Archive for December, 2010

Inane Thoughts: My Top Ten Albums of 2010

December 31, 2010

Before I start with my list of my top ten albums of the year I need to make a couple of things clear. First, I have not heard every album this year, which means that there will be glaring omissions from this list. For instance, I have not yet got around to really listening to the Big Boi, Ariel Pink, Janelle Monae and Arcade Fire albums (the Ariel Pink is currently blasting out of my stereo and I am very much enjoying it). Secondly, despite some disagreement with my opinion, I am sticking by my description of Jon Bon Jovi as a ninny: the man still wears leather waistcoats and has a Superman tattoo on his arm, ’nuff said. Anyway, without further ado, my top ten albums of 2010:

1. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

2. Caribou – Swim

It was a difficult decision between Avi Buffalo and Caribou as to my favourite album of the year. Essentially it comes down to the album I listened to most in summer vs. the album I’ve listened to most in winter. Caribou’s sparkling record, despite featuring the song “Sun”, feels wintery to me; the sun in this record feels like that winter sun sneaking through the blinds as you warm yourself against a radiator. What a feeling that is. I can listen to Caribou’s record over and over again, always finding something new and exciting.

Avi Buffalo, however, is a soundtrack to hazy summer late afternoons, with all those mazy guitar lines and boy/girl harmonies. In the end, Avi Buffalo just shaded it, pretty much entirely down to the two live performances I saw of them this year. To put it simply: that boy can really shred. It harks back to the rough-shod guitar rock of Neil Young, with smatterings of Daniel Johnston in the vocals and the youthful naivety of the lyrics. It’s a record that reminds me of being young, of being stupid and of being stoned, without the actual need to be any of those three, which is a lot easier.

3. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Alex Turner, Jarvis Cocker, Mike Skinner. All great lyricists, but let’s be honest, they’re not poets. If you were to write their lyrics out on paper, despite including some absolutely killer lines, they would rarely read like poetry. Now let’s be clear here, Joanna Newsom writes poetry. She also obeys Morrissey’s rule for great lyrics in pop music – she uses words you don’t expect to hear in pop music.

In three sections (3 CDs, or 3 vinyl, depending on your preference of ownership) she explores the whole messy sprawl of a doomed relationship: from the first moments when you realise you love someone, to that forlorn moment when you realise it’s no longer working but desperately want it to keep going, followed by the aftermath when you’re emptying your life of that person. There are so many great songs on this album it could and should take weeks to fully explore it – it’s an album to get lost in. There are many stand out moments, but at the moment I’m returning time and time again to the last verse of the last song, which is heartbreakingly beautiful: “The tap of hangers swaying in the closet/Unburdened hooks and empty drawers/And everywhere I tried to love you/Is yours again and only yours”.

4. Beach House – Teen Dream

Oooh, creamy. That is all.

Not really. As much as I’m a fan of pith and brevity, I do feel the need to at least write a little bit more about this record. It’s a gorgeous record, mostly down to the vocals of singer, Victoria Legrand, who reminds me of a more sultry Patti Smith. The sound is somewhere between the soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine and the melodies of mid-70s Fleetwood Mac, which sounds odd (though less so in the wake of albums like Midlake’s ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’), but this is no bad thing. A great album.

5. These New Puritans – Hidden

This started in my top 3, but although it is one of the most original sounding records of the year, possibly even the century, it occasionally leaves me a little cold, particularly on the second half of the album. However, there are few better opening halves of an album this year though. It’s a sound based on the early 20th-century classical music of Britten and Elgar, mixed with rhythm sounds straight out of the UK grime scene. It’s a disconcerting, but spectacularly rewarding record. ‘We Want War’, ‘Attack Music’ and ‘Hologram’ are amongst the best songs of the century so far. Stunning.

6. The National – High Violet

High gothic, big tunes, from the men who make music that sounds like red wine tastes. All together: “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains… cos’ I-I-a-ammm evil”

7. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

More woozy, shoegazing loveliness from the kings of the basement scene. Not as good as last year’s ‘Microcastle’, but with songs as good as the shimmering ‘He Would Have Laughed’ (in memory of 00s punk genius Jay Reatard), ‘Desire Lines’ (see yesterday’s blog) and the 50s rockabilly-inspired ‘Revival’, they’re still the current kings of lo-fi indie.

8. Vampire Weekend – Contra

This is, hands down, the best pop album of the year. It was an album I didn’t expect to like, yet alone to end up loving. Despite having a couple of great tracks on their first album, they’d always felt to me like a fairly awkward band, not quite comfortable in their own skin. This year they burst out, brimming with preppy confidence, unashamed in their look of 21st century updates on college graduates from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. No-one wrote with greater clarity about class in America, nor did anyone write any better pop hooks. A pop album that still rewarded repeat listens.

9. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

First track aside, this quickly dissolves into the sort of self-involved mess that Kanye West has also produced this year. Sufjan’s is the winner for me because he doesn’t moan on and on about the downsides about being ludicrously rich and famous, though this may be to do with the fact that Sufjan hasn’t sold over 10 million albums, nor has he called the US president a racist (at least, not in front of a whole country). You genuinely get the impression that he had a nervous breakdown making this record. I mean, did anyone really foresee the Christian-approved classical-inspired folkie producing a 25 minute track and shouting: “I’m not fucking around!” a full 16 times in a row. It doesn’t sound like fun, but on repeat listens you’ll find that beneath the supposed electro mess lurk some absolutely killer tunes and meticulous arrangements. He’s rather a talented lad, that Sufjan.

