Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A PFW Speaks

"I'm thinking of getting new glasses. I've had this pair for three years – and you wouldn't wear the same coat for three years, now would you?"

"Upside Down"

This is the story of Creation Records and Alan McGee. It takes its name from a song by the Jesus And Mary Chain. There is not really anything here that you would not get from David Cavanagh's exhaustive book, but you can get through the film more quickly. It is also nice to see at least some of the people who are just names in the book. However, Upside Down suffers from not having Momus coming on to make bewildered comments about the whole enterprise.

I saw this in the Dublin film festival, where they had Alan McGee and the film's director introducing it. Amusingly the latter seemed like he was more, eh, getting into the rock and roll spirit of the people the film covers.

Jesus and Panda Chain

An inuit panda production

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The King's Speech"

Nice but dim royal with a speech impediment unexpectedly becomes king after his equally dim, charismatic but not-so-nice elder brother falls for sinister American adventuress. It is a well-made and enjoyable film, featuring some further insights into the life of one of the world's great dysfunctional families, but there is always a something a bit reactionary about this kind of drama.

And this is another short review for Frank's APA. I would like at some stage to develop this a bit more, as suggesting that a film about the royal family has reactionary overtones does make me sound like I am about to grow a beard, change my name to Daithí and join Ógra Sinn Féin Phoblachtach.

King's Panda

An inuit panda production

Monday, August 29, 2011


This is not actually a film, but one of those TV programmes that the young people watch. Imanaged to catch episode one on a recent flight to Boston that my jet set life saw me take. Treme is set in New Orleans at some point after Hurricane Katrina and features a variety of people going about their exciting lives. It has an endearingly formless quality that evoked well the languid nature of that great city, though I thought it could have done without the developing plot about evil cops running some kind of death-squad operation during the hurricane – it seemed like something that had sneaked in from another TV series or film entirely.

Hurricane Panda

An inuit panda production

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I need a shower

The Last Picture Show is one of those formless films from the 1970s when no one was too worried about tight plotting or anything like that. There is a lot to like about this, not least of which is the wonderfully charismatic performance from a young Cybil Sheppard, though I did feel like I was complicit in the director's perving after the scene in which she does a strip tease before joining in a bout of skinny dipping.

Again, a quick review for Frank's APA of a film I would like to return to, if only to reassure readers that it is a film that has more to offer than an opportunity to leer at Cybil Sheppard.

Later: trying to find an image for the film's poster suggests that there are a lot of people out there who are only really interested in the pool scene mentioned above. Oh the humanity

image source

An inuit panda production

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Capybaras live wild in South America, and are not normally seen in the United States outside of zoos. However, at least one of the giant rodents is believed to living a feral existence in Los Angeles. A worker at a waste water treatment facility in the city recently photographed what appears to be a capybara wandering around the complex. The animal may be the same one that a couple of years ago frightened horses by eating their hay and then chased a man's dog until he scared it away with a gun.

The authorities have decided to leave the capybara be, as the sensible animal does not seem to be causing any trouble or to be in obvious trouble himself. A number of theories are circulating as to how the furry fellow found himself living wild in Los Angeles.


An inuit panda production

Friday, August 26, 2011

Caped Dog Flies

Superman #712, by Kurt Busiek, Rick Leonardi, & Jonathan Sibal

Individual issues of comics are sometimes described by their publishers as "Great jumping on points for new readers". This is not one of those issues, as I discovered to my cost. Lured in by the cover's fetching image of a cape-wearing dog flying in front of a giant moon, I paid over my money expecting a charming story focussed on Krypto the Superdog. What I got was a largely incomprehensible trip through recent Superman/Superboy back-story and DC Universe crossover nonsense. The narrative is focussed on Krytpo, but it is largely meaningless to people who have not been following recent DC super-titles.

What this seems to be is a flashback to shortly after Superboy died in Infinite Crisis* and sees Krypto flying around trying to work out what has happened to his master. When his enhanced sense of smell brings him to the site of Superboy's fatal last encounter with some kind of evil version of himself, the dog of wonder howls a bit and flies off into space.

I cannot really judge whether the story here is any good or not. The transitions between the present and what Krypto remembers or smells about the past are well done and convincingly doggy. However, it all seems too much like part of a bigger picture and too heavily based on background information that a casual reader like me does not have. The sense of dislocation is further enhanced by a comic-strip advertising a fast food chain, in which the Justice League battle an army of gorillas. It took me a while to register that this was not just another of Krypto's memories.

