As opposed to 'Albums of the Year 2007', on account of this isn't a finished list. It's just a list of how things apparently stand at the end of the calendar year, having not heard certain things I really want to, but while still wanting to do something timely for once. Rest assured, it will soon be 2005 once more. Then I might do 2007 before 2006 to maintain at least some semblance of zeitgeist. So here is a top ten, with brief notes.
01. Dillinger Escape Plan Ire Works
Not as much of a leap from earlier albums as I'd hoped, but they do the speedy stuff as well as ever (OK, not as well as they did on Under the Running Board), and the slightly 'braver', rocky, stuff is fantastic. The last song on the album is seriously the best new song I have heard all year.
02. The Wildhearts The Wildhearts
I didn't think it would get topped for a while there, but then I thought the same thing about Melt-Banana so what can you do. The album flags a bit near the end, but the first half is so good (in a bizarro stuck-in-time kinda way) that it doesn't really matter. When everything is either Nemo or drone, it's great to hear some prog-thrash-pop-metal.
03. World's End Girlfriend Hurtbreak Wonderland
I don't listen to this kind of 'post rock' any more. And at eighty minutes it's way too long. That said, WEG regularly attains heights of tender beauty the likes of Sigur Ros will never again reach and Arcade Fire/Explosions In The Sky et al never would anyway. The quality has outed! And what a surprise that it was someone Japanese.
04. Melt-Banana Bambi's Dilema
Speaking of the greatest rock nation in the world, here's Melt-Banana. Have to admit I slightly over-killed on mp3 before the album came out, but this poppiest album from the band is still a catchy adrenaline rush that is still as heavy as one would want it to be. Bubblegum grindcore!
05. Pig Destroyer Phantom Limb
Speaking of grindcore, there's this lot. Having not yet received my Baroness vinyl, I have no idea whether this is the best album of the year with Baizley artwork, but it is fantastic anyway, as well as being smart, horrible and technically pretty dazzling. It's a bit of a shame the metal media is trying to suggest this as some form of all-time grindcore highpoint (as though Brutal Truth and Discordance Axis never happened), but it's thrilling and not too long.
06. Boxcutter Glyphic
This is one of a few albums for which I have written initial blog thoughts, but further thoughts indicate it is rather disappointing on side one/some of two, but really opens up into cool musical shapes as the record goes on. Whether this was a result of Barry not wanting to initially alienate fans of the first album or what I don't know, but I do think it's the superior album to Burial at the moment (as I admittedly did with their debuts at this time last year). Very good stuff that could end up being considered Boards Of Canada-level-ish.
07. Bloody Panda Pheromone
Still waiting for a vinyl release of this one, therefore I have yet to buy it. However from listens to bogus mp3 files on duff speakers, I am digging this a great deal. What's not to love about slowcore bludgeon riffola while a strange woman screams the lyrics in a style somewhere between a black-metal dude and the late, great Johnny Morrow? Pithy Kerrang-style lazy comment: it's Melt-Banana's secret mutant sibling that's been locked in the attic all its life!!!???!!?!
08. Shining Grindstone
Like the Jaga album in 2005, this was a great early contender for album of the year whose excellence has not at all dissipated over the subsequent months. Weirdly Dillingerish offering from the bombastic arm of the Norwegian jazzrock crew, this album is both testing and sumptuous. A touch cold at times, but that just bolsters the cool-Scandinavian aesthetic.
09. Burial Untrue
Said stuff about this tres recently pon de blog, so read that. This is great. 'Archangel' and 'Raver' especially. If for whatever reason you haven't yet heard this album, these be the songs in which to dip toes.
10. Mira Calix Eyes Set Against the Sun
Had to mention this one really, especially seeing as it seems to have got no press at all (so apols to The Tuss, Landstrumm and Villalobos, who all just miss out on the ten. But try to have a good new year boys). Musically like the best possible Liars album - well, about on a par with Drum's not Dead, probably - this one really stretches out over its four sides of too-good-to-be-bog-standard-120g vinyl. Despite the end of the nineties seeing Mira making clonky noise electro, this is more tender, like an idyllictronic take on what Leila was doing on Courtesy of Choice. A new Leila album would be nice...
31 December 2007
As opposed to 'Albums of the Year 2007', on account of this isn't a finished list. It's just a list of how things apparently stand at the end of the calendar year, having not heard certain things I really want to, but while still wanting to do something timely for once. Rest assured, it will soon be 2005 once more. Then I might do 2007 before 2006 to maintain at least some semblance of zeitgeist. So here is a top ten, with brief notes.
30 December 2007
Here is something else I wrote on a message board.
Burial – Untrue
So much to say about this album, and so little that hasn't already been driven into the ground and rendered cliché. I’ll keep it short, as my time with the album still hasn’t been as long and involved as I would have liked. At a time when the term 'rave' is being misappropriated for use on marketing cheap 'n' gaudy jackets and finger-painting indie bands, it's nice to know some people know what the term actually means.
One such person is Neil Landstrumm, whose Restaurant of Assassins set earlier this year was an incredibly satisfying melange of basic three-chord punk Ardkore melodies and modern production techniques (rather reminiscent of LFO's storming last album – Stealth (2003) – then). The bass was humongous and dominating, the whole thing was vibing like people in 'intelligent' 'dance' circles had largely forgotten to do in the late nineties and it was a riot.
Meanwhile, the closest thing to what we used to call 'raves' today is the local dubstep sound-system: you’d have DMZ, Skream, Kromestar and co testing the bass bins and noise pollution laws while people get high, get low, get mashed and feel the power. But while all that is happening, the jubilation of the rave-naissance and general middle-class debauchery (not that there's anything wrong with that) rings hollow with one man: the mysterious Burial. Burial has been thinking about rave too, and he also knows what it's all about. He's not one to pretend everything's OK though.
Burial is thoughtful and sensitive, lurking existentially in the corners like Hamlet while his peers pray at the altar of the divine party. He's mourning what he considers the true epoch of rave, that halcyon time of ice pops, Game & Watch, shell suits and the voices of ubiquitous anonymous rave divas filling the clubs. Where is it now, he asks, to nobody in particular. The signal's echoing randomly out there somewhere, so Burial devises a means of dragging the fading signal into the now. But rather than attempt any kind of futile resuscitation like all too many revivalists in the here and the now, he is content to use his technology to peer longingly and distantly at what remains, like a musicological Hubble staring at the extinct beauty of sonic stars long imploded.
Whether by the music's own design or a lingering artistic frustration with the trend of hauntology, our plucky hero transcends the limits of this hypothetical music-time continuum, and the ghosts we hear in the grooves are imbued with the emptiness and decay of the black holes that remain where those stars once shone so brightly. We're stuck in time. The anonymous vocals, at one life so proud and exuberant are now pained and withered, and the anguish of a lost lifestyle is plain for all to hear while the transmission gets interrupted by stray rhythms and the mist of gloaming. Like those super-powerful lenses that allow us to see what once was all those millennia ago, and like the ruins of great civilisations that can be seen today in mainland Europe and South America, Untrue is at once a jarring reminder of what has been lost and a time-capsular snapshot of what stands in its place now.
In his painstaking reconstruction/deconstruction, Burial has created an album – a document – that should be a self pitying exercise in futility. However, Untrue manages to sidestep such fate with its doomed last ditch nobility in the immutably unyielding shadow of Chronos. This music knows it is going to die. It really already is dead, despite the necromantic efforts of Todd Edwards, the Riff Raff Crew et al. Burial just doesn't want us to forget a great lost musical civilisation, and who are we to deny him a moment of reminiscence when his thoughts are filled with such beauty as this?
22 December 2007
There are few things as satisfying in the world of popular music as the stalker song. Most notable is that ode to prolonged harassment ‘Every Breath you Take’, by The Police. Now, though, comes a contender to that throne; an absolute banger that throws the ominous solemnity of Sting’s shrubbery-lurkage out of the window in favour of a more turbo-charged, frantic psycho approach.
This ditty’s lyric is perhaps most thematically reminiscent of that time in Seinfeld when Elaine was stalked by her demented colleague Sam. Her answer-phone diatribe of ‘Elaine...I am going to find you. If not in your office then in the Xerox room or the little conference room near to the kitchen...’ is very much echoed by Bextor’s own semi-lunatic raving:
The morning paper
Look in the mirror
On your key chain
Or in the coffee spoon
On your shirt sleeve
In the flat-screen
In your mailbox
I'm breathing over you.
Of course the intentions of the television character and this song’s narrator are quite opposite; Bextor’s psychosis is driven by love rather than resentment, and it is for this very reason that it is so powerful; obsessive lust is a far deadlier foe than mere office rivalry (‘Come on baby, when will you see’, she demands, ‘that you and I were meant to be’). The sense of a very English eccentricity at the heart of the mania is seeded by such turns of phrase as ‘but may I remind you’, delivered in Home Counties English lurking betwixt the more trad pop threats that ‘there ain’t no engine fast enough / My love’s gonna catch you’.
