The drug of the nation

I don't really watch a whole lot of television. At this point, I should stress that I'm not one of those insufferable pricks that looks down on the medium and brags about only reading Mamet plays and drinking Belgian lagers. I don't watch a lot of television because I'm a law student, and that means I'm mostly reading about (this week): trademark ineligibility based on disparagement, women's rights to work, government-sponsored speech and administrative review of consulate decisions. I'm sure you're all very jealous of my rock star lifestyle.

And yet, this past Sunday I managed to be excited about four different shows. This never happens! First up, was The Simpsons. The premiere of their 20th season. As you know, I'm an apologist and I was at least a little bit excited for the new episode, but ended up very disappointed. Homer and Marge both get new careers for the sake of it, not too many funny lines, good gags over-explained. They billed Julia Louis-Dreyfuss' guest spot as a big deal, and she had precisely one line. Best part? Flanders surprising himself by knowing the entire Old Testament. Also, the ending to this episode came off as exceptionally abrupt and unsatisfying. I hope things pick up.

Watching Entourage is now more of an obligation than something to look forward to. And sure enough, this latest episode hit all the buttons - Ari yelled and swore, Turtle didn't do anything, Drama was awkward and then embarrassing, Vince was boring, and E was E. There's the potential for E to make a choice between his own best interests and Vince's, but they're getting to that so slowly. So very slowly. If you've never seen the show before, this is all you'll ever need to know.

HBO then turned out two brand new shows. Little Britain USA was sort of like Little Britain but a little tamer. I've always found the show funny for about ten minutes and then grating. It's amazing that they've managed to stretch three series (four, now) out of one-note characters like Lou and Andy, or even Vicki Pollard. For this series, they've brought in some new characters, and of them only grumpy astronaut Bing Gordyn hit the right notes in the opener. Oh, and the evil dog was quite funny. There's a great Rosie O'Donnell joke to be made here, but I'm not that mean - her cameo was good, too. But even for LB, there was an over reliance on fat and gay jokes. And we didn't even get to the only gay in the village yet...

(Incidentally, notice how the banner on the HBO site: i. said "series" instead of "season", and ii. misspelt Britain)

Finally, there was The Life & Times of Tim which has nothing to do with the Replacements album. Didn't know much about this one beforehand, and it really wasn't about anything. Just a dude and his situations. It was funny. He tries to pay a prostitute with meatloaf. His co-workers are equally bland but in completely opposite ways to Tim. Also, there are gay-rape jokes. As a lightweight source of easy laughs, '...Tim' might become a staple of Sunday night viewing.

Oh, and while I'm here - I did like the new Chris Rock special Kill the Messenger. A lot of the material is what you'd expect from him - black and white people are different, men and women are different - but there was some nice political material in there. Like "John McCain is so old, he used to own Sidney Poitier." I did think that it was a poor choice, though, to splice the show from three different live performances, so mid-sentence his outfits would change, and sometimes we'd get the punchline three times in three different cities.

Staring until we suddenly burst

Ten years after their opus 'Deserters Songs', Mercury Rev are back with two new albums. Two! One of them, 'Strange Attractor', you can get right now, for free, just by clicking here. My download only just finished, so I obviously don't have any thoughts on it yet. Other than "My word, that was a nice, fast download".

Onto the other, 'Snowflake Midnight'. On this album, the band has discovered electronic drum beats and loops, and put them to substantial use. This is a pretty jarring switch for them to make. The biggest appeal to their music was always the ethereal prettiness of it, the noise you'd expect from handsome vampires, fragile but beautiful. In fact, the one time I saw them that wasn't life-changing was at a festival when they played while the sun was still out. Didn't work nearly as well. Mercury Rev's Bottleneck Stomp is a nocturnal beast, and there is something old-fashioned and timeless about their sound. Drum sounds from a computer will take some getting used to.

They work it in well, though. And besides, the other elements are still in place, with lyrics about squirrels, butterflies and raindrops. Jonathon's voice remains creepy but perfect, and he can still trot out poignant lyrics like "A bag full of second chances, overflowed and spilling out". There's a wall of feedback and chanting on 'Senses on Fire'. Handclaps on 'Faraway from Cars'. And best of all, a thundering wall of REAL drums and bells and harmonies on album highlight 'People are so Unpredictable'.

