Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Aussie rules

When Stella Donnelly played at Clwb Ifor Bach last week, she'd come a long way - both literally (from Australia all the way back to the country of her birth) and metaphorically (from her lounge in Fremantle, the unlikely makeshift studio in which she recorded her breakthrough EP Thrush Metal just last year, to another stage in a foreign venue). It might have been too much for some artists, but we were absolutely in the palm of her hand from the outset, often chuckling at her phrasing but also stunned into silence by 'Boys Will Be Boys'.

Binning best before dates, not food

I'm not alone in being quick to criticise Tesco, so should probably make a point of acknowledging their commendable initiative to remove best before dates from some products in a bid to prevent unnecessary food waste. Such initiatives, if extended and widely adopted, could make a significant difference - as could better education about the distinction between best before and use by labels.


Not much infuriates me more than needlessly wasted food. Personally, I pay little attention to best before dates anyway - if it looks and feels OK, it probably is OK. There are very few foods that can only be eaten and enjoyed at their absolute best, avocados being one notable (and frequently exasperating) exception.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Living on a prayer

Fair play to Janet Jackson for taking the opportunity to use her Billboard awards acceptance speech to voice her support for the #MeToo movement. It's hugely disappointing, then, that she went on to claim that Christianity might be the solution to sexual discrimination: "My prayer is that, weary of such noise, we will turn back to the source of all calmness, that source is God. Everything we lack, God has in abundance: compassion, sensitivity, patience and boundless love." It's not like religion regularly institutionalises gender inequality or anything, is it?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

From bad to worse

Two contributions from yours truly in Buzz's album reviews section this month. I didn't think much of LoveLaws, the debut solo LP from Warpaint's Theresa Wayman - but it's also true that I enjoyed the Dean Ween album considerably less...

Also reviewed are new albums from Jon Hopkins, Peace, John Maus, Bong, Nas and Gaz Coombes.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Slanted and enchanting

Whatever Stephen Malkmus does, he's likely to be most fondly remembered as the frontman for Pavement - but it's worth reflecting that Sparkle Hard is his seventh solo effort (well, backed by The Jicks) whereas Pavement only released five studio albums.

To mark the release of the new LP, Rolling Stone invited Malkmus to "look back on a quarter-century of indie-rock genius" through the prism of 15 songs. Two-thirds of his picks are taken from Pavement records, including classics 'Summer Babe', 'Silence Kit', 'We Dance', 'Stereo' and 'Carrot Rope'. I've always found his lyrics to be wonderfully memorable but the overall meanings of the songs to be unfathomably obscure, so it's interesting to hear him talk about their subject matter.

Most fascinating of all, however, are his comments on his fourth Jicks record, Real Emotional Trash, which is represented by the selection of 'Elmo Delmo': "We had a new drummer, Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, and she had in her mind that we were going to be a hard-rocking band and push each other to new heights of psychedelic expression. She's a very ambitious person, and I was very lucky to get to make some albums with her and tour with her. ... I loved it, but it was also like, how much more do we need of that, after we did it? It kind of exhausted me."

This makes it sound as though Weiss (whose drumming I love) bullied him into taking things in a direction he didn't really want to go. If so, that's rather a shame. For my money, Real Emotional Trash does indeed suggest a band "pushing each other to new heights of psychedelic expression" and as such it stands out from all of his other records (including those with Pavement) as the absolute best.

Friday, May 18, 2018

We don't need no education?

Is setting out on a career as a musician becoming harder? Are local authority cutbacks and fewer options for pupils to take Music at GCSE and A-level restricting accessibility to those who can afford to pay for private extracurricular education? That seems to be the depressing view of a number of industry insiders, including the Musicians' Union and the charity Youth Music.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Unthinkable and unacceptable"

The author of the post-Grenfell Tower review of building regulations, Dame Judith Hackett, feels that a ban on using combustible materials would "not address the root causes" of the problems. That might well be true, and it's good to see that the review identifies the need for significant change within the industry to avoid the current "race-to-the-bottom" culture. But that's no reason whatsoever not to introduce a ban.

In the words of Labour MP David Lammy: "It is unthinkable and unacceptable that so many people can die in a disaster like Grenfell and one year on flammable cladding has not been banned. I simply fail to see how it is deemed appropriate for any combustible material to be used on any tower block in this country."

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Orchestrated chaos

Monday brought news of the death of a maverick whose music is largely unfamiliar to me but to whom I nevertheless owe an eternal debt of gratitude. Put simply, if it wasn't for Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth would never have existed.

Not only did the band take Branca's avant-garde guitar pieces and attempt to reimagine how they might sound if brought within the conventional rock idiom, but Branca actually introduced Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo to one another, both of them having contributed to performances of his work.

Ranaldo was one of the first to pay tribute to the composer (along with At The Drive-In's Cedric Bixler Zavala and Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons and Blanck Mass), referring to his work as "the most radical, intelligent response to punk and the avant garde I'd ever seen". Moore, for his part, paid a kind of pre-emptive tribute, with the performance of the Galaxies 12 x 12-string acoustic/electric guitar concert at the Barbican last month, which featured his bandmates Deb Googe and James Sedwards as well as Rachel Aggs (Sacred Paws/Trash Kit/Shopping).

Here's a Pitchfork interview from 2016 in which Branca talks about his philosophy and his work.

Know Your Enemy

"A story of recklessness, hubris and greed."