10. Tokyo Police Club – Champ

It’s just a perfect 3 minute pop song album. ‘Favourite Food’ and ‘Gone’ are particularly great, but it’s just so damned infectious. Unlike Vampire Weekend, the appeal does diminish after a while, but these guys are still very much an underrated band.

To round off, as this list has changed several times in the last few weeks, here is my list of honourable mentions:

  • Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today (because I’m listening to it now and it’s freaking awesome!)
  • Best Coast- Crazy For You
  • Woods – At Echo Lake
  • John Grant – Queen of Denmark
  • Four Tet – There Is Love In You
  • Gayngs – Relayted

Have a great New Year all of you! And just remember, as you head into another day, there are two types of people out there: those who use the word ‘simples’ and those who haven’t yet and are, whatever else they’ve done, redeemable human beings.

See you on the flip-side!

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Inane Thoughts: My Top 25 Singles of the Year

December 30, 2010

We’re almost at the end of 2010, a year in which Bon Jovi and U2 were the highest earners. However, do not despair because not all of the music out there was being made or sung by insipid, leather-waistcoated ninnies. Also, contrary to popular belief, not every song released was a cover of Don’t Stop Believin’, sung by the faux-outsider cockramps off of Glee, or a risible guaranteed-to-stop-the-party Black Eyed Peas “song”, in which a man who can’t pronounce the name ‘William’ creates yet another musical equivalent of a sweaty, corpulent middle-aged man grinding up against you on a dancefloor, whilst repeatedly using word ‘party’ as a verb.

Just to prove this point I’ve compiled two end-of-year-lists:

1. My top 25 singles of the year;

2. My top 10 albums of the year.

First up, my singles of the year. Tomorrow’s blog will deal with the albums.

1. Big Boi – Shutterbug

I’ve been pretty disappointed with most of the mainstream pop music this year. Cheryl Cole’s songs are all a bit forgettable. William and his Black Eyed Peas are still making music for cretins and/or the kids that think those ADHD kids are a bit too calm. All of which leads to the question: why on earth did this song flop? I’ve been pretty much unable to get the vocal bass line out of my head ever since I first heard it. In a righteous universe this should have been a summer smash. I’m therefore trying to lead a movement to get it to become a sleeper hit, like M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes’. It’s not working too well so far. Hollering at people as they walk past my flat doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

2. These New Puritans – We Want War

These New Puritans’ album, whilst easy to admire, became harder and harder to love the more that I listened to it, but this song still has some kind of indefinable power over me. It might be that it’s because it sounds like the music that would play at the end of the world. At least, I hope this is what the end of the world sounds like, as it doesn’t feel like we’ve got long left until the apocalypse. A ‘comedy’ meerkat, created by some men for an advert aimed at cretins, has a ‘book’ at number one in the charts. It does feel like the end of times. This song is the soundtrack for intense misanthropy.

3. Deerhunter – Desire Lines

This is my favourite song off of Deerhunter’s ‘Halcyon Digest’ album. The album’s really grown on me, in part due to this song, which sits bang in the middle of the album. It’s somehow both understated and epic at the same time. It’s the sort of song that Bono, Kings of Leon and Chris Martin should be forced to listen to day after day in a locked room, just to show them that there is a way to be epic (and include a bunch of “wo-oahs”) without resorting to heavy-handed bombast.

4. Four Tet – Love Cry

Kieran Hebden has always been capable of producing great albums and great songs (e.g. ‘My Angel Rocks Back & Forth’), but rarely has he written songs that you can actually dance to. This year he finally showed that he was more than a bedroom collector of rare jazz and electronic records, but was capable of writing not only a great danceable song, but a subtle great danceable song. These are nine minutes that go past way too quickly.

5. Avi Buffalo – What’s In It For?

“I walked in on a plan to dissolve all of your wishes/But I couldn’t help your mouth which I missed by two inches”. It’s a great opening line to a song that reminds me of summers spent listening to Neil Young records and endlessly shredding on my guitar. I’m pretty sure that this is what songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg has spent his teenage years doing. Except that he’s not quite out of his teenage years. The precocious so-and-so.

6. Vampire Weekend – Giving Up The Gun

In a fairly average year for guitar bands trying to get boys and girls on the dancefloor (The Script, Mumford & Sons, Scouting For Girls, anyone? I thought not.), Vampire Weekend were doing their best to buck the trend. This year felt like the year that, to paraphrase Morrissey, they accepted themselves. In doing so they got down to providing some of the best, most danceable indie-pop of the year. Graceful, charming and with a hook as large as a New York city block, this was the best of the singles from their Contra album.

7. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

The centre-piece of their High Violet album, this was a massive, soaring tune that was undercut with lyrics that recalled Michael Stipe’s ability to produce intense disquiet with seemingly throwaway phrases like: “I never thought about love, when I thought about home”.

8. Yeasayer – O.N.E.

Whilst their album tried to combine a smorgasbord of styles and occasionally ended up sounding like a bit of a mess, but this song got it spot on. A real treat of bubbling synths, squelching basslines and falsetto vocals.

