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?

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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?

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