Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Thursday, 25 March 2021
One of the best things about teaching from home, and I know that I'll be in a slight minority on this one, is the ability to do a spot of therapeutic ironing between classes. Yesterday I taught Djuna Barnes's dark modernist classic Nightwood for a couple of hours, then ironed until I was ready to face two hours of a departmental meeting. It's not that I see my colleagues as a pile of creased laundry in desperate need of a hot iron to the face at all. It's the contemplative nature of repetitively doing the same thing until perfection is achieved.
I know there are ironing-denialists who point to the intrinsically disordered nature of the universe and the inevitability of decay that comes with entropy and say 'what's the point?' For me, the pointlessness is the point. I know that anything I iron will be hopelessly creased within minutes of use, but for just a moment entropy – and its human facet, mortality – is arrested. There's little difference between writing a symphony, discovering a galaxy and producing the perfect crease: they're all ways to fill in the blank space before we surrender to the big sleep. I can't write symphonies, and all the admin that I could be doing instead accelerates the heat death of the universe rather than postpones it. I'm pretty sure that ironing is what Dylan Thomas had in mind when he wrote about raging against the dying of the light.
Anyway, today's records are 'Noise Vision 80' and 'Critical Gate' by Chicago band Assembly Line People Programme.
They're really notable for the high quality packaging - a real cut above most bands' early releases - and for being the first or nearly the first releases on Graham Coxon's label, Transcopic. As you can probably imagine if you know anything about the Blur guitarist's tastes, it's wonky punk-pop with a touch of Pavement and a lot of guitar. In a word, fun.
Wednesday, 17 March 2021
I am, as anyone familiar with me in IRL knows, an aficionado of lost or retro causes. I passionately believer, for instance, that it was a mistake for Victorian type-setters and sign makers to drop the hyphen in street names. Don't Paradise-street or the Bow-Street Runners just look lovely?
So anyway, one of the romantic causes I espouse in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which I joined as a student in 1993. I'm generally opposed to the use of other arms too, but nukes seemed and still seem to me to be a class apart. Partly because they're so disproportionate: not only do they kill every living thing around in the here and now, they poison the earth for generations. Partly too because they're so indiscriminate that there's no military use for them: they're so powerful that any use of nuclear weapons will destroy massive numbers of civilians. Then there's the imbalance: possession of nuclear weapons makes you all-powerful as long as you're prepared to use them, so you can bully all those peoples too civilised to think that ultimate might makes right. Then there's the financial cost: Britain keeps saying it's got no money for nurses' salaries, the Erasmus scheme, old people's social care, energy-efficient houses, overseas aid…and yet it spends hundreds of billions on nuclear weapons, largely rented from the United States and unusable without permission from the White House (that's why they keep calling it an 'independent nuclear deterrent' - because only the word 'nuclear' is true).
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I thought that the argument was long over. I know that various countries are developing nuclear weapons, or have undeclared stocks, but international law seems pretty clear that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal, and most of the official nuclear states have declared a (very theoretical) intention to disarm: the US and Russia have both reduced their stocks considerably. I kept my CND membership up as a quixotic gesture of recognition that Britain in particular needs to wise up. There are plenty of post-imperial countries that have gracefully settled into comfortable, prosperous, altruistic stances: the Scandinavian countries have done so particularly well. But the British keep going on about 'punching above our weight', a revealing metaphor that says an awful lot about those who wield it. Guys, nobody likes a bully. You started punching people in 1170 (it is Lá Féile Padraig, after all) and you've never stopped. Has it made you any friends? Why do you want to punch people so much?
All this is mere preamble. As you may have read, the UK government has decided to cut overseas aid to all the places it's invaded, impoverished and/or bombed, and has decided to buy more nukes, just as the rest of the world is thinking about settling its differences by talking. It's the British disease: bereft of any moral standing after centuries of brutal colonisation, it's clinging to its penile Empire substitutes to persuade itself that it matters. Brexit has obviously made this worse: having stormed out, Britain's decided to make everyone listen by threatening ultimate violence: Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey long ago explained (in a clip I can't find, damn it) that the UK has to have nuclear missiles simply because the French do.
The UK has a place on the Security Council and other bodies not because it's a force for good, or economically important, but because it was an early adopter of the means to kill everyone on the planet. That's what underlines the smooth diplomatic talk - blackmail. Imagine if Britain had to rely on its ethical purpose for international credibility. The laughter wouldn't bear thinking about.
