Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Annoying and incomprehensible"

That was Stewart Lee's first impression of The Fall, as revealed on Friday's BBC2 documentary 'The Wonderful And Frightening World Of Mark E Smith', originally screened on BBC4 in January 2005. Of course, Lee nevertheless found himself strangely compelled by the racket he heard, and now counts himself among their fiercest devotees.

I say "they" and "their", but, as the programme title suggests, The Fall are Mark E Smith. Certainly he's the only surviving original member and has orchestrated more line-up changes than Rafa Benitez - though "orchestrated" may be the wrong word, suggesting as it does a modicum of planning, organisation and forward-thinking... Lest viewers of 'DiG' might think spectacular onstage fall-outs and fisticuffs are the sole preserve of Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the documentary featured footage of The Fall's infamous 1998 gig at Brownies in New York when the band imploded in acrimonious and very public fashion.

Paul Morley was very honest in saying that, during Smith's lowest ebb in the 1990s (when he was REALLY fucked up on booze and speed), Morley came to question whether the man he'd been hailing as a genius was actually a drunken tramp, and he'd merely been investing far too much meaning in his shouted rantings. Thankfully, though, Smith pulled out of that particular nosedive and managed to carry on (even though his status as a cantankerous old curmudgeon is now set in stone).

I've said it before, and I'll no doubt say it again: what possessed the BBC to invite him to read out the football results in 'Final Score'? A very risky business indeed...

Friday, September 29, 2006

stop playing with my heart, finish what you start...

Greetings. I'm new around these parts as a contributor, but you all know what an earworm is, right?

OK good, then I can begin....


Thanks heavens for the weekend. I was still in Ireland on Monday, so I've actually only worked for four days this week. Somehow it feels like a month. Hey ho. It's Friday now, which means that the working week is nearly done, and that we can start to relax into our weekend by pondering the mystic concept of the Earworm.

This week we've got another Guest Editor to lead our contemplations.

So, ladies and gentleworms, without further ado... it is my great pleasure to introduce for your earworming pleasure....

Earworms of the Week - Guest Editor #42 - Tina from Your Mind And We

Well I pleaded with Swiss Toni to let me do this so I'd better put a bit of effort into it!

1) Borderline - Madonna

No introduction needed here. I'm not Mrs Ritchie's greatest fan but I adore this track, which came on during the shuffle mode on my beloved MP3 player earlier in the week. Mike Randle did an acoustic version of this track when he did a solo show at Fibbers in York and it sounded good that way as well.

2) 9 to 5 - Dolly Parton

Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin'
Out on the street the traffic starts jumpin'
The folks like me on the job from 9 to 5

Dolly, dontcha just love her! She's become almost a pastiche of herself, but my bet would be that’s she's one of the smartest artistes on the planet.

P.S. Just spotted that Lord Bargain had this in his list or earworms last week - that must be where it inveigled its way into my head - just goes to show how very earwormy the track is!!

3) Rudebox - Robbie Williams

According to Victoria Newton of the Sun "The worst record ever made..." Personally I love it. Good show Robbie old chap! If you look at the website via the link, check the video clip with Lego men - sheer brilliance!

P.S. Interesting fact - Victoria Newton lived for a while in West Bridgford as a teenager, she is the daughter of Don Newton who was deputy head at Rushcliffe School.

4) One night in Bangkok - Murray Head

A song about chess... you don't get many of those. In fact I can't think of any others.. "From a jack to a king" - oh no that’s cards - "Only a pawn in the game" perhaps??

I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine!

I heard this on the radio the other day and can't get it out of my head since - its from an obscure musical written by the Abba boys and Tim Rice. Great lyrics.

5) Superfreak - Rick James

We saw the great film "Little Miss Sunshine" last week and this track features in its amazingly funny denouement - see it if you possibly can!!

Where MC Hammer got his riff (Can't touch this)...

