Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A quick chat with DJ Vadim

DJ Vadim's playing the Jazz Cafe on Thursday and he's bringing it large. Having battled with health problems over the last few years, he released a joyous new album to acclaim, featuring turns from favourites and newbies such as Yarah Bravo and the brilliant SabiraJade. We caught up with Vadim quickly to run through the setlist for Thursday, his dream band and why there might not be a new Onself album anytime soon!

1) New album, new live set, new and improved Vadim: what can we expect at Jazz Cafe?

Well its an evolution of sound. Soul tronica perhaps. Organic hip hop soul reggae vibes... live keys, percusion, me on the MPCs, 2 vocalists, backing vocalist..

2) What would be in your ultimate dream live band?

Umm The Roots. they are about as good as u can get. Erykah Badu's band is dope, so is Raphael Saadiq, Fat Freddys Drop, Jill Scott...

3) The album is very joyous and full of life and energy. What mindstate were you in making it?

Well I came out of having cancer in September 2008. and I survived cancer so I felt joyous in that. Relieved and inspired to live... that's partly why the album is upbeat...

4) What is the best album you've heard all year and why?

Well there are a few. I love the latest album from Fat Freddys Drop - Dr Boondiggae, Jake One - White Van Music, Homecut, Mos Def, Donaeo, Robin Thicke.. a lot of different stuff. I like the new Ghostface Killa album also...

5) Describe your sound to the novice/Vadim beginner?

It's a mix of hip hop, soul and electronica. Rapping and Singing. Some instrumental. bass heavy with dope intricate drums, lush orchestration and defiently something different and quirky about it.

6) When can we expect a new Oneself record?

Ahh I wish... one day it may happen again!!! But don't hold ya breath. Yarah and Blu aren't exactly talking!!!!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Dave Simpson - The Fallen (Canongate 2009)

So many positive reviews of this book served to make me want to take a different tack in writing about it. Despite this, I warmed quickly to the way Simpson set about inviting the reader to join him on his quest to not only account for, but to archive the stories of every member of The Fall that ever there was.

Simpson’s reverence of the band’s music and the aura that surrounds the band oozes from the pages, occasionally getting carried away to the extent that tenuous links are forged to a psychic force wielded by singer Mark E Smith and odd coincidences offered as being somewhat more than that. This doesn’t detract from the story, with Simpson’s own role in it never being overblown or taking over from his obsessive focus of eking out lost band members and hearing their tales of what it was like to be found by The Fall, to work with the band, and to leave it. Simpson is a fan, and he weaves his story around what the band meant to him when growing up and throughout his life since then, through periods of not listening much to The Fall, but returning, always returning, over a period spanning more than 30 years.

The only constant in The Fall is Smith. It might not seem odd that a singer should be the one around which the band is shaped, but what makes The Fall so very different is the way the band’s music shapes itself, and the way that a particular sound, “always different, always the same” (John Peel), identifies itself to the listener as being The Fall without the listener having to hear the vocals, no matter who is in the band at the time, no matter what era the song is from. Smith doesn’t write the music or play any instruments, either. He often doesn’t turn up at rehearsals. Somehow, a band consisting of over 40 different individuals can make over 30 albums in as many years, all of them recognisably The Fall, but all ploughing their own furrow.

The geographical source of the music is explored, the tough landscapes surrounding Manchester, with the village/small town of Prestwich at its epicentre. Smith recruited a fair few members of his band through more-or-less literally approaching them on the street to somehow pressgang them into service.

Violent on-stage dissolutions of line-ups are explored, also off-stage formations of strong allegiances which appear to go against Smith’s philosophies of the tensions which provide the fertile ground for musical creativity, and which, it appears, Smith did his utmost to break down.

The story of The Fall is one of probably the last truly working class Northern rock band. Perhaps the last rock band of any significance. Over 40 members ex-members of the group were tracked down and talked to. Tales of extreme weirdness abound, but the sense of pride is palpable from all those people, and that nearly all of them would work again with The Fall, no matter the circumstances of their final departure from the band, is testament to the special nature of the music that the band has consistently produced since 1976.

by Pete Sottrel

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

new Foreign Beggars video

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Peter Bagge - Everybody is Stupid Except for Me

Peter Bagge is an interesting proposition, a political satirist for Reason magazine for many years, railing against wars and oppression and corruption and at the same time railing against the railers, the protestors, the anti-oppressors, the anti-war, the anti-corruption and these uneasy cartoons floating in the murky middle ground between righteously right wing and liberally left-wing are collected in the amusingly titled ‘Everybody is Stupid Except Me.’ His style is frenetic, usually using a representation of him, the sweaty nervous nervous, as the crux of all his points. The stories are like pictoral articles, investigating scenes and issues and presenting both sides of the argument, sometimes through vox pop or illustrations of a diagrammatic nature to bolster the reportage. It’s impressive stuff and he certainly knows his bones when talking about the homeless crisis in San Francisco or the hypocrisies behind the abstinence movement. His drawings are busy and curt, always cutting and always railing against most forms of authority. It’s in his work that we find ourselves questioning our liberal attitudes. Are we right? Are we patronisingly right? Are we peacenik commies? Unfortunately, Bagge himself comes across as ambivalent about some areas himself and leaves us guessing as to his political sentiments. Is this good journalism? Is it the direct confusion of a man unable to place himself on one side of the fence? Or is it just liberal-baiting hectoring from a man who ‘mostly’ disagreed with the Bush government. It’s probably a mixture of all three. These are good comics, fun to read and definitely funny, definitely searing and when he hits a target he gets it right. Also there’s something to be said for the journalist tone of the writing and the structure of the strips would translate well into a proper newspaper, were he so inclined. Is everyone stupid except for Peter Bagge? Well, we’ll never quite be sure. But then, neither will he.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sathnam Sanghera - The Boy with the Topknot (Penguin 2009)

Sathnam Sanghera’s debut book, The Boy with the Topknot (published in hardback as If You Don’t Know Me By Now) is a worthy piece of work despite it revealing him to have a clawingly bad taste in pop music. It’s bittersweet and funny but over-archingly triumphant in the face of adversity. It seeks to debunk the misery memoir myth by being self-referential and unreliant on tugging our heartstrings unnecessarily, instead using memory and a nice narrative juxtaposition of past and present to reveal its inner depths. Despite all the references to George Michael obsessions and some chapter titles taken from some of my worst enemy pop songs, it’s a beautiful piece of work.

When successful journalist and materialist Sathnam Sanghera, living the high life of Prada and loft flats, dinner parties and celebrity interviews, was 24 he discovered for the first time his father and sister were both suffering from a severe mental illness he hadn’t been aware of. As he researched their conditions and how they had come to be hidden (through a lack of understanding of schizophrenia and through family guilty secrets) he moved to Wolverhampton and started to piece together his family history and the history of his parents. Each member of his family is a character, from his silent father obsessed with BBC Parliament despite his illiteracy and lack of English; his mother, neurotic and obsessed with tradition, with finding him a wife of equal caste and culture holding the family together; his brother with his growing obsessions with fashion icons of the times and his two sisters, funny and nasty in equal measure. Sathnam was the baby and through the flit between past and present reveals how he learnt English on the fly at his school, became obsessed with being a good boy (a symptom of a schizophrenia family member) and went from his mum’s favourite to her biggest disappointment as he sought to escape Wolverhampton and her over-bearing clutches, all for the sake of dalliances with girls. The book closes with a letter he writes to his mother, emotionally explaining the choices he has made in his life and the secret life of dating white girls he leads and the amount of panic and depression it causes him, bordering on inflicting a mental illness of its own on his neuroses. The book isn’t all misery and family repression though. It’s warm about his family at times and funny at others, especially on a chapter dedicated to cutting his hair for the first time, a big Sikh no-no. The book, torn between his present feelings of ineptitude, helplessness and confusion as well as the process of trying to write the book while being scared of scratching too far under the surface and warm/bitter feelings about Wolverhampton, moves along quickly, never boring, always interesting, always painting an interesting picture of a family dealing with mental illness and a family dealing with the cultural differences of old and new, East and West. While this is a worn out subject, Sanghera’s literal, funny and unearnest take on his Asian identity makes for hilarious scenes when he goes out to meet potential brides at meetings set up with his sister, when he describes his family set up in Wolverhampton. However, it does go into horrific detail about domestic violence in the Sikh community and the pain and suffering his mum went through before his dad was finally diagnosed with a mental illness.

As a misery memoir, it fails, because it never plays with your emotions. Sathnam breaks the fourth wall, describing the process of writing the book, always in his head but dealing with enough factoids and studies and quotes to keep his feelings on the side of reality and recognised research. It’s warm and funny but bitter and painful and the final denouement with his mother and the letter is a poignant finale to a life-affirming book.