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It depresses me beyond pills that the current government has decided to make some political capital from potential murder. Johnson, Sunak, Patel and some Spads sat round in Downing Street chortling as they realised they could 'own the libs' by spending a few hundred billion on genocide. Never mind international law and their commitment to gradually disarm: a front page of the Daily Mail is enough. Even more depressingly, they're wrong. Labour instituted the British nuclear weapons program because it too is deeply jingoistic, and because lots of the arms industry is unionised. When Johnson nukes, say, Yemen for causing (in the words of Priti Patel's new criminal offence) 'causing serious annoyance' (a ten-year sentence: you literally get less for rape), the Labour Party will quietly point out that there are several marginal seats with missile factories. A noble sacrifice for the socialist cause, I'm sure the Yemeni comrades will agree.
They're even threatening to nuke non-nuclear states (though I suppose this goes back to 1945) - apparently electronic warfare will qualify you to be turned into glass and radioactive ash, as though all computer viruses are stored on one big computer that you can drop a bomb on.
There's no coherent thought in this. Just despair that a supposedly civilised country would rather blackmail the world with threats of total annihilation than feed children or talk things through with their opponents. And this is why I'll never be a Wilde-style ironist. No sense of humour.
Tuesday, 16 March 2021
Back to obscurities for today's singles: Armstrong (Julian Pitt, from Wales) with some perfectly serviceable pop-rock - I've only these two singles, but apparently there are two albums. The front cover of the first one is unadorned black, hence the pic of the back. It's a split single with Mumbo Jet, another Newport band who have left no trace beyond this solitary song: I can't even post a recording.
Thursday, 11 March 2021
No, not really: you've been rick-rolled.
It feels wrong to chattily post about old songs the day after yet another woman, Sarah Everard, was murdered for the crime of being outside unattended. The outpouring of testimony from women on social media about the harassment and assaults they've suffered for daring to assume that public space is sexually neutral is astounding but not, sadly, surprising. When I taught a module on cities, psychogeography and urban space we talked about the gendered city, and gendered time - we would make maps of where was safe, where was inviting, and where wasn't, and how time, light and the seasons affected those things. It will shock none of you to learn, I hope, that sexual harassment was a near-daily experience to every woman in the class, and a had started when they were very, very young. Some laughed it off, some affected to, but not one said it had never happened. From those conversations also came disclosure of serious crimes too: again entirely unsurprisingly. This country, and most others from what I can see, is a male-supremacist state. 'Notallmen' runs the hashtag, but quite enough to ensure that a stroll down the street or a late-night drink is a gendered experience, whether as perpetrator or cheerleader: the long career of various politicians' sexual misconduct and the excuses regularly wheeled out make it clear that our culture is willing to tolerate an awful lot of rape because, well, I'm not sure. Because women aren't real people?
I'd also like to take a minute to point and laugh-cry at Scott Morrison (the Australian prime minister) and his clones in the UK parliament and elsewhere who preface their autocue statements of regret with the words 'as a husband/father of daughters…'. No: you shouldn't need to imagine someone you're personally related to being attacked before you realise that it's probably a bad thing. Empathy is good, but if yours has genetic limits, you shouldn't be anywhere near power. Or indeed anywhere near other human beings.
I think you get my point. Have some Riot Grrl for the day that's in it. They know.
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Wednesday, 10 March 2021
You may think you can see some records here, but all I see is a gaping void in my collection of Ash 7" singles. What remains are their increasingly less good songs as their youthful enthusiasm gradually wore off. What's missing are their earliest thrilling singles, 'Jack Names The Planets', 'Petrol' (which I had in the UK and Japanese releases) and 'Uncle Pat'. I had them, then I had to sell them along with 400 of my rarest singles, or give up my PhD.
Obviously I regret the loss of all of them, but these ones hurt because they were definitely the best songs Ash ever recorded: while some bands mature into greatness (Blur's second album is incomparably better than the first and the rest), Ash sadly didn't. They exploded onto the scene from Northern Ireland as 16 yr-olds - the newspapers loved the story of them skipping their GCSE exams to support the Rolling Stones). The first album was good. The second one was OK. Then they just faded into ordinariness, too dependent on their pop-punk sound while their youthful Irish distinctness got lost in the mix.