The report into the collapse of Carillion by the Work & Pensions and the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy committees offers a glowing recommendation for the practice of contracting out public services to private businesses.

And as if to underscore the point, it's also been announced that the East Coast train line is to be taken back into government control for the third time in a decade. At what point are the Tories going to acknowledge that privatisation doesn't work?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Party hard

These days, given parenthood, birthday parties are usually something to look forward to with fear and dread rather than excited anticipation, events at which I'm more likely to be suffering from a hangover than busily working towards one.

However, that certainly wasn't the case with regard to the celebrations in honour of the Moon's first year of existence - thanks in large part to Barry mentalists I Am Drug, whose late-night performance was quite a spectacle.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The colour and the shapes

The death of Will Alsop after a short illness robs the world of architecture of one of its most dynamic characters: an idealistic dreamer who thought big and bold, loved colour and form and resolutely opposed dreary functionalism. Working on a book about him a few years ago was an absolute pleasure, instrumental in inspiring my burgeoning interest in architecture.

Sure, most of Alsop's visions were faintly outlandish, many were unbuilt and some of those that were proved to be expensive follies. But, as this feature by the Guardian's Oliver Wainwright suggests, his positive philosophy - grounded in a mischievous spirit of fun and an unshakeable conviction that architects should dedicate themselves to making cities happier places for people to live and work - is one for which he should be celebrated.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thank you for the music

I recently saluted Dave Bartram aka the Fish Man, but, as part of their fifteenth birthday celebrations, LeftLion have also interviewed another Nottingham legend, someone who is a less visible, instantly recognisable figure but who has had a much more significant impact on my life.

George Akins runs DHP Family, formerly DHP Group, which manages four of the city's most important venues (Rock City, Rescue Rooms, Stealth and the Bodega) and now also promotes tours for a whole range of artists, from Nick Cave to The War On Drugs (and, er, Ed Sheeran).

Without him and his organisation, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to see some amazing bands on my doorstep and enjoy some particularly memorable gigs: Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard, Spiritualized with Six By Seven in support, The Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Queens Of The Stone Age (twice - once in support of their debut LP and once after the release of Songs For The Deaf), Rocket From The Crypt, The Fiery Furnaces, Jane's Addiction, The Icarus Line (twice).

And that's not to mention all the fantastic Saturday nights out at Rock City, dating back to my arrival in the city more than 20 years ago: the music, the characters (Guinness Top, Big Wendy, the scrawny Kurt Cobain lookalike, the fat guy who used to wander around with head down as though scanning the floor for any sign of his keys), the luminous booze, the sticky floors, the mysterious substance known only as Rock City black that you'd find adhered to your clothes the morning after...

Cheers George.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Modern Life Is Rubbish is (mostly) rubbish

Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with my feelings about Britpop, so it should come as little surprise that I thoroughly endorse this Quietus piece on Modern Life Is Rubbish, which has just turned 25. Luke Turner notes "I had expected this feature to be a revisiting of a fondly remembered album that I had always considered to be Blur's best" but confesses to finding himself "more than a little irritated".

The problem - now glaringly obvious with the benefit of hindsight - is the way that the record, Blur's second, "[set] the template for Britpop", in all its blandness, Little Englander jingoism and unimaginative retromania. Needless to say, I'm in complete agreement with Turner's conclusion that it's the "curious sound of four bright-eyed pretty boys with some fair musical chops about to become charmless men, writing the soundtrack of an increasingly charmless land", and very much enjoyed his comments on Blur's cynical opportunism, his reference to Damon Albarn's "auditioning-for-Dad's-Army lyricism" and his dismissal of Alex James as "cheesemonger to Clarkson".

Turner's sentiments have also found favour with the likes of Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat ("I never trusted Blur, there was always something cynical and arch about them I couldn't stand, all winking pose and no soul") and Stuart Braithwaite, whose band Mogwai famously flogged T-shirts bearing the legend "Blur: Are Shite". Nice to know I'm in good company on that score.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

It's good to talk

It's been more than a decade now since I was a semi-regular Coronation Street viewer, so I can't comment on the specific details - but certainly this BBC article suggests that the writers (in liaison with charities Samaritans and CALM) are doing a superb job of treating the subject of mental illness and suicide with seriousness and sensitivity.

Any attempt to encourage conversation and remove the stigma surrounding the issue is to be welcomed, and the reactions that the storyline have inspired should shut up any snobby dissenters who still regard soaps as nothing but trivial, mindless light entertainment for the masses. On the contrary, they actually have the potential to raise awareness among a large swathe of the population far more effectively than any government or charity campaign.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A fine line

Is the increasingly widespread employment of "sensitivity readers" within the literary industry a commendable and responsible strategy on the part of publishers, or is it simply a case of self-interested arse-covering? As the interviewees in Alison Flood's Guardian article on the phenomenon suggest, it could well be both.

It does seem excessive to brand sensitivity readers as censors, though. Their job, it seems, is to flag up things that could potentially and inadvertently cause offence and to suggest alternative options, rather than to prescribe changes. Certainly, Lionel Shriver's suggestion that they might spell the end for bigoted characters is facetious nonsense, lazily conflating the views of authors with those of their creations.