Simon Armitage - Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock Fantasist (Penguin 2009)

Gig is the second memoir from indie enthusiast, writer, rock journalist and would-be poet laureate Simon Armitage. Told in a charmingly self-effacing way and full of bright and sparky anecdotes about the life of a jobbing poet who makes more than adequate time in his busy schedule to attend as many gigs as possible, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, breezy and poignant. Running through Armitage’s experiences in interviewing Feltham young offenders and sex workers for films ‘Feltham Sings’ and ‘Pornography: the musical’ respectively (don’t mix those two up), he reveals the behind the scenes process of writing all the lyrics for these films as well as anecdotes on the research process and subsequent careers and lives of the subjects. He writes about his time up North, getting into the New Romantics while his dad, a stoic manly man, took every opportunity to mock his girly hair and foppish demeanour. There’s a hilarious story about his time studying home economics and having to live a flat on school premises for a week and cook his teachers’ lunches. Only in the North, only in the seventies. There’s also the music. Armitage uses every other chapter to visit a gig in the last 3 years and have it spiral off into memories of getting into the artists in his teens (Morrissey, the Fall, Stiff Little Fingers), how they have related to parts of his life, stories about the bands and artists themselves and an overriding sense that he wishes it was him up on stage, rocking socks off. Alas, he’s confined to the role of bard, travelling the world reading his work and enthusing about British rock history. Every chapter is peppered with memory, charm and hilarity and the book ends with Armitage setting up his band The Scaremongers, and their fraught attempt to lay down some tracks in the studio, despite both being in their mid forties. A charming book that makes you want to go and seek out his poetry. Also, be sure to read Armitage’s £33.33 column in the Observer Music Magazine, where he spends said amount in charity shops each month and recounts his experiences of the albums he finds.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Riz MC - Sour Times video

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Alan Moore and Kevin o'Neill - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 1910 (Knockabout 2009)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume 3 is upon us, and with it, Alan Moore’s propensity for Victorian filth and mind-expanding concepts. This time, The League is more ambitious, and dare I say it, purposely a fuck you to anyone who might consider trying to film it, after all film versions of his work have ended up ruining or only hinting at the genius in the original source material. Volume 3 of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is called Century officially and... spans... a century. Expansive. Gone are most of the characters we refamiliarised ourselves with (the original two volumes concerned literary characters from Victorian novels reimagined as a type of antequated MI5) and instead we are faced with brutal serial killers, songs and the occult. So prevalent are songs and rhymes in this first volume (with parts two and three due next year and the year after) that if it were filmed, it would take the place of a grotesque carnival musical, with filthy shanties and bawdy limericks pricking the surfaces of naked tortured skin. We catch up with Wilhemina Murray, the vampiric bride of Dracula, immortal and having outlived most of her original League, now with generation 2, comprising of Thomas Carnacki, a ghost detective, Quartermain’s son and Orlando a mysterious figure in possession of Excalibur. Carnacki’s visions lead him to murderous Armageddon in the East End and the occult who are trying to birth a moonchild. Meanwhile, Captain Nemo of the Nautilus dies, leaving his beloved submarine to his estranged daughter, absconded to England to work in a bordello by the docks. The book is self-contained and while it takes a while to get going, promises an interesting take on this century. Themes abound in volume 1 of the power of vice and how do-gooders trying to quell human desire for vice and virtueless violence are undoing nature’s own commands, and evil will out. Moore seems to be predicting the death of the century and along with it, the death of the human race. The violence is grotesque and bloody, the pirates that crew the Nautilus are ruthless and cunning. And the new League is still trying to find its feet. Volume 2 takes place in 1969 and concerns the hippy movement and volume 3 will bring us up to date in 2009, promising appearances from Jack Bauer, characters from the West Wing, and bizarrely, Armando Iannucci’s surreal retro-future comedy show, Time Trumpet. Definitely unfilmable then. But then after the disaster of the last attempt to commit The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a sombre and disgusting mediation on the human condition as told by literary figures in Victorian times, into cartoonish celluloid, I doubt anyone’ll be coming near this 100year spanning tome with hardly any ‘stars’ or recurring characters through each volume. Whatever happens, Moore has ensured he won’t be cursing any more film versions of his babies anytime soon. In the meantime, this is essential for any comic book reader and for any literary types who want to succumb to the filth and fury of 1910, as told by modern times’ most famous magus of wit and invention, Alan Moore.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Shappi Khorsandi - A Beginner's Guide to Acting English (Ebury 2009)

Look ma, a celebrity autobiography worth reading? Shock-a-rama... except this breakout memoir by comedienne Shappi Khorsandi has been what’s tipped her over the edge into the public eye, eyeing up appearances on Jonathan Ross and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. Instead of gracing the mirthless bowels of Radio 4 comedy, Shappi Khorsandi will now hopefully be commanding more high profile gigs based on this book. The memoir, documenting her arrival and early to teen years in the UK trying to fit in, shows she can write too. More poignant than laugh-out-loud funny, more tragic and beautiful than punchline-punchline-punchline, the book approaches the immigrant experience with a fresh yet familiar take, using a backdrop of England and classic Englishisms to tell a story about inherently Irani protagonists. Khorsandi discusses her first years at an English primary school, speaking not a word of the language, using her brother and other silent immigrants as emotional crutches, while occupying a fantasyland of make-believe and imagination at home, hero-worshipping her father and trying to teach her mother more English things. She talks about how English slowly crept up on her, through rhymes and stories before becoming her normal vernacular, how she went from being frightened of the English to scolding her mum for not being able to make her jam sandwiches. The centre of her attention is her father and his political leanings. While Iran undergoes some major changes, her father, a satirist and journalist and poet- hero-worshipped by the Irani community of London, meaning endless social engagements, debates and performances in front rooms- documents the changes, the fall of the Shah, the rise of the Ayatollah, the revolution and its divisive nature, as middle and upper class London-dwelling Iranis put their tuppence in. Meanwhile Khorsandi’s family in Iran feel the effects and impacts the changes in power structures have on their well-being. ‘Persepolis’ dealt with similar topics and told them from the same spiky brutally honest angle; here, the crucial difference is the journey that Khorsandi and her brother make towards accepting their present surroundings and how it impacts on their cultural identity, something easily identifiable for a generation of Diaspora immigrants in this country. This most tense and interesting section of the book, where men are dispatched by the new government to assassinate Khorsandi’s father. This section arrives in the second half of the book and is by far its most exciting bit. The writing teams with compassion and warmth, the humour in the situations and characters is sweetly scathing, the differences between Irani and English customs played out to great comic effect, and the sincerity in the prose, the unflowery honest writing makes it a strong memoir with its lightness of touch and comic timing.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Rutu Modan - Jamilti and other stories (Jonathan Cape 2009)

How much do we know about the people of Israel? We know the politics, have picked our sides to support and happily go on through our lives reducing countries to polemic and political policy. So thank god for the medium of graphic novels and for Rutu Modan, whose short pieces of pictoral fiction comprise a sturdy offering from the Jonathan Cape stable of thinking liter-ista’s funny books. This is a far cry from the spandex and superheroism of Marvel. This is a subtle intense funny set of short stories, all with their own brand of ultra-violence. In the titular ‘Jamilti’ we meet a bride-to-be, one of Israel’s bleeding heart liberals marrying an oafish pig of a far right man. Her quiet acceptance of her position and his boarish conversational gambits about terrorism and Palestine converge in a tense engagement where much is left unsaid. When she finds herself in the debris of a terrorist bombing, she finds herself face-to-face with a mutilated dying man who makes her feel appreciated and beautiful. That moment of pure vulnerability and synergy makes the closing pay-off all the more smarter. The characters in Modan’s book all lead quiet lives that are torn apart by violence, whether it be political or personal or emotional. ‘The Panty Killer’ follows the police investigation into The Panty Killer, a violent serial killer who leaves his victims with a pair of Y-fronts over their head. In ‘Homecoming’ a small community mourn the death of one of their boys gone off to war in different ways, unable to move on from the fact that he may have died at war, when a plane appears overhead and they reach fever pitch excitement wondering if he has now in fact returned. Each story is funny with a black heart stricken with the cancer of grief and bereavement, with the whisping underbelly of politics trying to muscle its way into the lives of these Israelis. The artwork is beautiful and sombre with a lot of strange yellows and pencil-coloured hair and backgrounds, each panel oozing with the mix between adult- and child-eye view of the scenes depicted, reminiscent of Tin-Tin. The precise nature of their expression and observation mean that the dialogue-light panels are effective at evoking deep emotions. With other stories ranging from parental discoveries to women with healing hands, the range of lives in Israel, macabre and twisted as they may sound are funny and sombre and dripping with a gallows humour only befitting a country with such a war-filled past.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Loops issue 1 (Faber/Domino 2009)

The independent spirit still thrives in the overwrought music and literature industries, both struggling to cope with pay-fatigue and other distractions away from their products, bigger and flasher with more flash images and snazzy coding. Oh, the independent spirit, it ebbs and flows that a DIY middle finger that deviates between sticking it up in rebellion and exploring the cavities of one’s nose with an awkwardness resigned to irrelevance. Oh, the independent spirit, a matador of such pride and ferocity and spirit, occasionally flagging up such works of wonder as issue 1 of Loops magazine. A co-project between Faber and Domino (recording home to Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Lightspeed Champion), this is a threefold attempt at bringing forth the danger: 1) it’s a quarterly magazine of highbrow essays and short stories, something in short supply in the advent of the blog ‘review’ offered as a free pdf download guaranteed for eyesore 2) it’s a return to the type of music criticism that made Plan B (recently sadly defunct) so vital, that made Lester Bangs so vital, that made music blogs so vital 3) it’s an opportunity to sell some products that, quite frankly, need your cash because yes, Lily Gaga may have farted out another album and Martina Cole may have vomited out another thriller, but they don’t need your cash. Independents with the independent spirit like Faber and Domino do, natch.