But for a brief moment, they were just the best. I'm still annoyed a housemate nicked my band t-shirt.
Tuesday, 9 March 2021
Now here's a band I miss. Not the most aspirational of names, but the single word echoes the early-90s trend (Blur, Suede, Pulp, Oasis, Salad, Lush, Curve, Ride, Elastica et al.) with the addition of a techno-sheen redolent of the electronic and krautrock scene - think Pram and Broadcast. Which his appropriate because while Appliance came along only in 1995 and didn't release an album until 1999, they melded a bit of the best of both those scenes. I don't know too much about the electronic side of their music, but I like the mix of krautrock, drone and classical minimalism that I do recognise.
Of these, I think I like Pacifica the best. Enjoy the icy sheen of machine-tooled pop.
Monday, 8 March 2021
(Actually, nothing in the Bible refers specifically to apples, as I keep writing on my students' Milton essays). But the remorseless progress of the alphabetical system brings me to The Apples In Stereo, whom I know are a cult, critics' favourite but I confess to only having this one single, 'The Bird That You Can't See' and the 2000 album The World Inside The Moon, midway in their catalogue.
It's not that I didn't intend to buy more singles or albums, but age tends to narrow your enthusiasms and the early 200s were economically thin: I was subsisting on an overdraft and a PhD bursary of £6,500 per year (always paid late, as a cheque, with my names misspelled, leading to long discussions with the bank: thanks, university!).
I really like this: it reminds me of that whole bunch of American bands who had pop tunes to burn and a twisted, often humorous sensibility: Pavement, obviously, but also Beulah, tons of bands on Little Darla, and Grandaddy. It's a delight to hear this pop gem once again. It's just so cheerfully American.
Wednesday, 3 March 2021
After yesterday's trash, here's a band from the same period who I really think have stood the test of time despite never approaching anything like popularity: Animals That Swim. Is the name awful? Yes, yes it is because it seems wilfully obscure and twee without having a witty referent that I can think of. But it doesn't matter because what they wrote was beautiful: thoughtful, muted chamber-pop in the tradition of Shelleyan Orphan without the occasional baroque excess that delightful band sometimes engaged in. They remind me a little of Cardinal and Eric Matthews, except with a more European sensibility.
The albums, 1994's Workshy and 1996's I Was The King, I Really Was The King are just lovely - these singles are clearly a bit more cheaply produced but 'Faded Glamour' does sum them up very nicely: Suede without the (glorious) histrionics, and sharing a detestation of ruin-porn with late-era Pulp. You can find the rest online pretty easily.
Tuesday, 2 March 2021
Thanks to the wonders of alphabetisation, yesterday's classic 'House of the Rising Sun' sits next to a bit of post-britpop fluff: 'Small' by The Animalhouse. I have an enduring weakness for spin-off bands, fuelled by a mania for completeness that isn't good for the soul or the wallet - I think I've an unparalleled collection of New Order splinter acts, for instance (New Order being Act 2 of Joy Division, really), and in the hope that while bands might have a brief period in which they catch the public's eye, they don't just stop being talented. Not always, anyway.
The Animalhouse were an attempt by most of the members of the wonderful Ride to regroup after the acrimonious rift between Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. It got so bad that the last album, Tarantula features nasty songs about each other, and the two sides of the vinyl version keep the Bell and Gardener-penned tracks strictly segregated. (Amazingly, a large amount of money effected a reunion in 2014 and they're still together).
In the meantime though, they went their separate and deeply unsuccessful ways, reduced to the margins by their own feuds and the juggernaut that was Britpop, crushing any attempt at nuance. The Animalhouse was Mark Gardener's outfit, after a spell releasing limited edition solo 7"s to general uninterest. It was pedestrian rubbish and you definitely shouldn't bother tracking down the single album they released before falling apart. This single just proves that bands are greater than the sum of their parts, and that craft and inspiration aren't the same thing at all. Also, it sounds like three different bad songs put together.
Monday, 1 March 2021
A very familiar song today, but one that still packs a huge amount into a few minutes - the haunting 'House of the Rising Sun' by The Animals.