9. Peter Broderick – Human Eyeballs On Toast

All of you should go and download this now. I don’t know much about Peter Broderick, but on a grey, drizzly day, I heard this song on Jarvis Cocker’s 6Music show and it was so good it genuinely seemed to warm me up.

10. Best Coast – When I’m With You

In 1977 Joe Strummer said about love songs that “the subject’s been covered”. Whilst the punk sentiment behind these words was admirable and at times it feels like we’ve reached saturation point, Joe, with the greatest respect, you were wrong. Every now and then someone comes along and finds, if not something new to say, then a new and inventive way of saying it. Magnetic Field’s ’69 Love Songs’ and Joanna Newsom’s latest album are both great examples of this. Best Coast’s album is not.

On paper lyrics like, “when I’m with you I have fun” are incredibly trite. So why is it then that Best Coast’s record was such fun? Maybe it was the directness of the sentiment, the us-versus-them singularity of the love she was singing about. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is, but through guitars doused in reverb, to the self-assured slacker vocals, this was a direct shot of infectious surf-pop that was impossible to resist.

11. The XX – VCR (Four Tet Remix)

Kieran Hebden was a busy boy this year. Along with creating one of his best, most coherent albums to date, he was also producing the best remix of the year. The bass line that kicks in around the halfway mark is out of this world and it floats along gloriously from there. This isn’t a song that merely reminds you of the original, but like the very best remixes, it works as an entirely separate entity from the original song. The sparse production of the original is nowhere to be found, this is a song propelled by the wobbly bass line at its core, but the understated sounds that float around this core are just as key to the song’s brilliance.

12. LCD Soundsystem – Home

If this is, as James Murphy has promised, the last ever LCD Soundsystem song, then what a way to go out it is. “If you’re afraid of what you need/Look around you, you’re surrounded/It won’t get any better… until the night”. To paraphrase Nathan Barley, it totally sums up their credos.

13. Gayngs – Cry

The rumour goes that the Gayngs album was conceived whilst Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and his friends were having a drinking session. They were listening to 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ and decided that this was such a great song that they’d do an entire album of songs around the same vibe and the same low BPM. It was music for late nights, but not the sort of coming-down-off-ten-pills-at-Ibiza-and-sticking-Lighthouse-Family-apologists-Morcheeba-on-the-stereo late nights, this was for behind closed doors late nights. It was breathless, it was affectionate and it was damned sexy.

14. Belle & Sebastian – I Didn’t See It Coming

How many great pop tunes do Belle & Sebastian have to write to convince people that they’re not just twee, fey, bedsit botherers, with a well-worn Vashti Bunyan album and the world’s largest collection of cardigans? This may have lacked some of the lyrical wit and dark undercurrents of earlier songs such as ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ or ‘Lord Anthony’, but it was one hell of a cracking pop song. Even if they’re never going to convince the wider public, they’re keeping their fans happy with little gems like this.

15. Sufjan Stevens – Too Much

Sufjan Stevens is the master of intricate arrangements, sometimes veering a little near to territory marked “overblown”, but never actually crossing the line. His latest album ‘The Age of Adz’ has been given the tag of “difficult”, but this somewhat stretches taht definition- it’s not exactly Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’. There are tunes a-plenty on the album and ‘Too Much’ is chock full of them. The backing is all industrial noise and breakbeats, but there’s not one, but at least three killer tunes at the heart of all of this – even when the song climaxes into a flurry of horns, strings and electronic noises. Sufjan, you’re too hard on yourself, this isn’t too much, as usual it’s just right.

And the rest…

16. Beach House – Norway

17. Foals – Spanish Sahara

18. Efterklang – Modern Drift

19. Best Coast – Boyfriend

20. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round

21. John Grant – Queen of Denmark

22. Deerhunter – Helicopter

23. Bear In Heaven – Ultimate Satisfaction

24. Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill

25. Oberhofer – Awy Frm U

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

December 26, 2010

So, Christmas has come and gone again, family arguments have been successfully circumnavigated, food scoffed, drinks quaffed, presents opened, quizzes won and lost, far too much television watched, and Oxford commas embraced. All in all another lovely Christmas.

On Boxing Day I awoke to see that the cricket had gone rather well for England. They had managed to skittle the Aussies (I assume this expression is not a literal one, though the mental image of 11 Aussies bodies strewn beside a wicket is rather an amusing one – I imagine Ricky Ponting at the top of the pile, shaking his fist furiously and muttering insults at his fellow players). I put this down to England managing to get Mike Hussey out, a man whose nickname is ‘Mr Cricket’, which seems to me to be an odd nickname. If you had a friend at work whose hobby was to watch and follow the cricket, it would be understandable that some might give him the sobriquet ‘Mr Cricket’; it seems an odd nickname for a man whose job it is to play cricket. You don’t hear of people being called ‘Mr Accounts’, ‘Mr Teaching’ or ‘Mr Administration’. It suggests he has no hobby, perhaps no friends, just cricket, which seems a sad thing. Perhaps it’s an insulting nickname and there is a rich vein of subtle jibes at the heart of the sport. This seems unlikely for a sport that includes a group of men who refer to themselves as the ‘Barmy Army’.

