Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Pop Culture is Dead to Me 4: The Umpire Strikes Back

Corny titles aside, I was walking up the stairs, thinking, "Ooh, I can write something about















..."

A bit like when you go upstairs for something and can't remember what it was.

It might have been about the Marvel Cinematic Universe films we've been slowly reworking our way through over the festive season or how Doctor Who shoved off all the pretence and became a full-fledged, badly-scripted, kids TV show.

I might have been considering admitting to all the apparently cracking telly we haven't watched. While all my erudite friends watched The Handmaid's Tale, I was torn between grief and elation at the renewal/salvation of Lucifer. Trying to persuade my wife to watch the second season of The Good Place has not been successful and because I'm forced to play second fiddle behind cheap quiz shows and BBC4 we pretty much need a major sporting event to catch up on things we've missed. Also, she's just not much into it, which I can understand, unlike people who now claim it's the greatest thing on TV since that little cat ornament your nan had on her Rediffusion set...

The problem I have is TV doesn't really mean that much to me. I sit in front of the computer as long as I sit in front of the TV and, frankly, despite what the wife thinks, there's more choice and diversity here than there is with our limited Freeview choice...

Shall we begin? Yes, let's...

About a month before Christmas, because we haven't already got a year's worth of TV to watch but couldn't be arsed, we watched Iron Man. We realised it had been a while since we last saw it, because so much of it had been forgotten. It had been inspired by us watching Iron Man 3 a few weeks earlier and forgetting what a lousy film that was - possibly the worst of the MCU... Except, it isn't that. Like The Predator, the new Shane Black film; there are some great ideas, it's just executed with the finesse of a herd of incontinent goats force-fed vindaloo. Shane Black makes Guy Ritchie look positively Spielbergian. Iron Man 3 is one of those episodes like the one before The Body in Buffy, where you think you've just watched the worst episode ever and then something so important happens at the end you realise that it is both shocking (metaphorically as well as literally) and essential at the same time. Well, Iron Man 3 has moments in it that are essential (but nothing to compare with the comparison I cited) but the rest of the film is pants. So when we saw Iron Man on the telly, we thought, shall we see if all the older Marvel films have aged well?

Iron Man is probably not as action-packed as you remember. Compared to something like X-Men from 2000, Iron Man is like a rollercoaster gone insane, but for Marvel films, it wisely set the bar quite low to start things off. I mean, there's no point in Tony Stark meeting a Thanos-level villain straight away; is there? The good thing about this film, which set the tone for what was to come, was it felt fantastic but grounded at the same time. Tony Stark as a kind of brainy Elon Musk figure but with all the add-ons and that probably resonates more with the general public than a billionaire misanthrope in a Bat suit or a super-human alien.

The Incredible Hulk still feels like bits of it were tacked onto an independent project to make it seem more MCU and less Ang Lee. Like its predecessor it's a pretty dull film, helped slightly by being more 'Marvel'. This is the worst film in the MCU, but that might be because it was almost wasn't in the MCU.

Iron Man 2 was one of those films I remembered being good, was surprised at how good it still was and how Mickey Rourke doesn't spoil the film at all. We get Black Widow, lots of Nick Fury, a clever and relevant story and it worked on so many levels the rest of Marvel's cinematic universe was probably never in doubt. It's up there as one of the top 3 Marvel films.

Thor is great fun and does a very good job of not seeming at all like a Kenneth Branagh film. My biggest problems with this film was the poor use of the Destroyer and Natalie Portman. My only problem after this film was Asgard was never portrayed as this magical again.

Captain America: The First Avenger is possibly my favourite so far and this alone is weird because I have never been even remotely a fan of Steve Rogers in whatever guise he's opted for over the years. Captain Amateur (or Stinky) is what I usually call him, but the Star-Spangled Avenger's first appearance was like the return of an old friend; like a new - good - Indiana Jones film or anything with a dollop of nostalgia well made.

Avengers Assemble is odd. All the pieces were in place, but some of them could have done with being fleshed out a bit. Having seen this film 3 times now, I'm still bothered by some of its ambiguity (Loki's general appearance and demeanour for the first half of the film and the lack of a plausible reason how he aligned himself to these aliens in league with Thanos), it also bothers me that some of the scripting is naff or how much is shoehorned into the plot. It felt rushed.

Iron Man 3 has been covered, probably in shit. This is a great Tony Stark film; not so good everywhere else.

Thor: Dark World was recently described as 'If the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a TV series, Dark World would be the non-plot episode', except I think maybe, considering two of the film's writers are the guys behind the Russo Brothers and all of the current movies story arc, this has more clues in it than you can imagine. Everything from the Aether to the blackboard behind Erik Selvig in the asylum are clues to what was the come and what is yet to. I think this film has an Infinity War/Endgame deus ex machina hidden in it.

We watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier and pretty much couldn't remember anything apart from the run round the Washington monument with Sam Wilson and in many ways it's as good as the first Cap film but in a completely different way. The clear things to come out of it was how the superhero universe was expanding - and growing darker.

I still have problems with The Guardians of the Galaxy but that's more to do with my age and my history in Marvel Comics. The film is one of those rare things, a good space adventure without feeling too much like Star Wars or Trek or somewhere between the two. However, on watching it again recently, I don't actually think it's that good. The script was pretty awful; Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, John C Reilly and a host of other actors all hammed it up in a cringeworthy kind of way, that had it been filmed in a darker way would have just looked like bad acting. Don't get me wrong, it's very clever but it knows it's clever so it didn't seem to bother with anything else. I mean repeated "A-holes"? Really?

We got almost up to date so far with Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is essentially the continuation of Winter Soldier and how the events in the first Avengers film truly affected the person - Tony Stark - involved in it the deepest. It's kind of the end of the beginning and that's fine, but there are a couple of things about it that could have been done better. Ultron's malevolence should have been explained better; I'm still presuming it's because it is essentially the bi-product of an Infinity Stone, but it is confusing. Other than that, it's actually quite an odd film; part love story, part nightmare and very impersonal - there's a coldness about the interaction of all the characters. There is also a lack in the fluidity of the special effects; whereas the films all seem to have prided themselves with seamless, this film's SFX felt, jarringly, like SFX. It's also considerably better than I remembered it to be, which sounds like a contradiction but isn't. This is a film that probably needed to be 20 minutes longer even though it wasn't overstuffed to begin with.

I suppose Ant-Man is the levity after the angst and anger. To say it exists in its own little pocket of the MCU is a pun. It's a fun film without enough special effects (which in itself is a very unusual thing to write). It obviously is here for a reason; the comedy interlude, perhaps? It coincided really well with our viewing by being on TV. That was last week, I've forgotten loads about it already.

And the other night we watched Captain America: Civil War, which was really The Winter Soldier, part 2 (with a big superhero battle dropped into the middle) or maybe Avengers 2.5 and the amount of time the core earth-bound Avengers were in it you can see why. This is the thing (bearing in mind everything after this is too recent and only seen once); the more heroes in it, the less interesting it is. The battle of the two hero factions in this film felt so contrived it actually spoils it; in fact the Black Panther kind of spoiled it, even if he was a vital component. It is the oddest of movies; if you knew nothing of Marvel films you can just about watch everyone of them and get an idea of what has gone before or how it works; Civil War literally carries on from one end point and goes through to another beginning point. It's also far too much a soap opera considering the amount of action in it. It's also essential viewing - in places.

