Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ian's Favourite Tunes of 2009

These are my favourite tunes of last year, with information on where they came from. I will probably post about the tracks in more detail in due course.

These are just enough tunes to fit on a CD-R – a CD-R that could be yours.

Fortran 5 (feat. Derek Nimmo) 'Layla' [from "Bad Head Park"]
Disasteradio 'Awesome Feelings' [from the v/a compilation "Indietracks 2009"]
Shimura Curves 'Noyfriend' [from the v/a compilation "The Kids at the Club: an Indie Compilation"]
The Shangri-Las 'Give Him A Great Big Kiss' [from "Myrmidons of Melodrama"]
Liz Brady 'Partie des Dames' [from the v/a compilation "La Belle Epoque: EMI's French Girls 1965-1968"]
Cornershop 'Who Fingered Rock 'n' Roll?' [from "Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast"]
Crystal Antlers 'A Thousand Eyes' [from the Crystal Antlers' EP]
The Shangri-Las 'I Can Never Go Home Anymore' [from "Myrmidons of Melodrama"]
Les Roche Martin 'Les Mains Dans Les Poches' [from the v/a compilation "La Belle Epoque: EMI's French Girls 1965-1968"]
Wintergreen 'The Magic Road' [from the v/a compilation "The Kids at the Club: an Indie Compilation]
God Help The Girl 'I'll Have to Dance with Cassie' [from the eponymous album]
Fairuz 'Al Kods Al Atika' [from "Jerusalem In My Heart"]
Ja'afar Hassan 'Palestinian' [from the v/a compilation "Choubi Choubi (Folk and Rock Songs from Iraq)"]
[unknown artist] 'Choubi Choubi' [from the v/a compilation "Choubi Choubi (Folk and Rock Songs from Iraq)"]
Oneida 'Brownout in Lagos' [from "Rated O"]
The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut 'Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves' [from the v/a compilation "Indietracks 2009"]
Bat For Lashes 'Trophy' [from "Fur and Gold"]
Pas De Printemps Pour Marnie 'Soon' [from the "Soon" e.p.]
Humble Grumble 'Horny' [from "The Face of Humble Grumble"]
Emmy The Great 'First Love' [from "First Love"]
Portishead 'Threads' [from "Third"]
Alèmu Aga 'Abtatchen Hoy' [from "Éthiopiques vol. 10: The Harp of King David"]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I fear that my Flickr photos of the restored SS Great Britain may be of somewhat limited appeal. This ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Morrissey "Bona Drag"

Huzzah, I found my copy of this album and was able to rip it to my iPod. And it is still great. This is a compilation from the early Morrissey solo period, before he hooked up with Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte. Most of the songs here were co-written with Stephen Street. There are some real stormers on here – 'November Spawned A Monster', 'Last of the Famous International Playboys', 'Everyday Is Like Sunday', etc.. Morrissey did better albums after this, but I don't think he did better songs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cut-away cover of little girl staring out of round rabbit hole

The Complete Alice in Wonderland #1, by Lewis Carroll, Leah Moore, John Reppion, and Erica Awano

This is the first part of a comic adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland*. The art is nice, the story cracks along, but I am not sure they are really bringing anything new to the table here. In fact I spent a lot of this thinking that I would be better off just going and reading the book, ideally an edition with the John Tenniel illustrations. Oh well, at least this has given me some Christmas present ideas.

*[special voice]I think you will find that it is actually Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[/special voice]

Monday, December 28, 2009

A succession of indescribable crazy covers

Citizen Rex #4, #5, #6, by Gilbert Hernandez and Mario Hernandez

The somewhat baffling science fiction based story from two of the Hernandez brothers continues and concludes. This might make more senses if you sit down and read it all in one go (say when it is collected into a book for non-floppy readers), but on a monthly basis it got very difficult to remember what had previously happened. Maybe you were not meant to.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Danse Macabre

And what was this? Why it was an opera. I saw it in Olde Londone towne, going over for it because the music was by your friend and mine, Gyorgy Ligeti. And did I like it? Well, a future memo to all readers is that opera is perhaps best enjoyed when your mind is alert, and not numbed by a couple of pints of finest ale at lunchtime.

Even with that, this maybe was not that great. Ligger's music maybe does not seem to suit the operatic style that well, and it was noticeable that the most strikingly Ligeti-tastic bit here was an in-between song bit when no one was singing.

The staging was fascinating, though. The set was dominated by a model of a giant naked woman (though not one you could in any way was there for erotic effect). From various parts of her body the character would appear and do their stuff. There was also a nice scene in a nightclub where the crowd launched into the zombie dance from the 'Thriller' video (completely out of time with the music) and into some of the dancing from the 'Praise You' vid (likewise). But it all seemed a bit like one of those London musicals, where you go home talking about how a helicopter landed on stage.

image source

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Inglorious Basterds"

Another film with Michael Fassbender. I noticed a lot of people taking against this, often people who have not seen it. I loved it, it manages to combine great war stuff, comedy, and the excruciatingly drawn-out tension at which Tarantino excels. Some great performances too, with Brad Pitt doing his comic genius turn and that Austrian guy giving us a wonderful new iteration of the creepy Nazi guy. As a less cartoony character, the actor playing the Jewish woman who owned the cinema was also very affecting.

I am not really doing justice to how totally amazing this film is.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adhan and Muezzin

I have already posted about Radio Muezzin, an interesting theatrical piece about the guys who do the adhan (call to prayer) in Cairo, and the Egyptian state's crazy plan to replace them with a radio broadcast. There was an interesting comment left there about a documentary film called Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cairo, covering similar ground. Follow the link, see what you think.

Muscley guy in ripped shirt in front of looming bust of caped crusader, bats, and autogiro

Batman / Doc Savage Special: Firstwave Begins!, by Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto

This seems like a good idea – have Batman encounter the Man of Brass in an initially hostile manner only for them to end up pooling their crime fighting resources etc., but it seems a bit flat.

Am I right in thinking that Doc Savage is one of those characters people only really know in revisionist knock-offs, with no one ever actually reading original material with him in it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pink clad guy on bike grinning over floored Batman and Robin

Yes indeed, it is the merely miraculous return of Comics Roundup!

Batman and Robin #6, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan, and Jonathan Glapion

More incomprehensible caped crusader action from the pen of Scotland's finest comics writer. I am partly describing this as incomprehensible because I read it a while ago and can't really remember what it's about, but Morrison's writing does have a tendency to just wash off me.

New Bird Species Found

Although many bird species have recently become extinct, this is balanced somewhat by scientists discovering new species, like this little fellow from Vietnam. The Limestone Leaf Warbler is closely related to the Sulphur-Breated Warbler, but it has been established that it is a separate species.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Lost Wonders of the Natural World

The Guardian reports on ten animals and plants that have become extinct in the last decade. Some of these are not completely gone – the Oryx is extinct in the wild, but is widely seen in captivity (including in Fota Island). However, the Golden Toad seems to be completely lost to the world.

v/a "nlgbbbblth CD 09.05: Meet Me In The Lounge"

This has maybe made less impact on me than some of the other nlgbbbblth compilations, but the inclusion of James Last's 'Children of Sanchez' does a good job of establishing that, yes, James Last does have some good tunes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Alèmu Aga "Éthiopiques 11: The Harp of King David"

I tend to think of the Éthiopiques series as being all about the jazz and the funk, but here we have an example of one of their other strands – Ethiopian folk music. This features Mr Alèmu playing the bèguèna, the titular harp. Although not played at Ethiopian church services, the instrument has strong religious connotations, and is often used to accompany the singing of religious songs. This record certainly has an otherworldly quality – the droney twangs of the instrument and Alèmu's whispered vocals are very trance inducing. Even posting this is making me think of bedtime.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dog In School Causes Sensation

Rosie, a rescued Highland Terrier caused a health and safety sensation when it was discovered that head teacher Michelle Taylor was bringing her into school. It was noted that Rosie was free to wander the corridors and gardens of the school, and that children were petting the docile animal.

It was eventually discovered that children had been advised to wash their hands after petting Rosie, and that when she goes to the toilet in appropriate locations the children inform the teachers who clean up the mess. Ofsted also report that Rosie was “well socialised”.