6) Annie I'm not your daddy - King Creole and the Coconuts

Covers similar ground to "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson - the tricky question of paternity. Both great songs. We went to see King Creole and the Coconuts at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham many a long year ago and they were brilliant live, a wonderful stage show, more of a musical extravaganza than a bog standard gig. The Coconuts did exotic dance routines, Kid Creole and side kick Coati Mundi bounded about the stage and they had a really tight backing band. Loved it.

Wikipedia article says the Kid now lives in Dinnington, South Yorkshire! Not many coconuts there I would guess.

7) The One and Only - Chesney Hawkes

This came into my head and stayed there during the week when the cleaner at work, Shirley, told me her new grandson was called Chesney. I would hazard a guess that there are a number of 15 year old Chesneys in schools around the UK but not too many new babies with the same moniker.

Shirley has now got three grandchildren and she's younger than me. That fact makes me feel both middle class and old, neither of which are conditions I aspire to. Hey ho..

8) Get Back - The Beatles

Now I'm not the world's greatest Beatles fan - is it heretical to utilise the word "overrated" here?? But I love this song.

Get back Loretta
Your mother's waiting for you
Wearing her high-heel shoes
And her low-neck sweater
Get on home Loretta

Hadn't heard about the "Pakistani" stuff until I read the Wikipedia piece - old P McC always acted like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Satire allegedly.

9) Michelle Shocked - Anchorage

Leroy says hey keep on rockin' girl!

Part of the small sub-genre of popular music that I guess you could call letter songs - like road songs, story songs, list songs etc etc- just basically a letter to Michelle from an old friend who now finds herself living in Alaska with husband and two kids - you know you're in the largest state of the union when you're anchored down in Anchorage.

A bit like Scunthope but with added ice.

10) It's like that - Run DMC v Jason Nevins

This was on the TV at the gym the other day - unfortunately I'd forgotten my earphones so I had to sing along - love the video. Just the job for pounding the cross trainer – that’s a very loose use of the word "pounding" there.

“No tracks from your favourite band of all time, Love?”, I hear you ask (well not very many of you to be frank). With a few notable exceptions, they’re not the “catchy” sort of track that you find yourself humming when you’re cleaning the bathroom. Also they’re not just in my ears, they’re in my brain, heart and possibly also my DNA – like Blackpool rock, cut me open and you’ll find them written right through me.


Thanks Tina. Diversity is the spice of life and all that, so King Creole and the Coconuts are just fine with me, and you definitely can't go wrong with a spot of Run DMC. I'm not sure there was any need to plant "One Night in Bangkok" into my head, but I suppose that's one of the hazrds of running a slot like this, isn't it?

Speaking of which, I'm still looking for volunteers, so if you fancy having your moment in the sun as a Guest Editor here, then just let me know via the email address in my profile...

More here next week.

[Previous Guest Editors: Flash, The Urban Fox, Lord Bargain, Retro-Boy, Statue John, Ben, OLS, Ka, Jenni, Aravis, Yoko, Bee, Charlie, Tom, Di, Spin, The Ultimate Olympian, Damo, Mike, RedOne, The NumNum, Leah, Le Moine Perdu, clm, Michael, Hyde, Adem, Alecya, bytheseashore, adamant, Earworms of the Year 2005, Delrico Bandito, Graham, Lithaborn, Phil, Mark II, Stef, Kaptain Kobold, bedshaped, I have ordinary addictions, TheCatGirlSpeaks, Lord B rides again]

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Heathen chemistry


I love intimate gigs like this - trying to spot who will emerge from the crowd at some point and take to the stage when nearly everyone looks like they could be in a band.

Zumbar are four unassuming enough chaps, and their set is equally unassuming, displaying a predictable penchant for Black Sabbath and doom rock and a rather less predictable interest in Spanish guitar licks. Unfortunately, then, that they labour under a truly dreadful name (yes, Zumbar really does exist, in Manchester) and that there are difficulties with the monitors, meaning the discipline, tightness and perfect timing demanded by the changes of pace are often conspicuous by their absence.