I was supposed to be keeping up my London Marathon training over the Christmas period, but this has been abandoned due cold weather and comfort-induced indolence. This is not a good thing, but if I keep telling myself that I’ll kick on in January, then perhaps I’ll only end up aching for 6 days after the race, as opposed to a full week. Even this will require me to actually “kick on” during January, so the plan is to remove all comforts, so that then I will no longer be indolent. Given that this plan is a little way off of foolproof, I could just get on with it and go out running now. Oh, hang on, there’s another glass of wine on the table in front of me…

Happy holidays everyone!

‘Mr Indecisive’

Inane Thoughts: My Top Ten Christmas Songs

December 22, 2010

As promised in yesterday’s blog, I have been working on a list of my Top Ten Christmas Songs (oh yes, I am now pretending that people actually read all of my blogs and sit there, silently waiting for the next inane missive to arrive). This list is liable to change, as my top ten lists tend to be in a constant state of flux, even my list of my top ten states of flux.

Please feel free to offer me your own lists or castigate and throw stones of your ire at my list, metaphorically speaking. Don’t throw literal stones at my list: you’ll break your monitor.

Without further ado, from 10 to 1…

10. Eels – Christmas Is Going To The Dogs

Some wonderfully unseasonal turns of phrase (“Snow is falling from the sky like ashes from an urn”) and a jaunty tune: Mr E delivers the perfect Christmas gift for the Grinch. Or for your dog, who really would rather have chew toys than Yule logs.

9. The Flaming Lips – Christmas At The Zoo

A great song from the underrated ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’. The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne imagines a snow-less Christmas Eve, upon which he decides to produce his own Christmas miracle and release all of the animals from the local zoo. He opens the gates for the animals to go, but they all say “thanks, but no thanks, man”. It’s not like they enjoy their time in the zoo, but they’d rather escape of their own volition, if it’s all the same to him. Wayne leaves the zoo, then it snows.

8. The Pretenders – 2,000 Miles

Okay, so it’s totally middle of the road, but as MOR Christmas songs go, this is top of the pile. On the surface it seems to be pretty saccharine fare, but there’s an underlying melancholy that draws you in. The song perfectly captures that sense of missing someone at that time of year that reminds you of them the most. When Chrissie Hynde sings “the children are singing, he’ll be back at Christmas time”, you know that the children are probably singing about Santa, but she can’t help holding onto the hope that they might just be singing about the person she’s dreaming about. Devastating.

7. The Raveonettes – The Christmas Song

Taking up the mantle from the Jesus and Mary Chain, Denmark’s The Raveonettes are all leather jackets and druggy feedback. Who’d have thought they could produce such a brilliant Christmas song? Awash with tremolo sounds, sultry, breathy vocals, all laid on top of staccato guitar riffs, this is the sound of a sexy Christmas tryst. This is no fumble in the cupboard at the work Christmas party, this is a pair of pill-popping lovers looking out at the Christmas lights and hoping for snow, so that they don’t have to go home to argue with their family, but stay indoors, in bed, for the rest of Christmas. Now, what’s the Danish for “let’s be appalling”?

6. Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping

Originally released on a Christmas album from New York new wave label Ze in 1981, this is still perhaps the most danceable Christmas record ever released. It’s a feast for hipsters, but really it’s a gem for anyone wanting to dance their way around the Christmas tree.

5. Tom Waits – A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

The idea of Tom Waits and Christmas coming together was always going to create something beautiful and fractious. Admittedly, I did think the same thing about Bob Dylan and Christmas, but perhaps he left it a little too late (I’m pretty sure he dies half way through his version ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’). This song comes from Waits’ Blue Valentines album, an album of twisted love songs and this is the best of the lot. It’s a heartbreaking and hilarious story, all told with Waits’ typically brilliant eye for detail.

The set up has a prostitute sitting down to write a Christmas card to Charlie, a man we assume is an ex-lover, or maybe a naive client. She starts off telling Charlie that she’s now “pregnant and living on 9th street/Right above a dirty bookstore/Off Euclid avenue”. She’s off the smack, she’s quit drinking whiskey, she’s living with her new husband who loves her “even though it’s not his baby” and who takes her out dancing every Saturday night. Despite this newfound happiness, she tells Charlie that she thinks about him “everytime I pass a fillin’ station/On account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair”. She wishes that instead of spending all her money on dope, that she’d saved up and bought a used car lot, so that she could “drive a different car every day” depending on her mood. I won’t spoil the end of the song, but sufficed to say, it’s a hell of a bittersweet twist and it’ll knock your Christmas stockings clean off.

4. Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter

Adhering to the first rule of lists and mix tapes, I have not allowed myself to take two tracks from Sufjan Stevens’ slightly over-stuffed 5-CD Christmas album, Songs For Christmas. This is a shame as ‘That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!’ perfectly depicts a family yuletide drama (“Our father yells/Throwing gifts in the wood stove/My sister runs away/Taking her books to the schoolyard”).

Even better than that song, however, is the bleak yet glorious epic ‘Sister Winter’. Stevens starts off guiltily unable to live up to the season of goodwill: “I should be grateful/I should be satisfied/But now my heart is cold as ice”, before eventually turning the corner with a heartwarming glorious coda: “And my/Friends I’ve/Returned to wish you all the best”. It’s the musical equivalent of James Stewart returning from the brink of suicide to hug his family, in “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

3. Pogues & Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York

There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t been said before. It’s a brawling, bawling classic. If anyone ever tries to tell you that this song is overrated, you should let your head sink, begin tutting and walk away, safe in the knowledge that this person is an idiot.

