Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Heavenly heaviness

As a band with legendary status and a large back catalogue, it was only a matter of time before Melvins got the Toppermost treatment. Ian du Feu's excellent piece serves as a gentle reminder to me that I own far too few of their numerous albums - only Bullhead and Houdini, I think - but it's nice to see the latter's superb 'Honey Bucket' among the selected tracks.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The waiting game

Another weekend, another festival that was (it seems) less entertainment and more endurance test. Judging by the complaints levelled at Saturday's Burning Lantern bash, just down the road at St Fagans National History Museum, there were a lot of punters left disgruntled by the infrastructure and the overall experience. My sources on the ground have since said that it wasn't quite as bad as that Wales Online article might suggest, though the queues for food and drink were indeed "terrible" and enough to test "even the most patient of us queue-loving Brits".

The promoters have at least had the decency to hold their hands up and admit their misjudgement - so hopefully lessons will have been learned if the festival goes ahead again next year.

Meanwhile, if you were thinking of taking a pineapple to Reading or Leeds, then be warned: you won't be allowed in. I tell you, it's political correctness gone mad.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quote of the day

"Today marks the first terrorist attack to occur on this president's watch, but it did not come at the hands of that one religious group he denigrates at every opportunity, and whose adherents he wants desperately to ban from entering the country. Instead, it was committed by people who have been living among us all along, quietly waiting for an opportunity that, at long last, has arrived. Hate has always existed in America. Donald Trump just made it fashionable again."

GQ's Jay Willis on the death of an anti-fascist protester in Charlottesville at the hands of a far-right white supremacist.

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tough at the top

My piece on mental health in elite Welsh sport for the Buzz website - essentially a substantially condensed version of the articles on mental health and retirement in football that I wrote for The Two Unfortunates in May - went up online just a few days after former Olympic bobsleigher Rebekah Wilson's admission that the pressures of competition drove her to self-harming. Her revelations underlined many of the points I made, and she deserves huge credit for having the courage to speak out and draw attention to an issue that is all too rarely discussed.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The great divide

Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, a satirical portrait of the decade in which it was published, was driven by an acute awareness of the growing socioeconomic divisions between people. Tragically, though, the 1980s look like a far more egalitarian age than the present, when you consider the findings of a team of researchers including Thomas Piketty - findings that illustrate the complete fallacy of trickle-down economics.

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

From celebration to consternation

In three days' time, Newcastle kick off their Premier League season. Last year's memorable, largely enjoyable and ultimately glorious Championship campaign, and Rafael Benitez's key role in that triumph and in the "resurrection" of the club, has been celebrated in Martin Hardy's third book Rafa's Way, which I've recently reviewed for The Two Unfortunates.

Sadly, though, all that's already a distant memory, after a summer of increasing frustration and uncertainty. Perhaps acknowledging the fact that the book's confident, optimistic predictions are looking rather premature, Hardy has just written a much gloomier and more troubling piece for the Independent. Here's hoping that Rafa gets what he wants - and needs. The alternative (that he doesn't, and that he walks out) doesn't bear thinking about.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

"It's like looking at Patrick Bateman's record collection"

Episode 19 of Sounding Bored finds host Rob joined by regular panellists Amy and David to discuss the musical quality and enormous cultural impact of mainstream 1980s pop. Extensive consideration is (quite rightly) given to Wham/George Michael, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Madonna, as well as to some of the factors that distinguished the 1980s from the previous decade: the rise of MTV, the critical importance of the video and the recognition of music as a visual medium as well as an aural one; the use of synths and production bells and whistles; the pursuit of exposure leading to courting controversy and the advancement of progressive causes such as feminism and gay rights.

Over the course of the hour-long episode, Rob mentions the era-defining Band Aid/Live Aid gigs and singles; Amy offers a stout defence of the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory and brands the monstrously popular Phil Collins "yuppie pop"; and David underlines the fascinating difference between the UK and the US in terms of 1980s album sales (the latter charts were dominated by rock rather than pop acts), as well as admitting he burst into tears when George Michael broke into 'Father Figure' at Wembley Arena and at one point talking about "giving crying black Jesus a blow job" (in relation to Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' video, of course).

Album of the month is Haim's very 1980s-influenced Something To Tell You, which - according to the panel - doesn't actually have much to say, sounding largely like a glossy, "soporific" and unadventurous take on Wilson Phillips and Warpaint.

And if all that isn't enough to tempt you into giving the podcast a listen, it kicks off with Amy talking about Taylor Swift being smuggled into her own house in boxes...