It's great to have them back.

[download Mercury Rev - People Are So Unpredictable (There's No Bliss Like Home)]

[Mercury Rev official / myspace]
[Buy 'Snowflake Midnight' US / UK / iTunes]

The scarf is for football

I know that most of you reading this probably don't care too much about football, and especially not the Carling Cup, but indulge me a little, because this week there were some really great results and stories. Which is nice, since the Carling Cup is the third most prestigious domestic competition in England, so it's often an afterthought, accompanied by a shrug and a who-cares. But not this week! (PS - I don't want to end up sounding like this guy)

Arsenal 6 - Sheffield United 0

I have to begin with this one. The average age of the Arsenal team that started this match was 19, their youngest ever. And while Sheffield United are in a lower league, they were in the Premiership not long ago (the debate is still raging in courtrooms about that) and therefore would be no pushover. But our kids knocked them out. A hat-trick from Carlos Vela, who was starting his first competitive match! His second, in particular, was a peach. As an Arsenal fan, it often gets frustrating to hear "We've got great young players, in a few years' time they'll win trophies" but nights like this make it worth the wait.

Brighton 2 - Man City 2 (Brighton won 5-3 on penalties)

Manchester City are the world's richest club. They just signed the most expensive player in English history. At the weekend they put six past Portsmouth, who are no slouches. And yet, they just got beaten - on penalties, no less - by a team who, this past weekend, lost to nine-man Walsall. This is the kind of result where you just have to rub your eyes and say "What?!"

Newcastle 1 - Tottenham 2

This was one of those matches where I wished that both teams would lose. Newcastle are currently undergoing a huge, and dare I say, hilarious, meltdown. Their hugely-popular manager was fired, leaving the club in the hands of a beer-downing millionaire who's way out of his depth. Their season has already imploded, and yet they still had a chance against Spurs, who're rock bottom of the Premiership after selling all their decent players. Spurs got the win, but not being bottom of the league is probably their greater priority at the moment. Also, they're Arsenal's big local rivals, so any failures they encounter are, as a rule, hilarious to me.

Watford 1 - West Ham 0

I was in New York over the weekend seeing some old friends, one of whom is a Watford fan. Hopefully at least one of you will appreciate his Luther Blissett t-shirt. At the weekend, they had the world's biggest refereeing blunder go against them. So, it was great to see them pull off a pretty big upset against West Ham, a team with a high-profile new manager, who are a league above. I love it when Premiership teams (that aren't Arsenal) get knocked out by lower teams. See ya later, Fulham and Villa!

Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd all won their fixtures, so we'll see how interesting the next round is.

Also, this:

Much against everyone's advice

You don't forget your first time. Mine was in 2000, when I saw Soulwax open for Muse at ULU. (Stadium-slayers Muse headlining 800-capacity ULU? That was a long time ago). Didn't know anything about them, but they blew me away. I was hooked enough to see Soulwax return to headline the same venue a couple of months later. They had tubelights for mic-stands! They sang in English as a second language! They made entire rooms dance like bastards! For a while, they were always playing in London - and I was always there. These guys, formed around the nucleus of Steph and Dave Dewaele, soon started 2ManyDJs, a club experience that I didn't get to nearly as often as I'd have liked. Also, they now play live sometimes as Nite Versions - a band that reworks Soulwax songs.

It gets confusing. The new documentary Part of the Weekend Never Dies (warning: website is incredibly annoying) attempts to explain the differences in nomenclature, plus show exactly how hard they tour, and capture the manic exhiliration of the live experience. The doc was shot entirely on one camera, which makes it different from all others. There's a lot of up-close-and-personal interview footage with the band, but also with newer bands who're far bigger, at least in the States. Klaxons, Justice, Tiga and James Murphy all extol the virtues of the band. Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem, the voice of one of Soulwax's best songs, also is involved, and tells the story of how she hates 'NY Excuse'. The footage from concerts is spliced from all over the world, and it really is rollocking. I watched half the film on headphones in the library yesterday and it was hard to stay sitting still in one place. God, they're so much fun.

