Friday, December 31, 2010

The Blood Arm "Lie Lover Lie"

Remember how I have been going on about how great Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now! are? As you will recall, they are fronted by Eddie Argos of Art Brut, but his partner in musical crime there is one Dyan Valdés of the Blood Arm, a band previously unknown to me. When I saw a copy of this album by them going cheap, I decided to investigate.

The sleeve to this suggests that what you are looking at is some kind of Goth band – the cover is dark and brooding, and the band photos are black and white and somewhat sinister looking. It was a bit of a surprise, therefore, when it turns out to be somewhat funky, albeit in a whitey kind of way. My beloved reckons that actually it just sounds like a Franz Ferdinand knock-off outfit. I can see where she's coming from, but the singer is a bit more in-your-face. The music is also rather keyboard-driven, suggesting that Dyan Valdés is at least something of a musical force.

I am not sure if this will prove to be a keeper into the long run future, but it does have some insanely catchy tracks. The opener ('Stay Put!') is one of these, but the particular standout for me is 'Suspicious Character', with its wonderful refrain of "I like all the girls / And all the girls like me". Story of my life, basically.

suspicious image

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

v/a "Warp 10+1: Influences"

This came out to celebrate Warp's ten-year anniversary. One of my pals was getting rid of it – and now it is mine! It consists of loads of banging early dance music tunes. – acid house, early techno, stuff by Mr Fingers, Model 500, Phuture, Adonis – that lot.. Every home should have a copy of this – I am amazed it took me so long to get around to acquiring a copy.

More amazingly insightful record reviews coming soon!

this is acid

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Great Internet Things #42


A Query to the Many Readers of Inuit Panda

Hi dere readers of Inuit Panda. You are familiar with the popular record label Ghost Box? Are there good and bad records/bands there, or is it all good? I have found myself looking at their nice product in Tower and thinking of getting me some of their hauntologocial action, but I would not want to accidentally pick up a record by the Ghost Box version of the Kings Of Leon. Any help in this regard would be greatly appreciated.

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Belbury Panda

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Zwei Filmen von Fritz Lang

Dr Mabuse, der Spieler

You may be aware of Metropolis, the famous Fritz Lang directed film of the 1920s. It famously was cut down for its original release, making the story somewhat incoherent. The missing sections had remained lost – until now, when a bad print in an archive in Argentina was discovered as having far more footage than the standard version. So it was all tidied up and re-released. My beloved and I went to see it on its opening night in Dublin, where it was playing in the National Concert Hall, with a full orchestral accompaniment.

Earlier that day, however, we went to another Fritz Lang film. The IFI was cashing in on the whole Metropolis thing by showing a whole season of the great German director's work. The film we saw that afternoon was the first Dr Mabuse film, a four-hour marathon that introduced the criminal mastermind and his devilish schemes. It is a truly amazing film, with great performances from the guy playing Mabuse and his various minions. One thing I particularly liked was how convincing Dr Mabuse's status as a master of disguise was – he was almost too good at disguising himself, with the result that a succession of scenes had me going "Who is this guy? Why is the camera taking such an interest in him? Maybe he is going to be Dr Mabuse's latest victim… no wait!". The music was also great too, played on strings that gave the whole thing the surreal and semi-nightmarish air the film warrants.

And then Metropolis. The missing bits do make the film a bit more coherent, but there is still the fundamental problem with this film – it looks amazing, but the plot is kind of ridiculous. And the film's reactionary message is rather suckass too. For all its iconic status (and it is a film everyone should see at least once in their life), it is far more about the spectacle than the plot or characterisation. So I suppose that makes it a rather typical member of the Science Fiction film family.

I should mention that I was seated next to The World's Most Annoying Man for this film, a fidgety fucker who could not sit still and had no concept of personal space. My beloved dubbed him Ritalin Man, and his muttering away to himself during the short piece about the film's restoration before it began presaged much of the horror that was to come. Oddly, he seemed to actually like the picture, but in a way that meant he could not sit still or shut his yap. I was rather glad that he did not return after the interval. I'm guessing he ended up in a fidget bar somewhere on the other side of town.

Dr Mabuse image source

widely reproduced Metropolis image

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Mudhoney (in the Button Factory)

The Seattle sensations are the ideal band to see when you have been on a work night out and had a bellyful of teh bouze on an empty stomach, leaving you a bit tanked and ready to rock out. I made it down to the venue to find that they had just started, so after knocking back another double whiskey (oh the nostalgia) I barged up the front and got down to the crazy sounds of the grunge gods. They did little in the way of between song chit chat (unlike when I saw them at ATP), just getting on with dishing out the tunes. Readers will be pleased to hear that Mark Arm can still do the Mudhoney voice.

Some might say that Mudhoney are musically a bit one-dimensional and that there is only so much of them that one can take. These Mudhoney hataz might just be objectively correct, but in a sweaty live venue there is no better music. The front of the venue saw the kind of moshing not seen in Dublin venues for years, perhaps because it featured a great many older music fans who had not been to a gig for years. It was good to show the youth how it used to be done.

Nevertheless, there were actually some of the youth present – I even spoke to some of them. Overhearing one young lad say to his friend that they must be the youngest people present, I advised them that yes, they were. In a brief conversation they revealed that they were 17, and were present largely because of Mudhoney's link to Nirvana, of whom they are big fans. Young people, eh?

For all that Mudhoney are not that great a band, they do have some real stormers in their repertoire, all of which seemed to make it out tonight (you know, 'Touch Me I'm Sick', 'Hate The Police', 'Here Comes Sickness', etc.). They also gave us what is probably their one claim to true songwriting greatness, 'When Tomorrow Hits' (even if it is kind of just 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' slowed down). I love that song, there is a power and grandeur to its doomy evocation of what must surely be the sad world of the junk-less junkie.

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When Panda Hits

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Film: "Winter's Bone"

This is that American film about crystal meth producers in the Ozarks. This 17 year old girl discovers that her missing ne'er do well father has put up their house as a bail bond. Unless the girl discovers her dad's whereabouts before some court hearing her home will be forfeited. She resolves to track him down, but this just leads to a lot of people telling her to stop causing trouble by asking stupid questions.

I found this film to be very enjoyable, mainly thanks to the great performance of the woman in the lead role and its general evocation of the bleak countryside sliding into winter. All the shots of the girl trudging around as she goes about her inquiries (being too po' to own a car, obviously) make things look almost post-apocalyptic.

I would be curious, though, as to what actual hillbillies (if they call themselves that) make of this film. There are some terrifyingly violent and unpleasant people in this film, and there are a lot of people making their living manufacturing and dealing in crystal meth. On the other hand, there are some quite nice people in it as well, and agreeable stuff like people being self-reliant and also helping each other out and stuff. And there is some nice folky music in one scene. So if the good folk of the Ozarks have seen this film, do they pick up on the good stuff, or do they moan about how they are now being stereotyped as producers of crystal meth where once they would have been tagged with inbreeding and moonshine production?