More, image source

Monday, December 14, 2009

Igor Stravinsky [that 20+ CD set of Stravinsky composed and conducted music]

It's all Russian composers all the time here in Panda Mansions. We are gradually working our way through this. Now at last I know the difference between the two versions of The Firebird. Does everyone prefer the suite version? It seems to have considerably more oomph.

This is a very short review of a lot of music. To make the commentary on the review longer than the review itself, my advice to you is to find and acquire the Sony Music 20 CD set of Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky; there is a lot of of amazing music to be had there for very little money.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awesome Pictures

No, seriously, check out my pictures from Minehead last weekend, where I went on THE MINEHEAD MEANDER (and went to a music festival).

There will eventually be more, but Flickr takes an eternity to upload pictures and I must now go and satiate my raging hunger.

v/a "Choubi Choubi (Folk and Pop Songs from Iraq)"

Another Sublime Frequencies record! This is of Iraqi music, I think mainly compiled from tapes being played by Iraqi exiles working as taxi drivers in Syria. The music here is in a variety of styles – folk-rock tunes from some Ja'afar Hassan fellow, Choubi music (which seems to feature a lot of women singers saying "Choubi!" in an imploring tone of voice), and also Dabke (which is a music and dance I had hitherto primarily associated with Palestine, though it seems like Iraq is the home of this acoustic rave music). Many of the singers are anonymous – apparently lady singers in Iraq would often keep their identity secret as a way of discouraging the wrong kind of attention.

This is easily the best compilation of Arab music I have. What is so great about it? Well, the range, and its general evocation of the music you hear in Levantine taxis. I must look out for some of the other SF compilations from that part of the world.

image source

Radio Muezzin

This was my only visit to the Dublin Theatre Festival. A muezzin is that fellow who issues the call to prayer from mosques. This piece begins with some Cairene muezzins telling their stories. Some of them were basically amateur hobbyists, but one of them being a professional employed by the Egyptian Ministry for Religious Affairs. And then another person came on stage, a radio engineer. And then we had another muezzin, but this one just appeared on a screen, talking about how his (live) calls to prayer were going to be broadcast to every mosque in Egypt, putting the other guys out of work*. Then another fellow came onstage and said that the star muezzin had to leave the show, due to musical differences, and that he would be saying his lines henceforth.

And that was it, conceptually. The muezzins did their calling to prayer, and we got a sense of another bit of the world's greatness being swept away by pointless modernity.

* Perhaps not entirely, aside from the calling, the muezzins also function as mosque janitors.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct"

This is part one of a two part story. It is a most impressive crime film, with an astonishing performance by Vincent Kassel, but it does suffer form the fundamental criminal-centred picture problem: crims are fundamentally unsympathetic, so who cares what happens to them? And while the set-piece action sequence are v. flash, there is a cinematic oversupply of flash action scenes.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sain Zahoor

I bet you've never heard of this guy – I know I hadn't before I went to see him. He was playing in the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Culture, heading a bill of Sufi action. The openers were originally meant to be the Master Musicians of Jajouka, but they did not make it, so we got these Dhouad Gypsies of Rajasthan instead. You will have to forgive me if I remember little about them, it was a long time ago – the day after the last Frank's APA collation, the day after I went to a wedding*, the day before we went on holiday.

They were followed, somewhat bizarrely, by Gabriel Rosenstock reciting translated Sufi Persian poetry to us. I am well-known for my dislike of poetry, in particular for unsolicited poetry, but I found this surprisingly enjoyable. And why? Well, the Persian poetry was translated not into English but into Irish, so I still could not understand any of it. This meant that I was able to just listen to it as a series of sounds, which was rather enjoyable.

And then there was Sain Zahoor, who is a Pakistani fellow. He seemed quite severe, maybe coming from the ascetic devotional end of Sufism, as opposed to the party end people in the West are often more drawn to. He sang while being accompanied by musicians and accompanying himself on an ektara, a lute-like instrument. The ektara seemed to be being played as much for his benefit as ours, as it was not very loud. And he seemed to be wearing a bright colourful outfit that was covered in jingly bells that rang as he moved. But the big instrument was voice, which allowed us to join him in his communion with the divine.

*relax ladies - it was not mine.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tanks With Loudspeakers Blaring Music

Dmitri Shostakovich "Symphony No. 7: 'Leningrad'" (Ladislav Slovak (con.) Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava))

I got a yen to listen to this, after coming across some references to Shosty in The Rest Is Noise. The back story behind the music is fascinating. Shostakovich had been in Leningrad when the Germans were approaching that unfortunate city, but was evacuated so that his work could not be stopped. In exile, he composed this symphony as a stirring hymn to the brave people of his home town. The score was flown back to the city, and enough musicians who had not starved to death located to play at its premiere. Despite heavy German bombardment, the concert was completed. Loudspeakers along the frontline brought the stirring melodies to the city's defenders – and to the besiegers. As the Hitlerites listened to Shostakovich's music, they realised they were doomed.

I understand that some see this work as an example of the kind of kitsch Shostakovich could churn out when the Soviet authorities demanded it. Such people are objectively wrong. This is one of the great musical works of the 20th century.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Emmy The Great "First Love"

Unlike Bat For Lashes, Emmy The Great is all about the confessionalism, with many songs here telling apparently true stories of romantic and sexual awkwardness and disaster. A lot of this is borderline grim stuff, at least lyrically, yet it is odd how chipper Ms The Great is if you ever see her live. Maybe she is just making it up as well.

There is nothing on this record as good as the title track, but that, currently, is one of my most favourite songs ever, one that almost brings tears to my eyes when I hear it. If I had ever written a song that good I would feel like my work was done, so I cannot knock her.

I saw Emmy The Great live earlier this year in Dublin's Crawdaddy venue. I was impressed by how her band seemed far far better at creating a sonic envelopment than their status as session muso backers of a singer-songwriter would suggest. There is some evidence of this here too, but she is maybe a little bit better live.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


I saw this again as part of a film club showing in the Science Gallery*. It is still great, though I have started wondering if its greatness is not actually an indication that Terry Gilliam is some kind of genius.

*who seem to have carefully mislaid my film club application.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Bright Club

This was this odd thing I went to in London with Mr "Chocolate Socialist". It took place in a pub, featured people giving somewhat brainy talks about stuff, was compered by some comedian Johnny (whose name I don't remember, but I think he might be famous as I saw him on TV a few nights later), and it had some cockney geezer come on and force participation in a sing-a-long. I thought maybe the comedy-not comedy transition jarred a bit, but it was a conceptually interesting evening. The talks were about various London things – sewage disposal, bugs, Bloomsbury.

Oh, and there was also some guy reading a bit of his book, which was called Foxy-T. I took against him at the time, as the book was written in this patois that was oh-so-street, while the guy who had written the book was plainly not street. However, in retrospect I am a bit more fond of him. Maybe I will keep an eye out for his book.

I'm not so sure about Chubby Charley (or was it Cheeky Charley?), the cockney sing-a-long geezer. Although I am a cockerneee by birth, I was brought up away from Bow Bells, and being forced to take part in a "knees up" goes against my reserved nature. Or maybe I am just a curmudgeon who hates fun. These are not incompatible positions.

I wish I could remember the comedian's name, he seemed quite good. Maybe he was Mr Ince or something. He seemed like a pleasant enough person from his interaction with the audience, which seemed more like friendly badinage rather than a smartarse encouraging roffles at some unfortunate's expense. The great paradox of my life is that while I conceptually hate stand up comedy, I typically enjoy it when I encounter it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jobriath "Jobriath"

You know you are dealing with a lovingly packaged record when the sleeve spells the name of the artist in three different ways for no obvious reason. And so it is with this. Jobriath was this would-be pop star from some time in the 1970s. He was openly homosexual at a time when such things were not considered big and clever. His pop career failed to take off, with this album being the only product of his that ever saw the light of day. Morrissey and others subsequently championed him, but he was unable to make any kind of triumphant comeback, having died of an AIDS-related illness in the 1980s.