(Thanks to David for the link.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Quote of the day

"I think the idea that you're trying to blame cyberbullying on the president is kind of ridiculous."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responds to suggestions that Donald Trump should perhaps shoulder some of the responsibility for the online climate that has prompted his wife to endorse a cyber safety booklet. It's precisely this sort of comment that made her so deserving of the merciless roasting she received at the hands of Michelle Wolf.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Good Moaning

If an LA punk band plays in the Moon and (nearly) no one's there to hear them, do they still make a sound? Indeed they do - and a fine one at that. Hopefully Moaning won't feel too slighted by the paltry attendance to come back to Cardiff again in the near future.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

"Marmite music, par excellence"

It's become standard practice for music publications and websites to mark any kind of significant anniversary with an article or two. Some are tedious eulogies; others are savage benefit-of-hindsight reassessments. Stevie Chick's recent piece for the Quietus on Sonic Youth's A Thousand Leaves, which turned 20 last week, is neither; instead, it offers a far more nuanced perspective - teasing out the album's particular strengths while acknowledging its flaws and placing it within the context of their other work.

Ultimately, Chick sees A Thousand Leaves as a "transitionary set without which Sonic Youth couldn't have escaped the Lollapalooza era for the creative freedoms that followed". As he concedes, though, that transition had already begun with 1995's Washing Machine, and indeed arguably with 1994's Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star, and culminated in 2000's way-out-there NYC Ghosts & Flowers. My own view is that their output was cyclical: they started out in the leftfield, gradually edged closer to the mainstream until the release of Dirty, then drifted back out again, before finally moving in once more.

Perhaps most tellingly, Chick's article soon had me listening to A Thousand Leaves again. It'll never be my favourite record of theirs, but it's been a rewarding experience to look at it through fresh eyes.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Looking back to No Future

The fourth guest in the Sounding Bored interview series is Matthew Worley, whose book No Future: Punk, Politics And British Youth Culture, 1976-1984 was published by Cambridge University Press last year. As the identity of the book's publisher implies, Worley approaches the subject from an academic perspective; a Professor of Modern History at the University of Reading, he actually teaches a module on this very topic.

The year span gives an indication as to the considerable scope of the book. As Worley explains in the podcast, he may have purposefully limited his study to the UK to make it more manageable, but he nevertheless effectively attempts to cover a period that took Jon Savage and Simon Reynolds two separate hefty tomes (England's Dreaming and Rip It Up And Start Again respectively). No Future is also ambitious in that it specifically sets out to locate punk and its various offshoots in the particular social, political, economic and cultural context of the time.

Over the course of the interview, Worley talks to regular host Rob about divisive bands and figures associated with punk (The Jam, Garry Bushell), the darker side of the movement (particularly the connections to the Far Right) and the emergence of the anti-Thatcher Red Wedge.

Readers of Reynolds' book will be familiar with the arguments that, with the benefit of historical perspective, punk didn't represent a significant rupture or Year Zero (despite what some might have claimed), and that a rather reactionary nostalgia and classicism kicked in in the mid-80s.  However, some of Worley's other observations, and the fact that much of No Future is based on research into fanzines (invaluable source material, in that they are free of revisionist mythologising), suggest that there is still much to be gained from picking up a copy.

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Boy wonders

As a music fan and/or critic, there's nothing quite like the vicarious thrill of hitching a ride on the coat-tails of a band that's evidently taking off. At present, Cardiff's own Boy Azooga are just such a band - as Saturday night's amazing gig at Clwb proved.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

False friends

Obsessing over social media followers and likes is one thing, but actually buying them is quite another. As this New York Times article makes clear, the practice is widespread and not merely indicative of a pathetic and deep-seated desire to appear popular; in fact, for many, it's a deceitful means of implying online influence or inflating one's status and thereby securing considerable benefits.

The vast majority of those named and shamed in the article are people who already have a significant public profile, but worryingly, as Rhidian of predominantly Welsh-language food blog Dining In The Capital has pointed out, the same phenomenon can be witnessed on a local level, with certain Cardiff blaggers. It's fraud, pure and simple - but it's yet to be treated as such.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

A blast from the past

Noise annoys? Not when it's produced by original Buzzcocks Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, it doesn't. On the contrary, it's pretty much guaranteed to delight a packed Tramshed on a Friday night.

Unlike fellow class-of-'77 survivors Wire, Buzzcocks seem happier to rest on their laurels rather than constantly seek to churn out new material - but when their laurels include 'Autonomy', 'Harmony In My Head', 'Why Can't I Touch It?' and 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)', who can blame them?

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

In the dark

Last Friday, 27th April, was Undiagnosed Children's Day, coordinated by the charity SWAN (Syndromes Without A Name). Friend-of-a-friend Liz's three-year-old son Josh remains undiagnosed despite countless appointments and tests. She spoke about it to BBC Midlands Today and also wrote a beautifully worded and seriously affecting blog post about her experiences.