The main weakness in 'Part of the Weekend...' is that a lot of it is showy and doesn't have too much substance. There are lots of shots of empty hallways - stuff like that. It sets a mood, but doesn't tell us much. It's just a series of very brief snapshots of life on the road for Soulwax, without much context or depth. And that's ok. But there are parts where it kind of drags. But it's worth seeing for moments of insight like "It's like a place that sells dragon sticks" (Tiga) or "They're like cocaine but without the big ideas' (James Murphy).

Here are three songs from Soulwax. Firstly, there's 'E-Talking', out of which the documentary got its title. When this album ('Any Minute Now') came out, I played it to death, and my roommate Justin thought the guitars on 'E-Talking' sounded like Godzilla crying. Also, there's a live cover of 'Poplife' by Prince, and their song 'Saturday' mashed up with 'Billie Jean'.

[download Soulwax - E-Talking]
[download Soulwax - Poplife (live)]
[download Soulwax - Saturday Meets Billie Jean]

[Soulwax official / myspace]

I make my own luck

Being part of the 'read it before you see it' brigade, I picked up 'Q&A' by Vikas Swarup last week, and ended up ploughing through it in two days. The novel has been adapted into a film called 'Slumdog Millionaire', which has played very favourably at Telluride and Toronto already. Also, did I mention it's directed by Danny Boyle, who has yet to make a film I didn't like? Very yes.

The story begins with a scene of heavy action, with a lowly waiter getting arrested and beaten up by the cops. He has just won the top prize of a billion rupees on a TV gameshow, and the producers of the show don't want to give him the money, so they're convinced that he has cheated. The body of the book involves him explaining, at length, how he knew each of the answers. The story pans his whole life and its myriad colourful experiences and personalities, from an insecure, aging actress to a venerable war hero to gangsters to Taj Mahal tourists to the world's greatest movie star. The individual stories are all attention grabbers, and it all connects neatly back to the overall narrative. And there's a nice little bit of extra drama at the end which'll surprise you.

That the film is worth seeing is of course a given, but I'd recommend the book highly too. Check it!

[Buy 'Q&A' US / UK]

Too many numbers, numbers, numbers

Last week, Manic Street Preachers performed a six-song-set at the Festival Hall in London, supporting Doves, to celebrate the birthday of their first record label, Heavenly Records. The band put out two singles on that label in 1990 and 91 before moving on to bigger and (eventually) better things. Listening to the bootleg of the show, it's fun to hear the older, wiser band tearing through songs written when they were so much younger and angrier. Hard to imagine the Brit award winning, happily married Manics of 2008 writing a song called 'Ceremonial Rape Machine', isn't it? And it was a jolt to hear 'Starlover' played live. My favourite song from the set, though, is one of my all-time faves by the band, 'Sorrow 16'. Rarely played live, it sounded mature and polished at the Festival Hall. In other words, it wasn't interesting at all. So here's the original version. Again, it's ok for a young band to sing about class struggle and "paint your ego in blood", but it'd be ridiculous if they did it now. Seventeen or so years ago, though, it was pretty cool, and the song remains a whole lot of fun, particularly Nicky Wire's gleeful shout of " HATE".

[download Manic Street Preachers - Sorrow 16]

I still get nervous around ethnics

I saw 'Hamlet 2' a couple of weekends ago, and I've been struggling to get inspired to write anything about it since then. Not that I didn't like it - the film is very funny, very often. It was really nice to see The Coog hamming it up in a shitty wig, American accent and jazz hands. Like Smelly Alan Fartridge, this was a character that was annoying the whole time and couldn't see why everyone else was frustrated at him and finally developed to a stage of self-realization. Not really a stretch, but it's still a joy to watch. It's the second Coogan film in a month to open with some hilarious fake commercials. It's the first Coogan film in a month to feature an O'Toole style voiceover, narrating about "The Craft". Not the film about witches. 'Hamlet 2' is entirely the Steve Coogan show - Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler and David Arquette are all involved but I couldn't tell you why.

