Fame at last

February 1, 2009

I am published! This article really annoyed me, so I sent a letter into the Guardian, and they published it. I didn’t even think to check yesterday, but my brother texted me this morning to ask if it was me.

Fame at last!


January 9, 2009

I’ve recently received an invite to Spotify, a music service which allows you to stream tracks and albums in full, as often as you like, and for free (bar some advertising, which I haven’t actually been subject to yet).

I’m a big fan of last.fm, and Spotify allows you to scrobble tracks to your account. The great thing about Spotify is that, by contrast to last.fm, using its iTunes-like search interface allows you to immediately pull up any track or album that you want to hear, unlike last.fm’s addmitedly interesting radio feature. So, for example, I am currently listening to New Order’s masterpiece Technique in full, thanks to the power of Spotify and the interwebs.

Spotify is exactly the thing that the big music companies should be seeing as the future, and to their credit they seem to have gotten on board, with the so-called major labels all signing up to provide music.

The service is currently in beta and requires you to queue for an invite, but mine took just a week, and I think the service is fantastic so go and sign up!

Best music of 2008, a list

December 24, 2008

Hello all! I’m spending a lazy Chrismas Eve afternoon in front of the telly, after a fairly traumatic visit to the supermarket at lunchtime. With time on my hands and thoughts turning towards the end of the year, I thought I would round up a subjective and probably partial list of my favourite releases of 2008 (with a hat tip to Information Overlord!). I’m also throwing in an older record I discovered, just because.

Portishead: Third. The wait for this was reaching My Bloody Valentine-esque proportions, and while MBV have yet to release any new material, Portishead vindicated the wait. They did so by ditching most of what made them famous in the first place, namely the filmic, down beat hip hop (avoiding the “t” word there!) of their first 2 albums. Instead they emphasised the mood of dread that was present but muted in those records, and brought Beth Gibbon’s keening vocals to the fore.  This, combined with some startling production (see “Machine Gun” in particular), makes for a gloomy yet compulsive listen.

Optimo: Sleepwalk. Optimo are my favourite DJ team (check out Psyche Out and Walkabout), and they specialise in non-cheesy 2 Many Djs type stuff, but this is something a little different. The mix is a back to mine affair of downbeat stuff, ranging from bleepy Krautrock and ambient to low-key electro and Ethiopian jazz. The result is somnolent but seductive, working as chill out music it’s okay to chill out to.

The Hold Steady: Stay Positive. Better than their last record, Boys and Girls in America, but not quite up to the standard of their masterpiece Separation Sunday, Stay Positive maintains the high quality of their releases. If this sounds like faint praise, it’s not meant to be; this record is great, plotting a path between the aforementioned shimmering stadium rock of Boys… and the raddled, hard rocking Separation Sunday. I particular like The Hold Steady when they sound quiet and dissipated, allowing Craig Finn’s lyrics to come to the fore, and the closing track “Slapped Actress” does this, sounding sad and regretful, the musical embodiment of the morning after the night before.

No Age: Nouns. Part of the resurgence in lo-fi noise rock that seemed to happen during 2008, No Age are a couple of LA skate punks who turn out melody-filled, pounding shoegaze/ punk rock. Nouns is the apotheosis of their sound, and despite being ragged and aggressive it is supremely addictive, revelling as it does in being young and making a great big noise.

Girl Talk: Feed the Animals. Certain critics have decried this as music for people with ADD, but I think that’s unfair. Or at least it’s only fair if you’re not that much into fun, which Girl Talk delivers in spades. The record mashes up a huge number of tracks, ranging from hip hop to classic rock to chart pop, creating completely original compositions. The intellectual property implications of this are perhaps questionable, but the results are fascinating and hugely listenable, if a little like eating too much chocolate gateau in one go.

Nas: Illmatic. A hip hop landmark from 1994, Nas’ debut Illmatic has apparently never been topped by him, and remains an all-time classic. It’s well worth this tag; the lyrics are incredible, possibly only matched in my experience by a few releases by the Wu-Tang Clan, and the beats (by, among others, DJ Premier and Large Professor) just about define mid-90s hip hop. It’s also unusually short for a hip hop album, coming in at under 40 minutes. I was amazed at how damn good this record is, and sorry that I hadn’t heard it much, much sooner.

Honourable mentions of other 2008 stuff: Cut Copy’s “In Ghost Colours”, Justin Robertson’s “Art of Acid” mix, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’s “German Only” mix of Krautrock and other teutonic weirdness, Fuck Button’s “Street Horrsing” (great live!), Fleet Foxes’ S/T.