I'm not sure about the art. Some of it seems a bit unformed, but that works with how much of this is flashback. The stuff set in the present still seems a bit unclear. Krypto himself seems slightly less than the endearing canine someone like me would want from a comic like this.

All in all, I will have to give this a thumb's down. But I wonder what close readers of recent Super-titles make of it?

*I was not aware that Superboy had died in Infinite Crisis. I'm not really clear on what Infinite Crisis is either. I am so not the target market for this title.

This is another left-over posting for Martin Skidmore's FA website.

image source

An inuit panda production

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When Cat Meets Dolphins

Have you ever wondered what a cat and some dolphins would make of each other? The internet has answered this vexing question.

See here for details

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Well

The picture reconstructs the positions in which a number of skeletons were found in a well in Norwich. The 17 skeletons date back to the 12th or 13th centuries and, from DNA testing, they seem to have come from the members of one extended family of Jewish people. Norwich had hosted a large Jewish population in the period after the Norman Conquest, but as the 12th century wore on they faced increasing persecution, including mass murder during sectarian riots.

It is in one of these riots that the 17 people killed met their terrible fate. They appear to have been thrown head first into the well by their Christian neighbours. The dead included men, women and children.

Those Jewish people who had not been killed in pogroms and riots were expelled from England in 1290. They only began to return in the 17th century, during the more enlightened rule of Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate.

Those of us who live in countries far away from Central and Eastern Europe find it easy to forget the ghastly history of religious and ethnic persecution that Jewish people have suffered. The well reminds us that these kind of horrific crimes once happened closer to us than we would like to think.


An inuit panda production

Monday, August 22, 2011

And dancing, and singing

Two very quick reviews of films I saw back in May in the Indian Film Festival.

If you ever wanted to see a film about a tough and mildly corrupt cop complete with song and dance routines then this is the film for you. It also features estranged brothers and a mother's heart being broken by her wayward son, star-crossed lovers, corrupt politicians, and a character so degenerate that he has become a drunk and adopted Western clothes.

This one is basically Shakespeare's Othello redone as a politics-gangster film set in Uttar Pradesh. As well as some truly great acting performances, it also features the shocking suggestion that maybe, just maybe, there are unmarried people out there who might sometimes engage in sexual activity with each other.

These are very short reviews I threw together at the last minute for Frank's APA. I hope to revisit these films at greater length in the future. I particularly hope to come back to Omkara, as it is a truly great piece of cinema that deserves a wider non-Indian reputation.

image source

An inuit panda production

Friday, August 19, 2011

Introducing The Tinker!

The Unwritten #28, by Mike Carey, Peter Gross, and Vince Locke

Remember this? It is the one in which Tom Taylor, who may be a fictional character somehow made flesh in the real world (which in this case is of course itself a fictional world within the pages of a comic) struggles against a mysterious cabal intent on controlling the world through manipulating the fiction it consumes. As I keep noting, this title mostly tends towards the quite interesting end of the spectrum, with occasional lurches towards sheer comic genius*.

In this one Taylor and his friends are in New York. He is trying to find out more about Wilson Taylor, his late father, the creator of the Tommy Taylor series of books. Previously he made the shocking discovery that his father was a lot older than he thought and seems to have been knocking around in 1930s New York when the first comic superheroes were emerging. Tom has found his father's diaries of the period, but they are elliptical and cryptic, only half telling us what actually happened and what he did back then. Fortunately he is able to use some of his mysterious abilities to recreate the events to which his father's diary is only alluding.

What we get, then, is an interesting multi-level storyline. Tom and his friends in the here and now are the top layer. The lower one has Wilson Taylor working as an agent of the cabal, charged with assassinating the author of some new superhero comic The Tinker (the cabal fear that these superhero comics could let loose some kind of uncontrollable force in the collective subconsciousness, or something; it doesn't really matter); only the writer turns out to be a woman using a male pseudonym and Wilson predictably becomes romantically involved with her. And the third layer is excerpts from The Tinker itself, an entertaining pastiche of the kind of outlandish and not particularly sophisticated hero comics that emerged in the 1930s.

The art assists in setting the scene, with the contemporary pieces in the "normal" Unwritten style and the 1930s action in a more scratchy style reminiscent of that in Sandman Mystery Theatre**. And then there is the Tinker content, which boasts a facsimile of the somewhat crude art style of the period. All of this is ably accomplished by Peter Gross, with Vince Locke providing finishes for the 1930s material. Credit must also go to Yuko Shimuzu's cover, which is drawn to look like a dog-eared vintage copy of a Tinker-featuring title from back in the day.