And it is this intense lusting that really frightens, as Sophie follows that popular posh-kid perspective of the spoiled sector insisting they get whatever they want (c.f. Franz Ferdinand and their surely rhetorically-monikered anthem of the Rohypnol fiend ‘Do You Want To’: ‘I’m gonna make somebody love me / And now I know that it's you’). So it is with Bextor, she too uses the word ‘love’ as a threat, the Damoclean sword dangling ominously over her quarry and ready to drop at any moment: ‘Why waste your energy / No point in fighting’, she sings, as she suggests the relationship she demands is the target’s ‘destiny’.
The music has enough bite in its grooves to keep up with the lyric: buzzing synthetic guitars zip around, mingling in the mix with alien insectoid keys that swarm in the background. The beat is basic but powerful as it gets Sophie’s point across suitably bluntly. Most satisfying of all is the chorus which explodes as bombastically as one could want; it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to compare it favourably with that of Rihanna’s omnipresent ‘Umbrella’. ‘Catch You’ is Bextor’s most oddly compelling song, and I would be content if she never topped it.
14 December 2007
Talk on a message board recently turned to Neurosis, and what their best albums are. I got involved and that, combined with having not written anything for ages, results in the following. Listed in ascending order:
The Eye of Every Storm (2004)
Pain of Mind (1987)
The Word as Law (1990)
TEoES was just bland. Bland stuff with the only really good song being 'Bridges'. Pain of Mind is cool for the completist, but a tad pointless when it sounds so similar to the better recorded The Word as Law.
Given to the Rising (2007)
A total return to form after their 2004 fudge, the riffs were solid as fuck, there were some grand songs... but it all seemed a bit going through the motions. Ever since 1999, they had been getting more melodic, slightly more adventurous with each release. This was good stuff, but very safe territory for them. Quiet-loud, recorded by Albini, we get it.
Times of Grace (1999)
Souls at Zero (1992)
Times was shockingly disappointing for me at the time, because I was expecting it to be further out into the unknown, when they actually did the opposite. I blame Scott Kelly, and his banging on about 20-minute songs before release. That, and the release with Grace made it seem like I was getting half an album. The dust settled and it turned out it was really fucking good. 'The Doorway' and 'Under the Surface', especially, are fantastic. Souls was kind of a different and similar story, being the first Neurosis album I went to after TSIB. It was like being a musical archeologist, seeing where their key sounds were founded, and what they had sounded like back in the day. Massive Joy Division influence, but they were really starting to spread their wings. There is a segment on the wonderful 'Stripped' which is a career high, with its combination of rock solid riff, bombastic fanfare and chimes of punctuation. Proper precursor stuff.
A Sun That Never Sets (2001)
Enemy of the Sun (1993)
More v different-similar juxtaposition. Sonically these two couldn't be more separated. ASTNS is the apex of the Albini era for me, as they finally get confortable with being melodic, but before they fell off the precipice into Anathema-AOR. They bring the riffs, but also the inventiveness like on the vocal patterns of 'Fallling Unknown' and the dramatic ending of the album. Enemy, meanwhile, is the darkest Neurosis album, and probably the hardest to get into. It's essentially three movements between Epic Neurosis, fuzznoise freakout and pre-sunnO))) terror atmospherics. Each album also has a total standout classic: 'Crawl Back In' which sees them out-Mogwai Mogwai in the tenderness stakes before building back up to massive catharsis, and the momentous 'Lost', which is TSIB-level in its semi-industrial dynamic meltdown. Awesome false finish too
Through Silver in Blood (1996)
And this is when it all came together. Not just a collection of their best riffs, nor just the best mix of ambience and rage (the quiet parts worked so well on their own that the album was co-released by Release Records, Relapse's short lived ambient arm), nor merely their most inventive. What set this album apart was the combination of all these factors with the sheer sense of malice that drips from the records grooves. Steve Von Till at the time referred to it as 'user unfriendly', and that's what it is. For every time they play an earth shattering riff for four bars, they trance out with five minutes of repeating chords. The riffs are pure evil, as are the quiet bits: rarely in metal were quiet passages anything more than punctuation but in this case they were as integral to the carnage as the louder parts. Then there were all the little touches. The times Dave Edwardson's FX-laden vocals boomed emphasis onto the lyrics, the bassline nod to Cape Fear in 'Aeon', the drone & bagpipe duet that shouldn't have worked; the ten minute death rattle that is 'Enclosure in Flame'. It's just too boss for words.
10 November 2007
I was sent this record a few weeks ago to comment on, and am pleased to report that its high quality means I do not need to lie in order to write a positive review. Not that I’d lie anyway, but this is good stuff nonetheless. Ascoltare is a one man operation that seems to have followed Kieran Hebden’s lead in as much as he has journeyed from the vague region of ‘post rock’ to the equally nebulous biodome that is ‘electronica’ (though that is pretty certainly coincidence rather than causation) with some aplomb.
The first side of the record is devoted to two relatively lengthy tracks, the better of which is the ominously building pulse of ‘Exo on Ferric’. Fractal lines of sound are etched over the continuously pulsing beat. The way layers join and fall out of the mix is reminiscent of video game Rez: a game whose aesthetic texture builds with success and is stripped of its flesh and glory when a hit is taken. Ascoltare takes no hits throughout the level while dropping his own occasional smart bomb; if he had an avatar it’d be dancing a soft shoe shuffle among the blossoming and fading vectors and textures.
I thought I had read a comparison to ‘post rock’, which I was about to refute quite strongly, but that was in reference to the previous Gwei-Lo project. For this is more reminiscent of the ‘minimal house’ strains of a Minilogue, specifically the excellent ‘Girl from Botany Bay’. Slowly, gradually, layers are methodically added to the mix until there is a (slightly mannered) party breaking out of the turntable.
This is my primary issue with the record: as good as it is, it can sometimes feel rather dry. The second song, ‘Semjase in Excelsis’ for example, has something of an absence of bassline in its mix, which can make it seem a touch more mechanical than the rest of its arrangement suggests. This is especially noticeable at the points during which dubby synth stabs rear their satisfyingly offbeat collective head in the composition. Conversely the nearly Aphexian minimalism of ‘Asket’s Ship’, which opens the second side, sounds a lot more musically robust, as the aural frequency spectrum feels a lot better represented. The interplay of the textural loops also seem to work to greater effect on this song.
The big surprise on a stylistic level is the thematic departure represented by the disc’s excellent closer, ‘Sky Fishing’. It’s a pleasant coincidence that Ascoltare was unaware of Asa-Chang and Junray’s Minna no Junray album while making this, because that album was the first thing that came to mind when initially listening to this track, due to the level of joyful exuberance generally and the quality brass loop specifically. That loop meets disembodied warped and chopped vocal snippets in a piece whose innocent enthusiasm marks a stark contrast with the detached minimalism that preceded; this can make those tracks seem relatively lacking in personality, which would be unfair to their meticulous construction and subtle groove. Back to the matter at hand, the moment the vocal samples and counter-rhythms collided in a hyper-colour party crash reminded me of the excellent Jackson And His Computer Band, a recommendation if ever there was one.
I couldn’t help but feel the record might have benefited from a little more variety in the structure of the songs, though the gradual-build motif in itself is no bad thing and is currently very much in vogue in both house and dubstep. And in hindsight, it’s refreshing after the ever-intensifying drill ‘n’ bass boot-scrape craziness of the late nineties c.f. Warp Records, Digital hardcore et al. Still, the tantalisingly full-blooded presence of ‘Sky Fishing’ makes me wonder, not what could have been as this is a fine EP, but rather what gems might follow from Ascoltare. So it is for that reason, as well as B E A M’s own position as a lean, deft counterpoint to the sometimes sludgy mire of generic dubstep, that I can very much recommend the record.
B E A M Part 1 is distributed through Cargo, and the entirely online Part 2 can be downloaded here! Be sure to check it out.
09 November 2007
24 October 2007
22 October 2007
I am happy season one is finished in the sense that I can firmly inform any of the undecided that the first season is really good, contrary to what they may have heard. Time may inform me that it is relatively poor compared to what follows but, on its own merits, it is a quality season of television. It's quality in the sense that characters are introduced, on a near-weekly basis, without the faintest whiff of contrivance. Some of them appear ephemeral (such as the rotund head of a rival tower block, who has apparently acquired the services of deadly homosexual street ronin Omar Little; quite patently the coolest character in the show), while others - like D'Angelo's mother - ostensibly have more import than their initial appearances suggest.
The reason I am using such wussy, non-commital terms as 'ostensibly' and 'suggest' is because this is the kind of programme in which appearances seem only to exist in order to deceive. Not that this is a Shyalaman-style exercise in empty twisterama: it's not. It's more due to the fact that the show mirrors a dramatically compelling real life and, in life, all is not necessarily as it seems, books sometimes shouldn't be judged by covers and other such clichés. People enter and exist our lives, and so it is here. The end result is that this semi-fictional Baltimore (apparently a fair wodge of season one, as with Homicide was based on actual events that actually happened in actual Baltimore) is more than merely a set of cops and a set of robbers; it is a breathing tapestry of life, in which there are good guys and heels on both sides.