Parenthood is tough at the best of times, so her strength and resilience is awe-inspiring.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Know Your Enemy

"While it’s easy to sit here contemplating some terrifying machine-ruled future, we must never forget that the past contained myriad horrors that we’re still trying to understand, never mind come to terms with. And a lot of them happened in the 1980s. Thatcherism; the Cold War; AIDS; Level 42; Shakatak. Oh yeah, the 80s were a positive fucking joy on the soulless plastic jazz-funk front. Who doesn’t hanker for the days of pencil-moustachioed blokes with rolled-up jacket sleeves, driving Capris and dancing to Johnny Hates Jazz? Michael Lee here obviously does. He’s written an album’s worth of tributes to it all. And he’s allowed us the privilege of listening to it in its entirety, like sitting Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD in front of a 3D rendering of Hamburger Hill. And because Michael thinks we deserve an extra special treat on top of this particular turd trifle, he’s thrown in some boyband balladry and what might be the scrapings from the bottom of a bag of Jamie Cullum processed potato snacks for good measure. Thoughtful old Michael. Well, here at Nightshift we live by the credo that every well-intentioned act of cruelty deserves a disproportionate response. So tonight we’re off round to Mr Lee’s house with several rolls of gaffer tape, a few tabs of LSD and a copy of every single Nurse With Wound recording ever made, including live bootlegs of their notorious 24-hour shows. And to make sure he enjoys every moment of his experience as much as we enjoyed his album, we’ve got a set of bolt cutters handy in case he doesn’t applaud enthusiastically enough after every song. Right, which of you fuckers is next?"

The Demo Dumper review in Nightshift is always eminently quotable - though perhaps never more so than the one in the May issue (reproduced here in its full glory), a spectacular evisceration of something submitted by the hapless Michael Lee.

The issue also features live reviews of the Public Service Broadcasting/Jane Weaver show at the New Theatre and Shame's sold-out gig at the Bullingdon - both gigs I would have killed to have been at, had I still been living in Oxford.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Quote of the day

"Like a porn star says when she's about to have sex with a Trump, let's get this over with."

Comedian Michelle Wolf kicks off her speech at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, setting the tone for what was to follow.

I've not thought much of her appearances on British TV, but this was something else entirely - a full-frontal assault on the Trump administration, courageously delivered in the presence of many of its constituent members. There's a delicious irony in the fact that it provoked ire and walk-outs from those fond of bandying around the word "snowflake".

The twilight sad

When Maximo Park's Paul Smith mentioned on Twitter on Friday night that he was indulging in some late-night Codeine, I had to reach for The White Birch myself.

Released on Sub Pop in 1994, it's an underrated - or, rather, largely unknown - work of genius, an album of subtle yet devastating power. 'Washing Up' is beyond bleak, and the opening track 'Sea' is incredible - especially, I guarantee, through headphones when alone in the small hours.

The White Birch and its almost equally brilliant predecessor Frigid Stars made Codeine a cornerstone of the so-called slowcore genre (together with the likes of Low and Galaxie 500) and an influence on a whole host of post-rock bands (Mogwai, perhaps most prominently). I still feel so, so lucky to have caught one of their reunion shows, at Primavera in Porto in 2012.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Streaming: salvation?

According to Sam Wolfson in the Guardian, streaming has revived or even saved the music industry. Patrick Clarke of the Quietus begs to differ, as do his interviewees, Rocket Recordings' Chris Reeder and Cosey Fanni Tutti, formerly of Throbbing Gristle. I know who I'm more inclined to believe.

Clarke's article is particularly horrifying in its discussion of the ways in which streaming is changing not merely the industry but music itself. Songs are now often seen as nothing but products to be specifically created and precision-targeted to fit into particular playlists like Peaceful Guitar and Infinite Acoustic. Both sound fuckawful, but not quite as fuckawful as Indie Brunch...

Friday, April 27, 2018

Friends reunited

Only last week I concluded a post about Kanye West's nonsensical and vacuous cod-philosophising on Twitter by saying "at least, I suppose, he's not Morrissey". It seems I spoke too soon.

The furore about his meeting with Donald Trump in December 2016 had been largely forgotten until West decided to reiterate his fondness for the current president: "You don't have to agree with Trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother." He also shared a photo of his Make America Great Again baseball cap signed by Trump, who reciprocated with a tweet thanking the rapper.

In fairness to West, he isn't quite on Morrissey's level yet - he doesn't seem to be playing the part of calculating provocateur, and is more like a blissfully ignorant imbecile who can't understand what all the fuss is about. When John Legend urged him not to align himself with Trump, West offered the sort of response that suggests he's been absorbing a lot of right-wing media: "You bringing up my fans or my legacy is a tactic based on fear used to manipulate my free thought."

Criticism has inevitably been widespread and swift from everyone from Snoop Dogg to Moby, and as long as West maintains this ridiculous stance his credibility among fans as well as fellow musicians will surely nosedive. Suddenly I'm not feeling quite so much in the minority.

Thank you for the (new) music, hopefully

Hands up anyone who saw this coming (anyone with their hand up is lying): ABBA have recorded their first new music together since 1982.

The band took to Twitter to announce that the forthcoming "avatar tour project had an unexpected consequence": a return to the studio. Apparently, "it was like time stood still and that we had only been away on a short holiday. An extremely joyful experience!"

Please, please, please let it be good.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Develop or die?

Barry (or, more specifically, Barry Island) might be known to many people merely as the subject of gentle mockery in Gavin & Stacey, but there's much more to Wales' biggest town than that. That much was evident from the first episode of Sam And Shauna's Big Cook-Out, in which the hosts celebrated the energy and community spirit surrounding the town's thriving football club, and the programme makers (aided by some charitable weather) made it look like a glorious seaside resort. Barrybados indeed.