Speaking of absence, Thread have had to pull out, and in their place we get Caerphilly foursome Circa Regna Tonat. As their name ("Around The Throne Thunder Roars") and their friendship with Swansea bruisers Taint suggests, Circa Regna Tonat make one hell of a racket. Propelled by some awesome drumming, their schizophrenic aural assault is at times overpowering, especially the song featuring two basses and the repeated scream of "You're gonna die!". The only disappointment is the new slower song, which just goes to prove they're best when on the attack.

Truckers Of Husk are an excellent example of why it's so dangerous to judge a book by its cover. We watch them set up, anticipating a jarring set of emo froth, only to be astounded by a series of compellingly odd and incredibly complicated instrumentals (think the weirder and more experimental end of the Dischord roster, perhaps - Q And Not U?). Bassist Hywel Evans has played with local heroes Jarcrew and former Mclusky man Andy Falkous in Future Of The Left, but it's not entirely clear whether he's actually on stage. For tonight's gig they're a threepiece, you see, and this means audacious mid-song instrument swapping to make use of the additional drumkit, but even more impressive is the fretwork of the salmon pink-jumpered guitarist - virtuoso, but without the arrogant ignorance of all else around it.

How will headliners Noxagt (it's pronounced "Nox-att", apparently) follow that? Quite simple: by blowing them - and us - away with sheer force.

The Norwegians may just be the heaviest band I've ever seen live - a band who don't bat an eyelid when, barely halfway through the first song, a huge shard of drumstick shears off and narrowly avoids spearing the diminutive guitarist. Listening to them isn't like being hit by a 10 tonne truck. Neither is it like being run over by a steamroller. No, it's more like being hit and run over by a 10 tonne truck carrying a load of steamrollers. And behind the wheel of the truck is Rik Waller, with Meat Loaf and Bella Emberg (oh, look her up...) as co-drivers. And all three have just eaten a four course meal, each course consisting of an anvil.

All the more remarkable, then, that the third (self-titled) album they're currently touring is their first with a guitarist - before a viola was integral to their unholy din.

The unearthly rumble is virtually continuous, only the odd infrequent gap allowing pause for breath. It's not hard to see why they call it "sludge". If you boil metal down (assuming it's in a liquid state to start with - Science Ed), then this is what you're left with - primal, pummelling, dissonant, brutal. There's a motorik groove to the songs - admittedly the sort of motorik groove that makes you feel like you're Rik Waller, stuffed on a four-course anvil meal and driving a 10 tonne truck loaded with steamrollers and an equally stuffed Meat Loaf and Bella Emberg squeezed into the passenger seats, but a motorik groove nonetheless.

It's to Noxagt's credit that they know the value of keeping the onslaught brief - it's all about maximum impact rather than vicious mercilessness (take note Winnebago Deal). I left the house with the words "Don't go burning any churches" ringing in my ears - but, by the end, I'm thinking that if they go on much longer, I'll have ringing ears and an unquenchable desire to buy some petrol and a box of matches on the way home. It doesn't come to that, quite.

So, a marvellous joint venture from Forecast and Lesson No. 1 - and all for a measly £6, too. With this headfuck psychosludge you are really spoiling us...

2006: fast becoming the year I rediscovered metal.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

FEMME 06, 09/09/06 at Kulturos, pramogu ir sporto rumai, Vilnius

The venue for the night of female DJs was not the usual smoky underground cavern. The Kultur rumai was built in Soviet times and sports classic Soviet features: high ceilings, staircases and mezzanines in the centre of open spaces with stark concrete angles and Stalinist geometric chandeliers. It is not a forgiving venue, yet the performers of FEMME conquered it magnificently. We danced in the mezzanine and the DJs worked their tech from their pedestal further up the stairs; a Grecian ode to God is a DJ. Performers included Rochelle Vincentre, Scratch Massive, Maud Geffray, Product 01, Vinila von Bismark plus others.

The crowd were mainly female, some fashinistas, some indie art kids, some goth, and more. More men appeared through out the evening but not the usual club crowd of letchy arrogance. People milled around until Barcelona’s Vinila von Bismark took the stage looking stunning: strapless dress with 1960s headscarf and dark glasses. She had a presence and seized the dance floor with thrilling pulses and looping hard electro melodies. It was upbeat, it was throbbing and her inventive mixes kept us dancing throughout her two-hour set.