I confess that I have little interest in 'The Sixties', especially the versions endlessly peddled by nostalgics: I like the occasional Beatles song but I'm with Public Enemy when it comes to the big beasts. Particularly the Rolling Stones. There is a version of the 60s I like: tracks like these by Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention, Delia Derbyshire, Vashti Bunyan, Steve Reich, Phil Ochs, Meredith Monk, Milton Babbitt's Composition for Synthesizer, The Last Poets, early Velvet Underground and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Motown and Northern Soul and Buffy Sainte-Marie. I'm just not keen on those who preached revolution for money from their country mansions.
Not sure where I picked up this very battered copy - probably a charity shop. It's pretty scratched but it's still wonderful.
Friday, 26 February 2021
At some point in the late nineties I got transfixed by Northern Soul, that magical northern British subculture with its own aesthetic and moves. A friend's father had played me some Geno Washington live albums (still wonderful) and then I found out about the Northern Soul scene, still strong in places like Stoke and Wigan - you can still see people squeezing into some great clothes and pulling off audacious dance moves at all-nighters across the north and midlands. I couldn't get into the real collectors' circles on a student income, but I did buy quite a few compilations and re-releases: not being particularly competitive I was grateful for the advent of CD collections, whereas some of the scenesters resented their rarest records becoming commonly available. Two of my favourite tracks are well-known now: Dobie Gray's 'Out On The Floor'
and The Human Beinz' 'Nobody But Me'
but this 1979 Carol Anderson number is superb - beautifully melancholic but you can dance to it. She died unheralded in 1984.
Thursday, 25 February 2021
Compared with everything else I was buying at the time, American Music Club's 'Can You Help Me?' counts as a crowd-pleasing hit - Mark Eitzel's crew were critical darlings in the NME, Select and Vox, as well as in the inky fanzines I bought in the local record shop. Until I looked it up today I had no idea that 1994 was the eleventh year of their initial 12 year history: they sounded like classic 90s Americans to me.
Wednesday, 24 February 2021
I unashamedly adore this next record. After Britpop died of shame I got into post-rock quite heavily: Mogwai, Slint, Velvet Underground, Ectogram, Slowdive and the shoegazers were my gateway drugs into often wordless, krautrock or kosmische-influenced drone rock. It also appealed because I've long been into minimalist music - I find the incremental shifts in long, repetitive pieces profoundly moving. Try this Meredith Monk piece from 1971!
So one day in 1999 I found myself on my own in Cheltenham Town Hall for a whole day of electronic drone acts - mostly very shy people staring at their effects pedals and creating the most otherworldly noises. I bought this single - 'Misstype Doolittle' by AMP Studio - at the record stall there and subsequently bought everything that came out on Earworm Records - particularly Electric Sound of Joy. Isn't it lovely, as a physical object and piece of music?
Tuesday, 23 February 2021
…it's Alternative TV!
They were a big name on the post-punk circuit in the late 70s/early 80s because the frontman was Mark Perry (editor of Sniffin' Glue) alongside many, many other members, then reformed in the Nineties for another go. It must have been recommended to me because I can't recall ever knowing much about them or seeing them live.
Monday, 22 February 2021
So today's obscure single is Alphane Moon's 'Our Glassie Azoth'. Purchased from Recordiau'r Cob in Bangor for £2.99 (a lot in 1994) with a sticker reading 'Strangeness From South Wales'. For a shop staffed entirely by druid drone-rockers, that's quite something. I don't know much about them, though Alphane Moon is lifted from Philip K Dick's short story and debut novel, 'Clans of the Alphane Moon', which isn't very good. Amazingly, Alphane Moon is still sort of in existence: Dafydd released archive recordings recently.
It's a defiantly indie production, from the orange vinyl to the hermeneutic cover design. As to the track itself (which is amazingly available on Youtube), it's rather delightful: gossamer-light indie-goth-prog. Definite shades of Flying Saucer Attack, BBC Radiophonic Workshop or Children's Film Foundation soundtrack, mixed with 70s European contemporary classical music. I liked it a lot more this time round than when I bought it. Very pleased to rediscover this one.
Thursday, 18 February 2021
Another mystery today - a 1997 split single from Dedicated Records (the fifth in the series) featuring three bands who were less up-and-coming and more came-and-went: Alone, Burst and Homesick. The EP is available from Discogs for 50p, so not one that will be keeping me warm in my old age.
Sadly there's no online version of any of these songs nor any further trace of their existence, but be assured that you're not missing anything at all. It's all dreadful sludge - the forerunner of the previously-mentioned Landfill Indie. There are other bands with these names, and they're terrible too.