When Kirsty MacColl launches into: “You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap lousy faggot/Happy Christmas your arse/I pray God it’s our last”, you can’t help but sing along at the top of your voice. It’s a joyous eruption of anger that every one of us can empathise with, safe in the knowledge that as bad our Christmas Day bickering might get, it’ll never be this bad.

Word of warning though – avoid all cover versions of this song at any cost, particularly anything with Ronan ‘Hello, My Name Is Ronan’ Keating in it.

2. James Brown – Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto

James Brown imagines inviting a corpulent, bearded white man to Harlem. Thankfully, Mr Brown gives him the sagacious advice to make sure he tells the people that James Brown has sent him there.

The song kicks off with the line: “Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto/Pitch up your reindeer/Huh!” and only gets better from there. He rightly points out to Santa that “the kids are gonna love you”. These kids aren’t going sit on his knee demanding ponies and Xboxes. Once his long night is over, the mums, dads and soul brothers will be there to show Santa a well-deserved night-out that’s a little less “Ho Ho Ho” and lot more “Huh! Huh! Huh!”

1. Low – Just Like Christmas

This trio of Mormons from Minnesota are probably best known as the leaders of the ‘Slowcore’ movement, if “best known” is a term that you can use for a band who’ve spearheaded a movement of which most people have probably never heard. However, in 1999 they released what I still believe is, hands down, the greatest Christmas album of all time (yes, better even than Phil Spector’s glorious Christmas Album, or Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart – the aural equivalent of being trapped in a room with a tramp, who’s drunk on Christmas Cheer and Methylated Spirits). This is the opening track on that album and with its travelogue lyrics and the shaking of sleigh bells, it never fails to put me in the seasonal mood.

So, to sign off I’ll leave you with the festive words of Eazy-E: “Merry Motherfuckin’ Christmas and a ho ho ho“.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

December 21, 2010

Short blog today, as I am working on a countdown of my top ten Christmas songs (because you can never too many lists at this time of year. What? Oh…).

Anyway, I’m starting a theme today that I will try and pick up now and again, whenever I think of something sufficiently amusing.

The theme is: Lessons That I Have Learnt From The Movies.

Note: this does require you to have seen these movies. I cannot be blamed if you’re not sufficiently cultured to have seen classics like Forrest Gump or Big.

Lesson #1: Forrest Gump.

  • If you chase a disabled child they will eventually learn to run. They may, however, find it difficult to stop demonstrating to you that they can run. Bloody show offs.

Lesson #2: American History X

  • Racism is easy to cure. All that needs to happen is for every racist to commit a crime e.g. a white supremacist caving a black man’s head in. They will then go to prison, hopefully. Whilst in prison, they will end up sharing duties with a hilarious person of the same race that they hate. Then their racism will be cured. Fact.

Lesson #3: Big

  • It’s not ok for a 30 year old woman to have sexual relations with a 13 year old boy, unless that 13 year old boy has the body of a 30 year old man. Then it’s fine and not at all weird.

Lesson #4: Good Will Hunting

  • If you are a troubled genius, then you will be a troubled genius with an aptitude for all subjects, not just maths or physics, for example. You will also be a troubled genius at law, history and whatever other subject you happen to run into a conversation about in a bar fight. In short, you will be a troubled genius with a memory akin to that of ebullient, yet sporadically furious robot Johnny 5.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer – On Science

December 20, 2010

I’m very excited today. I’ve got tickets to see Robin Ince’s Uncaged Monkeys tour, with the excellent science hunks, Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh. I may have to take some spare oxygen and some sort of device to catch me in mid-swoon. This is the middlebrow intellectual’s equivalent of a Take That reunion tour, except that all of these scientists probably don’t privately hate each other.

I exaggerate, but I have become a lot more attuned to the importance of science recently, mainly due to the brilliance of humanist writers like Kurt Vonnegut, but also having to frequently defend my allegiance to those who adhere to the scientific theory of man-made climate change. I am probably heading into murky waters in attempting to write about this; when it comes to facts I am no George Monbiot or Ben Goldacre. I’m probably not even as good, science-wise, as climate change denier Ian Pliger (he’d probably out-fox me on the science – his degree would probably trump my GSCE Double Award). I am pretty sure I’m better than James Delingpole, although I’d imagine he’d be more stentorian than I would in any debate.

Getting back to the point in hand, I just cannot understand, unless you’re a climate scientist, that you would be able to understand whether or not the current trends of global warming are caused by man-made emissions. I’ll be honest, I’ll go with the peer-reviewed consensus on this i.e. that the current trends are caused by man-made emissions. I mean, I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I think I can safely say that Intelligent Design is a load of old cobblers. I’m also pretty sure that climate change deniers are not “maverick” figures along the lines of Galileo or Albert Einstein. Sometimes the mainstream scientific opinion must be right. I mean, no-one who’s gone back on the whole Earth-revolving-around-the-Sun thing is labelled a “maverick thinker” are they? No, they are labelled a mental, hopefully a harmless mental, but none-the-less, massively wrong.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the deniers currently have the best catchphrases when it comes to winning the arguments. In the face of complex arguments and a myriad of data, the deniers have: “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, “The Climate Hoax” and “Whatever happened to global warming, eh?” whenever they have to put a woolly scarf on. The man-made climate change supporters (er, hang on, that doesn’t sound good does it?) have Al Gore and George Monbiot as their public faces. Al Gore. He’s so boring that the deniers can continue to have the support of Sarah Palin and still believe they’re onto something.