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Film: "Buried"

This is the one about this American contractor in Iraq who is kidnapped by t-heads AND BURIED ALIVE. Only they leave him in a coffin with loads of air and a Blackberry that is still magically able to get a signal through the soil above. So he rings up people and tries to get them to rescue him. And that's it, really. Through the film you never see anyone outside the coffin (except at one point a video on his Blackberry), it's just pure claustrophobia from start to finish.

I liked the way the film stuck to its high concept premise, but ultimately I thought it was not fully successful. In a film like this, the two obvious endings are the happy one (He escapes from the coffin, huzzah!) and the downbeat one (He dies in the coffin, OMG teh sadness!), both of which seem a bit unsatisfying. And without saying what actually happens here, I can reveal that the film-makers did not pull an awesome third ending out of the hat, leaving the film a bit let down by its conclusion.

The film was actually made by Spanish people, which might explain why the main American guy the contractor talks to on phone has an English accent for no obvious reason.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Film: "The Last Exorcism"

This is in some ways almost a film version of 'The Jezebel Spirit', the Brian Eno and David Byrne classic from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. It is filmed in the style of a documentary, following a disillusioned southern preacher and exorcist as he heads off to do one last exorcism in an effort to show the cinematic public just what a load of charlatanry the whole demon banishing gig is. Unfortunately, as with police dramas about a cop's last day on the force, the preacher's last exorcism turns out to be anything but routine.

This film is basically a horror masterpiece. I defy anyone not to see it and be terrified. A lot of things make it so great, like the plot's ability to twist and turn just ahead of audience surmises. The acting is great too, particularly from the guy playing the preacher (smarmy, manipulative, but also conflicted and still trying to do what is right), the vulnerable and disturbed girl who is to be exorcised, and the girl's father, a mess of simple yet extreme religion, self-pity and quiet despair. That everything we see is presented as documentary footage also ramps up the scariness, as it is like a ghost story where you are reading the diary of the protagonist – you know that they might not make it through this alive.

See it and be unashamed.

this is of course the second time I have review this film. The last one I wrote very quickly for the web, while this one I wrote very quickly for Frank's APA. Which one do you like best?

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Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm as shocked by it as you are, Officer

I don't know what is happening to me, but increasingly The Wire seems like the only music magazine to read. They even seem to have started seeing how funny some of the outlandish conceptual stuff they write about is, or at least I am able to find it funny for them. The must recent issue had some great pieces. I was interested by the cover story on Irish composer and sound artist Jennifer Walshe, for all that it gave almost no impression whatsoever of what her music sounds like. I was also interested by the piece on Detroit techno act Drexciya, not least because I know the guy who wrote it. I really must do something about my almost complete lack of anything Detroit techno oriented, a loss I feel increasingly keenly.

The real stars of this issue, though were Kommmissar Hjuler and Mama Baer. He is a chubby middle aged German cop, she his much younger and rather attractive wife. Together they make what sounds like unlistenable avant garde nonsense they try to pass off as music. They also do visual art, specialising in collages made from images of extreme hardcore pornography. It all sounds a bit "I can explain, officer" – only he is the officer!

I do not really want to hear any of their music, and I would very much rather not have to interact with their visual art, but the very existence of Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer is a sign that things are still going well in the world.

more (this is the transcript of the Wire interview with Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer; it is also where the above picture comes from. Sadly the completely genius picture of the two of them is not obviously available on the Wire website and I am afraid to do image searches for them)

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Your chance to hear the music of Gerald Barry

You may recall me posting about popular Irish composer Gerald Barry. As it happens, there was a recent episode of Nova on Lyric FM largely dedicated to his music. You can listen to it on the Nova website here; it's the one for the 5th of December. The programme includes some rofflesome settings to music of what seem to be the letters and diaries of Beethoven.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

China's Furry Scientists

Scientists in China are dressing up as Pandas. The scientists work in the Panda breeding centre in Wolong, from which it is hoped to reintroduce Pandas into the wild. The scientists are donning Panda-suits to stop the baby Pandas in the centre from becoming acclimatised to people.
My knowledge of Pandas is surprisingly limited, but I suspect that the Chinese attempt to increase Panda numbers by introducing more Pandas into the wild is based on a false premise. Pandas are famously slow to reproduce – lady Pandas are only fertile for a couple of hours a year, so if they do not get it on in that time then they will not be producing a little cub.

The slow reproduction of the Panda is often seen as the problem causing their low numbers, but I think it is more likely to be a sensible evolutionary response to the environment in which the loveable black and white bears live and their diet. Pandas eat more or less nothing but bamboo, a plant astonishingly lacking in nutrition. A Panda needs to eat an awful lot of bamboo a day in order to remain healthy and to have enough energy to amble from one bamboo grove to another. This requires a low population density, as too many Pandas in an area will denude it of bamboo and lead to a food crisis. This makes the infertility of lady Pandas quite sensible – if she produces too many cubs then she and her young will starve to death.

The corollary of this is that the Chinese attempts to reintroduce more Pandas to the wild are doomed to failure. The released Pandas will only be able to survive by displacing existing Pandas, if they are being released into territory with a near maximum density of the bears.

My other heretical theory about Pandas is that they are not actually that likely to become extinct any time soon. Recent estimates put the number of wild Pandas as high as 3,000. That is more or less the same as the total wild population of all Tiger species. I reckon that Pandas have a couple of things going for them which will ensure their continued survival. Firstly, they are really cute and everyone loves them, with that everyone crucially including the Chinese government. Secondly, they are now living in fairly remote areas where they are not too likely to suffer habitat loss through human encroachment (I am open to correction on this). Thirdly, and perhaps most crucially, no Panda body part is a key ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine. I am therefore reasonably confident that the cuddly bears will be with us for some time to come.


image gallery

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Menacing silhouettes, the jangle of little bells

Knight and Squire #2 (of 6), by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton

I mentioned previously reading the introductory first issue of this title. In this episode we see England's Batman and Robin analogues in their hometown of Great Worden. This time round they have an actual mystery to investigate – someone has been stealing ancient items of occult power. And it turns out to be – MORRIS DANCERS. The sinister Morris Major has perverted the ancient art of Morris and turned the local Morris dancers into something akin to a hey-nonny-nonny version of the BNP; he hopes to use the occult items to magically turn back the clock and make England once more a land of dull uniformity.

This quirky title is rather entertaining, reminding me a bit of many things, including the classic Warrior story Big Ben ("the man with no time for crime"). But the fun is all in the details and story's look and feel. The story itself is maybe a bit weak - Knight and Squire manage to thwart the villainous Morris dancers by calling in the cops to arrest them all. Maybe Mr Cornell needs to work a bit harder on the plotting.

image source

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Gerald Barry [free CD with "Boulevard Magenta"]

The latest issue of Boulevard Magenta (an art magazine published by IMMA) comes with a CD of music by Gerald Barry, an Irish composer of contemporary music – two long pieces and two short, composed in the years between 1977 and 2002. I was very struck by one of the longer pieces, Things That Gain By Being Painted. It has a woman's voice, mainly talking but occasionally breaking into random notes, telling us about various things she likes and dislikes, with a very slight musical accompaniment. I had the vague idea it might be an adaptation of something by Tennessee Williams or another of that lot, mainly because the woman has an accent suggestive of origins in the American South. But actually no, the text is taken from the pillow book of Sei Shonagon*. I like this a lot – there is a mesmerising quality to the rather affected sounding woman sounding off about all the things she likes and the things she simply cannot abide.