Have I learned anything from this? Not much. Younger me had little discrimination. Never go back. Youth is wasted on the young.
That is all.
Wednesday, 17 February 2021
I really like All About Eve - they're a mix of two genres I've always enjoyed, folk-rock and goth. So I'm not sure why I only own one of their singles, and a late one at that: 1991's 'Strange Way'. Perhaps because they'd been and gone before I got into music and I just picked up this second-hand single cheaply somewhere. I know I've got a couple of Julianne Regan's later singles as Mice, and the LPs are all there.
'Strange Way' isn't totally representative of their main work and the production might seem rather dated for 1991 but it's a good pop-rock ballad. I don't think I've listened to it for 20 years, but I'm taken with it all over again. I'd still recommend you start with 'Flowers In Our Hair' though. It's a banger.
Tuesday, 16 February 2021
After yesterday's foray into lazy satire it's back to 90s Music You Never Wanted To Hear Again. Top quality showbiz anecdote with this one though: I own it, the accompanying album and a t-shirt because the band's flautist was a primary-school friend of a friend. I assume the Daily Mail will come knocking if they find anything interesting in her bins (just as I occasionally get an email asking if I'll comment on the private life of someone I didn't know at school who once dated a royal so far down the order of succession that her nickname should be Barely Regal).
Anyway, the band is Alfie and the single is 'A Word In Your Ear'.
Alfie were a post-Britpop indie band, but if that sounds damning, hold your horses - far from being what became known as Landfill Indie, Alfie had a folky whimsy that stood out for me amidst the hordes of sportswear-clad lads pretending to be football hooligans, indicated by the rather twee cover design. There's a degree of melancholy and some social commentary on their albums that echoes some of the other late-90s Manchester bands like Doves. There's a lack of edge to them which fitted in with a slew of soft indie 90s groups - Coldplay, Keane, Travis, Elbow and more, but I always thought Alfie had a little more depth to them. It didn't help though - 4 underachieving albums then oblivion.
This one's rather nice. Not a formula for musical world domination, admittedly but easy on the ear.
Monday, 15 February 2021
Once upon a time there was a young Culture Secretary called Oliver. When he was walking in the woods one day looking for the trees, Oliver found a snug little building called History. 'Oh ho', he thought. 'I like floral tea towels. I'll call in'. And so he did, tripping lightly over the threshold into a chamber with three doors. Always on the look-out for offence, he picked the door on the Left. It contained a sweet young lecturer with plaited braids and a pinafore dress, talking to some apple-cheeked children in front of a picture of a lovely country mansion like the one Oliver had grown up in. 'This is lovely', thought Oliver. 'I wonder what she's talking about', and he sat down, crossed his legs and listened very hard. But oh no! Her lecture was much too salty! She kept mentioning the servants, and pointing out that every brick of Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax MP's great big house was funded by the blood of his Caribbean slaves. This was Too Much History.
Oliver didn't like this. He liked cream teas and dressing-up boxes. So he left the room and chose the middle door. The only thing in the room was a great big television showing a period drama. 'Much better', said Oliver. 'I liked the man diving into the lake in front of his nice house and emerging dripping wet even though it's not in the book. That's why we put an insincere quote from one of her characters on a bank note'. And so he sat down, and crossed his legs, and tuned in. But oh no! It was The Crown! He didn't know any more whether he was friends with the dead blonde posh one or the big-eared still-alive posh one but he definitely knew that neither of them had ever watched Tiger King in a onesie because nice people in those days didn't like television and onesies were common. This was Not History and people needed a big sign to tell them that it wasn't Proper History because they couldn't tell the difference between reality and real people pretending to be other people who were dead or older now and anyone who suggested that other regimes that publicly declared some art to be Good and other art to be Bad (Oliver had seen this on Channel 5 while waiting for Hitler's Greatest Trousers) were not ideal role models deserved to be Cancelled, but not in a left-wing way.
So Oliver uncrossed his legs and left the room, choosing, finally the door on the Right where he really belonged. This was much better. He sat down, crossed his legs and watched agog as Jacob Rees-Mogg gave an adoring throng of fish proper British names like Sextus and Septimus, before giving in to their demands to be chained up and sent to work in the family mines. 'They're happy, because they're British, Britannia really does rule the waves', sighed Jacob while his nanny sponged his trousers clean, and Oliver clapped his hands with glee. This History was Just Right.
