Saturday, 26 May 2007

Boy shoots massive hog

11-year-old Jamison Stone shot this enormous hog.


Friday, 25 May 2007

Album Review: 93-03 The Best Of Frank Black

A two-disc chronological anthology of Frank Black's work covering the Pixies' front man's nine solo albums recorded during the title's time period, which includes a bonus CD of live tracks recorded during Black's 2006 North American tour, as well as a brand new Black Francis track, Threshold Apprehension, taken from his forthcoming album, Bluefinger.

Black's solo recordings always demonstrated artistic restlessness, as he embraced alternative pop and avant-garde rock with equal fervor. This was territory he explored further with his band, The Catholics, for several years before journeying to Nashville to create 2005's critically-acclaimed Honeycomb with producer Jon Tiven, before the similar, but more intense, Fast Man Raider Man in 2006.

As for the tracks, there is bound to be disagreement as to what are the essential tracks in a catalogue as vast as Black's, but by and large, 93-03 feels as right as it could ever be.

Los Angeles has lost none of the spacey, metallic bite it had when it introduced Frank Black as a solo performer to the world in 1993, and nor has the Stooges-esque Ten Percenter, also from Black's self-titled solo debut.

The straightforward saccharine melodies of I Want To Live On An Abstract Plain from Teenager Of The Year are still as sweet as they were over a decade ago. Black's most creative love song, Speedy Marie, (the first letter of each line in the song's second half spells out his girlfriend's name) is also included, as is the tightly written, strummy and wonderful Headache. The driving, anthemic Freedom Rock remains one of the Black's more ambitious tracks and Men In Black is still an interesting piece from the unfairly derided The Cult Of Ray.

All My Ghosts and I Gotta Move from the first Catholics album, offers a fix of straight-up garage punk, stripped of all the odd time signatures, subverted chord progressions, cryptic lyrics, and sonic experimentation that had previously been Black's trademarks. Western Star from Pistolero and Robert Onion from Dog In The Sand mark a return to the ambitious, subversive style with the latter a distant cousin to Freedom Rock.

The cryptically confessional California Bound from Black Letter Days also merits inclusion and the fun, easygoing vibe of Black's eighth album, Devil's Workshop, is exemplified by Velvety, a version of the Pixies' B-side Velvety Instrumental Version (and one of the first songs that Black ever wrote) with additional silly lyrics. Massif Central, from Show Me Your Tears, is conspicuous by the angry repetition of "please don't run away" among the bouncy and angular guitars.

Black himself admits to being sheepish when approached by the idea of releasing a greatest hits album, but 93-03 is a great place to start for those embarking on a journey through Black's post-Pixies career for the first time. In fact, far from a mere curiosity, the schizophrenic tracklist ensures it's the perfect abridgement of his first nine albums.

Album Review: Shut Up I Am Dreaming

Between the Wolf Parade EPs and their acclaimed album, Apologies To Queen Mary, his work with Frog Eyes, the first Sunset Rubdown EP and album, and now this, it seems increasingly likely we're witnessing in Spencer Krug the genesis of an important songwriter.

The first Sunset Rubdown album, Snake's Got A Leg, was lo-fi from necessity and underdeveloped out of neglect, and certainly didn't hint at what might follow. The transition from barebones solo sparsity to the full-blown band grandeur of Shut Up I Am Dreaming is tough to countenance and hard to immediately appreciate.

In fact, the new album opens with Stadiums and Shrines II, a track that includes the same lyrics and melody as previous album's title track. Enforced by the presence of a band, it's slightly cleaner and less warped than before, beginning with cascading arpeggios that descend from crashing snares and cymbals. Krug's bashful lyrics set the scene perfectly ("There's a kid in there / And he's big and dumb / And he's kind of scared"). The echoes from Krug's previous work are everywhere, but the resampling is not unpleasant and, in fact, is a weirdly satisfying opportunity to view his work from varying angles.

The reinvention continues with Swimming, a giddying fugue with tingling piano and haunted-house music that is built around a music-box reprise of The Dust You Kick Up Is Too Fine from the Sunset Rubdown's debut EP.