The truth is somewhere in between, as this Wales Online article by Chris Pyke notes. It's home to the sort of cheap-and-cheerful seafront cafes and ramshackle amusement arcades synonymous with British seaside towns, but also a street of proudly independent shops and places like the Pumphouse, a characterful renovated building that's home to Sam and Shauna's restaurant, the Hang Fire Smokehouse.

Pyke traces Barry's history - from post-war boom to the difficult period symbolised by the closure of the Butlins holiday park that overlooked Whitmore Bay - and considers some of the many development proposals that have come to nothing. He suggests that the town now finds itself at something of a crossroads. There is certainly enthusiasm for new schemes (restaurants, hotels, attractions) that would lure more visitors and perhaps nudge it upmarket, but moves to develop and smarten up some of the tattier and derelict buildings near the seafront might result in the sort of gentrification that gradually transforms the town's character and prices many people out.

In that respect, it's a fascinating case study. Does looking to the future necessarily entail forgetting the past? I'm watching with interest to see which direction the town takes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Femme fatale

Having recently missed documentary films on both the Slits (Here To Be Heard) and Vivienne Westwood (Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist), I'm determined to catch Nico, 1988 - if, as is hoped/expected, it comes to Chapter as one of their Cinephonic picks.

The film's subject matter - the post-Velvet Underground career, heroin addiction and death of the titular icon - will ensure it's not a cheery watch. But this Pitchfork piece by Judy Berman, in which she praises its nuance and sensitivity, and its refusal to conform to a standard rock biopic "rise-and-fall narrative", certainly whets the appetite.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark

Anthony Fantano isn't always right, but I think he is when it comes to Julien Baker's Turn Out The Lights. Her voice, while undoubtedly very strong, isn't particularly distinctive or unique compared to those of others; the instrumentation isn't always that exciting or innovative; and many of the songs trace a similar trajectory.

And yet somehow none of those things seem to detract from a record that I keep going back to time and again. Clearly Turn Out The Lights has got something about it that takes hold and won't let go.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The next big thing

I've finally finished Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again. It took a while - not because the book is long (it is) or tedious (it isn't) but because it's so dense, comprehensive and convincing in its coverage of the post-punk period that I regularly felt overwhelmed and daunted by the sheer number of artists and bands it compelled me to investigate.

In a nutshell, Reynolds' argument is that while punk painted itself as a radical break with the past and as the shock of the new, in reality this was far more true of what came after. Examining the period from 1978 to 1984 with forensic focus, he provides copious evidence to substantiate his thesis.

The first half of the book, which is aptly named after an Orange Juice lyric, underlines the incredible fertility of the immediate post-punk period, inevitably covering those synonymous with the term (Public Image Ltd, Joy Division, The Fall) but also many others of disparate musical styles and approaches. The chapter on Throbbing Gristle is particularly effective in making clear that The Sex Pistols weren't the only ones to bait the establishment and assault bourgeois taste and decency; COUM Transmission's Prostitution exhibition at the ICA preceded the furore over 'God Save The Queen' by several months.

The second half traces the influence of post-punk (and punk) through into more unlikely spheres and genres such as 2-tone and so-called "new pop", flagging up a handful of acts that themselves made the transition (The Human League, Scritti Politti) and culminating in the surprisingly cogent contention that Frankie Goes To Hollywood were very much in the image of The Sex Pistols - and indeed imploded in a similarly spectacular fashion.

Reynolds organises his material into chapters in two principal ways. The first is by identifying an ethos or mindset that unites two or more bands; for instance, The Pop Group and The Slits are treated together due to their interest in the primitive and the tribal, while Talking Heads and Wire, both art-school bands, are regarded as transatlantic cousins. The second is by exploring geographical scenes that developed organically with their own unique flavour; thus he takes us to Gang Of Four's Leeds,  Cabaret Voltaire's Sheffield, Orange Juice's Glasgow and Echo & The Bunnymen's Liverpool.

As someone slightly frustrated by what felt like the parochial myopia of Jon Savage's otherwise excellent England's Dreaming, I was pleased to find that Reynolds looks beyond these shores to the US, devoting chapters to Detroit (Pere Ubu, Devo), New York (no wave), San Francisco (out-there psych-influenced acts), "mutant disco" and "punk-funk", and the rise of SST Records.

Unlike Savage, Reynolds writes not only knowledgeably - Rip It Up And Start Again is evidently the result of extensive research and benefits from first-hand interviews with many of the major figures - but also passionately. This is no dry guidebook (if such a thing were even possible or desirable); on the contrary, his opinions are always implicit, and sometimes quite explicit. Few bands, if any, are universally lauded (he acknowledges duff albums and calls out missteps); in a handful of instances, inevitably, his descriptions - which are always evocative and never fail to pique the interest - do rather oversell the reality. Likewise, at times I bristled slightly at his dismissive characterisations (for instance, of The Jesus & Mary Chain as little more than "record collection rock"). But I'd much rather a book that comes very much from the heart than one that attempts a dispassionate survey of an artform that, perhaps more than most, seeks to stir and inflame.

As well as being a zealous primer and an engrossing cultural history, Rip It Up And Start Again is a testament to the status and power that the music press once had, to the ability of journalists and publications to create images, shape narratives and guide tastes. At the current moment, with NME effectively no more and mainstream music magazines few and far between, those days seem like a long time ago.