[An aside - I've always had more of a problem with Bucky Barnes than I have with Steve Rogers, so when he was brought back as the Winter Soldier I accepted it as inevitable. Comparisons are made between Barnes and Natasha Romanov, which must be the logical reason for Cap's determination to save his friend; the problem is, for me, this is a plot that needs concluding. There have been lots of dead ends and red herrings in the MCU so far, but this has been considerably less interesting. I expect, as well as the defeat of Thanos, other issues in the MCU to be concluded in Endgame, I hope this is one of them.]

The next on the list is Doctor Strange. I remember watching it first time around (and wondering why they'd given DS such a stereotypical American accent, when a New England or Mid-Atlantic one would have worked so better...) Maybe I need to give it a year before I return to the MCU?

***

While the next MCU film is less than 3 months away, it's going to be over a year before we dip into the world of Doctor Who again. This, given the last series, might be a good thing. We can all forget how dreadful it was until it is, again. The thing is, I want to go back in time, to the 1970s; some of you can do that...

Morecombe & Wise move to ITV. Les Dawson moves to ITV. Someone you like moves to ITV. Suddenly everything from production values to the way it's written is all wrong. In my house, moving to ITV was the kiss of death (and if you started on ITV and went to the BBC you were either something special or you knew the secret about Jimmy Savile).

Despite remaining on BBC, but moving to a Sunday for the first time ever, Doctor Who moved to ITV. It won't be the same again unless it moves back and as it is really already there I think we can safely say that the reboot in 2025 was always doomed to fail...

***

Is that it? Three bloody paragraphs on Doctor Who? Is that it?

No one really cares any more and I've never really cared. I seem to care more than you think because I'm of geek stock; why else do I write things like this?

OK. More then.

Jodie Whitaker's debut drew as many people watching as peak Tennant - which, I believe, is good numbers. By the end of the series no one was quite sure how many viewers there were and the BBC, usually quite bullish (until the Top Gear reboots) about viewing figures went all quiet and the Whovians retweeting DW viewing figures like coordinates to free treasure one day, were all at their mums on the last two Sundays the Doctor lectured her way through an hour sounding like a pissed off teaching assistant in a room full of pensioners on acid. [Oh if it was weird as that]

I bloody love the idea of a woman Doctor. I also love the idea of a dog Doctor. A truly alien Doctor or a board of Plywood covered in jam Doctor - I think DW embraces diversity like Ikea do weird names in fake Scandinavian. One of the weirdest things was the time it took them to fiddle around with its gender.

I have spent the last few months defending Jodie Whitaker like she was my sister and I realised earlier on - the way my weird head works - when I was talking about the Avengers that I've been lying to myself; I don't actually like Jodie Whitaker. I don't think she acts particularly well in this role with these scripts and directors and she's too... average. Normal. Human, if you will. There has been 'otherworldly' about a number of Doctors, with the least alien being Ecclestone and Tennant, who made up for it with mannerisms (and making John Hurt like a tooled up version of Ecclestone also worked). Whitaker has nothing to bring to the table - no quirk, no point of focus. She does seem like a female extension of Tennant and Smith but without any depth.

The last series of Doctor Who struck me as more Chris Chibnall re-imagining it as a post-modern Mr Benn without the costumes. Except that would be crediting Chibnall with an intelligence he clearly doesn't possess. Everything from his obsession with Sheffield to avoiding (most of) the old toys in the box; everything about the new Who and her showrunner has been largely negative even if there has been a vociferous call-to-arms in support of the female Doctor. The problem with this is it isn't about Whitaker (although she could have been improved on), it's about Chibnall's inability to write this kind of family TV and the production company's inability to make 50 minutes of anything half decent. The sad thing is the couple of almost reasonable episodes were themselves woeful examples of British SF TV making, but the bar had been lowered to snake shit levels by then.

The thing is, DW has a certain level and this season plumbed depths not seen since the days of polystyrene production sets. If someone had said, "We're doing Doctor Who for CBBC now" and then offered this series up you wouldn't have objected to the massive drop in standards; the fact it's something we actually see our license fee in makes people with time invested in it angry/happy/ambivalent. It is a bi-product of the growth in social media.

Love Beach was an album by ELP. However awful it was, the die-hard ELP fans were happy because it was a new ELP album. ELP aficionados quite rightly were justified in shitting on their copies before posting them to either Mr Emerson, Mr Lake or Mr Palmer. People who wouldn't know ELP from a hole in the ground wouldn't give a fig unless one of them bit them on the arse and then maybe not so much. Some DW fans are going to swallow as long as they have holes in their arses, but a lot of people - not just misogynists, idiots and cretins - are going to spit and just find everything a bit too unpalatable. The thing is it could be that like ELP, this DW is a step too far (too soon).

***

One thing that seems to have become a trend is the success of naff films. If anything is an indication of how bonkers the world is becoming, it's when truly woeful examples of film making become big hits. Three films in 2018 have defied logic and become blockbusters - Hugh Jackman's The Greatest Showman, the Venom film and Bohemian Rhapsody. As I type this I'm hearing that Aquaman might end up being a huge money-spinner for Warner/DC even if every critic on the planet thought it was dull and a wee bit damp. When the general public are no longer being guided by critics it is a reflection of society as a whole.

Over the last two years, we have seen the end of 'Facts' as a bonafide way of verifying the truth in something. It has been replaced by 'Belief' and therefore instead of looking at reviews of Aquaman and thinking, "Hmm, that looks like a big pile of wank." You're going to think, "If I believe it's as good as Citizen Kane, it will be." And then because you believed really hard, even though it was a pile of wank you can't possibly admit to yourself you were wrong, so you perpetuate the lie by telling all of your friends - specifically the ones who are governed by lowest common denominators - that Aquaman needs to be seen at a cinema.

The Greatest Showman is this decade's Mamma Mia or Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. The fact it came out before Mamma Mia 2 was a stroke of genius because all those old Mamma Mia fans needed something to get the juices flowing again... Plus, punters like the odd sing-a-long-a-musical - I'd never begrudge them it just so long as I never have to suffer watching one of them myself.

I haven't seen that or the Venom film, but I figure the latter's been successful primarily because of Tom Hardy and also because the trailers do a good job in piquing your interest; big monster crime fighter, comedy lines, eating people's heads - ticks all the boxes. Plus Ragnarok did wonders for the comedy superhero film, Infinity War killed a bunch of people and Venom does both - win win. The chances are people see the word 'Marvel' and blindly accept it must be part of this big MCU (because the average punter doesn't care that Marvel was divided like a spit roast party gone wrong back around the turn of the century and is only just making some sense of how its comics will eventually fit into its cinematic universe).

The thing is I've spent about 3000 words talking to you about stuff I like or don't. What I have written is essentially reviews, except I like to tart things up and make it more of an experience than just giving you an encapsulated review of something, even if what I did was give you encapsulated reviews of the MCU films. It's about presentation, innit?

Joe Bloggs already thinks The Guardian or Daily Mail film reviewer is a posh twat, so if he doesn't like something it's like being told that leaving the EU is a bad thing - you lost, get over it - so if this posh twat doesn't like it that means I might like it... It's not as wide a sociological step as you might think - imagined reverse psychology; it's the basest level to why we do not allow ourselves to accept our own culpability when we're fundamentally wrong about a belief - cognitive dissonance.