A complex treatise on mortality, pride and guilt, the album is riddled with modesty. So, while Krug's passionate, piercing vocals might sound like self-pity elsewhere, here they sound remarkable. The lyrical brilliance is couched in colloquialisms, informalities, rampant contractions and line-starting conjunctions, just as a Pynchon or a Kerouac or a Vonnegut might do. It strips the album of all its self-importance, so that Krug's morality tales aren't preachy, they're inspiring.

They Took A Vote And Said No offers the most overt lesson in morality ("There are things that have to die so other things can stay alive"). It begins with Krug's voice flitting back and forth, before erupting with a waxing electric guitar. The piano-based ballad Us Ones In Between offers similarly surrealistic morals, when Krug ruminates, "I've heard of creatures who eat their babies / I wonder if they stop to think about the taste", and the chief refrain of The Empty Threats Of Little Lord ("If I ever hurt you / It will be in self-defence") sits between some glorious pseudo-misogynistic lines.

Mystical, creepy and heartrending, Shut Up I Am Dreaming is a forty-five minute shrug by shoulders sinking in emotional quicksand. It's a reminder to all of us from Spencer Krug and his band that sometimes it's okay to dream.

Album Review: Wagonmaster

Having cut Satisfied Mind in 1954 - inspiring covers by everyone from Bob Dyland to Jeff Buckley - started the Nudie suit craze, joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957, pioneered music television with the long-running Porter Wagoner Show, discovered Dolly Parton in 1967, and having had I Will Always Love You written about him, Porter Wagoner is, in short, a proper country legend.

But despite a hip record label, recent gigs at Joe's in Manhattan and appearances with Neko Case, Wagonmaster won't inspire the same Lazurus-like resurrection that American Recordings brought Johnny Cash. Wagoner, unlike Cash, refuses to tilt at contemporary songs or styles. It should be no surprise; Wagoner always played it straight, his country-tonk was never quite as fashionable as the outlaw heroics of Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson. Wagonmaster, however, is a stronger album for it.

While Wagoner's most recent work has been exclusively gospel; it hasn't detracted from his honky-tonk heart. His voice is wise, experienced and vulnerable as only an old man's could be. Marty Stuart's, no-frills, purist approach to production takes us back to the Jim Denny days of the Grand Ole Opre.

At the album's heart lies Committed To Parkview, written by Johnny Cash in the 1980s for Wagoner to perform. Both had spent time in the infamous Nashville asylum (Wagoner in the mid-`60s for exhaustion). Cash had given it to Marty Stuart while the two were touring Europe in 1981 but Stuart misplaced it for nearly 25 years. It's eerie, creepy and more than a little bit sad - a vivid account of life inside the asylum listening to the tormented cries of fellow inmates, one of whom thinks he's Hank Williams. Wagoner convincingly declares, "Hope I never have to go there again."

Wagonmaster is eccentric, heartfelt and often brilliant; the kind of heartache and twang that only a country music giant could provide.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Album Review: Volta

More exuberant and ostentatious than the gorgeous miniatures of her most recent work, but not exactly pop music either, Bjork's sixth studio album is looser and more luxuriant than anything she's released since Debut.

It's the Timbaland cuts that give the most immediate pleasure. The rumbling, percussion-laden Earth Intruders, rightly chosen as the first single, features additional instrumentation from Congoloese experimental group Konono No 1. As if that weren't enough, freestyling avant-drummer, Chris Corsano (who has played with Sonic Youth amongst dozens of others), adds another layer of pounding beats.

On Hope, Timbaland's synthesised tabla flutters up against the kora playing of Malian Toumani Diabate. Innocence is the most extraordinary of the three - thumping and scratchy, and probably Timbaland's best beat since he crafted Missy Elliot's Work It. It also has Bjork at her most fiercely triumphant since Violently Happy.

More ferocious still is Declare Independence, which uses samples from Bjork's Drawing Restraint 9 compositions and a manic techno beat, this time ushered in by Mark Bell, a collaborator of Bjork's since Homogenic. It recalls Bell's work on the second LFO album. He returns again on I See Who You Are, which also features Chinese pipa player, Min Xiao-Fen.

