Monday, December 30, 2013

Song for Sunday

Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey

A bit late this week, but it's still Sunday somewhere in the world ...

Band/artist of the week: The National
Song of the week: Delay Trees – HML

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Books of 2012

Been thinking about my favourite books of the year (and records, but more of that later) and realised that I never made a list for 2012. I don't think I did one for 2011 either, but that seems like an eternity away, and for some reason 2012 feels like it just finished. Probably something to do with the speed that 2013 seems to have passed by at.

Anyway, here is the top ten, with basic statistics underneath. Apparent again is a heavy bias towards fiction, male authors and books published in the last three years; although with an interesting peak from the early noughties mainly due to my Russell Hoban obsession.

Top 10
1 That Summer – Andrew Greig
2 Sightlines – Kathleen Jamie
3 Open City – Teju Cole
4 Gods Without Men – Hari Kunzru
5 Hawthorn and Child – Keith Ridgway
6 The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee
7 The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway
8 Not the Last Goodbye – David Servan-Schreiber
9 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
10 Backroom Boys – Francis Spufford

Total: 41 books
Fiction: 29 titles
Non-fiction: 12 titles
Number of authors: 36
Male authors: 31
Female authors: 5
Published in 2012: 6
Published in 2011: 16
Published in 2010: 4
Published in 2009: 2
Published in 2008: 0
Published in 2007: 1
Published in 2006: 1
Published in 2005: 0
Published 2000-04: 8
Published 1990-99: 2
Published 1980-89: 1
Published before 1980: 0

And because I love a good graph, or three, here is the last three year's reading broken down month-by-month:
Which looks all right, not hitting my target of 52 books a year, but still not too bad for someone at my stage of life, with a heavy iPad Scrabble habit.

However, things start to look a little less rosy when you compare this to the number of books acquired over the same timeframe (noting the different scale on the y-axis of course):
And then the really scary one:
Assuming I manage to survive for another 30 years what this tells me is that I need to stop buying any books (or asking for them as Christmas presents) in about 10 years. Either that or start to read quicker.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Song for Sunday

Mogwai – The Lord is Out of Control

Oooh, this is exciting. First track from the new Mogwai album due out on 20 January 2014.

Band/artist of the week: British Sea Power
Song of the week: Manic Street Preachers – Show Me the Wonder

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Songs for Sunday

Lou Reed – Strawman

Lou Reed – Pale Blue Eyes

It was the South Bank Show that first introduced me to the genius of Lou Reed. It was 1986 I think and I was in my final year at high school, still 16 but beginning to explore backwards into the history of rock; mostly prompted by reading interviews with R.E.M. where they were talking about their influences. Peter Buck was talking about the Velvet Underground and a song called Pale Blue Eyes that R.E.M. had done a cover of and I must have seen a trailer for the programme, so I got my parents to video it. 10.30pm on Sunday was too late to stay up and watch it live, even with the sparse and flexible timetable of Sixth Year Studies.

The documentary opened up a whole new era and cast of musicians to explore and resulted in the purchase of White Light/White Heat. Even though my musical tastes had long before expanded beyond a weekly diet of Top of the Pops to The Old Grey Whistle Test and later The Tube, it is safe to say that I hadn't experienced anything remotely close to The Velvet Underground. The documentary stayed with me for a long time, but I never got that into the Velvet's music – although there was plenty to enjoy it was always off-set by those tracks which seemed designed just to test the listener's patience. An extension of the attitude outlined by John Cale in his famous quote, 'The only reason we wore sunglasses onstage was because we couldn't stand the sight of the audience.'

My next real encounter with Lou came with his 1989 solo album New York, which got a lot of plays in the EUOC minibuses to events. His fifteenth solo album, he clearly made a lot of music between leaving the Velvets in 1970 and this album, but for some reason I didn't ever get to hear much of it. I liked New York, especially the furiously vitriolic Strawman, but there were plenty other bands and albums that I liked a lot more. Apart from New York and a handle of other songs it just seemed like the further away from he got from the late sixties the less relevant he became.