Take Hereditary as an example. Now this is a genuine exception to this rule. Most press rated it highly and most people who saw it agreed with the press - they believed the hype. This in itself is an example of how we can one day say, "Oh, I read it in the paper so it must be true." and the next day say, "Oh, I read it in a paper so it must be bollocks." The truth with Hereditary is probably simple; one of the earliest reviews influenced the way the future reviewers and potential audience would go and often with a film with a reasonable budget it's the choice of how the film is marketed that determines its success. Words such as 'unnerving', 'unsettling', 'otherworldly' and 'genuinely creepy' tend to be triggers.

Mark Kermode is often derided for suggesting The Exorcist is his favourite film of all time, because, you know, it's a horror film. The fact it's a clever, scary and unbelievably well-acted film is secondary to a genre prejudice. Lots of people don't like horror/scary movies so Hereditary was desperate to appeal to as many of its core audience as possible and maybe win over some sceptics. My mate thinks this film is the scariest film he's seen and he is a godsend to filmmakers because if enough of his friends know he thinks it's a fucked up movie and go see it or catch it on a streaming service then the word of mouth effect helps continue to make the film money in a world where DVDs are now a niche market.

Personally, I had all kinds of problems with Hereditary and thought it ended up being weird for weird's sake and was full of dislikable characters all waiting to die. But, you see, in my world, the best horror movie ever made is Alien. It's not a SF film; it is a haunted house; thing in the cellar/under the bed/in the closet film. It has more tension (= frights) than pretty much any other film, apart from maybe The Thing, which also isn't a SF film.

Also, I could have substituted Hereditary for Guardian of the Galaxy - both average films done slightly differently; marketed extremely well and grew off of and out of the initial reviews. Sit down and analyse the films and you'll be found wanting. [Guardians would have been a success whatever the reviews, but it was a phenomenal hit because it tapped into a demographic the other Marvel films couldn't or didn't.]

Apart from when a genuinely half decent film comes along that unites all sides of the process, the market is so crowded the film industry appears to be relying on an area that they've often forgotten about - the people who actually pay for their films at a cinema and that means making mainly half-baked vacuous 'entertainment' instead of groundbreaking intelligent story telling. You could argue that what makes money is what works and you would be right, but cinema is one of the arts and we're going into an entirely new can of worms just as I was trying to finish up. We'll maybe come back to that, one day.

I'm not about to suggest that the critics were wrong about the critical flops that were box office hits, but outside of the general obsolete nature of reviewers nowadays, a thing sells if the people want it and if it doesn't it's because they don't want it. This actually really isn't rocket science. A successful movie makes money by making money. A producer doesn't give a fuck what Joe Bloggs says about his film as long as he's getting a return on his investment. If he's making a cheesy 21st century disaster film remake with The Rock and it will have as much cultural impact as a donut, he's still probably going to be earning more and subsequently making more of this kind of film. You could argue that the feel-good films and fun adventure films are filling cinemas because they're a spectacle, an escape, a little like going to the cinema in the 1930s when it was the only entertainment most people could afford (and there were no boozers, in the USA); they offer something different from the dirge we all live through on a daily basis. Critics might hate this common denominator crap, but the punters - the average ones who make up the majority of people - lap it up.

I think many people are looking for a change, when that is the driving force behind an existence people do all kinds of strange and unusual things; there's nothing that says it can't be expressed in other ways other than politically.

That's your lot. Go and do something constructive.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Album Review: North Atlantic Oscillation - Grind Show

North Atlantic Oscillation - Grind Show

Release Date: November 16, 2018 on Vineland Music
This, from the official press release: “... a dramatic shift into more accessible territory: pop, electronica, rock & even folk elements ...”


I’ve been honoured and able to call Sam Healy my friend for a couple of years. This wasn’t the intention when I calmly suggested his first solo project Sand was the best album I’ve heard in the 21st century. When I finally met this talented man at a low-key North Atlantic Oscillation gig in Birmingham 3½ years ago, I soon learned that we had very similar senses of humour; he had an inventive, playful mind that wasn’t scared to juxtapose an obvious position. Or... he was quite mad.

I mention this, not because I want to be seen as a namedropper, or to shoehorn in the fact I still rate the first Sand album very highly, I mention it because Healy is a bit of a joker and I’m really not sure why the press release is worded that way... You see, I am a North Atlantic Oscillation champion and I believe they should have a far bigger audience than they have. The thing is NAO to me are pop, rock, folk electronica – that’s pretty much how I ‘sell’ them to people (and probably 50% of the reason those people never follow my advice). So reading a press release that suggests the band are moving into that direction sat uncomfortably with me, because, on initial listens, Grind Show is quite possibly the least accessible of their albums, so far.

North Atlantic Oscillation is now Healy alone. That also bothered me. I was a firm believer that former bassist Chris Howard grounded him and made him aware of real music. Sam once told me that Chris was the guy who introduced him to a lot of his later musical influences; introduced him to the classic rock and prog that I grew up with and hear in NAO’s work. I also believed Ben Martin’s drumming was one of the reasons they had such a unique sound; often described as sounding a bit like the Flaming Lips, I’d call that comparison bullshit, apart from the way Ben smashed his drum kit like there was no tomorrow. Armed with the knowledge that both had left the band to pursue other dreams also filled me with an uncertain dread.

Let’s get this out there: I thought the band would feel a little incomplete without the missing members – yet their influences are there to be heard, even if they were not there in recording. I listen to it and I’d argue with Sam until the coos come hame that Grind Show is actually a departure from more ‘accessible territory’; to me it’s more like a post-modern post-rock album. I still see those similar and familiar influences, but performed now in a more ‘personal’ way. It still has that ‘epic’ feel the last two albums particularly had, yet in many ways it feels as stripped back as Grappling Hooks, but now with the influence of age and experience. This really isn’t a bad thing because the brilliance of individual musicians (or musician) tends to be easier to detect.

My initial impression was it’s more like a follow-up to Sand’s 2nd album A Sleeper Just Awake, probably down to the more electronic feel and the use of effects to conjure up uncertain atmospherics. However, Healy employs a lot of different vocal styles, testing his range, experimenting with new sounds. He really hits his stride with Sequoia, the 9th track, it’s the first track that truly allows Healy to stretch those brilliant vocals... he has a brilliant voice – like a mix of Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Mark Hollis, Art Garfunkle, Scott Walker and Jimmy Krankie – and this is the first time in the album that he really gets to belt one out. That’s not to say he doesn’t stretch his pipes sooner, it’s just the track that shows you how powerful his voice can be.

Apparently, doing breakdowns or track-by-track reviews is not du rigueur nowadays – which, just to digress for a moment, seems like a ‘rule’ introduced by people who got criticised for only reviewing the tracks off of albums they like. However, I feel that track-by-track reviews are for retrospectives rather than immediate snapshots of current stuff; and besides how boring is one man’s literary interpretation of his feelings towards songs he’s not familiar with, but wants to convey an illusion of knowledge? Yes, I’m aware I can usually make anything shine, but even I have limitations and to breakdown the entire album into individual items doesn’t necessarily lean itself to being good promotion and feels a little anal...