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Pop 'N' Hops: tops

Few things in life are certain - but one of them is that a shop selling both music and craft ale would immediately arouse my interest. Throw in a large Ramones mural spray-painted on the wall and the fact that it's on Whitchurch Road in Cardiff, only a short distance from my house, and Pop 'N' Hops is pretty much perfect. Here's a short piece I wrote for Buzz on the new venture from Trev McCabe, the founder of Odd Box Records.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Washington monument

Rarely a fortnight goes by without me reaching for Fugazi's In On The Kill Taker. While I'd certainly consider myself a fan - significantly more so than when I saw them live, in 1999 and again in 2002 - I'd argue that there's not another album in their back catalogue that comes close to touching it. The LP strikes the perfect balance between the punk/hardcore aggression and incandescent fury of their members' roots in Minor Threat and Rites Of Spring and the more arty, esoteric directions of later albums like End Hits and The Argument.

Earlier this year, Pitchfork's Jason Diamond wrote a great retrospective review of the record, which underlines its best qualities but also establishes the context for its release (against the backdrop of grunge and the major-label alternative rock feeding frenzy), arguing - quite rightly, in my view - that it was the most critical and pivotal album of their career, and a resounding success.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Gold against the soul

When Donald Trump called the White House "a real dump", one of his most vocal and prolific Twitter critics pointed out that this was coming from a man who "lives in an apartment Liberace would be embarrassed to haunt".

Trump's taste, if you can call it that, could be categorised as "dictator chic" - and indeed has been, by someone who wrote a book called Dictator Style. The president's comment about the White House won't have come as any surprise to Peter York, who back in the spring noted that the architectural style preferred in Washington DC - low-rise, non-showy, restrained and solid - "was designed to avoid Europe's autocratic excesses" and to project "a message of simplicity, democracy and egalitarianism - precisely the opposite of the new brand in town".

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Back (of the net)

After 15 years away, Alan Partridge is set to clamber back on board the BBC gravy train, with a new series appearing on BBC2 in the spring of 2018. While some comebacks are greeted with a mixture of delight and unease, this one should be the cause of unalloyed joy: such has been the quality of recent Partridge output - particularly the two books I, Partridge and Nomad and the 2013 film Alpha Papa - that there aren't really any nagging doubts that it could be a disappointment. And, as good as Mid Morning Matters has been, it's infuriating for the likes of me that it hasn't been on terrestrial TV so has been much harder to keep up with.

If you're thinking that Alan returning to the Beeb is improbable, given his previous history with Auntie, then Steve Coogan has a very plausible explanation: "It's conceivable, because in this age of Brexit, they might think they need to get in touch with the 'Little Englanders' they ignore. Alan would have voted Brexit for sure. Hard Brexit, given the choice. He's a Brexiteer because the Daily Mail told him to be."

Friday, August 04, 2017

Not all there

Alexis Petridis' review of Brian Wilson's recent Hammersmith Apollo show is a fascinating if slightly troubling read. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the performance - of Pet Sounds in its entirety, plus other gems - is at times extraordinary and sublime. But on the other, he's unsettled by Wilson's own contribution, noting that "his face seems to naturally arrange itself into a troublingly blank expression" and that "he looks like he isn't sure what he's doing up there". That gnawing disquiet leads Petridis to mention the claims that either Wilson himself is "milking it" or "a larger organisation [is] manipulating a vulnerable man in order to milk it".

In truth, I'm not convinced this is anything new. His Pyramid Stage set on the Sunday of Glastonbury 2005 - before I'd even heard and fallen in love with Pet Sounds - remains one of my favourite ever live experiences, but even then he looked a bit bemused and bedazzled by it all, frequently carried by all of the stupendously talented musicians around him. At the time I was absolutely swept up in the exhilaration of hearing Beach Boys songs played in the flesh (copious quantities of scrumpy and the sunny weather, after the flash flood of the Friday, may have helped...), but with hindsight I can agree with Petridis' conclusion that "it's a very strange Brian Wilson fan indeed who can see him live without feeling beset by doubts".

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Arcade Fire flamed

When the Quietus' Luke Turner recently ripped into Public Service Broadcasting's new LP Every Valley, I was moved to come its defence, on the grounds that the review was a grossly unfair hatchet job that seemed to be motivated primarily by a long-standing personal antipathy to the band in question. Less than a month later, the site has published another excoriating dissection - this time of Arcade Fire's much anticipated Everything Now, which Anna Wood has blasted as "the patronising, self-aggrandising, mean-spirited product of a deeply conservative and almost unbearably pompous group".

While I'd certainly consider myself an Arcade Fire fan, and I quickly grew to like the title track, released as the lead single, I'm less inclined to post an indignant riposte this time around. Quite apart from the fact that I haven't actually heard the album yet, I was distinctly underwhelmed by their last record, Reflektor, which seemed like a smug, superficial parody/mockery of everything they'd previously done, so Wood's piece doesn't smack of misrepresentation. What's more, unlike Turner's verdict on Every Valley, her savage assessment has been corroborated by several others whose opinions I respect, including Norman Records and Louder Than War's Simon Tucker. The latter tells me it's "truly, truly awful" and "musically insipid & lyrically tedious and cringe inducing".