The deniers also have Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail on their side. She maintains that carbon dioxide forms a relatively small proportion of the atmosphere and that most of the atmosphere consists of water vapour. Genuinely. Essentially she believes that fish can live on land and that we are living in Kevin Costner’s Waterworld.

Sometimes it’s easy to know who to believe.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

December 19, 2010

Five days into my blogging extravaganza and already I’ve missed a day. I will now pretend that these solipsistic outpourings were only ever meant to be written sporadically.

As I look out my window I can see the ever-decreasing snowfall on the ground, slowly retreating and being replaced by an ice sheet. The good news is that this allows me with good conscience to abandon the marathon training (I’m running the London Marathon in April 2011) and to sit down with a good book and several cups of tea.

Unfortunately, I have so far read only 31 pages of my book, as I have been distracted by reading the paper (worthy enough, as it’s the Observer), by cleaning the flat (vaguely necessary) and watching the IT Crowd (funny, but not taxing on the grey cells). Worst of all, in this sense of intellectual ennui, is that the book I’m not really reading is one that I’ve picked up, because I’ve put down War & Peace due to it being “too heavy to carry on the train”. Does this make me an indolent philistine? Yes, yes it does, the voice in my head tells me. Why does the voice in my head have to be a particularly cynical Will Self? It’s very annoying. Much more annoying than the real Will Self, who is actually very funny, particularly when making Richard Littlejohn look/sound a fool on radio.

Well, my conscience is telling me to get back to my book. My sense of reality tells me that I’ll be making tea and checking twitter within 23 minutes.

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

December 17, 2010

If I was writing my blog on the same basis as the absurd popular children’s poem, then Friday’s blog would be loving and giving. Here is the popular poem for those not au fait with it:

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day,

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

The popular children’s poem was not about blogs, but about how the day of the week in which you were born would somehow imbue you with certain qualities. Thursday’s child didn’t come off too well in this, supposedly having “far to go”, which whether taken literally or metaphorically is surely not a good thing. I don’t think a new mother would appreciate being told something along the lines of: “Congratulations! When was he/she born? Thursday? Hmm, well, according to the popular poem, which is definitely always right, then your child will either, if taken literally, be travelling a very long way; probably making them a soldier or perhaps a pirate or fugitive, or, if taken metaphorically, they will probably turn out to be a little bit of a dunce.” You’d have to hope this wasn’t a mother in the throes of post-natal depression, or it may end in suicide or infanticide, which unless you hated said mother or were an extreme paedophobe, this would not be desirable.

I am a Wednesday’s child and am therefore “full of woe”. Again, this is not one to be telling the mother just after she has given birth: “Congratulations Mrs Brown, you’ve given birth to a 6 lb 8 oz Morrissey”. Although, in fairness, if I were a mother, I would bloody love this. There aren’t enough sighing, swooning children around these days.

On the whole, however, the poem presents the mother with a set of positive qualities for her new born child, such as “loving”, “giving”, or “full of grace”. It does also mention the more shallow quality of “fair of face”, though an alternative reading could be that all children born on Mondays are Caucasian. This seems unlikely. What it doesn’t really offer are the many qualities that you tend to actually find in rather a lot of people. It doesn’t, for instance, include that your child might be “full of hubris”, “impatient”, “racist”, “morbidly obese”, “stubborn”, “sexist”, or “unreasonable in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence”. It may not have been such a popular poem had any of these qualities been chosen for the poem.

However, I am not one to shirk from a misanthropic challenge and have produced my own alternative version of the little ditty. Perhaps this could be read to mothers immediately after the first one, although this really would be a kick in the teeth for the mothers of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s children. Anyway, here goes:

Monday’s child is fat of face,

Tuesday’s child with Rohypnol will lace,

Wednesday’s child is full of hubris,

Thursday’s child is defined by blandness,

Friday’s child is fussy and impatient,

Saturday’s child is a little bit racist,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day,

Has opinions from which the Daily Mail won’t stray.

I don’t think it’ll catch on. I’m not even sure it scans. Friday afternoon is not the right time for shit poetry.

On that note, I don’t think I can flog this dead horse any further, although I’m sure someone of the wit and intelligence of a Jim Davidson would get something out of the “good and gay” line. However, that would require him to have knowledge of what the word “Sabbath” means, which may be a step too far for Davidson. I bet he was born on a Thursday.

Inane Thoughts: ATP – Bowlie 2

December 16, 2010

Well, yesterday’s blog was an introduction to my inane rambling, though it is likely those who know me will have already had experience of this unfortunate quality. Today I’ve decided (thanks to a suggestion from my friend Claire) to do a write up of my recent weekend at Bowlie 2 at the Butlins in Minehead, a music festival set up by ATP and curated by Belle & Sebastian.

