30 March 2008

I have bought rather a lot of records recently, by which I mean those slabs of vinyl, as opposed to the synonymising many people use between the term ‘record’ and a full-length recording on any format. So far this year I have taken receipt of one hundred and forty-five records. But while my rate of purchase seems not to be reducing any time soon, some favourites are popping their heads out of the melee and making themselves known. At some point I will write on them all, but for now I shall make mention of one particular release.

I have grown to loathe the current trend among music listeners to announce that a certain album is their Album of the Year So Far. I can see no reason why I should care given that, certainly at the time of writing, the majority of albums this year are yet to see release. Granted, I appreciate the possible slippery slope of a blogger mentioning the necessity of anything, but at least if someone tells me that a particular album is their favourite of 2003, I will likely pay attention (depending on whom is saying this).

With this in mind, it is with great trepidation and shame that I inform you that this particular release is my favourite of 2008 thus far. There is a condition to this statement: it is a collected re-release of albums released in 2005 and 2007, so I have both lived with this music and already rate it highly. How highly? I’m afraid that will have to wait until such time as my countdowns resume. (Hopefully not too long now.)

So what is this album that melds two previous ones in such a fashion that I am ridiculously impressed with it?

Long had I waited for a vinyl release of some Shining; indeed that was the sole reason I hadn’t got any of their CDs in. I could feel some twelves on their way: I would never have dared dream that their two Rune Grammafon releases would emerge for the price of one. Sometimes it pays to wait.

I knew Shining were a great band. I ‘knew’ this before I had even heard them, because they appeared inextricably linked to the awesome Jaga Jazzist. It turns out the only real link there is the fact that Shining leader Jørgen Munkeby was in Jaga until 2002. That fact makes the similarity between the two outfits so much more impressive. Munkeby left before Jaga became the organic jazz-rock monster they are now, and a similar description could realistically be used for the music of Shining since he departed the relative security of Jaga.

Of course there are differences, of a very stark yin-yang nature. Where Jaga revel in the euphoric in music, in intricate poly-melody and dense arrangement, hard brass and drums meeting twinkling keys and serene wordless vocals, Shining proffers the dark side of the aesthetic. No less technically skilled, well arranged or clearly produced, Munkeby’s baby (Jaga very much belongs to the insanely talented Lars Horntveth) focuses more on the bombastic, the sense of primal power that rock music brings to the table.

Described by the band itself as ‘art-rock’, the music on these two discs (disc one being the more recent Grindstone and disc two being 2005s In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster) combines propulsive rock with eerie, almost black metal-inspired, sequences and lush soundtrack-esque arrangements. It sounds darker and a touch less unified than the polished teamwork easily recognisable from the recent Jaga material, but that is probably to its benefit. The music of Shining feels more spontaneous, and liable to surprise. Where Jaga comforts – in the best sense possible – Shining is music of such dynamic nature that the listener cannot know what is around the corner until that corner has been passed by.

I shan’t go on too much about Shining or Jaga quite yet,: they will feature on yearly countdowns as I’m sure you have gathered. But the Shining double pack is something I have been listening to a lot of, and can see myself listening to a lot more in the near (and hopefully distant) future. Adrien Begrand was fortunate enough to see them in Norway recently. I can but hope they will appear soon on these shores; while I attend few gigs nowadays, this would be quite essential musical nourishment.

Another album I have greatly enjoyed listening to, with strangely similar musical intent – has been The Rotters’ Club, the final album from Hatfield and the North, released on Virgin in 1975. I can’t remember exactly when I began wanting it, or why, but I did and I got it in the other week for only thirteen pounds. I thought it might have been Reynolds or Woebot, but Woebot evidently hated it. That’s really odd, because I thought he loved it. Reynolds, as far as I can tell, hasn’t said too much about it on his blog. He did pen an awesome prog-listomania reference thing back in October 2003, in which little was said of H&N. And, though I have navigated pretty well, direct links to his posts seem not to be working. So here, a massive month-archive you’ll have to scroll through. Or just not click on.