Sam tells me in an interview he did with me for The Progressive Aspect – music review site @ http://theprogressiveaspect.net/ - that many of the songs from this album were like, ‘Pulling teeth out of a larger tooth’ so it kind of makes writing mini reviews for each song almost trite and disrespectful considering the time a reviewer spends on a track compared to the relative time an artist can spend producing it for us. That said, the outstanding tracks on the first listens are maybe no longer the go-to tracks, but most all have one thing in common, they’re North Atlantic Oscillation songs. I have my reservations about opening the track with Low Earth Orbit; but in my head the track that sounds most like a leftover from the last Sand solo project could be perfectly placed – this was then, this is now!

I’d urge you to listen carefully to tracks like Weedkiller, Spinning Top, Sirens, Hymn and Fernweh – all showcase what is best about this band’s ability to create mini-opuses and I don’t mean in a 15 minute prog rock form, but inside 6 minutes (there are only 3 tracks over this mark and none by much). No band has the ability to create songs textured with both light and dark without jarring the listener. The Third Day showed us what subtleties were capable of NAO; it was an album shrouded in modern-prog rock songs you’d be hard pressed to categorise so pejoratively (which made it so stunningly refreshing), there are elements at work in this album, but reviewing this album [this review will appear in a much edited form] for a prog rock oriented site seems almost like an insult; it goes way beyond facile descriptions. But you have to give it time...

You know the expression, ‘It’s a grower’? Well, Grind Show is exactly that. It isn’t accessible; I believe it’s the least immediate album by the ‘band’ so far, but what it lacks in some areas it makes up in others by being wildly inventive, unexpected and quite beautiful and this becomes crystal clear as you grow more familiar with songs, leading me to wonder what my initial reaction to the album was all about. Parts of tracks that I found jarring on initial listens now make so much more sense; there’s a distinct Miles Davis jazziness to the album that makes the sometimes in-yer-face electronic bits fit in with the customary cushioned wall of sound you normally associate the band with.

When you produce music as complex and intense as this, Talk Talk can never be too far from creative comparisons. NAO might currently be just Sam, but he has had a lot of production help from Pete Meighan, the Dublin-based producer who has worked with the band before and was instrumental (literally) on Healy’s solo efforts. I hope their relationship more than just resembles the one between Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis and his producer friend Tim Freise-Greene – because look what music those two geniuses went on to create?

In conclusion; I’m in an unenviable position: what if I thought the album really was shit? I have a preview because I’m a fan [who writes great reviews] and a friend; does that put pressure on me to be kind? Would I be? Well, I did really think ‘WTF?’ the first time I heard it, but as stated above, more because it wasn’t what I expected and because I disagreed with the ‘accessible’ claim. Ask yourself this; what does a fan truly expect from a new album anyhow? I often wonder if aficionados and die-hard fans just want their favourite bands to do their favourite tracks – constantly repackaged or reworked so they don’t have to think about new songs, directions or ideas. I was the same; I approached this album with more dread than anticipation because... What if I didn’t like it?

If anything, in my mind NAO have become more uncategorisable than they were last week. If this album came out under the Radiohead banner there would be priapic rock DJs poking each others’ eyes out trying to be the most enthused about it; but it’s by a little known bloke in Edinburgh (originally from Ireland) who already has a back catalogue with more brilliance and invention than most rock stars can muster in their entire careers; so it’s probably never going to get the recognition it deserves (at least, not yet).

Grind Show is sublime. If The Third Day was velvet, this is felt – smooth but with a rougher edge. It’s full of atmospherics, feeling, diversity and invention. In many ways it’s haunting while being uplifting; happy while reflecting on sadness. And, I will concede it feels more like a rock album, but I don’t quite know why. I hope it’s going to attract many new fans, but if it doesn’t I feel sorry for all those people who don’t get what I do.

The test of a great album is how long it stays on your record player; The Third Day was played just last week (not even in anticipation of this new project); I don’t know if Grind Show will be played in 2022 as much as The Third Day has been since 2014, but at the moment I really hope so.                                   
9/10

Pre-order now on CD/MP3/WAV > http://bit.ly/GRINDSHOW and receive Low Earth Orbit as an immediate download.
Low Earth Orbit video on You Tube - https://youtu.be/gHRiCjB3mB8

Friday, August 17, 2018

Album Review - Hybrid/Light of the Fearless

Light of the Fearless
Hybrid

Nearly 20 years ago, my brother-in-law introduced me to an EDM combo who offered something a little different from all that shit dance stuff (IMHO) masquerading as music. What made Hybrid different was the use of massive soundscapes; orchestras and rock instruments added texture and cred to their style and I suggested Hybrid were more progressive than dance.

By the mid-noughties after a couple of almost uncategorisable albums working with prog rock musicians, and the likes of Perry Farrell and Julee Cruise, they seemed to settle on a new look and feel to their music. Disappear Here introduced Charlotte James (real name Truman) as the new front-woman of a rock-tinged EDM 'band'. That album seemed to cement Hybrid into a specific sub-genre and James certainly seemed like a great addition to their line-up. 'Disappear Here' was full of banging rock-tinged dance tunes that weren't quite so easily labelled.

Then nothing. For six years.

In the summer of 2015, it was announced that Chris Healings had left the band to explore a new career in sound design and to concentrate on being a DJ. My initial reaction was that Healings was obviously the EDM influence in the band, so his departure might mean a harder edge to Hybrid; more rock than dance. Especially as I saw James as a great recruit with a versatile voice...

I couldn't have been further from the truth...

For three years, the Hybrid website simply had an 'excerpt' from the forthcoming album. I've listened to the new album three times now and I can't hear it. The fact the 'excerpt' was head and shoulders better than the entire Light of the Fearless album suggests to me that they decided to change direction.

The new album isn't going to be a constant on my player; in fact it's probably not going to feature again. It's basically, to me, a bad pop album with a bit of clever production. The cinematic hugeness of Hybrid's music has disappeared and been replaced by jangly production, soulful choirs and there isn't enough of the Hybrid I've regarded as one of my favourite bands for the last 19 years to make it worth listening to again.

There are a few moments in it, but moments aren't enough - Beauty Queen being the closest thing to anything that came before. However, what there is a lot of is bland pop music, finished off with what can only be described as a woefully poor homage to Tom Petty with a truly awful cover of 'I Won't Back Down'.

I've banged on about Hybrid for years. I still recommend 'Morning Sci Fi' as possibly one of the best electronic rock albums of all time, but 'Light of the Fearless' is pretty much not in that league. I'm really glad I didn't waste my money on it.

2/10

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Fixed

I have too much time on my hands. I know this. When I'm not farting about in the garden (project) or recording vlogs on the beach, I'm pretty much doing nothing practical apart from cooking - and to be fair, I've had so much time to practice cooking I'm even better now than I was! The thing is as I have still to find a job, I am filling my days with anything I can to procrastinate from doing something pertinent.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I love playing Scrabble and fancy myself a reasonable player. I used to play it a lot more than I do now, even though I have far more time. Games of Scrabble on a board were often like binge drinking; getting as much in because you don't know when the next session will be. Then I discovered an on-line community - long before Facebook - which had its own area to play; there were tournaments and your stats were all important. This was a place called the PixiePit and one day they started to charge players a subscription fee and being someone who suffered at the hands of people not subscribing to my own innovative on-line things, I was going to be fucked by a buffalo before I was giving anyone my money...