I was also rather taken by one of the shorter pieces, L'agitation des observateurs, le tremblement des voyeurs (M. Barry – il parle bien le français, uh huh huh). It consists of series of staccato notes played on a variety of instruments, with short gaps of silence in between. And, when you listen on headphones, what sounds like crowd noise or the sound of people fidgeting. Maybe this is a performance art piece where, in live performance, they keep poking the audience to cause agitation among them; that would rock.

Can anyone tell me anything further about Gerald Barry? I seem to recall hearing about him writing an opera called The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, an adaptation of a Fassbinder film. Did anyone reading this see it when it was on in London?

Pandas that gain by being painted

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* Reader's Voice: "So you are unfamiliar with the work of Sei Shonagon, the sage of Alabama?"

Rip the air raid warden dog

Rip was a very good dog who helped save lives during the Second World War. He was found as a stray by Air Raid Warden Mr E. King. The two became friends, and Rip accompanied Mr King on his rounds. He was not trained in search and rescue work, but he took to it instinctively, sniffing out people who had been buried in rubble after Luftwaffe bombings. In twelve months from 1940 to 1941 he is credited with saving the lives of over a hundred people.


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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The not quite so dynamic duo

Knight and Squire #1 of 6, by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton

I first came across these characters in a Batman comic written by Grant Morrison and drawn by… someone else. In that story, Batman and Robin were going to a meet-up of all the various Batman and Robin analogues from around the world. Their English equivalents were Knight and Squire. So, you get the basic idea here – imagine if you had Batman and Robin style characters, but in a British setting. They reappeared in the genius sequence in Batman & Robin where the dynamic duo popped over to Blighty to take on the Pearly King and Old King Coal.

So, when this title first appeared I shunned it as another of DC's lamer cash-in attempts. But then on the FA website I read a persuasive & favourable review and decided to give this a go. So what do we get here? Well, this issue is only based around the titular characters in the most tenuous of fashions. The story is set in a magic pub where they and various other outlandish villains and heroes are getting together for a pint, the idea being that no one's superpowers work in the pub and a truce reigns that prevents them all laying into each other.

If that were to give you the impression that this not a particularly serious title then you would not be wrong. The strip features a succession of outlandish heroes and villains, with the following serving as a representative sample: Jarvis Poker (the British Joker), the Milkman, the Black and White Minstrels, and the Professional Scotsman. This is not the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns transposed to England – it's more like the 1960s TV series crossbred with British kids comics and the likes of the British Avengers TV series. The art manages to evoke the kind of thing you would get in the better-drawn Tharg's future shocks, a suitably British reference point.

I found the story a bit hard to follow (something that happens a lot to me now that I am old), but this is still all rather entertaining, if a bit slight. I think they maybe need to do more with the Knight character – give us some sense of him being more than just a bland superhero type. But for all that, I am sufficiently intrigued by this to chance a second issue – good job that #2 has already come out and is now available in the shops, eh readers?

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image source

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I post links

I have two more reviews on that comics website I mentioned recently. I am still finding the idea of anyone publishing anything I write (even if just on the Internet) so exciting that I am going to post you links to them:

Incognito: Bad Influences #1
(previous Inuit Panda posts about Incognito)

The Unwritten #17
(previous Inuit panda posts about The Unwritten)

Unwritten Panda

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Trio Scordatura "Dubh"

The Scords are this classical three piece comprising Elisabeth Smalt on viola, Alfrun Schmid on voice, and Bob Gilmore on keyboards. They play music inspired by the ideas of Harry Partch*. One problem with this record, however, is that it comes with no sleevenotes or anything like that. So I know from a fascinating radio interview with Bob Gilmore on Nova and things he has said when playing live that the trios' music is inspired by the ideas of Harry Partch*, but I cannot not really tell you what those ideas are.

Anyway Dubh features a load of tracks by people like Judith Ring, Linda Buckley, Garrett Sholdice, Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, etc. And nothing composed by Bob Gilmore, which surprised me. I know that Gilmore is a musicologist and an expert on this kind of music, so you would think he would be able to knock something together to include on the record, but nothing appears. Maybe he is a hard-line non-composer, or maybe it is considered bad form to record your own compositions. I do not know. The actual musical pieces sound like they come from the dark ambient tradition rather than anything obviously "classical", using either electronics or funny viola sounds to create a disconcerting atmosphere. I recommend this highly to people who like that sort of thing.

Later: I wrote the preceding embarrassment of a non-review some time ago for Frank's APA. Let me try again to make one more attempt to get across some idea of what the music on this record sounds like. The tracks are mainly driven by the combination of Schmid's largely wordless vocals and Smalt's playing of the adapted viola. I think of the defining characteristic of this record as being slowness – we get pieces where notes are held for long periods, perhaps with very gradual change. This reminds me, of course, of the performance of James Tenney's In a Large Open Space that I saw a year or two back, with which this lot were involved. Some of the other tracks are more from the world of, eh, scratchy viola music, while some of the others use electronics as well as instrumental music. I am curious as to how the composer-performer relationship works with the pieces that use a lot of electronics, as my basic idea of how musical notation works does not comprehend how a composer would tell a performer what to do in this area. Does anyone have any ideas here?

Anyway, I hope that gives a better idea of what to expect with this record. I continue to recommend it highly, but I accept it is not for everyone. That said, I have started to imagine an alternate universe in which this kind of music suddenly becomes amazingly popular, with the Trio Scordatura playing sold-out concerts in the O2, contestants on X-Factor performing covers of tracks from this record and Paris Hilton bringing out an album inspired by the music of James Tenney. Would this be a better world than the one we have?

Should you wish to acquire the Trio Scordatura record, it can be purchased in the Winding Stair bookshop (ask for "the CD", as it is the only one they stock) or online from Ergodos.

*Or maybe it's James Tenney – it's so hard to remember things.

image source (Ergodos)

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Beggars of Dublin #8

This was at one stage this guy's second appearance in Guardian piece, but he must not have been looking sadface enough, as they removed him from the other one.


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Beggars of Dublin #7

This guy may be on a retainer with the Guardian, as I think this is the third piece of theirs he appears in.


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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Beggars of Dublin #6

Literally begging from the IMF. O Tempora! O Mores!

Source (Guardian)

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Beggars of Dublin #5

This guy is Mr Popular, at least as far as the Guardian is concerned.


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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beggars of Dublin #3

On O'Connell Bridge

Source (Reuters)

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Beggars of Dublin #2

This guy was sitting by a bank machine on Grafton Street when the Daily Telegraph photographers came calling.


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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beggars of Dublin #1

There were no beggars in Ireland in the past, but since the collapse of our economy their numbers have multiplied to such an extent that at least one beggar will feature in any street scene photographed for a UK media outlet. Like this fellow here.