It's a shame that a lot of the film's big laughs are given away in the trailers. Even so, there's plenty of not-safe-for-TV material, presumably courtesy of South Park co-writer Pam Brady. So, abundant anti-Mexican slurs, gay jokes, capital-B Blasphemy, and, well, if you're not a fan of seeing women get hit in the face with dustbins, you might just want to give this one a miss. Also, there's a character called Epiphany, who is entirely too racist.

So, it's pretty close to a laugh riot but, the climactic jam 'Rock Me, Sexy Jesus' notwithstanding, there's nothing that'll really stick with you the next morning. But given the state of comedies this year, that's probably too much to ask.

I am shipwrecked on the rocks

It's kind of mindblowing that a band as young as The Coral have a best-of collection out today. They're as old as I am! It really puts things into perspective. What have I achieved? Certainly not, like, four albums, many tours, and an endorsement from Noel Gallagher. I remember when (eh, Coral fans?) they first came out, sounding and looking like a weird bunch of scruffy kids from Liverpool writing sea shanties and covering Bob Marley. Then I heard 'Skeleton Key', a single which, inexplicably, is not included on the new Singles compilation. It's a song so strange that it's hard not to pay attention. It's the sound of getting beaten up by Turkish pirates. The word "intricate" is terribly underused in pop music word, but they fit it in. There's breakdown and then it all comes back in. And even a bizarre jazz-influenced outro. Their second album 'Magic and Medicine' was far more conventional, but had a few very pretty songs, and I must confess I haven't really listened to anything they've done since that. But today, enjoy 'Skeleton Key' and try not thinking of mutiny upon yonder high seas.

[download The Coral - Skeleton Key]

[The Coral myspace / youtube / official]

Use it or lose it

In of my favourite Simpsons episodes, "teen sensation" Britney Spears says "In today's youth obsessed culture, we sometimes forget that older people are still alive" and the new documentary Young@Heart reminded me of that line. It's a crowd pleaser, for sure, but there's far more to it than just "aren't old people adorable?" There are moments in this film that had me in tears, and as you all know, I'm tough as nails.

The film's about a choir based in Massachussets, whose average age is eighty, who sing songs by the Clash and Outkast. And, in this film, Sonic Youth! It's a quirky enough combination to have people interested, but there is enough focus on some of the cast members to make them actually come off as interesting. Plus they all have various forms of health problems so there's more gravitas to their personalities. It's genuinely moving to see them talk about how singing keeps them sane, and genuinely hilarious to see them struggling with the words of Greasy Funk legend Alan Toussaint.

I recommend it to anyone who likes to really enjoy films and feel happy. If nothing else, the chorus makes 'Fix You' actually sound moving, which is more than Coldplay ever did.

You'll probably like it.

Let the journey begin

Despite being excited before its release, I noticed that I never really gave the latest Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly record much of a listen. Maybe I'll address that at some point. In the meantime, here's today's Song of the Day, from an XFM session earlier this summer. Sam weaves in a few recent indie-dance smash hits into one song. It sounds cool and all, but I couldn't help but think that the selection was self-consciously cool - Hot Chip, Justice, Klaxons (and Michael Jackson, but that doesn't really help my argument). It's still fun to hear these dancefloor slayers done by a wimpy guy with a battered acoustic. Enjoy!

[download Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly - MegaMix (live on XFM)]

And the winner is...

Well, if it wasn't going to be Laura Marling, I'm glad the winner of the 2008 Mercury Music Prize was...

The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow.

Congrats to Guy and the Guys.

[download Elbow - The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver (live)]

Meet me in the dollar bin

You like receiving emails, you like free music, and you like unzipping zip files.

Ergot, go to Wichita Records (homepage), give them your email address and they'll send you a zip file's worth of tunes.

Tunes from Los Campesinos!, Conor Oberst, Les Savy Fav, Peter Bjorn and John (and just Peter by himself), Euros Childs and others can be yours. Oh, and These Dancing Days, whose album 'In Our Space Hero Suits' is called 'In Our Space Hero Suits' and therefore going to be mega. Go now!