Well I don’t know why I wanted it then. Maybe I saw the cover and thought ‘that’s nice’, in a move completely oppo-zoppo to Woebot. But I am glad I did get it, because it’s technically insane but not nobby about it; it’s really really English but not offensive to my largely – let’s face it – un-English tastes. And it’s humorous, but not crap like most ‘humorous’ music. i really want to get more Pip Pyle stuff, as he seemed quite the rock composer. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it is easily one of my favourite records of the seventies. Not that I have heard too many, but of the ones I have heard it is high pon de list. And here’s the sleeve (Woebot’s copy) so you can make your own mind up:

21 March 2008

Dirty Sexy Money: Initial Thoughts

So the latest US hit drama to hit our screens comes executively produced by none other than Bryan Singer, the man behind The Usual Suspects (which I love) and X-(Men)2 (which I also love). He is also responsible for House and the American version of Footballers' Wives, which we shall conveniently gloss over. It first aired tonight (oh zeitgeist, how long I have wanted to capture thee. So pretty, so precious... it is just as I imagined), and - well - it was rather a game of two halves.

There was once a glorious TV series from that home of glorious TV series HBO. This particular one was called Six Feet Under and it was dark and lovely at the same time. A short while later someone at one of the networks took its template and turned our funeral director brothers into playboy plastic surgeons, but that it a topic for another sermon (seriously, I have only seen season one of Nip/Tuck - and liked it! - but its episodes follow the exact same 'here's our customer and while we cater to their needs, here's a bit of grand narrative to tie the episodes in). Anyway, 6FU was great, but it had to end. A moment please.

Since then, the stars of that programme have gone on to other things, with varying levels of success. Perched atop the podium with a show both watched and complimented is Michael C. Hall (he was David). He plays Dexter in the Showtime programme of the same name, about a serial killer who works for the police. But it is actually good. Write-up of the first season is on the way. Apparently. Less successful, though returning for another season, is Rachel Griffiths, who played Brenda and is now part of the ensemble snooze-fest Brothers and Sisters. That is also apparently being written up.

Languishing at the bottom of the pile was poor old Peter Krause, who played Nate Fisher, partner to Brenda and brother of David. He turned up, like a seaweed-covered corpse washing onto the beach, in mini-series The Lost Room, which not even I watched. But now he stars in - and finally the preamble ends - Dirty Sexy Money (from this point on to be referred to as DSM). It's all rather reminiscent of Bros and Sisss in that it concerns the dysfunction of a wealthy family (this one called Darling) with an inescapable patriarch. This one differs in that the protagonist is actually outside the family. He reckons one of them killed his dad and he is going! To find out! But yeah, dead dads abound in these shows nowadays.

More than anything else, this premise rather reminds of An Inspector Calls for the Fab Life generation. Perhaps this'll turn out like the Priestley play, wherein all family members were partly to blame for the untimely demise of the victim. We shall see. I'd be both impressed and disappointed if that did turn out to be the case, though I have no idea how I would physically express two such differing emotions at the same time. I'd probably just have to alternate really quickly like a flick-book.

What I do know is this is pretty corny fare. As the Krause voiceover opened with 'love of money is the root of all evil', knew - knew! - he would follow up with 'well that's what they say', and sadly the dialogue didn't really improve from there. There was one nice line late in the episode, but it wasn't so nice as to prevent me forgetting it. There was a nice touch in reference to Krause's character's dad and the patriarch in which he and one of the sons got into the kind of playground fight they might have done as kids. I guess you had to be there: it was a plush anniversary party and everyone emerged from a lift to see them rolling around (a la Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).

Which brings us to the family. I suppose it's a decent enough set of stereotypes - you have the ditzy blonde daughter, the young playboy son, the slutty daughter, the evil minister (OK, that's a decent break from the norm) and the wannabe senator who loves his cross dressing hookers (all right, another one. Plus he's played by a Baldwin. And between you and me, his cross dressing hooker friend isn't half bad...) - even if most of their character profiles have been ripped straight from Arrested Development . Not the best idea to pitch your drama so close to a recent comedy that parodied this kind of thing so well, but that comedy got tragically cancelled after two and a half seasons so what do I know? The casting is pretty strong from what I can tell; not only is Krause generally very good, but the ditz is played by the delectable Samaire Armstrong (from the never-forgotten O.C.), we have the aforementioned Baldwin - apparently William, not that I could have guessed - and his melting face and the heretofore unknown (by me) Glenn Fitzgerald impressed as Rev. Brian.