Anyone who knows me well will know that while I often have referred to myself as a journalist in the past, many people would argue the validity of that statement based on what I journalised in... Innit? The thing is, you don't regurgitate press releases for a decade without starting to see things - patterns, correlations, clues to something else. My role was both to regurgitate and to investigate and despite having not done much for a decade, the inherent ability is still there to spot something a bit off.

When I started having to play Scrabble on Facebook, it was being run by (I think) Mattel and was essentially a social media housed version of PixiePit. Then EA Sports bought Mattel, therefore bought the game and the uproar over it even made the mainstream press. People who had been playing the original version, far longer than as a Facebook game, were seeing a decade of stats wiped out; they were seeing a variety of things within games disappear (speed scrabble, force passing and the ability to choose who you played rather than randomly be assigned any Tom, Dick or Ahab) in favour of what appeared to be some chess rating system, adverts, paid for speed games and no way to reconnect with players who shared the app but not Facebook friend status. EA listened to all the complaints, and there were literally millions of them, and they did a massive fuck all (and there still are people who post to their page complaining today, who don't seem to realise that EA doesn't care about anything but profits).

As with all changes to the way we do things on line, there is no choice. You get changes foisted upon you that you simply have to accept or go without and these platform dealers know that for every person who gets pissed off with their changes, another two or three will emerge in the next few days to overfill the gap - it is the nature of having the world at your fingertips; fuck the non-conformers.

People who know me will also know that I have 'Bill' the legendary alter-ego based on a long story about mispronunciation which we don't need to obfuscate this any more by repeating. Bill is 'used' to play games because Bill's details - from friends to personal details - can be shared with Facebook because there's fuck all there apart from the people who think being friends with me and Bill is going to yield some insight or hilarity or even insanity...

I have never wanted to share my details with Facebook. I've known for yonks that Facebook is a data harvester and therefore I don't tend to have much information on it and quite wonderfully it thinks I live in a village just near Bassenthwaite Lake in Cumbria; so I'm kind of on the radar in a very pointless way. This was why Bill was created and Bill has played Scrabble for 9 years. He's got a 73% win rate and that makes him (me) a reasonable player. However, it wasn't until I moved up here that I started to notice something that kind of takes all the fun out of playing EA's on-line Scrabble...

The biggest complaint you hear from people is that people cheat and use word generators - yes that happens. I have used them. I sometimes use them to check the spelling of a word in my memory that won't quite appear and the EA Scrabble has a word checker so you don't just stick any old shit down; except it doesn't let you put any old shit down. If you put 'SPANGLEWANK' down, not only would you be a genius, but it would say 'Invalid word' and wouldn't let you do it; which of course takes challenging out of the equation - something you could and often had at the PixiePit. So people use word generators and the only skill that remains is how and where to place your go for maximum scores and future opportunities. It's a valid complaint, but you're not going to stop people and if, like me, you know obscure words, you're always going to be accused of being a cheat by whoever you're playing, even if you're not and especially if you're hammering someone obviously of sub-par intelligence.

So EA Scrabble is about positioning rather than skill; however it has a skill rating, which is called an ELO rating. Essentially, the higher that rating the better the player you are and that, theoretically, trumps everything. The problem is over the last six months I've grown to think that's bullshit. I think EA have turned Scrabble into a video game, or have tried to incorporate bits of 'playability' like Candy Crush has into it, albeit more surreptitiously rather than secretively, that won't bother good players, will infuriate not so good players, but will likely as not be picked up by anyone and because they are who they are; good players will think they have good games because they're good players; the same for average players and average players won't think why 99 times out of 100 they get stuffed when they play someone the ELO claims is better than them. The reason for this is both subconscious and also a case of if someone like me said, "They [EA] all fuck cats!" even if they do, you're not going to believe me; you're going to think it's a sour grapes issue, or I don't like changes EA have made or anything because I'm most likely a mad swivel-eyed conspiracy freak/Right/Left wing fake news bastard and EA are a large computer game conglomerate... What's not to believe about them? Eh? EH?

Because I've had a lot of time on my hands I started to play a bit more Scrabble and for the first couple of months I was here, Bill fluctuated between a 73 and 71% success rate and then something started to repeat itself and you could say that the law of averages, physics and games theory make this a non-story and it probably is unless you like playing scrabble on Facebook and don't mind being dicked about?

I was losing consistently to players with a higher rating. People with 75% or 80% ratings, or ELO ratings higher, weren't just beating me, they were crucifying me, much in the same way I would annihilate a player with a less than 50% rating. Now, these people who beat me had high ELO ratings as well, so theoretically they were much better than me and obviously had better vocabularies and could see words in jumbled letters better or ... um... word generators; you can't escape them, so word skill tends to go out of the window, as I said. Yet, these players with 10% high ratings than me weren't just butt-fucking me, they were doing it with 6 or 7 bingos (a 7 or 8 letter word) while I toiled trying to make fuck all out of 6 consonants and a U or an I...

So, back in July, I disconnected from and deactivated all of my bogus Facebook accounts, I mean, who doesn't have at least 15 each? But in December, I reactivated one of them - 'Barry' - and started playing Scrabble. This time I was doing it as research rather than fun and some of the things I discovered were very alarming to me. The first thing I did was have Barry play Bill 10 times. Bill (at the time) had a 2025 ELO rating and Barry had a 1800 (apparently where it starts... I dunno, go figure?). Bill annihilated Barry 10-0. I was playing myself, but one of me consistently had far better letters and combinations for TEN straight games - Barry never stood a chance; it was like I got to pick my letters from a plastic bag.

Barry then went into the big world and started playing others; all with piss poor ratings. Barry went from a 0% win percentage to 75% within 100 games. In fact at 100 games, Barry had only lost 18 games - 10 of those to myself and five because the internet was down for nearly a week and I'd been 'force forfeited', so in actual terms I'd only lost 3 games . I occasionally got beaten by a player with a similar ELO rating, but put that down, rather conceitedly, to bad moves or judgements by me rather than skill of my opponent.

Then Barry played Bill again and got thumped.

Over the last two months, Barry plays people of a much higher standard to his rating and 99 times out of 100 he gets his arse handed to him on a plate; once in a blue moon, he'll beat a player who is better, despite having shit letters, because *I* know how to play when someone is screwing you over and that is to shut them down as best you can. The thing is Bill and then Barry both get consistently shit letters when they're playing someone 'better'.

Barry has now played Bill 20 times. The score is Bill 20 to nil. I played two games yesterday, now that Barry's ELO rating is 1950 (Bill's is 2030) and Barry lost both games by over 150 points. Barry's letters have again consistently been shit when playing Bill; and Barry's letters are consistently shit when playing any one with a +2000 ELO rating. Bill's (2030) letters are always considerably better than someone with a less than 2000 ELO rating and constantly shit when playing someone with a higher than 2050 rating. Across 6 months of scrutiny, I have absolutely no doubt that the data I've accrued proves that EA on-line Scrabble is unfairly weighted towards the better players; the letters are not random; they're influenced by the game provider towards the player with the higher ELO.

You can't get a straightforward game like you can with a board and a bag of tiles; it can't do that because it wants to encourage people by helping them or hindering them depending on the standing of the opposition.

