18 April 2010

Great news from Propagandhi

I learned some info today from fantastic Canadian punk rock band Propagandhi. Read it yourself here. The long and short of it is they are writing a new album already, which will be ready for recording at the end of this year. That's special for a couple of reasons:

1. They usually tend to do albums every four years, and the last one was last year.
2. Their last two albums have been clear albums of the year for me. 2005 and 2009. No contest. And, apparently:
judging from the 7 tunes we have going so far, it’s going to leave everything we’ve done in the past in the stinking dust. yes, virginia, even ska sucks.
This is very exciting for a Stan like me, and for anyone who likes things that are good. The one cloud under this silver lining is the fact that they need a new record label, after current home Smallman Records 'is calling it a day and moving on to real lives that don’t involve unstoppable bangers at the top of their game (that’s us, hosehead)'. But, given that the'Gandhi is the finest band on science's green Earth, that should not be a problem. Hopefully.

12 April 2010

First quarter listening: artists

Lots more Ke$ha!

Okay, so I did the songs. Next in my cavalcade of music-related geekdom is the artist analysis. Most of it is pretty simple stuff ('I listened to an album a couple of times'), but humour me, eh? This is the first of what will hopefully be... a number... of quarterly reviews that I can use to spot patterns of listening, trends and longevity, areas of nostalgia etc. Or just a way to pad my post count. Either way, here we are.

***

Ke$ha (318 plays)

Wow, after the last post, you'll be super-surprised to learn that the most-listened artist of 2010 q1 is Ke$ha. Bloody hell, what an upset: she only had 15 of my 16 most-played songs of the young year. Well I'll be. You get the idea. Facetiousness aside, her album is great, and I listened to it a lot. I've slowed down now, thankfully. (Later in the post we'll address what happens when obsessions don't die down so readily. It gets messy.)

Propagandhi(135 plays)

They are pretty distant second in 2010, but absolutely owned my 2009 in terms of plays. I might one day actually get round to my planned 2009-in-numbers dorkfest, but you know what I'm like when it comes to planning anything. Let's just say they had 1339 plays and leave it at that for now. They're the best band in the world, and I think it'd admirable that they were still the second most-listened artist in the fourth quarter after their most recent album (Supporting Caste, in March) had been released. To be quite honest, I can add 30-40 plays to their count at any time without really thinking, such is their quality and staying power. I even like the relatively lame first two albums now.

Paramore (128 plays)

I don't know why, but I used to think Paramore were Canadian, like Propagandhi. Instead it turns out they're from Tennessee. Like Ke$ha. Err, and Miley Cyrus, Jay Reatard, His Hero Is Gone and Be Your Own Pet! Now that's what I call a musically awesome state. At one point, most of their listens came from criminally under-rated sophomore album Riot! (2007). Now, I'm really starting to feel the more traditionally (i.e. second generation, rather than the current third) emo debt album. You know: plaintiveness and sensitivity, rather than melodrama and rocking out. But you already know I think 3rd gen emo has more in common with glam metal than it does any other type of emo. Finally, after initial disappointment, latest album Brand New Eyes is growing on me. I expect this band to surge as the year goes on.

Lady Gaga (98 plays)

I can pretty much guarantee la Gaga will win q2, as I think she's already added 100 plays to this total since the screengrab was made. The Fame was good, if rather lacking in consistency. The Fame Monster displays outrageous growth, both in terms of overall quality and in variety of sounds. But I'm working on a review of that one. Yeah, that's how weird I've got now. Reviewing Lady Gaga albums apropos of nothing. So I'll leave most of my fawning for then.

Shining (87 plays)

As I said in the songs round-up, this lot would be a lot higher up if iPhone scrobbling wasn't outlawed by Apple's hardware. I seriously listened to this every day in January/February, because the album was imminent, because the then-constant snow put me in mind of the band's native Norway, and because Blackjazz is the best album of 2010. I also listened to the two great albums preceding it - In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster and Grindstone - once or twice in anticipation. They really need to tour England. Especially now the snow's gone!