There is promise to this one, notably in the acting, the minister with his secret family and the fact that Singer's involved, but I dunno. The pilot was a tad too hackneyed, the script a bit weak and there is very much a sense of 'been there, done that'. Plus, with the Darlings being such a charismatic bunch, there is a very real danger of - and echoes of the storyline here - their overshadowing his actual family. Ooh. Especially as our man's dad spent too much time with the Darlings in the first place, rendering him overshadowed as a kid, which made him initially promise he would never have any more to do with them and he'd be a proper dad to his kids. Double ooh! But yeah, the whole thing is that on-the-nose.

18 March 2008


That's right! It's a new Boris album. And a proper one too, not just another collaboration. I mean the collabs are good and all, but you can't beat a good old new Boris album just by them. The last one was, ooh, in late 2005. Americans think Pink was 2006, but they are fools. That said, there was dronevil -final-, but that was a re-jigged version of an earlier release anyway. So this is the first proper Boris album since 2005. It was released at the same time as a 12" single, and here are assorted pics of the two. Exciting!

Not listened to it yet, soz. But I will.

12 March 2008

Astral? Weak.

I was in the car on the way to work the other day when I heard an interview with Van Morrison on Radio 4's Today programme. Not initially approving of the airtime dedicated to advertising the old man's new album on what is ostensibly a 'news' programme, my mood soon turned even less charitable. I understand it's really a magazine show, so sometimes the arts can be mentioned, and that's fine because art is culture is everything (to paraphrase Raymond Williams). However, this segment was just a puff-piece designed to cater to the wallets of the middle-agers listening and the content was shocking in its hypocrisy.

Nothing against the work of Morrison - I'm sure he's fine (the apostrophe representing 'was' rather more than 'is') - but this was pathetic. Playing up his hucksterish schtick of 'I'm just a simple man in a complicated business' (pretty much direct quotation), Morrison bemoaned the evil record company forcing him to release - and make a ton of money off - a greatest hits set before he could release his album of all-'new' material. And it is this that irked me greatly.

His rationale for hating on the greatest hits part of his job was based in what he deemed the unhealthy obsession the public has with nostalgia. I sort of agree, as there are only so many Wolfmothers/Kookses/Auditions I can stomach before suicide bombing the nearest music festival, but then again there is nothing wrong with a bit of personal nostalgia. The Nostalgia Industry is indeed a dangerous, malignant tumour, ever pulsating and growing at the heart of the entertainment world, but an introspective look at one's own history and experience can be healthy indeed.

If I were to play, for example, the excellent In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country by Boards of Canada, I would no doubt be transported to the start of this century, two Sainsbury's bags in each hand, as I walked through the gently misting rain of a springtime-grey Manchester's Withington area, as I have vividly enduring memory of that particular play of the E.P. On a Minidisc player (a small detail that really heightens that sense of time for me). And that's cool, because memories are a very personal resource both to be cherished and learned from.

But if I agree with Morrison's stance on the homogenisation and sale of allegedly communal memories, on force-feeding the sharing of experience down our variously willing gullets, where is my beef with the man? That lies in his album, or at least both what he said about it and what I heard of it. In the very same segment that he was beeling about people fetishinng the past and hindering the present, he was also banging on about how on the new album he has gone back to basics, inspired by 'the music my father used to listen to'.

You can't have it both ways, jerkstore. If you are going to moan and whine about how living in the past is stifling more contemporary creative endeavours, don't use the soapbox that stance provides to shill your warmed over re-branding of the past as something 'new', an act more disgusting and deleterious to the already sorry health of recorded music than the label branding a CD 'greatest hits'. At least the latter is an honest act and not a charlatan sleight-of-hand pseudo-individualisation, as he tries to hide the truth under his sleeve while waving a shiny new disc at us. To make matters worse, not only would the greatest hits tracks likely be better than the new stuff, but they would just as likely sound no older, to boot. And they'd probably less compressed than an album mixed and mastered in the last couple of years.