Loops features some quality articles written by some interesting writers, some musicians, all from varied spectrums of the music listening platform, from blogger to musician to journalist to critic to fan. Nick Cave’s insane new book ‘The Death of Bunny Munro’ is included as an extracted from early on in its demonic road trip to the soul of tragic father figures. Chris Killen, another Canongate author, presents a bizarre dream sequence involving a narcissistic and sad Paul Simon fighting with Chevy Chase. Richard Millward, author of ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ a book drenched in musical psychedelic and Madchester verve, provides a retrospective on Spaceman 3, your favourite fuzz drone space rock band’s favourite band. Mystery music blogger Maggoty Lamb provides a scathing and insightful review of the last year in music journalism, destroying all sacred cows, dissecting the death of music journalism and its conquering by blogs and websites and people actually writing about bands they like rather than bands they think you’ll like with the biggest ad budget. James Yorkston describes a recent tour with humour, self-deprecation and humility, nailing the touring musician’s spirit with eloquence and heart. Susan Sontag has the best piece, a hilarious deconstruction of hip hop and its inherent campness, using its feelings of bravado and machismo to implicate rappers in the biggest homo-erotic undertones since... well... errr... the last one. Loops, at times, feels a bit too cleverly put together, like there was a list of ubercool cult authors and musicians... right, now, who can we get? But this is a small quibble in a publication well edited and commissioned and put together like a biannual labour of love. Music journalism, music criticism, just writing about love music, seems relevant again.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Ho! The Morally Questionable Cartoons of Ivan Brunetti - Ivan Brunetti (Fantagraphics 2009)

Satirical ‘former cartoonist’ Ivan Brunetti has been flying the flag for independent and underground comics for a while now, veering between the high brow cerebral stories and ironic filth. This collection of new one-panel cartoons and quips and visual one-liners, is a brutally funny and disturbing attempt to push some buttons, either uncomfortably or comfortably mired in taboo. The aesthetic of freaks, geeks, nerds and ugly men and women, all with dark pasts, dirty fetishes, sociopathic tendencies, and murderous habits all play out over 120 odd pages of frenetic cartoon violence, sometimes sexual, sometimes suicidal, sometimes offensive, but always funny. It’s hard to write a review of this book without putting up some of the images, but I think to take them out of the context of the book reduces the ‘hilarious’ impact of page after page of dick mutilation, rape and droopy breasts. You get the feeling that Brunetti is not to be taken literally, that these cartoons have been deliberately constructed to break taboos and to irk the sensible. Culled mostly from out-of-print work (Hee! and Haw!) and other anthologies, the contents are discreetly presented in an uninviting, funereal package of unglamorous black and white. The gallows humour of sexual fetish gone awry keeps us guessing as to how far Brunetti will take it, but also to who’d have bowed out by now, too shocked to continue to the end. It’s a funny book that plays with the idea of obscenity and censorship in a way that shows Brunetti to be the master of gag cartoons… especially ones about skull-fucking and severed dick lollies.

Check out more Fantagraphics books, some of the best in the funnybook business.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby - The Best of Simon and Kirby (Titan 2009)

Comics were so much more innocent in the 60s, during the ‘Golden Age.’ They oozed nostalgia, Americana and an innocence depiction of good versus evil. The only shades of grey were the suits the superheroes wore in their everyday guises. Everything was black and white, good and bad. Well, in Marvel’s case, everything was primal American flag colours versus green and khaki, symbols of Nazism and communism and pure evil. Marvel has always held a patriotic view of its all-American heroes, lacking the egoes, gold complexes and macabre elements of DC’s more nightmareish grey areas. Most heroes in the Marvel canon operate in the same red, white and blue costumes, spandex representations of their patriotic selves.

So, who were Joe Simon and Jack Kirby? Well, thanks to them we have superhero films and we have Marvel’s successful characters and we have the popcorn powerhouse of good and evil told in the fantastical. They were pioneers. Meeting in 1939, where Joe was an editor and Jack was a staff illustrator, they developed the costume, Blue Bolt, a mix of science fiction and derring-do. Football star, Fred Parrish, struck by lightening fights the nazis and the underground forces of the Green Sorceress. Blue Bolt set the tone for the slew of comic book heroes fighting nazis, developed by Jewish refugees practising wish fulfillment in their art, a device told beautifull in Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby went on to develop the all-conquering Captain America for Timely Comics, a character who eventually ended up frozen and resurrected in the modern-age as a Marvel character, a super soldier with a belief in truth, justice and the American way. Simon and Kirby rocketed to fame, launching hit after hit, spanning sci-fi, superheroes, horror, even romance, with industry-beating characters like Manhunter, Captain America, Sandman. They set the standard for superhero action.

And now Titan has lovingly collated some of their best issues spanning their most versatile genres for this new collection. With issues from the Fly, Stuntman, Fighting American, Bulls Eye, Private Strong, we are treated to some of the most memorable and lovingly regarded comics America ever produced before eventually commanding the entire market with the template Simon and Kirby created. This is the perfect introduction to their brand of imaginative yet simplistically themed good ol fashioned funnybook stories. Definitely worth picking up for anyone wanting to know their comic book history, for any Americana nostalgia freaks and for anyone who likes a good yarn about the never-ending battle between good and evil.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Kominas - 'Wild Nights in Guantanemo Bay' (2009)

It's two thousand and fucking nine people... Iran is imploding, the BNP is exploding and we're all still doing the running man like it's 1988. Who the fuck is Lady Gaga? Who the fuck are the Kominas? Cos they'll poke---her------face...

Anger, destruction, energy, synergy, polemic, ire, fire- want one? Remember when music was exciting AND relevant and it made the hairs on your prickly skin stand up to attention as the righteous music caused revolutions all over your body, convulsing you into a spastic frenzy. Remember the first time Public Enemy melted your brain? Asian Dub Foundation made you dance for justice? Remember remember? Well, the Kominas do, and they're coming for you people. Formed after the book The Taqwacores, that launched a niche North American muslim punk movement, The Kominas are leaders through their buzzsaw guitars, wry lyrics and bombastic fascination with Bollywood conventions and overdramatised acting. 'From Dishoom Bebe's hilarious anecdotal Indian gangster to 'Sharia Law in the USA's anarchists, this is a funny no-frills batallion stomp through American foreign policy of the last 8 years and its inadequacies... but the difference is... you can mosh to it. Relevant and melodic, The Kominas destroy any stereotypes anyone holds about muslims with their riotous funtimes rock'n'roll party and polemical hardnosed rhetoric that tears apart att he very fabric of our society. Hip hop smashes in with references to Slick Rick and Brand Nubian. The Dead Kennedys, NOFX, and Disposable Brothers of Hiphoprisy. In songs like Wal Qaeda Superstore, parallels are drawn between Walmart and the oil industry in the Middle East, criticising and defending and detracting and redacting all at once. Look, this is punk fire, with 12 tracks of high energy contemporary political rock'n'roll, it's not for the faint hearted or apathetic, it's one to get righteously moshed out to and get out there and do something.