If there's one single take-home message from the book, it's that "post-punk" should never be used as a term to describe a specific genre or style of music; instead, it refers to a particular period of time during which there was an explosion of different styles. This is a lesson I need to learn - though in that I'm certainly not alone.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Life of Brian

I've plugged Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or, as all the cool kids are calling it, RHLSTP) before, but feel compelled to do so again in the wake of the Brian Blessed episode. Securing his appearance was, Herring has admitted, the holy grail and he certainly didn't disappoint.

In what was less an interview and more a monologue with occasional prompts from the host, most of the stories he recounted are probably already familiar, especially to anyone who's read his book, but bear repeating: snubbing Picasso, repeatedly goosing Sir John Gielgud, the perils of having a shit on Everest, being drunkenly egged on by BBC executives to put a condom on the statue of Helios at Television Centre.

The man is an absolute force of nature, and a delight to listen to. Credit to Herring for managing to get him on, and then to give him free rein (not that there was much option).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Open access?

Given the opposition within the National Trust and among its supporters to the celebration of prominent LGBTQ figures, for the charity's new director-general to declare it needs to be more radical was a bold opening gambit. You can practically hear the sighing and tutting at Hilary McGrady's comments - though she did try to reassure "core supporters" that they wouldn't be abandoned.

McGrady stressed that one of her primary objectives is to increase accessibility: "I want to reach more people, and more people live in urban areas. The days of walking into one of our beautiful houses and saying 'A family lived here' - that's not going to do it". A real focus on living up to the Trust's slogan "For Ever, For Everyone" would be very welcome and would go some way towards addressing the concerns I raised in a post last month. It remains to be seen, however, whether there will be any reduction in membership costs or for one-off visits - without doubt, those are the greatest barriers to accessibility.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Bigmouth strikes again

While everyone else seems to be enthralled and enraptured by Kanye's return to Twitter, it's fair to say I don't feel the same way.

West announced that he was back with characteristic humility, claiming: "Some people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness". And how has the man referred to by the Guardian's Jake Nevins as "hip-hop's pre-eminent and most brazen sage" gone about demonstrating that he's a consciousness shifter? By posting pictures of trainers and a series of gnomic tweets and  platitudes of the sort usually found superimposed on images of sunsets posted on Facebook by people you vaguely remember from school.

As vacuous as these might seem, he's declared that they aren't just tweets: "oh by the way this is my book that I'm writing in real time". Apparently, it's a work of philosophy - which suggests he has as tenuous a grasp of philosophy as he does of reality. This return to Twitter has been prompted by "an innate need to be expressive". But of course - it couldn't possibly be for anything so crass as the need to plug a forthcoming album or two, could it?

Not only is he spouting bullshit that people are incomprehensibly lapping up, though; he's also spouting contradictory bullshit. On the one hand, he announced that "As a creative your ideas are your strongest form of currency" and "You have to protect your ability to create at all cost"; and yet, a day later, he was insisting "too much emphasis is put on originality. Feel free to take ideas and update them at your will all great artist take and update" and "let's be less concerned with ownership of ideas. It is important that ideas see the light of day even if you don't get the credit for them. Let's be less concerned with credit awards and external validation".

The latter sentiment is of course very rich coming from someone who felt the need to interrupt Taylor Swift's speech at the 2009 MTV VMAs to make the case that Beyonce should have won the award, and it's much easier for someone in West's exalted position to say that anyone's ideas are fair game. But, on top of that, he said the precise opposite the previous day: if, as a creative, "your ideas are your strongest form of currency", then you can't happily allow them to be taken and used by others for free.

How this confused, nonsensical, pseudo-profound drivel isn't being called out as such is a complete mystery to me.

But at least, I suppose, he's not Morrissey.

Ultimate disappointment

That feeling when you're really looking forward to a gig, partly to catch up with a band who've knocked out two albums since you last saw them, and partly to catch up with a friend who doesn't get to many gigs these days, only to discover that the band in question split up two months earlier, citing "an irreconcilable breakdown"? Yeah, that.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Get 'em while they're young

Josh Homme has done the CBeebies Bedtime Story, I spotted a nice Devo reference in an Octonauts book, and now my attention has been drawn to Beat Bugs, a Netflix series whose stories are based around the lyrics of Beatles songs. I've not seen it and don't really care how irritating it might be - anything that introduces pre-school children to the Fab Four is OK in my book.

As Beatles-related projects go, it certainly sounds far, far less awful than the proposed film currently going under the name All You Need Is Love, a "music-themed comedy" written by Richard Curtis and set to star Ed Sheeran. The concept sounds about as appetising as a plateful of cold sick.

Incidentally, it's a shame that the refreshed 50th anniversary version of Yellow Submarine isn't showing anywhere in Cardiff, with the closest screening in Bath.

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Press gang

The two guests on Episode 28 might be new to Sounding Bored, but they're hardly inexperienced podcasters. Regularly heard on the likes of The Sound Of Football and Whom Pods Destroy, Terry Duffelen and Del Mantle joined host Rob Langham to reflect on the heyday and fall of the mainstream music press, most prominently (of course) the recent demise of the print edition of the NME. Along the way, they touch on personal preferences, political connections and provocative prose, and how, in the internet age, the role of the music magazine as tastemaker has been usurped by algorithms, concluding that there is now no market for a broad-ranging generalist publication.