And so Oliver skipped home to find his friend Gavin and together they decided to give their friend Toby the key to the dressing-up box so that he could be the Universities Free Speech Champion to make sure that everyone could say what they wanted about ladies' breasts or black people unless it was Too Much History, while Oliver arranged his dolls in front of him and gave them a long lecture on why they couldn't say what they wanted unless it was to be nice about his friends. And they all lived happily ever after.
Friday, 12 February 2021
Yet again we're in Glasgow. Or maybe Chicago: this is a tricky one. I'm not a wilful obscurantist, but some bands appeared and disappeared leaving no trace. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes because things just didn't work out.
Today's record is an EP called 'Airport Songs': two original tracks and a Morricone cover that clearly had some influence on the new songs. It's on All City records of apparently Glasgow and Chicago but I can't find much trace of either – there's a Dublin label of the same name with some Glasgow connection but it appeared later. There's a suggestion via an Ebay listing that this band is a Pastels offshoot, which would make sonic sense, so this looks like an American release of a Scottish record bought in Wales.
I can't let you try it either: it's so lost to history that nobody has posted it to Youtube or any other service. You'll just have to take my word for it that is't pretty good - a mix of film music, French pop and American college rock that goes down nicely. Much like the Pastels, in fact. Apparently their 1999 shows were 'transcendent' - and check out the other singles released that week.
In lieu of this record, have the Morricone/Gastoni original and a Pastels track.
Thursday, 11 February 2021
Finally, an act that isn't Scottish: today's band is Airiel, an American shoe-gazing tribute act from the late-90s who released 'Shirley Temple Tidal Wave' on Roisín Recordings back in 1999. (Shoegaze because they were all so non-pop that they played and/or danced staring at their shoes rather than make eye contact).
I was a bit late to music so missed the first wave of shoegazers (Ride, Curve, Swervedriver, Slowdive and all the others) but I ransacked the vaults as soon as I heard Slowdive's Souvlaki LP in about 1994. The genre was wiped off the map by the crude Britpop bandwagon, but seems to have inspired a second generation of anglophiliacs over in the US: Trespassers William's cover of Ride's 'Vapour Trail' is one of my most treasured songs, and is easily as good as the original.
As for Airiel: I suppose they're endearing also-rans. 'Shirley Temple Tidal Wave' sounds utterly lovely to me, but it could have been recorded by any British shoegaze band between 1988-1992, rather than in Indiana in 1999.
As a bonus, here's the aforementioned Trespassers William cover.
Wednesday, 10 February 2021
Amazingly, we're in Scotland again for today's single: Country Teasers' Against The Country Teasers EP.
As you can tell from the cover design, it's deliberately anti-art and anti-pop in a knowing kind of way. Country Teasers no doubt thought that they were daring sonic pranksters but there's a very strong whiff of too-clever-for-their-own-good about the clatter found within.
Tuesday, 9 February 2021
Well here we are in Scotland yet again - Glasgow really was a hive of jangly activity in the 80s and 90s. I have a huge soft spot for Adventures in Stereo despite only having one of their singles on 7" - there's more on split singles and compilations dotted around my collection. I like the way they meld the slightly shambolic lo-fi of the Glasgow Scene with the electronics and krautrock of Stereolab. This is quite an early one with the emphasis more on the Vaselines or Pastels-style naive-pop sound than electronics. I notice that it's on Creeping Bent - a label that seemed to specialise in cult bands or, to put it more cruelly, interesting musicians almost nobody liked.
Monday, 8 February 2021
What is it about 90s indie bands and Confederate imagery?
Today it's Action Spectacular; last week it was A, but I assume the immediate influence was the hipper-than-thou Primal Scream, who used the Stars and Bars in neon (a detail from Eggleston's Troubled Waters) for the cover of their Give Out But Don't Give Up album.
Eggleston was an American from Tennessee, and his work is often garish, nightmarish and troubling: there's an implied critique in his photography that isn't there in the good-time blues stylings of Primal Scream (a talented band without a brain cell) nor in these lesser bands' appropriations of Southern imagery. OK, these were British bands and so distanced from the daily impact of pro-slavery culture and Jim Crow in its home setting, but even back in the 90s we knew that the Confederacy were the bad guys.