It is a show in which hierarchy, or to use a common Wire term, 'the chain of command' on each side sees every stratus in a rickety tower lean suffocatingly on the one below, and the one below and so on. In which super-criminals are outed as bookworms on management courses, police middle managers are making life hard for the ground level cops, but have no other choice because their lives are being made even harder by far more powerful men. In which we are forced to symathise with these middle managers, and with the troops, and with the muggers and hoodlums on ground level in the projects because they're just trying to survive too. And then there are the crackheads, more sympathetic characters living a life many of us have little sympathy for in the real world; Bubbles and his associate are the aside characters with emotional depth, far more so than a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern.
The Wire is a show in which everybody is a somebody to someone and, thankfully, that someone is the viewer. It is not just posssible, but likely, that we could find ourselves rooting for three different 'sides' in the space of one episode; such depth of character development, and of intra-team deceit is sorely lacking from subsequent programmes such as Dexter. (Just to compare the difference in execution between in police politic between the shows is stark, and that's before one considers the difference - as indicated by nomenclature - in the emphasis of lead character and ensemble. Dexter is our lead and that's the way it is while, as 'the wire' indicates, the situation is what dictates everything.)
Characters learn from past mistakes, as they should. Everybody has their good points and bad points, as they should. Death means something, that dread event after which we are never going to see that person again, an event to which too many programmes would attempt to desensitise us. The narrative gets increasingly grand as time goes on, until what was just a remarkably well written TV show becomes something else entirely. Not only is the infrastructure spot-on, but the dialogue is something else too. This is evinced by the fact that each episodes title is a quotation from that show, and also in lines like 'the Queen ain't no bitch - she got all the moves' and 'anybody who spend they time witnessing shit, they gonna get got' (it would seem D'Angelo has all the best lines). To think this programme has two English 'leads' is insane; if they couldn't get work over here then good. One Wire is worth a thousand vacant, soul-less Spooks, Hustles and, err, Life on Marses. And the best thing of all is that, a fifth of the way into this epic, the glory of The Wire has really only just begun for me.
I love John Hodgman: it must be the way he stares, questioningly, into the camera after saying stuff. That and he's mre deadpan than a really deadpan thing. Like Patrick Stewart's old kitchen utensils cupboard. Yes, a terrible joke, but a necessary one to counter the hilarity that is Hodgman. Anyway, in this clip Hodgman is interviewed by a 'boorish Philistine... lay rube'.
19 October 2007
The point during the programme that most piqued my curiosity (or at least the segment about which I felt semi compelled to write) was the ‘ordinary people’ bit. In it, Brooker showed television shows to a focus group of young people; they watched each until they felt the need to hold up a sign bearing the legend ‘BORING’. Brooker’s theory, on account of ‘young people are idiots’ went along the lines of thinking they’d enjoy the frothy glitz shows and yawn themselves back to the foetal stage the second a documentary would come on.
To Brooker’s pleased surprise, they denounced My Super Sweet Sixteen, declared Skins naught but a ‘well written guilty pleasure’, and were positively thrilled to bits by the documentary. Seeing as the documentary was The Power of Nightmares, by the excellent Adam Curtis (whose The Trap - What Happened to our Dream of Freedom edified and terrified me in equal measure, and whose quick-cut archive-raiding style of documentary-making seems entirely aimed at the kind of people whose alleged short attention spans would have them changing the channel if any image is on their screens for more than three and a half seconds), this conclusion was not a massive surprise; certainly not so when one considers how middle class his youth panel was. I’m not going to lie: I am most definitely middle class. I am not, however, anywhere near as posh as this lot (example: one of them was called Flossie), whose ecological validity seemed to be entirely based on the fact that there was one black person and one Asian person on the panel.
I wonder, if Brooker was really interested in what the young people of today thought of today’s television aimed at young people, whether a more class-mixed panel would have resulted in different results than those we saw here; perhaps – not to generalise but to theorise – shows like Whatever might have met with more positive response. Maybe they wouldn’t, which is why I’d like to have seen something more representative. That’s not even to mention boring academic concerns like whether a group of young people assembled before one of the country’s foremost television critics and appearing on a BBC4 programme might perhaps display demand characteristics. ‘This is “good telly” so I should praise it’ / ‘How can I admit to liking this “bad” programme?’
The study, and I am aware it was just a segment on an entertainment show ergo I’m not getting bent out of shape about it (even if I may appear to be), just seemed to be some self-fulfilling skit, an episode of a feel-good kids’ show, wherein everybody realises that – hey! – we’re not so different after all and the world isn’t, as Billy Corgan once mentioned, actually a vampire. Who’d have thought that posh kids on a BBC 4 programme would like a fast-paced BBC documentary? Nobody, right?
That said, this series has been excellent thus far (this specific episode home to the touching tribute to Ronnie Hazlehurst that inspired my post). It’s funny and good, even if he doesn’t like America’s Next Top Model. He’s just jealous.
Considering the generally well-populated recent cards put on by the UFC, one of which having the gall to actually call itself ’Stacked’, this was the one I was really waiting for. ‘Waiting for’ in the sense of ‘screw what happens after this’, child-looking-forward-to-Christmas manic excitement. Yes, ‘Stacked’ was reasonably well constructed.
For my money (zero pounds and zero pence, then, as I’m English and watch my UFC on Bravo. Go Bravo!) UFC 74 was on paper way more interesting, as it had stuff like Couture-Gonzaga and GSP-Koscheck, one of my faves ‘Babalu’ and, well, no Sean Sherk seemingly intentionally not finishing a clearly outclassed opponent. While on steroids. Err, ‘allegedly’ and stuff. Add to that the actual card being cool to watch, and it was officially better than 73.
If 74 was a quality bit of top-shelf fighting action (in that it was really good, as opposed to being pornographic. Unless you go for that kind of thing, in which case be my guest), UFC 75 compensated its relative lack of… let’s call it card consistency… with heart-stopping sporting moments of excitement, grief, national pride and loads of other cool stuff. And, after all, are those heart-in-mouth, living-in-the-now single events not the very reasons we watch sports in the first place? The answer is ‘yes’, by the way, unless you are the kind of joyless wonder who eschews actively supporting competitors in their athletic exploits in favour of dryly analysing whether a fight was ‘objectively good’ or not.*
But there were some objectively good fights to boot! The broadcast I caught for some reason (got to fit those adverts in, natch) omitted Ryoto ‘LYOTO’ Machida’s win over Kazuhiro ‘KAZUHIRO’ Nakamura. Now, some people don’t like Machida because he fights strategically and would rather win without receiving a scratch than get involved in a stupid brawl. What an idiot he is! Anyway, he’s fantastic and I don’t particularly like Kazuhiro Nakamura (historically the best fighter I don’t like, though that status has lately been usurped by Sean ‘Roid Shark’ Sherk) so the result was all good to me.
Someone who doesn’t mind getting into a scrap, to the benefit of all those watching, is one Tyson Griffin. Known prior to his UFC debut for stopping WEC’s featherweight overlord of the gods Urijah ‘Not Heap’ Faber, he has made his name in the last year or so for having fantastic fights. After dealing rather quickly with David Lee, he went the distance in wars with Frankie Edgar (Griffin lost, but it was close and Edgar seems pretty damn hard anyway), Clay Guida (another schmart fighter, but this time Griffin won, and the fans in Belfast actually got entertained by something that night) and now Thiago Tavares. He’s like a better Roger Huerta.
Now, Tavares was last seen in the Octagon (trademark!) making absolute mincemeat of Jason Black, and was to this point undefeated. So they went at it for three whole rounds, and I didn’t really think either man would get the finish on account of they’re both as tough as my old Caterpillar boots (that’s tough). Anyway, it was a close-fought fight with a ton of action and I instinctually assumed Griffin was going to take it. Maybe I’m just cynical when it comes to UFC judges – though Edgar taking their fight was a pleasant surprise – but I didn’t see Tavares winning, even though it’s not like Griffin dominated or anything. So Griffin got the decision, Tavares his first loss, and I am sure we’ll see them both again very soon.
In the months leading up to the next fight (well, after rumours of BJ Penn and Hayato Sakurai being in it) I had been certain of its outcome. After Josh Koscheck beat Diego Sanchez by virtue of Sanchez only actually doing anything for a combined twenty seconds or so, leading to the legendary ‘nineteen and ONE!’ post-fight speech, Sanchez was given Jon Fitch to fight. I remember reading a rumour a few months ago that Koscheck and Fitch were two fighters welterweights in general didn’t want to fight. Well credit to Sanchez for taking both fights, but I knew he’d end up 19-2 when all was said and done.