The episode kicks off with a discussion of Concretism and others who are taking the foreboding retrofuturist analogue synth instrumentals from 1970s public information films for inspiration, and ends with the decidedly lukewarm verdict on American Utopia, the first solo album from ex-Talking Heads man David Byrne since 2004.

Quote of the day

"Of course, we are all called racist now, and the word is actually meaningless. It's just a way of changing the subject. When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is 'Hmm, you actually have a point, and I don't know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we'll both forget how enlightened your comment was."

No, Moz, when people call you racist, what they are saying is "You're a racist". Well done on providing lots of supporting evidence - sorry, "enlightened" observations - in the very same interview.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Portraits of poverty

As a sociologist with a passionate belief in social reform as well as a photographer, Lewis Hine was far more interested in documenting the lives of the less fortunate than of the great and the good. His pictures of the working conditions of ordinary Americans in the early twentieth century helped to bring about improvements, while through his portraits of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island he hoped to humanise them and defuse anxieties and prejudice among the American population.

Needless to say, it's a sorry state of affairs that such projects remain just as essential a hundred years on.

Know Your Enemy

"I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president. Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that."

Former FBI director James Comey destroys Donald Trump in his interview on ABC's 20/20 programme on Sunday.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The 'Worms have turned

It's rare for reviews of an album to be not only unanimous in their verdict but also practically identical in their content - but that's been the case for Hookworms' third LP Microshift. It's almost as if there was a law decreeing that the following things had to be mentioned:

1. The title is an understatement if not an outright irony because the album actually marks a significant departure from its predecessors. As the band themselves have admitted, The Hum (as good as it undoubtedly was) was essentially a retread of Pearl Mystic, the debut that propelled them to attention, so it's not that much of a surprise that they were inclined to make a larger leap this time around. While still recognisably them, the psych snowstorms and guitar assaults have been toned down, and the synth and pop have been turned up. For the first time, MJ's lyrics are clearly audible. It's as though neither he nor the band are hiding any more.

2. The change, it has been repeatedly claimed, can probably be traced back to the flood on Boxing Day 2015 that destroyed the band's studio. The consistent narrative - that it was a traumatic experience but one that seems to have led to a period of reflection and a decision to start anew - is perhaps a little too neat and tidy, but it does have the ring of truth about it.

3. The album consistently achieves the tricky feat of marrying often downbeat lyrical subject matter to music that verges on the euphoric - singles 'Negative Space' and 'Ullswater' being cases in point. Indeed, the former - a song lamenting the death of a friend that is nevertheless designed to be danceable - draws obvious (to me, at least) comparisons with LCD Soundsystem's 'Someone Great'.

Needless to say, I concur with all of this - and with the consensus that suggests Microshift will be a strong contender for the year's best album.

Double dragon



When I was strolling along Mumbles Pier in Swansea back in September, before it was shut for repairs, this little scene struck me as one worthy of preservation for posterity. The photo was duly posted on social media, captioned "#sadnessinhiseyes".

As it turns out, I'm not the only person to have felt this way. It was amusing to discover that a very similar (albeit slightly digitally manipulated) image appears on the cover of L.A. Playback, the new rarities album by Beak>, who feature among their number Geoff Barrow of Portishead.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Quotes of the day

"I'm always suspicious of friends who tell me they were into The Fall when they were eight or something. That's the thing with The Fall, isn't it? You have to be old enough to understand why it's not complete shit."

"Sheer Heart Attack by Queen is one of the greatest albums ever recorded by human beings. I wasn't allowed to have that album out because there's a history of heart problems in our family so when I was a little kid it used to piss me off that the best album was called Sheer Heart Attack. In our house, I had to hide it under an LP copy of News Of The World which is a significantly worse album."

"If you play guitar in anything approaching an alternative rock band and you don't like Entertainment by Gang Of Four then I suggest you've probably got issues and not any of them good issues you can monetise."

"I need recent Slayer records as much as I need shin splints."

"When I watch USA Nails live, I think that if I was younger I would go and hurtle against people while listening to it like I used to when I was a kid but I won't anymore. I'll stand slightly to the right of the stage drinking a Peroni which I have insisted is on the rider because I'm not drinking Tuborg for any cunt and I'll be nodding and going, 'Oh yeah, they've really developed as a band'. Like an absolute wanker."

As you might expect - and as this smattering of choice excerpts proves - Andrew Falkous' Baker's Dozen feature for the Quietus is utterly marvellous.

In addition to selecting and talking about albums by Public Enemy, Talking Heads and Faith No More, and the soundtrack to Bugsy Malone, he has a potshot at Steve Lamacq, namechecks largely forgotten Swindon left back Paul Bodin, confesses to wooing his wife (Future Of The Left bassist Julia Ruzicka) by performing an interpretive dance to T'Pau's 'China In Your Hand', reveals that FOTL were their wedding band and covered (among other things) Nirvana's 'Tourette's', and goes on a particularly off-piste rant about ciabattas.

Also, how on earth did I not know that despite being an honorary Cardiffian, he's actually a fellow Geordie by birth? My sense of kinship is strengthened - and I might just have to revise my (very) low estimation of my hometown's contributions to popular music...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"I'm the last one standing"

Recently I wrote about the rediscovery of Cardiff legend Toy Mike Trev. A comparable figure in another of my former haunts, Nottingham, might be Dave Bartram aka the Fish Man, familiar to most people who've spent a Friday or Saturday night in the likes of the Bell, the Salutation and the Trip to Jerusalem. In this article he talks to LeftLion about his job, living with bowel cancer and recovering from getting clubbed over the head with a stiletto by drinking a double whiskey.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Resistance to Resistance Is Futile

Is it sacrilege to award a new Manic Street Preachers album only three stars if you're writing for a Welsh publication? If so, guilty as charged. Still, Resistance Is Futile - for the most part a retreading of former glories, both for better and for worse - is better than the insubstantial self-titled debut LP from much-hyped quartet Goat Girl.