It may be that it's not quite as bad as all that - but comments like these, and Wood's demolition job, don't really make me want to bother finding out for myself.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"I should've forced them to get addicted to writing better songs. Too bad @thekillers did it for them."

Ryan Adams on The Strokes, apparently responding to claims by the latter's Albert Hammond Jr. in Lizzie Goodman's book Meet Me In The Bathroom that it was Adams who got Hammond hooked on heroin. This reply is a savage smackdown, if you'll pardon the pun.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Scrap book

Ah, Tommy Robinson. Only a former leader of the EDL could manage to provoke violence at a book signing. And only a former leader of the EDL would think that the best place for such a literary event would be in an off-licence in Sunderland.

Incredible to think, isn't it, that apparently Robinson is literate? That said, I suspect that the book was ghost-written and that he was just signing his name with a big cross prior to being rudely interrupted by the sort of mindless thuggery of which he's often proud.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Same old story

Stop me if you've heard this one before: white, male columnist employed to write provocative articles writes a provocative article that provokes uproar; Twitter (quite rightly) goes into meltdown; columnist is sacked. Back in April, it was Kelvin MacKenzie and the Sun; now it's Kevin Myers and the Sunday Times.

Myers' article on the salaries of BBC presenters' salaries contrived to be offensive both on the grounds of appalling sexism and blatant anti-Semitism. The consequent storm has brought to light the fact that he's not only a Holocaust denier, but that he wrote an article about it for the paper a few years back (an article that, like his piece on the BBC, has now been removed from the Times' website).

Myers is evidently a nasty, smug dinosaur who should be denied the opportunity to spout his bile, but the decision to sack him is, frankly, bizarre - just like the Sun's decision to cast MacKenzie out into the cold (though not before throwing him to the wolves first). Like MacKenzie, Richard Littlejohn, Jan Moir and Katie Hopkins, Myers essentially did precisely what his employers wanted him to do: stir up shit in a bid to arouse controversy and sell some papers. As Damien Owens (among many others) has pointed out on Twitter, the offending piece may have been written by Myers, but it was "commissioned, approved, edited and published" by the Sunday Times. The paper's culpability is unquestionable, but it's doubtful any heads will roll over an article that even the Daily Mail might have baulked at publishing - it's far easier just to chuck the author under a bus and move on.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Y Not? Y?

It might not be on quite the same scale as Fyre, but it sounds as though the aborted Y Not Festival in Derbyshire was similarly shambolic. The organisers - who are also responsible for Truck these days - have cited the weather, which has admittedly been challenging, as the reason for cancelling the final day. But other much larger festivals (Glastonbury, in particular) regularly go ahead in swamp-like conditions, and the reaction to the announcement of the cancellation on Twitter suggests a lack of organisation, infrastructure and preparedness might be to blame.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Pop cultural wasteland

Here's some ruin porn with a difference: digitally created images of an imagined future in which nature reclaims the oversized detritus of late twentieth-century pop culture. The products of Czech artist Filip Hodas' vivid imagination are extraordinary in being simultaneously hyperrealist and fantastical. I love the idea of massive Tetris blocks mysteriously dotting the landscape as our equivalent of Stonehenge.

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Before year zero

As is now widely acknowledged, punk's claim to be a complete break with the past was largely nonsense - it had plenty of antecedents, even if it refused to acknowledge them. Toby Sligo's selection of ten proto-punk songs for Louder Than War underlines that fact.

Personally, I'd always class The Stooges, The MC5, The New York Dolls and Patti Smith as punk proper (and evidence that the Americans did it earlier and better than us Brits), but the likes of The Velvet Underground, The Sonics and The Modern Lovers were all influential without actually being punk.

For me, the revelation among the selected tracks is Dr Feelgood's 'She Does It Right' - certainly enough to explain why Wilko Johnson is such a revered guitarist.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Life lessons

In 2013, my cousin's husband Mike was nearly killed by a couch. Yes, really. And now he's written about the incident and his recovery for Cracked. It's a tale of abandonment by his friends, hellish constipation and flirting with nurses despite the fact that he'd been wearing paper underpants for more than six months - but, above all, how the experience of a close encounter with death is nothing like it's portrayed in popular culture.