And he did! At least the TUF alumnus acquitted himself a lot better than he did against Fitch’s team-mate, in which he decided staring was the way to victory. No, he was attempting submissions and the lot against Fitch. Fitch though is the scariest welterweight there is (I’d probably pick GSP and Hughes over him, but the hobo beard and crazy eyes add to the fear factor), and he pretty much dictated what happened and when.
So Sanchez is on a two fight losing streak, so he’ll have to think about things. There are rumours he is going to fight at lightweight (it seems the magic answer to any fighter woes is just to go down a weight class), possibly chopping off a leg at the knee in the process, but he’s not challenging for a title anytime soon. With Koscheck losing to GSP, it would appear that Fitch would be due a shot at some point but, with St. Pierre the current number one contender for a belt whose owner at that point is still yet to be decided, that would be a long time coming. Like, summer 2008 or something. Perhaps Koscheck and Fitch can conveniently fall out with each other in the interim. Or maybe someone can fight Sakurai!
While (eagerly) awaiting this card, the Jardine-Liddell fight interested me least on paper of all the broadcast bouts, but the draw of an upper-card (or in that case, main event) fight is one not to be under-estimated; there was something of an event about what was yet to come, even though I had been far more looking forward to the two above fights. Of course that was all to change as the night wore on, but there was a little tilt before that.
I don’t know what to think any more. Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua was the second most sure prospect for me in this post-Pride dissolution epoch of MMA; his beating Forrest Griffin was a foregone conclusion. To Griffin’s credit, and Rua’s massive disappointment (and more the latter to be honest), ‘Shogun’ experienced his first loss at 205 in over four years. It didn’t start out too badly: Griffin impressed with his strength and willingness to take Rua on, but the first round or so went in favour of the Brazilian. Then something happened halfway through the second round; ‘Shogun’ just stopped.
From that point on the fight was pretty unbearable for me to watch. While he’s not my favourite fighter at the weight, I dig ‘Shogun’ a lot, and it’s always nice to see historically elite fighters doing well. This was not ‘Shogun’ doing well, as he seemingly ran completely out of energy – Alberto Crane style – and spent most of the fights second half trying not to lose. Or die. Griffin displayed admirable killer instinct, and managed to get the tap from a rear naked choke seconds before the fight ended. Watching this I finally realised what bad results mean to fans of other sports; I was, to quote so many football managers, gutted. As with the early fights of a lot of historically Pride fighters, I hope to see better from his future bouts in the Octagon.
More intriguing, and infinitely more enjoyable, was the main event. Going into the show this was at least fourth-fiddle for me, but it really developed into something special with each passing minute. I don’t particularly like Keith Jardine. He has the worst nickname – The Dean of Mean – in a sport of poor noms de combat. He spent his camera time on The Ultimate Fighter grinning inanely and winning anonymously. I’m not even sure how many fights he had on the show. I don’t dislike him either. He throws a nice leg kick, is up for the scrap and has a beard that puts me in mind of Steve Von Till.
Liddell’s another odd one for me. Again, I have nothing really against him outside the fact that he holds numerous wins over fighters I like (e.g. Couture, Overeem, Sobral). That and he allegedly thumbs people in the eye. And he doesn’t like to grapple, and I like to watch fights with decent grappling in. but I can’t blame him for any of that (apart from the thumb thing) because he fights whomever is in front of him and he’s more effective when striking than offensively grappling. So with both fighters neither here nor there to me, I was supporting Jardine for the underdog factor.
Early in the fight, Jardine visibly knew all too well that he was indeed the underdog. He looked like he was about to wet his shorts at any moment, as he danced around the Octagon peeling off the occasional shot of hope. Liddell, meanwhile, practiced his usual strategy of waiting for his moment to strike. It was clear that Jardine rightly feared that strike.
As the fight wore on, though, the psychological battle was the most interesting aspect of the tilt. Canny Jardine maintained his strategy of fighting scared, peeling off a leg kick here, a body blow there. Still danced around; still looked terrified. Liddell waited, ever patiently, for his moment to strike. By the halfway point, though, a realisation dawned: Jardine was winning. Though his strategy had been piecemeal, he had been hitting his opponent to little reply. Though the spectre of that Liddell one punch knockout loomed ever present, there was a chance Jardine could take this.
And so the third round was one of the tensest experiences I have had as a sporting fan. I was now positively willing, begging, Jardine not to make a mistake, to make it to the end of the round without being clobbered. He knew he was winning, too. He had to know. So he kept plugging away at Liddell’s side, occasionally throwing head shots. Liddell, meanwhile, was almost at husk level in his inactivity. A mixed martial arts Jupiter, such was his silent presence and massive red mark on his side, he seemed psychologically broken. While he could have gone for a trademark looping hook, he didn’t. Nor did it seem like he would. It was just a matter of time before the unthinkable would happen: Keith Jardine beating Chuck Liddell after fifteen minutes of fighting.
There it was: the decision impossible to screw up. Not only was ‘Shogun’ felled, but Liddell had lost his second straight fight (where, though, are the calls for retirement that have been plaguing the similarly fated Filipovic of late?). The light heavyweight division, with its surfeit of good fighters and practically no qualitative hierarchy is the most exciting it has ever been. Overall, then, this was quite the card. No fight was boring and it was full of drama. It was amazing: upsetting, enthralling and scintillating. This is the stuff MMA is all about, and I’m just upset that – on paper – we’re not going to see a card of this quality for quite some time.
* Case in point: My favourite sporting moment by an absolute mile was the Wimbledon 2001 men’s singles final. Both competitors on the verge of retirement, Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter engaged in a war for the ages. Was it a dazzling exhibition of technical perfection? Not in the slightest, as there were probably more double faults served than in any other match I have seen. Including my own. But it was precisely because of, rather than despite, this display of human imperfection and emotional exhaustion that the match is such a classic. So those people who cry that Nogueira-Herring I was ‘too one-sided’, or that Griffin-Bonnar I ‘didn’t have enough grappling in it’, please lock yourself in the garage with the car running and an OPM singles collection on the stereo.
18 October 2007
17 October 2007
11 October 2007
10 October 2007
When I first heard a snippet of this one, it was when Grohl appeared on the Moyles show with an acoustic guitar (dialogue highlight: ‘So, I was having a beer with my tea, and-‘, ‘You have beer… with tea?!’). he started playing what he claimed was a track from the forthcoming album, but which initially sounded like he was going to psyche everyone by playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ instead. It turns out that was just the beginning to ‘The Pretender’ and it just happened to have a very familiar arpeggio at the start.
Needless to say I have this song on vinyl (but not the album – the only time I saw it in a shop it was twenty pounds!) and when the snare beat kicks in, a couple of beats before you expect it to, it is loud. And I mean loud in the sense of dynamic swings most (compressed to hell) compact discs just can’t communicate. (For instance, as much as I love the song, the fantastic ‘banks of vocals’ crescendo to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Otherside’ is actually no louder on your stereo than the solo bass intro.)
When this tune really starts rocking, it does so to predictably thrilling effect. Grohl, after testing the waters with some album tracks and then ‘Best of You’, has settled into screaming whenever the volume goes up and that’s fine by me. As per usual, Taylor Hawkins’s drum fills are weirdly visceral for a pop single and really add propulsion to the song.
Structurally ‘The Pretender’ really reminds me of ‘All My Life’, and never more so than after the second chorus when the song breaks back down into quietness (at this point I’d like to mention the brief rock ‘n’ roll Chris Shiflett interludes. They are mentioned). While an effective dynamic device that the band employs on a regular basis – best heard on ‘Everlong’ – it is the creative weak point of the piece. ‘I'm the voice inside your head / You refuse to hear’ is eerily reminiscent of ‘All My Life’s ‘All my life I’ve been searching for something / Something never comes, never leads to nothing’, and you could easily sing one over the other. This becomes more blatant with the ‘Who are you / Yeah, who are you’ section echoing the ‘And I'm done, done and I'm onto the next one’ of the 2002 single.
At risk of turning into Theodor Adorno, this really is a case of pseudo-individualisation, something I will be guilty of when I say at least this single breaks straight down into quietness again instead of just rocking out. Well it does, so I don’t care. As to which song I prefer, I’m not sure. ‘All My Life’ has far better drum patterns (especially in the chorus), and the rock-out bit is stellar. Conversely, ‘The Pretender’ has more emotional impact, and a more involving chorus. It also has one last trick up its sleeve.
While ‘All My Life’ followed its breakdown with a bunch of screaming and an abrupt finish, Grohl this time follows his second quiet bit with a couple of choruses and – this is the best bit – overlaying the verse melody onto the last chorus. As I am a complete sucker for vocal arrangements that attempt something even superficially different, I love this. It’s not quite the end of ‘Midlife Crisis’, but what is?
In all, I feel a tad guilty for loving this song (and band) as much as I do. They are blatantly following a commercially very viable formula to the bank but, at the same time, it’s inordinately entertaining. While I’m all for music as food for thought, there are times when a good song will suffice, which is what this most definitely is. Times, dare I say it, when we learn to live again. Sorry.