EA Scrabble is fixed and I have six months worth of data to back it up. The sad thing is it is neither important or likely to be discussed by anyone - stick a link to this blog in the Scrabble FB page comments section and if it isn't deleted by their rabid moderators, people won't bother or if they do... please see the comments above about my credibility against an honest and decent megacorporation like EA; which is fair enough, but it does show you how everyone has allowed themselves to be subtly manipulated by computer companies... To believe everything the screen tells you and to be so ... zoned out, that you accept it as normal so don't really see how you're being used to ensure your patronage and if just one percent of one percent of the 7 million users spends $25 then everyone gets to buy a house in Bali.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Pop Culture is Dead To Me 3: This Time It's Personal

A surprisingly thin-on-the-ground selection for this quarter; but this is probably down to having rediscovered 'a social life' and not dependent on a TV for entertainment...

Anyhow, you know when you really look forward to something and it turns out to be considerably less exciting than you could ever wish for? Well, the last time I actually looked forward to a film and enjoyed it was Arrival - the CE3K for the 21st Century, so I had vast expectations of Annihilation based purely on its premise (and its apparent similarity to an idea I had over five years ago).

Annihilation is based on the Jeff Van der Meer book of the same name - the first part of a trilogy about an area of the USA that becomes 'some other place' and it stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Issac (both with Star Wars connections) and is directed by Alex Garland, he of Ex Machina fame, so there's oodles of pedigree and potential. Yet, despite getting a limited cinematic release in the last country it should have been shown, the rest of the world got it on Netflix, based it seems on the idea that the studio behind it got cold feet about the ... subject matter and esoteric story line. I'm thinking they maybe realised it was just a heap of barely intelligible boredom. I don't need to be a half-wit Yank to dislike this film on a number of levels - it isn't weird enough; it isn't psychedelic enough and it's as exciting as watching your nan doing the ironing, while listening to repeats of The Archers... Yes, it's that good!

The other problem with Annihilation is its disjointedness - presumably deliberately done to attempt to convey the weirdness of Area X (where most of the film is set), there seems to be lots of time spent drawing allegory from the worlds the expedition team have left behind. I'm not overly convinced these allegories worked, regardless of the obvious or subtle execution; but this might be down to the bleak and humourless journey the viewer has to take.

Frankly, I think it's a mess that apparently takes so many liberties with the source material that someone else could adapt the book and this film would come out considerably differently.

I feel a little like the Americans who hated the end of the Shadow War in Babylon 5 because it wasn't exciting enough; but where I could see the necessity of that, this film needed something to actually happen in it, because aside from the mutated empathy bear and a few flowers, it felt decidedly like a dull road movie.

I also feel that when You Tube is flooded with seven minute films of nerds explaining to other nerds what the film or the ending meant then it maybe shouldn't have been released in the first place. This is intellectual snobbery, by the way, this is someone who fancies themselves as a pretty good writer conveying my belief that this was incoherently done and any subliminal message was lost; probably down the weirdly vaginal hole in the Lighthouse...

Regular readers will know I've grown utterly tired of the Marvel films, purely because they either don't live up to my expectations or I'm simply growing too old to appreciate a film genre that is now firmly directed at people younger than me. I was hoping that Thor: Ragnarok would buck a trend, especially as I've really enjoyed the other two Thor films.

The problem with it is it's simply too long, it's also too comedic and presumably Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) couldn't be in it because her film-star alter-ego was farting about in some vaguely psychedelic/delirious film purporting to be 'intelligent SF'. That aside, it was the most enjoyably daft Marvel film I've seen in a while, even if, like Annihilation I found it hollow and a little lifeless.

Would I be right in suggesting that 'solo' superhero films are no longer that? Take Spider-Man: Homecoming - it has Iron Man in it. The new Thor has the Hulk, Valkyrie and, at the end, the Guardians. I haven't seen Black Panther and I'm in no hurry to, but I wonder how many 'guest stars' are in it? Avengers: Infinity War (Part One) will have about 100 superheroes in it; I expect each of them will get less than 10 seconds air time; someone will die at the end and all will seem lost until Adam Warlock turns up at the end... Yawn...

I'm sure I've seen some other films since Christmas, but the failure of any of them to stick in my memory could simply be an indication that movies are in need of something new, especially when TV and streaming services seem to be cleaning up; or I simply might be suffering from dementia. In fact, I think part of the reason my viewing habits have declined has been down to too much choice. Not all that choice is going to be award-winning fodder either.

In terms of networked TV (you know the drill, I rarely talk about UK TV because most of it is bad and I don't really care if you really think [insert name here] was the best British [insert genre type here], I'm unlikely to watch it) I'm convinced I've missed out or forgotten half of what I've watched. The thing is I might not remember them because they're even less worth talking about than the following load of horse testicles...

Lucifer is a TV show in need of a show runner who understands how these kind of shows work, because it is fast becoming the genuine 21st century version of Columbo. One of the original charms of the series was the dull procedural shit you had to get through, almost as tiresomely as Lucifer, so we could have those juicy five to ten minutes of PLOT. The problem is that PLOT got so far and then ground to a halt and was replaced by a series of slightly irrelevant subplots that seem to go out of their way to portray Lucifer like some sheltered slightly twattish kid with a growing dose of Tourette's, who also, despite millennia of observing human behaviour still has absolutely no clue how to behave. It was fun for two series, but now it needs to move on.

Lucifer is also fast becoming the graveyard for washed up ex-fantasy show actors. Trish Helfer didn't do a bad job last series, but, honestly, does she need to be around now? And why is she more like the goddess who possessed her than the homely wife and family lawyer she was originally, but has been carelessly forgotten about?

The other problem is Tom Welling. He was head and shoulders the worst thing in Smallville (and he played Clark Kent) and now he's Kane, the first murderer, where he gets to flex all of his absolutely non-existent acting skill, while being allowed to sing very badly. No wonder some of the cast are beginning to look confused (or is that bemused?), all the time.

Meanwhile, torture and misery porn has advanced to new and even more controversial levels with (say it in a gruff US accent) Ay Em Cee's The Walking Dead... I thought making the Season eight story - All Out War - stretch out across the entire 16 episodes in what appeared, at first, to be continuous real time action seemed like a good idea, but after the opening four episodes (which appeared to cover the same time frame from several different perspectives) we appear to have settled back into another weirdly chronological mishmash of confusion.

If the show runner thought killing off Carl was a way of getting the series back on track and thoroughly confusing the comic readers, then the jury is out. Yes, the kid who played Carl in the series was as wooden as a yew tree, but in the comic he's become almost as important as his father, in the grand scheme of things. So they either look for a new 'Carl' one who can act and is interesting, or they go in a different direction to the comic - completely.

The problem with TWD now is it has become a shouty mess with no clear direction any more. The zombies are almost a distraction from the latest psychos and their crazy followers and once Negan and co are out of the way - by the end of this current series you can be sure - we've got the Whisperers waiting in the wings. Another bunch of randomly chaotic psychos intent on killing the living.

I don't know if this is true and frankly I don't like searching the internet for vague things, but the next series of sister show Fear Madison and her Family or whatever it's called is being fast forwarded FIVE years and Morgan from TWD is joining the cast, presumably in the hope that viewers will give a shit.

I addressed this before - if you had a series about living in a mountain retreat with solar and wind power and a mountain stream, it would get a little boring when each episode was about crop yields or fortifying the outer perimeter...