So there you go. What I have written hopefully gives you an impression of what happens in this issue and how it is portrayed. But how good is it? In general with this title I wile away my time with the quite interesting episodes waiting for the occasional moments of genius to strike. This is not one of the amazing episodes that The Unwritten sometimes presents us with, but it does seem like the average episodes of this title are getting a lot better – the tri-level story is impressive and I found myself becoming quite engaged with the story of Wilson Taylor's romance with the woman he has been commissioned to kill.

If you have never read The Unwritten and feel motivated to check it out, you would probably be best advised not to rush out and pick up #28. It is in the middle of a story arc (dread phrase) and without back-story might well be semi-incomprehensible. A better bet would be to check out the first of the collections of The Unwritten that DC/Vertigo have published. It is entitled The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity.

image source

*in particular, the episode that was like a mixture of The Prisoner and Winnie the Pooh, the one that gave the back story of the character in a choose-your-own-adventure format, the one that featured Rudyard Kipling as a character, and the one that was like Winnie the Pooh and the Moomins go to Gormenghast. All the stuff about Moby Dick was great too.

**a title you may or may not remember… Vince Locke did some of the art for it.

An inuit panda production

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scientists: Clever dogs can sniff out cancer

Scientists have demonstrated that trained dogs are capable of sniffing out lung cancer. In a controlled trial, the dogs had a 71% success rate in identifying patients suffering from the cancer. They also were very good at avoiding false positives.

There are apparently no plans to train up an army of clever dogs to assist doctors in diagnosing patients – it is believed that using dogs in clinics would be problematic. Instead the plan is to develop special robot noses that will be able to identify whatever it is about cancer that the dogs are smelling. As scientists do not yet know what it is that the clever canines use to sniff out cancer, it could be a while yet before these robot noses are among us.


An inuit panda production

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abandoned Helmet

The Red Wing #1, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, with Rachelle Rosenberg

This is the first issue of a new limited series from Image. The art lured me in, featuring as it does an arresting combination of vivid colours and science-fiction scenes drawn in a manner that reminds me of Moebius comics. The story begins with a group of futuristic flying vehicles speeding past dinosaurs. Then their commander says "Jump!" and with a "fwop!" they find themselves in a Paris-like city being attacked by giant robots. Narration then reveals that we are in the midst of a time war, in which two sides are attempting to change the past to make the present more congenial. This kind of thing is not uncommon in SF, with Fritz Leiber's Change War series being one of the better-known examples. That emphasised the psychological toll taken on the time war's participants by the changes to reality they were wreaking. The Red Wing seems less cerebral – the protagonists are changing history not by subtle interventions but by flying around in high-tech jet fighters blasting things.

Red Wing has a nice split narrative, following new a pilot starting training with jumps back to his father getting lost in time on a previous mission. But it does not look like it is going to preoccupy itself with the kind of temporal paradoxes that more usually test the mind in time travel stories. At this stage there does not seem to be that much of interest going on in the narrative – if I come back for #2 it will be for the art.

And #2 is now out. I did not come back for it. I wrote the above a few weeks back for the late Martin Skidmore's FA website.

image source

An inuit panda production

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Western Sahara, Dr Congo, Italy, Ireland - together at last

The Improvised Music Company is this Dublin-based gig promotion organisation. As the name suggests, jazz is their main thing, but they do broaden their scope sometimes to present us with what some people call World Music. And thus it was that we found ourselves in the Twisted Pepper for a night of music from various different countries.

We arrived late to find that the music had already started, with Niwel Tsumbu onstage with Francesco Turrisi and some other fellows. Mr Turrisi is a player on the local jazz scene, while Mr Tsumbu is a guitarist from the DRC*. Now, I know what you're thinking – when someone says "Congolese guitarist" you immediately think of Johnny Marr-esque jingle-jangles. But that's not what we got, because our fellow was playing an acoustic guitar and was far more coming at music from a jazz perspective. Which I suppose was why the Irish-based Italian jazz sensation was playing with him. Their set was very entertaining, but there seemed like a lot of event people in the venue – or a lot of bored girlfriends who could not shut their yap**. Either way it was slightly less than ideal but not so bad that I needed to break out the happy stick.