Source (Guardian)

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Clever Birds Mimic Meerkats – to Steal Their Food

The Drongo is a bird that lives in the Kalahari Desert. It has worked out a handy way of getting Meerkats to collect food for it. A Drongo will follow around a troop of Meerkats, and learn the call the loveable mammals make when they spot a predator. When the Drongo sees a Meerkat with a tasty morsel that it would like to eat, it emits the Meerkat alarm call. The Meerkat, thinking that it is in danger, drops its food and runs for cover. "Nom Nom Nom", says the Drongo.


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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hungry Bears Eat You Granny

In the Komi Republic of Russia, the local bears are getting ready to hibernate. Unfortunately, a variety of factors have meant that the foods on which they usually fatten up are not so available this year. To get around this problem, the giant omnivores have started sneaking into human graveyards to dig up and eat the newly interred dead. Apparently a bear in Karelia was the first to work out how to open coffins, and he (or she) then taught all its friends.


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Friday, November 12, 2010

Exciting News For All Comics Fans!

No wait, come back everyone!

There is this guy called Martin Skidmore who edited some comics and brought out a magazine about comics called FA (he shortened the title from Fantasy Advertiser, a name it had been given before he inherited it).

Now in the Internet age FA LIVES AGAIN! - as a website, with reviews and features and news and stuff like that.

Not merely that, but I have a review in it, of issue 2 of Neonomicon, the ongoing Lovecraft-inspired comic by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows. I mention how I thought the issue worked well as horror, but I was a bit creeped out by the extended sexual degradation of the main female character that closed off the issue. You can read my review here.

I may have further reviews on FA in the future.

Angry Panda

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Good Dog Sniffs Out Bacteria

Cliff the Beagle is a clever dog who helps out in the Amsterdam Free University Medical Centre. His work has proved so useful that some have taken to calling him Doctor Cliff. Cliff goes around the hospital sniffing out colonies of dangerous bacteria. With his acute sense of smell, he can find traces of these virulent and contagious germs that would otherwise be almost impossible to locate. And his cheery manner is also proving a hit with the hospital's many patients.


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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

If You Think This Is Attractive, You're Being Deluded

Fixin' The Charts Vol. 1 is the album by Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now!. I have listened to this a lot, because it is totally ace. If you have read what I said about their live performance you basically get the idea. This record, by the lead vocalist (Eddie Argos) of Art Brut and the keyboardist (Dyan Valdès) of The Blood Arm, gives us songs answering well-known tracks by other artists. The one big difference to the way they sound live is that here Dyan Valdés' backing vocals are a bit higher in the mix. The tracks are largely driven by the lyrics, but if any other band had lyrics this good their songs would be too.

The tunes often manage to be both droll and quite affecting at the same tyme, with 'Billie's Genes' (replying to 'Billie Jean') 'Hey! It's Jimmy Mack!' (replying to, astonishingly, 'Jimmy Mack') and 'Coal Digger' (the chip fat song; I think it replies to some song called 'Gold Digger', albeit in a somewhat notional sense) being especially striking in this regards. A lot of it, however, is straightforwardly funny, like 'He's a "Rebel"' (an answer to some girl group song called 'He's A Rebel') being extremely chortlesome, with its amusing duetting between Ms Valdés (in raptures over this rebellious boy) and Mr Argos (wise to his game, but obviously a bit jealous).

I feel that this record is destined to be one of my favourites of this year. Whatever else you might say about Indietracks, I will be forever grateful to the festival for introducing me to this lot.

image source

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Monday, November 01, 2010

The Healing Power of Jazz

We saw Zahr playing in the Pendulum club night in J.J. Smyths. Zahr are another Francesco Turrisi band, this time playing music from the Italian folk tradition but influenced by tunes from the Arab world and further afield. The draw for us was that he had an oud player with him, so lot of microtonal string sounds, but the percussionist he had was also good crack and would give Salil Sachdev (if you remember him) a run for his money on his ability to make anything into a percussion instrument. Turrisi also did his bit to resolve one of the world's most intractable conflicts by playing both Turkish and Armenian tunes.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ian's World of Very Short Film Reviews

Some of these are films I saw quite some time ago.

Inception: Nice incidental music, surprisingly linear plot for something so many found confusing. Good performances. You have seen this already, so nothing more need be said.

The Secrets in their Eyes: V. impressive Argentinean crime film, with the emerging Dirty War as a vaguely acknowledged backdrop. Great performances from the leads. The film as a whole reminds of how well Argentina films.

Gainsbourg: Stylish but maybe a bit empty? Good for music, but perhaps problematic for people who do not know all of the Gainsbourg story.

Il Gattopardo [The Leopard]: Sicilian aristocrats battle changing times. Perhaps the most realistic depiction of a big party ever seen in cinema, right down to the room full of piss.

Things to Come: A fascinating film from the era of funny English accents. Great camera work and set design.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother

His & Hers is an Irish documentary film. Set in the Midlands, it features a succession of girls and women talking about the men and boys in their lives. Each speaker is older than the one before, so we start off with tots talking about their daddies, then we have teenagers talking about their boyfriends, then older women talking about their sons. The women all look different, but the way they progress in age, and the way neither they nor their menfolk are ever named, give them a certain everywoman character, as though we are watching the one person from early childhood to old age.

A lot of the film is quite funny (we particularly loved the woman with the amazingly dirty laugh talking about how although she and her boyfriend tended to sit in separate rooms of their flat most of the time, they would "come together at night. In bed"), the overall effect is quite poignant. This is particularly true as the film goes on, and the women progress from talking about sons getting married to husbands dying. One bit I found quite affecting was a woman who had survived breast cancer talking about her husband getting very upset when he thought he was going to lose her. Likewise another newly bereaved widow talking about how she would wake up in the night dreaming of having her arms around her husband, only to find herself alone in the bed. Later women seem to feel their loss less keenly, as though the passage of time makes the wound less raw.

The second last woman is very old indeed, and she talks about how she reckons she will soon have to go into a home (though she avoids using that term). The last woman is in a home; she says nothing and looks into space, suggesting the onset of senility.

I suppose that makes the film as a whole sound rather miserable, but that would be a false impression. I found it more a fascinating depiction of life's rich pageant and the passage of human life. It might well be the best thing I see this year.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pessimistic Dogs Anxious About Being Left Alone

Scientists have made the astonishing discovery that dogs who are anxious when left on their own are typically more pessimistic than their more independent fellows. Dogs who bark, howl, or destroy objects while waiting for their owners seem to be concerned that they may end up being left alone forever. Calmer dogs are typically optimistic, and so expect that if their owner leaves them on their own then he or she will return at some future point.

Scientists are reputedly also working on a hypothesis that the Pope could possibly be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

More (BBC)

Yet More (Guardian)

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lonely giraffe makes a new friend

Gerald the Giraffe lives in Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, just outside Bristol. He seems to be the only giraffe there and has been a bit lonely. He is however a amicable fellow, and rather than lead a purely solitary life he has struck up a friendship with a goat called Eddie. Efforts to acquaint him with some others of his own kind have been thwarted by Blue Tongue regulations and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in South Africa.

But now Gerald’s lonely sojourn is at an end. He has been joined by Genevieve, a giraffe recently arrived from Eastern Europe. The two of them are now getting to know each other as Genevieve settles into her new home.