The new addition to our viewing pleasure was The Good Place. We watched Season One more on the recommendation of seeing others asking if people had seen it. It's essentially a 22 minute weekly comedy series about people who have died and gone to 'The Good Place'. It sounds like something that guy from Little House on the Prairie should be in with guest appearances from Aled (I never touched her, guv) Jones, but it is actually as odd as anything you will ever see on US TV. We have the entire season two to watch after binge watching the first series. The wife is undecided, I'm just hoping it doesn't turn into some weirdly bloated Groundhog Day.

The shock for me has been how surprisingly irreverent and enjoyable most of this, presumably final, season of The X-Files has been. With just a few more to go before Gillian Anderson quits the show for good, I'd hope it ties up as neatly as it can without trying to shag a bloated corpse any longer than necessary. This season has been blessed with some excellent stand alone episodes that have been head and shoulders above the now tired and balding main plot. Let's hope they manage to finally put it out of its misery on a high note.

Agents of SHIELD was going to join most of the other Marvel series - whether Fox, Netflix or ABC - on the scrap heap. After a season that was far too long stuck in a virtual world, this new (also possibly last) series went a little weird by setting pretty much the first half of it in the future where the Kree rule over the remaining rubble of the planet Earth. We're now back in their own time with the sword of Damacles hanging over their heads by virtue of knowing if they make the wrong decision they will forever be trapped in a paradoxical time loop.

It has gone from almost certain death to being back up there as one of the must watch things of the week; largely down to some cracking dialogue and a kind of Buffy-esque ability to be both deadly serious and slightly tongue-in-cheek. You just know it's going to get canned in May.

That brings us to what should have been something remarkable yet somehow empty and devoid of pleasure... Happy came in like a breath of fresh air and went out like a stale sequel waiting to happen. Based on an idea/comic Grant Morrison probably had while pished on Buckthorn and deep-fried Mars bars, it's about a former cop turned hit man who (for want of a better description) adopts his (unknown) daughter's imaginary friend. It's choc-a-bloc full of Three Stooges styled violence; pithy dialogue and thoroughly icky and creepy characters, yet despite only being eight episodes long, it felt like it was at least five too many.

In the end it was a slightly sordid and soiled example of why not every idea should be made into a TV series and this might have worked as a slightly low budget feature film. I won't be catching up with season two when it finally appears, because by the end of the first series I was waiting for it to conclude. it was also a SyFy series and, frankly, inserting molten needles in your urethra is better than watching anything from those 'lo quality charlatans'.

Star Trek: Discovery finished its inaugural run with an ultimately disappointing cop out conclusion to a slightly disjointed narrative. It was still a brilliant reboot with many things on its side. You just wonder if they can continue with the intensity and adult themes and if they can they're not frightened to advance it even further; I hope so, but... You know?

I do watch some British TV and I'd like to give you a quick comparison between The Grand Tour and BBC's Top Gear. GT is TG with more money, presented by three oafish bores who are also extremely good at what they do. TG is now a fairly dull car show with two genuinely likeable presenters fronting a largely dreary programme. I can't stand Clarkson as a human being, but I know he did appeal to a large group of people and it is arguable he was used as an initial scapegoat to test the waters of how offended people can be and once it was confirmed that a small percentage of social media users could influence the way the rest of the world thinks, we all got slightly shafted.

Still to watch: All of Fargo, Shameless US season 8, The Punisher, season two of Jessica Jones, season 3 of Mr Robot and The Twin Peaks reboot and have to find time to watch Altered Carbon, Feud, and Mr Mercedes. I also have about six things from the last couple of columns I still haven't watched and the longer it goes on the less likely I am to watch. 

I have a Star Wars film to get around to: a few cult films (Ingrid Goes West, Colossal, It Comes at Night and - still - the Mexican film The Untamed) to get through and that's before other films come out that I'm hoping I'll want to see. The weird thing is I look at someone like my mate Andy's film review site and realise that he'll watch 100 new films in a year, with ease, and I'm getting to the stage where I'm lucky if I can watch 10 that I'm remotely interested in - and when I do I'm as disappointed as a kid wanting a bike and getting a carrot at Christmas; it's no surprise my enthusiasm is waning, is it?


Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Music Review 2017

Compared to my esteemed colleague and friend Mr R. Trenberg of Surbiton, Surrey, my listening variety is piss poor. Said Mr Tremble reviews for things, you see, and he gets sent more shit than you can wave your gran at. Looking at Mr Tredegar's list of 742 albums of 2017 made me feel small and inadequate. His man-size listening habits are crushing for my modest little oeuvre, but undeterred I opted for the Small-but-Sweet package, paid my £342.99 and settled back for an evening of unrestrained filth to my ears.

The following, based on Mr Trezeguet's extremely complicated 'Hamster's Tersticles' Theorum*, will explain how I determined what albums I would listen to and get aroused by and which albums would make me want to shit myself and cry.

The albums which featured in the latter included a number of artists I simply wouldn't be seen dead admitting to listening to and a few which I went into expecting more of.

Then there was the small list of stuff that either didn't make the 25 short list because I wasn't terribly impressed/didn't grab me by the nads/weren't played enough to stimulate my musical OCDs. I could simply have listed a top 50 albums of the year and hope that no one notices there's only 49.

The albums that didn't quite make it were offerings from Ulva (was a tad disappointed as I like some of their earlier stuff), The Horrors (nothing new to see here), London Grammar (bland in comparison to their debut), Lorde (not risque enough to warrant my calling her the 21st century Kate Bush), The Flaming Lips (a real improvement on recent years, but no longer have any pulling power). I also haven't got some albums, including the most recent Amplifier album, so I can't really rate the album until I've got it and played it to death (or not).

I had a bit of an experiment this year and several stuck, others weren't so lucky - these included: Susanne Sundfor, Ex Eye, Royal Blood, Blanck Mass and an album which covers Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, but re-imagined as a heavy metal album - it was surprisingly better than it sounds.

Plus some old favourites missed out for various reasons. Ulrich Schnauss's collaboration with fellow (nu) Tangerine Dreamer Thorsten Quaeschning didn't make the cut because it was a bit dull. Hammock's film soundtrack to Columbus didn't make it because I haven't yet got a copy of it and from what I've heard I'm not really missing out.

Most importantly, there is probably 1000 different albums out there I never discovered and we all know the word 'discover' has a disco in it.

Now the tough part and because ranking records is a pisser at the best of times, I'm listing 25-6 in alphabetic order - these are the albums I liked this year, but not as much as the top 5.

All Them Witches - thanks to Mr Tremulous for this worthy addition to my year. Top 10.
Bent Knee - marvellous wailing and screeching with fine musicianship, man.
Eat Lights, Become Lights - Krautrock infused electronica.
Foo Fighters - surprisingly entertaining psyche-rock from the most well known on my list.
Hammock - the band finally do an album about death rather than just alluding to it constantly.
Michael Head - it's not Shack but it's still a damned good sound.
Mark Lanegan - my first real exposure to him since his band work; great album for a drive.
Mew - big contender for album of the year, in January. A real return to form for the Danes.
Mogwai - I tend to avoid well known 'post rock' bands, I didn't with this and was glad.
Nordic Giants - big chance to make a bold statement and blew it with more of the same.
Orange Clocks - madness from Northants. Nothing quite like this anywhere else in 2017.
Radiohead - yes, it was a reissue, but the 2nd album was all new to me.
Shaman Elephant - stumbled onto these after discovering someone else; groovy.
Space Above - New Zealand ambient pop - picked up from Radio6.
Stellardrone - the 'new' album features 5 tracks, 3 of which have been out for two years.
Stone From the Sky - bitching heavy grooves from Franceland.
Tangerine Dream - in name only. One track might pass off as a TD track, just. OK though.
Temples - Like psychedelia forced through Mercury Rev's socks.
War on Drugs - probably shouldn't even be played by me but surprisingly listenable.
Steven Wilson - his latest album was so commercial he appeared on BBC Breakfast. Sell-out.