VvB was followed by duo Product 01 from the UK, with trance-like vocals and wonky electronics, but for those whose feet wanted to keep the beat moved to the lounge room for Julita. The lounge room sported the best Lithuanian DJs from Klaipeda to Vilnius with a range of scratch dub and the more mellow to Julita’s electroclash. Seamless mixing of bleeping synthpop and indie rock created an elated dance floor. From Communards samples to Bizarre Love Triangle being played straight through with added rhythm, Julita mixed a feeling of ultimate party. The crowd danced crazy, and the DJ leaped up and down, everyone grinning.

The vibe of the night was incredible, upbeat, feel-good and everyone was there to have a good time and dance their hearts out without caring what they looked like. The range of DJs was diverse and reminded us exactly why DJs rule.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

You! Me! Dancing!


About two thirds of the way through tonight's opening set, Little My throw in a cover of 'Monsterpussy' by The Vaselines. As if their love for the Glaswegian shamblers wasn't already apparent enough. Their number supplemented tonight by assorted additional musicians (which leads DJ / compere / promoter / all-round good egg Gary to label them a "Cardiff supergroup"), Little My specialise in very short, very chaotic songs which are as ragged around the edges as they are twee. The C86 revival starts here, kids... Bonus points for... the inventive use of a Guess Who? board as a percussion instrument.

Until as recently as three weeks ago, Shake My Hand went under the name of Yossarian. From what I can recall of their previous incarnation, the moniker change doesn't signal any shift in direction - or, in other words, the songs which were on their old MySpace site are now on their new one, and get an airing tonight. 'Invisible' is typical in that it features wryly amusing spoken word vocals over careful guitar work, but there's not much in their set that really grabs me and shakes me by the lapels. Members of Los Campesinos! in the crowd raise a smile, though, getting revenge on their friends by echoing their fawning shout of "We're here for you!" at the recent Broken Social Scene gig. Bonus points for... the free four track CD, featuring 'Indie Disco', 'Koala', 'Settled' and the aforementioned 'Invisible' complete with stylish handmade inlay.

In this company Porchlight are, unfortunately, fighting something of a losing battle. Not only are they evidently outsiders at what is a bit of a Cardiff indiepop love-in (which also means they don't have their own partisan crowd), but their guitar sound is stodgy and blunt. They don't do themselves too many favours by looking faintly bored, mind. It would be nice to say that what they lack in enthusiasm they make up for with the songs, but the likes of 'Hot Or Cold' and recent single 'Impress Me' don't, er, impress me much - solid enough, but no sense of distinctive identity. Bonus points for... er, how's about playing to an unfamiliar crowd?

But tonight isn't about Porchlight; nor is it about Little My or Shake My Hand. It's about Los Campesinos!.

After a week of touring (their first gigs outside beyond Cardiff and London, I gather), this is their homecoming show in every sense - it's taking place in their natural habitat, upstairs in Dempsey's as part of Cardiff's semi-legendary indie night Twisted By Design. And boy don't we just know it; the anticipation before they take to the stage and the excitement that ensues is palpable.

It might be a matter of time constraints (it's gone eleven by the time they appear), but it's interesting that the incongruous post-rock slowburner that formerly opened the set has been dropped, as I suggested it should be. Instead it's the chorus of "ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR" and we're launched giddily straight into the maelstrom.

The seven-strong student outfit might only have played a handful of gigs, but it's no wonder that the likes of NME, Moshi Moshi and countless MP3 blogs have been foaming at the mouth about them like a rabid Roy Hattersley. Quite simply, they are absurdly good fun, and much more than the sum of their parts: American indie riffage, British tweeness, pop singalongs, wicked humour (a song with an opening line about playing pass the parcel with human body parts, anyone?) and boundless energy.