Merry Xmas and a happy New Year!

Also hi Jude! xxx

October 10, 2008

Shouldn’t blog while drunk 😉

S is for Song!

October 10, 2008

Lo-Fi has tagged me to continue a song meme originally started by Information Overlord. As with these memes, it’s totally arbitrary, and all the more fun for it! Perfect for a Friday, and a good way to get blogging again (I’ve been even more remiss than usual recently). The idea is to name five of my favourite songs by artists beginning with the letter “S”. And here we go:

Shellac: “Wingwalker“. One of Shellac’s first singles, and possibly their best. It has all the elements: rumbling bassline, whipcrack drumming, sheet metal guitar, Steve Albini’s impassioned ranting, and the stop-start dynamics that make them such an entertaining live band. I’m going to see them in a few weeks, I hope they play this!

Studio: “No Comply“. This was the track that introduced me to these guys. It’s like Happy Mondays meets Can on the beach in Ibiza with Swedish accents, and is as fun and sun-kissed as that sounds. A perfect pick-me-up on those quickly drawing-in Autumn nights.

Steinski: “Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix)“. Steinski was an early exponent of what are now called “mash-ups”, and is about 100 times better than most of the exponents of this around now. He specialises in using old hip hop and funk breaks to create something both witty and true to its roots, and was obviously a big influence on the likes of DJ Shadow. This is a concatenation of about 10 snippets of fantastic James Brown tracks, along with a load of other samples, and is truly get on the good foot stuff!

Smog: “Cold Blooded Old Times“. By the standards of Bill Callahan (Smog’s guiding force and songwriter) this is a pretty cheery number, if a song about domestic violence and unrequited love can ever be considered cheery. It’s the infectious riffing and handclaps that make it feel, if not exactly like a party number, then at least a happy way to feel depressed.

Slint: “Good Morning, Captain“. It’s difficult to write about this song without sounding horribly pretentious, but here goes. It’s in the long tradition of gothic seafaring stories, along the lines of Moby Dick or The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. A shipwrecked captain realises he is alone on his ship, only to see a (ghostly?) child looking in at him through the window. This is backed with slowly developing, ominously intertwining guitar lines and a relentless rhythym section. The song reaches its climax with a cathartic howl of regret and loneliness from the captain, with a raging guitar maelstrom behind, possibly one of the heaviest (both in the “heavy metal” and “bad vibes” senses) things I’ve ever heard. It still sends tingles down my spine on hearing it to this day.

So that’s my selection. I hereby pass the meme on to Tom P, Nick, Dan, Jude and Tom A. Do your worst!

Green Man

August 21, 2008

I went to Green Man festival at the weekend with a whole bunch of friends, old and new, located in the beautiful Glanusk Park near Abergavenny in Wales. These included Jude, Tom P (Green Man thoughts here), Tom A (thoughts here) Welsh Jude, my brother Jim, Alex A, Alex F, and Steve, along with about 15 other people. This made it extremely sociable and fun throughout, despite the somewhat dubious weather. Friday was fine, but it rained most of Saturday and some of Sunday, making for a damp latter couple of days.

Nevertheless, the good vibes and music shone through, along with the excellent bars (one of which sold proper spiced cider which turned out to be real loopy juice) and a wide range of good food stalls.

Bands wise, I saw a whole bunch of good-but-not-great acts, along with a few real standouts. In the “not bad” file we had The National, Spiritualized, Sennen, Wolf People, Pentangle and a load of other bands I saw in passing. The really great bands were Fuck Buttons (by the standards of Green Man, aggressive walls of droning noise), Junior Boys (who had the misfortune to be playing in the middle of a downpour but really benefited from a huge soundsystem to propel their bass heavy electropop), and Black Mountain (who sounded suitably doomy and strung out).

The real point of the festival is hanging out in the beautiful surroundings with friends, and that was great throughout. Particular fun (despite the incredulity of certain hataz) was playing an RPG called The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach, in which you play an academic jostling for position within an American East Coast university in the 20s, with the added distraction of brain-infesting cockroaches to deal with.

All in all, a lovely weekend. Oh, and if you run into me, be sure to ask about gong baths!


