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.