I only own this one single by Action Spectacular: even back then I must have decided that for all their craft, they had nothing to say beyond borrowing clothes without a second thought. Clearly the band or their record labels have belatedly decided that 'General Lee' is inappropriate: while their albums are on iTunes, this song is nowhere to be found. Instead you'll have to make do with their oh-so-witty 'I'm a Whore', in which some young men discover that work isn't entirely brilliant while being unable to decide what musical sub-genre they prefer.
'General Lee' isn't any better.
Oh well. Adventures in Stereo tomorrow.
Friday, 5 February 2021
Until I went to Youtube to find a copy, I had absolutely no memory of what AC Acoustics sounded like, despite buying several of their singles and in some cases ordering them in advance. I must have liked them, but never saw them live. I can't even remember whether I heard them on Peel, Radcliffe and Riley, the Evening Session, or whether they were foisted on me by the denizens of my Local Record Shop. I may even have bought their stuff because they were signed to a label I liked - I did a lot of that kind of thing back then. Or perhaps because they were from Glasgow - pretty much all good music came from Glasgow when I were a kid.
Any good? Serviceable pop-punk-indie. A bit like Ash without the compelling back-story. 6/10 would listen again.
Thursday, 4 February 2021
A propos of nothing, I remembered that I've also recently read Val McDermid's modern retelling of Northanger Abbey (called Northanger Abbey). It's fun - especially some of the characterisation and repartee, but feels a bit forced in places - the social conventions really have changed a lot. Shifting the setting from Bath to Edinburgh during the Festival was a really smart move though - lots of comedy material available from teasing the English luvvies who colonise the place and ruin it for the locals for a month. I'm teaching Udolpho and then Northanger Abbey in a few weeks so this was a good palate cleanser. One day I'll do a whole Austenmania module. I've even bought and read all the 'Horrid Novels' Austen mentions in Northanger that were thought to be made up until a copy of one was found in 1905 or something.
Anyway, today's single is a 'I Can Buy You' by A Camp - the pseudonym used by Nina Persson for her first solo outing away from The Cardigans. I liked The Cardigans for the sweet sound married to sharp lyrics and enjoyed seeing them becoming globally huge for a few years - I've kept buying music by post-Cardigans Swedish indie bands. I saw them just once, on a tour which put them on a bill with The Bluetones (hyped as the very next Big Thing in 1995), Fluffy and Heavy Stereo for £5. Heavy Stereo and Fluffy were terrible - who'd have thought one of the former would end up in Oasis as punishment? Need I add that I own multiple singles by all these bands?
I think this one stands up. She's got a good voice, writes great pop songs, and Mark Linkous was a sensitive producer (Sparklehorse was a fantastic band - more of them later).
Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Last year I filled in time by posting selected photographs. I may yet return to that, but I thought that a slow trawl through the largely embarrassing and obscure depths of my musical history might amuse an enlighten. If it's good enough for Tim Burgess, it's good enough for me. (Talking of Tim Burgess, I first saw The Charlatans in the late 90s in the depths of their unpopularity. Midweek gig, half-full in a provincial town. They played like it was a packed stadium and they were at no. 1, so I've always respected that band).
As luck would have it, I'm half-way through photographing my 7" vinyl collection, so I'll post a picture and hopefully a recording of each song. Some caveats: I listen to a wide range of music that isn't reflected in this particular format - almost none of my classical and folk collection is on 7". I've never stopped buying music in large quantities but I rarely buy 7"s any more. LPs for rock/indie, CDs for classical and the occasional download these days, but never singles: I'm no longer as excited by the immediate as I was then. Nor do I have a weekly music press to tell me what to think. I was such an NME victim, partially mitigated by being in Cymru Cymraeg at a particularly interesting period.
So what you're really getting is my teenage and early-20s idea of what was cool, plus all the music forced on me by the charmingly insistent staff of Recordiau'r Cob in Bangor, but minus the 400 rarities I sol in the early-2000s when my £6000 p.a. PhD scholarship proved insufficient. I'd go in each week from 1993-8 and order from the list of next week's releases. Then they'd tell me that everything I wanted was awful and add their own choices. Not entirely coincidentally, their additions were by their own bands or the record labels they ran. It felt like something between a mugging and an education.