Even still, his story can't really hold a candle to that of Juliane Koepcke, who as a 17-year-old survived a plane crash during which she fell two miles, landing in dense and treacherous jungle in Peru and trekking for ten days with a maggot-infested arm wound, a broken collarbone and a ruptured ligament in her knee before reaching civilisation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Minister for metal

So much for Ed Miliband's attempts to ape Napalm Death's Barney Greenway for the amusement/bemusement of the Radio 2 audience - meet Richard Burgon, the MP who loves metal and hardcore, who used to put on shows at the Brudenell Social Club and who was annoyed at missing Sleep's gig at the Roundhouse due to the election campaign. It's hard to imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg talking excitedly about Madball, Iron Maiden and My Dying Bride.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Splott of laughs

My old neighbourhood Splott has already been brought to wider attention by featuring in both Doctor Who and Torchwood, and now it's going to be the setting for a new Radio Wales comedy series. My hope is that it's affectionate rather than sneering, so the fact that Ruth Jones is both writing and starring in it is reassuring.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"I wanted to deconstruct rock music, to make it sound like it came from somewhere else"

Over the years Wire have earned themselves a bit of a reputation as difficult contrarians - as illustrated perhaps most vividly in 1985, when they booked Wire tribute band The Ex-Lion Tamers to support them on tour so they could avoid having to play any of their older material. Which is why it's a pleasant surprise to see that, when asked by the Guardian's Dave Simpson to pick five key songs from their 40-year career, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis weren't tempted to choose obscure tracks.

On the contrary, they selected '12XU' from 1977 debut Pink Flag, 'I Am The Fly' and 'Practice Makes Perfect' from its follow-up Chairs Missing and 'Drill', the song that gave their festival its name. However, their fifth pick, 'Short Elevated Period', was perhaps inevitably taken from their newest release Silver/Lead - not a record I feel stands up to the stellar quality of their early work, much as Newman might like to think it does.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Framing history

Attempting to identify "the 100 most influential images of all time" is a mind-bogglingly enormous task - and a very contentious one at that - but you simply can't disagree that the pictures that have been selected for Time's 100 Photos project aren't all, in their own way, absolutely stunning.

No doubt some of the photos will be familiar, but many won't. The gallery includes the work of numerous celebrated photographers (everyone from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Alfred Stieglitz up to Robert Mapplethorpe and Annie Liebowitz) but also pictures taken by lesser-known photojournalists and amateurs who happened to find themselves in the right place at the right time.

Time journalists have researched the historical context and circumstances surrounding each image, talking to those who captured them if possible, and the accompanying blurbs are almost as fascinating as the pictures themselves.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Riot act

When Suicide first came to Europe in 1978, a year after the release of their debut LP, they were met not with open arms but with "flat-out hostility" - the reaction of Clash and Elvis Costello fans underlining the extreme narrowmindedness of punk fans.

The band's one surviving member, Martin Rev, and their UK label rep, Howard Thompson, have spoken to the Guardian's Daniel Dylan Wray about a tour characterised by tension and violence - with the show in Brussels, recorded for posterity, proving particularly memorable for the fact that it ended in a riot.

I don't suppose Ed Sheeran's ever had an axe chucked at him - more's the pity.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Beyond the pale?

Is it acceptable for a stand-up to "reclaim a racist word he's never been the target of"? Not according to Nosheen Iqbal, who, in response to witnessing Daniel Kitson's ambitious new show Something Other Than Everything at the Roundhouse, recounts how she and her family certainly were targeted by the word in question.

Having not seen the show, it's hard to judge - but Kitson is a famously thoughtful comedian who will have carefully considered the potential impact of his material, and none of the reviews I've seen online even mention the segment that so offended Iqbal (instead focusing on the show's riot of ideas, its beautifully phrased lines and the technical glitches and memory lapses that detracted from its impact).

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Art rock

It made a change to write a preview rather than a review - especially of a gig I'm unfortunately not going to be able to go to: Martin Creed's Talk And Songs show at Chapter this Saturday. A shame, as I've been quite enjoying the artist's musical output (particularly 'Understanding' and the Sgt Pepper's-esque 'Let Them In'), and he was an engaging interviewee on Vic Reeves' BBC4 programme Gaga for Dada last year.

Doing the background research was an absolute pleasure, too. Sadly, the restrictive word count prevented me from including such details as the fact that he's afraid of cheese and, when asked when he was happiest for the Guardian's Q&A feature, responded "Probably before I started thinking".

It has to be said, though, that, given the piece for which he won the Turner Prize in 2001, I think he missed a trick by not calling his album There Is A Light That Sometimes Goes Out...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus."

Fresh from admitting that Brexit could be an error, Vote Leave's Dominic Cummings delivers a resounding vote of confidence in David Davis.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No support act

Locally, there may have been some good news for the music venues on Womanby Street recently, but the picture nationally is looking bleaker now that Arts Council England (ACE) have rejected a funding bid from the Music Venue Trust. To add insult to injury, the Trust were only asking for £500,000 - a fraction of the comparatively obscene £96 million awarded to the Royal Opera House.

Little wonder that the Trust's strategic director Beverley Whitrick is dismayed: "We thought we were winning the argument about these clubs being cultural venues, and so this feels like a slap in the face." Given that the situation is, in Whitrick's words, "critical", the consequences of ACE's decision hardly bear thinking about.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Apparently Dave was going to re-record a few of the songs. I don't know if the producer told him to keep going, or what. But the next thing you know all of the work I had done was gone except for one or two of the tracks. ... ['Raped'] was a way of describing how it felt - when you put that much of yourself into something, and then without you even knowing, it is completely destroyed from existence. ... The way things were handled, and what was done to me, I do think that staying in that band would have made me feel like my soul was destroyed and I would have likely ended up dead."