That is the back story, but is the record any good? Well, it is any good, packing a certain glam rock influenced punch. Jobriath's vocal style is perhaps something of an acquired taste, but one I have acquired. But for me there is still a problem, in that I already have the best track, the wonderful 'I'm A Man', (from that Queer Noises compilation of gay music). 'I'm A Man' towers over everything else on this record, a stomping strutting harpsichord driven piece of propaganda for the world of Greek Love that would have even Richard Littlejohn and Abu Hamza eyeing each other up. If you've never heard it, buy this record. Or buy the Queer Noises comp.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bat For Lashes "Fur And Gold"

As you know, Bat For Lashes is one of those one person bands. It might be significant, though, that Natasha Khan records as Bat For Lashes rather than under her own name. This record sounds more band-like than it would if it was some lady doing a solo record – it seems a bit less focussed on her voice for one thing. The music generally sounds like well-instrumented art-pop, with loads of harpsichord, hand-claps, piano, and funny backing vocals. The lyrics are a bit odd, somewhat removed from the kind of generic boy-centred fare one associates with lady singers. It seems also devoid of the confessionalism that bedevils so much art today – Ms Bat For Lashes seems to take on roles for her songs rather than just sing about herself, an appealingly non-narcissistic perspective.

This is one record that benefits from my recent reconnection of the proper stereo – its production suits a big amp and speakers of more power than the ones on our kitchen ghetto blaster.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Beatles "Past Masters Vol. 2"

You may be aware of these Beatle (sic) fellows. Their entire back catalogue has recently been remastered and reissued. This is an unremastered version of Past Masters Vol. 2, acquired by me somewhat cheap.

As you know, the Past Masters albums collect the Beatles tracks that did not make their way onto any of the other albums. Vol. 1 has loads of rubbish early Beatles singles and b-sides, while this is later stuff, starting with 'Day Tripper' and ending with the 'You Know My Name', the somewhat disposable b-side to the single version of 'Let It Be'. You probably know all these songs, so there is not too much to say about them, except that this collection rocks – loads of great tunes, with 'Rain', 'Day Tripper', and ''Revolution' being particular highlights.

It also has 'We Can Work It Out', a Paul McCartney sung tune. It is quite a nice one, but it has rather been poisoned for me by some buskers who sing it all the time in Dublin. They have this incredibly irritating nasal voice they use on the middle bit (sung by John Lennon on the record). I am put in mind of those cockfarmers every time I hear this. Thanks guys.

Friday, November 27, 2009


We saw the Tuareg sensations in one of that venue that used to be called the Music HQ and is now called something else. Tinariwen are great, but this was not a great event. The venue was too full, and it was too full of cockfarmers, giving the place a close and unpleasant air. Weird acoustics meant that there was a lot of crowd noise, even though the there were not really that many talkers present. Still, Tinariwen remain an exceptionally impressive live band, one I would like to see again in a different venue.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Fish Tank"

This was a film from yer one who made that Red Road film comes this tale of skanky council estate folk. The central performance is exceptional, especially considering that the actor had never been in anything before and was cast after a casting scout saw her arguing with her boyfriend in a train station.

It's hard to say too much about this without making it sound grim and depressing, which it ultimately is not (for all that it has a few nooooo-my-eyes scenes), so I will leave it at that and recommend it to everyone. But there are lots of great performances, from Katie Jarvis in the main role, someone else as her skanky mother, and Michael Fassbender as her mother's new boyfriend, to all the incidental actors. There is a lot of really lame music in the film, but this is a comment on how being working class sucks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Live Experience: Jonathan Richman

I saw the first punk playing recently in the Village (formerly the Mean Fiddler, formerly The Wexford Inn), my first time seeing him in years. This was not a great concert. The Village is a pretty suck-ass venue, with loads of design flaws, and the place was over-full, with a few too many trend and event people. That twunt who kept video recording Richman was a typically annoying individual.

Musically, the concert seemed a bit stop-start. Things seemed a bit slow to get going – maybe we were suffering form the lack of a support band. Richman himself was a bit too keen to dance instead of play, as though he felt obliged to show the various young ladies present that he still had it.

Still, it had its moments. One of these was Richman's arch comment on the just passed Lisbon Treaty: "We've been travelling around Europe on this tour. I hear you are going to be having a lot more to do with those guys". His coming back onstage after an encore to grab his stuff and then walk through the crowd to the exit was a wonderfully theatrical touch.

And he played some great songs. 'Pablo Picasso', notably. This reminded me of that great Jonathan Richman paradox – so many of his songs are about being unlucky in love, when he has plainly had more muffs than I've had hot dinners. Such is life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Letters of Note

If you have not already seen it, check out Letters of Note, a blog that reproduces letters of note. This one by Kurt Vonnegut is a recent favourite: Slaughterhouse Five

"The Hurt Locker"

Welcome to Ian's world of awesome film reviews, mostly of films that left the cinema ages ago. First up we have this one, about US army bomb disposal guys in Iraq. I saw it in Bristol, of all places. The Hurt Locker is not quite as brilliant as some people think it is, but still an impressive war film; its lack of a Big Point about the war in Iraq was most laudable. I also thought it was great that the film did not turn into a battle of wits between the bomb disposal guy and some sinister terrorist mastermind.

image source

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lost Dog Found… in Afghanistan.

Sabi is a sniffer dog serving with the Australian army in Afghanistan. Her unit was ambushed in September 2008 in Uruzgan province. After the battle, Sabi was nowhere to be found, and was officially declared missing in action.

But now she has been found – some US soldiers found the missing dog and she has been returned to her Australian comrades. She has remained silent on her whereabouts for the last year, but seems to have been well-fed. The Australian army are not pressing desertion charges.

more (with film footage)

Ray 'Not that Ray Davies' Davies "Part 2: 1972-1974 (feat his Funky Trumpet, His Orchestra & The Button Down Brass"

I have not enjoyed this CD-R as much as Part 1. I do not think this is so much down to diminishing returns as the diminishing amounts of parping on this collection.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Bad Young Brother No More

Hippity Hopper Derek B has died, at the age of 44. The UK rapper is now perhaps a largely forgotten figure. His big hit 'Bad Young Brother' came across as being a bit comical, given its endless references to how he was going to be the new dominant figure in world rap and his rapid descent into obscurity thereafter. Still, while it's easy to scoff, Derek B is name-checked on a Public Enemy album, which is more than you can say.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Man kneels before funny looking geezer on throne

Superman: World of New Krypton #9, by James Robinson, Greg Rucka, Pete Woods, and Ron Randall

You know, the one about Kal-El (formerly Superman) living on a new Krypton with all the other Kaldor city Kryptonians, now back to normal size. This title is turning into an annoying occasion for DC Universe nerd stuff, with every one of the last few issues seeing some stupid who-gives-a-shit minor DC alien race showing up for no reason other than to excite continuity rockists. I think this may well be my last issue. This is something of a shame. For a while, this title had something, with the funny Kryptonian politics and the General Zod ambiguity being rather interesting. But it took a rapidly downhill course after that great "This is a job for Superman" moment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Giant squid-like horror behind smiling woman with green-eyed owl

North 40 #5, by Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples

What in the name of Christ is this about? It's the one where loads of people in some hick locality (in the USA, obv.) have either developed amazing powers, turned into monsters, or just developed some kind of weird characteristic*. Or been left unscathed. It is entertaining enough, but it is maybe also a bit incoherent. But the next issue is the last, so it's too late to stop now.

At the back there is a preview of some new series of The Authority, co-written by Grant Morrison. Wow. I probably will not buy this. Apart from not really thinking The Authority are as interesting as everyone else does, I once bought an issue that had "Morrison" on the cover as writer, only to discover that it was written by Norbert Morrison. Ever since then, I've felt like they owe me one. In any case, the story does not look that exciting, apart from what looks like having the Midnighter in action against US forces in Afghanistan.

*one lad finds himself now covered with eyes, but apart from that not obviously transformed into a spawn of Satan

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boy with antlers attacked by humanoid dogs

Jeff Lamire's Sweet Tooth #3, by Jeff Lamire

The great comic of our time continues. I think I may be the only person in the world reading this, as my local comic shop noticeably has very few copies of this in – comics readers are maybe not so gone on things that do not feature costumed idiots punching the shite out of each other. Anyway, you will recall that this is the one where some kind of plague has killed most of the world, leaving a few survivors, some of whom are mysterious half-animal mutants. The main character is a boy-deer hybrid whose father has died in the plague. Now he has fallen in with this guy called Jeppard, with whom he is travelling to… somewhere. Jeppard's motives are unclear, and while the boy has little option but to trust him, the shadow of darkness remains upon him.