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Monday, October 25, 2010

It’s Close To Midnight

In North Korea, thousands recently gathered in Pyongyang for an event at which Kim Jong-Il’s idiot son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-Un was presented to them for the first time. The event was marked by the usual military parades and tank drive-pasts, but also by night dancing in Kim Il-Sung square.

The dancers included these fellows, who re-enacted the Thriller video.


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Friday, October 22, 2010

Silence Is Golden

for a song to be number one in the charts at Christmas has long been highly coveted. As the world has transitioned from physical singles to downloads, the Christmas number one spot has become much more open, as members of the public can download pretty much any song they want, not just the ones the record companies choose to offer up to them. This has led to the sudden reappearance of some older Christmas songs in the charts (such as Mariah Carey’s faux Motown classic All I Want For Christmas Is You, which popped back into the UK charts at no.4 in 2007).

More recently, the world has seen campaigns to make particular songs, or particular recordings of songs, the Christmas number 1. In Christmas 2007, Alexandra Burke of rubbish TV programme X-Factor reached the top spot with a recording of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, beating off competition from a Facebook-driven campaign favouring a recording of the song by Jeff Buckley (with Leonard Cohen’s original also making it into the top ten). Last year some other X-Factor song was given a festive horse-whipping by Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name, prompting a quick cash-in tour by the anti-capitalist rockers.

2009 and 2008 have solidly established the idea that the Christmas top spot is all to play for, so various campaigns to make different tunes number one then have been bubbling around. The most interesting is the drive to make John Cage’s 4"33’ the Christmas number one. Cage’s avant-garde classic would be the most bizarre number one single of all time, given that it features no vocals and the playing of no instruments. If it was played on Christmas Top of the Pops, we would be treated to four and a half minutes of awkward TV silence. So, obviously, making it the Christmas number one is the duty of all right thinking people.

Click here to join a mailing list that will send you a link to a chart-eligible download of the track on December 13.


Guardian article on the campaign


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Clever Dog Helps Find Whales

Tucker is a very clever sniffer dog with a rather unusual job. He rides on boats and helps scientists track Orcas (Killer Whales) and Right Whales by finding their excrement as it posts on the sea water. He enjoys his work, but is apparently a bit annoyed that he does not get to roll in any whale excrement found.

Click here to see a slide show about Tucker

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Indietracks: This Is The End

the last post in my amazing Indietracks 2010 series – can you dig it?

Attagirl disco
There were a number of disco things at Indietracks, run by various indiepop clubs around England. They all played 'Babies' by Pulp at least once. The best of the discos was probably the one run by How Does It Feel To Be Loved?, a London club night. This featured loads of sixties girl groups, Tamla Motown, garage rock, and that kind of thing – with indiepop noticeable by its absence. The Sunday night disco by Crimes Against Pop in the campsite was also good crack, with 'You Can Go Your Own Way' by Fleetwood Mac proving a surprisingly strong floor filler, though they were battling dreadful sound problems.

Crimes Against Pop
One of the other discos organised a CD-R potluck swap thing, where people made mix CDs and left them in, taking a random one from someone else in recompense. I tried to do a train themed compilation, but could not think of enough locomotive related songs in time and so had to pad out the disc with tunes by twee favourites like Cluster, Scooter, and Jobriath. It did seem rather like the other disc makers just made compilations of indiepop music, which seemed like a bit of a failure of imagination – you would think that Indietracks attendees have basically heard enough indiepop and could do with forced exposure to the wider world of music. Or maybe not; although someone did take my disc, I have had no communication from the listener, suggesting that it has generated a response of "Not Twee – Bag of Wee."

One final thing to note is how drøg free Indietracks is. For all that the young people seemed happy to knock back the hearty ales, illegal substances seem to resolutely off the agenda. I think I only got one whiff of doobage all weekend. What does this say about today's young people?

And that's that. Will I be back for Indietracks 2011? I am not sure. I find this a somewhat difficult festival to relax into, my ambivalence at the whole conservative nature of indiepop making me feel like a bit of an interloper. I kept fearing that when talking to people I would let slip that Los Campesinos are rubbish and would end up being chased from the festival by an irate mob of hairslide-brandishing indie kids. For all that, I did get to hang out with some fun people, and had surprisingly many conversations about popular band Prolapse. And the food is great at Indietracks too... two great veg food stalls in particularly (one possibly run by the Hara Krishnas), and a coffee stall (run by pirate carnies) that did the most amazing coffee. So you never know.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Indietracks: Everyday Is Like Sunday

That's right – I am still going on about the last day of that festival.

I went to see reformed Sarah act Secret Shine in the indoor venue, mainly because I hoped they would be rubbish and so we would be able to review them thus: "Secret Shine? Secret shite, more like". It was therefore a big disappointment when they turned out to be a kickarse shoegaze band. I was sorry to only catch the last few songs of their high quality set. They have apparently reformed properly (recording new material that apparently makes up a lot of their set), so it is possible they will come and play live in your town soon.

And then there were Shrag, playing on the main stage. These were also rather impressive. They play a more rambunctious strain of indiepop – based on shouting and jumping around rather than the insipid stuff that some people like. The music is both guitarry and synthy. I think, though, that what really sets them above so many of the other bands on the bill was star quality – partly of the band as a whole but primarily of the lead singer. Marvelling at how impressive a front woman she was I was struck by how few of the bands at this festival were fronted by singers who did not play instruments. Little Ms Shrag exuded energy and charisma in a way that so many of the others did not, though the generally appealing nature of the tunes also helped.

The fact that Shrag's singer had grasped the importance of jumping around a lot on stage while wearing a short skirt was not lost on many members of the audience. A number of pervertalists trained cameras on her in the hope of capturing a special image that could be of use for private research later. I tried to snap a picture of the perv photographers in action, but failed. This is the story of my life.

Slow Club
I was eating dinner when musical sounds lured us back to the main stage, to see Slow Club. There were two of them, a man and a woman. He did vocals and played guitar and she did vocals (sounding like she comes from a region), played guitar AND played drums (so she wins). They were funny and their music had a certain folkie quality to it. I remember enjoying them a lot, but I wonder now if it was mainly their amusing chit chat that I liked.

The Pooh Sticks
And then The Pooh Sticks, another reformed band. The only song by The Pooh Sticks I know is that 'I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well' one, which meant that I had them down as idiot savants, perhaps the Indietracks Television Personalities. But actually no – it turned out that i) they were surprisingly rocky and together and ii) great fun. As part of their general commitment to rock action they gave out placards to the audience with important messages on them like "E=MC5" and "Don't Bore Us – Get To The Chorus". They were also joined for some songs by Amelia Fletcher, but sadly they failed to do the wonderful version of 'Float On' they recorded for the celebrated anti-Poll Tax compilation Alvin Lives… In Leeds.

