Friday, 17 December 2010

Headache

Playing Halo: Reach till 2am last night,
My own fault
Headache comes on thick and tense,
Brain snap crackles and pops

Clumsily claim the last cheese and pickle roll
from the sandwich guy who comes round the office,
"Only vegetarian thing...can I...have?"
Words departing, replaced by gummed-up stupid

Damn I want my head back,
Without the ache.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Shower gel and sexy funk

Just to get you up to speed, two things sparked off this blog entry: one, dancing like an idiot around my room to Big Boi's latest album and two, using Original Source black pepper and cardomom shower gel. In the shower that is, not in combination with the dancing and music.

In the shower I was faced with the choice of two shower gel options, the nice winter cardomom stuff or lime and tea tree. I had a brief thought that the lime and tee tree might work as something to take the edge off the horrendous cold weather that London has been having. It may well seem painfully obvious to anyone reading this, but the kind of light Brazilian bossa fantasies that flashed through my mind when I was making the crucial shower gel decision don't really work in the depths of winter. Black pepper and cardomom definitely wins the day. Then, in a fairly inspired piece of musical synesthesia I thought of two albums I have been listening to a fair bit in recent months, each one corresponding to one of the shower gel options. The lime and tea tree is an excellent collection of German-Brazillian crossover house music mixed by the perma-genius Rainer Truby, called Glucklich Vol.3, the black pepper and cardomom is Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi.

I love the kind of music that weaves inbetween latin, jazz and more traditional European house styles, so when I came across Glucklich three months ago it was a dream. Even though the summer was already becoming a distant memory, Truby's picks dominated my stereo like a funkier version of the music bore you find in the corner of all the best parties. Summer does fade however, and with it the pleasure of lime shower gel goes too. Winter requires deeper, dirtier notes to get things moving, whether you find them in soap or audio. So although it was actually released right in the middle of summer, when Big Boi came into my life about a month ago with his dirty winter stank, well, sorry Rainer, but there was no contest.

To cut a long story short, the video below celebrates the kind of butt-naked funk that should be the soundtrack to your Winter. And in case a fortitous google search should bring you here six months late, have some lime-flavoured house on me too.





Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Top 10 albums of the year- and a few more

Album of the year lists are always a bit tricky for me, as I am pretty crap at listening to stuff in the year it comes out. I tend to shy away from stuff that’s being hyped up, then ‘discover it’ on my own terms a few months or years down the line when everyone has moved on. Kind of like the music-nerd equivalent of an urban fox raiding a bin in the dead of night. This year I was a bit more on-point than usual but there was another complication in that 2010 was the best year for music in a long time. Frankly, there was too much stuff for someone as lazy as me to keep up with. To that end I have included a list of honourable mentions for records which I am almost certain I would have loved, but have only heard parts of, or haven’t heard at all yet, and so can’t work out if would be better than the top 10 I have selected. In the case of the Basia Bulat and Roots/John Legend records I gave them a lot of attention and enjoyed them a lot, but not quite as much as the final 10 I picked.

Gorillaz РPlastic Beach РA clear standout for album of the year for me, expansive, daring, stylistically diverse and yet at heart an amazing pop album. Damon Albarn now surely deserves the clich̩ of national treasure.

Caribou – Swim – I read somewhere about this record that it is both the perfect Saturday night and Sunday morning record. That sums up the thing better than anything else I could say.

Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here – Astonishing reinvention from Scott Heron, aided by the head of XL records Richard Russell. I gave the record 9/10 in my review for DiS here http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15097/reviews/4139058

Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise – The best electronic record of the year for me, in a year with tons of outstanding examples of that genre. The thing I loved most about Black Noise was that although minimal and cerebral, warmth radiated from every second of it.

Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson – My favourite hip-hop record of the year, and part of a vintage year of releases for Stonesthrow.

Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers – Brilliant exploration of the further reaches of dubstep, and very user-friendly for those uninitiated in the ways of bass music.

Big Boi – Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty – This album would almost be worth including in the list for the fact that it contains one of the songs of the year in Shutterbug alone, but the fact that the rest of the album is awesome seals the deal.



Scuba – Triangulation – Really, there isn’t more than a thin and curly hair between this and the other electronic albums in this selection, but purely in terms of the fact that Triangulation has spent slightly less time on rotation in my stereo it has the lowest position of the four.

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter’s latest record is a mysterious trawl through the fog of hindsight and loss. Definitely my favourite guitar album of the year.

The Ruby Suns – Fight Softly – This album didn’t get a lot of love across the music press/blogosphere, but I thought it retained all the fun and charm of previous Ruby Suns records while ditching the world music for electronic influences. For more wise words on why this record was great read this
http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15174/reviews/4139298


Honourable mentions
The Phantom Band – Wants
Janell Monae – The ArchAndroid
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Acorn – No Ghost
Gangrene – Gutter Water
Basia Bulat – Heart of My Own
The Roots, John Legend – Wake Up

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Depression

Welcome back to my malnourished blog. Today’s entry partly explains why I haven’t written anything in while, only partly though. Much larger factors in my radio silence are The Wire, Halo: Reach and my general laziness. Anyway, today I want to talk about one of the few things that Alastair Campbell and I have in common, to wit, depression.