This issue sees them travelling on through the world, the first time the boy has really seen anything outside the woods he lived in with his father. We get sense of how terrible the apocalypse wrought by the plague. It's all a bit picaresque, though not in a bad way, but there is a fascinating revelation on the last page.

So again, I encourage people to seek out this excellent title.

There is an unexciting preview at the back for some comic called Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, which seems to be yet another spin-off from Vertigo's popular Fables comic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Worried looking woman holding gun

Stumptown #1, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, & Lee Loughridge

A while ago now it was that Greg Rucka came to my attention. His is one of those names you see on a lot of comics, but the first time I really engaged with him was when he was one of the writers on Gotham Central, the most excellent comic about cops in Gotham City. Seeing that he was writing this Stumptown comic, I decided to take a punt on it. It begins with two badasses parking a car by the river, opening the boot and letting out a woman, shoving her down towards the water and then blasting her with a pistol. Then it jumps back 27 hours, and we see the course of events that led her to that sorry pass. It turns out this is private detective stuff – to pay off a gambling debt, she is obliged to track down a young lady who has done a runner. As is the case with these things, various other people are also trying to find her, for unknown reasons.

I like this. The art is atmospheric, and while the story is maybe not (so far) like anything that has not been told a load of times, it is atmospheric and has a certain edginess to it, even if it is set in Portland, one of America's least edgy towns. I look forward to issue 2.

Private Panda

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Feet, stones stained with blood; men drinking tea between a skull and a bookcase

Harker #1, by Roger Gibson & Vince Danks
Harker #2, by Roger Gibson & Vince Danks

OK, so what is this? I noticed that Forbidden Planet has a load of issues of this, and skimming one of them revealed that it has some nicely drawn pictures of London locations, including the super soaraway St. George Bloomsbury church. So I decided to take a punt on the first issue. It begins with some guy being gutted on the steps of said Hawksmoor designed church, then cuts to two cops (one of whom is the eponymous Harker) arriving to investigate the case. The initially unidentified victim is found to have a fibre from an equally unidentified very old book under a fingernail – coupled with the location of the murder this leads one of the cops to think that they might be faced with some kind of ritual black magic murder. OMG etc.

To be honest, I was only so gone on the first issue of this. The two cops seemed to be a bit too much like ker-aaaazy wacky guys from the eccentric-individual school of policing. I somehow suspect that they will be shown to play by their own rules even if ultimately they get results. There were also a couple of odd bits of the story that I found myself questioning. Like, why did they go to the British Museum to look up olds books? I thought the British Library moved to St. Pancras ages ago (must do actual research to see if it still has a reading room at the British Museum). Also, would a library really keep records of every search done on its online catalogue? I think not, but maybe in police state Britain they keep any information they can.

Still, the pictures are nice, and I never know when to stop, so I picked up the second issue today. This seemed a bit more entertaining. The two cops rock along on their black magic line of investigation, one of them thinking this is the way to crack the case, the other thinking its all a load of bollocks. The victim is now identified, turning out to be some porky doctor who's been jazzing half of London. Police procedural stuff reveals an amount of information, and then OMG an astonishing reveal on the last page.

One really good thing about the second issue is the lack of things that annoyed me – the cops seem less annoyingly quirky and it lacked the O RLY moments that irritated me with issue one. And it kept the good things – the nice London art and the ambiguous occult stuff. And the story continues to crack along.

So all told, after reading the second issue I find myself liking this so much that I will probably buy up all the later issues some time over the next week.

Detective Panda

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saucy Secrets of the Furries

Wow, the BBC has run an article on Furries, after interest in the hobby was sparked by a court case* in which the defendants met on a furry website. This of course brings to mind my own exploitative writings on the furriverse. Wasn't I going to delete them? Oh well, one day.

*of unspecified nature

Koala Bears in Danger!

The Australian Koala Foundation has reported that the cuddly marsupials are in danger of extinction. Their numbers have apparently halved in just the last six years, with projections suggesting that they will be completely gone in the next thirty years. Koalas face a number of threats – habitat loss, bushfires, and Chlamydia (safe sex is not big among Koalas). Global warming is also causing problems for them, as it is making eucalyptus, the only thing they eat, even less nutritious.

As marsupials, Koala Bears are not real bears. Many other marsupials are analogues of non-marsupial animals, pushed by evolution into similar body structure and behaviour (e.g. kangaroos as marsupial antelopes, the (probably) extinct Thylacine as a marsupial wolf, the Tasmanian Devil as a marsupial very fierce animal, etc.). One could make the case for Koalas being a marsupial Panda Bear. Like the Panda, Koalas are very cuddly looking, and like Pandas, they are picky eaters who love to eat an extremely un-nutritious food – bamboo for Pandas and eucalyptus for Koalas. And like Pandas, Koalas are in danger. Hopefully for the furry little fellows, their extreme cuteness and status as a symbol of Australia will lead to similar efforts to preserve them in the wild.

Sleepy Koala


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Radio East Berlin: Forgotten Music of a Lost Country (part 2)

What is this? Why, I am talking you through a recently compiled CD-R of East German music. Part 1 appeared yesterday, this is part 2. See also

Walter Kubiczek – Maskentanz
Walter Kubiczek – Abbisinia
Two pieces of rare groove soundtrack work by Herr Kubiczek. The latter sounds like it might have come from an East German spaghetti western, while the other is a bit more racy.

Modern Soul Band – Hallo Carlos
Orchester Günter Gollasch – Es Steht Ein Haus in New Orleans
More German soundtrack action.

Walter Kubiczek – Tentakel
Kubiczek returns with the theme tune to a popular East German cop show. I bet in Tentakel the main character was a tough cop who always plays strictly by the rules.

Renft – Gänselieschen ([No idea what this means, anyone got any ideas?])
Renft feature heavily in Anna Funder's book Stasiland. Unlike many East German rock bands, they were actively counter-cultural. I understand that their lyrics were somewhat oblique, but they did not play ball with the authorities and had a generally oppositional aura. This might perhaps be detectable in the relatively melancholic nature of this tune. Their story illustrates the dangers of messing with the East German regime – one day Renft were hauled into the culture ministry and informed that they were disbanding. And that was the end of their musical career.

DIE PUHDYS – Geh Zu Ihr (Go to her)
DIE PUHDYS, meanwhile, illustrate the benefits of cooperation. As an apolitical band of vokuhila rockers, they became the officially sanctioned face of East German rock, and found themselves rewarded with nice houses and various other perks. The fall of the Wall should have swept them away (as lamer mullet rockers from the western world would now be able to play and sell to East Germans). However, emerging particularist sentiment meant that they remained the band of the East. This song of theirs is that bit more musically interesting than anything else I have heard by them; the oompah tuba sound is a particularly inventive touch.

Jürgen Hart – Sing Mei Sachse Sing (Sing My Saxon Sing)
Bit of an odd one this. In the life of the DDR, Saxony was famous for a two things – the comedic nature of the local accent, and the region's inability to pick up West German TV and radio. DDR cops, especially the kind of cops whose main job is to crack heads, were disproportionately recruited from the good folk of Saxony, because of their lack of exposure to the corrupting influence of the West. So, this song… I really wish I knew what the lyrics were about. It is obviously meant to be funny, and the stomping march-beat does call to mind an army of thicko cops stomping their way towards a load of dissidents who need a good kicking. But is this laughing at Saxons (and very obliquely challenging the DDR regime), or is Mr Hart celebrating the fascinating local culture of Saxony? I have seen actual albums by him, with covers showing road signs pointing to Saxony, so maybe it is the latter.

Berluc – Hallo Erde, Hier Ist Alpha (Hello World, Here is Alpha)
Socialist space rock! Here we have Berluc saluting Sigismund Jahn, the East German cosmonaut. This is a stormer of a tune, with hints of Status Quo and Thin Lizzy. I keep wanting to seek out more music by these fellows, but fear that this might be a flash in the pan.

Sandow – Born In The GDR
As far as I know, this is the only song here that was recorded after the Berlin Wall came down. It communicates well the sense of dislocation you would get if your (admittedly rubbish) country were to disappear overnight.