We set off for Minehead on Friday morning to stay in one of the self-catering “chalets”. Chalet is an odd term for accommodation by the seaside at Butlins. Normally “chalet” and “suspiciously looming seagulls” aren’t closely associated. Our first stop (as part of a tradition amongst our group) was at a Hungry Horse pub: the worst, most gluttonous chain of pubs in the known world. Yes, worse than Wetherspoons. The highlight of the menu, amongst many highlights (there’s an “Oriental” dish made up of breaded chicken, sweet and sour sauce, and chips), is the “Millionaire’s Candymania”. It’s set up as the dish that a millionaire would eat, in their perfect world. Close your eyes. Imagine you are a millionaire. Imagine that you are craving a dessert, having eaten a main course of vegetable oil with a side of scampi. Imagine a chef has produced exactly what you desire. Visualise what you desire. Think about the ingredients. Now open your eyes. I know what’s there. It’s four scoops of vanilla ice cream, four scoops of chocolate ice cream, two twix, two chocolate wafers, mars planets, m&ms, a sprinkling of hundreds & thousands, toffee and a topping of cream. It’s what a millionaire would want. Fact. What, you don’t believe me? But that’s what the Hungry Horse said and are you calling them liars? You’ve got some nerve, imaginary sceptic.

Having finally arrived in Minehead, our arteries ever-so-slightly clogged, we checked in and got ourselves straight into the venue to watch the first act on: Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn. Now, ATP is never an ordinary music festival, but even for them starting off with a story-telling act must have been a newie. What a story -telling act though. I’m a huge Kitson fan. I think he’s the best comedian in the world. His way with words and his complete adherence to an indie-aesthetic, all mean that his act is rarely spoilt by the sort of inconsiderate pricks who’d turn up to a night at Jongleurs, braying about the genius of Frankie Boyle. Kitson’s the indie comedian de jour, but this is one of his monologue shows, where he simply sits down and tells you a self-penned story, usually about heartbreak, unrequited love, whimsy and the battle against twats. His wordplay has the feel of a modern-day Wodehouse, or an indie Alan Bennett and it’s a delight to listen to. To break up the story, Gavin Osborn will sing one of his humanist, Billy Bragg-esque songs, which I find a little slight, but on this evening at least give Kitson time to take a sip of tea or lemsip as he’s heavy with the cold. It’s a very Belle & Sebastian act: a seemingly twee outer-layer, with inner layers of darkness, beauty, pathos and humour. A great start to the festival.

Next up, Best Coast, who’ve produced one of my favourite albums of the year and one that has really grown on me. I think someone described them as like the Raveonettes covering Mazzy Star and I can’t think of a better description. Their songs are a great mixture of sunshine-drizzelled pop melodies and heartbroken lyrics. They were fantastic live as well, with songs like ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘When I’m With You’ transporting us all to somewhere where we wouldn’t have to wear duffel coats and scarves indoors (it was bloody freezing in the venue!). Teenage Fanclub came next and they were, of course, wonderful. The new songs don’t quite stand up to the classics; ‘Everything Flows’, ‘Ain’t That Enough’, ‘Sparky’s Dream’ or their magnum opus ‘The Concept’, but they still warm the cockles of this indie kid’s heart. They warmed the venue up enough for Foals. Now, I wasn’t expecting much from Foals, as I was fairly disappointed with ‘Total Life Forever’, their sophomore album. The one song that really stood out on their latest album was the album’s centrepiece, ‘Spanish Sahara’, a song so good that it eclipsed all the others around it. Live, however, these ever-so-slightly-grumpy Oxford graduates are a different proposition; propelled along by their rhythm section, they absolutely blew me away. Even the songs off the latest album that I wasn’t too sure about like ‘Blue Blood’, end up absolutely blowing my tiny mind into the cold cold night.

Having spent Friday night giving my Elvis leg a serious workout and really sticking it to some rugs with imaginary scissors, Saturday was a slow start for my poor brain. Things finally clicked into action at around 2.30 when Frightened Rabbit kicked into ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, a great song, though not particularly sensible swimming advice. Edwyn Collins’ set in mid-afternoon was one of the best of the weekend. After his double brain-haemorrage in 2005, it’s amazing that his even up on the stage, let along able to talk and sing, but this is not a show of patronising sympathy from the audience. By the time he rips into, er, ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘A Girl Like You’ he has already blown the crowd away with wonky art-rock-pop of the highest order and the baritone register of his voice sends shivers down the spine. Backing from Teenage Fanclub and guest spots from Franz Ferdinand and Ryan from the Cribs help, but this is all about Edwyn Collins, a true master and inspiration to everyone in the room even before his remarkable recovery.

Dirty Projectors put in a fantastic show on the main stage, all glistening treble sounds, mixing sultry soul with bucolic folk and some pretty heavy riffs, they are one of the best live bands around. This is also a description I’d normally use to describe Wild Beasts, but this is not one of their better gigs. The sound is washed out and the band look pretty much how they sound – you begin to wonder if this is one gig too many in 2010 for this normally exquisite band of Cumbrians. Usually they are, in their own glorious words, “equally elegant and ugly”, this time it was a little heavy on the latter.