So, I hadn't really thought much about Lou for a long time, but last Sunday we were watching a documentary about Paul Kelly and Lou's name came up as another famous rock survivor who managed to get through the heroin addiction and live a fairly long and happy life (undoubtably helped by his marriage to Laurie Anderson). Then on Monday the news that he had died at home and all the endless media that accompanies the death of someone so iconic and influential. These two songs may not be his best known or well loved, but they are two that mean a lot to me and I think show what a fine and talented songwriter he was.

Song of the week: Suede – For the Strangers
Band/artist of the week: Moby

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Song for Sunday

Lanterns on the Lake – Another Tale from Another English Town

Band/artist of the week: Mogwai
Song of the week: Moby (feat. Wayne Coyne) – The Perfect Life

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Song for Sunday

Moby (with Wayne Coyne) – The Perfect Life

Band/artist of the week: Moby
Song of the week: Moby – Going Wrong

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Song for Sunday

Manic Street Preachers – Show Me the Wonder

On holiday, so no song or band of the week. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Song for Sunday

Rodriguez – Crucify Your Mind (Summer with Monika)

Band/artist of the week: Deptford Goth
Song of the week: Deptford Goth – Union

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

Song for Sunday

Manic Street Preachers (with Richard Hawley) – Rewind the Film

I love the combination of Richard Hawley's and James Dean Bradfield's voices in this.

Band/artist of the week: The National
Song of the week: Idlewild – The Bronze Medal

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tour de France 2013

The race started a couple of hours ago, but still just enough time to get my predictions for this year's Tour de France. It is going to be an interesting race this year: no prologue, Pyrenees in the first week and, of course, no defending champion. Lots of rumours and intrigue flying around about the real reasons, but undoubtably it can only make life easier for the hot favourite, Chris Froome, and Team Sky.

Froome's form is superb and his results this year point to him being the man to beat, so can he take the one hundredth Tour de France as his first ever grand tour win? Well, it is the Tour and plenty can and will happen between here and the Champs Elysees, but basically the answer is yes. Same as last year his closest rival looks to be his Sky teammate Richie Porte and I reckon they will both be on the podium. Joaquim Rodriquez is a bit of a long shot and he has been pretty invisible this year, but the course has plenty that he will be looking forward to and I hope he can give Froome a run in the mountains. Mainly because I can't see anyone else being up to the job.

Evans and Contador will both be strong and consistent, but I can't see either of them getting onto the podium. Evans is going well this year, but the course doesn't really suit him and he just doesn't have the motivation that Froome and Porte have. Contador doesn't look anywhere near his best form, whether that is to do with a lack of chemically enhanced steaks or just the result of all the upheavals over the last few years, and I don't think he will really challenge. He has a strong team and may make the top five, but to be honest he looks like a relic from a past era already.

I am looking forward to the green jersey competition this year and can't believe anyone will get close to Cavendish. The course will make it difficult for Peter Sagan to challenge, although I bet he gets a stage or maybe even two, and I reckon Cavendish's closest challenger will be Andre Greipel.

And the maillot à pois will stay in France, although little Tommy will have to hand it over to Pierre Rolland. I hope Rolland makes top five, but the mountains jersey will be a nice consolation even if he doesn't manage it this year.

Right, the TV coverage must be about to start. See you in three weeks for the post-mortem. Oh, and don't forget to get your fantasy tour teams in here or here (my team is still called Green Wedgie and we have a league going on the SBS one called Green Wedgie vs the World – let me know if you want to join).

1 Chris Froome
2 Joaquim Rodriquez
3 Richie Porte
4 Cadel Evans
5 Alberto Contador

1 Mark Cavendish
André Greipel
3 Peter Sagan
1 Pierre Rolland
Thomas Voeckler
Joaquim Rodriquez

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Song for Sunday

The Big Pink – Velvet

Not for viewers of a nervous disposition. Our friend from a few weeks ago Lykke Li does a wonderful version of this as well.

Band/artist of the week: Camera Obscura
Song of the week: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Delta Goodrem and Musicians of the Sydney Symphony – Bayini (Live)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Songs for Sunday

So, apologies for the lack of song last week. Almost exactly five years ago I copied Scott Pack's idea and started putting up a song video every Sunday. At the time I thought it would be a good way to make sure that I did at least one post every week, but as it has turned out for most weeks it is the only thing that ever gets put up.