Kinderchor A. Weiz – Unsere Heimat (Our Home)
We end with a poignant tune from the Pioneers, East Germany's socialist boy scouts.

Sachsen signpost

dancing on The Wall

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Radio East Berlin: Forgotten Music of a Lost Country

You might be interested in my recent posts on the general subject of popular music in East Germany.

So here I am talking you through a CD-R compilation of East German music. Because I am not a master of succinct expression, I have had to split this over two posts, the second of which will appear tomorrow.

If you want a copy of this disc, let me know.

A-Musik – Aktuelle Kamera
The theme tune to East Germany's TV news programme.

Uschi und der Kinderchor des Ektar-Andre-Ensembles – Der Volkspolizist
The Volkspolizei (People's Police) was East Germany's police force. Here a children's choir sing about how friendly the VoPos are as they go about their task – helping children cross the road, finding lost puppies, and combating the class enemy.

Theo Schumann Combo – Glück und Musik (Happiness & Music)
A perky example of DDR beat music.

Thomas Natschinski Gruppe – Aufstehen (Getting Up)
I imagine this song being from a film in which a load of alarm clocks go off and then you see people cheerily scoffing their breakfasts and marching off to work while singing along. They would probably be also wishing each other a hearty good morning while they are at it, perhaps also offering greetings to little birds and passing animals.

Die Alexanders – Hoffnung (Hope)
I discovered subsequently that this is actually a cover of a Crosby, Stills, and Nash tune. I find this disturbing, as I have always worked on the basis that CSN are not worth engaging with.

Thomas Natschinski Gruppe – Morgens in der Stadt (Morning in the City)
Thomas Natschinski seems be a bit of a morning person.

Dresden-Sextett – An einem Tag in September (One Day in September)
The tune here is from The Zombies' 'She's Not There', though I think the lyrics are not a direct translation.

Manfred Ludwig Septett – Morgen (Morning)
The DDR's fondness for songs about people springing out of bed in the morning may have been part of a state punctuality campaign.

Thomas Natschinski Gruppe – Mocca Milch Eisbar
In German, Eisbar means Ice Cream Bar, while Eisbär means Polar Bear.

Ute Freudenberg & Elefant – Jugendliebe (Young Love)
I am not quite sure what I like so much about this tune… it sounds worryingly like what would appear on one of those Guilty Pleasures compilations of shite music from the 1970s, yet it has a certain magic something.

Sonja Schmidt – Ein Himmelblauer Trabant (A Sky Blue Trabant)
Fraulein Schmidt is very pleased with her new Trabant.

Kinderchor – Sandmann, Lieber Sandmann (Sandman, Dear Sandman)
Not a song about the Neil Gaiman comic but rather the theme tune to a popular East German children's TV programme.

Oktoberklub – Sag Mir Wo Du Stehst (Tell Me Where You Stand)
Forwards or backwards, you have to choose. You cannot be with us (the progressive forces building socialism in the DDR) and with them (the class enemy and his friends – facism, monopoly capitalism, and US neo-imperialism) It is easy to scoff at this folk-rock classic, but there is a real power to it.

Oktoberklub – Was Wollen Wir Trinken? (What shall we drink?)
Another stormer from the socialist folk sensations. This one takes the tune from some old Breton folk song and gives it lyrics about the struggle for peace and working class solidarity embodied by the Democratic Republic. More recently the same tune was used by SCOOTER.

click here for part 2

Oktoberklub image source

Sandmann image source

Monday, November 09, 2009

Beyond The Wall - Part 2

Last time I mentioned how impressed I was by volume 3 (Kult) of the Das Beste Aus Der DDR series of music from the now vanished East Germany; join me now as I recount my further explorations of that lost country's music.

My subsequent acquisitions of DDR reissues were thereafter driven by the more interesting tracks on Kult, and by what Saturn* was offering in its DDR nostalgia section. One record that has given me much enjoyment is Oktoberklub's Das Beste. Oktoberklub are a funny lot. They seem basically to have been East Germany's reaction to the kind of idealistic folk scene you got in Western countries. There is a very earnest feel to their music, and they create an ersatz version of Western folk music.

The funny thing with Oktoberklub, though, is that they seem to be protesting in favour of the East German state, rather than against it. This is, of course, hardly surprising – actual anti-regime protest would never have made it onto record. And for all Oktoberklub's ostensible happy clappy idealism, they were very much creatures of the state, with their main guy being some big-wig in the East German youth apparatus (and subsequently a DDR culture minister – hopefully not the one depicted in The Lives of Others). For all that, their music (a combination of original tunes and covers with socialised lyrics) is very engaging, and I have gained much enjoyment from listening to them.

Records well worth keeping an eye out for are the Amiga-A-Go-Go series of reissues. The first of these presents us with Deutsch-Demokratische Rare Grooves. The draw for me with this was its having the track 'Tentakel', by Walter Kubiczek, theme music to the cop show of the same name. This track also appears on the Kult disc of Das Beste Aus Der DDR, where it is one of the highlights. It is a brash, brassy tune, and it serves as a good pointer to the kind of stuff that appears on the rare groove record. It suggests that East Germany was a pretty funky place, nothing like the land of drab conformity as which it is normally painted.

Volume 2 of the Amiga-A-Go-Go series presents us with Deutsch-Demokratischer Beat. These seem to be a load of beat tunes from the sixties, coming close at times to being Socialist psychedelia. The record mixes original compositions with covers, with several of the former being by Thomas Natschinski. I know nothing about this fellow, but he seems to have an incredible ability to churn out perky up-tempo tunes.

Volume 3 gives us Deutsch-Demokratisher Soundtracks, and consists entirely of music by Walter Kubiczek. As well as 'Tentakel' again, we also have 'Maskentanz', 'Kalahari', 'Abbisinia', 'Exotica', and many others, all conjuring up worlds of danger and excitement. Maybe my new hobby should be tracking down copies of these East German films and TV programmes – if they are anything like their themes, they must have been pretty exciting.

And that, sadly, is that. The one big gap in my East German music is that I have never come across anything by Wolf Biermann. He was kind of like the East German Luke Kelly or Ewan McColl, singing songs that often highlighted the less ideal aspects of actually existing socialism, but always from a perspective of broad loyalty to the German Democratic Republic. Unfortunately for him, the regime found Biermann a bit too troublesome, and while he was on a tour of the Bundesrepublik, they revoked his citizenship and blocked his return home. I think Biermann must have become less popular over time, with his music slipping out of print, perhaps because he was overshadowed by Nina Hagen, his now more famous daughter.

To illustrate further the advanced nature of the Democratic Republic's music, my next post will take you through a CD-R of sounds from that now-vanished land.

source of images of Alexanderplatz World Clock and temporary memorial to people killed crossing The Wall

* Big record shop in Berlin's Alexanderplatz, basically the only place I have ever seen these Amiga reissues on sale.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Beyond The Wall

The Berlin Wall was opened twenty years ago. The Fall of the Wall set East Germany on the inevitable road to its absorption by the Bundesrepublik a few months later. In the rest of Eastern Europe, the transition saw regimes fall, but in East Germany the fall of Communism saw an entire country disappear.

As you know, East Germany was formed in the Soviet occupation zone in eastern Germany. The early years of the DDR* coincided with the birth of rock and roll in the USA and this strange new music's appearance in Europe. At first, the East German state shunned this new music. Rock and roll was seen as the degenerate outpourings of late capitalism, a sure sign that the USA had fallen into decadence and was on the brink of socialist revolution.

Despite the best efforts of the regime, however, the youth of East Germany became more and more interested in the new American music. Rather than leave them to the tender mercies of West German broadcasting and the likes of Radio Free Europe, the DDR's rulers sought to co-opt rock and roll by allowing East German rock bands to come into being. Ideologues also discovered that rock and roll was not an alien import, but an authentic development of proletarian culture. They came close to implying that it was a development of East German proletarian culture, as though the first rock and rollers hailed from darkest Saxony rather than the American south.

I have a few reissues of music that originally appeared on Amiga, the East German state record label. I will now talk you through them, introducing you to the magic of socialist Germany's popular music.