BONUS FOOTAGE: The aforementioned ‘Midlife Crisis’. Doesn’t sound fifteen years old, does it?
* ‘No Way Back’ last year, ‘Best Of You’ in 2005, ‘Times Like These’ in 2003, ‘All My Life’ in 2002, ‘Next Year’ in 2000, ‘Learn to Fly’ in 1999, ‘My Hero’ in 1998, ‘Everlong’ in 1997, ‘Big Me’ in 1996 and ‘I’ll Stick Around’ in 1995; missing two years out of thirteen is a pretty good strike rate. This is a proper under-rated band by ‘serious’ music listeners.
09 October 2007
Mix just about to start. He apparently wanted to have all the tracks mix in with each other, but that didn't work, hence doing this mix. 'Glyphic' as aesthetically pleasing nomeclature, pseudo-tie in with Pharoahe Sanders and Sun Ra who he digs. Preview of the album. He says it's sorta dubstep tempo but just wants to think of it as being part of the ardkore continuum, 'heavy rave'. It's still got the diamond-cut shards of rhythm with rays of melody peeking through, reminding me a bit of late nineties Autechre. Mary-Anne was bigging up how 'heartbreaking' it is, but not so much on the evidence of what I'm listening to. Not quite as Boardsy as I inferred from her description. There's an almost malicious hiss of atmosphere underpinning the squirming, scattered sounds, like worms in a gas chamber.
Weird injection of jazzy melodies, fluteloops, before the crystal castles of polyrhythmic architechture burst out of the soil. It retains that busy-ness of mix that separated Oneiric from the Burials and Skull Discos. Hint of basslines through crappy computer speakers mean I'm gonna have a field day when this hits the Death Deck. Very dubby, down to the little drum fills. Is this still him? From what I can discern, the mix is deep, so deep. Cool segment of early nineties synth underwater melodies, shimmering rather than squelching, while the bassline wobbles periously close to dubstep cliche.
Getting into pretty lush tones now, with the odd clipped vocal sample rearing its disembodied head. Proper lush bit just now; 'Treefingers' with some percussive propulsion getting held underwater and reaching that region of resigned bliss that one visits just before drowning. Then we get a bit of electric piano getting preserved in amber and hurled off the interior walls of a church. Breaks out of pupa into proper melody, flying free into an analogue bubblebath, licking stained glass windows as it goes. It's like a prog rock song made by Luke Vibert now. This is mad. Clinky bells and jazz breaks. American psychotic sax bits while Phil Collins smashes his drum kit on a PCP bender.
Wow yeah, that's all from Glyphic. Cannot wait.
03 October 2007
'This is the worst interview I have had in my life! You are the worst!' It's almost like a Ten Years On ('does anybody remember laughter?' Not on this blog...) of Alan Partridge vs. Peter Baxendale-Thomas. Amazing stuff.
23 September 2007
I haven’t seen any of the under-card bouts as I write now, and in fact I haven’t re-watched the fights I had seen on the night; perhaps I will update as and when relevant. And I am aware that the next instalment of the ongoing UFC odyssey, known as ‘76’ has technically ‘happened’ but, as I am in the UK and trust my viewing pleasure for these cards to Bravo, it is on tonight for me.
I was originally to be at this particular card. However, for reasons unpleasant (and ones that I don’t feel the desire to recount at this juncture), I wasn’t and was doomed to watch it on Setanta. I suppose the silver lining here would be the fact that I didn’t have Setanta until about a week prior to the event, and there would be further lining in the form of the card being on ‘free’ Setanta as opposed to pay-per-view. Quite the lining indeed but, all that said, I wasn’t at the O2 (nor, indeed was I present for any of the recent Prince concerts, but that – even grimmer – revelation is another I care not for explaining), so the grey cloud, lined though it was, loomed over me like the most malevolent cumulonimbus.
(At this point, using up word count: moi?, I would like to mention the writers of the ‘Sherdog’ ‘web’ ‘site’. It would seem that they, like Prometheus, have over-reached in their attempts to write well. In a way, I’m happy, as at least they are now making an effort. Still, it’s pretty sad; filling up columns on MMA with semi-colon usage and bizarre popular cultural references is my gimmick.)
OK, so there was a bunch of fighting at the O2 the other week. I shall start with the fights with which I was least bothered, so as to get them out of the way. Paul ‘The Party Animal’ Taylor vs. Marcus ‘Default’ Davis was exciting while it lasted, with great dynamic swings in whom the fortunes favoured. While both fighters displayed neat striking and killer instinct, it was the quick thinking submission application that separated the twain. Good for him. That said, I don’t care if I never see him again.
Mike ‘The Count’ Bisping vs. Matt ‘Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em’ Hamill was a scary fight for fans of the Brit. I don’t know what it is about fight sports, but they are the only realm of competition where I want my compatriot to win. In fact, it is only in MMA and boxing in which I am not actively willing the Brits/English to take a massive hammering. No idea why that is the case, but here we are. Which reminds me: Good riddance Tim!
Anyway, the fight was close, but in retrospect, reassuringly so. See, if it hadn’t been close, it would have been due to Hamill running away with it. Prior to the confrontation, received wisdom held that, as long as Bisping was able to avoid the takedown, he would be free to punch the American at will. What surprised both I and Bisping, then, was the clean, powerful striking emanating from Hamill.
Not that it was amazing or anything, but punches were thrown with a strength and confidence that threw Bisping off his game in the first round; he was attempting to throw his own strikes while on the retreat. While he regained his composure, and ended up deftly avoiding takedowns by the third round, he seemed to have done little damage compared to that which he had received. So while Bisping won the decision, perhaps in some way ostensibly to appease the British audience, his agitated post-match interview revealed all was not well in the state of Bisping. It will be interesting to see where the two go from here.
I don’t really know what to say about Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic. What was once the most feared fighter in all of mixed martial arts (while Fyodor Emelianenko was always better, it was Filipovic who could end it all, at any moment, with one shot) has been reduced to a shaken, smaller-looking, version of his old self. While I won’t attempt to play the game of ‘what the casual fan thinks’, the fact of the matter is that, with losses to Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheik Congo, his sole American win against unheralded Eddie Sanchez, his presence in the upper UFC echelons is based on name only.
I am also not one to attempt to undermine the import of his loss to Gonzaga in the light of the latter’s undoing at the hands of Randy Couture. UFC 70 is what it is, and losing to the miraculous champion later is neither here nor there in affecting the perception of Gonzaga imposing his will on Filipovic to such a shattering extent. Nor should it affect that career-defining performance. UFC 75, on the other hand, asks questions of Filipovic, rather than making any proclamations on the ability of Kongo.
We have all seen Kongo before; we know he is a big, powerful kickboxer with little else in his skill-set. Indeed, while some said Kongo was the best possible opponent for Filipovic’s presumable return to form on account of he wouldn’t attempt a takedown any time soon, I was always filled with trepidation at the prospect of the Croatian attempting to knock out a fighter with the same techniques as he, but with a far larger frame; Kongo’s icily cool confidence in pre-match interview was ominous indeed.
And so it was that Kongo essentially ‘did a Hamill’ (or, perhaps to be more pertinent, ‘a Hunt’, in reference to the last time a striker walked ‘Cro Cop’ down to win an easy decision). Kongo hit Mirko at will, forcing the favourite on to a back foot from which he would never return. Straits were dire enough by the end of the first round that we nearly bore witness to that second most legendary of MMA punch lines, ‘”Cro Cop” by triangle’. As it was, though, the French fighter escaped that particular section of grappling and returned to his stratagem of regularly kicking the Croat’s body; kicking the fight, quite literally, out of Filipovic.
This win doesn’t mean Kongo is suddenly an elite mixed martial artist, nor does it necessarily mean – as some drama queens have stated – that it should spell the end of Filipovic as a current fighter. Kongo will go on from here and how he performs against more rounded fighters will either see him challenging for the title or returning to dark matches. Filipovic can recover, theoretically should recover but, after these unprecedented two straight losses, I wouldn’t like to bet on it.
Infinitely more heartening was the main event (Quinton Jackson vs. Dan Henderson, for those unaware). Though many have banged on about missed opportunities (Sherdog did admittedly admirably on this front, actually) in hyping the momentous occasion of UFC champion fighting the Pride champion (even if they are both UFC fighters now, both of whom made their professional names in Pride, so perhaps the hype on that front would have been disingenuous), the fight was excellent.
As I thought it would be before the day, this was a close, titanic, struggle that was decided by the bigger, stronger Jackson being that bit more able to implement his game plan and wear down Henderson. Not for me the play-by-play style of fight discussion, but there were numerous moments that stood out to me. First and foremost, though UFC were playing themselves up more than title unification, Jackson’s insane level of pre-fight intensity was heartening compensation, especially as it didn’t drop a jot when Henderson smiled at him. The initial rush by Jackson of Henderson, and Henderson’s subsequent parry, was the perfect start. The swings in momentum kept this fight intriguing, even though – as the bell sounded the end of the fifth – Jackson quite clearly won.