Over the five years I know I have missed a few, but it doesn't take long and I hate it when it happens for whatever reason. Last week I was in the throes of finishing up a large freelance job which I started at the end of March. When I started I was between jobs, but spending most of my time being a stay-at-home dad and so most of the work got done during afternoon naps, when K wasn't working and in evenings. When I started back full-time I assumed that it would take another couple of weeks, three weeks maximum, to get it all finished off, but then illness and a trip to South Korea for new job got in the way and so it ended up being more like five weeks. Which was okay for the deadline, but not so great in terms of actually doing anything that wasn't either working fulltime, freelance work and as many fatherly duties as could be squeezed in.

The freelance job was finally finished up on Tuesday after a fairly epic three evenings working into the night, but of course everything else went by the wayside. Anyway, to make up for this here, courtesy of WFUV Radio (whoever they are), are three fantastic live performances for your enjoyment.

Phosphorescent – Song for Zula

The National – Graceless

Bob Mould – Keep Believing

Song of the week: The Big Pink – Velvet
Band/artist of the week: The National

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Song for Sunday

British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy

Reminds me of my first racing bike. Although that jumper doesn't look like optimal cycling wear.

Band/artist of the week: The National
Song of the week: London Grammar – Hey Now

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Song for Sunday

Suede  It Starts and Ends With You

Band/artist of the week: The xx
Song of the week: Sigur Rós – Svefn-g-englar

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Song for Sunday

The National – Demons

Easy choice this week. Fantastic albums already this year from My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie, Frightened Rabbit, British Sea Power, Low, Delay Trees, Deptford Goth and Phosphorescent, and now news of a new National album coming in May and Suede in the next couple of weeks. Could be difficult choosing my favourite ten this year. Which reminds me ...

Band/artist of the week: Phosphorescent
Song of the week: The National – Demons

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Miracles do happen (or how we ended up in the middle of row A at the Bruce Springsteen concert ...)

Well perhaps not a real, bona-fide miracle, but amazing how a really bad situation can turn into something wonderful with a large helping of luck.

The first time I went to see Bruce Springsteen was back in 1988 when I was 18 and a first year student at Edinburgh University. I had been a big fan for a few years, ever since I had seen him singing Born in the USA on The Old Grey Whistle Test, and even though he wasn't playing anywhere further north than Birmingham on that tour I knew that I was going if I could get a ticket. No-one wanted to come with me so I ended up getting the overnight bus down the day before, arriving in plenty of time to  get a great spot near the front before travelling back on another overnight bus.

I've mentioned it before on this blog, but it was worth every minute on the bus and hanging around Birmingham as the show was amazing. I couldn't believe how incredible the band was and Bruce was everything I had heard or read and more. Full of energy, it seemed he wanted to connect with everyone in the audience and they played and played, until after four hours everyone was exhausted. There were serious moments, anger and sadness, but mostly just joy and exuberance. The excitement of the audience and the reflection of this in the Bruce and the band was incredible.

Needless to say that evening has stayed with me every since and Bruce's music has been a constant throughout the many years that followed. I managed to see him live once more in London in 1999, but since moving to Australia in 2002 there haven't been a lot of opportunities to see him play live ...

And then early last year I heard some rumours that he might be touring Australia late in 2012. Nothing seemed to come of them, but then in November last year there were low-key adverts in the paper announcing dates in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Hanging Rock. At the time only one date had been announced in Melbourne, so I knew the demand for tickets was going to be sky-high. I signed up to get into the advance sale and we tried to book as soon as they went on sale. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to get any. We tried again when general tickets went on sale, when the next night was announced and then when the third and final night went on sale. Still didn't manage to get any tickets.

Getting pretty desperate, a friend who had also been trying to get tickets put us on to a guy who had two tickets for sale. They were mobile phone tickets and not in the best seats, but he was selling them at face value and seemed pretty genuine. My wife wanted to get them as birthday present, so she drove over to his house, paid the cash and he texted her the tickets. Whew, sorted we thought.

Over the last few weeks excitement was rising and we decided that since K was just getting back from a training course in Brisbane on the Sunday afternoon that son number one would come with me. Sure it would be a late night and might mean a day off school, but if you are going to go to your first rock concert at eight years old, you might as well make it a good one.