The first East German music I acquired was a box set collecting the three discs of the series Das Beste Aus Der DDR. The first two discs (Rock and Pop respectively) are not really up to much. They demonstrate that even deformed workers states can make bland & anodyne mainstream music as unappealing as that found under capitalism. It says a lot about how dull these two discs are that the music on them both is pretty interchangeable, with little or no obvious concessions to their notional Rock and Pop subjects.

The third disc (Kult) is a completely different kettle of fish. I think maybe the title is a little misleading. This is not music from some edgy underground scene. Quite a few of the musicians from this record appear on the other two discs, and the music they make here is probably as mainstream as on the other volumes. It is just much better. It is like the compilers have kept back their good tunes for this one. And as well as rock and pop music, the Kult disc also has music from other genres – socialist children's music, communist folk-rock, TV themes, and a couple of odd novelty tunes. I recommend this disc highly – if you were to buy just one East German record, make it this one. As well as the novelty stuff, it includes music by big names on the East German rock scene, such as DIE PUHDYS, Renft, and Nina Hagen.

The story continues in the next post, when I will look at some other reissue of music from socialist Germany.

Wall image source

Kult image source

* Deutsche Demokratische Republik (or German Democratic Republic); you knew this

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

More Comic Action

The Unwritten #6, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

This is the odd title about the guy who was the son of a famous writer who might just be a fictional character invented by his father*. The story is a bit involved, and this issue sees Tom Taylor (the guy) arrested by the Swiss authorities on suspicion of having murdered all the other rubbish horror writers who were attending a conference at the Villa Diodati (where Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein, Milton conceived some poem he wrote, and Taylor's father conceived some fictional fantasy work). For complicated reasons, he finds himself being held on remand in south west France, in a prison called Donostia**. Various odd things happen.

I have been reading this title for a while, initially finding it just somewhat diverting, but with this issue I am really beginning to think that it is going somewhere. My sketchy plot outline above is probably not that helpful, but there is something very enjoyable about this odd meandering story that makes much of its referencing of previous fictional worlds. Maybe it has ramped up a level, or maybe something has finally clicked with me, but I am starting to think this is one of the most key titles coming out right now.

Unwritten Panda

*Although he is, obviously, an actually fictional character invented by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.

**Donostia is the Basque name for San Sebastian. I am curious as to whether Carey picked the name for the prison because he liked it, or if there is another Donostia on the French side of the border.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Two CDrs

v/a nlgbbbblth CD 09.04: Lamb to the Slaughter
v/a nlgbbbblth CD 09.03: Fruit of the Forest

These are two CD-Rs, both of exceptional quality.

The first one is a collection of British and Irish folk tunes, very enjoyable. The second is a bit more of a mix. Generally speaking I suppose one could class this as exotica, the kind of thing that would appear on a Finders Keepers compilation called something like A Curate's Egg. There are quite a few tunes here where light entertainment stars of yesteryear cover well-known tunes. I was rather struck by Pat Boone singing 'Song To The Siren'. With this song, one typically thinks of the famous versions sung by Tim Buckley or Liz Fraser (or even Brendan Perry). I therefore have assumed that this is someone where only a singer of the most incredible skill can even bother to try singing it. Boone is however a rather average singer, yet his version is very impressive. This is a good thing, it shows the song as having its own transcendent power. There is also an impressive tune by Cilla Black; it's easy to forget she started her career as a singer.

One odd thing here is the inclusion of 'Dancing In The Moonlight', by someone called Young Generation. So, not a Toploader original then?

image source

Monday, November 02, 2009

A curiously bifurcated post about a comic book

Coward - a Criminal edition by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

This time round I am talking about one of those comics you can buy in book shops. Coward collects the first five issues of Criminal, the crime-themed strip by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This tells the story of Leo, a pickpocket and general-purpose criminal whose thing is that he is so careful he has never been caught. His extreme caution has led to him being dubbed a coward by his underworld associates, though he is happy if it means that he gets to stay (1) alive and (2) out of jail. The story sees him get caught up in a heist that, amazingly, goes wrong, with ultimately alarming consequences.

It is a good enough story – as atmospheric as the various later Criminal tales, but there is one big problem here. Basically, if Leo is so smart, why does he let himself get caught up in the hare-brained caper that anyone with half a brain can see is going to be a disaster? And why, after that, does he keep making some astonishingly stupid mistakes?

Fans of the Ed Brubaker identikit shady lady character will be pleased to see her make another appearance here. Although maybe in fairness to Mr Brubaker, she seems a bit less like the usual than elsewhere here, suggesting that just maybe he has met more than one woman in his life.

Later: Looking at this again, to write the above, I am really struck by how good this book is. Yes yes, one could say that there are maybe some issues with the plot, but the overall atmosphere and feel of this is very impressive. There is a real darkness to much of what happens here, and a sense of the terrible waste and blighted lives of the people in the criminal world. OK, so maybe that makes this just another crime-doesn't-pay story, but it still has a power, and I recommend it highly.

bifurcated pandas

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Cornershop "Judy Sucks A Lemon"

Cornershop are becoming my official favourite band of the 1990s (a decade I still kind of think of us as living in), so I decided to buy this record the moment I saw it. It starts off with a big rocker ('Who Fingered Rock n Roll'), an epic tune featuring sneaky sitar in among all the rock. This is a great tune, a total monster of a track, if it gets released as a single watch it sweep the world (Reader's voice: "What's a single, granddad?").

The album keeps going, not quite in such a rocktastic manner, featuring some of the odd meandering tracks we expect from Cornershop. I think the kind of people who like the Shop will like this.

It includes a cover of 'The Mighty Quinn' – a tune apparently composed by Bob Dylan.

I found myself wondering about the album's title track. Who is this Judy, and is she the same Judy who appears on such Belle & Sebastian tracks as 'Judy and the Dream of Horses' and 'Judy is a Dick Slap'? What do you think?

image source

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Keep an eye out for Crinkly!

Crinkly is a Bewick Swan with an unusual double kink in her neck. She and her Bewick Swan friends should be arriving in Britain in the next few days, as part of their annual migration from Russia. If she makes it this year, she will have flown over 20,000 km in the course of her life so far.

If you see Crinkly, report the sighting to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.


v/a "The Kids at the Club: an Indiepop Compilation"

This has a great hat-trick of top tunes by people I know (broadly defined). First up there is Wintergreen's 'The Magic Road', that fascinating band's showstopping encore piece.. Then there is Shimura Curves with 'Noyfriend' – electropop shoegaze insanity, can you dig it? Finally, The Gresham Flyers blast past the keeper with 'Blackpool'.

I have not really bothered so much with the other tracks, but I am sure that, one day, I will have equally incisive things to say about them.

spooky panda

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fortran 5 "Bad Head Park"

I bought this from Oxfam for one track: 'Layla (Derek Sings Derek)'. It is a cover of the Derek and the Dominos classic, with the vocals by Derek Nimmo, created by sampling him saying the words separately in various sitcoms. It ends up sounding like he has no trousers on and is afraid that the vicar is going to walk up the drive – only he is the vicar. One day I hope to hear the other song where Fortran 5 play this game – 'Bike (Sid Sings Syd)' (where judicious sampling makes Sid James provide vocals for 'Bike' by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd).

Other tracks include 'Fire In The Sky', a rave tune reminiscent of 'Smoke On The Water', boasting a wonderfully ominous vocal sample, and another piece called 'Choppers' with what sounds like the same guy delivering a looped report about helicopters flying by. I like all the named tracks, but fear that this early rave classic may not be fated to remain in Panda Mansions.

panda lady

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pas De Printemps Pour Marnie "Soon" (CD single)

I picked up this novelty item at Indietracks… it is basically some bunch of chancers covering three songs from My Bloody Valentine's Loveless album. While inessential, this record is enjoyable, emphasising the enveloping oceanic end of the MBV sound over the abrasive and combative.

image source

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

v/a "Ray Davies - Featuring His Funky Trumpet & The Button Down Brass"

This is a CD-R of stuff by Ray Davies – not the guy from The Kinks, but the other one, a trumpeter who played on a lot of library music stuff from the 1970s. This is incredible. In a good way. There has been a lot of parping in Panda Mansions since this came into our life.

image source

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nik Turner – live

This concert by the former Hawkwind sax sensation marked the first time I made my way to Dublin's legendary rock venue Fibber Magees. Unfortunately, the passage of time and a few too many sherries on the night mean that I cannot tell you too much about it. I recall liking the support acts. Sketchy entries in my notebook suggest that they were Ugly Megan ("semi-electronic") and Goodtime John ("folkie").