The other key contributor is Antony Hegarty, who duets with Bjork on two tracks. The operatic Dull Flame Of Desire's lyrics are taken from a translation of a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev. It also features drums from Brian Chippendale, the drummer/vocalist for Lightning Bolt. My Juvenile opts for a much more minimal approach.

Wanderlust begins with a long chorus of ship's horns before Bjork sails in with a raft of seagoing metaphors and stuttering, Aphex Twin-esque beats. The track was co-written by Sjón, who previously wrote Bachelorette and Oceania for Bjork.

Volta offers a far broader approach than Medulla or Vespertine, with stronger and better tunes than either album, as well as the restless, boundary-pushing innovation expected of Bjork. It's not necessarily more adventurous, but certainly more of an adventure.

Album Review: Preludes

Warren Zevon's death in 2003 from mesothelioma marked the loss of one of the world's most adroit songwriters. His final album, The Wind was a farewell masterpiece. Preludes marks the opposite end of Zevon's recording life - a selection of songs that were recorded after the release of his forgettable 1969 debut, Wanted Dead Or Alive, and before the release of his 1976 self-titled album.

The 2CD set features sixteen songs, including six previously unreleased tracks: Empty Hearted Town, Going All The Way, Steady Rain, Stop Rainin' Lord, Studebaker and Rosarita Beach Café. The solitary piano and forlorn lyrics ("cigarettes make the sun come up and whiskey makes the sun go down and in between you do a lot of standing around") ensure that Empty Hearted Town stands out.

The second disc features forty minutes of music interspersed with an interview with Zevon by KGSR-FM's Jody Denberg, but it's the digitally remastered versions of some of Zevon's best known material on disc one that makes Preludes indispensable. Demos of the happily unhygienic Carmelita, Accidentally Like A Martyr and what is probably Zevon's best known song, Werewolves Of London, are all given a 24-bit makeover.

Album Review: Just You, Me And The Baby

Part of Leicester's irresistible and irrepressible Invisible Spies crew, Supreme Vagabond Craftsman has previously released a brilliantly bamboozling album (Twice As Nude) and produced the debut singles by Sheffield-based concerns, The Long Blondes and Pink Grease. Just You, Me & The Baby is his first record for Analogue Catalogue.

The opening two tracks - Forest Punk and Kite Flying Incident - are Supreme Vagabond Craftsman's two most immediate songs to date: classic rockers with an angular lo-fi ethic. The first single, Check Out My Rifle Range, happily crosses Julian Cope and Damo Suzuki. Later, On The Coastal Journey is a proper rock number with a surging riff and staggered drum rolls, while the addictive awkwardness of Converted Barn and My Welsh Family lies somewhere in between Beck and Super Furry Animals.

Confusing and amusing, like a homegrown Will Oldham, this is easily Supreme Vagabond Craftsman's most consistently enjoyable release to date.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

The Great Escape

I was enlisted to give a talk at this year's Great Escape festival, which I've just returned from.

The panel I was on were charged with talking about the woes of the music industry, which is something that could easily have lasted a lot longer than the 45-minutes we were given. I'm not sure we managed to say a great deal of note, but the level of ignorance or perhaps denial of the problems that labels and retailers are experiencing was staggering.

The Great Escape itself was a piss poorly organised event. It's all very well having a crawl around different venues but when the capacities of the venues aren't big enough to support anyone besides wanky delegates (like me), you've got a problem. On Thursday, the Concord II was one-in-one-out well over an hour before CSS were due on. Meanwhile those with delegate passes were able to come and go as they pleased.

I say this as a delegate, it's an absolute nonsense to treat the paying customer as this kind of second-class citizen. Hey! We're failing to sell records and living solely on live income at the moment, so why don't we fuck the paying customer off from that too?

A nonsense.

Kissaway Trail and Besnard Lakes were good though.

Friday, 18 May 2007 Writers' Awards 2006/07

This season's Writers' Awards have just been published.

It's really interesting to read the differing views from some of my fellow writers.

Read the column here

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Baby vs Cobra

Monday, 14 May 2007

New Doc Martins ad campaign

These ads, which I think premiered in the always excellent Fact magazine, feature dead musicians wearing Dr Martins boots.