Time heals? Not for William Goldsmith, Foo Fighters' original drummer, who remains royally pissed off at Dave Grohl for what transpired during the recording of The Colour And The Shape. Very few people ever seem to have a bad word to say about Grohl - but Goldsmith might receive a sympathetic hearing from Melvins' Buzz Osborne.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Let down

And so the Ken Loach v Radiohead ruck rumbles on. Loach has once more tried to reach out to the band in an attempt to stop them playing a gig in Tel Aviv next week, writing a piece for the Independent quite bluntly entitled "Radiohead need to join the cultural boycott of Israel". That sort of approach was never really likely to wash with Thom Yorke, who has responded to say that "playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government".

I can't help but feel that Loach might be right, though, and that Yorke is basically missing the point. If the call to boycott the show is coming from the Palestinian people, then should that not be respected?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A little more conversation

If you've been to a good gig in Oxford over the last couple of years, chances are you've got Simon Bailey to thank for it - which is what made the Future Perfect man the perfect interviewee to kick off the new Sounding Bored spin-off series of interview podcasts (you never know - the idea might catch on...).

In conversation with Rob, Simon talks about how he got into the gig-promoting game; the importance of building a brand; the live music scenes in Wolverhampton and Leicester, where Future Perfect also operate; the thrill of taking a gamble; the coup of securing an Oxford gig for the reformed Slowdive; the joys of helping to develop the careers and audiences of bands like IDLES, October Drift and newcomers Mellow Gang; and the sociability and capacity for boozy late nights that are essential for the role.

Naturally, he also takes the opportunity to plug his bash Ritual Union, a one-day multi-venue festival due to take place on Cowley Road in October. A much-needed successor to Gathering, Ritual Union will feature Future Perfect favourites Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation alongside the likes of Peace, Black Honey, TOY and local heroes The August List.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Quote of the day

"It takes the biblical, almost apocalyptic levels of revenge witnessed in Dead Men's Shoes, along with the bittersweet humour from This Is England and creates a landscape like nothing else I've ever worked on."

Shane Meadows offers a mouthwatering preview of his new series The Virtues, which will star Stephen Graham and air in 2019. Channel 4 are naturally delighted that they'll be screening it - though they could perhaps have got the show's title right in the article announcing the news...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Boys on the black stuff

It's impossible to do justice to the new Public Service Broadcasting album Every Valley in just 80 words, but I did try. That said, my verdict was probably fairly evident (and expressed at greater length) in Sunday's post about Quietus co-founder Luke Turner's unfairly scathing review of the LP.

The latest Buzz round-up of reviews also features my take on Alpha Male Tea Party's Health - songs from which are set to entertain punters at If Not Now, When?, Idiot King and Divine Schism's joint-venture festival taking place in Oxford at the very beginning of September.

Also reviewed are new LPs from Algiers, Ride, Dan Croll and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

For her pleasure

Despite the ridicule that the Bic For Her attracted, the completely unnecessary gendering of numerous products continues unabated. Cards Against Humanity have now followed suit, launching a special pink edition called Cards Against Humanity For Her. The makers promise that it "hydrates, lifts and revives", it's "there for you when you need a good cry" and it "pairs nicely with a nice glass of chilled white wine". It also costs an extra $5, "because we're worth it" - and because they're raising money to support EMILY's List, which promotes the election of pro-choice Democrat women.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Feel good hits of the 11th July

1. 'Leave Them All Behind' - Ride
Trust me to only truly discover the delights of Oxford's first bona fide indie guitar heroes just after I've left the city. And to think I was sniffy about them on account of Andy Bell's involvement with Hurricane #1, Oasis and Beady Eye - 'Leave Them All Behind' is so good it could excuse a litany of crimes even more heinous than that.

2. 'Summer's Kiss' - Afghan Whigs
Belatedly clicking with In Spades sent me scurrying back to Black Love, the first Whigs album I ever got. Back then (1996), 'Summer's Kiss' was among the songs that soon had me scrambling to pick up the rest of the Cincinatti outfit's back catalogue.

3. 'Switch Opens' - Soundgarden
Another one from 1996. When Chris Cornell died, I - like most Soundgarden fans, I imagine - instinctively reached for Superunknown. But it wasn't long before I had a hankering to revisit its much less celebrated follow-up. Down On The Upside is less consistent but more surprising in its variety, and to these ears 'Switch Opens' remains one of the best things they ever recorded.

4. 'Bodies For Money' - GNOD
For anyone who thinks that psych music is always slow, ponderous and soporific. Rarely have I been to a gig where the material has been delivered with such aggression as it was at the Moon on the night of the General Election.