Nik Turner himself came on pretty late, meaning that I was not on top of my game the next day. As is his wont, the composer of 'Brainstorm' did not play any Hawkwind tunes, or anything that sounded like a Hawkwind tune, instead playing an odd confection of good natured tunes. I cannot say how well it went down with the attendees generally, but I enjoyed it.

More recently, friends of mine were at a wedding, and the wedding band was... Nik Turner! I think this is primarily an indication of how amazing the wedding was.

image source

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Trip to The Ballroom of Romance

The Ballroom of Romance is this occasional multi-band night, usually in the Lower Deck in Portobello. The bands on the bill tend to come from broadly the world of punk and avant garde music. It is usually an enjoyable night, even if many of the bands that play are not that great.

On the Friday after Indietracks, we made our way along to the latest Ballroom, partly as a palate cleanser after all the fey indie music we had seen the weekend before. We arrived a little bit late, missing the first band but catching the second, Kaplan. I liked them – they were loud, bassy, full of rock, very much the antithesis of what I had seen the week before. The fact, perhaps, that I had earlier had a load of beers with my workmates might have influenced my opinions. Maybe so, but even sober I would probably still have liked the chunking slabs of bass and the guitarist's solo riff action.

The next band were called Feed The Bears. Or maybe Free The Bears. They had joined the bill at the last minute because one of the bands (Hired Hands) had had to drop out, pleading swine flu. Like Hired Hands, Free The Bears have a mixed gender line-up and a somewhat folkie aspect. They were also not very rock, with their music being semi-acoustic. They also seemed a bit prog – not just in the sense of playing (some) long tunes with multiple movements and eccentric lyrics, but also in strange musical inventiveness. At times they seemed to be influenced by Congolese music, with guitar sounds reminiscent of Papa Wembe and then guitars managing to produce sounds like that of a thumb piano. I hope to see this lot again some time.

And finally we had Humble Grumble. At the Ballroom of Romance, the headliner tends to be the band who has come from the furthest away, but they always get to play for the least time, as the other bands all over-run, leaving the headliner up against the venue's curfew. So it was tonight. Humble Grumble are from darkest Belgium. They wear masks and dress up in funny clothes, of a sort that made me think that they might, at any moment, break into 'The Safety Dance'.

And they play funny music too, broadly of a jazz-influenced nature. It was of a high quality, if you like weirdo music. The lamer jokes of their guitarist/singer bloke only added to the quality – they seemed to come from a world of strangeness with no suggestion that they would be even remotely funny in the his first language. With the tunes themselves, maybe the one in which the guitarist kept calling out "I'm horneeee" (to which other band members reply "He's horneee") was the most memorable. This is not the same song as that 'I'm horny, horny-horny-horny' one from a few years ago, but the comparison is important – there is a big difference between two lovely ladies singing about how horny they are, and one big Belgian fellow telling us the same thing.

Closer examination of the lyrics suggests that this might actually be a song about animals with horns.

So anyway, we loved Humble Grumble so much that we almost invited them back to our place to shotgun scotch whisky, but instead we decided to just buy their CD. Our rubbish CD player is not so forward thinking and will not play all of this album properly. What we can hear does sound forward thinking, but they might be best appreciated live.

image source


If you want to look at pictures of random Irish posters, mostly political, then this might be the place for you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Have you ever wanted to look at puppies who are in training to become police dogs? Then this website is for you.

The puppies are not there right now, but they have some puppy pics.

image source

I recently bought some records - by Oneida

There are three of them. And the first one, Rated O is a triple album. That has to some extent made engaging with it a bit difficult, but I can confirm that it is forward thinking. It is also, after last year's Preteen Weaponry, the second in a trilogy of records that will herald a new age in the history of the world. What is odd about this one is the dance-music direction this record takes on some of the tracks. The opener, 'Brownout in Lagos'. sounds like it should be appearing on some Warp drill 'n' bass compilation. This is a great record, but I reckon that if you were new to the music of Oneida then maybe Preteen Weaponry would be the one to go for, if only because it is more manageably sized and thus easier to digest.

I bought two other records (by Oneida) at the Oneida concert. One of these is the wonderfully titled Come On Everybody Let's Rock. It is early Oneida, from 2000, before Each One Teach One (the album with 'Sheets of Easter'). It is a bit more based on normal songs than the full-on tunes they would later become famous for. The inner sleeve does however feature a great photograph of one of the band in the nip, his charms on full display.

The Wedding, meanwhile is more recent, from 2005. I listened to this before checking the date, and was surprised that it was so recent. The first couple of tracks do not sound like the Oneida we now know and love, but almost like some kind of lamer sub-Mercury Rev outfit. However, the last bloc of songs, beginning with 'Heavenly Choir' are ones of great power, tunes that will, I think, find their way into the ranks of any Oneida-lovers list of the best songs by Oneida.

Listening to these a bit more, I think The Wedding is the better of the two old ones. Come On Everybody Let's Rock is enjoyable enough, but it is with the later tracks on The Wedding that the Oneida we know and love now is more clearly starting to emerge. Even the beginning songs on The Wedding sound more promising when I return to them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Superman: World of New Krypton" #8, by James Robinson, Greg Rucka, Pete Woods, and Ron Randall

The Kryptonians find themselves caught up in a huge ruck with the Thanagarians, who seem to be some lot of winged people who fly around in spaceships that look like birds. How could this have happened? A tragic misunderstanding, or perhaps a sinister plot? Fortunately Kal-El manages to sort things out, but now Callisto (formerly a moon of Jupiter) is now on a collision course with New Krypton. Oh noes.

That gets sorted out too.

I am starting to think that this title is in decline. Let us see what the next issue brings.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Sherlock Holmes" #5, by Leah Moore, John Reppion, and Aaron Campbell

This is the last issue of the story whose first episode ended with cops bursting into a locked room from which a shot had just been heard, only to meet Holmes standing there with some fellow dying from a gunshot wound and Holmes standing over him with a smoking revolver. In this one, the great detective finds himself on trial (conducting his own defence, naturally), supplying an ingenious solution to this whole conundrum.

This is a fundamentally good title – atmospheric art, basically good writing – but it does have one fault: the whole thing has been a bit drawn out. I think maybe they could have scrunched the five issue story into two, and one problem of it taking so long is that I find myself forgetting a lot of the details of earlier issues. I suppose this will not be a problem for those who read this when it is collected, but then why bother publishing it in issues first?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Batman & Robin" #5, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan, and Jonathan Glapion

So Batman (now Dick Grayson, who used to be Robin) and Robin (this scary kid called Adam, Bruce Wayne's son by the daughter of sinister oriental mastermind Ra's Al-Ghul) find themselves fighting against the Red Hood and the Red Hood's creepy kid sidekick, only to discover that he is none other than Jason Todd, who used to be the second Robin. But wait, wasn't Robin dead? I seem to recall the Joker beating him to death with a monkey wrench, in a story where comics readers got to vote on whether he lived or died. Well of course, this is in the world of superhero comics, where no death is permanent. It seems as though he found his way into one of these Lazarus Pit things that bring the dead back to life.

I am beginning to wonder about this title… it is getting a bit too into continuity bullshit, and like many Morrison stories it is a bit hard to follow. Still, I will probably keep buying it on autopilot.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Criminal: The Sinners" #1, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Wow, these guys are really going for it, it seems like only ten minutes since the final issue of Incognito, the limited series about a supervillain on witness protection finished. This sees them return to the crime title they seem most at home on, with the issue number once more set back to #1. This brings back Tracy* Lawless, the sulky badass from the title's second story. Having deserted from the US army, he now finds himself working as a hitman for some shady crime lord. Lots of grim stuff happens, but this one seems to have more in the way of dark humour than previous episodes, which does rather lighten the mood. It also features the identikit Brubaker-Phillips lady character (in this book, the boss's wife, with whom Lawless is predictably having an affair), although this time they are trying to establish her individuality by giving her blonde hair. Anyway, it's all a bag of fun, with a great OMG last frame. And a big essay on some Sam Peckinpah film, which I have not read yet.