This brings us to the Top Five albums of the year...

If I was to tell you that there were up to seven albums this year vying for the top spot and it has changed in the last week, that would be what the year in music has been like for me. None of the bands or artists I regard as my current favourites did anything much this year, so it was always going to be a case of whatever's been floating my sneakers in the drain of life. Or in other words, there be no real IT album because many have their merits and all did the job that was needed when it was neededed.

So, not really in a definitive order, as it might change as often as a very hygienic person's underwear.

At 5... Jonas Munk & Ulrich Schnauss - Passage

I like Manual (Munk's project) and I've enjoyed Schnauss's collaborations more than his solo stuff for a few years now. This is electronic Krautrock with added Dane that has an ambience about it that borders on post rock. There are some cracking bits of music on it too.

At 4... Elder - Reflections of a Floating World

One of those 'WTF' moments when a heavy rock band flicks all the right switches and reminds you of classic heavy riffs mixed with modern production values. These guys are so heavy they sound like a heavy rock orchestra. It's been there or thereabouts since I discovered it.

At 3... Motorpsycho - The Tower

This was at #1 until last week. I played all my favourites over the last 3 weeks and while this is a cracking album by a Norwegian band that never fails to deliver something to put on repeat play, this album is marred by a couple of, what can only be described as, 'weak' tracks, the rest are borderline classics; Ship of Fools becoming their latest epic monster.

At 2... Ride - The Weather Diaries

And #1 on and off since its release. This is one of those 'triumphant return' albums, 25+ years after their last, presumed final, poor disintegration on vinyl. The time off has done them a lot of good and this is jam-packed with excellent pop psychedelia with a shoegaze feel and a 21st century sensibility. Favourite bands of the 90s on comebacks rarely live up to expectations, this exceeded mine (and many critics too).

And at 1. Carbon Based Lifeforms - Derelicts

What a truly gorgeous piece of work this is and I stumbled across it, after repeated prompting, on You Tube, while listening to Stellardrone's latest. One day in October, I finally listened to it and then again. I couldn't work out if it was electronica or post rock; it seemed to merge the two at times and steer clear in others. Gradually, various tracks began to burrow their way into my head until it became the most played album of the last three months. As a largely instrumental work of sometimes minimalist qualities it is akin to modern classical music while remaining strangely ethereal and quite odd. Several tracks are classics. It's Swedish, and completes a Scandinavian trio with Denmark and Norway. I can now call myself musical hygge. You can call me Al.

Any thoughts, Mr Trenstein?

*Actual spelling

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Self-Indulgent Year End Bollocks

Homes Under the Hammer is so successful in other dimensions and timelines it exists in slightly different guises... Looking through my interdimensional mobile device, this is what you get:

Kelly Holmes Under the Hammer
Homes Under the MC Hammer
Sherlock Holmes Under the Hammer
Homes Under the Hamner
Crush Skulls Under the Hammer
Wombats Under the Hammer
Homes Under the Hummer
Remmah eht rednu Semoh
Ollie Eggboo and Vorgaltron

It is also an as-yet-well-known fact that at some point in the future someone will travel back in time and convince two young chaps called Arthur and Paul that Ollie Eggboo & Vorgaltron is the name they should use as a stage name because it will catapult them into a sun of success. At that point, everyone on the planet will believe Simon & Garfunkle is a firm of New York lawyers for the Yiddish community...

If you died in 2017 then you probably weren't as famous as you could have been. Obviously people who died in 2016 were like the top of the Christmas tree; by 2050 celebrities will be dying and no one will give a flying fuck. You can see the headlines in your mind because I can't be arsed to imagine them for you.

Brexit threatens to make the UK the laughing stock of the world.
What even more than we already are? Just to name a few things that we often get ridiculed about for this year alone:
Believing 6 inches of snow is actually an apocalypse.
The England football team.
The Ashes.
The current government.
52 as a solid and absolutely massive percentage.
Minister for Porn.
Wayne Rooney going bald for a second time.
The X-Factor.
Obsessing over the wife of a dead magician.
Eurovision success.
The Daily Mail.
The real purpose of David Davis.
Our tolerance and understanding of the poor and disabled...

Musically, I'm struggling to come up with a definitive Best Album of the Year. It is as difficult as learning the balalaika at 55 (I'm not).
Best film of the year? Probably the one that settled on a pool of sea water near Monreith in August.
Twat of the year? I'd be hard pressed to look no further than the mirror. I mean, just how reckless is selling up, moving to the arse end of nowhere and leaving all of your friends 330 plus miles away? But, mentally I've had about four bad days in the last five months, as opposed to four good days in the previous five months. You win some and you win some. Gonads to the losers.

I picked up a jellyfish. She was really boring and didn't put out.

Someone I know is a complete fraud. A pure fantasist with attachment issues. If this description applies to you then you need to get rid of all the baggage, chill the fuck out and start becoming a nice person again.

I think I murdered some limpets in the autumn - purely out of interest.

What do I miss?
Oakham beer.
Tony, Phil, Roger, Luan and the Lamplighter (in no specific order)
Availability.
Oddly enough... Not having Bradlaugh Fields for the dogs. It's weird, we have big hills, forests, beaches, wide open spaces, but lots of livestock and four 'Towny' dogs. Plus, in a short space of time Doug has been in more wars (because of deer) than he had in the previous 2 years. However, if it was a choice between 'The Seaside' or 'Bradlaugh' - there would be no competition.
Nene Valley Brewery.
Newby Wyke - I am literally scraping the bottom of the barrel already. Can you believe that? I mean, I miss Newby Wyke, but I could easily live the rest of my life without it (and probably will); the same with all the beer I miss, so you can probably knock three things off that list straight away.
The Luvvie - I need a new place that inspires me as much as the old cut through between Bective and Moulton Park did. Or alternatively, I could do something with all the neat ideas I've had walking through it for five years.

Ollie Eggboo & Vorgaltron.

Fat people - how do you put up with all that touching flesh?

Miriam Margolyes.

Advice for 2018:
It's just a TV programme
It's just fantasy
Double check first so as not to make yourself look like an utter cunt
Educate yourself, especially if people are abusing you for or accusing you of being a [insert pejorative here]
Culture, especially someone else's, should be very very low on your personal agenda especially if it bothers you. Stop it and worry about your kids/mortgage/football team/wife/mistress or dog
If you find waking up in the morning is an event that makes you want to commit murder or scream continuously at something then you need to change your life or you will die/go to prison
Don't breed your pet you fucking cockwomble
Don't drop litter and respect your environment and kick someone hard in the shins if you see them doing the opposite (you'll be fine, their shins will hurt so much they won't be able to run after you)
This is the final year you will be able to use the name Ollie Eggboo & Vorgaltron, cos, you know, 2019 and the invention of time travel, monster stars; clackers; New York; Fanny; jumpers for goalposts, Rolf Harris before he was a paedo - all this and more to look forward to.

More soon (or not. Depends.)