Colson Whitehead - 'Sag Harbor' (Harvill Secker 2009)

The fourth book by Colson Whitehead seems to be the one that'll finally break this hilarious writer out from the cult following that nurtured his flights of autobiographical fancy. Set in the titular Sag Harbor, a Hamptons for blacks in upstate New York, Whitehead introduces us to changes that ending up shaping urban culture and vomiting it out into the mainstream. Sag Harbor is a safe haven for middle class black kids. They spend their entire summers there, get to hang out with fellow African-American children and pound the streets safe from 'the streets.' They lead innocent lives and try to come to terms with the duality of their existences. For they are predominantly the only blacks in their classes and schools and thus have to partition part of themselves for school and parts of themselves for Sag Harbor. And thus it becomes a mythical, mystical, nostalgic setting for growing up. Benji, our main man, and his twin Reggie, earn money in cooking jobs, stalk the beaches for nudists and scare off any white people who try to beach themselves on their sections of the beach. For this is theirs, apart from the 'man' and away from 'whitey. Benji's a Converse-wearing, Smiths-loving, Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerd whose favorite Star Wars character is the hapless bounty hunter Greedo- out of sorts with his peers and contemporaries, who despite their lack of exposure to urban black culture are still rocking out to Afrika Bambataa and the Zulu Nation, scolding Benji when he informs them of where their samples come from (in this case, the Kraftwerk-sampling 'Planet Rock). The other boys, especially twin Reggie, seem more at ease with their sense of identity than Benji does and this pervades the rest of their 3 month unsupervised holiday in the summer of 1985. Essentially a coming of age novel, Benji's narrated story tells of his first kiss, the removal of braces, BB gun battles, slinging hip insults and deconstructing the myth of what it means to be black and what it means to be Benji. Filled with nostalgia, summery vibes, oodles of pop culture and hilarious self-deprecating narrative, 'Sag Harbor' is a warm and funny piece of literary comedy that is laidback like the summer it depicts and staunchly proud of its identity. A warmer and funnier read you won't find this summer.

Buck up you publishing fucktards

Look publishers, excuse the profanity but I feel a sense of release this morning. All this digital publishing isn’t destroying print books. People are reading less, yes, but that’s probably cos they’re getting dumber. People are reading blogs, tweets, profiles, news stories online, email etc etc etc… the world is getting smaller and more mobile but that doesn’t reduce anyone’s need for a good story, you idiots. So continue to put out good stories. Don’t think that publishing is an extension of lowest common denominator media like Big Brother or Kerry Katona’s Latest Meltdown.dot com or Strictly Come This Way Talentless Pricks. To the celebrity biogs and the ghostwritten books and the franchise series told in short chapters so they’re easier to commit to screenplay we say AWAY AWAY AWAY.

I had this realisation today because in a sea of books today, I saw my first e-reader. Yes, I was reading ‘Sag Harbor’ bu Colson Whitehead, someone was reading a Barack Obama book, someone was reading David Foster Wallace, another- James Lee Burke… and in the sea of manuscripts and pages and covers and art, I saw someone using an e-reader. She was dressed in a suit, wore glasses (well if you do everything on a screen like watch shop work read, say hello to speccy-vision) and snatched up nose trying to concentrate on scrawling electronic ways that pixellated the more her tired commuter eyes squinted. I manipulated some commuter dodging just to sit next to her and see what she was reading. And you know what it was? Yes, she was going through her electronic slush pile. She was an agent. It stands true… the rule that the only people using electronic readers are tired agents glued to ploughing through slush piles trying to find, in this economic apocalypse, a new Dan Brown or Sophie Kinsella.

So yes, printed books aren’t dead. I’m yet to find a real-life person sat with their electronic reader, reading for pleasure.

And you know who agrees with me? The editor of Granta. Read his article about print here. Also Dave Eggers is in on the action, declaring at a conference that if anyone wanted to email him about the death of printed books, they should email him.

Well, I did…

And here’s what he said (I hope he doesn’t mind my repeating this, it seemed like a pro forma reply):

Dear Person Needing Bucking Up,

Hello and thank you so much for writing. I feel honored that you would take the time to reach out and in many cases tell me your very real struggles with writing and work and the future of the printed word.

I have a few thoughts to share, though unfortunately in this space I can?t detail all the reasons I think we have a fighting chance at keeping newspapers and books alive in physical form. But before I do blather for a few paragraphs, I should apologize for sending you a mass email.

As you probably know, in May I gave a speech to about 100 people in New York, and I didn?t foresee it getting out there on the web. (Shows how much I know.) And I really didn?t expect this email address to be given out.

Again, though, that was my lack of foresight. And I?m an infrequent emailer, so I?m unable to respond to most of the (plaintive, beautiful,

heart-ripping) emails that have been sent to me these past few days. So I apologize for not being able to answer your email personally. Or at least not in any timely manner.

Anyway. I would like to say to you good print-loving people that for every dire bit of news there is out there, there is also some good news, too. The main gist of my (rambling) speech at the Author?s Guild was that because I work with kids in San Francisco, I see every day that their enthusiasm for the printed word is no different from that of kids from any other era.

Reports that no one reads anymore, especially young people, are greatly overstated and almost always factually lacking. I?ve written about youth readership elsewhere, but to reiterate: sales of young adult books are actually up. Total volume of all book sales is actually up. Kids get the same things out of books that they have before. Reading in elementary schools and middle schools is no different than any other time. We have work to do with keeping high schoolers reading, but then again, I meet every week with 15 high schoolers in San Francisco, and all we do is read (literary magazines, books, journals, websites, everything) in the process of putting together the Best American Nonrequired Reading. And I have to say these students, 14 to 18 years old, are far better read and more astute than I was at their age, and there are a million other kids around the country just like them.

These kids meet every week at McSweeney?s, and things at our small publishing company are stable. We?re a hand-to-mouth operation to be sure, but we haven?t had to lay anyone off. To some extent, that?s because we?re small and independent and have always insisted on staying small and independent. We take on very little risk, and we grow very cautiously. It?s our humble opinion that the world will support many more publishers of our size and focus. If you can stay small, stay independent, readers will be loyal, and you?ll be able to get by publishing work of merit. Publishing has, for most of its life, been a place of small but somewhat profit margins, and the people involved in publishing were happy to be doing what they loved. It?s only recently, when large conglomerates bought so many publishing companies and newspapers, that demands for certain margins squeezed some of the joy out of the business.

Pretty soon, on the McSweeney?s website ? www.mcsweeneys.net ? we?ll be showing some of our work on this upcoming issue, which will be in newspaper form. The hope is that we can demonstrate that if you rework the newspaper model a bit, it can not only survive, but actually thrive. We?re convinced that the best way to ensure the future of journalism is to create a workable model where journalists are paid well for reporting here and abroad. And that starts with paying for the physical paper. And paying for the physical paper begins with creating a physical object that doesn?t retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print. We believe that if you use the hell out of the medium, if you give investigative journalism space, if you give photojournalists space, if you give graphic artists and cartoonists space ? if you really truly give readers an experience that can?t be duplicated on the web ? then they will spend $1 for a copy. And that $1 per copy, plus the revenue from some (but not all that many) ads, will keep the enterprise afloat.

As long as newspapers offer less each day ? less news, less great writing, less graphic innovation, fewer photos ? then they?re giving readers few reasons to pay for the paper itself. With our prototype, we aim to make the physical object so beautiful and luxurious that it will seem a bargain at $1. The web obviously presents all kinds of advantages for breaking news, but the printed newspaper does and will always have a slew of advantages, too. It?s our admittedly unorthodox opinion that the two can coexist, and in fact should coexist. But they need to do different things. To survive, the newspaper, and the physical book, needs to set itself apart from the web.

Physical forms of the written word need to offer a clear and different experience. And if they do, we believe, they will survive. Again, this is a time to roar back and assert and celebrate the beauty of the printed page.

Give people something to fight for, and they will fight for it. Give something to pay for, and they?ll pay for it.

We?ll keep you posted throughout the summer about our progress with this newspaper prototype, and any other good news we come across.

