24 October 2007

Mammatus Packaging Fetish

22 October 2007

'You can't be playin' checkers on a chessboard, yo'

Just thought I would make mention of the fact that season the first of HBO show The Wire finished on my telly last week. FX, being the dears they are, are starting season the second tonight. I will love it. I have to mention that as the first season was wearing on, I was entertaining those thoughts of 'surely it's nearly finished'. Not because I wanted it to finish (though in a way I did, on account of it's a hard life being a spoiler-evader), but because I had that feeling that it had been on for ages. And you do tend to get that feeling when Big Events are occurring, McNulty comes face to face with Stringer and police officers get shot. Fortunately the voiceover person told me when it was over (like I say: dears), so I can safely... I don't know... go to the relevant Wikipedia or IMDB page (maybe not the latter) in safety.

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.

Your Now-Weekly Daily Show Clip of the Week! #2: Week!

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

On this week’s episode of Screenwipe, the excellent and often hilarious televisual spin-off to Charlie Brooker’s Screenburn Guardian column, the rectangular-headed one looked at the phenomenon of youth television. I’m not spelling it ‘yoof’ on account of it’s not 1987 any more. The very act of writing about Screenwipe is to tread the tightrope of meta-discussion, as its whole point is to evaluate television programmes. But then, as it is a programme in its own right, surely there must be someone to take a look at that; at how well it is working. In that sense, to paraphrase Homer, I am policing the police. I am the coastguard.

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.

UFC 76

Reasonably hot on the alternately distressing and exhilarating UFC 75, the MMA giant returned to its home shores, specifically Anaheim as I recall, for another instalment of Angry Blokes with Tattoos. It’s human cockfighting, don’t you know.

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.

17 October 2007

Wot, no gameplay footage?

Still, I am excited. I just hope it's still 2D because I'm purist like that.

10 October 2007

Foo Fighters – ‘The Pretender’

It seems to me that Dave Grohl is on a mission to get a song high in my Premiership every year. As I asked earlier, why else do people release singles in this day and age? Exactly. While they may only release albums every few years, they manage to sneak out at least one great single a year*; ‘The Pretender’ is their song for 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

throughsilver listens to Boxcutter on Radio 1

I downloaded a Mary-Anne Hobbs radio show that contained, among other things, a preview of Boxcutter's imminent Glyphic album. I scrawled deranged thoughts (from crummy frame of reference) as and when they struck me while listening. Here it go:

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

Contender for Interview of the Year

'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.
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