Because I'm a nerd, my collection is in alphabetical order, so there's no slow chronological revelation or development. Hopefully though there might be the occasional re-evaluation of the ephemeral. Inevitably though, the first band is A. How they must have chortled when they picked their name. Guaranteed to be on the front rack in every record shop. The hilarity was doubled when they called one song 'No. 1' (spoiler: it wasn't). Genius! But history has the last laugh because they're essentially undiscoverable in the era of web searches.
I don't think you need to hear every A single I bought, and I clearly didn't feel the need to buy their album - though I did buy both releases of 'No. 1', but my memory is of catchy pop-punk.
Tuesday, 2 February 2021
I'm finding it very weird not getting a sense of excited dread around 1.30/2 p.m.: the time when Donald Trump picked up his phone every morning and said something racist and/or untrue. There's no structure in my day any more. All the old certainties are gone. It's like an extension of my life as a football fan: it's the hope that kills you. All Biden has to do is not bomb anywhere (which he will, eventually) and he'll be greeted as the new messiah, like a Stoke City manager who doesn't get us relegated, eking out a string of 0-0 draws without a spark of life. It's a bit depressing to have such low expectations but that's where we are. Mind you, I wish my annual appraisal was conducted with such lowered expectations…
Some of us were talking the other day about Things We Miss. I realised that all the big stuff – concerts, hugs, family weddings, archive visits, conferences and the like – mean nothing to me, compared to the one thing I want. I want to sit in a flock-wallpapered local curry house and be served just one dish. A huge, pillow-like naan (chili and garlic by preference) so fresh that the hot oil on it glistens and steam puffs out of the bread bubbles. The sheer bliss of the heat, the flavour and the texture would cure all ills.
Back to the marking…
Thursday, 14 January 2021
Being somewhat overwhelmed by marking and teaching preparation at the moment, I'm turning my blog over to a friend of mine who wishes to make a statement regarding recent political events over the pond.
Over to you, Lucius.
Statement to the Press from the Honourable Lucius K. Malfoy, Hogwarts (La.) Board of Governors.
Like all inhabitants of this realm, I have been disturbed by recent events at the political heart of our nation. We've all seen the more unruly elements of our movement lose their customary cool in the face of repeated, vicious attacks on their legitimate concerns and deeply-held beliefs. While no-one wishes to condone violence, I appeal to their detractors to approach their fellow citizens in a spirit of healing and coming together. I have no doubt that Headmaster Voldemort's casting of the Dark Mark above Hogwarts was intended in a spirit of altruism and concern which I echo. No doubt there are good people on both sides, and any decent patriot will understand that the Death-Eater name and associated symbols are simply indications of an impish sense of humour on the part of some very special people. As strong supporters of Blue Lives Matter, we mourn the loss of even a single Auror and only wish that our opponents had the same respect for law and order that we do. No true supporter of ours could ever endorse political violence.
Some of my colleagues and indeed political rivals have suggested that I bear some responsibility for the effervescent high spirits of Team Death Eater, charging me with casting dark spells over our enemies, directing these aggrieved citizens through my Howler account towards the location of Headmaster-Elect Potter and his élitist beltway liberals in the Scribbler, calling for 'trial by combat' and identifying weak spots in the Hogwarts defences. I can only appeal to them to examine their consciences and work out how they've lost touch with the silent majority who see in President Voldemort a confident leader who understands the desires of the excluded, real people of this nation, a people who are opposed to uncontrolled Muggle immigration and insist on their right to bear wands in the face of a Ministry of Magic which has been taken over by the Deep State and spends its time hosting interminable witch-trials.
Despite the machinations of the Ministry in this rigged process, it is clear that President Voldemort remains the true Chosen One, and I will never waiver in my determination to help him crush his enemies beneath his heel, yet this is not a time for vengefulness and divisiveness. While he may on occasion have used unfortunate language in the teeth of provocation, we must not seek to impeach or imperil the Dark Headmaster or criticise each other for voting to overturn the results of recent elections, but come together in a spirit of patriotic togetherness. I intend to retain my position on the board of governors despite my fervent desire to see certain colleagues subjected to the Cruciatus Curse, seeing no contradiction between a belief in summary justice and democracy. It is time for our radical left opponents to accept that any further criticism or action against the Dark Lord will only fuel division and provoke anger and I appeal to them to pursue reconciliation between His Evil Majesty and the sheep.