Thanks for listening for now,


P.S. The email address you wrote to ? deggers@826national.org ? was a new one I set up to give to the attendees of the Author?s Guild. I won?t be able to check it very often, as I?m slow with email to begin with.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Jhumpa Lahiri - Unaccustomed Earth (Bloomsbury 2008)

Jhumpa Lahiri's subjects are niche, quietly dysfunctional Bengali American families in Massachussets falling apart either through marital ennui or cultural identity issues, but the pain and emotion and expanse of delicate subtlety steer her characters to the core of the human condition. The deservedly Pulitzer-award winning debut short story collection, 'The Interpreter of Maladies' was a beautiful account of the above, but at the same time, so much more. Her writing is clear and concise, yet descriptive about the small movements, the lingering stares, the paths of loneliness and solitude and the companionships of families. 'The Namesake' was a bigger project, taking the same themes and translating them to a broad pallette, a full novel that spanned England, India and America, made into a superb film by safe pair of hands, Mira Nair. Now, 'Unaccustomed Earth', a new short story collection. It spans 5 stories and 1 novella in 3 movements, each one beautiful and delicate and full of nuance and quiet implosions. In 'Unaccustomed Earth' the first story concerns a grieving father and daughter as they dance around the silence of their stoic relationship, as he bonds with his new grandson and she watches him slowly move on with his life, unable to do so with her own, their secrets building up fortresses around them. In 'Only Goodness' a sister mothers and sisters and befriends her younger brother, building their secrets into a wall against their parents, one that results in his battles with self and identity and alcoholism while she tries to escape their quiet life in Boston's suburbs, both burdened by a simple secret that captures them both. In 'Nobody's Business' a man pines for his roommate as she conducts a clandestine affair with a mysterious man, full of secrets, trying to mind his own business as the affair unravels spectacularly and involves him. The novella, 'Hema and Kaushik' spans three significant times in the lives of star-crossed friends/lovers Hema and Kaushik as they move from awkward teenage crushes to death and disappointment to an eventual rekindling of their burdgeoning romance in Italy 20 years later. Each story deals with small secrets and big secrets and how they become anchors around necks, about how everyday events create stigmas that change lives, about whispers and lies. It's a beautiful piece of work, each story chillingly emotive (chilling in their power and nuance), everyday objects and events are described in new ways. The affairs with married man, the slow burn of mixed race relationships, secrets, learning to move on after losing a loved one or the relationships between parents and their adult children- are all themes that build into a fine piece of work, a work of a true master of their craft.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Patrick Neate - Jerusalem (Penguin)

‘Jerusalem’, the new book by Patrick Neate is the final part of a loose trilogy about myth and stories and Africa and London featuring his usual mix of sardonic side-swiping worldviews versus ultra slick language versus marvelling in the power of storytelling. Featuring familiar characters from ‘Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko’ and ‘Twelve Bar Blues’, the book is an expansive universe of different timelines and countries. In London, ultra-cool tastemaker Preston Pinner discovers a rapper called Nobody, who he feels he can mould into a chart-beating superstar. Nobody turns out to be less malleable when he is revealed to be an illegal immigrant and a sharp tongue and a strong sense of racial history. Meanwhile, Preston’s dad, an MP, travels to Zambia (for which read Zimbabwe, with its tyrannical post-revolution Prime Minister, dodgy politics and tenuous diplomatic relations with other countries) to free a business tycoon accused of espionage. Musa, our happy-go-lucky witchdoctor from previous books, minus one foot, languishes in jail and dreams of a Bristolian gentleman on a search for the core of Britishness in the early 1900s, extracts of whose diary pepper the present-day action throughout. It’s a broad canvass that purports to get to the heart of Britishness and as well as discussing the very nature of ‘cool’ and tastemakers who decide our trends, and white man’s burden in Africa, and the nature of history and the folk tales of Africa that tell the same stories that have been retold for years and years. Such a broad canvass and there are some amazing ideas in the book, written well from sentence to sentence, employing a hip slick sensibility and a fast-paced writing style, but the broadness makes the whole project feel bitty and unfinished in places. Which is a shame because in here are some great ideas that struggle with each other for space, struggle with each other to be the big ‘theme.’ There is a lot written about the nature of identity, who we are and what masks we hide behind and what we consider to be home. It’s a great ride throughout, featuring a good finale to the story of Jim Tulloh (from the first two books), but sometimes struggles to keep its ‘big theme’ at the forefront. As a discussion of Britain and this green and pleasant land, it manages to be more successful as the scenes in London echo louder than the MP abroad faux-pas-a-rama. Musa remains as enigmatically batshit crazy as ever and is always fun to read. Patrick Neate is certainly one to always watch as his work is always interesting and this is definitely an ambitious project, definitely worth a read, and definitely hunting down Sway’s track, posing as Nobody, for 'Jerusalem.'

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Helen Walsh - Once Upon a Time in England (Canongate 2009)

Helen Walsh's broody, moody and quite frankly depressing 'Once Upon a Time in England' is a brutal deconstruction of a family falling apart. Set in and around Warrington from the 70s to present, it follows the Fitzgeralds: Robbie is a working man's club singer extraordinaire guilted into giving up his dreams of singing for a living when beautiful wife Susheela is the victim of a violent rape at the hands of local racists. Their existence folds in around the rape, which she keeps secret and its ensuing effects on the rest of their lives. She grows agoraphobic and aspirational, trying to keep up with the neighbours, a sallow shallow bunch of ladies who lunch, while Robbie gives up his dreams and good looks to work excessively in factories, wiling away broken pipe dreams into the shopline. Their celibate lives drive Robbie to bathroom distraction and later, affairs, while Susheela drives herself to Manchester to spend afternoons sampling the secret delights of spicy curries, something Robbie hates. One secret begets many others. Their children, a writer and a space cowgirl, experiment with homosexuality and drugs and soon the separate lives they all lead become burdens around their necks during uncomfortable family time. The secrets they hold are powerful macguffins that affect their lives over many decades. The spiral of the fallout from Susheela's initial rape creates a catalyst of broken dreams and broken promises as the Fitzgerald family slowly implode in the confines of their suburban prison. Walsh is a fine writer, honest and descriptive and able to keep track of her four main protagonists, colouring each in with regret and misery and even mystery. Eldest son Vince is a quiet enigmatic talent while Ellie is a spacy but boisterous force. Susheela has her secrets and rigid constructs of life, while Robbie is a regretful broken man. This is a tiny microcosm of northern suburban life, both unflinching and willing to run its characters through the mill, and it's this honesty that keeps it powerful throughout. Again, another Canongate triumph.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett - Tank Girl vol 1 and 2 (Titan Books)

Tank Girl is one of those seminal texts, like The Watchmen, that launched hundreds of copycats, heavily marrying zeitgeist and comic, a sign of the times, though set in an apocalyptic future. Tank Girl was a hilarious cynical street-smart riposte to comic book machismo and paternal attitudes to women in pictoral form. Tank Girl spawned Gorillaz, eventually. Tank Girl was the late 1980s deconstruction and destruction of prissy New Wave New Romantic MTV dross by giving his a DIY post-punk apocalyptic missile up its arse. And at the centre of it was a punky drunky ignorant feral skinhead called Tank Girl, a girl with a tank. Simple. With its whipsmart dialogue and bizarre scattershot scenarios barely forming a loose arc, she destroyed her way across Australia, whether it was road-tripping with Easy Riders Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda (in this case, volume 2) or delivering colostomy bags to the wetbag Prime Minister, she was always interesting, unintelligible and sardonic. Set in Australia, featuring monstrous hideous personified kangaroos, who fleeted between dangerous and love interest, she battled and fought. These remastered editions from superlative Titan Books, retell he whole story in black and white, with essays by the creators and funs, featuring never-seen-before clips and snapshots of the era that creative Tank Girl, even featuring baby-faced Damon Albarn and Hewlett hanging at art school. The artwork is stuffed with pop culture references, very British references (despite the Outback outset) and spiky slightly obscene images of scantily clad men and women, shagging, raping, fighting and getting blitzed. The disorganised nature of the stories make it a riotous read, never boring and never succumbing to the weight of its own universe, by being so open it can literally be taken anywhere. It’s dated slightly, especially stylistically, and in the actual references, but the structures the one-liners and the format are as fresh as ever, and completely punk. Worth picking up these lovingly compiled new volumes for the extra bits and bobs.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Kitsune - Maison Compilation 7 (Kitsune 2009)

Uber trendy Kitsune have their 7th Maison compilation out and it doesn’t relent from the chirpy uptempo dance/house/electro with yelping indie twee vocals, songs about love and loss and hipster girls and guys lost in the mire of vice and depravity. Two Door Cinema sound like Born Ruffians gone disco with its liquid searching guitars over throbbing beats. The new sound of this summer’s indie disco has arrived. We Have Band has a shonky Talking Heads type manner about them, shouting and squawking tongue-in-cheek over electronic guitars. La Roux’s In for the Kill gets a LIFELIKE remix, sounding like an electro girl Mighty Boosh pisstake pastiche in its serious and squelchy synths. 80Kidz continue the 80s traditional with clanging synthy Casio keyboard sounds. The album is varied enought o be a good party record and oozes class but lacks any real substance, and most importantly, in these summery months, bass. It’s all high energy 80s triumphant disco electro with androngynous vocals and shouty yelpy power pop voxxxx. The heart and soul got left on the hard drive as the album got programmed to rock. This is for indie kids and hipsters scared of bashments, needing something cleaner, more clinical and synthetically two-step thud-thud to keep the rhythm to. On their own, songs stand up, but in the mish-mash of this oozing trendy compilation, they lack a cohesive sense of passion, they scream trendier than thou, and quite frankly, I’d rather listen to loud bass-filled gangsta rap now the sun’s out.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Nii Ayikwei Parkes - Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape 2009)

