Archive for the 'Music' Category

A few of my favourite odds and sods to round off the year

Otherwise known as the lazy blog post of cultural stuff I’ve quite liked in 2008, namely film, TV and music.

Film-wise, 2008’s film of the year should, by rights, be The Dark Knight, which was fantastic in every way. But an understated Pinteresque [1] comedy that starred both Colin Farrell and racist dwarves was also equally as good and, as such, I can’t pick between them.

In Bruges should have probably been discarded the moment you mentioned Colin Farrell’s name in conjunction with comedy and existentialism. But then it’s just possible writer/director Martin McDonagh saw Farrell’s performance in the sadly underrated and little-seen Intermission and decided he’d be perfect for the restless, foul-mouthed, hyperactive naive first-time hitman Ray. And the film world, it can safely be said, is all the better for this casting decision.

In Bruges’ joy lay in the characters and the script, while the plot took a back seat. Watching Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s mismatched hitmen lay low and bicker in the boring but culturally rich city of Bruges while waiting for orders from their psycopathic boss (Ralph Fiennes) was one of the cinematic highlights of the year. It’s also not often you manage to get a film that has a very soft, sweet centre but such a hilariously profane script that manages to offend pretty much every minority and country, often in just one sentence.

On the flipside was Christopher Nolan’s brooding, intense masterpiece. Had this been a cop film, it would be a shoe-in for Oscars. As it is, it may still get one.

If Heath Ledger picks up posthumous awards then there’ll always be a suspicion that, well, the academy voted for him because he’s dead. But that takes nothing away from his performance as the Joker, which is thoroughly deserving of every accolade anybody wants to throw at him. While Christian Bale’s Batman takes a back seat, almost out of necessity, Ledger’s Joker steals the show completely to the point you’ll completely forget Jack Nicholson ever hammed it up under the facepaint.

Such a majestic graphic novel adaptation has been a long time coming (the first Hellboy probably got closest in the action stakes, with Ghost World leading the way elsewhere) and, with the Dark Knight, Nolan’s raised the bar so high that most other superhero films might as well give up now. Or at least wait a few years. Certainly it puts a lot of pressure on the forthcoming Watchmen film, as if there wasn’t enough already.

On the small screen, sports aside, there’s been one show that has stood head and shoulders above the rest. Britain may be a bit behind on getting Dexter, but it’s been worth the wait.

Michael C. Hall is perfect as the police blood splatter expert cum serial killer, while the scripts are gripping, tight and very playful indeed. It takes a lot to make you root for a serial killer, even one who only offs bad guys, but Dexter pitches the show exactly right – somewhere between extreme black comedy and taught police thriller. Season 2 has already been on FX but comes to terrestrial (ITV1) in the New Year. I’m halfway through it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as the first.

Finally, music wise, the album that’s rarely been off my iPod since I brought it: TV On The Radio’s Dear Science. A mixture of funk, downbeat, noodling experimental electronica and, finally after several albums that promised but never delivered, some tight, killer tunes. A masterpiece from start to finish. Here’s a quick clip of the band performing The Golden Age on Later…

[1] I’m not using this word just to show off I know about his stuff now that he’s dead (although I’ve studied a lot of Pinter in the past). Rather that the film really did remind me a lot of the Dumb Waiter.

Killing music

A few weeks ago I eulogised about Mixwit, a site that allowed you to create your own mixtapes, embed them in blogs and the like, and generally feel nostalgic for the 1980s through to the mid-90s.

Now it seems it may be going the same way as Muxtape, a similar kind of site that taken down after problems with the RIAA.

Mixwit isn’t actually down. It’s just that a large number of songs I’ve put on compilation tapes are now unavailable and the amount of songs that are available for new tapes are decreasing by the day to the point that the site isn’t worth bothering with.

Mixwit, in many ways, was no different than putting together a compilation tape for friends when you were younger. Sure, it was technically illegal but everybody did it and it helped share great new music among like minded people. Now it seems introducing friends and colleagues to songs they might like is a bad thing.

Mixwit and Muxtape aren’t in the same league as Napster – these are just people who want to create that perfect compilation for a sunny day and share with others. They’re fun. They’re fan communities. They’re also very very bad.

I have no idea what the solution is to making sites like Muxtape and Mixwit work with the record industry (if I did, I suspect I’d be a lot richer) but surely just throwing cease and desist notices isn’t the way? As Adam Tinworth notes, the music industry spends a lot of time killing things for something that’s meant to be a creative industry.

Ma-ma-ma-making your mind up

If, God forbid, Terry Wogan goes good on his threat to quit Eurovision, I’d like to humbly suggest three replacements from the best bits of the blogosphere last night.