This was a great fight, a display of rounded mixed martial artists. The tilt told a tale of a smaller man going the, very competitive, distance with a bigger, younger man. It told the tale of an erstwhile rough-around-the-edges ‘street fighter’ taking on a decorated amateur wrestler at his own game and winning. It went a long way to wash the foul taste of the numerous Sherk and Sylvia five-rounders from the collective mouth of the MMA fan. Last, but not least, it established who the linear cock of the light heavyweight walk really is.
Just in time for Shogun to debut, then.
01 September 2007
For Total MMA
All that aside, though, I suppose the show raised a few pertinent questions. One of those is quite clearly ‘who (if anybody) is going to beat Randy Couture?’ we should probably deal with that one before moving on to any further posers. While generally split, the MMA populace had somewhat decided that Gonzaga was a very dangerous fight for Couture. I suppose the fact that Randy dismantled his young Brazilian challenger so comprehensively is kind of the reason why he is Randy Couture and we’re not. Yes, in another display of strategic acumen and fighting skill, Couture decided he would neither swing with the stocky Gonzaga nor risk two-hundred-and-fifty pounds of jiu-jitsu in his face by herding him into the fence and draining his will to live in the dreaded Couture clinch.
It was only recently that I actively realised that Couture’s clinch is one of the most devastating weapons in modern MMA, along with the likes of Fedor’s ground-and-pound, ‘Cro Cop’s left roundhouse, Shinya Aoki’s rubber guard and Tank Abbott’s body odour. I have no idea why this realisation should have come so recently, because I can barely recall a time when it wasn’t an incredibly dangerous weapon. It was certainly the primary difference between the first Couture-Liddell fight (which Couture won, fact fans!), and the other two (in which Couture was parted with his consciousness in much the same way an unwary traveller would be separated from his wallet in Dubai. Seriously).
Of course, this impressive display of fighting nous sent lesser writers scurrying to their crayons in paroxysms of wonder about how Couture was defying the otherwise immutable passage of time; how he has been sent from the future (because, silly, when we do manage to get the space-time continuum to bend to our whims, priority #1 will be to send a middle aged man to the recent past in order to beat people up. Well, I guess it worked in Terminator 2). The reality is far more prosaic than that: Couture is a very smart man who seems to live in an incredibly clean fashion. And when compared to fighters who seem to be slowing, like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he is arguably aided by the fact that his losses have come to Chuck Liddell rather than, say, Fedor Emelianenko. Now, I’m no brain surgeon (which explains writing about people fighting as a hobby), but personally I’d rather be sparked out by a single shot than pummelled mercilessly for twenty minutes by a Russian heavyweight. That’s it: Couture has a body that hasn’t been regularly concussed (compared to other mid-forties professional fighters), and he is incredibly good at enacting his battle stratagems.
And speaking of strategising, being smart and Russians who ground-and-pound, we arrive at our theoretical answer to the original question. The fan favourite in terms of ‘who can beat Randy?’ is none other than Fedor Emelianenko, A.K.A. the greatest fighter ever in mixed martial arts ever, ever, ever. Err, since 1993. But seeing as we are discussing this very topic in the next issue of this fine publication, I’ll say no more.
Another, less big, question proffered by the show was whether the speedy victory of one Frank Mir over an Antoni Hardonk was evidence that the ‘old’ Frank Mir was, indeed, back. I would certainly say so. ‘But why?’, I hear you ask, ‘he only had a quick fight, we didn’t see any great feats of stamina or really anything outside an effective application of a submission hold’. And, to that, I would say ‘exactly, mortal!’ Mir made his name (in fights with the likes of Roberto Traven, Pete Williams, ‘Tank’ Abbott and ‘Tim’ Sylvia) by forcing quick submissions (none of the above fights went over sixty-five seconds each). None of those were wars, and none of them involved any great displays of intestinal fortitude or stamina.
When he was forced to go over sixty-five seconds, against such non-elite fighters as Wes Sims and Ian Freeman, he suddenly didn’t look so hot. So it is for all of the above that I say the ‘old’ Frank Mir is indeed back, as the Hardonk fight exemplifies what Mir became famous for. Some say time will tell whether Mir is back, blah blah bling bling blah, but as far as I’m concerned, time will really be the judge of whether the ‘old’ Frank Mir was actually great shakes to begin with.
I reckon that’s probably it in terms of questions, leaving us primarily with that finest of media wines, controversy. Yes, the under-card bore witness to probably the most intense fight of the night (and the answer to another question – OK, so I was wrong – of where all that blood on the canvas had come from. It came from David Heath’s head). Apparently, Heath had called Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral a ‘motherfucker’. Some say Heath wore Sobral’s recent mug-shot on a t-shirt at the weigh-in. Whatever happened, Sobral was irked, and he made this known in incredibly visceral fashion as he spread Heath’s plasma onto the canvas like so much I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter before gator rolling into an anaconda choke.
This would ordinarily have been an exquisite end to the fight, as evinced perfectly by Nogueira-Herring II, and rather less so by Couture-Van Arsdale, were it not for the fact that Heath tapped out and then… nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen when bizarrely-moustached referee Steve Mazzagatti attempted to loosen Sobral’s grip on Heath. Only when Heath was unconscious did ‘Babalu’ relinquish the hold, and then lots of people started crying about Sobral’s conduct. The Nevada State Athletic Commission withheld the win bonus, and Dana White cut ties with the last light-heavyweight to beat divisional golden boy Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
According to White, the ramifications of Sobral’s behaviour would have been far more severe if what he had held onto was a joint lock as opposed to a choke. Sure, I can get behind that; nobody wants to see permanent injuries in MMA, especially within the moral grey area the sport inhabits in the minds of many powers that be. The one fact White seemed to be overlooking here was that Sobral wasn’t holding onto a joint lock. Reverend White’s sermonising was the equivalent to claiming that Wanderlei ‘The Axe Murderer’ Silva would be a very bad man if he was literally an axe murderer.
In the real world, Silva is not actually an axe murderer, Matt Wiman is not actually handsome, Sean Sherk isn’t a ‘muscle shark’ (largely because that one doesn’t exist), and Sobral wasn’t breaking anyone’s ankle or arm. Not to excuse his behaviour, as I know I wouldn’t want to be choked out after tapping, and it must have sucked to be Heath for those seconds (and the preceding minutes. And during the Machida fight), but there seemed to be a level of MMA jungle law on display here. Fighter A gets somehow wronged by Fighter B; Fighter A finds himself in a position of dominance and decides to teach Fighter B a lesson. I’m not saying this is right, but Sobral no more deserves firing than B.J. Penn, or Martin Kampmann for that matter.
Perhaps it’s a matter of penitence; Kampmann expressed ignorance about Drew McFedries being unconscious and Penn playfully dismissed his bit of bonus choking. Sobral, on the other hand, explained his behaviour by making reference to the ‘motherfucker’ accusation.
I don’t know, if I’m David Heath, maybe I should train hard to make sure I don’t get completely dominated, rather than expending my energy on trying to get under someone’s skin? And if controversy occurs on the under-card does it really make a sound? And does a couple of seconds of choking really justify the jettison of an elite light-heavyweight? Is it ironic that this occurred on a card named ‘Respect’? Is choking someone out in the heat of competition really a more heinous P.R. crime than getting arrested for misdemeanour battery this past July? I knew I shouldn’t have said that was the end of the questions. Whatever the case, Sobral must now be feeling like a bit of an idiot for his display of hubris.
Final thought: Am I the only person who is really starting to resent the constant UFC fellation of Roger Huerta? Quite apart from making a career of exclusively fighting (admittedly game) UFC debutants, the amount of praise being lavished on him is sickening. Yes, the strategy of using the big screen to see his opponent was novel, but ‘redefining intelligence’, as Goldberg moistly proclaimed? Maybe a couple of those elbows split an atom or two without my knowledge.
25 August 2007
Leeds City Varieties. Support: Euros Childs and Dave
As I had missed Lanegan performing with Soulsavers in Manchester just prior to this, I was eager to get the fullness here. (Actually, I’m not sure how much I did miss on account of I have never heard Soulsavers, and they might not be much cop after all.) To be honest with you (like I spend the rest of my time lying to you. I’d never do a thing like that), I wasn’t all that enamoured with the Lanegan/Campbell album, but I figured I had to see him perform at least once this summer, I’m sure their album is better than I give it credit for, and I just wanted to go, OK? Besides, their duet ‘Why Does My Head Hurt So?’, from Isobel’s Time is Just the Same E.P., was a beautiful piece of work’; easily one of my favourite sub-three minute songs ever. Ever.