Miley Cyrus and Black Breath (64 plays)

Slightly contrasting artists here, but I'm no snob. If something is worth listening to, I will listen to it. At least half the Cyrus plays (maths was never my strong point) come from the two songs I banged on about in the last post. The one album I do have, Breakout, is rather hit and miss. Some of it is perfectly serviceable pop-punk-pop (the title track especially); some of it is crap (the 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' cover springing immediately to mind); overall it's surprisingly listenable. The Black Breath is destined to be reviewed by me in the very near future. Suffice to say it's the best pure thrash album I've heard in years, and makes Municipal Waste sound like a set of chancers. Dark, brutal, fast and brilliant. Just wait for the review!

Also, I'd pay to hear a Miley Cyrus & Black Breath album.

Blink-182 (59 plays)
NOFX (46 plays)

The finest exponents of pop-punk. After a youth spent denying the '182, and claiming they were just a crap band for kids, I caved and bought Enema of the State (1999) in 2008. Turns out it's brilliant, and one of the best albums from that year. Were any evidence needed, I'm still listening to it. I think this quarter's listening was bolstered by my finally buying the following album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. It's reasonable, but not a patch on the faster, fresher Enema... hmm, that sentence looks so wrong. NOFX are just the masters. Been into them since 1997, the year their magnum opus (the unfortunately- and misdirectingly-named So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes) was released. Still listening to it. I mentioned patterns and nostalgia earlier. Pop punk seems to be that particular trip, even though I wasn't really a fan at its 1990s peak, preferring instead the far more manly post-thrash (Sepultura, Machine Head, Pantera, Skinlab et al) at the time.

Soundgarden (39 plays)

No real pattern for this one. I just happened to listen this number of Soundgarden songs in this three-month period. It may have been a subconscious return to the musical womb in reaction to how crap the once-brilliant Chris Cornell had been. Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, that brilliant first solo album: he was on fire in the 1990s. And everything he has done in the intervening decade has seen a downward spiral into mediocrity. And then further, into Timbaland collaboration. Let's just pretend that never happened, and listen instead to this. How hot was he.

Trapped Under Ice (38 plays)
Snapcase, Integrity and the Dillinger Escape Plan (25 plays)

Went through a big metalcore phase around a month ago. Discovered some new stuff, such as the Trapped Under Ice (a big and pleasant surprise for 2009), and revelled in the nostalgia of yer Snapcase, Dillinger Escape Plan and Strife. I'd never actually given Integrity the time of day when they were knocking about. This was due to the combination of their singer seeming like an idiot, their being called Integrity, and the singer firing everyone and forming Integrity 2000. Turns out their early stuff was really good. Though I planned on doing so, I never really did listen to any more recent metalcore, TUI excepted. Still, DEP (not technically metalcore, but I've written over 1000 words at this point) have a new one out. I wonder if I'm going to review it...

And then other stuff. I listened to the Reatard because Jay very unfortunately died during this quarter. He was born in the same year as me, so it's very sad stuff. Jaga Jazzist had an album out this quarter, but like the Shining, I did most of my listening on the move. I listened to the Posehn album once. It's good, but beeped promos are rubbish. MadLove, one of the highlights of 2009, are still getting some... love off me. Naked City, Genghis Tron and Kid Dynamite are all fantastic jazzcore experimentation/techno-noisecore/good old-fashioned punk rock, and I will hopefully listen to them as long as I live. Just not in massive amounts.

And that was my first quarter!

04 April 2010

First quarter listening: songs

Right, so FACT have done their state of first quarter 2010 thing, and informative it is too. Check it out!

I'm not going to suggest 20 best albums of the quarter. I'm not sure I've even listened to 20 new albums in the last quarter. (This will largely be explained below.) What I will do is look at my personal listening habits in the last three months (so yeah, technically 4 Jan-4 Apr, as I took the screengrabs today. What can you do). This won't be completey accurate, as my iPhone scrobbling is not working particularly well, and I do a fair bit of listening to records. However, most of my listening gets scrobbled, as I do it through my MacBook, which goes into the Death Deck, for full high fidelity. But without further ado, my Q1!

Lots of Ke$ha!

