendly Fires Friendly Fires
11 Neon Neon Stainless Style
12 Crystal Castles Crystal Castles
13 Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
14 Marling, Laura Alas, I Cannot Swim
15 Last Shadow Puppets The Age of Understatement
16 Ladyhawke Ladyhawke
17 Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid
18 Late Of The Pier Fantasy Black Channel
19 Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life
20 Spiritualized Songs in A and E
21 Lightspeed Champion Falling Off The Lavender Bridge
22 Oasis Dig Out Your Soul
23 Johansson, Scarlett Anywhere I Lay My Head
24 Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
25 Portishead Third
26 Verve, The Forth
27 Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair
28 British Sea Power Do You Like Rock Music?
29 Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nick Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
30 Hot Chip Made in the Dark
31 Coldplay Viva La Vida
32 Mogwai The Hawk Is howling
33 Deerhunter Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.
34 Los Campesinos! We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
35 Mccombs, Cass Dropping The Writ
36 Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
37 Primal Scream Beautiful Future
38 Beck Modern Guilt
39 Chairlift Does You Inspire You
40 Kills, The Midnight Boom
41 These New Puritans Beat Pyramis
42 Alpinisms School of Seven Bells
43 Black Kids Partie Traumatic
44 Li, Lykke Youth Novels
45 Black Keys, The Attack & Release
46 Blood Red Shoes Box Of Secrets
47 Gaslight Anthem, The The '59 Sound
48 Maria, Ida Fortress Round My Heart
49 Bloc Party Intimacy
50 Heartbreak Lies

I really have given up keeping up this year.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

Interview: Craig Finn, The Hold Steady.

(Cross-posted from my day blog, where you'll also find interviews with Joan As Police Woman, Phil Oakey, Martha Wainwright, Martha Reeves, Bruce Foxton and Will Young. An edited version also appears in today's Nottingham Evening Post.)

(Photo nicked off Dom's Flickr, but it's Creative Commons licensed so that's OK then.)

I’ve been listening to your last couple of albums this week, particularly the most recent release Stay Positive, and even three or four listens in, I feel I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the songs. There’s a lot for listeners to get their teeth into, isn’t there?

Yeah, the idea is that hopefully on someone’s 75th listen, they get something that they didn’t get out of the 74th. It’s pretty dense, and a lot of it relates to songs on other records. But you end up writing music that you yourself would want to hear, and I think my favourite records are like that.

Taken as a whole, your four albums form an ongoing narrative, which is almost like a novel. I’ve also heard it compared to episodes of The Wire.

It’s funny, because I’m a huge Wire fan. It does have a serial quality, in that people who are paying attention from the beginning get these updated chapters. Maybe it’s because of our age. We’re a little older, and we certainly are from the classic era of the album, rather than downloading one track at a time. So we tend to look at an album as one big thing that we’re trying to accomplish. I write songs in regard to the other songs on the album, each time we do one.

The comparison with The Wire scared me, as I’ve only ever tried to watch the series once. It was the first episode of the fourth season, and I couldn’t work out what was going on. A friend who’s a Wire evangelist said: well, come on, you wouldn’t start reading a novel at Chapter Four, would you? So, comparing it with your work: is it OK for listeners to start listening with Album Four, or do we all need to start from the beginning and work forwards?

You can absolutely start wherever you want, and hopefully if you enjoy it enough you’ll work your way backwards. But especially with the first record, it maybe only hinted at the stories that were to come. So I think the new one is as good a place to start as any.

What story is Stay Positive telling?

Stay Positive is a record about holding onto useful ideals as you grow older, get more responsibility, and become an adult. I’m 37 years old, and the idea of aging gracefully is a tough thing, especially in rock and roll. The theme of the record is that idea of staying true to yourself, while taking on more responsibilities. Not avoiding being an adult, but embracing it - but at the same time not giving up some of the things that you hold important.

This sounds like the stuff of which mid-life crises are made. As to whether you can lead a rock and roll lifestyle in your thirties, is that a dilemma which the band is actively wrestling with?