So, after an ickle drink (and large curry), it was time for the gig. I tell you, I want to go to more concerts at the City Varieties, even for bands I don’t particularly want to see, because the interior is adorable in a slightly run-down, cosy, Victoriana kind of way. The opening act was an entity going by the moniker ‘Euros Childs’ and, having never heard of this ‘Euros Childs’, had no idea whether it was a man or a band. It turned out to be a combination of the two, and I just wanted to see it based on nomenclaturial awesomeness. I later learned he was in/was Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, a fact that means little to me at present on account of I have never knowingly heard GZM.
Regardless of who he was, he turned out to be quite the engaging performer on this night. Introduced as ‘Euros Childs and Dave’, two men walked onto the stage and went about their business. Childs was immediately engaging thanks to his witty line in awarely incompetent banter: ‘this song is about… no, it’s from when… no, it’s about…’
The songs themselves were endearing, too, as they muddled along generally on electric piano; nursery rhyme melodies and minimal backing. Sometimes ‘Dave’ would play acoustic guitar while keeping time with a bass drum, but the pairing worked best when he would back the Roland piano with his own little musical box of tricks. He would add seemingly random countermelodies that would make the overall songs sound like off the wall theme tunes to kids’ shows; it was fantastic and bizarre.
The highlight for me came late on in the set: ‘Look at my Fridge’ (‘it started out as “Look at my Boots” – no it didn’t. It started out as “Look at my Fridge”, then changed to “Look at my Boots”, then changed back to “Look at my Fridge”’) was a faux-naïve catalogue of items of his that we should look at. In what seemed to be a subtle parody of the Pussycat Dolls, the question was posed re: our wanting items like that; ‘don’t you wish you had a fridge like me?’ He apparently wrote it on a whim for a toddle-aged relative. I want to see him again.
With his set over, and me very entertained, Campbell and Lanegan soon appeared on the stage. Having just got hold of a new camera, I was eager to snap at least one shot of the performers, but was overly concerned with not bothering my fellow punters (I hate it when people snap, snap, snap, viewing the gig through a makeshift window). I got it in the end, even if it isn’t the greatest photo ever taken.
As I said earlier, I hadn’t made much time for their album, so approached the performance as a bunch of stuff that was new to me; anything else would be a bonus. And it was fine. I was disappointed that they failed to play ‘Why Does My Head Hurt So?’ (after termination of this set still their finest song by some way), but what they did play was fine. There were times when the almost impossibly fragile Campbell seemed as though her voice would be crushed under the (lower in the mix) force of nature that was Lanegan, but the perilously fine line was walked with some success.
The songs from the album were faithful, in as much as they were enjoyable, far from life changing, and forgotten soon after. As I believe gigs are pretty much all about the moment (which arguably renders my writing about them rather redundant), I didn’t mind that last factor so much. They also performed new songs, all of which had apparently been written by her chubby, middle-aged guitarist (most of their band was reassuringly chubby and middle-aged). They were, to be quite honest, weak songs. Bland and far more forgettable than the rest of their songs, this was trite material which, in the vocal chords of anyone other than Lanegan, would have neared offensive in their inoffensive mediocrity.
Which brings me to Lanegan in general. I’m not sure at which point this happened, but I was overjoyed to transcend my usual gig-experiencing practice for most of the set. I stopped caring how good the songs were, or even really that there were songs. Ditto Isobel and the rest of the band. I had a minor epiphany as I realised the combination of seats, cosy environ and clear PA system was perfectly conducive to focusing like a laser on Lanegan’s voice.
It is, after all, what he is famous for, with fans ranging from Josh Homme and P.J. Harvey to Gavin Rossdale and, frankly, anyone else who has heard him. His is a deep, full voice, of a quality that renders pretty much anything it recites enjoyable. So I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, as it were. I just listened to his fantastic, one of a kind voice, and it was aesthetically and spiritually uplifting. My reverie was aided by his performance of songs I actually knew (OK, so I cared a bit about what he sang after all); I was greatly heartened when he played songs I consider to be ‘his, even though they were covers: ‘Carry Home’, ‘Little Sadie’, ‘I’ll Take Care of You’: all classics, all now his, and all magnified by performer, performance and setting. For those few songs, this set was nigh-on perfect.
And it ended at some point. Campbell had muttered the odd word between songs, Lanegan had said nothing. Some complete cretins tried making him say something, under the mistaken ostent of humour, but he resisted their charmless shouts. (Indeed, I wonder quite why these idiots were even bothered about Lanegan saying anything, when he was singing in front of them anyway, a deed he does to far greater effect than ninety-nine percent of extant performers. Oh, that’s right – they’re idiots.) Lanegan doesn’t need to say anything when he sings like he does. See him whenever you can. I know I will from now on.
24 August 2007
Gut Records, 2003
I haven’t even bought it yet (which explains why the above picture is markedly inferior to the ones for both P.H.U.Q. (1995) and Fishing for Luckies (1996), which I snapped with my own fair hands), but I will at some point. It’s just a bit of a limbo album for me, and genuinely not a high point for the band itself (so says me).
I have written in the past about how I went off new rock music that was coming out between about late 2000 and early 2004, and this fell into that limbo period. I didn’t like the way rock/metal was getting trendy, I was getting a bit sick of it, Noisecore was winding down, other stuff was becoming more interesting to me, and I dunno, I just felt a disconnect with anything in the Kerrang!/Metal Hammer cultural sphere. The Wildhearts album might have been worse than usual for me at this time, too. They were a band I’d been a fan of from early teens on, and I figured that when they split that was it. Their reformation was not only the re-opening of a musical chapter in my life as a music fan that I thought had closed, but it also felt like there was a party going on to which I hadn’t been invited. Besides, the reformation featured proper old school Wildies like C.J and Stidi: they weren’t my Wildhearts.
So I ignored them, just like I did Old Man Gloom, Isis, Converge and Mastodon at the time. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that rock albums by bands I was paying attention to – Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens Of The Stone Age, Cave In, System Of A Down - at this time were uniformly disappointing. Even the debuting Audioslave, who I had a lot emotionally invested in, left me cold with an album I had assumed was guaranteed gold. Yeah, I ignored the return of the Wildhearts, as well as the reunion tour and any singles that accompanied.
I was right and I was wrong. I was right because this is the least good Wildhearts album of them all. Because something about it seems a tad unfinished, feels a bit wrong. I was wrong because I have since learned never to doubt Ginger. This is mainly on account of he’s hardly written a bad song, so we can infer from that a bad album is unlikely. It’s just disappointing by his standards.
That’s not to say I don’t love some songs on it, because there is plenty to love: especially the singles. I don’t know how I got away with not having ‘Vanilla Radio’ for the years I did, because it is a fantastic, aggressive/melodic song that even has time for football chanty bits. The other track that stands out is the aggressive, almost hardcore, ‘Nexus Icon’. Great songs both, although ‘Vanilla Radio’ is pretty clearly the superior.
Apart from these, though, it’s not stunning stuff. There are great moments, such as in the chorus of ‘Only Love’, when some female backing vocals interject to enthusiastically proclaim the title almost as though this was one of those moments when you thought Marc Bolan was awesome (and then you listened to other stuff he did and decided he wasn’t). But… but this song reminds you of the good bits of seventies glam, sticks it in a modern rock song and ends up with an awesome bit of pop mastery, where the verses are just breathing space between excellent choruses.
Looking at the track-list, more titles stick out to me actually. The song between ‘Only Love’ and ‘Vanilla Radio’, ‘Someone that Won’t Let Me Go’, is one that I recall really liking too. The issue in general with this album, though, is that the Wildhearts had really toned down any metal aspects of their patented (not really patented) pop-punk-metal alchemy at this point, leaving us with an album of good – but not amazing – pop punk.
Now, pop punk in general was in a bit of a state by 2003. The mighty NOFX (pretty insanely undervalued by non punk rockers) were rather stagnant by this stage; after peaking in 1997 with the near-perfect So Long and Thanks for all the Shoes (crap title, I know), they stumbled a bit with the patchy Pump Up the Valuum (sic, 2000). In 2003, they had the good War on Errorism, which I deemed an improvement on the last one before proceeding to not listen to it again. Anyway, they weren’t setting the world on fire, I’m pretty sure Bowling For Soup were knocking about at that stage, and it was all looking a bit glum in the Cali-sounding punk stakes. Why this stab at context? No idea really. It was nice that the Wildies were apparently attempting to invigorate the scene, but the dropping of the metal from their sound just hurt them, and made them sound a bit bland overall, certainly compared to what fans of the band had grown used to. Maybe that was their secret plan for chart success, who knows?
So this wasn’t a bad album, but wasn’t great. In hindsight it was nice to have them back on account of (i) they are better than most other bands, and (ii) it eventually led, this year, to their eponymous album, which is fucking excellent. And it’s always nice to know that Ginger is staying (relatively) out of mischief. But yeah, my cynicism towards them, and the style in general, wasn’t particularly refuted when I eventually did get it listened this year. Then again, if I had got this at the time, I’d have likely attended what was sure to be a great gig during the period. What can you do?