While I often though of Campbell as a horrible figure during the Blair era, his charity work and the publicity he has brought to mental health issues has gone a long way to redeeming the man in my eyes. I am sure he is very glad of this partial turnaround from a blogger that no-one reads. Anyway, now that we have negotiated the tricky proposition that AC is not entirely a force for evil, we can consider the significance of a man of his stature in politics confessing to having a history of depression- at times severe. Despite what the Janet Street-Porter’s of this world would have you believe, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1278510/Depression-Its-just-new-trendy-illness.html) depression and other mental illnesses are not the trendy new accessories of the middle classes, they are a problem which affects 1 in 4 people regardless of wealth, race, gender or any other dividing line in society. The attitudes of people like Street-Porter ensure that there is still a huge stigma around mental illness and many people are too frightened of what people will think of them to admit they need help.

In this climate, it is hugely admirable of Campbell to be so candid about his own experiences. The donation of half the proceeds from his new book to mental health charity Rethink is also a fabulous gesture. This is not meant to be a rant against anyone or any problems in society, I do far too much of that on here as it is. This post is more what came to mind during a recent flare-up of my own brand of depression. Like Campbell, I am probably closer to having this thing licked than I ever have been- although such a total victory probably doesn’t exist for depression sufferers. It still flares up from time to time though, without explanation or reason, like the attentions of a selfish lover. When it does, all of the numerous blessings and privileges in my life seem to shrink in the shadow of the dark cloud above them, and me. Society is much more tolerant when dealing with mental illness than it used to be, but those hateful few who still believe that its all put on, or people suffering from mental illness could get better if they ‘chose to’ will never appreciate the crushing weight people feel on their shoulders when they are in the grip of mental illness.

It is hard to know how to round this one off, probably because I didn’t have the luxury of an enemy to structure a diatribe around this time, but I guess all I really wanted to say with this blog entry is that I have a fairly tough week or so. To put my name out there as someone who knows what it is like to have the black dog hump their leg from time to time, so to speak. But also, as someone who is in the fortunate position of knowing that the cloud will pass, some people don’t have that luxury. If there is anyone out there who reads this and wants to talk to someone about a similar experience, please feel free to send me a message on here. Or, for anyone suffering but unsure of where to turn for help, please check out the link below to the Rethink charity. They do excellent work.

Rethink: http://www.rethink.org/

Alaistar Campbell’s blog: http://www.alastaircampbell.org/

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Get off the air

The grey skies present when I look out the window in the morning point squarely to one thing: Summer is gone; Autumn is here. Autumn has also brought along some other As with it. 1) Another series of The Apprentice 2) Another chance for Britain to collectively embarrass itself fawning over an old man behaving like a curmudgeonly wank-shot.

Firstly, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that Lord Sugar has done a commendable amount of charity work over the years, and his determination to rise above his humble beginnings is admirable. This article is by no means meant to be a character assassination of Alan Sugar, but nevertheless, it is hard to sit back and accept the national obsession with The Apprentice which rolls around every year. The format basically involves Lord Sugar and two sycophants of his choosing setting a task each week for the contestants (15 initially, one is eliminated each week until the final) to perform to the best of their ability, then abusively criticise and humiliate the contestants when they return to explain how they got on. The fact that the contestants are usually such an obnoxious bunch of morons that it is tempting to say this is the least they deserve is still not quite enough to justify the hard-nosed-businessman- pornography that follows.

Each week Lord Sugar displays aggression, bullying, extreme competitiveness, lack of human empathy and just plain rudeness. You know, all of the kinds of unattractive human traits which parents and schools generally discourage. Obviously when a rich man on the television behaves appallingly, the moral implications are swept aside by the giddy thrill of entertainment we all crave.

Consider how you would feel if the boss of your workplace treated you the way Lord Sugar does the contestants on The Apprentice? You would, almost certainly, be angry, upset, or both. And with good reason. Behaviour like Sugar’s on the apprentice should be unacceptable in any civilised society, not held up for adulation by entertainment journalists blushing like schoolgirls at the thought of our straight-talking hero in a sharp suit. Movies and video games (especially video games) are constantly criticised for being too violent, too sexualised, too exciting…etc etc. The defence that they are all fantasy, and strictly censored so as not to fall into the hands of children young enough to be damaged by them, never holds much weight with Britain’s self-appointed mortal arbiters. It is a curious irony then, that a reality tv show can go out at prime time and set a terrible example of how to behave in real life as long as there ain’t a bare nipple or bullet in sight.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Internet dreams and stained jeans

So, a few months behind the curve of vitriolic message board love and hate (mainly hate it seems), I have finally given Uffie's album Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans a proper listen, and actually, its pretty good. I must admit, when the song 'ADD SUV' (the one with Pharell guesting on it) surfaced, I was really disappointed and sort of mentally wrote off the rest of the album without even bothering to listen to it. I remember back in 2005 when I first heard ‘Pop the Glock’, how in-your-face and forward thinking it seemed. I immediately broke my loose-rule for life of only buying music in a physical format as it was only available for download at the time and I simply had to have it ASAP. 'ADD SUV', like most of the other tracks on Sex dreams... is certainly not going to elicit that reaction, but that doesn't mean that it is doesn't have its own merits if you give it a chance.