Saturday evening on the main stage is finished up with the festival’s curators, Belle & Sebastian, to gather the whole festival into one room for a couple of barnstorming hours. Barnstorming’s not a word usually associated with B&S, but tonight they present us with the “three ages of Belle & Sebastian” and though it’s not always easy to work out what these three ages are (they don’t play a single track from Tigermilk – would this make it four ages?), it doesn’t matter, whatever people say about B&S these guys aren’t just merchants of twee and whimsy: in Stuart Murdoch, they’ve got a showman to rival Jarvis Cocker at his loquacious, boogieing best and there’s a dark pathos-strewn heart, the closest thing the 90s ever got to the glory of The Smiths. By the time they get to “Sleep The Clock Around” (which we all know we’ll need to do come Monday morning) they’ve got us all dancing around like idiots. Well, I say dancing, more indie-shuffling, but still, it’s movement from a crowd of people more used to watching bands with their arms crossed, their chins stroked and their comparisons to obscure bands from the Orkney Islands in the 1970s at the ready.

At the end of Saturday night there’s a “secret” set from the (almost) forgotten men of the Scottish indie scene, Franz Ferdinand, but boy do they remind us why they got all the boys up dancing in the first place. ‘Michael’, ‘Jacqueline’ and ‘Matinee’ get the whole room leaping and jumping around like the ghosts of their past at indie discos circa-2004. Well, that’s what they do to this little indie boy’s past ghosts (and present limbs) anyway. For a brief moment, I was a sweaty, gangly 21 year old, being rejected by girls in polka-dot dresses all over again. Ah, the agony and the ecstasy. Wonderful.

Onto Sunday morning, by which time a blast on the water slides was needed to refresh and revitalise after another night of Elvis leg shifting. If you do ever end up at the Butlins water slides, I’d recommend the Black Hole. The Master Blaster may have the best name, but it’s the most likely to leave you sat in a damp dinghy with a broken coccyx. We also made the discovery that the perfect soundtrack to the Coronation Street tram-apocalypse should, without a doubt, be the Bob Dylan Christmas album. There’s nothing like a nigh-on moribund growler, singing Christmas songs in the style of an angry, pestering hobo, over fiery scenes of someone called Rita crying “help”.

Finally, back to the music for one last festi-splurge. Now, I’m a huge fan of the Vaselines and so I was really looking forward to a Sunday afternoon set of their lo-fi pop. What I got was a couple of middle-aged grungers making bawdy jokes about jizz that Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Sid James would think a little crude and embarrassing. Worse than the embarrassing blowjob related stage patter however, was the humdrum lassitude of their performance. The biggest disappointment of the weekend. Camera Obscura were next, to warm the cockles of our hearts, with their gorgeous soulful pop. However, if this was all a little soporific to keep us going through to the end of Sunday night, then the Butlins-tastic Glaswegian Beatles cover band, ‘Them Beatles’, were the perfect musical equivalent of a pep talk and a gram of speed. Grammatically incorrect as their name may be (it should be ‘Those Beatles’, but surely this is a nod to the pedant-infuriating “it should be Beetles, not Beatles, the Beat-pun be damned” spelling of their namesakes), by the end of their set everyone was singing along at the top of their voice to ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Day In The Life’ and ‘Hey Jude’.

So, that was my weekend in ATP, another absolute cracker of a festival from the kings of festival organisers. God, I love these weekends, even if my arteries and taste buds are less pleased with my activities (note to future self, when booking into self-catering, don’t just use the kettle and the toaster – it’s not going to end well).

If you’ve got any sense I’ll see you all there next year on the Master Blaster!

Inane Thoughts: Diary of a Frustrated Writer

December 15, 2010

So, this is my first blog post. I feel a little ridiculous doing this. It’s purely a forum for my inane ramblings. I was going to use my own excrement and toilet walls, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to produce that much excrement and would have to borrow others’. That would be weird. Anyway, ebullient misanthropy and inane whimsy, here we go…

So, first up, I heard this song in a shop at lunchtime and thought I’d write a (very) belated note to Kelly Jones with regards his song A Thousand Trees, in particular the lyric: “It only takes one tree to make a thousand matches/Only takes one match to burn a thousand trees“. I’m certain he’ll read this. Why wouldn’t he?

So, without further ado… Kelly, with absolutely no respect, a thousand matches seems to me to be a very small yield for any self-respecting tree. I reckon you could probably get a thousand matches from a mid-sized shrub e.g. a rhododendron.

I’ve conducted an experiment (I actually haven’t, but I feel the comedy works better if I pretend that I have, much in the way that Michael McIntyre pretends he does things that ordinary people do) and I found that it is very difficult to set alight to a thousand trees with one match. Frankly, without the aid of firelighters, even setting a twig alight with a match proved a difficult and frustrating affair.

Mr Jones, I really think you should consider my amended version:

It only takes one shrub to make a thousand matches. It might only take one match to burn a thousand shrubs… though only if there has been a recent arid spell, giving the right conditions for the spreading of fire.

The cadence is as good as any of your other “lyrics” and it makes much more factual sense. It won’t, unfortunately, improve the quality of your poorly prepared meat ‘n’ potatoes variety of dad rock, but you’ll have to meet me halfway on that.

On a final note, I don’t think you’ve considered the environmental benefits of certain forest fires. You’re just like those people who look outside their window when it’s snowing and say “whatever happened to global warming, eh?” i.e. an idiot.

In summary, Kelly Jones is an idiot. Oh god, this blog is more inane than I could have possibly dreamt. I’m so sorry.