After enjoying such a succession of bands it was great to get one that was, at best, only alright – it meant that my critical faculties had not collapsed, that I had not been reprogrammed into the kind of person who likes everything. The not brilliant band in question was The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. They go in for washes of synthy noise to such an extent that they seem to have based their entire set on 'Friday I'm In Love' by The Cure. I was therefore annoyed to find this band not merely derivative, but derivative of something I dislike. Still, the band did have a certain proficiency. They were also the last band of the festival, so rather than stand there going "Bah C***bug" I decided to extend them a kind of grudging admiration. They certainly went down well with the rest of the audience, perhaps thanks to their continuous bigging up of the whole indiepop scene generally, something that made them sound like the indiepop Manowar.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Giant Penguin from Beyond

Scientists have found the remains of a giant 1.5 metre tall penguin that seems to have lived 36 million years ago. Elements of the flightless bird’s plumage have survived the fossilisation process, revealing that it did not have the familiar black and white pattern of modern penguins, but was instead grey and brown.

Sources from the Miskatonic University were evasive when queried on reports that headless giant penguin fossils have also been found. They also dismissed rumours of mysterious piping noises in the vicinity of the dig site. Claims that several of their team are now resident in secure psychiatric institutions were flatly denied.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Monkey v. Monkey

There has been much discussion in the media about the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Much of this discussion has focussed on the apparent lack of preparation by the Indian hosts. However, preparations are well under way against one menace that could otherwise threaten athletes – the threat of monkey attack. Delhi is a city known for its out of control Rhesus monkey population, with civil servants and office workers often having to battle the cute yet fierce beasts to continue with their daily work. These animals can be highly dangerous. In 2007, the city’s deputy mayor was chased to his death from a balcony by the little fellows, while in 2001, Delhi was terrorised by a monkey monster described as part-man, part monkey.

Competitors at the Commonwealth Games need have no fear of monkey attack. The organisers have hired in Langur monkeys, natural enemies of the Rhesus monkeys, to scare away their smaller relatives. The Langurs have been deployed to a number of key Games-related locations.

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Indietracks: Don't Be Afraid Of The Robot

Although I rose early on Sunday, financial embarrassment meant that I had to trek into nearby Ripley to obtain more funds, thus missing many of the early bands. The first thing we saw turned out to be M.J. Hibbett & The Validators. I have seen Mr Hibbett before, and have a somewhat problematic relationship with him, because some of his songs annoy me. I was particularly incensed by 'Merchant Ivory Punks', where he made fun of punk rockers who are stuck in this eternal 1977 time warp. Fair enough, but he was playing this at a festival of indiepop, one of the world's most conservative musical forms, where most of the acts would not have been out of place on a Sarah Records compilation from twenty-five years ago. It therefore seemed a bit pot-kettle to be scoffing at the lack of innovation in other musical genres.

On the other hand, there is something appealing about many of Hibbett's lyrical concerns: giant robots, people being eaten by dinosaurs*, vegetarianism, and opposing the Iraq invasion. Furthermore, one of his songs does make the important things that you should not disown the things you like just because they are not kewl. I should also point out that on an Internet message board he also recommended the rather good Return of Bruce Wayne comic. So maybe he is worthy of respect after all.

The Specific Heats were, for us, one of the hits of Indietracks 2009. That time round they were playing in the Chapel and proved so popular that we could not get in to see them, so we stayed outside to listen to their garage rock sounds, pressing our noses against the glass to get the occasional look. This year they were in the larger indoor venue and seemed to have had a massive turnover in membership. And they also seemed to have left behind the Sixties garage rock revivalism and instead gone all indiepop! Oh noes. But then they started playing more garagey stuff and we remembered why we liked them.

I was also struck by how good their drummer was, especially after the monotonous thumping from a certain previous band**. That said, this band is in great danger. From playing at Indietracks, they seem to be picking up indiepop stylings. Their between song banter is of the friendly apologetic type you get from the more usual of the festival's bands. The Specific Heats basically need someone to throw out all their Smittens records, make them wear dark sunglasses onstage and do nothing but snarl between songs. "Stick to the acid rock", this tough but well-meaning Svengali might say. "If you do or play anything twee I will batter you".

After a few other bands I came to what, with Everybody Was In The French Resistance…Now!, might have been one of the real finds of the festival. Standard Fare had not been a band I was planning to see – their name suggests a certain lack of imagination and there was nothing particularly exciting about their write-up in the programme. However, one of our pals recommended them to us, and as he had previously implied a certain fondness for Hawkwind he was clearly a man to be trusted.
Standard Fare
So what do you get with this band? Well, they are a three piece, with a drummer and gentleman guitarist and lady bassist. Both the guitarist and bassist do vocals. The songs had a certain angular quality to them and owed little or nothing to indiepop. The band were all very good at what they did, but I reckon the bassist (whose name is Emma Kupa) is the real star here. Not merely is her voice very distinctive (albeit not necessarily a classically good singing voice, being a bit strained but in a way that suggests character), her bass playing seemed a good bit more interesting than the dum dum dum dum you get from most bassists. She and the guitarist played well off each other, and the songs they played had some odd lyrical concerns – one song was introduced as being about genocide, and then it was, but not in a Slayer-esque way, more focussing on the people who have genocide done to them.

Anyway, I was very impressed by Standard Fare, and hope to take a punt on their album to see if they also deliver on record. In fact, not buying their album there and then is one of my big festival regrets.

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* These appear in his rock opera, which he is touring to Edinburgh. Maybe you saw it in the Fringe Festival?

**This band, whose name I am not at liberty to reveal, set the percussion bar so low that I thought "mmm, great drumming" for every subsequent band.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Indietracks: Day In Day Out Day In Day Out

I will not go through all the subsequent Indietracks bands in such detail. For many, little need be said. In fact, for many nothing need be said, at least by me. One band who were talking about, however, were Greek art rock sensations The Callas, who we saw on the Saturday. There were three of them, two blokes and a woman. They all wore sunglasses and had an air of snarling uncommunicativeness (possibly driven by their not being Anglophones, but it worked for me). Their drummer was rather impressive, though this might have been just in comparison to the shite programmed drumming of an earlier band whose name I am not at liberty to divulge. And the music of The Callas had a much more full-on rock attack than any of the other bedwetters we had seen earlier that day. This made The Callas something of a new favourite. I also liked when the drummer took over the bass and the lady keyboardist replaced him behind the drum kit, standing photogenically and banging away on her instrument. I was nevertheless left with the feeling that The Callas have room for improvement – they may need a ball breaking manager to crack the whip and say to them: "Keep doing what you're doing – but do it better!"

At some point on Saturday afternoon I became separated from my beloved and, after drinking some unusually strong ales, I found myself in a very appreciative frame of mind. I drifted along to see The Just Joans for no better reason than that Mr Chris Gilmour mentioned them in his film treatment*. I went with low expectations but found their Scottish miserablism rather appealing. There was one song that had a chorus something like:

'If you don't pull
you'll go home on your own
if you go home on your own
you'll wake up on your own'

And so on. Oh wait, is this just a rehash of 'How Soon Is Now?'? Well imagine it being sung by two sadface Scots, one male and one female, and imagine the whole new dimension of misery being brought to it.