Excitable frontman Gareth chastises us for "cheering the hits", but in truth nothing is received with anything less than fervour. 'Infinite Lives' and the wittily cutesy 'It Started With A Mix' are ace, closer 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' is even better (climaxing with drummer Oliver standing on his kit and leading the crowd in the chant of "One blink for yes, two blinks for no...") but once again the irresistible 'You Me Dancing!' steals the show - how could it not, as the second musical tribute of the night to Twisted By Design (after Shake My Hand's 'Indie Disco')?

Of course, it's all over far too early. The only people left relatively unmoved by the preceding half an hour are the parents stood directly in front of me. I want to tap the bemused pair on the shoulder and say "Don't worry - they really are amazing"...

Bonus points for... being fucking great from start to finish.


We didn't stay for the club night, which felt wrong after feeling all the love, but in our defence we were meeting others who wouldn't have been allowed into Dempsey's as the gig was sold out. What felt even more wrong was decamping to Callaghan's for the Uber Alles DJs. But one half (if not both) of the duo had been at the gig too, and it was an inspired decision on their part to wrap the night up by giving 'You Me Dancing!' a spin. No thanks to the over-officious doorman who insisted it be turned off before the conclusion, though...

Thanks to Gary and the bands for a top night.

Friday, September 15, 2006


And at last it's done!

The A-Z CD (well, double CD) produced to commemorate the conclusion of the A-Z Of Music feature is currently landing on doormats all around Europe and hopefully subsequently finding its way onto stereos / into computers and thence into the affections of its recipients.

So, what does anyone make of the results? What do you like? What do you hate? Any tracks that have caught you completely by surprise? (Steve, I'm looking at you...) Share your thoughts in the comments box below...

The Last Romance = the last hurrah

What could be more depressing than Arab Strap? Well, the news that Arab Strap are splitting up. Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton have decided that their sixth album proper The Last Romance will, appropriately enough, be their last.

"Yes, it’s the end for Arab Strap. After ten years, six studio albums, three live albums and all manner of everything else, we’ve decided the story should come to a close. There’s no animosity, no drama, we simply feel we’ve run our course and The Last Romance seems to us the most obvious and logical final act of the Arab Strap studio adventure. Everybody likes a happy ending! We will, of course, be celebrating. Our anniversary compilation, Ten Years Of Tears will be released this October / November to coincide with our Farewell Tour. We hope you’ll be able to join us, but if you can’t make it then let us take this opportunity to thank you for listening."

No, thank YOU.

Arab Strap are a band I really ought to investigate further - the two albums I own, Philophobia and The Red Thread (their second and fourth), are both very good, particularly the latter. And somewhere there's a copy of Middleton's solo album Into The Woods with my name on it...

Envy and other sins bands

Thanks to Skif (as ever), my reviews of Anathallo's Floating World, Envy's Insomniac Doze and Howling Bells' self-titled debut are now up on the Vanity Project website. So, if you've got any interest in ambitious and otherworldly American indie rock, Japanese post-hardcore or Australian alt-goth-blues, or if you just want to read me getting tangled up in an embarrassing number of superfluous adjectives, take a look.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Assistant: new songs

My band, Assistant, have recently finished recording a bunch of new songs - which we're probably going to put toward an album presently - and Ali, who produced the songs, has recently passed me the mixed up versions. Am very proud of the results as I think they're amongst the best things we've done. So there's a little preview here: click the links below to download the following three songs...

1. Criticism
2. Get Away
3. Engines and Anvils

There are six other tracks too, all of which I'll post before long. Any comments, thoughts, criticism much appreciated.... If you can't download and want the songs on a CD then drop me an email or leave a comment and I shall post you one and some other Assistant goodies...

In the meantime, you might want to take note of the fact that the always ace blog has a full Wowee Zowee-era Pavement set up and available to download. It's stunning, as you'd expect (hat tip). And Bradley's Almanac had a couple of live tracks from the reformed Throwing Muses a week or two back, while I'm recommending stuff.

Oh, and finally some good news to counterbalance Sleater-Kinney splitting up. It seems that the Afghan Whigs are back in the studio. Thank you, God, I knew you hadn't given up on indie rock altogether...