5. 'Maui Tears' - Sleepy Sun
First hearing 'White Dove' back in (ooh, about) 2009 was little short of a revelation, but sadly it was gradually diminishing returns for Sleepy Sun thereafter. Spine Hits, their third LP, was a bit of a mess recorded after the acrimonious departure of vocalist Rachel Fannan, an attempt to be succinct that didn't suit them at all. It's only very recently that I discovered a follow-up was released in 2014, of which 'Maui Tears' is the title track - a gorgeous slow-burner that channels OK Computer-era Radiohead and Pink Floyd as well as their usual stoner touchstones and that makes a strong case for giving them and new album Private Tales another chance.

6. 'Let Me Sing You Love Songs' - Rachel Fannan
Speaking of Fannan, here's what she got up to next: gorgeous Cat Power-esque balladry (as well as her own band Only You and collaborations with UNKLE and Anywhere, the supergroup that has at various times featured Mike Watt, Krist Novoselic, Dale Crover, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Comets On Fire's Ethan Miller and her former Sleepy Sun bandmates Bret Constantino and Matt Holliman).

7. 'Rushing Through My Mind' - Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation
Not the first time I've very belatedly heeded an effusive recommendation from Nightshift editor Ronan only to discover he was bang on the money. Labelmates of GNOD on Rocket Recordings (which currently boasts an impressive roster), Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation and their spaced-out psych Stereolab vibe are one of the main draws on the bill for the Future Perfect-curated Ritual Union bash due to take place in Oxford in October.

8. 'Well Done' - IDLES
"Even Mary Berry loves reggae. Why don't you like reggae?" Accusatory questions don't come much better than that. The highlight of their Clwb set at the beginning of April.

9. 'Dowager' - Anna Meredith
Captivating synth-heavy single from Anna Meredith, who's established herself as one of the most inventive artists in the UK and garnered plenty of attention at SXSW this spring. Her LP Varmints was Sounding Bored's album of the year for 2016, dontchaknow.

10. 'Stargazer' - Juanita Stein
2014's Heartstrings was very much the fabled return to form for Howling Bells, but sadly it sank largely without trace. The band still seem to be a going concern, but frontwoman Juanita Stein has launched a solo career so their days might be numbered. A shame if so, as this relatively lacklustre effort suggests she's better off in company.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Noise annoys

The central conceit of Edgar Wright's new film Baby Driver is that its lead character, getaway driver Baby, suffers from tinnitus and constantly needs to drown it out with a specific soundtrack. That's prompted Consequence Of Sound's Lior Phillips to research the condition - and her findings are alarming.

Talking to sufferers, including Quietus founder John Doran, she explains how it develops (through damage to the sensitive sound-conducting hairs in the ear) and notes that there is currently no established cure, meaning that the damage is permanent. For gig-goers and musicians, Doran observes, it's not merely a matter of volume - it can also be caused by poor-quality PAs. He's not exaggerating when he says that tinnitus has driven people to suicide - take the tragic example of Inspiral Carpets drummer Craig Hill.

I've experienced tinnitus myself - when I've had blocked ears and after particularly loud gigs. Thankfully, it's only ever been temporary, but this article is a timely reminder to be sensible and not to take it lightly. Perhaps investment in a proper pair of earplugs would be wise.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Critical error

Reviews don't come much more savage than Luke Turner's evisceration of Public Service Broadcasting's new LP Every Valley for the Quietus, the strapline for which declares it to be "turgid, insipid, bizarrely misjudged pap". So let's review that review.

Turner is unequivocal in his antipathy towards the band's music, their use of samples from audio archives and their whole ethos. Indeed, he's admitted as much on Twitter: "I've always disliked that band but you need a review to hang it on. Or hang them on." This latest album has provided that opportunity, it seems. He's also said that he doesn't "see any point in personal hatchet jobs", arguing that "a thorough criticism" is something different. Fair point - but it's hard to see this review, well written and closely focused on the record itself as it is, as anything other than grossly unfair. Turner is, of course, entitled to his opinion of the album's merits, but I think his review is itself "misjudged pap" for three specific reasons.

First, he's critical of Every Valley for its allegedly clumsy and overly simplistic perspective on its subject, the decline of the coal-mining industry in south Wales, claiming that the LP's message is essentially "the mines closed sad emoji". At the same time, he attacks the more upbeat, "sunny" tracks as inappropriate given the context. While the tone of the album is certainly very often elegiac, there's nothing wrong with that, and it's far more carefully affecting than Turner is prepared to allow. But the record is also angry, defiant and, at times, even tentatively hopeful. Lead single 'Progress' is a case in point, both a Kraftwerkian ode to the promise of a brighter future or at least of new opportunities and greater productivity and efficiency, and an ironic commentary on the inexorable forward march of history and development that threatens old ways of life even as it opens up new ones. Likewise, 'You + Me' celebrates the inestimable value, comfort and solace of simple companionship and loving relationship in the face of socioeconomic apocalypse. Turner somehow attempts to condemn the LP for its lack of nuance and complexity and, at the same time, for any evidence of precisely the sort of nuance and complexity that he's demanding. The logic is utterly baffling.