Then I went to see The Smittens. I always think of this lot as being the archetypal Indietracks band. For all they play surprisingly low down the bill, they are always one of the bands that the typical Indietracks attendee most wants to see. They are from the United States of America, have lovely teeth, and are rather perky. We took against them last year, but this year I found them more enjoyable. There is a cheery quality to them that makes them genuinely difficult to dislike (though I fear they would not go down too well if opening for Iron Maiden at Castle Donnington). Part of my change in sentiment came from one of their singers mentioning in passing that many of them bat for the other team – suddenly some of their more perplexing features made a lot more sense.

When I re-encountered my beloved again, she was a bit perplexed by my new appreciativeness. We nevertheless squeezed into the Chapel venue to see two acts. Firstly, there was Cineplexxx, some Argentinean guy's one-person band. He was playing today on his own, mostly acoustically, and proved to be a bit of a snappy dresser. The Chapel was a good place for him, as he looked a bit like Jesus, and we enjoyed his folky tunes. That he sang in foreign was also rather appealing.

The following Chapel act was White Town. It said in the programme that White Town had had an actual chart hit (albeit one we could not remember), something of a rarity for the underachieving Indietracks mainstream, so that piqued our interest. The Town turn out to be this one bloke who used to be in the Socialist Workers, and his tunes often nod to that world. He seemed not to have entirely left ultra-leftism behind - at one point he refused to play a song about Alain Delon, because Delon has apparently become a fascist since it was written.

I kind of liked White Town, but I found his lurches between acoustic songs and ones with big, loud, and pre-programmed electropop flourishes a bit awkward. When he finally played his hit ('Your Woman'), it sounded rather familiar, but it might just be that some bit of it has been sampled by a hip-hop act.

I was looking forward to seeing the Swedish indiepop sensations Love Is All, as the one track I heard by them sounded almost like post-punk with its screaming brass and relentless rhythm, but they had cancelled. Their slot was instead taken by Tendertrap, the current band of Amelia Fletcher (the singing economist and Queen of Indiepop). They seemed to have mastered the large indoor venue's hopeless acoustics and were able to bash out a good beat, but after a couple of songs it struck us that, basically, if you have heard one Tendertrap song you have heard them all. I started wondering if this applies retrospectively to the Heavenly tracks I think of as classics – do they only seem to have unique qualities because they are the ones I heard first?

And finally for Saturday, we had The Primitives, the recently reformed indiepop band of the late 1980s. I was really looking forward to seeing them, having loved them back in the day and greatly enjoying them when I saw them in their later years. But they turned out to be a big disappointment. They sounded lumpen and plodding, making me wonder if they had actually never been any good.

The best is yet to come.

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* It is called Glasgow Indie Eye-Spy but could more appropriately be entitled The Life and Opinions of Christopher Gilmour, Gentleman. I gather this project is currently in hiatus.

"The Last Exorcism"

Just a quick note to say – if you like being scared, go and see this film in the cinema. It is very scary and lacks any of that ironic pomo crap that has been bedevilling horror films recently. And it has no vampires or zombies either.

The film's premise is simple enough – a disenchanted Southern US preacher and exorcist is having a documentary made in which he is going to demonstrate what a load of bunkum the whole exorcist business is. What the preacher intends to be his last exorcee turns out to be of a home-schooled teenage girl living on a farm with her religious lunatic father and creepy brother. The father has called in the preacher because the girl is apparently sleep-walking at night and mutilating farm animals, remembering nothing when she wakes. Piece of piss, thinks the preacher. Things turn out to be more complicated.

The whole film is supposedly footage shot for the documentary. The actors all seem to be unknowns, or at least people I do not recognise, giving it a certain cinema verité feel. The film starts out jauntily enough, as the preacher shows how he goes about his everyday work of ripping off people, but the atmosphere becomes oppressive once we get out to the farmhouse. It is easy to see that there is something very bad going on here, but the film keeps you guessing as to whether it is demonic possession or a disturbed and vulnerable girl undergoing psychotic episodes. Either of these would of course be a disturbing explanation for what is happening.

The actors deliver some fine performances. I must particularly salute Patrick Fabian as the preacher, who gives us an engaging mixture of smarminess, exploitativeness, and yet a troubled sense of self and drive to do what is right. Ashley Bell as the girl is also very impressive, equally adept at portraying troubled innocence and the awfulness of apparent possession. The subtle performance of the father is also very striking, but all the others in this small cast do their job very well, managing to come across like they are not acting and so maintaining the illusion that this is really happening.

Watching this film on a weekday afternoon made for a particularly spooky experience. I had the Savoy 2 more or less to myself, and there is nothing like combining the disorientation of emerging from a darkened cinema into the bright afternoon with the aftermath of a film as shocking as this.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Indietracks: Start Together

The first actual band I saw was Veronica Falls. I liked them from the get-go. Their music seemed a lot more based on fuzz guitar, reverb, distortion and all that, meaning that this felt like proper old school indie music like mama used to make, not that apologetic crap the bedwetters like. The shambolic nature of their set was endearing – they kept starting and stopping playing instruments semi-randomly, with their songs being a ramshackle combination of elements rather than anything polished to perfection. They were also battling some hopeless sound engineering, with the various instruments having their volumes raised and lowered continuously for no obvious reason. And in true Jesus & Mary Chain style, they only played two chaotic tunes before stomping off the stage.

It was only when they came back on and resumed playing that I realised that I had been won over by their sound check. The actual set was also pretty good, pretty much as described above except without the elements that make them or the sound engineers sound like loveable incompetents. That said, one of their songs did have a lurching chord change as atonal as the one in 'My Lovely Horse'. Veronica Falls had a somewhat doomy overall air to their sound, with the wonderful track 'Found Love In A Graveyard' sounding almost Goth. So yeah, a great start to the festival.

The last band on Friday had the wonderfully snappy name Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now!. They were one of the big draws for me, as their lead vocalist is Eddie Argos of Art Brut, one of the bands who served up a set of total win last year. EWITFR…N proved to be a rather different band, eschewing Art Brut's art rock attack. Instead, they came on to the stirring tones of La Marseillaise, arguably the world's greatest national anthem. There were three of them on stage – Eddie Argos on vocals, some geezer on guitar, and the lovely Dyan Valdés of The Blood Arm* on keyboards and backing vocals, with Ms Valdés fetchingly attired in a short tricolour skirt and a rather racy top.

EWITFR…N began with an eponymous tune giving us a surprisingly accurate account of the French Resistance's development in the Second World War. Then they launched into a series of songs that were all answers to other songs. So, they had a tune called 'Billie's Genes', sung as though from Michael Jackson's lovechild, or 'GIRLFREN (You Know I've Got A)', replying to some song in which Avril Lavigne is trying to steal some other bird's bloke. I also liked their rejoinder to 'Jimmy Mack', which Eddie Argos introduced by suggesting that poor Jimmy Mack might well have been drafted off to serve in Vietnam – the poor guy is sweating it in the jungle and now his bird is telling him that she is going off looking for action elsewhere unless he somehow manages to get home sharpish. Several of the others were ripostes to tunes with which I am unfamiliar (notably the one that had a great line about how no one loves you when you smell of chip fat).