Is there anything Nii Parkes can't do? Lauded performance poet, celebrated editor in chief of his own independent publisher (Flipped Eye), and now his debut novel on Jonathan Cape. It's a beautiful elegaic poetical dreamy story about the influx of technology and modernity into the more rural parts of Ghana, and the uneasy relationship between science and spirit. Set in Ghana, and mostly occupying a tiny village called Sonokrom, there is a delicate preservation of tradition and culture, through the language and food and drink and the music of the forest, the villagers' only link to the influx of modernity in the bigger city is through a transistor radio. Sinister remains, possibly human, are found in a hut in the village and this brings Kayo, a budding forensic scientist to the scene to discover the truth behind the remains and help advance the career of politically hungry police inspector Donkor, expecting him to deliver a 'CSI-style report' on the mysterious remains. While Kayo tries to decipher what has gone on, and keep the inspector happy, he mingles with the villagers, drinking their palm wine, coveting their woman, listening to their stories and histories and slowly the balance between fact and fiction, science and tradition seem to blur uncontrollably. Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill the desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind. It's a beautiful told story, about the old and new Africa, about changing worlds, told with verve and no cynicism, with heart and poetical syntax dripping from the page, the traditional Ghanaian words and symbols all adding to the belief that while Africa changes and moves forward, it must hold on to its precious past in its heart. It's a heart-warming and funny tale, Parkes is able to balance the mystical nature of the plot playing with the idea of fable and scientific fact, drawing warm rich characters who are three dimensional and engaging, always entertaining and filled with life. Parkes has already done so much for independent publishing and language and hopefully this impressive elegaic debut will mean he starts to reap the kudos he deserves.

Tim Clare - We Can't All Be Astronauts (Ebury 2009)

Stand up poet Tim Clare's memoir of trying to write and publish the perfect book, mired by peer-jealousy and depression, is the best possible tool for any budding writer or someone wanting an insight into the creative process. This brutally honest, hilarious and engaging memoir flits between Tim's struggle to edit and mould his tome into something resembling genius while living at home with his concerned but understanding parents, insight into his personality and its traits- how having always found creativity easy he flits between trying and assuming it'll all happen, and descriptions of his jealousy while other friends are published, get paid to be creative, and enjoy themselves. Meanwhile he internally tears himself apart trying to get his book finished. I can relate. Writing my book, watching my friends succeed, waiting for my moment, persevering, fighting for it, dying with jealousy and depression- it's all there, it's all part of the writer's journey. Clare is funny and eloquent with his descriptions, using personal experience and brutally funny and honest anecdote to drive his tale of how he tried to make a career of writing tales. From a weird suicide pact with his dad to begging Jeffrey Archer on TV for money to a strangely conceited and fake Channel 4 show on his trying to find a deal, he muddles through, being his own best promotion and his own worst friend. It's a definite must for any creative person trying to get a deal- be it publishing or music or film or anything, it shows the process, the paranoia, the tender self-esteem, and the humour in becoming self-obsessed, precious and arrogant all in the same stride, and Clare shows himself to be a brilliant writer, laugh out loud and articulate, and I can't wait for him to release his amazing novel about a part-dog adventurer.

Denis Robert - Happiness (Serpents Tail 2009)

Denis Robert's novel, translated from the original French, is an erotic dissection of sexual obsession and passion. A 39 year old writer (probably not dissimilar from the writer of the book) and an art graduate (ten years younger, sexual, willing to be dominated- male fantasy) meet and over the course of 200 pages dissect their intense sex lives that parade their obsessions and fantasies into a powerful mesh of eroticism. Her notes on the affair are on the left hand side and his on the right. It's a quite erotic read that shouldn't be attempted in public. However, it's quite light and never really gets under the surface, never really tackles the married man's lackadaisical attitude to his marriage and the woman's submissive personality, enhanced by her own loveless marriage. It is a tittilating voyage to the centre of fantasy and cruises hotel rooms, balconies, public spaces, cars, sex clubs and dinner tables, fellating the pages with oodles of passion and fierce intense orgasm. It's over before it's started, and though not much happens, it's an interesting dissection of an obsessive affair.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Post War Years - The Greats and the Happenings (Wealth 2009)

The mix of indie and dance has been so seamless now that we’re getting these immense albums that are high on indie radars and low on guitars, like Golden Silvers, The Invisible, Man Like Me, creating a lo-fi electro-pop that is intricate and thumping in the same emotion gauges as blistering loud indie from bands like The Enemy or Dananananakroyd. Add Post War Years, and their great debut ‘The Greats and the Happenings’ to that canon, and fire: BLAM BLAM. Featuring spidery guitars, heavy duty bass and some belligerent electronic samples, they exude style and class, using intricate harmonies and sharp wordplay to create a heady mix of fusion. Opener ‘The Red Room’ is pleasant wonky white boy funk, but it’s track 2, ‘Death March’ with its squelch of fuzzy synths and off-kilter vocal melodies that really set the agenda for this album. ‘Whole World on its Head’ is a Gameboy-lead spacey track with pulsing twittering acoustic drums and a airy feeling throughout. The frenetic live favourite ‘White Lies’ and ‘Latin Holiday’ show off a whirlwind of tuneful handclaps and atmospheric electronic swirls weaving through a sing-along chant chorus. There’s plenty of funk and soul on here, and the intricate way the songs are put together offset a lilting optimistic surging sound that results in some powerful moving music. Closer, the 8 minute epic ‘That’s All’ is a dancey tender ballad oozing with passion and loss, and yet just as lovely as any other song about love out there. The sweet harmonies and the scattering drum brushes add a vulnerability that is only hinted at in other songs. There is a lot of versatility and breath on this album, drowning in its rhythms and bruised by its own intricate layers, definite one of the more interesting debuts this year.


Chuck Palahniuk - Pygmy (Jonathan Cape 2009)

It’s been less than a year since we Geek Pied about Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Snuff’, which was a quick brutal look at the porno industry. So prolific is he that we’ve entered a stage where every other Palahniuk book is good and considered, while the rest are turning out to be good ideas quickly realised. Unfortunately, ‘Pygmy’ falls into this camp of good idea half-realised. Written from the perspective of a terrorist sleeper cell operative infiltrating a host American family on a pretend foreign exchange, really a cover for Operation Chaos, the pygmy of the title ingratiates himself into society and somehow misunderstands (often ‘hilariously’) suburban American life. He is from a non-specified origin, somewhere in South East Asian, somewhere almost fascistic and Draconian and evil. He writes in impenetrable diloague that seems to have been translated a few times and written using an internet programme like Babelfish or Google Languages. I get why it’s written the way it is, and it’s consistent for much of the way, but this makes it near impossible to read and to follow. God forbid putting it down and coming back to it the next day, you lose the sense of rhythm and association a good session with the book eventually develops. But this is the programme, its lack of accessibility means the message gets lost. Also, while moving away mostly from Palahniuk’s usual dysfunctional family models scenario (even though taking place in a middle America family as fucked up as any of Palahniuk’s other family trees during the years), it hits pretty obvious targets like American crassness and ignorance, arrogance, high school hijinks, trenchcoat mafias and closet gay bullies. It seems to be a filtered dubbed version of Saved by the Bell showing in a foreign country. But this means that ultimately there’s no point agonising over trying to decipher the way it’s written. Underneath all the verbless sentences and strange syntax ticks, there’s a bogstandard novel there, lacking all of Palahniuk’s usual dynamic spark, wit and invention. It’s disappointing that it’s not worth the effort to muddle through and I confess, I couldn’t finish it, I couldn’t be bothered to invest that time because I cared so little about Pygmy, the title character, a vain passive aggressive sociopathic terrorist.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Dub Pistols - Rum and Coke (Sunday Best 2009)

Dub Pistols are an interesting proposition- a collective of dance-orientated dub heads with a love of hip hop. Live, they’re such a good time band, it’s like they were invented for a Saturday late afternoon set as the sun sets and a chilled can of Red Stripe is thrust into your hand and the live trumpets are creating klaxons of joy and unity and the steady thumping beats are pounding your feet into a rhythm. Time and again, this formula, this festival perfect set-up has been near impossible to translate into a studio album that is consistent and carries the oomph and impact of a live version. Unfortunately, I’ve always felt this about Dub Pistols’ albums, and ‘Rum and Coke’ is no exception. On Rob da Bank’s decent Sunday Best label, it’s pretty much a tighter, more honed version of the sound they’re known for. Dance, carnival vibes, Rodney P’s slurred effortlessly brilliant ragga-rap flow, the dub basslines and some tight drum production. With turns from Beats International’s Lindy Layton and Freak Power’s Ashley Slater (on 3 tracks) it feels a little staid in places. The stronger tracks are when the dub fires up the ire and Red Star Lion and Gregory Isaacs bring the vibes allowing Rodders to be the ultimate Riddim Killa, one of the UK’s best MCs and hosts. It’s weaker when it dissolves into acid jazz-esque numbers. Songs like ‘Ganja’ sound immense live and great recorded. ‘Peace of Mind’ is joyous’ and ‘Six Months’ features legend Gregory Isaacs is class, sophisticated and oozing with summery lover’s rock uptop skanking. It’s a shame that the songs that sandwich these pearls are quite mediocre, and sometimes painfully MOR. Dub Pistols bring it live though, and if you want the definitive band experience, chill some Red Stripe and head down to any number of festivals they’ll be at, setting suns perfectly.