First up of the livebloggers was Matthew Hill bringing his own way with words to proceedings:

“I quite like Germany so far, despite the questionable and dubious thieving of Sugababes’ greatest harmonies. Actually I’m now convinced they’re all men? Are they men? My friend’s just chirped up with ‘they put the ‘Man’ in Germany. They have nice facial structures for men. ‘Why did you disappear’? one sings. Well I couldn’t say. Perhaps it’s because you’ve got a bonus sausage.”

Then euroblogger par excellence Nosemonkey does his bit for Anglo-European relations:

“Azerbaijan to win! Brilliantly over the top rubbish, topped off with dancers in g-strings. Result! Give them immediate EU membership to boot! Whether they want it or not!”

And just about the best of the night comes from ultra-music fan John Widdop, who really should be getting paid to do this stuff on a regular basis.

Poland – Given Poland’s excellent pedigree in integrating the culture of Western Europe, you’d expect better than this. This is sung by a bizarre experiment to create the least realistic looking women possible out of wax and clay. The song itself is a power ballad so sweeping it could span oceans, and will probably win. It also sounds oddly like the sort of B side that indie bands with singers with high voices used to peddle in the late nineties. 

Next year I’m tempted to say sod the obligatory Eurovision party and keep glued to the internet, which has outdone Terry (although sadly lacking in the Irish whimsy). And if Robin Hamman’s post is anything to go by, then that might not be such a ridiculous proposition:

“What I participated in last night would be almost totally invisible to most viewers. Most people don’t know how to find and track conversations on twitter, other social networking services or blogs. But being part of an audience community is a powerful experience for participants and a valuable brand building tool for broadcasters and other content producers.”

I would have never even thought to turn to Twitter during the show, but given the amount of Eurovision-related texts sent during the night, it makes perfect sense. It’s an immediate watercooler moment rather than one the next day.

It also shows how social media and traditional media can come together for these sort of events – and again, if, as Robin notes, you’ve got a broadcaster who’s prepared to tie all these elements together, then you’ve got an almost unforgettable user experience. Imagine – the traditional eurovision party, but with added interaction from Tweeters around the globe.

That said, even Web 20 can’t salvage the UK’s attempts to outdo itself on the sheer awfulness scale when it comes to submitting our annual crock of shite. Oh, Morrissey, where art thou when needed?

With NME, but asked by people who know what they’re talking about

Following on from my ill-constructed ramble about why I’m not keen on the paper form of the NME, there’s a couple of excellent pieces on the current state of the magazine.

Former writer Stephen Dalton has a fascinating analysis in The Times, and Andrew Collins posts up his interview, in full, with Dalton for the piece.

Both make points about the threat from online far better than I did, and the issues merit further discussion.

Not right now though, and not here. I’m practically falling asleep at my keyboard, to the point I spelt discussion with 4 ‘c’s.

Wither NME, etc, etc

NME editor Conor McNicholas says, in as many words, his magazine isn’t as shite as its naysayers would have you believe.

I honestly couldn’t tell you if he has a point because I can’t get past the magazine’s design. It feels like a five-year-old with ADHD has been given a load of multi-coloured crayons after binging on Jelly Beans, and told to put the first thing that comes into his head on the paper in front of him.

Although on the few occasions I’ve managed to struggle through and read it, I’ve been disappointed. In the years when I used to buy the NME (the heady days of Britpop. Other than Elastica, Pulp, and Blur, I don’t listen to any of those CDs anymore) I could find out about lots of bands I didn’t know existed but that I would be sure to at least someway like as the NME had now told me they existed.

I’m well aware that I’ve now slipped into my own narrower tastes and am possibly the out-of-touch person I vowed never to become. My obsessive Top 40-taping younger self would be so outraged, he’d throw a C90 at me if he knew what I’ve turned into.

I am officially old, yes.

Yet, I seem to have heard of most of the bands I read in the NME. I know roughly what their music sounds like. I think I could name a few tracks, if pushed. Largely, I’ve found out about the bands through friend recommendations, assorted websites, The Guardian, and Jo Wiley’s show on Radio One. That can’t be right.

I’m sure there’s some observation about the emergence of new media and the wonders of the internet pushing more traditional forms to one side here, but it’s so obvious it almost writes itself.

Almost, but not quite. It didn’t write itself there, so just fill in the blank bit.

Actually, I quite like the NME’s website – it’s well designed, informative, and has a good community. Although it’s not somewhere I visit on a regular basis, largely because (and perhaps I’m not looking in the right places) it doesn’t have much on the music I really like.

But Gary, it’s not your own personal newsletter, I hear you cry. And no indeed, I would reply. But we are at the stage where, using widgets, RSS, and other assorted interweb malarky, I can create my own personal music newsletter. Horrah for the internet!

And another thing. Again in my regular NME reading days [1] they used to have a pretty decent section on dance music that wasn’t dance music for gurning idiots too drugged up to remember anything other than a repetitive bassline straight4/4 rhythm.