Next up: I write about The Wildhearts again! A thousand words after all…
The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
Currently the best album from this decade that I own on vinyl, it is a fairly constant presence in my decade top three (sadly the top two, the mighty The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads by Lift To Experience and Cave In's Jupiter don't appear to ever have been released on vinyl). I am currently undecided on how much better this is than the CD, which I actually don't own, on account of I was waiting to find a first pressing; I don't want a goddamn bonus track. Anyway, this sounds spectacular in parts and a touch messy in others. I reckon I need a new cartridge. Anyway, silver vinyl!
This is another definite peak of the decade thus far, being my second favourite album of 2001 (a year full of quality, the winner of which being the aforementioned Lift To Experience double), my second favourite Tool album and a gorgeous four sides of picture and prog-metal. This definitely does sound better than the CD; while it lacks that formats crystal clarity (a big thing on an album like this), the bass and separation are in another dimension. The only real issue here is that, due to the temporal constraints of a 12", 'Disposition' has been plonked onto the end of side 2. It should feed straight into 'Reflection' (which starts side 4), but instead there are two lengthy songs in between. It's not so bad but, if I had to decide, I'd have switched sides 3 and 4. That way, 'Reflection' does follow 'Disposition', and 'Lateralis' - which closes side 3 - has sufficient crescendo to close the album. But then you get into the 'extra track' mess, so I dunno. Anyway, it rules.
sunnO))) & Boris: (2006) Altar
And this is the album I consider to be the best since 2003. Not much has changed since I originally wrote about it, other than my opinion being cemented. Unfortunately my vinyl seems a little scuzzy; not scratched in any way, but a bit grubby. It certainly sounds dirty, so I'll have to get it cleaned. Apart from that, though, the bass is absolutely insane.
Getting this in was certainly a mission in itself. After learning that the vinyl had longer songs than the CD did, I knew I had to get this in. Then I learned it was limited edition, on account of metal labels like to fleece their fans in the name of 'collecting' (seriously, why limited edition? This doesn't happen with rap or dance in such ridiculous numbers. The vinyl is there), which made my job harder. Finding their label was out, I discovered the UK distro had some left. Deciding I couldn't afford both that and Altar in one go, I opted to wait. The day arrived that I would order this one, but Southern told me 'One of your items is unavailable', and I knew preecisely which one. Bastards. I resigned myself to having to pay obscene amounts on ebay for it (and even decided to get the boring black vinyl), but then discovered a shop in Belgium that had it in. Bought it ASAP, assuming it was the black one (but at an eBay-beating price), and then found - as you can see - it is pink. Happy day! But is it the best album of its year? Ooh, I don't know.*
MONO & World's End Girlfriend: Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain
This is not strictly an album I had before my turntable, nor is it historically a top album of the decade for me. However, it is included on account of (i) it rules and (ii) the vinyl is gorgeous. Despite the dual nomenclature, it's essentially one developing piece in five parts and it's quite lovely. Bonus points for ease of purchase: I walked into a shop in Leeds and bought it. If only everything was that simple.
* Code for '2005 Countdown to continue surprisingly soon'.
23 August 2007
Steve Coogan, eh? While any artist or craftsman hates being associated with one piece of work for his whole career, it seems he will never escape the long shadow cast by his Alan Partridge character, possibly the finest British comedy creation of the nineties. Let’s face it, he’s infinitely preferable to the bloke who says ‘nice’ on The Fast Show, the bloke who says ‘great’ on The Fast Show (OK, anything on The Fast Show)… what else was there in the nineties? Brasseye was great, but was lacking what one could honestly deem a singular ‘comedy creation’. Maybe I’ll think of something by the time I finish writing this.
Anyway Partridge was awesome, but that programme’s general greatness makes everything else he’s done since look a tad mediocre. To be honest, I can’t really cast judgement on Around the World in Eighty Days or The Parole Officer, as I could never bring myself to watch them. Saxondale was pretty poor even on its own terms: the first episode had a nice climax, but it just meandered in a joke-evading complacency for the most part. I didn’t even watch the whole series which, when you consider our series tend to be six episodes long, is pretty damning an indictment. Still, it was miles better than Lead Balloon, but you’d kind of expect that, Coogan being generally infinitely better than Jack Dee.
Coogan’s Run, and it’s various spin-offs, were good, but they predated Partridge anyway, I think. They certainly came along before the classic I’m Alan Partridge (better than The Office, in case you were wondering. Which you weren’t) redefined who Coogan was in the eyes of the public. His scene with Alfred Molina in Coffee and Cigarettes was a highlight of that film, along with Tom Waits arguing with Iggy Pop, and ‘Bill Groundhog Day Ghostbustin’-ass Murray’, but was a bit weird when I finally saw it. See, it eventually crawled onto the Victorian screen of the Hyde Park Picture House just after I had seen Spiderman II. Therefore, the sight of Coogan acting superior to the antagonist of that year’s biggest blockbuster was rather harder to believe than if I had seen the scene when it was originally released.
I suppose all that brings us to this one, made in 2005 but released in early 2006. I remember really wanting to see it at the time; maybe the rather under-loved second series of I’m Alan Partridge had just been on or something. Not wanting to read anything about films I intend to see, I’m not sure what the precise media tone was on it, but I recall a general underwhelmed feeling emanating from various magazine and newspaper pages.
And I can see why, really. The film abandons traditional narrative (or at least what an unsuspecting viewer would have been expected) rather quickly, as the tale of Tristram Shandy* is dropped in favour of meta-narrative on the making of the film about Tristram Shandy. When the film began, with its opening scene of Coogan and ‘supporting actor’ Rob Brydon in make-up, I simply assumed that was a neat little prologue. Instead, it was the introduction to the film proper, of which the actual tale of Shandy was mere digression.
I like the idea of this a lot, especially as Coogan and Brydon have pretty great chemistry (the really rather good Cruise of the Gods seems woefully unnoticed in the annals of telly comedy); Coogan is excellent as the Alpha Comedian constantly belittling his sidekick, Chuckle Brothers style. Actually, it wasn’t all one way: while ‘Coogan’ (the character, see) went to great pains to convince ‘Brydon’ that he was a supporting actor rather than a co-star, the latter irks the former by suggesting their names go alphabetically on the marquee, and regularly does impersonations that are allegedly of Coogan, but are really exaggerated Alan Partridge impressions. See, it’s that thing about not being able to escape the shadow of Partridge again, only all self-aware. Like the Simpsons episode with Rupert Murdoch in, it’s a slightly contrived effort at showing we great unwashed that he can laugh at himself. A-HAAA!
I just don’t know with this film. One the one hand I was pleased it stopped being the quasi-bio of Tristram Shandy, on account of it wasn’t very funny, I can’t stand Dylan Moran, and the narration kept stuttering when he was about to be born (which I gather was the gimmick of the book; he wasn’t born by the time it ended. I think). Still, Keeley Hawes was rather fetching. Anyway, the narrative soon shifted from the book to the peripheries of making the film of the book, in which lots of luvvies were knocking about in an old castle mithering about various details of the production. The only problem here was that this wasn’t particularly amusing either.
It seemed to be a vague stab at making a feature length British equivalent of The Larry Sanders Show which, in a way, the Alan Partridge stuff was anyway. And it just wasn’t venomous enough to really compare to Sanders. Apart from the aforementioned relationship between Coogan and Brydon, and Coogan’s Partridge albatross, I suppose the other source of entertainment was found in the recurring motif of people having what they thought were really good ideas, only to find them completely excised from the final cut. Among these were battles that were largely derided by all involved anyway and a role played by Gillian Anderson, for which they actually used Ms. Anderson (complete with someone wondering aloud whether she’d been in Baywatch), in which she appeared, talked a bit, then complained about not ending up in the film.
I was checking on the time about half an hour into this one, which wasn’t a good sign, and I am torn between the two reactions of respecting A Cock and Bull Story for its structure and resenting it for the structures lack of success. I, to this day, am unaware of what it was trying to achieve; I do know, though, that it wasn’t funny enough to pull off such a random exercise.
One scene that I did find rather touching was the one in which Coogan was interviewed by the late Tony Wilson (of course, Coogan played Wilson in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People); I assume they showed the film because of Wilson’s recent passing but, if that was indeed the case, I don’t know why they didn’t just air the latter instead. Whatever, it was poignant and reminded me of the time I ate a few tables away from Wilson in Manchester in late 2000. and that’s about it, I suppose. The bit-parts weren’t very engaging (including some dolt from The Fast Show), it meandered without ending up anywhere, and I can’t even remember how it finished. ‘Great’.
* I admit to ignorance on this one, not having read the book prior to watching the film. And, as I watched the film the other night, I still haven’t read it. Or pretty much any book.
POSTSCRIPT: I knew I forgot something. I did find the scene where Coogan was lowered into a giant fake womb to be rather amusing, as was what I think was a dream sequence in which he appeared again in the womb, this time a normal-sized one, and started ranting at the rest of the cast. The highlight of this was the most Partridge line of the film; on the surrealism of his situation he squeaked 'I don't know why I'm so small!'