As you can see, Ke$ha took the quarter by storm. What, you wanna make something of it? Yeah, thought not. While I don't consider hers the album of the year thus far (it's second behind the still stunning Shining record), Animal is a heck of a lot more accessible than Blackjazz. That's pretty much the size of it, really. 'Tik Tok' is one of the most-listened songs, as it was her single, and I illegally downloaded it before the album was released. Sorry about that, Sony Music. The other two songs with 22 plays are the high points of the album: 'Stephen' and 'Boots & Boys'. They're awesome.

It'd be remiss of my not to mention the actual winner of Q1: 'Full Circle', by Miley Cyrus. To be honest, I'm not really sure how that happened. I'll not lie to you: it is really bloody good, and I feel no guilt whatsoever. I just can't really recall how I began listening. Clearly, I'm getting more and more into sugary pop music, and Miley represents that. And I was watching a fair bit of Disney Channel with my sister over xmas. So I banged the album on the phone and set to shuffling. This stood out as a highlight of her album, which is pretty average overall. What makes this one is the chorus. Cyrus staggers it, so it becomes pretty epic; one of those great choruses that just keeps going, and just gets better the longer it goes on. Plus its last line is harmonised, so you can't go wrong.

Funny story about the other Miley song on there. Apparently on her first album as herself, 'See You Again' gets remixed on the one I have. It sholdn't be good, but it is. Maybe it isn't actually good, but I like it, so there you go. It's a Euro-dance remix of the song. I used to loathe Euro-dance (you know, Vengaboys, Whigfield, Cascada et al). It was, and still is, the cheapest form of popular music out there. But while it used to make me feel dirty, I have since softened on it, presumably due at least in part to hearing it a lot while in Iran and southern Europe over the years.

On a conscious level, this softening has come from the pastiche of the fantastic Captain Ahab. (That they have promised 'the end of irony' for their imminent album is exciting indeed.) Their 2006 album, After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams, was full of brilliant parody, with no small amount of Euro-house. And I think it grew from there. Please don't hate me, but I actually legitimately like that Cascada song now. As I have always maintained, there is no ironic liking: if you like something in any way, you will like it genuinely, even on a subconscious level. Seriously. So this remix is another Cyrus song with a great chorus (I love the conversational style of lines like 'my best friend Lesley said/"Oh, she's just being Miley"', in this ballad of awkward teen crushes), underpinned by a cheap house beat. And I can't get enough of it.

Hopefully the presence of Lady Gaga speaks for itself. She's brilliant. And if you doubt the quality of a 'Paparazzi' or 'Bad Romance', then you can sod off and listen to anonymous indie and dubstep for the rest of your life.

The Shining songs are there because there are two pairs of songs that have the same name. And, because last.fm cannot differentiate between them (they are 'Exit Sun' and 'Exit Sun', as opposed to parts 1 and 2), they get double the plays. Crafty! Blackjazz, by the way, is an album that would really have benefited from iPhone scrobbling not being borked: I played that every day for weeks, on my snowy trudges home.

And that's it for the songs. Next up: which artists have I listened to the most? I mean, other than Ke$ha...

03 April 2010

UFC 111

Every time I write on the UFC, I preface it by saying it's been ages since the last time I did so, and let's see if I can get back into the habit of it. So let's pretend I've said it just now, rather than saying I usually say it. What a catchy lead-in! Okay, let's try again...

Despite valiant Dan Hardy's best efforts, he was unable to prevent Georges St-Pierre from leaving the Octagon, once more, as reigning welterweight champion. I knew going in that Hardy wasn't going to stand much of a chance. When asked my prediction for this one, I said GSP would 'eat Hardy alive'. I actually thought this fight would represent GSP's first stoppage win over a full-time welterweight in two years (that would be his revenge fight against Matt Serra, at UFC 83; BJ Penn, at UFC 94, was game, but clearly made for 155lbs). Credit, then, to Hardy for weathering the storm for five gruelling rounds.