*you might think Tracy is a girl's name, but if you were to say this to Mr Lawless he would break every bone in your body.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Sweet Tooth" #2, by Jeff Lemire

OK, let's not hold back here – this is a work of genius. As mentioned previously, this is the one about the little boy with antlers and a faun-like face (and hooves, I've just noticed). Sudden violence has saved him from the sticky end his last issue, and now he has fallen in with a tough man who might or might not have his best interests at heart. From him we learn a bit more of what's going on (some kind of plague or something that is killing off all the normals but leading to births of weird hybrids like the boy who are immune). That said, we only have the tough guy's word for this, so anything could really be happening.

This is about atmosphere as much as plot, so, even if you think my outline sounds like the usual rubbish, I urge you to seek out this title.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Planetary" #27 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

Do you remember Planetary? It was the one about these three larger than life characters who investigated weird stuff, with the weird stuff often being based on well-known fictional (or, occasionally, real-life) characters or situations (so an early issues was set on an analogue of Monster Island and featured a character clearly modelled on Yukio Mishima). Over time, the story became rather focussed on attempts by Elijah Snow, the main character to overcome the blocks that someone had put into his memory, and on his struggle against The Four, sinister analogues of the Fantastic Four.

Anyway, I had thought that Planetary had finished a couple of years ago, when in #26 Snow managed to defeat the leader of The Four (supposedly the most powerful and brainy man in the world, for all his terrible evil) with an unconvincing parlour trick. But now Planetary is back! I think this is probably the last issue ever, as it feels like the title is just tidying up one remaining loose end. I found it a bit unsatisfying, the extra length and fold-out cover only serving to emphasise how this once-great title had rather trailed off over the last few issues. The art is nevertheless as stunning as ever, and the characters retain the epic quality that made the best issues so enjoyable.

One thing that was great about Planetary was that it was a very issues-based comic. They have issued collections, and the book reads well enough in them, but unlike so many comics today, this was written so that it could be enjoyed issue-by-issue. Each episode was typically self-contained – although the episodes would knit together to build a larger story, any given issue would usually work on its own. As someone who typically reads comics in floppy format, I must salute the title's creators.

There is a preview in this for some new steampunk zombie title. Dude, get with the programme - zombies are so over.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Indietracks: rounding off with some quick ones

A couple of other bands deserve quick mentions:

Tendertrap sounded pretty good, but we were wandering around the nearby farm looking at rabbits and llamas while they were playing. Their sound seems to have beefed up a bit, or maybe Amelia Fletcher (the singing economist) has always had a certain fondness for the hard-edges of music.
Cats on Fire were some Finnish fellows who seemed like a version of British Sea Power with better tunes and a more appealing frontman, surely a good thing.

Lucky Soul seem like the sort of band I should like, with their 60s influenced sound, suits and smartly dressed lady singer, but it did not come together for me.

Help Stamp Out Loneliness also had a smartly dressed lady singer, sporting a fetching hat of rather militaristic cast, but it was Mad For It Dave on guitars that I was more struck by.

And that's it, really. Would I go again? Yes I would, but I think if I did I would either bite early and book one of the handful of B&Bs in nearby Ripley, or (shudder) camp in the campsite attached to the park in which the railway centre lives. Staying in Nottingham and spending two hours a day on buses is very much the path of madness, particularly as the buses finish so early that you end up missing the last bands on Sunday.

One great thing about getting the bus back from Ripley was seeing this sleepy country town transformed. By day, Ripley seemed like somewhere where little happened, but on Saturday night the place became a centre for full-on mad for it action of a sort that would make Dublin's Temple Bar look like a place for the slippers and cocoa brigade.

And that's it for this year's indietracks, as I'm sure you will be pleased to hear.

more rabbit action

Monday, October 12, 2009

Indietracks: Are you ready Art Brut?

Emmy the Great was less enjoyable than in Dublin, partly because the Indietracks crowd seemed less into her and far more inclined to chatter away to their stupid friends over her not that loud music. But one band who did go down well, at least with me, were Art Brut. These fellows could not be described as twee indie-poppers, as they are a band comprising blokes (and one lady) who eminently live to rock, fronted by a guy whose thing seems to be drink-fuelled stream of consciousness vocals. He had a slightly combative relationship with the audience, berating them for their tweeness but accepting that, broadly speaking, the twee-fuckers and Art Brut are on the same side – for are we not all enemies of The Kings of Leon?

Art Brut also touched a lot of my buttons by singing songs about comics (OK so they were songs about rubbish DC comics, you can't have everything) and public transport (buses, admittedly), and they also sang a tune about male erectile dysfunction which dovetailed nicely with one about having an exciting new girlfriend. Fundamentally, though, one must emphasise Art Brut's total rock animal character, and the singer's endearing habit of beginning songs by shouting to the band "Are you ready Art Brut?" He also introduced the band – "Bass guitar – Art Brut. Lead guitar – Art Brut. Rhythm guitar – Art Brut". You get the picture.

Astonishingly, after Art Brut finished it was revealed that the festival had run out of beer. Yes, the pasty-faced legion of bedroom saddos had drunk the Midlands Railway Centre dry. So we left.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Indietracks – the killing continues

One great act I saw playing in the locomotive shed was called Disasteradio. This is basically one person, a New Zealander called Luke Rowell. The least Indietracks act imaginable, he played up-for-it electronic dance music – the kind of thing where you combine live generation of the music with weird treated vocals. The reaction was easy to imagine – armies of outraged indiekids fleeing from the venues, while others of their fellows were so incensed that a riot was a real prospect. But there were some of us who found it all rather entertaining.

What makes Disasteradio a lot more fun than the usual nerdy bloke making electronic music was Rowell's showman persona. He is the kind of guy who is great at working the crowd, and I reckon he would have gone down really well at a festival more open to mad-for-it electronic music. Even as it was, there were a good few forward thinking people who derived great enjoyment from his set. I must try and locate some of his recorded music.

The band who most lived the dream at the festival were probably Sucrette, Japanese indie-popper from somewhere in Japan. They are a band of unbelievable feyness, with their lead vocalist singing like a little girl and the music being generally like something for people who found Sarah bands a bit too hard-edged. They also really dressed the part. I am not sure if they were necessarily up to that much musically, but I must salute them for being the feyest of the fey, proving yet again that the Japanese do all sorts of music better than everyone else. Sucrette also seemed to remain in character while wandering around the festival site later in the day. Spirit of adventure.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yet More Indietracks

This is turning into one of those boring series where I drone on about bands you've never heard of at some stupid festival I went to. Anyway, outside on the main stage (at Indietracks) I saw Nick Garrie, some folkie fellow from the 1960s. He released one album back then (but only in France), before sinking back into obscurity. Then Rev-Ola re-issued his record (and not just in France), apparently to some acclaim in retro-folk circles, and then he released an entirely new album on Elefant (the Spanish indie label sponsoring the festival).

I was not quite sure what to expect from him, I was thinking we could be looking at some lost folkie mentalist from the 60s, a kind of acid crazed lunatic who had only been coaxed back into the world of music by some sinister psychiatrist of dubious ethical provenance. But in reality perception, Nick Garrie is just some amiable older geezer who seems to have happily moved on when his 1960s musical career failed to take off. So while he seems happy to be playing music again, I did not get the impression that he has spent the last forty years moaning about how he could have been a contender.

Garrie's singing and guitar playing remain impressive, with his set blending old and new tunes seamlessly (mentioning occasionally that some of the old songs had full orchestral accompaniment on record). For most of the time he played largely on his own, with a couple of other musicians backing him unobtrusively.

Garrie was joined later on by some guests. One of these was a fellow I had seen wandering around the festival the day before. With his beardless moustache I briefly entertained the idea that he might be Lemmy from Motörhead, but with his hooded cardigan this seemed somewhat unlikely. When Nick Garrie introduced him, he was revealed to none other than indie legend Duglas (from the BMX Bandits). He helped Nick Garrie out on kazoo chores.

Garrie was also joined by his daughter, her friend, and a load of other children, who provided backing vocals on a song or two. It sounds dreadfully twee, I know, but it was actually quite sweet.

One day I will track down records by Nick Garrie.

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