So, Sunday evening we set off full of excitement and anticipation. I am not sure what son number one was expecting, but I guess he was probably thinking how could it possibly live up to my build-up. He was impressed by the number of people, but not by the queuing and then imagine my disappointment and shock when the tickets didn't work. Someone had already used them and was inside sitting in the seats we thought were ours.

More queueing at the ticket office and they confirmed that yes, the tickets had already been used – someone entered using them just after the doors opened. As we hadn't bought them ourselves there was nothing we could do.

By now it was about 7.29 pm and Bruce and the band were due on stage at 7.30 pm, so staying calm (but inside feeling like I wanted to drive round to someone's house and break all his legs) we checked at the ticket sales window just in case there were some tickets behind the stage left. Then the miracle.

'Yes, we do have a couple of tickets for sale in the seating just behind the general admission area.'

'Okay, we'll take them. What row did you say they were in?'

'Row A, in the middle.'

Not wanting to get too excited, but thinking there must be some mistake. I scribbled my signature on the credit card slip, grabbed the tickets and we tried not to run too fast to get inside. One quick toilet stop to empty an eight year old bladder and buy drinks and we were inside. The seats were incredible – probably the best in the arena. Straight in front of Bruce's microphone, slightly raised so that we had a great view over all the standing general admission crowd and right next the walkway he would use when he came out into the crowd.

Wow, it doesn't get any better than this I thought. A few minutes later the house lights went down and the band kicks into Out in the Street. A couple of minutes in and Bruce makes his way down into the crowd and round onto the walkway. He spots son number one smiles, shakes his hand and gives him the guitar plectrum he was using. Unbelievable.

Ten minutes ago we had no tickets and were looking at a pretty dismal walk back to the train station and home, and now we are sitting (well standing mostly) in the best seats at Rod Laver and Bruce has just shaken my son's hand ...

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but you can see the set-list here. Bruce came past a few more times, including giving number one son another plectrum, crowd-surfing his way from just in front of us up to the stage during Hungry Heart, standing right next to us during the emotional tribute to Clarence and Danny during the encore and getting number one son to sing a line of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.

So, Mr Eddie Black, you may be a con man and a miserable person, but if you weren't a dishonest fraud we wouldn't have been in those seats and had the most incredible night. Only problem is that I now have to somehow explain to number one son that when he goes to concerts in future he may not get to shake hands and sing with band!

Eddie, if you have a change of heart and decide to do the right thing, leave a comment below. If not, I hope the Police catch up with you and that you haven't conned too many other people out of their dream of going to see Bruce Springsteen. I guess they may not all turn out quite as happily as our experience ...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Song for Sunday

Belle and Sebastian – Lazy Line Painter Jane

Still love this after all these years. I have been watching an excellent documentary about the early years of Belle and Sebastian, which has prompted a bit of nostalgia for 1990s Glasgow. Also finally got a copy of their 2010 album Write About Love which is actually really good. Live version here is also worth a listen.

Band/artist of the week: Low
Song of the week: Little Green Cars – The John Wayne

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Song for Sunday

Low – Nothing But Heart

And now new albums announced by Low and British Sea Power. Colour me very excited already ...

Band/artist of the week: Mogwai
Song of the week: British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Song for Sunday

Frightened Rabbit – Backyard Skulls

Band/artist of the week: R.E.M.
Song of the week: Radiohead – Anyone Can Play Guitar

Really enjoying the new Frightened Rabbit album that came out this week. Unfortunately it is bound to be totally overshadowed by the new My Bloody Valentine one which was released without any build-up overnight.

The news earlier in the week that Kevin Shields had claimed it might be 'out in two or three days' at their Electric Brixton gig last Sunday was exciting, but given the 22 year wait so far I wasn't going to get my hopes up too much. However, there it was on twitter this morning: new album released, available immediately from their new website. Except it wasn't. The website had promptly collapsed under the weight of all that built-up expectation and all that most people could find was an opaque 403 error message. Could it all be an elaborate practical joke? Fortunately, no. About five hours later – once everyone in the UK had got bored waiting and gone to bed – the website casually appeared and a few minutes later a download of the complete album was sitting on my hard drive.