What's stunning about GSP's clear dominance of the 170lb division is the fact that 'weathering the storm' is all his opponents can realistically hope to achieve. Whenever a challlenger emerges who everyone else allegedly fears, or who represents GSP's sternest challenge yet, they are lucky not to be pummelled into stoppage.

Witness Jon Fitch (UFC 87): he was a welterweight bogeyman, along with his team mate Josh Koscheck (dismantled by GSP at UFC 74). But he died numerous deaths when he faced GSP. I was blown away by Fitch's resistance in the face of unceasing adversity; he should have folded on at least two clear occasions, but he battled on. Ditto Thiago Alves (UFC 100): he'd been on a run through such leading 170lb lights as Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Koscheck.

In both cases, predator became prey. Victory was not an option; surviving five rounds became a moral victory. And so it was here. Despite some (notably Koscheck, less notably me) thinking Hardy wasn't ready for such a fight quite yet, I was impressed at his refusal to submit to a variety of excruciating-looking arm submission attempts. At no point was Hardy on the offensive, nor did he so much as postpone any of St-Pierre's takedowns, but he survived. And that, in the face of a machine such as GSP, is commendable.

As aforementioned, St-Pierre hasn't stopped a 'proper' welterweight since April 2008 (and if you're one of these viewers stuck in the past, who views Serra as a fat lightweight, that'll take it back to the December 2007 dismantling of former 170lb king Matt Hughes). Some might think, albeit foolishly, that this represents an inability on GSP's part to stop his opponents. I wouldn't suggest that and, to be fair, I've not seen anyone suggest as much, but hey: he's winning a lot of decisions of late.

This one wasn't a stoppage simply because GSP wanted to submit Hardy, who was commendably resistant. Had the French-Canadian decided he wanted to stay in Hardy's guard (as his corner increasingly recommended), he should have been able to gain the early victory via ground and pound. Had he wanted to stand and strike with the Thai-trained Nottingham fighter, proceedings would have been more competitive, but one could easily have seen GSP wearing Hardy down by the fourth round; especially after a few rounds of takedowns and top-dominance.

Elsewhere, Shane Carwin made his name in a big way by demolishing former champion (and seeming automatic 'interim champion' whenever injury or contract dispute waylay the genuine article) Frank Mir. When predicting this one, I went for Carwin by KO, so go me. Mir's stand-up striking has come on in leaps and bounds since embarrassing performances against Wes Sims (UFC 46), evinced in fights with Cheick Kongo (UFC 107) and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 92).

This will have given him the confidence to strike with heavy-hitting Carwin, or perhaps he felt needs must on that front. While Mir's guard is something to be feared, he'd have a job getting the fight to the ground if Carwin didn't want it there. And, once there, would he want Carwin on top of him? This was a question that didn't need answering, as Carwin stuffed Mir up against the Octagon wall until he was able to knock the consciousness out of the former champ's cranium. Very impressive first round knockout win for Carwin, even if referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight only after Mir had taken way too many strikes.

If GSP isn't coming in for any flak for not finishing opponents, welterweight peer Jon Fitch certainly is. Making like a lighter Matt Lindland in terms of elite, grinding, competitors who get mysteriously under-rated, Fitch absolutely dominated lanky Ben Saunders en route to a clear decision win. Apparently boring according to what commentator Joe Rogan accurately terms 'the meathead factor', due to not engaging in dumb brawls, Fitch's complete shutdown of the much taller opponent was actually pretty scintillating. Only once or twice in the fifteen minutes did Saunders mount any sort of offence, as Fitch controlled and battered him constantly.

Brilliant performance from Fitch, whose win brings us to an interesting point in the welterweight division. It has been an unwritten MMA rule that team-mates do not fight each other. However, when you have both Fitch and Josh Koscheck on the same team and in the top five, overwhelming most foes, but dominated by GSP, it seems the two should fight. UFC president Dana White apparently put Fitch on the spot about this one, at the UFC 111 press conference. Fitch and Kos have been known as gamers so tough that it's hard to find opposition for them: dare they fight each other? If they do, it should be an exhibition of awesome wrestling and cardio, at the very least.