My Toys Like Me - Where We Are (Dumb Angel 2009)

My Toys Like Me is a strange hybrid of disco, dub, house and trip hop. It seems that in today’s misery of diminishing genre returns, the only way to stand out is to mix as many sounds together as possible, throwing in your entire record to the mix, meaning that every new record these days seems to be ‘eclectic.’ My Toys Like Me are an interesting proposition, despite the unnecessary many ways people try to describe them. Imagine ‘Ponderosa’s Tricky trying to make a dance album with Martina Topley-Bird still doing vocals for him and you get an idea of what My Toys Like Me are like. ‘Superpowers’, their single, skitters along witha two-fingered instinct, pumping and off-kilter with child-like lost vocals of singer Frances Noon. ‘Sick Couple’ contains some evil violin following a couple falling out of love through alcohol. It clitters and threatens to lift off. ‘All Over My Face’ has the smooth feel of trip hop and the bounce of goodtime Bristol music, slightly mariachi in its dub threat. Enough interesting things happen on this album to keep you interested throughout, despite it never really realising its full potential in pace and power. It’s good, catchy and as endearing as Martina Topley-Bird once was on ‘Ponderosa.’ An interesting and playful debut showing British music to, once again, be the sum of a lot of parts and influences, a brave attempt to create a boisterous mix.


Friday, 8 May 2009

Blank Dogs - Under and Under (In the Red 2009)

Blank Dogs are actually one dawg, Mr Blank Dog, who effortlessly fuses uptempo programmed drums (mixed to give you the rush not the pound), Cure-esque bouncing basslines and searching power guitar licks, creating a grimy lo-fo electro-rock, full of DIY ideas and punk aesthetics. ‘Under and Under’ is 15 songs of pulse-raising ire-dictacting melodic grime-punk. ‘No Compass’ is a powerhouse opener, bouncing and scittering along on a sweet two-note guitar riff. ‘L Machine’ switches between synth-fuzz and acoustic battering ram strums. There are moments of brutal new wave, all filtered through Cure synths and guitars heavily filtered and processed, and a weird distorted macabre vocal reminiscent of Joy Division. It’s certainly noisy and full of brash ideas, unafraid to get extreme. Songs do tend to merge into one and picked out of the whole of the album lose their impact. It’s a strong album with moments that feel till they’re approaching a tipping point. With contributions from Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls, there’s definitely a collective of dusty strange lo-fi fuzz-kateers power-punking their way through Brooklyn, New Yoik.

Blank Dogspace

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Broken Records - Until the Earth Begins to Part (4AD 2009)

Gravitas, that’s what Scottish seven piece Broken Records bring to the party. Swirling orchestras, pounding pianos, mournful vocals and a hint of glockenspiel all add to the weighty mix that comprises Broken Records. Their debut album ‘Until the Earth Begins to Part’ sounds like that moment in a film like Armageddon where all hope seems to be lost and there are yearning goodbyes and painful realisations of mortality before an explosive heroic act/dues ex machine triumphs and wins the day in a dramatic and bittersweet way. Such is Broken Records’ music, swirling paeans to triumph over adversity. The brooding cellos and the pounding piano and lead vocals embittered and indelibly inked in pain all create an epic swirling and mystifying sound, with a warm passionate heart beating, and the thump of interesting little flourishes like glockenspiel and accordion and trumpet to round out an impressively bursting sound. ‘If Eilert Loevborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This’ is a fun calamitous accordion-filled yearn to a married woman and to art and to love. ‘Ghosts’ is a quiet and simple haunting that builds in sweet falsetto and spectral guitars. Album closer ‘Slow Parade’ starts inoffensively before building into a thundering crescendo of emotion and intense piano. ‘Until the Earth Begins to Part’ is a curtain call to the world as it implodes then explodes in a big bang of disappointment and lost love. Broken Records have the ability to harness emotion and translate it into the fury, intensity and delicateness of love and lust, creating musical palettes that tug on your every heartstring. If Coldplay can rule the world with insipid vague stabs at emotion, then Broken Records deserve a decent stab at stealing that crown and title with their world-beating expansive sound.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Mika Miko - We Be XUXA (Post Present Medium 2009)

Mika Miko’s second album, the cryptic ‘We Be XUXA’ is a rattling thunderdome of short snappy shouty riot grrl LA punk. 23 minutes of exhilarating powerhouse guitar punk pop with only one song staggering into classic pop song status by being just over 3 minutes. Though still lo-fi and loose with their playing and singing, the production values seem to have increased since their scattershot debut ‘CYSLABF’. The songs seem to revel in their own banality, with subjects flying about from listening to jazz while having sex (‘Sex Jazz’) or eating turkey sandwiches (errr... ‘Turkey Sandwich’). This gives the album a breezy feel, relying on electro-shock spider-guitars and thumping one-drop drums, simple but pounding. ‘Totion’ is a post punk floorfiller, all death disco beats and elastic bass, while vocalists Jennifer Clavin and Jenna Thornhill yelp at each other from across the speakers. It sounds tense and brooding, ending as songs should, with a mass explosion. The influence of The Slits and LA punk bands flits across the vocals and the powerhouse guitars. It’s all very breezy and almost lackadaisical in execution making you wonder how long you’ll find yourself listening to it, but those first two listens reveal an arresting energy that is lacking in loud thrashing punk these days, a style and emotion you’d think would render punk redundant by its absence.


Wavves - Wavvves (Bella Union 2009)

Three things stick out about Wavves’ debut album: 1) He’s so young it makes me sick. 2) He’s obsessed/got a bugbear about Goths. 3) This album is the literal translation of the following vague descriptors: mind explosion; audio clusterfuck; brain-melt; aural destructorcon. Forgive me for only wanting to really blog about things I like instead of getting sniffy about things I don’t, but this album is amazing. There, I said. Whatever. I like it, I’m in a minority of music journalists who like the things they review and review the things they like. So, yes, go and own the album. It’s the closest we’ll have to our generation’s Sonic Youth? Wait, no, I’m old... I have My Bloody Valentine. You... you youth, you sickening bloodythirsty children... Wavves is your Sonic Youth. He’s a maverick and he’s only 22. God it makes me sick how much time I squandered in pubs of varying descriptions when I was 22. This guy has spent his time obsessing over Goths and crafting a sonic, youthful (geddit) clusterfuck mind explosion of an album, and you need to own it. I’m serious about the Goth thing. Though the lyrics are intelligible machines for adding another layer of LOUD NOIZE, there are 5 songs about different types of goth (‘Goth Girls’, ‘California Goths’, ‘Summer Goth’, ‘Beach Goth’ and ‘Surf Goth’- all variations of the same type of Goth surely Mr Wavves?). The album itself (oh yes, there was some music in here somewhere) is a sun-drenched amalgamation of sunshine pop, slacker fuzz, surf rock, teenage punk and crackling lo-fi, all told through the wide-eyes of young Nathan Daniel Williams. The sonic assault starts with the thumping ‘Rainbow Everywhere’ and the blister-bursting ‘Beach Demon’ which will cause a rush of blood to the head. By the time, the slower thunder-rumbling ‘Sun Opens My Eyes’ arrives, all sustained dischord and oooh-wop melodies, you’ll be happy for the break. ‘Gun in the Sun’ surges under a vocal dissected through a flanger. ‘So Bored’, an early single, is a riotous call to arms that Thurston Moore would be proud of, a celebration of feeling something, a celebration of getting up getting out and doing something. The Goth songs tend to be the most difficult, nearly instrumental cacophonies surrounded by discordance and paranoia thrashings of the fuzz pedalled-guitar. ‘Killr Punx Scary Demons’ is a horror-tale of pianos out of sync, woeful and sad. Then ‘Surf Goth’ finishes us off in melodic off-kilter style. The guitars all swirl and wail around each other like a parapet of cacophony. The heart of the album is sunny and this is a blissfully optimistic album underneath all the drone, fuzz and flange, it is boyish in its charms and has moments of reflective nostalgia. It’s fucking powerful. Go and seek.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Speech Debelle competition

Speech Debelle - Album Launch - Madame Jojo's - Thursday 28th May - 8pm Set Time
Fresh from causing all kinds of fuss amongst the ladies and gentlemen of the press, Speech Debelle will be celebrating the release of her debut album ‘Speech Therapy’. The party will take place at Madame JoJo’s on Soho’s Brewer Street on Thursday 28th May. There are rumours about special
appearances from album collaborators as well as DJs and guest vocalists, and Speech will be playing a full live set with the band some call The Therapists.