It is never going to have the shock and impact of Loveless, and no-one could expect it to, but even so it sounds pretty good. A handful of stunning tracks and a few that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Loveless, may not sound like much progress for 22 years work, but there are still very few contemporary bands that could make an album this exciting and interesting. Me? At the moment I am just happy to have another nine My Bloody Valentine songs in the world.

(Oh, and I haven't forgotten about the best albums of 2012. It is just taking a bit longer than planned to get it all finished. I thought being unemployed would give me more time for stuff like writing blog posts, but sadly that doesn't seem to be the case. Soon, I promise.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Songs for Sunday

Suede – Barriers

David Bowie – Where Are We Now?

Two songs this week, to make up for missing last Sunday. Both tasters for forthcoming albums that sound like they could be pretty interesting. But will they be a match for the highly-rumoured new My Bloody Valentine album?

Band/artist of the week: Low
Song of the week: Adam and the Amethysts – Drinking in LA

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Best albums of 2012: 10 to 6

10 Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
Mannered, manufactured(?), but soaring, glorious pop melodies. I don't read enough about music anymore to know where Lana came from or how this album came into existence. I watched Video Games on YouTube and as I went to buy it as a single thought I should have a listen to the album just in case there was anything else even close to its sublime, irresistible pure pop hit. Of course the whole album isn't quite that good, but there are another three or four tracks that are close and the rest is pretty wonderful too. Perfectly modern but beautifully timeless, this is the sort of album that burrows deep into your brain with melodies that are all but impossible to dislodge.

9 Human Don't Be Angry – Human Don't Be Angry

Malcolm Middleton's side project may not have the emotional impact of his usual work, but it sounds like he is having a lot of fun here. And if anyone deserves a bit of fun you would hope that Malcolm would be near the top of the list. The last track, Getting Better (At Feeling Like Shit), is the only clue that this record is from the man whose attempt at a Christmas number one was called We're All Going to Die. Highlighting his hitherto unknown love of 80s pop, synthesisers and drum machines it is a wonderful showcase of another side of his amazing talents. 

8 Ghost Society – The Back of His Hands, Then the Palms

If you were going to put together a band designed to cater purely for my tastes you would probably come up with something pretty close to Ghost Society – dreamy female/male vocals, distorted My Bloody Valentine-esque washes of guitar, left field melodies from Scandinavia. The shoegaze inspirations can be picked out if you are looking hard, but the sublime vocals are more Cocteau Twins than Ride. Sparkling and shimmering this is a beautiful collection of songs to lose yourself in.

7 Mystery Jets – Radlands

Earnest indie-boys and their guitars make up surprisingly little of my current listening, but I have made an exception for Radlands. There are one or two cheesy moments, try Greatest Hits for a prime example, but overall this is a good selection of well-written, intelligent and mostly jangly songs that stand up to repeated listening. There is a bit of variety, with the rather lovely ballad Take Me Where the Roses Grow and the lo-fi Luminescence rounding things out and providing a counterpoint to the simpler pleasures.

6 Best Coast – The Only Place
Low slung guitars, songs three minutes or less. Like an Elastica for 2012, only better.

Song for Sunday

Best Coast – Angsty

Band/artist of the week: The National
Song of the week: Young Galaxy – Youth is Wasted on the Young

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best albums of 2012: the near misses

Very late, almost embarrasingly so, and slightly less detailed than usual, but for the record here are the Geography of Hope albums of 2012. Starting with the near misses, the top 10 will follow as quickly as I can manage.

Saint Etienne – Words and Music
It doesn't have the subtlety or the charm of earlier albums, but there are still some flashes of brilliance to remind me of the glory days. Lots of shiny big pop numbers, chiming piano chords and pumping drum beats, but Sarah Cracknell's vocals always seem to have an edge of melancholy and Words and Music seems especially nostalgic for those teenage/early adult years of mix-tapes, a music press that mattered and when music was an essential part of defining who you are.

Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky's Edge
His vocal delivery and guitar histrionics remind me a bit of Eric Clapton and that would normally be enough to have me running screaming from the room, but somehow he turns it into something resembling a mythical lost Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood album. Full of swirling, menacing harmonies, the languid vocals are mostly undecipherable and when you can hear them you realise that is probably a good thing. Even so this is a gloriously uplifting and out of time album that sounds immediately recognisable and also like nothing else you have ever heard before.