Although 'ADD SUV' didn't grab me, in truth that wasn't the reason that I then decided point blank the rest of the album was not worth my time, which is a strange decision, given how much I loved the first couple of singles she released. The major factor was, I unwittingly got caught up in a strange phenomenon of modern music consumption; that of internet ownership of a performer.

Music fans have always been some of the most tribal pockets of society in their affections, but the internet has magnified that to a worrying degree. Uffie was one of the first artists to base her whole career around riding a wave of interest on myspace and blogs from the musical underground. Sure, people like Sandi Thom and Lily Allen have done the same in the mainstream, but Uffie was a pioneer of doing it in the realm of the hariy-handed masturbators who become titans when they see internet forums on which to express themselves. So, whether they loved or hated her, those who frequented said forums acted as if she was, in some surreal way, their property to comment on as they saw fit. With the clamour that had built up in the long gap between the first singles Uffie released and her debut album, it would have been practically impossible for her to satisfy everyone with the release; but the fact that she dared to change to a more pop-oriented direction for the album made an avalanche of criticism as inevitable as it was unreasonable.

The internet has opened up the musical landscape in fantastic ways, but it has also dehumanised and commoditised music and the artists who make it. The effect of internet messageboards or anywhere else where people can express themselves without any face-to-face interaction seems to be bringing out the worst in some people; eschewing reasonable argument for personal abuse.
The effects of the internet 'backlash' can be so strong that it can even affect, albeit unconsciously, people like myself who make a real effort not to engage in it. It was with some surprise, and embarrassment then, that when I took the time to listen to Sex Dreams…and actually quite liked it, I realised the trap I had fallen into. If you have made the same mistake and feel the urge to make amends, I suggest you read the excellent two part interview Uffie did for DrownedinSound recently, and watch the video for ‘Difficult’.

http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4141239-interview--uffie-on-uffie-girl-power-and-ke-ha-part-ii

http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4141228-interview--uffie-vs-the-world-part-1



UFFIE - Difficult from Uffie on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Budget cut blues

If you look around, something appears to be happening. The financial crisis caused by the banks has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. The media has almost exhausted itself with tales of horror and financial Armageddon, like a manic disaster fetishist finally wheezing back to sanity after he has came all over your broken spirit. They may however, have shot their load a little early, for the real story of this financial mess may be just about to unfold.

The news yesterday that the Irish government has had to extend its bailout to the major Irish banks marks the start of a new phase in this saga. The country's largest bank, Anglo Irish, apparently needs an extra €7bn of taxpayer money to secure its bad debts and stay solvent. The second largest bank in Ireland, Allied Irish, has now also had to be nationalised. The total amount of money that Ireland has injected into its banking system is now €45bn, and may possibly rise to €50bn. The government says that it has now drawn a line in the sand, and all the bank's debts are now exposed so the country can move forward with plans to pay off its debt over the next ten years. This sounds very neat and tidy, but conveniently ignores the massive social repercussions of this latest cash injection. This bank rescue has increased the Irish budget deficit to 32% of national income. Ireland had already implemented some of the most stringent austerity measures of any European government over the last two years, cutting salaries in the public sector by 10% or more, and some analysts had said this was partly to blame for the country slipping back into recession in the last quarter.

The cuts to public spending will now have to be increased even further, and tax rises are also likely to cover the fact that the budget deficit has more than doubled on the back of the latest bank bailout. Anger in Ireland is running very high; after the bailout announcement was made a man drove a cement mixer plastered with slogans about Anglo Irish Bank into the gates of the Irish Parliament. Elsewhere in Europe too, massive budget cuts to cover the costs of the banking crisis are arousing anger among the population. A protest involving citizens from 12 European countries was made against government austerity measures yesterday. Trade Unions estimate 100,000 people turned up for a sit-down protest in Brussels, although predictably the police have estimated the figure to be almost half that number. Unions also estimated that 70,000 protestors marched in various cities across Portugal.

As budget cuts and unemployment start to bite across Europe, people are becoming angrier and more confused about why they should be the ones picking up the tab for the mistakes of a few very rich individuals at the top of the banking industry. It is not hard to see the situation escalating either. Right now, Europe feels like a tinderbox waiting for someone to strike a match of civil unrest. To calm the situation, governments will have to offer more than hand-wringing platitudes about 'feeling voters’ pain' and 'all being in this together'. They need to explain why the banks are 'too big to fail', and take real action against the men responsible for creating this crisis in the first place. The UK government's bank levy of £4bn is exactly the kind of disingenuous measure that will be swept away by the tide of public anger when the full program of budget cuts is unveiled later this year.

If politicians continue to underestimate the strength of public feeling that austerity measures and bank bailouts are creating, it will not be long before we face the very real possibility of a European government collapsing.