Strange really because Kurt is definitely associated more with Chuck Taylor than DMs.


Sunday, 13 May 2007

2006-07 season verdict in today's Observer

As ever, The Observer don't publish this stuff online, but if you can't be arsed to go out and grab a paper, here's what I thought of Boro's campaign.

"1. How was your season?
Typically haphazard but not entirely unenjoyable. For every thrashing of Bolton, there was a hammering by Portsmouth; for every hard-fought victory over Chelsea, there was a half-hearted draw with Bristol City; for every Jonathan Woodgate, there was a Jason Euell; for every game against Manchester United, there was a dodgy penalty.

2. Happy with the gaffer?
Absolutely. Southgate is intelligent, thoughtful, articulate and, unlike his predecessor, he clearly cares about the club. His love of tanktops means he's also the best dressed manager in the league by a country mile.

3. Who were the stars - and who flopped?
Woodgate and Viduka have rightly attracted the most attention but Emmanuel Pogatetz has improved immeasurably and Julio Arca has brought a considered assurance to our midfield. As for flops, besides giving away cheap freekicks, I'm still not sure what exactly the point of Fabio Rochemback is.

4. Who were the best, and worst, away fans?
Hull City's fans were magnificently loud and livened up the usually quiet Riverside. The solitary Charlton fan who made the trip up wasn't quite so raucous.

5. Top hate figure at another club?
If Cristiano Ronaldo was as good at dominating games against top opposition as he is cheating his way to penalties, he'd be the best player in the world. But he's not, so he isn't. And don't give me his brace against Roma. Even we beat them.

6. Top five best opposition players?
Dmitar Berbatov, Benni McCarthy, Kanu, Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Harper."

Friday, 11 May 2007

Disney World as Google Map

A Disney World enthusiast has placed every ride, shop and restaurant into a Google Map.


Saturday, 5 May 2007

Film Review: Spider-Man 3

Great, another dark re-tooling of a flagging movie franchise. After Batman Begins, Superman Returns and Casino Royale, what the movie world really needs is a darker version of Spider-Man.

So, when an alien symbiote crashes to Earth – conveniently landing within inches of the only acknowledged superhero in the universe – and attaches itself to Peter Parker, it turns his mind all dark and angry.

At first, these black thoughts manifest themselves in the form of a new emo fringe that make Parker look like the bloke from Bright Eyes. But slowly the haircut becomes the least of Parker’s worries as he starts wearing eyeliner and behaving like the Cat from Red Dwarf.

Eventually we see Parker do some really evil things like shout at his landlord, attempt to kill the man who murdered his uncle, deflect a bomb back into the path of the bloke who threw it at him, and accidentally bitch-slap his annoying girlfriend. Truly we are in no doubt what a cold-hearted motherfucker Spider-Man has become.

The emergence of My Chemical Spidey means that we’re supposed to feel sympathetic towards MJ because her boyfriend is getting all the attention and she just got fired from a Broadway show for being a lame singer. Well, guess what, MJ, he’s a costumed crime-fighter who can climb up skyscrapers and shit, and you are a rubbish singer. It’s hardly a surprise that he garners more column inches in the Daily Bugle.

Apart from the battle raging within Peter Parker, Spider-Man finds himself with three nemeses this time. His former best-friend, Harry Osbourne, who, as the New Goblin, tries to kill Spider-Man with some sort of Marty McFly hoverboard; Sandman, a man made of sand, whose superpowers are easily negated by water but who spends much of the film crying like a pussy; and Venom who is born when the symbiote gets bored of Parker’s goofy jazz piano-playing and moves onto photographer Eddie Brock. Brock, it’s worth mentioning, already possesses a dislike of Parker over a disagreement involving Adobe Photoshop. Yes, really.

Anyway, after one of the most tragic examples of deus ex machina you’ll ever see – some hitherto unseen butler tells Osbourne to forgive Parker for disfiguring him – Spider-Man and the New Goblin join forces to combat the recently united Venom and Sandman: two villains who could have easily been defeated by Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and a Hoover.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Fake Disneyland in China

Shijingshan Amusement Park in Beijing is basically a Chinese knock-off of Disneyland.