Sunday, November 29, 2009

Song for Sunday

To celebrate Original Pirate Material being named album of the decade by Observer Music Monthly ...

The Streets – Weak Become Heroes

Band/artist of the week: Little Birdy
Song of the week: Wild Nothing – Summer Holiday

Albums of the Decade

Getting the lists for 2009 started early the Observer Music Monthly has one with their top 50 albums of the decade. Here's the top 10:

10 Burial – Untrue
9 Salif Keita – Moffou
8 Jay-Z – The Black Album
7 The White Stripes – Elephant
6 Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
5 Arcade Fire – Funeral
4 The Strokes – Is This It
3 Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
2 Radiohead – Kid A
1 The Streets – Original Pirate Material

As Mike Skinner would say, fair play to them: it's pretty much spot on. I would argue about Kid A and Back to Black but apart from those two, most of the others would be on or near my list.

Kid A is the album where Radiohead and I parted company, only making-up again with 2007's In Rainbows. Sure it has some moments of 'profound beauty and deep emotion' as the reviewer says, it is just that there aren't very many and most of the rest of the album is pretty much unlistenable. Sure it is ambitious and managed to sidestep the massive expectations that had built up for a fourth Radiohead album, but it really is the sort of album that only a music journalist could love. Music for beard stroking, not listening or enjoying. Whenever I take a batch of CDs in to the second-hand record shop I always try to slip this one in, but the staff always spot it and hand it back wearily – 'sorry mate, we don't need any more of that one.'

Back to Black passed me by when it came out, but the Amy Winehouse tracks I have heard don't exactly make me worried that I am missing out on anything. And then the soap-opera of her life further obscured what talent she surely has and left me without any motivation to give her music a fair listening.

I also have to confess that I haven't heard the Salif Keita album (and suspect it got artificially nudged a bit higher so that there was at least one 'world music' title in the 10, although I was sure that honour would go to Amadou and Mariam's Dimanche à Bamako), but given its illustrious company I may have to investigate further.

And so for your reference here's my top 20 list:

20 The Delgados – The Great Eastern
19 Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
18 Lucinda Williams – West
17 Maxïmo Park – A Certain Trigger
16 Low – Trust
15 AC Acoustics – O
14 Idlewild – The Remote Part
13 Bruce Springsteen – The Rising
12 M.I.A. – Arular
11 Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling
10 Miss Dynamite – A Little Deeper
9 Malcolm Middleton – Into the Woods
8 Glasvegas – Glasvegas
7 Burial – Untrue
6 Portishead - Third
5 Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
4 Arcade Fire – Funeral
3 The Streets – Original Pirate Material
2 Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun
1 The National – Boxer

I can't believe that Boxer or Ágætis byrjun didn't make the OMM list (not even the top 50!), but anyway please add your thoughts about either list, your lists or anything else that takes your fancy in the comments. Possibly I will write a bit more about the top 5 over the next few days, but I am not promising anything.

Coming up in December – the top 10 albums of 2009, my mix-tape of the year and possibly my top 20 songs of the decade ...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Age of Kali

It seems strange reading The Age of Kali now. Written as contemporary reportage in the mid- to late-1990s many of the events and personalities he covers have moved to centre stage while others have faded into obscurity.

Dalrymple is a brilliant writer and he has clearly immersed himself in India and all its chaotic glory. He seeks out fascinating stories; and by talking to people from all levels of this intensely stratified society he creates vivid pictures of events, issues and personalities that have shaped its recent history.

The best chapters illuminate and anticipate the momentous changes still underway in Indian society, which most other commentators are only now beginning to notice and come to terms with. However, the book doesn't feel cohesive or complete. I found myself wanting to know more of the history and background; and yearned for him to fill in the gaps between these individual stories.

The problem is that all the material had already been published in various newspapers and magazines and while many of the pieces have been reworked or expanded for the book, they still display off-putting variations in tone and style which make it far more disjointed than I felt it should be. The pieces for Tatler and Condé Naste Traveller sit uneasily alongside the more in-depth and interesting work for Granta and The Observer.

Rabbit Wisdom

Ronald Reagan reminding him of God: 'you never knew how much he knew, nothing or everything'.

On Judaism: 'must be a great religion, once you get past the circumcision'.

From John Updike's Rabbit Tetralogy, as noted by Julian Barnes in the Guardian a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It's supposed to be a book review of Peter Ackroyd's Thames: Sacred River but like some sort of demented secant to London Orbital Iain Sinclair turns it into a walking pilgrimage to the London Stone near the village of Grain.

London Stone photograph copyright © Roger W Haworth and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I get the feeling I wouldn't like Ackroyd's book, but in the best tradition of LRB reviews Sinclair hardly mentions the work he is purportedly reviewing and, abusing his editor's good nature, wanders off into another variation on the many exhaustive explorations he has spent most of his life making from his base in Hackney. As on all good quests he encounters many obstacles on the journey and despite all his best efforts it looks like he will be thwarted at the last, only for a courageous sidekick to help save the day.

Like Sinclair I have always had a fascination for the marginal, (sub)liminal areas of civilisation and the landscape downriver of London, around the mouth of the Thames has always seemed particularly interesting because of its closeness but complete dislocation to the capital. Kingsnorth, Sheerness, Canvey Island, the empty stretches of Isle of Sheppey exert a peculiar attraction and I wish I had taken the time to explore when I had the chance ...

If you haven't crossed paths with him before then I can heartily recommend it as an excellent introduction to Sinclair's obsessions and writings. London Orbital is one of my favourite books of the year so far (longer review to come soon) and if your interest is piqued by the
LRB article you should give the epic version a try.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Something Amis(s) in the world of publishing

I will pretty-much read anything that puts the boot into Martin Amis, but this short post is spot on. Not just about Amis and the other literary appendixes, but also on celebrity culture and what matters in the world of letters:
When writers like Amis, or Philip Roth – who declared this week that novel-reading would be a fringe activity in 25 years – make their apocalyptic proclamations about the state of publishing, it seems apparent that their pessimism may in fact be rather strongly influenced by anxiety that their new work no longer carries the kind of cultural clout they have grown used to, not because people aren't reading novels, but because people aren't reading their novels.
Continuing this theme I've got plans for posts on what is currently wrong with publishing and the future of reading for pleasure, but like 90% of my 'planned posts' they will probably languish with all the other drafts until they get outdated or I get bored and delete them ...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Song for Sunday

JJ72 – Long Way South

It has been over a year since the last JJ72 song, so it must be time for another one ...

Band/artist of the week: Fulton Lights
Song of the week: Fulton Lights – Healing Waters