So shame on Morrison, a man who would use the weight of his record label to leverage a slot on a news-magazine show, only to turn round and have a pop at said label, in the most hypocritical fashion possible. And shame also on the BBC for broadcasting such a ham-fisted not-even-veiled infomercial and having it share the stage with real tales of war, suffering and human achievement.

08 March 2008

While I hate Nickelback and all their cod-grunge ilk, it would be remiss of me not to mention a song that has become something of a cultural sensation in the last few months. That song is obviously called 'Rockstar', and it is complete garbage. But then you didn't need me to tell you that. Peter Robinson in the Guardian's Guide summed it up pretty well:

...Simply imagine a Nickelback song, but worse. Its most terrifying feature is in its first millisecond, in that Chad's vocals appear completely without warning. This sound of hell opening up offers the listener no safety zone in which to leap towards their radio's off switch in a slow-mo "NOOOOOO!!!!!" fashion.

He then goes on to make the mistake of dissing 'Love Shack' by the mighty B-52s, but we'll let that go. For now. He also wonders at length about the precise subject matter of the song, and it is oddly intriguing, I have to admit.

The general theories are that it is either a satire on rock stars or a treatise on how celebs have a certain facade they keep up that is a separate entity to their true selves. He concludes that 'this song makes literally no sense and is the worst thing of all time'; well it is and it isn't.

Before we go any further, if you haven't yet heard the song, do so. Consider it a rite of passage. In terms of subject matter, the song initially inhabits Bruce Springsteen/Jon Bon Jovi terrain in terms of its 'rich man singing from the perspective of a poor man' motif ('This life hasn't turned out / Quite the way I want it to be'). So does that mean he's kind of taking the piss out of the working class? Out of the people paying his wages? At least Brucie and Jon sang about wanting to get in cars and escape two-bit towns or pay the rent. Kroeger is banging on about living the lavish lifestyle he claims the average man wants to live but never can. Or is he?

Well I doubt he has the self-awareness to self-parodise, nor do I think he would risk alienating any of his fanbase by attempting such a thing. In fact it's probably safer to blatantly take the piss, as his audience of drunk fratboys, drunk dock workers and other drunks will only really notice the catchy chorus. And it is catchy, isn't it? This isn't meant as a preface to admission that I love the song. More that it's a bit like heroin: gets into your system disarmingly quickly and might kill you if you are exposed to a sufficient quantity. Besides, it's no more catchy than something like 'Cotton Eye Joe', and the Rednex tune enjoys a definite advantage in the energy stakes.

A couple of things I just touched upon might help to explain why the song has been imbued with such popularity, not that Nickelback aren't already popular. It seems the pace and tone of the song were calculated techniques with which to leave the confines of the rock market and cross over into other demos. See, the bragging about all the stuff he owns (and really if you do have a drug dealer on speed dial, Chad, it's perhaps not the greatest idea to sing about it) and can do is not to rub the faces of his blue collar good ol' boy rock fans in his success: it's his calling card to the R&B and rap fans out there. They love hearing people banging on about wealth, Kroeger's thinking goes, so why not market to them. After all, the band does seem to have cornered the post-Bush/Silverchair market quite nicely.

And while I deem the musical arrangement of the song appalling in its vacuity and lack of energy, it has to be said the chorus does have something of a swing about it. That fact only really hit me when I saw how comfortable Twista was in miming to it (although he's used to rather more rapid lip synching). It's really not a rock-hit rhythm, and I reckon the Canadian business genius has gone laid back (with his mind on his money and his money on his mind, no less). Could it be that for all the recent business about vaunted indie rock bands being too white nowadays, it is the most mundane of rock bands that has successfully assimilated elements of black music into its fabric, while remaining true to its original sound and maximising revenue?

Perish the thought.
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