Also reviewed in this month's issue of Buzz are new releases from The Damned, Josh T. Pearson, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter, Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor, A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Laura Viers and Daphne & Celeste - the latter one that I was keen to get my hands on, on the strength of the duo's previously released collaboration with Max Tundra, 'You & I Alone'.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"I don't like upsetting people"

You may well have read about new musical The Assassination Of Katie Hopkins. If so, there's a good chance the adjective "controversial" appeared in the article - especially if the piece was in certain publications. However, in her own article for the Independent Chris Bush - one of the show's creators, together with my friend Matt - has offered a stout defence of a show that, in fairness, no one has actually seen yet, arguing that it's neither sensationalist nor crude and that "the knotty themes and ideas we're exploring more than justify our eyebrow-raising title".

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

(What's so funny 'bout) peace, love and understanding?



Visiting San Francisco last year to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, the Guardian's Caroline Eden concluded: "The spirit of the Summer of Love does appear to linger in this city. Despite the vast and obvious inequalities - which some say are steadily worsening - San Francisco feels like a flexible and creative city, somewhere that is still capable of opening minds." After spending a week there, I'd agree.

That spirit does indeed linger, literally as well as metaphorically in the scent of weed, which is everywhere - and not just in Haight Ashbury. Cops are largely indifferent, strolling past crowds outside smoke shops making swift use of their latest purchases. Indeed, when I was offered a toke on a joint by a grizzled old hippie at a psych rock show in a converted church down in the Mission District (review to come), it felt like Peak San Francisco, and as though 1967 never ended.

From a more cynical perspective, though, that's nothing to be celebrated. You could argue that the Summer of Love lives on primarily thanks to the various shops lining Haight Street, which reductively preserve hippie culture in the form of ubiquitous tie-dye prints and trashy knick-knacks. That a movement resolutely opposed to capitalist tendencies should have become so co-opted and commodified is ironic but also, in truth, inevitable. In some ways, the street is arguably as much a tourist destination as the Americanised Blackpool that is Pier 39.


Elsewhere, too, is evidence of "the vast and obvious inequalities" of which Eden writes. She comments on "the alarmingly drug-addled streets of the Tenderloin"; true enough, though I also saw someone shooting up in broad daylight in the middle of the Financial District and, leaving a swanky hotel two blocks from the downtown hub that is Union Square, was offered crack. It was enough to send this liberal leftie into a bit of a spin: permanently on edge, and infuriated at myself for feeling that way.

The very visible prevalence of hard drugs and homelessness underlines the consequences of a wholly inadequate social welfare safety net. In fact, many of those who do have a place to call home find themselves in an increasingly precarious position; in the wake of rising rents due to gentrification and the effects of the ongoing dotcom revolution, eviction is an ever-present threat. Reaching the rather bleak-seeming Ocean Beach out west on a dull afternoon my final full day in the city, I couldn't help but stare out at the Pacific and think of On The Beach, Neil Young's dark rumination on the souring and death of the hippie dream.


And yet, as Eden intimated, that dream isn't totally dead. San Francisco can also boast Golden Gate Park, an enormous green space stretching from Sanyan Street right out to Ocean Beach and home to (for instance) the Garden of Humanitarians and the National AIDS Memorial Grove. The Castro District, in particular, remains a place where LGBTQ identity is not merely tolerated but actively celebrated (something that made the city a perfect choice of location for the IFJP conference that I was there to attend). San Francisco's numerous excellent bookshops - most notably Lawrence Ferlinghetti's famous City Lights on Columbus Avenue, the nearby Beat Museum on Broadway, Dog Eared Books in the Mission District, and Booksmith and the anarchist store Bound Together on Haight - are all helping to keep the city's radical past alive through the enthusiastic dissemination of ideas that challenge neoliberal norms and social mores.


San Francisco's liberal, inclusive tendencies are evident everywhere, even in the posters stuck in corner-shop windows. The city isn't a utopia and is subject to wider social, economic and political forces, but here's hoping that under Trump's presidency it proves to be not an outlier but a guiding light. Hippie idealism may be problematic in many ways, but in the current climate there's still much to be said for its central tenets of peace, love and understanding.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"An anatomy lesson in US dysfunction"

It's hard to believe that it's now ten years since the conclusion of The Wire, David Simon's sprawling, hugely ambitious "novel for television". In this Guardian article, Dorian Lynskey talks to many of the hitherto unknown cast members made famous by their roles in the show and establishes just what made it such a revolutionary show in terms of subject matter, style and objective. It makes me want to start watching it all again (well, apart from the fifth and final season, perhaps) and decide once and for all whether I prefer it to both Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad.

I haven't seen any of Simon's next venture, The Deuce, but he's now working with several former collaborators (including novelists George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane) on a new project called A Dry Run about US involvement in the Spanish Civil War. It promises to be worthy of investigation at very least.