Second, there's the sentence that begins "Even the presence (finally!) of some Welsh language lyricism from Lisa Jen Brown". That word "finally!" suggests that Welsh-language vocals are long overdue, and by implication that the extensive use of English-language vocals and audio clips is culturally insensitive. This naive and simplistic conflation of the Welsh language and Welsh identity betrays a profound ignorance on Turner's part: south Wales is not predominantly Welsh speaking. Public Service Broadcasting have done no disservice whatsoever to the miners and their communities by releasing an album about their plight in which most of the voices speak in English.

Third, there's the charge of "distasteful appropriation". It's a serious accusation, and certainly not one to be bandied about lightly. In the case of Every Valley, it's also one that is manifestly false. As Englishmen with no personal connections to the area or the industry, Public Service Broadcasting seem to have been acutely aware that they might be opening themselves up to a charge of cultural appropriation, and thus set out to do everything they possibly could to avoid it. As this Independent article underlines, they fully immersed themselves in their subject by interviewing former miners, poring over the archives in the South Wales Miners' Library, recording the album in a temporary purpose-built studio within the Ebbw Vale Institute (at the heart of the community whose tale it tells) and returning to launch it there with two gigs on consecutive nights in early June. Rather than actually acknowledging the thoughtfulness and effort that went into the album's creation or the subsequently enthusiastic and grateful responses to the LP from those with whom Public Service Broadcasting have collaborated (those whom the record was for and about), Turner lazily whips out the appropriation card. If anyone stands guilty of sitting at home in London writing insensitively on something about which they apparently know nothing for their own personal gain, it's Turner.

The whole thing is rather depressing, as Turner is undeniably a great writer - even in this piece his turn of phrase is often worth savouring - and I've enjoyed many of his articles in the past. On this occasion, though, he's attempted to justify a strongly prejudiced opinion through a willful misrepresentation of a record that by no means deserves it.

Turner's piece is conspicuous among the many positive assessments of Every Valley - hardly the first time the Quietus have been very much in the minority, though, which (let's face it) is something they seem to like. It's inevitably provoked some social media discussion about the nature and function of reviews (including contributions from the likes of Luke Haines and Portishead's Geoff Barrow) - and here's where we're in agreement. He's claimed that there isn't enough negative music criticism, and he's right. It's important to remember (as Arctic Drones haven't and bands, labels, PR companies and readers often don't) that, while reviewers regularly champion artists they love, they are not merely PR reps and shouldn't be expected to blindly and breathlessly regurgitate press releases and puff pieces. A review is (or at least should be) a subjective reaction, and alongside glowing recommendations there's also a place for well-written, cogently argued demolition jobs, which are enjoyable both to write and to read.

So, while I profoundly disagree with the substance and the argument of this specific review (one that reads like a deliberate misinterpretation and smacks of axes being ground), I absolutely defend the right of Turner or anyone else to write reviews that are less than gushing.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Curmudgeon

I'll be honest with you: I'm not convinced that Grunge: The Musical is a good idea.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Albums of the year

As you may possibly be aware, it's now twenty years since Radiohead released OK Computer. 1997 also saw the appearance of seminal albums by a whole host of artists, from Blur and Spiritualized to Daft Punk and Wu-Tang Clan. The BBC 6 Music team have chosen 15 of them for a feature - and among the contributors is my friend Del explaining why The Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land deserves its status as one of the year's most celebrated releases.

The world Wales is your oyster

Much to my shame, I recently caved in after years of resistance and bought a pair of slippers. Further confirmation that old age may be upon me prematurely came today in the frisson of excitement I felt at learning that the TrawsCymru network is offering free bus travel the length and breadth of Wales every week for the next year, starting this Saturday. Forget class tourism, this'll be age tourism - being able to enjoy the feeling of having a free bus pass despite not being old enough to qualify.

The discovery of elasticated trousers is probably only just around the corner, at which point I'll be booking myself a one-way ticket to Dignitas. Sadly, I'll have to pay for that - unless they open a new branch in Wales.

Dress code

According to Liam Fox, MPs should show their support for British tie-makers by wearing their products post-Brexit. It's an argument lifted straight out of an episode of The Thick Of It, surely, but one that will no doubt be used as yet another stick used to beat Jeremy Corbyn with - not only is he being scruffy by often going tie-less, he's also being unpatriotic.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

This uncharming man

It's really come to something when even Martin Rossiter - the Gene frontman whose entire music career has been devoted to aping Morrissey - is denouncing Moz for his pronouncements and condemning him for walking "a lazy path, contrary for the sake of being contrary". Of course, he's entirely justified in doing so.