After a bit of a pause we then got Mariem Hassan. Like Group Doueh, she comes from the Western Sahara (or the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic as it sometimes likes to style itself). Western Sahara is that place to the south of Morocco that was invaded by its northern neighbour when the Spanish colonisers withdrew. Mariem Hassan seems to be rather political and was happy to let her concert be used to promote the cause of Saharawi freedom, of which more anon.

But first, the music. In some respects, this was a bit reminiscent of Group Doueh or Tinariwen*** - guys in robes playing electric guitars that seem to have been incorporated into their own traditional musical forms. The guitar end of things was maybe a bit more like what you get with Tinariwen than with Group Doueh, as it seemed more like their picky style than the trancey guitar work-outs Group Doueh serve up on the one album of theirs I have. But there were two big differences with either of those. First of all, there was Hassan herself, who does not play guitar but instead is primarily a vocalist with a soaring range reminiscent in some ways of various other Arab queens of song. The other variation was the more extensive use of percussion, provided here by another Saharawi lady, who had a wonderfully mad-for-it air. Hassan also did some percussion, either joining the other woman (e.g. on a particularly striking non-vocal piece, just the two of them doing synchronised drumming and handclaps while the guitarists picked away) or once on her own while the other lady danced for us.

So yes, this was all very enjoyable. Afterwards I suggested to my beloved that she buy one of the CDs they were selling, and then we went upstairs for a talk on the Saharawi people and the struggle for freedom in Western Sahara. Which was a pretty surreal experience, given that we were in a nightclub where, down in the basement, one Johnny Syntax was blasting out drum and bass tunes. I will not go on at great length about the struggle of the Saharawi people, but aside from being invaded by Morocco they have basically been fucked over by the international community in general and France in particular, with the French apparently always keen to back up the Moroccan occupiers in international forums.

After the talk, there was an Irish traditional music session, led by piper Leonard Barry, which seemed to interest some of Hassan's musicians, and a pan-African DJ set from one Nigel Wood. My beloved ventured down into the dungeon to catch a bit of Dave Syntax, but I was feeling quite tired so I gave it a miss. All in all, though, an entertaining and consciousness raising evening.

* Or "Doctor Congo", as Irish radio DJs have allegedly been known to unironically refer to the equatorial country.

** Or maybe it was a load of bored boyfriends who kept striking up conversations with their ladyfriends, who kept having to politely ask them to be quiet. Or maybe just yappy couples who can't go anywhere without talking and talking.

*** Whom I understand to come from Mali, which is a good bit away from Western Sahara but may be culturally a bit like it, in the same way that Spain is somewhat like Germany.

image source

An inuit panda production

[corrected 24/8/2011]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Compilation Fun

v/a R--- C---'s Inmytunes 2010
v/a MMX
v/a "MMX"

End of year* compilations from people who may be your friends and are certainly mine. I have not had a chance to really digest these yet. I can say that MMX (like "MMX" from a gentleman I shall refer to as Mr W---) has persuaded me to add Joanna Newsom to my list of musical girlfriends, as it features the quite wonderful 'You & Me, Bess', a pleasantly meandering tune with understated vocals somewhat removed from the tuneless caterwauling I had been given to understand was Ms Newsom's normal stock-in trade. I will have to get the album now – and I understand it is not one to download as it features all kinds of treats for the eyes as well as the ears.

One of the other tracks from Mr W--- was impressing me with its uncompromising droning. It was really extreme, just the same note over and over again for ages. Then I realised that the CD was skipping.

Mr C---'s compilation, meanwhile, reveals that Simian Mobile Disco are way better than the hopeless indie band Simian from which they emerged.

*year being 2010. I have been working on these insightful comments for some time.

hello boys

An inuit panda production

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"The Intelligence Park"

I went out to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, where Crash Ensemble where doing a concert performance of Gerald Barry's fascinating opera The Intelligence Park. This is set in the past and is about a puppet-fancying composer who becomes obsessed with a star castrato. It was on the same night as the UK Queen and Prince Phillip were going off to some posh event somewhere, which meant that it was horrendously difficult to get around the city, with everything being under lockdown. We found ourselves stuck on the wrong side of the river while they closed all the bridges before the Queen drove up the quays. This was a bit annoying, but it did mean that I caught a glimpse of the royal car and its inhabitants waving* – and of some guy being carted off by the cops after he shouted "Fuck off back to England" at our visitors.