Here's a picture of Wichita Kansas, which has no involvement with this promotion at all.

First impressions of 'Glasvegas'

Almost a year since first bigging them up on here, Glasvegas have gone from latest-buzz-band-from-Glasgow to NME cover stars to festival slayers to almost-top-ten stars. It's safe to say that I've been looking forward to their debut album more than any other this year.

At least half of the album are songs that've been floating around in various demo forms for a while. They all finally sound the way you'd always hoped - massive, with the drums turned all the way up, with the feedback rippling gently but powerfully (check out the way the record begins, with 'Flowers and Football Tops' taking a couple of minutes to simmer before those drums kick in), and suitably grandiose. 'Geraldine' and 'Daddy's Gone' are already colossal live favourites, and others will follow. If it's not already, then just watch 'Go Square Go' get people singing its "Here we fuckin' go!" refrain in the very near future. Only 'Stabbed', in its new slowed down, piano-led reworking, doesn't quite sound its best. Check out the original sounding version below. Also, I've put up a cover of Glasvegas' finest song by Carl Barat's band Dirty Pretty Things which manages to suck out all the essence and emotion from it.

And as for the newer songs, there's nothing quite as jaw-dropping as those that were demos, but 'Ice Cream Van' sends us home with a slow-turns-huge finale; and 'Lonesome Swan' is pretty rockin'. I think it's a good thing that James Allen has such a thick Scottish accent, because if you knew what he was saying, you'd be in tears most of the time. This is a sad album, guys. From 'Flowers and Football Tops', about a mum finding out that her child's just dead, complete with a devastating verse of 'You Are My Sunshine' at the end; to 'Geraldine' (about the "deep and darkest place around"); to 'Daddy's Gone' - nuff said - to the promise of "a storm on the horizon" in the final track. Oh, and there's a song about winter depression ('S.A.D. Light') and 'Go Square Go' about bullying at school. And yet it sounds so warm, so approachable, so sensitive, so not-want-to-kill-yourself.

They're coming over to the U.S. later in the year, go and see them if you live in a town that isn't shit. The band are interviewed on the latest Music Weekly podcast, which always deserves a shout out. 'Glasvegas' the album is eloquent, moving, sad, heavy, everything. It'll make you punch the sofa in time to the drums, and you'll listen repeatedly.

Glasgow does it again. Your turn, Edinburgh!

[download Glasvegas - I'm Gonna Get Stabbed (demo)]
[download Dirty Pretty Things - It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry (Glasvegas cover)]

[Glasvegas - myspace / official site]

Back in the days before 'The Witches of Eastwick'

Every year, Yo La Tengo play a huge set of covers during the WFMU Marathon fortnight, and here's a song from this year's shindig. Everyone knows Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger' but do you know the second verse? Me neither. Ira's knowledge of the words fails him halfway through, so it turns into a profound meditation on the career highs and lows of one Jack Nicholson. It's pretty great.

[download Yo La Tengo - The Passenger (Live on WFMU)] [alt link]

[Yo La Tengo myspace / official]

Aw hell no, Kung Fu Panda!

It's very gratifying that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's latest cinematic monstrosity Disaster Movie has failed to do well at all. Like their previous masterpieces, this one has dropped off the box office radar after a week. Unlike those, though, this one didn't rocket straight to number one - it landed seventh in its opening weekend, still not coming close to making back its modest budget. Good. The reviews probably didn't help too much (my fave being "a movie so bad that it’s almost avant-garde" from The Times). But those guys will always have a viewer in me - I don't know why, but I'll watch all their flicks. Here's what's passing for funny this time around (I suppose there are spoilers, but that'd imply that there was a plot):