But what did it all sound like? Well, many readers will be familiar with Art Brut. Musically, they are all rock all the time, with Eddie Argos basically speaking his vocals. EWITFR…N are not so rock – for all they have the geezer on guitars, it is more about the keyboards. But Argos' vocal delivery is pretty much the same. In overall execution, my beloved reckoned they were like a reverse engineered Black Box Recorder – arty, conceptual, with an attractive woman playing a key role (here as a musician rather than as lead vocalist).

Before leaving EWITFR…N, let me mention one odd incident. In one of their later songs, possibly a reply to 'My Way' or 'You'll Never Walk Alone', Argos suddenly switched into a Bongo style caterwaul and, yes, launched into the chorus of 'With Or Without You'. And then he started walking through the crowd. What was odd about this was that he was rapidly surrounded by people taking pictures of him. I wish I had had the presence of mind to whip out the camera and take a picture of them photographing him, as it looked really bizarre and illustrated well the over-mediated nature of society today.

Do not worry, EWITFR…N do not normally sound like U2. And they finished with a song specially composed for Indietracks – the wonderful 'Look At Us, We've Got A Side Project'. These were more or less the entire lyrics, so they sang them several times.

It all proved to be rather appealing package. Small wonder that I picked up a copy of their album – of which more anon.

More Indietracks fun coming soon!!!

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*a band with whom I had not hitherto been acquainted.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Indietracks: Deus Lo Volt!

As you will recall, Indietracks is the festival that takes place in the Midlands Railway Centre, which you will find in Butterley in Derbyshire. As well as trains and real ale, the punters also get served up a selection of bands from the indiepop end of the musical spectrum.

It would have to be accepted that the musical palette at Indietracks is a bit more restricted than at most other festivals. The centre of musical gravity here tends very much towards earnest white people playing guitar driven tunes with some vague approximation to pop music. If this is anathema to you then do not go to Indietracks – you are not going to encounter Konono No. 1 or Omar Souleyman chugging away on one of the smaller stages. You would also struggle to find anything that rocks out or that owes anything to the electronic dance music or hip-hop traditions. That is not to say that Indietracks is just a festival for a succession of Field Mice tribute acts, as there are people here who push the musical envelope somewhat, but there are very pronounced limits to how far the envelope can be pushed.

As you might have picked up from the previous, my own relationship with Indietracks is somewhat ambivalent. I cannot in all honesty describe myself as a big indiepop fan. At festivals I would prefer to encounter music that was a bit more innovative and challenging. So, what was I doing at Indietracks? Well, the festival has a couple of things going for it. First of all, it is a small, human-scale affair. I do like the massiveness of something like Glastonbury, but there is a lot to be said for a festival where it takes less than five minutes to move between the stages, where you recognise a significant proportion of the other attendees by the end of the weekend*. Indietracks is also something of a wanker-free zone – you do not really get trend people or beered-up twunts wandering around in jester hats looking for their hole or generally being messy.

The railway setting, meanwhile, adds a frisson of mechanical excitement, and the lashings of real ale that Indietracks serves up also make for a fun event. And in fairness, there is always some actually good music to be had at Indietracks, once you accept that none of Acid Mothers Temple, Omar Souleyman or Scooter will ever be asked to play. And maybe I should stop apologising for the music at the festival – it is like I have adopted the apologetic bedwetter mindset or something. Be indie and be proud, that's what I say.

One thing we did this year that greatly enhanced our enjoyment was that we camped at the nearby Golden Valley campsite outside Alfreton. This meant that we avoided hour-long bus journeys between Nottingham and the festival and did not have to run off to catch the last bus instead of enjoying the later bands and ensuing discos. For someone whose only adult experience of camping is Glastonbury, the campsite was astonishing – it had proper toilets and showers and stuff like that! Plus there were no crazy Scots mentalists blasting out Gabba all through the night in the next tent. Truly amazing.

Come back soon for discussion of some Indietracks musical performances.

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*Some of these became figures of fascination – like Indie Tom Ewing or the Grebo guy here for his second year on the trot. The latter won the prize for least indie person at the festival. I kept wondering what his story was. Maybe he was under the mistaken impression that Turbonegro or a reformed Prolapse were going to be the surprise headliners. The recent contestant on Mastermind whose specialist subject was Belle & Sebastian was another Indietracks face.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things I have learned about Korea

I have been reading about Korea. Expect an exciting post on my other blog at some stage in the future. My current favourite Korean fact, however, is that c. 40% of Koreans have either Kim, Park, or Lee as their surnames. And as well as North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il, there is also Kim Jong-Pil, a former foreign minister in South Korea, and Kim Yong-Il, a one-time senior official in the North.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stephen Baxter - "Ark"

I read this for Science Fiction book club. It is the sequel to Flood, the book in which the world is drowned (over the course of several decades) by water erupting out from subterranaean reservoirs. Or it is kind of a sequel – Ark begins before the other book ends, though it goes on for decades afterwards. Each book could be read independently of the other, more or less.

In Flood the narrative followed quite a few characters and jumped around the world. With this one, though, things are a bit more focussed. The main thrust is on these youngsters being trained up to take part in a spaceflight that should hopefully allow enough humans to escape the drowning world to ensure the survival of our species. These people – the candidates – live largely in a bubble of privilege and comfort as the rising sea levels cause the wider world to go to shit. We get occasional glimpses of that wider world through the eyes of people guarding the space programme's facilities from people trying to flee the rising waters. Like with the first book, Baxter seems very adept at painting a grim picture of a world falling apart. Maybe because of the more precise geographical focus (pretty much all of the earthbound stuff takes place in Colorado), the effect is maybe even more disturbing than in Flood - the book communicates a vivid sense of the horror of the endless retreat from the rising waters and the loss of human decency that this brings with it.

The second half of the book follows the spaceship (called, amazingly, Ark) after its launch into space. Because near future humans have handily managed to develop a warp drive, it is able to travel to the stars in less than centuries, but it still ends up taking decades to get anywhere interesting. And of course a relatively small group of people on a cramped spacecraft is a perfect recipe for an unpleasant hothouse of human emotions, with things getting almost a bit Batavia's Graveyard at one point.

I think maybe the earthbound stuff was the best part of the book, but the space travel stuff still cracks along. The dysfunctional internal politics of the space crew is rather fascinating, but it might have been more interesting if the characters were better drawn. Like a lot of SF writers, Baxter seems more comfortable with the sciencey stuff than in convincing characterisation, and it does seem like the deterioration of one character in particular into a monster is a bit two-dimensional.

Purely as a matter of taste, I found the use of a predatory paedophile as a plot device in the first half of the book a bit distasteful – more for somewhat over-graphic description of a nonce-crime episode. It could just be me, but maybe this is one situation where tell is better than show.

As with Flood, I am a bit ambivalent as to whether Ark is *that* good, but there is no denying the effect Baxter's description of the drowning world has been – I have been having intermittent nightmares about floods since I started reading these works. I suppose that counts as a result.

And in case you are wondering what our next SF book club is, then wonder no more – it is Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I look forward to seeing whether Heinlein is as bad as his reputation suggests. Join us in the ILAC Library on the second Tuesday of October to discuss it.

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you could click here to help victims of flooding in Pakistan

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