The worst bit of all the delay was that the concert performance was to be preceded by a wine reception – or so we had been told. When we arrived, it was not so much a wine reception as a wine bar – as in, you had to pay for your drinks. I don't know what Prince Philip would have said (which might just have happened – he and the Queen had apparently been given a compilation CD of contemporary Irish music**; having given it a listen you could imagine the Prince making his excuses and leaving whatever ghastly event he was attending so that he could catch some of this contemporary music in the flesh).

Anyway, the opera. It begins with a boy soprano singing a song. I've never really got boy sopranos before, but there was a beauty to the vocals issuing from this young fellow. I found myself almost understanding the fondness of certain people in the past for castrating boy singers so that their voices would develop an adult's strength while retaining the ability to hit the high notes. Maybe that was the point of the boy soprano's appearance – he did not seem to have anything directly to do with the rest of the action.

As I was saying, the opera was about this composer who also makes puppets and who becomes obsessed with this castrato singer. He starts mixing up the puppets and the real people and eventually loses all sense of reality, particularly after the cheeky castrato runs away with the posh bird he is meant to be marrying. I seem to recall hearing that, back in the day, castrati were very popular with the ladies and could be surprisingly saucy, so this twist was not entirely ridiculous. To the extent that the composer character was really aware of what was happening, he seemed more bothered by the loss of the castrato rather than the disappearance of his lovely fiancée and the rich inheritance she promised. Such is love.

I think a fully staged performance of this would have been fascinating. I also was interested by the way Barry worked against gender and voice stereotyping in giving lines to the characters – you might think that the castrato character would be sung either by a woman or by a counter-tenor – not a bit of it, the part was sung by a man with a singing voice that did not even hint at lacking anything in the meat-and-two-veg department. I did like the way he acted the part, however, as he did a great castrato-face***.

Gerald Barry himself was knocking around at the event. He seems to be a bit of a roffler, quite far removed from the stereotype of the austere contemporary composer. Given how enjoyable The Intelligence Park and the pieces by him on the CD IMMA gave away with Boulevard Magenta (their art magazine), I cannot but think that he is someone whose work I must explore further.

*I'm not proud – I waved back.

**including actual music by Gerald Barry.

*** Opera singer's voice: "Do you mind, that's the way I always look".

An inuit panda production

Friday, August 12, 2011

v/a "Groove Club vol. 2: Cambodia Rock Spectacular!"

This is a compilation of pop music from Cambodia from before the Khmer Rouge came to power – cue the usual stories about how everyone involved in making the songs here were killed in the years from 1975 to 1979, when what might be the most extreme human society that has ever existed turned on anyone associated with the former regime or Western decadence. This features top tunes from the likes of Sinn Sisamouth, Pan Ron, Ros Sereysothea and other less well-known artists, sometimes on their own and sometimes with the others. It also has extensive notes, including attempts to piece together the sad ends to these people's lives during the Democratic Kampuchea* period.

Still, I think it is possible to look beyond the unfortunate fates of the performers and enjoy it for what it is – a recording of mainly up-tempo groovers by people making a very vague approximation of Western pop music. It sounds almost like what you would get if some talented musicians read about the Beatles in a book and decided to make something like that themselves, without ever hearing the originals.

The focus in discussions of Cambodian pop music tends to be on the singers. While the likes of Pan Ron, Ros Sereysothea, and Sinn Sisamouth are clearly vocalists of great talent, it is often the backing that music that strikes on this record – both the playing and the production (with the latter probably filtered through several generations of tape copies, as the original studio masters were even less likely to escape the Khmer Rouge than the musicians). Some of it reminds me a bit of the beatier end of the music on the Éthiopiques compilations, to call to mind another musical scene shut down by maniacal far-leftists. Most of these would make great floor fillers for leftfield retro discos, or for party scenes in films set in a world of hipster nostalgia.

Individual songs? Well, is it worth mentioning them? You'll probably never hear this record, so what do you care? Even so, I can mention a few. 'Yuvachon Yuvatey Samai Tmai (New Generation Youth)' is a charming duet between Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea that glides along, the melody leaping gamely from one voice to another in a manner familiar to anyone who has heard Dengue Fever's 'Tiger Phone Card'. 'Tonight Dance' is a hymn to the talents of Ros Sereysothea, her voice climbing to reach notes that should be beyond the range of human hearing, while her 'Oun Chong Rom Leng Ning Bong (I Wanna Dance With You)' adding her vocal talents to a tune that sounds like something early 60s beat Serge Gainsbourg might have served up.