When we’re on the road, I spend almost all my time trying to stay healthy: drinking a lot of water and exercising. Being in a rock band at my age is none of the things that you might have thought it was when you were 15 or 16 years old.

Do you have any role models for aging with dignity as a rock performer?

Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young are two people that have aged well. They aren’t really tied to one particular era or moment, so the music they make is timeless. It crosses decades better than things that are caught up in the trend of the moment.

Neil Young and Lou Reed strike me as people who lost their creative mojo for a while, and then returned to form in their forties. Do you think it’s OK to go away and regroup for a few years?

Yeah. I’ve just read Neil Young’s biography, and he was off the mark for a while. He was doing stuff that was weird, and not super-interesting. But it’s about keeping at it, and being an intelligent person. Just keeping being creative.

There are a set of characters – Holly, Charlemagne and Gideon – who were referenced on your first three albums. They’re not mentioned on the new album. Why did you move away from them, and are they in any sense still present?

I think they are still present. I left it open as to whether they are or aren’t, by not using their names – but I think that they still inform the record. I wanted to increase the mystery on this one. Separation Sunday, our second of four albums, was really a linear story – it told the story from front to back – and I wanted to do something a little murkier, and a little tougher to figure out, hopefully with the same rewards.

I get the sense that different songs are sung by different characters from different viewpoints, and you’re trying to piece together what happens from there.

There’s also the concept of an unreliable narrator, that I like a lot. Is what the guy’s saying true?

For your long term diehard fans, you put in quite subtle back references to previous songs. You might even repeat a lyric of an old song in a new song. Does that ever rebound back at you? Do you ever get hardcore fanboys coming up with incredibly detailed questions, and maybe over-analysing?

I know there’s somewhere on the internet that you can find an analysis of all these lyrics, and I haven’t looked at it for that reason. Sometimes I do get questions from people: does this mean this? And I say: no, I never thought of that.

You can just smile your enigmatic smile, and say: that’s for you to work out. (Laughter) But I’m curious to know how your live audiences react. I went to see Drive By Truckers recently, who strike me as fellow travellers. They’ve got a detached, slightly literary style to their lyrics. When I saw them, the crowd seemed to split down the middle. In this case, it was literally down the middle. On the left hand side, you had the serious listeners who were concentrating on every word, almost stroking their chins with concentration. Over on the right, you had a bunch of really drunk people who were throwing themselves around, crowd surfing, and responding physically to the music. Do you get a similar mix at your shows?

It’s not so much right-left as front-back for us – but up front, it usually gets pretty wild. It used to be that we’d come in and we’d see the big barrier between the stage and the audience – especially in England, where they’re more common in the smaller clubs – and we’d think: ah, that doesn’t seem necessary. But it’s now got to the point where I’m pretty excited when I see the barrier! (Laughs) A year or two ago, we started to have problems with people coming on stage a lot, and we do have shows that get really wild.

Does that mix vary from city to city, or from country to country?

It does vary. In the States, you can get really different reactions from city to city. The shows tend to get wilder in smaller towns, and more so in middle America. In places like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, you have pretty mature crowds.

If you were a member of your own audience, how would you react? Would you be down the front, or standing still and concentrating at the back?

I’d hopefully be somewhere in the middle. When I go to see bands, I like to get up real close, but I’m a little too old to deal with getting trampled. But sometimes you can sneak up in front of the wild people. It really depends on the show, and how the club’s laid out.

How much of what you’re singing about is derived from real life experience, and how much is purely imaginary?

It’s mostly imaginary. The characters are built out of composites of people I knew, especially from the age of 17 to 23: when you’re younger, and maybe a little dumber. But each one is not based on a certain person in my life. These are the types of things that I was around for a while, but not specifically. There’s a lot of partying and abuse and things like that in the songs, but I wouldn’t say that was part of my life any more than the average American teenager.