Monday, September 11, 2006

The odd couple

If I had a list of things I never thought I'd see, Mark Lanegan smiling would be right up there. But there he was, in his joint interview with Isobel Campbell on Friday night's Mercury Music Prize programme, with something approaching a grin. A smirk I might have expected, but a smile? Definitely not.

Anyway, it was an interesting little featurette in place of a live performance, in which they talked about the circumstances behind their collaboration and the making of Ballad Of The Broken Seas. (You never know - you might actually get a review some time, if you're lucky.) Afterwards Campbell claimed her nomination statuette, looking like a rabbit in the headlights before the crowd and cameras and mumbling something about Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett before making a hasty exit.

I didn't stay up for the whole programme, but I did see Editors open up with 'All Sparks' (which did nothing to convince me their album is anything more than solid but unspectacular, and not really worthy of its nomination) and Hot Chip perform 'Over And Over' (LCD Soundsystem on a budget anyone?). Most striking was how scary token jazz nominee Zoe Rahman is - all manic toothy grins and very long hair. Couldn't discern much of merit in her performance, but then what do I know?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Prize losers

At Summer Sundae last month it seemed you could barely move for Mercury Music Prize nominees: Richard Hawley on the Friday, Isobel Campbell on the Saturday, Guillemots on the Sunday. All three were ultimately disappointed by Tuesday night's verdict (and deprived of the resulting spike in sales), Sheffield scamps Arctic Monkeys named as winners for the debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.

I've not heard the Hawley and Guillemots albums (or Arctic Monkeys, for that matter), but it's a good thing that Campbell's Ballad Of The Broken Seas didn't triumph. Not that it's a bad album - far from it. It's currently getting a lot of play here at SWSL Towers. The issue is over the fact that it was rebranded as a Campbell solo album because only British artists are eligible for the Prize, when in fact it's very much work of Campbell and American Mark Lanegan. Campbell may have written all but two of the songs, but the former Screaming Trees and sometime Queens Of The Stone Age man is in many ways the more dominant of the two voices (and not just because his is male).

Campbell is now set to follow Ballad Of The Broken Seas with a solo album proper, Milkwhite Sheets, out towards the end of next month.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

son of peel / lindsay west

I've just finished listening to the first of the two podcasts which Tom Ravenscroft - John Peel's son - has completed for 4Radio, the new podcast radio station from Channel 4. Far from being a novelty item, I was tremendously impressed with the 30 minute show, which draws tracks exclusively from Channel 4's Slash Music service, meaning that all of the artists are either unsigned or operating outside of the conventional music industry. Tom's debut as a DJ - he has worked previously as a music journalist - might very well have been one of two things; a naked attempt to follow in his father's footsteps (which I've contrived to make sound rather offensive, where in fact he has every right to that ambition if he holds it) or an unfortunate reminder of just how good Peel was, as - inevitably - his son is unable to match his astoundingly high standards.

But the show never feels contrived or driven by the market, and the fact that Tom's delivery, like his father's, is even, genial and enthusiastic suggests that had he chosen to take his show to Radio 1 he would surely have been given a warm welcome. There's no replacing Peel, but, just as the loss of Charlie Gillett from BBC London Live creates a huge chap which can never be totally filled, we do need an eclectic, accessible music programme which does at least some of the things which Peel did so well. To this end, Ravenscroft's debut presses all the right buttons; he's calm, likeable and doesn't talk over the records, and in thirty minutes he plays indie rock, tech-house, dub reggae, some odd, gleeful glitchy indie which might have been my first exposure to 'new rave' and a particularly beautiful bit of folk music by Lyndsay West which featured the lyrics:

"Day began getting dimmer
And we began to talk
about getting dinner.

We talked about how clothes
were getting thinner and thinner
on the people that were passing in the lamplight's glimmer.

Oh-o, we held our coats closer.
We held our coats closer."

She's great, and so's Tom's show; both come highly recommended. You can tune in here.