  • More so than previously, this time they're relying heavily on not-really lookalikes. They're so unconvincing that the main characters need to spell everything out. "Amy Winehouse?!" "Hannah Montana?!"
  • Their Dr. Phil, fortunately, introduced himself.
  • Far too many people put "Bitch" at the end of every sentence.
  • There's a priest molestation joke.
  • Still funny: Michael Jackson, myspace, facebook.
  • Did enough people really see 10,000 BC, Beowulf, Prince Caspian, Speed Racer or Jumper to make them parody worthy?
  • The plot is loosely themed around Cloverfield - too high of a reference for the eight year olds that'll watch this?
  • Still funny: "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" - this time, adapted at the end to incorporate EVERY character that had been in the film. With "Dating" in place of "Fucking" because the PG-13 rating was more important than it being funny.
  • One of the cast is called G-Thang. Really.
  • Only one fake commercial in the middle of this one, for HEAD ON. I guess that's an improvement over 'Meet the Spartans', which had like three.
  • But this one still had plenty of musical breakdowns. Including a medley from Alvin and the Chipmunks. Also, they sang a death metal song. Also also, they had rabies.
  • I thought it was interesting how a lot of their spoofs, and I'm using that word loosely, were based on the trailers for summer hits. They won't have seen The Dark Knight or Hancock or The Hulk or Hellboy 2 before making this, and it's so lazy to do the slightest riff on those.
  • Still funny: "Brangelina"
  • In Spartans, a Happy Feet penguin started beating the shit out of one of the characters. Here, it's Kung Fu Panda. Why?
  • Being gay is still the worst thing ever ever ever.
  • Still funny: prissy white people talking 'street'. Also, breakdancing.
  • It just looked very cheap.
  • One of the last jokes is a shoutout to the Love Guru.
I've gotta say, this one was worse than 'Meet the Spartans'. That had, at least, a direction. This was literally a journey with "someone made to look like someone from a movie / oh, they've got hit by a cow" repeated over and again.

Which, as a metaphor, describes these guys' films pretty damn appropriately.

Doin' fifty-five in a fifty-four

Being an east-coast rapper and a member of Oasis, respectively, you'd think that Jay-Z and Noel Gallagher would be no strangers to beef. And so the war of words that erupted earlier this summer between the two over Jigga's Glastonbury headlinery was momentarily interesting, but then, with his little 'Wonderwall' riff, Jay sort of ended that one on top.

Oh, except he didn't - perhaps you've heard 'Jockin' Jay-Z' from his new record. So this feud is still going on, and in case anyone in the world was waiting for it, there's now an Oasis v. Jay-Z mash-up album up on the 'net. It's been put together by Cookin' Soul, and it's available for free on his myspace. The name of the album is "Ojayzis", which sounds like something Dylan Moran would say. And it looks like the album artwork was done by the floating heads guy! Here's a sample from the mixtape, with two of my fave songs by each party.

[download Cookin' Soul - 99 Supersonic Problems]

Let's rewrite our last chance

In the summer of 2001, I was travelling around the U.S. with my parents. The music site I edited at that time had just started to take off, and I was getting CDs in the post every day to write about, which was terribly nice. For the trip, I brought two albums with me, to listen to on my temperamental Discman and subsequently write about. One was 'The Cold Vein' by Cannibal Ox - thoughts in a nutshell: amazing first song, forgettable rest of album - and the other was 'Vague Us' by Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi.

If you haven't heard of them, there's probably a good reason. The band were one of those ultra-indie types that existed around London quite a lot in the early years of this decade. Heavily influenced by Sonic Youth and Pavement, they wore visors onstage, put out singles on indie labels, played gigs in the capital all the time, and were generally unremarkable. Amazingly, though, they got picked up by V2 records, who put out 'Vague Us', the CD in question. Wacky guys, wacky album title. I actually got to interview the guys once, and I remember the sentence "Graham's just another word for wanker" coming up.

I played the album a few times on car rides around New Jersey, Pennsylvania and some other states in that area. And coming back to it after seven years, I'm pretty glad to say that my opinion hasn't changed too much. Maybe three great songs, and a lot of throwaway rubbish. But let's talk about the great songs - 'Hear the Air', particularly, is fantastic. It's fast, furious, doesn't really have a chorus, stops and then starts again and features the phrase "gallons of semen". All within the space of like two minutes. Enjoy!

[download Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi - Maverick]
[download Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi - Hear the Air]

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