To reflect again on Cambodia's sad history, these people may not have survived Democratic Kampuchea, but their music did. The perpetrators of the terrible crimes of that period are now dead or facing imprisonment for the rest of their lives, but some of us are still listening to this music they tried to eliminate.

image source

* The name by which the Khmer Rouge referred to the country they ruled.

An inuit panda production

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I went to see this 1982 film when it was being shown in series of paranoia films in the IFI. Unlike the others (Parallax View, The Conversation, etc.) it was the only one based on a true story – the sad tale of an American guy who was disappeared in the aftermath of the Pinochet coup in Chile. As such it was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me – Pinochet was something of a bête noire for my old school, and I recall us all being trooped off to see it when it came out.

I hope to talk more about this powerful film in the future, but for now I will just mention its rather impressive soundtrack, an ominous piece of synthesiser work by Vangelis. I came out of the film thinking that I might have to look for it, but it turns out to be yet another of the Greek sensation's classic but unavailable soundtracks. It did get me thinking, however – where does the idea that Vangelis is some kind of cheese-meister (or feta-archon) come from, given how much in the way of properly atmospheric film soundtracks he has done? Maybe Chariots of Fire is to blame – but even the music in that is pretty good, isn't it? I think it must be that Vangelis is a victim of an unhealthy stew of rockism and racism.

image source

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rioters v. Music

There have been a load of riots in England, starting in London. As well as throwing things at policemen, the rioters have done a fair bit of breaking into premises and stealing things. And burning places down. One place that was burned down was a warehouse holding the stock of PIAS, the UK's largest distributor of independent music. Many record labels will have seen their stock completely destroyed, leaving them in a legal quagmire as to where liability lies and whether anyone is going to stump up cash to cover the cost.

There is a list of the record labels affected here.

On Facebook, someone asked for recommendations of stuff from these various labels that someone might want to buy as a way of helping them out – or panic buy now because they may not be available again for some time when shop stocks run out. I seem to have acquired a load of records from the Finders Keepers label. Looking at their website, these are ones I recommend highly to discerning music aficionados:

Jane WeaverThe Fallen By Watch Bird (amazing contemporary avant folk)
v/a – The Sound of Wonder (Pakistani pop music. Like classic Bollywood tunes, only from Pakistan)
Ersen – Ersen (Turkish psych rock)
v/a – Welsh Rare Beat vol.2 (delightful Welsh eclectica, mostly of the psych rock and avant folk bent)
SeldaSelda (awesome Turkish folk electronic rock)
Lubos Fisher – Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (fascinating soundtrack to obscure Czech film)
v/a – B-Music Cross Continental Record Raid Road Trip (beat music and stuff from around the world)
Jean-Claude Vannier – L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches (weirdo French music from the guy who did Melody Nelson with Serge Gainsbourg)
v/a – Bearded Ladies vol. 1 (eclectic folk ladies old and new selection)
v/a - Welsh Rare Beat (see vol. 2)

Just in case you think I am one of those people who likes everything I hear, I do actually have several other Finders Keepers records that I feel are somewhat less than essential. I am not going to list them here, because for all that I am a bit underwhelmed by them they may well be other people's cup of tea.

More on that PIAS fire, including things you can do to help keep independent music alive

An inuit panda production

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Ravi Shankar "The Sound of the Sitar"

I bought this on a visit to Claddagh Records, a shop that I always fear will have closed down next time I pass it. It specialises in Irish traditional music, but I go there more for their World Music selection, which is probably the best in Dublin (not that this is really saying much, I don't think anywhere other than Tower really stocks that much World Music. And apart from Tower there there isn't really anywhere that stocks anything*).

But what does it sound like? Well, do you like the sound of the sitar? Do you like the sound of the sitar playing while someone else does their stuff on tablas? Then this reissue from 1965 is the record for you, unless you have a load of other records by Ravi Shankar (or, indeed, by other sitar players, of whom I understand there are several). If you had a load of such records then maybe you would be able to judge whether this is a good or bad, standard or idiosyncratic example of the sitar music. I just like it in a "Ah, sitars and tablas, that's better" kind of way.

*OK, OK, apart from Spindizzy, Trout, and the soul-destroying hellhole that is HMV

image source

An inuit panda production

Monday, August 08, 2011


Normally in the natural world it is the case that plants are eaten by birds and animals. However, some plants have had enough of this, evolving so that they are able to eat members of the animal kingdom. These carnivorous plants usually prey on insects, grubs, and the occasional tiny lizard. One pitcher plant in a Somerset has gone further – this monstrous plant has eaten a blue tit. Apparently the bird was lured into the pitcher plant's blasphemous maw as it tried to gobble up some insects who were caught in there. But once the blue tit fell in, it was stuck in place and doomed.