I struggle to find anything dance-wise on their site or in their magazine. There only appears to be a couple of things relating to, say, Burial. Thankfully, there’s a fair bit more on Justice, but they appear to be a slight exception.

Anyway, I’m rambling. My point is, the music seems to be largely guitar-based indie-rock. Which is fine. I like this as much as the next casually-acquainted-occasional-guitar-based-indie-rock man. But I also happen to like music from across a range of genres, which don’t seem to be covered in the magazine and the website, while good, isn’t great if I’m after specific info on bands or even sound-alike bands.

Put it this way: I’m sure I shouldn’t be making as many new musical discoveries via Amazon as I do via the NME.

Insert secondary bit about new media overtaking more traditional forms here.

Somehow, despite slipping into a grumpy old misanthrope when today’s music is concerned, I’m still able to track down and find stuff I quite like without the help of the NME. And I’m not talking about some weird Bulgarian metal-trance act here [2]. This is stuff that, by the time I flip through friend’s copies of the NME, I know about elsewhere.

Concluding paragraph on new media goes here.

Anyway, Andrew Collins once told me he thought the NME was a bit rubbish these days. Ok, those days were about four years ago, and I doubt he’d remember making the remark, and I especially doubt he’d remember me, as it was at some seminar thing and I was in the audience. But he told me it all the same. So hah! And double hah!

Have I just aged writing this piece?

[1] Christ I am getting old here. Back in my day we got electricity from small hamsters running round in wheels, gravel for breakfast, etc, etc.

[2] The likes of which Jon Peel (RIP) used to play regularly.

Teenage troubles

Today I took the plunge and finally got around to my annual clean-out of accumulated crap. Along with a large bag of long-since-not-worn T-shirts for the charity shop and an Ibiza chill-out CD I don’t remember buying, let alone listening to, I discovered my teenage poetry and song-lyrics, which I’d assumed I’d discarded a long time ago.

Before I consigned these great works of a middle-class teenager with the requisite amount of angst to the recycling, I took a quick flip through. God it made depressing reading. Titles ranged from the not-at-all morbid ‘Life in a Graveyard’ to the typical teenage howl of ‘Why Doesn’t She Like Me?’ And the less said about ‘There’s No-One Here But Me And I’m Ugly And Lonely’ the better. Before you ask, I didn’t discover The Smiths until well into university.

My two personal favourites were a metaphor-heavy song [1] about why it was unfair I had to wash the car when I didn’t drive and a poem where the pen was running out, and I was forced to bring a potential epic to an end with the concluding couplet: “As you can see/even the pen doesn’t like me.”

I’m just thankful that none of these ever found their way into the ill-conceived band myself and a friend attempted to form. (Sample song title: Repetition. Sample lyric: “It’s very late at night/My head’s going round and round/Repetition/Yeah).

The songs were so basic it make the Sex Pistols look like Mozart. Still, we were happy enough twiddling away in my living room until we decided on a very daft course of action and decided to recruit a bass player and drummer. These two could actually play a bit and at our first, and possibly only, major rehearsal our plan for an assault on the charts it a brief snag. Not only was my musical talent limited to three chords on the guitar, but I had an utterly tuneless voice that probably scared all the neighbourhood cats away. That’s when I wasn’t too shy to sing out loud and just muttered into the mic.

Thus ended the memorably-titled pop career of Castle Minds [2]. Strangely, given the lyrics and the slightly Gothic nature of the band name, our main music influences were Blur, Oasis, Shed Seven and The Bluetones, while I was mostly listening to dance music (I have a huge collection of mid-90s house and trance singles, despite it being a good few years before I’d set foot in a club), The Prodigy (Music For The Jilted Generation), Orbital and, erm, Dodgy.

Now my pop career is soon to lie firmly at the bottom of a Devon recycling centre, which is, on reflection, the best place for it. Although one thought does spring to mind. If, by some bizarre miracle, I ever find fame as a writer [3] and they come to write my biography, this blog aside, they’ll be devoid of material from my early/teenage years.

At least some material would have existed, though. If Dylan Thomas had been alive today, he’d probably send a few hundred thousand emails, the majority of them being utterly banal to the point of ‘don’t forget the bread and toilet roll tonight’ while his hard drive would, as most likely, crash deleting the entire manuscript of Under Milk Wood.

[1] Complete with suggested chords. Given that I just about could play three, maybe four, chords at this stage, you’ll appreciate it was hardly Lennon & McCartney).

[2] I really wish I could tell you why we chose this name, but I’ve absolutely no idea what the thinking was. I’m sure there’s a story behind it but I’m buggered if I can remember.

[3] And if Jordan can have 4 bestsellers I should at least be able to squeeze out one modest-seller. Assuming I ever getting around to writing one. 


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com