But there are some things that pop in from my life. Certainly I make a lot of reference to Minneapolis, my home town. That’s something I can specifically describe, or picture where these things happen. It’s a way for me to put something real – real details – into the songs.

I find it an interesting approach. I’m so used to seeing bands performing as if they have personally experienced all the emotions in their songs. That’s the default, if you like. Whereas bands like yourselves and the Drive By Truckers are going for a different approach – maybe a more detached approach. Is there a danger that it can get a little too dry and detached?

I don’t think of it as detached so much; I think of it as cinematic. You’re trying to tell a big story, that may or may not have happened to you. Songwriters are so often expected to be opening up a vein and letting their heart flow out, whereas a film maker can do whatever he wants. No one thinks that Quentin Tarantino actually shoots people, for instance. He’s just telling a story through film. We get compared to Bruce Springsteen a lot, and that’s the one thing I think I did definitely take from Springsteen. He tells these huge, epic stories that I don’t really think happened to him.

There’s a direct cinematic reference in the album’s final song, Slapped Actress, which references a movie called Opening Night. What’s the story there?

It’s a John Cassavetes movie, and it’s really fascinating. I’m not usually so moved by film but this one emotionally moved me. There’s a huge separation in the film between performance and audience. It’s about an actress who’s refusing to admit that she’s aging. As an actress, she trades on her beauty, which she’s losing. It was a compelling thing to see as a performer, because it highlights the difference between performance and real life. The title of that song relates to a scene where Seymour Cassel wants to slap the lead actress, Gena Rowlands. They’re rehearsing for a play, and he says: I have to slap you. She says: well, why don’t we just fake it? It’s a play; you don’t have to really slap me. But he says: no, I have to slap you so that it will look real. And there’s an interesting kind of paradox there: that you actually have to slap someone, to make it look real to the audience of a play.

That reminds of a Chinese film, Farewell My Concubine. There’s a scene of corporal punishment in there, which you assume was staged. It was only after seeing the film that I realised that the director had sprung a surprise on the actors, and actually did beat them hard – so the expressions were accurate.

Yeah, lots of actors since then have said: that’s not totally uncommon.

On Constructive Summer, you “raise a glass to Saint Joe Strummer”. You say that “he might have been our only decent teacher”. Did you ever see the man in action? Did you ever meet him?

Yes, I did meet him. He came to see my old band in Minneapolis in November 1999. The Mescaleros tour was in town, and he ended up at our show afterwards, and really enjoyed it, and hung out with us for a couple of hours. It was a really brilliant night. He’s a hero: for his music, but also the way he carried himself was very inspirational.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Loft 4 Dad

I realise videogames (and especially videogamERs) have a reputation for relating to culture in the same way a disease-ridden fly relates to the corpse of a once beautiful creature, but we've already given The Verve a free pass and Grim Fandango sure beats the hell out of them in the Culchuurrre stakes. Therefore, I feel no shame enthusing about Left 4 Dead - the co-operative zombie-exploding experience.

Games have done endless swarms of enemies before (Robotron, Gauntlet, Alien Breed, Serious Sam ... probably a lot more) and they've done blowing things up before (every first-person game ever.) Really, everything in Left 4 Dead is pretty familiar. In some cases it's even reduced from the norm; to count more than ten different sorts of weapon you'd have to include using a first aid kit or a gas cannister as a mighty bludgeon.

But none of this matters at all, because it is tremendous.

just another day at the John Smeaton detective agency

Few things in the hackneyed world of gaming have entertained me as much as the vicious delight the 'AI Director' takes in eviscerating every plucky team of survivors. Each of the four cinematic-style campaigns ends with a brutal Finale, involving wave after wave of horrors being chucked at players until the boat/armoured car/chopper arrives and triggers a mad dash to safety. Playing the 'Blood Harvest' Finale with some chums, we'd come up with a marvellous plan to abandon the main farmhouse and defend a nearby barn. It was perfect, we'd simply back up to the rear of the barn and aim everything at the single entrance. Except as soon as the hordes showed up they tore through the paper-thin walls and started ripping us to bits from behind. Cue panic and an dramatic escalation of friendly fire as we all ran around in circles and tried to make it back to the house.