Not that Moz needs any more enemies, having apparently been threatened at gunpoint by an Italian policeman, an incident that has resulted in the cancellation of tour dates in the country. Presumably the officer was barking "STOP TARNISHING THE LEGACY OF THE SMITHS WITH YOUR SMUG, KNOWINGLY PROVOCATIVE BULLSHIT!" while holding the gun to his head.

Sex machine

For me, the real story in the news of the birth of Jacob Rees-Mogg's sixth son isn't the name he's been blessed with (Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher), it's the revelation that the MP has had sexual intercourse on at least six occasions. To listen to him, you'd think the Rees-Mogg household would be a chilly, child-free place in which all the table legs are covered up for fear of arousing lascivious feelings.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Driving songs

Director Edgar Wright's work has always betrayed a love of music (the music was the only thing I vaguely liked about Scott Pilgrim Vs The World) but by all accounts his new film Baby Driver takes that to a whole new level, with the soundtrack being so inextricably embedded that it choreographs the action.

The Quietus have invited him to share his 13 favourite albums for their regular Baker's Dozen feature, giving him the opportunity to talk about some of the key songs from the film: 'Bellbottoms' by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which soundtracks the opening heist sequence (from Orange), 'Brighton Rock' by Queen (from Sheer Heart Attack) and 'Debra' by Beck, a track he succinctly describes as being "almost like a Flight Of The Conchords song but it's done with such brio" (from Midnite Vultures).

Peppered with some pretty shameless name-dropping about his famous mates, Wright's selection also includes some serious big hitters (The Beatles, The Kinks, Prince, David Bowie), with the most recent release chosen being King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's Nonagon Infinity - another prompt for me to check out a band who are being talked up everywhere.

The review of Baby Driver by the Quietus' Ben Rabinovich isn't perhaps as glowing as you might expect, suggesting that this car chase movie becomes something of a car crash towards the end, but he does note that the integration of the music helps to transform an otherwise "run-of-the-mill" genre flick into something much more interesting and memorable.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Bus wanker

Reassuring to know, isn't it, that Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave and the man who came up with the £350m NHS bus pledge, is now describing the referendum as "a dumb idea", the process of leaving the EU as "a guaranteed debacle" and Brexit itself as "an error"? No, thought not.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Quote of the day

"The head-fuck for me has been trying to work out why people dislike me so much."

Ed Sheeran, announcing that he's quitting Twitter due to the levels of abuse directed at him. Here's two words for you, Ed: 'Galway Girl', one of the most intensely fuckawful songs I've ever had the misfortune to hear, so much so that I'm reconsidering my position on the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Healing Howling fields

While I've seen quite a few punk acts at Glastonbury over the years (perhaps most memorably Fucked Up on the John Peel Stage in 2009), metal bands have very rarely featured on its extensive bills. Metallica's headlining slot in 2014 is the exception that proves the rule - but the fact is that they went down well, perhaps surprisingly so (especially given the pre-festival carping).

So it was laudable but not a complete gamble on the part of Nottingham-based metal label Earache to offer to curate a metal-centric stage for this year's event. The festival's organisers should be commended for acknowledging the lack of representation afforded to metal and taking them up on the offer, and the result - the Earache Express, a stage created out of a London Tube carriage in the Shangri-La area, which featured Heck, Extreme Noise Terror, Dead Kennedys and Ed Miliband's favourites Napalm Death - seems to have proved a real success.

Here's Earache's Tom Hadfield talking to ace Nottingham culture site/publication LeftLion before the festival about how it all took shape.

New Romantics fall out of love - again

In a short and strangely worded statement issued yesterday, Tony Hadley wrote: "Due to circumstances beyond my control, it is with deep regret that I am required to state that I am no longer a member of the band Spandau Ballet and as such I will not be performing with the band in the future."

The remaining members of the band later gave their own side of the story: "Much to our frustration, Tony has made it clear in September 2016 that he didn't want to work with the band anymore. This has not changed and 2015 was the last time we were able to perform or work with him. So we have now made the decision to move on as a band."

If Hadley did indeed refuse to perform, then quite why his announcement was made "with deep regret" or "due to circumstances beyond my control" is mystifying - but it certainly indicates the return of the acrimony and resentment that resulted in an intra-band legal squabble in 1999.

Spandau Ballet may have become mainstream pop-soul boys for the Thatcher years but it's worth remembering their roots at Steve Strange's fantastical post-punk Blitz club.

I do, I do, I do, I do (want to go to the new ABBA exhibition)

My best music purchase of last year bar none (not even Angel Olsen's My Woman) was a CD copy of ABBA Gold picked up in a charity shop in Formby for 50p - it fast became a staple of long car journeys and a firm favourite with Stanley. Needless to say, news of a forthcoming exhibition, ABBA: Super Troupers, at the Southbank Centre has me planning a trip to London some time in the spring. Here's hoping that ticket prices aren't so high as to only be affordable in a rich man's world.