This is apparently only the second time in recorded history that a carnivorous plant has eaten a bird.


An inuit panda production

Sunday, August 07, 2011

v/a "The Black Keys: Brotherhood"

There is not really too much to say about this. It is a compilation CD given away by Mojo (I buy it for the pictures, Your Honour). It is a compilation of tunes by The Black Keys and of other tunes that inspired them. So what, you might say. The really remarkable thing about this is that I had never heard about the Black Keys before. I am so out of touch with today's music that a popular band of the moment (who are apparently loved and praised by young and old) can rise to the top of the hit parade without making any impact whatsoever on Panda Mansions. They appear to be one of those bands where one guy sings and plays guitar while the other drums. They seem alright, but I am not sure I would bother getting that excited by them, and I reckon listening to them too much could turn you rockist.

An inuit panda production

Saturday, August 06, 2011


The good folk of Israel are often troubled by the indigenous human inhabitants of what was once Palestine. Now they are being menaced by the non-human natives, as the Hyraxes of the rocky parts of the country are invading human areas and "eating everything they can find". The Hyraxes seem to like the piles of boulders that are created by building projects, using them as hiding places from which to mount raids into back gardens and villages.

Hyraxes are mentioned in the Bible – the Book of Proverbs (30:26) reports: "The rock badgers are a fierce folk, yet they make their homes in the crags". There are also reports that the new suburban Hyraxes may carry the noxious skin disease leishmaniasis.


An inuit panda production

Friday, August 05, 2011

v/a "Oddities, Musings and Meanderings"

This is a compilation sent to me by someone for whom I had purchased here the latest album by Gavin Friday, sending it to her so that she could get it a week or two before it was released in the USA. I find the compilation rather enjoyable, partly because it includes wonderful things like This Mortal Coil doing 'Song To The Siren' and an interesting cover of 'Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie' by Alex Kapranos.

What most struck me, though, was what sounded like it might be a live version of an up tempo tune by some American indie/electronic band. It bops away in a non-annoying manner, and then it segues into them doing 'Poker Face' by Lady Gaga. In general I am against indie bands doing covers of pop tunes – they tend to be either ironic and overly* knowing, or else snidely rockist in their "reclaiming of a great piece of songwriting". But this one just bops along, escaping the twin poles of wankology. So when it came up when I was listening to it on the way home from work on the iPod, I looked at the display to see who it was, and the answer froze my blood cold. For the band name on the screen was Weezer. Considering Weezer to be the worst band that has ever existed or that ever could exist is one of the rocks on which I have built my life. If it turns out that Weezer are making good music then either my whole life thus far has been a lie or I am losing my mind. There are no other options.

* There is something liberating about realising that as Brian Haunton is not going to be reading this I can say "overly" as much as I want without anyone becoming overly annoyed. Unless Brian Haunton is actually reading this, in which case, sorry Brian, and is there any likelihood of you rejoining Frank's?

musing panda(follow the link... it will bring you to the world's greatest blog)

An inuit panda production

Thursday, August 04, 2011

MELTDOWN MAN – Part 2: March of the Superyujees

This is my account of the one concert in this year's Meltdown festival I made it to. Read part one here, if you want to.

And then Dengue Fever. I was talking about them to the people from work, mentioning that they formed to cover Cambodian pop music from the late 1960s and early 1970s, going on to write their own tunes in a similar style. That sounds amazingly niche, the kind of music that only some kind of world music ponce would listen to, but that reckons without three important factors. Firstly, the pop music of Cambodia is just amazing, a kind of pop-psych sound that simply cries out for a wider audience; any band playing half-decent versions of this music would be worth a listen. Secondly, Dengue Fever are a most exquisite live band – in fact, they have a tightness and presence that make me think of them as one of the most impressive live bands of our times. And thirdly, their tiny singer Chhom Nimol is blessed with the most astonishing set of lungs and vocal chords; she is the archetypal little woman with the big voice, managing to sing beautifully as well as loudly and project an aura of star quality. She would be the secret weapon in any band, and it is great that she is able to bring the great songs of past Cambodian singers to a contemporary audience.