Or there was the time on the roof of Mercy Hospital when the survivors had been whittled down to just two (I'd been launched off the roof by the fist of one of the huge steroid-pumped zombie hulks, somebody else had simply been overwhelmed by numbers). The helicopter was en route. The incidental music was thumping and doing that squiggling sound which would normally overlay a sudden cut to a half-eaten face with maggots crawling over it. The infected masses were roaring and our two plucky heroes were battling back to the helipad through body parts, vomit and gore. But suddenly, disaster! One is clawed down and the other hesitates for a split second. Should he try to go back and help, or should he save his own worthless skin? It doesn't matter. The moment of indecision costs him his life as a filthy-tongued Smoker-zombie drags him off to a grim demise.


Almost every play-through has situations like this; little nerdy war stories to share with fellow players and irritate the hell out of anybody who doesn't know what you're on about (apologies, non-videogaming readers.) Play with friends if you want to dabble with hiLARrious in-jokes like constantly spamming character speech everywhere (Louis' Joker-like laugh is always a delight, as is standing next to 'nam-vet Bill and constantly saying his name), or risk the untamed wilderness of the internet for that true 'four complete strangers against the world' feel. Although the latter choice can lead to 'you and three total dicks against the world,' obviously. There's a vs mode too, which I haven't even mentioned.

There's a lot I haven't mentioned.

This should explain the rest.

The Adventures of the Vivian Girls in the, like, Bubble of the Music Community

I didn’t really dig that Vivian Girls LP that some people were flipping for earlier in the year. Actually, I can remember nowt about it, but even if I had loved it I think that this pathetic interview would have soured me on them. Even beyond the sheer solipsism, the projection here is bigger than at the IMAX where I saw The Dark Knight. Fuck 'em

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mix Up

Here’s some mixes I’ve been enjoying over the past few days:

The guy behind the legendary-in-certain-circles, handmade 1981 box set has a new(ish) blog posting the 1981 CDs along with further mixes.

Andy Blake of the very much Rocktimism-approved Dissident label helms this months raw and rare train-spotting Mystery Mix on the excellent DJ History site. This is the sneaky direct download link.

Finally, John Burgess of Bugged Out—and founder of a mag that had a big effect on how I listen to dance music, Jockey Slut—has a yacht rock mix up at Resident Advisor.

Speaking of yacht rock, sometimes all a dude wants to do is listen to an instrumental cover of Steely Dan’s Peg with a squelchy keyboard solo. And now you can:

Mike Mandel - Peg

Monday, December 01, 2008

Reality or Fakery? FIGHT!

Last Thursday I went to watch the recording of Harry Hill’s TV Burp. It’s not something I would ever have thought of doing under my own steam—the type of thing I would be convinced might be torture in some unknown way—but someone offered me the chance to go with them and off I went. I had it in the back of my head that I could fulfil the ‘culture’ remit of this blog and, in the style of ‘acerbic polemicist’ Charlton Brooker use what I witnessed to rip the fetid mask of lies from TVs grinning skull and then nod smugly as I watched the scales fall from yr eyes.

Unfortunately, watching TV Burp be filmed was about as much like watching it on the box as it could be. The feller whipped through the show with the occasional pause to set-up props but other than that the biggest difference was that there was about 45 minutes of material filmed, with the 15-20 minutes that got the fewest laughs ending up getting cut. (And it was the worst—I can’t remember any of it).

There was one horrifying thing though.

Before we went in they offered us tickets to forthcoming shows. One of which was a remake of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin starring Martin Clunes and co-written by original writer David Nobbs along with Men Behaving Badly creator Simon Nye. I don’t know which approach could be more of a fucking disaster—staying true to the severely dated original (lol mother-in-law = hippo) or trying to update it for the mixed-up modern world (lol the “great!” and “super!” guys are spouting management speak!) There’s only one way to find out…