July 27, 2008

Hello readers! Its been ages since I’ve posted here, so I thought I would do a round-up post, detailing some stuff I’ve been up to recently. In no particular order:

  • Reading Dan‘s new blog, Stephen King Reviewed, in which Dan is reading and reviewing in order every book written by (you guessed it) Stephen King. I’m not a massive fan of King, but Dan makes them sound more interesting than I remember from the few I’ve read.
  • Watching Iron Maiden at their recent Twickenham show, which was great fun, and not least to people watch. They played stuff from their classic run of 80s albums, meaning the dread words “this is a number from our new album” weren’t uttered once.
  • Visiting Dublin for the BIALL Conference. Dublin is an interesting place, and it reminded me a lot of northern industrial cities like Manchester or Glasgow. We did all the touristy stuff like visiting the Guinness brewery and the zoo, as well as eating very well, and drinking a fair amount of Guinness.
  • Going to Devizes to visit Kate and Will. Devizes is a nice little town, and is home to Wadworth brewery, meaning that there is seemingly a pub on every corner, all of which serve very good beer.
  • Listening to a bunch of different music, including: Prins Thomas’ Cosmo Galactic Prism mix, an excellent Steinski compilation, Neu!, the new Girl Talk record, (available on a pay-what-you-want basis here), and Studio’s Yearbook 2, which is a compilation of remixes. Currently on my shopping list are the new Hold Steady record, and Harvey Milk’s new one, which sounds like it will be pretty interesting stoner/doom metal.
  • Getting to grips with the new version of last.fm. Pros: seems to load a lot faster than the old version. Cons: not so sure about the layout, and it seems that they’re moving away from using the software as a player, a feature I liked. There’s been a great deal of discussion (read: moaning) about it here.
  • Getting excited about the upcoming Green Man Festival. There are a record number of people I know going this year (probably about 25!), including my brother, Tom P and Tom A, meaning that it should be great fun. Also, the line-up is looking particularly strong this year, with late announcement of the Junior Boys as the icing on the cake.
  • Reading some good books, including the excellent Warlock by Oakley Hall (thanks again Tom!) and a collection of J.G. Ballard short stories which I picked up for 50p at a local fete.
  • Reading the always-interesting Potlatch‘s thoughts on Wetherspoon’s pubs and Stoke Newington. He characterises the campaigns to keep the likes of Nando’s and Tesco out of Stokey as employing “leftwing radical rhetoric, but with rightwing exclusionary goals.” This is a really interesting idea, but not one I’m sure I agree with. Anyone else?

Okay that’s all I can think of for the mo. It may be an empty promise, but more updates to follow!

Last.fm serendipity

May 30, 2008

I had a last.fm user called Radgardener leave a comment in my last.fm shoutbox. It turned out that  not only was our music compatibility “super”, but that I appeared as one of this user’s musical neighbours.

Not so strange, you might think. Until you find out that… we share a name! Or at least, his name is Neal Stewart. Apparently he’s my Canadian musical doppelganger.

Spooky or what? It’s like we both had entered The Scary Door (warning: those of a fragile disposition should not watch this clip).

Books meme

May 15, 2008

What better way to start blogging again than with a list? From Hedgehog Librarian, via Jennie Law, a Library Thing books meme. This list shows what a quitter I am when it comes to the really huge classics, and my lack of knowledge of Dickens novels. The annotation is below, from hedgehog Librarian’s original post- one quibble with that is that with lots of the books I didn’t finish it wasn’t so much that I “couldn’t”, more that I could no longer be bothered or just started reading something else. If anyone else fancies doing this, leave a comment below so we can compare notes!

“Below are the top 106 books tagged “unread” in LibraryThing.

The rules:

Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but couldn’t finish, and strike through books you hated. Add an asterisk to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your To Be Read list.”

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment


One hundred years of solitude

Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion

Life of Pi: a novel

The Name of the Rose

Don Quixote

Moby Dick


Madame Bovary

The Odyssey

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies

War and Peace

Vanity Fair

The Time Traveller’s Wife

The Iliad


The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner

Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations

American Gods

A heartbreaking work of staggering genius

Atlas shrugged

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Memoirs of a Geisha



Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

The Canterbury Tales

The Historian

A portrait of the artist as a young man

Love in the time of cholera

Brave new world

The Fountainhead

Foucault’s Pendulum



The Count of Monte Cristo


A clockwork orange

Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King

The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible


Angels & Demons

The Inferno

The Satanic Verses

Sense and sensibility

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbevilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les misérables

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time


The Prince

The Sound and the Fury

Angela’s Ashes

The God of Small Things

A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present



A confederacy of dunces*

A Short History of Nearly Everything


The unbearable lightness of being



The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake : a novel

Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed

Cloud Atlas

The Confusion



Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye*

On the Road*

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Aeneid

Watership Down

Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit*

In Cold Blood

White teeth

Treasure Island

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers

Blog in abeyance

April 29, 2008

I know, I know, its been far too long. I have a few topics in mind at the moment, so expect something in the not too distant future.