Saturday, November 09, 2013

Album Review 4 of 2013

Only four? Blimey...


I've been blessed. 2013 has been a veritable cornucopia of musical brilliance; everything from the sublime David Bowie album to the very unsubtle Amplifier, something or someone has come along to fill this year with delights, and to think it started so badly...

2013 began with me really looking forward to the new Steven Wilson album and being so unbelievably underwhelmed by what, in my humbled opinion, turned out to be some shite jazz rock homage to King Crimson done really badly, I thought the year was unlikely to get any better. I mean if I get so disappointed by the god-like Steven Wilson, what hope have Amplifier got, especially after that meh last album? And what's that? There's a new David Bowie album coming out? Oh, for the love of God, the universe and everything else...

There have been about a dozen quite stunning albums this year - albums to leave you wondering how music like this has never been done before - each of them vying for potential album of the year; the position that Steven Wilson might have been a shoo-in for had it not been for his album's utter awfulness. Looking across all the CDs I've bought - actually purchased with hard cash - which usually are the contenders for album of the year, it was still pretty much a fight between Bowie and Amplifier. If you'd have said four weeks ago that Sam Healy would become odds on favourite to win that personal honour, I'd have said, "Sam Healy? Where do I know that name from? He's in a band I like, I'm sure of it?"

I believe my album of 2012 was the almost perfect collection of ditties called Fog Electric by that Scottish band with the catchy name - North Atlantic Oscillation. If you'd prodded me, I would have remembered that's where I've heard the name before. He wrote Mirador possibly the most beautiful song of the 21st century so far.

Sand (by Sand) is quite ... breathtaking. It is also mind-numbingly beautiful. Fantastically inventive and some wondrous thing that can remind you of everything ever. If I told you there was hints of Elbow, Simon & Garfunkle, Genesis, David Holmes, Sugar, Phil Spector, Adam and the Ants, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues, Fatboy Slim and so many more I just can't put my finger on; yet complimenting all the influences is this utter perfection of an individual's record, would you be impressed? I think it is only spoiled by its 43 minute duration; it needs to be a couple of hours longer. Yet for all of the 10 stunning songs on this album and my desire for it to be never ending, the best song is less than a minute and a half and has the longest title.

Sam Healy is a bit of a sea man. NAO's albums are called Grappling Hooks and Fog Electric - both have songs about the sea and sailors and things nautical and you can see his fascination with the sea sneaking through in this; even the title/band name - Sand - is something you associate with the coast and frankly he could have a fascination with it for as long as he likes if he continues to produce music like this.

Let's also get one thing straight - there is prog in this album, a fair bit of it; there's also theatrical pomp rock and a fair bit of electronic wizardry, but if I had to put a label on it, I'd probably call it 'Almost Pop' because just about every song on it has you singing along to bits of it; tapping your foot to some weirdly 1970s mellotron or thinking someone unleashed Brian Eno on the Brady Bunch.

That's the other thing about this album - bonkers schizophrenic; it doesn't know where it is from one moment to the next, except Sam... Sam knows exactly where it is and where its going and that is why it works so well. Musical genius? I wouldn't say he wasn't.

This is the album I began this year expecting; this is the album Steven Wilson wishes he could make. This could be the album of the decade so far, because I can't think of another album I've reviewed in recent times that has got


Friday, November 08, 2013

One Man's Pain

It might be deemed as slightly unprofessional for me to complain about things that relate to my new job - you know, the publishing business thing that has prevented me from regaling you with the stress of being me on a twice weekly (sometimes thrice) basis. You know, my employer might not like it (that'd be me then) and it might be viewed as a little defeating.

So let's talk about my mate Bill Wall.

Bill thinks he might be getting too old to be running a fledgling business in 2013, because it is seriously fucking up his life. Not only is he surrounded by a level of incompetence that belies belief; he's of the opinion that possibly he's dead and this is just some kind of hell. Or perhaps he's in a virtual world and he's playing 'Have A Shit Life' from the makers of Sim City, in 2563.

Bill signed up for a recognised mail company - not one that recently floated away - took his first consignment of parcels down to their depot and two weeks later received a bill that almost made him cack himself. An example, because it is so ludicrous it's worth repeating - a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland cost £55 - (I will cut and paste that several times, be warned) The royal postal delivery service would have charged Bill £4.95 and he thought it would be a good idea to avoid them.

The same company who believe that a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland [should] cost £55 also gave Bill an account and got him to sign a direct debit. They also installed software onto his computer that has caused a 'runtime error 217' on it and he now believes his network no longer works and it might even have put a Trojan in his system.

The good news is Bill has been told that his first bill for just shy of £300 for 13 parcels will be drastically reduced, by about £240; however, no one there has assured him they can fix his computer and he currently has no way of using their software or to print labels; so he's having to use the more expensive royal version.

Then Bill had problems with taking money from people face-to-face. He needed some way that people could pay him with a credit or debit card, to increase his earning potential. So his slightly understaffed bank went off and sorted it out for him - he says, "trust me, it's a damned sight more complicated than that, but we haven't got all year to tell this story," and who are we to argue. His bank set up this payment facility - Bill needed specific equipment for this facility to work - he needed a specific mobile phone and he'd just got himself tied into a new contract with a state of the art Sony phone, which wasn't compatible with the payment facility.

Suddenly Bill had one of those small portable card reader jobbies and an account with the company who processes all the transactions and absolutely no way of setting it up or using it. The bank that did all of this for him have kind of crawled under a stone.

Blimey Bill, that's been tough luck! And don't forget: a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland cost 55 fucking quid!!!

Except that wasn't the end of it. The same company that have the card reader gadget also set up an e-commerce system on his website, because that's going to be Bill's primary revenue source and you need something right and proper to put trust in customers'. Bill was singing the praises of this conglomerate of banks and finance companies about how much cheaper than other less reputable companies they were and yet it was a bit like indirect taxation - all that extra tax you pay isn't taken out of your wage packet so it doesn't really count. Bill is being charged a whacking great chunk of his potential profit just to have the service. It costs him nearly £300 to set it up; then £50 a month and 2% of his transaction fees and while he isn't suggesting he's been mis-sold, he is suggesting that some of the charges were possibly glossed over.

Bill tried to explain to these new and unexpected keepers of his soul that he was just starting out and the charges levelled at a new business seemed almost punitive. 

Oh pray tell, how many ways are there to say ... tough shit?

And then Bill got what is called in posh circles as 'trots extremus' and considered just going and getting a job, once he got off the loo.

In case you forget: sending a 397 gram parcel sent to Poland will cost £55 if you're an idiot or they just saw you coming.

Poor old Bill. I'd like to sympathise with him, but I've had it even worse and I've also had the shits...