The band fully lived up to the picture I have painted for them above, wowing the audience with their stage presence, tight playing, and Chhom Nimol's unbounded charisma and ability. They look great on stage, with Chhom's lovely gown contrasting nicely with Zac Holtzman's amazing beard, and her small size off-set by the astonishing height of bassist Senon Gaius Williams.

But there is always a spectre hanging over this music, for all its joyfulness. That spectre is of course the Khmer Rouge regime, which shut down Cambodia's pop music scene and killed off almost everyone involved in it as part of a general extermination of their various enemies. While listening to the infectious rhythms of 'New Year's Eve', I was briefly overcome with emotion as I reflected in particular on the sad and brutal death of the gentle-faced singer Sinn Sisamouth – killed with sharpened sticks after a long period of incarceration and torture.

That said, Dengue Fever's music is so uplifting that it is impossible to maintain a sad mood for long. The Queen Elizabeth Hall is a seated venue, but the band soon had people dancing in the aisles and rushing to the front of the auditorium. I don't think anyone could have left this concert without a happy smile on their face. If I had a single quibble, it would be that maybe Chhom Nimol's vocals were at times a bit over-amplified – on duets like 'Tiger Phone Card' or 'Sober Driver' she did rather drown out Zac Holtzman's admittedly less strong voice. But that was just a minor annoyance, one that did not cause a bother on the great many tracks that she sings alone.

I did not recognise a great many of the songs the band played – I am guessing these were tunes from the new album, Cannibal Courtship. These sounded pretty good in the live context, even 'Cement Slippers', which under-impressed me when I first heard it. The songs I knew included some from the earlier records where they sing in Khmer and some from the likes of Venus On Earth, where there are English-language vocals, including the sublime love song 'Tiger Phone Card'.

I hope sometime to get round to buying the new album; I could have done after the show, but there was a bit of a queue for the merchandise, and we were already out past my bedtime.

image source

An inuit panda production

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


I found myself in London recently, where I hung out with my old friend and quaffing partner "Mad King Ken". We did many exciting things, including paying a visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for one of the concerts being organised as part of the Ray Davies*-curated Meltdown Festival. I had timed my trip to London for this, as the concert headliners were the US-Cambodian sensations Dengue Fever. Before talking about them, though, let me regale you with fascinating comments on the two support acts, each of whom played short sets of roughly 20 minutes.

First up were Maria and the Monitors – a threesome comprising one bloke with a funny haircut and two women with big hair, shorts and matching crop tops. The man did something with synthesisers and the like, while the two women drummed (while standing) and made largely non-verbal vocal noises. It was rather loud and pretty uncompromising, causing a flood of concert goers to leave the venue for the comfort of the bar, uttering such complaints as "I did not expect challenging music from a festival curated by a man in his sixties!". My companion, meanwhile, was glad that Mrs "Mad King Ken" had decided not to join us.

But what did I think? Well, "avant garde nonsense" was the phrase that leapt to mind, but I did appreciate getting to see something that was a bit out of the ordinary even if it maybe was not all that. I reckon Maria and the Monitors are the kind of thing that would go down well at ATP or some similar thing.

All that excitement meant that we decided to nip out to the lobby for a quick coffee, partly necessary to cancel out the three ales we had enjoyed earlier. While there, some guy with a little camcorder came along and asked me questions about Dengue Fever and Meltdown. You can see what I said on the Internet at Winkball - search for Dengue Fever and then pick the result that comes up for Meltdown. I think I am on page three or four.

Then we went back into the venue to catch the next support act - Baxter Dury – a band or a person? We did not know. Before he or they came on, I quipped to "Ken" that maybe this would turn out to be Ian Dury's son or something. Then Baxter Dury came on and turned out to be Ian Dury's son playing with a backing band. He did not really break any new ground musically, and if you have a superficial familiarity with Dury senior's work then you would be familiar with what young Master Dury had to offer – a performance focussed on geezer-ish vocals and wry observational lyrics, with the music largely taking a back seat. I thought it was pretty bland, though it went down well with most listeners. I was particularly struck by how the opening track seemed oddly reminiscent of the B-52s' 'Planet Claire' – and then the second song was called 'Claire'. That said, the songs where Master Dury basically spoke his vocals had a certain charm, but nothing I would rush out to listen to again.

Keep your eyes tuned to Inuit Panda for the next episode in this exciting story, in which Dengue Fever themselves take the stage.

image source

* This is Ray Davies of the Kinks, not the parpmeister.