There are a very limited number of tickets available for this event, and Big Dada are running a competition to give some of those away to deserving fans. All you have to do is email info@bigdada.com and complete the following line from Speech's debut single, 'Searching.'

'Who made these rules? ..... ..... ..... .....'

Please use the subject line 'Speech Debelle competition.' Good luck!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Daniel Davies - Isle of Dogs (Serpents Tail 2009)

Daniel Davies' nod to sexually transgressive culture, in this case dogging, is essentially a morality tale about broken Britain in the suburbs, poking at the CCTV culture that pushes certain lifestyles into the fringes, with bubbling paranoia and a lack of understanding/compassion being the ultimate fallout. 'Isle of Dogs' features a frustratingly rubbish beginning and ending featuring the author 'breaking the fourth wall' and claiming to have cobbled the novel together through the diaries and emails of the protagonist, Jeremy Shepherd, that is incredibly clunky and unnecessary and means that it begins and ends in underwhelming fashion, a shame because the main action is so satisfying.

This is a dark morality tale about Jeremy Shepherd, one of those London pricks you always hear about, good media job, misanthropic, laddish and promiscuous to a fault, bordering on a narcissistic nymphomania. He quits his job when he realises how futile and shit it is, ending up living with his mum and dad in the home counties, working a dead end civil service job where the biggest excitement is arranging meetings in order to arrange meetings. Bored and tempering his nymphomania, he enters into the car park world of dogging to satisfy his needs amongst fellow consenting adults, while the small town society around him fails to understand. Clunky depictions of racial violence and attitudes to perversions fly off his cold hard exterior. He doesn't feel anything and what we get is a 'Crash'-esque cold depiction of the scene, methodical and meticulously drawn, describing how dogging operates, how people connect and communicate, how they protect themselves from the law and from the all-seeking CCTV and the codes and ethics that make up the scene, from signals that you can participate to the etiquette of what doggers should bring to the party. It's a fascinating insight into a subculture that is both mocked and feared by red-top papers. Davies is clinical in his depiction of the action and ultimately, the consequences of engaging in illicit sex all around us. The book is short and zips along, never quite getting under its protagonist's skin, instead choosing to be a dogging bible. We see how relationships and webs develop and the intrusion of the press when it's discovered that one of the doggers is a minor celebrity. We see how people temper love and lust and actual interaction. But we never get to really see Jeremy Shepherd, and during the final violent climax we see the acts are misunderstood by locals. Ultimately, what we learn that this is happening everywhere, probably round the corner from us. In the awkward epilogue we get a strange coda to the action that manages to undo all the work the rest of the book has done. It's two word ending will either make you tut loudly or laugh at its ridiculousness but it is neither realistic within the universe created nor funny.

Otherwise, a solid depiction of an activity made famous by Phil Mitchell.

Jim Dodge - Fup- a modern fable (Canongate 2009)

'Fup' is a modern-day fable (though written a while ago so not so-modern for its reprint with effortlessly modern Canongate) by professional loner and gambler Jim Dodge, a remote tale of farmship and the strained love between grandpappy and grandson, between whisky and eternity, between a shotgun and a silent vicious boar, and a hard-drinking fussy duck called Fup. Short and peppered with the kinda language that'd turn your tongue purple, the book is a sleepy take on strangers in their own family all believing too much in the healing power of different vices. Grandpa Jake sips 'Ol Death Whisper' a whisky reciped by ancient Indians supposed to bestow eternal life on its imbiber. Tiny, his grandson, builds fences as an emotional crux to keep the bad dreams at bay, and to keep the bad people away and to focus his orphaned mind against the elements. One day they meet Fup, a duck who manages to change their lives and bring them closer together, but not before it nearly drinks up all their reserves of Ol Death Whisper. It's a funny little book, dark and light and full of quips and mediations on remote country life in the heart of America's south. Featuring newly commissioned artwork from Emma Dibben and featuring a feel-good all-star cast of weirdos and freaks, this is a heart-warming tal dipped in whisky and set fire to.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (4AD 2009)

This album begins: Spent a week in a dusty library / waiting for some words to jump in me / we met by a trick of fate / French navy my sailor mate before being glazed with handclaps and strings laden with walls of sound, just like Phil Spector would have wanted. ‘French Navy’ telling the charmingly naive tale of a girl trying to write but being distracted by love. I experienced this with my first listen of the album. Trying to write my own novel, I stopped typing, my fingers hovering over the eyes, and slowly I swooned and fell in love with Tracyanne Campbell’s dizzy head-in-the-clouds lovestruck voice as she guided me through eleven tales of love and woe and abject heartbreak. ‘French Navy’ should have been sung by Al Green, but it’s commanded beautifully by Campbell as the strings ache and swoon and swell around the nucleus of her voice. This album spans the length of a relationship (her career perhaps) as obsession and love and charming flirtation all mix to create a heady, literary attempt to document the wild rush and settling in of a strong relationship.

Campbell mixes childlike naivety with headstrong power and passion, innocent and eloquent in the same breathy stanza, poetic and earnest, almost like a confessional diary entry. ‘The Sweetest Thing’ is like the most joyous song McAlmont and Butler nearly nailed. Campbell's soft Glaswegian accent and delicate, nasal tones suit the fragility and naïveté of a he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not sentimentality. ‘Swans’ is rousing, stirring and almost country-ish in its execution, like ‘Away with Murder’, slide guitars duelling with strings. ‘James’ is quieter, acoustic, sadder, more direct and not like the dizzy swirls of sound that accompany other songs on the album. The centrepoint, it is both emotive and heart-wrenching. By the end, Campbell is nearly weeping, completely stricken. It’s aftermath comes in the filmic string-laden ‘Careless Love’, portentous about the end of an affair and its lingering memories: I've been really struggling / to think of you and I being friends / I blow hot and cold / yeah I'm like a yo-yo / so I don't think I should see you again.

‘My Maudlin Career’ is like a modern-day Ronnettes song, with twinkling pianos, crashing drums and the melodies that yearn and celebrate and pumps fists and thumps hearts all at once. Phil Spector, again, would be proud of this piano-twinkling display of complete powerhouse beauty. The soul that pervades this album is sometimes vintage Motown, and others vintage Spector but mostly a continuation of the elegaic music that Camera Obscura has regaled us with for four albums. ‘Forests and Sands’ marries a child-like travelling ethic with a stomping bus-rolling beat. It documents the distance between a traveller and their lover. Closer ‘Honey in the Sun’ finishes optimistically, hopeful for a brighter day, sunny and colour-drenched, despite the sadness that lingers in the cold dead lyrics. Though documenting the deepest depths of sadness, there is a joy throughout this album, a unifying rallying call of fist-pumping anthemic happiness beating in its epicentre. ‘My Maudlin Career’ is a bare-boned honest and startlingly well-put-together document of a relationship.


Banjo or Freakout - Upside Down EP (Half Machine 2009)

Banjo or Freakout sound like that fuzz-drenched moment on My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ when the dissonance breaks for a 4 minute romance paean to broken love (‘Sometimes’). Like Kevin Shields before him, London-based Italian Alessio Natalizia creates heart-thumpingly aching music in the epicentre of a fuzzy distortion pedal turned to My Bloody Valentine setting (the one after 11, presumably). The acoustic distortion of opener, the title-making ‘Upside Down’ allows a war before ooohs ahhhs and a pounding acoustic guitar, while his voice passionately feels its way through the mix. ‘The Week Before’ allows tinges of electronics and tribal pounding drums to wade through the rippling sounds of a bath running. It’s like a repetitive psychedelic nightmare curated by Panda Bear on ‘Person/Pitch’. The choruses allow for a rush of guitars to filter through driving an urgent strum through the beeping mix. ‘Like You’ is all pounding basses and squawling guitars duelling over a lost love, pleading her to ‘kiss me now’. The star-gazing reverb pop then mutates into a strange, mostly instrumental tribal pulse and thrash while disjointed voices erupt around your years. A strange sitar is alone in the far-off distance, unsure of itself, on ‘I and Always’. With an Allez Allez mix of the throbbing ‘Mr No’ to end proceedings on an uptempo high octane fuzz and dance finale, it’s a perfect introduction to a blog favourite. Banjo or Freakout is able to translate emotions into guitar noises with impressive versatility, never quite emerging from a lo-fi tunnel of his own nightmareish introspection. It’s strangely beautiful and discordant all at once, like Kevin Shields expertly told us guitar thrashing could be. Essential and excellent and effortlessly powerful music.