And in a round-up of other stuff I saw: Nate Diaz continues to impress, this time with an easy win over Rory Markham, halfway through the first round. Jim Miller snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in an absolutely thrilling tilt with Mark Bocek that you should really try to see. Picked both of them to win. Two fights I didn't make picks for, but would have got right, were both Rousimar Palhares and Ricardo Almeida submitting their opponents Tomasz Drwal and Matt Brown, respectively. Zhoo zhit soo!

02 April 2010

Ke$ha - Animal


Sony Records (2010)

When a pretty, young, popstress is introduced to the world via a guest spot on a FloRida song, and is sufficiently well-connected to secure a P. Diddy cameo on her first solo single, you might be forgiven a touch of cynicism. However, Animal is an album of a high quality that is both massively surprising and effortlessly thrilling.

The aforementioned single, 'Tik Tok', is the second track on the album: you'll know pretty quickly whether or not you like her. Her natural obnoxious brattiness is likely to turn off as many listeners as it attracts, but it works incredibly well throughout this album. The last decade saw many female pop stars who were sufficiently lacking in overt personality that they allowed production to overtake them; this made it easier for fans of Proper Music to get into them.

Ten years ago, we had Aaliyah. Her 'Try Again' single set the stage for how the decade would develop: a pretty, competent, singer with a fantastic production (pretty much the last time Timbaland was great). Following her tragically premature demise, the likes of Rihanna and Rachel Stevens emerged, making pop music it was okay for dadrock magazines to get behind. While they certainly had their moments, the pattern of anonymity was in place, seemingly culminating in La Roux, a 1985 Boris Becker singing over rejected Sega Megadrive soundtracks.

In this context, it would be churlish to criticise a new singer who actually has personality. She's nasty, and shrill, and immature. And it's fantastic. Aside from 'Tik Tok's proclamations that 'I'ma fight til we see the sunlight', she's calling out 'backstabbing' women, and boys who 'act like sluts' when she's out of town. It's a level of confrontation that recalls Kelis on 'Caught Out There', or Britney's 'Do Somethin''.

Captain Ahab copyists 3OH!3, famed for their recent Katy Perry collaboration, also pop up on Animal. Their song, 'Blah Blah Blah' is musically competent, but is made by Ke$ha's aggressive reversal of gender stereotype: 'turn around boy, let me hit that'. While males get a rough time of it on the record (dissed for being too old on 'Dinosaur', objectified on the electroclash masterclass 'Boots and Boys'), it's certainly more logical than the whine of a 'Bills, Bills, Bills', and still refreshing after decades of pop patriarchal hegemony.

There is superficial softness in the Imogen Heap-baiting 'Stephen', until it turns out this ostensible love song is actually delivered from the POV of a crazed stalker (fading, ominously, into the backing vocal of 'Stephen... call me... waiting'). Ke$ha, like Andrew WK, her spiritual predecessor, parties so hard that even feelings of romantic regret are described in terms of feeling 'hungover'. All the while, her strangely charming voice (its shrillness belies a girlish vulnerability) is soaked in the Auto-Tune dunk tank and backed by a satisfyingly busy arrangement.

The character's facade slips a tad near the end, sadly. More traditional ballads, of love pangs and heartbreak ('Blind', 'Dancing With Tears in My Eyes'), rear their ugly head, somewhat undoing the great work done earlier. The weakest song, bafflingly, is the title track: essentially Snow Patrol sprayed pink. But for the most part, Animal is a trashy, catchy delight, with more hooks than a pirate convention. I've already listened to it more than I did Merriweather Post Pavilion in the whole of 2009, and the addiction shows no sign of slowing. While some corners of the pop world are conspiring to bland us all to death, Ke$ha joins Lady Gaga at the forefront of the fightback.

***

Witness the hilarious fallout from butt-hurt Worthy Music wastemen here!

I absolutely adore this album, and it is so much better than most albums I've heard in the last few years. She's been burning up my last.fm chart, and that's without counting most of my listens out and about. Along with the recent Shining and Propagandhi stuff, it's so nice to find albums that force me to listen enough to know them inside out. I wonder how many of those kneejerk anonymities have even heard the album.
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